venerdì, luglio 23, 2004

A Story of Italy

Reading an article in today's Guardian, I was annoyed by the way in which they were reporting a story they had written about television programming here. The fact that Silvio Berlusconi owns Mediaset, the independent TV broadcaster, together with having effective control of RAI, the state broadcaster, by virtue of his position as Prime Minister of Italy, would give many people pause for thought though.

The article, however, decided to take the situation with regard Umberto Bossi's 'resignation' from the cabinet of Berlusconi's coalition government as a sign of weakness within the government. Now, I am not a fan of Bossi at all, despite my being a REAL Celt myself, neither do I agree with the political objectives that the separatist Lega Nord hold as their cause. However, I object when a situation misrepresents a personal tragedy - or, rather, it completely ignores it - for the sake of journalistic expediency. Bossi suffered a massive heart attack in March of this year, leading to his hospitalisation. He was kept in an induced coma for some considerable time and then suffered from a series of strokes which have left him with, at least, a partial paralysis. Details are very sketchy though, as the Lega Nord have kept the whole situation very quiet, possibly for the sake of the continuity of the political party that Bossi founded and which is seen by many people as being just Bossi himself. Well, Guardian writer, you should have researched a little more before leaping to that conclusion. Bossi is still in a Swiss clinic, where he would seem to be staying for the immediate forseeable future. He is not about to take up any seat anywhere as he is still bedridden. So, the story about a weakening government has no basis when using Bossi as the justification. There are many other reasons that could have been used, of course, not least being the muddy waters of bribery and corruption that follow Berlusconi everywhere he walks.

Next, the Guardian hack leaps into the arena to knock Italy by picking up on the unfortunate fact of the very many 'hostesses' that seem to be endemic on every talk programme here. Yes, you are quite right when you say that the whole Bimbo phenomena here has been encouraged and developed by Mediaset. It is not a wholly Italian issue though, as it has long been known that 'sex sells' - with the scantily clad bimbo's representing the sex part of the equation. In any case, how do you manage to ignore Big Brother in the UK? It is appalling! Would you feel that a criticism of the UK would be proven by citing Big Brother as a clear indicator of the fall in social and moral standards in England? I suspect not - but, on the other hand, perhaps it actually IS?

Yes, I understand that the piece is in the Woman's section, so it can't be serious, can it. Can it? Yes, Lilli Gruber did run for the EU elections last month, trouncing Berlusconi convincingly at the polls. Yes, she is a reporter - a good one at that. But, is it so strange for Italian women to stand for public office? Of course it isn't. Italy has had some very strong women in high public office for many years now. One of the most important Investigating Magistrates that was involved with the infamous 'Clean Hands' operation that purged much of the corruption that had swept through Italy, strangling almost every public office and political party since the Americans abandoned Italy to the vultures at the end of the last European war having re-established the very organisations that were most responsible for the corruption, is a woman, Ilda Boccassini. She cut her teeth with Giovanni Falcone in Sicilia, before moving to Milano, working with Antonio di Pietro on the 'Clean Hands" case. It is she that is one of the principle Magistrates working on the many Berlusconi cases as well, so she is no shrinking violet at all. Good as Lili Gruber is, both as a journalist and as a politician - she is not alone, nor is she the first Italian woman to achieve the right to be mentioned in the Guardian. Oh, well - perhaps the Guardian hack is just suffering from mammary-envy!

In Memory

I just wanted to share this item with you. Words are not needed beyond those describing the situation on board Flight 93, which crashed to it's death in Pennsylvania on September 11th 2001.

giovedì, luglio 22, 2004

The Idema and Caraballo Show continues....

To revert to a previous story that I posted on July 12 about the fake prison that was found to be operating in Afghanistan, there have been several developments - not least being that the three men are facing trial in Afghanistan on charges of robbery together with beating and torturing the people that they kidnapped. We can, of course, say 'kidnapped' without fear of censure as the men were operating completely (!) outside of the knowledge and control of the occupying US military forces.

They are now positively identified as being Jonathan Keith Idema (48) - better known as Jack Idema, whose occupation was given only as "a former member of the U.S. special forces". Also standing accused with him is Brent Bennett, who refused to give any occupation for himself to the court (I hope this isn't him), together with the mysterious third man, now positively identified as Edward Caraballo, calling himself a journalist. There are a further 4 non-US citizens standing in the dock with the 3 Americans.

It is still not certain what the purpose of this ' private prison' actually was, but evidence is mounting that they were following through with the scenario that the book, showing Jack Idema on the cover, "The Hunt for Bin Laden", was portraying. In a nutshell, they had their eyes on the reward of $50million that is being offered for the capture of Osama bin Laden. It's a lot of money and I would be rather surprised if more of these vigilante-style operations don't creep out of the woodwork over time.

The claims by the accused seem to be straight out of a spy story though, with Jack Idema now claiming that they were operating their jail with the direct sponsorship of Donald Rumsfeld's office in the Pentagon known as "The Cabal". He elaborated, "The American authorities absolutely condoned us and absolutely supported us". As though to support his claims to be a "Mission Impossible" operative, he wore a freshly pressed Army shirt with an American flag sewn onto the right shoulder. He continued to say, "At times we were in touch with the Department of Defense every day, at the highest levels, sometimes five times a day."

The Arab News service, AlJazeera, were surprising calm about the issue, possibly because by allowing these clowns to carry on without any control in Afghanistan, the US military have already made themselves look worse than AlJazeera could with any number of fabricated stories (not that I'm saying that they make up anything - oh, no!).

mercoledì, luglio 21, 2004

Art - or just mindless vandalism?

I was discussing here, a couple of weeks ago, my feelings regarding vandalism and graffiti here in Italy. Not, of course, that Italy is any worse than anywhere else in the world, naturally. It is just blessed with some of the most beautiful buildings and works of art which make the vandalism seem more intrusive to the eye.

The Senate Justice Committee has just given first approval to a proposed change in the law with respect to graffiti which should go some way to tackling the problem - if it is actually enforced, that is. The changes are seemingly slight, but will have a noticeable impact on, hopefully, the acts of mindless vandalism that pass themselves off as a form of social comment which assault the eye everywhere in Milano, as well as all of the other cities and towns of Italy. Riccardo De Corato, the Deputy Mayor of Milano, said; "This is a first response to the acts of vandalism that have recently become increasingly serious" after he had signed the provisional document.

For the first time, defacers will be answerable for their actions directly to a Magistrate, without having to go through the often long-winded court procedures as required presently. The Magistrate will have the power to impose limited fines and will also have the power to order a period of 'house arrest' for up to 45 days. In addition, the Magistrate can order the offender to clean up the damage they have caused - in fact, the law specifically decrees that this must be done as; "a pecuniary penalty alone cannot be applied when the person responsible for the offence has not made provision for the repair of the damage" in this clause of the proposed regulation.

This is an interesting clause to examine as it is not setting any ceiling on the cost of the 'cleaning up' of the damaged building, wall, bridge, work of art, fixed or mobile object (such as a bus or a train). With the high proportion of historical buildings and protected works of art around, it is unlikely that such a cleaning up will be confined to a 5 minute scrubbing with some Vim and hot water. In other words, it will be a major cost to the miscreant.

So, what are the proposed penalties? The draft law distinguishes private properties and buildings from objects of historic, artistic or environmental importance. In the case of private property, there will be a fine of up to €2500. The Magistrate may also order the graffiti-ist to stay at home for a period of from 6 to 30 days and the culprit may also be sentenced to a period of community service ranging from 10 to 90 days. If, on the other hand, the defaced object has archaeological, historic or artistic value, the penalties are more severe. The Magistrate may impose a fine of up to €2500, order house arrest for 20 to 45 days, or, alternatively, impose from one to six months’ community service. These sentences will be in addition to the clean-up mentioned before. Let's hope it is passed, is subsequently enforced and has the desired effect of protecting Italy's heritage and beauty.

There is one more issue, however, that this change in law cannot easily address. There have been instances recently where the very rich have been causing damage with gay abandon. In Sardinia, home of some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean as well as being the home to Flavio Briatore's famous nightclub - Billionaire (I suspect not a Lira Billionaire, either!) - where the very rich and famous like to hang out and be seen flaunting their wealth.

The latest in a long line of vandalistic assaults on this beautiful island involves the fifth richest man in the world, Mr Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. He was enjoying life on board his private yacht, the Octopus, a 124 metre (414 feet) number with it's own helicopter pads (yes, it has two of them) in case anyone needs to make a quick getaway, which is also the largest private yacht in the world. He decided to pay a friendly little visit to Cala Luna. It didn't take long for trouble to flare up though. Gaetano Mura said; "Since early morning, the jetskis from the yacht kept coming very close to the beach without a break. Then a landing craft arrived. The front ramp opened and the crew unloaded tables, chairs and torches. Now, there are lots of protected species in the area. The peregrine falcon nests here. Many of us protested". The skipper replied, "We have the permits," and ignored the protests. Well, I suppose Paul Allen has the money and fancies he can do whatever he likes. There isn't any law - or lawmaker - that will have the ability to deal with that kind of vandalism, I suspect. What is the expression now? Ah, yes - "Money Talks".

Octopus - a subtle little number.

Octopus at her berth in Antibes

"Where did we park the boat, Paul? They all look the bloody same in this marina, don't they!"

martedì, luglio 20, 2004

Money, money, money.

A speech given by the British High Commissioner to Kenya, Edward Clay, has caused quite a stir. In his speech, he tackled the issue of corruption in the Kenyan government. He said:

" It is outrageous to think that corruption accounts for about 8 per cent of Kenya's GDP. Kenya is not a rich country in terms of oil deposits, diamonds or some other buffer which might featherbed a thoroughgoing culture of corruption. What it chiefly has is its people - their intelligence, work ethic, education, entrepreneurial and other skills.

Those assets will be lost if they are not managed, rewarded and properly led. One day we may wake up at the end of this looting spree to find Kenya's potential is all behind us and it is a land of lost opportunity.

We never expected corruption to be vanquished overnight. We all recognised that some would be carried over to the new era. We hoped it would not be rammed in our faces. But it has: evidently the practitioners now in government have the arrogance, greed and perhaps a sense of panic to lead them to eat like gluttons. They may expect we shall not see, or will forgive them, a bit of gluttony because they profess to like Oxfam lunches. But they can hardly expect us not to care when their gluttony causes them to vomit all over our shoes; do they really expect us to ignore the lurid and mostly accurate details conveyed in the commendably free media and pursued by a properly-curious Parliament?

Some allegedly sober people have reproached the media for being "sensational". Such calls for media responsibility are usually a way of covering up threats. The fact is there would have been no disclosure had it not been for the press. It is the truths they have laid bare that are sensational and they need no dressing up. "

Of course, the Kenyan government are not at all happy about what Mr Clay had to say in his speech to a business group yesterday (Tuesday), but were his comments justified?

His speech has certainly kicked up a storm, with the Kenyan government divided as to whether or not Mr Clay should have said anything at all.

Kenya is no stranger to charges of bribery and corruption at high level though, as neither are several other African countries. Corruption at governmental level has long been a problem throughout the world though, with the African countries being suseptible more through their poverty and their lack of any real feeling of national pride. I say that because the country boundaries in Africa have never had anything to do with the people that live there. They were imposed and defined by the British, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portugese back in the days when all of Africa was being divided up like a birthday cake. The people living in Africa still identify first and formost with their tribal boundaries - which have very little to do with the actual countries themselves. This has helped to explain many of the wars which are seemingly endemic to Africa - as well as the corruption which similarly wreaks havoc on the various governments of African countries.

Of course, corruption isn't the exclusive province of the 'Third-World' counties. The more affluent, developed nations have problems with easily corruptible governments and administrations as well. The World Bank considers that government corruption is related directly to the declining respect people feel for their political leaders, perhaps going some way to explain why people are generally taking less of an interest in elections of their governmental or other elected leaders.

lunedì, luglio 19, 2004

A Foggy View

Following on from my thoughts about the weather some while back, I was caught up in a discussion about pollution and the effects that pollution causes - as well as the common understanding of pollution as an issue.

A very typical misunderstanding that is often proposed and believed by 'the man in the street' with regard to pollution and pollutants is that of 'dirty' air. Popular myth has it that 'dirty' air is something that you can see, touch and, therefore, clean. It is based on the idea that pollution is dirty.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. The pollutants that are causing concern these days are not ones that can be washed off, thereby returning the world to its pre-industrialised cleanliness. Of course, great strides were made post-war to reduce the soot and sulphur deposits that, until then, were being happily pumped into our atmosphere with impunity, causing the very obvious soot deposits and sulphur erosion of our national buildings and monuments. The most obvious result of this kind of pollution was the formation of the infamous London Smog - still shown as a reality in many US made films portraying London. I was a young boy in the last great London Smog, in the 50's and can vouch for the fact that you couldn't see your hand held in front of your face. Everyone wore a handkerchief over their mouths and noses and they very quickly turned black with the filtered soot. Public opinion was strongly in favour of pollution control to stop this form of pollution - and it was stopped.

The problems were not solved, however, as we were moving into a different kind of industrialised pollution - chemical pollution. Chemicals released into the atmosphere from the increasingly complex processes to manufacture synthetic chemical compounds, including the new plastics that were becoming very quickly an important part of our lives now. Cars were increasing exponentially on the roads of every country, with barely any controls on emissions as, in the most part, the car manufacturers themselves were in the seat of power of their respective country's.

So, dirty buildings were becoming a thing of the past. Coal burning Smog was reducing and it was possible to pour scorn on Hollywood in its portrayal of London. But, that was barely even the tip of the iceberg.

San Francisco in the US gives a ready view of how pollution is affecting that area of the world. It has a smog which is not black - you can't wear a hankie to filter it out. It is a common phenomenon there. But, even that is not showing the true picture. The worst of the polluting gases rise in the atmosphere for the simple reason of their being lighter than oxygen. They rise into the highest parts of our protective atmosphere and bind together to create a kind of a shield - the result of what are popularly known as 'greenhouse gases' forming a one-way mirror in the upper atmosphere that allows solar energy to penetrate into the atmosphere, but not allow a release of the energy, resulting in a slow, inexorable rise in the temperature of the earth, causing changes in both air and sea currents, that are the cause of the weather systems on earth.

These gases cannot be washed out. They are responsible for more irreversible damage to the upper atmosphere by diminishing the ozone protection layer as well. Ozone is another highly important protection for the earth that we live in insofar as it is responsible for the screening of the more damaging UV rays that would, otherwise, burn us and increase the risks of skin cancer by a large factor. The results of this can be seen already as a measurable 'hole' in the ozone layer is close to New Zealand. The skin burn factors there are, in the summer, in the order of minutes. I can vouch for the effect of unwise exposure to the sun as my nose actually blistered in the sun there, despite the air temperature at the time being only about 24c.

It amazes me that there are still people around that believe that there is nothing wrong with how we are presently acting with regard pollution matters. They still view the Kyoto Protocol as being only something to feel concerned about because it might cost some of the largest polluters substantial amounts of money. They obviously only feel the issue is important if it is going to affect the cost of their next Playstation.