Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Advent of the Green Woodpecker

I would have liked to post this translation earlier, because the original piece was written for Advent, but I found it late and I could only post it now. In any case, there are still a few hours. I hope you will find it as interesting as I did. Maybe it could even be something on which to meditate, this Christmas.

by Maria Gloria Riva.
(Translated by L. Pavese)

At the time of Advent, the figure of John the Baptist appears on the scene, shouting the urgency to prepare the way. According to the prophet Isaiah, he is yelling from the desert; but also into the desert, according to a plausible translation of the Gospel. And maybe this latter version is more suitable to our times, in which religious life (and monasticism in particular, of which John the Baptist is the symbol and patron saint) is screaming into the wilderness of a world that has no use for a Messiah.
    In this Advent season, which marks the beginning of a year dedicated to the consecrated life, I like to remember a painting by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450-1516) that offers to us a  representation of John the Baptist completely different from tradition. He is not the ascetic eater of locusts, who wears rough camel hair.  Rather, he is a “fleshy” philosopher, languidly laid down on the ground, while he enumerates the virtues of the lamb that is in front of him.
The landscape is heavenly, but the threat looms.

The element that partially hides the prophet is a plant. The x-ray picture of the painting revealed that, here, Bosch had initially placed the profoundly devout benefactor, kneeling in front of his patron. We don’t know the reason of this sudden change of mind, but we know that the substitution was not by happenstance. Bosch, with his mastery, could have easily picked from an infinite range of plants in his substantial repertoire but instead he chose just a carnivorous one.

In the painter’s imagination, the carnivorous plant is the symbol of the voracious and devastating human passions that corrupt faith and customs. We could very well detect in this the  picture of our present society, in which the cultural wilderness appears to be the natural consequence of a life spent in bacchanalia, devouring all that can be guzzled down.
It is strange, though, how a 15th century man, like Hieronymus Bosch, did not choose to oppose an ascetic figure to this Epicurean voracity, but he opted instead for a philosophical model.
The reason could be found in the clients who ordered the work, who, though it is uncertain, could be the Brotherhood of Our Lady, a confraternity whose mission was the defense of true faith against emerging sects, especially the esoteric ones. Therefore, the modernity of the exhortation that springs from this work by Bosch is surprising. Faced with a modern culture, dominated by egotism and by the cult of the body, we need a different culture, dominated instead by a passion for a reading of history in the light of the truth of faith and of the Christian truth.  

The carnivorous plant seems to swallow everything, even the rock against which John the Baptist is resting. But, in its voracity, the plant cannot see that behind the rock there is the Lamb, crouching like he were waiting for his time, and that the fruit of the plant is about to be devoured by a woodpecker with green hues.

The woodpecker, like many other animals, has a dual symbolic value of good and evil. The evil woodpecker is the symbol of heresy that, with insistence, empties the content of faith. But in the good sense, and especially when the bird is hued with green, it symbolizes rebirth. The woodpecker is a symbol of Christ himself, who patiently searches for the presence of the Evil One to eradicate it.
The lamb that sits behind the rock, instead, is the symbol of meekness that triumphs against brute force. Though the rock that is about to be devoured is the Church and, specifically, the rock of Peter (that is, the Papacy), Bosch discretely reminds us that the Church is not founded on the will of the people, but on God’s will and on the winning card of sacrifice.
    The sacrificial lamb is actually telling us that, in the exact moment the killer exults for having finally reached the prey, victory is celebrated. Precisely at the moment of the crucifixion, therefore at the moment of apparent defeat, Christ celebrates victory over evil and death. That’s why, while the carnivorous plant is at the peak of its luxuriance, the woodpecker, the truth of Christ, defended by John the Baptist, devours it.
This year, may the religious life renew its missionary vigor; and may it find again its force of attraction, especially in defense of the truth of the faith and in the spreading of a culture capable of undermining from within the modern anti-catholic and anti-human philosophies.

The article appeared originally on the Italian on-line daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, and it was posted here with their permission. Sister Maria Gloria Riva is an Italian Catholic nun who studies, writes and lectures about the connection between art and spirituality in the Catholic Christian tradition.

I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text.
Your comments will be greatly appreciated.
L. Pavese


Friday, August 15, 2014



Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

One Hand Always Points to the Truth

The Clock of Palazzo Vecchio
and the Florentine Detective.
By Roberto Vacca.

To everyone he was VP, not as in Vice President, but as in Vice Padrino. He was very self-confident. He was feared from Vegas to Miami, from Como to Capo Passero. Everyone obeyed him. He said:
“Special agent Patrick O’Cuillenain followed me all the way here to Italy. That Irish son-of-a-bitch is going around saying he’s here just as a tourist. But he’s really sticking his nose where he’s not supposed to. I am gonna waste him myself.”
His cousin objected:
“VP, no. Do not expose yourself. We can send one of the boys.”
“No, I’m gonna do it myself. This is personal.”
Agent O’Cuillenain was pleased with his escort. Jack Ryan was an old friend. He was also Irish and spoke Italian well. O’Cuillenain had also hit it off with the Italian Florentine Carabinier Carlo Guarducci. He had sized the Italian up right away as smart, confident and reliable.
The three of them had eaten in a very good restaurant in Trastevere, then Ryan and Guarducci had taken O’Cuillenain to Saint Peter’s Square.
The Irish detective’s eyes panned over the vast colonnade. He was looking for the spot from which all the pillars appeared to be lined up, as if there was only one of them. He froze. VP was standing in front of the colonnade, smiling at him from thirty feet away.
The huge hand of the gangster was wrapped around a large .45 caliber semi-automatic gun. The grips of prized wood had been carved especially for him. VP fired two shots in rapid sequence. The 154 grains of each slug pierced O’Cuillenain’s chest, killing him on the spot.

Ryan and Guarducci stared at VP’s face for a moment. They were about to return fire, but a large grey SUV drove up at high speed and stopped in front of them, blocking their view. Then the car bolted, taking away VP who had jumped aboard.
Ryan and Guarducci shot at the car, but it quickly disappeared in the direction of the Aurelia. Then they saw that the Irish agent was dead. Guarducci called headquarters, relayed what had just happened and reported the SUV’s license plate number.
While they were running to their Alfa Romeo service car, Guarducci asked:
“Did you recognize him?”
“Sure!” answered Ryan, “VP is very well known. Patrick had chased him all the way here. I have his picture. Circulate it, and let’s block airports, train stations and border crossings.”
Guarducci took the American’s cell-phone and transmitted the photograph. Then he turned on the siren and, with a screech of tires, he and Ryan took off in the Alfa Romeo.
“Let’s go to Fiumicino!. We’ve got to catch him!”
“This time he’s got no defense. We caught him red-handed, with the smoking gun. He’s going to be extradited to Texas, where they’ve still got capital punishment. With our testimony, he’s finished. Fix this time in your memory: 3:50 PM. What do you say in Italy? 15:50, on June 21.
But VP did not show up at any airport or railroad station. He was arrested several hours later in a nice Florence hotel in Santa Maria Novella Square. He was in the company of his famous attorney.
Ryan got to the Florence prison first and gave his testimony. Guarducci’s train was late. When the Carabinier arrived at the Sollicciano detention center, Ryan ran towards him before he got in.  
“Carlo! This is not possible! VP’s lawyer’s here. He testified that yesterday afternoon VP was in Florence with him. He even has a picture of the two of them, in front of Palazzo Vecchio. The clock is visible, and it’s marking the exact time VP shot O’Cuillenain, at three fifty. There’s even a lady going by with yesterday’s paper in her hands. What’s going on? Did they find a double of VP, here in Italy?” Ryan was overcome with grief.
Guarducci took the large photograph, and looked at it carefully. Then he smiled.
“These gangsters of yours are really dumb! How did they think they could get away with it here in Florence? Don’t you know the story?
“What story? It seems to me VP’s got an ironclad alibi.”
Guarducci shook his head.
“Not at all! Read your Michelin guide! The clock in this picture is marking ten in the morning! It’s one of those rare ancient clocks with only one hand: the long one; and it’s marking the hours. To figure out the minutes you have to estimate tehm, based on where the hand is, between one hour and the next.
“The short hand is just a counterweight, and it stays always opposite the long one, on the same diameter. Every foreigner believes the clock is broken. Not so. In this case the short hand is indicating four, but it doesn’t count.
“That idiot VP took his picture yesterday morning at 10, and he was sure he was going to fool us; but he didn’t take into account that there could be a Florentine in the Italian police.”
Ryan smiled too, he was relieved.
“Good. He’s not getting away now. But what kind of clocks do you make here? Aren’t you embarrassed?” 
“Maybe we should change it; but change here happens at a very slow pace. However,  the clock was built in the 1600’s by a German.”

This short story was written for the June 2014 issue of the Italian magazine L'Orologio

Roberto Vacca by training is an engineer and a computer scientist. He has taught at universities in Rome and Milan, but has achieved fame in Italy and abroad as a science writer and as a fiction author. Probably his most famous novel is "Death of Megalopolis" (1974), and it can be found (with most of his other very interesting and very readable books), both in Italian and in English, on Dr. Vacca's site:
On this blog there are several other articles by Dr. Vacca, which I translated into English. This is about total war. This one is about the mechanics of free falling, and this is about writing and blogging, basically. Check them out, I'm sure you will find them interesting. 
The picture of the clock tower, reflecting in the puddle, is by Miguel Duarte.
I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text, and to thank you in advance for your comments.

Leonardo Pavese

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Maggiolino nel senso di Bolide

Tanto per sdrammatizzare un po' (dopo guerre e maomettani), parliamo di automobili, design e marketing. O meglio, lasciamo parlare Eric Peters , che lo fa di professione, ed è più al corrente di me, per quel che riguarda il mercato dell'auto. Per quanto mi riguarda, è solo un'occasione per guardare vecchie foto e belle illustrazioni, ma spero che il pezzo che ho tradotto vi interesserà. I vostri commenti saranno molto graditi. Grazie,
L. Pavese

The Beetle as a Speedster.
di Eric Peters.
(Tradotto da Leonardo Pavese)

Negli Stati Uniti, la Volkswagen ha cambiato di nuovo il nome del Maggiolino, da New Beetle a semplicemente Beetle. Ma un appellativo molto più adatto sarebbe stato Speedster. ( In Italia si direbbe Spider, da speeder, se non volesse ormai dire decapottabile; anche se, io ho una mia teoria, qualche sapientone lo ha mutato in spyder credendo che fosse scritto male ndt ). Magari anche New Speedster. Ma non Beetle, per piacere, che sia nuovo o no. E questa non intende essere una critica del nuovo Maggiolino; solo una chiarificazione. Mi è venuta in mente mentre contemplavo la Turbo Beetle S che la VW mi ha inviato da guidare per una settimana. Quest’auto, negli Stati Uniti, ha un motore a quattro cilindri da 200 hp (kW 149), a iniezione diretta e raffreddato a liquido, che aziona l’avantreno. È molto rapida: da 0 a 60 miglia orarie (circa km/h 95) in poco più di 6 secondi. E veloce: è in grado di viaggiare tutto il giorno a più di km/h 160. Gli sbirri potrebbero causarvi dei problemi, ma l’auto di sicuro no.

Molto bene, anzi fantastico, direte voi. Ma che cosa ha in comune con il Maggiolino? Cioè con la volkswagen, l’auto delle masse? La parentela è molto remota, tenue, a essere generosi. Il Maggiolino originale era soprattutto un mezzo molto semplice di viaggiare da A a B. Era tutt’altro che una spider, ma era molto economica, nell’acquisto e nel mantenimento. Il prezzo base negli Stati Uniti, nel 1970, era di $ 1980, equivalente a poco più di 12000 Baracks di valuta inflazionata corrente, e a circa la metà del prezzo di una Beetle turbo-compressa del 2014. Il motore raffreddato ad aria, nel bagagliaio del Maggiolino originale (che un bagagliaio non lo aveva), sedeva sopra le ruote posteriori e le azionava. Il motore aveva un solo accessorio: l’alternatore, trascinato da una cinghia. Niente servo-sterzo. Non ne aveva bisogno, perché la parte anteriore dell’auto era leggerissima. Se è per quello, l’intera auto pesava solo circa 1600 libbre ( kg 725 ).

La Beetle del 2014 pesa il doppio, e del servo-sterzo ne ha proprio bisogno. E anche dei servo-freni. La nuova Beetle dispone anche di controllo climatico ad aria condizionata. Anche alcune delle vecchie Beetle (negli Stati Uniti) avevano l’aria condizionata, installata dalla concessionaria; ma era un’idea antitetica rispetto al concetto originario dell’auto; e una stupidaggine in tutti i sensi. Lo stesso vale per il cambio automatico (anche se nel caso della vecchia Beetle si dovrebbe parlare di cambio semi-automatico). La quasi totalità dei vecchi Maggiolini avevano il cambio manuale, naturalmente; e senza la frizione ad azionamento idraulico; non era necessaria: un cavetto funzionava benissimo.

Il classico motore boxer del Maggiolino originario poteva essere mantenuto e riparato da chiunque (be’, quasi chiunque), con qualche cacciavite, una chiave inglese e un po’ di pazienza. E il Maggiolino classico era pure “carino”, naturalmente. Ma per puro caso. Il designer (Ferdinando Porsche) aveva voluto massimizzare lo spazio interiore di un’auto che dal di fuori era relativamente molto piccola. Ora, questo Nuovo Maggiolino è un’auto molto più grande, molto più costosa  e di gran lunga più complessa. La sua “graziosità” (viene in mente l’antigrazioso di Umberto Boccioni), e la “sportività” sono le sue principali e intenzionali attrattive. Il che la rende molto diversa dalla sua progenitrice, e ci riporta indietro alla faccenda della Speedster. La primogenita della famiglia Porsche era di profilo ribassato, con una linea del tettuccio “tagliata” e fatta, per l’appunto, per correre.


Era anche molto attraente. La vita e la morte di James Dean sarebbero state meno affascinanti, se si fosse ammazzato su un Maggiolino invece che con la sua Porsche, battezzata Little Bastard. Anzi, probabilmente, non sarebbe neanche morto; perché se fosse stato alla guida di una Beetle non sarebbe mai riuscito a far andare l’auto abbastanza veloce da farsi male: i Maggiolini originari impiegavano circa trenta secondi a raggiungere i km/h 95, e non andavano oltre i km/h 120, con un po’ di vento in coda. Ma date un’occhiata alla Beetle del 2014, e paragonatela all’immortale Porsche 356, e poi ditemi, a chi assomiglia ‘sto bambino? La Volkswagen dovrebbe meditarci un po’.

Le Porsche odierne sono giocattoli per ricconi, ma quelle del passato non lo erano. Infatti, una volta, (per “una volta” s’intende gli anni 1950, ‘60 e anche gli inizi degli anni 70) vi era persino una certa sovrapposizione di segmenti fra le Porsche e le Volkswagen; anche se quelli della Porsche, oggi, preferirebbero non parlarne. Un acquirente medio, che poteva permettersi un Maggiolino (negli Stati Uniti) poteva anche permettersi una Porsche. Erano auto diverse, ovviamente: una ideata per la guida sportiva, l’altra per la guida economica.

Il Maggiolino dei giorni nostri è velocissimo, ma non è un’auto a buon mercato. Detto questo, rimane pur sempre molto meno costoso della più economica delle Porsche (la Boxster, nella sua versione base, costa $51400). Ma (consiglio alla Volkswagen), immaginatevi una VW Speedster Turbo. Prezzo sempre nell’orbita del Signor Rossi (l’acquirente medio, tanto per capirci). Accentuatene l’aspetto delle prestazioni, l’attrattiva. Battete sul prezzo la Porsche. O meglio, riconducete la Porsche alle sue radici. Basta non chiamarla Porsche. Toglietevi dalla testa quest’idea di legare il Maggiolino del 2014 con quello di una volta. Non ha senso, e non funziona. In un certo senso, la Volkswagen lo ha già riconosciuto, dando un taglio più "mascolino" alla nuova Beetle; la quale non assomiglia affatto all'innocuo Maggiolino dell'antichità; ma assomiglia moltissimo a una classica Porsche 356, anche nella guida. E allora perché non renderlo ufficiale?

356 by Alain Levesque

Eric Peters scrive su un popolarissimo blog (, di auto, motociclette e questioni di libertà individuale. Su questo blog ci sono altri interessanti articoli di Eric che ho tradotto in italiano: uno è sull'eliminazione del motore a otto cilindri a V, decretata dal governo statunitense. Un altro è sui problemi che i cuscini salvavita (le airbag), e l'obbligo d'installarle, potrebbero causarvi; e infine uno sui sussidi del governo degli Stati Uniti alle auto elettriche.

Sono stati tutti tradotti e pubblicati qui col suo permesso.
Leonardo Pavese


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Drones of Hamas

The most important part of this July 16 article (while the war in Gaza is raging), which I translated from the Italian on-line defense magazine Analisi Difesa, are the last two lines. They reveal what should be clear to anyone who can count, and possesses a little knowledge of military technology; that is, the fact that the terrorist organization Hamas, that controls Gaza (hopefully not for long), actually has a certain strategic advantage over Israel.
Hamas is capable of producing large quantities of inexpensive low-technology rocket projectiles (or modifying existing ones), and now also simple unmanned aircraft, that can be launched into Israeli territory.
The Israeli military is forced to respond to the threat by developing and fielding anti-missiles systems (like Iron Dome and Patriot), which are much more expensive, and can be "saturated," for example by salvos of multiple rockets, fired simultaneously. A system like Iron Dome won't be able to follow and intercept all the rockets; and even if it did, the cost ratio between a Tamir missile (used by Iron Dome) and a ballistic unguided rocket is probably around 50 to 1. Not to mention the very high cost of the Patriot missiles (more than $ 1,000,000 each), used to shoot down cheap unmanned aircraft that cost less than an economy automobile. That is not sustainable, in the long term.
The only solution is to destroy the rockets and the drones where they are kept, before they are even launched; and that's another reason why Israel needs to regain control of the Gaza Strip.
You comments will be very appreciated. Thank you,
L. Pavese

Translated by Leonardo Pavese

After the long-range M-302 rockets, capable of reaching the whole Israeli territory, Hamas fielded the remote-controlled unmanned aircraft derived from the Iranian Ababil, built or modified in the Gaza strip; on July 14, 2014, at least one of them was shot down by an Israeli Patriot missile, from a launcher based near Ashod.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades announced the launch of several drones from Gaza for “special missions,” and they stated that the flights “will continue for the next few days.”
According to the Islamic fundamentalist militia, the drones reached “the Israeli ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv”. The announcement was met with jubilation from the minarets of Gaza, while al-Aqsa, Hamas’s TV continued to broadcast this new development all morning.

The fact that Hamas possessed unmanned aircraft was not really a surprise for the Israelis. During the past few days, the military broadcast service reported that, in the course of one of the Israeli air-strikes, several “kamikaze aircraft” had been destroyed; that is, aircraft that could have been fitted with a warhead and were meant to hit designated targets. On their part, the military wing of Hamas assured told the civilian population of Gaza that “that was only one of the many surprises they had in store for the enemy.”
Supposedly, Hamas’s drones are derivatives of the Iranian Ababil’s and Mohajer’s. They measure about three meters in length, and their wingspan is about three and one half meters. According to what Hamas declared, the engineers of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades have developed three basic models: one, equipped with a video-camera, is tasked with gathering intelligence-relevant imagery; one is designed to “attack the enemy,” launching weapons; and the third is the “suicide” version, which is meant to crash on selected targets, loaded with explosive.

According to Hamas, three waves of drones (each consisting of “more than one aircraft”) took off in three different directions. In the course of the operation, contact with one aircraft of wave no. 2, and one of wave no. 3 was lost. Nevertheless, the mission was deemed a success because the “drones,” as Hamas declared, “were able to reach the Kiryà, the Israeli Defense Ministry, and make a video of it” although the images, so far, have not been divulged.
“We doubt that very much,” said the spokesman of the Israeli Air Force to military radio. “In any case, it would have been just a wasted effort, because the “drone” would not have uncovered anything that is not already visible on Google.”
In Israel the episode did not cause particular apprehension. At dawn, a Patriot air-defense system, deployed near Ashod (south of Tel Aviv), detected an unidentified aircraft and shot it down.


The Ababil is not a novelty in the sky of Israel. Two years ago, the Lebanese Hezbollah used it gather intelligence. On that occasion, too, one Ababil was shot down as it headed for the Dimona nuclear power plant.
The Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, called the remote controlled aircraft employed by the Palestinians “another example of the continuous attempts to strike us in any possible way,” but its immediate downing constitutes an example “of the readiness of the Israeli armed forces.”
The flight of the Palestinian UAV triggered the highest level of air alarm over the southern city of Ashod, and the creation by the Israeli military of an off-limits area around the Kibbutz Mordechai (just north of the Gaza strip) could be related to that.

For some time now, the threat represented by the UAVs employed  as flying bombs by Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia has gotten the attention of the Israeli military command. In November 2012, a military spokesman divulged a video shot by an Israeli UAV in which a Palestinian remote-controlled could be seen taxiing on the runway of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. At that time, the armed forces of Jerusalem had announced they had quashed Hamas’s attempt to build a fleet of unmanned airplanes.  But, last March, General Shachar Shohat, the air defense chief, expressed anew the fear that Hamas and Hezbollah could add a fleet of UAVs to the arsenals of unguided rockets.
“We will have to face dozens of unmanned airplanes, on both the northern and the southern front,” said the general during a March 11 conference in Tel Aviv in which he prefigured the risk of mass attacks, intended to saturate the air defenses, with dozens of mini-drones armed with a few pounds of explosives as well as larger ones carrying a greater war load.
Since the end of the 2006 war, Hezbollah has employed many UAVs for reconnaissance missions over Galilee, that were lost when intercepted by fighters or hit by antiaircraft fire. The Israeli estimate that the  Hezbollah’s fleet consists of 200 Ababil and Mohajer remote controlled aircraft of Iranian origin; and, last March, the Saudi newspaper al-Watan reported that Hezbollah had 14 Iranian drones based at its new military airport in the region of Baalbek.  
Supposedly, several disassembled drones reached the Gaza Strip through clandestine channels; and they were reassembled in the hidden workshops of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in which the relatively small Kassam rockets and the large M-302 rockets are also manufactured.

The UAVs are much slower and vulnerable than the rocket projectiles, but they are much more accurate because they can be remotely guided to the target, of which they can also transmit images up to moment from the impact. 
The Israeli air defense systems, like Iron Dome and Patriot, are capable of intercepting the drones, although at a very high cost. Within two years, Israel will also deploy a new laser-based air defense system, known as Iron Beam, which should be effective against rockets, artillery projectiles and small aircraft, at the cost of about $ 1,000 a shot, compared to the $ 20,000 of an Iron Dome’s Tamir missile and the $1,000,000, minimum, of a Patriot.

The images of the drones in the three-picture panel are from a video produced by Hamas. The image of the drone on the truck mounted launch rail depicts an Ababil UAV, and it's of Iranian origin. The last image shows Syrian vehicle launching unguided M-302's.

I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text.
L. Pavese