Two Hours In The Time Machine

Yesterday morning I leasurely walked over to our local post office to post some letters, send a package and pay the phone bill. When I arrived at the small, square, low, grey concrete building the people were already outside and I knew I was in for a long wait. I entered the building – which is fortunately airconditioned – took a number for the payments window and waited.

There are four windows for different functions to perform at the post office, and behind them there is an ever unbending staff of people who will make you dance on the ceiling if it pleases them. In front of them there unvariably is a crowd of Italians of all ages, wafting fresh air into their faces with the mountains of forms you need here to get anything at all done. Every now and then, work is interrupted for someone who needs some form or other – the display stands are always empty and pens are nowhere to be found.

After about twenty minutes it was my turn, and before even paying the phone bill the woman behind the counter pointed at my package and informed me that I needed to go to another window to send it. Even though I didn’t ask her anything about sending packages, she already seemed loathe that I arrived at her window with it. I paid the bill, went back to the number dispenser and took a new number like the good little slave of public servants that I am. Even though Poste Italiane is privatized.

And so I was in for another twenty minutes of watching my fellow citizens get irritated. Post offices here eat time like nothing else. Time – and forms of course. Lots of forms. In fact, I needed a form to send my package to Amsterdam and so, after forty-five minutes in total, I returned home with the package and a form to complete. And since Back To The Seventies is not open in the afternoon – God forbid that someone should have to work all day! – I returned today to finish my business. And since it was even busier and the numbers machine didn’t function properly, it took me one full hour. Inside it was full of people so I waited outside. In the blistering late morning sun. La Bella Vita.

Poste Italiane is everything that’s wrong with Italy. It’s sluggish, it’s uncomfortable, it creates red tape like no other organisation, it’s unwilling, and it’s too large for it’s own good. People come here to do their postal business, but also to get their pensions paid out in cash or to pay various bills. And now they launched a mobile phone service as well, Poste Mobile. I cannot imagine people voluntarily subjecting themselves to Poste Italiane for their mobile phones, but there you have it.

Poste Italiane is the ultimate Time Machine. It eats away time, and it takes you back in time.And it’s about time they changed it.

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A List Of Demands

Since this morning it’s clear from where – in the UK at least – comes the biggest terrorism threat. In step with the theme, here’s my list of demands, and if they are not met, I will continue to point out the many errors in the ways we deal with Muslims in Europe. And that’s a hard threat – sue me.

The Pope - digitally altered to look less benign

1) I demand that books will be published on the subject of Catholicism and how it’s irreconcileable with modern Western culture. I suggest titles like “Eurome” or “The Enemy Within – A Hard Look At The Vatican”. We are lucky to have a Pope with a rather scary mug, so use it like portraits of Ayatollah Khomeiny or Ayman Al-Zawahiri are used.

2) I demand that Web forums, blogs and discussion pages in newspapers be filled with comments about the evils of Catholicism, even when the subject is unrelated. In relation to this, I demand that even formerly leftist papers change their tune to include lots of space for anti-Catholics to spew their venom.

3) I demand that “the left” gets blamed for this. It was that Labour bastard Tony Blair who forged a peace deal between good Christian leaders from the Unionist side and those evil, untrustworthy Catholics from the Republican side who are hell-bent on conquering the world. The Pope’s recent visit to Australia – where some leftwinger recently took over from prime minister John Howard – must also be presented in this light to promote belief in this worldwide conspiracy of clergymen.

4) I demand that common people rise up and refuse to have new Catholic churches built in their neighbourhoods. The towers of such churches are symbols of the power of the Pope and the architecture of these buildings reflects an unwillingness to integrate into the rest of society. Maybe someone should set fire to a small chapel here or there, to send a clear signal to those pernicious Pope-worshippers that they should go back where they bloody well came from.

5) I demand immigration measures – the influx of Catholics into our good, Christian nations must be halted. The EU should preferably get rid of such hotbeds of clerical activism as Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland, and should closely monitor the situation in Belgium, France and the southern half of Germany. But at the very least it should not accept new membership of any predominantly Catholic state.

Of course, these are demands taken straight from the daily practice of our dealings with Muslims. Sure, they come from the extreme corners of society, but some of this has treacled down into the mainstream. Let’s crunch some numbers here to see what the threat really is.

Of the 61 million people of Great Britain (numbers courtesy of the CIA World Factbook), 2.7% are Muslim. That’s roughly 1.65 million. Coincidence has it that the population of Northern Ireland is only slightly bigger than the Muslim population in all of the UK – roughly 1.68 million according to the 2001 census. With Catholics making up 43.76% of the population (same source) that means about 737.000 of them live in Northern Ireland. And these people, in numbers not even half as strong as the Muslims, are currently responsible for 60% of the terrorist threats.

Believe me, I do not advocate any discriminatory measures towards Catholics. But these numbers make perfectly clear where the terror threat emerges: in extremism. Be that Catholic or Muslim extremism, Fascist or Communist extremism or extremist nationalism.That’s what has always threatened open, liberal and democratic societies and that’s what we need to watch. And no, extremism is not a Muslim trademark.

Cucumbers Every Day

The Dutch call this period cucumber time – in the English language world it’s silly season. Never mind the credit crisis or Obama’s World Tour or the national emergency declared by the proto-fascists in government here with respect to immigration from outside the EU. Maybe cucumber time has nothing to do with a lack of news and more to do with a lack of willingness to go find it when everyone else is away on holiday.

Time for some gratuitous observations then, since cucumber time has struck me as well. Silly season or not, quality newspaper or not, the Italian press seems obsessed with celebrities. La Repubblica, not your average fish wrapper but the country’s leading leftist newspaper, runs a series of pictures of Bruce Springsteen, barely recognizeable on a yacht on Lake Como. And look, there’s Lindsey Lohan, too.

Alright, maybe La Repubblica isn’t such a quality paper at all. Maybe Corriere della Sera is better – that, too, is said to be a quality paper. Well… it gives us pictures of Rosita Celentano, actress and daughter of famous singer Adriano Celentano (of Azzurro fame), in bikini at a naturist beach. Also not to miss: twenty-four pictures of Hulk Hogan and his family. Apparently there’s a divorce coming up.

These photo series run all year long, suggesting a fight to stay alive in a onslaught of cheapness in other media, or perhaps a genuine preoccupation with the rich and famous, where scandal, (semi)nudity or a link to this country (hey, The Boss is in Italy!) are the most important selection criteria. Pity the man or woman who looks for serious news, especially from abroad: Italian papers and television newscasts show a strong preoccupation with Italy and the result is that we’re living on an island. And so, when Gordon Brown falls – and indications are that he will, sooner rather than later – it will be a complete surprise for Italians. The RAI’s UK correspondent hasn’t said a word about it yet. His last report talked about an Italian who lived in London, got lost in Amsterdam and surfaced in Kathmandu.

We grow cucumbers all year long, it seems.

What To Do With The Other People

Sometimes, jokingly, I tell my girlfriend that for Italians there is no such thing as ‘other people’. They’ll run you off the road when you want to cross the street, they don’t move an inch for you on the sidewalk, and an Italian lady was the first ever pedestrian to cut me off while we were walking around on a street market. Gli altri non ci sono.

When I compare the Italians around me to my Dutch fellow countrymen, it has to be said that they are not half as loud or as blunt, and that kids here actually are being raised, as opposed to the Dutch habit among some of creating some sort of anarcho-liberal environment for them in which anything goes. Italians however don’t seem to care much for other people. You do not want to have a heart attack on a street here – they’d probably just step over you.

This weekend two Roma girls – Roma as in “gypsies” – drowned near Naples and ended up on a beach full of sunbathers. Covered with towels, they were left there for an hour until the authorities picked them up. Almost none of the bathers moved an inch – people were seen having their goddamn lunch next to the two unfortunate girls.

It doesn’t help of course that the girls (11 and 12 years old) were zingari – the Berlusconi government is doing their utmost at the moment to cultivate the mistrust of Roma: special nomad crisis managers have been appointed in some cities (for what crisis?) and last week their plan to fingerprint all Roma kids went to the European Parliament, which rightfully denounced it as a discriminatory measure. According to the government, however, it was a humanitarian plan and now minister Maroni (Lega Nord – a far right, Northern Italian separatist party) has launched an initiative to make all unregistered Roma kids citizens of Italy. It looks as if he is setting the scene for another episode of the Stolen Generations – the period in Australian history which saw indigenous Australian kids or ‘Aboriginals’ kidnapped and brought to white foster homes.

But it’s worse. In his statement, Maroni does not fail to mention that kids are being “abandoned” and have a “tragic future”, because “we know some are used for the illegal trafficking of human organs.” Yep, that’s exactly what his statement needed to add clarity – a grossly generalizing, unproven and downright racist slur against a powerless, deeply impoverished and defenseless minority.

Like any right-wing government, Berlusconi’s coalition promises a safer country. It’s painful to see how they are hoodwinking the Italian people into believing that the victims need to be held in check to achieve that. And with all that talk of Roma treating their kids badly, I am sure some are already planning the next firebombings. Historical parallels of rather a different nature than the Australian one above are jumping up from the newspapers these days.

Sometimes Italy makes me very, very sad.

Good Night, Liberal Holland

The US Presidential campaign is rocked by a cartoon on the cover of The New Yorker, but nobody is suggesting that the magazine should be pulled from the stands, or that Internet copies of it’s cover should be pulled from the Web. Pulling magazines from the stands, taking down websites or parts of websites, or arresting a cartoonist at his house with a small army of police officers – these are things we associate with such liberal democracies as Iran, Zimbabwe, or North Korea.

And with the Netherlands. The country of legalized prostitution, marijuana, gay marriages, and abortion, and generally relaxed morals has been cracking down on free speech recently, thanks to it’s governing coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and the small, strictly Protestant Christian Union party. The result of that coalition is a rather devilish concoction of Christian morals and Socialdemocratic belief in the ‘makeable society’ – basically a method of steering public opinion with careful propaganda and heavy-handed disapproval of dissenting voices.

Enter cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot – the pen name refers to a Chinese Communist execution method, the neck shot – who was arrested in his home by nine to twelve men (accounts differ) because some of his cartoons were judged to be insulting to Islam and ‘people of colour’. And, well, they are. I am sure they are. I myself find some of his work gross, bordering on racist, based on half-brained conspiracy theories about the multicultural society, and I wouldn’t buy a newspaper that prints them on a regular basis. But then, no paper hardly ever prints any of his work. And, as Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell puts it in this excellent write-up: Should [cartoonists] go too far? Of course we should.

Eventually, some of Nekschot’s stuff was pulled from his website – eight cartoons in total. And despite the international upheaval, with articles about Nekschot all over the western world, Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin recently said that the attention for the case was “unjustified”. This is what liberal Holland has crumbled down to – a country where a small army of police officers raid a cartoonist’s house because of his drawings and a government which has nothing more to offer in reaction to that than a very, very, very thinly veiled attempt at downplaying the enormity of their blunder.

I can deal with the Muslim hunting that’s going on. It’s a passing fad and I believe it’s already losing ground. Nobody in their right mind honestly believes that the far right will ever be in a government coalition in the Netherlands. But this is of a different nature. These are mainstream parties and the Christian Democrats especially don’t look set to lose any ground at all over this. There’s every chance that they will be part of the next government as well. The trick is that the majority of the people simply do not care. Either they have never known what happened, or they have already forgotten, or they actually agree that the government should intervene when things go ‘too far’. They vote Christian Democrats mainly because they are not touched by all this. Things are good, aren’t they?

And that’s how it works. You cannot rob someone who’s awake. You have to wait until they are sound asleep, dreaming happy thoughts, and there’s no blogger loud enough to wake them. Panem et circences, it is still so true after all these centuries. Even in ‘liberal’ Holland.

Religion Is Not Tolerant

In England, the Anglican Church is struggling with women ordained as bishops and bishops who are openly gay. It is a total mystery to me why someone who is gay would want to be a bishop in an antihomosexual organisation. And the Anglican church is exactly that, just like any other religious organisation.

If I were gay I’d attack this bishop Gene Robinson for treason – treason to the just cause of acceptance of gays. In his robes, Robinson is living denial of the otherwise undeniable truth that churches are anti-gay organisations. And when in his service (watch the video) he talks of “two men or two women who choose to make a Christian family together” he is telling a great big whopping lie. You cannot do that. You cannot be partners of the same sex and start a Christian family – that’s like being a bankrobber and claiming to live an honest life. Here’s Leviticus 20:13 for you (in the Catholic New American Bible translation):

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives.

I think it’s time for clarity. I think it’s time for the world to speak out on this: religious organisations are by their very nature not tolerant, not accepting and not forgiving. Robinson should leave his robes at the altar and tell the truth: religion is inherently anti-gay and unless we start to rip pages from Bible, Torah and Qur’an, and probably all the other “holy” books as well, it will always be. And believers everywhere can be held accountable for not making that crucial choice to leave these archaic institutions of power behind. You’re all still propping the whole charade up. And if you ask me, they are just waiting for the end of this era of ‘heretical modernism’ so they can turn back the clock. Firmly.

The next time the Pope lands somewhere, or some important rabbi is being fêted by world leaders, or some imam is being interviewed respectfully for television, pop the big questions. What about the gays? What about the atheists? What about the other religions? And keep popping these.

And maybe, just maybe some people will start to see the truth behind the sweet talk.