Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Oh yes, Bjorn Lomborg.

Bertramonline, which I've just added to my blogroll and not out of reciprocity either, has some things to report on Bjorn Lomborg, whose book The Skeptical Enviromentalist had me all enthusiastic in the short space of time that went between giving it a look and reading the Scientific American review.

I was taken in by this guy? I'm embarrassed. And not a little pissed off.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Mount Etna

I have been on the Etna several times, and once I went up to the summit too, but even if it is always more or less active, my visit have maddeningly always coincided with particularly quiet periods. It isn't such a quiet period now, and yesterday it seemed like Rifugio Sapienza, where all my visits had started, and even the cable car to the upslopes, would have to go.

The lava has seemingly stopped this night, and I happened across this incredible gallery of photos. It's really a pity that the larger versions have been reduced for easy loading to the point of losing much of their magic. The best way to admire them is en masse, even if at thumbnail size.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Impunity for the powerful

The Guardian has an impeccable article on Androtti's conviction. Besides being informative and correct (though I wonder if people can follow the dark convolutions of Italian history through its most terrible turns) it ends with the ominous note everybody has been pointing out to me these last few days:

Paradoxically, the fate of a man who always
emphasised his faith in the justice system is
likely to be used by Mr Berlusconi and his allies
to mount a renewed assault on the judiciary, for
the rules and traditions of which the present
prime minister has scant regard. The result could
be a reduction in the autonomy of the magistrates
and a return to the impunity of the powerful: the
principle that characterised, perhaps more than
any other, the Andreotti years that have just been

Monday, November 18, 2002

"To think badly is sinful...

... but you're often right" is probably the most famous of the celebrated witty utterances of Giulio Andreotti, sith times Prime Minister of the Italian Republic, affectionately known by friends and enemies together as "The Devil", sentenced yesterday to 24 years for commissioning a murder.

I was driving towards a cinema yesterday (to see the absolutely crappy K-19, a grievious disappointment) when my mobile rang to the tune of The Simpson - my partner Emiliano calling. I stopped and answered.

"They found Andreotti guilty!" he screamed at me.
"They what?"
"He was found guilty of murdering Pecorelli!"
"You kidding?"
"You know... " I said after a brief pause, "I was almost coming to think he was really innocent."

Yes. Giulio Andreotti, the wilyest Italian politician, one of the few with a sense of humor, one of the few of total personal honesty - he never got rich - one of the many utterly devoid of a sense of public morality. Is he really guilty?

Who knows. People who know him swear on his personal integrity. A lot of them also admit to his certain political responsability for a lot of the ills that befell Italy in the last fifty years, including the Mafia. He may have ordered to have Pecorelli killed. He may simply have expressed a wish, knowing that the wish would have been met. Or he may be guilty simply because being an intelligent and anything but naive man, he should have anticipated the consequences of voicing a wish in the wrong ear.

I won't go into the convoluted an tormented history of his two trials (another one is at the appeal stage in Palermo - for Association with the Mafia). Believe it or not, I will praise the man.

Andreotti benefited from the Mafia. He did not create it and may not have used it. But he let it be. He knew - or should have known - that his men in Sicily were in connection or part of the Mafia families. He knew - or should have known - that the Mafia voted and had people vote for his party. He was a man of few scruples and probably believed it was for the ultimate good - defined by him, of course. But credit where it is due: when push came to shove and he could not ignore any longer what was going on, he fought it. That was why his good friend Salvo Lima was killed, because the Mafia felt betrayed by Andreotti.

And when he was brought to trial, he submitted to it. He did not stall. He did not cry that he was the victim of political persecution. He did not try to pass legislation that might get him off the hook. He went to his trial. He testified. Even horrified by the latest sentence, he has just said that he still has a deep respect for the Judiciary, and that the country needs such respect.

You'd think this is normal, obvious? It isn't. It takes guts. Everybody else is screaming that a politically motivated and insane judiciary must be brought to heel and subjected to the rule of the executive power. It would be easy for him to join in. He doesn't. Like Adriano Sofri, serving a 22-years sentence for a murder he most probably did not committ, he played fairly and accepted his sentence.

Maybe it's because he knows that no matter what, at 83 he cannot legally be actually sent behind bars. Maybe he does not care for exculpation on such tricky grounds.

Maybe in his old age he grew what we all would have denied he ever could possess: a public morality.

I don't know and I don't care if he was a murderer. As many have already said, in the eyes of history, politics and morality he certainly was guilty of even worse crimes. But for playing by the rules, I salute the man.

They came and got them

The night before last, twenty people have been woken up by police and arrested. They were all involved in the "new-global" movement. One of them was Francesco Caruso, leader of the movement in Southern Italy, and such a far-out radical that other fringes of the movements left writings on the walls of Naples that said "Al prossimo G8 Caruso poliziotto", "At the next G8, Caruso will be a policeman". They have been charged of "subversive association" and "conspiracy to disturb the activity of the Government".

This immediately caused quite a stir, with people taking to the streets and a chorus of protests.

Since the arrest warrants had been signed by two prosecutors from Cosenza, the Right quite understandably argued that it was too easy to staunchly defend the Judiciary only when it prosecutes your political enemies.

There were also assorted expressions of relief and even somebody who said that this time the judges had got it right, because the charges were really serious now, not like those against a couple dozen policemen in Naples when there was merely cause to suspect they had tortured people in custody.

The arrested have not been charged with any specific crime. Media (the sort of media we have in Italy, you know) made a big deal out of the fact that they had been taken to Trani prison, where the last die-hard, stubbornly unrepentant Red Brigades members are serving out their sentences, and of the fact that the inquest had started from a leaflet found in a factory, claiming responsability of a terrorist bomb placed in Rome in the Institute for International Strategic Studies. But, as was noticed in the news on other channels, none of the arrested were charged with any link, however weak, with the bomb itself, or indeed, with any specific crime at all. The TG3 drew a parallel with the April 7th investigation, the one who landed lots of radical left intellectuals like Toni Negri (and incidentally, the founder of my own Amnesty International Group) in jail. But back then, they noticed, the 7th April people were charged with a sort of intellectual affinity with terrorism, but also with complicity in specific, and very serious, crimes.

Why am I telling you all this? (And why do I keep writing these monsters blog entries, that always aim at telling a small short story and end up recapitulating the universe? That's not what a blog is for, is it?)

Well, first of all, despite all of Italy apparently being on the move about this, no demonstration is scheduled to happen in my city and I'm too lazy to move to Vicenza and Verona. So I do what I know how to do best: sit down and write. I'm somewhat lukewarm towards the new-global movement as a whole, but you know, first they came for them and I did nothing because I wasn't one of them...

But mostly I write because this is what happens when you have a Fascist Penal Code. Let it be a warning.

I'm not referring to Berlusconi's governament as Fascist, mind you. There are fascists in the governament but that's a different thing. No, I mean it literally. Our Penal Code - the Codice Rocco - dates back, not in its entirety but for big enough chunks, to 1930. Nobody really ever got around to uprooting its most unsavoury bits, possibly (as Andreotti once said, if you suspect the worst, you commit a sin, but you're often right) figuring that they could come in handy sooner or later, like the ones that describe and prosecute what are essentially political crimes, allowing people to be persecuted for their opinions. If it's against the Constitution? Er. Yes. But you know law. There are ways around it.

If anything, the Governament, in the person of the current incumbent of the Interior Ministry, Pisanu, is quite obviously as uneasy about this as the most vociferous exponents of the opposition. Because things have changed since Genova, when the then Minister made himself scarce and let Gianfranco Fini and other assorted ex-fascists handle things. It has changed since the then Minister was caught slagging the latest terrorism martyr ("a prick that was always whining that nobody was listening to him" - as he was, poor bastard, because despite threats and ominous signs that he had become a target his escort had been revoked) was sacked. No, the new Minister is somebody who apparently thinks that good public order means no blood, no beatings, no shootings, no torture.

Which translated in the incredible victory of good sense last week, at the European Social Forum, so let me backpedal a bit because this too is a story worth telling.

The European Social Forum held in Florence over last weekend was five intense days of meetings, workshops and seminars in which the new movement was aiming at gathering minds and coming up with ideas, common grounds, and maybe a line of political action. It was supposed to be a meeting ground for the several disparate and different souls of the movement - from the grassroot Catholicism of committed priests and parishoners, to the radical and even borderline violence of the "disobedients". This meant that the Disobendients were there as well as the monks.

It would begin with a demonstrative "action" of the said Disobedients at Camp Derby, a NATO base near Florence, and conclude with a big, no wait, we got the last numbers, great, no wait a moment there's others who've confirmed they're coming, a huge demonstration against the war.

Now this made a lot of people nervous. Everybody expected mayhem, wreckage and devastation. No, I tell a lie. Not everybody expected them - some feared them, some hoped for them, and some deep down dreaded them despite being firmly resolved not to believe anything untoward would happen.

I think the most genuinely worried were the Florentines themselves. Some Florentines, at least. Most of the shop-owners in the city center closed down in trembling anticipation. They were expecting the worst: the barbarians, bringing ruin.

In Florence! Treasure coffer of humanity! Most beautiful city in the world (Florentines are wonderful people, but humility is not one of their strongest points)!

Other Florentines, as they have done again and again in their long history, tried to take a positive approach. Thousands and thousands of them signed up to host some of the visitors in their homes. On TV we saw these beautiful rooms lined with books and tastefully furnished in modern starkness, and middle aged men and women with patrician features telling the interviewer: I mostly do it for my children, I want them to meet people from abroad and talk to them and I expect this will broaden their minds. And you could catch a tiny spark of worry in their eyes - but they still opened their homes. Booksellers, among them the owner of the oldest bookshop in Italy, stayed open. The mayor stood firm in saying that they welcomed the Forum.

The Governament wasn't so thrilled. If the thing went well, they would end up with a huge victory for the hated Left - the real thing, not the middle-of-the-road Center-Left - on their hands. If it went badly, they would have to go through the horrors of July 2001 in Genoa again. Berlusconi enjoys playing the Foreign Affairs Minister, but not if it means that people take him up on their kids being beaten by the police during those fun get-together abroad. So the ideal thing for him would be if this Florence business simply went away. With people crying that the treasures of art and culture in Florence could not be endangered, hints were dropped that maybe, well, they could just call the thing off? Or shift it somewhere else?

As I said, the mayor of Florence wasn't having any of this. Neither was the Governor of the province. Neither were the Forum organizers. The right-wing papers (among them the major Italian paper, Corriere della Sera, which has sort of been sidling up to the Right for months - people say because of a secret buy-out) started up a campaign to have the Forum called off. Then one voice rose up over the murmur - Oriana Fallaci's. Bear with me, I'm going off into a tangent.

Oriana Fallaci isn't completely unknown abroad. She lives in Manhattan and after September 11 published a long, er, what shall we call it? Screed? Which basically came down to "We have a superior culture - let's go and bomb those beasts into the Stone Age. And since they breed like rabbits, let's kick them out of our beautiful country and keep them out." It's been published in English too, under the title "The Rage and The Pride". Oriana Fallaci always wrote passionately, and when I was a child I loved her for it. I cried over her long article on the life and murder of her lover Panagulis, a Greek dissenter who had known jail and torture and had never knukled under. I devoured her books about Vietnam and the space race - she was a good journalist, and an outstanding writer. It took me graduating into adolescence to understand that she wasn't as good a thinker. That she was quicker to move you to tears than to make you think clearly. That if she was uncompromisingly honest in looking inside her and chronicling what went on in there, she wasn't as good in processing that information, or measuing it up to the rest of the real life going on outside.

Oriana Fallaci,a Florentine herself, called the Florentine up to arms. Pull yourself together, people! she cried. Resist! Show some dignity! Spit on this barbarian horde! Do as you did during the Nazi occupation - close your shops, close your houses, bar your windows - and hang a notice outside: Closed for mourning.

While the Rage and Pride thing had been met with a furor - horror on one side (mine, for example: I had soured on her, annoyed by her self-preocupation and the frankly embarassing clukiness of her latest books, but I was wounded by the frank racism of her outpourings of hate and prejudice), and enthusiasm on the other - now the prevailing emotion was embarrassment. Florentines, which besides being humility-impaired are not great fans of other people telling them what they have to do either, quietly simmered. There even was some snickering in the corners. One very popular comedian, a woman gifted with an almost scary talent for turning into uncannily identical copies of the figures she caricatures, appeared during the Forum in Florence with a camouflage helmet and mimiked Oriana Fallaci's speech cruelly.

After long consideration, the Governament decided grudgingly to let the Forum happen, on the grounds that while it was possible that letting it go ahead might lead to disorders, forbidding it was guaranteed to do it.

The fateful days arrived. The Disobedients went to Camp Darby and shouted Yankees go home. The Yankees probably didn't appreciate, but went along doing their business and ignored them. The people met, and talked, and slept in neat rows on the pavement of the town's sport facilities, under polite handwritten notes that forbid smoking and drinking, or in the Florentine's homes, and visited the museums and galleries for free. The few restaurants and bars that kept open shop did great business, as did the bookshops - the movement is apparently made up of avid readers. The ones who had closed, and protected the windows with plywood, found the plywood (and the plywood alone) covered in sarcastic commentary: "Closed for selfishness", "Closed for short-sightedness".

The demonstration wasn't huge - it was enormous, at least 400,000 people but probably a lot more who couldn't even march but had to shuffle because the route was too short to accomodate all who had arrived. Nothing got broken or soiled or ruined. While in Genoa people had sprinkled water on the sweltering crowd passing under their windows, here they passed from ground-floor windows uncountable plastic cups of hot tea and ham and cheese sandwiches and plastic dishes of spaghetti, and opened their toilets to a long string of polite demonstrators who had found no bar and restaurant to recieve them.

Oriana Fallaci, who was rumored to be in Florence in those days, was probably vastly disapponted. She did not take up the Forum's invitation to go and meet them - thus missing, I think, the chance of a lifetime. (And so did I - for reasons that I will, sooner or later, try to explain).

People came back close to tears of elation. It changed my life, they told us. It's like the '68, told us an older friend who had been there, but gone right this time.

After everything was over,and the booksellers were gloating, and the Florentines were relieved and elated and touched, and even the Governament was basking in the warm fuzzy feeling of it all and complimenting itself publicily for its success, one of the Forum organizers took up all the t-shirts that they had left - t-shirts with the "Another world is possible" slogan that had walked the streets of Genoa too, and been beaten bloody by the hysterical police - and brought them to the Questura, to be distributed among the police that had discreetly, and benignly, overseen it all. The same people who ended up behind plastic shields and tear-gas and batons in Genoa received thanks and a t-shirt with Another World Is Possible. Demostrators and police congratulated each other and shook hands.

Two days after that, those twenty people who had just come back from Florence full of warm fuzzy good feelings got that early morning visit and ended up in jail.

Why? How? What for?

Yes, there were violence and devastation and wreckage in Genoa. Were they linked to it? No.

This that follows is the reconstruction that appeared on La Repubblica today, in an article by Giuseppe D'Avanzo.

The inquest was started by a special branch of the Carabinieri, one of the several Italian police forces. The Special Operations Grouping, Ros, became convinced that behind the riots in Naples (7th May 2001) and Genoa (21 July 2001) there wasn't simply the random violence of the casseurs, but a plot. They set about proving this, by monitoring conversations and emails. They found evidence. Just to give an idea of the quality of this evidence:

- Anna Curcio (one of the arrested) talks on the phone while going to Florence. "I'll be working for a project of collaborations with the indipendent radios that will work through a web site," Gap, the prosecution will note: like the GAP, the subversive formation formed by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli! Clear indication of the knowledge of, and a willingess to exploit the memory of, Italian terrorists networks. These networks, please note, were active in the '70s.

- Francesco Cirillo, talking on the phone with somebody else: "We've got to be in Florence by the 6th, because the first action will be at Camp Derby, an American base near Florence." The somebody else doesn't seem to be too keen. "Aaah," he goes. Cirillo presses him: "It's some hundred chilometers from Florence... this base here... and so the first thing will happen there." Thing, the prosecutor underlines, significantly. "Thing". Obviously, they were planning some violence.

Now, with this sort of evidence, the ROS started to tour Italy in search of a compliant prosecutor. They sent the dossier - all 980 pages of it - to the judges in Genoa. Genoa sent it back, telling them that there was nothing useful in there. Undaunted, the ROS sent it to the judges in Turin. The Turin prosecutor's office said "No meat here, folks." The ROS then tried with Naples. The prosecutors in Naples said that there was nothing penally relevant there. Then ROS then hit on the Cosenza Procura. Bingo.

Because the beauty of it is that these kind of charges do not need actual evidence.

Let me stress this again. What I have said up to now may be intriguing and interesting for whoever cares for Italy however tangentially, but this has a wider relevance.

A charge of conspiracy to overthrow the established order does not need evidence of any actual crime. One does not need to prove that anything has been done to overthrow the established order. It is sufficient that the conspiracy could do it.

The Right is, then, primly (and gloatingly) reminding people that they were the ones that insisted the Judiciary is not politically motivated. Ah-ha, they said. Taste of your own medicine, eh?

The fact is, accusing somebody - not to name names, Silvio Berlusconi - of having cooked books, paid kickbacks, and even corrupeted judges to have controversial business deal go their way is a political act only if there are no grounds for the claim. Accusing somebody of plotting not to overthrow the State but to "conspire to obstruct the action of the Governament and the established economic order" is a political accusation itself.

The fact that such crimes are still contemplated in the Italian Penal Code is alarming. The fact that they are intrinsically so subjectively applicable (there is no discretionality of penal action in Italy: prosecutors only can decide if there is a crime, not wether to prosecute) is also alarming. The fact that other groups, openly out to overthrow the established order have never been prosecuted for this fact alone - not to name names, the Norther League, is actually quite heartening. So is the fact that no judge does take orders from the exectuive power, nor is appointend by it. There may be judges with dubious judgement in Italy, but the majority are actually quite sensible people - and if they can be manipulated, they at least can't be ordered about.

The fact that "preventive" laws like this have been proposed or adopted all over the world is, or should be, cause for thought.

My friend Massimo Riva helpfully sent me a form yesterday, which I may use to denounce myself to the Prosecutor Office in Cosenza. The form goes:

Self-denounce form for subversive elements

The undersigned,born in on and resident in , declares to be guilty of: (tick off the appropriate box, multiple answers are allowed)

Political conspiracy by means of association with the purpose of:

[ ] obstruct the function of the Government (including: not voting for the parties currently governing Italy, protesting against the Pact for Italy, defending Article 18 of the Workers Statute. (An aggravating circumstance is the ownership of any Nanni Moretti movie on tape).

[ ] spread subversive propaganda (that is, saying any thing that has not been said, or has been denied, by the Prime Minister. (Asking for respect of a plurality of viewpoints in media is an aggravating circumstance.)

[ ] subvert the established economic order (including: to support fair trade, boycot multinational products. Not including: cooking books, export capitals abroad, fiscal evasion.)

Other crimes

[ ] attempted attack against Constitutional Institutions (including: asking for the respect of Article 11 of the Constitution, demanding a discipline of the conflict of interests. Not including: voting for absentee members of Parliament)

[ ] carrying means of aggression (including Swiss Army knives, tissue papers, sanitary tampons, kriptonite. Not including: batons, CS gas.)

[ ] instigation to disobey the laws of the State including: consciousness objection to military expenses, disobedience of the Bossi-Fini law on immigrants, taking parts in anti-prohibitionist campaigns. Not included: tax evasion and illegal building pardons.)

Signed by [name] on the [date].

Massimo supplied the email address and fax number of the Prosecutor Office. I'm in two minds about this. I mean, do I want to gamble on these guys' sense of humor?

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Some were communists

This is by Giorgio Gaber, Italian singer, author, performer and, as this makes abundantly clear, ex-Communist. A lot of this is very Italian but I left it in because, well, because never mind if you don't get it. It explains a lot about Italy, really, including what Italians mean by "Communism". I do hope it falls under fair use. It's basically satire. I guess.

Emilia is the region in central Italy where the Communist Party has always won every election, with a long tradition of good administration.

Enrico Berliguer, a famously shy and honest, upright man, beloved by his supporter and respected by his adversaries, was to his premature death the leader of the Italian Communist Party.

Giulio Andreotti, now Senator For Life, was long a very influential figure in the Democratic Christian Party.

Piazza Fontana, Brescia, Bologna Station, Italicus, Ustica are all names associated with terrorist slaughters.

If I were ever a communist? Mah... in what sense? I mean...
Some were communists because they had been born in Emilia.
Some were communists because their grandad, their dad, their uncle... no, not their mum.
Some were communists because they saw a promise in Russia, a poem in China, and the Earthly Paradise in Communism.
Some were communists because they felt lonely.
Some were communists because their education had been too Catholic.
Some were communists because cinema demanded it, theater demanded it, picture demanded it, literature demanded it... everybody demanded it.
Some were communists because "History is on our side!"
Some were communists because they had told them.
Some were communists because they hadn't told them everything.
Some were communists because earlier, much earlier, they had been fascists.
Some were communists because they had understood how Russia went slowly but far.
Some were communists because Berlinguer was a good man.
Some were communists because Andreotti wasn't.
Some were communists because they were rich but loved the people.
Some were communists because they drank wine and went all soppy at fairs.
Some were communists because they were so much of an atheist that they needed another God.
Some were communists because they were so fascinated by workers that they wanted to be like them.
Some were communists because they were sick to death of being workers.
Some were communists because they wanted a rise.
Some were communists because the borguesois, the proletariat, class struggle, easy, no?
Some were communists because not today, not tomorrow, but the other day there'll certainly come the Revolution.
Some were communists because Marx, Lenin, Mao Tse Tung!
Some were communists because to get their fathers mad.
Some were communists because they only ever watched RAI 3.
Some were communists because of fashion, some for the principle of it, some out of frustration.
Some were communists because they wanted everything statalized.
Some were communists because they didn't know any State employee.
Some were communists because they had mistaken "dialectic materialism" for "The Gospel according to Lenin".
Some were communists because they were sure they had the working class behind them.
Some were communists because they were more communist than everybody else.
Some were communists because we had the Great Communist Party.
Some were communists despite having the Great Communist Party.
Some were communists because there was nothing better.
Some were communists because we had the worst Socialist Party in Europe.
Some were communists because the State, worse than here, only in Uganda.
Some were communists because after forty years of slimy thieving governments they couldn't take any more.
Some were communists because Piazza Fontana, Brescia, Bologna Station, Italicus, Ustica, etc., etc., etc.
Some were communists because everybody who was Against was a communist.
Some were communists because they could stand no more of that dirty thing we keep calling democracy.
Some were communists because maybe they were something else entirely.

Some were communists because they dreamed of a freedom that was not Pax Americana.
Some were communists because they could only conceive of being happy and free if everybody else was happy and free too.
Some were communists because the needed a drive towards something new, because they were ready to change each day, because they felt the need of a different morality, because maybe it was just a force, a drive, a flight, a dream, a desire to change things, to change life.
Some were communists because with this force by their side everybody was something more than just themselves, they were like two people in one. On the one side the everyday personal drudgery and on the other the sense that one belonged to a race that wanted to take flight, for life to change, once and for all.

No. No regrets. Maybe back then many had opened their wings without being able to really fly, like hypothetical seagulls. And what now? Now too we feel like two people in one, on the one side the integrated body that obsequiously travels through its everyday squalid survival, and on the other the seagull, lacking now even the wish to fly, because the dream has shrunk.
Two miseries in one body, alone.

The good American

I really wanted to write about something else today, and I may yet do, but this is something that I have to point people at - even if after such a long hiatus (hangs head in shame) I don't know who may notice at all.
When I'm about to give up the USA and everybody in it - and last elections were such an occasion - reasoning that the people I trust and admire there are such a trifling minority that they're close to being negligible anyway, along comes Micheal Moore and makes me glad for the rational part of me that knows that's angry bullshit. I went to see Bowling for Columbine, I laughed, I was sick, I heard grown men sniffling in the aisle across from me, and now I've read his interview in The Guardian and goshdamn if he didn't hit on close to everything I care about. I've been campaining to get all my anti-American friends go see it, because you can't help loving a nation that produces a guy that makes you laugh so much and so bitterly, even if it scares you silly.
The second part of the interview is probably even better than the first, but both deserve a read.