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Berlusconi sentenced

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is off to the clink for four years for tax evasion—pending appeals and whatnot, of course. [RT] Rob

Seismologists guilty in Italy: More on the L'Aquila verdict, and what it means for the future of science

In a guest piece at Scientific American, David Ropeik argues that an Italian court's decision to charge scientists and a government official with manslaughter isn't about quake prediction per se, but a failure to communicate science effectively. Snip:

But, contrary to the majority of the news coverage this decision is getting and the gnashing of teeth in the scientific community, the trial was not about science, not about seismology, not about the ability or inability of scientists to predict earthquakes. These convictions were about poor risk communication, and more broadly, about the responsibility scientists have as citizens to share their expertise in order to help people make informed and healthy choices.

An editorial from Nature, a publication that covered the case extensively in 2011, echoes this sentiment. "It is important to note that the seven were not on trial for failing to predict the earthquake," but...

The verdict is perverse and the sentence ludicrous. Already some scientists have responded with warnings about the chilling effect on their ability to serve in public risk assessments.

Berlusconite politician caught slashing disabled man's tires

Antonio Piazza, a Milanese government official from Italy's People of Freedom party (that's Silvio Berlusconi's party), has made headlines after he was caught on CCTV slashing the tires of a disabled person's car. Piazza had been in the habit of parking his car in a disabled spot near his office. When a police officer fined him and made him move his car so that a disabled person could use the spot, he returned a few hours later and slashed the guy's tires. He forgot that there were CCTVs on the scene. Here's The Guardian's Tom Kington:

Piazza at first tried to appeal against his parking fine, claiming he had given a lift to a disabled person, but has now grudgingly resigned from his job running a regional housing agency under pressure from his party, claiming: "I made a mistake, but there are people who behave even worse."

As Italy's fiscal police inspect local government accounts up and down the country in the wake of the Lazio scandal, a new report has revealed tax evasion is still endemic among Italy's professions – finding that psychologists fail to declare 40% of their earnings, rising to 42.7% for lawyers. Italians who do pay taxes were shocked to learn of the arrest of the head of a tax-collecting agency on suspicion of embezzling €100m, some of which he spent on lavish parties in Portofino.

Italian politician slashes disabled driver's tyres in parking dispute

The butler did it! Pope's butler is the leak behind Vatileaks

VatiLeaks is pretty much what it sounds like: leaks from the Vatican, which culminated in, "Your Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI," a blockbusting book from journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who cites a Vatican source called "Maria" for leaking sensitive letters address to Benedict XVI. Now police have arrested a man whom the press identifies as the Pope's butler, who is accused of being VatiLeaks's Maria. From the NYT:

An on-again-off-again scandal that the Italian press has called VatiLeaks burst into the open on Friday with the arrest by Vatican gendarmes of a man, identified in news reports as Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s butler, who the Vatican said was in possession of confidential documents and was suspected of leaking private letters, some of which were addressed to Pope Benedict XVI.

In Vatican Whodunit, a Punch Line of a Suspect (via Making Light)

Earthquake and bombs in Italy: An eyewitness report from Jasmina Tesanovic


[Video Link.]

A weekend of fear and mourning in Italy.

Early this Sunday morning, an earthquake struck near Bologna: at least six killed (ceramic workers, and a hundred year old person), and big material damage in the region. The US Geological Survey heard the tremor: a magnitude-6.0 quake struck at 4:04 a.m. Sunday between Modena and Mantova, about 35 kilometers north-northwest of Bologna. Civil defence says that the quake was the strongest in the region since the 1300s. And the damaged building are valuable historical sites. In Italy such loss goes without saying.

We felt the earthquake in Torino, 260 kilometers from Modena at dawn. The apartment building shook and the late-night party people yelped with alarm in the streets. As I write this we hear the building crack and we tremble: I am checking on twitter. Yes, it' s an aftershock at 15.19.

Not unusual for Italy to deal with deadly earthquakes, but what comes afterward can be nearly as troublesome: state neglect and real estate speculation. Those who are not under earth may have the skies as a roof forever! The last big earthquake in Aquila in 2009 speaks about that.

Read the rest

HOWTO decorate like a Mafia boss


Nicola Schiavone is the recently jailed Camorra mafioso. His Naples home was photographed by the Italian tax police who raided it. It's quite an eyefull of Mafia-chic strangeness. The Guardian has the story.

Criminal? Italian mafia interior tastes exposed - in pictures

Vatican City ATM displays instructions in Latin


Seth Schoen snapped this Vatican City ATM that displays instructions in Latin.

Latin ATM (via Kottke)

Centurions battle cops at Colosseum

Phillip Pullella writes: "Roman centurions, complete with red skirts, tunics, armor, swords and feathered helmets, fought in front of the Colosseum. But this time it was with a modern enemy - Rome's city police. The police arrived at the ancient amphitheatre to enforce an eviction notice for the men, who ask for money to have their picture taken by tourists." [Photo: Tony Gentile / Reuters]

Documentary about inventor of giant 3D printer that can print a house

The Man Who Prints Houses is a documentary about Enrico Dini, an Italian roboticist who switched tracks to design and build enormous 3D printers capable of outputting houses:

Having built his printer – the world’s largest – from scratch, there’s no shortage of work offers for this highly-skilled and imaginative engineer. Throughout the course of the film, we see Enrico embark on an array of innovative projects: constructing the tallest printed sculpture in existence, working with Foster + Partners and the European Space Agency on a programme to colonise the moon, solidifying a sand dune in the desert, and printing the closest thing to an actual house: a small Italian dwelling known as a trullo.

The long-term nature of these projects and the current financial climate take their toll on Enrico and his team of workers, as contracts fail to be honoured and the infant technology stutters. Travel back to 2008 and it’s a different story, as Enrico describes how he was staring a €50m investment in the face. Just as he’s about to sell up and move to London, the stock market crashes… he must rebuild his business all over again.

The Man Who Prints Houses (Thanks, gaiapunk!)

Elephant bean-bag chair

Italian Etsy seller ConceptualDevices made this $450 elephant beanbag chair, "a place where to read (and write) fairy tales."

Its external lining is made of a soft fabric used for outdoor upholstery produced by Sunbrella which is easily washable, waterproof, oil proof and sunlight resistant. The internal lining is 100% cotton and contains the expanded polystyrene padding.

TANTO is manufactured in Italy. Elephant is the first character of a wide collection of pachyderms that we intend to make.

TANTO. A Place Where to Read (and Write) Fairy Tales. (via Super Punch)

Italian Isaac Asimov graffiti


Chrisperfer sez, "I randomly came upon this Isaac Asimov graffiti when attending a birthday party in Rome for my 4 year old daughter's friend."

Isaac Asimov

Titanic Tales: The Costa Concordia

Photo: An oil removal ship is seen next to the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it ran aground off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island, January 16, 2012. Over-reliance on electronic navigation systems and a failure of judgement by the captain are seen as possible reasons for one of the worst cruise liner disasters of all time, maritime specialists say. (REUTERS/ Max Rossi)

When I read hastily the headlines on Jan 14—a shipwreck in Italy, seventy missing, three known dead—I immediately thought: it must be the Africans again. The refugees, the clandestine, the invisible, the nameless, the unwanted… Those "less-than-human" people coming from all over the world to the Italian coast, looking for a safe haven from dictatorships, from hunger.

My Somali Italian friend Suad, who works with her community In Italy now, urges her people in Somalia NOT to take that dangerous ride: even if you survive the trip, what waits for you in Italy can be fatal. Italy is in deep economic crisis today, on the verge of bankruptcy and social disorder. The new government struggling to remain a G8 power while the euro and United Europe are at stake. Italy also struggles to overcome a big moral value crisis after twenty years of Berlusconi's reign of sexism, racism, indolence and corruption.

But I was wrong about the Africans. It was a fancy cruise ship full of wealthy foreigners that wrecked unexpectedly near the island of Giglio.

Read the rest

Berlusconi to neo-fascists: "I'll be back."

Berlusconi is ready to return to politics, having been absent from office for (almost) a whole day. In a message to a neo-fascist gathering, Il Mafioso wrote, "I share your spirit and I hope to resume with you the path of government." Cory

Bye-bye, Bunga-bunga: "Addio Berlusconi"

"I haven't been so inspired since 1994," an Italian friend of mine posted on her Facebook page.

Well, I too can remember the year 1994, when I was in Milan, giving a public speech among some so-called intellectuals, soon after Berlusconi was elected. I had come there directly from Serbia, struggling in the thick of the Milosevic reign of terror.

I remember warning my Italian friends, feeling frightened, extremely emotional. I described a 'soft dictatorship,' how a small caste of oppressors gets into power legally, because WE vote them in, and then they steal and fake everything that WE, the people, never delegated them to do. And how, finally after waging wars against all the OTHERS in our own name, they finally turn on their ultimate victims and wage their war against US.

How they destroy every aspect of reality that stands in the way of a total exploitation: meaning the destruction, the ruin, of the people, ideas, customs, habits, prosperity, morality, of a nation and its history, of a time and a space. Afterwards, after the dreadful crash, who feels empty and responsible? We, the citizens who voted, we whose states were surrendered to the exploiters and profiteers, we, the participants, we are the ones humiliated in front of our children and the whole world.

Tonight, while Italians danced in front of the parliament, impatiently waiting for Berlusconi to officially resign, I remembered, once again among many times, how Milosevic was finally toppled after his miserable endless reign. Milosevic stumbled in the elections. He took Serbian support for granted, since he controlled all the Serbian mass media, and all the local means of patronage and favors.

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Berlusconi Bye Bye?

Is this really the final end of the Berlusconi era, or just another pause for the Cavaliere to catch his breath?

Will he return on a fresh horse as the savior of an ever-crumbling Italy, as he has done repeatedly for the past 20 years? Will my Italian friends finally be able to travel abroad without a miasma of shame, and not be forced to explain to all what a bunga bunga orgy means? Will the numerous foreigners living and working in Italy, legal, clandestine, and semiclandestine, be able to face their children and say: we did the right thing to come here? Will they say: a new day dawns on the peninsula, the specter of crisis, gloom and crime has finally lifted! Work hard for your future!

These are open questions, and frightening questions today in Italy after yesterday's dramatic countdown, and Berlusconi's declaration that he will step down only after passing an emergency law on the Italian economic crisis. United Europe and its presses have closely followed the saga of the decadent emperor. They know that it was global economics and not his domestic scandals that pried the scepter from his hands.

Italians are wondering : whatever next? How badly off is the Italian political culture, which after all is to be blamed for many times that Berlusconi has managed to take and hold power? Where was the legitimate opposition, why were the counter-forces so weak? After the fall of Milosevic in Serbia, the deeply corrupted and dysfunctional state system was hard put to maintain any pretense of a normal government. Can Italy recover, and behave like a major G-7 power again? How is that possible?

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