Time for choices

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , , , on June 4, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

So, America has finally chosen.

Obama will be the one that will run against McCain for the presidency.

Maybe because I’m eternally undecided, but, as I stated in a previous post, I still cannot make up my mind if I like Obama or not. Even if, between him and McCain, I’d rather have him. Well, I suppose.

What is sure is that, after the last Italian elections (and the slogans, the videos and everything), I cannot look at Obama without being reminded of Veltroni. And, alas, I must confess I wouldn’t be able to choose between the two, either.

I must be allergic to decisions.

Except, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t have any possible doubt if I was left to choose between Berlusconi and McCain.

…O, say, does that
Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free
And the home of the brave?

A good value for money

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

The world only needs 30 billion dollars a year to eradicate hunger. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today appealed to world leaders for such an effort in order to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflicts over food.

This reminded me of a discussion I had last week, during a visit of local politicians to CERN installations. During the discussion, a kind lady made a comment I must have heard a number of times:

“What you’re doing here is fascinating, but when I think about the amount of money needed to realize all that, I wonder whether it could not be used for a better task. You know, with all the people dying of hunger in the third world…”

Yes, I’ve asked myself the same question, a few times. And yes, I have given myself answers. But I won’t provide these to you. I’ll just tell you some facts, some of which I just checked up today:

– The annual budget of CERN is about 1 billion dollar per year.

– The total cost of the LHC is estimated to about 6 billion dollars.

– A single F-22 fighter plane cost is more than 300 million dollars, while a B-2 bomber costs up to 2.2 billion dollars (including R&D costs, subdivided by total number of planes built).

– The annual budget of the US defense is more than 500 billion dollars. The annual military expenditure in Italy is (wanna try to guess?) about 30 billion dollars.

– The direct official cost of the Iraq war to the US administration is 845 billion dollars up to date. In a recent book, the Nobel laureate Stiglitz had evaluated the total cost to the US economy to 3000 billion dollars. A very conservative estimate, he claims.

When somebody ask a physicist today about what practical use one can make of the potential discoveries of an experiment like LHC, there’s only one possible answer: “We don’t know (yet)”. The same answer Faraday apparently gave to Gladstone, then British minister of finances, who was asking him about the practical use of electricity. “But I guess one day the government would put a tax on it.” , he added.

We indeed know a bit more about the practical uses of electricity today. I guess I don’t need to remind you what the practical use of a bomber is.

I hope the information I provided can help somebody to decide whether the money invested in fundamental science is a good value for money or not. Everyone, of course, will have his own opinion. I think I’ll stick to mine.

Family matters

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , on May 27, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

Yesterday, in Palermo, a father stabbed his own son, apparently justifying his act by the young man homosexual inclination.

Last week the UK House of Commons unexpectedly rejected proposals that would have made the access to in vitro fertilisation exremely difficult for homosexual couples or single women. The new bill amends existing legislation, which require clinics to recognise the “need for a father”, to the simple need of “supportive parenting”. It makes thus easier to access in vitro fertilization. Both partners will be recognised as parents on birth certificates when lesbian couples conceive with donated sperm or gay men use surrogacy to have a child.

Two weeks ago, a sentence of the California Supreme Court recognized gay marriage.

Meanwhile the Italian Minister for equality declares to newspapers that gays are not being discriminated and expresses her views on gay rights and abortion – in her blog.

So thinking about all this, I remembered today a comic booklet for children I had discovered in the Geneva public library, where I had brought my son.

Geneva library has a nice children section, where kids are free to roam around picking up books from scaffoldings and cupboards. Sofas and chairs are also spread around, even if they are in general neglected in favor of the preferred reading place of Swiss kids, which happens to be, like in all countries, on the floorboards.

The book dealt about homosexual parenthood, in what I found a rather tactful and charming way. I remember having been only moderately surprised to find such a booklet there in public display. My only thought was the usual one, on how more advanced than Italy are indeed countries like France or Switzerland.

Since I could’t remember the title nor the author of the booklet, I looked up for it today on the web, where it was not difficult to find. It is called Jean a deux mamans by Ophelie Texier and published by Ecole des Loisirs. While I was looking for it, I also found an article appeared on Le Figaro dealing about it, and discovered that even in supposedly advanced countries, the occasional idiot can be found. And get some support as well.

I report here a few phrases, by a pediatrician (and right-wing politician):

“…c’est n’importe quoi ! … [l’homoparentalité, c’est] pas une valeur, mais un fait marginal. Elle véhicule donc, dans ce sens, des antivaleurs… De zéro à 6 ans, ce que vous voyez et entendez, vous l’engrangez comme un fait intangible, cela se colle dans la mémoire. Même s’il ne sait pas lire, un enfant capte des messages, lesquels lui paraissent comme un fait acquis. A cet âge-là, la structuration du psychisme est en pleine construction du complexe d’Oedipe. L’enfant est en train de prendre ses repères, il fixe sa place par rapport à son père et sa mère, il construit qui il est. … Or, lire ou raconter ce genre d’histoire bouleverse tout et peut nuire à la construction psychique.”

In brief (I spare you a complete French-to-English translation by an Italian, even if it could have been rather funny), the book is bullshit, it propagates anti-values, and to read it would undermine the personal identity of children, who are building it in relation with paternal and maternal figures.

N’importe quoi, really…

I’ll probably have troubles sleeping tonight, thinking about the many generation of children (and myself among them), whose life was irremediably ruined by the deeply distorted family paradigm provided by the household shown in the post image.


Posted in G 1 with tags , , , on May 22, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

Some people have indeed the gift of prophecy. I ignore when Fabrizio De Andre’ wrote the following words, but they could as well have been written yesterday:

“Si lamentano degli zingari? Guardateli come vanno in giro a supplicare l’elemosina di un voto: ma non ci vanno a piedi, hanno autobus che sembrano astronavi, treni, aerei: e guardateli quando si fermano a pranzo o a cena: sanno mangiare con coltello e forchetta, e con coltello e forchetta si mangeranno i vostri risparmi.

L’Italia appartiene a cento uomini, siamo sicuri che questi cento uomini appartengano all’Italia?”

I’ll try to translate for English readers:

“Do they complain about gypsies? Look how they go around begging for a vote: but they don’t walk, they have buses that look like spaceships, trains, planes: and look at them, when they stop for lunch or dinner: they know how to eat with fork and knife, and with fork and knife they’ll eat your savings.

Italy belong to a hundred men, are we sure these hundred belong to Italy?”

Sadly, prophets are getting scarce in our times.

The God of Small Things

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , , on May 18, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

In this rather dark period for Italy, a small reason to rejoice. Thinking more about it, not so small, really. Not for me, at least. It’s indeed a small thing only when compared to other more serious matters.

And actually, today there is another small reason to rejoice. In fact I would even have changed the post photo.

Only, I couldn’t find one showing the expression the Joker face had today, at about 5 o’clock.

Vonnegut and the Arrow of Time

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , on May 6, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero


Some time ago, triggered by a post on Universi Paralleli, I started re-reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. As everybody should know, the book is inspired by the author’s experience as a war prisoner in Dresden, during the Allied bombing that completely destroyed the city.

In the book, following a personal habit, Vonnegut fools around mischievously with time, going back and forth through it in almost every page. Not only that, but he actually has the protagonist travel subjectively in time, which he doesn’t experience in the usual, linear fashion. On the contrary, he goes through different moments of his life in a discontinuous way, jumping backward and forward in imitation of his author’s literary style.

Also featured are aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. The Tralfamadorians have as well a peculiar perception of time, since they see in four dimensions, the fourth being time. They thus perceive every instant of their lives simultaneously. So, for instance, nobody really dies for them. Any individual is only dead in given areas of the four-dimensional space, while in other spots he is indeed alive and well.

The book is full of time-based tricks. Let me offer you a taste of Vonnegut’s juggling with time. At a certain point, many years after the war, the protagonist is looking at a war documentary, while subjectively traveling backwards in time. Here is what he sees:

“American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen…

The bombers opened their bomb-bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.”

As it to happens quite often when confronted with something written by Vonnegut, I find this passage disturbingly poetic, utterly sad and outright beautiful at the same time.

Reading it, I almost wished for a moment that Vonnegut was still alive. Then I realized he is actually not quite dead. He only happen to be not very healthy in this particular moment.

So it goes.

May 1st

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , on May 1, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

Since I cannot possibly ignore the suggestions of the closest thing to a living musical encyclopedia I know of, this will be my soundtrack for the Labour Day.