Friday, 28 March 2008

And you thought The Fugitive was fiction

...I will confess to not liking pharmaceuticals. I have never trusted them. I have never trusted the FDA, because I thought it was in bed with the pharmaceuticals.

Now I have really good reasons to. If you are a parent, make sure you read this and ask your pediatrician some hard questions. If you're not a parent, read it anyway.

By the way, it's easy reading, in spite of the fact that it's a hard topic. Served up in nice, bite-size pieces with lots of pictures which are often bleakly funny. More often scary.

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What I learned in Italy, Part 2

Venice is better on cold, windy days when the water doesn't stink and you can still see the buildings through the tourists.

Always pack extra batteries. Your batteries will run out sooner than you expected, it will be harder to find them than you expected, and when you do find them, you will pay more than you expected. I know, dear, it was my fault. You're a hero for not saying "I told you so." (Picture taken with said expensive batteries.)

Poor taste is not restricted to religious icons. Mind you, they were offering cheaper prices than on nice days. Good day to bargain. (No, we didn't.)

Whenever you are in possession of a clean bathroom, use it, whether you think you need to or not. Public washrooms in Italy - unlike the private ones - are often disgustingly dirty. And for North Americans, bewildering. The entire county seems to be playing an elaborate game of "Guess what novel way of flushing we've come up with for this toilet." (No, I don't have a picture. I forgot. So this is an excuse to throw in an unrelated, but beloved, picture.)

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" extends to Episcopalian churches. San Paolo dentro le Mure (St. Paul's Within-the-Walls, as opposed to St. Paul's Outside the Walls) was the baby of a Pennsylvanian Episcopalian in the late 1800's. He tried hard to fit in.

Continuation from Part 1.

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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Deluded internationalists

Pankaj MishraThis quote from Pankaj Mishra's review of Erez Manela's The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anti-Colonial Nationalism strikes me with all the force of a sudden spotlight. I have long bemoaned the profound ignorance of global realities among people who should know better (the people who actually hold some geopolitical power), most especially the incredibly naive idea that most of the world wants to become a clone of America. The debacle in Iraq, which is only now beginning to be turned around, is largely attributable to this cultural arrogance. But Mishra says it better:
The victories of the Cold War – and the giddy speculation that history had reached the ideological terminus of liberal democracy – revived illusions of omnipotence among an Anglo-American political and media elite that has always known very little about the modern world it claims to have made. Consequently, almost every event since the end of the Cold War – the rise of radical Islam, of India and China, the assertiveness of oil-rich Russia, Iran and Venezuela – has come as a shock, a rude reminder that the natives of Delhi, Cairo and Beijing have geopolitical ambitions of their own, not to mention a sense of history marked by resentment and suspicion of the metropolitan West. The liberal internationalists persist, trying to revive the Wilsonian moment in places where Anglo-American liberalism has been seen as an especially aggressive form of hypocrisy. Increasingly, however, they expose themselves as the new provincials, dangerously blundering about in a volatile world.

Hat tip to David Akin's On the Hill.

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Monday, 24 March 2008

What I learned in Italy, Part 1

I suppose I knew most of these already, but they got hammered home in new ways.

People grow oblivious to the beauty around them. We were soaking up the beauty of my husband's birthplace: rolling green hills topped with historic little towns, fields full of gnarled, silvery olive trees, almond and mimosa trees in full glorious bloom of white and yellow, peach trees inflating their pink buds almost to popping point. The relatives were astonished when we said they were lucky to live surrounded by so much beauty. They hadn't noticed.

If you want to torment people in a small town, walk into the local cafe, look around, greet people in Italian, and leave without telling them who you are. (Come back later and make up.)

Teaching graffiti as a form of artistic expression in university is a really, really bad idea. The only good thing to be said of Italy's graffitti artists is that they seem to restrict their efforts to stucco and concrete surfaces. Historic buildings are mostly unscathed. But some parts of town, particularly around railroad tracks, are nothing but a blur of graffiti.

Speaking of concrete surfaces, I never knew there was such a thing as concrete picket fences.

Starbucks should roll over and die. Seriously. Where did they get the crazy idea they know how to make espresso or cappuccino?

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