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Malcolm Jolley: Naples and the wines of Vesuvius

Commentary

Half-past eight on a Sunday night in Naples and I was given a seat with a view. Across the room at the Ristorante Umberto, in the upscale Chaia neighbourhood, was a table of four consisting of an older couple and a middle-aged one. I presumed it was a family dinner of some kind. All but the elder gentleman at the table had finished what was on their plates, but he was slowly and deliberately carving and stretching out pieces of his pizza with a knife and fork so that I could see the stretch and give of the dough and fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. That, I thought, is what I am going to have.

The DOP pizza at Umberto is very good indeed and tastes even better than it looks. Naples is, of course, the birthplace of pizza and they take their pies seriously, accrediting the “authentic” ones with a Denominazione di Origine Protetta designation. On the whole, the typical foods of Naples and the surrounding Campania region make up a great deal of the greatest hits of Italian food, including the famous Neapolitan ragu of long-cooked meats in tomato sauce served over dried pasta from nearby Gragnano.

The tomatoes in Neapolitan sauce might be the famous San Marzo ones from just east of the south end of the Bay of Naples. Or, they might be less well known, at least outside of Naples, Piennolo variety. The Pomodorino Piennolo del Vesuvio is a ping-pong ball-sized fruit that only grows in the volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius, which towers over Naples. The variety is revered for its depth of flavour and, harvested late, its unique ability to keep fresh through the Mediterranean winter.

The tomato plant is a vine, and if the volcanic soils of Vesuvius give vigour to the Piennolo, what’s their effect on vitas viniferas, the common grapevine? Pretty good, it turns out, at least historically. So explained Maria Paola Sorrentino from among a row of 200-year-old Falanghina vines on her family’s vineyard on the lower southwest slope of the volcano, Tenuta Sorrentino.

Vesuvius’ soils drain well and quickly, Sorrentino explained, causing the grape vine’s root system to go very deep to find moisture. This gives the vines of the Vesuvio DOC a stable supply of water over the hot Southern Italian summers. This is particularly relevant on the volcano because Mount Vesuvius is a National Park and viticultural practices are highly regulated to protect its unique biome, including a ban on irrigation.

The deep imprint of the Vesuvius vines affords another important advantage, though it is (thankfully) rarely necessary. Sorrentino explained that the vineyard we were standing on was completely destroyed in the great eruption of 1906. Though buried in lava and ash, the next spring the vines grew back from the roots. That the vines were there to grow back in the first place is its own volcanic soil story. Unlike most of Europe, vines planted at Vesuvius were impervious to the great phylloxera plague of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and did not have to be replanted with American rootstock.“A parasite that lives in the leaves and roots of the vine was the cause of the greatest winemaking plague recalled, marking a ‘before and after’ in the history of the wine world. The phylloxera was developed during the last quarter of the nineteenth and early twentieth century and had a wide impact on Europe and Spain. The cause was an insect, phylloxera vastratix (now known as dactylasphaera vitifoliae); a tiny aphid species which attaches in the leaves and roots of the vine, and sucks the plant sap. It multiplies very quickly and although the amount of sap each parasite sucks is very small collectively this has a huge effect.” https://www.entrevinosypagos.com/en/la-filoxera-la-mayor-plaga-de-la-vid/#:~:text=A%20parasite%20that%20lives%20in,impact%20on%20Europe%20and%20Spain.

At 200 meters above sea level, the property at Tenuta Sorrentino has a panoramic view of the Bay of Naples, looking north towards the city, and across at the mountains south of Sorrento and the Isle of Capri. The Sorrentino family has built a glass-walled dining room at their winery, that was filled with families having lunch on the Saturday I visited. Over a meal that included a simple pasta with Piennolo tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella, we tried a number of the Sorrentino wines, made chiefly from the four main varieties grown in Vesuvius: Falanghina and Caprettone for white, and Piedirosso and Aglianico for red.

A subset of the Vesuvio DOC, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (meaning Christ’s tears), designates wines from grapes grown right on the mountain’s slopes. The Sorrentino Vigna Lapillo line denotes Lacyma Christi from the vineyard surrounding the winery. The Vigna Lapillo Bianco is a blend of 80 percent of Caprettone, which is only cultivated in 15 villages around Vesuvius. The rest is Falanghina, the light and crisp white grown throughout Campania. The Caprettone gave the wine depth, accentuated by eight months of resting on its lees in stainless steel.

The Vigna Lapillo Rosso also was made as a blend favouring the indigenous variety of Vesuvius: 80 percent Piedirosso, rounded out with Aglianico. It was a juicy Mediterranean red, mellowed in old oak with red to black fruit and herbal notes of macchia (a.k.a. garrigue). Even more than the white, the red evoked a taste of place, and one could imagine mysterious tectonic forces at work in the vineyard and cellar where it was made.

Production in the Vesuvio appellation is small and allotments for export are limited. Quality may also vary. The wines at Sorrentino cost about 15 Euro at the cellar door, so I expect would be closer to $30 if they made it across the Atlantic; double or more on a wine list.

Back in Naples, I sought out Lacryma Christi blends or single variety Piedirosso wines wherever we ate out and was rewarded every time. The local pride in the wines showed on the faces of our servers when our group ordered them. And when we left the restaurants, if we looked south, we could see exactly where they came from.

Ristorante Umberto’s website is: https://www.umberto.it/en/

Tentuta Sorrentino’s website is: https://www.sorrentinovini.com/

Connor Oke: The private spyware industry is a growing threat to global civil society

Commentary

There is a sector operating within the democratic world that makes millions developing tools that help authoritarian governments better surveil dissidents and journalists. This is the private spyware industry. And few governments have developed the regulatory framework necessary to control this growing threat to civil society. 

Take the industry’s most well-known, and notorious, company as an example: the Israel-based NSO Group. Israel has used the opportunity to do business with NSO Group as a diplomatic outreach tool, including for the Gulf monarchies that used to consider it an enemy. 

Its Pegasus software is a highly-sophisticated surveillance tool that identifies security vulnerabilities in software and implants spyware on a target’s phone. Then, once infected, Pegasus operators can harvest passwords, record calls, monitor the phone’s camera, plant data, and more. 

Pegasus used to require a target to click on an infected link. However, the company has now developed zero-click attacks, meaning it can install its software without any user suspicion.

And for a fee, they’ll infect the phones your government wants infected, too. 

This technology has some benefits. For example, it can be a helpful tool to gather evidence against serious criminals or terrorists. But its abuse by authoritarian governments cannot be justified. 

Saudi Arabia, for instance, used Pegasus in 2018 to hack the phone of Canadian permanent resident and Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz. Abdulaziz was in close contact with fellow dissident Jamal Khashoggi before Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi embassy in Turkey in 2018. The information in their text message exchanges may have contributed to Saudi knowledge of Khashoggi’s travel plans. 

The Kingdom even hacked Khashoggi’s family and Jeff Bezos“It’s alleged that the compromised message was sent from the personal WhatsApp account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (often known as MBS). Forensic analysts working for FTI Consulting concluded that once the phone was infected, the attackers were able to siphon ‘large amounts’ of data from the device and had access until the start of 2019.” https://archive.ph/20210720134138/https:/www.wired.co.uk/article/jeff-bezos-phone-hack-mbs-saudi-arabia#selection-457.26-461.148 with Pegasus following the assassination due to coverage of the incident in the Washington Post.

Rwanda’s dictatorial government has used Pegasus to spy on over 3,000 opposition figures, journalists, and critics of the Kagame regime.“Pegasus appears to have been particularly useful in allowing the Rwandan government to attempt to silence political dissent outside of the country’s borders.” https://www.brookings.edu/techstream/how-digital-espionage-tools-exacerbate-authoritarianism-across-africa/ The deployment of the technology has been linked to several killings, both in Rwanda and in Mexico

The United Arab Emirates uses it to monitor dissidents outside the country. So does Morocco. Ugandan operators used it to hack U.S. embassy officials. Early in 2022, Poland’s government was embarrassed by revelations that it had used the software to monitor members of opposition parties. 

Even heads of state, including France’s Emmanuel Macron, have faced hacking attempts by Pegasus operators. So have hundreds of journalists.“An attack on a journalist could expose a reporter’s confidential sources as well as allowing NSO’s government client to read their chat messages, harvest their address book, listen to their calls, track their precise movements and even record their conversations by activating the device’s microphone.” https://www.brookings.edu/techstream/how-digital-espionage-tools-exacerbate-authoritarianism-across-africa/

The risks posed by these hacking technologies are unprecedented. Authoritarian governments have never before had access to such easy tools to surveil, intimidate, and blackmail dissidents far from their borders.

The world knows what it knows about the workings of NSO Group—and its victims—thanks to the investigations of organizations like Amnesty InternationalForbidden Stories, and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab

However, the private spyware industry is much larger than just NSO Group. Israel is home to many of these firms because of links between the private sector and the country’s elite cybersecurity forces. Firms include CandiruCellebriteCircles, or Germany’s FinFisher

Formerly, the Italian company HackingTeam sold its data infiltration services to the governments of Egypt, Russia, Turkey, and more—until the Italian government stepped in with an export ban. 

Other firms operate in the shadows, without public websites or even buildings displaying a logo.

So, what can be done in Canada about the growing risks to civil society posed by these organizations? The United States has recently blacklisted NSO Group and Candiru, meaning that American companies can no longer do business with, or sell technology to, either entity. The Government of Canada could take a similar step. 

Canada could also strengthen its export control regime to ensure that the technologies made here at home do not support repression in authoritarian states. The Citizen Lab, for example, recommends that Canada implement greater transparency requirements so that Canadians know who is exporting dual-use technologies, where they’re going, and why an export permit was granted.“The European Union recently increased transparency requirements on EU states in the context of dual-use exports.106 Doing so enables ongoing monitoring by civil society of the surveillance capacity of countries of export and the proliferation of dual-use surveillance technologies globally. https://citizenlab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Report151-dtr_022822.pdf 

Because although Canada does not host the private spyware industry on its soil, other technologies developed in Canada have been used by repressive governments abroad. One such example is Netsweeper, an internet filtering service.

Canadian journalism schools and newsrooms should also think deeply about how they can implement more digital security training, particularly for those journalists doing foreign reporting. 

Ultimately, however, the power to control the operations of the private spyware industry does not lie with Canada. If the government takes action on the first two points, it, while necessary, will do little to slow down the spread of these technologies around the globe. 

Instead, Canada could lend its voice to efforts to strengthen and harmonize export control regimes for surveillance technologies among democratic states, focusing on human rights. Using its diplomatic connections, Canada could try to raise this a priority in its international negotiations. 

It’s a big ask, given Canada’s limited diplomatic pull. But as the Western world is increasingly aligned in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the time for a coordinated stand against enabling authoritarianism is now.