Sunday, November 20, 2005

Oh dear...

From the Telegraph:
The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who once made a living as a singer on cruise ships, is to release a second album of love songs in the run-up to next year's election.
The media tycoon is teaming up with his favourite songwriter, Mariano Apicella, a former car park attendant turned guitarist with whom Mr Berlusconi, 69, made his first album, which was released two years ago.
Mr Apicella revealed that the pair are working on a new CD and said: "We hope to have it ready by Christmas or at the very latest the New Year. As with the last one, it will be a series of 12 love songs, six of which have been written by Mr Berlusconi.

Strange news from Israel:
Their black hats and coats are symbols of Judaism, their flowing beards and curls a snapshot of Israel recognised around the world. But for many secular Israelis, the country's ultra-orthodox community has long seemed pampered as well as pious, excused from work and military service for a cossetted life of spiritual study.
Now cuts to government funding and their welfare payments have pushed many of the country's 650,000-strong ultra-orthodox community into poverty.
The cuts mean that while their capital may be high in Heaven, many haredim - or those wTheir black hats and coats are symbols of Judaism, their flowing beards and curls a snapshot of Israel recognised around the world. But for many secular Israelis, the country's ultra-orthodox community has long seemed pampered as well as pious, excused from work and military service for a cossetted life of spiritual study.
Now cuts to government funding and their welfare payments have pushed many of the countrho "tremble before God" - are facing destitution, and for the first time they are adopting an earthly solution: jobs.
Although the Haredi community, where men dedicate themselves to hours of religious learning in schools known as yeshivas, and families often count eight or more children, is feeling the crunch after recent budgets, many secular Israelis consider them a privileged sect that lives off state handouts.
Others feel bitter because religious students are exempted military service, and the secular Shinui Party - which since 1999 has rocketed from one Knesset seat to become the third biggest party with 14 - has campaigned for the haredim to be ushered into the job market.
"The problem is that they will not join the workforce," said Ronny Brison, a Shinui parliamentarian.
"Eighty per cent of the male haredi population refuses to do so. As far as the economy is concerned they're a loss to us. We simply cannot afford it."
Ultra-orthodox leaders say the cuts target the devout and are part of a wider battle between Israel's secular and religious camps. "The state is fighting against yeshivas and big families because that hits the ultra-orthodox," said Shlomo Benizri, from the orthodox Shas Party in the Israeli Knesset.
"Secular people want us to forget our religion. They hate Judaism. It is a battle against the religious people of Israel."
Mr Benizri said that for a family with eight children, welfare payments have dropped by 3,500 shekels (£450) a month in the past two years.
"Life has become difficult for Orthodox people," he said. "No new clothes for school and if you open the refrigerator you will not find anything to eat."
Some ultra-orthodox are bucking the trend. Sporting the skullcap, long black coat and beard of his scripture-studying brethren, father-of-10 Ephraim Reich, 43, has built a data and imaging company, Imagestore, that employs more than 300 men and women.
Since the welfare cuts have bitten he has almost doubled his staff, and on the workfloor in Modi'in Illit, just inside the West Bank, the 100 employees are exclusively ultra-orthodox.
For Mr Reich, the advantages of hiring such employees, who require special eating facilities and have little specialist education, are obvious.
"They are very smart and extremely reliable," he said. "Religious people are hungry for work. They are not parasites, like some people say. No one had opened the right doors for them. This is a revolution in religious working practices."
Interesting... I don't know too much about the haredim, but I always thought that Jewish thought looked favourably on religious scholars who could earn their own keep - recall St Paul's tentmaking. (And speaking of St Paul : 'For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat.' 2 Thess 3:10)
The latest Christmas craze:
New Yorkers are dreaming of a topsy-turvy Christmas. The latest craze to hit the city is to decorate homes with upside-down Christmas trees.
Shops and mail-order firms are finding that the plastic inverted spruces, which come fully wired with fairy lights and all the tinsel trimmings, are a sell-out in a city where floor space is always at a premium. "We have three on display and they are in enormous demand," said Cynthia Sayed, the manager of the Heart to Heart florist on Third Avenue, Brooklyn.
The historical explanation, however, does not ring true to Sheryl Karas, the author of The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree, who has become so inundated with queries about the meaning of an upside-down Christmas tree since the craze began that she has stopped taking calls, referring people instead to her internet weblog.
"The original meaning had to do with eternal life," she writes. "The tree symbolically points to Heaven so that inverting the tree could be seen as sinister if one thought about it too much.

Plumbing and the (new) Fall of Rome:
An urgent rescue operation is being launched to save some of Rome's most important ancient ruins, including the palace where Julius Ceasar once lived, from the ravages of increasingly violent rainstorms that are undermining their foundations.
Archaeologists fear that buildings on the Palatine Hill, most more than 2,000 years old, are becoming dangerously unstable and pose an increasing risk to the 3.5 million tourists who visit the area each year.
Repairs could take up to 10 years, engineers have said, and are expected to cost between €100 and €200 million (£68 and £136 million) - a small price to pay, they say, to preserve some of Rome's historical treasures.
These include the towering Palace of Septimus Severus, the Domus Augustana, where the emperors lived, and traces of an iron-age village where legend has it the city's founders, Romulus and Remus, were once suckled by a wolf.
"We need to do the same as Greece did 30 years ago, with the Acropolis, whose problems were a lot less than ours," said Carlo Giavarini, a conservation engineer at La Sapienza University who is involved in the rescue plan.
"The first thing we have to do at the Palatine is understand how to divert the water that is undermining the walls. The ancient Romans knew how to do it, but not us."A maze of 2,000-year-old irrigation tunnels runs beneath the hill as part of the complex original plumbing for which the Romans were famed. But they are largely unmapped and have become blocked or have broken in many places. One of the first challenges will be to find ways to dig out these aged drainage systems and link them to new ones serving the half-square-mile area.
Romans were shocked earlier this month when a 15ft section of a wall, one side of a passageway along which visitors walk to the Forum, collapsed. The wall was just 5ft high - lower than most of the structures in the area - and nobody was hurt, but its collapse heightened fears that more serious accidents involving higher buildings could occur.
Although the wall was just 500 years old and may have been put up by the Renaissance equivalent of cowboy builders, engineers discovered extensive damage to its foundations caused by water seepage. There are ominous signs of similar damage to other, older buildings. Angelo Bottini, the archaeological superintendent of the area, said the collapse was "a very loud alarm bell".
Other areas were at risking of falling down, he said, "and this time they could fall on to the crowds of visitors".

Fascinating - memoirs of a jewel thief:
The handwriting is childish and the spelling atrocious. Yet the unpublished memoirs of Renato Rinino provide a fascinating insight into how he pulled off the greatest royal jewel theft of modern times.
The 150 pages of chaotic notes by the prolific cat burglar point to alarming security lapses at St James's Palace, then the London home of the Prince of Wales.
"I saw an enormous, old, red building. I was so close up to it that I had to tip my head back to look," Rinino wrote. "I didn't know exactly where I was and I didn't really care. It wasn't quite clear but something was making me think I had to get inside."
Rinino, then 32, could see that there were security cameras but the scaffolding for the renovations made him take his chance. "I climbed up to the second floor, opened a window and put my first foot inside. There was an overwhelming smell of old things. Definitely rich people here, I thought.
"I waited a minute after opening the window - that's how many seconds you get before most alarms go off. Seeing as nothing happened I put the other foot inside and shut the window quickly."
"When I opened the boxes, I realised that the moment I had been waiting for for years had arrived. When I pointed my torch up close at the jewels, with complete darkness all around, they sparkled all the more."
Even with his rucksack full and closed, Rinino continued to tour the palace and reached the unoccupied security control room. "I had almost guessed by now where I was. And then I saw an enormous painting - big like everything else in that house - a painting of the Royal Family, all of them together. That's how I realised where I was. Me! Just a poxy little thief."
With Scotland Yard after him, he fled to Italy, hiding smaller jewels inside shampoo and bubble bath bottles and taping the largest jewels to his skin. In 1997, police caught up with the Rinino for other crimes and he was sentenced to three years in jail. Months later, he confessed to being the royal jewel thief and most of the valuables were returned to Prince Charles.
The final chapter of Rinino's story may be a comfort to those who believe that crime doesn't pay. In October 2003, aged 41, he was shot dead in Savona, Italy, by a husband who believed that the jewel thief had been sleeping with his wife.

Buona domenica!

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