A city asks for the return of its missing Caravaggio:
From the cells of Italy's maximum-security jails to the auction rooms of the international art world, its whereabouts have been the subject of speculation for more than 35 years.
Since Caravaggio's Nativity with Saints Francis and Lawrence disappeared from a church in Sicily in 1969, it is reported to have been glimpsed at a Mafia wedding, buried in a Sicilian chest, sold to an eastern European collector, or simply destroyed.
Yet despite the combined efforts of the Italian police, Interpol and the FBI no trace has been found.
Now the people of Palermo have taken matters into their own hands and launched an effort to persuade whoever has it to hand it back. Inspired by a recently-published novel by a local writer, in which the missing masterpiece is unearthed, more than 1,000 residents have signed a petition appealing to the underworld to tell all.
Population imbalance in the former East Germany:
New figures show men now outnumber women by three to one in some eastern regions, following an exodus of women in search of a better life - and husbands - in the west.
In some towns, the imbalance is so bad that, statistically, a young man of marriageable age has only the slenderest chance of finding himself a wife.
Unable to do anything about the quality of east German - or "Ossie" - men themselves, regional governments are trying to offer other inducements to halt the female exodus.
In two of the worst-hit areas, Mecklenburg- Vorpommern and Saxony-Anhalt, young women are being wooed to stay locally with both free housing and subsidised rent - with the local authority paying for a complete refurbishment of their houses too.
Getting them to woo local men in return may be more difficult. "The classic view of east German men is that they are lazy, good-for-nothing spongers, constantly moaning and expecting to be supported by the state," said Andrea Schell, a sociologist at Berlin University.
"Their dress sense and lifestyle is the butt of numerous jokes; they live in time-warped villages where 40 years of the Cold War kept them cut off from the modern world, and Die Toten Hosen [The Dead Pants - an ageing rock group] T-shirts are still regarded as cool."
The gender imbalance is, in part, a legacy of the old Communist East Germany, whose employment laws guaranteed women equal job opportunities and free child care, fostering a spirit of social and economic independence from men.
According to statistics published by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, the migration of women was especially high from states such as Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where there are only 76 females for every 100 males in the 18-29 age group. In some depressed villages, such as Zemnick, Saxony-Anhalt, only 45 of the 140 inhabitants are women.
A shocking article (again, some disturbing detail) in the Times about babies who (briefly) survive abortion:
A GOVERNMENT agency is launching an inquiry into doctors’ reports that up to 50 babies a year are born alive after botched National Health Service abortions.
The investigation, by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH), comes amid growing unease among clinicians over a legal ambiguity that could see them being charged with infanticide.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which regulates methods of abortion, has also mounted its own investigation.
Its guidelines say that babies aborted after more than 21 weeks and six days of gestation should have their hearts stopped by an injection of potassium chloride before being delivered. In practice, few doctors are willing or able to perform the delicate procedure.
In practice, according to Stuart Campbell, former professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George’s hospital, London, a number do survive.
“They can be born breathing and crying at 19 weeks’ gestation,” he said. “I am not anti-abortion, but as far as I am concerned this is sub-standard medicine.”
The issue will be highlighted by Gianna Jessen, 28, who survived an attempt to abort her. She is to speak at a parliamentary meeting on December 6 organised by the Alive and Kicking campaign, which is lobbying for a reduction of the abortion limit to 18 weeks.
Jessen, a musician from Nashville, Tennessee, was left with cerebral palsy but is to run in the London marathon next April to raise funds for fellow sufferers.
“If abortion is about women’s rights, then what were my rights?” she asked.
“If people are going to talk about abortion, then it’s important for them to know that these are babies that can be born alive and survive.”
Don Jim has a very sensible piece about how media bias gives the impression that all the Vatican is interested in is sex:
If a person were to sit down and read the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the journal in which all the official acts of the Vatican are recorded, he would probably find that about 1% of Roman pronouncements -- actually, probably less -- have to do with sex. If you were to read through all the statements and addresses and public discourses delivered by Pope Benedict since he took the throne in April, you could probably count the statements on sex on a single hand -- two hands at the most. The vast, vast majority has nothing to do with sex.
The problem, of course, is that people don't read complete digests of what the Pope says or of what the Vatican does. They don't thoughtfully peruse every document issued by all the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Most people get what they know about Vatican pronouncements from the mainstream media, and the media (which are in the business of selling information -- nothing wrong with that) offer the kind of information that is most likely to grab people's attention and interest them enough to look at the TV for 15 seconds or read the first paragraph or two of a newspaper article. And, like it or not, sex, violence, and controversy are a whole lot more interesting to most people than the nature of Christian charity, building wells in sub-Saharan Africa, or the basis of the New Evangelization in the vows of baptism. So, the market wins out, and your daily bit of Vatican information is about sex -- preferably something controversial about sex.
The same thing goes for Papa Ratzinger's supposed fixation on homosexuality. After twenty years in the Holy Office, Cardinal Ratzinger signed off on, what, two (very short) documents that dealt with the subject? Whatever one happens to think about that handful of pages, one could hardly call it an obsession. And if you set aside those official documents and look solely at his published work as a theologian and writer -- all those heaps of books that none of his harshest critics seems to have opened -- there is next to no sex in them at all. There's a great deal about beauty, about worship as the inner longing of man, about the saving wounds of Christ, about the Cross as the Tree of Life, about faith as a light in life's darkness, about the unity that emanates from Christ's Body, about our brotherhood in Christ's Church, but off the top of my head I can't remember ever having read any passages about sex in general, or about homosexuality in particular. Many of us bloggers and comment box denizens have already written more about sex in the last two months than Ratzinger has in his entire career.
There's uproar in Naples about some unsuitable inclusions in the traditional nativity scenes:
NAPLES – There are naked women exposed to the view of passers-by, transvestites strolling through the alleys, armed gangsters and gypsy children begging in the street.Is this yet another harsh exposé of low life in Naples?Take a closer look.It’s a Nativity scene,or rather the latest Nativity scene carved by the Scuottos, one of the most famous families of craft sculptors.
“It’s more scandalous to see a [TV glamour girl Loredana – Trans.] Lecciso among the shepherds than a female nude”, says Salvatore Scuotto.“These scenes are part of real life so they can be included in the Nativity in the spirit of the eighteenth-century craft sculptors.Obviously, our work will be on show in two churches and will probably excite comments.But we wanted to launch a cultural provocation.The real scandal is the commercial operations that put statues of Bin Laden, Bush, Berlusconi, Di Pietro, Al Bano and Loredana Lecciso in the Nativity scene”.When asked, Giuseppe Ferrigno, the artist who invented the “celebrity shepherds”, poured oil on troubled waters.“There were naked women and celebrities in eighteenth-century Nativity scenes.It’s a lot of fuss about nothing”.
To understand that, you need to realise that Italian (and particular Neopolitan) nativity scenes are not the simple Holy Family, shepherds and kings affair we're familiar with - they are reconstructions of entire villages showing the birth of Christ amidst the bustle of everyday life.