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Italian Universities and Research Institutes save Banks. Who will save italian research ? October 10, 2008

Posted by dorigo in humor, news, politics.
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(This post is partially flawed by a wrong interpretation of the faulty italian in the decree it mentions. I do not take it off since I still subscribe to most of what I wrote below. See note at bottom).

Italian credit institutes are not immune to the huge financial crisis we are witnessing throughout the world markets. The first ones are already yielding to the pressure (Unicredit for instance), and many will follow suit. Of course, the italian government must throw a life jacket to these benefactors. The problem, however, is that there is no money to spend in Italy’s budget. What is Berlusconi’s finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, going to do ? Will Giulio manage to save the sinking banks ?

Worry not. Banks will be saved. If that means burning a few billion euros and paralyzing a few Universities and research institutes, hitting their ordinary administration with unforeseen cuts that impinge on the flesh of their budget, the part which goes to pay salaries and bills, too bad. After the invention of the concept of “creative finance”, minister Tremonti will now appeal to the concept of “creative research”, whereby experiments will be built with scavenged scrap metal pieces and computing will be performed on private-owned cell phones. Did you know that the computing power of the hundred million cell phones owned by italian citizens would be enough to manage a medium-sized particle physics experiment ? Let’s release that potential!

Unfortunately, there is little to laugh about. It is all written down in a document issued yesterday, the Decreto Ministeriale number 155 titled “Misure urgenti per garantire la stabilita’ del sistema creditizio e la  continuita’ nell’erogazione del credito alle imprese e ai consumatori, nell’attuale situazione di crisi dei mercati finanziari internazionali” (urgent measures to guarantee the stability of the credit system and the continuity of supply of credit to businesses and consumers, in the present situation of crisis of international finance markets). Here are the salient parts:

Art. 1: 1.The minister of Economy and Finances is authorized, even in dispensation from accounting rules of the State, to subscribe or guarantee capital increases decided by italian banks which present a situation of patrimonial inadequacy certified by the Banca d’Italia. […] 7. With a decree by the President of the Council of Ministers […] the resources to fund the operations are identified […]: a linear reduction of financiary allotment […] of the ordinary fund to Universities; of resources allotted to research […].

At least, these cuts to Universities and research institutes are motivated by an international crisis. The 132,000 layoffs in the public school system, recently passed by another decree, are instead motivated just by the will of Berlusconi’s government to reduce taxes -particularly to those who suffer the most: those poor souls who, earning several hundred thousand euros a year, see their income heavily curtailed. Berlusconi is a real Robin Hood: an upside-down one. He now steals from Universities to fund banks: he’s just amazing. I wonder if his next move will be to close public hospitals to fund an increase of troops in Afghanistan – but I fear reality will continue to outdo fantasy.

UPDATE: Ok, this will remain as an example of how the current state of affairs in italian politics has made us all a bit paranoid. Indeed, after a commenter below pointed it out, I found out that the bureaucratical language of the decree leaves room to two opposite interpretations: the first is that the funds to University and research are excluded from the curtailing, the second, as I reported naively, is that they are part of the pool of funds which will be cut.

I now believe the “correct” reading is the one which excludes University and research funds, along with a list of others, from being reduced to increase bank capitals. A sigh of relief.

The J.D.Jackson Award Fund awaits your donation June 9, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, science.
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An esteemed colleague in CDF, Rick Field -who once was a former student not only of J.D.Jackson, but also, quite notably, of R.P.Feynman, with whom he developed the Feynman-Field model of hadron production- sent to the CDF executive board a message which I am happy to paste here, given my interest in and support of science education. The bottomline is: if you are sitting on a pile of grands wondering how best to invest them for the progress of science, think about donating some to the J.D. Jackson fund!

Dear Colleagues,

Several of J. D. Jackson’s former graduate students (Chris Quigg, Bob Cahn, Gordy Kane, and myself) are attempting to create the John David Jackson Award to celebrate and encourage exemplary contributions to graduate education. The Jackson Medalist might be recognized for a graduate textbook that has achieved mythic status, for a legendary courseor collection of courses, for influential collections of summer school lectures or pedagogical review articles that have had great impact on a broad audience, or for an effective mentorship of a long line of
students. The Jackson Medalist is asked to prepare an Address to be given at an AAPT Meeting. A $10,000 monetary award, the Jackson Medal, an Award Certificate, and travel expenses to the meeting are presented to the recipient.

The AAPT is now beginning a quiet first phase of fund-raising to build toward the roughly $200K endowment needed to sustain the award, with a goal of presenting the first award at their summer meeting in 2009. If you would like to join in supporting the cause by making a tax-deductible contribution, large or small, to the endowment, you can do so by sending a check (made out to AAPT) to

Dr. Charles Holbrow
Executive Officer
American Association of Physics Teachers
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740-3845

with “J. D. Jackson fund” noted on the check and on a covering note bearing your contact information. You will receive an acknowledgment of your contribution, along with a big thank you for helping to acknowledge the mark Jackson has left on generations of physics students and for honoring our colleagues who set their own standards of excellence in graduate education. Thanks for your help!

Rick Field

I can only add my own two pence. I found J.D. Jackson’s book “Classical Electrodynamics” a real tough nut ! However, I think my ignorance of the basics is beside the point. This is about recognizing education, not recognizing Jackson! So please reach for your wallet and unfork a few Franklins…