The Italian scientific community was stunned when Italian scientists, seismologists, were recently sentenced to years of prison for manslaughter, for failing to predict the lethal earthquake in Aquila in 2009. Other scientists have resigned to their jobs in protest, and even some relatives of the victims condemned the sentence as ridiculous.
The world press was reporting on the dark ages of inquisition in Italian courts and labs. But then, journalistic investigations discovered political scandals that implied a plot to downplay earthquake dangers in Aquila, involving Berlusconi and his cabinet. Silvio Berlusconi can't control earthquakes any more than seismologists can, but he's always been keen on controlling media.
That is the graffiti in one of the destroyed streets in this Saturday's "indignati" demonstration. It ended in violence against the police, city security, and last but not least the pacifist organizers of the manifestation, in tune with the world wide movements OCCUPY.
The graffiti sounds like some epic motto of ancient Rome when power struggles burned palaces, libraries, and streets.
Roman life may not be too different after all, except that 2000 years later, we somehow believe that those conflicts should be resolved without arson. Maybe we are wrong. Maybe the fact that people are organized using web networks does not free them from timeless forms of treachery and palace intrigue, or the manipulation and destruction of good political intent.
Anyway, after the mayhem, the search was on for the hooded arsonists, organized through the Internet and through private video shots by participants.
Italy remembers very well the violent "Years of Lead" (late 60's to early 80's), when red and black terrorists planted bombs in public places, blasting innocent citizens in the name of their distorted concept of supreme justice. For years they rampaged beyond the reach of police, courts and other institutions.
Even today, after many years, some cases of public terrorism have not been resolved. Books have been written by important authors to explain the supposedly important difference between a red and a black bomb detonated in public. The Nobel prize authors Dario Fo wrote a play where he showed how easily the police could frame anarchists for terrorism, killing them by legal means. There was a famous question about crime: a chi giova, who profits from it?
A UNC team has written an engine that scours Flickr for photos of a city, figures out which ones are images of the same place, analyzes them, and uses the results to build amazingly detailed 3D models -- all in less than a day, using a single PC.
The current amount of importance placed on "originality" is a fairly recent phenomenon which I will discuss at some point. Back in the day, by which I mean Roman antiquity, imitation was indeed the sincerest form of flattery. Thank goodness, too. Because the Romans admired the Greek aesthetic, talented artists spent a great deal of time creating hand-made replicas of notable Greek art, particularly sculpture. In some cases, the originals are now lost to time, and the only reason we know what they look like is because of the talented copyists of old.
Perhaps the best-known example is the Diskobolos by Myron. The bronze original was remarkable enough to be discussed by a number of ancient playwrights and historians who saw it first-hand, but what a shame it would be if their descriptions were all we had to go by.