Other recent articles
Is Fiumicino Airport at Risk? Inappropriate building materials may have been used.
Italians feel vulnerable to encroaching poverty.
Wettest summer in 35 years
Donor insemination to come to Italy
Sites reopened at Pompeii
Sari's e-book on sale this weekend at Amazon
Alitalia’s fate hangs in the balance.
Berlusconi cannot leave Italy (for now)
Keep an eye on (or rather, in) your bill fold.


Amanda: Convicted....for now
Dec 13, 2009 at 05:32 PM
Rudy, Amanda, Raffaele
Many Italians were taken aback last week by the reports of outrage in some parts of the U.S. regarding the 26-year sentence imposed Friday, December 4th on 22-year old Amanda Knox after she (together with a former boyfriend) was convicted by a Perugia court of murdering Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher, two years earlier in what was said to have been a sex game gone wrong. A third person, Rudy Guede,born in the Ivory Coast but later adopted by an Italian family, had been convicted several weeks earlier for the same crime and sentenced to 30 years in jail.

And Italian newspapers have only made things worse by giving exaggerated play to some relatively mild comments over the weekend by American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Although Ms. Clinton merely said after admitting she knew little about the case (and why should she, given that she has been spending most of her time on more urgent issues such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East?), but would be willing to listen to anyone who had serous doubts about the way the young American woman had been treated, even the usually serious Corriere della Sera ran a banner headline today saying "Amanda, Clinton to intervene", an obvious overstatement that led to talk about a diplomatic incident until Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini intervened to say there had been no U.Si complaints at all. And then Amanda, herself, interviewed from jail, said she had no complaints about the conduct of Italian justice but since she maintains her innocence was, of course, filing an appeal. And who knows what will happen then?

Anyone who reads this blog will have noticed that I have barely written about it, primarily because I have never been particularly interested in following it closely simply because one of the major defendant was an American. Murder is murder no matter who commits it. And if it is true that Italian crime scene police work often appears to be quite sloppy, and that the wheels of the Italian justice system mover very SLOWLY and definitely need to be oiled, I cannot not think of any reason why Amanda Knox should have been particularly victimized by Italian authorities. She got a lot of bad press after her arrest, in part because of the pictures released of her which made her seem kind of wild, silly and possibly over-sexed and even more so because she tried to blame the murder on an African "barista" who two weeks later was totally exonerated.

But if Amanda was convicted on evidence that was largely circumstantial, what else is new? O.J. got off although most of us think he shouldn't have. Others can be unjustly convicted. It's had to tell. Just the other day, an Italian prosecutor in Pavia in the Italian north said he would ask for 30 years of jail time for Alberto Stasi, a 26 year old student (now graduated form University) accused of murdering his fiancée Chiara Poggi in the latter's home town of Garlasco in the summer of 2007. There, too, the evidence is largely circumstantial and it is impossible to know have a real opinion as to his guilt or innocence.


Recently speaking out in Amanda's favour, and his own, was Raffaele Sollecito, the former boyfriend who many people believe was besotted with the young American student, so much so that he let her drag him into a deadly situation. He says he had nothing to do with Meredith Kercher's death (he throat was cut) and was not in the house when it happened. But he also can't believe that Amanda was involved. "E' dolcissima". ("She's incredibly sweet"), he said.


Berlusconi under seige from all sides
Nov 29, 2009 at 09:08 PM
Veronica Berlusconi, the estranged wife of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is reportedly asking for €3.5 million a month, the equivalent of $5.3 million, as part of a divorce settlement. The Rome daily, il Corriere della Sera, reported last week that according to undisclosed sources, the counter offer of Mr. Berlusconi, Italy's richeswt man, was for €300,000 a month. The paper quoted sources close to the prime minister as having said that he had already given his soon to be ex-wife a lump sum of more than €60 million and had offered to let her keep Villa Belvedere, the mansion outside Milan she has been living in (without her husband) for the last several years .

On November 12, Mrs. Berlusconi's lawyers filed a legal separation request in a Milan court, apparently signalling that an amicable agreement was not in the offing. Veronica Berlusconi. A former actress who met Berlusconi 30 years ago and who married him in 1990 (by which time he had left his former wide and had three children with Veronica), made public her decision to arrive at a total break with her husband last spring, after it became known he had attended the birthday party of an 18 year old Neapolitan girl.

Personally, I do not believe that Berlusconi ever had sexual relations with the girl, the daughter of friends, and Mrs. Berlusconi said she was also angry because he repeatedly missed the birthdays of their children. But he had already been thought to have had affairs with several younger women (but not as young as that one) and subsequently it became known that among the women he invited to parties in his official residence were several prostitutes (although they appear to have been paid by a Bari businessman eager to ingratiate himself with the premier.

But this may turn out to be the least of Mr. B's problems. Rumors have been circulating that along with court cases regarding matters involving his vast media and real estate empire, some magistrates here are looking into his alleged relations with some elements in the mafia. It's hard to tell what is true and what isn't since there are several center-left newspapers here that have made it clear they hope to provoke his downfall, but let's just say this is not a good time for the feisty, filthy rich controversial leader.

EDITORIAL: Dying from malnutrition in 2009
Nov 18, 2009 at 02:14 PM

Image Romans have been fuming because of the massive traffic jams caused by the city's decision to create an enormous security red zone around the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) where 3646 delegates from 182 countries, including 60 heads of state and 191 government ministers, gathered in Rome for three days for a World Summit on Food Security. Pope Benedict XVI addressed the meeting on the first day, November 16, saying: "Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty," said His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. "Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions."

The severe traffic congestion - the fruit of the security measures taken by Italian police --unfortunately appears to have distracted most people here, keeping them from looking at the real issues: more than a BILLION people going to bed hungry every night in a world which already produces enough food to feed everyone. But although some progress has been made (31 poor countries in four continents of the world have managed to significantly reduce the hunger problem), rising food prices, ongoing population growth, trade barriers and inefficient production methods in much of the developing world have led the hunger and malnutrition problem to worsen since the last two world conferences on food security in 2002 and June, 2008. "The time has come to let concrete actions follow words"said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf in his final speech

The most chilling statistic of all? That every six seconds - that's every SIX SECONDS - somewhere in the world a child dies from malnutrition. And yet, responding to a poll taken by one Italian news program on the question of whether or not hunger in the world should be a top priority for governments. more than one third of the respondents said "no"". This is most worrisome and I suggest everyone read the pithy editorial (see the following article) that my friend Mary Venturini wrote for her small Rome-based magazine "Wanted in Rome".



EDITORIAL: Giving Hunger Its Proper Due
Nov 18, 2009 at 02:24 PM

Image Open a daily paper or a magazine almost any day of the week and you will find news or a feature on melting ice caps, rising sea levels, retreating glaciers or the possible extinction of polar bears.  Open the same papers for a week and you probably won’t find anything on hunger, unless it is around the time of a world food summit. Hunger just doesn’t make news in the same way as climate change and global warming.

Why is it that the fate of the retreating ice cap appears more gripping than the plight of 1.02 billion people who end each day on an empty stomach? Is it because rising sea levels seem more catastrophic to the developed world? Is it because hunger (to be distinguished from famine) is just not dramatic enough?


Perhaps. But many of the present anxieties of developed countries – and the stories that do get media coverage – stem directly or indirectly from hunger. Lack of food starts off the spiral of malnutrition that leads to poverty, ill health, disease and epidemics, the population movements that lead to mass immigration, the insecurity that generates violence, regional conflict and war. Remove the cause and the consequences become less acute.


ImageAs the world’s leaders gather in Rome on 16-18 November for the third world summit on food security since Jacques Diouf became the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1994, many may consider that this is just another example of world summitry; that heads of state and government will examine the problem and then give promises that will never be kept. That is possible, but without this summit and Diouf’s previous efforts to focus attention on world hunger, the subject would be even further down the global agenda.


The scene that faces politicians as they gather for the 2009 world food summit is certainly dramatic. According to the latest FAO figures there are now 1.02 billion hungry people worldwide –100 million more than last year – mainly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The goal set at the first world food summit, called by Diouf in 1996, was to halve the number of hungry in the world to 420 million by 2015, in other words five years from now. What has happened to cause such a devastating failure?


The increase in the number of hungry in the first decade of the 21st century, following declines in the 1980s and early 1990s, can be attributed to the effects of economic instability; to the increase and speculation in the price of food commodities; to migration from rural areas to cities in search of work; to the decline in investment in agriculture but at the same time to increasing competition for land. And as food prices go up – paradoxically at the same time as farm profits go down – and jobs become scarcer, families cut back on education and healthcare to buy food. At best this has led to a decline in public health and to an increase in migration, not just from rural to urban areas but across international frontiers. At worst it has meant a rise in both domestic violence and political conflict. A preparatory FAO document for the summit points out that 2007-2008 saw food riots threatening political stability in 22 countries.

What makes this situation all the more upsetting is that experts agree that the planet has enough resources to feed us all, and that the ways to reduce hunger (unlike those to keep global warming under control) are relatively straightforward. The latest aim – to be put forward at the coming food summit – is to eradicate hunger by 2050. This may sound overblown but the methods to achieve it (see below) are simple enough – provided, of course, that the political will is there. Is it?

If it isn’t, then the scenario is bleak. If the numbers of hungry continue to increase by 40 million a year – as they have done on average for the last three years – in 2050 there will be over 2.5 billion hungry people in the world. If the increase continues at the rate of 100 million a year the numbers would swell to over 5 billion. If, as estimated, world population reaches 9.2 billion in the same year, then in the first scenario over a quarter of the planet would be hungry when 30-year-olds in the developed world reach their 70s; in the second it would be over half. Either way it is an alarming prospect, but what can be done to make it daily news and not just the stuff of world food summits?


Ways to eradicate world hunger

1. improve governance by getting rid of bureaucratic waste and corruption
2. ensure that developing countries have access to international markets by lowering trade barriers
3. ensure that farmers in both the developed and the developing world have an income comparable to those working in other sectors of the economy
4. invest more public and private money in agriculture and infrastructure
5. ensure early reaction to food crises 6. adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change 7. security of legal rights to land and water resources

Hunger statistics  From 1971 to 1997 the number of hungry people dropped from 878 million (or 23 per cent of the world’s population) to 825 million (14 per cent of the population), mainly thanks to the green revolution in agriculture. From 2000-2002 it rose to 853 million and then to 873 million in 2006. In the last three years it has reached 1.02 billion (15 per cent of the population), with over 100 million “new” hungry in the last year. They are mainly in Asia and the Pacific (642 million), sub Saharan Africa (265 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (53 million), the Near East and North Africa (42 million).

See for more data.   

New sex scandal hits Italian politicians, this time on the left
Oct 25, 2009 at 05:45 PM
Piero Marrazzo
The president of the Lazio region, Piero Marrazzo, a former television journalist who was elected in 2005 on the ticket of a center-left coalition called the Unione (today superseded by the Partito Democratico) stepped down from office yesterday after it became known he had paid blackmail to four carabiniere policemen who last July filmed him half dressed in the apartment of a transsexual named Natalie. Some news reports said there was also cocaine in the apartment. The four carabinieri have been arrested and are currently in Rome's Regina Coeli prison.

Marazzo, 51, and married to another TV journalist, first denied the story and then admitted it, attributing his actions to personal weaknesses, and said he had paid the money (reportedly four checks amounting to a total of 80,000 euros about $120,000) because he was frightened that his career would be ruined. Again reportedly, the checks were never cashed but he still could be liable for submitting to extortion which is a crime here.

Italian newspapers are having a heyday with the story, as usual doing a lot of embroidering which makes it difficult to separate fact from fiction. But understandably they are comparing the scandal with Berlusconi's encounter with at least one prostitute last fall in his Rome residence. The leftist and left-leaning papers say at least Marrazzo did the right thing and stepped down, which Berlusconi didn't do. But you can bet that traditional Italy is likely to be much more tolerant with a politician having trysts with women (Berlusconi claims - and this may be true - that he didn't know the woman had been given money) then someone who is seeing a transsexual who may still have male sexual organs.

Some articles also claim that he went to visit Natalie in his official car, having himself dropped off nearby. All of which means that the man may well be a total idiot who deserves his downfall. It reminds me of the Bill Clinton mess. An ambitious politician who is on top of the world and cannot control his sexual impulses. Or else men who rise to power are so over confident they really think they are allowed to do whatever they want and are convinced they can get away with it. Of course, Marrazzo is no Bill Clinton. But how stupid can you be at a time when the head of the Italian government is being raked over the coals for his own sexual behaviour and his supporters can only rejoice now that a leftist is up to his neck in it. And this only six months away from new regional elections.

One particularly ironic aspect to all this is that Marrazzo's trysts with Natalie in Rome' s Via Gradoli took place in the same low-income apartment building where in 1978 former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was held for nearly two months by his Red Brigades captors before they murdered him. A good place for a politician to avoid, dontcha think?



Thousands march against racism
Oct 18, 2009 at 11:06 PM

Italian CGIL union members
There was a time when Italian left-wingers with whom I conversed would lambast me because I came from a country where there was school segregation and rampant racism; they were right and one couldn’t deny it. But since they spoke with a tone of moral superiority, I had no compunctions about reminding them that they couldn’t claim to be better than us because, after all, there were practically no non-whites in  the country. I also liked reminding them 1) about what the Italians did to the Jews in the late 30s and 40s and 2) found it particularly enjoyable to point out that some of the most anti-black areas in the U.S. outside the South were strongly Italo-American neighborhoods.

Italian breasts (1)
Oct 16, 2009 at 04:27 PM

Valeria Marini: showgirl
Maria Grazia Cucinotta: actress
Monica Bellucci: actress

This may be an unpleasant truth, but when Italians visit the U.S., especially if it's the first time, one of their initial reactions is to comment on how many Americans, especially women, are grossly overweight. Conversely, when Americans visit here, especially American men, one of the first thing they notice is the visibility of breasts. Italian women are very much into the "let it all hang out" mode and often everyone from TV anchors to the girl next door are letting us all have an eyeful.

Rome: No place for the physically challenged
Oct 04, 2009 at 04:14 PM

And now?
If you are physically challenged and thinking about coming to Italy, think twice before you make the trip. Although some progress has been made - in the sense that many museums now have stair-lifts or platform lifts for wheelchairs, as do some public buildings - in general Italy is still lagging behind in making life easier for people who have some kind of physical disability. In fact, one of the first things you may notice when you come to a major city like Rome, is how few disabled people you see around in general, and of those you do see, how few are getting around on their own. Recently at a downtown Rome restaurant, around 20 blind people gathered for a birthday dinner. But this is most unusual. The majority of disabled people (for one assumes that, proportionately, the numbers are the same as in other countries) seem to stay home with the result that for the rest of the society it's a situation of "out of sight, out of mind".

LIFESTYLE: Bruschetta, biscotti et al.
Sep 11, 2009 at 12:42 PM
ImageNo one is asking you to learn Italian before you come here: visitors are most welcome in Italy, not least for economic reasons, so you can have a perfectly lovely visit even if you don't speak a word of this beautiful and highly expressive language. However, wouldn't you prefer to make yourselves minimally intelligible, for example by not grossly mispronouncing Italian words that you may need or want to use?

One example that comes to mind is "bruschetta", which people in the US and England are wont to pronounce as if the word were part of their own language, as in "brushetta". Hello!!!!  In Italian, as at least the owners, managers and waiters of Italian restaurants outside Italy ought to know, the word is pronounced "brusketta"and that's what you've got to say if you want to get this luscious antipasto without an undue waste of energy.

Again. The never-ending Berlusconi saga
Sep 06, 2009 at 03:24 PM
How discomfiting. How abolutely pathetic. Italy has an unemployment rate of over nine percent. According to August statistics, 14.5 million Italians currently live below the (Italian) poverty line. The national debtis expected next year to reach an incredible 116% of GNP, almost four times the level set by the European Union for its member states. The population is aging rapidly, meaning more and more pressure will be put on the country's pension funds and its creaking universal health system. Thousands in the Abruzzo region are still without permanent post-earthquake housing. Tax evasion is rampant. The Italian school system is under attack by poorly-paid teachers. The university system is embarrassingly underfinanced and poorly organized. The infrastructures - roads, bridges, railways, dams etc. - in many parts of the country are not worthy of a developed country.
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