La Febbre

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of seeing Alessandro D’Alatri’s recent film La Febbre (Fever). As the reviewer says (Italian link), this is a ‘normal’ (everyday) film, not a great one, even if it does include one or two memorable moments, like the scenes shot along the river bank, which were (and I imagine this is not entirely unintentional) rather reminiscent of some which are to be found in the unforgettable L’Albero Degli Zoccoli from that giant of Italian cinema Ermanno Olmi.

La Febbre è il classico film italiano, che vuol raccontare una storia normale, di tutti i giorni, e che per farlo non trascende dai canoni della buona creanza del plot, e da quel pizzico di amara critica sociale che lo rende molto politically correct.”

(La Febbre (the fever) is a typical Italian film, the kind of film which tries to tell a simple, ‘normal’ story – an everyday one – and which in order to do this stays well within the bounds of what is normally thought to be an acceptable plot structure, and then, following the recipe, there is added just enough social criticism to make the film a highly politically correct one.)

My point of interest in this post, however, is not really the film itself, but rather the film as a reflection of something else: the disenchantment and frustration that many young Italians seem to feel with contemporary Italian society, and the impact that the evident failure of Italian civil society to adjust to Italy’s contemporary social and demographic reality may have on the future evolution of Italian economy and society.
Continue reading

Stanley Kurtz….

…is at it again.

Gay marriage undermines marriage….okay, I admit it. I’m a cranky, stick-in-the-mud conservative who keeps making the same tired old point.

And again, he fails to provide proof, sticking instead to his familiar method of talking out of his ass.

So, once more I get to remind people that Stanley Kurtz is a quack who got his Harvard PhD by expanding Freudian quackery from the mere individual to entire peoples (“psychoanalytical sociology” it’s called. You should read Kurtz on the Oedipus Complex of the Trobriand Islanders). Quackety quack.

(Crossposted at Hollandaise)

Van Themsche update

Today more information was released on Hans Van Themsche’s motives for the killings through his lawyer. In my previous post I asked:

Is far-right ideology, in this case Vlaams Belang, responsible for poisoning his apparently unstable mind to such an extent that it would have inevitably led to murder, just like video games or heavy metal are sometimes blamed for violence, or is this just a hugely unfortunate yet isolated case of madness?

Well, it turns out to be a bit of everything.
Continue reading

Joe Van Holsbeeck

I’m not sure how much this story has been covered elsewhere, but the big story in Belgium for the last couple weeks has been the murder of Joe Van Holsbeeck, a 17 year old who was killed for an MP3 player in the main hall of Brussels Central train station during rush hour.

I left for vacation in Tunisia two days after the murder and returned just last Saturday, so I missed much of the development of the story. On Sunday, some 80,000 people marched, nominally in solidarity with the family but a little more realistically in response to fears about their security. I want to point out that much of Belgian society has behaved admirably. The victim’s family specifically did not want this to turn into a partisan cause. Almost all sectors of society expressed their horror at this crime without resorting to racialism. I’m actually kind of proud of my land of residence, which is not something that happens very often.

I, however, will not be abiding by the family’s wishes. I have a partisan statement make about this killing.
Continue reading

Italian Elections 2006 III

Well Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi finally got to meet up in front of the TV cameras last night, even if they didn’t exactly enter into face to face combat. The poll consensus seems to be that Prodi won it on points.

The debate seems to have centred around economic themes, and Euractiv has a summary of it here. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti has been trying to put a brave face on things, by claiming that Italy is now “on the right tracks” and that the situation of Italy’s “public finances is good”. Mario Draghi, the new governor over at the Italian central bank does not seem especially convinced, since he was claiming only last week that the Italian economy had run aground.

Again unsurprisingly a poll held shortly before the debate showed that a large number of Italians are still undecided about how they will cast their vote, even if there is some evidence that the Prodi coalition may be hanging on to their lead.

Roberto over at Wind Rose Hotel has the third of his election posts now up. He draws our attention to the latest contributor to the ‘great debate’, semiologist and erstwhile novelist Umberto Eco (link in Italian). Eco has indicated he might consider leaving Italy were Berlusconi to be re-elected. Democracy, according to Eco, is in danger in Italy. Angelo Panebianco, writing in Corriere della Sera (which has remember endorsed the Prodi coalition), takes issue with Eco and asks: why so much theatrical drama?:

For two reasons, I think. The first is that such dramatisation is exactly what attracts the kind of ‘intellectual’ audience which has chosen Umberto Eco, and especially Umberto Eco, as its very own champion and reference point. The hate for Berlusconi among this section of the public is palpable and evident, we have surely all of us found this in recent years in scores of private conversations and in the fascinating phenomenon of collective psychology. …..

The second reason for the dramatisation, I think, is to do with a problem which is typical of our (Italian) culture. It is an ancient legacy here, for many, to mistake democracy, which is a method of resolving conflicts by counting heads instead of breaking heads them……..(to mistake this process) forthe realisation of their own ideals. To mistake the victory or defeat of their political views for the victory and defeat of democracy: this is a kind of childhood illness of democracy.

Well it seems that Italy is a society which is rapidly ageing but where ‘childhood illnesses’ abound. Reading the piece by Panebianco I could not help but think, not of Umberto Eco, but of Nanni Moretti, whose films I thoroughly enjoy, but whose perceptions of contemporary Italian society have always struck me as being ‘warped’ to say the least. Democracy is not in danger in Italy in this election, it is not even in doubt. What is in danger, and about this there should be no doubt, is the Italian pension system and the mid-term economic well-being of Italian society. Far from the Italian pension system having been reformed and fine-tuned to the extent which Tremonti alleges, the necessary adjustment has only recently started on the road, and this small step was taken only after the last minute tussle and haggling (in part with represantatives of Berlusconi’s insurance industry interests) which was needed to salvage at least one piece of reforming legislation from 5 years of a decidedly ‘reform unfriendly’ government. What Italy needs at this point in time is a government which is serious about introducing the Lisbon agenda in Italy. This would not be a Berlusconi-lead government. Will it be a Prodi-lead one? This is what remains to be seen. If it turns out that neitherof the alternatives are up to the task, then Eco may well, in a certain sense be right: Italy will then have a crisis of democracy, but not, I think, the one he has in mind.

Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff

The German newspaper whose website is now a little better organized (but no so well organized, you understand, that I can actually provide a link to the story in question) published what ought to be an interesting tale of changing tastes in toys, “Per Modellbahn aufs Abstellgleis” or, roughly, “By Model Train onto the Siding.” There would even seem to be comparative advantage in such a story, as toy-making is one of Germany’s traditional industries. Or as defenders of the romantic image would have it, handicrafts.
Continue reading

On Predictability.

While the entire world is admiring Londoners for their ability to not let the terror destroy their way of life, while London mayor Ken Livingston is taking the Tube each morning, because not doing so would prove the terrorists strategy right, the British government is reinforcing its ongoing quest to get hold of as much information about citizens as possible. I’d call it “opportunistic”, they’d call it “concerned”.
Continue reading

Human Capital And Trade Deficits

Michael Mandel had an interesting take on the US trade deficit in Business Week earlier this month (btw: he also has a weblog).

His opinion is that the US trade deficit isn’t as big a deal as people often think. One of the reasons: that the ongoing import of human capital into the US (which of course isn’t measured in the trading accounts ledger) more than compensates for the deficit:

But get with the 21st century, folks. The trade in goods and services represents only one part of America’s connection with the rest of the world. What’s equally important — and what the trade numbers miss completely — is the incredible flow of people into the country. Each year, the U.S. receives about 700,000 legal immigrants, as well as a host of temporary skilled workers and undocumented immigrants.

Now I wouldn’t go down the same road as Mandel with the deficit question per se, but he obviously raises an interesting point here – and one, of course, that immediately strikes a chord with me.
Continue reading