Saturday, 30 June 2012

Bugs and Bunnies

The icy, deep snow Winter, followed by the steady downpour for the whole of Spring and now temperatures in the high thirties under a brazen sun is hatching things not seen since dinosaurs walked.  They must have been sitting in their crysallises  for ever until they thought they were in with only one more chance when the heat came.

They are so variously horrible but all are large - as big as the palm of a man's hand or bigger, with hooks, or  eyes on stalks, or digger truck attachments to the jaw  big enough to shift rocks.  They come armour-plated, some segmented, some writhing, others going like the clappers across polished floors (a particularly nasty effect) and some whose feet click as they crawl along very slowly.  Worst of all, some of them have wings and fly towards the lights at night.

In the beginning I would get one of the men and a boot would come down so fast they didn't stand a chance but left a nasty mess and the sound lingered in the ears.  So I got out the wasp nest spray but couldn't do it  when what I was pretty sure must be a giant scorpion was followed by two little ones.  It is worrying as well that they must be quite rare, these different creatures, even if I have no idea what they are.  The answer for now is strategically placed, long-handled dustpans and brush and flinging them (the creatures,  though the dustpans have been flung more than once) over the edge of the garden; but my courage is going to give out soon.

Why do they inspire such atavistic fear?  This morning at first light I saw two hares playing in the meadow on the edge of the woods.  I thought them utterly beautiful and stood still as still until they saw me and lolloped off towards the fountain and the glades above it.   They are much bigger than even the largest, most fantastical  creatures, yet looking at them I was enchanted.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

All Out and How to Achieve It

Two days ago the FIOM (the metal bashers section of the Italian trade union confederation) called a strike at the FIAT joint venture plant in the Abruzzo.  Under 3% of workers in each shift at the commercial vehicle producer answered the call and stopped work.  So FIOM has called another strike, again to protest the newly passed laws reforming the labour market.

This time it's from 18.15 to 22.15 this evening.

Bringing Work Home

Last night the Italian parliament broke the stranglehold that trades union special interest groups had upon the politics of labour.  The vote showed too that the Prime Minister maintains his commanding majority in the House.

The conditions under which those with jobs work was not much altered: what changed was the mind set accepted as normal, and the opening to debate and reset of what had been set in stone - literally constitutional stone - on the determining of relations between employer and employee.

'Italy is a democratic republic based on labour.'

states Article 1 of the Constitution.  Article 4 persists:

'The republic recognizes the right of all citizens to work and promotes conditions to fulfill this right.  According to capability and choice, every citizen has the duty to undertake an activity or a function that will contribute to the material and moral progress of society. '

Unexceptionable, positively praiseworthy; except that the political parties of the Left, some wholly undemocratic such as the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party (yes, of course they're still there, factions within the Democratic Party) together with their trade union offshoots, had set themselves up as arbiters of how those Articles would be fulfilled, and as sole representatives of the people when it came to work and working conditions.  Steadily they entrenched into law demands wholly destructive of work but highly advantageous to those who achieved a job - 'il posto'.  Increasingly recourse against work offered that was not compliant with their policies (and they had established a very large say indeed over labour policy)  was to the courts, a much less difficult and doubtful route to their objectives than industrial action from a reluctant workforce so unhappy with the undemocratic nature of the political caste and the pressure groups and lobbyists that 'represented' their 'interests'.

Now, perhaps, firms in Italy that need to grow above 15 employees (and there are many, Italian entrepreneurship is notably family-based and grows from the success of such small companies) will stop either deliberately limiting growth to avoid falling under regulation  inappropriate even to 20th century industrial production, and even to public sector employment -  or relocating their companies in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and other parts of the Italian diaspora. In those places work is work, there are government incentives through taxes and resource allocations, a well-educated, skilled workforce, and  long-established connections with Italy.  

Across the Adriatic is not abroad; nor is it home though.  The first blow for people to find work at home and speak for themselves on terms and conditions has been enacted.   It is further deregulation that will end increasing de-localisation  of activity and and deliberate restriction on growth. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Text of the Van Rompuy-Draghi-Barroso-Juncker Report

Should readers like to look at the document from Barroso, Draghi, Juncker, and van Rompuy prepared for the European summit meeting tomorrow (or a draft, at least) here is a link.

There is discussion of various points in the Italian press but it is always interesting to look at the text rather than just extracts  picked for journalistic purposes.  The bit that caught Angels' eye was the statement that Article 126 of the Treaty, which deals with the powers conferred on the European Central Bank for the supervision of banks in the Eurozone, must be fully considered and exploited. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Stretching Children is Cruel

The dog's breakfast that is the English schools examination system could quite readily be cleared up.  A system of public examination centres where examinations at any pre-university level could be taken by candidates of any age or status, set by a public body and marked and adjudicated under the surveillance of a public body should do the trick;  on the lines of the examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.  An Associated Board of the Universities of England, so to speak.

These examinations would qualify a candidate for matriculation.  There need be no rows about the abolition of GCSEs and the creation of two-tiered systems.  Current school-based examinations of the GCSE kind with course work and resits etc., could continue to run, providing a school-based assessment system which was equally accessible to  all school learners but didn't necessarily lead to university study, although the universities could also set the standards needed to matriculate by the GCSE route.

As a matter of fact, at the moment, any examination candidate not falling within the parameters drawn by a school-based system suffers discrimination.  A dual system of which one route was outside the schools would be more open and fairer to everyone, regardless of age or the manner of their education.  The subjects on offer would be drawn from a wider knowledge base than available to  schools, too.  We have an Open University: why not an Open School using the modern resources available for learning now? 

I think I might have a stab at classical Greek; sadly, time's up for the violin.

Italy is Not What It Used to Be

The constant referral to Italy's 'technical' government is damaging understanding of  the European Union crisis.  One of the prerequisites for acceptance of the President's invitation to form an administration was that a Monti administration would be  fully political and extend into all fields of government.  Its mandate would confirm just that; it would not be  limited to an economic and financial turn-round.

In truth, an economic and financial turn-round was not the problem, as Ambrose Evans- Pritchard  now acknowledges:

'The country is clearly not a basket case on any measure.  It will have a primary budget surplus of 3.6pc of GDP this year, and 4.9pc next year, the best in the G7 bloc.  Combined public and private debt is 260pc of GDP, similar to Germany and much lower than France, Spain, or the UK. With private wealth of €8.6 trillion, Italians are richer per capita than Germans.  Italy scores top on the IMF's long-term debt sustainability indicator at 4.1, ahead of Germany 4.6, France 7.9, the UK 13.3, Japan 14.3, and the US 17.'

The Prime Minister is coping with a double-headed monster: the bloated, corrupt political elites so intricately entwined with the geo-political gangster criminality over which the state itself can barely retain control; and, what the core nations fear most, 'the creation of an uncapped transfer union without surrender of national sovereignty to the supranational European level' as   Willem Buiter so felicitously encapsulates the European-level core nations dilemma.
 It is not by chance that it is in Rome that the core nations meet today.  Italy must call on Europe's strength to defeat its own monsters  - the creation by an unholy alliance of the trade union-based 'left',  the populist gangsterista 'right,' and a naive anarchist protest vote of a pretext to pull down the administration before the end of the Legislature as Monti threatens their fiefdoms and their privileges. The European Union needs to call upon Italy's strength as a highly advanced, innovative, entrepreneurial economy; but this must be voiced through growth and financial measures that preserve and enhance it.

To do what Monti is doing demands high-level intellectual and professional skills,  a clear grasp of political strengths and political forces operating here and in Europe, an ethical stance that sets his aims against those of powerful national (and international) corruption; and considerable physical bravery.  To daub him (and the constitutional authority from which he derives his power) as 'technical' and "unelected'  denies him, and all his policies the validity which they  deserve.  Worse, it warps perception of Italy's  real 21st century status and, in so doing, damages the European Union in its entirety.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

All Greek....

Half a million school leavers sat down to the First Test yesterday - Italian.  The examination, taken by all, had a number of essay titles from which the examinees choose one and then write for the whole day (the invitation to write on the labyrinth, with excerpts from Ariosto, Calvino, Borges and Eco, plus paintings by Picasso, Pollock and Escher, was particularly fine).

Today they separate into their specialist schools, writing on specific material.  For the Classical Lyceum, this year, the Unseen is  Greek (it alternates with Latin annually).

Aristotle – De partibus animalium I, (A), 5, 645 a 

is   offering all its complexity and imagery to their best efforts even as we take our elevenses.  They have been at it since 8.30 this morning.  The papers are now providing translations, interpretations, profound thoughts (everyone is re-living their own trial by fire, as the whole country does, obsessively, every year in June) while they continue, locked away in the examination halls, but this is a very tricky passage and Aristotle - always and rightly feared -  hasn't turned up in the Unseen since 1978.

Here is an interpretation from Merton (Oxford still does Greek), which refutes, among others, Heidegger's effort.

 'Heraclitus can be seen in the anecdote as inviting his visitors to join him in the kitchen by appealing to their common archaic heritage, and the way he does that provides a delightful illustration for the point Aristotle wants to make about the study of animals. Just as Heraclitus encouraged the visitors to waive their conventional scruples and join him in the kitchen by suggesting that the ordinary fire in the oven is as divine and hospitable as the consecrated fire of the hearth, Aristotle encourages his audience to over- come their puerile revulsion towards the examination of the humbler animals by saying that there is something wonderful in them as well as in other things of nature, including the better respected animals and, ultimately, the stars which are appreciated as divine and well worthy of study. The wonderful thing is, of course, the purposefulness which pervades the whole natural world and which is the counterpart of the beautiful (tÚ kalÒn)in things of art. And because of that, Aristotle exhorts his audience to forget their distaste for certain kinds of animals and to open their minds to the systematic treatment of animals which he is about to supply.'

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

England v Italy

Are you ready England?

And these are just the Florentines

Back to the Future Once More

'concrete steps towards a more integrated financial architecture'  Los Cabos Growth and Jobs Action Plan - circa 1932.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Through to the Quarters

l'Italia s'è desta,
dell'elmo di Scipio
s'è cinta la testa.
Dov'è la Vittoria?
Le porga la chioma....

If I Want to Speak to Europe Who Do I Call?

The restricted meeting between  Obama and Merkel, Monti, Hollande,  Barroso, and  Van Rompuy didn't happen.  The White House said this was because it was decided to extend the working dinner at which all the G20 heads of government and state were present (though not heads of international organisations) .

The German version is that everything that was going to be said between Obama and the European leaders had been said; it was the Chancellor of Germany who cancelled the meeting after talks between her and the US President (talks that lasted 45 minutes, held before the G20 dinner began) exhausted any exchange of views.

It begins to look as if Kissinger's Question has been answered.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Lippis et Tonsoribus

A supply side economist:

believes that the level of income and employment is determined by the level and structure of productive capacity and economic agents' choices.

does not believe that national income and employment are determined by keynesian aggregate demand.

believes that the economy must be deregulated in order to mobilise entrepreneurship and to grow.

Francois Hollande is not a supply side economist, as has been claimed by  Professor Philippe Aghion, a self-declared major economic advisor:  Francois Hollande is a motherhood and apple pie economist.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Boom Boom

Returning from a Florence glowing 40C from every stone, I carried a cake from Robiglio wrapped in waxed paper and tied with golden ribbons and bows (pan di spagna soaked in liqueur, covered with freshly-made pasta di mandorle, decorated with mint and violet sugared flowers and leaves, as you ask).

"Today,' I announced, "There will be proper tea."

"Can't have that," replied Mr HG. 

Me, snippy in the heat, "Why ever not, just for once?"

"As we all know: proper tea is theft."

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A General Election Where the People Really Will Speak

Italy must hold a general election in a little over 10 months.  Until now Senator Monti has been having a difficult time forcing the various embedded powers of political parties, trade unions, professional bodies, and open gangsters to accept that spending must fall.  Everyone is clear that the others should accept reduced state spending - but not themselves.  They're all as bad as one another;  it isn't as if there's an outstanding villain, though the political elites - the elected and their hangers-on - are not just acting for themselves but being obstructive in the legislature on behalf of the others, who are both their clients and, to some degree, their paymasters  (tax-payers are contributing forcibly too.)

After a brief interlude of relief that Berlusconi had finally lost his majority in a welter of accusations and trials, some still on-going, the Prime Minister began to lose the upper hand.  Trade unions defended their outrageous closed shop that over-rewards the employed but excludes the young from entering employment; professions dug in their heels over their exclusionary practices; gangsters returned to corrupting and shooting their way forward as usual.  But now the politicians are in a bit of a difficulty.

Yes, they have refused to take any cuts beyond derisory gestures that can be made up elsewhere on their palette of access to other people's money.  But with the  summer recess and a mass decamping to the seaside and the mountains, their hold over the Prime Minister falls away.  In the Autumn there can be no more threats of precipitating early elections or forcing the President to ask someone else to try and form a government.   The use of  legislative decrees will come into its own.

The decreto legge is proposed by the Prime Minister of the day and his cabinet, and signed off by the President of the Republic;  for 90 days it is the law and, before the end of that period, must be ratified by both Houses.  Or not.  Monti has done much, under this system, but has been hamstrung by the threat of legislative refusal  on every matter of substance to any of the entrenched interest groups.  The people are becoming resigned, a lot of talk, they say, but nothing gettting done.

However, the talk has served: battle lines have been drawn, strengths tested, alliances split, public attitudes evinced.  Monti and his ministers have got through what they could, and learned much of what the people want but the vested interests want to prevent.  In the Autumn they can put the really necessary changes into place,  but they do not have to push any of them through an implacable legislature.

By the time the 90 days is up it will be too late to refuse ratification.   Italy will be in full electoral mode; and the people are very angry indeed with their political representatives.  They will be even angrier if the rejection of necessary reforms is the platform on which the political elites and the special interest groups go to the country.

Neither  the Prime Minister* nor the President of Italy are  standing for re-election next Spring.  They'll really have the bit between their teeth.

*It is a misrepresentation to say that Mario Monti is unelected.  He was nominated by the President and given an overwhelming vote of confidence by both elected Houses of Parliament.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Grandest of Coalitions

As President Hollande receives the leaders of the German SPD  Sigmar Gabriel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Peer Steinbrück at the Elysee palace today to discuss a fiscal pact and growth in the Eurozone we see the shadow of the grand coalitions that have ruled Germany for so many of the recent decades beginning to shape itself as an intra-state force in the heart of Europe.

Le Monde describes the meeting as “unheard of”,  as an attempt by the French president to pressure  the German Chancellor to shift emphasis from 'austerity' to growth  ahead of the EU summit;   certainly the growth agenda needs to be addressed more urgently, as the third 'voice' of a shadow EU troika, Mario Monti, has constantly emphasized.

It should be borne in mind, though, that the SPD is in negotiations with the CDU/CSU on the fiscal pact  (ratification of the pact requires a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag.)   Mrs Merkel is highly skilled at conducting a grand coalition in a German-only political environment; indeed a very good case can be made for such a political coalition arrangement to be infinitely preferable to the current centre-right coalition with the FDP in Germany.  Some have said she would 'give her right arm' to be in the former grand coalition with the SDP.   At the same time President Hollande is as  unimpressed by the parties to his left as Chancellor Merkel by the parties to her right.

The Chancellor and the President have not yet gained confidence in one another but there are obvious political stability advantages from interchanges like this one.  The European Union does not suffer so much from 'state desertion' as from  failure to construct the state at all in a timely and modern fashion during the years of plenty.

Hollande's determination to emphasize growth,  not austerity,  now is  admirable  and, many would argue, correct; this meeting is justified in those terms although the Chancellor's office has asked that there be no common press conference afterwards

Events in the unfolding eurodrama are perhaps clearer if seen as European events,  not as nation state-bounded events.  To look, as it were, from the possible future; this constant harking back by media commentators to the 1930s is so unhelpful and without explanatory power; for the politicians and institutions of the 1930s the long run has arrived.  They are all dead.  The economic analyses of what is the matter with the eurozone are done and dusted but the political analyses are crying out for fresh thought and approaches.


A report on the meeting at the Elysee palace is here.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Bach 1 - British Border Guards 0

This is what the Gatwick border guards might have succeeded in  preventing.

Ending the Music

There are reports that the opening concert of this year’s Spitalfields Festival almost had to be cancelled  because of Border Agency officials.

The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra were due to play at Christchurch Spitalfields, the festival’s principal venue;  but when they arrived at Gatwick on Friday afternoon three of the orchestra’s members were arrested, held in detention for five hours, and then sent back to Amsterdam. The multi-national orchestra’s founder and conductor, the harpsichordist and organist Ton Koopman said:

 “They kept them in detention like criminals and they weren’t even allowed to give us their music – because they were criminals, of course. It was a disgraceful way to behave, and I had to leave them there in order to be in time for the concert.”

The three musicians, violinists and a viola player, who  had come from Spain via Amsterdam, where their passports were said not to have been stamped properly, are Japanese.

This is a seriously nasty piece of behaviour, yet another piece of officious jobsworthyness on the way to  England becoming A State of Denmark.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Giving Notice

The United Kingdom is promised a referendum on any further handing over of powers to the European Union.  The Lisbon Treaty requires that should a member state wish to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union it must leave first and give two years' notice of that intention.  (Not unreasonably; first you leave and then you apply to rejoin on fresh terms.  There is a clear procedure for application for membership and there is no such procedure, or body that can accept on behalf of all member states any renegotiated terms of membership.)

According to Der Spiegel Mario Draghi, José Manuel Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Juncker are preparing a fully-fledged euro area fiscal union.   This would deny its members the right to take on new debt independently;  a member state government would be able to  dispose independently of only self-generated revenues.  Any additional  debt-funded expenditures would  be financed by Eurobonds issued on the agreement of  Euro finance ministers     Joint  liability would be for newly issued debt after  the introduction of the fiscal union. The plans envisage a full time chairman of the euro finance ministers who could eventually become the euro area finance minister.  National parliaments would be represented on a new body controlling the finance ministers.

The United Kingdom is already outside the loop of the recasting of the European Union.  Changes of the order proposed above will certainly involve the ceding of powers by all member states whether inside or outside the eurozone; indeed relations with states such as Norway, who are not member states of the EU, will be affected.

If the Coalition Government is to meet its undertakings to the UK electorate it needs to give notice now that it intends to leave,  and renegotiate its relationship with the European Union, or it will find it has been issued with a fait accompli.


If preferred, an English version of all this has now been published by Der Spiegel  with a bit more padding, and joining-up of other proposals that have been mooted by Monti (among others).

Saturday, 9 June 2012

It's Not a Very Big Re-capitalisation

Spain, according to a report freshly issued (it was due on Monday) by the IMF, needs to find $46 billion for its banks, reports the New York Times.  That's all its banks, not just the one.  $46 billion is £30billion. 

Mervyn King famously regarded £30 billion as a great deal of money in those dear, dead days when New Labour's bank, Northern Rock, inflicted the indignity of a retail bank run on the United Kingdom and its benighted Chancellor of the Exchequer.  But he was constrained to accept £30 billion and then some as Northern Rock swallowed down more and more of taxpayers' money only to look quite abstemious as Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS, and their sundry, formerly solvent victims quantitively eased their way into the public purse.  It turned out that £30 billion isn't much after all.  And as for the 29 trillion dollars President Obama rarely mentions.....

Obama is banging on and on about Spain, the IMF in Washington is rushing out reports, the English language media is sucking its breath in between its teeth as if Spain had been caught in flagrante delicto.

All this for just one kiss?

  (Quante storie per un bacio: Sandro Chia, 1979)


Friday, 8 June 2012

When Push Comes to Shove

That the basis of growth must be the reduction of public debt accompanied by the privatisation of economic activity inappropriately conducted in the state sector and the liberalisation of labour and trade relations is not accepted by the left, or by their current fellow travellers, the progressive authoritarians of the third way.

Their intellectual shock troops, armed as economists but acting as propagandists (a highly questionable ethical stance -  permitting a connexion between their undoubted technical status and their debatable political beliefs) call up the experiences of almost a century ago and the remedies to that Depression worked out with such care in subsequent decades, as if old-fashioned economics applied in toto to the present day.  And, guilty of this error, in true propagandistic fashion, they accuse the supporters of a more modern economic solution to the current crisis of secret subscription to an even older, Schumpeterian belief in the beneficial effects of the experience of Depression, and call them vindictive and even mad: guilty  of punitive assault upon the well-being of their fellow men. 

The 'New Dealers' of this millennium have failed to consider (or at least failed to acknowledge) that last century's over-use of deficit financing and state acquisition of economic controls has brought us here.  (Never mind the political refusal to recognise the popular overthrow of the regimes of eastern Europe where their economic theories, and their political beliefs and the necessary structures that in the end accompany them,  failed even to feed, house and clothe the people beyond the most basic level).

In thrall to the economics of the past  United States' debt stands now at 100% of a year's GDP.  European debt, on average,  is 88% of annual GDP.  The US has a higher current deficit and a higher balance of payments deficit on current account.  And they assault the Eurozone for rejecting the retro-economics that has produced this disaster?

There aren't really laws in economics, except in the sense of a few verifiable empirical regularities, but it's as true in there as anywhere else that 'to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction; or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.',  and all this pushing and shoving of the Eurozone has indeed produced  an equally powerful response which will put in place rapidly the long-planned and prepared machinery of a core United Europe.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Of Wolves and Lambs: the Cheek of American Political Elites

'As a Wolf was lapping at the Head of a Fountain, he spy'd a Lamb paddling at the same time a good way off down the Stream. The Wolf had no sooner the Prey in his eye, but away he runs open-mouth to't.

"Villain (says he) how dare you lie muddling the Water that I'm a drinking? 
Indeed, says the poor Lamb, I did not think that my drinking here below could have foul'd your Water so far above.
Nay, says t'other, you'll never leave your chopping of Logick, till your Skin's turn'd over your Ears, as your Father's was, a matter of six months ago, for prating at this saucy rate; you remember it full well, Sirrah.
If you'll believe me, Sir, (quoth the innocent Lamb, with fear and trembling) I was not come into the World then.
Why thou Impudence, cries the Wolf, hast thou neither Shame nor Conscience? But it runs in the Blood of your whole Race, Sirrah, to hate our Family; and therefore since Fortune has brought us together so conveniently, you shall e'en pay some of your Forefathers Scores before you and I part."

And so without any more ado, he leap'd at the Throat of the miserable helpless Lamb, and tore him immediately to pieces.'

MORAL  'Tis an easy Matter to find a Staff to beat a Dog. Innocence is no Protection against the arbitrary Cruelty of a tyrannical Power; But Reason and Conscience are yet so sacred, that the greatest Villanies are still countenanc'd under that Cloke and Colour. (Aesop)

Europe is not responsible for the economic woes of the United States, as their equally woeful President now claimsWe have it from the the mouth of the Savior of the World, the man who abolished boom and bust:

"It all started in America."


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Ravenna Earthquake

Ravenna was shaken by an earthquake at 4.5 on the Richter at 6.08 this morning.  A World Heritage Site, the city has not been damaged at a first inspection.  The Mayor of Ravenna meets the council this afternoon to hear further reports on the situation  and make an assessment.
The strength of the earthquake was such as to be felt in the whole of the Marche.  There are no reports on damage elsewhere yet.  The epicentre of the earthquake was just off the coast.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Muscle and Grace

'...virtually no original German planes remained from either World War I or World War II.'  Der Spiegel explains.   They were all destroyed in 'de-militarisation' programmes after the second War.  Why?  Germany was hardly going to rise from the ruins and start flying them about, now was it?

Anyway, the Military History museum in Berlin is raising a Stuka from the Baltic seabed.  'The Junkers Ju 87 "Sturzkampfbomber," ....   with its trademark siren, known as "Jericho trumpets," blaring as the aircraft hurtled down to its target.'

They look extraordinarily modern for 1940; just look at those sophisticated wings.

This is Italo Balbo's Savoia-Marchetti SM.55X flying boat , also looking good, from the same period.
Yes, one is a warplane and the other an aircraft of the Italian Formation Flight, but somehow they capture the different design mindsets  of two great  engineering traditions.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Balbo's Flying Chandelier

This video of the recovery of the antique murano glass chandelier from the town hall at Sant'Agostino, presented by Italo Balbo, shows the skill and determination with which what can be saved will be saved.

The town hall is so damaged no-one may enter.  So they did it by remote control.  Imagine giving the order to cut the support chain!

A Proper State Broadcasting Service

Dividing the BBC would end the kind of disgraceful performance by the state broadcasting service that occurred yesterday.  A First Division BBC could  provide official announcements, coverage of state events, an unvarnished news service both in the UK and abroad,  party political broadcasts, election results, and the various kinds of public information best diffused nationally.

A Second Division BBC could provide entertainment of whatever quality or level.   It could also cover everything dealt with by the First Division BBC if it liked, in any manner it chose.

Neither Division would be funded by licence fee.  The First Division BBC would be funded out of general taxation and from a levy on the Second Division, and any other commercial channels.  The Second Division BBC would be  paid for in the same way as all the others, by subscription and advertisements.

The arts are already amply funded by various government bodies like the Arts Council and there are many charitable sources of funding available to be tapped.  As for the rest of it, the chat shows, the light entertainment (I'm unsure where to put the quotation marks round those last two words), the drama, the Proms, they'll just have to fight their corner.

What we can end is broadcasting drivel and the politically incorrect warping of events in the world all  given status by being under the same roof and brand name.  The BBC does have a brand and a status and its theft by unrepresentative warriors in the culture wars  is overwhelmingly  portrayed as unacceptable in today's media.  

The BBC  have announced that they are proud of yesterday's coverage of events on the Thames.

The BBC Are the Real PIGS

'A Venetian Gondola from City Barge Rowing Club. The Querini's 
Disdatona  is  commanded  and  crewed  by  highly  skilled  and 
experienced  Venetians  to  whom  boats  and  boat  handling  are 
second  nature.  Venice  has  strong  historical  trading  links  with 
England.  For  King  Charles  II  wedding  procession  two  gondoli 
closely escorted the Royal Barge. ' ( see this for a description of many of the boats)

The BBC remark?  "Nice to see the Venetian gondoliers resting on their oars.  They've actually made it  all the way. Bit different from what they're used to."

The Pageant was absolutely unwatchable on the BBC.  That man in a too-tight grey suit stretched over his little belly, the woman in a dress inappropriate for sitting down and inappropriate too for a person of her age.  The refusal to show us the boats;  the inanity, vulgarity, patronising ignorance, grotesque self regard.  Who were those people?

Colpo di Grazia for Novi's Tower

An earthquake at 5.1 on the Richter scale has struck again between Modena and Mantova,   followed by after-shocks throughout the night above 3. The settecentesco clock tower which had symbolized the earthquake-stricken north of Italy's determination to rebuild was brought down at 9.21 last evening.  The earthquake shook the country from Firenze to Bolsano and from Milano to Venezia; seismic events continue to be recorded in the entire north.

All schools are now closed in the Provinces of Modena and Mantova and the scholastic year has been cut short for 2012 as the checks on their buildings, which had just been completed, are begun again.  The shops, bars and supermarkets that had begun to reopen in the zones worst affected have closed once more and the civil defence teams are extending the temporary accommodation, field hospitals and  canteens to cope with the further influx of people who, up to now, had been camping in the public parks and gardens within towns and cities in their own tents.

Today is a day of mourning for the death and destruction with flags at half mast and minutes of silence in all comunes in Italy.  The damage to towns and cities, to infrastructure, though not the industrial damage, is estimated at 5 billion euros and rising.   The damage to the glories of the courts of the Gonzaga and the Rinascimento?  Still being assessed.

Friday, 1 June 2012

A Quieter Night for Northern Italy

Thirty further tremors in the North last night were all below 3 on the Richter.  Tremors were felt throughout the Veneto but no obvious damage was reported - just a good shake to Palladio's villas: Vicenza is another World Heritage Site.

What this shock has taught is that all of Italy is an earthquake zone.  Of course this was recognized at a technical level - always has been - but implementing measures and requirements flowing from this has been uneven.  The collapse of the industrial sites, where much is of this century's construction, is the object of the magistrates' enquiries.  It shouldn't have happened and it seems that the anti-seismic regulations themselves, to which many of the fallen buildings conformed, were inadequate.  Most of the people who have been killed died in the factories.  (It is noteworthy that the factories were working three shifts, seven days a week, and many in the advanced manufacturing sectors; the factories around Mirandola supplied the biomedical needs of Italy's and a considerable proportion of  Europes's health services).

The plant of firms like Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini were undamaged although they did close partly because just in time supply was interrupted from smaller manufacturers and mostly to allow workers to support family and community in these days.  Some of the oldest buildings resisted.  The inadequacy of modern  minimum anti-earthquake standards must have some role in all this; the engineering standards of those that withstood the shocks must become the norm.

The civil response to the emergency has been impressive.  Water, gas, electricity, transport systems have been checked and kept running when there might reasonably have been an expectation that the Peninsula would be cut in two by all this.  The people who have lost their homes and even their entire villages and towns have been sheltered and fed in temporary conditions and are now being settled in more permanent housing from surrounding comunes.  Most importantly communities have been kept together.

 The emotional blow has been awful: people are, quite literally, spaesato,  disoriented, their paese both physical and cultural, gone.  The Church, which might have been expected to have much to offer in this, is notably absent.  It is the civil powers that have responded.  It may be that the Church's efforts are not being reported but that would be surprising; the Church, apart from remarks of almost formal regret from Pope Ratzinger , is silent. 

The response of the central government, banks and local financial institutions and foundations, and of the professionals - the doctors, surveyors, architects, engineers - has been generous and efficient.  Tax collection has been delayed, loans have been made available, mortgage payments lifted for a year... and the services of those best qualified to restore the built environment made freely available through their professional organisations (Florence and its region, for instance, has already sent dozens of professionals to help with assessing the damage and determining the remedies).

The Prime Minister has suspended the Growth and Stability Pact for local authorities in the North.  Leaving the factories in ruins, the towns and cities unsurveyed, the anti-seismic measures not raised to meet geophysical conditions would be economic barbarism. 

Here is a perfect example of the uses of deficit financing for investment.  Not windmills, not funding welfare benefits for voter clients, not deficit financing after decades of deficit financing wasted on political rather than economic ends.  (The difference between now and the depression of the 1930s is that then there wasn't the previous abuse of economic good sense and deficit financing wasn't applied quickly enough.  Now, in 2012, we  must recognise that deficit financing was used improperly for decades, culminating in folly of the New Labour years.)

Deficit financing for investment is a specialised economic tool not a generalised condition of economic life.  Mario Monti has correctly  instigated its use in investment oriented circumstances.  It still has no place in fuelling house price booms and buying votes.