26 June, 2009

Berlusconi: riding the ripple

One of the few commentators who understand that Berlusconi is not being judged by an Anglo-Saxon Protestant electorate, but by an Italian one, is the author Tim Parks, who wrote a sensible piece in the Guardian this week. In it he says 'I have yet to meet an Italian who thinks Berlusconi should resign over this.' Nor have I encountered one either.

More bad news for the lefties: Berlusconi's approval rating is 61%. Compare that to Brown (!), Merkel, Sarkozy and the rest. And he is also about to welcome the great and good for the G8, in the earthquake torn city of l'Aquila, a political masterstroke.

Michael Jackson

I keep a list, which I look at from time to time, of famous people who died at an age I have already passed: Christ, Mozart, Shelley, John F Kennedy etc. It serves both to bolster confidence that things could be worse and to remind one of one’s own ineffectuality.

My first thought about Michael Jackson was that I wasn’t in the least surprised to be writing his name on it. Whereas the deaths of other much older people in the music business – Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, would cause you to stop and think, with Jackson it seems, with hindsight, just obvious.

His many fans must hope that he will be remembered for his music, but it is his life and lifestyle which has too often been the story: the strange pallor, the children, the bankruptcy. Unlike, say, Elvis Presley or David Bowie there was nothing about Jackson’s lifestyle that anyone would have wanted.

And now the stories will run, the unauthorised biographies will be written and the money will flow in and pay off the debts. Hey-ho.

22 June, 2009

Europe: something new

Have a quick read of this

1. Free enterprise, free and fair trade and competition, minimal regulation, lower taxation, and small government as the ultimate catalysts for individual freedom and personal and national prosperity.

2. Freedom of the individual, more personal responsibility and greater democratic accountability.

3. Sustainable, clean energy supply with an emphasis on energy security.

4. The importance of the family as the bedrock of society.

5. The sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity.

6. The overriding value of the transatlantic security relationship in a revitalised NATO, and support for young democracies across Europe.

7. Effectively controlled immigration and an end to abuse of asylum procedures

8. Efficient and modern public services and sensitivity to the needs of both rural and urban communities.

9. An end to waste and excessive bureaucracy and a commitment to greater transparency and probity in the EU institutions and use of EU funds.

10. Respect and equitable treatment for all EU countries, new and old, large and small.

Doesn't sound too bad, does it? It is the declaration of the new Euro-parliamentary grouping formed around the Conservative Party, which has left the EPP, containing the ruling parties of France and Germany, where they couldn't have even whispered point No. 5.

Let's hope they all mean it.

Italy votes (2)

Thought so. The turnout appears to be well below the 50% required, although the polls are open today as well. In my area it was 9%.

It has been said in one paper that if you want a low turnout, have the vote when people have recently voted on something else, and time it for the start of the holiday season.

Er, Silvio......

21 June, 2009

Italy votes

Italy is at the polls again today, for the second time this month. This time it is a referendum on the voting system, which would get rid of the coalitions that have governed since the war, and award the largest party with a few more seats to enable it to govern. The referendum would also abolish the practice of party leaders standing in multiple seats and then choosing one of them, leaving the representative of that seat to be chosen by the party hierarchy.
Word has it that most of Berlusconi's party would vote yes, whilst the noes complain either that their party would be eliminated or that it doesn't address the real problem which is the list system anyway.

Chances are however that the turnout will fall below the 50% of eligible voters required and Umberto Bossi of the separatist Lega Nord, which will never be big enough to form a government but which has a big say in the coalition, will breathe a sigh of relief.

15 June, 2009

France: beyond reality TV

Anthony Brocheton, Marie Adamiak and Arno Laize, participants in the French reality TV show Ile de la Tentation (don't ask) have successfully sued the TV production company, claiming that their presence on the show amounted to employment. They are therefore subject to the 35 hour week, and entitled to paid holidays, and can claim unfair dismissal when voted off the show.

You really couldn't make this up.

13 June, 2009

Gaddafi and timing

He’s just left, after four days. The old fraud appeared, accompanied by his bodyguard of buxom females in matching lipstick, in a Mussolini uniform, sunglasses and a Phil Spector wig; attached to his left breast was what looked like the I-Spy book of World Flags and to his right a monochrome picture postcard, wilting in the damp warm air (it turned out to be a picture of a Libyan anti-Italian freedom fighter). He stayed in a tent and signed business deals with whoever came in, looking as if he might swoop on Emma Marcegaglia (chairman of the Italian Business Confederation) and carry her off on his charger.

It was all great theatre, worthy of both the Italian and Libyan political stage. One thing I took issue with, though. Franco Frattini, who until now seems to have made a very good fist of being foreign minister, cancelled appointments when the great leader was two hours late. I insist he was just trying to be polite. The rule in Italy is that 20 minutes is acceptable in Milan and Turin, 40 minutes in Bologna and an hour in Rome. South of Rome it is anybody’s guess if your appointment will be kept on the same day or at all. These rules apply to business meetings, speeches, ceremonies, everything except where there is free food, in which case it pays to be early.

I love the Italians dearly, but when they clean up their own timing they will be in a position to criticise others.

Pizza: the real thing

The Pizza Margherita, recognised by pizzaphiles as the true Neapolitan pizza, is 120 this month. It was created to commemorate the visit to Naples by Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of Italian king Umberto I.

To get the real thing the base must be made of durum wheat flour, fresh yeast, water and sea salt. The topping consists of olive oil, San Marzano tomatoes in slices less than 8mm thick, fresh basil and buffalo milk mozzarella, in the red, white and green of the Italian flag.

It is then cooked for a very short time at 350C which means you need a proper bread oven.
But it’s worth it.

10 June, 2009

The BBC (yet again)

No. No, no nonono.

Sir Alan Sugar cannot front a major television series at the same time as being, effectively, a minister.

I myself don't agree with celebrity politicians but if that's what Gordon Brown wants, he is entitled to elevate him to the peerage (why do we pretend that the Queen has anything to do with this?). Soon to be Lord Sugar (fitting as deputy to the honey-tongued Lord Mandelson) his new job required him to be in the Lords. That's because it is a political job, whether you call it minister or tsar or nabob.

The new series of The Apprentice will run over the likely date for the election, and every time his programme appears it will show a favourable light on a government minister, even at a time when appearances by politicians are regulated by law.

The BBC really must force him to choose between one and the other.

08 June, 2009

Truth by any other name

What do you think about this?

'he said that the British public were angry about the "many ways the liberal elite have transformed this country."

"For the last 50 years, more and more of the people of Britain have watched with concern, growing dismay and sometimes anger as an out-of-touch political elite has transformed our country before our very eyes," he said.

Perfectly true and unexceptional?

WRONG! For the words were spoken by Nick Griffin, and therefore must be an insane fascist rant.

07 June, 2009

Europe votes

I have often been critical about the EU (and rightly so) but one aspect needs to be flagged up as more or less good. It is the rule that residents of an EU country, who are nationals of another EU country, can vote in the country of their residence.

Thus it is that I have had the pleasure of voting in my town of residence (Rome). It was bloody hard work with all the paperwork (which Italians love), and I had to go down to the electoral office an hour away to get my voting card, but voting in a strange country under a strange system was a real pleasure. Something like 15 parties, each with a colourful logo and smiling face, fielded hundreds of candidates, and you could vote either for the candidate or the party, in which case they would allot your vote.

I don't agree with the proportional representation system, believing it entrenches the parties and the political class, I didn't agree with what almost all of them had to say, and I didn't agree that the election was conducted more or less on national lines (as it was in England). But I did get that frisson of being a part of a democratic system and participating in it.

Good fun.

02 June, 2009


Airbus have been having some bad luck of late, what with the one ditching in the Hudson River and the recent disaster just off Brazil. So I was sorry to receive this from a usually well informed source.

A brand new Airbus 340-600, the largest passenger airplane ever built, sits just outside its hangar in Toulouse , France without a single hour of airtime.

Enter the Arab flight crew of Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) to conduct pre-delivery tests on the ground, such as engine run-ups prior to delivery to Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi . The ADAT crew taxied the A340-600 to the run-up area. Then they took all four engines to takeoff power with a virtually empty aircraft. Not having Read the run-up manuals, they had no clue just how light an empty A340-600 really is. The Takeoff Warning Horn was blaring away in the cockpit because they had all four engines at full power. The aircraft computers thought they were trying to take off, but it had not been configured properly (flaps/slats, etc..) Then one of the ADAT crew decided to pull the circuit breaker on the Ground Proximity Sensor to silence the alarm. This fools the aircraft into thinking it is in the air. The computers automatically released all the Brakes and set the aircraft rocketing forward.

The ADAT crew had no idea that this is a safety feature so that pilots can't land with the brakes on. Not one member of the seven-man Arab crew was smart enough to throttle back the engines from their max power setting, so the $200 million brand-new aircraft crashed into a blast barrier, totaling it. The extent of injuries to the crew is unknown due to the news blackout in the major media in France and elsewhere. Coverage of the story was deemed insulting to Muslim Arabs. Finally, the photos are starting to leak out. Airbus $200 million aircraft meets retaining wall and the wall wins.