Learning Italian and Finding Out About Jews and Food.

I have been trying to learn Italian with a combination of mediocre software, google translate, and following blogs written in Italian and about Italy.  Somehow I keep seeing numerous blog posts somehow related to both Italy and Jews.  Some are very mundane such as ghetto in Rome now a WiFi hotsopt. which is arguably only about Rome’s infrastructure. If I hadn’t started paying attention, I might have missed it when Doc Searls wrote about a finding a restaurant in Rome. The restaurant Sora Margherita is in the ghetto and the dish he mentions, carciofo alla giudia is of course the classic Jewish dish of the Roman ghetto. Be warned the Artichokes are a local purplish variety, only in season during the spring; horror of horrors, some of the restaurants in the ghetto freeze them, to serve year round.


The south of Italy, including Sicily, was ruled by Spain, so the Jews were expelled by the Spanish Inquisition. North of Italy Jews had various ups and downs. (I’ll leave most of the history for another time, check the history for yourself, I’m writing casually off the top of my head. ) I heard some podcast where someone talked about spleen sandwiches, Parma streetfood, being a cultural trapping left over from the Jews of Sicily. (I have no idea if spleen can be kosher.)


Now the most obvious link between Jews and Italy (and Spain) is the name of the seventh day of the week, sabato. And, in addition to carciofo, or artichokes, I have heard ceci, or chickpeas, credited to the Jews. On one level it is doubtful but on another the Jews were more likely to maintain communication with other communities, including the arab communities. I recently heard an excellent podcast, from Eye On Italy with Rabbi Barbara Aiello, largely discussing the history of Jews in southern Italy. Among other things, I learned about Anne Sacerdoti, who wrote a book on Jewish Italy. Of course, to understand how the Inquisition would work in Southern Italy, you need to know two things.

  • Almost everybody had to have Jewish ancestry. It does you no good to go after someone if you can’t accuse them of being in the despised group.
  • Culture is food culture. Basically, if your food culture puts ketchup on hot dogs, this lets you go after people who put mustard on hot dogs. For an excellent understanding of this, read “A Drizzle of Honey” an excellent (well actually sort of half-assed but still interesting) study of food culture as evidence in the Inquisition (and cookbook). But of course this just applies to southern Italy.


    Northern Italy still has some Jews, though most of the smaller Jewish communities are gone. I think I read that the Italian Jewish population is about 50,000 and even though there are some prominent Jews, it is quite possible for Italians to never knowingly meet a Jewish person. Here is an account of a tour of the synagogues of Piedmont, led by Anne Sacerdoti. (Technically sacerdoti translates to priest, but apparently it should also translate to Cohen.) There is the famous synagogue in Casale Monferrato as well as many smaller, less well known synagogues. In 2009 the synagogue in Biella was restored.

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rethinking this blog

I haven’t posted anything here in a while but I intend to start up again.  I am experimenting with numerous aspects of keeping both the killyourpubliclibrary.wordpress.com and the killyourpubliclibrary.com site in sync. Also, I might be doing a bit of link blogging here. More after the 4th.

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My goals and failure as a blogger

So I’m trying to keep this blogging going in two places and once. I want to use emacs with a web logging mode that can post the same post to two blogs simultaneously. So today I figure I’ll just do one and then export and upload manually. I can’t even get webblogging mode to work – for some reason the URL handling is screwed up. I need to look into this. In the meantime I realize that I need to start building my own emacs. Also, I need to go back to using mutt for email. Gmail is annoying and Apple’s mail just sucks. In any case I’ve decided to try for a post a day. That I decided this two days ago, and this is the first one since and this first one since is just whining about things that didn’t work, does not bode well.

On the plus side, I’ve got the add-bookmark mechanism figured out so that it is easy for me to save blogs I wish to comment on. Sadly, most of the things I find most inspiring are usually podcasts, and I haven’t quite got embedding them down.

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Iain McGilchrist and Isaiah Berlin

It seems whatever I read about, math, computers, science, economics, libraries, gambling, horse racing, etc. always leads me back to my interests in philosophy. Iain McGilchrist gave a talk at the RSA on brains. An interesting talk about an interesting subject. What captured my fancy was not so much the discussion of the functions of the right and left hemisphere of the brain, but rather a paraphrase summary of an observation by the philosopher, Isaiah Berlin. The gist is we function, perhaps necessarily based on beliefs which are fairly obviously false.

  1. All question have answers.
  2. All answers can be communicated to others
  3. All answers are compatible

This is for me something I need to bear in mind. Of course all people are on both ends of these problems: trying to answer questions that don’t have answers – or even worse answering questions that do have answers and having successfully answered some question find no way to convey it to another human being or to posterity. It is frustrating for me to realize that most of the things I’ve come to realize never get passed on to anyone.

After I consumed the talk, I tried to find the source of the Isaiah Berlin quote. The theme exists throughout, but there is no exact quote. It was made harder by the fact that Berlin hasn’t been dead long enough for a Google Book search to be thorough.

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Using Emacs to Blog

This is a test of using emacs’s weblogger mode. As I have been going
through some online classes, I realized I needed to write a lot of
stuff. As I tried to keep track of what I am doing I realized I need to
write a lot of stuff. As I try to blog I realize I need to write a lot
of stuff. And of course as I deal with programming and math (or oddly as
the English say maths) I need to write a lot of stuff. Also as I look at
my blog, I realize that there are lots of things to learn. The
underlying technical mechanism seems to be XML. XML seems to be used for
a lot of stuff. I realize that I need a thorough knowledge of XML for
manipulating everything from this webblog to thoroughbred horse racing
data. I do not know if using emacs for blogging is a good idea. I will
probably have to read the emacs lisp code before it will really do what
I want.

I mostly work in Mac OS X, and all of the programming classes I follow
online, except for programming IOS, use emacs. There aren’t really major
problems with emacs on OSX. For a long time there was Carbon Emacs
Package
which just included most of what I needed. Auctex, Slime,
and some XML support nicely built in and prepackaged. There are two
problems with Carbon Emacs: it will no longer be supported as carbon is
deprecated (all new OSX use cocoa) and the package installer was
idiosyncratic to Carbon Emacs. On the plus side I finally had to look at
how Carbon Emacs handled default paths and site lisp. Everything is by
default inside the application in the application directory. It is
different enough from most linux setups to be confusing at first, at
least for me.

It seems that the post appears simultaneously as a draft, as I write. Or
at least when I save the draft. There are a few problems as I seem to
now have two ways of editing the same post. I can’t seem to get spell
checking to work. I haven’t figured out how to send one post to multiple
blogs. But so far so good.

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Banned Books Week – Something Libraries Get Wrong!

A brief preface: I use the term “book” to cover all media: anything reproduced be it electronically generated or printed, including audio and video.

This year, 2010, September 25 through October 2 was Banned Books Week. The annual celebration of books, that library supporters use to argue that libraries are good because they have books the library supporters want other people to read. The library supporters counter the “evil” library detractors who say , libraries should not provide books that the library detractors want to prohibit other people from reading. Neither group reads anything of interest themselves, they are simply concerned about others. The lists of books published by the ALA, sadly are in advertising poster format, rather than a list. For some reason, I never see a poster that says “Read Naked Lunch Now!” Or more radically, “Watch Deep Throat Now! Actually I don’t remember seeing either title on this years list; though it would be embarrassing if Naked Lunch had never made it, so I assume it has. Instead I see a long list of accounts of people complaining about the political, sexual, and religious content of some book used in a junior or senior high school class.

What do you mean, “something libraries get wrong?” I pretend to hear you ask, as though someone besides the author read this blog. When it comes to freedom from censorship, at least for now, the internet trumps libraries in every respect, especially the radical lawless bit torrenting, copyright ignoring, fringe of the internet. The internet delivers unlimited unrestricted access to everything from pornography to college courses; public libraries deliver a very restricted subset. The problem with public libraries is they buy books for other people to read. People use the internet for themselves. The conflicts are not about government censorship being used to preserve political dominance, they are conflicts between two groups arguing about who has the power to tell a third unempowered group, mostly school students, what they should read.

Are there solutions? Yes. Encourage people to have secure private access to whatever books they want! Don’t libraries do that? No they don’t even come close, but the internet does come close for the sophisticated internet user. What about the unsophisticated? The less you know the more difficult it is for you; that has always been true.

Surely banned books week is good for something! It does provide a list of books to read and increase the sales in bookstores. If your desired banned books is out of copyright you can get a “free” copy from The Internet Archive, as announced by Open Culture. The important difference between libraries, bookstores, and the internet is the cost. Note, that the Internet Archive, has only those bastions of radicalism that are out of copyright. Libraries aren’t free! It is the worst myth. Public libraries provide access to a subset of approved materials. That subset can be very large for those who are willing to abandon anonymity and to learn the vagaries of an individual library and meet its requirements for making requests to get material not on the self. If you want the same degree of anonymity you have on the internet, you are pretty much limited to what is sitting on the open stack shelf while you sit there.

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Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur: The Latin language, self-education continues and the daily this-and-that.

A few days ago, Pendragon Theater, a company out of Saranac Lake, NY performed Constance Congdon’s adaptation of Moliere’s Imaginary Invalid. The play ends when the title character realizes he can become a doctor himself through ceremonial Latin. As one who has believed, Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur ever since I saw it in an email signature, I truly enjoyed the long ceremonial “Latin” chanted at the end of the play. It was a stringing together of Latin, non-latin, and even pig-latin. All I could remember from the chanting was, “Honi soit qui mal y pense, omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est” and a few odd phrases “de gustibus non disputandum est” and “habeas corpus.

As I pretend to re-educate myself, my old habits of combining procrastination with distraction continue. Fortunately, I have no deadlines to meet or requirements to fulfill; the only thing requiring and stick-to-it-tiveness and discipline, is the Trackmaster Application Development Contest I entered. I found out most interesting things about lectures online. UC Berkeley’s Computer Science 61A, can be downloaded/watched online in two ways. Through iTunes you get a video of the lecture. Through clicking on the video choice for a class at Berekely Webcasts Website you get a RealAudio presentation linking the video with a slide presentation in the RealPlayer web browser. The iPhone Application Development Course from Stanford gives you the lectures with the slides as a separate pdf file, that you can use with the lecture or later for review . I’m seeing R used everyplace; so now I’m following both the UCB Epidemology course and their Intro Statistics course. I even started reading Dalgaard’s Introductory Statistics with R. I always liked math, except for the calculation part which is boring; the logic, proofs, algorithms, and philosophical foundations is fun. Now the boring part is totally done by machines and the net.

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