Thursday, February 22, 2007

What's more depressing...?

...your government is a complete failure because the man in charge is an incurious simpleton?


...your government falls despite the fact the most qualified man in the country has (had?) the top job?

I would swap places with the people in category A today. Count yourselves among the lucky ones.

For more of life's great imponderables, check out The Matthew Online, the online newspaper written by my students at JCU. The first batch of stories for the semester is now online. Tell us what you think.

Our government fell today. How are you?

By now, of course, you know Prodi resigned last night, after just 10 months in power. His was the 60th government since the end of World War 2. Yep, just about one per year, so 10 months is right on schedule.

So, what happens next? Hell, if we know here. There are so many possibilities including:
-- a new election
-- a new government emerges from the center-left
-- Prodi comes back forming a weaker government from his fractured base
-- the Christian Democrats (currently on the right) form a coalition with Prodi to keep a new government in place for another year
-- Martians invade, march on Rome, tentacles everywhere, and enslave us all for no more than 35 hours per week, plus two weeks off at Xmas and another two in August.

I, for one, welcome our new Martian invaders.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mortadella for no one?

There's that familiar feeling in Rome this evening. The Romano Prodi government appears to be on the brink of collapse after losing by two votes a crucial vote this afternoon about funding troops in Afghanistan. In typical cowardly fashion, Berlusconi's right coalition partners have voted against the plan even though they sent the troops there. Why? To watch the opposition government fall, of course. Only in Italy could politicians celebrate welshing on their political ideals just to see the other side, even if you agree with them for a change, fail. Call it democracy Italian style.

We should know more tomorrow.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cinque cose di me (5 things about me)

Matt, my old mate from London, now back in SF, recently assigned me the task of citing 5 things "you may or may not know about me". Grazie, amico, I type through gritting teeth.

I can't complain. Not long ago, the more industrious bloggers would list 100 things, usually 95 too many. And, at the outset of every semester, I assign my journalism students the task of interviewing their classmates, subjecting each of them to a barrage of uncomfortable questions from their peers. So, it's my turn to share.


1. I am a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland and I legally reside in a hilltop town in central Italy called Amandola, but I live in Rome. What does this mean? I can vote in U.S., Irish and EU elections, and for the mayor of Amandola. And, my tax situation is a total mess. Ok, that's a big yawn.

2. Let me see...Right. Last night, for the first time ever, I walked out of a play at intermission. Did I mention the play involved topless ballerinas in an avant-garde, East Village-comes-to-Rome type of production with a central theme that, as far as I can tell, attempted to tackle the twin evils of global warming and animal abuse issues, set to grating organ music? The theater was lovely though.

3. As a cub newspaper reporter, I once wrote an obit for a person who wasn't dead. Yet... It's a long story, and it involved an elaborate hoax by some vengeful family members who were being cut out of a will. Nonetheless, it goes down as a pretty embarrassing correction. It's never easy when you have to write, "Due to a reporting error, we wrote X died last week at the age of 82. X is not dead. We regret the error."

4. When I was young, I had this thing with numbers. Multiplying numbers. I couldn't stop. They were fairly big, complex numbers. 423 times 18. 94 times 11. And so on and so forth. I was always trying to find a pattern to break them down in my head and spit out the answer in ever faster intervals. To whom? Nobody. Just me. And, it followed me for years. On the baseball field. On the basketball court. On a date. I was never quite alone and unencumbered. It was always me and a list of numbers I had to get through in my head, leaving some awkward moments in my teen years. Were you listening? Erm, 1,034. Huh? I don't do it very much any more. And I don't think it was some childhood condition, but I don't think I'm completely cured of it. I am still asked to figure out the check at restaurants and everything my wife says to me, upon recall, seems vague. Does anybody else suffer from this?

5. The last time I cried? I was in Moscow. At a nightclub. Young Muscovites were chanting "Drink, Drink, Drink!" I was shackled to the bar and fitted with a construction helmet. I watched in horror as bartenders drained several nasty bottles of alcohol into a beer mug and shoved it in my face to loud applause. For more details and pix, click here.

Ok, now I have to pass this off to five people. Let's see: Adam, Derek, Marco, Andy and Matt.

Friday, February 09, 2007

London the world's No. 1 city? Snow way!

My friend Pete, a transplanted New Yorker now in London (by way of Moscow and East Africa), recently launched into a 20-minute why-London-is-the-ascendant-capital-of-the-world speech with me recently. The upshot is this: NY's hey-day is over; London, meanwhile, has been investing heavily in transport infrastructure; the city has successfully implemented a roadway congestion charge; the economy and housing market are humming; it won the 2012 Summer Olympics bid, which could goose the economy further, and the Victorian era pub closing times have been repealed (yet I still see scant evidence one can have a leisurely pint after 11 p.m.)

As the owner of a London flat, Pete is hardly credible. Plus, he's a nut. And a Yankees fan to boot. His argument is shot to pieces when you bring up two words: London Underground. The London subway system is extortionately pricey, vital links are nearly always shut on weekends for engineering works and try getting from Notting Hill at midnight to anywhere in North London on the damn thing. It just doesn't happen. That's Exhibit A. Exhibit B is this: a heavy snowfall today has grounded the city, and much of the country, to a dead stop. How much snow?, you no doubt are wondering. 4 inches! Yep, we're talking ankle high. In addition to the road and rail chaos this winter "blast" caused, several Underground lines are shut, which prompts the old joke: "Just how much snow falls under ground, anyhow?"

Pete, I wasn't buying your argument then. Not buying it now, I say after we just emerged here in Rome from a 2-day strike by gas station attendees. No petrol for anybody, which of course, has meant a complete suspension of mail service. I wonder where that puts Rome on the global ranking?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ciao, ragazza

Here's a stat for the fellas: Italian women are the most amorous in Europe, according to a fairly extensive study on contraception that came out today. The study says 59 percent of Italian women have at least one sexual encounter each week. This is particularly impressive when you consider how many 30-somethings still live at home with their parents.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The beautiful game

It's a rare Sunday here in Italia. My last-place club -- Ascoli -- didn't lose. The reason? They didn't play. In fact, no professional soccer clubs played this weekend. League federation officials cancelled all matches after a deadly riot broke out on Friday in the Sicilian city of Catania. A police officer was killed and some 100 fans were injured after rioting hooligans decided to detonate explosives and wreak bloody havoc in what's become an increasingly familiar scene at football stadiums around the country this season. It was the second match-related death in less than a week. And now the government is considering the unthinkable: cancelling the entire season.

Depriving Italians of their national sport? Have things turned that ugly with the beautiful game? The answer, shockingly, is certo! As was the case in England a generation ago, hooliganism has completely infiltrated the sport. The Italian daily Corriere delle Sera published this tally of known gangs that support the clubs. In most cases, there is a violent right- or left-leaning gang flying the team colors each week. In some cases, as with AS Roma, there are multiple groups on either side of the political divide.

So, later today, when you groan about the over-commercialization of the Super Bowl, as you view several hours of ads, with a football game squeezed in between, count yourselves among the lucky ones. It may be a corporate sell-out, but the *NFL is not a feeding ground for racist, xenophobic, testosterone-fueled thugs bent on maiming the other teams' fans.

* with the exception of **fans of the Philadelphia Eagles.
** a joke