30 June, 2008

The Discrimination Bill

I could hardly have put it better than Yvonne Roberts writing in the Guardian: ‘It's 2009. Joe Bloggs, 40, was made redundant a year ago. He has been out of work for eight months. After much effort, he's in the running for a job in which his rivals are a woman and a Bangladeshi male.

His would-be employers tell him, regretfully, that although he's the right man for the job, it's going to the woman. Why? Because new equality legislation encourages such positive discrimination – and the company has extensive contracts with government.

Joe is outraged. How can such blatant social injustice come under the banner of equality? He has the backing of a large swath of public opinion.’

So far so good you might think, but she then describes the new proposed legislation as ‘very timid’ admits itis 'not fair' but, urges us, quite unconvincingly, to ‘turn the page’ and endorse these ‘modest changes’ in the name of progress. I have to say I once met Ms Roberts and found her intelligent, interesting, normal. I don’t know what has happened in the meantime.

Anyway Harriet Harman will soon start pushing through parliament her odious bill. I hope it will have a difficult legislative passage and would beg Conservative MPs to have no truck with it. Surely it can be no part of Conservative policy that such an illiberal measure be condoned?

To Labour MPs minded to support it I would say this: in the Henley by-election the BNP did better than Labour. This silly bill can only strengthen the BNP’s position, appealing as it does to white working class males. Consider further what might happen if the BNP ever formed part of a government. Once you have introduced the idea of government-sanctioned discrimination there is no telling what future governments will choose to discriminate against.

This is a stone far best left unturned.

28 June, 2008

Gays and the church

I have never been able to get very excited about the issue of gays in the church, feeling that both major Christian churches spend too much time talking about sex, like pagans, and not enough dealing with the ills of society, to say nothing of saving our souls. I also felt that with scientists identifying genes so regularly now it would only be a matter of time when the gay gene was discovered and they would be able to say they were made by God just the same as the straight people and it would be unanswerable (to the extent, as I say, that people feel the need to answer it).

But the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, writing in spiked, says there is no genetic cause of homosexuality. Genes might affect the child’s predisposition towards homosexuality, as might hormones encountered in the womb, but that is not the same as causing it.

Some may remember the Clause 28 issue back in Mrs. Thatcher‘s time. This was a clause preventing local governments promoting homosexuality as a normal lifestyle. Gay rights campaigners (Tatchell too, if I recall) were up in arms saying it was a normal lifestyle, in that it was natural, just different from the majority. I rather agreed with Clause 28 inasmuch as it seemed a gross waste of taxpayers’ money for local governments to be promoting any kind of alternative lifestyle.

You may think that in saying that homosexuality is not genetically caused Tatchell is agreeing with the Clause 28ers, but no. He says whatever its cause, homosexuality is determined at a very young age – in the first few years of life. All external influences can do is stop gay people repressing their gayness.

Perhaps he might agree with my point that at the very least promoting homosexuality in classrooms is a waste of money when our children can’t read and write. But the debate goes on, even if it shouldn’t.

Italian News 28th June

Sophia Loren, who grew up in the Neapolitan resort of Pozzuoli and was once imprisoned for evading taxes has appealed to people living in Campania to redouble their efforts to resolve the rubbish crisis. Payment of taxes would of course help.

Italian soldiers of the Folgore brigade based in Livorno have a new martial arts instructor: a 77 yer old Japanese grandmother who is 5 ft tall. Useful preparation for an invasion of Japan.

A pregnant woman in Foggia, taken to the labour ward in a hospital which was not her local one, refused to give birth unless there was a member of the carabinieri present. After the arrival of the officer she gave birth to a baby girl, which is likely to have a lantern jaw and a moustache.

The average Italian takes one and a half pills a day (525 doses a year), 3% up on last year

The financial crisis has hit the restaurant trade, with a quarter of Italians saying they have only been out to eat once a month.

Italians spend less than 1% of household income on alcohol, compared to an EU average of 1.2%. The UK was on 1.4% whilst the highest was Ireland at 4.1%. Italians drink an average of 46 litres of wine a year, compared to 52 for France and only 9 for America.

The car is the preferred means of transport for 90% of Italians with most citing freedom of movement as the reason. But 6.4% of Italians said they chose to use their cars out of a passion for them while 2.9% considered driving to be ''pleasurable mania'', an apt description of behaviour on Italian roads.

The opening act of Bologna’s heavy metal festival will be Fratello Metallo, led by a 62 year old Capuchin friar, Brother Cesare Bonizzi, who performs in traditional habit. Bonizzi, who has released 15 albums in a long heavy metal career, said ''Heavy metal has given me the opportunity to meet a world of people of a unique beauty and tenderness”

The new head of Alitalia, Aristide Police, said he would have a plan by the end of next month.

The Vatican daily newspaper l'Osservatore Romano is preparing its first edition in Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala, Southern India, where there are 6 million Catholics.
The head of inspection services at Sicily's Regional Department for the Family and Social Policies has had his appeal refused against a conviction for violently kissing a colleague who refused his sexual advances.

The rate of suicides and murders committed by family members in Italy increases by 20% in the heat of the summer.

A Uruguayan prostitute working in Italy is refusing to pay 90,000 euros of taxes on her suspected earnings on the grounds that she did not receive protection from the police, who could only intervene if blood was spilled.

A cyclist in Verona was fined 148 euros for using a cellphone while riding his bike.

Pope Benedict XVI's clothing has come under scrutiny: His Holiness has been spotted wearing trendy sunglasses, a velvet cap with ermine trim and fashionable slip on shoes, all in cardinal red. L’Osservatore Romano angrily denied that Christ’s Vicar on Earth shopped at Prada; the shoes were from Adriano Stefanelli, who has also supplied calfskin versions for winter wear and a nappa leather pair for hot Rome summers.

The European Space Agency has received 927 applications from Italian would-be astronauts, slightly more than Britain but less than half the French total. The average age of the astronaut corps is currently over 50.

27 June, 2008


As Harriet Harman introduces a bill which will permit and encourage discrimination against white males, I am reminded of the story of Cliff Hall, the West Indian singer with Liverpool folk group The Spinners, a popular TV act in the 60s and 70s.

For their first album the record company, fearful of promoting a multi-racial act, made for the record sleeve a cartoon of the group, in which they were all white.

If you can laugh that off, you can laugh anything off. The excellent Cliff Hall has died aged 82.

A glimpse of the future

Hearing that Jack Straw is determined to ‘plug the loophole’ that witnesses in court cannot remain anonymous takes us into a new Kafkaesque world. This, then, is Jack Straw’s vision of the future.

A man, to pick a name at random Tim Hedges, is walking down a street, going about his lawful business, when a policeman stops him, asking where he is gong and why, and demanding to see his ID card. The card is read by a portable device, and due to a governmental computer error, Mr Hedges is identified as a suspect in a murder case. He is detained in prison for 6 weeks without knowing why, or what he is accused of. On day 41 of his incarceration he learns that he is charged with the murder of a child and that the tabloid press is baying for blood. He is remanded in custody until his trial.

He is confident that such a silly mistake can be rectified, when the prosecution produce a witness who prefers to remain anonymous, giving evidence from behind a screen, his voice altered. The witness says he saw Mr Hedges slaughter the child. He cannot be questioned as to his name or background but Mr Hedges thinks it is the chap next door who fancies his wife. Another witness, who again prefers not to be cross examined, on the grounds that Mr Hedges and his associates might plan reprisals against him, corroborates the story (Mr Hedges thinks it is another neighbour with whom he has been in dispute about a boundary but again cannot know).

To the delight of the press, Hedges is imprisoned for life, his wan smile a reflection that at least we don’t have the death penalty. Yet.

Couldn’t happen here?

26 June, 2008

Finally Mandela speaks

Nelson Mandela has finally criticised the Mugabe regime. Speaking in London he described it as 'a tragic failure of leadership'.

While we are on the subject of failure of leadership it should be remembered that only now has Mandela spoken. The silence from him, Tutu and Mbeki has been deafening. While newspapers fawned and world leaders queued up to have their photos taken with him, Mandela, the most influential man in Africa, watched the disaster of Zimbabwe unfold without comment.

For many, it is too late.

25 June, 2008

Lisbon Treaty going ahead

There is a report from Friends of Europe on what is happening behind the scenes regarding the Lisbon Treaty. It appears that discussions are going on behind closed doors about the implementation of certain parts of the Treaty, in particular the creation of the EEAS, the diplomatic service.

The Lisbon Treaty provides for work to start early – between signature and ratification – but if we remember, the Treaty has been rejected. It looks to me as if democracy is being ignored because it is less important than the European Project.

I should like one of our MPs to ask the Government to confirm that it is not a party to such discussions and never would be unless the Treaty were to be ratified by all member states.

24 June, 2008

Sign of the times

From the Telegraph we learn that female students at West Kent College, Tonbridge, have been warned against whistling at and making comments to the builders on the site. ‘This constitutes harassment’ says an email to students.

And harassment is serious: the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill will create a new offence of "communicating indecently", punishable by up to 10 years in jail and being placed on the Sex Offenders Register.

I think this incident shows just how damn silly are some of the laws being passed. Someone human and normal needs to put a stop to it.

23 June, 2008

Zimbabwe's Election

The withdrawal of the MDC from the presidential runoff in Zimbabwe has not left the rest of the world with as big a problem as it might think. We have after all been here before.

Some say that if Tsvangirai had competed and won, it would be an easy decision to invade and support his presidency. But we never did that with Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.

Some say that if the elections are fiddled and opposition brutally suppressed we can and should invade. But we never invaded China.

No, I think we can and will purse our lips, say ‘jolly bad show’ and pretend it isn’t really too awful.

Makes you wonder, though, doesn’t it? Might it not be better just to give up on the UN, and admit it has been a disaster which simply gives credibility to tyrannical regimes, such as China (incredibly, a permanent member of the Security Council) and Zimbabwe (Mugabe was in Rome the other week talking about food shortages!) ?

21 June, 2008

Italian News Midsummer

The hot weather has begun in Italy, with temperatures over 30C. People who were last week complaining about the cold are complaining about the heat.

Central Italy has been found to be moving slowly eastwards. Within 100,000 years the Adriatic will no longer exist.

The diocese of Rome has refused permission to the makers of the prequel of the Da Vinci code to film in the churches of Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria in the city centre. A bourbon palace in Caserta will represent the Vatican where, understandably, they are not wanted either.

Italy has roughly the same population as the UK and roughly the same length of railway, but nearly twice the length of motorway

Coast guards checking safety standards on the beach at Imperia discovered that a lifeguard had taken a break from his post, leaving in his place an inflatable doll, wearing his shirt and with his whistle in its mouth.

In an attempt to break Italy’s backlog of cases, the government proposes to suspend trials relating to crimes committed before June 30 2002, excluding those where the defendant could receive a jail sentence of more than ten years or those connected to the mafia or workplace accidents.

Coincidentally this would include a corruption trial involving Silvio Berlusconi and British corporate lawyer David Mills, although Berlusconi as said he will not avail himself of the law.

The number of women holding top-level company director posts in Italy has increased by over 28,000 in the last five years, although it lags behind the European average.

Italian scientists are creating a genetic database to conserve the taste and smells of Italy's different tomato varieties, such as the San Marzano plum tomato and the pink Sorrento tomato.

Florence will revoke the 700-year-old sentence which forced Dante into exile for the rest of his life. Five councillors opposed the motion which would be ''a decisive step towards Dante's complete rehabilitation''.

Dante died in Ravenna in 1321, where he was buried. ‘Dante’s tomb’ in Florence’s Santa Croce church is empty.

Judge Edi Pinatto, whose failure to write up a sentence over an eight-year period left convicted Mafia bosses at loose in Sicily has been dismissed from the judiciary, although he may appeal. He has said that all judges do it.

The Court of Cassation has ruled that the Carabinieri cannot have extramarital affairs because they besmirch the honour of the corps. It is still permitted in the local and provincial police.
Italy has 34,000 hectares of vineyards dedicated to the production of organic wine, the largest of any country, out of a total of 80,000 worldwide.

An increasing number of Italian wine producers are making kosher wine. ’In order to respect Jewish law, it is necessary for only observers of the Jewish faith to come into direct contact with the wine. Therefore we have two Jewish employees who actually make the wine while the rest of our staff offer their advice,' said Alesandro Calmieri of Feudi di San Gregorio. A similar procedure operates for inorganic wine (two people doing the work, the rest offering advice).

Italy is number five in the world and first in Europe for producing organic foods, which take up 1.147 million hectares of the country's farmland. There are 51,000 organic farmers in Italy who produce a turnover of 2.2 billion euros.

A dentist in Genova is offering his services on the Internet in exchange for sex. His professional body is investigating whether this is in breach of its ethics code.

Italy's black economy fell to a maximum of 17% of gross national product in 2006 down from 9% in 2000. Italy includes the underground economy in GDP estimates

Italian researchers at Catania University have been the first to observe the formation and emission of helium-2 nuclei, a new type of radioactivity that opens up fresh avenues for research. The new nuclei are extremely unstable and have a half-life of less than a billionth of a second before they decay, so they were able to observe them between coffees.

Students taking English as part of the maturita exam (A-levels) were given as a text an online interview by a Yemeni journalist with the German-born owners of a resort at Swakopmund in Namibia, ‘a funky guest-house’ . The text, in halting English, was described as ‘almost incomprehensible’ by a language teacher. The chief examiner has been dismissed.

The end of an era: there has been widespread dismay at a proposal by the State Railway to end the dining car service, replacing it with a snack bar. Many Italians expect a full meal on long journeys.

The new security bill before parliament includes a proposal to put 2,500 troops on patrol in large cities alongside police, restrictions on magistrates' use of phone tapping in investigations and the expulsion of EU citizens unable to prove they have "sufficient economic resources" to stay in Italy for more than three months, a measure aimed above all at Romanians.

However, following Finance Minister Tremonti’s first budget Romanians are asking whether Italy has the resources to support them for more than three months.

20 June, 2008

Shocking Language

I heard an item on Sky News which has shocked me to the core. The ueber-model Naomi Campbell, involved in some self-indulgent rant about the loss of her luggage, apparently told the captain of the flight 'You wouldn't be doing this if I were white'.

Now, I don't wish to cast aspersions on Sky News' reporters, but are we really being asked to believe that this woman used a subjunctive? '..if I wuz white', surely?

There again, the BBC website report says she said 'if I was white'. Or was her grammar in fact perfect and the BBC are dumbing down?

Hard to tell. Oh, by the way, she apparently assaulted a police officer and if this is the case should be stuck in gaol, without her Louis Vuitton luggage. The police are here to protect us (her, too) and the last thing they need is some self-important bint thinking she is above the law.

19 June, 2008

Inflation and you

Those of us who lived through the rampant inflation of the 1970s may well think that forecasts of 4% are nothing to take seriously.

Nevertheless at 4%, if you are on a fixed income, after 5 years it takes around £1.25 of your limited resources to buy something which used to cost a pound; after 10 years it takes £1.50 and after 15 years £2.

That is to say if you retire at 60, by the time you are 75 the value of your money has halved.

That is why we have to take action.

18 June, 2008

EU Constitution Treaty

If you feel, as I do, that the Irish 'No' vote meant the Treaty was dead, and that attempts by other nations subsequently to ratify it are nothing more than trying to bully Ireland, you can sign a petition to Downing St here

17 June, 2008

The Death Penalty

It is not widely publicised that Japan still has the death penalty. Three people were hanged there yesterday. One, Tsutomu Miyazaki, was convicted of strangling four children, mutilating them, raping them and drinking their blood. He has shown no remorse for his deeds, and in 1994 his father, out of shame, took his own life.

I suppose this sort of case makes it easier to support the death penalty. I have been against it since the West Midlands police dragged our own system down by forging evidence in the 1980s. You see, if someone is going to be wrongly convicted (or, for that matter, imprisoned without charge for 6 weeks) I always think it might be me.

There is one other aspect. I believe I am correct in saying that in Britain if you had not been hanged within 101 days of final appeal you were reprieved. Miyazaki was arrested in 1989, sentenced in 1997 and hanged in 2008. In America, which also has inmates on death row for long periods, the constitution forbids ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ which surely this is.


In the USA, poor Barack Obama has had his share of bad luck over the last few months, what with an almost insane preacher and an opponent who for her own personal reasons carried on long after she had lost, but now, just when he might have sat back and enjoyed a quiet moment as the undisputed nominee, he has had the misfortune to receive the endorsement of Al Gore.

What this surprisingly popular self-publicist will do to Obama’s presidential campaign we cannot know for certain.

But it won’t be anything good.

(picture of Gore snatching microphone from NY Times)

16 June, 2008

Election Spending

Following a large number of reports to the effect that the Labour Party is insolvent, or nearly so, we learn today that the Justice Secretary Jack Straw has called for an end to the "damaging arms race" in election spending. He will bring forward measures to limit the spending that political parties can make during election campaigns.

No connection between the two, obviously.

14 June, 2008

The Honours System

For some years now I have found the twice yearly honours an increasingly depressing experience. On each occasion we seem to plumb some new depth.

But Des O’Connor? I mean The Nation Honours Des O’Connor? Have we lost all sense of reality?

Italian News 14th June

Wayne Rooney and George Bush made separate visits to Italy. Rooney got married; Bush’s visit will be remembered for making it impossible to get a mobile ‘phone signal in central Rome.

Confusion continues in Venice where militant pigeon lovers rowed into St Mark’s square from the lagoon and scattered bird seed in defiance of a city ordinance aimed at reducing the damage caused by the birds. The protesters also draped the Bridge of Sighs with a banner saying ''Venice Without Pigeons Is Like (Mayor Massimo) Cacciari Without His Beard''. Health officials are reported to be urgently checking Mr Cacciari’s facial growth.

A new tax on windfall profits by oil companies will be called the ‘Robin Hood Tax’ after the outlaw who made the poor pay more for their petrol.

Tuscany has 564 homemade ice cream shops, an increase of 26% over 2007. 134 of these are in Florence.

A series of designer jail cells went on show in Turin for an exhibition of prison architecture. Eleven architects' studios from countries including the United States, China, Iran, Libya, Japan and Italy are showing off their designs.

Doctors at the private Santa Rita clinic in Milan are suspected of conning patients into unnecessary operations, killing at least five. A further 20 suspicious deaths are being investigated.

Catholics pray to Santa Rita in ‘impossible cases’

A TV show which secretly took swabs off 50 MPs’ foreheads and tested them for recent drug use has been found guilty of ''deceitful and fraudulent'' behaviour by The Cassation Court. The tests showed that one in three had taken cannabis and cocaine in the preceding 36 hours.

The anticipated prosciutto crisis has been averted after Italian pig farmers scaled down a nationwide strike.

Italy has made the world's top ten for spending on primary schools, the Save The Children organisation has reported. The tables were led by Luxembourg and Switzerland.

62% of Italians between the ages of 14 and 29 read three or more books a year (excluding school textbooks) compared to 43% of young people in Spain, 48% in France and 61% in Germany, according to a new survey. Only Britain pipped Italy to the post, with 65%. The number of young Italians who read a newspaper at least once or twice a week has risen in the last four years, from 60% in 2003 to 78% in 2007.

Germans are apparently not keen on Euro notes from the PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, more politely known as the Olive Belt). The numbers on German notes begin with an X, French with a U whereas Italy’s begin with an S.

Interestingly, if you add up all the numbers on your note, and then add together the digits of that number, an Italian note always comes to 7 whereas a German note comes to 2.

If you’re interested in the numbers on bank notes, try to get out more.

The new Speaker of the House, Gianfranco Fini will take action on the ‘pianists’ – MPs who put up both hands to vote, covering the absence of a colleague. His preferred solution is an electronic one, requiring both hands to make a single vote, making the proceedings even more like a game show.

After Silvio Berlusconi’s successful attempt to block Finland hosting the EU food standards agency, on the grounds that the Finns didn’t even know what prosciutto was, but ate marinated reindeer meat, a Finnish restaurant chain has produced a reindeer meat pizza, calling it ‘The Berlusconi’.

A new trick for money laundering has been discovered in Savona, where fraudsters pay for a mass for fictional dead relatives with counterfeit 100 euro notes, receiving the change in good money.

Naples will raise a task force of helpers to clear up the streets, which will be called ‘angels of rubbish’. The city is at present sending 700 tons a day to Hamburg by train at a cost of 250 euros a ton. I thought the northbound trains had got dirtier.

The first parish church in Rome to celebrate Mass entirely in Latin for nearly half a century has been inaugurated with a service attended by over 500 worshippers.

The inaugural Mass, at the church of SS Trinita dei Pellegrini near the Campo de’ Fiori was presided over by Fr Joseph Kramer, an Australian priest.

A deer resembling a Unicorn has been discovered in a Tuscan wildlife park. Small and bone-headed, they are wondering who to call it after

13 June, 2008

Now we must be vigilant

Following Ireland’s rejection of the Constitutional Treaty the unelected Eurocrats will try to carry on with its implementation. They will try to make the Irish vote again, they will offer bribes, they will pretend it doesn’t matter. Time and again we must remind them that they must bow to democracy.

Gordon Brown has apparently told Sarkozy that Britain will proceed with ratification. If this is true it is disgraceful. But ratification of what? If the Irish are to receive concessions why can’t we receive some too? Surely a change to the Irish deal is a change to the Treaty?

These people need watching. We must be vigilant

12 June, 2008

Principle and 42 days (2)

Most observers are surprised at David Davis’ decision to fight a by-election on the 42 days issue and some are condemning. ‘David Davis's behaviour is a pure piece of political theatre’ (Actor David Blunkett); ‘David Davis sounded slightly unhinged.’ (David Hill, former Labour Communications chief) ‘This forced by-election is a farce’ (Hazel Blears)

I opposed David Davis as leader of the Conservative Party (not that my opinion, having resigned from it in 1990, counts for anything) partly because his verbal delivery was so poor that people would not connect with him. I turned on the radio shortly after the beginning of his speech, to the staccato, disjointed mumbling and said ‘that sounds like David Davis, but no, it can’t be him resigning...’

Davis mentioned other attacks on our freedoms: ‘42 days, ID cards, more CCTV cameras and the DNA database. This cannot go on. It must be stopped and for that reason I feel it incumbent on me to make a stand.’

Poor communicator he may be but this looks to me not like a piece of theatre but the principled stand of a decent man. For me to vote for Cameron in the next election I would need to be satisifed that he had thrown Conservative resources behind Davis’ re-election. Anything less would be a disgrace.

I salute Mr Davis. His stand contrasts with that of Labour MPs who disagreed with six week detention of citizens without even a charge against them but nevertheless voted for it, just to save their jobs. At a time when we are desperately short of politicians with any principle at all, this is very, very welcome

Unshakeable Principle and 42 days

I posted a while back that we can do nothing for Zimbabwe, having lost any moral authority we had by invding Iraq. Now we have approved that citizens can be imprisoned without charge – without even knowing what they are suspected of – for six weeks. To find out the impression this will give internationally, listen to Hizb ut-Tahrir, which campaigns for the reintroduction of the Muslim Caliphate:

‘The House of Commons has approved a series of draconian measures, some of which would be condemned outright by Britain were regimes like Zimbabwe or Burma to implement them. .....these measures further push Britain's security system into a kind of 'Liberal Inquisition'.

Taji Mustafa, Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, said "Gordon Brown has not used evidence or principle to garner support for this bill, but the fear of a humiliating party political defeat. It is but the latest example of the games politicians play with security matters.
Principles that are claimed as fundamental and unshakeable, such as innocence until proven guilty, habeas corpus, and 'free speech' have been cast aside in the name of security - proving that, for liberal democracies, these are not really 'principles' at all.

In the name of security the world has seen western governments legitimise 42 days internment, rendition, torture and the gulag at Guantanomo Bay. By contrast, the Khilafah (Caliphate)... has fixed principles within its legal framework which do not change because of external provocation or political expediency. Hence the Shariah absolutely forbids torture, spying on citizens, retrospective punishments and internment without trial.'

We came to regret internment in Northern Ireland, and in my view we will come to regret this.

11 June, 2008


News that the European Commission is to censure Britain for its excessive budget deficit provoked mixed feelings. My first reaction was ‘what the hell business is it of theirs? We don’t even belong to the Eurozone!’. My second was that perhaps it is better that someone says something since parliamentary scrutiny appears non-existent.

The Treasury’s response that its policies remain prudent, is, I’m afraid, La-La land. It has overspent, overborrowed and overtaxed leaving us unprepared for an economic downturn. Whatever you call that, it is not ‘prudent’.

10 June, 2008


It wasn’t long ago that Archbishop Tutu was urging us to remember the good things that Robert Mugabe had done. Now the old fraud has caught which way the wind is blowing and wants.... wait for it... us to ban the cricket tour.

What really needs to happen in Zimbabwe is that he and his old mate Mbeki stop being apologists for Mugabe’s regime and actually do something for the growing humanitarian crisis. The reason they don’t is that intervention would direct the world’s conscience towards other African states where the ruling elite has impoverished the country for its own profit.

The Irish vote

It is generally recognised as a diplomatic faux pas to intervene in the political affairs of another country, particularly in the run-up to an election. But this has not stopped Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France, who has reminded the Irish that they have received a large amount of European money and should vote in the correct way on the Constitutional Treaty.

The Irish have of course received a large amount of money from Europe, but I’m not sure anyone told them there would be strings attached, and that these strings would involve the abnegation of their democracy. My hope is that this foolish intervention from the erstwhile soixant-huitard will teach the undecided, reportedly 30% just two days from the referendum, exactly what is at stake here, and that they will vote accordingly.

07 June, 2008

Italian News 7th June

2nd June was Republic Day in Italy. A survey shows that 29% of Italians celebrate it without knowing what the celebration is for.

Several Italian MPs, including Alessandra Mussolini (picture), unhappy at the House seating plan, have demanded that their chairs be made more comfortable

Twelve businessmen have been arrested in Foggia after the discovery of an illegal rubbish tip measuring half a million cubic metres, thought to be the biggest in Europe. They are also charged with diverting a river in order to conceal it. The tip is the equivalent of a football pitch with rubbish piled 100 metres high.

Seven out of ten Italian girls are unhappy with their bodies, the Association of Food Science Specialists (ANSISA) has said (without mentioning how many men were satisfied with them). Over a million young Italian women suffered from ''serious'' illnesses related to food such as anorexia and bulimia.

Despite the continued popularity of ice cream parlours, Italians now consume more ice cream at home, averaging four kilogrammes a year of the pre-packaged product. This has increased from 250 grammes a head in the 1950s, when commercially packaged ice cream was first launched in the country.

Over 200 prisoners have been transferred from Rome's central Regina Coeli (‘Queen of the Heavens’) prison to make room for any protestors arrested during the visit here by United States President George W.Bush.

Christmas Crib making is a popular and competitive pastime in Italy and several artists will produce commemorative cribs for the European Football Championships. Gennaro ('Genny') Di Virgilio of Naples will depict soccer stars Alessandro Del Piero and Antonio Cassano as Siamese twins, joined at the waist.

A poll found that 85% of Italians were in favour of the repeal of the 1958 ‘Merlin’ law which closed brothels in Italy. 47% were in favour as a means to clean up the streets, while 38% were in favour because it was a way to protect prostitutes from exploitation and violence. Only 4% viewed the reopening of brothels as ''an immoral act''.

One out of two Italians, including many who voted for the centre-left opposition, have a favourable opinion of what the government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi has done since taking office last month, according to a new poll.

Leaders of 183 countries, including Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, have gathered in Rome for a conference at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, which is based in the city. At the scheduled end no agreements had been reached..

The Italian National Nuclear Physics Institute has found a way to increase the performance of particle accelerators. The Institute is headed by the delightfully named Pantaleo Raimondi and his particle accelerator is called Daphne.

Police in Catania have arrested a 16-year-old boy after he was caught robbing the same pharmacy for the fifth time in three weeks.

An Italian school teacher who became qualified to teach in 1974 waited eight years until 1982 to get on to the permanent teaching list but has had to spend 25 years as a substitute teacher, plugging gaps. She has finally been offered a permanent post, two months before her retirement.

Motorcycling ace Valentino Rossi has had his bike and clothing coloured blue and white to show his support for the Italian soccer team.

The ID Card for Shoes has been launched in Lucca. Through the Ecodatabase site, a portal dedicated to shoes, it will be possible to have information on the manufacturing process of your footwear. The measure is to counteract fakes.

Over 3,000 companies in Tuscany are involved in the shoe making trade.

Italians are the world's biggest consumers of bottled water, drinking an average of 246 litres a person, more than the United Arab Emirates or Mexico.

In Venice, 18 million visitors will be handed a kit consisting of an empty plastic bottle and a map showing the location of 122 fountains across the city, with a chemical analysis of the water. It is a measure supported by the Church: In February the Venice patriarchate called on the faithful to give up mineral water for Lent.

Almost two out of three Italians believe that the teachings of the Catholic Church are still valid today, as against 54% last year. It is a sign of the increasing popularity of Benedict XVI

Cesena cathedral will have to be purified after worshippers at a 7am service discovered a couple of goth rock fans having sex in a confession box.

Vanna Marchi her daughter Stefania Nobile amassed a 30million euro fortune between 1996 and 2001 by selling ''magic numbers'' on TV to over 250,000 Italians. She also sold 'magical rites' to remove ''negative vibes and the evil eye''. The pair were rearrested pending an appeal hearing on the grounds they were prone to flight, presumably well within their capabilities

06 June, 2008

In flower in Umbria





Is there anything that can be done for Zimbabwe? It now seems that Mugabe’s influence in the military was deeper than had been supposed. Soldiers are effectively carrying out ethnic cleansing in order to win the election: bullying, intimidation, murder and a nod to democracy. British and American diplomats have been arrested at gunpoint. Aid work has been stopped.

There was talk some time ago of the United Nations doing something. But two out of the five permanent members of the security council don’t believe in democracy. China was recently found to be trying to supply Mugabe with armaments.

An invasion by the West? Here we can see the real damage of our invasion of Iraq. It would no longer be politically possible for America and Britain to invade a country without UN approval, however worthy the cause. And that approval will not come. The Zimbabweans are condemned to poverty and starvation.

05 June, 2008

The turning point?

The Fed announces it is more worried about inflation than recession and doesn’t want the dollar to fall any further; oil and other commodities will no longer therefore be a hedge against a falling dollar; India and Malaysia announce an end to fuel subsidies. July oil slips under $123.

I am just wondering if we might one day look back on this week as the turning point, or the first indications of a turn, for the USA. I still think Europe has a way to go.

02 June, 2008

The First Way

I am an avid Guardian reader: I like it when it is insightful and right (Andrew Rawnsley, Marcel Berlins) and I like it when it is barking and wrong (Polly Toynbee et al.). The bits I don’t like are when it is unthinking, and there’s a cracking example in Sunday’s Observer.

Will Hutton has been on some Pope’s committee, and he is anxious that you should know it: 'What I told the Pope about how to shape the new capitalism’ is the title, and in case our conviction might waver on what a life changing event this has been for His Holiness we are reminded ‘Rather, it was [Benedict’s] opportunity to .... listen to what we had to say on the great issues he confronts.’ And ‘I was invited to the Vatican ..... to give my thoughts on what is happening in contemporary capitalism’.

But these thoughts are, unfortunately for the Holy See, just the empty headed tosh he has been spewing out for years. Once you have got over the arrogance you are plunged into a whole new world of murky thinking. Hutton is the author of Tony Blair’s short-lived ‘third way’: we hate capitalism but like business. Business must be allowed to make profits, but, hey, not too much. ‘[Catholics] want decent wages; more autonomy and dignity at work; they want the rich to accept obligations to promote the common good; firms to recognise that there is only any morality to profit making if it is as a consequence of delivering a declared economic purpose - to manufacture a great car, build a safe plane or whatever.’

But this is the nub. People do go into business to make money. Hutton quotes Unilever, Boeing and Sony as having some higher moral purpose. My guess is the Lever brothers, and Messrs Boeing and Ibaru of Sony started out wanting to feed their families. That is quite healthy. Of course their mission statements are written in Huttonish Doublespeak about promoting social welfare but that is just the zeitgeist. All three companies have gone to extraordinary lengths to beat the competition and keep their costs down: that is why they are successful.

The Pope will easily understand that it would be very nice if someone started a bank in order to feed the poor, but equally that the bank would fail. The point Hutton misses is this: that although he lumps them together in his addle-pated Blairite way there is a huge difference between overtaxing and regulating companies in some spurious attempt at morality and, in his words ‘the rich to accept obligations to promote the common good’. The first is a recipe for poverty. The second involves companies trading freely and the people who have profited from them giving their wealth freely. The Pope will not need Mr Hutton’s help to understand that: it is called charity. He probably calls it ‘the first way’.