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Bravo, Fisher! (Update)

I have long grumbled (yes, I confess it) about the newspaper of record's shoddy reporting on things Italian: sensationalistic, superficial, prejudiced are my printable comments. And often the coverage of Vatican affairs was depressingly predictable -- one could always guess what would appear in the next paragraph.But do I sense a new wind blowing from oltre le montagne? And is Ian Fisher the reason my "orrore" is becoming "bravo?"A positive sign was his recent reporting on the Pope's new encyclical, Spe Salvi. It was accurate and straightforward, blessedly free of editorializing.Now comes a front-page article on Italy that shows some real depth -- well, at least more depth than the old gray lady has mustered in the past. The opening reads:

[T]hese days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself. The word here is malessere, or malaise; it implies a collective funk economic, political and social summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.Its a country that has lost a little of its will for the future, said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister. There is more fear than hope.The problems are, for the most part, not new and that is the problem. They have simply caught up to Italy over many years, and no one seems clear on how change can come or if it is possible anymore at all.

Read on. Then join in chorus: "Bravo, Signor Fisher!"UPDATE: Mr. Fisher's article has provoked a response from no less a personage than the President of the Republic of Italy on a visit to la Grande Mela. From Corriere della Sera:

il presidente nella grande mela ribatte all'attacco del New York Times

Napolitano: L'Italia ha spirito animale

Il Capo dello Stato: Clima politico da cambiare e troppi interessi ma ci sono anche molti punti di forza

When Fisher speaks, people listen!

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It has seemed to me since Dawkins' and Hitchens' God books were panned vehemently even by secular reviewers that it has definitely become politically correct at least in non-scientific secular quarters to take religion more seriously, to look at it more closely, perhaps. The Washington Post, for instance, now has a blog about religion called "On Faith". I like to think of this change as the death of Enlightenment religious cynicism. The death of the Voltaire factor, you might call it. Signs of the Times? (Ouch!)

My wife's family is Italian and she has long contended that all the smart, energetic, achieving Italians left Italy long ago for America, where they are prospering (except for those who, upon reaching America, then refused to leave the Bronx ...). That, of course, is all said tongue-in-cheek, but perhaps Italy (and all of Europe) could benefit from a little reverse immigration. I certainly wouldn't mind my own villa in Tuscany ...

Whether it is an effect or a partial cause, or a simple symptom, but to me one of the more disturbing phenomena in Italy is the very low birth-rate, fewer than two children per family. This in a culture that once treasured children. When you combine this with the birthrate among immigrants, who increase in number every year, you start to wonder whether Italian culture, so beautiful, so rich, so human, will survive for very long. And it would be a very great grief to me to think that such an embodiment of humanity might one day disappear. The last time I was in Bologna, after an absence of two years, I found that all the little grocery shops along the avenue I walked to get to the historic center were now operated by people from south Asia, Pakistan in particular. When I commented on this to a friend, he said, "It's an invasion!" And he wondered whether organized crime was not behind it; how else to explain that immigrants could afford to own and operate these little stores? I have no idea whether he is correct. I hasten to add that he is not anti-immigrant; he was simply trying to understand the situation.

In Manhattan, long ago many or most of the small local stores (it used to be mainly fruit and vegetable stores, but those have morphed into small grocery stores) are operated by Chinese or Koreans, and newsstands are largely operated by Indians. I think it is because they began with a toehold, worked harder than anybody else doing the same thing, and helped their friends and relatives start new businesses. I am guessing it takes very little initial investment to sell fresh fruits and vegetables, or magazines.

I am italian and I live in Italy, escuse my poor english. Joseph :"but to me one of the more disturbing phenomena in Italy is the very low birth-rate, fewer than two children per family. "For me the more disturbing phenomena is this: after the second world war in Italy we had 60 governements, 52 times the prime minister was a catholic strongly supported by the Vatican, but never a governement made laws to help family and natality.We spent for family less 1,1% of GDP last in europe and very far from France or Spain, were (awful:)) same sex partnership or same sex marriage exist.Do you know that here a family without kids and a family with 2 kids, with the same income, pay almost same tax?A young worker gains 900-1000 euro monthly and house rent in about 600-700 euro. We have the more low wages in europe and no help for youg couples and family.But we are so luck, we host the vatican that all the time repeat : the family is holy! it is enough.

Dear Mary: All that you mention no doubt enters as factors explaining the low birthrate, but I suspect that they are not the only factors, and comunque one may still regret it, no?

certamente!Other factors are: we get married in more old age because it is difficult to have a job, we don't have unemployement benefits ( other european countries have them), italian men help very little their wives, woman have 100% of the family burden.If you live far from your mother or mother in law, you don't have anybody to look after your kids when you are working: creche are few and expensive. Eccetera..

Mary,Benvenuta al blog!Thank you for adding an important perspective.

Grazie e scusate ancora il mio scarso inglese!

How, if at all, does the story of the secret revival of the Red Brigades--see today's WSJ--play into this story of malaise? I can't help thinking there is some connection.

yes, I too think this.Btw do you know that the Deputati and Senato's regulations allow -only for lawmakers of course -marriage benefits to the couples living more uxorio? At the family day sposored by the vatican to defend the catholic marriage ALL politicians were :divorced and remarried, living together without marriage, got married with wicca cult.As we state al the time here, la teoria e la pratica sono due cose diverse.

Mi dispiace!! Even when Italians had less they had more pride. I would not forget that we have had two non-Italian popes in a row and that plays no small part. And don't think for a moment that even the anti-clerical Italians do not rue the day that a non-Italian entered Peter's realm. Clearly, the situation is sad in Italy in many ways. Yet it is not easy to accept. I await what the apologists will have to say.

Before Giorgio Napolitano gets too upset at the NYT's recent article on Italy, he might look at the press in his own country. Not that I read Italian papers, except slowly when I have to, but I was there in October (visiting my new Italian grandchild, among other things), and it seemed to me that the newspaper ads on the sides of kiosks for papers like the Repubblica, the Corriere, or the Nazione (this last pub. in Florence, where I was) were running articles asking whether Italy has lost its edge, lost its way, is running downhill, etc. And, for what it's worth, my son in law, a Florentine businessman, told me the articles were absolutely right; the chief villain in his books being the Italian legislature, whose members are the highest paid in Europe, never doing much, enjoying huge pensions after the briefest service, and certainly not willing to vote against the privileges they themselves enjoy. And organized crime -- not the Mafia, but the Camorra -- is on its way up again, moving north as far as Umbria, and forging all kinds of illicit contacts with countries like Romania and Albania.Is that true? I don't know.

I think today's La Repubblica shows that there is wide-spread agreement with the Times' assessment:ROMA - Walter Veltroni condivide il quadro sconfortante dell'Italia dipinto dal New York Times. Il giornale della Grande Mela, dice il segretario del Pd, "non ha scritto cose infondate: il Paese ha i fondamentali per farcela, ma il contesto, la farraginosit del sistema politico e istituzionale, il clima di odio e di contrapposizione che determina lo stato non sereno al quale il quotidiano statunitense ha fatto riferimento".Even Napolitano had to admit the sun doesn't always shine in bella Italia.