Tag Archives: United States

The Death Penalty in Virginia and Iran

Sakineh: pollice verso?

Discussing study opportunities in the US with my wife’s cousin’s 15 year old, he suddenly interrupted his excited line of questioning about the Hard Rock Cafe and eggs for breakfast to ask something more serious: “Is it true that they execute women there, too?” Teresa Lewis’ execution in Virginia (a state that I’m not exactly from but that I have many associations with) was big news here, and as if to put it in counterpoint, I was reminded of the huge banner stating solidarity with Sakineh that was draped over Verona’s Roman arena.

Whereas certain European attitudes towards modernity might seem backwards to us — see Twitter for the Gallic sniff on Chinese work habits — we must realize that to them, lethal injection in Old Dominion is not much different than a stoning in Iran. I think we lose of sight of this sometimes as a consequence of our exceptionalism.

Class is in session

Meanwhile, the first week of school last week meant tons of education reform excitement in Italy (as well as less posted from your chronicler).  Yes — a subject that usually makes most Americans huddle and cry while as vaguely-defined horrors like state-mandated testing and No Child Left Behind is actually exciting in Italy. This year, Minister Gelmini has halved the number of teaching positions. Official state-certification bodies at all major universities continued to pump out teachers in droves till just a few years ago. The intelligent reader sees where this leads — lots of teachers sitting at home, waiting for a substitution assignment.  I should point out for the unaware that Europe’s university system, far more specialized than America’s liberal arts-organized model, is less tolerant of job-switching.  (Doubtlessly there’s something cultural to this as well.)  The upshot is that in the last couple of years, the level of opprobrium directed at Minister Gelmini — who is, incidentally, a lawyer and not a teacher by training — has moved from the graffiti-laden walls near student quarters to the headlines.  In her somewhat feeble defense, I usually say that this is to avoid the sort of public sector glut that crippled Greece.  But there’s no question that it could’ve been handled better — like by closing the certification schools a few years earlier, or at least limiting enrollment.

Alpine Sun in front of Adro's Il Polo scolastico Gianfranco Miglio

Last week’s other interested drama was a private school in Adro, in nearby Brescia that festooned its entryway with the “Alpine Sun.”  There’s a particularly prominent one at the entryway to the school.

Apparently it’s just a ‘cultural symbol.’ Of course this doesn’t take into account that the school is named after a prominent member of — guess what party?  One that just coincidentally happens to use the Alpine Sun as the main symbol of their made-up country.  Let’s compare.

Obviously a coincidence.

Adro’s mayor, Oscar Lancini, has been at the center of this debate.  Not entirely surprisingly, he is also a leghista.  Gelmini has come out and told him to order to have the symbols removed from the school.  He’s saying today it will cost 30 thousand euros.  The whole idea of branding teenagers with your political party’s symbol would just seem pathetic if, as I try to highlight on this blog, immigration in Europe were not such a pressing issue.  I’ll keep you posted on how it plays out.   Gelmini, linked to Berlusconi, is playing a risky game by coming down hard on Bossi, of course, lest he go the way of Fini, but I’d like to think it’s inconceivable that she not endorse this move.

As a side note, the left, in their predictably opportunistic fashion, is trying to make educational spending an issue, without really saying much other than ‘time to roll up out sleeves.’

Ok, money for education is shrinking, you're out of patience, you're rolling up your sleeves, and -- what next?

Svezia, inferno e paradiso

One expects political upheaval in Italy. After all, the country has had as many governments as Boliva since World War Two, and my primer on Italian politics had a photo of parliamentarians fist-fighting on the cover.

From the back cover, "Fisticuffs in the Italian Parliament"

But — Sweden? As Stephen Castle wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, Swedish politics are usually “worthy, high-minded and often utterly predictable, Swedish politics has rarely offered much by way of excitement” — pretty much the exact opposite of Italy’s opportunistic and treacherous circus, in other words. It’s certainly new to me — I’d have expected to hear more about the Netherlands, France or, if you want to look at the Scandinavians, Denmark — but inasmuch as it traces all the main themes common to the Italian debate — the future of the welfare state, the decline of industrial society, and rising immigration — I’ll be following it closely.