Italian Minister for economic development Claudio Scajola (pronounced sky-olah) is in America for the week. He met his counterpart (Scajola is in charge, among other things, of energy policies) Steven Chu on Tuesday, and he signed a five-years agreement on nuclear energy research and development. (Italian voters rejected the use of nuclear energy in Italy 22 years ago, in a referendum that the government is planning to overrule.) It says something of the Berlusconi versus the Obama administrations that Scajola is a college dropout and Chu is a Nobel Laureate. Scajola then met Italian entrepreneurs in New York and in Detroit, and a bit of research turned out this embarrassing infomercial which was actual “journalistic” reporting from one of the two major Italian broadcast news program (on a Berlusconi-owned channel).
Finally, today, he arrived in San Francisco and this evening there was a reception in his honor at the Italian Consulate, to which I was invited for reasons that are not entirely clear (more later).
After dropping out of college, Scajola became mayor of his hometown, of which his father and brother had been mayors earlier. He resigned among corruption charges, then resurfaced as member of parliament for the Democrazia Cristiana, the dominant party in Italy from the end of WW2 to the early 1990s. When the party started crumbling under widespread corruption investigations, Scajola was one of the first to jump ship to the new party that Berlusconi was creating. He was in charge of the day-to-day operations for several years, and eventually was promoted minister of the interior. This is one of the highest profile cabinet positions, because the holder is in charge of Italian law enforcement and civilian security forces. When the 2002 Group of 8 meeting took place in Genoa, one of the demonstrators was shot dead, and widespread illegal detentions and abuses against demonstrators took place. No high-ranking official of the Italian police forces was indicted for the abuses. Later in 2002, Marco Biagi, a professor and government consultant for labor reform, was killed by domestic terrorists. In an infamous interview, Scajola was asked why Biagi was not under police protection, being a key player in certain tense labor negotiations. Scajola replied “ma quale figura centrale, Biagi era solo un rompicoglioni.” After that, he had to resign. He was back in the government in 2003.
Anyways, I am not one to turn down free drinks or the premise for a good story, so off I went to the lovely Pacific Heights Italian Consulate and mingled with A-list Italians. The one person I talked to was a Stanford professor of Architecture who knew my colleague Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, and who told me that in Japan they can construct buildings entirely with robots, no humans needed. So there I was drinking my free prosecco, wondering about the Japanese robots, and satisfied with the token of appreciation for scholarship implied by my presence there. Until, that is, Scajola made his speech and explained how he had just been to “Silicon Valley” for a roundtable discussion with Italian “researchers and entrepreneurs,” that I hadn’t been invited to. So, in the eyes of the Consulate, I am one to invite to parties but not one to talk to about research. Come to think of it, I am not sure if I should be flattered or offended.