Zurich police welcomes EuroPride 2009: for “a tolerant and free society”

stapo-zurichThis is the advertisement supplied by the Zurich police department for publication in the EuroPride-Magazin, in anticipation of the festivities that will run in Zurich from May 2 to June 7.

A spokesman for a local gay group, according to a media report, has commented on the ad saying that it is “etwas klischiert, aber es ist ja Werbung”: a bit of a cliché, but that’s advertising.

The home page of the Zurich police department says that their central preoccupation is “Sicherheit als Grundlage einer toleranten und freien Gesellschaft”:  safety as the foundation of a tolerant and free society. How many of your local police departments have this mission on their home page?

How to set a beautiful table

Petermann's Kunststuben

True, it was Valentine’s day. Yet, I think I’ve never seen table decorations as festive as the flowers at Petermann’s Kunststuben in Küsnacht, near Zurich. Tulips, peonias, irises, anemones, roses and much more. A delight… and a hint of spring, in the midst of snow.

Being a student again

I loved being a student, and I love to go back and be a student again every now and then, even if it’s only for a week.

In 2005, I attendend the gut-wrenchingly good Stanford lifelong learning seminar called Interpersonal Dynamics for High Performance Leaders. Next week, with equally high expectations, I am off to “Customer-Focused Innovation“.  Read about it here, here and here in Prof. Sutton‘s blog.

Plus, it’s always good to be back in California.

From philosophy to robots: Fiorella Operto

Yesterday I had the chance to listen to a talk by Fiorella Operto, Vice President of the School of Robotics in Genoa, which she co-founded in 2000. Robotics, as she said, is somewhat unlike other technologies because (outside of SF) it has not yet confronted a crisis: it hasn’t yet had its own Chernobyl, its Bhopal, its Exxon Valdez, its Hiroshima. And we should try to keep it that way.

How so? one way is to develop the field of roboethics. The other is to demistify robotics by teaching it to young people. Specifically, to young girls. This is the mission of the Roberta project, an initiative started at the Fraunhofer Institut to train teachers in teaching science, technology and IT by having the kids build and program real robots. It is a long-term investment in trying to close the gender gap in scientific education, and Fiorella Operto is spearheading it in Italy.

Operto’s academic path started in philosophy, and she was active in science dissemination before turning to the challenge of robotics. Yesterday, she was chosen as the “Technovisionary 2008″ and awarded the “BlackBerry Women and Technology Award” within the Women and Technologies conference. Go Fiorella!

Women’s creativity

I admit it: I am a fan of the brief season when art looked like an avenue for women to reclaim their own bodies. But perhaps we expected too much of artistic expression, and we didn’t get feminism quite right either, seeing how fragile all our conquests have turned out to be.

Still, I celebrate when I come across whimsical crafts like these, reminding me of that season (photos courtesy of the Serpica Naro fashion collective in Milan, Italy).

Knitted vulva
Knitted vulva

Vandalism or Dada? Red water in the Trevi Fountain

A mysterious group calling itself “Futurist Action” poured a bucket of red stuff in the Trevi Fountain in Rome yesterday (more pictures here and here). The unknown perpetrator left behind a stack of flyers explaining that the gesture is meant to criticize the waste of taxpayers’ money to subsidize mayor Veltroni’s Rome Film Fest this week, and ranting on about various ills of today’s society.

There is no permanent damage to the fountain, which has already been washed out and refilled with clear water. Of course we ought to protect our cultural heritage and have tough laws against vandalism, and of course the far-right anti-market pseudopolitical subtext in the futurist flyer is bonkers. But I can’t help appreciating the subversive creativity of the gesture, and in this I find myself in unusual and uncomfortable agreement with art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, who reportedly said “I can’t condemn the gesture: a bit of color in a sleeping city.”

UPDATE (Wednesday Oct. 24): journalists and bloggers are still in a lively debate over the episode. Here are a few links for each side of the debate (in Italian):

“It’s vandalism”: Manteblog, Leonardo.

“It’s art”:  Cristina Tagliabue, La vita istruzioni per l’uso, Prudentino (but with ambiguity – maybe it’s satire).

America’s colossal cultural decline: Dana Gioia’s 2007 Stanford Commencement speech

Most American artists, intellectuals, and academics have lost their ability to converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and inaudible in the general culture.

Last month, Dana Gioia – a cool dude who is a poet, an MBA, and the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts – delivered quite an interesting speech to address graduating Stanford students (and the parents who largely paid for their undergraduate education), claiming that the decline in artists’ engagement with the world around them is a prime factor in the collective dumbing down of America.

The speech has been criticized for painting the past in rosy-colored hues (what about the McCarthy years?) and not recognizing today’s highlights of popular culture (from the baroque complexity of Lost to Oprah’s tireless efforts to get people to read books). I leave it to you to form your own opinion. In the meantime, it never hurts to go back to the classics, so I leave you with another excerpt from Gioia’s speech, this time quoting the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius:

Marcus Aurelius believed that the course of wisdom consisted of learning to trade easy pleasures for more complex and challenging ones. I worry about a culture that bit by bit trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment.