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Reflections of a stormy petrel
 
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Fabio Paolo Barbieri's LiveJournal:

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Thursday, February 23rd, 2017
5:30 pm
AN APALLING SCANDAL
The appointment of Cressida Dick to lead London's Metropolitan Police - the body known across the world as Scotland Yard - is an apalling scandal. It is scandalous enough that the lady should still be working at the upper levels of a police force; to place her at the most senior post in all British policing is an outrage.

Cressida Dick is the woman responsible for the slaughter of Jean Charles de Menezes. In case you had forgotten, or never heard (though a couple of hundred million Brazilians certainly have, and I assume they will be making their views known), this young Brazilian electrician working in London was butchered by eleven police bullets while sitting in an underground train. His only fault was to have a rather dark complexion, like many Brazilians, and to live next to a terrorism suspect. Now no matter how blundering and wrong the actual policemen who shot de Menezes were, they were only the executors of a disastrously misconceived and misperformed plan. The commander was Cressida Dick; and the commander is responsible when something goes wrong.

But Commander Dick had long since been singled out for high promotion - probably since she enlisted, with an Oxford degree to smooth the way. I am an alumnus and I love Oxford, but there are two Oxfords. One is the great research university, respected across the world, with a couple of dozen Nobel prizewinners and umpteen top scholars; and the other is the pons asinorum intended to licence people for political careers, which produces most of England's ministers and Prime Ministers. If you are studying a science subject, or a humanities research subject, you are probably part of the former; if you are reading English, Theology, or, God help us, PPE - Philosophy Politics and Economics, the course for budding politicians - you belong to the latter. I suspect Commander Dick was. She was certainly slated for the top before she got de Menezes killed. And in any country but England it would be incredible that she could survive such a disaster; in England it's not even surprising - though it is deeply disgusting - that she did.

Above and beyond any design to promote a woman to the top spot, which was indubitably part of the issue, you have to remember that the English suffer to a quite extraordinary extent from the syndrome called doubling down. To become obstinate in the defence of something just because you suspect you might be wrong is a universal humain failing; but in England, it's a national bad habit. The English are ALWAYS at their most obstinate when they are in the wrong. And so it is not at all surprising that a woman who should have been drummed out of the force for homicidal incompetence is now being put at its head.

Current Mood: angry
Saturday, February 18th, 2017
10:21 pm
An attempt at prophecy: where is Europe going?
It occurred to me that in several European countries, politics are going in a direction that leads to a scenario that is very similar to that of Italy from 1946 to 1994. During that period, a large Communist opposition and a much smaller Fascist one remained permanently in opposition, because by their nature they could not be allowed into government. This forced a number of widely different parties - the secular conservative Liberal party, the non-socialist, left-of-centre Republicans, the Social Democrats and Socialists - all representing long and individual traditions, to form majorities together with the confessional alliance Christian Democracy, which was more a grouping of parties than a party in itself and went from near-Fascist to Christian Socialist. The secular parties despised the confessional nature of the Christian Democrats, especially since Catholics had been effectively kept out of the government of Italy since independence, and their rise to dominance in the elections of 1945 and 1948 was something like a revolution. This was the reason for the famous frailty of Italian governments: the priorities, views and values of the majority parties were by no means always compatible, and sometimes one of them - most often the Liberals or the Socialists - went into opposition. That is why government crises and elections used to be frequent in Italy, even though majority and opposition never really changed.

Now what is happening in the Netherlands, in Sweden, and to some extent in France and Germany too, is that an opposition is forming that is really not fit to govern, but is strong enough that, in the long run,only a great coalition of the more respectable forces can keep them out of power. Certainly neither the Sweden Democrats, with their notorious Nazi origins, nor Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, who make Trump look steady and polite, nor Alternativ fuer Deutschland or the Front National are either ready or fit to govern; but they are increasingly becoming the real opposition in their own countries, crowding the more respectable and old-fashioned parties together, and forcing alliances that, though increasingly inevitable and necessary, will not be comfortable for anyone involved. The countries that laughed at Italy's revolving door cabinets are soon going to be experiencing them.

Current Mood: thoughtful
Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
5:35 pm
A sad moment
One of the worst things about Trump is that he is bringing out the worst in his enemies. He is so ghastly that they feel entitled to vomit out the worst of their vanity, group hate, racism and narrow-mindedness, in the unacknowledged certainty that any stick is good enough to beat Trump and Trumpies with, that hate for Trump validates itself and is obviously right. People are saying things that would have been beyond the pale (or only said in the presence of ideological partners) two years ago.

I have had to defriend and block one of the great of comics art, Bill Sienkiewicz. The reason why is behind the LJ-cut, except for what are to me the key words, which are in plain view:

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It's scientifically proven ( I'm not going out to post links- they re everywhere for anyone who wants to stray from their comfort of the FOX/ breitbart bubble) --- that conservatives are genetically wired, and innately predisposed to being afraid-- fearful- of new experiences ,and also that a vast majority of people who voted for him are equally stunted and lacking ithe ability for scrutiny and follow factual evidence. I'm not saying they're all stupid, but evidence supports the case that many cannot process information, lack critical thinking, relying instead reactionary responses, emotions and solutions based on fear and anger.Read more...Collapse )

Bill Sienkiewicz made himself responsible, in a public post, for this kind of outburst. After that, breaking contact with him was the only way I could keep my self-respect.
Friday, January 27th, 2017
6:36 pm
Faith and gullibility
It occurred to me that two enormous obstacles have been placed in the way of Christian belief. The first is the monstrous ignorance of history of most contemporaries, that makes it next to impossible to explain that the New Testament is a collection of contemporary, reliable historical documents; and second, the very concept of "belief system", which makes any religion so labelled into a mere matter of arranging "beliefs", as opposed to understanding facts. No wonder that crooks are everywhere busy inventing "religions" from wicca to scientology, with no basis in fact, and for the sole purpose of flattering their customers' minds and make money at their expense.

The two obstacles are related. If people are not allowed to understand that the narrative of John is as much a matter of experienced fact as that of Julius Caesar, and that both must be taken prima facie as eyewitness material, there is no matter of fact to be considered, only belief.

The point with Christian belief is rather different. It is that there are reliable, credible historical documents that make an incredible claim, namely that a man cured leprosy, insanity and blindness by command, raised the dead two or three times, calmed a sea storm, twice fed thousands from food barely sufficient for one person, and, having been very publicly and demonstrably killed, was soon after alive again. Obviously the point is whether you believe this account or not. That is why faith is accounted a virtue for Christians; NOT because you are supposed to believe IN DEFAULT of evidence or INDEPENDENTLY of any evidence.
Sunday, January 22nd, 2017
6:49 pm
Roland and Baldr
Throughout the Indo-European worldRead more...Collapse )
Saturday, January 21st, 2017
8:29 am
To me, the repulsive clashes between "protesters," police and "deplorables" are an ugly sign of things to come. People on both sides have lost, or rather have never had, the ability to live with defeat. Trump is a detestable creature, but he is largely the creation of a political culture that no longer allows dissent or difference, because it is genuinely convinced that it contains all legitimate "diversity" - that diversity it always demands that we should celebrate - and that is therefore incapable of recognizing real diversity. Half the free world feels despised, limited and squashed by the pressure of this diversity without difference, and has for a long time now been trying to find a way to react. Trump has given them the perfect vehicle to do so.

There are ladies and gentlemen and people of sterling honesty in the diversity party, people like my friend Michael Rosenblum, who would go out in the rain to pay a penny debt, or Anna Maria Ballester Bohn, kindness incarnate with a funny face, or Carla Speed McNeil, artistic genius and good person, or half a dozen others, the kind of people who brighten the lives of their friends and leave a clean smell when they leave. I do not doubt their sincerity, but I doubt their knowledge of the world. Time and again they make remarks that just don't agree with my experience of the opponents. The effect of the views they follow is ultimately oppressive and aggressive. Firmly convinced that they are righting injustices and setting up new rights, they are in fact - not personally, never in a million years personally - trampling on established rights and working to silence and persecute truth. And there is a streak of persecution complex that is set to do a lot of damage. They are sincerely convinced that Trumpies are coming to brutalize and rape them. In this mood, even understanding the enemy is experienced as a kind of temptation: why should you try to understand a bunch of vicious, misogynistic racists?

I have never been of the enemy party either. My loathing of Ayn Randism and my contempt for gun "rights" make it impossible for many of them to even speak with me. The gun nuts especially reason with the logic of addicts. As with the rainbow party, understanding the enemy is not something to do but a temptation to be avoided, because anything that might undermine your precious hold on your piece of murdering iron would expose you naked and helpless to a terrible, homicidal universe. You cannot reason with a man who has willingly made himself an addict to his own fears. Like the rainbow nut's vision of the Trumpies, an undifferentiated mob existing in an ecstasy of rape and murder, the gun nut's world is one huge threat from which only his murder implements protect him.

I don't want to go further. I think you can imagine what I fear in a country where two opposing forces have many members in this state of mind.
Friday, January 20th, 2017
1:15 am
The mills of God grind slowly - and now we are about to get the bran
Donald Trump is the end result of every subversive tendency in the Sexual Revolution. He is Justice Kennedy's "at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" incarnate and personified. That concept, of course, has nothing to with liberty: quite to the contrary, it is the installation of a tyrannical, uncontrolled ego at the centre of each human being's universe - the invention of a world of a million million tyrants. To "define one's own concept of meaning, of the universe" is to impose it on external reality. It is to say "that is what I want, that is what I order" to the world at large. Now the child of that thought walks into the White House.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2017
8:09 pm
A sketch of ideas for sociology of knowledge
When the study of law as a school subject began in the twelfth century, it did not begin with the active common law that at the time dominated Europe, including Italy. It began with Roman law, with the Theodosian and Justinianic codes, preserved in libraries. That was simply what the scholars of the time regarded as true learning, worthy of study. It was from the schools that Roman law poured out across the landscape to dominate most of the European continent, except for England. And yet Roman law had considerable flaws as compared with common law.
This is parallel with the way that "comics" fandom has developed out of superhero fandom and is still largely dominated by it. IN the sixties and seventies, superheroes were irrelevant to most adults and in a definite commercial retreat. But the number of fans who became professionals not only in comics but across the media, in movies, in advertising, in television, in publishing, means that the genre became influential far beyond its apparent reach. Meanwhile, "Comics" fandom continued to be focused on superheroes and associated fields (science fiction, horror, fantasy), even though most comics across the world don't really pertain to them.

So the idea of what is important in the fields of knowledge depends mostly by the social processes within the area. Those fields that have an organizational advance on the rest - superhero fandom among comics, like twelfth-century Roman law experts in the field of law - tend to set the rules for the whole field.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2017
7:43 pm
Friday, January 6th, 2017
1:59 pm
Trump sits and sniggers
And these people call the Trump electors stupid.

I can say very sincerely that I don't have much of an opinion of the brains, far-sightedness, or cunning, of the average modern politician. As far as I am concerned the breed of Bismarck and Disraeli, never mind Cavour and Lincoln, is extinct. But for sheer insanity of stupidity, for self-destructive inability to see the nose on your face, for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way and for the wrong motives, absolutely nothing compares with the pursuit of Russian hacking of Democrat computers. The Democrats should forget about those damned e-mails. They should forget about Russian intrusion, Putin, Assange, the FSB, Russian hackers and everything else. They are doing, quite literally, every wrong thing they possibly could. And if they have any influence on the CIA and the FBI at all, they should tell these bodies to shut up about them, too.

Consider, first and foremost, what a disastrous scene is playing out right now. Leaders of America's “intelligence community”, as they call them these days, are going to the President-elect to, in effect, beg him to show some public support for their position. This places Trump in the position of the receiver of supplications, and the arch-spies in the position supplicants. Now, if they think that Trump will ever give in on the issue in any public way, they are so politically stupid that to remove them from their positions would be a relief: nobody who puts himself in such a humiliating and destructive position should be in a position to advise the most powerful man in the world. What the Hell are they thinking? Even if Trump were a good man, he would not have the least incentive to give in to their demands. He has called their credibility into question; to go back on that would be a setback, and also an open sign of creeping compromise with the hated DC establishment he has been elected to trash. And what does he have to lose if he doesn't? Precisely nothing. The half of his supporters who admire him regard his behaviour as all-American, and the half who voted for him in horror at the idea of a third Democrat term had such a low idea of him anyway that nothing could lower it. His core supporters would probably not think of being shocked at nations interfering in each other's internal affairs; as far as they are concerned, that is what they do. And indeed there is something about this that the Democrats, in particular, ought not to be doing, since the idea of American politicians complaining about foreign countries interfering in their elections would make a lot of the traditional left in foreign countries gag. American interference in other countries' politics is part of the hereditary folklore of exactly those forces who ought to be the Democrats' natural allies on the international stage, and to have the CIA of all agencies be the bearer of protests on this subject would rouse the bitter laughter of hundreds of millions from Santiago to Berlin. There are instruments of power that the Democrats should not be seen to be using.

But if the tactics are demented, the strategy is suicidal. The Democrats should have killed talk about those damned hacked e-mails. They should have made sure that everyone forgot that they had ever been published. Because whether or not it was the Russians who hacked them, there is one thing that no Democrat has been able to say: that they are not true. And so long as they are, and so long as they are in public, they show that everything that Catholics and Christians believe about the Democrat leadership and their attitude to them is absolutely true. The ignorance, the brutality, the contempt, the assumption that Catholicism is a remnant to be swept into the trash-can of history, are all there in black and white. And that is exactly what the Democrats should try to make people forget.

Trump has not been elected by the hard-core of unfocussed anger he expresses. He has been elected because millions of Catholics and Evangelicals had become convinced that another term such as the last two would mean the beginning of persecution in earnest, a legal and extra-legal assault on the churches that would lead them to have to make the dreadful choice between apostasy and second-rate citizenship. The split in the Christian communities ran between those who, like me, Catherine Alexander, or Rachel Hamilton, thought that Trump was so bad that he would pollute every cause he touched, and those, like Tony Esolen or Jonathon van Maren, thought that the prospect of a Rodham Clinton presidency had to be avoided even at the price of touching the foul thing. The idea of a widespread Christian enthusiasm for the orange adulterer is grossly overstated. Many people, as Barbara Ehrenreich observed, voted in advance, as if to get the damned thing over with.

But if that is the case, and if the Christian vote made the difference, then, if the Democrats cannot wean themselves of their addiction to abortion and rainbow causes, they should at least do their best not to have it talked about. And that means silence, silence, silence. And if personal documents fall into enemy hands to show what your real attitude is, be superior, ignore them, treat them with contempt. The madder you get, the more you prove that it's all true, and that the enemy has shown you as you are.
Thursday, January 5th, 2017
10:12 pm
Charmers
Translators like me work mostly from internet contacts, which means we can have clients across the world. I have a link with an agency in the Palestinian Territory, no less, with whom I haven't done a lot of work - and the story that happened today will tell you why.

Morning, I get an urgent request for revision for a death certificate. The job is easy, and the certificate tells a heartbreaking story - a girl of twelve, dead in a foreign country, probably in a holiday, from what sounds like an undiagnosed brain aneurism. The fee offered is tiny but adequate, if hardly generous. It's easy work, and I do the best I can - because I always do, and because in this case I am moved.

A few hours later I get another e-mail from the same source. Another bit of the job needs doing fast, the consul is waiting, the body needs to be released. I open the attachment - and immediately fire off a response.

"Are you having me on? This is not a bit of additional revision, this is the translation of a whole, sizeable, official letter. This is a full new job and I will charge for it separately and at my minimum rate."

Immediate answer. Sorry and all, it was a mistake, it IS a separate job - offered at a fee two-thirds of what I'd required.

Me: sorry, but that was my absolute minimum, and I've already done you a favour by reckoning it in dollars instead of British pounds.

I did not hear from them again.
Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
1:13 pm
I'm off to see the Wizard.... well, Shezan, actually
Tickets for Paris on the seventh bought and paid for. Considering that I live in London and have lived in Rome, Oxford and Milan, it might be surprising how excited I am about this, but I've only ever been in Paris once before, and that was (like this time) for a few hours only. I reckon I'll do it again pretty soon. And I might want to visit Edinburgh and York, who knows?
Friday, November 11th, 2016
11:02 pm
Pas d'ennemis à gauche, Pas d'ennemis à droite
The most shocking part of the Trump triumph has been the open and unresisted entrance of the hard right, from the Ku Klux Klan to Stormfront, into the ranks of Trump supporters.

I imagine most Trump supporters don't want to argue on this, and that most would say that it has nothing to do with them and that it does not affect them. But that would be wrong. It marks a serious change in political attitudes, with Trump adopting, like Berlusconi before him, the old and bad motto of the left: "No enemies to the left". I have seen it happen before. When Berlusconi set up his new centre-left gathering, he deliberately let in the fascist party - MSI-DN - which had been excluded from all previous parliamentary alliances. Part of this party, which tended to win four or five per cent of votes, was made of decent citizens with a stupid attitude to the Fascist past; but a considerable minority were outright thugs waiting for a chance.

It's not as though those people had lots of votes to offer (if they had, we'd have long been in trouble): it's a kind of perverse principle, which I have already observed at work among American conservatives, that says "It's impossible that right-wingers might be wicked or totalitarian", just like the old socialists found it impossible to say that people who mouthed the word "socialism" might be tyrants and monsters. The stupidest and yet most widespread instance of this refusal to accept that right-wingers might be villains is the idiotic and universal American conservative belief that Hitler and Mussolini were socialists. This is the same as our old socialist friends asserting that, ultimately, Stalin and Mao were nationalists and fascists. When confronted with the facts, they stuttered and changed the subject.
Sunday, October 9th, 2016
3:44 am
Friday, September 23rd, 2016
7:04 am
A tragedy
I don't know how to say this. Sometimes life just leaves you bewildered at the injustice of brute chance, and tempted to curse, were it not that you know how useless it would be.

My older friends will know that I am fond of fanfic and that I have sometimes found, among the many merely lively and interesting products, a few that have, in my view, the dignity of great literature and that stand a good chance of immortality. You may remember what I had to say about Hijja or Inverarity.

This week I came across another of the same level, on the site Twisting The Hellmouth: someone who signed himself "becuzitswrong", and whose story, "Life's Ending, Life's Beginning," was simply magnificent, broad in conception and moving across the whole range of expression from heart-rending tragedy and loss to heroic brilliance to sweet, affecting teen-age romance.

And on the very morning after I had been kept up half the night reading this remarkable story (and had only got a third of the way through), I read on Twisting The Hellmouth that he had died, just keeling over one day as he was mowing the lawn.
Sunday, August 28th, 2016
12:32 pm
sollersuk
AD MULTOS ANNOS ET FELICES!
Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016
11:10 am
A prostitute
I wrote this essay in the early nineties, and some of the references are dated. But I don't think the basic contention is.

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7:19 am
Two NOT classics
It's my belief that Miller's Dark Knight Returns and Moore's Watchmen are long overdue for a re-evaluation, downwards. All the most unpleasant trends we see in modern pseudo-super-hero rubbish celebrate their triumph in these two series: the body-count element, the bitchy cynicism, the re-visitation of hoary old super-hero cliches with the addition of graphic violence, arise from the influence of Miller and Moore. What Miller, especially did, was to add some largely reactionary social references and a quite astounding degree of violence; his mass-murdering Joker is the prototype of every later grinning ghoul used to show on-panel slaughter and disembowelment by dim-witted Image clones. What real insights do we gain from Dark Knight Returns? None: it is all of it really about that most stock of all contemporary Marvel/Image stock cliches, obsession. Miller's admittedly stylish (too stylish) and energetic (too energetic) approach, simply drives us into forgetting the realities and subtleties of human life, casting us into a simplified world of guns, very few roses, and a lot of poses. It is powerful, dynamic, attention-grabbing - like a mugging, or a ÂSunÀ headline. And now we find that his latest offering has a big-gun-toting black woman (there's the poltical correctness bit taken care of) indulge in scenes of extraordinary violence in a war waged by the U.S. Governement against, of all things, a burger corporation. (Oh, how novel: an Evil Corporation!) What insights about the reality of human life this pap has to offer, I simply don't know - but it has big guns and loadsanloadsanloadsa style. Whoopee! No wonder Frank Miller is Todd MacFarlane's artistic hero.

My estimate of Watchmen is just as bad. It is the most classic case of missing the wood for the trees it has ever been my misfortune to see. We positively don't want, and certainly don't need, to be told that super-heroes in the real world would be vicious gits like the Comedian, obsessional lunatics like Rohrschach, or ineffective wimps like Owlman (whose love story, by the way, is painfully sentimental and incredible: what woman of any sense would go for such a nerd? - but then, sentimentality is always the obverse side of cynicism). The point is, 1), that realistic super-heroes are a contradiction in terms and 2), that even in realistic terms, this kind of cynicism is not true to life. No sir, "good" people are not always ineffective wimps; I object most strongly to the cynical view that it is the most ruthless who are the most effective. It is quite simply wrong in terms of daily experience - or is it your experience that to trample, abuse, and antagonize people, is in the long run an effective way to act? If ruthlessness won wars, Hitler would have won his. End of argument.
Monday, August 22nd, 2016
9:25 am
TERAWATT : SEVEN DAYS IN ITALY – part one: TUESDAY

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Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
9:23 pm
Terawatt - Seven days in Italy, introduction
1.


ITALIAN REPUBLIC

MOTU PROPRIO DECREE BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE ITALIAN REPUBLIC

IN THE NAME OF THE LAW

Unprecedented events require unprecedented responses. The rise of what are called "superpowers" has caused civilized countries great grief and concern. Human beings endowed with superhuman powers have indulged their basest instincts, while occult interests and criminalized business concerns have made criminal use of dangerous discoveries. Monstrous beings created apparently by mistake or chance have threatened or taken the lives of thousands.

Against this threatening landscape, the person called Terawatt offers luminous hope and inspiration. A victim, as it seems, of the criminal experiments of the notorious Danielle Atron, she kept control of the powers she had been given - unlike other victims - and dedicated them to the defence of law and order, first in her community, then across the United States of America and other countries. Displaying equally extraordinary levels of courage and of skill, she is not known to have ever lost a battle, even though she has often been outnumbered and outpowered. She sought the support of the authorities, and insisted, in spite of numerous legal problems, on staying within the law. Conscious of her potential as role model and public image, she committed herself to never using deadly force, even though - or perhaps because - her great powers made that not only possible but easy. To this day, no one person, opponent or bystander, has died as the result of any of her actions, and very few indeed have suffered any permanent injury. 

Certain that accidents and crimes such as that which created her would become more frequent, she has worked not only to protect as many communities as possible, well beyond the borders of her own nation, but to encourage other persons to come forward as superheroes and to help foster their career. Although this aspect of her career has not yet directly concerned Italy, it would be more than enough for the Italian Republic to grant her some high honour.

However, the debt owed Terawatt by the Italian people and government goes well beyond her well-deserving efforts on the international stage. When a member of her team discovered that the city of Rome was about to suffer an attack by artificial life-forms, intended and designed to wipe at least Rome and possibly all of Italy and surrounding areas from the face of the earth, Terawatt came in person to help fight the outbreak. In spite of unfortunate misunderstandings, she effectively took command of the Italian force resisting the monsters, led them out of lethal danger, and personally accounted for most of the monsters, till none were left alive. She then went on with energetic bravery to repeat her exploit in Tokyo, as she had previously done in an island in Ireland.

No expert doubts that Terawatt's unhalting heroism has saved hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of lives, and almost certainly the whole city of Rome. The Italian Republic and the Italian people are the conscious stewards, on behalf of the entire world, of a matchless and enormous cultural and historical heritage, of which the largest single part is found in the city of Rome alone. Save for Terawatt's intelligent heroism, the as yet unknown enemy who launched this assault would have succeeded where Attila, the Lanzichenecchi and Hitler failed, and wiped out this treasure-house of civilization from the face of the Earth. It is therefore as much a duty as a pleasure, and as much an inevitability as a duty, to bestow on her the highest honour that is in the power of the Italian Republic to offer.

Therefore, I, Camillo Benso Bertini, President of the Republic, after consulting with my advisers and with members of the Council of Ministers, have the pleasure to declare TERAWATT a Knight Grand Cross with Grand Collar or the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

At the Palace of the Quirinal, Rome [date]

Signed: Camillo Benso Bertini, President of the Republic

Counter-signed Enea Giuseppe Pio Brambilla, President of the Council of Ministers


2.

“Terawatt! Hello!”

“Lisa! You're looking fabulous!”

And she was. After all, Terawatt thought, she had only seen Medical Captain Lisa Benson during her grim and deadly space adventure, as she and the Italian officer struggled against treason and a destructive alien mold, fearing for their lives and for the lives of everyone on board (especially that of the Captain's lover and now fiancé, Commander Vince Elliot, USAF). She had already thought then that Lisa looked amazing, even for an Orphan; but it was nothing to how she was now, resplendent in her fresh-pressed Italian Air Force uniform, bright with medals and decorations - and just shining with happiness.

“Yeah, well, I feel fabulous. I'm so lucky. But I still say it will not be as good if you're not there.”

“Don't worry, I will. Now shall we do the introductions?”

“Let's.”

“Captain Lisa Benson, this is General Jonathan O'Neill, with two l's, an airman like you.” Lisa snapped a perfect salute, and Jack saluted back with none of the snark and sloppiness he often used in his unit. “Jack, this is Captain Lisa Benson, the heroine of the International Space Station rescue.”

“That would be you, actually,” said Lisa smiling. “General, Terawatt, may I introduce you to Ambassador Paolo Cortelleri della Fralta, and to Cardinal Brown, Apostolic Legate from the Pope. Your excellencies, General Jonathan O'Neill, and Terawatt.”

They had, of course, corresponded in the run-up to this encounter, but Terawatt had never met either man, and she looked at them with interest. The Ambassador was a lean, fit man in his fifties, wearing the most beautiful suit she had ever seen on a man (and with all her high-level meetings in Washington DC and elsewhere, she was becoming a bit of an expert). It was so well cut and shaped to his body that it made him look taller than he was, and immensely distinguished. His well-cut hair was a dark grey and only slightly thinning, and he spoke an almost unaccented British English. The Cardinal, on the other hand, was rather older, small and pudgy, and while his cassock was clean and well pressed, it looked neither new nor particularly cared for. Except for his red skullcap and the scarlet piping on his cassock, nothing would have suggested that he was a man of rank. His face was round and his eyes, behind thick glasses, had a slightly watery quality. He also spoke British English, but with a less polished accent, and an expert in languages would have heard the echo of the flatlands and waters of Norfolk in his accent. If Jack had not briefed her in advance, she would never have guessed that the Cardinal was by far the more consequential person of the two, and that there were remarkable stories about his past.

“I am most honoured, Terawatt. And to meet you, General – I have been told about you.”

“Nothing good, Ambassador, I hope,” answered back Jack with a grin.

“It depends – whether being described as the best in the business is bad,” and the ambassador gave a polite smile. Meanwhile the Cardinal was addressing Terawatt.

“I am also honoured to meet you both, madam. Are you aware that the Pope saw you fight when you were in Rome?”

“He did?” - and the Cardinal could have sworn that the tall, self-confident figure before him was blushing.

“You may not have realized it, but you were fighting quite near the Vatican. It's not an industrial zone in the least, but Laboratori VTT were set up there because it is next to a famous children's hospital, the Bambin Gesu'.”

“Oh my God...”

“Yes, if you had not contained those monstrosities, a lot of sick children would have among their first targets. The Italian authorities had begun emergency evacuation procedures, but it is insanely difficult to evacuate a large hospital full of sick children, in the centre of a crowded town, and with small and crowded streets. There were also a lot of civilian houses, and the Vatican Palaces only a few hundred yards north.”

“My God, Cardinal. My God. I'm glad I didn't know that... I think I'd have been so scared, I could not have thought straight. All those children...”

“Not for yourself?”

“Well, I can always fly away. It's the people who were with me who are the brave ones. But it's always civilians that scare me the most.”

He nodded. “And as I was telling you, among those civilians was the Holy Father, and the whole population of the Vatican State, including some American bishops there on an ad limina visit... that's the term” he explained as he noticed the flash of bewilderment in her eyes “for the regular visits of groups of bishops to the Pope. Indeed, I gather that some of the discussion had been about you.”

“About me?”

“I don't know if you realize it, but your existence poses a lot of questions in terms of theology and faith. Including issues about recorded miracles. And there was a general feeling that religious movements could coalesce around you.”

“You mean - ?” And after a second, Terawatt burst out in a ringing laugh, that made everyone else turn.

“No, we did not think so either,” smiled Cardinal Brown. “The general feeling among the American bishops was that you are a mature and sensible person with no itch for worshippers. The trouble is that it could happen whether you want it or not. In fact, I would say that it is pretty nearly inevitable at some point or place.”

Terawatt looked deeply uncomfortable.

“Luckily, no super-powered person so far has made any bid to set up their own sect, to the best of our knowledge. And as some of the American bishops pointed out during the debate, it was easy to see that there was nothing very divine about most of the people who turned out to have powers. They either did not use them or used them badly, but they weren't even bad enough to be really devilish in any real sense.”

“Well, some of them...” Terawatt started saying, and then fell silent. Her first reaction had been to think of her old, old hate and fear of Danielle Atron; and then the pain and guilt of “Dani,” the awakened good half of her old enemy, had come back to her. No, there wasn't anything devilish there, even in Danielle – only a very human evil, and a thankfully human guilt. Even Maggie Walsh was not a devil, but a woman with strangely warped and twisted instincts. Alex had spent long evenings with Action Girl, looking more disturbed than she had ever thought AG could be, just talking about those terrible moments when Maggie had caressed her and spoken to her as if to a beloved daughter.

“No, sorry, Cardinal, I was about to make a dumb remark. They are all human beings, we are all human beings – unhappy, and scared, and so very often wrong.”

“Indeed, that is what everyone felt. You are just the one who had the sense of responsibility and the courage. And then all of a sudden the Swiss Guards rushed in and told us of the battle going on outside and of the need to evacuate the Palace.”

“But you said the Pope watched me?”

“Indeed. The Pope ordered everyone else to leave, but he said he wished to observe so long as it was possible. They were still in readiness to move him out at a moment's notice. A few of the American bishops stayed with him. One of them said that there was no real danger so long as you were there.”

“I wish people wouldn't think that. I'm just a woman, you know. I can be beaten. I can fail. And I have, more than once.”

“Well, luckily that was not an issue. You and your helpers stopped the monsters, in spite of poor cooperation from some local people...”

“You may be interested to know,” added the Ambassador; and Terawatt realized that everyone else had stopped their own discussion and gathered round to listen to the Cardinal and to her - “that Colonel Leonetti has been reassigned. Unofficially, I may say that his career is unlikely to survive that fiasco.”

Terawatt almost growled. “Ambassador, I don't usually wish any ill to anyone, but that can only be good news. His obstructive ways cost the lives of dozens of his men, and I watched them die. I have nightmares about them sometimes. You see, Cardinal,” she turned to the shorter man bitterly, “I don't always succeed. I don't always save the day.”

“My child,” said the old man, “you are not God, and you can't always save others from the results of others' mistakes. I would say from where I stand that you looked very much as if you had won and saved the day that day at Laboratori VTT.”

“You had not unleashed the murderous monsters on our city,” agreed the Ambassador, “and neither had you given orders that guaranteed that some of your own men would die horribly. That was the responsibility of others. Your responsibility is for the lives you saved.”

“It took a while till we realized just what danger we had all been in,” added the Cardinal. “His Holiness is a brave man, and he has seen war and death, but when he read the final report from the Italian security services, he was shaken. A way of death so horrible, so swift, and so apparently unstoppable... we had rarely heard anything so hideous.”

“I know,” said Terawatt grimly.

“Anyway, we began to feel that we should signalize your achievement, and our gratitude, in some public way. At first we were thinking of an order of chivalry, but it turned out that the Italian President had already decided something of the kind by himself, and we did not want to duplicate things... it would weaken the message. And medals would be a problem too, as they are usually awarded only to members of the Catholic Church...?”

“Quite right, Your Eminence. I am not Catholic, I'm afraid... I think I can say that I am a Christian. I don't exactly keep it a secret, but I don't stress it, because it would risk all sorts of public rows I don't want to. I want to be a heroine for everybody.”

“I doubt there will ever be a problem about that.”

“Yes. Well, as we were trying to figure out how best to honour you, things kept changing. We heard of one horror after another, and you know that everyone eventually understood that the human race itself was under attack. And you and your allies were everywhere fighting these monsters, till you found their sources and took them down.

“In a way, that made it simpler. There had been a war, and you and your allies had fought and won it. What happened in Rome was just a battle. So, Terawatt, do you have an objection to appearing in a Catholic Te Deum Mass?” There was a brief silence.

“I assume this will be a public affair?”

“Well, any Mass is public in its own way... but yes, there will be cameras and journalists and crowds.”

Terawatt shook her head. “To be honest, Cardinal, I don't like the fuss that's being done over me. I'd love to be able to just do my job and go home. But if I am accepting all these honours – the Italian order – then I will accept yours, too. It's not about me. It's about what Terawatt stands for, and the people who work with her.”

“I think I understand the difference. At any rate, this is a mass of thanks for a specific reason. It's giving thanks for you and your allies' victory over the Collective.

“A Te Deum Mass is traditionally offered after a great victory, after the end of a war. We though it would be more than suitable for the defeat of a body of men who had set themselves against all mankind. And we have invited everyone who was involved.”

“Some,” broke in Jack O'Neill, “will even come. I know that Action Girl is a natural atheist, but she is very keen to see Rome and to test her Italian. A good few of my men are eager. Batman won't come... but if you see a certain tall dark individual sitting quietly in a back row, don't look surprised. I don't know about the Thornberrys. Ayananta and Tsurara would both want to come just to be with you, although neither of them is Christian. And I found out Victor Cready is a lapsed Catholic, and he may come as well.”

“Especially if...” said Terawatt, thinking of the barely-begun relationship between the man of fire and Tsurara, the Japanese girl of ice.

“Especially,” confirmed Jack.

Something was troubling Terawatt as they talked. One person seemed to be as good as absent. And she realized that Lisa was standing at the back of the room. Others who had not seen her an hour earlier might take her expression for mere boredom, but Alex had seen her all but glow from the inside only an hour before, and she was worried.

Then the Cardinal spoke again: “There is also something I would like to discuss with General O'Neill, as head of the SRI.” Terawatt looked at the stout little man in bewilderment, and so did the Ambassador and the General both.

“It's nothing secret, gentlemen. I just have to ask whether the SRI have any experts who can tell real super-powered activity from hoaxes. One of the theological issues that were being discussed during that visit ad limina was whether any recorded miracles might have been the result of unrecognised super-powers, and how they could be told apart.”

“Miracles? No, I mean... come to think of it, no, we haven't, and it would be an important area to investigate. If someone can put on a convincing display of super-powers, they could do a lot of things... from blackmailing people, to getting themselves cushy jobs in governments around the world. We must look into this.”

“We have sorted out fraudsters once or twice already General,” said Terawatt.

“True enough. But it was just good guesswork and intuition – we did not have tangible reasons to suspect them, or protocols to follow. We should look at that and see if we can turn it into a learning experience.”

Cardinal Brown thought for a second or two, and then said: “I am thinking that the help might go the other way, in that case. We do have experience in this field. Miracles do happen, and more frequently than people imagine...” –

- it was at this point that Terawatt, who was the only one who was following her, saw Lisa's face change as if she had just bitten into a lemon -

...”and if you had spent a few days interview half a dozen shocked doctors who have seen a large and dangerous tumour just disappear, you would know. But the Church has also spent two thousand years being targeted by hoaxers and fraudsters. We do have protocols and handbooks listing all the various tricks and false evidence that people use.”

“That does sound very interesting. And if we sent one or two of our investigation people to train with you and share any insights we might have, it could be an inter-governmental activity between the USA and the Vatican City State, and avoid any potential separation of state and church issues. If you can meet me some time in the next day or two, Cardinal, we might work something out.”

“Delighted.”

“Now, Miss Terawatt,” said the Ambassador, “before we finalize our agreements, there is another thing I have to mention. Have you been briefed about Camicia Rossa?”

“Well, yes, I have, for what we know. General O'Neill says that American records are not very full.”

“They aren't,” said O'Neill, “and they seem out of date. We know that he operates mostly in Italy, so our people have rarely had to do with him, except during the occupation period in the forties. We know that he is a masked adventurer wearing a variant of the red uniform that Garibaldi's volunteers wore in the war of 1860, and that he is supposed to have first appeared about then and never gone away. He has no power that anyone knows of, but he seems to have lived for two centuries – though most people postulate a father-to-so or master-to-disciple succession down the years.”

“That's right. Well, on the whole, I can't say that our records are full, either. For one thing, we don't know who he is or exactly where he lives, although we know he must be a resident of Romagna. The reason, Miss Terawatt, why you did not meet him during your adventure in Rome, was, one, that he was in Sicily on the day, and, two, that we did not think of him as a super-hero on the same level as yourself. He has no powers, he is just a very able fighter and investigator who occasionally helps our police forces and who also investigates and detects villains on his own. He claims to have had a mandate directly from Garibaldi – which in American terms, I guess, would be like having a mandate from George Washington – to pursue criminals and traitors and to watch over justice in Italy.”

“And from then till now his secret identity has not been exposed? That's, what, a hundred and fifty years?”

“Maybe people haven't looked too hard. They say that some individual policemen have found out down the years – the legendary Prefetto Cesare Mori was said to be one – but if they did, they all kept it to themselves. For myself, I don't believe that if a policeman discovered something like that, he would cover it up. I just think he is really good.

“He's generally regarded as a good thing, and the authorities prefer to just help him and let him do his job. He owns a few helicopters and fast cars which are kept for him at a few Air Force stations so he can move across the country. He generally keeps us informed... The police tell me that they don't like it when he drops out of sight for a long time, because it means either that he is seriously injured, or that he is investigating police or carabinieri.” Jack O'Neill visibly winced.

“Now the thing is, he is certainly going to be a part of the new Italian super-hero unit we are forming. He and Captain Benson are the only two people we are certain of. And he has expressed an interest in meeting you and in being your guide during his time in Italy.”

“I see. I thought Captain Benson... no, I guess not.”

“Sorry, Tera, I couldn't,” burst out Lisa with a visibly embarrassed face. “I shouldn't have promised. I just hadn't realized how much time getting married asks for. I wish we could spend time together, but that week is all taken.”

“I understand,” said the blonde heroine with a smile, putting a hand on the redhead's shoulder. “I should have thought of that myself. We shall find more time later, I'm sure.”

After a tactful few seconds, the ambassador started again: “Well, Camicia Rossa has volunteered to take Captain Benson's place as your guide around the country. You will, of course, be the President's guest at the Quirinal Palace as long as you are with us.”

“That seems... all very generous and kind. Of course I accept. And I am interested in meeting this Camicia Rossa, especially if we are going to work together in future.”


3.

After all the protocols had been signed, Terawatt turned to Lisa and said: “Well, if you can't show me around Rome, at least I can show you around DC. Want to come along?” Lisa smiled and agreed.

However, as they walked the corridors of Andrews AFB and Terawatt kept being greeted, saluted, and even receiving handshakes and attempts to start conversations, Lisa Benson worried. “Aren't we going to be a bit conspicuous?” she said at length.

Terawatt turned into an inconspicuous little office on the side, where an attractive Latina army lieutenant sat as if guarding a large, unmarked gym bag. “Captain Lisa Benson, meet Lieutenant Josefina Lupo. Yes, it would be,” she said as she turned silvery and threw herself into the gym bag, “if if was Terawatt who was showing you around.” The gym bag shook violently.

“But nobody,” said the silvery being as she emerged from the bag again “is going to pay attention to a junior USAF officer showing an Italian Air Force captain around” - and she turned into a shorter, somewhat stumpy female Air Force officer with glasses. “This is Washington DC.” She saluted. “Lieutenant Anne Farrell, at your service, ma'am” - and Lieutenant Lupo was struggling not to laugh.

….....................................................

After they left the base, Lisa turned and said: “This is not your actual secret identity, is it?”

“Not really. It's just another disguise. Awfully useful for a lot of things. I am not sure about showing you my real ID, at least just now... but if we are going to be working together with the Justice League, you ought to know this sort of thing, at least.”

They came out into the bright sunshine, and Lieutenant Farrell led Captain Benson to a small parked car. After they had negotiated the exit and shown their military IDs, “Anne Farrell” turned to Lisa.

“May I ask you a question, Captain Benson?” Lisa just smiled.

“Well, that name 'Benson' – it just doesn't sound very Italian to me. Or am I wrong?”

Lisa chuckled. “You might be, you know. In north-east Italy, in Venetia, where my family comes from, there are quite a few families with names in '-on'. As a child, I used to know a man called Barison.. Federico Barison... he was immense,” giggled Lisa, “just like his name. We used to call him Barison the bison, il bisonte Barison. He could have been one of your quarterbacks, but in fact he was a watchmaker. I still don't know how he did it – all those little watch gears and those huge hands.”

“Maybe he had superpowers,” smiled the disguised Terawatt.

“Maybe he did at that! Well, all I can tell you is that 'Benson' is not an impossible name in my part of Italy.

“Even so, I can't be sure. You know, when I was a child, and not aware I was adopted, I'd think of my red hair and just make up romances about our family being English and exiled. Or Scottish, not that I was very clear on the difference – except that Scottish lords wore tartan. We were lords, of course, in my imagination.

“But the truth is that none of us knows. It could be local. It could be English descent. Or it could be what one of my cousins maintains, that we were originally Jewish and Benson comes from Ben Zion. We just don't know, because all the records are lost. The village we come from was flattened in many wars – Napoleonic, Wars of Independence, World Wars, you name it – we're not even sure when exactly the local records were destroyed, but the fact is that we have little before 1945 and nothing at all before about 1888. There are only a couple of references to people who might have the same name, in legal papers from the eighteenth century, and we're not sure either, because they are also called Mensoni. It's a mystery. But you always have to remember that while the English name is stressed on the first syllable, ours is on the second – BenSON, not BENson.”

And then, as if to herself: “I wonder if my cousin even means it...”

Terawatt just looked curious.

“It's just that... I think he just likes twisting their tail. Every time he mentions his Jewish theory, half my uncles and aunts choke on their dinners.”

“Oh,” said Terawatt. It was a very intense “Oh.”

Although she was describing a gag, Lisa's face was not amused. To the contrary; Alex thought she recognised that expression: it was the same stony expression she had worn through the conference – even though she had been smiling and laughing before.

“Do you have problems with your family?” she hazarded.

“It's not that they are anti-semites or such,” said Lisa with an even unhappier air. “They are, however, very obstinate Catholics; quite fanatical, some of them. They don't particularly object to Jews or Protestants or atheists, so long as they keep well out of the way and don't trouble them in their own home. They just hate the idea that any one of us might be anything else.”

“You sound... pardon me saying so.... you sound like this hurts you personally.”

“That blatant, eh?”

“It's your face. You were just glowing when we met. Then the conference started, and suddenly you seemed to turn to stone. And then you came out and the sun came out again. And now you are wearing the same stony face. Something is hurting you, and you are trying not to give it away.”

“I don't know. I don't want to offend you or anything.”

“Offend me?”

And then Lisa said in a very small voice: “Well, you said you were a Christian...”

For a second, Alex felt like the world had turned upside down. And at the same time, that things were suddenly clear. Lisa felt she might offend her because she was a Christian. Lisa was uncomfortable in the presence of a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, and looked disgusted when he mentioned miracles. Lisa was bitter about the “fanatical Catholics” in her family.

So she turned to her and smiled gently: “You can talk to me. I'm pretty offend-proof, you know.” And as the older woman looked hesitant, she added: “I promise not to try to convert you today.”

That did it. It was hardly the best quip of Alex' life, but it came at the right time. Lisa's pressure dissolved into a burst of laughter, and “Anne Farrell” smiled back at her.

“God, you're such a nice person. If everyone was like you, it would be a better world.”

“I don't... don't make me blush, OK? I don't think I'm all that nice.”

“You are, but I won't insist if you don't want me to. But you see, Anne... Lieutenant Farrell... “

“Anne will do, but call me what you like.”

“Well, I'm not going to call someone who can throw lightning with her bare hands 'Hey you'!” And it was Alex' turn to giggle. “Anne, I am a woman of science. I am a doctor. I believe in things that are rational, reasonable, provable. I believe in experiments and research and reason. I just can't get my head around the whole set of ideas in religion. I don't see how anyone can take them seriously.”

“I see. Well, all I can say is that two of the smartest and most scientific women I know are certainly religious.”

“I know. I've seen it happen with some of my colleagues... and other people who may not have been scientists, but who are smart anyway... and Vince is a believer, and I'm going to marry him no matter what. He just makes me happy.

“The thing is, I could live with it if it wasn't for my family. I don't know if I can explain how it is. You HAVE to get along with your family – and that does not just mean your parents and your brothers and sisters, but also your cousins, because their parents are your dad and your mom's brothers and sisters, and with your grandparents, and with a number of people who are more or less related or just trail along. And when I was younger, and I first declared that I was an atheist....”

“There was trouble?”

“Not even that. I mean, I have had a few shouting matches, but it was worse. My own mother looked at me as if I had let her down terribly, and a number of people just acted as if I had only spoken in order to offend them. It was all cast as a personal injury. You've heard about moral blackmail? There's the portrait of a couple of my aunts next to the expression in the dictionary. One person even brought in the fact that I was adopted, and at that point my mother was offended, and I had to make some sort of apology just to avoid a worse row.”

“Good heavens...”

“And their priest was involved, and I never particularly liked him in the first place, but when he tried to talk to me in private, I hated him. He was kind of trying to psychoanalyse me into going “back” into the Church, and suggesting that it was some sort of rebellion against my parent figures that drove me. It was all so offensive... I love my parents so much I can't express it. I'd die for them. They gave me a house and a family and never gave me anything but love, and I became a doctor because of them. It all just made it sound so dirty, messy, emotionally exploitative, when I only wanted to say that I believed in reason and that I could find no reason to believe.

“So I don't much like priests either. I don't think they are all child abusers or stuff, but I think they are defending a false position by false means, and I tend not to believe what they say. And when I heard Cardinal Brown talk about miracles, I'm sorry, but that was too much.

“You see why I was worried about - ? I mean, I'm trying, but there's no way this is not going to sound at least a little offensive to a person who takes the clergy and their teachings seriously.”

“Well, actually – no, it's not. I think you have run into too many people who used offence as a weapon. I don't think you were offensive at all and I think you explained your problems quite clearly. I'm just sorry that you met with that sort of bullying and with an unsympathetic clergyman.” Then something else occurred to Alex. “If you feel like that, is marriage... well... an issue? Or marriage in church?”

“It wouldn't be, if it was just Vince. I'd gladly go that extra mile to make him happy, and to show that I respect his beliefs. And I do want to get married in a big white dress with lots of flowers and people cheering, I guess most women do. I'm not a dessicated rationalist with algebraic terms for a soul. I'm an ordinary woman and I cheered and got misty-eyed when my friends got married.

“But that part of the family has pretty much danced a witches' sabbath about the idea – and guess who is scheduled to celebrate?”

“Oh, Lisa, no.”

“They have all sorts of ways to make themselves felt... from the choice of venue to the dress... and quite frankly, they are well on the way to making a misery out of what should have been the happiest day of my life. That's one reason why I want you along. I want as many friends along as I can get.”
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