Friday, 31 October 2008

Troublemaker

Isn't this wonderful! It's the winning portrait in this year's Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. His name is Troublemaker and he's a young adult Sulawesi black-crested macaque. The photographer is Stefano Unterthiner of Italy.

(Thanks to Towleroad for this.)

Free delivery

If you're thinking of ordering a copy of The Scent of Cinnamon online, try the Book Depository here. They're cheaper than Amazon (currently charging £9.66, compared to Amazon's £11.49) and they deliver free worldwide, from Tallahassee to Timbuktu. For example. 

And not only The Scent of Cinnamon. They sell other books too. Little Monsters. For example.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Credit crunch

Near the bottom of this blog on the right, you'll find a widget that tells you how much the blog is 'worth'. Now, I don't want to get into just what's meant by 'worth', in this context or any other, but it's interesting to see that the financial crisis of the last couple of weeks has had its effect. My blog used to be worth $10,161.72. Now it's plummeted to a mere $9,597.18. What have I been doing wrong? And how do I get my hands on what's left?

if you want to see how much your blog - or indeed, anybody's blog - is worth, click here.

Speechless

(Thanks to Towleroad for this.)

Forces of order

If you're wondering what this Cossiga petition business is about (see widget and earlier post), let me fill you in with a few details. Cossiga is an ex-president of Italy who served within the government as home secretary during the most heated period of internal terrorism, otherwise known as the "years of lead" (anni del piombo). In the course of an interview with journalist Andrea Cangini a few days ago, during which he was asked about his reaction to recent student protests against the education 'reform' being pushed through parliament, he said: 

"Maroni (Italy's current home secretary) should withdraw the police from the streets and the universities, infiltrate the students' movement with agents provocateurs ready for anything and give the demonstrators a couple of weeks to rampage shops, set fire to cars and turn the cities upside down [...] After which, backed up by popular support, ambulance sirens should drown out those of the police [...] in the sense that the police should show no mercy and make sure that everyone ends in hospital. Don't arrest them, given that the magistrates would release them immediately, just beat them up and beat up those teachers who stir them up [...] above all the teachers [...] I don't mean the old ones, I mean the young women teachers [...] There are teachesr who indoctrinate the children and take them onto the streets: criminal behaviour!" (“Maroni […] dovrebbe ritirare le forze di polizia dalle strade e dalle università, infiltrare il movimento con agenti provocatori pronti a tutto, e lasciare che per una decina di giorni i manifestanti devastino i negozi, diano fuoco alle macchine e mettano a ferro e fuoco le città. […] Dopo di che, forti del consenso popolare, il suono delle sirene delle ambulanze dovrà sovrastare quello delle auto di polizia e carabinieri […] nel senso che le forze dell’ordine non dovrebbero avere pietà e mandarli tutti in ospedale. Non arrestarli, che tanto poi i magistrati li rimetterebbero subito in libertà, ma picchiarli e picchiare anche quei docenti che li fomentano […], soprattutto i docenti […] non dico quelli anziani, certo, ma le maestre ragazzine sì. […] Ci sono insegnanti che indottrinano i bambini e li portano in piazza: un atteggiamento criminale!”)

Cossiga's well-known for being psychologically unstable, if not totally unhinged, but this certainly gives an unnerving glimpse into the techniques he adopted during his own time at the ministry of the interior, a period during which an innocent demonstrator, Georgiana Masi, was shot dead by exactly the kind of agent provocateur he suggests Maroni employ. Not that there was any need to explain the technique to the Berlusconi government, as it's already been applied with considerable success, in terms of blood-letting and lesson-teaching, at G8 in Genova a few years back. It looks like we can expect more of the same. 1977, Rome - Georgiana Masi. 2001, Genova - Carlo Giuliani. 2008, Milan? - ?

The author speaks, so button up and listen

One of the things I did when I went to visit Jen and Chris at Salt Publishing last month was make a podcast in which I talk about short stories. The result is - how shall I put this? - engagingly unprepared. Here it is. 

For more information about the book, click here. (As though you didn't know.) And if you want to buy it, click on the widget somewhere to the right, and the Amazon fairy will provide.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

A froggie would a sacking go

The curator of the exhibition in Bolzano that included this admittedly rather unlovely artwork, by Martin Kippenberger, has just had her contract withdrawn. Corinne Diserens, appointed director of the new Museion to give it a touch of international class and responsible for the presence of the crucified amphibian, has already been excommunicated by the local archbishop, as well as being on the receiving end of protests, hunger strikes, complaints to the authorities and a letter from 'Eggs' Benedict himself. Given that the exhibition, entitled Peripheral Vision and Collective Body (it sounds better in Italian, just) ended in September, Diserens, currently gathering material in China for her next show at the Museion, must have been surprised to be told yesterday that her services are no longer needed. There's surely no connection between her summary dismissal and the fact that the Volkspartei, which had an absolute majority in the province until last week, did rather badly in the local elections. Maybe they should ask for the crucifix back and see if they can attach a scapegoat to it.

Austin Drage: Billie Jean

I like this very much. I saw it on X Factor. Should I be worried on either count? On both?

Breaking wind: Cossiga talks through arsehole

APPELLO AL PRESIDENTE NAPOLITANO PER FARE CHIAREZZA SULLE RECENTI DICHIARAZIONI DEL SEN. COSSIGA 

I'll give you some more information about this when I get a chance later today, but if you speak Italian and/or live in Italy, and already know what this is about, I'm sure you'll be signing the petition... The man needs stopping. Well, needed stopping some decades back...

The evidence









Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What I did on my holidays

I'm tempted to make this a photographic record but there is a limit to the number of atmospheric shots - shingle beaches, empty oyster shells (empty because you always remember the camera after the oyster has been slurped down), half-timbered facades with the date displayed in ornate stucco arrangements, charity shops, general quaintness punctuated by austere Caspar David Friedrich-like seascapes and unusual views of Canterbury cathedral - that people are prepared to stomach, and I'm worried that I might not know exactly what it is. I'd put on a video or two, made with our new camcorder, of places we've seen and stayed at, but I learnt - alas too late - two cardinal no-no's in the amateur video business. One: Don't whizz round like a dervish because it makes people dizzy. Two: a picture really is worth a thousand words, which means that a moving picture tends to obviate the need for any commentary at all, and particularly commentary along the lines of '...and this is the very attractive and well-equipped bathroom...'. So I'll keep them to myself (and maybe YouTube, where I can pretend to be anonymous). 

Which leaves me with moments. My first taste of samphire, and wondering if its gathering is still a dreadful trade. Using the predictive whatsit on my mobile to tell my sister we're eating at the Crab and Winkle in Whitstable (where I had the samphire, as it happens, as part of an excellent meal - I recommend it) and only realised as I was about to send it that my phone had predicted Arab and Winkle, two words that don't often go together. Wondering on the bus to Faversham what the woman with a baseball cap and ankh earrings was writing feverishly over dozens of pages of a spiral notebook and finally reading the words: 'I wish to let go of the past - with love' on each line of each page. The luck of finding a Donna Karan suit for men (I didn't know she did stuff for men) in a charity shop - in what will be my size after a fortnight's semi-serious dieting - for a tenner. An exquisitely detailed latex seed, sprouting from latex earth and wrapped in a strip of paper with a fish printed on it, the whole thing no bigger than an eggcup. Wind, water, rain, the scent of asphalt. A pyramid of cockle shells constantly fed by a rolling strip of rubber crankily emerging from the side of a building. The sheer variety of fishermens' huts. A security guard at Canterbury who, when asked which building was the Archbishop's Palace, said, with a hostile leer, 'I do know, of course, but I can't tell you.' People having time to talk.

Be warned. Photographs will follow.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Economising

According to today's Repubblica, sales of the Economist around the Italian parliament buildings have plummeted since Berlusconi returned to power. I wonder why.

The new deputies and senators aren't buying the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal either. Maybe it isn't a political thing at all. Maybe they just don't like reading.

It's out! Out, I tell you!

Well, today's the big day. The Scent of Cinnamon and Other Stories is now officially available from all good booksellers. If you pester them. Go on. Pester them. And, of course, from Amazon. You can order it directly from this blog by clicking on the widget on the right. You won't regret it. I'll keep you updated with reviews and the exciting promotional activities Salt and I are dreaming up to make sure that no one in the known universe will be unaware of the book. You can, of course, do your part by telling everyone how wonderful it is, even if you haven't read it yet. And, naturally, it would make a fabulous Christmas present for broad-minded aunts. 

Anything else? Not that I can think of. Oh yes, for more information click here.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Binned

Thanks to Steve Bell for this. If only Thatcher were well enough to enjoy the sight of disastrously deregulated banks being nationalised throughout the free world....

Monday, 13 October 2008

Carnevale (no, not that one)

Only yesterday, Italy's minister of justice 'Choochieface' Alfano was talking about rejuvenating the judiciary. Now it appears there are plans to pass one of those ad personam laws for which Italy is becoming sadly famous (or would be if the country had any international standing left). This time, it's an article which removes the age limit for supreme court judges, currently set at 75. And who's the persona for whom this is being done? None other than Corrado Carnevale, a man who earned himself the nickname 'sentence-killer' after annulling a series of mafia convictions on the basis of formal legal quibbles. If the law passes, Carnevale looks set to become the head of Italy's supreme court. He's 80 now and he'll be 83 when he steps down, so he'll be be able to do a fair amount of damage to a legal system that's already under seige from the executive. He's already been saved from prosecution for being associated with the Mafia by another little law passed some years ago (yes, when Berlusconi was last in power), a law that not only granted him full pension rights, but allowed him - to the hooror of most of his colleagues - to be reinstated as a judge. As usual, the question is: Cui bono?

Borges and di Giovanni

When I first read Borges as a teenager I was thrilled, enthralled, puzzled, inspired. Years later, a collected Borges was published and I thought it would be a good oportunity to reacquaint myself with the entire body of work. As I read on though, I found myself wondering why - despite the fact that the stories were clearly the stories I had read, and loved, thirty years earlier - the language consistently failed to thrill, enthral, puzzle and inspire me. I looked at the translator's name: Andrew Hurley. I went back to look at the name of the translators of the books I'd read as an adolescent: Anthony Kerrigan and, more often, Norman Thomas di Giovanni. Thanks to Scott Pack (from whom I've borrowed this photograph of Borges and di Giovanni) and Warwick Collins (who gives his own account of what he calls the 'greatest literary crime of the century' here), I know a little more about why Hurley's translations have replaced much better ones made during Borges' lifetime and with his collaboration and approval. Di Giovanni now has his own site, with a description of what happened and some previously unpublished texts by Borges. If you love Borges, you know where to go.

Monkey

Another gem, via Jesus' General. Who is this jerk?


Matthew Shepard

Ten years after Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die on a barbed wire fence, Barack Obama has this to say.

"Today, we pause to remember the heartbreaking and senseless murder of Matthew Shepard. A freshman at the University of Wyoming, Matthew was a young man committed to fighting for equality and changing the world around him. He was tragically taken from us far too early, an innocent victim of an abhorrent hate crime, and never had the chance to see his dreams realized.

"In the ten years since Matthew’s passing, Congress has repeatedly and unacceptably failed to enact a federal hate crimes law that would protect all LGBT Americans. That’s not just a failure to honor Matthew’s memory; it’s a failure to deliver justice for all who have been victimized by hate crimes, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. All Americans deserve to live their lives free of fear, and as Americans, it is our moral obligation to stand up against bigotry and strive for equality for all.

"Today, Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Matthew’s parents, Judy and Dennis, and to all whose lives have been touched by unconscionable violence."

John McCain doesn't appear to have said anything.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Pat Boone surprised by joy

After the extraordinary success on this blog of Silvio Berlusconi's penis, I thought I'd lower the hurdle of acceptability even further by posting this. I don't remember where it came from - maybe someone can help me? What I do remember is falling for Pat Boone in The Voyage to the Centre of the Earth, when I was young and impressionable and PB was young, though less so, and extremely fit (and didn't sing a note). I remember the way he lost articles, and then sub-articles, of his clothing scene by scene, finally being belched out of a volcano in very little indeed. In fact, almost the only detail that wasn't visible at the end of that film is the one Mr Boone seems so delighted by in the photograph above. The one to the right, on the other hand, shows Boone at some point between the surface of the earth and its centre. Measured in garment loss, this depth is known as the boxer-short stratum. Believe me, he goes deeper. Presumably, the information he picked up on this journey will also have come in useful in his new career as debunker of Darwin.

And if you're really keen, you can watch the trailer here.


After the march

Good riddance, Joerg Haider

For Mario Borghezio, a great European is dead. 

Trust the teller, not the tale. 

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Red


Yesterday in Rome, the horribly disorganised and fragmented Italian left still managed to pull together something like 250,000 people to walk Rome's streets in protest against the Lodo Alfano, the law that gives judicial immunity to the holders of the four most senior institutional positions in the country: the premier, the president and the heads of the senate and the camera of deputies. The aim of the law is to ensure that the running of the country isn't disturbed by pesky communists a politicised judiciary with no respect for authority. In practice, its aim is to get Berlusconi out of the few remaining legal crocks of shit he hadn't been able to avoid by other means during his last stretch in power, which ended just over two years ago. The legislation of the last few years is littered with ad personam laws designed for precisely this purpose. Indeed, it would be hard to find any other kind of legislation, other than an electoral reform that makes it impossible for Italian voters to actually vote for people. Which would explain why parliament is full of people no one has heard of, including an impressive selection of the capo's lawyers and girlfriends. 

It was a good march, full of joy and colour and music. I'm glad I was there for it.




Click on the hand below to see more photos of the march. 
2008-10-11 anti-berlusca march

Friday, 10 October 2008

Hockey mom alert!

According to Popbitch: "Wasilla was recently named the meth capital of Alaska, with 42 meth labs busted in a single year."

Croatia. The Mediterranean as it once was?

Thinking of going to Croatia on holiday? Read this piece by Diamond Walid and see if you fit into the rather narrow range of sexual and racial acceptability demanded by Croatian youths on the lookout for victims (you know, the kind that 'ask for it'). If you do, think about whether you want to have a holiday in a place where the range matters.  If you don't, think twice.

Croatia is 90% catholic. Nice one, Ratzy.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Lèse majesté

This is the Spanish tourist who went for a skinny-dip in the moat of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Clearly not a wise move...

Naughty Peter (update)

If you're on Facebook and really don't think Peter Mullen should still be in business, or whatever its called, you can join the Sack the Rev Peter Mullen group. Go on, you know it makes sense. 

Naughty Peter

The unsavoury Peter Mullen, (so sorry, the unsavoury Reverend Doctor Peter Mullen) may have been obliged to delete his blog, but the offending passage about tattooing gays can still be found in a cache. (I have ZeFrog to thank for this.) It comes as part of an attack on Matthew Parris, who very sensibly compared the three monotheistic belief systems to astrology and morris dancing. It's actually much worse than the article in Evening Standard would lead one to think. Here's an extract:

Since Parris will not dirty his hands by entering theological discussions with his readers, perhaps I might answer for religious believers in the purely utilitarian terms which even the lofty Parris is bound to engage with. We disapprove of homosexuality because it is clearly unnatural, a perversion and corruption of natural instincts and affections, and because it is a cause of fatal disease. The AIDS pandemic was originally caused by promiscuous homosexual behaviour. Such promiscuity is itself an evil because its perpetrators merely use others indiscriminately for their own gratification, treating their fellows as sex objects and as means to an end rather than as ends in themselves. I should have thought that Parris, having rejected religious belief, might want to construct his moral beliefs on this Kantian humanistic imperative. But I suspect he is not really interested in morality of any kind - except as a special plea to excuse his lust for gratification at whatever cost to human dignity and the sanctity of human life.

It is time that religious believers began to recommend specific utilitarian discouragements of homosexual practices after the style of warnings on cigarette packets: Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS. In addition the obscene "gay pride" parades and carnivals should be banned for they give rise to passive corruption, comparable to passive smoking. Young people forced to witness these excrescences are corrupted by them.

Let me continue the comparison with smoking which is banned in most public places. Those committing homosexual acts in public places - such behaviour being a crime in any case under the Homosexual Reform Act of 1967 - should be arrested, tried and punished. Parks, open spaces and public lavatories would at once become more wholesome places. There ought to be teaching films shown in sex education classes in all our schools. These would portray acts of sodomy and the soundtrack would reinforce the message that it is a filthy practice ending with the admonition: "We do, after all, know the importance of washing our hands after going to the lavatory."   

I love the idea of passive corruption, although presumably one could be passively cleansed later by watching Peter Mullen commit adultery with a female parishioner, something he appears to have done some years ago. And I'm fascinated by what the soundtrack might be as schoolchildren watch acts of sodomy during their sex education classes, a concept so radical that even the most fervently proselytising gay would blanch and quail at the thought. Any ideas?

Jam and jewels

The EU is looking into why religious education teachers in Italian schools receive preferential treatment: less rigorous selection (they're handpicked by the local bishop) and better salaries. Not that they do teach religion, any more than a geography teacher who just does, say, rivers actually teaches geography. They teach catholicism. And not teach as in "opening minds". Teach as in "indoctrinate".

This is the second EU investigation into the way the catholic church gets kid-gloved in Italy. The other one, set up a couple of years ago, is looking into the tax breaks given to church-run hotels, schools, massage parlours (well, maybe not massage parlours), quite apart from the inordinately large slab of money it receives from Italian tax payers in the first place. Ratzinger was drivelling on about what a terrible thing money was yesterday, to a bunch of old men dripping gold and velvet, clapping their bejewelled paws, stamping their Prada'd feet. So why not give some back, Eggs? Instead of putting political pressure on the EU, via its parliamentary goons in Italy, to persuade it to leave the Vatican's coffers alone?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Millstones

Margaret Drabble claims that her publishers, Penguin, are trying to persuade her to dumb her work down and increase sales. She spoke to the Independent:

"I do feel publishers are under very strong pressure to sell books rather than encourage long-term readers. They have not asked me to dumb down ... but I have a feeling there's a problem. I write literary novels but I can sense my publishers have difficulty in selling me as a genre ... whether in literary fiction, or women's fiction or shopping fiction. They don't quite know whether I'm highbrow or literary," she said.

Penguin were 'unavailable for comment.' You can read more about it here


Fellatio kills

According to the Rev Peter Mullen (click here for more info and a picture), gay people should have government health warnings tattooed on them in the appropriate place. He wrote on his blog:
"Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS."

I'd have thought that by the time you'd exposed the lucky chap's backside and were in a position to read what it said, the effectiveness of the warning would be substantially reduced by the allure of the backside itself. And you'd really need to have eyes in your testicles to benefit from the other one, which is a shade too Pan's Labyrinth for my taste. 

Still, I can see all kinds of openings (sorry) for creative tattooists. Think of the range of fonts, and colours. Personally, I'd choose something classical, like Bodoni in black, which goes with everything (as if that weren't the problem). But there must be a market for FELLATIO KILLS in rainbow hued italics. Or why not Comic Sans? And why stop there? Why not adorn the inner thighs with INTERCRURAL INTERCOURSE CAN RUB THE SKIN OFF YOUR GLANS. You didn't want to know that, did you? But what are warnings for?

Mullen, who also thinks gay pride marches are 'obscene', is chaplain to the City of London (so he obviously has lots of free time), as well as being a dead ringer for Francis Bacon's lover. The way Francis Bacon painted him. 

Where do I begin?

From BBC News:

A Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia has called on women to wear a full veil, or niqab, that reveals only one eye.

Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan said showing both eyes encouraged women to use eye make-up to look seductive.

Read the rest of it here.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Creative Accounting

The last three posts come from a collection of poems I wrote some years ago called Creative Accounting. At the time the expression was new and I was thrilled to be able to use it. Now, of course, as the world's finances crumble around our ears, it's less exciting. I'm not sure if that's also true of the poems, or not.

A Letter Home

What’s said remains in the idea of

a certain generosity of saying it,

of speech. The sink’s been blocked

for a week and not until yesterday

 

did we get some acid. I’m glad

you’re in love. Will it last and,

even if it doesn’t, will you care?

Is that what you intended, for

 

it to last? For example, I also

love you. A photograph of an almost

empty place, because the  people

were walking too fast to be seen,

 

is another surrender to method that

garners and protects the eventful

silence, and so we’re appalled by

the chemical odours and I, angry,

 

expect that what’s seen in your

‘blindness’ is merely the figure of a

woman, rushing to scream at the

photographer, who won’t be there.

Keeping in Touch

There is also the utterance

of the fool’s music to be listened to

with as great attention as you

give your own

 

flat or mysterious dreams.

Invention on the edge of the void.

Stars on the line speak tersely of

‘creative accounting’

 

and it touches us for this evening

I too should like to be loved.

That fricative dark I

swallow, dropping

 

the net where it may.

Its curious bifocal effect, like

observing the casual panorama of language,

is literally an effect

 

in passing, its

every phenomenon is regional, reading

off foolish grids into truth

and the metaphors

 

we love as our own, revealed.

A humane, political loneliness,

the clouded mirror over the entrance,

your eyes looking up

 

and rounding on the asymptotic line,

which is also without end

as placid space mimics itself.

And I don’t have to

 

apologise or make myself scarce

because I am not the subject

of their concern,

but also a spectator.

Under the Day

In the early light of the morning,

for instance, it remained as a wish to be

companionable and was straightaway

erased and there was the pentimento

 

which was only a come stain on the sheet

fondly ‘remade’ as a model for future

delight-filled emotional hours in the

company, in the company of admiring

 

stares where you are smaller than,

hiding behind, what is looked at, more

concealed than what is concealed in your

arms, which is merely restless and

 

anxious to be gone into the dark,

that silvery mind that reflects your

slightest wish and pushes the tentative

on. Into action and the great claims

 

made for it and pearly days lit from

an almost notional above and, hanging

over that, the pestering and abuse

and the layers of differently coloured

 

sand in the bottom become oddly

confused as the lowest levels percolate

up, like wanting it hard and often.

And the vigilantes also prefer this hour.

Hey Sarah Palin



Via Jesus' General

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Chances of Death

Another word cloud from Wordle. This time round it's a novel of mine called Chances of Death. You'll be reading more about this in the future. Just click on the image to enlarge (or embiggen, as Joe.My.God says...

God help us

“Say it ain’t so, Joe! There you go pointing backwards again ... Now, doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?”

Sarah Palin debates.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Tengo famiglia (2)

I had occasion to write about nepotism in Rome's first and largest university, La Sapienza, almost a year ago, when investigations were being conducted into the university's dean, Renato Guarini, and some confusion about a nine-million-euro tender for an underground car park and his daughter's university career. You can find the details here. At the end of the post, I commented:
The cherry on the cake? The deputy dean and head of the faculty of medicine, a certain Luigi Frati, whose votes were decisive in Guarini's election as dean, has also been investigated for nepotism. His wife and two children all work, you guessed it, in his faculty.
That was last October. Now, as elections for a new dean come to their close, Dr Luigi Frati has emerged as the winner with 53% of the vote. An article in today's la Repubblica (I can't find a link for it) adds some piquant new details to his family's academic career. For example, his wife, now full professor in the medicine faculty, used to teach literature in high school. Well, let's be generous. A lot of writers have been doctors. Maybe she does courses on Chekhov ('Medicine is my lawful wife.'). Or on Italo Svevo and substance addiction. Frati's daughter, also a full professor in papà's faculty, has a degree not in medicine but in law. OK, we all watch CSI. Maybe she has the seat in Horatio Crane studies. Or maybe, just maybe, she's benefited from the oldest career structure in Italy, otherwise known as nepotism. 

I'm sure you know that nepotism comes from the Italian word nipote (indicating niece/nephew or grandchild) and that it was used to describe the way popes promoted their illegitimate children. These days, in Italian universities, they don't have to be illegitimate or even children - practically any family member or hanger-on can expect to get a leg up onto a chair of one sort or another, regardless of faculty. It's not as though anyone expects them to actually do anything. Italian universities are probably unique in the free world for their failure to measure themselves against other universities, whether in Italy or abroad. Italian universities were evaulated at national level, using internationally recognised and objective criteria, for the first and, so far, only time in 2006. This evaluation would make interesting reading if it were published but that hasn't happened. Clearly, the experience was so dispiriting for the Italian academic world that it's unlikely to be repeated in the near future. 

In the meantime, Frati's family are ben sistemati. And they aren't alone. Forty percent of university teachers in Messina share a first name and surname with teachers in some other university in the region. In Naples, the percentage is around 35. In Rome, it's slightly over 30. These people aren't all necessarily related but the odds are good. At the university of Bari, 42 out of 179 teachers have close relatives in the same faculty. And think about this. A study conducted by Roberto Perotti into competitions for posts in Italy's economics faculties found that the most important factor of success, by a wide margin, was already belonging to the faculty in which the job was up for grabs. Scientific production, measured in terms of publications in recognised international journals, played no part at all.