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The Age of the Idols

It may not be easy to determine when man left prehistory behind. For the sake of argument, this house will posit that man began to distance himself from the other animals when he began to make idols in his own image and likeness. We do not know for sure what our oldest ancestors’ ideas on the divine were. But these primitive idols (from classical Greek εἴδωλον, “image”) attest to a belief in the supernatural.

An exhibition at Ca’ Loredan, in Venice, traces them to their origins in the Mediterranean belt of civilization —from the Iberian Peninsula to Sardinia and the Cyclades— as well as Mesopotamia and the Far East by way of Arabia and the Indus Valley. The assembled collection, curated by Annie Caubet, from the Louvre, will leave the visitor with a sense of awe.

The 100 artifacts tell the story of how idols, and ideas, evolved from the “Neolithic revolution” to the Bronze age. And we see how goddesses and supreme priestesses are displaced by male deities and holy men. Sounds familiar? It should. For it coincides with the heavenly rage of Zeus and the other Greek gods against their female counterparts, and the instances of revenge by mothers, lovers and daughters against their bearded lords. Why so much fury? Around that time, men had just discovered that women were not endowed with divine powers to create life, but that it was insemination which made them pregnant. Their former goddesses had turned out to be mere humans, angry men had found out.

To modern man, the exhibit is humbling too. As Ian Tattersall, a British-American paleoanthropologist and curator emeritus of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, has said, man in antiquity already had the sensibility we have today. There can be little doubt about it contemplating the statuettes at Ca’ Loredan, in their exquisite detail, harmony and refinement. And we may wonder if there has been an even more acute regression since the time the Greek deities declared war on their women. “Idols” today —like those seen on TV— are mere humans, in flesh and blood.

Idols: The Power of the Image runs through 20 January 2019. For more information: https://www.fondazioneligabue.it/it/mostre/idoli_7.html

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How to help Mexico after the earthquake

We list below organizations and community centers providing aid and support in Mexico after the earthquake.

You may donate clothes, water and food to the following organizations:

Red Cross MexicoOxfam MexicoSave the Children Mexico, and Direct Relief

UNICEF Mexico welcomes money donations.

Topos Mexico is a rescue brigade with a track record that dates back to the 1985 earthquake and is now taking donations.

Please also help by double-checking information before inadvertently helping to spread rumors or misinformation.

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One weekend in London, a terror attack and a prediction

A dark object appeared in the periphery of my field of vision. A pair of hands were holding it, almost caressing it. Forcible insomnia after a red eye flight from Venice to London had forced my mind into overdrive. I was writing at a caffè while killing time to take the train to the city. Twin portraits of the Queen at Gatwick Airport had sent my imagination wondering about the absurdity of a hereditary monarchy in one of the largest economies of the world.

Yet Britain has run more smoothly than so many of its neighbors for the last five centuries so any argument against its system of government could hardly pass the test of history. It may very well run against the tide but we all know what the Age of Reason has brought upon mankind. And in this famously unconventional island formerly prone to outbursts of violence, the French Revolution and its excesses had a tempering effect, and pushed it towards political conservatism. To this date. So, the Queen and her descendants are probably set to reign in uncontested fashion for a long time to come.

But then I raised my bleary eyes and the dark object came into terrifying focus. It was a massive submachine gun. The man holding it was a British police officer smiling reassuringly but for a moment I felt close to violent death. It was just take a very soft pull of the trigger to create mayhem. There were other police officers walking around the tables, a dog sniffing bags here and there.

Sure enough, a few hours later a bucket bomb failed to detonate on the London tube. At that time, your correspondent was traveling on a different line towards a meeting. The trip was uneventful and the train was half empty. But after the meeting, when I went online at a fast-food restaurant, my business partner in Buenos Aires was asking me if I was alright. Only then did I check the news and saw about the botched terror attack.

Even after that, however, London went about its business as usual, and calmly so. The weather was English with an almost ironic overstatement. A storm was gathering after a mildly promising morning, then a downpour caught a few of us without umbrellas and then the skies cleared, letting the sun shyly come out briefly before hiding again behind an endless convoy of clouds.

A bunch of lunatics and discontents with civilization (and with freedom for women, which is at the root of all this brutal idiocy) are not going to disrupt easily the life of a city that put with a massive bombing and destruction in World War Two. Yet one wonders if the arrival of so many people unwilling to conform to the uses of British society pushed a majority of citizens over the edge to vote for leaving the European Union.

Herein lies the true challenge. The European Union is the culminating experiment of a continent that saw too much bloodshed only seventy years ago. It was a massive step towards a world without borders, that needs to be the final station of political evolution. Western economies have made huge strides towards the free circulation of ideas, goods and capital.

It is absurd that, in the end, men should be precluded from enjoying the same benefit in the very planet they share. Yet there must be consensus on equal rights for all, regardless of race, religion and sex. Terrorists are against that, but so are other, nonviolent people who have been flooding Britain as migrant workers. And the descendants of the peoples have been living on this island for centuries have been seeing how the outlook of their country has changed in some areas beyond recognition. Their gut instinct was to opt out of the European Union.

If it was only so easy. A number of economic and technological factors make migrations impossible to stop. So Brexit is not the answer. Immigration into Britain will continue unabated even after it leaves the European Union. That very Friday evening your correspondent met an old friend who works as an editor at the BBC.

As we were drinking pints of Guinness at a pub in St James, we barely spoke about the terror attack earlier in the day. Instead, we talked about old friends, family histories and how we had ended up at corners of the world we never thought would become home for us. And this BBC editor made this prediction: “Brexit is not happening.” For every solution to a problem that Brexit created, two new problems arose, like new tentacles growing in the place of the ones you cut off from the Medusa head. “Remember it,” the editor said. “Today, 15 September, 2017, I say Brexit is not happening.” Your correspondent raised his glass of stout: cheers to that.