Showing posts from October, 2011

Euro-Crisis: An Alice-in-Wonderland Non-Crisis? Not quite...

by hoppetossen via FlickrLast week, it looked like the Euro-crisis was about to be resolved.
Media hype was high, the European Council, originally scheduled for Sunday October 23 finally met on Wednesday October 26 and by Thursday the markets were ecstatic, happily bounding up. 
By Friday, the euphoria had died down. It had become crystal clear that Italy was the problem.
Since Italy is not Greece, that was rather bad news. The nearly two trillion Euro Italian debt was bandied about and it sounded like an uncomfortably large amount of money. Plus German Chancellor Merkel, in her inimitable school-marmy style had grimly told everyone that this crisis was going to last a long, long time. And that unless everyone buckled up German-style, the Euro would  not be saved.
We've all heard that before: austerity ja. Follow the German model or die. 
So what's new about the Euro-crisis?
The efforts of our European political elite, particularly the European Council, have an increasing Alice-in-…

Why the Italians Are Not Kicking Out Berlusconi

The sneer of the winnerImage by rogimmi via Flickr
How come the Italians are not getting rid of Berlusconi?

His popularity has sunk to the lowest levels ever, yet he is still up there, strutting about, the bunga bunga party boy! An "international laughing stock", as Ms. Marcegaglia famously called him. Italians are a serious people, how can they stand him?
The short answer is, the average citizen can't stand him but he's paid off enough politicians to stay in. 
The long answer? It's a little more complicated. Italian democracy is dysfunctional. And what has made it unworkable is the new election reform law that did away with the concept of  proportional votes and instituted a winner-takes-all system. The idea was to move Italy towards an American-style two-party system.
What happened instead was that a large number of Italian voters suddenly found themselves kicked out of the system - without anyone representing them in Parliament.
And Parliament? That's where the …

Writers' Chat: YA Literature

YA Literature, Why it sells and Where it is Going YA literature made headlines in 2011 when the children's books critic for the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Gurdon, accused some YA novels for being too violent and inappropriate for a teen market. 
More recently an article in the New York Times suggested that modern YA literature had lost the freshness of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland and moved into dark areas. The Harry Potter series was mentioned, referring in particular to Rowling’s “demonders” and her acknowledging that  inspiration for them came from a bout of depression she had suffered.
On the other side of the barrier, the Historian Amanda Foreman, author of  “Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire,” told a reporter from the NYT (Pamela Paul, August 6, 2010) : “good YA is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. YA authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people.”  
I met with YA author Suzy Turner to discuss this, and we both felt that t…


One Baker's fight Against Italian Bureaucracy: 4 years to Move to his New Shop!
And he still isn't there! 

The building is finished, but the baker and his wife are still waiting for the "certificato di agibilità" (permission for "access"). It's taken them months to obtain the necessary  certificates and this is the last one they need from the "Comune", the village authorities before they can open their new shop - a bizarre piece of paper that is awaiting somebody's signature, but no one is there in the Comune to sign it. 

They've been waiting for a whole month now for this particular certificate, and when I went there yesterday to buy my bread, they were still waiting...

Let me show you the situation in pictures. Here's one of the several medieval towers on the outside wall that circles Mugnano, a small village of about 1,000 inhabitants in Umbria, the "green heart" of Italy:

Here's the entrance to the baker's shop:


Will book publishers be able to maintain primacy as ebook publishers? | The Passive Voice's Fantastic Post!

I love this analysis that Passive Guy - or Passive Voice, I'm not sure which he prefers - has just published and I can't resist giving you the link to his post here: 
Will book publishers be able to maintain primacy as ebook publishers? | The Passive Voice:

Passive Guy argues convincingly that traditional publishers have fallen prey to the well-known shortcomings of monopolists: rigidities, slowness, lack of invention, incapacity to respond to consumer demand. Just like Microsoft, once a highly innovative company that for a while was a near-monopoly in its industry, has become slow and uninventive - stuck in a rut and no longer able to make money outside of its "cash cow", ie the Microsoft Office products.

Faced with competition from Amazon and to a lesser extent from other etailers, chief among them Barnes and Noble, traditional  book publishers - meaning the Big Six - will find it hard or even impossible to maintain their primacy as ebook publishers. That's what b…


Frankfurt Book Fair Image via Wikipedia
The next big market for e-books? Brazil, India, China? Wrong, it's Europe!
What is rather odd is that all the buzz at the Frankfurt Book Fair is about Brazil and India. Big markets to be sure,and countries that are part of the famous fast growing  BRIC group rocking international trade.
Incidentally, we have to leave China out of the discussion because it is essentially a closed market: they've shut out Google and set up their own Amazon-like etailer. So, although China is potentially the biggest and fastest growing, from a globalized digital book market standpoint, it doesn't count. Not yet and perhaps never.
There are really two facts to keep in mind when analyzing the global book market. One is the number of people who speak and read English. Two, is the degree of alphabetization and education.
On both, continental Europe scores very high, ahead of anyone else in the world. English, we all know, is the language that is most widely spok…

Income Inequality: Is Class Warfare Coming to America?

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr
As the Occupy Wall Street movement intensifies, the debate heats up on the question of income inequality and what it does to a mature society like the American one.

Obama is taxed as the Class Warfare President!
There have never been so many poor people in America. And, seeing how the Euro crisis is handled, one suspects the same will soon be true for Europe!
The International Monetary Fund has just come out with a study showing that rising income inequality could hurt economic growth. As reported in the Huffington Post , a rising income inequality could now be hindering economic growth.  If income inequality decreased by 10 percent, the duration of an expected period of economic growth would grow by 50 percent. 
A friend of mine who is both a savvy entrepreneur and a politically engaged author, pointed out that we no longer have a model of "trickle down" economics but one of “flood-upward” to the top one percent, represented by the traders and…

Cooking Tips and Recipes from the Heart of Italy...and Belgium!

Lake Trasimeno where I live           Image via Wikipedia

I live in the "green heart" of Italy - that's how Italians call Umbria. Il cuore verde dell'Italia.  Right next to Tuscany, it is the land of black truffles, ham, cheese, wine, olive oil, fabulous vegetables and pasta not to mention meat. The famous bistecca alla Fiorentina comes from beef produced 10 miles from where I live. What better place to experiment with cooking?

Recently I've set up my own vegetable garden, not far from Lake Trasimeno, famous for its spectacular sunsets:

Lake Trasimeno sunset  Image by wege7 via Flickr

This year, for the first time we've grown our own vegetables (we've always lived in the city) and it's been quite an adventure: too much of one sort (eggplants, leeks, zucchini), too little of another (cucumber, melon). But whatever we managed to produce tasted exceptional. Tomatoes were actually RED!

You've guessed it, because of the vegetable garden, I found myself ofte…