Cultural Differences: Fatta la Regola, Trovato L’Inganno

I have talked about the cultural differences regarding following rules many times on this blog, as it is one of the most famous cultural stereotypes that Italy has. I talked about things like jaywalking, being flexible, speed limits, and telling on your peers. Today’s post is somewhat in the same vein, and is a perfect example of an old Italian adage used to describe Italy’s most famous cultural characteristic:

Fatta la regola, trovato l’inganno

Which means: The rule is made, the way around it is found.

This loose relationship with the rules is considered by many to be both Italy’s downfall and its genius. It is at the heart of why a country with so much tourism and such a large economy could get so complicated and pear-shaped. This post is not going to be about big ideas as to how to fix a broken country, but rather is it a small, simple and elegant example of how true that adage is when describing the Italian culture.

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Home Sweet Rome

Yesterday, I anxiously took a flight to come back to Rome for Xmas. I’m only staying one week, I’ll be back before New Years, and yet I had never wanted to go home less than I did this time around. I’m so busy, I said. I’ll have to work from home, I said. It’s just too stressful, I said.

And then I stepped off the plane into a balmy 18°C. One look at the cobble-stoned streets of my neighborhood and I sighed. There’s nothing for it, this place will always be home for me.

Sure, I have to work and squeeze an enormous number of things to do in the short time that I am here. But I can also take small breaks, amble around the streets of my childhood for a bit of shopping, buying clothes that are made in Italy sold in boutiques that are owned by Romans who are stubbornly and valiantly hanging on to their stores in a center which is being steadily overrun by massive chains and mafia run tourist trap restaurants. It is amazing how effortlessly I hit my 10,000 step fitbit goal, which I struggle with so much in Germany even when I bike my 10km to and from work.

Coming back is always stressful and wonderful and nostalgic and never enough time for me to get sick of it and ever want to leave. I think it will always be my home, no matter where I end up settling in life. And that thought always makes me so sad, so I’ll leave it at that.

When Is It Going To End

The lighthearted tone I was trying to adopt here has fallen marvelously flat in light of recent events.

Last night, in Berlin, someone drove a truck at speed through a Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 48. This is horribly reminiscent of the attack in France on Bastille Day, and I think it’s most likely that the culprit in this case was inspired by that horrible act of violence. My best friend was there at the time, and I was so glad to hear she was OK, while at the same time I am devastated for those who were killed.

At the moment, an investigation needs to take place to see if this was a planned terrorist attack, a crazy person taking it upon himself to do something horrific in the name of Isis, or someone with a different political motivation or purpose. This time, the culprit seems to have been apprehended alive, so we will probably find out in the next few days.

Given that the Russian ambassador to Turkey was also murdered in retaliation for Russian’s involvement in Syria on the same night, we can say that the escalation is here. It’s arrived. And I have no idea how we’re going to fix it. I can honestly say that I cannot imagine where, when and how this is going to end.


 

Edited to add: Same day, in Zurich, someone burst into an Islamic Center for worship and shot three people. Monday 20th of December 2016 found itself to be a focal point of deranged killers in Europe. As I said, the escalation is here. Please, enough.

Sometimes, You Just Need A Laugh

Can I lighten up the mood here for just one moment?

It has recently come to my attention that there is a comedian out there, called James Veitch, who has taken it upon himself to do what so many of us have always wanted to do and respond to scam emails, taking the conversation to hilarious places.

I have been laughing out loud at my computer for the last 10 minutes. I really needed that, and so now I’m sharing the love.

 

Interestingly, the email exchange in the video is completely different from the one that is repeated in the text below video where I found it posted, which is no less hilarious.

Need a good 10 minute chuckle? Watch the video, and/or read the post. He is not cruel to the scammers, he just wastes their time in a most ridiculous fashion.

If anything, I think the exchange in the post is even funnier than the one in the video, but that might be because I read it first and then watched the video afterwards. What about you? Which did you see/read first, and which one did you find the most funny?

Of course I had to turn this into a mini informal experiment didn’t I…

This Week In Zoology Meets Sunday Cooking With Crys

It’s winter, and for those of us who do not live smack in the middle of a giant metropolis, it is always nice to help the birds who did not migrate to warmer climates make it through the season. You can buy those funny smelling balls of birdfeed and hang them in your garden to give them a boost, but for those of you who live in countries in which they are not so widely sold, did you know that you can also make your own?

Well I didn’t know until today, but I came across a great recipe for what I am now calling birdfeed balls on a conservation and animal rights website.

The recipe is in Italian, however, so I have translated it for you here. I happen to have all of these ingredients in my house already save one, so I think I might be cooking for the birds this Christmas too, because why not.

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What An Interesting Perspective

While I acknowledge that memes are often used to spread misinformation and to reinforce preexisting (and often completely wrong) ideas, I also think that they are just as often used to spark new ideas and make people challenge their own preconceived notions.

Such a thing happened to me today when I came across this meme on facebook.

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Hmm, I thought, that is very interesting. On the one hand, I can see how some people might scoff at this as being overly sensitive, libby, and feeding into this general notion that modern-day parents don’t know how to raise respectful and polite children. On the other hand, I remember being a shy child (despite having grown into a woman with no boundaries or problems with physical contact) and how much I hated feeling like I had no agency and no choice over my body, how I dressed, my hair style, or any such matter. I remember how being forced into physical contact when I didn’t want it only increased my surliness, and how my avoidance of strange adults stemmed from the pressure I felt to behave contrarily to how I felt. I can imagine how taking the pressure off would have relaxed me and made me far less shy in adult company.

This meme got me thinking about how forcing children to be physically affectionate is just one of the many ways that we attempt to “civilize” children, and the cultural expectations surrounding physical contact*. It prompted me to read the description beneath the post, which brought me to the article posted on CNN that inspired the meme titled I don’t own my child’s body.

 

*By the way, I have been meaning for months to address the cultural differences about physical contact, as it was suggested by a reader and an interesting topic of discussion. I haven’t done it until now because I was trying to unpack what I was going to say about it in my own mind. I have now, so I will have that post up soon.

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Feeling Helpless

If you follow the news, you know that the situation in Aleppo has gotten far worse in the past few days. Syrians still in Eastern Aleppo are putting out what they believe might be their final messages, some with a last desperate plea for help, some with goodbyes, some with pure frustration.

 

Some, like the Professor in this video, express their disillusionment with the UN and the International community, and describe in more detail the despair and terror that they are currently facing.

 

His frustration is perfectly justified. I know that the political situation in Syria is a complicated clusterfuck of epic proportions. I know that there is no easy or obvious solution on how help those people. I know that the International community is not sitting on a perfectly logical and organized effort simply because they enjoy watching people die. But when you see those people suffer this way, when you feel for an instant a fraction of the terror that they must be facing every minute of every day, you can’t help but want to scream in frustration. Dammit there has to be something we can do! Women are committing suicide to avoid being raped, people are being executed in the streets, lit on fire and bombed into oblivion, how can we sit here and watch and do nothing to help these people!

This is why I would make a terrible world leader. I can’t be cold and pragmatic in the face of these stories, and I am sure I am not privy to a fraction of the situation in Syria that they are.

Upworthy has posted a list of 7 real things you can do to help the people of Aleppo. It is a predictable list: support Doctors without Borders and a variety of other charities that are helping, organize a protest, support refugees. These are all important things that everyone should do regardless, but it wont change the continuous bombing, the people trapped under the rubble, the mass executions in the streets. I hate this helplessness.

What more can we do as individuals other than donate what we can where we can, and try to keep talking about this enough so that the people who do have the power to do something about it are pressured into taking some kind of action. Whether it is taking in more refugees (depending on which country you live in, some countries are already taking in as many as they can possibly sustain), or coordinating with other world leaders and coming to a consensus as to what to do on a military level. But this hodge podge free-for-all bombs away and let’s see what happens has got to stop.

Thoughts On: Textbook Atheism

Apologies again for my prolonged absence. I really need to learn how to budget my time better, especially when I am in the damned weeds at work as I am now. Despite my losing track of time in my endless nights of working, there have been some things that I have been pondering as topics of discussion to put out here.

One of the topics that I have been musing over for the past week is the ever ongoing discussion about what is often referred to as “textbook atheism”. What I mean by that term is when atheists use the textbook, or dictionary definition of atheism to describe themselves. An atheist is a person that does not believe in one or more gods. That’s it, that’s all, and there is nothing else that is associated or implied with the term.

Many people on this network, most famously being probably PZ, have railed against the so-called “textbook atheists”. Generally speaking, the argument (to my understanding) is that a rejection of a deity and/or organized religion brings with it certain implications. For example, not believing that a divine creator made certain humans stronger, smarter or more powerful than certain other humans implies a rejection of racism and sexism. Not believing in a creator without evidence implies not believing in other things without evidence either, whether it be silly evolutionary “explanations” as to the biological superiority of one race over the other, or general woo. Unfortunately, as we all know, there are plenty of atheists out there who reject this principle, simply wailing “look at the dictionary dummy! Atheist just means I don’t believe in god! It doesn’t mean I have to be no stinking feminist!”

Overall I agree that, philosophically speaking, it makes sense that a rejection of religion is the first step along a path that leads you to a humanist and rationalist perspective, and I have also been disgusted and frustrated with the racist sexist atheist faction that invades the internet. However, in my life I have found myself, on more than one occasion, blurting out the “textbook atheist” line in defining myself.

Oh dear. Am I a textbook atheist? Where does this internal discord come from?

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Forgiveness and Respect

I have mentioned before that I am a TYT member, and as such I had heard that Wes Clark Jr. was bringing a group of veterans to stand with Standing Rock. Cenk referred to it as “the cavalry has arrived”, indicating the power of the support and the hope that the police, who have been routinely brutalizing the peaceful protesters of Standing Rock, might think twice before doing so to veterans, as they might even lose the support of Fox News if they did so.

I was excited about the strong message and curious about the outcome, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I had not considered what kind of message that would send to the Native Americans themselves.

Just like many people forget that not everyone sees Thanksgiving as a fun family holiday, I completely overlooked the horrible history that Native Americans have towards the US military, and how badly they have been brutalized by them in the past. While the presence of veterans at Standing Rock might help to keep the police brutality in check, the irony of veterans coming to help a Native American cause was surely not lost on many there.

I am so glad to say, though, that Wes Clark Jr. and the veterans did not overlook this history in the slightest, and made a gesture that both surprised and moved me.

Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has reported something wholly unexpected happened at the Standing Rock Reservation today. The veterans gathered to join the Dakota Pipeline protest stunned the gathered tribal members when they took a knee and asked for forgiveness

They report that there was not a dry eye in the house, and I believe them. While asking for forgiveness does not right the past wrongs, this humble gesture and mutual respect was moving to say the least.

While President Obama has finally blocked the DAPL for now, the fight is far from over given the upcoming Trump Administration. Now, more than ever, it is critical to not let the media forget about this issue, and to stand with Standing Rock.