ISSUES,INSIGHTS AND COLOURFUL MOMENTS-FROM THE DESK OF AN ENGLISH AUTHOR.
I'm not looking forward to this year. In fact, I've never looked forward to this time of year. It always starts badly. If it's not snowing, then it's raining. If the sun's shining, it's not where I'm standing. Such is my lot. I can cope with a light shower, but anything more I can do without, being more hedonist than masochist. My 'other half' bought me a Tuscan umbrella designed to ward off a Force Six gale, but you have to be a Schwarzenegger or a stout contadina to carry it; neither a description of yours truly or my better half. Perhaps it's because I was born four days after Christmas in the middle of a howling gale overlooking the Atlantic - as well as being in the middle of a war! As Poseidon, the god of all things nasty in that department, can conjure up storms at will, and always gets in a strop about now, I'm perfectly content at this point to be tucked up at home, snug and warm with a pantry full of pasta. Those with mental pictures of sunny Tuscany, and counting the small change in their pensioner's wallets to see if it will cover a deposit on a rustic billet in those parts, have dwindled to less than the number in a rugby team. Those on the benches are lucky to be out of the game. Those still in, and willing to take a punt, should therefore take heed. 3° Fahrenheit is cold, but colder when it comes with a wind that might be minus 3°. Tuscany is blessed with rolling hills, some of them very high. 100 km an hour winds are not unusual, and will make you think you're parked somewhere in the Arctic, instead of somewhere near the Mediterranean. A red face doesn't necessarily mean you've caught the first touch of the summer sun. Winter's always in with a chance, despite having wrapped yourself up like a mummy. Still, one can look forward to the balmy days to come.
So, it inevitably begs the question: what nincompoop programmed the cosmos to begin the year at so disagreeable a time. The Greeks who invented the 'ordered universe' meditated that it might have something to do with Harmonia, a lovely lady to be sure, before the gods turned her and her hubby into snakes, but it's as ingenuous a speculation as one can imagine. It was rumoured he was a chap called Kadmos which, I suppose, is as close to Kosmos as you're likely to find! Thunder and Lightning, do not conjure up pictures of peace, concord, sweetness and light. Besides, any goodwill has long been exhausted by Christmas. Pope Francis has not been able to conjure up 'peace on earth', and not likely to in a world full of angst. His line to the celestial place is probably run by Telecom!
As ever it is an auspicious start. The President of Italy has named the day when the gloves come off for the election, which means we will have to endure hours of mendacious political tub-thumping. Berlusconi is already full of himself having wrapped things up in Sicily, and the rest are pointing their fingers at each other. The north, having won their referendum, think they've got a head start, and are talking about a national movement, having dropped the Nord in Lega. Renzi appears bewildered by it all, and is still dejected by being rejected. You'll remember he had his Cameron moment, and fell on his sword. It will end up in a coalition for sure, which is always a disaster, as they're sure to fall out.
The problem is finding someone, or something, to blame. Even here in Italy, where people are supposed to be used to the sun never setting, there are people who put the whole thing down to Global Warming, and at this moment I could do with some of it. For years I've been tapping the barometer, and though I've never had it below 970 millibars, neither has it been above 1020. According to my thermometer this equates to 3° and 95° Fahrenheit, despite seemingly having no relationship whatsoever. It's been hotter in St.Ives, and colder in Chitterne on Salisbury Plain. My wife and I, along with the Airedale, were isolated by snow in the latter place, with sundry other travellers in the local pub for three days. The Airedale, a mass of dense curly hair, suitable for the windy West Ridings, refused to put her nose out of the door after the publican said it was minus 5°. Most of us, propping up the proverbial with a pint, didn't either! Global Warming is a non sequitur, "which Molesworth say, every bode know". The US Environmental Protection Agency thinks so too. They've established that the surface temperature data being pushed by organizations, such as that led by friend Juncker and his acolytes is hum-bug. No surprise that. Apparently the subsidies per unit of energy are much higher for wind power, but that won't stop governments 'winding' them up, pretending they're 'technologically mature' (sic), meaning they're now cheap to run. I think not. If you can charge people more without increasing your own costs - thanks to a little help from shady governments - then there comes a point when you cross over into profit. After all, the fuel to power them is also gratis. They must have a motive, but it won't be anything to do with the planet. Left to itself the place fluctuates quite happily. The last mediaeval warming period was in 950 AD, so some would say it's overdue. At the moment I think we've missed it. Some are beginning to complain that the whole thing is an economic fraud of world proportions. Those places covered in snow, and seeing the dials of their gas meters spinning like a top, probably think so too. No. I'm not looking forward to it, but I wouldn't mind a few shares in this new style Ponzi scheme before it takes off! (No pun intended.)
You think that's the only swindle on the street. The waste of public money really is prodigious. Having thrown 10.6 billion euros of 'Green Subsidy' at Europe's farmers seemingly only 5% of the land has become 'Eco Friendly'. But sustainability is not just about good husbandry, and the intelligent management of these precious resources. Forget set-aside for a moment which is an embarrassment to the indigent, in wealthy Tuscany, for example, the land is generally well cared for, while the road side hedges are shorn by ripping machines, and trees virtually abandoned to the suffocating embrace of climbing plants, so they lean precariously towards Armageddon. It's not called 'poison ivy' for nothing. In Italy, when the winter rains come, and the trees fall, so do the hillsides. Tuscany is peppered with signs saying 'Frana', a warning that the road underneath your car is not so solid as it looks.
Ecology (a modern word sounding Greek to give it kudos, which is), should be a physical holism, I'm told, having no place for ditches clogged by weeds, glass, cardboard boxes, dog ends and the odd Durex; nor roads shattered by forty ton juggernauts, when perfectly efficient railways are underutilized. Certainly it's about education and attitudes, but also about economics, and health, and a civilized life. Well, it is if your house is perched near the edge of a one hundred metre high hill, like yours truly. The governments will tell us to tighten our belts, when most of us believe they should just throw the damn thing away.
Politics is where it all started to go wrong, or so we're endlessly told. I suppose that's true if we're taught to consider history in a distorted way. That is perhaps why we should go back to history's contemporaries; those who were polymaths, and not activists: Strabo; Livy and Tacitus, Hume, Gibbon, and Green, before we tackle Taylor and the modernists. Now, it seems, no one wants to reflect on comparative exercises, and can't wait to distort the facts to fit their own narrow agenda. It's the reason why Sam Butler mooted that although God cannot alter the past, historians can.
Once upon a time, back in England, I asked a group of young people which famous Italian personalities they'd heard of. Surprisingly, they'd heard of Michelangelo, and not so surprisingly, of Sophia Loren, and the Juventas player, Alessandro Del Pietro. Reaching for the esoteric, I queried their knowledge of Machiavelli, and Savonarola, which drew puzzled faces, and a subject for their homework. Serves them right. At least they heard about these men before I did. Just now, I consider every precocious teenager should be given a dose of 'The Prince', and be directed to the dark reality of the 'politics of expediency'. You can't start too early. I thought I knew it all by the time I was eighteen. It should make them stop and think, for it advocates a truism that no matter whether a government be left, right or centre, it will have lost sight of the interest of the people for those of its own arcane policies. A nation can just about hang on to the ethos and spirit of its society. An Englishman is not a Scotsman is not a Welshman, so the saying goes. I don't imagine that would raise many objections. Which brings one to an odd fact. Virtually half the Kingdom are prepared to throw away their birth right for an ersatz concept called the European Union, and its post democratic world. If they went back to those polymaths I mentioned, they would discover a truism that nations are forged in blood; they are not hypothetically created by treaty, pacts or agreements. War has always been the arbiter of states, generally created by throwing off the yolk! Which brings us back to the EU, and all those bad eggs running it. I don't remember any nation actually voting as a country to enter. It all seems to have been done by elected representatives, which, when you think about it, is not the same thing as democracy. No MP, or some such agent of government, is honour bound to vote in their constituents interests. Which, in effect, is carte blanche for their own. Burke said so, so it is: 'You have chosen a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.' Part of the club, you see. It was a winsome Heath who signed the Treaty of Rome, and a less than macho Thatcher who failed in getting us out. Then, ironically, it was one Gordon Brown who saved us from the misery of the Euro, if for nothing else than to thwart shifty Billy Blair who wanted us in. Paradoxically, it was an anaemic Cameron thinking he had it in the bag, who gave the power back to the people, something he lived to regret. Sadly in Italy, the citizens were equally badly served. Apparently, Prodi with the help of ex Goldman Sachs hit-man Mario Monti, fiddled their way into the Euro with a little bit of shady bonding, and it's been down hill all the way to c.133% debt. As it's not a Sovereign State, and a lot of its debts are in a foreign currency, there aren't any financial instruments up its sleeve to extricate itself, such as a the classic devaluation of the currency. The Euro currency is owned by the ECB, whose monetary easing has gone off the clock, and aren't about to play ball. It's a wonderful wheeze to enslave the citizens. Frane apply to politics as well as the land, and nowhere so catastrophically as in Italy.
So, where does this Italian chap, Machiavelli, fit in, or Elysium, for that matter. Strangely, he was big on corruption. As Sabine noted, he considered: that political perversion hurried in the decay of private virtue and civic probity and devotion that renders popular government impossible. It includes all sorts of violence and licence, great inequalities of wealth and power, the destruction of peace and justice, the growth of disorderly ambition, disunion. lawlessness, dishonesty, and contempt for religion. Machiavelli was writing about the sixteenth century, though I'm sure you can recognize today. He thought that was how things were, and how they were going to be. In a sense he believed that was the natural order of things. It wasn't, even in his day. There is no natural order! It's something that comes and goes, like Global Warming. Sometime soon, we'll wake up to that reality. I don't like the look of the future one bit. I just hope I don't overtake it.
Savonarola? True. Not a chap that has had good publicity with his falò delle vanità, that bonfire of the vanities. Estée Lauder would have been enemy number one. However, he did have that recurring point expressed from Aristotle to Rousseau, that excessive possessions, and wealth, tend to corrupt and divide society. In his day, if you lacked a good pile of the readies, you didn't have a voice. Which led him to believe, not unjustly, that 'Parliament has ever stolen the Sovereignty from the people.' Forget the promises. When did you last get to vote on the holes in the road, or the dustbin collection. That's why you leave the bigger, really important issues, to the government. They're the ones who'll fix it! Right?
And Elysium? The system is breaking down, so 'Now is the winter of our discontent'. Too right, Richard. Everything else is an illusion.