Sunday, April 30, 2006

Taking Lent too seriously...

Confession time...

No one who knows me would mistake me for a thorough-going ascetic, but it's the 3rd Sunday of Easter and I still feel guilty singing Alleulia and eating chocolates (not simultaniously, you understand). I always find the transition to Easter and the breaking of Lenten habits difficult.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A couple of mafia stories...

An article from Holy Week reveals that 'The Tractor' has been captured:
The head of the Sicilian Mafia, Bernardo Provenzano, nicknamed "The Tractor" for the way he once mowed down his rivals, was arrested without a struggle yesterday after 42 years on the run.
The 73-year-old was found in a small farmhouse near his home town, Corleone. A small earthquake shuddered through the hills minutes before the police arrived.
At first he denied being the world's most wanted Mafia fugitive. But after an on-the-spot DNA test, he confessed: "Yes, it's true, I am Bernado Provenzano."
He was a good deal changed from the photograph on his wanted poster and the only picture of him in circulation until yesterday - one of the reasons for his success in eluding capture.
An assertion in a recent film that he had been in the Corleone area all the time, protected by the omerta code of silence and possibly friends in high places, was proved correct. He may have left only once: for a clandestine prostate operation in the south of France three years ago.
His arrest, on the day Silvio Berlusconi lost power, provoked a storm of speculation across Italy.
Some people suggested that his capture was a signal that his protection by the establishment was at an end. Others saw the arrest as an attempt to improve the standing of the outgoing interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, a possible leader of the opposition.
Police said they tracked Provenzano down through a trail of pizzini - typed messages on bits of paper through which he controlled the Mafia's multi-billion-pound empire.
Provenzano, the subject of the Godfather novel and films, had been on the run since 1963 after being involved in the killing of a rival, Michele Navarra. He became No 2 to Toto "The Beast" Riina and they presided over hundreds of killings in the 1980s.
Provenzano was sentenced to life in jail in absentia for a string of crimes, including the 1992 murder of anti-Mafia magistrates.
After Riina's arrest in 1993, he became the godfather and is believed to have stamped out the gang warfare he had once excelled at, allowing Cosa Nostra to get on with making money. Another of his nicknames is "The Accountant".
Two weeks ago his lawyer, Salvatore Traina, said his client had been "dead for years," a claim interpreted by some to mean that he no longer posed a threat.
But today's paper reveals that he has nominated his sucessor:
The recently arrested head of the Mafia has appointed as his successor a trigger-happy playboy who has been on the run for 13 years.
The promotion of Matteo "Diabolik" Messina Denaro, 43, was revealed in a letter written by Bernardo Provenzano, the 73-year-old former ''boss of all bosses'' who was seized by police two weeks ago at a farmhouse near Corleone, in Sicily.
"Matteo, the head of the Mafia will be you," Provenzano wrote a week before he was discovered. It is not certain that the instructions were received.
Denaro, who once boasted that "I filled a cemetery all by myself", was born in western Sicily and by 14 had learned to use a gun.
He later sealed a reputation for brutality by murdering a rival gang leader and strangling his pregnant girlfriend.
Denaro and Provenzano were long thought to be enemies. However, in recent times they have been reconciled.
The letters found at Provenzano's hut reveal the inner workings of the Cosa Nostra. Many are banal.
One details arrangements over the opening of a new supermarket chain. Another is from a man asking Provenzano to speed up the paperwork so he can open a filling station.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Yes, I'm still alive...

The Telegraph gives a nice picture of Italian politics:
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's defeated prime minister, has made his most scathing attack yet on the "electoral irregularities" that led to Romano Prodi winning the election by the narrowest of margins.
A week before the inauguration of the new Italian parliament, he said Mr Prodi's centre-Left government had been "born with the original sin of electoral fraud" - and reiterated his refusal to acknowledge defeat.
He told journalists later that he would turn up for work as normal at the prime minister's office, when the new parliamentary session opened on Friday, and wait for the Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, 85, to "tell me when to resign".
It was the most colourful shot yet in Mr Berlusconi's "guerrilla" strategy of waging a war of political attrition on Mr Prodi's coalition to bring it down.
"We will exploit every parliamentary rule to disable it and prevent it from destroying all the reforms we have brought in," said Mr Berlusconi, the leader of the Forza Italia Party.
Last week, he urged a "war cabinet" of his closest centre-Right allies - Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the authoritarian Right-wing National Alliance Party, and Pier Fernando Casini, a Christian Democrat - to keep together in order to unseat Mr Prodi quickly.
Mr Berlusconi will stand in June's regional elections in Milan and Naples. To prove his allegiance to the latter, he is buying a villa there and plans to send voters a CD of his love songs.
"Mr Berlusconi is like a reincarnation of Julius Caesar," said Alessandro Amadori, the author of two books on the former prime minister.
"He keeps rallying the troops and doesn't accept defeat."
Mr Berlusconi's key political allies have so far followed his line.
He has been working to keep intact the coalition with which he governed for the past five years. But the uncertainty he is provoking is threatening to affect global financial markets, making it more expensive to service Italy's burgeoning debt.
Mr Berlusconi concluded his evening in Trieste with a song he composed about leaving behind the world of "hot-air" politics and going to a tropical island. He is showing no sign, however, of doing that just yet.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pius XII Regnat!

A new 'blog - The Society that Thinks Pius XII Rules. Yeah, I pretty much agree with that.
There's a fascinating story in the Telegraph:
A church has been branded so ugly by couples planning to tie the knot that it has not held a wedding for nearly six years.
The 1960s-designed Good Shepherd with St John in West Bromwich has been christened an "architectural kiss of death" by its vicar, the Rev Patrick Okechi, 42.
Would-be brides and grooms say the post-modern building looks unromantic in photographs and would ruin their special day, according to Mr Okechi.

Folks, expect posting to be sporadic to non-existent until Easter Week - much business.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

In the news...

Via the Telegraph, news of further iconoclasm in the UK:
Tony Blair is preparing the biggest assault on the powers of the House of Lords for more than 50 years after a series of bruising battles with peers over Labour reforms.
The Government plans to change the law to prevent the Upper Chamber blocking legislation that has been passed by the Commons.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, said the powers of the Lords should be curtailed as part of a wider package of reforms that could include the creation of a mainly-elected Upper Chamber.
"The right position for the Lords is that it should scrutinise, it should amend legislation to give the Commons the opportunity to think again but. . . then it should give way.
"I want there to be clarity about the circumstances in which the Lords gives way. In real terms the political decisions on the big issues need to be made by the Commons."
The move - which would significantly alter the balance of power between the Commons and the Lords - will put the Government on collision course with peers.

There's also an interesting article about Tibet and the Dali Lama:
Tsering Wangmo is shaking uncontrollably as tears pour down her cheeks. Still sobbing, she pulls up her top and slowly turns around to show me a fretwork of scars. They criss-cross her body from shoulders to waist.
"My crime," she explains when she is calmer, "was to be found by the police with a picture of the Dalai Lama. I was dragged through the streets of Lhasa by my hair, beaten with electric prongs, then thrown into jail for three years."
Her waterlogged, open-air prison in Tibet was shared with around 1,000 other women. "We were tortured, raped, hung upside down for hours," she says. "Many died." On her release, she discovered that her husband had been forced to marry a Chinese woman, so she took her children and fled barefoot across the Himalayas to find solace with the Dalai Lama.
She is one of thousands of Tibetans who have made the trek to Dharmsala, an old British hill station in northern India, to seek safety with their exiled leader.
Here, they are joined by hundreds of Westerners who come, clutching their Lonely Planet guides, for a glimpse of their guru. While Tsering turns her prayer-wheel in the refugee centre, a rotund Austrian biscuit heiress called Heidi Gudrun is staying in a deluxe suite at one of the new hotels that has sprung up nearby to cater for well-heeled travellers.
Heidi seems just as miserable as Tsering - but for a vastly different reason. "For 15 years, I have tried to lose weight," she says. "I have lost two husbands, I have had my stomach stapled - the Dalai Lama is my last hope."
It is the peculiar fate of this Dalai Lama that he serves as a guru for overweight biscuit heiresses as well as a living god to 10 million Tibetan Buddhists.

The Dali Lama presents an interesting critique of 'the West'.
"It is fascinating," he says, speaking in slightly stilted English. "In the West, you have bigger homes, yet smaller families; you have endless conveniences - yet you never seem to have any time. You can travel anywhere in the world, yet you don't bother to cross the road to meet your neighbours; you have more food than you could possibly eat, yet that makes women like Heidi miserable."
The West's big problem, he believes, is that people have become too self-absorbed. "I don't think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice - which brings no real freedom."
He has lived as a monk since childhood, but the Dalai Lama views marriage as one of the chief ways of finding happiness. "Too many people in the West have given up on marriage. They don't understand that it is about developing a mutual admiration of someone, a deep respect and trust and awareness of another human's needs," he says. "The new easy-come, easy-go relationships give us more freedom - but less contentment."
Although he is known for his tolerant, humane views, he is a surprisingly harsh critic of homosexuality. If you are a Buddhist, he says, it is wrong. "Full stop.
No way round it.
He laughs when I change the subject and talk about the West's attempts to become more spiritual through yoga, massage and acupuncture. "These are just physical activities," he says. "To be happier, you must spend less time plotting your life and be more accepting."
The Dalai Lama has been criticised for becoming too obsessed with the fripperies of the West: he is too much in awe of celebrities, say his detractors, and too keen to appear in glossy magazines - he has even been pictured in Hello!, alongside the Duchess of York.
"Some say I am a good person, some say I am a charlatan - I am just a monk," he says, smiling broadly. "I never asked people like Richard Gere to come, but it is foolish to stop them. I have Tibetans, Indians, backpackers, Aids patients, religious people, politicians, actors and princesses. My attitude is to give everyone some of my time. If I can contribute in any way to their happiness, that makes me happy."
Many of the Western women who queue up to be blessed, he says, have told him they feel they can talk to him about anything.
"I see women who have had abortions because they thought a child would ruin their lives. A baby seemed unbearable - yet now they are older, they are unable to conceive. I feel so sorry for them."
They need to discover an inner strength, he tells them. "The West is now quite weak - it can't cope with adversity and it has little compassion for others. People are like plants - they can develop ways of countering negative forces. If people took more responsibility for their own problems, they would become more self-confident."
He does not believe that you have to be religious in order to have a meaningful life. "But you have to have morals, to strive for basic, good human qualities. I don't want to convert people to Buddhism - all major religions, when understood properly, have the same potential for good."