Thursday, 31 May 2012

Bologna's Towers

       The towers of Bologna, Asinelli and Garisenda,

are moving with every tremor.  Almost a thousand years' old they display their age, leaning together, shifting slightly in response to temperature, environmenal change; but now they are being shaken over and over again and their movement has become cause for grave concern.

Staff from the Istituto nazionale di geofisica e vulcanologia  are  camped in the piazza Ravegnana monitoring the structures, joined by many of the citizenry.  They say that after the first shock the towers changed but the alterations are still being analysed; the second quake and waves of after shocks, which continued with more than 30 tremors last night, have produced further alterations in the towers.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Dawn in Northern Italy

Seventy further shocks around 3.5 Richter have shaken northern Italy all night long.  The repeated effects of these on the fabric of ancient buildings is profound.

The damage to the industrial base is in the billions of euros.

Here is a police video from one of their helicopters. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

If You Pray, Pray Now

In 1565 the organ in the Basilica Ducale di Santa Barbara was commissioned from Graziadio Antegnati by the Gonzaga. 

The instrument was used by Claudio Monteverdi, Luca Marenzio,  Gastoldi....

Universally renowned for the perfection of his instruments, the beauty of their sound, only one other complete instrument, in the church of San Giuseppe at Brescia, built in 1581, had survived.

The earthquake at 1pm today has brought down the cupola of Santa Barbara in the palazzo Ducale in Mantova.  There is no news yet of the fate of the organ.

The Earthquakes Continue

La Repubblica has a constantly updated report of the horrifying effects of the earthquakes rolling through northern Italy.  There are now 10 dead after the major earthquake at 9.01 this morning.  The cathedral of Mirandola has collapsed.  Citta' d'arte from Pisa to Venice and everything in between are being shaken and damaged.  The quakes are being felt from Florence to Austria.

Schools, hospitals, government buildings, are being evacuated across the country - Pisa, Genova, Bologna, Padova, Modena,  Ferrara, Rovigo, Venice .....  Appeals to lift password protection from internet connections are being met by the population so that communications can be improved.

The great plain of the river Po and its tributaries rests upon the ranges of the Apennines that continue towards the Alps submerged by the silt of the river systems.  These buried mountain ranges are moving, pressured towards the Alps.  Water is being suddenly squeezed out of the acquifers and forced upwards causing great cracks of 'boiling' mud and sand to open up on the surface as well.

Industrial centres across the North - the economic heart of Italy -  are suffering extensive damage.

The rapid and sophisticated response to this onslaught has been impressive and notably humane in coping with the destruction and threat to so much but the geologists fear that these kinds of geological events are not just a sharp adjustment but a longdrawn out shifting in a region that has been stable since the 1500s.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Social Aggression is not a Party

Jean Sandler, 42, a UK Uncut supporter, is reported by the Telegraph to have  said: "Nick Clegg is one of the architects of austerity; he's a millionaire and lives in a million pound home.
"The cuts are a political choice of this Government and the Cabinet of out of touch millionaires, they are not necessary....
"These cruel cuts are designed to destroy our public services, the NHS, the welfare state and our future.
  [emphasis added.]

Has it ever dawned on Jean Sandler that many of us view the English Health Service, the unreformed welfare state, and public so-called 'services' like the state education system  as partially destructive of our future and of our present - designedly so and with every intention of embedding socialist objectives and their authoritarian means into our lives?

At least we don't take our views and actions onto the street and frighten the horses - or the small children of the neighbourhood.  That this action was aggressively intended is underlined by her further remarks:

"The cuts are getting personal and so are our protests ."

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Greece is Boring and Democratically Irrresponsible

These data, presented in Der Spiegel, say it all.  The sky isn't falling and core Europe - which includes  large and successful parts of nation states considered inappropriately together with their under-developed problem regions, is doing brilliantly despite, or quite possibly because of, its marked political and institutional diversity.

"You've all been reading some very old books," Bernard Crick remarked in a political science class at the School.  We are doing it again, and some very old economics books too, in informing our understanding of inter and intra-state relations, practices, goals, in core Europe.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Green Misunderstandings

Door bell rings. Put head out of window (can't be bothered to go all the way to the citofono) and look down at a man and a woman surrounded by brown plastic bins.  They have come to change my life and save the planet.

All the community wheeled rubbish bins in which we can pop stuff at any time but  are emptied every morning before 7am are to be removed.  Instead we are to place our rubbish, properly separated into sacks of organic, sacks of paper, and sacks of whatever else is left, on the doorstep  every day.

"There's only one bin" I remark. 
"Each kind of rubbish has a different day.  You need only one bin.  Just remember which rubbish goes out on which day. Organic has three days and the other two a day each.  Before 8am."

I can hear the light tap of claws in festa as the rats and other vermin celebrate the leaving of dinner every night outside  doors throughout the village.  But they celebrate too soon.  No bin is to be out before 6am.  Gulp.  It's all right in the summer and I suppose if I get it ready every night before bedtime it's just a matter of taking it down the stairs first thing, unbarring the doors, and putting it outside -but  in the main street opposite the town hall?  Or I could choose the turning into the piazza della Chiesa, or put it all out in the back lane and hope the men don't miss it.

"Who lives here?" they asked. "Why are there three of you? And in different streets?"
"Think of it as a block of flats with lots of HGs inside and hand over the bins!"  (With three bins I can manage this separation stuff much better.)
"No. We're taking these two to the piazza Chiesa and the via del F..." they  decide.  "Where is the piazza della Chiesa?" Where are these people from?  I'm not good at local accents and these two are from far away.  "There," I point, "That piazza with the large church in it, at the corner." "And the via del F...?" 
"Backdoor.   Go down to the other end, turn left and first left and there you are.  There's a Landrover parked outside.  Can't miss it.  I'll race you from inside the building. Uno, due, tre -  via ."

They handed over the three bins where we stood at the main door.   "Is your husband in?" the man asked hopefully.  I could see it written all over their faces:  English - they're very strange, the English.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

In May

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau  died on Friday at his home in Bavaria. He was 86.


Friday, 18 May 2012

It Takes a Village

The verbal noun 'parenting' repels instantly.  The small HGs were not 'parented' but brought up.  As were their parents. And their grandparents before them.  They were involved in  kinship constellations  engaged in myriad exchanges, large and small, that provided the background against which their formal instruction in school was set - and judged, and adjusted or refuted, as well as accepted.

The notion 'parenting' deliberately confounds the meeting of immediate physical needs with the provision of an upbringing.  A hundred pounds the state is offering to reduce (or traduce) a child's birthright into advice on how to change a nappy.

Even Hilary Clinton knows that to bring up a child it takes a village.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Debt Kills Growth

The massive overhang of public and private debt in advanced capitalist countries (public debt to GDP levels exceeds the critical 90% threshold while "private debt is showing a marked upward trend and remains near pre-crisis levels") and its damaging effect on growth are analysed in this paper by Reinhart and Rogoff   (referenced in the Irish Economy blog).

The impairment of growth by debt overhang is both marked and long-term.  It is  made clear too that causality does not run from  growth to debt "the multi-decade long duration of past public debt overhang episodes suggests that at very least the association is not due to recessions at business cycle frequencies."

Unnervingly, even continued ability to access  capital markets at relatively low interest rates by debtor countries does not ameliorate the growth-killing capacities of large debt overhangs.   Consoling thoughts that at least the UK took a Euro-use opt out are ill-founded insofar as  "growth-reducing effects of high public debt are apparently not transmitted exclusively through high real interest rates."

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Wrong Men for the Job

London was there for the taking by Labour.  That's twice Labour has thrown away power by allowing tightly-knit groups of politically motivated men to manipulate the choice of Labour champions in crucially important contests for social democracy in England.

 First they couldn't summon the will to rid themselves of Brown as an inappropriate Leader (inappropriate Chancellor of the Exchequer did the more damage to us all but that's another matter) and he lost them the UK election.  Now they've failed to gain London (Livingstone's previous term in office was not a Labour term but a last fling for other left forces) because another inappropriate candidate imposed himself.  The comrades in Europe must be aghast (social democracy being what it is, the ultimate internationalist movement).  All their hopes for re-taking widespread positions of authority and influence in a post modern political elitey way  now rest on Hollande,  and future co-operation and reinforcing support is compromised.

Of the two losses -  the UK and London -  it is London that is the greater.  Power, like culture, goes where the money is.  London ( devolved in the same manner as were Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland  but with many of the powers suppressed by the Blair administration when Livingstone took it in 2000)  could recover those powers over some forms of  taxation, health, education, infrastructural investment,  relations  with other devolved regions both within and outside the UK.

New Labour - the UK's local  social democratic elites  - intended devolution to be the permanent denial of power to the centre right ( the Conservatives here); they must  bitterly regret the regionalisation and other mechanisms  they put in place to safeguard themselves against democracy that have now fallen to the centre right.  Pity they failed to safeguard themselves against putting up wrong'uns and throwing away the loyalty, conviction and hard work of social democracy's supporters.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Welwyn Hatfield Council Results in Affirmation of Aspiration

Election Results - 3 May 2012

The Conservatives retained their control with a [slightly] decreased majority.
The political composition of the council is now:
  • Conservative 34 seats
  • Labour 11 seats
  • Liberal Democrat 2 seats
  • Independent 1 seat
There was Labour gains [So? So? Sometimes our grammar slips but aspirational doesn't mean perfect. It means there's no stopping us because we'll get it right next time.  Ed.] in Haldens and Hatfield West wards, and an Independent gain in Welwyn West ward.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Hollande vs Sarkozy

So did you watch the great debate?  And what did you think?  Has Sarkozy adopted the right tone to pull in the le Pen votes?  Is Hollande a deceitful liar?

Why should the hardworking of Europe fund eurobonds for the corrupt, the special interest lobbies, and the workshy?

Can a France  be taken seriously as an ally if led by Hollande, who wants to pull out of Afghanistan unilaterally when French troops are there as part of a NATO command?

What kind of to-be-taken-seriously energy policy could end France's commitment to nuclear power or is Hollande dog-whistling the Greenies?

Should there be a muslim commuity in France or a muslim community of France?

Is the presidency of France not in the least a 'normal' undertaking or is it just an apparatchik's job?

Should the President be stripped of legal invulnerabilities or is that a politically childish refusal to recognize the vulnerabilities of the exercise of power and that  the real, and proper,  containment of presidential power is undertaken by the Constitution?

Is former official contact with Berlusconi as a fellow European leader ethically equivalent to being Strauss Kahn's Party's substitute candidate after he was found out?

I thought Hollande was like Harold Wilson but without the political and high office experience, skills or charm.  He also shares with Wilson the need for an answer to the "Are you, or have you ever been..." question.

I thought Sarkozy was violent at times and contemptuous throughout, which didn't appeal to the English behavioural norms in me but might appeal to the voters he's after.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Come and Join Us!

There are lots of Americans permanently resident in Europe.  After all, it's the best place on Earth to live.  But their exodus is so irritating to the United States that our fellow European residents have started handing in their United States passports and renouncing their citizenship.

They're queueing up in various countries.  Bloomberg's report suggests the reasons are principally for tax evasion and avoidance but numerous readers' comments make it clear that what is objectionable au fond is the attitude of their fellow-Americans to those who prefer elsewhere: that they are tax cheats; that they are rich and disloyal; that they need to be made to pay.....

Idly, I looked up how to renounce UK citizenship.  No bullet-proof booth (shades of the confessional), interviews with embassy officials, long-term left-over tax liabilities,  huge fees, or other general big brother nastiness.  You just do it online.  And if you want to take up being a UK citizen again you can do that online as well - once certainly and, at the Home Secretary's discretion, repeatedly.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Hollande's Party is as Bad as Berlusconi's

Dominique Strauss Kahn is not alone in facing accusations and investigations about his sexual affairs and attitudes.  Silvio Berlusconi's trial is advancing steadily in Milan and is reported daily in the media. 

For those with their Devoto-Oli to hand the recordings and transcripts of telephone conversations between 'Papi' (Berlusconi, not the Libyan Papi, he's dead) and the Olgettine, and among the Olgettine themselves (the collective noun refers to the block of flats in Milan in which the papi-girls were housed) can be wondered at here (from La Repubblica).

The wonder exists, too, in the way in which  while Berlusconi's Party fell with him on the growing public awareness of his sexual mores,  Hollande's Party has pretended that the sexual mores of their disgraced champion were unknown to Party apparatchiks, to political elites and insiders, to knowledgeable observers in the media. And there is no moral or ethical fault admitted among the Left in France for permitting such people to lead them.  But DSK was their leader, their hero, their man. 

And they knew.  And they pretend they didn't. 

At least the Italians have put  Berlusconi's Party  out of office and out for the count.  In France there is the unedifying spectacle of the entire centre left in denial about who and what they were willing to have stand for them until they couldn't hide it from the electorate.  Then they ditched the man. But his Party remains as disgraced as ever for their association with,  their acceptance, their lionising, of him.

No voter in France should accept any claim by Hollande's Party to hold high office - not even holding their noses. 

Certainly no woman should be voting for their own betrayal, their own degradation. 

Turkey May not be European but Europe is not a State

All the fuss about the European Union dragging proud nation states of Europe into its maw looks somewhat exaggerated as the two European Union presidents wait hopefully for their invitation to the Chicago NATO summit at the end of the month.

The Secretary General of NATO Rasmussen has done his round of European and other NATO capitals for preliminary discussions, views have been taken and exchanged, but Turkey has objected to any European Union presence.  Not a NATO country, the Turks argue; shouldn't be invited.

Turkey 1: 'Baroness' Ashton scores her standard 0.