31 March, 2008


Oh no. The BBC reports that there will be new investigations into this wonderful place, this Wiltshire landmark which English Heritage wants to turn into some beastly viewer experience and the government wants to bugger up with its lack of roads policy.

Only one question about the mystery of Stonehenge will not be answered: why won't they just leave it alone, as a mystery?

Roma v Man Utd

I don't suppose many Man Utd fans will be reading this but could they please, please stay out of the centre of Rome which is full of priceless things, many of them even older than Man Utd FC.

The police here are very tolerant of the generally law abiding but very intolerant of thuggery, and if they see fans cavorting in a Bernini fountain they are likely to shoot. And I for one wouldn't blame them.

Yes I know the Italian fans are also vile, but if they smashed up the centre of Manchester it would probably be a improvement (oh dear, did I write that?)

Max Mosley

Other than the holocaust and other murderous crimes, one of the most conceptually horrifying works of the Nazis was called the Sippenhaas. This law allowed whole families to be prosecuted – persecuted – for the crimes of one of them.

Max Mosley, the son of Sir Oswald has been caught with a couple of tarts dressing up as Nazis and concentration camp victims. If he had been doing something else with the hookers, it would barely have aroused comment. If it had been anyone else, it would barely have aroused comment. This is a case of the sins of the father being visited on the son, and is as shabby a piece of journalism as you are likely to see.

If the two scrubbers were paid out of after tax income, and any rubbish arising from the meeting was thrown away in the correct bin, he should be left alone.

29 March, 2008

Indian cricket

Of the six batsmen who have exceeded 10,000 test runs, three: Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and now Rahul Dravid, are Indian (the last two are still playing). Virender Sehwag, who scored 319 in the latest test, the fastest 300 ever, looks as if he might one day join them. Of the five bowlers to have taken more than 500 test wickets, Anil Kumble, still playing, is on 606.

Oh, and they just bought Jaguar and Land Rover.

Italian News 29th March

S. Korea, a nation which has as its national dish rotten cabbage fermented with chilli, has banned imports of Italian buffalo mozzarella.

The European Commission has announced it is satisfied with Italian action on the mozzarella dioxin scare. Dioxin levels just over the legal limit are thought to be from cattle feed, the chemicals coming from illegal mafia dumping in the countryside. The public are assured mozzarella in the shops is safe to eat. The same cannot be said of kimchi.

Police have closed down a circus in southern Italy where two teenage Bulgarian girls were forced to swim with piranhas and lie covered with snakes and tarantulas in front of a paying audience.

Dr Lina Carcuro, a medical practitioner and participant in Italy's Big Brother house, has been seen by millions of Italians having sex with another contestant, a Milanese businessman who was engaged to another woman. The Naples medical association is considering striking her off for failing to observe "decorous conduct". The scene was broadcast in full on Berlusconi's pay-per-view channel.

Some 3,000 visitors a year are to be allowed on to Montecristo, the Tuscan island at the heart of Alexandre Dumas's famous book. The island is a wildlife reserve with a unique snake, the Montecristo viper.

Police in Ancona are trying to trace a bearded man who allegedly hypnotised a supermarket cashier into handing over 800 Euros without her realising what was happening.

A thief who stole the five-tonne safe from a fast food restaurant in Casamassima using a forklift, was crushed to death when it fell on him

Agip and Esso petrol stations in the Arcella area of Padua have installed machines distributing sex toys and hardcore DVDs to passing drivers. You have to insert your ID card to get the DVDs. It is not known how popular the scheme will be.

Italy is Europe's second market for heroin, after Britain.

The small Socialist Party has put pictures of Jesus in its adverts claiming he was the first socialist in history. The move does not have the support of the Church since the party is opposed to public funding for private Catholic schools and campaigns for more liberal laws on assisted fertility and the rights of gay couples.

Work has begun in Venice to fit a titanium belt to the bell-tower in St Mark's Square. Experts were called in after a survey revealed the 99-metre bell-tower is sloping by seven centimetres. Surveyors also reckon the foundations of the tower are cracking by a millimetre a year.

The people of Lucca buy some 5,000 litres of unpasteurized milk per week from automatic distributors set up in the town.

An anti-Mafia street market in Palermo is set to tour the squares of Italy's largest cities in the latest bid to persuade shopkeepers and businessmen to stand up to mobsters demanding protection money. Only food produced by businesses who have refused to pay the 'pizzo' is on sale at the market,

Thousands have queued in the rain to see Augustus's House on Rome’s Palatine Hill, on view for first time in 25 years.

Having been baptised by the Pope over Easter, former Muslim Magdi Allam, a prominent Italian journalist, wrote an article denouncing Islam as intrinsically violent. His views have been rejected by the Vatican. Mr Allam lives under 24 hour police protection.

Italy’s first large scale event dedicated to coffee, from bean selection to roasting to brewing, Caffestival, will take place in the Umbrian town of Spello in May.

Alano Maffucci, one of the people investigated for having an account in Liechtenstein, has declared that it must be someone else with the same name

Electricity generators claim that changing the hour on Sunday will save 84 million euros, some €1.40 per person

Opinion polls are banned in Italy for a fortnight before the elections. The last ones suggest Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) coalition ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) but it may not be enough to win a majority in the Senate, following rule changes made last time by Berlusconi himself.

Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatry lecturer at Pisa University believes she has discovered brain mechanisms that make people want to continue gambling even when the odds are against them and the consequences are disastrous. She is thought to have been studying the campaign of the Democratic Party.

26 March, 2008


All the papers report that Brown has allowed a free vote on the Embryology Bill. But I wonder if they have read the small print – always important when dealing with Brown. He says that if the Bill is passed – and it will be, the protesters are in a minority – they will be expected to vote for the Bill at its final reading.

So it isn’t a free vote at all. Ruth Kelly, for example, who has welcomed the concession, will find herself voting against the clauses her conscience does not permit her to support, then voting in favour of them a few days later, in order to keep her salary. Is this where Brown’s moral compass has led him? Is this where Ruth Kelly’s conscience has led her?

Clinton and the sniper

Hillary Clinton, trying to pass herself off as experienced, said she had come under sniper fire on her visit to Bosnia in 1990. This turned out to be nonsense – there is film footage of her walking calmly from the plane – and she has..well, would you call it fessing up? She said she misstated it.

What the hell does that mean: ‘misstated’? Either she misremembered it – thought she had come under sniper fire but that turned out to be not the case, which seems scarcely credible form someone supposed to be intelligent, or she was lying.

Lying to the people she wants to represent. John McCain will be quietly taking notes.

25 March, 2008

Bear and Moral Hazard

The news that the American bank which drew the short straw and was told to rescue Bear Stearns, JP Morgan Chase, is upping its offer to five times what it originally offered has caused a fair bit of confusion among financial commentators. One pointed out that under the original terms Bear was worth less than David Beckham, which must have been wrong, although he didn’t say why. Some say it is welcome and it must be.. what? About right now? Others say Bear screwed up and it is the shareholders who must suffer.

When the Northern Rock debacle broke, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, introduced us to the concept of moral hazard. This dictum is that if a bank screws up there must be suffering, otherwise other banks will free to do as they wish, confident in the knowledge that if they blow it all the taxpayer will come to the rescue. And it is the taxpayer in the case of Bear Stearns: the Federal Reserve are supplying JP Morgan with the money; JPM will ‘only’ take the first billion dollars of risk.

There is an interesting stance taken by Anatole Kaletsky in the Times however. He points out that the last couple of hedge funds to go bust had in fact called the subprime crisis right. They had gone into quality investments but couldn’t find the funding for them. The same appears to be true in large part of Bear Stearns: even though it pretty well invented the subprime market it had a largely high quality investment portfolio. What has sent them under is that there is no liquidity in the market. No one wants to lend against even top quality security.

Now this is a different matter. I am not saying they are completely not to blame, but the element of moral hazard, the morality of the thing, is different. Northern Rock didn’t go under because it had invested in rubbish – its assets were largely high quality British mortgages. Its problem was that it had borrowed in the short term money markets and these had dried up, so it simply ran out of money. So it was partly to blame for having a borrow short – lend long business model, but not to blame for the money markets collapsing. It is the job of a central bank to keep the markets open.

So how much should shareholders suffer? Fortunately there is no court to apportion blame, like in an industrial injury case. It is in the public, and therefore the taxpayer’s interest that the markets remain open, so the Central Bank should supply plenty of short term money against the security of long term assets and keep the banks trading. The shareholders suffer a low valuation and lose something but not all. The USA seems to have got this about right. The British didn’t get it right, in part because the government, with no business people in it, panicked that a bank might go under in an area full of Labour seats. Add to that Gordon Brown’s tripartite scheme for overseeing banks so that nobody knew who was in charge and you have the worst financial disaster Europe has seen.

Let’s keep the politicians out of this; I think that's the first lesson we have to learn from the USA.

22 March, 2008

Italian News Easter Edition

This Easter is the earliest since 1913 and there will not be another as early until 2160.

It has caused a problem in Italy in that Italians usually go away for Easter, and the weather is less clement than in mid-late April. Next year it will fall on April 12th

Over seven million Italians have left their homes for the long weekend. 85% will stay in Italy of which more than a third will go to the seaside. Nearly a quarter of Italian holidaymakers go to their own holiday home.

Italian animal rights associations have launched their annual plea for people to leave lamb and goat off the menu at Easter and eat sheep made of marzipan instead. Italians eat 536,000 lambs, 72,000 adult sheep and 56,000 goats over Easter.

Italy has more school caretakers than carabinieri, numbering 167,000. That is more than 15 per school and an average of more than two per class.

Florentine magistrates are investigating whether God exists, in pursuit of a claim of false exorcism against a priest for giving the benediction in church. Last year magistrates in Chiavari investigated what was meant by ‘art’. There is a huge backlog of cases in Italy, investigating magistrates claiming they don’t have enough time.

Silvio Berlusconi said he would veto Air France’s takeover of Alitalia if elected. He has urged an Italian solution, saying his children would participate.

Berlusconi declared an income of 139,245,570 euros last year, almost five times more than he declared a year earlier. The poorest political leader was Communist Refoundation secretary Franco Giordano, who in 2006 declared an income of 126,802 euros.

Researchers from the universities of Turin and Parma have developed a new form of aspirin which does not attack the stomach lining.

Italian researchers have developed a pill to cure chocolate cravings. They say 40% of women in western countries are chocoholics.

A prisoner from the Abruzzo given special dispensation to travel to Rome to attend a papal audience escaped from St Peter's Square. Magistrates will investigate whether the Pope exists.

The Apennine mountains are moving north-east to south-west at a rate of between one and three millimetres a year.

22 private investigators, accused of planting bugs in or under cars to get proof of marital infidelity, have been acquitted on the grounds that a car is not a residence and the privacy laws do not apply.

According to a study by Censis, in the forthcoming elections half the electorate will decide their vote on the values and principals of the parties or candidates. Party policies decide the vote for only a quarter while the personality of the leader is important for less than 14%. More than 40% of young people base their vote on the quality of the campaign.

Silvio Berlusconi is still ahead in the polls.

Researchers have discovered that coffee dregs can be used as a clean organic fuel.''The dregs make ideal fuel for stoves and boilers,'' said Roberto Lavecchia and Antonio Zuorro of Rome's La Sapienza University. The coffee residue was also useful in the removal of heavy metals, the researchers said. Around 70 million cups of coffee are drunk in Italy daily.

Two people have bought helicopters with interior design by Versace, one of them Ion Tiriac the former tennis champion

Italy exported over two million Parma hams last year, but more than three quarters of production was eaten in Italy

Italy's first university campus has been inaugurated at Pisa, one of the most important universities in the country. Pisa numbers 55,000 students, small by Italian standards (La Sapienza in Rome has over 200,000, mostly studying coffee dregs, whereas Oxford has fewer than 20,000). There will be beds for just 800 students of which 260 will be doubles. The rest will continue to commute

The interest on Italy’s national debt amounts to 70 billion euros a year

Pirated handbags and DVDs account for £5bn of Mafia income and the food industry £5.2bn, according to Tano Grasso, the head of Italy's anti-racketeering commission.

Gaetano Bastianelli, 57, is trying to overturn his purchase of an Umbrian farmhouse, on the grounds that the vendors should have told him it was haunted. According to his lawyer he has witnessed ''strange occurrences'' such as banging on the walls, furniture falling over without being touched and objects bursting into flame although these symptoms can be caused by the local grappa.

The names of Italian holders of Liechtenstein bank accounts being leaked to the press include Senator Luigi Grillo, EuroMP Vito Bonsignore, and a dog called Gunther.

Tuscany has passed a new law allowing pets into art galleries, theatres, restaurants, cinemas, post offices, museums and beaches. Gunther has to spend his money somewhere.

21 March, 2008


The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is getting its first airing. The bill proposes permitting human/animal mix embryos. The idea is that they mix the genes of humans and, say, moles, creating a man/mole creature, mess around with it and then destroy it.

The Roman Catholic Church is against it, although I have heard nothing about the Church of England’s position on the matter. Its website says ’Research using human embryos donated by IVF patients.... is acceptable but using human embryos created specifically for research from donated eggs and sperm is not.’ Which would seem to suggest it is against the bill but not against the general idea of making and killing embryos. I will try to find out but they don’t answer the phone on Good Friday.

Most astonishing is that the government will not allow a free vote of its MPs. Surely if there is one thing that is a matter of conscience it is this. I find it incredible that Gordon Brown (who always wants to portray himself as a son of the Manse, with a moral compass) not only should feel that this legislation is OK, but should be so insensitive as to think nobody else’s views matter. Labour MPs are thus reduced to mere political fodder: they are being told that they are not there to represent their constituencies, they are not there because they are deemed to be people to whom the governance of the nation should be entrusted, they are just robots who do as they are told. For all their scope for free thinking they might be half mole already.

For myself, and many others, this is not really a religious matter, and I hope it will not be portrayed as religious, despite the fact that the Church of Rome is leading the opposition. For many of us who have looked at this on humanitarian grounds, life begins at conception. For us there is no moral difference between killing a 14 day old foetus (they say the procedure is OK because they will kill them all when they are two weeks old) and a 14 day old, or 14 year old born child. All, in my view, are equally wrong.

I don’t mind people thinking differently, but I do object to the government thinking its MPs shouldn’t be allowed an opinion on this.

It goes without saying that I hope any MP who does think this is wrong will vote against it, despite the views of their party, particularly those who like Ruth Kelly make a publicity issue of their beliefs.

20 March, 2008


Air France’s conditions for the takeover, mentioned here a couple of days ago, are emerging. A couple of thousand redundancies, downgrading of Malpensa airport (the one near Como which describes itself as Milan), far fewer planes, agreement of the trade unions required. It will make difficult reading for many, although my analysis is that it isn’t tough enough to make the thing viable without EU support.

Having advised Silvio Berlusconi to keep his mouth shut during the Alitalia crisis I suppose I should be disheartened by his latest riposte. But it is vintage Berlusconi.

He says the government have sold Alitalia short, and he would back the AirOne consortium. So much so, indeed, that he would ‘make a sacrifice’ personally if it weren’t for the fact he might be accused of acting in his own interest. As it is he is sure his sons would be interested (his sons act quite independently of him, oh yes) to go in as equal partners with the other members (which include Banca Intesa).

So he offers some support to his ally Bossi who is fighting the closure of Malpensa; he puts his opponent Veltroni in a difficult spot; he acts the father of the nation, sacrificing his own money for the national good; he has a little go at his many accusers, implying they prevent him from helping Italy, and he furthers his campaign by appealing to the basest chauvinistic interest. And he – sorry, his sons - will probably turn a profit out of it. Silvio really is a Master.

Keeping Alitalia as a cosy Italian deal without anyone experiencing any pain would almost certainly not be in the national interest but who in Italian politics gives a stuff about that?

17 March, 2008

European President

Hypothesis: Sarkozy wants his own type of person in the top job in Europe, in particular someone who likes the idea of national industrial champions. His technique is to put forward Tony Blair for President, knowing that because of the Iraq war he will be unacceptable to Angela Merkel and several others. Then he says 'well if I can't have my choice as president, I must at least have my second choice - France is not to be trifled with' and so he gets his man in. Who can the Evil Genius have in mind?

Step forward Romano Prodi, twice prime minister of Italy, anglophile and fomerly President of the European Commission, now leaving Italian politics.

Surely they wouldn't be so devious?

A Tale of Two Takeovers

Bear Stearns: I forecast at the beginning of the year that a major US bank would fail but be taken over and it is of course in one way pleasing when our direst predictions come true. This wasn’t too difficult, though. I fear Bear may not be the last. It is the result of managers being too busy to check what risks they were taking.

Alitalia ‘Struggling Alitalia is bought by Air France’ says the Daily Telegraph. I am afraid however that this is not yet the done deal people expect. Air France has imposed conditions. Raffaele Bonnanni, the union leader has said ‘the government is sending us naked into the meeting’ and ‘whoever has committed this grave mistake will pay for it’. This is good news for Berlusconi if he can just keep his mouth shut - the government will have to signal its acceptance of Air France’s conditions before the election. Many Italians, wrongly in my view, will see the loss of their national flag carrier as a symbol of decline and Veltroni may pay a price.

16 March, 2008

Welfare Ghettos

Fraser Nelson in the Coffee House blog points out how new figures reveal that in some areas of Britain two thirds of the people are on incapacity benefit. Read it, it's shocking.


Rumour. An Albanian woman here says that she heard from a relative in Tirana (I do want to stress we are not talking even Fleet Street standards of confirming a story) that the Americans were charged with disenabling a warehouse full of Ceaucescu era armaments, but left it to local labour who, untrained, set the things off. There has been a chain of explosions all morning, several reported dead, looters emptying the houses of those who fled.

It may be there is a grain of truth in this story but perhaps the more important thing is that whenever there is any kind of disaster the Americans are held to blame, and the rumours spread like wildfire.

The current presidential candidates will try to disassociate themselves from any foreign disasters but the last thing the world needs is for America to withdraw to within its own borders.

Most people now decry the Iraq war, but an isolationist America isn’t going to be good for the rest of the world, either. And if we blame them for everything, they will turn isolationist, sure as eggs is eggs.

15 March, 2008

Italian News 15th March

The new head of the employers’ organisation Confindustria is a woman, Emma Marcegaglia, 46.

Even though the populations of the two countries are more or less the same, there are three times as many architects in Italy as there are in Britain.

The Clericus Cup, an international football tournament for Catholic priests and seminarians, established to promote a positive image of football, received a setback when a priest from Burkina Faso was sent off for throwing his shirt at the referee. His team, Paul the Apostle’s College, has been disqualified.

Perla Pavoncello, 24, asked Silvio Berlusconi in a question and answer session how she was supposed to get a mortgage or start a family without a permanent job. Berlusconi advised her to marry a millionaire, such as his son Pier Silvio. "With that smile of yours, you could even get away with it," he added.

Pavoncello appears satisfied with the answer in that she is offering herself as a candidate in the elections for Mr Berlusconi’s party, People of Freedom.

Mr Berlusconi has also revealed that Margaret Thatcher once passed him an invaluable tip for dealing with political life. "She said: 'You cannot govern while reading the newspapers, you must only get your advisors to bring you the ones which speak well of you'. I called my assistant and told him, but then I did not see him again for two months," Berlusconi joked.

Professor Isacco Turina, a sociologist at the University of Bologna, says there are now as many as 1000 hermits in Italy, 60 per cent of whom were female. Hermit tourism is the new craze: Spiritour offers "hermit holidays” in the dunes of Morocco.

The trial involving Parmalat starts today, almost five years after the Italian dairy company collapsed in one of Europe's biggest-ever accounting scandals. The prosecution only has five years to finish the trial before it becomes subject to the Statute of Limitations, so the defence will try to string it out. More than 125 hearings have been scheduled involving 10 million pages of documents. The principal defendant Callisto Tanzi has called 34,000 defence witnesses.

The second Rome mathematics festival has started. It drew 60,000 visitors last year. Italy has seen university applications to study mathematics double in two years.

Augusto Cavadi, a Sicilian tour guide who got fed up with answering the same questions about the mafia has written a book, The Mafia Explained to Tourists, which tackles questions such as: what a mafioso looks like, whether the mafia will exist forever and "why haven't we seen a shoot-out in our 10 days here?" "I included the 10 questions I am always asked, so from now I can just hand out the book," he said. He got the idea reading a washing machine manual.

A 62-year-old Italian woman was stopped at Munich airport after baggage handlers found the skeleton of her brother in her luggage, police said yesterday. She was trying to fulfill the last wish of her brother to be buried in Italy. She was allowed to continue with her package to Naples, where all the cemeteries are full.

It has been discovered that Giuseppe Garibaldi enjoyed a steamy correspondence with the wife of the British MP for Lincoln.

An average of one person a day in Italy loses the sight of an eye due to improper use of contact lenses.
Around 2,500 commercial radio stations broadcast in Italy

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not take her traditional holiday on Ischia, it is thought because of the rubbish problem in the Campania region, proving every cloud has a silver lining.
Archbishop Ennio Antonelli of Florence has said a mass for the Fiorentina football team saying he believes they will win the UEFA Cup .

Italy is the largest producer and exporter of tobacco in Europe and the sixth largest in the world

There are believed to be fewer than 50 Apennine brown bears left, protected in Italy's largest nature reserve, the Abruzzo National Park.

As an incentive for tourists, which have dwindled to almost zero following the rubbish scandal, the government is offering tourists staying for at least two nights in Naples between Easter and July discounts on public transport, museum entry, open-top bus tours and visits to the underground city (the one underneath the rubbish).

A survey by the OECD ranks Italy 23rd out of 30 for net, after-tax income.
Having sentenced several mafia bosses in Gela, Sicily, eight years ago, the judge neglected to write up their sentences, enabling them to go free.
25-year-old Michela Fiore is the first announcer on TV’s Naked News, where four young Italian women read out a news item before removing an item of clothing, continuing until they are naked. Interviewed before the show, she told reporters: ''I find it a very interesting job which will undoubtedly contribute to my professional development''.
A poll found that 91% of Italians wash their hands after using a public lavatory. Only the Germans, Norwegians and the Swiss were more hygienic, with 92% washing their hands.

Venice city council, having tried to stop the pigeons, will have a go at the dogs and hand out 15,000 free 'pooper scoopers' with plastic bags attached.

The Cassation Court has upheld a fine on a man for handing out leaflets which called a Southern Italian mayor ''a miserable charlatan, power fanatic, wheeler-dealer and immoral political presence''. Although these words were themselves permissible they became defamatory when accompanied by ''ignoble''. The mayor has not been named so it is uncertain whether the defendant can claim fair comment.

13 March, 2008

Death of an archbishop

Ur of the Chaldees, often mentioned in the bible, was an ancient city between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, founded around 4000BC. It is where Abraham was born. The Chaldeans were Assyrians and were converted to Christianity. Thus was born the ancient Chaldean Catholic Church. It is in communion with Roman Catholicism and its current patriarch is the first to be made a cardinal of the Church of Rome. Perhaps the most famous member was Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s right hand man.

Now the Chaldean archbishop of Iraq, Paulos Faraj Rahho, who had been abducted a fortnight ago, has been found dead.

The Chaldean Catholic Church has more than half a million members; these are just people who want to worship in the way they see fit. The Church was left in peace until the invasion of Iraq which has polarised attitudes to other religions.

I rather think a moment’s reflection is called for here.

Eliot Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer is reported to have spent $80,000 on prostitutes which is, um, rather a lot.

But I hope this won’t make people forget that the reason he had to go was not the hookers per se, but using them while campaigning for ‘ethical leadership’.

I suppose it must be an almost irresistible temptation for politicians to lecture us on morality – Gordon Brown’s moral compass springs to mind, but as Mr Spitzer shows they must resist it.

By the way he said of Hillary Clinton ‘I look forward to sharing with the rest of the country the values and strengths that will make her an excellent president.’

Oh dear. By their fruits shall ye know them. You can be sure that anyone who had a perfect set of moral values to which he was able to adhere would not have become a politician.

12 March, 2008

The Budget 2

Gordon Brown was a noisy bully of a Chancellor, roaring platitudes from the Despatch Box trying to make them sound like a well thought out policy (‘We will never return to the days of boom and bust’ – Ha!) but Alastair Darling is a quiet, dull little man. He looks like an accountant (though of course isn’t).

I think dullness is a good thing in a Chancellor although Darling shows you can have too much of a good thing. They shouldn’t hold these gigs at lunchtime (I am an hour ahead here so was gasping for a bicchierino before PMQs) although I expect my eyelids would have grown heavy whatever my alcohol levels.

You could have got 8/1 on Darling wearing a purple tie but probably only evens on him mentioning the word ‘stability’ half a dozen times in the first few minutes, which is what he did.

I’m still looking for the hidden catches, although the Treasury spin is that Darling is Mr Straightforward. If I thought Darling had written the budget I might be impressed.

11 March, 2008

The War again

Belgium: the BBC reports that the Belgian government and banks have agreed to pay 5,000 Holocaust survivors, their family members and the Jewish community 35m euros, plus another 75m euros to a trust fund. The money is to compensate Belgian Jews whose property or goods were looted during the German occupation of WWII.

A couple of questions, then.
Firstly, 5,000 claimants are getting an average of euro 7 thousand each. A flat in central Brussels costs around a million euros. In what way is this compensation?

Second: if they weren't paying everyone what they lost, what is going on here? have they just found a low figure, where no one managed to prove they had lost a flat or house but some claims for missing kitchen equipment were accepted? Or did they ignore most of the claims and just paid out a figure they thought was large enough to let them get away with?

Third: the second world war ended 63 years ago. If this money was due why wasn't it paid after all the courts, enquiries and so on?

Fourth: 25,000 Belgian Jews were murdered during the war, not counting the hundreds of thousands who went through in transit, consigned to death by the then Belgian government. Nothing for their families in this amount , I suppose

Fifth: almost all Belgian taxpayers were born after the war ended. In what way are they guilty? Why do they have to pay?

This amount is either not nearly enough, or far too much. In my view there should have been a statute of limitations of at most 25 years. There is no case for the Second World War coming back to haunt us in this way.

And, I've mentioned before, it never seems to be the Germans or Japanese who are guilty, have you noticed?

09 March, 2008

The Budget

I shall be saying something about the budget when it happens, but early reports are that Alastair Darling will increase taxes on drink. If these are true he must be barking mad. Making the non-violent sensible drinking majority pay more will simply remind them what an empty-headed incompetent bunch of weasels we have running the country.

There is NO evidence that increasing the price of drink will stop street violence. The dross will get their hits somehow and in the meantime the civilised world is paying less than a pound a bottle for good wine, £5 for a bottle of scotch.

There is PLENTY of evidence however that increasing taxes helps a spendthrift government stagger on from month to month.

08 March, 2008

Italian News Women's Day Special

Italy celebrates Women’s Day today 8th March.

46.9% of Italian women are in employment compared to the European average of 58.8%. Only Malta is lower at 37.5%, while the Netherlands has 70%. The proportion of female company directors in Italy is in line with European averages at 32.9%.

According to European Parliament, the average quota of female MEPs is 31%, while Italy is near the bottom of the league at 16.7%, or 13 women out of 78 MEPs.

Italy's highest appeal court has ruled that married Italian women who commit adultery are entitled to lie about it to protect their honour. The Court of Cassation found that having a lover was a circumstance that damaged the honour of the woman among family and friends. Lying about it, therefore, was permitted, even in a judicial investigation. At present the ruling applies only to women.

The Court of Cassation, which is largely staffed by elderly male appeal judges, once ruled that a woman could not be raped if she was wearing tight jeans, since the jeans could only be removed with her consent.

One in three young Italian girls believe having sex while standing up or in water is effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy, the Italian Gynaecology and Obstetrics Society said. Other widespread misconceptions among Italian adolescents include the belief that it is impossible to get pregnant if it is the first time they have sex or if they do not have an orgasm, and that Coca Cola is an effective contraceptive douche, proving there is some useful purpose to the liquid.

One woman in three takes the contraceptive pill in the rest of Europe, but Italian women largely avoid it as they believe it is fattening.

For Women’s Day The National Feminist and Lesbian Assembly marched in Rome and 15 other large Italian cities to protest against violence towards women and recent public debate about the right to abortion.

Amongst regional initiatives planned, The Northern League will hand out pepper spray to women instead of the traditional mimosa, putting them at risk of arrest.

Milan's three-day pornography expo Mi-Sex, said it would honour women's ''special day'' with a guest appearance by retired superstud and world No.1 male hardcore star Rocco Siffredi.

In other news,
Several MPs are believed to be among the 400 names of Liechtenstein account holders on a list bought by Italian Tax authorities from Britain.

Milan is staging an exhibition of noise (scarcely necessary in Italy) which includes A Laugh Will Bury You (2005) by Lara Favaretto, where a small resin box on the floor continuously emits a loud high pitched laugh.

Despite boasting such landmarks as the Colosseum and St. Peter's, Rome is only the fifth most recognizable city in the world, according to the latest City Brand Index. Sydney is first.

Fewer than half of Italian families own a computer

An 80-year Ferrara woman was denied a national health card because, according to health officials, she had been dead since January 1, 1983.

100 Italian towns have bike sharing schemes in place, where you can borrow a bike free at one point and deposit it at another

After a series of episodes involving bullying and vandalism a school in Trento is inviting the parents of rowdy children to sit in on first-year lessons for a few hours each day. The school trains children to become accountants.

At a seminar following a survey showing that many homosexuals and divorcees felt unable to confess because priests spoke at them in apocalyptic tones, priests have been told they can deal with ''delusions, hysteria and other symptoms'' but when faced with ''possessions, obsessions and persecutions'' it is best to call an exorcist

Genova: The frustrated lover of an Italian man castrated him in a fit of rage sparked by his refusal to leave his wife, Italian police said.

In a separate case a woman from Parma, pretending to agree to make-up with her estranged husband and have sex, bit off a piece of his penis.

In an investigation of claims for EU funds for olive oil production, police have found false invoices amounting to some 40 million euros and sequestered 85 farms, 23 oil mills, three distribution companies, nine real-estate properties and scores of bank accounts.

Silvio Berlusconi is no longer Italy's richest man, according to Forbes’ List, having been overtaken by the owners of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Luxottica sunglasses. Further down the list telecoms entrepreneur Silvio Scaglia, despite being worth $1.2bn, was only 962nd richest in the world.

Announcing her latest film L'Imbroglio del Lenzuolo (the trick with the sheet) Italian screen beauty Maria Grazia Cucinotta says her native Sicily, for all its faults, is Heaven on Earth. Her statement is being classed by the Church as ''delusions, hysteria and other symptoms''

In order to get to a TV appearance on time through Rome’s heavy traffic Senator Gustavo Selva, 81, feigned an illness and got an ambulance, giving the studio address as his doctor’s surgery. He has been given a six-month suspended sentence and fined 200 euros. He left court saying his conscience was clear.

Young scientists at Pisa University have created a computer model to forecast traffic congestion and make the city more liveable.

The majority of offenders in Italian juvenile detention centres are foreigners, according to The Justice Ministry.

More counterfeiting goes on in Italy than any other European country. The Bank of Italy last year discovered a total of 119,017 counterfeit euro notes to the value of 8.7 million euros, compared to 6.6 million euros in 2006.

The newly revived Alfa Romeo brand will return to the American market for the first time since 1995

New polls show Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party increasing its lead over the Democratic Party, with 45% of the vote. Walter Veltroni said Berlusconi had gone beyond ''delusions, hysteria and other symptoms'' and it was best to call an exorcist

07 March, 2008

The Olympics

I have maintained from the start that the competition to get the Olympic Games is a good one in which to come second. It is an absurd expense, and without even knowing what the going rate for expenditure was I knew it would be at least double the initial estimate: these things always are. And it is going to be better to watch on TV. But it isn’t just the expense: it was always going to be an opportunity for the politically correct to enact some nonsense.

In this respect there is a story going about that the Government has banned the RAF flying team The Red Arrows from performing at the Olympics in 2012. A petition has been got up on the Downing St website, which in turn has posted a message that it is a matter for the organising committee. Nothing to do with us, squire.

Personally, I can quite imagine that some vile little governmental leftie thought it was too militaristic to have the Red Arrows at the games and that the Government, realising the public would be angry, is now backing down. We’ll never know.

In my view it’s better to be safe than sorry and sign the petition. You can sign if you are a British Citizen even living outside the UK, or if you are resident in Britain. It already has over a quarter of a million signatures. You can sign on


06 March, 2008


I confess I don't really care for the work of Icelandic singer Bjork, but following reports that at the end of her concert in China she sang 'Tibet, Tibet, raise your flag' I might just go and buy one of her records.

Few public figures ever seem to mention it but in my view it can't be stressed too often. China invaded Tibet illegally and has since conducted the most disgraceful act of ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen.

It is to this place we are paying for our athletes to go, giving credence to their corrupt, undemocratic regime

Luther and Dross

When on the campaign trail I was often asked why I thought the euro would only last 10-15 years. I used to say part of the problem was Martin Luther.

It won’t make the headlines much but a very important European story is slowly breaking. It concerns international finance so bear with me.

Interest rate differentials in the government bond market – that is to say how much one country pays on its borrowings compared to another - are so small that they are measured in ‘basis points’ (bp), a bp being one hundredth of one percent.

There has always been a tiny difference between the rates on Eurozone government bonds, based on rarity (or in Italy’s case lack of it). Now, you’d expect it to be pretty near zero: the amount that each government can borrow is controlled, no one is going to let a particular country go bust while it is a member of the Eurozone (surely?) and, after all, we are talking about the same currency, the euro.

Yet the yield on different government bonds in the Eurozone is getting wider and wider. What has happened is that investors bought the slightly higher yielding bonds (Italy, Greece etc: the olive belt) because the risk was the same (they thought none of them will go bust since they will be bailed out by Germany), so you got more interest for the same (near zero) risk. But as following the recent crisis they have run short of cash they have been dumping these bonds, which means the yield or interest paid has to rise in order for them to be tradeable. Italy now has to pay 55bp more than Germany on its borrowed money; that’s over half a percent, a huge difference considering it's the same currency. Greece pays 53bp more, Spain 36bp more.

That means an Italian euro is worth less than a German one. Or rather a Southern, Mediterranean, Catholic Euro is worth less than a Northern, Atlantic, Protestant one. That’s where Martin Luther comes in.

People said I was talking nonsense and the euro could never break up. Here is their answer.

05 March, 2008

How the Brits would vote

Well, I must confess I don’t like the cut of Hillary’s gib – trying too hard, no substance other than spin (we know a bit about this in the UK) but I’m a bit suspicious about Obama, too, and McCain, well, is he today’s man?

But there’s one thing that should concern us Brits and Europeans above all else: the threat of protectionism. What this would mean is that America, in the midst of a recession, shuts up shop and slams import tariffs on all and sundry. And it is a real issue, right now: the recessionary threat is there for all to see, and just look at the noises made about the Airbus consortium EADS, which together with an American company, Northrop-Grumman, won the tanker refuelling contract.

So far both Hillary and Obama have made protectionist noises in their speeches. This would be disastrous for EU/American trade and disastrous for the whole world. McCain doesn’t appear to have touched on the subject so at the moment I’m backing him. But watch them: there is a strong protectionist streak in America and the effects would be far worse than the Iraq war.

04 March, 2008

The Mediterranean Union

There are continuing reports that France is trying to set up a Mediterranean Union, a free trade area with loose political ties encompassing all countries which border the Med.

Doubtless Britain, with Gibraltar and its two sovereign bases on Cyprus, will be invited.

The best point about the plan is that Angela Merkel is wholeheartedly opposed to it.

03 March, 2008

All our problems solved on the Island

When I was a child I was taught that all the people in the world could fit on to the Isle of Wight. I suppose now there are more people, and we are too jealous of our privacy and personal space to allow such a stunt to take place so as to prove or disprove the claim, but I thought about it while trying to see some thread in the various disjointed news reports that we are delivered these days like handfuls of grain to free range chickens.

It is now, incredibly, some sort of political contest as to how many prisons we have. The leader in our most popular tabloid, always one of my favourite bits of reading matter, entitled ‘The Sun Says’, has this:

‘David Cameron’s plans to expand spaces in Britain’s jam-packed jails from 81,000 to above 100,000 will be widely welcomed. So will his proposals to end automatic release after serving half the sentence; making lags work to compensate victims; and a tough programme to tackle re-offending.’

So more prisons, and more reasons to lock more people up. Do you want a prison next to your house? Thought not. But what about building them in the Isle of Wight? There is already a prison there (Parkhurst), lots of space if we are not going to put all those billions of people there, and being an island, any escaping lags would have to swim home across the busiest sea-lane in the world.

The second piece of news is that Germany seems to have gone off the rails. It first went off the rails when it appointed a vegetarian chancellor some 75 years ago and now madness has descended on a woman chancellor. Angela Merkel appears to be considering an Anschluss of Liechtenstein, without even the Sudetenland excuse that there are Germans being treated badly there. Indeed they appear to be being treated very well, paying less tax than they would have to if they left their money anywhere near the profligate Merkel. She is making threats not just against the Principality, which in my view should retaliate by making a bid for Volkswagen, but against anyone who has lower taxes than Germany and might attract some banking deposits.

Now, obviously, is the time for a well armed nation like the UK to create a new tax haven to spite this Saxon woman's blustering. Gordon Brown has given away the status of Jersey and Guernsey but I was thinking, what about the Isle of Wight? Plenty of space (OK, except for a few prisons), it needs developing out of its grim 1950s Brighton Rock tourism so what about zero income tax, no VAT and a few 7-star Dubai style hotels near Shanklin? And drink: the government wants to put up the price of booze particularly for you middle class drinkers, what about no tax on any sort of booze throughout the island? All the drunks would leave England’s quiet market towns and take the ferry from Portsmouth, to the benefit of both island and mainland.

The next item is that the government suddenly wants to renege on its promise to build a casino in every town (remember John Major’s grammar school in every town? That didn’t work either). But I think we can see now that there is only one suitable site for a maxi casino – indeed several, we can make it the Las Vegas of Europe.

Looking for a job for Prince Harry when he leaves the army in a sulk and his brother becomes Prince of Wales? Lord of the Isle: who better to run this new paradise?

When I lived near Ryde many years ago there were still the wartime sea defences which you could see stretching out at low tide. So we’d be ready for Angela Merkel’s invasion. Cry God for Harry and the low tax Isle of Wight!

01 March, 2008

Italian News 1st March

Italy has no tradition of ladies proposing on 29th February. However a third of Italian ladies say they would be prepared to do the asking themselves. Of these 29% said they would like to propose by posting a video on the Internet so that friends could watch and comment on their performance, whereas 16% would prefer to propose on live television, while 10% would opt for a large advertising billboard on the streets.

Instead, February 29th was Rare Diseases Day in Italy. About 1 million Italians say they have a rare disease.

In an operation called Red Passion Italian police arrested 15 people in a nationwide crackdown on imitation Ferraris. The customers are aware that they are buying a fake but they are proving very popular. Two years ago the EU's justice commissioner, an Italian, Franco Frattini, caused a diplomatic incident by claiming to have spotted a fake 1967 Ferrari in China.

Sicilian crime writer Andrea Camilleri has been ranked among the 50 greatest ever in a list published by British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

Hard on the heels of its rubbish crisis, Naples is running out of burial sites. About 60 people die in the city every day.

In Italy, fewer than 10% of people are cremated, compared to an average of 36% for Europe.

In 2006, there were 130,000 terminated pregnancies in Italy, 44.6 per cent fewer than in 1982. The comparable figure for the UK is 190,000

Whilst Italy and the UK spend around the same total per head on health, 25% more Italians go private.

German producers have been banned from using the label ‘Parmesan’ for fake Parmigiano cheese

The Sanremo festival, a competition which showcases Italy’s unique tradition of lyrical songs, has been a flop this year with lowest ever audience numbers. Superstar singer Loredana Berte has been banned for copying a 1988 song ‘The Last Secret’ but she will sing anyway.

Italy’s dependency ratio of slightly over 50 per cent (two workers to each dependent) is causing concern

In Prato, Tuscany, the Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross will be made in Chinese during Lent. Father Giuseppe Zhao will perform mass in Mandarin.

Italy has marked World Slow Day with a host of initiatives reminding people to ''slow down to live better'', including Rome's second annual Slow Marathon, in the Trastevere area of the city. Athletes attempt to cover 300 metres in not less than an hour and 27 minutes without stopping. In Milan culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi has invited citizens to the Teatro Franco Parenti to hear him reading Dante through the night. Unmissable.

A 'gentleman thief' who presented his victims with red roses has been caught in Genova. Police said they had tracked down the man, 48, by following the trail left by his flowers at various shops

The number of candidates running for the post of premier in Italy's April general elections has reduced to the unusually low figure of nine

The comedian Beppe Grillo is announcing candidates for his ‘F*** Off’ party. Candidate for governor of Sicily is Sonia Alfano, daughter of the journalist Beppe Alfano who was murdered by the mafia in 1993

Walter Veltroni, leader of the centre left Democratic Party, on a 12,000km campaign tour of Italy in a green, eco-friendly bus has been fined €70 for a seat-belt violation

Rome hosts a festival dedicated to magic. Magicians from around the world will attend the show, entitled 'The Reality of Illusion'. Visitors have been put off, believing it to be a political demonstration.

Gianni Mattiolo, one of Italy's best known magicians, will seek to create the largest physical illusion ever seen in the country. It is believed to be Walter Veltroni winning the election