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.
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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.
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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:

TRANSITORY AND FINAL PROVISIONS
XII.
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.

Anyway.

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.

RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF CITIZENS

TITOLO III
ECONOMIC RELATIONS

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. 

RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF CITIZENS

TITOLO II
SOCIO-ETHICAL RELATIONS

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.
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Sunday, 3 April 2011

Moving House!


Hello,

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!
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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 lachiesa.it'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 Evangelizo.org.
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