Saturday, September 24, 2016

I Can Now Vote in Italian Elections

Ballot for an Italian referendum
held in April, 2016
An additional privilege of the recognition of my Italian citizenship is that I now have the right to vote in Italian national elections. I can vote for representatives to the Italian Parliament, and I can also vote in national referenda. This is sort of like absentee voting in the U.S., but with a major twist.

A U.S. citizen living out of the country can vote for federal-level officials -- president, vice-president, U.S. senator, and U.S. congressperson. But that person votes in their U.S. voting district (that is, the last place the person lived in the U.S.), their votes are commingled with all the other voters of that "home" district, and the senator and congressperson are elected to represent that district. 

In other words, the U.S. citizen living overseas effectively votes as if he were still living in the U.S., and the representatives he elects to Congress represent the U.S. district where he used to live, not the foreign locality where he lives now.

Italy, by contrast, has 18 seats in its national Parliament specifically set aside for Italians who live outside of Italy -- 12 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 6 seats in the Senate. So Italian citizens who reside permanently outside of Italy actually have their own representatives in the Italian Parliament. Rather than representing regions and constituencies in Italy, these 18 representatives represent the interests of the Italiani all'estero -- Italians living abroad.

So Italian citizens living in, say, the United States do not vote for a parliamentary representative from their home town in Italy. Instead, they vote for their own dedicated representatives in Parliament. Representatives who will speak up for their unique interests as expatriates.

Cool, huh?

These 18 members of Parliament are allocated among four electoral regions around the world in proportion to the number of Italian citizens living in each region. The region consisting of North and Central America has two representatives in the Chamber of Deputies and one representative in the Senate.

I have been doing a little research into Italian politics, because if I'm going to vote, I'd like it to be an informed vote. If I don't know what I'm voting on, if all I'm going to do is close my eyes and pick one choice or the other, I'd rather not vote at all. I think if you're going to vote, it's your responsibility to be at least a little bit educated on the issues and the candidates. So I'm trying to get at least a little bit educated.

What I'm finding is that Italian politics is a very fluid beast. You have a couple of major political parties -- say, a left-leaning party and a right-leaning party -- plus two or three lesser-but-still-important parties at various points along the political spectrum. Within each of these parties are a number of subgroups -- some more extreme, some more centrist, etc. The subgroups regularly split off from the major parties, form their own minor parties, then enter into coalitions with other split-off-subgroup-minor-parties, eventually perhaps forming into a new major party or occasionally simply self-destructing. All of the parties continually change their names to reflect their evolving compositions, coalition alliances, and leadership whims. They have factions leave, join, and rise and fall in influence all the time.

In other words, you basically can't tell the players even with a scorecard most of the time.

To be honest, I sort of wish the U.S. system was more like this. Here in the U.S. we have an entrenched duopoly of political power that absolutely refuses to recognize any group, no matter how large, other than their own. The televised presidential debates are a prime example: In 2016, the Libertarian Party is on the ballot in all 50 states, but its candidate is not allowed to participate in the debates. (This is probably because the Commission on Presidential Debates -- a high-falutin' sounding "not-for-profit" organization -- is actually organized and controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties. Betcha didn't know that....)

Anyway, U.S. politics aside, Italian politics is apparently not for the faint of heart. I am sort of intrigued by the Movimento Cinque Stelle -- the Five Star Movement, a grass-roots, anti-establishment organization which formed several years ago based on an Italian comedian's blog posts. The party has since evolved into a serious political juggernaut which recently captured the mayorships of both Rome and Turin, numerous other posts around the country, and a fair number of seats in the Parliament. But they are now having internal issues as well, and they have a couple of (fairly important) positions which I don't particularly agree with.

Ah, well, we shall see....

There is an important constitutional referendum coming up in just a couple of months (the exact date has not yet been set), which may be my first opportunity to cast a vote in an Italian election. The proposal completely reorganizes the electoral system in Italy. Whether I am able to vote or not depends on if my citizenship paperwork is filed in all the right places by the proper deadlines. If it is, the consulate will send me a ballot, which I will fill out and return.

I am leaning "against" this particular proposal because, from what I've read so far, it's basically designed to consolidate the power of the existing prime minister and his party, and to insure parliamentary majorities to parties who may only garner a plurality of votes in an election. It also removes the Senate completely from the popular vote and has senators appointed by the regional governments and the president.

All of this is supposed to help the "stability" of the Italian government -- but it also would provide established parties with absolute control of the legislative process, rather than forcing them to negotiate with, and enter into coalitions with, other parties in order to form a parliamentary majority to govern.

I am definitely a bigger fan of negotiation and inclusiveness (yes, even if you have to compromise your principles a little bit, and, yes, even if it is more "unstable" and inefficient) than I am of ramming things through simply because you have the votes -- votes which you've gotten because you've designed the system to give them to you when you haven't actually earned them. This latter method is how we do it in the U.S., and look where that has gotten us....

So unless I learn something new in the meantime, if they send me a ballot, I'll probably be voting "no" on this particular proposal.

Photo credit: Matteo Grisorio - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Mystical Experience at Delphi

(This post was originally published under the title "Delphi, Sacred Places, and Listening to Apollo" at

Some places just have a vibe about them. You can feel it when you go there. It's in the air -- or something. There's just something special about the place, something perhaps a little other-wordly, something....

This is how "sacred places" become sacred.

Last month during our trip to Greece, we visited Delphi, site of the famous Oracle. Delphi has a vibe to it. It's been a sacred site since as far back as the 14th century BC, and you can feel it. The vibe is subtle, yet powerful. It can be (and probably often is) overpowered by the hustle and bustle of the modern world, by the diesel exhaust of the tour buses, by the buzz of hundreds of tourists flitting about snapping selfies and pictures of ancient ruins...

But if you can get alone for a few minutes and clear your mind, you can definitely feel the vibe. A vibe that's probably been there for thousands of years. A vibe that's probably why Delphi became a sacred site in the first place.

While we were at Delphi, I managed to shake off the tourist crowds for a few moments. Or, more accurately, the crowds went off in search of some other momentary pleasures, while I lingered almost alone at the ruined-yet-still-massive-and-impressive temple of Apollo. I tried to imagine what it might have been like 3,000 years ago: some people coming to offer tribute to the god, others coming to query the Oracle about some upcoming venture, perhaps some singers preparing to perform in the theater or athletes preparing to compete in the stadium.

I walked slowly around the temple and came to the spot where our tour guide had said the Oracle actually sat when she made her prophecies. I stopped, in contemplation. It was surprisingly quiet around me -- almost everyone else had gone away.

This was a sacred spot. In the quiet, I could feel it.

As I stood pondering, I began to experience a sense of insight -- almost as if an idea or feeling was being placed into my mind. It was a positive, calming feeling, which eventually translated into the words, "You're on the right path." This made me feel good in a very unique way: It provided reassurance that everything was going to be alright, while it also instilled in me the confidence that I'd be able to handle any challenge that might arise. I guess more than anything else, it helped to remove doubt.

But... where did this idea, these words, come from?

I decided they had come, through the Oracle, from Apollo himself.

As if as a sign, I suddenly noticed that the god had placed a small talisman in front of me, upon one of the stone platforms that in ancient times had led to the Oracle. I retrieved the talisman, held it for a minute, felt the vibes emanating from it. It would keep the god, his protection, and his power close to me. I felt grateful. I looked around. There was another talisman, which I retrieved for my wife. These were special objects from a special place.

As I began to look around for still another talisman, words came gently into my mind: "Don't be greedy." I sort of smiled to myself as I realized that, yes, I was beginning to get greedy. But I accepted the god's suggestion and decided to be satisfied with, and thankful for, the good fortune that was already mine.

As I began walking away, I realized that this apparently minor incident was actually having a rather profound effect on me. I can be a bit of a mystic, yes, but I'm not really one given to hearing voices. But here I was at a place where a god has been speaking for thousands of years, and simply by quieting my mind for a few moments, I could hear him, too.

Then, just a few days ago, I came across something rather astonishing.

I was reading about Delphi, and the article said that in ancient times there were two maxims carved into the entrance of Apollo's temple. One maxim said "Know thyself." The other said "Nothing in excess."

I did sort of a double-take as I realized immediately that "don't be greedy" is essentially "nothing in excess" in other words.

My experience at the temple was validated. I had no earthly clue that the phrase "nothing in excess" was an important factor in Delphic wisdom and ritual -- so important that it was actually carved into the entrance of the temple itself. Yet that is the exact concept that was given to me as I stood contemplating at the temple.

Not only is the site sacred, but it is consistent in its teachings.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

E 'ufficiale: Sono cittadino d'Italia!

Earlier this afternoon, I received the following email:

From: Consolato Gen. d'Italia, Houston - Cittadinanza
To: Ed Perrone
Subject: Italian Citizenship confirmation.
Date: Tue, 13 Sep 2016 15:49:59 -0500

Dear Sir,

This is to inform you that your application for the Italian Citizenship has been accepted and processed.

Your documents have been sent to the Comune di Giusvalla (SV) for their official registration.

Please, be advised that any change in your status or address must be properly notified to this Consulate General.

Should you be interested, it is now possible to apply for your italian passport in scheduling an online appointment with the Passport Office through our website


Valentina Venditti
Administrative Officer
Consulate General of Italy
1300 Post Oak Blvd - Suite 660

My Italian citizenship is officially recognized! I am now entitled to all the rights and privileges of an Italian citizen.

Frankly, I am quite amazed that this has gone through so quickly. I only first discovered that I was even eligible for citizenship last November 30th. Now, less than 10 months later -- and only two weeks after my appointment! -- it is official. People in other jurisdictions often require years to go through this process. I am thankful to the Consulate employees in Houston for being so businesslike and efficient.

I am thankful to a lot of people, actually, and to the Universe itself. Although this is technically my birthright, it is also a great privilege that is not bestowed on everyone. I am a very fortunate guy, the gods have smiled upon me. I may or may not take advantage of all the opportunities this citizenship affords me, but I am grateful to have them.

I am a big believer in fate and destiny. Some things are simply "meant to be" (and some are not). The fact that my path toward citizenship went so quickly and so smoothly -- even around obstacles that could have halted it in its tracks -- tells me that it is "meant to be." I don't know why (yet!). But when you see a door in front of you and you give that door the tiniest of pushes, and then the door simply flings wide open and essentially sucks you right through it -- then, yes, I think you were meant to go through that door.

What's on the other side? Chi sa? (Who knows?)

Finding out will be a new adventure.