Thursday, May 24, 2007

Catania Riots Revisited

A few months ago I was appalled at the violence that followed a soccer game in Catania, Sicily. That night in February, a police officer was killed by a teen with a homemade explosive for no good reason. Afterwards, I got to thinking about soccer violence in general, and I came to the conclusion that most of it actually has nothing to do with soccer at all. Instead, the most common causes are ethnic, political, economic, or social tensions that end up being expressed and released in the adrenaline fuelled atmosphere of the stadium. Add to this the fact that the stadium is often the only place one can release these feelings without fear of government reprisals, and you begin to understand why soccer seems to be accompanied by so much violence.

In the piece I wrote that night in February (which I re-posted below when I started this blog) I suggested that the violence in Catania was based on intense regionalism and resistance to both foreign and Italian influence in Sicily, as well as a new opportunity to re-open their ancient rivalry with Palermo (a rivalry that dates back to the early 9th century). With a series of investigations into the incident by the Italian government, a new, more sinister, picture is beginning to that I, as a Sicilian, should not have overlooked.

It appears now that the Mafia was actually behind the violence, and that the police were specifically targeted by the rioters. Essentially, it was no riot. It was a well planned attack on the Italian state by a criminal organization (one that has declared war on Italy a more than once in the past few years) working through a group of intermediaries, in this case the Calcio Catania fan clubs. After looking at the evidence, I think I have to agree with this assessment. Before you make a conclusion, though, let me show you what the evidence actually is.

1 - Catania is a city that is almost completely controlled by the Mafia. It is estimated that 95% of businesses in the city pay protection money to the Mafia cosca (clan/family) that runs the area. For many children in the poorer parts of town, a life in organized crime is the most attractive option. A large number of them end up working for the Mafia in one way or another. Some deal drugs, some commit petty crimes, others commit murder; the important thing is that a large portion of the city's youth are linked to the Mafia in one way or another. As typical Italians (although I still have trouble thinking of Sicilians as Italian, as do many Sicilians themselves), a good proportion of these young men also belong to the fan clubs of the local soccer team: Calcio Catania.

2 - Many of the 'rioters' arrested that night, including the man suspected of killing Officer Fillipo Raciti, were linked to organized crime, either through prior convictions or current arrest warrants.

3 - The Catania fans within the stadium that night were waving a flag that made a personal threat to an Italian senator over a piece of anti-Mafia legislation. This flag was eventually traced back to the leader of the particular fan club involved in the rioting. It is probably no coincidence that his father just happens to be Catania's largest Mafia boss.

4 - The violence took place outside of the stadium and did not involve the fans of the rival team, Palermo. It is unheard of for soccer-related violence to be perpetrated on everyone EXCEPT for the opposing fans. Obviously, the soccer game was not the issue.

5 - A call was placed to the police BEFORE the real rioting had begun outside the stadium. As they rushed to the scene, the police were ambushed at specific and well-planned bottlenecks that allowed the rioters to do the most damage possible. I don't know of any unruly mob with this level of planning or discipline.

6 - Mafia informants have claimed that the entire night was a premeditated act orchestrated by the Mafia to disrupt the Italian state and to display their power. Imagine how much worse things could have gone if the Mafia had actually used any of their actual force, rather than just teens with rocks, bats, and homemade bombs. To be honest, the Italian government should be relieved that this didn't occur.

Slowly, from these and other pieces of evidence, a clearer picture begins to emerge. The conclusion that the Italian authorities have come to, and that I tend to agree with, is as follows: The Mafia planned the night's violence through a local Catania fan club that had extensive links with organized crime. Many of the poor and angry teens of Catania are usually willing to do anything for a bit of money, and that night seems to have been no exception. The violence resulted in the complete disruption of the nation for a period of about a week, as well as a serious shake-up within the government; results that the Mafia would have wanted. Although no proof exists that the Mafia organized anything, the authorities are convinced of their involvement, and so am I.

So, once again soccer violence turns out to be something else entirely. In this case it was actually just a small event in the eternal conflict between the Mafia and the Italian state. This is a purely regional problem that, unfortunately, has gotten out of hand. Hopefully something can be done in the future to remedy this situation, although I am not optimistic. Anyways, you can make your own conclusions, but in a case like this, it would be folly to underestimate the effects of organized crime in Sicily. Ciao for now, and once again, R.I.P. Fillipo Raciti.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Oh Canada?

The Ottawa Senators are in the Stanley Cup finals, and I am angry about it. "Why would a Canadian be mad that a Canadian team made it to the finals?" you may ask. At first I thought that the answer was very simple: I hate Ottawa and everything they stand for. I hate the city, I hate the people, and I especially hate their hockey team. Furthermore, I feel that it is actually my sworn duty as a proud Torontonian to hate Ottawa and its unexplainable status as our nation's capital.

When explaining this to a non-Torontonian co-worker, I was confronted by the idea that maybe my blind hatred needed some sort of explanation so that the uninformed could more fully understand the depths of my loathing, and the reasons for it. So, here are two perfectly decent examinations of the reasons behind this Torontonian resentment of Ottawa.

1 - Despite being the only Canadian city that non-Canadians can name (and being the only city in the entire country that actually matters to anything), Toronto is not the capital of the country. Rather than choosing a dynamic, exciting, international city for its capital, The Dominion of Canada somehow chose to put the nation's government in a sparsely inhabited hick-town on the border between Ontario and Quebec. The reason for this decision is beyond me, but it happened, and it makes alot of us angry. The status as capital has also made the toothless residents of Ottawa rather arrogant, as they feel they are somehow entitled to compare themselves to Torontonians...again, how they can think like this is baffles me. Speaking at any greater length about this matter will just make me mad, and unable to type. Thus, I will cut it short and sum it up in one sentence: any self-respecting Torontonian has a healthy dislike of Ottawa, a dislike that transcends national boundaries and forces us to cheer for any team that is playing against Ottawa, be they Canadian, Francophone, or American...whoever they play, we all wish for Ottawa to be cut down to size.

2 - Now we must examine the deeper and more widespread roots of this intra-province enmity (as well as the cause of much of Canada's political problems). For a nation state to function properly its inhabitants must be able to conceive of the nation itself as an entity with some sort of meaning. Nationalism grows out of the idea that a nation is a unified community of people with comparable lifestyles, values, or culture. Since no citizen of a nation will ever meet every other citizen, they must imagine that people across the country are similar to them (this is why Benedict Anderson refers to nations as 'imagined communities') in some way, thus creating the ideological basis for sentiments of national unity.

Here is where we come to our problem. I do not -and honestly cannot- believe that people from any of Canada's other 9 provinces and 3 territories are anything like Ontarians. When I talk about Canada, I am actually referring to Ontario...and maybe to the part of Quebec that was once Lower Canada. To go even further, when I refer to Ontario (and therefore Canada) I am really only referring to Toronto. Quite simply, Toronto = Canada. My inability to see a similarity between myself and people from Ottawa (or Vancouver, of Halifax, or Calgary etc.) can be seen by some as a lack of nationalist sentiment. This is not true. I love my nation. My nation, however, consists only of Toronto, and yet Ottawa constantly claims to be the most important city in my nation. Excuse me, but is Ottawa in Toronto? No, it isn't and therefore it means nothing to me. It's claims of political sovereignty over my nation angers me to no end. A good analogy would be the disbelief the French would have if Monaco or Andorra decided that they were actually in charge of France. The ridiculousness is clear for anyone to see. Therefore, because of its interference in the political independence of my homeland, Ottawa must suffer, and its sports teams must be punished.

So, to sum up...Toronto should be capital of Canada, people from Ottawa are too arrogant, and I cannot see sufficient similarities with Ottawa to consider them part of my nation. This is why I want them to lose...and maybe this explains to any non-Torontonians the reasons for our problems with Ottawa, and our hatred towards it. So, GO Ducks/Red Wings!!!! Beat the hell out of the Senators for us, and we'll be happy despite our own terrible season. If the Leafs can't win the cup, then the Sens can't either. Thanks again, and ciao.

P.S. The Maple Leafs are actually the only team in hockey that really matter. We are the lead actors and every other team is just our supporting cast. Hockey does not exist without the Leafs, just as Canada does not exist without Toronto. Ciao.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Time Travel

The other day at work I got into an interesting discussion about the nature of time, and how we perceive it. As of right now, I'm still not exactly sure what to think about this subject...of course, at the time I was arguing that time can move any way it damn well wants to, and that our trouble is that we can only conceive of time as moving in a straight line. Then it was time to go back to work, but it got me thinking a little more deeply into what 'time' actually is. I've come up with a few ideas that I've been mulling around in my head...which of them work, I'm not sure. Anyways, here they are, so you can judge them for yourself.

- Time as measured by the clock is merely an arbitrary way that we have decided to organize the day. This method of organization is also rather flexible. During the Middle Ages the day consisted of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, thus the precise length of each hour differed depending on the seasons. They seemed to get along fine with that sort of arrangement, which brings me to my next idea.

- The way we perceive time is dictated by our cultural associations with it, and our cultural attitude towards it. Every group of people has a slightly different perception of time and its importance. Some cultures (our Western world, for example) view time as a commodity that can be used wisely or wasted. We order our entire world around the notion of precise timing and 'proper use of time'. Other cultures don't see time in this manner, and actually take a more relaxed attitude towards it. The major difference I see here is that some cultures approach time in the manner of the factory worker, and others approach it in the manner of the farmer. Both are valid, and yet neither one works for everyone.

- The idea that time is an entity or force separate from ourselves (like gravity or energy or something) is rather hard for me to grasp. I can't get past my idea that our own personal perception colours and dictates our entire existence, and so I can't help but think that this separate entity of time exists only in some peoples' minds.

- I'm also having trouble with the idea that time moves at all. Since 5 minutes from now does not exist, and neither does 5 minutes ago, then only the present moment is real. Only the present moment actually exists in time in any real sense. This idea interests me as a historian because I have dedicated my life to the study of events that happened in a time that no longer exists. As an objection to this idea, one of my co-workers posited that since nerve impulses are not instantaneous, nor is sound or light, that everything we sense actually happened a fraction of a second ago, and that we only think of it as happening now. In response to this objection, I'd like to say that even if what we think of as the present is really a millisecond ago, for all intents and purposes it IS the present as far as we are concerned. Quibbling about how long ago the present existed really doesn't help us here.

- Time itself could possibly be one eternal point through which all things move, and during which all things live and die. Why must it be time that moves and not us?

- If time does move, the direction it moves in could be just a part of our perception. If we can't sense it going backwards, then maybe it doesn't. Yet, if it moves at all, then it must exist apart from us and our preception, and thus its true nature and direction could not accurately be determined by us and our senses. Maybe it moves in a random direction, but we only see it going forwards. Maybe (as Boethius wrote in the 6th century) time is actually moving in a big circle around a fixed point, and since we are in the circle we can only see it going forwards, while the being residing on the fixed point around which time spins (Boethius says this is where God exists) can see time's true shape. It really could be just a matter of perspective.

- Space and time must have a strange relationship since the space I occupied five minutes ago could be occupied by me again, and I would not run into myself. This idea could be used as evidence for time's motion (since the time I was walking up the stairs has passed already) or for time's immobility (since time exists eternally fixed and I can move about within it). Either one could be true, for all I know.

Ok, that's all I've got for now. It's funny, my sense of time is so bad that I can't distinguish minutes from hours, figure out what day of the week it is, or remember when anything happened. If it wasn't today then it could have been any time throughout my entire life, and I wouldn't be able to tell when it was. Hopefully someone will do some thinking on this and hit me back with some new ideas. Time for bed I guess, ciao e buonna notte.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

McGuinty Should Resign

Today I wanted to spout off about something that has been making me insanely angry over the past few months. Here in good old Ontario, our idiot Premier, Mr. Dalton "I hate poor people" McGuinty decided it would be a good idea to raise tuition fees.

Ok, so on the surface it doesn't seem to be such a big deal. So higher education costs a little bit more, so what? Maybe a few students will have to work a bit harder after they graduate, and that will be that. Unfortunately, it is a much bigger issue than that, and it is one that goes to the core of what is wrong with Canada today.

What raising tuition fees does is make life harder on the poor. I know tons of kids whose parents pay for their education because they have the financial means to do so. To them, a few hundred dollars means nothing. To the poor kids who need to either work to pay for school, or take out student loans, this tuition hike is a disaster. Now they are forced to work longer and harder just to pay for a service that the government should be providing free of charge.

Without even going into how disgusting it is for our government to force us to pay for education, let me explain the problem with the way student loans are given out. In order to apply for a loan you must tell the government how much money you personally make. Then they calculate how much money you are eligible for without taking into consideration any other factors. Thus, the rich kids with no jobs (because their parents pay for everything) often take out substantial student loans to use as spending money, knowing that it will be easy to pay them off later. On the other hand, the students who actually need to work in order to pay bills at home get royally screwed. The government sees how much money they make, and gives them smaller student loans, often not even enough to cover the cost of tuition.

So, what all this means is that our government is intentionally making education an impossibility for anyone not born into money. Since most high paying jobs require university or college educations, the government's policy is also ensuring that the poor remain so, and that the gap between rich and poor gets ever wider. How a government can do this and still claim legitimacy is completely beyond me. Obviously the protests have done nothing, but that can be explained by the inability of Canadians to stage protests that mean anything. A bunch of students standing in the rain on the University of Toronto campus doesn't even move me, let alone a government that is intent on ruining the lives of millions of its citizens through various forms of economic oppression, the tuition thing being merely one aspect in a comprehensive policy of subtle oppression. Drastic and meaningful action must be taken in order to get the criminals at the top to listen to our demands, and to bring the wider community around to our cause. Only then can we exercise the single (and I think completely meaningless) weapon we have against government fraud: the vote.

The problems inherent in situations like this are too numerous for me to go into tonight. Essentially, years of soft living have made Canadians complacent, and mass media has convinced them in the futility of political action...

So, until something drastic is done, we must live in a society where the poor are prevented from obtaining a higher education (in practice, if not in theory), and accept the fact that the majority of people in our province actually don't care about things like justice, equality, morality, and basic human decency. McGuinty's lucky he won't be in power for long, because in ten years, if not reversed, this situation is going to get alot worse, and hopefully the reactions of students will get alot more volatile. I know mine will.

Thanks for letting me rant...I just hope you get as angry as I do about these kinds of things. Why must we send our military halfway across the world when injustice still reigns on our own soil? Ciao.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

100 Word Story

Blood coated my knife as I made the first cut. It splashed off my hand and stained my shirt crimson. I stopped to stare at the deep red sky as the sun crested the mountains to the east. In my mind, I began to contemplate the nature of revenge, retracing the painful events that led me to embrace its bloody path.
“End it,” said Currado, lying prone on the rust coloured ground. “It’s the only way to stop your pain.”
“No,” I replied. “Our suffering is endless.” I made another deep slice, then dropped my knife.“You see," I said, revealing the freshly cut fruit in my hand. “In Sicily, even the oranges bleed.”

A few years ago I came across a book of really short stories. I mean REALLY short ones, no longer than one hundred words. So, being the sucker for that kind of stuff that I am, I figured I'd give it a shot. The result was the depressing, yet strangely humorous (if you get the joke) tale above. Now that I read it, I kind of wish that I had edited it more, or chosen a few words better, but tinkering with a finished work seems wrong to me. If you didn't get the last line, let me explain. Essentially the guy is referring to a blood orange, my favourite fruit, which grows naturally in Sicily as well as a select few other places. The line is actually an old Sicilian proverb that alludes to the extreme violence of Sicilian bad is it if even the earth and the fruit bleed?

Ok, that's it for tonight, I hope you liked my only attempt at a one hundred word story. If not, then write one yourself and see how well you do. Ciao.