giovedì, febbraio 02, 2006

Don't Worry. Be Happy

"Don't worry Muhammad, we've all been caricatured here"

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is the picture, albeit in cartoon form, that has caused so much anger and hatred since it was first published by the Danish newspaper,
Jyllands-Posten, as a part of a series of 12 published last September.The issue that is being highlighted is simply that of the fredom of the press to report the issues of the world, without the kind of censorship that seems to be being demanded by some sections of the Islamic world.

Of course, censorship is not altogether unknown to us these days. Google has been taken to task for censoring the internet sites which it is showing to the Google searchers of China - and we have all heard of the Patriot Act, haven't we.

Censorship is such a part of our everyday lives that we hardly notice it any more. It makes it doubly ironic that the cartoons that caused all this fuss are, in my opinion at least, so insignificant and un-newsworthy in their messages. Did you find them amusing? I have to admit that I didn't. In fact, I would expect that if some parts of the Islamic community had not made any kind of a fuss about them supposedly showing the image of Muhammad, the whole affair would have passed away with no more ado.

It is just such a shame that Jacques Lefranc, until yesterday the editor of France Soir, should have lost his job over the affair. How very silly.

lunedì, gennaio 30, 2006

Do Sex & Politics Mix?

Well, well, well. I turn my back for a couple of weeks and find that our esteemed Prime Minister, Dott. Silvio Berlusconi, has announced that he is renouncing sex until after the Italian elections in April. What a strange thing to say. He is married and he is a Catholic. Yes, I know he is old, but men have sired children far, far older than he is. Just. However, the fact remains that he has publicly announced the witholding of his marital obligations to his lovely wife of 14 years, Veronica Lario, until after the elections. I am speechless. Why? What is he hoping to achieve by this promise? I realise that he will finally be in a position to actually deliver on one of his promises - but will he? Is there any point in him compromising his marriage vows at this stage in his life?

Perhaps he feels that by distilling his vital forces - his life juices - he will keep his strength for when he will need it most. Fighting the election. But that is normally only applicable to people with physically demanding jobs, such as footballers, or athletes. It would be hard to see Silvio as any form of athlete. Unless you consider onanism to be a sport, that is.

It was interesting to note that at the same time as Silvio's revised marriage vow, a study by Stuart Brody, a psychologist at Scotland's University of Paisley, has reached the conclusion that sex can actually help people in high-pressure situations achieve better results when giving speeches. That's right. Sex before speaking is good for you. Public speaking I mean, of course.

With the many TV performances recently given by our Silvio on various chat shows and what have you, he looked as though a bit of rumpy-pumpy would have done him the world of good. Certainly far more good than a bottle of hair dye, at any rate.

I'll get back to my decorating now then, shall I?

venerdì, dicembre 23, 2005

A Very Happy Christmas

It is traditional here in Italy to display a "Presepio" - usually a highly intricate representation of the birth of Christ in an even more intricate setting showing every type of scene that your space/budget will allow. The best (and most expensive) figures have long come from Napoli and the photo above shows a Presepio made in the 18th century for the King of Napoli, Carlo III.

With this, I wish you a very Happy and Joyful Christmas and a great New Year. I am still slaving away with our impending house move, so will be off-air for the next couple of weeks now.
Ciao a tutti e Buon Natale!

Yes, the bookcase will resurrect again soon. Spero.

lunedì, dicembre 19, 2005

Addio, Fazio.

Corierre della Sera
The Bank of Italy Governor, Antonio Fazio, has finally resigned. The sound of relieved breathing can be heard everywhere in Italy at the news of the departure of a man that has brought back memories of the infamous "Clean Hands" campaign that started in 1992, in Milano, just around the corner from where I have been living for the past 3 years, the Pio Trivulzio Old People's Home.

Thank goodness. It will be "interesting" enough to see how the next election builds without having a man like Fazio, facing as he does very serious charges of abuse of Public Office, creating a hornets nest of excuses for politicians whilst they defend the appaling financial position that Italy has plunged into over the past 5 years.

Apologies for the brevity of this piece but we are not only facing the fun of Christmas at home, but we are moving house as well. A nightmare indeed! A presto!

Our New House.Our new home on 30th December. Finalmente!

mercoledì, dicembre 14, 2005

Italy is Embarrassed Again

Events are finally starting to catch up with the current head of the Bank of Italy, Antonio Fazio.

You may recall that I wrote about his antics a couple of months ago, when the whole sorry saga hit the world press. He was accused of misusing his position as the Governor of the Bank of Italy in order to support his friend and father of his daughter’s fiancé, Gianpiero Fiorani.

The latest events to unfold almost read out of the pages of a cheap thriller. Fiorani has been arrested on suspicion of embezzlement, market manipulation and association with known criminals. He has been joined by former chief finance officer, Gianfranco Boni and Silvano Spinelli, a financial consultant and former BPI executive. Prosecutors are investigating how the Banca Popolare Italiana, where the three arrested gentlemen worked, built up such a large shareholding in the Banca Antonveneta at the height of the battle for ownership being fought with Dutch bank, ANB Amro.

Fazio himself is not being investigated alongside his daughter’s boyfriend’s father – but he IS under investigation now by the EU who commenced legal action against the Italy on Tuesday of this week (13th December).

Fazio is still hanging on to his comfortable armchair though – not a man who considers that his actions are presently embarrassing an entire country – obviously. The actions of Fazio and his friends have now resulted in the entire Italian banking system coming under the eagle-eyed gaze of the European Commission, who have now formally given notice that they require the Italian government to take action and resolve what is seen to be a secretive and unfair financial institution that is acting against the financial interests of Europe as a whole. Of course, to say that it is also acting against the interests of Italy itself is an understatement. With such underhanded and deceitful activities, foreign investment into Italy is suffering – which will contribute even more bad news to the ailing economy that has gone much further in the last 5 years toward lining certain people’s purses than to build a strong economy in Italy itself.

Of course, the Bank of Italy hasn't actually broken any Italian laws, according to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's lawyer and spokesman, Luigi Grillo (no relation to Bepe). He said that: "One thing needs to be clear: the Bank of Italy abided by Italian law and nobody has contested this", going on to add: "There's an (EU) commissioner who says (the Bank of Italy) didn't comply with E.U. procedures... We'll see; it's not certain that he's right", noting the E.U.'s infringement procedure was against Italy and not its central bank.

We can be sure that Silvio believes he has distanced himself from this charade. Now he can rub his hands in glee at the prospect of blaming the EU for Italy's financial problems without interferance from any annoying bank. That should then justifying his pulling Italy out of the EMU and the Euro - thereby allowing him to devalue the newly returned Lira without anyone noticing. Ahem. I'll go now, shall I?

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martedì, dicembre 13, 2005

What's in a Name?

Gianfranco Fini listens to Edmondo Cirielli
With the new “Ex-Cirielli” law now passed through the Senate, becoming one of the ever-increasing list of Italian laws, there are a couple of surprising dissident voices. As I wrote back in October, the law, first drafted by Edmondo Cirielli also known as the "Save Previti" law and the "Cerami Bill", was seen as a means to streamline Italy’s megalithic legal system. It also seemed custom-made to give Previti a chance to escape his prison sentence. The outcry over the effect that the Bill would have had on the rest of Italy’s convicted felons ensured that changes were made to reduce any possible advantage to Previti and his other inmates in prisons throughout Italy though. The resulting Bill still contains some highly contentious changes to Constitutional law however.

In the English-speaking world, the law seems to have escaped attention so far. That is to say, it has escaped the scrutiny of the mainstream press. It has caused quite a stir in the music world, however, as it is seen to be a huge problem for the music, video and computer software industry watchdogs in their fight against copyright piracy in Italy, long known to be a centre of illegal copying and distribution.

The IFPI claims that as many as 75% of outstanding criminal antipiracy trials will be stopped before they have the chance to be taken to court. IFPI Chairman and CEO John Kennedy said: "The Ex-Cirielli law deals a huge blow to the Italian music industry and to all IP industries in the country. This law totally undermines our ability to fight piracy in a nation with one of the highest rates of piracy in the developed world… This bill will erode investment in music, encourage organised crime, fuel corruption and cost the Italian government tens of millions of euros in lost revenue. It will bring Italy out of line with other European nations and put it firmly on the map as a pirate music market."

Pretty strong stuff. Enzo Mazza, Chairman of the Federation of the Italian Music Industry (FIMI) said: "This is an important setback in Italy’s fight to tackle its longstanding piracy problems. It now seems ironic that we were the first country in Europe to introduce a law imposing fines for the purchase of counterfeit products.”

Of course, there is another side to this multi-faceted coin. In the Court of Assizes in Genoa, where there is currently being heard the “Diaz/Bolzaneto Trial”, there is the feeling that the trial will be inevitably blocked by the new law. So much so, in fact, that everyone there was getting the feeling that proceedings were being deliberately slowed down so that the law could be passed and brought into play.

As if that were not enough, Minister of Justice Roberto Castelli said that: “There will be several thousand more repeat offenders.” Going on to say, “ It is not possible to make a reliable estimate but it is reasonable to suppose that the Ex-Cirielli law will lead in the medium term to thousands more prisoners, which we cannot handle without new resources. I have been asking for new resources for months”, concluded Mr Castelli. “If I do not obtain any results, I take no responsibility for what may happen”.

Confused? Well, the new law covers several main areas of interest. Firstly, it reduces the time for which a crime can be prosecuted from 7½ years to 6. Secondly, it allows for the accused to request his trial be moved to another region if he (I haven’t mentioned Berlusconi yet, have I?) believes that he will not get a fair trial in the region that has prosecuted him. The original intention to enable all of the trials curently before the courts to be included - hence the "Save Previti" tag - has been reduced to only including crimes of violence and personal attack, bringing about the situation that Minister Castelli was complaining of.

The bill has not had an easy passage through parliament. Some 3 years ago, Hillary Clark wrote for the Sunday Herald that: "Berlusconi's 'piano players' get the bird in multiple-voting and corruption scandal". This was an earlier scandal that exposed some of Berlusconi's senators casting votes on behalf of other senators not actually present - very much against the rules.

So, we wait and see now what the final outcome of the Cerami / Ex-Cirielli / Save-Previti law will be. Will Previti get off? Will the case in Genoa against the police that attacked journalists in the Diaz School be abandoned?

My breath is suitably bated... (col fiato sospeso).

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martedì, dicembre 06, 2005

Violence in the Valley

Hot on the heels of the US Secretary of State, Condaleeza Rice, telling the people of Europe that we should do what we are told, or else - we have another example of state violence in Italy. Last night, in the Val di Susa, the demonstrations by the local people against the High Speed Train (TAV) project erupted into a bloody clash with the police resulting in at least 6 injuries.

Now, you may already know that the Val di Susa (or Susa Valley in English) is the main area for the Winter Olympics this year. The fear of frightening tourists away from the area might be the major reason for the police being instructed to act in the way that they did. Or it might just simply be an over aggressive response to a direct political instruction – remembering what happened in Genova during the G8 summit. Whatever the cause, there can be no excuse, surely, for police attacking unarmed people in the way that they did though?

The protests in the Val di Susa are certainly legitimate and it would be very hard to try and identify the protesters as “communist troublemakers”, as has been attempted in some political circles. Virtually every regional mayor (Sindaco) is represented in the protesting group, so it is surely a group that represents the majority view of the local inhabitants. By trying to ignore the protest completely despite real concerns regarding safety issues locally, the authorities have shown themselves to be simple bullies. By initiating a violent action against the protesters, they have shown themselves to be much, much worse. They have succeeded by this action in drawing even larger groups of people into the cause of the local inhabitants now, making a much larger problem for themselves which no amount of further violence will resolve.

One would have thought that the problems of the Middle East would support the idea that violence breeds yet more violence. But then again, my daddy is bigger than your daddy. Innit.

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lunedì, dicembre 05, 2005

Condaleeza Rice tells off Europe

In a strange turn of events the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is expected* to issue a warning to Europe today about the illegal US prison camps in Eastern Europe, including Kosova, being run for the interrogation and internment of people the US administration might consider a threat. I wrote a while ago about a US base on the island of Diego Garcia, that was being used as a secret prison facility. She will also defend what is called "Rendition" - or what the rest of us call "Kidnapping" - as practised by the US Secret Services on a seemingly regular basis all around the world.

Of course, the main thrust of the expected attack will be based on the fact that the countries of Europe are condemning the existence of these illicit prison camps. The US secret services were recently exposed, resulting in arrest warrants being issued against CIA operatives in Italy, when they "caught" a suspected terrorist by using the simple expedient of kidnapping him off the street and taking his to a US air base in northern Italy, thence flying him on to a US air base in Germany en route for Egypt.

It brought to mind a quotation recorded at the time of the Nuremberg trials at the end of WW2, when Herman Goering reportedly said to Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist working with the allied forces during the trials:

“Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

Obviously a political view that is still firmly held in some government circles.

* The transcript of Condaleeza Rice's speech can be read here. She claimed that: "In some situations a terrorist suspect can be extradited according to traditional judicial procedures. But there have long been many other cases where, for some reason, the local government cannot detain or prosecute a suspect, and traditional extradition is not a good option. In those cases the local government can make the sovereign choice to cooperate in a rendition. Such renditions are permissible under international law and are consistent with the responsibilities of those governments to protect their citizens." Perhaps she has already forgotten that the US operation in Italy was undertaken completely without the "soveriegn choice" of either the Italian people, nor the Italian government. What price for truth now? It is no wonder that she is known as "Conda-liesalot Rice" back in the US of A...

venerdì, dicembre 02, 2005

A Memo

I am assured that this memo is real - allegedly (clicking the logo should open a copy of the actual memo). Apologies for the language if you are an Italian speaker and are feeling insulted. No offence meant, I'm sure.


MEMO to all the Staff:

It has been brought to our attention by several officials visiting our establishment in Rome that offensive language is commonly used by our Italian speaking staff. Such behaviour, in addition to violating our policy, is highly unprofessional and offensive to both visitors and staff. All personnel will immediately adhere to the following rules:

1. Words like cazzo, porca puttana or mi sono rotto il cazzo and other such expressions will not be tolerated or used for emphasis or dramatic effect, no matter how heated a discussion may become.

2. You will not say ha fatto una cazzata when someone makes a mistake, or se lo stanno inculando if you see someone being reprimended, or che stronzata when a major mistake has been made. All forms and derivations of the verb cagare are utterly inappropriate and unacceptable in our environment.

3. No project manager, section head or administrator under any circumstances will be referred as figlio di puttana, coglione, testa di cazzo.

4. Lack of determination will not be referred to as mancanza di palle nor will persons who lack initiative be referred to as bradipo or cagone.

5. Unusual or creative ideas offered by the management are not to be referred as cagate mentali or idee del cazzo.

6. Do not say come rompe le palle nor ha rotto i coglioni if a person is persistent; do not add gli fa ancora male il culo if a colleague is going through a difficult situation. Furthermore, you must not say siamo nella merda (refer to item # 2) nor ci hanno aperti when a matter becomes excessively complicated.

7. When asking a someone to leave you alone,you must not say vattene affanculo nor should you ever substitute May I help you? With che cazzo vuoi?

8. Under no circumstances should you ever call your elderly industrial partners vecchi stronzi.

9. Do not say me ne sbatto when a relevant project is presented to you, nor should you ever answer ciucciami il cazzo when your assistance is required.

10. You should never call partners as frocio or mignotta; the sexual behavior of our staff is not to be discussed in terms such as culattone or bagascia.

11. Last but not least, after reading a note please don't say mi ci pulisco il culo. Just keep it clean and dispose of it properly.

Thank you.

Thank you Paolo for alerting me.

venerdì, novembre 25, 2005

Just in Time for Christmas

Christmas is coming! I can feel it in the air and the TV advertising jingles. But, Hark! What is that I hear now? Yes, that’s right. It’s the sound of the world famous “Singing Prime Minister”, trying to launch his Christmas CD of “Lurve” songs in good time the elections next year.

This is not Singing Silvio’s first foray into the world of record production though, he actually had another CD launch a couple of years ago which resulted in sales of just over 40,000 copies of his first masterwork, “Meglio una Canzone”, which contained mostly Neapolitan ballads about love, broken hearts, love, loneliness, love and jealousy - and love.

The music critics in Italy dismissed it as pretty poor at the time and, fortunately, it didn’t get much air time on the radio or TV stations – despite Berlusconi owning (or controlling) most of them.
This one will be better though. Hopefully. It has been made by Silvio and his musical collaborator, Mariano Apicella, with whom he made the first CD. Comprising of, once again, songs of “Lurve” it will give a better idea of the career direction that might well be in Silvio’s mind after next year’s election. He has apparently written 6 of the tracks himself, which will be interesting.

I hope that these songs give us a better idea of the love that “our” Silvio, crooner extraordinaire, has for his lovely young second wife, Veronica (who owns Italian national newspaper Il Foglio). It might go some way to patch up Silvio's fears that Veronica is a little too close with the ex-mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari. Maybe it's a case for another bunch of red roses now Silvio? As well as the love songs. For Veronica that is.