31 January, 2008

Italy: a new government?

Franco Marini is a white haired, sprightly 74, a former trade unionist turned centre-left politician. He has belonged to four different political parties, as is the way in Italy, and held a variety of senior posts in the turbulent 1990s. He was made Speaker of the Upper House by Prodi, which in turn carries with it the position of Deputy President.

It seems odd at first that President Napolitano should ask this man to try to form a government when, following the failure of the previous one under Romano Prodi, a second, Berlusconi’s Casa delle Libertà coalition, is waiting in the wings, with opinion polls saying it would win handsomely.

I have written before that the answer lies in electoral reform (in Britain this usually means proportional representation but in Italy it means moving away from it: Prodi has said that PR has made Italy ungovernable) but the constitutional background is interesting. This could happen in very few other countries.

The Italian Constitution, just 60 years old this month, deliberately, following the excesses of the 30s and 40s, weakened the power of central government and therefore made provision for what would happen if it failed. It foresaw the possibility of repeated election of weak governments and provided a series of options of government in the national interest, (what was in the national interest to be decided by the president). These are

Institutional Government, where the President appoints someone whose principal purpose, above party politics, is the maintenance of the institutions of State.

Technical Government: a non party government, full of technocrats

Fixed Term government: a temporary government, an example being the ‘swimming governments’ of 1963 an ’68, just to tide things over the summer holidays when everyone was at the beach and no one wanted an election

Government of National Unity where everyone is encouraged to put principal before politics

At present Marini’s mandate appears to be an explorative one, where he finds out the intentions of the parties and works towards some sort of solution, in this case nominally to get an electoral law passed. Yet it may come to look as if Marini’s real task might be to keep the centre left in power, organise a rimpasto of the parties, literally kneading the dough again. There’s a lot more to come in this story. We tend to forget that in a Republic, the President is a politician, too.

29 January, 2008


I am just reading that the leaders of the large countries of Europe, meeting in London, have called for greater transparency from financial institutions.

Can we see the minutes of this meeting? No? What about the minutes of the meetings of the European Council?

Oh. Not for everyone, this transparency thing, is it?


I have never been reluctant to give my view of the BBC as an overstaffed, leftist, pro-European multiculturalist racket, and realise that I have just done so again, but it must be praised where praise is due.

The programme Soul Music on Radio 4 deals with emotive pieces of music and what they mean to various people and has just come out with a charming little piece on Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium.

If you get the chance to hear it on the 'Listen again' service, I advise you to do so.

After that it was the Archers ZZZZZzzzzzzzz

Italy voting

Italy, like Belgium, is without a government – or at least without a regularly constituted one. It is worth pointing out that cries of ‘Italy in political crisis’ spring to commentators’ lips a little readily: in the absence of parliamentary support President Napolitano has asked the incumbent Romano Prodi to carry on as a caretaker. The difference with Belgium is that this has been going on for a few days in Italy and several months in Belgium.

The problem in Italy is electoral law – the system under which a new government would be elected. At the last moment under Berlusconi’s premiership he changed the law towards an increased level of Proportional Representation. This was an entirely cynical act by Berlusconi, in that he thought – incorrectly as it turns out – that this would prevent Prodi winning. The feeling in the country now seems to be that a return to some more open system might be in order, and Napolitano wants this change to be enacted before the election. So he is therefore thinking of inviting some outsider to form a government of national unity while they change the electoral law.

In defence of Berlusconi, he may be a spiv but he has the people on his side: opinion polls say he would win handsomely. He was pipped at the post in the election, that government as now failed, he is entitled to an election. If a government fails it ceases to have the right to put its policies into practice, surely?

This is a simplified view – to explain the Italian voting system and the possible options would be the subject of a book – but that’s how it seems to me. Alle urne! To the Polls! It may be that with a decent majority Berlusconi might this time actually do something for his country rather than bend the rules to keep himself out of jail. We shall see.

Southern Rock?

No, not a banking crisis in the Home Counties. News is that Spanish Banks have trousered some €53 billion in the last three months alone from the European Central Bank (ECB). Spain, as many Brit holiday home owners know, has been in the midst of a property crisis for some months and there are no signs of it getting any better (being in the euro, the Spanish can’t reduce interest rates).

Interestingly there is no provision for the ECB to act as lender of last resort, as the Bank of England does (you can imagine what the Germans felt about the idea of Mediterranean Banks having their madness and corruption underwritten from Frankfurt) and so, like so much in the EU, this has been done on the quiet. The Banks have issued promissory notes to the ECB which has not sold them on (no one would want to buy them).

My view is that if you’re going to have a disaster let it be out in the open.

Credit to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for the story.

Jamie? Hugh?

Samak Sundaravej presents a TV cookery programme on Thai food called ‘Tasting, Grumbling’. He is the new Prime Minister of Thailand, and will do both jobs simultaneously.

I just wonder how long it will be before we go the same way.

26 January, 2008

Italian News 26 Jan

Italy celebrated the 60th anniversary of its constitution. The first words are ‘Italy is a democratic Republic, founded on work’

The first words of the European Constitution are ‘His Majesty the King of the Belgians’

200 tonnes of undelivered letters were found in a store in Roserio, Lombardy

High drama in the Italian Senate as the government falls. Some senators opened bottles of champagne. Sen. Nuccio Cusumano, who intended supporting Prodi against the wishes of his own party, was verbally assaulted by colleagues and burst into tears. He then appeared to faint and was carried out.

This is the 61st Italian government since the war, but, interestingly the first to fall to a vote of no confidence

The soi-disant “Baroness” Clara Romano, a faith healer and football adviser, was placed under house arrest in Ancona. Investigators found an uncashed cheque made out to her from Sven-Goran Eriksson, former England football manager, which she kept as a souvenir. She promised Inter Milan they would win the championship if they paid her 6 million euros (they say they paid less) and claims that in the 1998 World cup the Italian team refused her demands and lost to France on penalties.

An Alfa Romeo sports car that once belonged to Benito Mussolini is expected to fetch nearly £1 million at auction

Venice has established a water bus service for residents only – no tourists. 60,000 people live in central Venice and receive an average of 20 million tourists a year

Church cleaners had to put in an extra shift on Monday after many pets and farm animals couldn't contain themselves at Italy's annual Blessing of the Animals. ''I think you could say the spirit moved them a bit too much,'' said Gianfranco Martella, parish priest at the church of St Eusebius in Rome, where animals stretched out in the aisles for mass before being blessed in the square outside with a shower of holy water by Father Martella. ''It might have been a better idea to use a hose,'' he said.

Wool Group, of Signa, near Florence, will launch a knitwear line made of yarn spun from 100% milk. It will be called Milky Wear. It requires 100 pounds of skimmed milk to make 3 pounds of fibre
The Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, in Pisa, has organized the first Masters Degree in Waste Management. At least it wasn’t in Naples

Italy's underground economy is estimated to have generated around 549 bln euros in 2007, equal to at least 35.5% of Italy's gross domestic product (GDP). Together with the money generated by criminal activities in Italy, and the earnings of Baroness Clara, the total comes to nearly half the economy.

60 supporters of a far-right political party, waving fire crackers and carrying a banner reading "A home is no game", attacked and burst a four metre high transparent plastic bubble set up near Rome’s Milvian bridge to house aspiring Big Brother (Grande Fratello) contestants. One of the occupants, a student, was voted into the Big Brother house, joining an entire Sicilian family and a transsexual from north Italy. He attributes his close escape to Baroness Clara cutting it a bit fine.

The government of Romano Prodi which was defeated in the Senate on Thursday lasted a total of 615 days, making it the seventh-longest in the history of the Italian Republic. The shortest was headed by Giulio Andreotti, only ten days from February 17 to 26, 1972, the longest Silvio Berlusconi's second government , lasting 1,410 days.

Baroness Clara said she did not believe Romano Prodi’s story that the cheque he posted was held up at Roserio.

24 January, 2008

Coffee in England

I posted in an Italian News about Starbucks not having a branch in Italy. The prices for Starbucks Coffee are £1.40 for an espresso and £2.29 for a Capucino. In my local bar (same as most places in Italy) the prices changed into £ are £0.60 and £0.75 respectively, for, by all accounts, better coffee.

Neither country grows coffee, both countries produce their own milk.

Tim Hedges' First Law says people will be ripped off until they refuse to be ripped off.

Peter Hain and others

Well, he's gone. A combination of the Prime Minister giving his full support (always a bad sign) and my saying it wasn't so bad seems to have done for him. Oh, and the police being involved.

The part played by super blogger Guido Fawkes in all this should not be underestimated. Is this the first ministerial casualty to fall to the blogosphere? Sterling work, Guido.

We ought now to see the resignations of Harriet Harman and Wendy Alexander guilty of the same thing but don't hold your breath.

And Jacqui Smith, described as Home Secretary. Here is what she said on the radio about hypothetical occurrences

"It won't be hypothetical if and when it occurs. We are not legislating now on the basis that we are bringing it in now for something that might happen in the future; we are bringing it in now for something that might happen in the future; we are bringing in a position for if it becomes unhypothetical. If, unfortunately I and many other experts are right and we do need it in the future it is in place."

Gloss over the fact that she describes herself as an expert (what on?); this is drivel from a third rate mind. Would you have expected this from Michael Howard or Jack Straw? We are entitled to expect that senior posts are filled by people of a certain level. She ain't.

(Hat-tip for quote: Ben Brogan)

Free Pants

Well, half price. Reader and pants couturier extraordinaire Dominic Hazelhurst of Sunspel says contact his website http://www.sunspel.com and use the voucher code Paxo Challenge and some cheapie a la mode Y-fronts can be yours.

Gives a new meaning to Customer support

23 January, 2008

Eyeless in Gaza

Amidst all the hoo-ha, particularly from the BBC and the European Union, about callousness by Israel, it is worth remembering that Gaza's border with Egypt had also been closed. Egypt didn't even have the excuse that militants were firing rockets into its territory.

A couple of days ago Egyptian police fired on 60 Palestinian women who tried to rush the border in order to purchase supplies.

Now militants have blown the border open.

This is a far from pleasant situation. Let's keep the reporting accurate.

The Crash

Much soul searching in the papers about the cause of the stock market crash, if crash isn’t too shocking a word (and it isn’t for most of our papers) including an interesting but in my view narrowly complex article by Martin Wolf in the FT. Wolf says the cause of the astonishing boom, followed by the crash is “the massive flows of surplus capital from Asian emerging economies (notably China), oil exporters and a few high-income countries”

And then “Surplus savings meant not only low real interest rates, but a need to generate high levels of offsetting demand in capital-importing countries, of which the US was much the most important”

So in a word there were massive amounts of money in these Asian countries keeping interest rates artificially low – hence the boom. Now it is perhaps tempting for us in the West to say it was all the fault of the Asians but I rather think this has some merit. China booms because it pays its citizens very low wages and they produce very cheap goods. People internationally buy them. So far so good. Now what would you expect to happen? People owning the factories get rich and buy lots of things: some Rolls Royces and houses in Malibu but lots of things in China, too. Others get rich supplying those things, and the wage rates rise.

Not so in China however where the State holds down pay rises, controls where people can set up factories and stops entrepreneurs benefitting from their earnings by making them sell all the foreign currency at a lousy rate to the State, and making sure there’s nothing for them to spend it on in China. Similarly in oil producing countries the money goes into the hands not of the spending public but of a few families or corrupt officials. So massive surpluses are built up in State entities (Sovereign Wealth Funds are what we call them now) and invested in America.

If these countries had not been dictatorships (not too strong a word either for China or most of the Middle East) there wouldn’t have been the boom and bust in the USA but there would have been a relative increase in wealth and importance of the Far East. This last is now probably going to happen anyway, but the hard way, and without the citizens of these countries benefitting.

21 January, 2008


Diverted by Microsoft (at least its Chairman has had the decency to resign) I find I have missed the most important news item of the year so far: Jeremy Paxman's courageous crusade against Marks and Spencers' underwear.

But aren't we missing something here? Might it be, not that the pants are getting bigger, but that the contents are getting smaller? Happens to us all eventually, Paxo.

Jeremy Paxman is 57.

Lunch in Orvieto

The days between the Christmas / New Year holiday and the planting and vine pruning season are when we do our tourism bit. The bars and restaurants are full of Italians and even the well trodden tourist path is fairly deserted (late January – mid February is the best time to see Venice or Florence). Here in central Italy the days are characterised by misty mornings, four hours or so of bright sunshine and cool nights. We headed up into the hills behind Orvieto, in search of long views across a deserted landscape and lunch.

The sight of Orvieto across the valley is almost exactly as the pilgrims would have seen it: the mass of volcanic rock rising high from the plain, and perhaps the most beautiful cathedral facade in the world. Pope Gregory XIII (I am sure I shall be corrected on this) said that if God came down from Heaven the only one of man’s works he would take back with him was Orvieto Cathedral.

We found a roadside trattoria we had earmarked on a previous trip. I find I can no longer eat a full Italian lunch so if we go out I tend to have antipasto and main course (unless there is something interesting on the pasta list, in which case no main course). This time we had starters of raw fennel in a peppery pinzimonio sauce and pressed goose with toast, followed by a pork chop and pieces of fillet steak wrapped in pig’s caul and barbecued, turnip tops blanched and sautéed in oil. This with a very decent bottle of mature Montalcino, coffee and tip cost €50 for two.

We had the roof down on the car while up in the hills but descending at around 4 pm hit a wall of dense, damp fog. A short but fun outing; always something new to see.

Windows Vista

Blogging has been and will be light due to having a new computer with Windows Vista, which appears never to have been tested on humans. Would any other industry allow a half built product to be sold on the promise that they'd get it right eventually? A car with three wheels? a cooker made of a substance that melted?

It keeps saying 'Microsoft Windows Search Indexer has ceased functioning'. Anyone know what it means?

Royal Pager

News from Sam Coates' Red Box blog that Labour MPs are having their pagers replaced with Blackberries reminds me of an amusing story. Claire Short was in a Privy Council Meeting when her pager went off. All proceedings were held up as the thing got louder and louder and she rummaged frantically in her handbag to find it. Eventually she pulled it out but it stopped. 'Oh Dear' said the Queen 'I do hope it wasn't anyone important'

19 January, 2008

Italian News

One Italian male in 10 gets a university degree, half the European average. Nine percent are on in-work training courses, compared to the European average of 23%.

Women comprise 1.9% of the board members of Italian companies. The European average is 8.5%.

Italy has no Starbucks, Pizza Hut or Kentucky Fried Chicken. The founder of Starbucks admitted they cannot compete with the Italian bar.

The Northern town of Livigno makes 8 tonnes of bresaola a week

Naples remains clogged with refuse this week, with 7,000 tonnes still piled up on the streets. Fears of dioxins in the air and contamination of the water system have resulted in a 40 per cent drop in sales of Mozzarella di bufala. However fears are groundless: the local mafia is known to have dumped hazardous factory waste in areas of wilderness decades ago.

Graziano Cecchini, who last year poured red dye into the Trevi Fountain, has released half a million coloured balls on the Spanish Steps, confusing the carabinieri.

A bad week for Clemente Mastella: his wife, Sandra Lonardo, who leads the council in Italy's Campania region, has been placed under house arrest and he has resigned as Justice Minister, following news that he is under investigation for a corrupt appointment at a state hospital in Caserta near Naples.

Salvatore Cuffaro, president of Sicily, after a three year trial has been found guilty of assisting the Mafia and sentenced to five years in prison. Mr Cuffaro has been freed pending an appeal, which may take years. Although he has also been banned from public office, he is refusing to step down as the sentence is not confirmed.

Italians have the cleanest homes in Europe. A report by Datamonitor found that Italians cleaned their homes an average of four times a week

Carla Bruni who may or may not be France’s First Lady will appear in an advert for Lancia cars singing ‘Bang bang, my baby shot me down’

In Brazil Dante's Divina Comedia is the most widely read book by students preparing for the country's general examination for university admission.

DNA studies carried out in Sardinia, whose inhabitants tend to be short, have helped identify only the second human 'height gene' known to science. The gene, GDF5, appears to have two versions: one, connected to arthritis, which adds height; and another, connected to Silvio Berlusconi, which takes it away.

A planned visit by Pope Benedict to the ceremony for the new academic year at La Sapienza University has been cancelled following protests from scientists there who are offended by his position on Galileo’s trial in 1633

The ceremony was not without interest however. A work to rule by nude models involved them adopting the poses of various famous art works, including Botticelli’s Venus, Degas’ ballerinas and Rodin’s The Thinker, with their clothes on.

16 January, 2008

Peter Hain: in mitigation

I want to say a word in mitigation of Peter Hain.

Yes, he seems almost certain to be in breach of an electoral law. Yes, his defence that he was incompetent sounds ill coming from a cabinet minister. Yes, it appears he was so arrogant that he thought the law didn’t apply to him, like Leona Helmsley saying taxes were for little people. Yes, he seems to have tried to confuse the matter by setting up a pointless think tank to collect money in secret. All this is on the charge sheet and it seems clear to me, and everyone else, that he must resign. We must have some sort of standards after all.

And yet....this was a campaign not for public office or some position of power but for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party. Let’s suppose for a moment that the Labour Party went all democratic and there was an election for the post of who should put up the no smoking signs at the conference, or who should lead the singing. Would it matter if one of the candidates had raised a vast amount of money for his campaign from all sorts of plutocrats and then failed to account for it? It would not because it was unimportant.

Similarly this job is a nothing job. If Gordon Brown were to fall under the proverbial bus (quite easy in London these days) his replacement would not be the Deputy Leader but whoever Her Majesty chose to recognise as carrying most support in parliament (certainly not Harriet Harman for example).

If the Labour Party doesn’t mind having an incompetent spiv in a senior internal position (and the evidence from looking at the others is that it doesn’t), let it.

US Elections

I must say this is the first interesting primaries season I can remember, and it is as gripping as one of those slick American series like West Wing. Three Republicans and two Democrats seem serious possible victors.

A while back I wrote that two of the Republican candidates, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, were mad. I meant for their religious beliefs (creationist and mormon respectively) but now some people are describing Huckabee's economic policy as mad , too. It is to replace income tax with a sales tax, coupled with a spot of negative income tax (that is to say that if your income is below a certain level you get a rebate).

I have been saying this for years, although I never believed you could get rid of income tax competely - the rich would have to pay something and some of the poor would have to receive a lot. All that would happen is the Government imposed a minimum wage - not forcing employers to pay it, which causes unemployment - but a level below which you receive money and above which you pay it. Most of the taxes would be collected by shopkeepers as a sales tax.

Perhaps Huckabee's not mad after all. Oh,yes... the creationism.

12 January, 2008

Italian News

This week marks the 279th anniversary of the birth of Lazaro Spallanzani, a chemist who showed that contact by semen is necessary for development of the egg, and who achieved the first successful artificial insemination of a dog.

The Pope has reportedly told the Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, that parts of the city are in a degraded state.

Not as bad as Naples, however, where the army has been brought out to reopen the schools which had been closed due to the rubbish piled outside. All Naples’ rubbish tips are full, having been taken over by the Camorra, the local mafia, which ran them as a business.

Lufthansa has denied press speculation that it would ally itself with Italy's biggest private airline, Air One, in an attempt to acquire a controlling stake in Italian national carrier Alitalia. Failing a last minute bid from Indonesia’s Air Garuda it looks as if they’re stuck with the French

Officials in Verona have imposed a graffiti ban at Juliet’s house. Visitors were invited to leave messages of love by email and SMS to be shown on a screen inside. To the astonishment of the Council, people found this unromantic and have taken to sticking notes to the marble walls with chewing gum. The house is being frantically cleaned in time for Valentines Day. It is thought to be good luck to caress the right breast of the statue of Juliet, which presumably keeps that, at least, clean.

Italy's new waste czar is the ex-national police chief Gianni De Gennaro. Interestingly Naples’ patron saint is San Gennaro so the Pope may have been involved after all. Legend has it that on his feast day Gennaro’s dried blood liquefies, although a way will be found to throw this away, too.
Speaking after his first day on the job, the earthly Gennaro said he would approach his task ''with the conviction that problems can be solved with a rationale of common sense, balance, dialogue and direct and transparent communication''. Nothing about actually throwing the stuff away.

The puzzle of where the mysterious antimatter at the heart of our galaxy comes from has finally been solved, according to Giovanni Fabrizio Bignami, head of the Italian Space Agency, who has collaborated with the international group of scientists which has just published a paper outlining the answer. It appears it is the latest attempt to solve Naples’ rubbish crisis.

The traders who sell pigeon food to tourists in St Mark's Square Venice expressed anguish on Thursday after city hall passed a measure banning them from ever doing so again.

The regrouping techniques of Rome's starlings could offer lessons for students of unpredictable behaviour like investor trends and consumer fads, a new Italian-led study says. Early reports are that the birds squawk with a Venetian accent, and are asking the way to Naples.

The famous volcanic eruption in which Vesuvius buried Pompeii and Herculaneum was so powerful that some of the ash and lava ended up in Greece, according to researchers at Thessaloniki University. An expert from the Aristotle University was quoted as saying the layer of volcanic ash and rock was three metres deep in places, studded with spaghetti wrappers and empty tins of tomato.

Latest reports are that the Waste Czar has finally located a rubbish free spot. In Verona.

11 January, 2008

Who are these people?

It seems Peter Hain, a cabinet minister, either failed to declare to or hoped to conceal from the Electoral Commission some £103,000 of donations in support of his campaign for the Deputy Leadership. I know I always say this, but I assume even a member of this government will resign after such admissions.

Hain came fifth out of sixth in the contest. Hilary Benn only raised £4,000.

But apparently after the campaign was over and he knew that the Labour Party didn't want or trust him, he discovered £70,000 of unpaid bills and more than half the undeclared money is from the time he went around trying to get donations to cover this.

What I want to know is what sort of person, confronted by begging from a man who had already lost and lost badly, to cover money he had imprudently already spent, actually coughed up. Would you?

10 January, 2008

MPs' pay

I know it's not fashionable but I don't think MPs are overpaid. In fact I think they are underpaid.

The best graduate trainees - 21 and never worked - get £45,000 these days. Maybe bonuses too. I remember my first job in a merchant bank: I could have got more training to be a traffic warden. But things are different now. To run the country we need to attract our best people - actually it would be better if they had worked for a few years before becoming MPs - so I think we need a salary of at least £100,000.

We must avoid attracting the mediocre, who see £65,ooo as a pretty good life. The alternative is to pay them nothing, which would mean they would have had to have done something lucrative first in order to afford it. But this would exclude too many good people who weren't money-focussed. So let's pay them properly.

If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. There's a fair few monkeys.........

Marks and Sparks

A lot of talk about the M&S results and its share price. And the pound falling. Why? If there is a slow down in America and in the rest of the world the only thing that will keep British factories open is British consumer demand. In the past we have spent so frantically that we ironed out the troughs of threatened recessions. Is it coming to an end? Has the great British consumer got enough stuff?

I rather think the markets are being overly pessimistic. I don’t think the Bank of England will panic, either. We should avoid disaster, but in any case it is too early to tell.

None of the above

I must say I have never liked the cut of Hillary Clinton’s jib; there was the business about some property in the south back when she was a lawyer, the failure at healthcare, I don’t know, there’s something not quite right. I ask myself whether there isn’t a bit of sexism in my view – do we set different standards for members of the opposite sex? Is this why I am disturbed that she is always photographed with a manic look, pointing and with her mouth open, like a crazed football referee? And Obama, well he seems out of his depth, doesn’t he? Mr Nice Guy who, when asked, said he would unilaterally invade Pakistan if he thought Osama bin Laden was there (well, he’s not in Philadelphia, Barack).

Is it in the interests of Americans, to say nothing of the rest of us, that this election seems to be about security? There were whisperings that the US needed someone tougher than Clinton on the nuclear button (although she looks to me as if she would nuke you as soon as say good morning), Barack makes this macho posturing, MacCain is doing well because of his security experience.

I am reminded that when George W Bush came into office (it seems a long time ago now) the big worry internationally was that his would be an isolationist presidency, that because he had never been abroad (except once to China with is father) he would be more interested in US Farm Payroll numbers than what happened in the outside world. And yet what will Bush be remembered for? And isn’t what we, the outside world, would like now a quiet President who got the economy working again and left the outside world alone?

It seems easy to carp about the quality of presidential candidates – Nixon the crook, Ford the idiot, Carter the peanut farmer, Reagan the B-movie actor etc - but the person has to be a human being and will have failings. The only one I can recall who seemed qualified for the job, who had been Ambassador to the UN, Head of the CIA, Vice President, was George Bush Snr, who was a disaster.

Hey-ho. Let’s hope for the best

09 January, 2008

Trafalgar Square

A new row has erupted about the spare plinth in Trafalgar Sq, Ken Livingston suggesting amongst others a burnt-out car and little meerkats made in the name of Tracey Emin.

Boris Johnson should enter this fray and he would be best advised to support a statue of Edward Jenner, the discoverer of the smallpox vaccine and saver of literally millions of lives. Interestingly there used to be a statue of Jenner in Trafalgar Sq but it was moved to Kensington Gardens. Boris should have it put back, at minimal expense.

08 January, 2008

The Church, the dimwits and the atheists

It used to be said of a politician that he approached every problem with an open mouth, but it seems the same can be said of bishops, too. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, such a dithering disaster in his job you would have thought he would have retired quietly into private life, has made a thought-free statement about blasphemy. He is accompanied by Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford (of course) together with an assortment of lefties and atheists including Ricky Gervais, Richard Dawkins and Peter Tatchell. They write in the Telegraph in support of an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill by Evan Harris, Frank Dobson and David Wilshire, the three great statesmen.

Their case is that the blasphemy laws serve no useful purpose "The ancient common law of blasphemous libel purports to protect beliefs rather than people or communities. Most religious commentators are of the view that the Almighty does not need the "protection" of such a law," .....”It is discriminatory in that it only covers attacks on Christianity and Church of England tenets”.

The purpose the blasphemy law serves is this. Britain is one of the few countries in the world with an established religion. The others are usually Islamic. France and Italy, for example, despite being Catholic, draw clear lines between Church and State. We do not – you can say what you like (within the other laws) about Islam and Judaism. Another example of this is that Carey and Harries get to sit in the House of Lords (although I think Harries may be there because he was a Blair toady).

As we moved against multiculturalism in the last couple of years, people even on the left were saying that there must be some Britishness that the immigrants should be able to cling to; if you like, you can say they came here because of that Britishness and we shouldn’t suddenly take it away for fear they might not like it. They should accept the whole package. One aspect of that Britishness is the fact we have an established church and religion, which you don’t have to join but which is there at all times.

Now I am a disestablishmentarian. I believe that it is not in the interests of the Church to be associated with the government and it was one of my wishes for 2008 that it should take steps to disestablish itself. But the call should come from the Church. And the Church’s position in our society should not be chipped away, it should be reconsidered as a whole, as an important constitutional element.

This recent blast is the last call of the manic multiculturalists and they should be exposed for what they are.

Racism - the new paradigm

Indian protesters in Australia have been complaining against the 3 match ban given to Harbajan Singh for calling Andrew Symonds, a British born Australian player, a monkey.

Now, aside from the issue of racist slur between one coloured man and another, which I suppose must go on all the time, this seems to be the first time there have been demonstrations, not against racism, but against someone being punished for it. What are the implications of this?

It seems to take the problem to a whole new level.

06 January, 2008


I read a report some years ago that solar panels are so inefficient that they never generate enough electricity in their lifetime to compensate for the environmental cost of making them. Perhaps things have improved since then although I have not heard some great announcement to this effect. But now I read the following in the Observer:

“Home wind turbines are significantly underperforming and in the worst cases generating less than the electricity needed to power a single light bulb, according to the biggest study of its kind carried out in Britain.

An interim report revealed that homeowners could be being misled by the official figures for wind speeds because they are consistently overestimating how much wind there is - sometimes finding that real speeds are only one third of those forecast. In the worst case scenario, the figures indicate that it would take more than 15 years to generate enough 'clean' energy to compensate for the manufacture of the turbine in the first place.”

Of course the things won’t last for 15 years so you are doing the environment a disservice if you buy one. And of course the problem is not just caused by the misjudgment of wind speeds, as any paper other than the Guardian/Observer or the Independent would have told you: it is the miscalculation of how much scarce resource was used to make the things. Obviously the manufacturer isn’t going to tell you and no ‘independent’ scientist ever got a grant by saying we might just as well use coal.

And on top of that, because even the pseudo-scientists agree that sometimes there isn’t any wind, but you might want some electricity (and the same goes for solar panels: not too effective at night) the fossil fuel power stations have to be fired up and running all the time anyway.
So actually these pseudo environmentalists are causing net damage to the environment. Yes, Mr Cameron?

But bit by bit the truth will out. More pseudo science during the course of the year.

05 January, 2008

Italian News

Italian families can expect to spend over 1,000 euros more next year for food, utilities and fuel, according to the consumer rights group Codacons.
Police in Rome seized 2.2 tons of Chinese fireworks which had counterfeit authorization labels and had higher amounts of explosive power than what had been written on the packages. Value for money!

Among those arrested for illegal possession of fireworks was a 38-year-old man in Brindisi who was taken to jail after police found 120kg of illegal fireworks in his home. He was at home because he was under house arrest for possession of, yes, 400kg of illegal fireworks.
There has not been a single firework-related fatality in Italy since New Year's Eve 2000: most are so powerful they explode in neighbouring countries.

Discussion of El Sobrepaso continues. At present the EU and the Spanish believe Spain has overtaken Italy in GDP per head while the IMF and the Italians believe it has not. In absolute terms, all agree that average income in Italy is higher than in Spain by 25,263 euros to 22,294 euros.

Rubbish has been heaped in the streets in and around Naples for days and many piles set alight on New Year's Eve were still smoking on Wednesday, sending toxic fumes across the city.Elsewhere, police had to move in to break up a renewed protest against a new rubbish incinerator and all six waste-disposal plants in the Campania region had to close down because of demonstrators stopping the packed rubbish leaving their gates.European Commission Environment Spokesman Stavros Dimas – incredibly they have selected someone from the only European city that is worse - said there were ''dangerous'' levels of dioxin in the air and they will weigh whether to take action in the coming days

Pope Benedict, who had a tough act to follow, appears to be an unexpected success. Nearly three million pilgrims came to Rome in 2007 to hear the weekly audiences and Sunday addresses which compares favourably with the numbers that came to hear his Polish predecessor. The 'Peter's Pence' offerings made by lay Catholics to support the upkeep of the Holy See. In 2007 the total nearly doubled to 102 million dollars. Meanwhile, Vatican Radio said on Thursday that sales of Benedict's last book, Jesus of Nazareth, have now reached two million. By the end of 2008 the volume will be on sale in 50 countries. That’s what comes of having a German in charge.

The news agency ANSA reported on the same day that Italy's annual inflation rate dropped to an eight-year-low of 1.8% in 2007 and that inflation rose to a four-year high of 2.6% in December. Both are true.

Italian Tocai wine has been without a name for several months after it was banned for sounding like Hungarian Tokay. It is now agreed that wine produced for export will be called 'Friulano', while wine for domestic consumption can be called either 'Tocai Friulano' or just Friulano, the choice up to the producer. Clear?

The Ecopass – a tax on driving polluting vehicles in the city centre - has been introduced in Milan. However, most left it to the last minute to apply, by internet or phone line, and both payment channels promptly broke down under the weight of calls. But Transport Police admitted the key test would come on Monday 7th when the city really returned to work. ''It's going to be much more hectic. Then we'll be dancing a tarantella,'' said one officer.

Italians gained an average of between two and three kilos over the Christmas and New Year's holidays and will now have to stick to a fruit and vegetable diet and take more exercise if they want to lose the undesired weight, said officials. Dancing the tarantella with the traffic police is not recommended.

A manufacturer of torrone – like nougat - is putting together a 400m-long torrone snake which it aims to wind through the streets of Camerino (Marche) on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, when Italian children receive a second helping of sweets and gifts from a legendary witch called the Befana.The Torrone Francucci shop is bidding for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for the highest calorie tarantella ever performed.

04 January, 2008

Ducking and diving (2)

A friend tells me that if you don't like the idea of these barometric passports (biometric is the word they use, and it means...er...measuring your face, distance between the eyes etc) here's a wheeze. You are perfectly entitled to take the picture yourself as long as it is in the prescribed format) but the lens on your camera (usually used for longer distances than the length of your arms) is different to the one in the photo booth (always short distances) so the photo is microscopically biothingily different and the state will have recorded inaccurate information.

I couldn't possibly comment.

Ducking and diving

If you are scared the NHS won't treat you because you are a smoker or overweight, get an EU Health card - it used to be called E101 but now its called ECICS or something of that nature and can last up to ten years: longer than your life expectancy if you visit an NHS hospital anyway.

03 January, 2008

The Demon Drink

My first reaction to a report in the Independent that Gordon Brown was taking charge of the campaign against (binge) drinking was 'that's OK, nothing will be done'. But there's more: they plan to base the duty on units of alcohol. This is about the silliest thing I've heard: it means that the price of whisky will be dramatically reduced relative to that of beer, which is surely not what they want. It will in any case not be permitted by the EU.

Apparently the Home Secretary (the appalling Jaqui Smith) and the culture secretary, whose name I've already forgotten, will draw up a plan. Oh dear.

The first mistake is to assume that the drunks in the street are in any way connected to the price of drink. Here in Italy where wine costs about 50p a bottle you never see public drunkenness, because the Italians know it is unattractive and they would be letting their families down if caught. Britain needs to undergo a complete cultural shift to make this change.

The second mistake is to assume government action can do anything. Alcohol Disorder Zones are the latest and they will be a failure just like Tony Blair's initiative.

Something they might (but won't) try is punishing parents for the behaviour of their children.

01 January, 2008


I have written that Benazir Bhutto’s death leaves the West in a difficult predicament and it seems important now to have a look at just what that predicament is. Franklin D Roosevelt said of the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, "He may be a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch." Change him for her and you have what our policy for Pakistan was. Benazir was venal, said to have trousered (or shalwar kameezed) at least $1.5bn but she would have listened to the Western governments – indeed our security services probably have enough on her un-Moslem lifestyle to have kept her obedient for years. And now she is dead.

To see what has been going on - and it has the imprimatur of the West all over it – just imagine if when John Smith died in 1994 it emerged that he had taken the Labour party funds and distributed them among his family and friends, opening accounts in exotic locations, in several of which he was wanted for fraud. And then, in his will, he decrees who the next leader of the Labour Party would be (it would have been Gordon, all those years ago).

After Benazir’s death there will be no leadership election for the Pakistan Peoples Party: it has some talented people but Benazir, described by several newspapers as a martyr for democracy, the woman who said democracy will defeat terrorism, has decided it will be her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who will lead. Actually young Billy, who is also full of crap about the value of democracy, is a 19 year old student at university (Oxford) so in the meantime the party will be run by Benazir’s husband (Asif Ali Zardari, a former jailbird, wanted for fraud in several financial centres, known in his (wife’s) heyday in Pakistan as Mr 10%). Oh and a couple of others who will have been paid by the Bhutto family.

The importance of Pakistan, it need hardly be mentioned, is that it is a Muslim country of 165 million people, 70% Sunni, 20% Shia, bordering Afghanistan, the likely home of Osama bin Laden, and it has a nuclear bomb.

But perhaps it isn’t so bad after all: the policy had been to maintain in power an intelligent, educated woman who we thought would do anything the West wanted as long as she was maintained in power. Yes she had a back-story of helping to install the Taliban in Afghanistan but we could forget that (even while British servicemen are dying as a result). No she never did anything for Pakistanis, not even repealing the Hudud law which means a woman who has been raped can be convicted of adultery, but we never cared about Pakistanis or foreign women. Benazir was our sonofabitch.

Now we have a 19 year old, with a Regent who will do what anybody wants as long as there is a billion and a new passport at the end of it. Perhaps western diplomatic policy has come out of this rather well.

But….I just ask…. Is this what we want of our foreign policy? Is it what the people of Pakistan need?

My forecasts for 2008


1. Oil price in decline to below $75.
Dollar falls a further 10% against € past 1.60
£ interest rates fall to 4.5%
FTSE has a bad year but a late burst ends at 7250

2. European growth rate slows, calls for protectionism and political control of Central Bank

3. A major bank and a US car company will fail but be taken over

4. Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Rupert Murdoch, Hugo Chavez do not resign

5. Giuliani beats Hillary in tight vote

6. UK Parties at year end Lab 37 Cons 40 LibDem 20

7. UK House prices fall 5% over the year

8. Boris wins but turns out to be just as crap as Red Ken