Wednesday, 21 December 2011


I don't have a Word of the Day or Thought for the Day feature. Never mind.

Word of the Day
plutocracy - Government by wealth or by the wealthy. Also, a State governed in this way.

Thought for the Day
I wonder why people aren’t using the word "plutocracy" more, in the current economic/political climate.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


So, yesterday was November 11. On Facebook I read noble status updates about Remembrance Day (the timing's a bit different here, so nothing doing on that front.

Meanwhile, in our office, the weakest premise for a cake that I can recall has been adopted. At 11:11, the call goes out:

These Romans Italians are crazy! I shouldn't complain; there was even spumante. I note that they sought to render it a less arbitrary cake with a reference to the feast of St. Martin of Tours. You're fooling no-one!

Those things under CHE are meant to be maroni:

Che (due) maroni! - What (a pair of) chestnuts! - What (a pair of) balls! - What a pain in the arse!

Funny thing language...
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Psalm Tones: Psalm 143(144) - Tone VI

GauntletImage via Wikipedia
You may already know that there are two different ways of numbering the psalms, one based on the Septuagint and one on the Masoretic text. Eastern Orthodox translations use the numbering of the Septuagint (Greek), Protestants the Masoretic (Hebrew) and Catholics tend to put both numbers.

Why do I mention this? Because this little factoid has confounded my modest plans. I assumed that the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood's Psalm Tone Distribution Table would use the Septuagint numbering system. Why? Mostly absent-mindedness I think, but also because I think all the links I've seen about how Martin Luther believed a heap of things that only Catholics (and the Orthodox I guess) are supposed to believe put the notion that Lutherans are probably pretty trad in my head. Plus, a "Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood" who sing using the traditional psalm tones? Sounds pretty tradder-than-thou to me - it'll be like High Anglicanism right? Silly me.

So I learnt the words for Psalm 90 (91) by heart (a Psalm for Sunday Night Prayer, which means you can also sing it any day of the week, you see) but with the "wrong" tone. It's not the end of the world; it seems to work okay, and I'm pleased, with my rubbish memory, to have committed some scripture to memory, but this Prayer Brotherhood probably had a good reason for choosing their tones, so I was planning on following their suggestions.

Anyway, this tone isn't listed for any of the psalms in Compline. So I just picked a psalm I liked that it is listed for:
Blessed be the Lord, my róck†
who trains my árms for báttle,*
who prepares my hands for wár.
Reach down from heaven and sáve me;†
draw me out from the míghty wáters,*
from the hands of alien fóes
whose mouths are fílled with líes,*
whose hands are raised in pérjury.

To you, O God, will I síng a new sóng;*
I will play on the ten-stringed hárp
to you who give kíngs their víctory,*
who set David your servant frée.
I've just taken some select verses, making sure to leave in a couple of flexes (joined lines) and dactyls (it means "finger" and is a metrical foot - scansion, you couldn't make it up!) to keep it interesting. I cheated and only copied the stresses which are relevant for this tone; in any case, like last time, I suggest you read it through, stressing the stresses, aloud or in your head.

Now here's the notation for the tone:

(This might be a good point to look back at the last instalment, since I'm going to use the same terminology that I did there.)

There are two differences from the last tone that I should mention. First is the termination; in tone III there's one preparatory syllable before the final stress, here, there are two. So in the third line you sing the tenor until you drop down on "hands" and sing "for" on two ascending notes (that's what the two-note neume there means) before you sing the stressed "war". So in addition to reading through the text for the stresses, you'd be well advised to look for the two preparatory syllables in the lines that contain the termination (without a † or * at the end). The second is a reminder that the intonation is usually sung only on the first line; "Reach down from heaven" should all be on the tenor for example.

I deliberately didn't mention something last time, but I'll mention it now. There's a little problem with these tones; they were written for use with Latin, and English (you will have noticed) isn't Latin, so essentially they don't quite work. But the good news is that it doesn't really matter - just fudge it! Apparently there are lots of competing methods for adapting these tones for use with English, but there's no official way and there never will be, so just do what works for you.

My version is here. If I didn't have a 9 month old daughter I would probably record a few takes until it sounded better. Meh.
  • Take the first line, for example. Finishes on a stressed syllable. Very common in English but very rare in Latin; that's why whoever wrote the psalm tone assumed that there would be another syllable (perhaps even two) after the stress of the flex (first on the left). What I do is pretend that the lower note is the stressed syllable. Sounds fine to me, whereas the other possibility of singing the stressed syllable on two notes sounds a bit iffy so far as I'm concerned.
  • For "lies" and "song" (mediant), I think it sounds better to just sing the note of the stress and forget about returning to the tenor (reciting) note until the next line
  • Similarly, there should be a syllable after "war" for the termination at the end of the third line. Here, I nonchalantly sing it on two notes; same with "foes", "harp" and "free".
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Fratelli d'Italia pt. 6

A loaf of white bread. Photo by sannse, 18 Jul...Image via Wikipedia
Hmm. Been a while.

Wot, no beer? - Everyone knows that Italians know about food and wine, what I don't understand is the blind spot when it comes to beer. Obviously they find wine much more appealing, but I can't get my head round the fact that they have no interesting beer on their supermarket shelves. Obviously they don't have to be as interested in beer as we are, but it seems odd that they're not more bothered about it when they can be so anal about other comestibles.

White Bread and Sandwiches - Again, this is odd because it doesn't seem to tally with the tendencies of the Italians themselves. In addition to being more bothered about food than we are, Italians seem to be more interested in their health too. Now, we all know that sensible grown-ups eat brown bread because its better for you, and young whippersnappers are the ones who will only eat white bread and even have special hybrid bread made for them to tempt them away from the white variety. But if you go into an Italian bakery, you'll see heaps of white bread, and if you're lucky you'll manage to make out some brown stuff in the corner. Monica tells me that it's something to do with the fact that brown bread has historical associations with poverty (a phenomenon that was widespread much more recently in Italy); that's fair enough, but talk about old habits dying hard!

Then there's sandwiches. Monica doesn't like English bread; it doesn't meet her expectations, which is easy to understand if you buy normal bread in Italy, it's much more hard, so English bread seems, well, half-baked, which apparently is bad for the digestion or something (made of flimsy stuff these foreigners, eh?). Well that's fine by me; different strokes for different folks and all that. What confuses me is that when you get a tramezzino (sandwich) it always comes in this ridicuolous plasticy white bread without crusts which seems to me to be the epitome of poor quality.

Bidets vs. Shit Toilets - In Italy, everyone has a bidet. That's just how it is. The Italian abroad is generally in want of a bottom-cleaning device and surprised (possibly somewhat disgusted) to see the rest of the world getting on without them. However, while this area of fundamental hygiene seems so important to them, their spotless domestic bidets stand in stark contrast to their wretched and rare public toilets. Woe betide the hapless wayfarer who dares to do their business out of doors. You usually have to pay, they're sometimes of the hole-in-floor variety (the country that gave us aqueducts now wants us to wee on our shoes?), there's never any bloody soap, an electric hand dryer is a rarity and the paper towels have usually run out; then of course they're mucky and full of graffiti. Hold it in, that's my advice.

Ridiculous Names - I've noticed that Italians seem to have a disproportionate number of outlandish surnames. Some examples: we bought our clothes rack from the Bastardi (yes, bastards, obviously) round the corner, the rt. hon. Bocchino (blowjob) is a well-known politician and another Bocchino earned Italy 8 points in the Rugby World Cup with conversions this year, I've seen reports on channel 7 by a Chiappaventi ((arse) cheek-winds) and an "and finally" story about people who go by the unlikely name of Mastronzo ("stronzo" literally means "turd", but Italians use it in much the same way as we use arsehole, of a person, only it's ruder).
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Psalm Tones for Night Prayer: Nunc Dimittis - Tone III

Saint Albans English church ( Copenhagen ). St...Image via Wikipedia

While Monica was pregnant, I was thinking a bit about my prayer life, and how I could make it easier to pray with my daughter (and indeed my wife) when she came onto the scene. I thought of Compline; I like the liturgy of the hours but don't often manage to pray it and the fact that, ideally, it's a sung liturgy should be helpful, I thought.
'The sung celebration of the Divine Office is the form which best accords with the nature of this prayer. It expresses its solemnity in a fuller way and expresses a deeper union of hearts in performing the praises of God'

- Instruction Musicam sacram
[M]any of the parts, especially the psalms, canticles, hymns and responsories, are of a lyrical nature and are given their full expression only when sung.

Singing in the Liturgy of the Hours is not to be regarded as something merely ornamental or extrinsic to prayer. It springs from the depths of the person praying and praising God[.]

Jewish and Christian Tradition confirms that the psalms are closely connected with music. To understand many of the psalms fully it helps a great deal to sing them or at least to regard them from a poetic and musical point of view.

- Introduction to Morning and Evening Prayer, Anthony B. Boylan, Secretary Liturgy Commission, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales
So I did a bit of googling. I think I already vaguely knew that there were traditional psalm tones, so I tried to find some references I could use and did, but I think I'll have to be more systematic to learn them and be able to use them by heart. So, rather optimistically, this should be the start of a new series to teach other people (with the aid of specific mp3s because not everyone, myself included, can read music, let alone chant notation) the 8 + 1 traditional psalm tones, starting with the only one that I have managed to learn by heart so far.

I'm going to try and explain the principles but don't let that put you off. This is harder to write and about and read than it is to do; it's actually based on natural speech, so if you can talk, you should be up to the challenge, despite any offputting terminology you may encounter. Also, this blog entry might be quite long, but if you persevere with this one, all the other ones should be quite simple. I suggest that, if at any point, it sounds too complicated, listen to the MP3 I made rather than struggling with text on a screen.

As I say, it's based on speech; if, like me, you ever wondered why the text of the office is marked the way it is, you'll soon see why. The starting point is the text. I'm starting with the Nunc Dimittis for the good reason that it's a text to be sung at every Compline, so if you learn a tone for that, you have something you can sing for the Office every day:
At last, all-powerful Máster,
you give léave to your sérvant*
to go in peace, according to your prómise.

For my eyes have séen your salvátion*
which you have prepared for all nátions,
the light to enlíghten the Géntiles*
and give glory to Israel, your péople.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Hóly Spírit,*
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without énd.
The psalm tones are divided (essentially) into two halves. The asterisk that usually comes at the end of every other line marks the point at the end of the first half. The dagger, on the other hand, joins two lines, indicating that they should be treated as one. There's a little more to it than that, but more on that later. Anyway, here you can see that by joining the first two lines together, it makes a stanza of three lines into a stanza of two lines (tone in two halves). So that's the basic structure.

You remember I said that these chants were based on speech? That explain the accents. Perhaps you didn't notice them at a glance, but they're there, over some select vowels. Before tackling a psalm, you need to think about how you would say it. If you read the text above (aloud or in your head), you should see that the accents correspond to natural speech stresses. Try reading it through a couple of times, over-emphasising the stresses; obviously you wouldn't normally need to do this - it comes naturally - but to sing these tones, especially using texts that you haven't sung before, you need to be particularly aware of where the stresses fall. I put the accents into the text of the Nunc Dimittis myself since, in my copy of the Office, they're only marked on the psalms proper.

Now, we need a tone. This would be a good point at which to give a hat tip to chantblog; I basically found all the resources I wanted through that site. The author already did the same thing that I'm doing in this series, but I hope to make my one slightly more accessible. Through that site I found the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood's Psalm Tone Distribution Table, which takes all the effort out of selecting an appropriate tone. They say tone number 3. Fine by me. I'm going to show you (one version of) what it looks like on paper, but if at any point you think it's all getting too abstract, try listening to the MP3 first:

I cut out some detail which is unnecessary for our purposes, and I don't think you should worry about the dotted lines and empty neumes (thats what the little blocks are called) for now. Even if you've never attempted to read music before and this is all Greek to you, you can get an idea of the structure by looking at the symbols. Below the stave are the dagger and the asterisk we saw before; like I said, the asterisk marks the end of the first half. The dagger marks a point where two lines are joined together to form one line, but you can ignore it if there's no dagger in the text; it would be as if all the notes in that section were on the same line. The bit at the top right is the end of the tone (termination). It's not intentionally separate. If I had a bit more spare time I would have joined it to the rest of the tone.

I left in a little terminology, because it's related to the structure. A practical guide to the meaning of it would be as follows:

Int(onation) - Beginning
Tenor and Flex [] - Singing on the same note (with the exception of [] where applicable)
Mediant - Middle
Tenor - Singing on the same note
Termination (not written) - End

You start off by singing the intonation; the first syllable on the first neume, the second syllable on the two (ascending) notes of the second neume. Then you can look at the accents above the stave; the accents are your cues:
At last, all-powerful Máster,
you give léave to your sérvant*
to go in peace, according to your prómise.
The first accent that you see is for the flex (Ma-ster). If there's no dagger, there's no flex. In fact, if you want to make life really simple, you could just leave it out anyway and sing one long line without having to think in the middle of it.

The first syllable of 'Mas-ter' is the same note as the tenor note, then you drop down for '-ter' and return to the tenor ('tenor' comes from the Latin tenere, to hold - it's a note that you hold on to) until you head up on 'leave' then down again until you head down on the 'ser-' (it's two notes on the same syllable) of 'servant' then back to the tenor note for '-vant'.

Slightly more trickly is the termination, after singing the second tenor part; that's the unmarked part at the top right. Here you need to drop down on the syllable before the accent then return on the accent before descending (again, two notes on the same syllable) - "your pró mi-se".

And that's it bascially; you sing it like that, repeating the two-line pattern of the tone over the text, following the accents until you come to the end.


Here's another version of the tone. It lacks some of the detail of the other version but, being more essential, I find it's easier to read.

Last time I deleted the various choices of termination leaving just one of the simplest ones (a). For most of the tones there are a few alternatives, of varying complexity.

I should also say that, usually, you only consider the intonation at the start of the tone and begin the 3rd, 5th, 7th etc. lines by jumping straight to the tenor, which makes life a little easier. However, the gospel canticles, including the Nunc Dimittis, should apparently be sung repeating the intonation.

Hopefully that should be all that you need to enter the world of Gregorian chant for the Office! Please let me know if you have any questions or it's otherwise unclear. I'll do my best to make it intelligible.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, 1 July 2011

Internet's back (sort of)

Back in May of 2009 I made a query on Wolfram|Alpha. They didn't have any info. I asked them to let me know when they did:

We have received your feedback regarding Wolfram|Alpha.

The information you were looking for is now available on our website. See:

Please let us know if you have any other questions.

Thank you for helping us improve Wolfram|Alpha.

Best wishes,

The Wolfram|Alpha Team

As I believe they sometimes say in North America - neat.

P.S. In W|A, typing two things should give you a comparison - "christianity islam", for example.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


Image representing Blogger as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseOnce upon a time, when this blog was called An Anecdote Free Zone and I had a student's free time, it was hand-coded. Then one day Blogger introduced a template designer. I wanted to try it out and ended up losing my blog design, so I bodged together the one that's been doing the business for the past few years, trying my best to recover the little tweaks (personalised blog entry styles and images, not that you'd know) that I had invested modest quantities of time in.

I've finally become fed up enough with the stupid column width of this site (and why, I wonder, do Blogger think that we want about a third of the page with no content exactly?) to do the same thing all over again.

Just so you know.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

Pope Benedict XVI during visit to São Paulo, B...Image via WikipediaSometimes it can be easy to get a particular idea in your head about passages of scripture, making it less easy to look at them in another way. As a convert, this is one of those passages:
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, «How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?» Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. (Jn 6:52-59)

Copyright © Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, USCCB
It's easy to think of it as a "proof text" for the real presence, just as Matthew 16 is a "proof text" about the papacy. So I appreciated dailygospel's meditation for today by Pope Benedict, which helps to render it more devotional, and less controversial:
In the Gospel discourse that we have just heard he says, "He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him". How is it possible not to rejoice in such a promise? However, we have heard that at his first announcement, instead of rejoicing, the people started to murmur in protest: "How can he give us his flesh to eat?".

To tell the truth, that attitude has frequently been repeated in the course of history. One might say that basically people do not want to have God so close, to be so easily within reach or to share so deeply in the events of their daily life. Rather, people want him to be great and, in brief, we also often want him to be a little distant from us. Questions are then raised that are intended to show that, after all, such closeness would be impossible. But the words that Christ spoke on that occasion have lost none of their clarity: "Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you".

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily for the Italian Eucharistic Congress, 29/05/05 (© Libreria Editrice Vaticana)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, 29 April 2011

Fratelli d'Italia pt. 5

A car crash on Jagtvej in Copenhagen, Denmark.Image via WikipediaDriving and the death wish - I wonder what I was going to write down about this, all those months ago? We're talking about obvious stereotypes here. All very banal - Italians drive like maniacs etc. etc. etc. Nonetheless, it intrigues me. My Dad reckons I'm exaggerating, and he knows a thing or two about driving, but I feel significantly safer on the roads in England. We don't have a car, but I think it would take me some time before I felt at all happy driving here. Probably the crux of it is this: quite a lot of people die on Italian roads. A good many lives are wasted, and the fact that even I know this suggests that it's adequately reported. So why doesn't this translate into more cautious driving? Is it that they think they're invincible, or is it that they don't mind dying so much as we do?
Child safety - Very closely related is the following. I came across this (Italian) article through work. Once more unto the sterotype breach - Italians love children (there, that wasn't so bad was it?) but the article claims that "63% of Italians don't use child seats", based on 7 cities studied, "thus showing little love for their own children". The best city was Mestre, with a paltry 53% of children properly strapped in, a veritable safety paradise compared to Naples - 17%. A list of lame excuses follows: "it's only round the corner"; "the child seat's in the other car"; "it's fine - he's sat on the back seat anyway"; "he cries if I put him in the child seat", "I prefer the seat belt". It says that there's a tendency to use child safety devices in the first months, because it's more convenient, then they tend to get forgotten about. The disconnect between the depth of feeling on one hand and the actual care taken over children is, it would seem, incredibly profound.
School Textbooks - They have a different system for school textbooks over here. I guess that doesn't sound particularly earth-shattering, but in fact, it means that school textbooks are pretty much an annual news story, because the system is this: you buy them. Good news for the publishing industry, which can release a stream of different shiny new textbooks every year, bad news for parents, who have to fork out. It's a bit like for us at university, when you find, just by chance, that the course textbooks are written by your lecturer. The thing that I find strange is that they've been complaining about the system for years, but they haven't got round to doing anything about it. What naturally comes to mind is that they could copy us, and say that it's the school's responsibillity to pay for textbooks. Then we'll see if publishers can talk schools into buying a new textbook every year! I remember using a lot of dog-eared school textbooks, but somehow I still managed to get educated. In fact, I often wonder in general why governments don't copy more legislation off each other. Don't Sweden do renewable energy better than us for example? Can't we just copy some ideas off them then? I suppose politicians prefer to look original (apart from the Tories nicking the free schools idea).
Interrogation - I’m not sure what I should call this one really. In Italian it’s interrogazione, and it might not be so bad as it sounds, but it’s still pretty bad. I learnt about it when I was helping an Italian relation (my wife’s cousin’s daughter – you can’t get any closer than that) and some of her peers with their English for school. Apparently, every year, or term or something, as a test, every pupil has to stand at the front of the class and get quizzed on whatever it is that Italian schoolchildren are supposed to know. Horrible! I’m glad I didn’t go to school in Italy! I wonder what the idea is; it probably does have some positive aspects in fairness. Monica said that she observed that the English were hopeless at giving presentations at university, but I think that particular problem probably goes deeper. Anyway, the idea makes my skin crawl.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Alternative Vote

Apparently Mr. Darcy wants us to vote yes to the Alternative Vote. I'm with the Firth on this one; I'll be disappointed if there isn't a yes vote and I'll tell you why.

I don't see it as "a step in the right direction", if by that we mean a step towards proportional representation. I'm not sure I'm convinced by that idea. Strong government and a local connection to Westminster are two important things.

On the other hand...

Something needs to change. We've been locked into a left-wing/right-wing slanging match for about a century, and it's doing us no good. I'm definitely left-leaning, but the labour government has frequently made my blood boil; it represents many of my interests, but doesn't give a flying fox about many others. I was so fed up that I even toyed with the idea of voting c*nservative. If Mark Dobson feels an inclination to vote conservative, there's definitely something amiss with the voting system.

I understand that some people view the yes vote as an anti-political vote. That's nonsense. It is anti-status quo however, and that's a good thing. As it is, both the labour and conservative party have an arrogant, intransigent attitude which is holding the country back. Part of the reason that we have a con-dem coalition is because of the labour party's refusal to work with the liberal democrats. The labour party have probably won out thanks to that (who wants to be in power at a time like this?), but the country hasn't.

I wouldn't expect to see drastic, immediate changes if the AV system was adopted, but I think it would open up a significant political space to smaller parties which do deserve greater representation because of the support that they have at a national level. This might develop in time into a significant number of seats, and perhaps further coalition governments. I think it's a mistake to write off coalition because of the present shambles; it is a conservative majority after all. In a mature democracy, cooperation and consensus should not only be enabled, but encouraged.

With AV, one of the classic excuses for voter apathy (my vote won't count) is mitigated. Voter apathy is something we should do something about. Tactical voting is another; we should be able to express out voting preferences based on what we want, not what might happen in our constituency. I heard a senior labour politician saying that he opposed AV on the basis that in a democracy, people should have one vote. This sounds sensible, but it only makes sense with a direct voting system e.g. if we voted for party (not members of parliament) or prime minister. As it is, democracy is distorted by tactical voting, and AV is a positive way of compensating for this.

As for the people who say that voting would be too complicated, I don't think I'll lose any sleep over the votes of people who can't state a few preferences in numerical order.

Michael White of the Guardian has the impression that people will be using the referendum to punish politicians, depending on whether they like Cameron or Clegg the least (a tricky choice). Anyway, don't do that – vote for a small, but significant break from the status quo.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Fratelli d'Italia - A Constitutional Interlude

emblem of the Italian RepublicImage via WikipediaI almost have another instalment ready, but first I wanted to do this post, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Zosia seemed to think that this was just a series in which I criticise Italy (until what, they stop?) and I wanted to look at something more positive. Secondly, it so happens that something constitutional has been in the news recently.

Edit: The Guardian just provided me with this amazing graph of Italian public spending. They forgot to put in a figure for the money that goes to the various mafias, but it's still pretty good.

Perhaps if we start with the sensational news story. Here's an article from near the end of the Italian constitution:

The reorganisation, in any form, of the dissolved fascist party is forbidden.

Not, you might think, a bad idea. The Italian constitution was drawn up in the aftermath of the Second World War. They needed one, because, like a lot of European countries, they decided that monarchy wasn't really doing it for them. In Italy, the monarchy bore some of the blame for Mussolini's rise to power, which didn't help.

Well, if you want to constitute a republic, as a majority of Italians voting in a referendum apparently did, you'll find that a constitution comes in handy. Naturally, in light of recent events, the constitution contained elements intended to make sure that fascism, or something similar, never happened again. This makes it puzzling to me that Berlusconi gets away with such a flagrant conflict of interest in his combination of political office and media network ownership and control; it seems they left out some sorely needed safeguards against propaganda which might have created a less problematic relationship between the state and the media.


The news story is this. A group in the senate (like the house of lords, but I'd hope that was obvious) mostly made up of senators from Berlusconi's PdL (if I haven't got my wires crossed) put forward a motion to remove the above article from the constitution! Apparently the time has come to rethink the ban on the PNF. Really, it's amazing the things you can get away with as a politician in Italy. Political suicide in every other country I should think. Just think what it says about Catholics too; perhaps we'll see a fascist party back in Italy before we see the Act of Settlement repealed. There'll be no need to become an albino monk to give people the willies if that happens. How do you say "We're more scary than fascists" in Latin? It might come in handy.

So, moving on (but returning to complain about Berlusconi a bit later on), Italy has this constitution. I come from a kingdom, painstakingly constituted through centuries of history, not on paper, so it's an intriguing concept for me, and it's part of my wife's national identity and a future part of my daughter's national identity. I wanted to have a look. My father-in-law Carlo also wanted to have a look, because he went to a talk for the recent 150th anniversary of Italian unity which presented the Italian constitution as something to take pride in (national pride is not to be taken for granted in Italy). Coop produced a little booklet containing the complete text of the constitution and some archive photos and historical notes for €1, so I picked up one for me and one for Carlo.

To me, it seems pretty good. Maybe if we get round to ditching the monarchy we could nick some bits from it. One of the things which I found interesting is that it defines the responsibilities of the state, and this is where that man comes in; a common, and obvious, complaint about Berlusconi is that he only cares about saving his own skin – laws ad personam, they say here. This is exemplified by the (repellent) approval of the processo breve by the chamber of deputies (like the commons). He's decided that legal processes take too long apparently, and the best thing to do would be to set a time limit and cancel any cases that are dragging on a bit. It so happens that this means that he won't stand trial for a particularly tricky case of his - who cares if a heap of people are denied justice and the innocent are not absolved? But the Italian constitution actually indicates the responsibilities of the state, which makes his failure/refusal to deal with the real problems of Italy a constitutional matter.

Fundamental principles

Art. 1
Italy is a democratic Republic, founded on work.

Art. 4
The Republic recognises the right to work of all citizens and promotes the conditions which render this right effective.

This is probably the most common form of (political) complaint about Berlusconi and his government. He doesn't seem particularly interested in people who are losing their jobs. For a long time, the position of the Italian government on the international financial crisis is that it didn't affect Italy. B*llocks, obviously. I couldn't tell you the ins an outs of it, and Italy has probably been significantly less directly affected by the crisis than the UK, but people have lost and will lose jobs because of it. There's not much effective right to work for women either; obviously there's equal right legislation, but what does legislation mean? When Monica was looking for work, we knew that it was illegal to for them to ask personal questions about marital status and number of children, but they did at every single interview, to sift out women who might inconveniently excercise their right to bear children.

Edit: In the Guardian's graph, lavoro (work) is the little purple box just next to the very bottom right.

Art. 3
[...] It is the task of the Republic to remove obstacles of an economic and social nature which, effectively limiting the freedom and equality of citizens, prevent the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the Country.



Art. 35.

The Republic safeguards work in all its forms and applications.
It attends to the the training and professional advancement of workers.

Here I might again note the long-term problem of precarietà (unstable work situations, especially among the young), and how this 'effectively limits the equality of citizens' and 'prevents full development'. I haven't noticed the Republic paying a lot of attention to that recently.

Edit: In the Guardian's graph, formazione (training) is the little (olive?) green box at the bottom right. 

Fundamental principles

Art. 9
The Republic promotes the development of culture and scientific and technical research.

Mmm. Culture. Well, I'm hazy on the details, but I recall that there was a big hoo-ha about the government's neglect of Pompei. I also proofread an article recently that said that only one of the many artistic residences available in Italy, only one was open to Italians; a sort of charitable concession by an American institution I can't remember the name of. Then, as for research, well... in addition to the governments much-contested (futile) cuts to the education system, a long-term problem here goes by the name of la fuga dei cervelli (the flight of the brains. An Italian rapper (Caparezza) recently released quite a good song about it, featuring Tony Hadley, of all people. Italians who make it through the university system don't find a research infrastructure that can take them. Italians are doing important research around the world; unfortunately not so much of it is done in Italy. The Republic is effectively exporting its talent through neglect, and losing out in the process.

 Edit: In the Guardian's graph, cultura (culture) is the yellow box towards the bottom right and ricerca (research) is the higher of two little blue boxes at the bottom right. 



Art. 31.
The Republic facilitates the formation of the family with economic measures and other provisions [...].

I think that it's worth mentioning precarietà again here. How is a young person expected to start a family when his job could simply disappear in a year? This is at least part of the reason why Italians marry so late and have so few children, a demographic issue which creates not a few problems.
Interesting again is how little notice is taken of these obligations. To me it seems that using the constitution as a stick to beat Berlusconi with is an obvious course to take for the opposition, but it doesn't quite seem to register. It's not as though the subject never comes up (in fact, Bersani was quoting the constitution yesterday on the telly) but it doesn't seem to be a popular appeal. Perhaps it's because every Italian government has been failing to address these issues, so it doesn't seem too clever to single out the PdL.

Perhaps it's just that the constitution, so far, seems too good to be true.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Moving House!


Two in one day! You lucky people. Anyway, this is just a quick note to give some good news. As I had rather been hoping, a larger place in the same complex of apartments is becoming available. Our landlord knew we were looking (and we're wicked tenants, obviously) so he asked us if we'd be interested. We had a look, and apparently 7 extra square metres makes a hell of a difference, because it seemed pretty palatial to us! So we said yes.

We should be moving around the beginning of July. Not such good news for my parents coming over for Noemi's baptism in June... but there's an extra bedroom, room to swing a cat in the kitchen and it should be cooler in the summer. Woo ha!

Daily Gospel


...or Vangelo del Giorno if you prefer. I like the liturgy. I like the fact that if you go to mass daily for three years, you will hear the vast majority of the bible (something like 80-90% apparently). So I've got that Universalis banner at the top of the blog and's liturgy script in the sidebar. It'd be at the top if I could CSS it into a better format, but I fear that I can't.

Anyway, I wanted to plug Daily Gospel, because it's a well made site that does exactly what I wanted. I wanted to read the gospel for the mass of the day at work. It was the first site that came up when I typed "vangelo del giorno" into Google. You can subscribe by e-mail, and for working days only if you like (thumbs up). Not only do you get the gospel reading, you also get very good and relatively varied meditations, the kind of thing you can get something out of, but still feasily find a moment for. Recently, from the Byzantine and Eastern liturgies for the Great Lent , a prayer by Saint Ephrem the Syrian for example.

Not only that, but in addition to being able to visit the site directly, they provide an RSS feed and a customisable PHP script for integration into other websites. The latter looks to be simple enough for me to use, and I know almost nothing about PHP. Plus the mandatory mobile (standard, Android and iPhone) versions.

Well done
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Fratelli d'Italia pt. 4

Bus timetable 1.43Image by marc e marc via FlickrI'm on a roll, and these ones shouldn't take me too long.
  • Banks - I often felt that in England, the banks were rather lacklustre in their customer service. I worked all week, and had the day off on Saturday. Why did they usually close early? So I wasn't too pleased to find that it's even worse here. They mostly seem to be open in the morning even on weekdays and I think some days they're just closed, like bars. Bloody skivers. One time I had a cheque to pay in, so I had to pop in before going to work; how rubbish is that? I seem to recall hearing that Italian bank charges are among the worst, if not the worst, in Europe. Service please.
  • Tobacconists - This one's not annoying, just intriguing. Where do you go to buy bus tickets? Why, the tobbaconist's of course. Silly me for not thinking of that.
  • Prices at bars - I was opining about this one at work the other day. You can never see the prices in Italian bars. They're legally required to display them I think, but basically they're usually "on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'." What I don't get is why. Surely a bar with reasonable prices which advertised them better would get more customers. No?
  • Display of opening hours - It happens that since I made a note to write about this, I've seen a lot more opening hours, but still - quite a lot of the time you have to guess when shops/offices are going to open. For a native it's not too hard to guess, unless they're gratuitously unpredictable (and sometimes they are: mon-wed-fri in the morning and tue-thu in the afternoon with 2 hours on sat for special appointments, for example), but even then there's usually a margin of about an hour where you're not sure when you should go out. Is it too much like hard work to put a sign up?
  • Bus timetables - I'm a graduate. I find it hard to understand Italian bus timetables. They seem principally to be composed of a highly detailed grid of exceptions (not on holiday, mon-fri only, mon-sat only, only during term time, not from june-august). There's very little regularity, so every stop has an individual entry (not like the summary "every 1hr" kind of thing you get in Blighty), making the visual prospect quite daunting from the get go. They tend to be geared towards schoolchildren, so you have buses every 5 minutes in the morning and every once in a blue moon during the day. If you ask the little old ladies who populate Italian bus stops if they know what's going on, they'll tell you it's a mystery to them as well. No wonder everyone drives everywhere. I seem to remember that Thatcher woman justifying cuts in the public transport budget by suggesting that if you see a man on a bus over the age of 14, you're looking at a failure. Very Italian.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Feast of St. Joseph

from via Wikipedia
Today is the feast of St. Joseph, which means that it's Fathers' Day in Italy, so this is my first ever Fathers' Day - it's a nice feeling.

Luckily, none of the following will be expecting a card, but happy Fathers' Day to my Dad, my brother Adrian, who's also a new father, my brother-in-law Lorenzo, whose little girl turned 1 recently, my father-in-law Carlo, and me mate James, with his two wonderful little girls and a further wonderful child in the oven.

Unfortunately it's a day mixed with sadness in Offagna. A father of two little girls took his life tonight.

To you, O blessed Joseph,
do we come in our tribulation,
and having implored the help of your most holy spouse,
we confidently invoke your patronage also.
Through that charity which bound you
to the immaculate Virgin Mother of God
and through the paternal love
with which you embraced the Child Jesus,
we humbly beg you graciously to regard
the inheritance which Jesus Christ
has purchased by his Blood,
and with your power and strength
to aid us in our necessities.

O most watchful Guardian of the Holy Family,
defend the chosen children of Jesus Christ;
O most loving father,
ward off from us
every contagion of error and corrupting influence;
O our most mighty protector,
be propitious to us and from heaven assist us
in our struggle with the power of darkness;
and, as once you rescued the Child Jesus from deadly peril,
so now protect God’s Holy Church
from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity;
shield, too, each one of us by your constant protection,
so that, supported by your example and your aid,
we may be able to live piously, to die holily,
and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven. Amen.

(Ad te, beati Ioseph, an ancient prayer to St Joseph)
Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Fratelli d'Italia pt. 3 - 150 Year Anniversary Edition

Garibaldi comoImage via WikipediaToday, as fate would have it, marks 150 years of Italian unity. Hurrah! A lot of Italians aren't sure it's worth celebrating, but most people will be enjoying the day off to think about it. Anyway, it's nice timing for resurrecting my series on Italian quirks:
  • Extravagant waste - This would be another thing to do with Striscia. It's a funny sort of programme; does a little bit of lots of things. One of the things it does is a bit like Watchdog, but it doesn't limit itself to consumer affairs - it deals with dodgy affairs at a political level too. One of these is wasted public money. Local councils, regions or whatever, pay to develop schools, hospitals, parks, you name it, which are then instantly abandoned. It's not too hard to explain in itself, just common or garden corruption. What I don't understand is how no-one ends up in prison for it. It's clearly a crime people aren't particularly afraid to commit, because it keeps on cropping up on Striscia, but why on earth not? It might be a bit tricky to pursue the mafia, but local politicians have offices; they're in the phone book and everything. And then, it's spectacularly obvious. It's public money wasted in a gratuitously extravagant way - in bricks and concrete, and whatever one uses these days. I mean, short of building a Wasted Public Money Memorial Hospital and then driving through the streets in one of those van with loudspeakers shouting "I am pissing away your taxes!", I'm not quite sure what you'd have to do to get arrested around these parts.
  • Precarietà vs. Cushy Public Sector - I'm rewriting this one, apparently at a distance of 5 months from the first attempt! Here's a funny thing; in the world of work, Italy has two diametrically opposed problems at the same time. Monica tells me that part about the public sector is improving, but anyway. Chronologically, the first problem is that, apparently, public sector workers are practically impossible to fire. Perhaps this says more about employers not wanting to go through disciplinary procedures, but I couldn't tell you. Anyway, they can, by common consent, get away with murder and keep their job for life. Tim Parks told an amazing story about a woman who apparently clocked in at the office, left her coat on her chair and prosituted herself all day for years until someone decided to check what the hell she actually did. The other, more recent problem is precarietà ("precariousness"), the term that Italians use to indicate that someone is on a short term contract, like practically everyone in my office for example, and especially the young. The disastrous social effects of widespread precarietà are obvious, with workers struggling to find the stability that they need to settle down, something which helps to explain why the average Italian waits so long before marrying and having children. How the hell can a government not intervene in a matter like this? Anyway, not much use waiting for Berlusconi to do anything about it. He's too busy trying to save his wrinkly (no matter how hard he tries) skin.
  • Facebook - Now, seriously. Facebook is all well and good. I like Facebook; I use it. But it's not news. Something to do with an Italian love of gadgets I expect (apparently they're second only to us in wasting time on mobile phones), but every so often there's a story about Facebook on the news, about Berlusconi being annoyed about the groups that criticise him (thousands, obviously), groups that offend people with Downs syndrome, FB-based lobbying groups (as much of a waste of time here as anywhere else, I assure you). Then of course, every programme has a Facebook group, and one of our biggest clients insists on trying to do viral marketing through FB apps - trust me, it would take a seriously compromised immune system for that particular virus to take hold. Get a grip! Who gives a cazzo volante? It's only a chuffing website.
  • Strikes -  So... why do Italians strike? I fear the answer can only be because they like striking. I'm definitely in favour of the principle of worker solidarity and striking, and Italy, like us has a long history of socialism and collective action. But here it's so futile; it's devalued currency. I can only really see it as a day off. Apparently the bus drivers strike every year, to coincide with the new school year. But how did it get this way? What happened to the Italian left that they complain so much and achieve so little? Anyway, wiser heads than mine have been trying to answer that question for a loooooooong time.
  • Scusa, ma... - I like this one. If you were translate this literally, it would be "Excuse me, but...". The perfect starting point for a quintessentially British phrase right? Such as "Excuse me, but I appear to have become enveloped in flames. Unfortunately the pain is exquisite. Could I possibly borrow some of your water?" In Italian, it's quite another story; there's no apology going on, it's a popular way of preparing the interested party for criticism. To take it to the extreme (as it might be understood on television for example, in one of the many 'healthy' debates), you might translate it as "Pardon my frankness, but I'd like to explain why you're a moron...". It's not always so pronounced of course, but in any case, sorry doesn't always mean sorry. Quite often it's the prelude to a thorough takedown.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, 30 January 2011

A Fly Lands on Ambrose's Nose

Class II noseThere's a nursery rhyme that Gabriella has been singing to Noemi. Apparently it's very old, and I couldn't find it on the interweb, but we like it.

I decided to set myself a challenge and translate it into an English version that you can sing to the same tune. I don't think I did a bad job! Perhaps I'll do an MP3 later. Done: ambrose.mp3

«Oh, perbacco» diceva Tommaso,
«Se mi viene la mosca sul naso
Io di certo qui dir non saprei
In tal caso che cosa farei.
Che ne dite amici miei?
È una cosa che fa pensar,
che fa pensar.»
Ad un tratto la mosca pian piano
Sul nasin di Tommaso posò.
«Povero naso!»
esclamava confuso Tommaso:
Ohilì, Ohilà!
A farsi furbo così imparerà.

"Oh, my goodness" said Ambrose,
"What if that fly came and sat on my nose?
In that instance I couldn't tell you
What on earth I would venture to do.
What's the solution according to you?
It's a thinker and no mistake,
and no mistake."
The fly suddenly chose to repose,
Gracefully perched on the nose of Ambrose.
"Oh my poor nose!"
cried a baffled Ambrose:
Hey here! Hey there!
That'll teach him to think with more flair.
Enhanced by Zemanta