America’s Education Failure

The Necessity of Reappropriating Our Cultural Heritage

Thomas Friedman, in his article “U.S.G. and P.T.A.”, highlighted the failure of America’s educational system, and said help was needed from both sides: “top down” from the government (U.S.G.), and “bottom up” from parents and teachers (P.T.A.). He is correct. But we need more than that: We also need to reappropriate our Western culture, which is our national heritage, and without which we can not exist as a country, since all of our ideals, ethics, and mores come from it. Indeed, an important part of our current problems stems from our “cultural amnesia” regarding this irreplaceable intellectual and cultural inheritance—which loss can be seen most graphically in the cynicism, ignorance, selfishness, and mean-spiritedness now running, and ruining, our nation whole and entire.

The Tea Party is the culmination of a degenerate politics since the multiple assassinations in the 1960’s of Martin Luther King, Jr, John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy. These killings, we now know, were political assassinations carried out by the US government through the initiative, knowledge, and support of the wealthy one percent, in order to stifle in America the basic values inherent in Western culture and Christianity, i.e., economic assistance to minorities, the poor, the elderly, and the sick—along with other initiatives to make society as a whole fairer and more equitable; and on the other hand, not to allow large corporations to run roughshod over Americans or America, which, under JFK, meant concretely, among other things, not to get dragged into the Viet Nam war, for which Corporate America and the military lobbied so insistently. In hindsight we can now see what have been the tragic consequences of the deaths of these three great Americans: numerous, costly, and debilitating wars; an absolutist Corporate State; economic decline and hardship for 84% of Americans; a degenerating, and increasingly malfunctioning infrastructure; an inadequate and expensive health care system (now, under Obama, finally about to be improved, unless stopped again by Republicans); a grossly inferior, and deteriorating, public school system; no relief from our dependence on fossil fuels (and therefore our continuing engagement in the Middle East); environmental catastrophes one after another; little progress in trying to stop global warming; the loss of America’s prestige, honor, and influence through unjust wars and the mistreatment and torture of prisoners; and a new “banana republic” status due to an unbelievably high income disparity. These are both the intended and unintended effects of the assassinations—the intended effects welcomed by Tea Party people and Conservatives (Republicans mostly, but also some Democrats).

But mere “structural changes” won’t effect ini themselves a change in America or how it is governed. We need to probe deeper. We need to return to our cultural, intellectual, and spiritual heritage, to the Greeks and Romans, and also, in an informed and spiritual manner, to our Bible, to reappropriate the history and foundational ideas of Western culture—to enflame our hearts once more with the highest ideals, from Moses and Homer on down, which have inspired men to strive for wisdom, goodness, truth, and beauty, no matter the cost. From these historic Western ideals have sprung new ideas of governance, of how citizens ought to behave towards one another, and of how the state ought to act. Just compare, for example, a Saudi Arabia or China or Russia—their governments, and how they treat their citizens—with any modern Western state, and we see how profoundly important our Western cultural heritage really is.

In part, this renewing of the Western mind and soul will need, as an aid, a return to the classical languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; for a full and profound appropriation cannot be accomplished without a knowledge of the sources speaking in their original tongues. A classical and liberal arts education is, I know, hardly a fashionable prescription, though a necessary one. For language is more than a cultural artifact: it is the only means by which a culture can be effectively appropriated. For our nation, in these troubled times, it would be a decided boon: instead of a distorted, false, and propagandistic Fox News, for example, we could read for instruction our Genesis, Isaiah, or John; instead of the empty and mindless entertainment offered on TV, computers, and cell phones, we could be enriched, deepened, and delighted by Herodotus, Sophocles, or Shakespeare; and instead of listening to the empty and twisted sophistry of a Palin or Beck, we could hear the wise and sonorous counsels of a Plato, a St. Paul, or a Cicero. In this educational reform hearkening back to our cultural roots, then, there would be much to be gained and nothing lost—except our cynicism, our ignorance, our empty pride, and our (Republican) uncharitable hearts.

America is at an historic crossroads. We can embrace fanatics and lunatics, like the Tea Party, and go down to destruction—or we can be renourished and sustained by the historic wisdom of our Western culture, and thrive both individually and collectively. But we cannot do both.

Len Sive, Daily Babel

A MEDITERRANEAN RESURRECTION

Are the countries on the southern shores of the vast sea the Romans called Mare Nostrum going to rise again? For centuries those countries have stayed demoted to semicolonial status, subjected to Turkey first, to Spain France Britain Italy later. Today portents of revival are multiplying. Tunisia’s and Morocco’s economies are developing in a way resembling the Italian one in the wonder years of the ’50s, when Italy started growing at a relentless speed. The performance of the Maghreb agro-industry is seriously menacing the market positions of the southern regions of Italy, France, Spain and Greece. A few years ago, a leading exponent of the Sicilian fruit industry remarked recently, a man who owned a 4-hectare (10-acre) citrus orchard was a prosperous farmer. Today, because of the Moroccon (and Spanish) competition, he is struggling and may go bankrupt.

In the eastern reaches of the Mediterranean Sea Turkey is going back to the giant status of three centuries ago. Over a quinquennium she has been developing 6% a year. An omen of a strong future is the fact that the Ankara government opened 30 new embassies in Africa and Latin America over a dozen months.

It’s the phenomenon of a neo-Ottomanism which does not rely on military conquests but on economic, diplomatic, cultural, religious ones. A few months ago a pact was signed by Turkey, Syria and Lebanon to create a free-trade zone. The nation that was the brain, heart and powerful arm of an empire stretching from the outskirts of Vienna to the Atlantic Ocean and to the Persian Gulf is now conscious as never was in the last two centuries that the imperial heritage of the Ottomans is a large asset in modern geopolitical terms.

Possibly the lines of expansionist assertion are not predominantly oriented toward the Maghreb; rather to the East and beyond the Black Sea, toward the regions whose populations share a Turki, or Turkic, language- the Osmanlis in Europe, the Seljuks, Uzbeks, Turkomans, Tatars and Uigurs in Asia. Central Asia is the ancestral homeland of the Turks. But the southern, formerly Ottoman shores of Mare Nostrum, too have important prospects. They are nearer to and more connected with Europe, so possibly will play an increasing role in the dilatation of Ankara’s sphere, even should Turkey miss admission to the European Union.
I have mentioned the present growth of Tunisia and Morocco, but no reason exists why Algeria and Egypt should not acquire additional weight. Syria, bordering Turkey to the south, adds to her own national potential the outlook of reclaiming the vocation as the maritime component of a Mediterranean-Mesopotamian-Persian context.

Once upon a time Turkey was ‘the sick man of Europe’ and Anatolia was backward. Today the country which Kemal Ataturk modernized is a powerhouse. It’s not totally sure that the future of Turkey will look much better than today if or when she will be accepted into Europe. Other, perhaps more gratifying, options and horizons are open to the heirs of the Ottomans. The Mediterranean promises are richer than those of the comparatively irrelevant Baltic or North Seas. It’s not without significance the astonishing success of the Islamist-religious-cultural Gulen movement started a few years ago by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam. The Gulen-affiliated schools are approximately one thousand in 100 countries, offering a mix of faith, Western education and Turkish pride.

A.M.C., Daily Babel

UNKNOWN ARABIA

Recently the Saudi government in Riyad placed an order for planes, helicopters and other weapons which possibly was the largest single war contract in peacetime. A shame indeed, when the Saudi armed forces are already well equipped for killing purposes beyond any probable need. That government has enemies, yes, beginning with Al Qaeda. But the latter are enemies that conventional warfare does not destroy nor deter. Certainly you and I would think of different, more civilized ways to spend the dollars coming from oilfields which represent 25% of all known reserves of the planet.

Anyway our present theme is not moralizing about the ethical choices of Riyad. Our theme is some strangely unknown features of the Arabian modern reality. We now find it natural that the Arab monarchies are very rich. But as recently as the Thirties of last century the major wealth of the Saudi economy was fishing natural pearls; and the largest receipt of the Riyad treasury was the taxes pilgrims paid to enter Mecca and Medina. Pearl fishing was cruel- most persons engaged in it died younger because of the stress of diving for natural pearls. Today the Saudi king collects enormous royalties and fees from the oil/gas industry.

The predominantly arid peninsula is now inhabited by more than 60 million people. Qatar, 1,4 millions, numbered 30,000 sixty years ago. This means that oil and a thunderous modernization has attracted so many immigrants as to provoke imbalances and distortions. Gulf emirates whose populations were tiny, today may have non-native majorities. Societies have formed where at bottom Indians and Sri Lankans are house servants and manual laborers; above them a middle class of educated Indians and Arabs works in offices and technical jobs. The top stratum of foreigners is made of Palestinians, Lebaneses and Western expatriates. The native Arabs share the oil bonanza in a number of ways: they do not pay taxes, are compensated by foreigners to act as their partners or legal ‘sponsors’ -foreigners are not allowed to own firms and houses. In addition there are jobs, state loans and outright gifts which can only go to natives. Many young Arabs do not feel compelled to find employment.

The sudden wealth and some over-ambitious modernization programs have generated mistakes. In Dubai, formerly a small gulf port, oilfields are now empty, so the emirate had converted into a giant financial and tourist center. In 2009 the international crisis and the consequences of a property bubble forced Dubai to ask the help of Abu Dhabi, where modernization had been wiser.

Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1932, the year when the kingdom came into existance. We know that before oil the Arab peninsula was poor. It wasn’t always so in the remote past. Kingdoms and principalities of the South were the legendary producers of spices: aromatic, very valued vegetable productions used in religious rites, cookery, medicine. In the south-western hill country native plants grow whose resins give frankincense and myrrh. The local princes (one of them was the Queen of Sheba of the Bible) also monopolized the trade from India and other Asian spice-producing countries to the Mediterranean.

Out of the three historical great sections of the 3 million sq.km. Peninsula -Arabia Petrea to the North, Desert Arabia in the center, Arabia Felix in the South- the third one was (comparatively) green and fertile in spices. Now divided in two states, Yemen ( including Hadramouth) and Oman, Arabia Felix saw around 500 a.C. an episode of Christian domination (of the Abyssinians from Axum) and another one of Hebrew influence. Central Arabia was of course the origin and nucleus of Islam: from there Mohammed preached and acted to create a world faith and a great empire. Internecine conflict soon erupted between factions, so the highest authority of Islam abandoned Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed. The caliphs of Damascus and Bagdhad plus other leaders competed to guide Islam. In 1517 the whole of Arabia fell to the Ottomans. Three centuries later Great Britain conquered Aden and most coastal territories; only Yemen remained independent.

Today the king in Riyad, while remaining a feudal sovereign, is the foremost protagonist both in the modernization of the peninsular society and in repelling the political/terrorist attack of adversaries such as Al Qaeda. The latter is said to maintain an operational basis in Yemen.

Why have we dealt with Arabia, a small ‘continent’ which is usually ignored when oil is not involved? Because long depressed Arabia might find a role in the geopolitics and, more importantly, in the future evolution of wide sections of the globe. An experiment is going on in the peninsula, one that may both fail and succeed: grafting an almost futuristic modernity into a very old tree. Some traits of modernization are frightful, such as the golden sanitaries and precious plumbings of the seven star hotel in Dubai, the yachts as big as ships, other marks of unbridled consumerism of many former dromedary and goat shepherds.

However, who can say? With her northern shores on the Mediterranean, Arabia is the homeland of the entire race of the descendants of Shem, now chiefly represented by Jews and Arabs, but in ancient times including the Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, et cet. Arabia generated, in addition to three world religions and unsurpassed civilizations, a large empire. Notwithstanding present deformed, adulterated cultural circumstances, Arabia could possibly go back to enriching the Family of Man.

A.M.C., Daily Babel

ISLAM IN CRISIS: THE MULTICULTURAL LITMUS TEST

Germany has been rocked in recent weeks by questions about its “multicultural” society, and in particular about whether it will ever be able to integrate its 4 million Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent addition to the controversy, saying that “multiculturalism has utterly failed,” while undoubtedly a political move to win over some of the 66% of voters who are disenchanted with Germany’s Turkish Muslims, merely ratchets up the heat without providing much light on the subject. But there is an irony here that no one seems to have seen: Islam is itself monocultural, with very few exceptions. There’s the Islamic way and no other way. Islam, so Muslims believe, is not a world religion but the world’s one true religion. Everyone else is an “infidel,” even so-called brothers of “The Book”, Jews and Christians.

In Turkey the irony of its Muslims being upset with Germany’s disenchantment with multiculturalism is even greater: in 1900, in Istanbul, there were over 500,000 Christians (500 years earlier, of course, its many millions were all Christians, as Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) was the Christian Church’s Eastern center). Now, however, only a few Christians remain (and these are mostly “religious”), the rest having been oppressed, persecuted, killed, or taxed out of existence. And let us also not forget, less than 100 years ago Turkey committed the first modern holocaust, against a million and a half Armenian Christians, men, women, and children—which ethnic and religious “cleansing” Turkey to this day refuses to accept responsibility for! Indeed, even to mention it in Turkey is a crime against the state! (This holocaust, incidentally, would later give Hitler the idea of doing something similar to the Jews of Germany and Europe.)

This, then, is a parable of how Islam treats non-Islamic cultures. To say that Islam is against multiculturalism is but to speak in gross understatement. Non-Muslims are not, and perhaps never will be integrated into Muslim societies. Even today, for example, it is not safe to be an open Christian in most Islamic countries, and one may not proselytize one’s Christian faith, on pain of death—and to convert from Islam to Christianity brings an automatic repudiation by one’s family and, in many Islamic countries, an automatic death sentence as well! So much for Islamic tolerance and “multiculturalism.”

The crisis in Islam, then, is precisely this: How can it continue to complain about western countries’ treatment of Muslims while it itself oppresses and persecutes, and refuses to integrate and accept its own non-Muslims? Indeed, Islam even persecutes, and kills, its fellow Muslims if they are members of a different Islamic sect! The hypocrisy of Muslims, then, complaining about non-tolerance of its own religion in western countries is both irrational and truly maddening.

Indeed, even after 1400 years, since the rise of Islam, Muslims have yet to allow non-Muslims to be fully integrated into their society, or even to live normal lives. For example, as recently as the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Christian churches in Muslim-controlled Palestine were not permitted to be renovated! Only after Israel had won the war, and taken control of part of the territory, could Christians carry out long-needed repairs to their churches. (But the persecution of Christians in Muslim-controlled Palestine has continued unabated, with some towns, like Bethlehem, losing almost all of its Christians.) And in all Muslim lands, the building of new churches is either strictly forbidden or sharply curtailed. And there are few signs of anything changing in the long term, much less the short term.

Westerners—including Germans—aren’t blind. They see these things, and it worries them. For once a population of Muslims achieves a certain degree of numerical power, as in Lebanon, then Christianity (or any other non-Muslim religion) is forced onto the defensive, since Islam is strictly “monocultural.” There is simply no such thing as Islamic tolerance, let alone full, complete and permanent acceptance, equality, and integration of non-Muslims. No Muslim country, for example, has a “bill of rights”(both de jure and de facto) to protect its non-Muslims and to guarantee them full equality and acceptance; and no Muslim country is multicultural in the same way that almost all Western countries are. This rightfully worries countries with growing Muslim populations.

Moreover, It is not even certain that most Muslims wish to be fully integrated since there are so many professions Muslims refuse to enter, and academic subjects they refuse to study, let alone obtain a degree in—fields such as world history, philosophy, world religions, the philosophy of religion, Christian theology, a history of the Church, biblical studies (not to mention Judaic, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist studies, or the study of primitive and prehistoric religions ), inter alia, let alone verboten subjects like the fine arts. When I was studying in Germany, in my classes I met and befriended a Turkish lawyer and his lawyer wife. They spent almost every weekend for several months meeting with young Turks in Berlin, trying to persuade them to study, stay in school, integrate, become part of their new society. But they were unsuccessful in their appeals—and this was nearly 10 years ago. Evidently little has changed since then.

Should we ourselves in the West, then, be multicultural? Should we accept Muslims since they in their own countries don’t accept us? By all means. That’s what’s so important about the Judaeo-Christian western culture: from Christ comes the commandment to love and to serve others—Muslims included! These commandments are what make western culture so vital, open, flexible, dynamic, and creative. But on the other hand, Muslims who “become westernized”—i.e., those who come to the West to live—must then adopt their host country’s laws, due process, constitutional rights, and western ways of approaching life—which many still refuse to do. (“Honor” killings, the treatment of women and children, and bigamy are but three examples of their refusal to adapt to their new country’s different laws and mores.)

If Muslims wish to be fully integrated, then the challenge is for them, too, to be open and tolerant and accepting in their own cultures—i.e., to be “multicultural” even as they expect the same treatment from western countries. But this must mean, first and foremost, to lay aside permanently their eternal war with so-called “infidels,” including those people they deem to have been disrespectful of Allah or Mohammed, and therefore must be “punished.” Not to do so opens them to the crippling charge of hypocrisy, and puts at risk their lasting acceptance, and final integration, into Western societies, to which they have come voluntarily seeking a better, more open, more dynamic, and more secure way of life.

We in the West have no stomach for their religious fratricide or wars against “infidels” (ours ended for the most part well over 200 years ago—and was in any event a negation, not an affirmation, of Christianity!). The beauty and wisdom of Christianity lies precisely in its counsels to love, to serve, and to forgive—and to seek genuine and lasting peace among all men.

We do not wish, as a culture, to give up these precious ideals, and to substitute for them instead endless warfare with and hatred of “infidels”. History has moved on—in the West—beyond such insanity and sacrilege; there can be no going back now to that earlier, barbaric, less tolerant way of life without also destroying everything good that we presently enjoy in western culture.

Islam, then, is in crisis: It may stay where it is and risk rejection from the West—or it can adopt tolerance and acceptance as its twin modes of being, and be at peace with both itself and the world—and therewith become a vital, vibrant and contributing part of the world community. Let us hope it has enough wisdom to choose the right path—for its own sake, as well as for the peace, security, and happiness of the whole world.

Len Sive, Daily Babel

Korea: Between Life And Death

Nothing is stranger than war. Or more disturbing. It reveals graphically, and tragically, how fragile the flower of life really is. One minute there is peace, and things are settled, certain. The next minute war—and nothing is certain, except that life is all too brief.

We Americans are not used to knowing the dangers of war at first-hand—hence our collective shock at 9/11. Rather, we are used to bringing war to others: Viet Nam, Cambodia, Panama, the Balkans, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan. Then (so we supposed) we were in control. War was terrible—but from the safe distance of TV and the Internet (excepting the battle-line soldiers and their families, of course). And our lives went on as usual.

In South Korea, where 25,000 US soldiers are based, and where (like myself) thousands of teachers are working, war threatens at any moment. And like last week, sometimes strikes. War is only a few miles away at any given moment: within the easy range of an artillery shell, seen graphically last week when N Korea shelled a disputed, inhabited island, killing four and wounding many. It was the third attack on this island in a little over a decade. Koreans have lived with the possibility of war since the cessation—without a treaty—of the hostilities that marked the end of major fighting in the Korean War. Since then war has always hovered in the air as a possibility, even a probability.

Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean communist dictator, like his father before him, plays a high-stakes craps game with the South, stirring up shadows of war in order to blackmail the South into giving aid and food to a starving N Korea, whose government spends all its monies on the military and nuclear weapons and so has nothing left over for its own people. It banks on South Korea’s indulgence and pacific ways, and its fear of war, which would be much more devastating for a developed South than an undeveloped North. But one day the North may well push too hard. China indulges the North for fear of having a united Korea, and US ally, at its border—but in doing so, she risks North Korea getting out of control and a war enveloping all of Asia.

I was teaching when the shelling started. My students were terrified. Two girls in the front row held hands; one was near tears. An unnatural silence hovered about us. I did my best to be calm and reassuring, but as a foreigner unused to the proximity of war it was a difficult role for me. Evil men are by definition irrational. Hitler at the end ordered the army to destroy Germany! Such men act unpredictably and without regard to consequences. JFK felt pressure from the military to start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the missile crisis, but resisted heroically, thus saving civilization from utter annihilation. (Interestingly, Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, joined JFK in resisting his own military too, and paid a high price for it: JFK was later assassinated, and Khrushchev was deposed less than two years later.) JFK had reason, and was a man of deep faith. Kim Jong-Il evidences neither reason nor faith.

Koreans have lived with the specter of war for over 60 years; for the most part they are stoical—though there is a certain “live for the moment” attitude in South Korea as a result, a kind of “eat, drink, and be happy now” attitude—paradoxically admixed with a severe work and study ethic—that permeates all of society.

One day Kim Jong-Il’s high stakes game of craps will fail, and the South’s military will feel compelled to respond aggressively, not just defensively. Then millions will die a senseless death brought on by the unreason and atheism of N Korea’s leader, leading both countries back into the dark ages.

All of which reminds me of the essential helplessness of the human condition. Against the Enlightenment, we are not, and never have been, the captains of our fate—though we are, for good or ill, stuck in one big boat together.

The words of Jesus—“Blessed be the peacemakers”—have taken on a much more personal meaning for me now. Life is sacred, and peace is blessed.

Len Sive Jr, Daily Babel

OVEROPTIMISM DOES NOT SUIT INDIA

It’s excessive or faulty that Brazil and India are now currently described as vibrant, surging economies and societies. Two affluent friends, here in Milan, are busy every day collecting small donations in favor od Brazilian meninhos : abandoned, orphaned or very destitute children who do not eat regularly. The expectations about the sudden modernization of Brazil are too high. The same applies to India, where efforts to lift up the very poor cannot claim enough successes.

The most extreme forms of discontent ravage several provinces. Some areas of Central India must be described as insurrected: armed rebellion is intermittently the winner. The rebellion, started in the district of Chhattisgarh in 1967 and apparently invincible, is a local version of revolutionary Maoism. The insurgents, here called Naxals, do not dominate more than 4,000 sq.kms. (total India is 3.3 million sq.kms), but the local geography (terrain, forests) and popular support, both willing and forced by terror, are such that a few thousand guerrillas are able to disrupt, often cancel, the government operations. Somewhat less than half a century of military efforts did not eradicate rebellion.

Territorially isolated as they are, Naxals can only wage a primitive warfare. They even implement their weapons with bows and arrows. The explosives they use are prevalently obtained by attacking police and security forces. Their operation is too far from foreign sorces of supplies. They are described as Maoists, even as China has not been exporting subversion any more. Still, a few months ago the Delhi government was forced to allocate funds for new battalions of armed militia, for additional helicopters and counterinsurgency training centers.

India is a giant well accostumed to take tough measures against her enemies, but past efforts against Naxals did not succeed. Recently prime minister Manmohan Singh described those rebels “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by India”. But he also admitted “the chronic poverty, mass ignorance and desease”. In the last four years a thousand people died each year violently
India is seen abroad as a nation on the move, however the durability of the insurgence is bewildering. In addition to general factors, the tribal conditions of many Central Indian villages easily explain poverty. Minerals have been found, but the new jobs are few and low-paid. Terrorism in one third of the Indian districts discourages investments.

At the root of the political problem is the failure of the democratic institutions to operate in conformity with the lofty ideals and easy promises. Once upon a time India appeared a young nation which would conform to the noble precepts of Mahatma Gandhi, thanks among other things to the collective enthusiasm of hundred millions voting citizens. Reality is different. The governing classes were soon spending on aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons and Rolls-Royces for ambassadors, well in advance of present economic development, rather than on adequate social programs. Today huge wealth is being created in some segments, but it doesn’t reach the low classes. Gandhian idealism has been operating only nominally and sporadically, while graft and egoism have increased.

A.M.C., Daily Babel

THE BANE OF AMERICAN HAPPINESS

As politicians go, former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi is unusually familiar with the economics of the international scene. He also headed the Brussels Commission, governing body of the European Union. Beforehand he was the czar of IRI, the giant conglomerate of the largest State-owned Italian industries, from steelworks to banks to shipbuilding and much more. He is a full economics professor in the prestigious Bologna university. He is a member of an exceptionally gifted family of eight or nine tenured academics. He is presently a top consultant of the Peking government.

A few days ago I listened professor Prodi explaining why the USA has inevitably lost the absolute hegemony on the planet: . If Prodi is right, the exhorbitant investment in wars and armaments in the last 93 years, beginning with president Wilson forcing America into WW1, has actually weakened the United States. The present cost accepted in Afghanistan only is $100 billion a year, to the obvious detriment of civilian programs that would almost certainly cut the 10% American unemployment to the physiological level of 3 to 6 per cent. Of course, should Uncle Sam wind up the adventure in Afghanistan, the American war industries would suffer. But the civilian programs would in all probability determine a positive algebraic sum. It’s not sure that president Obama would have lost the midterm elections so badly, had he announced Tennessee Valley-type programs to the tune of $100 billion a year.

The abovementioned ‘law’ that Prodi the economist enunciated should probably be enlarged with a plain corollary, or additional inference: a government spends too much on arms when it is too rich. This probably means that the wondrous economic success of last three centuries is really the bane of the American happiness, while happiness loomed large in the inspiration and doctrines of the Founding Fathers. So converting to no-growth is theoretically a prerequisite to a comeback of sanity in America and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia’s recently announced buying American weapons for a volume which would be high even to the Pentagon is the very opposite of sanity. Shall Uncle Sam one day be the recipient of international aid programs of the kind of the Marshall Plan?

The mark of absolute, fashinating youth was the American newborn Republic being penniless. The US Treasury had debts rather than funds. No immediate receipt was available. A number of months elapsed before the first money came in (a custom duty levied by a law of Congress). At that point the federal bureaucracy numbered a few dozen persons. The permanent Army of the US reckoned 700 men. The nation’s richest gentleman was a farmer, president George Washington, the owner of Mount Vernon. His property was large, 8,000 tillable acres plus bush, but the product was lilliputian when seen with today’s eyes.

Adolescent America soon became the sweetheart of the world. Slimming and discarding armor is mandatory to present obese America should she try to reclaim part of her beauty and loveliness.

Anthony Cobeinsy
da Daily Babel

IMPERIAL PROSPECTS OF SOLAR POWER

A few months ago The Daily Babel gave me the opportunity to emphasize the vast potential of deserts in terms of solar power, and of course the Sahara is the king of deserts (approximately 9 million sq.km). But one eighth of Asia (with 44,4 million sq.km the largest among the seven parts of the world) is desert. The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and most extended upland of the planet. Consequently Tibet is going to result, after Sahara, a giant “deposit” of solar energy.

The Plateau’s climate is cold (with the exception of the Pomi district, which produces some bananas and grapefruit), a factor that does not favor the production of electricity. However its altitude, between 4,000 and 6,000 meter, is such that the Plateau seems to receive the strongest sunlight of any region of the planet other than Sahara. Add the aridity to altitude. Average rain on the Plateau is between 100 and 200 millimetres per year. Compare that with annual rain in the Indian state of Meghalaya: 12,000 millimetres. Extremely scanty rain means less clouds, therefore a lot of light, i.e. power.

The latitude of Tibet is not northern: a good part of it is not far from the latitudes of Baghdad, Cyprus and Tangier. China, to which Tibet belongs, will be the logical beneficiary of so much potential. It’s developing fast enough to absorb the solar power of the Plateau. Having other deserts, Gobi and Taklamakan in the first place, China shall one day be able to supply its many neighbors that today depend largely for hydro power from rivers fed by retreating glaciers. China will profit by selling solar power to Pakistan, Thailand, Bhutan, Indochina, possibly Japan too.

China is already the world’s most important maker of solar panels and photovoltaic cells. A big emitter of greenhouse gases, the largest nation of Asia has the money to free herself and her neighbors from addiction to fossil fuels. Tibet’s sun is the extraordinary resource which will mitigate the environmental menaces, in addition to give Peking another geopolitical advantage.

Territorial bigness will be decisive even when the mountains are “too many”. Theoretically technology may evolve in ways that allow solar plants on the slopes of high mountains. Even the extremely rugged country of non-flat districts of China will perhaps become prosperous thanks to the photovoltaic panels.

Vast and barren territories of the planet are more value than we used to believe. Will even the roofs of the three thousand monasteries of Tibet be called to fruition?

A.M.C.

AFGHANISTAN: When sepoys die

Every time a non-American Nato warrior is killed in Afghanistan some politicians and/or gurus in the country of the dead rinse their throats with the syllogism (sort of): casualties must be accepted so the crusade for democracy and human rights will triumph. Is it so?

Apart that most crusades in history failed, the truth is that the Nato coalition is not fighting for noble goals. It is waging another colonial conquest war of the United States, a one similar to the wars against Mexico, Spain or Iraq. All empires on Earth were more or less built through colonial wars; but in the past justifications for conquests were not needed. Today it’s different -so Obama and his advisors are in trouble.

It’s a lie, a delusion anyway, that Islamic fundamentalism will be deleted if the West quells Afghanistan. A few thousand caves can be obliterated there by drones, missiles and flamethrowers (with children killed as collateral damages), but a great many more caves exist on the planet. Terrorist can also operate where caves are lacking. Is the Nato coalition going to wage wars in each continent?

If terrorism cannot be cancelled with the tools of the Pentagon, just two justifications remain for the Afghan crusade: a) saving the face of a Nobel prizewinner (for peace!) who is also the supreme warlord on the planet; b) expanding the American possessions in Central Asia. From the colonialist viewpoint, the above justifications are perfectly legitimate. But they involve only the U.S. and those mercenary governments that have been promised tangible gains in payment of their war efforts, casualties and crimes included. Such governments supply, among other things, the sepoys general Petreus needs. The sepoy was a native East Indian employed as a soldier by Britain. Today native Britons are Obama’s best sepoys.

Rome will possibly send additional sepoys (in Italian: ascari) to serve under Petreus. What gains has been assured if Afghanistan is conquered with the help of carabinieri? A share in the government of the world? Of course not. Pentagon contracts and deals are the real prizes for Italy. So highly incongrous are the efforts to throw Italy into mourning when three-color coffins arrive from Afghanistan. The victims of that war were not heroes, as their fatherland was not imperiled. They were professionals seeking career and money. They also died for the sake of jobs and dividends for the national economy.

Italy should drastically cut her military budget, and the same should do all countries of the world, US included. As to Rome, her armed forces should be miniaturized to the size of auxiliaries of the civilian police. Armed forces are immorally expensive and evil.

Recently a traditionalist Italian reader asked former ambassador Sergio Romano, a foremost commentator on international affairs, the following question: the new government of Britain will significantly lower its military budget. Insn’t this going to damage London’s international role? The ambassador’s answer: Britain’s budget deficit is twice the Italian one. Now that the British might has practically disappeared, Premier David Cameron is right in cancelling 20 to 30 per cent of the military expense, and even more right in abandoning the conventional diplomatic strategy of the last 65 years. “The special partnership with Washington forced Britain into two wars which were mistaken”.

An additional appraisal of the former ambassador: “The U.S. have misused their planetary leadership and are responsible for the major crisis, especially the financial ones, of the last decade. The Afghan war has infected Pakistan and the Caucasus. So the American leadership is on the wane.”

The logical inference is that the allies of Washington should stop behaving as Sepoy States.

Jone
da Daily Babel

In quest of an anthropological mutation

Richard Sennett is a renowned American sociologist who happens to be a leftist and the heir of a number of militant Communists. In 1936 his father went to Spain to fight the Francoist insurgents against the almost Communist Republic. Recently professor Sennett gave to an Italian Communist paper an extended interview at the London School of Economics. The core was: the international crisis will worsen soon because the ‘financial capitalism’ which started it is as unwinnable as the medieval Black Death. At being asked, what would he do to fight modern day’s Black Death, Sennett answered “I would nationalize the whole banking sector”.

Now, nobody can doubt an LSE academic’s capacity to obey to at least some logic. It’s therefore clear: Sennett implies that a true revolution would be necessary so that a strong government is able to nationalize the whole financial sector. Who will ever launch said revolution, after so many centuries of unsuccessful tries at the hegemony of money? Better, one and half century after Marx’ Manifesto and almost a century after the apparent victory of Lenin’s revolution?

Nowadays (when the typical compensation of a fair-size corporation is 500 times the one of a salaryperson, and when in special cases said compensation can be many thousand times the one of the lowest-paid, the prospect of any serious mitigation of such iniquities are chimerical) is any hope chimerical?

My answer- the calls to revolution, even to reasonable changes, come from the totally wrong persons. They come from the usual leftist intellectuals, politicians, journalists, film directors and actors. History has taken almost any credibility from this sort of people. When they speak or write, they may look or sound right. They may even be right. But most people, i.e. entire societies or masses, do not set value on them.
So, a completely different race or breed of humans is needed so that a new tiding or faith is announced. Modern history forbids that a better conception of associated existence may be called socialism. A new name must be found. Let’s temporarily call it semisocialism.

A true anthropological mutation is mandatory so that a different social ideal is conceived, a mutation away from the traditional leftist-progressive type. The missionary of a better faith than capitalism will not be the professional and the ambitious; but the Idealist, the Operator of Good. Aiming at a less-capitalist society, we must look at different purveyors of models, ideas, ends and means. If we don’t do this, we’ll die the victims of hypercapitalism. Leftists are on the payroll of conservation. A surgeon for the poor, a compassionate nurse, yes. Smart lawyers, committed literati, shrewd congressmen, no.

A.M.C.
da Daily Babel

FROM SECOND CITY TO WHITE HOUSE

The editors of l’Histoire, the Parisian specialized monthly, are much impressed, possibly mesmerized, by a single outline of the Obama phenomenon, his rather unusual relationship with Chicago. According to them, the American president owes a lot to the Second City, at the same time not being indebted to her, as he succeeded in embodying the whole nation, at least momentarily. So the line of thought of l’Histoire is that while Chicago was a major scene of the racial drama of America, Barack Obama, who triumphed there, did not offer himself as a Moses or a warrior of the black emancipation, but as a leader of the nation.

On the other hand, his rise cannot be understood without his bond with the South Side, i.e. with the ghettos on lake Michigan. Obama and the Windy City are seen in Paris as two success-stories of the same mushroomlike sort -a very quick growth, although not necessarily followed by a sudden decay.

Of course Americans know well that in less than fifty years Chicago rose from a fur- and cattle trading village to a large metropolis, a one prominently involved in the events, both political and social, of the 19th century. The place soon attracted several ethnic groups, who often had to fight for recognition. In Europe not many know that in 1886 four anarchists sentenced to be executed, died in Chicago while chanting a revolutionary song. Later the Blacks arrived and beginning from the Nineties the South and West Sides of Chicago became a, or the, capital of Black America. After the Depression and in the New Deal the Democratic party became the party of the Blacks, and locally the latter came near to dominate said party.

When Obama entered politics in Chicago, in 1985, he did not have special connections there. Rapidly he acquired them and succeeded in becoming the heir of the four or five historic leaders of the Chicago Blacks. But was also able to not identify himself as an ethnic ‘Libertador’. As he resolved not to try to become Mayor, the powerful incumbent mayor Richard J Daley was the very willing promoter of the rise of Obama. The young politician who came from Hawaii, Indonesia and Harvard accepted the help of persons and groups that controlled the not very ethical democratic machine of Illinois, but did not lose his personal reputation of honesty.

So the Obama’s masterpiece was conquering Chicago as an outsider, then projecting himself as the national leader from the Second City.

Anthony Cobeinsy
da Daily Babel

ITALY: WHY SO MANY SUMMONS TO DEFEND DEMOCRACY

If I were a pollster I would quiz you and me with the following riddle: “When several observers or politicians warn that an imminent danger menaces the Italian institutions, what do they mean? What are they afraid of?”

The trite answer -Berlusconi with his money, Tv channels and shady connections might make a try at dictatorship- appears kind of unplausible in view of the Premier’s difficulties after years of wear and tear. I am volunteering an answer: what the Cassandras prophesy is the coup d’état of somebody else than Berlusconi, somebody who in theory could even work for Berlusconi, but more probably would topple both the premier and his enemies.

Striking resemblances, I believe, exist between today’s Italian state of affairs and the situation of France in the twelve years of the Fourth Republic (1946-58), also the situation of Spain after the Annual (Morocco) military disaster of 1921, followed by the violent turmoil, both political and social, that tormented the domestic scene.

The health of France was restored by an illustrious physician called Charles de Gaulle. In 1923 Spain did not have such a great man; but a non-victorious general emerged, Miguel Primo de Rivera, who simply possessed the grit and the know-how to employ the customary tool of the 19th century in Spain- pronunciamiento, or military coup. For at least five years the success of Primo’s regime was strong. Even leftist historians concede that to general Primo (who assumed the official title of Dictador) went the almost unbounded consensus of the nation. Only intellectuals and militant fringes opposed the regime, until a financial crisis and the Spanish reverberations of the Great Depression erupted. F.Largo Caballero, a leading socialist who headed the nation’s most powerful unions and in 1937 will be the prime minister of the leftist Republic, supported Primo. In fact the political line and measures of the government favored the socialist movement, to the damage of the privileged classes.

Unlike past-century Spain, Italy does not have a tradition of top brass who practice politics. But her context shows some traits in common with so many emergent countries where often power struggles have been won by the sudden exercise of force by young colonels or junior generals, more or less connected with political groups but always enjoying popular support. The material, immediate tools of subversion are tanks and battalions, but the real force of the insurgents is popular dissatisfaction with civilian, normally corrupt and/or inefficient rulers.

Of course the frame of the European integration is hostile to any try at military intervention in civilian affairs. But would Brussels really mobilize international divisions to crush an hypotetical coup in a member State of the Union?

So my impression is: those who give notice of approaching danger to the Republic, really are conscious that a great many Italians are so fed-up with their politicians and institutions that they would acclaim a coup d’état. Some limited bloodshed could not be ruled out -not necessarily, though. Horse-sense would rather imply a wide and easy acceptance of new rulers. Isn’t such acceptance a millenary custom of the nation? Wasn’t Il Duce totally and willingly accepted in his first, say, 16 years in office?

A.M.C.
(da DailyBabel)

WILL GIANT SUDAN SPLIT?

I have been listening to an African Catholic bishop narrating the modern occurrences of his country, Sudan. The very tall, forceful prelate, 60 or so, was describing the last two civil wars of Sudan with remarkable restraint, but since 1975 three and half million people lost their life. He did not really inveigh against Islamic fundamentalists, although they are there the harsh adversaries of Christians. He never mentioned Omar el Bashir, the Sudanese president whom the international Penal Court indicted for extremely grave crimes (Bashir is not universally condemned -a number of observers defend him).

So much moderation was the reason why I listened to the bishop with additional respect. Besides, if it’s written in Destiny that the Black Continent is going to have a better future, Sudan will be in the forefront of the future. Since many years its agricultural potential is estimated huge. It is already an important producer of cotton, peanuts, sugar cane, sesame. The semisocialist regime of progressive officers nationalized and developed the very fertile, Nile irrigated plains of the Northern region.

Sudan gravitated on Egypt along the millennia, and even gave a few pharaos to the Nile kingdom. Approximately two centuries ago the Egyptian sovereign, kedivé Mehmet Ali, perfected the conquest of the country and in 1823 built a capital, Khartum, at the confluence of the two Niles, Blue and White. When Egypy fell to the British, Sudan shared the fate.

But Sudan was the headstream of the Muslim revivalism and of several jiads (holy wars) in the 19th century. More exactly, it was in the second half of the 18th century that Othman dan Fodio succeeded in establishing a sort of caliphate in West Sudan. The Fodio caliphate even appeared robust enough to stop the British colonial expansion in the immense subsaharian space. In 1848 sheik Muhammad Ahmed proclaimed himself the Mahdi, the Saviour, and in 1885 his jihad defeated British general Gordon Pasha (who was slain when Khartum was conquered by the army of the Mahdi). General Kitchener vindicated Gordon in 1898. From that moment Sudan belonged to the Egyptian-British condominium. In 1956 Sudan obtained independence from Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The new nation, immediately controlled by the military class, was and is predominantly Arab and Moslem in the North; black, animist and partially Christian in the South where our bishop sits. The South has been rebellious since 1956. In 1991, when Khartum proclaimed the law of Islam, the situation of the Sudanese Catholics became extremely difficult. Missionaries were expelled and the ranks of the local Church forcibly reduced. But the Church was resilient: today there are nine Catholic dioceses and the faithfuls became more numerous. So when our Bishop announces rather emphatically that the important referendum of January 11, 2011 will probably give independence to the South, ending its multisecular subservience to the North, he speaks from knowledge and authority.

The natural objection is of course that a new sovereign state is likely to be the bane of common people. New officialdom, new burocracies, new superfluous diplomacy, new defense establishment, i.e. perpetuation of poverty and injustice. Then nobody can be sure that the bloody strife will cease simply because the independentist Blacks and Christians might win a referendum.

But who can say. Positive quirks of History are always possible. Among other things, China is increasingly involving herself in the rise of Africa as a source of raw materials, as a market, as a partner in civilization. Maybe the South Sudanese will learn from China rather than from the former colonial masters. Most African republics imitated the Western ways, and the results were far from good.

Then oil was discovered in the South. This can work both ways, giving impetus to a new State or to its enemies: will the nilotic giant gently renounce to oil?

A.M.C.
(da DailyBabel)

MICRO-CREDIT IN BOMBAY

In our “western” universities our development-economists-to-be are taught everything about micro-finance. They study Mohammed Yunus’s life step by step. They are supposed to read “the Banker of the Poor” as if it was a holy script, they all should be familiar with those revolutionary (from the economical point of view) ideas that are the funding ground of the Grameen bank. Our students get an idea of how micro-credit should work, how a self-help group should be led, what a micro-finance institution is supposed to be.

Enthusiastic students will line up to get selected for an internship/volunteering program in one of the countless organizations inspired by the Grameen Bank, mostly working in the Bengale area. They will fill their backpacks with few clothes, mosquito spray, medicine, and huge expectations.

By going there, they will end up discovering that their ideas were both romantic and too rational. Romantic, as no group of poor women living in the most remote villages in the world will actually gain their economical independence this way. The women taking loans from a MFI (micro-finance institution) will not start their own business, but more simply they will put money into their husband’s businesses, or use that money to cultivate their family land. No romantic idea of a poor women emancipating herself all the way up to entrepreneurship.

At the same time, our ideas of micro-finance is based on a rationalist model, that fails to recognize one simple question: is the theoretical way actually better? Indeed, from a theoretical point of view, micro-finanace doesn’t work: as we just said, only a small fraction of all women receiving loans actually starts a business, thus the ultimate scope of micro-finance seems not to be achieved. The loan is not used for the purpose it was granted. No rise of the poorest of the poor straight to the highest level of the national production. The economy of the poor stays unnoticed.

This negative perception of micro-credit, though, comes form a GDP biased logic. To state that micro-credit betrayed its primary scope is a confession of blindness. As the primary objective of micro-finance is to better living conditions of the poor, by giving them the means for escaping from their poverty. Micro-finance should allow them not to die from hunger if, for example, their crops were devastated by the rain. It should teach them how to save, first, in order not to borrow again. It should contribute to increase their life expectancy, or allow their children to get an education (thus really permanently escaping from poverty). Of course, micro-credit alone cannot do all this. Of course, micro-credit needs a network of government of non-government organization building hospitals, schools, and roads.

Thus, a micro-finance institution should not only be concerned with granting loans to the poor. Its mission should be to educate the poor. On how to use their money, how to plan a family, how to marry their children, how to run their small activities, and cultivate their lands. Micro-credit cannot be separated from its social mission.

The loan disbursement and collection has to be seen as the last stage of a really long process. Such a process starts with few NGO’s workers visiting a village, in order to have a preliminary meeting with all the “respectable people” of that village. First stage of micro-credit it’s really a lot about talking. As it is not possible to create any self-help group without permission of the local landlords. Second step is to talk to village people, the women and their husband, and explain the benefits of being part of a self-help group. Women have to be interested, though husband have to be convinced too. In fact, without the husband’s permission, a woman cannot participate to the group-meeting. So micro-finance is much more fragile, and complicated than what we think from our efficient and organized countries. Specifically, micro-finance in the South-East Asian area is built on personal relationship. Indeed, almost everything in Asia requires personal relationship. Nobody would do anything if they don’t know the person they are dealing with. On the contrary, nothing is really impossible if the two of them are able to build a trust relationship.

Thus, the most fragile part of micro-finance is the establishment of this trust relationship.

An organization with no link to the local reality, which is not interested into the human consequences of what it is doing, will just behave as a new landlord, coming to tax the villagers. To make micro-finance mission accessible to the majority of people living in those areas, it cannot be just a matter of business establishment.

That’s why our academic ideas are at the same time romantic and too rational. And that’s why micro-finance is really working, despite a new generation of women entrepreneurs coming from the Darkness is not yet formed.

Micro-finance is not solving the problem, though contributing to solve it. It can better lives in areas where the government is nothing more than a mere phantom, people still struggle to get water to their houses, roads are often too bad for any car to arrive there, houses are still built by mud and rifles, and electricity is an optional. In those places, women burn themselves to death for fear of being unfertile, the majority of people cannot read and write, and it is not that uncommon for a child to die of malnutrition.

Even by granting a minimum level of social security, by providing basic services such as health-care and education, things can start to get better. By meeting every week, women get the opportunity to compare their experiences with those of the other members. They can get advise from the Community Officers (he intermediaries between the women and the organization), about every subject matter, form hygiene to dietary needs, together with loans and savings. They will start to build a network of mutual support within the village, beyond religion and cast differences. Those women will be allowed by their husbands to meet outside of the house. They are offered a place where to deposit their own money, instead of financing their husband’s liquor. Those are small, yet basic changes.

On the other side of the coin, micro-finance is faced with a future challenge. Repayment are constants and punctual, default rate is low. Micro-lending is working, and service charged can be paid out of this loan. For this reason, more and more for-profit MFI have been created in the last few years.

This leads to two major problems: the loss of micro-finance primary social mission. Indeed, those institutions act as normal commercial banks, though on smaller scale. Second, competition in the field is dramatically increased, making difficult to find enough “market share” (such a sad definition if we think we are referring to the rural village mothers). More and more often, not-for-profit NGOs already operating in the field for a decade now are forced to struggle in order not to let any newcomer spoil what they created through years of work.

From a certain point of view, it may be a good sign, as it means that micro-finance is now going to increase substantially those countries’ GDP, creating job opportunities and economic growth.

God of Wealth finally blessed the area. Goddess of Competition will take care of the rest. Holy Market Laws will grant an happy ending to everyone.

No more need for any social NGOs.

Of course, my conclusion is purposely exaggerated. Though, my question is still valid: is this way actually better?

I can’t help seeing dangers where GDP measures predict Success.

Marianna Galantucci
(Post-Grad student in Development Economics,
and past volunteer for IIMC Micro-Finance Project, Kolkata.)

DEAR YOUNG ITALIANS ABROAD

I’m writing you a letter because nowadays the epistolary form seems to be the most appropriate when it comes to expressing moral outrage.

Just like you, I’ve read Pier Luigi Celli’s letter in La Repubblica, encouraging his son to emigrate, to wander off into the horizon in search for a better future. Just like you, I’ve read the Time magazine article informing its readers (and anyone willing to listen) about the troubles a young Italian with a university degree encounters when searching for a job. And just like you, I’ve seen a variety of Facebook friends tag that YouTube video playing the scene from La Meglio Gioventu’ in which a professor exhorts his young(ish) student to leave Italy because ‘dinosaurs’ like him are running the country into the ground. But, perhaps, unlike you, I am not willing to resign myself to the doomsday analyses and pessimist outlooks and continual laments many find convenient when times are tough. The grass may be greener on the other side, but the question they must be asking themselves now is “What have we done in order to cultivate a better lawn in our own backyard?”

I observe with ‘nativist’ amusement the rush of Italians swarming New York City’s streets, the same streets in which I grew up, and wonder from where their indiscriminate passion for this city stems. When I wrote ‘10 Reasons to Hate New York’, the most virulent protests against my piece came from the Big Apple’s Italian residents, their deafening outcries shouting in defense of their adoptive city. Young Italians love New York because it’s dynamic, because it’s diverse, because it offers a sense of possibility around every corner, because for them it’s everything Italy isn’t. But New York hasn’t carried this aura of invincibility across the centuries because it’s inherently a great place or because confidence flows through the city’s sewers or because the air smells better or because the people are nicer. New York is both home to the Wall Street goon and the Mexican busboy, but both operate within the city’s confines with the necessary ‘can do’ optimism that allows them to dream big while being small, to construct a future from raw will. At least, that is the fuel that New York and America have run on throughout their brief histories. Nonetheless, it’s a fuel that is both generated and consumed by the inhabitants, the people, the man and woman on the street. New York is but a stage upon which the player’s existential buoyancy is lived. To make a long story short, New York is such a thriving place because New Yorkers make it so. A little bit of will power goes a long way.

But not for the Italians.

Italians suffer from negativist exceptionalism. Ask a young Italian how things are going in Italy, and they will most likely reply that the situation is ‘horrible.’ They will compare Rome’s political milieu to that of the most downtrodden African country… and say Italy is worse off. They will say the economy is on the down-and-outs, that society is crumbling in the face of mysterious organizations like the P2 or the P3. They will point to corruption, sexism, television, organized crime, tax evasion, vandalism, and nepotism as the nefarious evils slowly devouring the country from the inside-out like furious worms. And they will pretend that there is nothing they can do about it. That these are crimes being perpetrated against them; that they are unwilling participants in an Italian farce, victims being taken along for a ride.

So, it perplexes me to see the very same Italians, so helpless at home in Italy, undergo a rebirth in New York. Suddenly, those same people, who months before complained about the social torpor of Florence or Rome or the provinces, rediscover their enthusiasm, creativity, imagination, ideas, business plans, and social awareness. Suddenly, they stop complaining and ‘start doing’, because, as everyone knows, New York has no time for whiners. If only they ‘started doing’ in Italy, too.

Professor Celli’s letter and the anecdote from La Meglio Gioventu’ have gotten it all wrong. Young Italians don’t need to flee Italy, escaping to Berlin, New York, and beyond. They need to stand up, take action and claim what’s rightfully theirs. Instead of complaining, or drawing up anachronistic theories that assign blame for Italy’s long and lazy decline, they need to understand that it’s time to shut up and get to work. It’s time to jettison the existential desperation, the ‘everything is impossible’ attitude, and seize the opportunity to rebuild from the ashes of their fathers. It’s time to crowdsource the creativity of those Young Italians living in Williamsburg, the entrepreneurial skills of those working in London, and the brains of those who’ve gleaned MBAs and PhDs from Harvard and LSE and Princeton and find and impose solutions into and onto the Italian context. Italy cannot become a dynamic and progressive society if its most dynamic and progressive citizens escape without giving a fight. And, signing petitions and demonstrating in squares and grumbling on Facebook can lead nowhere if they are not backed up with credible, bottom-to-top alternatives.

I’m writing this letter as an appeal, not a complaint; it should serve as a stimulus, not an offense. Let’s begin the crowdsourcing here and now and start sifting through ideas that can serve as the new foundation for an optimistic and dynamic Italy- a New York-style Italy that offers opportunity for everyone.

How Would You Change Italy For the Better?

A. Giacalone

Original articles can be found here:
http://www.nuok.it/2010/10/dear-young-italians-abroad/
http://www.nuok.it/2010/10/cari-giovani-italiani-all-estero/