Immigrants ate my country

Another translation of an article by the Neapolitan writer Rosario Dello Iacovo. The original is here.

In the beginning were the terroni, scroungers and ruin of the nation. Then it was the turn of the Chinese, but the Chinese had money, opened businesses, and kept to themselves; they were too powerful to take on with some reasonable chance of success. So the average Italian thought the time might be come to aim up and take on the politicians, but the anger against the caste did not last long: the politicians shrugged their shoulders, as if they gave a fuck. Some new face from some new movement entered parliament and it all ended as it had started.

Then it was the turn of the refugees on the boats. “Perfect,” said the average Italian, because they were weak enough to have all the sins of the world dumped on them, without the slightest consequence. Like a charm, the dormitories became five star hotels. Even better than a share dividend or a stock exchange index, the maximum figure of 2 euro 50 cash per person per day rose to 1200 euros a month. In the province of Trento someone came forward to affirm that they got up to 2000. Everybody, ah, if it were only the refugees. And saying that it was European Union money, only one twenty-seventh Italian. After a devastating flood, caused by climate change, prolonged excessive heat, but most of all soil erosion, building speculation and planning corruption, the expression was coined: “Immigrants ate my country.”

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The Camorra is a pile of shit and Gomorrah is an ad for the Camorra

This article is a translation of a piece by Rosario Dello Iacovo which addresses the image of Naples presented by the television series (rather than the film or book) Gomorrah, and the way it glamourizes a criminal existence without making any reference to the struggling anti-Camorra or anti-Mafia movement in Italy. I thought it should have a wider readership, especially given that the series seems to have been adopted into the Eurocrime canon in the English-speaking world, and Rosario kindly agreed to let me present this translation.

If you want to see a great film about the anti-Mafia struggle, try The Hundred Steps/I Cento Passi.

I lose my patience, when my nephew answers the phone with the umpteenth phrase from the series Gomorrah. I thank the three thousand kilometers which separate London from Salento that my rage has no repercussions worse than the dressing down he has coming. He is not even thirteen, he comes from an honest working-class family, he works hard at school, he plays football well. A normal child who has the luck to grow up in a peaceful environment, but to hear him speak at times he seems anything but.

For some time in Naples youths not much older than my nephew have been taking shots at each other. Not with words but with bullets. And it is not teenage pride which is wounded, but bodies in flesh, bone, shit and blood spread on the tarmac. Is it the fault of Gomorrah and of Roberto Saviano if it happens? No, the Camorra was shooting when Saviano was still his parents’ dream of love. And long before, because the Camorra took over Naples when it entered the city on the bandwagon of United Italy plc, even if to say so seems unforgiveable Bourbonism to some. So what is the question?

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War on the humanities, again

The THE reports that leading historian Professor Peter Mandler has delivered a paper on the “crisis in the humanities”, concluding that there isn’t one. In particular, he says:

It is hard to take too seriously talk of a crisis in Britain when even by the narrowest definition of the humanities the absolute number of humanities students has increased fivefold since 1967, and by the broader definition almost 10-fold.

In the US, over a period of much slower expansion, their numbers have still doubled…Talk of a crisis triggered by a decline in a percentage point or two does seem like an over-reaction that is likely to contribute to rather than ameliorate the alleged problem.

As well as looking at student numbers, we can look at the UK data for academic staff numbers, as a proxy for resource allocation.


The figure shows the percentage of academic staff in STE (Science, Technology, and Engineering), Humanities (shown dashed), and Medicine from 1994 to 2008, using the freely available HESA data sets. The break in the curves corresponds to a change in the reporting of data. The details of how staff numbers were assigned to the three categories are given in a separate PDF.

The first part of the plot shows a drop in the percentage of STE staff, which might correspond to the closure of Chemistry departments over that time (the data for these years are not broken down to subject level), while Medicine rises, and Humanities are fairly steady.

After the change in reporting methodology in 2003, Medicine has about the same proportion of staff as before the change, while Humanities increases markedly and STE reduces. Clearly, this is an artifact of the breakdown of data and does not indicate real changes in the proportion of academic staff in STE or Humanities. The trends from 2003 onwards are validly indicated, however, and show STE and Humanities holding more or less steady.

In summary, the data from 1994 onwards show a sharp drop in STE, a rise in Medicine, and a small drop in Humanities.

Crisis in the humanities? What crisis?

Preventing radicalization in universities

The government’s guidance to universities in England and Wales on the `Prevent duty’ contains the following paragraphs (120,1):

Universities have a clear role to play in the welfare of their students and we would expect there to be sufficient chaplaincy and pastoral support for all students.

As part of this, we would expect the institution to have clear and widely available policies for the use of prayer rooms and other faith-related facilities. These policies should outline arrangements for managing prayer and faith facilities (for example an oversight committee) and for dealing with any issues arising from the use of the facilities.

The use of the term `prayer rooms’ does make clear which faith is being targeted here. A few years ago, however, Bristol University’s Christian Union barred women from speaking unaccompanied at its events:

We understand that this [women teaching] is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our CU:Equip meetings [its principal weekly meeting], as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away or as our main speaker for mission weeks.

If such a thing happens again, is an academic or other member of university staff expected to note this affront to the `fundamental British value’ of `individual liberty’ and report the Christian Union for extremism?


Paying for education

As seems likely, we in the UK are about to see the price of education hiked by another few grand a year. It turns out that the problem of what to pay for education was solved by William Blake a couple of centuries ago:

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy
And in the wither’d field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain

or, if you prefer, fame costs:

Theodor Adorno and Michael Gove

So there I was, minding my own business, when I discovered that the Frankfurt School was responsible for giving gay men and women in Ireland the right to marry.

“Well now,” says I, “what else might they be responsible for, these gnomes of Frankfurt.” It turns out they have been the source of the “ideas” for education policy in the United Kingdom for decades. From Dialectic of Enlightenment:

Cultural education spread with bourgeouis property. It forced paranoia into the dark corners of society and the soul. But since the real emancipation of mankind did not take place with the enlightenment of the mind, education itself became diseased. The greater the distance between the educated consciousness and social reality, the more it was itself exposed to the process of reification. Culture became wholly a commodity disseminated as information without permeating the individuals who acquired it. Thought became restricted to the acquisition of isolated facts. Conceptual relationships were rejected as uncomfortable and useless effort. The aspect of development in thought, all that is genetic and intensive in it, is forgotten and leveled down to the immediately given, to the extensive. Today the order of life allows no time for the ego to draw spiritual or intellectual conclusions. The thought which leads to knowledge is neutralized and used as a mere qualification on specific labour markets and to heighten the commodity value of the personality. And so that self-examination of the mind which works against paranoia is defeated. Finally, under the conditions of modern capitalism, half-education has become objective spirit. In the totalitarian phase of domination, it calls upon the provincial charlatans of politics, and with them the system of delusion as the ultima ratio: forcing it upon the majority of the ruled, who are already deadened by the culture industry. The contradictions of rule can be seen through by the healthy consciousness so easily today that it takes a diseased mind to keep them alive. Only those who suffer from a delusion of persecution accept the persecution to which domination must necessarily lead, inasmuch as they are allowed to persecute others.

War on the humanities? What war?

After I wrote a response to Professor Sarah Churchwell’s comments on the `war on the humanities’, she tweeted that if I wanted her opinion, it could be found in a piece on The Conversation, and represented a better statement of her views than a ten sentence extract from a ninety minute interview. I was not the only person to object to the comments as reported, whether in comments on the article, or in the letters page, but it seems only fair to engage with a full statement of the position.
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