Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Category: everything

North of the border

With almost 10 million square kilometres, Canada is the second-largest country in the world by total area*. However, the country’s population is not big at all: with 36 million people, Canada scores far below countries like the United States, Germany, Italy, and France. Furthermore, about four-fifths of the country’s population is urbanized and live within 200 kilometres north of the southern border in cities like Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, Winnipeg. And this you could guess by looking at the picture below: an image of Canada mapped only by roads, streets and highways.

canada roads.jpg

Bonus fact one: there are more roads on this map within 200 kilometres of the US border than there are in the remaining 3800 kilometres of Canadian soil to the north.

Bonus fact two: 59% of British Columbia’s population lives in the tiny bright chunk near Vancouver where I, too, happened to live in 2011.

* the first-largest country in the world is Russia, with more than 17 million square kilometres.

Miserable jackals

There was a time when being a journalist was an attractive idea. As a kid, I admired people like Tiziano Terzani or Indro Montanelli, who were able to read through a complex reality and explain it. Things changed over time, as the profession lost much of its appeal. I explain this largely, although not exclusively, through the spread of the internet and a new class of under-trained professionals who are forced to produce enormous amounts of articles just to survive. In a world where the majority of people want consume short, superficial products that last for one day or two, in-depth analyses are rare.

We must, however, recognise that the quality of journalism in Italy remains relatively high when compared to other countries. I am writing two days after the attack at the Christmas market in Berlin, at a time when we don’t yet know who committed the attack and why. Yet, the image below represents how some of the most read newspapers in the United Kingdom are reporting on the issue.

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Other newspapers (Die Welt, Il Post, The Guardian) were reporting with much more sober titles, in the line of: ‘German police might have the wrong man’. Which was and still is the only fact we knew.

It is hard to say why journalists at the Daily Mail, the Sun, and other newspapers lie so blatantly. I imagine most of them serve a political agenda; others do it out of sheer ignorance. Either way, this is repulsive and a dangerous indicator of an ignominiously low quality of public debate in the country. Be wary of journalists who cannot do their job, be wary of living in a country where the two mostly read newspaper run a daily shitshow speculating on the lives of people.

Military escalation

It was less than a month ago when I wrote about the military history of Lichtenstein . I thought that would have been the end of it; but today another funny little country joined the history books. In what must have been a dramatic and deeply dividing decision for the entire country, Luxembourg has decided to double its military presence in Africa. In fact, a second soldier from the Grand Duchy will be soon sent to Mali under the “European solidarity clause” invoked by France in its response against terrorism. No kidding: in the afternoon Luxembourg has released a press statement declaring that the additional member of the Grand Duchy’s armed forces “will double the Luxembourg military presence there”. You gotta love these people.

Indicibile orrore

I social network hanno reso molto facile condividere la propria empatia per quel succede nel mondo. In questi giorni c’è un florilegio di commenti, poesie, preghiere ed espressioni di dolore per gli attentati della scorsa settimana. Sono convinto che ci sia qualcosa di buono nel fatto che tante persone ricordino e discutano tutte insieme di una tragedia. Io per ora preferisco leggervi e ascoltare senza aggiungere la mia opinione alle tantissime che già ci sono. Vorrei però condividere il link con i volti di alcune delle persone che sono state il bersaglio di questo crimine. 

Update del giorno dopo: Mashable ha creato un account Twitter su cui sono pubblicate le fotografie e le storie delle persone morte negli attacchi di Parigi. Il progetto mira a realizzare un tweet per ognuna delle 129 persone.

Academia, here I come

I had a good talk with Jonas last week – in fact we had many, but the one I am referring to now was probably the only serious discussion we had. Ever. We spoke of academic writing and its needless complexity. This is a recurring annoyance in my research field. I am not going to talk about economics or law, because perhaps complexity is necessary to fully grasp the kind of problems faced by these disciplines. In politics, however, I can assure you can virtually always write simply and clearly. But of course, it ain’t easy.

For more than half the papers I read it takes me a lot of time to decode what the actual meaning of the text is. It is not necessarily that I am slow – in fact it has been shown that academic prose is often so riddled with professional jargon and needlessly complex syntax that even someone with a Ph.D. can’t understand a fellow Ph.D.’s work. This I could accept – if only it were effective. But the problem is most of these papers have nothing to say. Take an academic article that has been published today. This is the concluding paragraph (spoiler!):

A project that should revolve around the will to build a demystified political reality in which the legitimacy of power rests on its capacity to preserve the rights and liberties of citizens and to guarantee a reasonable distribution of goods and services, and not at all on the fulfilment of a national being.

I read this kind of stuff and I feel insulted. It is not only unpleasant to read: it is also empty. Jonas and I came to the conclusion that complexity is normally used to hide a utter void in the message. I looked it up a bit, and found this study showing that “a majority of undergraduates admit to deliberately increasing the complexity of their vocabulary so as to give the impression of intelligence”. If you have nothing to say, just pack a sequence of overly complicated sentences, spice it up with some jargon and you will do the trick of impressing your audience. A needlessly complex text is obscure, vague, and ambivalent; so of course it is much harder to debate. A straightforward, clear, and direct text is easier to criticize, because it conveys a clear message.

academia-billwatterson

To write clearly is not easy; and by opening up your message you might actually be exposed to criticism. But, on the other hand, it is probably the only way to convey a message. All the rest falls inevitably victim of demystified realities where enduring imbalances of power make it complicated to protect one’s liberty to express herself in front of legitimate public audience whilst not hampering her self-determination capacity and individual fulfilment.

V for Vendemmia

Last week Dani invited me and some other friends – including Ola and Liz: you still remember? – for the harvesting of Sangiovese wine grapes. We have been working real hard.

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We were taken onboard by a small organic estate founded by husband and wife, Enzo and Claire, back in 2000. Nestled in the hills of Fiesole and facing south/south-west, the property sits in some of the most beautiful countryside just outside Florence, amidst hills sprinkled with medieval bell towers and castle ruins. The name of the estate is Poggio La Noce: they have a website and there is also a nice, 2-minute video that you can watch here.

Good news, captain

Dear reader.

Back to work. I am still in Montreal: this city has treated me very well over the last three weeks. In fact I have a treasure throve of experiences to share with you. Some Most of these stories will probably be insignificant to you; others will be obvious; and a few, I hope, will turn out to be enjoyable. But! For once on the blog, this post is not going to be about me. And this is because I am still very much in the flow; so I will wait and write about the last few weeks when I will reach a certain degree of stillness. Aside the whole egotistic part about my experiences, there are also a few very serious topics I would like to write about and they deserve to be treated with some attention. I will do that in due time.

In the meanwhile, my reader, I wanted to urge you to make good use of your precious spare time. There are plenty of sports events that deserve to be followed. Yesterday’s stage of the Vuelta a España was thrilling. On Wednesday there will be a time trial and the following days the decisive stages on the mountains. This year’s Vuelta is starting to look like it could be one of the closest finishes in recent history with three riders – Catalan Purito Rodriguez, Sardinian Fabio Aru, and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin – very close to each other. No big surprise, I am supporting Fabio Aru. He is humble, he is funny, and he is stubborn – on Monday’s last climb he looked like he was going to crack down every moment and yet he held on, and on, and on, and when Purito Rodriguez attacked him on the final meters he gasped, and sprinted, and almost managed to reach back.

 

The Vuelta is going to be an exciting race to watch, probably as exciting as the US Open Tennis in New York. Thus far I enjoyed siding for Feliciano Lopez – although there is a reasonably great chance he will be kicked out of the tournament tonight. Here again, no matters who wins it is going to be fun.

 

 

And basketball! I am not a fan of this sport at all, but the European Basketball Championship is a somehow different event and Italy, for once, has a chance of doing reasonably well. So we shall see. On another discipline, you can rest assured the Italian representative will perform disastrously at the Rugby World Cup that is set to start in about a week; but that is also going to be a tournament to follow. Speaking of Italy, in this year’s Moto GP season Valentino Rossi – who won his last title in in 2009 – has been magic. This guy has an incredibly positive attitude about things and is always fun to listen to.

May your September be as exciting as the Vuelta, as skillful as the US Open, as hopeful as the EuroBasket, as solemn as the Rugby World Cup, and as old-school as the Moto GP.

Of course getting drunk is not going to help your recovery when you’re ill

So upon my arrival to Spain I have been very sick and I had to take antibiotics for ten straight days. In those days there happened to be one or two major festivals around the place where I was. Now, these two apparently unrelated facts explain why I stumbled upon this highly scientific article that is tellingly titled ‘Can you mix antibiotics and alcohol?’. The article debunks the myth that all antibiotics don’t mix with alcoholic drinks. It does so by telling two stories on how the myth was borne.

One is that because antibiotics are used to treat some of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, doctors in the past were somehow punishing the patients for becoming infected by depriving them of their favourite tipple.

The alternative explanation was given by one of the authors of the London genitourinary clinic survey. James Bingham met the late Brigadier Sir Ian Fraser, who introduced the use of penicillin for injured soldiers in North Africa during World War II. At the time penicillin was in such short supply that after a patient had taken it, the drug was retrieved from his urine and recycled. Recuperating soldiers were allowed to drink beer, but unfortunately this increased the volume of their urine, making it harder obtain the penicillin and, according to the Brigadier, led commanding officers to ban beer.

In reality, thus, it seems that the answer to the original question of the answer is a resounding Yes. May beer give you pardon, peace, and absolve you from your sins. Although, as the title goes, getting drunk is probably not going to help your recovery when you’re ill.

Boom: poker!

Sebbene abbia una mia opinione già formata sulla grande maggior parte delle questioni politiche, capita talvolta che si presenti un dibattito, una controversia, un problema nuovo. In questi casi è generalmente buona norma seguire il cosiddetto metodo del contrasto, noto anche come metodo del porco.

Il metodo del porco consiste nel prendere in considerazione l’opinione dei personaggi più abbietti della politica italiana e formare di conseguenza una conclusione di indirizzo specularmente opposto. Salvini dice che bisogna creare vagoni della metropolitana riservati per donne e milanesi? Probabilmente una pessima idea. E via dicendo. Ovviamente il primo passo di questo raffinato metodo risiede nell’individuazione dei personaggi di riferimento. Alcuni di questi cambiano nel tempo: la stella politica di Daniela Santanchè, Rocco Buttiglione e Luca Casarini si è oscurata negli anni. Altri, non meno spregevoli personaggi, sono emersi solo recentemente: Matteo Salvini, appunto. Altri ancora restano, ahimé immuni al naturale ricambio generazionale in politica: Maurizio Gasparri, Carlo Giovanardi e Paola Binetti.

Alle volte le idee di questi personaggi confondono: su questioni controverse quali il rimpatrio dei marò e la legalizzazione della prostituzione è difficile utilizzare questo nobile metodo. Ci sono, tuttavia, alcuni problemi sui quali il metodo del porco ci aiuta a trovare univocamente una risposta ai nostri dubbi. E’ il caso del disegno di legge sulla legalizzazione della cannabis, presentato ieri da Benedetto Della Vedova. A questa proposta si sono selvaggiamente opposti un pò tutti i personaggi di cui sopra, Salvini, Gasparri, Giovanardi, Binetti: poker d’assi!

Che la legalizzazione della cannabis fosse un tema politico sul quale valesse la pena dare battaglia c’erano già poche perplessità. Il metodo del porco ci aiuta, in questo caso, a fumare via ogni dubbio rimasto.

Vengeances

In 1915, on the 700th anniversary of the Magna Charta, The Economist didn’t miss the irony of press censorship imposed by the British government during the first world war.

economist 1915