Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Banana^2 Slug

My last post had too many words. This is kinda icky looking, but I couldn't just walk by and let this slug's obvious sense of humor go unnoticed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Italian City Unveils Plan To Bail Out Struggling Carb Industry

According to Yahoo, Lucca, a city in the heart of Tuscany, has passed a city-wide measure that bans "ethnic" eateries within city limits. Apparently feeling threatened by kebab and curries, the center right city council's action was applauded by Italy's agricultural minister, who is, of course, a member of Italy's Lega Nord, which is known for its xenephobic leaning.

This article calls the Lega Nord "anti-immigrant," but this is a bit of a misnomer really, because it gives the impression that it is anti-"things foreign to Italy." The Lega Nord (per l'Indipendenza della Padania, which is the full name) is actually a party consisting of those who think that certain regions of northern/central Italy should either have more autonomy(according to the more mainstream view now dominant) or should secede altogether (no longer the official view, though some extremists would still claim this I imagine).

So they are equally anti-"other parts of Italy too," though to a predictable lesser extent. And this is an interesting phenomenon in Italy.

Years ago, I wrote a paper on racism in Belgium and Italy. Why those countries you ask? Well, at the time (1998-99) there was a lot of discussion of race relations in some of Europe's larger countries, such as Germany (obvi) and France, but there wasn't much on the smaller countries. And I thought Belgium and Italy would be interesting (I did not know at the time that I would eventually be living in Belgium about 2 years alter) because of their respective histories of not being a unified country. I don't actually remember much about what I wrote, but the studies I had to read were actually quite interesting.

With regard to Italy, the studies spoke of "L'exception italienne;" that is, despite the growing number of immigrants, Italy had not responded as many other countries had; either through sanctioned quotas or a growing anti-immigrant sentiment among the natives (though this had changed over the years). One of the reasons cited for this exception was that Italy itself has always been a patchwork of distinct regions, and thus Italians were used to dealing with those they saw as different from themselves. Italy, as we all know from our 6th grade text books began as a series of city-states. But even Italy as we now know it did not exist as a modern nation state until 1870. To this day, regional dialects and identities persist, though to a much lesser extent (Although if you watch AC Milan play AS Roma, the north/south distinction will become VERY clear).

My favorite study consisted of a survey that asked Sicilians what degree of trust they had for certain other groups, including the relatively new immigrants from the Maghreb. The result was priceless. According to the study, Sicilians trusted North Africans a bit more than they trusted other Sicilians and A LOT more than Italians from other regions.

So the Italian Exception isn't so much that Italians are really accepting so much as they are much more local and perhaps open-minded in their point of reference for prejudice.

Now if add to this mixture the pride most Italians have for their food, regionally and nationally, this city measure makes sense. I once mentioned to an Italian friend how the popular conception of Italian food wasn't really "Italian" since tomato sauce couldn't exist until tomatoes were discovered in the New World and that pasta was most certainly not indigenous to Italy and was probably imported from the Levant. From her reaction you would have thought I had spat on the grave of her grandmother. So despite the admonition from Vittorio Castellani that there is"'no dish on the face of the earth' that is not derived from a mélange of different ingredients and a fusion of culinary styles," it looks as if culinary protectionism has emerged under the Tuscan Sun.

But of course, we just passed a massive stimulus plan that has some "Buy American" clauses in it, so I guess we can't really talk.

Wow. Pasta sounds really good right now. Maybe I should go to Lucca.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Return to Africa II

I was originally going to comment on the mortgage/foreclosure plan and the moral hazard it creates, but I just don't have the time or energy to get into it after a long week. Although as a renter who could not afford property in the Bay Area, I am a bit angry that others who bit off more than they could chew get to be bailed out. Why not bail me and my student loans out?

But that would be about me.

So instead, I just want to update my previous post on the situation in Somalia, which still does not garner any media attention. I can't understand why, considering that this is a lawless area full of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose the sharia and pirates who threaten international trade. I mean, what else needs to happen before we start paying attention?!?!

So a new leader has been selected, Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a moderate Islamist cleric, that was a compromise between the transition government and the Islamic opposition. Hopefully they will be able to bring some sort of central leadership the area.

Although it appears that more AU troops might be need to keep the peace in the mean time. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold seems to be the only U.S. politician aware of the situation, as he wrote Obama a letter dated February 13, urging the new US president to break with predecessor George W. Bush's approach. He actually seems to have several good ideas.

"The previous administration maintained a disjointed and short-sighted approach toward Somalia that was counterproductive and led to increased anti-Americanism in the region," the Wisconsin lawmaker charged.

"As a result, the situation in Somalia has deteriorated, undermining our national security goals, including counterterrorism," the senator, who visited Somalia in December and met with President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Full AFP Article. Image also from AFP.

Well-put, Russ.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

You have gone TOO FAR

Go Fug Yourself, I enjoy your snapshots of celebs and witty and, dare I say, deliciously irreverent commentary. But you have now maligned number 1 on my "List."* And what's even worse? It's not really funny. You use a play on words that is a luke warm version of what made me giggle in high school when somebody wrote down and made me say "Sofa King We Todd Did." You are on notice ladies!

*This of course refers to the "The List" of celebrities you are allowed to have sex with and it doesn't count as cheating with your partner.**

**No I dont' really believe that and I only really have one person on my list, but people seem to know what I'm talking about when I mention this, so I'm sticking with "The List."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Happy Darwin Day Eve!

Tomorrow is Darwin's 200th birthday, and celebrations are expected worldwide. Not bad for a guy who boarded a little ship called the HMS Beagle mostly to avoid his studies to become an Anglican Parson (much to his father's dismay). This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the theory of evolution.

Interestingly, as the Economist points out, Americans are still not that convinced. According to the publication, "[i]n 2008 14% of people polled by Gallup agreed that “man evolved over millions of years”, up from 9% in 1982. " While that is "up," that seems to be a remarkably low number. Although considering that there continue to be attempts to replace evolution as the primary scientific explanation for "how" we are here (as opposed to the "why" which I think gets conflated sometimes), perhaps this makes sense.

In June of last year, Louisiana became the first state to pass what has become known as an "academic freedom" law. In the past, fights over evolution took place at the local school board level, but academic freedom proponents specifically target state legislatures.

Such laws back away from outright calls for alternative theories to evolution, electing instead to legislate support for teachers who discuss the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of issues such as evolution in the name of protecting the freedom of speech of instructors and students alike.

Whole article from the Christian Science Monitor.

This recent not-so-subtle attempt by the not-so-subtle creationists to try and insert a watered down version of something other than evolution (since their forays into intelligent design didn't go so well) highlights the problem. Science is, by definition, able to be proven false, i.e. it is has falsifiability. Not that it it is false, but only that, by definition, a scientific theory can be proven false. Karl Popper argues, convincingly, I think, that this is what separates science from pseudo-science.

Religion, whether it be Christian, Hindu, Islam or other, lacks falsifiability because we cannot by experiment or observation disprove that God created Adam and Eve, or Adam and Hawwa, or that Brahma created all life at the same time. Thus, it is not "science."

Evolution, as a scientific theory, however, is falsifiable as one observation (though I don't know what it would look like, maybe a mermaid) could bring the whole theory down. In fact, to this day, the theory of evolution continues to...well...evolve based on observation and experimentation. And some initial theories that would fall under the umbrella of "evolution" have been proven false (I can't find any specific examples, but I think some of Darwin's initial theories about sloths and birds on South American turned out to be false, so he had to later revise them to fit the data). That's what makes it "science" and thus proper for the class room.

This distinction is obviously not understood by these lawmakers who want teachers to discuss the "'scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses' of issues such as evolution." The strengths and weaknesses of the theory are part of the theory itself. Evolution could be proven false. It just hasn't happened yet, after 150 years research and academia.

So in honor of Charlie getting on that boat and taking a pretty remarkable trip around the world, why don't we concentrate on making some good laws that don't involve thinly veiled attempts to put your religion into the classroom? Just one day?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

California Supreme Court To Hear Oral Argument on Prop 8 Challenge

The Supreme Court has announced that an oral argument will be held in the Prop. 8 cases on Thursday, March 5, 2009, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. That is a long time. Still, I'm not sure how they're going to decide who will get to argue since about a kabillion amicus briefs have been filed. I guess the fact that they are going to have oral argument should give some hope to the petitioners (as opposed to just deciding it on the [ample] papers). Should be interesting.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Psycho Patrol?

I have now seen this car parked twice in my neighborhood. Two questions:

1) Is this for real? I mean, it looks like a real cop car of some sort, but you would think that the gov't would come up with something a little bit more technical sounding (not to mention politically correct) than "Psycho Patrol."

2) Are they looking for me?


Is it this guy?

SAN JOSE, Calif., July 17 (UPI) -- An official-looking car that once belonged to the Oregon State Police is roaming San Jose, Calif., with the words "Psycho Patrol" printed on its side.

Except for the wording, the car is so authentic that when it pulls up behind other vehicles the drivers think they are about to get a ticket, the San Jose (Ca.) Mercy-News reports.

Danny Kirby, 21, bought the vehicle on eBay four years ago from a company that had purchased it from Oregon state police for use in a movie filmed in Portland