31 May, 2008

Lost Tribe

I can't help thinking about the lost tribe 'discovered' in South America.

That's it for them, now, isn't it? They can look forward to a future of counselling, welfare, cheap trainers and game shows on TV.

They shot at the helicopter, you know.

Italian News 31st May

After 10 years of work, engineers have stabilised the Leaning Tower of Pisa for the first time in 800 years. It will never be straight because 12th century builders, realising it was tilting, compensated in the construction and it is slightly curved.

La Scala has commissioned Giorgio Battistelli to produce an opera version of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" for the 2011 season.

International research has shown that Italians, both men and women, are the most desired partners for a holiday romance.

58% of Italian women in their fifties, and 38% of those in their sixties, confess to having had an affair, whilst only 11% of twenty year olds say they have.

‘La Ciemonna’ or interplanetary critical mass, is the name given to a mass cycling demonstration in Rome, to promote the healthy effects of cycling.

Museion, the Bolzano museum, has been criticised for displaying a one metre high sculpture of a frog nailed to a cross with a foaming mug of beer in one hand. In 2006 Museion officials were prosecuted over an installation that involved a lavatory flushing to the musical accompaniment of Italy's national anthem.

May 26th was National Bread Day and to celebrate, a Rome bakery has invented the Tottino, a half kilo loaf named after the captain of the national football team.

Based on data from 2006, a report shows that Italy had 3,092 bank robberies compared to 582 in Germany, 438 in Spain and 271 in France. For every 100 bank branches, 9.67 were robbed in Italy compared to 1.37 in Germany, 1.14 in Spain and 0.97 in France. One cause is that Italians still tend to use cash.

Women now account for about half of all wine sales in Italy. Out of 13 million female wine lovers, younger women tend to drink less and pay more attention to quality, whilst the older ones drink more cheap plonk.

Researchers at the Scientific Institute for Food Production have developed a process which eliminates the hard, thorny leaves from artichokes and prepares the artichoke for cooking, but also extends its refrigerator life to up to ten days.

Reservoirs in South East Italy are an estimated two-thirds below capacity and the remaining water is at risk of evaporating due to the current heat wave. The situation is the opposite in the north where, as opposed to recent years, the levels of water in the major lakes are all above average.

The retirement age at Milan's La Scala opera house is 52, compared to 42 in most other countries.

A switchboard operator at Taranto jail has faked blindness for 24 years in order to keep his job. He comes to work on a motorbike.

The Italian Farmers Association has warned that Italy may soon be in the grip of a national prosciutto shortage after Italian pig farmers confirmed they will be going on strike this weekend.

The Court of Cassation has ruled that a wife is not entitled to assets jointly held in the marriage as she disgraced the marital bed by taking a lover. Unfortunately the case has taken 33 years to get to the Court and the Husband is now 75 and the wife 69.

Giancarlo Gentilini, Deputy Mayor of Treviso, is trying to ban foreign breeds of dog from the city. Gentilini once took out all the park benches in Treviso in case immigrants slept on them.

The annual Matanza, the lure of migrating tuna fish into harbours for slaughter, has begun in Carloforte, Sardinia. The largest tuna speared weighed 400 kilos.

150 villagers of Campobasso have issued a petition to police for the release of a 48 year old man accused of wife beating, claiming he is the victim of a plot. The man is also accused of beating his daughter when she tried to intervene.

Mayor of Milan Letizia Moratti is being criticised for stopping a light show at Leonardo’s masterpiece The Last Supper. The show, by British film-maker Peter Greenaway, will project montages, including images of Christ's genitalia, on to the painting, accompanied by actors' voices, in an attempt to link "8,000 years of art and 112 years of cinema".

30 May, 2008

Left Wing Nazis

From The Times’ Richard Owen, 26th May:
‘Balaclava-clad gangs, some wearing bandanas emblazoned with swastikas, smashed shop windows with iron bars and baseball bats and beat up shopkeepers in a hitherto bohemian neighbourhood of Rome.

Members of the gangs shouted “Get out, bastard foreigners” as they attacked Bengali shopkeepers in the explosion of xenophobic violence.

Gianni Alemanno, the capital’s new right-wing Mayor, condemned the attacks, which took place in the eastern suburb of Pigneto, an area with a reputation for tolerance, on Saturday night.’

Now, the organiser of this outrage has been arrested and has admitted his part. He has a tattoo of Che Guevara on his arm and is proud of his left wing credentials. The Pigneto raid, described in most of Europe’s lefty press as ‘Nazi-style’ was organised by the Left, in association with the Camorra, who felt the immigrants were muscling in on their patch.

I am not trying to excuse the extreme right, who are just as vile as the extreme left, but trying to explain that this isn’t as straightforward as people think, and the chance of pinning the Nazi label on it all has been accepted with a little too much alacrity.


News that the BBC Internet operation is 48% over budget will not, unfortunately, surprise many people.

It is laxness on the part of the politicians, however, that I blame. Programme makers and news editors should only have an eye to a quality product. Politicians and management should have an eye to not overspending.

What we have is the opposite. The TV schedules are filled with rubbish (OK, not quite as bad as Italy but low quality pap for the most part) because they want to compete with the independents (Why?). And those with the purse strings loosen them in the name of quality.

I would reduce it to one TV channel, The World Service (which I would expand because it is Britain’s window on the world) Radios 3 and 4 and nothing else. The news department would be by far the biggest and feed into the individual units to avoid duplication (we are sending more BBC people to the Olympics than athletes) and have a limited but high quality website..

Every pound spent by the BBC crowds out investment by talented independents. It’s like Old Labour’s nationalised industries and its sell-by date is long past.

27 May, 2008

Daniel Hannan

The Telegraph feature writer, blogger and Euro MP, who is generally speaking on the side of the angels, goes so far over the top on his blog that it has to be challenged. He reports that the estimable Richard North has given up on his campaign for a referendum on the EU Constitution, saying ‘we end on a note of abject failure’.

Daniel recalls previous times when the game seemed to be up, such as 1992 ‘I campaigned frenetically....I remember feeling utterly alone..’

What you should have done, Daniel, is what I and thousands of others did (you were far from alone) and resign from the Conservative Party. I too had hopes of a career in Tory politics but this was a point of principle, too important to be ignored. Not for Daniel, though. Hannan, as we know, became a Conservative Euro MP, accepting a decent salary for ditching everything he purports to believe in, accepting the Conservative line whatever it may be. This is why the cause has failed: the Conservatives don’t need to be eurosceptic when they have soi-disant eurosceptics who are ready to toe the line.

He goes on ‘This blog, for one, plans to stay in business. Now who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?’

You are not keeping the bridge, Daniel. You surrendered long ago. But some of us remain.

26 May, 2008

A new PM?

Amidst all the stories of Labour figures plotting to get rid of Gordon Brown, several commentators have said that they cannot (or should not) replace one unelected Prime Minister with another, without calling an election.

Of course there is one person, qualified to be prime minister and never rejected by the electorate, who could be called on. It would be the ultimate humiliation for Mr. Brown.


The first fireflies are out here in Umbria, and can be seen at dusk, zooming round the garden flashing like tiny airborne belisha beacons. The firefly is in fact a type of beetle. 90% of the energy it uses to produce the light actually goes into light, making it 9 times as efficient as an electric light bulb.

The Italian for firefly, lucciola, is also the slang for a prostitute. Peter Hobday, the former Radio 4 presenter, lives in the charmingly named Val delle lucciole, which he refers to as Tarts Valley.

The Italian for ‘to get hold of the wrong end of the stick’ is ‘to mistake a firefly for a lantern’

24 May, 2008

Italian News 24th May

The think tank Eurispes has published estimated accounts for the ‘ndrangheta, the Calabrian organised crime syndicate, showing annual income of 44 billion euros, equivalent to around 3% of Italy’s GDP, or the entire GDP of Estonia and Slovenia combined. It is made up of drugs (27bn), industrial corruption (5.7bn), usury (5bn), arms trafficking (2.9bn) and prostitution (2.9bn). No figure given for taxes paid.

Other organised crime syndicates include the Mafia (Sicily), Camorra (Campania) and Sacra Corona Unita (Puglia).

In the last ten years the Italian home mortgage market has increased fivefold but is still low at less than 20% of GDP compared to a European average of 50%. Italians have the highest rate of home ownership but traditionally they have owned their houses outright.

On average a person’s income doubles on becoming an MP in Italy. Italian MPs incomes have risen 6 times faster than the Italian average.

Italy has no university in the world top 100 and Southern Italy doesn’t have one in the top 300.

An estimated 3% of Italians are believed to have hepatitis C, some 1.8 million people, the highest percentage in Europe. In some African countries, like Egypt, 20% of the population has the disease. 14,000 people in Italy died from hepatitis C in 2003 compared to 447 who died from AIDS.

The Ponte dell'Accademia, one of just four bridges across Venice's Grand Canal, will be made into a permanent structure. The current bridge, made of wood and iron and opened in 1933, was only ever intended as a temporary measure.

A Milanese pensioner was stabbed in the face after a fight broke out in a shopping centre restaurant over who got the last slice of cake.

Police in Pescara have discovered that the owner of a local factory has falsely sold 400,000 jars of preserves to the United States, under the Fiordifrutta label (which belongs to another company). He had also illegally attached labels to the jars certifying that the jam was kosher.

Tuscany is marking the 80th anniversary of the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover by opening up the Villa Mirenda at Scandicci where D.H. Lawrence wrote the novel. There will be a series of lectures and films. The book was not published in England until 1960.

An association of Padre Pio devotees has said it will press charges against the Capuchin friars of San Giovanni Rotondo for desecration, in that they allegedly opened up the tomb to take an early peek.

Italians will not in general buy agricultural produce from other countries, the exception being apples. According to the Farmers’ Union, there are 1,800 varieties of apples in Europe, but around 80% of Italian demand for the fruit was fulfilled by just four types: Red Delicious and Golden Delicious from America, Granny Smith from Australia and Gala from New Zealand. Producers of English Russets should take note.

Italy banned nuclear power after a referendum following the Chernobyl disaster, but following energy shortages in recent years, industry Minister Claudio Scajola has confirmed that Italy will begin construction on new generation plants in the current legislature

Special 'anti-Mafia' pasta will be on sale from Sunday. The plan is to sell 100,000 packets of spaghetti produced by a youth cooperative using wheat grown on lands seized from the Mafia around the Sicilian town of Corleone.

Exports of Tuscan red wine to The United Kingdom were up 20% in value and 18% in quantity for 2007 with respect the previous year.

‘Open Cellars’ marks its 16th year with some 800 vineyards opening their cellars to the public. Well over a million people are expected to be drawn to the countryside to see where and how wine is made and discover what it tastes like at its source. There are currently around five million practising wine tourists, also known as 'wine-nauts', in Italy.

Much of Italy's 3,700 kilometres of beach been conceded to private businesses who charge people for entrance as well as other facilities. In Liguria, only 19 km out of 135 km of beaches are free of charge. However the 10 metres next to the sea on any beach is, by law, public property, so if you don’t cross the private part but swim in you can use the most exclusive private beach free of charge.

Tiscali founder Renato Soru has bought the Communist newspaper l’Unità. Founded by Antonio Gramsci in 1924 it was the official mouthpiece of the Italian Communist Party until 1991. Former editors include Walter Veltroni, now leader of the Democratic Party. Soru said the paper was ''an asset to culture and democracy''.

Following restrictive legislation, about 600,000 Italians have given up smoking in the last year. However, the number getting through more than one packet a day has risen to 36%, an increase of 4% on 2007. Some 26% of all Italian men and 18% of women smoke - a total of 11.2 million people. Most smokers have their first cigarette at the age of 17.

Most Italian trains are given names, but hitherto there has been no name for the commuter trains. After a poll of primary school children it has been decided to call them ‘dingoes’. The other winning names included, for Italy's new generation of high-speed trains, Cheetah and Gazelle. Existing names include Tortoise (obviously) and Crocodile.

According to a survey conducted by Il Giornale, almost seven out of 10 Italians said they wanted immigrants to be fingerprinted and DNA tested.

With a new government, plans to build the world's longest suspension bridge to link Sicily and the Italian mainland are back on track and the bridge may open as early as 2016, they say. A Sicilian spokesman in dark glasses said the slightly costly structure would be ''an asset to culture and democracy''.

22 May, 2008

The beautiful game

The Moscow Police must have felt they had drawn the short straw with two English teams reaching the final. A nice all-Swiss clash between Appenzell Athletic and FC Graubunden must have been what they had dreamed of. But it seems they played a blinder: no violence, no arrests.

No violence is more than can be said of the football where, presumably out of the referee’s sight (I am not too clear on the rules), players were pushing, punching, kicking and in one case (Carlos Tevez) trying to strangle others. A poor example, and I think it is even worse that it seems to have gone unreported.

There were arrests at Stamford Bridge, of course, thousands of miles from where the match was staged. I am not of the Authoritarian Tendency but can on occasions be tempted to think that tougher penalties might be the answer. In more sensible mood I think we need an answer to this: what sort of society have we created where a game – 22 nancies chasing a ball – becomes so important, where people have so little else to cling to, that they indulge themselves in such behaviour? I suppose we’re all to blame, but how? How did it get this way?

Cricket: the second Test against New Zealand starts tomorrow.

Oil prices

Oil reached $135 a barrel today and the BBC’s The World at One devoted its entire programme to a well meaning but rather confusing, lightweight analysis of the problem.

Ten years ago the price was $10. But the point of my giving that figure is not to show how much it has gone up. Oil then had collapsed to (in real terms) a disastrous low which no one had foreseen. Those connected with the oil industry, as I was, saw page after page of memoranda, endured hour after hour of meetings, on how to cope with $10 oil for the next ten years, quite possibly (the reports said) more. Equally no one had foreseen the $130 price and it is not set in stone (or I should say in sedimentary rock formations) much less the apocalyptic $200 a barrel forecasts that have been bandied about.

What’s happening? Demand from the Chinese, some have said: if every Chinese bought a motorbike we’d be.. gosh, I don’t know where...(buying motorcycle manufacturers’ shares, perhaps). But no, the growth in Chinese and indeed global demand has been declining. Yes, declining. There’s the fall in the dollar which seems to have been worth $25-30 a barrel (for us Europeans). There’s interruption of supply in Nigeria and Iraq, which is a problem, and there’s speculation: nerves and ambition. My end of year forecast was that the price would come off, and I still see little in the way of fundamentals to keep it so high.

Some of the environmental nutters say this is the endgame, a slow decline in the world’s reserves leading to catastrophic prices. Nonsense. There is still oil. When I was first involved in the industry in the late 1970s they said there were reserves for about 45 years. Now 30 years later there are reserves for about..er..45 years. I remember being told that the production west of Shetland wasn’t viable at less than $40 a barrel; there is oil from shale, in massive quantities, which (people threw up their hands in horror) isn’t viable at less than about $60 a barrel. There’s oil left in established fields that it just wasn’t worth getting out when prices were $10.

Oil is a long term business. It is quite easy to imagine, for people who have seen a whole cycle or two pass before their eyes on the Reuters’ screen, that over the next decade massive investment and then production takes place and then there is too much oil again. We don’t know. In ten years it might be $10 again. The price at the pump? I think it is going to be high (but not much higher and occsionally a fair bit lower) for 2 years. But I don’t know either.

If there is to be massive investment driven by the high prices, Britain (if it still exists then) wants its fair share, so a word of advice to Mr Cameron: if he does become Prime Minister at a time of high oil prices he should guarantee a tax regime to the oil companies for the long term, encouraging them to prospect for more. Mr Brown cheated them by fiddling the duties and they never trusted him again. When you invest for 25 years and more, trust is important.

21 May, 2008

Poor Ada

Some people may have been surprised at Gordon Brown's reference at PMQs to Britain's worst enemy Alchy Ada. I'm not; the old dear can be quite a handful after a couple of gins.

20 May, 2008


Belgium is, as we know, a country divided by language and culture, and so I was interested to read on the BBC website about its Eurovison entry. It is in a made up language. The ‘words’ include "O julissi na jalyni, O julissi na dytini, O bulo diti non slukati, Sestrone dina katsu..." which doesn’t mean anything at all, in any language but is, I suppose, inoffensive.

I rather hope it wins: it seems to symbolise the whole event.

The Embryology Bill

Ian Dale says that anyone who has a public platform should be prepared to show how he would vote on a sensitive issue like the Embryology Bill. He may be right and for what it’s worth I’ll give a couple of observations. All societies condemn killing and just as when I was young we had to reach for a definition of what ‘dead’ meant – stopped breathing, no viable life predicted, brain dead etc – so now we have to reach for a definition of what being alive is. And in my view we have to do it before we start discussing more complicated matters such as the Embryology Bill.

The only conclusion I have been able to come to that makes any sense (to me) is that life begins at the moment of conception. I should say immediately that I bear no resentment or ill will to anyone who has come to a different conclusion – it is a difficult matter, particularly in my case because its implications are unpopular. The people I do despise are those who vote for abortion because it is convenient.

For me it means that there is no moral difference in killing a human 20 weeks after conception to killing one 20 weeks or 20 years after birth. Accordingly I would have abstained on the 20-24 weeks issue on the grounds that the difference is purely aesthetic: the age and similarity of the aborted foetus to a grown human. I might possibly have persuaded myself that animal-human hybrids are not humans so you can do what you like with them but I doubt it and find the scales tipped by its sheer repugnance. I should certainly have voted against ‘saviour siblings’ because in my terms this is saying your child can live if we kill 99 others. That I should have done so in the knowledge that this might limit the chances of a cure for a number of diseases is an indication of how difficult an MP’s job can be.

I hope MPs have informed themselves fully on this and related matters, such as whether the alternatives to embryo cells are viable. Some people are saying that embryo cells are not as good as stem cells taken from the spine or from blood because they are naturally carcinogenic. Some are saying we simply cannot progress using only non-embryo stem cells. Which is the truth?

But I have my doubts as to whether MPs are taking their responsibilities seriously and the Tory response of splitting the difference between the proposed 20 weeks and the existing 24 smacks of canny politics which has no place in this debate. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Lastly, I am fed up with being grouped with the ‘religious objectors’ and therefore regarded as mad by the left wing press. This has nothing whatsoever to do with religion: it is a secular, humanist morality with which the Roman Church (to which I don't belong) agrees.

19 May, 2008

Bad Reporting

I’m paraphrasing this but you can see the original on the Sky website. Sky’s David Bowden: this lady has agreed to tell her story in her own words...she doesn’t speak any English and I don’t speak any Chinese so we are going to talk through an interpreter..

Interpreter ... she really really wants to thank the government and the lovely soldiers...

Bowden..is she worried there will be another big earthquake and she will be in danger?..

Interpreter: she says that even if there is another big earthquake she is not worried because she thinks the government and the party leaders are able to handle the situation.

Bowden: so there you have it, in her own words..

So.. let’s see if we can guess where they hired the interpreter? How any reporter could fall for this I really don’t know.

18 May, 2008

Italian News 17th May

Research into the body clock reveals that only 3% of Italians are able to wake on time without an alarm clock. 16% use one occasionally and fully 81% use one all the time. No research yet as to why they are still always late for appointments.

Terravision, which operates a bus service from Rome’s Ciampino airport to the city centre for passengers on low-cost airlines has had its fleet of 12 buses impounded by police for not having a valid licence. In some cases officers boarded the vehicles ordering off the passengers and their luggage. Terravision contests the claim.

Researchers in Turin were startled to find DNA traces of the Tuber indicum, a Chinese truffle, on tree roots in Italy. The Chinese truffle looks the same as the black Italian truffle, but has no taste or smell and grows more aggressively than either the black or white Italian versions and if the spores have spread it could usurp them. The spoors had been impregnated into plants and sold to truffle cultivators as the real thing.

Italy has the world’s lowest birth rate at 1.2, against a European average of 1.5 and the necessary rate for population replacement of 2.1

The Cassation Court has upheld a conviction and 150 euro fine under Italy's law against noxious emissions against a woman who owned 30 cats and dogs and allowed them to foul her garden.

Sultry Italian screen goddess Monica Bellucci has won a Gerard, the French equivalent of the American Golden Raspberry Awards for ''worst achievements in film'', for her role in Le Deuxieme Souffle, not a cookery programme but a film noir ‘The Second Wind’.

The North Eastern region of Trentino-Alto Adige will hold a three-day conference on living with brown bears, in an effort to stem the fears of local residents. ''Bears are appearing more and more frequently, worrying villagers and farmers. They tend to divide public opinion,'' said organisers. Bears were reintroduced into the border regions without any agreements with neighbouring countries and several have been killed.

Italian scientists in Cremona have created the world's first pigs to be born without the antigen that causes humans to reject transplanted animal organs.

Italian Yacht building is undergoing a boom. Fashion Yacht Italia & C. group have produced the Fashion 68, the first model made with gold leaf flooring in the interior, and will open The Fashion Yacht Cafe' in Livorno in October, to give everyone the opportunity to experience dinner on board a yacht.

Italy has got its first TV news show in Romanian. The show goes out each Friday on a local station in Turin, which has about 60,000 Romanian immigrants.

The head of Venice city council's 'urban decorum' office has appealed to people to stop the graffiti on historic buildings and monuments. Augusto Salvadori said the council could no longer put up with the costs required for such clean-up operations.

The urban decorum office also sends volunteer patrols of 'guardian angels' round the city to prevent ''indecorous behaviour'' among the 20 million tourists the city receives each year, which includes sitting on the pavement, eating sandwiches or going bare-chested. Other moves include banning the feeding of pigeons, a crack-down on street artists, laws to stop the sale of fast food in St Mark's Square and plans to fine beggars up to 500 euros and confiscate their day's takings.

Work to stabilise Venice's famous bell tower in St Mark's Square has come to a halt after builders hit archaeological remains while digging a drain for the workmen's toilets.

Half of Italian men between the ages of 30 and 50 have made an appointment with a specialist to discuss having plastic surgery. Only around 20-30% go through with the process, however. The most requested procedures are reabsorbable fillers, laser depilation, botox treatments and lip retouching.

The rubbish crisis in Naples and the Campania region has resulted in a 650,000 drop in tourist numbers and a loss of earnings of around 64 million euros. On Friday traffic in Naples city centre was blocked by some 5,000 tonnes of rubbish, and firemen were called out on 60 occasions on Thursday night as desperate residents set fire to rubbish mountains.

Italy's greatest clown, Carlo Colombaioni, who worked on several Fellini films, has died in France at the age of 75.

His successor, Silvio Berlusconi, has announced that the new government will have 37 under-secretaries but no junior ministers. The government has won a vote of confidence in the Senate and so is all set to race ahead with the political programme just a month after being elected.

14 May, 2008


In today’s Times, Chris Dillow congratulates Alastair Darling on getting himself out of a hole (although over a million people are still going to be worse off) over the 10p rate. He also discusses the proposition that borrowing is a tax on future generations. Quite interesting.

Where I differ with Dillow is in this: ‘He seems to have learnt what Gordon Brown didn't as Chancellor - that the best way to help the low paid is to lift them out of the tax system altogether’.

I believe that everybody should pay some tax, to give them a sense of civic responsibility and to give them an incentive to campaign for the tax to be reduced. No one is going to push for smaller government if it is effectively free.


Today is the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel, that is to say of the date when David Ben-Gurion made the declaration of an independent state. I mention this because if you believed the press it started to happen ten days ago and indeed scarcely makes the papers today.

I haven’t always agreed with everything Israel has done but what I have liked about it is that it carries on in the face of such resentment, such hatred. It is an example in national courage which I respect and envy.

Happy birthday, Israel.

12 May, 2008

Brown and Cameron

Criticism of Gordon Brown is now so widespread and so serious, I think as bad as I have ever seen of a political leader, that it will soon start to be working, perversely, in his favour. People will start to think ‘wait, but he’s not that bad... what about the other bloke...’. There is, in short, a danger that the Tories have peaked too early.

Cameron was sensible to be heard this morning talking about Burma and not criticising the government. He must look like a leader in waiting, not keep telling us this is a government in decline.

11 May, 2008

Italy disappoints British Lefties

One of the worst crimes a journalist can commit is to decide on the answer and fit facts or near-facts to make it the conclusion. We have seen quite a lot of this recently where the Left in Britain, unable to conceive that a European country threw out a centre left government and replaced it with a centre right one (you’ll see another soon, chaps) have decided that Italy has turned fascist. From their usual outlets, the Guardian, The Independent and the New Statesman has emerged a chorus of drivel which would have put Mussolini’s press management to shame.

One or two wanted us to believe that there were strutting fascisti on the steps of Montecitorio making fascist salutes. I looked as close as I could at the photos and they were just people waving, having a good time. What might have been two straight arm salutes could have been people catching the attention of the camera or even about to make closed fist communist salutes. None of the worthies claimed that Italy was facing disaster when the communist salute was visible everywhere. Indeed there have been communists and ‘post communists’ (Tobias Helm uses the term ‘post fascist' in the hope that you will think they still are) in the government in recent years but the lefty comentariat never suggested that Italy was heading for a period of Stalin’s gulags or Jewish pogroms. Indeed even that is not a fair comparison because there was a hard right party standing at the election (La Destra, headed by Storace and Santanché) which refused to join Berlusconi’s People of Liberty without assurances as to policy which they were not given. La Destra was completely wiped out, as of course was the hard left. If there is only one conclusion that we can draw from recent elections it is that Italy has rejected extremism.

People in Italy, politicians in particular, do things for effect. When the likes of Tobias Helm quote Bossi as having the firearms ready they don’t understand (or perhaps they do but don’t want you to) that he would have been horrified by such a thing, even before his heart attack. Helm shows neither a liking for nor an understanding of Italy. He is the author of a lightweight book called the Dark Heart of Italy, in which he complains, inter alia, that Italian Sex Shops are called Sexy Shops – foreigners unable to get his language right, you see.

The big issue in Italy, particularly in Rome, is crime. A black girl was raped and killed outside one of Rome’s stations; most of the kids in juvenile detention centres are non-Italians; most people think illegal immigrants commit a disproportionate amount of the crime in Italy and most people think that the generations of left wing governments in Rome and elsewhere haven’t done enough. So they voted for someone else. Nationally they thought the centre left government didn’t do enough on a range of issues, so they voted for someone else.

Here is Tobias Helm again: ‘Many in Italy are deeply worried by the results. Berlusconi's coalition, they say, wasn't an ordinary rightwing movement, but instead an assortment of far-right extremists and dangerous, deluded rabble-rousers.’ So who are these ‘many people’, Tobias? Met them down the sexy shop, did you? Or was it, perchance, in the Guardian’s editorial room?

What people really are worried about here is not that Berlusconi will be screeching plans for an invasion of Africa from the Palazzo di Venezia but that he will do what he did the last time: nothing, except keep himself out of prison.

10 May, 2008

Italian News 10th May

A housewife from Avezzano has been treated for severe burns after an artichoke she was peeling exploded in her hand. The planting of the explosive is thought to be a ‘Unabomber’ style gesture.

Responding to high street inflation, Italians are eating 2.6% less pasta than a year ago; the staple has increased in price by 18.6%. They are saving money by eating 4% more chicken and eggs, now that the avian ‘flu threat is forgotten.

The annual miracle of the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples, took place as usual. It was witnessed by 1,500 people, mainly tourists. Some people say that if the saint abandoned the people of Naples, the streets would fill with rubbish.

60% of Italian males say they would have sex without love, against only 27% of women. 85% of men thought seduction was an essential part of sex. The survey was conducted in 12 European countries and found Italy about average in that 53% of people would like more sex and 20% would interrupt a sex act if it was becoming boring.

The European Commission is taking Italy to court for the excessive rubbish in Naples

Italian justice is so slow that 95% of crimes are subject to the statute of limitations and go unpunished.

The Vatican website now has a section in Latin - Sancta Sedes (Holy See) - with Latin papal texts and religious works. Father Reginald Foster, an American priest who is the Pope's official Latinist, has a weekly programme on Vatican Radio called The Latin Lover, in which he explains the historical and contemporary uses of the language.

45% of Italians between the ages of 30 and 35 still live with their parents. Only 18% of parents believe their children should leave home once they turn legal age. However, almost half of new couples go to live within a kilometre of the home of the parents of either the husband or wife.

Italy is the best place in the world for children but not for their mothers, according to the 2008 Mother's Day Report Card put out by the Save the Children charity. Out of 146 countries Italy, whilst first for children, for the second year in a row, was 19th best for mothers and 24th for women. Although behind Hungary, Spain and Greece in the women's category, Italy was a better place to live for women than Austria, Japan and Luxembourg.

The Archdiocese of Naples has joined a campaign aimed at reducing traffic deaths. ''The diocese feels it is its duty to join in this mission of civic faith and defence of life,'' Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop of Naples, said. The campaign is called 'a maronna t'accumpagna', which in Neapolitan dialect means 'may the Virgin Mary be by your side' (presumably not wearing a seatbelt and talking on a mobile ‘phone).Naples has two road accidents every three hours, 23 people injured every day and an average of 2.6 deaths a week in traffic accidents. Road accidents are the most common cause of death among people under 30.

Padre Pio's shrine at San Giovanni Rotondo, where the saint's body has been put on show, has become a bigger attraction than Lourdes. It is forecast that nine million visitors will make the town the world's second most popular destination for religious tourists behind the Vatican. Lourdes averages eight million visitors.

The mayor of San Paolo Matese in Molise, after the town had been cut off by snow for three days, denounced the company contracted to clear the snow as having ''a couldn't-give-a-f*** attitude and scant professionalism'' hoping they would be fined, but was himself charged with defamation. The Court of Cassation has however ruled that mayors are entitled to swear at companies who fail to carry out services necessary for citizens to go about their daily life

Arezzo in Tuscany has built the world’s first urban hydrogen duct. Hydrogen produced using solar energy is pumped direct to users, and powers an industrial estate and the surrounding houses.

Following the temporary publication of the entire nation’s tax records with addresses and income details, Rome Police are investigating the violation of privacy and are questioning outgoing deputy finance minister Vincenzo Visco, who it will be recalled once transferred away a team of investigators who were looking at a bank which had financed his party.

Silvio Berlusconi has had sworn in his new government in what papers are describing as the shortest time ever – just short of a month. Italy's new government is the 66th since the fall of Fascism and the 60th since Italy was proclaimed a republic after the war. The new executive is made up of 12 full ministers and nine without portfolio, for a total of 21, four less than the outgoing centre-left government of Romano Prodi. The average age of the ministers is 50, six years less than the outgoing Prodi government.

Four out of 21 ministers are women, although only two hold portfolios. In the Prodi government six out of 25 ministers were women, the same percentage..

Italians have more confidence in Silvio Berlusconi than his government as a whole, according to a poll in La Repubblica. However, Youth Policy Minister Giorgia Meloni (pictured), the youngest minister ever, enjoys the greatest confidence among all the government ministers with an approval rating of 62%.

The cabinet's first formal meeting will be held in Naples, as Berlusconi promised during the election campaign, prioritising the rubbish clearance. However one miracle a month is thought to be all Naples will get.

09 May, 2008

Europe Day

Today is Europe Day. Anyone knew that? Good.

It is the anniversary of The Schumann Declaration of 1950 which Euro-loonies regard as the symbolic beginning of their undemocratic state.

In fact we now know that Schumann had nothing to do with it. It was written by Jean Monnet, a man who had advocated a supranational power even during the First World War, who handed it to Schumann as he took the train to his country estate for the weekend, and it came back signed on the Monday. We can't even be certain he read it.

Happy Birthday Europe...er..Robert...er Jean. God help the lot of us.

08 May, 2008

A Scottish referendum?

Amidst all the talk about Scotland holding a referendum on independence from the UK, and the politics is about as messy as it can be, one piece of common sense seems to be missing. The Union of England, Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland is the property of all of us. A change to it should be put to the vote amongst all the constituent parts.

I personally would vote for independence for Scotland. They have a higher level of representation at Westminster, proportionate to population, than the English, they receive a far higher level of government spending and the idiocy of the West Lothian Question means that a Scottish MP can vote on the English health service but not on the Scottish one, making a nonsense of our democracy. And yet the Scots are always whingeing, like a spoilt child demanding more Christmas presents.

Off they go, is what I say. If the Scottish Nationalist Party had any sense they would field candidates in England. I think a lot of English people would happily vote to get them off our backs.

07 May, 2008

Brown a waxwork?

Most amusing - Mme Tussauds are asking you to give your views as to whether they should make a model of Gordon Brown

05 May, 2008

Names in Nantwich

This blog will continue fearlessly to expose instances of politicians not using their correct names. Here is one from the forthcoming Nantwich and Crewe by-election.

The first name of Tamsin Dunwoody, who also passes under the name Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneafsey, is Moyra.

I urge you not to consider voting for someone who will not put their right name on their own publicity.


What’s the connection between Henry Ford and Margaret Thatcher? Or between Henry Ford and Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?

For something I’ve been writing I’ve had a look at Henry Ford’s supposed saying ‘History’s bunk’. Did he just come out with it? Why? Or is it a misquote, like Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’? In fact it was more like Mrs Thatcher’s ‘There’s no such thing as society’* – a truncated version giving a different impression..

Here’s the quote: ‘History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today’ which I think is rather good, for an industrialist, and relevant in 1916. In fact Ford was described as an anarchist by the Chicago Tribune and sued for libel. He was cross-examined for eight days but emerged victorious.

The word bunk, properly ‘bunkum’, dates back to 1820 when Congress were discussing the Missouri Question. The debate had gone on for some time and the congressmen wanted to proceed to the vote but the representative from N Carolina, who hailed from Buncombe County, insisted on putting across his views, however much they had already been heard from others, because he wanted ‘to make a speech for Buncombe’.

N Carolina, including Buncombe if it is still there, goes to the vote soon for the Democratic nomination. This blog prefers Obama to Clinton, but doesn’t think he can beat McCain, whereas she might. Good luck to them all.

*And the Thatcher quote: "I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.”

Which isn’t quite the same.

03 May, 2008

Italian News

Vicenzo Barlotti, a surgeon from Capaccio Scalo, has sued the Italian State on the grounds that his patients are uncivil. He clams 2 million euros to rebuild his life after the great suffering, disorder and degradation in which he was constrained to live.

Extensive testing on nearly 1,000 buffalo herds has ensured that buffalo mozzarella is once again completely safe to eat, outgoing Agriculture Minister Paolo De Castro has said.

Italy was responsible for almost a quarter of all workplace deaths within the European Union with 918, compared to Germany 678, Spain 662, France 593 and Britain (where almost no mozzarella is eaten at work) 209.

Unexpectedly, the Italian Tax Office put the details of all Italian taxpayers on the internet, a move described by the outgoing minister as ‘in the spirit of openness’. Beppe Grillo commented ''madness, pure madness. After the pardon which emptied the nations' jails, this imbecile outgoing government is offering criminals information on taxpayers' incomes and giving them their addresses''. After a day the privacy watchdog ordered the information to be removed.

But not before we discovered that out of a total of 40.74 million Italians filing tax returns, over 22 million (more than half) declared an income of between 1,200 and 1,300 euros a month (£11,160 - £12,180 p.a.). Just over 300,000 declared earnings of over 100,000 euros (£78,000) a year, equal to 0.74% of tax payers. More than half of Italian companies claimed to have broken even or declared losses.

The Tuscan city of Capannori claims to have the world’s highest rates of recycling and is aiming for ‘zero garbage by 2020’.

A survey of 13,000 people in nine countries found that just 14% of Italians were able to correctly answer basic questions relating to the Bible. Among questions frequently failed: whether Jesus helped write the Bible, whether the Gospels were part of the Bible and whether Moses or Paul appeared in the Old Testament.
More correct answers were given by Poland at 20%, but even fewer by France (11%) and Spain (8%). 27% of Italians said they had read a passage from the bible over the last year, against 75% in the USA. 79% of Italians thought God was watching over them, similar to Poland and Russia, slightly lower than in the US (86%), and far more than in France (47%). There again, God isn’t watching over France.

88% of Italians claim to be catholic.

The latest 31 recruits to join the Swiss Guards, the Vatican's private army, will swear their oath of allegiance on May 6th, anniversary of the heroic deaths of 147 guards defending the Medici pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome by Emperor Charles V in 1527.
The Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, and numbers 110. Most will take their oath in German, while 11 will do so in French, one in Italian and one in Ladin, the Romansh language spoken in the Engadine.

Rome’s third Film Festival may be different to the first two. Founded by Walter Veltroni, the outgoing mayor, who was a film buff, it is thought by the new mayor to be a waste of money, celebrating Hollywood A-listers rather than the Italian film industry.

Southern Italy's Paglicci Cave, one of the most important Stone Age sites in Europe, may soon collapse if repairs are not made, archaeologists have warned. The Paleolithic settlement in Puglia's Gargano peninsula is thought to have been continually inhabited by early man between 200,000 and 11,000 years ago.

The Pope failed to make Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Those who did make it include the Dalai Lama, the Patriarch of Constantinople, George Clooney, Andre Agassi, Mariah Carey and Miley Cyrus, an actress.

The saga of Venice’s pigeons continues: after the ban on feeding them was extended to St Mark’s Square, animal rights campaigners have stepped in after two days to distribute 30 kilos of birdseed to the hungry creatures. There had been 19 licensed birdseed sellers in St Mark’s Square alone.

The Rome mayoral race was won by Giovanni Alemanno, 50, an environmental engineer from Bari. Alemanno was formerly head of Fronte della Gioventù, the youth movement of the fascist Italian Social Movement MSI. He is a former agriculture minister, praised for his opposition to genetically modified organisms, his efforts to boost the export of Italian quality foods and his defence of authentic national products against foreign counterfeits.
The main subject of debate in the election was the high levels of petty crime popularly believed to be committed by camps of illegal immigrants along the banks of the Tiber.

Former foreign minister Gianfranco Fini has been appointed House Speaker. The former fascist leader of AN is the first right winger to hold the post since the war.

Italy's new government will be up and running within two weeks, Premier-elect Silvio Berlusconi said on Tuesday, making just under a month since the election. There are unconfirmed reports that the new governmental team will contain ‘zero garbage by 2020’

01 May, 2008

Oil Prices

Anatole Kaletsky has been hitting some good form recently, after what I at least regarded as a suspect phase a couple of years ago (economic analysis well past its sell-by date) and he has a good article in the Times today reminding us that wheat and several other commodities have come sharply off their peak prices and the same may well happen to oil in the near future.

Someone recently said to me that the oil prices were driven by speculators and I had to ask ‘but why aren’t the speculators selling rather than buying?’ Now we may be seeing the first signs that they are.

London Elections

It is the day of the London Elections and the candidates will be waiting earnestly to hear whom this blog endorses.

First, it has become increasingly apparent that Ken Livingstone must go. He has been there too long, there are reports, if not of corruption, of less than scrupulous usage of the citizens’ taxes and of his obscure obsessions being given greater licence as his power became unassailable. The Labour Party in happier times might have worked this out – after all they got rid of the party leader in order to undergo some sort of renewal, but they were powerless before Great Ken (another reason he should go).

It is equally apparent that if it is not to be Ken it will be Alexander (Boris) Johnson. But I do not find him a wholly attractive proposition. The man is shambolic, an actor, and with the attention span of a butterfly. He will make an adequate mayor if he knows how to delegate and is able to make mature character judgments of the people he is delegating to. But we know nothing of this. And we must start punishing people for not using their proper names; it is as if they are avoiding their creditors.

Accordingly this blog recommends that you show your displeasure at Boris by voting for one of the protest candidates, Brian Paddick if you like him, Gerrard Batten the UKIP candidate if, like me, you find that important, the Green (she is very good looking) or whatever. And that you give your second preference to Boris. Scraping in on the second preferences will at least indicate to Boris that this is not a lifetime sinecure and that he will have to do something positive.