Friday, 11 November 2011

EUI indignados y Don Quijote

The indignados movement has blossomed in different cities and continents. Its name follows from the protests that occurred in Spain , where the crisis hit the economy hard due to the burst of an asset market bubble. This was mainly due to little competent politicians, local credit and foreign one that jointly contributed to inflate the bubble for longer than a decade.

Among others, Joseph Stiglitz shared sympathy for the movement in the USA.

At the European University Institute (EUI) a research institution on the hills of Florence in Italy, the head of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy was also criticised by a bunch of Florentine indignados, as he participated in the opening ceremony of the 2011/12 academic year.

These guys questioned whether the European Union (EU) is run on a democratic basis and got some press coverage in Italy. Why would this be relevant? Would Joseph Stiglitz have joined them had he been in the area as he shared their views, or rather to challenge their views?

Why asking for more democracy to the EU, whose central bank has so far saved Greece, Italy and Spain from the collapse of their debt? Why not asking instead for a set of smarter EU policies that set the right incentives for the EU member countries to adopt virtuous fiscal policies and stimulate growth? This would help to relieve the burden of troubled households with mortgages to pay and poor job prospects all over the EU. Does this mean more or less democracy? Is it relevant? Delegating more power to the EU to intervene effectively would have helped its member countries to get the different medicines to treat their different problems.

One reads in the Italian press that the Florentine indignados who are based at the EUI call themselves collettivo prezzemolo , roughly "parsley movement", to emphasise their capacity to spread out, information I guess (the reason for using the word parsley is perhaps due to an Italian idiomatic expression that associates one's skill to establish several connections with the wide use of parsley in food recipes). Would these guys not be better off by instead sharpening their:
- arguments, thus avoiding to mix up democracy with the set of unpopular policies to face a financial crisis and little competent national governments in a number of EU countries, that may lead to a currency crisis and to the end of the Euro and of the EU?
- target, as the head of the European Council is hard to picture as the representative of an envil lobby?

Additional examples of the need for more clarity of thinking by the Florentine indignados are in a long long list of the ills of Europe in their blog, e.g. "Forgive the debt!", "This is not a clash of generations – defend pension rights!" or "The revolution will not be privatized!". Are these causes, consequences or something else? However, this is little surprising as elected politicians both right and left of centre in several EU countries genrally tend not to offer examples of clear-cut thinking, e.g. in the fight vs liberal evil in Italian left of centre parties and in the uneventful pre-election debate in Spain.

If parsley it is, let it season solid policy-relevant arguments, rather than ideologies that are hard to defend with logic and empirical evidence. Another way to put this: is Quijote facing monsters or windmills?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Effective public policy to keep bike lanes free from cars

The mayor of Vilnius is a keen bike rider. His passion for this popular mean of transport has led him to design a sophisticated public policy intervention to deter car drivers from parking on bike lanes in the city.

Check it out by clicking here

Since the mayor of London is also a keen bike rider, will he consider implementing in London this example best practice that Vilnius has shared with the rest of the world!?

P.S. Did Mao Tze Tung's quote "punish one, educate hundreds" inspire a similar policy to keep bike lanes free in China!?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Vincisgrassi vs lasagne al forno and chef Antonio Nebbia

Lasagne al forno are an Italian dish made of layers of egg pasta, tomato sauce with beef meat and besciamella sauce. Historians suggest that its origin dates back to the Roman Empire, and Cicero was very fond of it.

Vincisgrassi are a younger variant of lasagne that sprang out of poverty and ingenium in the region Le Marche, Central Italy. The main difference with respect to lasagne is the use of poultry meat, including offals, rather than beef, and the addition of Marsala wine or vino cotto to the pasta dough.

The chef Antonio Nebbia from Macerata offers to future generations a unique recipe of the dish in his recipe book "Il Cuoco maceratese". This is a milestone of Italian, and more broadly Mediterranean cuisine, as well as of food habits in the 19th century.

Why were vincisgrassi not simply called pasta al forno alla Marchigiana? They owe their name to Joseph-Niklas von Windisch-Graetz . He was a general in the Austrian Army who freed Ancona from the siege by the French Army in 1799 ca, although for a very short period of time before the French Army took the city back.

Wine tip: Rosso Conero and Lacrima di Morro d'Alba ;
Dessert tip: Cicerchiata .

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A welcoming courtyard in Pinerolo along stage 17 in the Tour de France

Stage 17 in the Tour de France has been a very intense one, with riders crossing the Alps from France to Italy and reaching a summit at 2000m (picture on the left).

After three hard climbs uphill, the final sprint was downhill to eventually reach the end of the stage in Pinerolo (photo below).

Curiously, two riders: Jonathan Hivert and the holder of the maillot jaune Thomas Voeckler stepped out of the road on a difficult curve and entered the couryard of a house by the side of the road: perhaps to say hi to a relative or accepting the very welcoming hospitality by locals!?

An amateurial video seems to suggest that the owner of the house felt glad not to have parked the car in the courtyard that day!

Movie tip (from Check out a famous Italian b-series movie in which the main character and his colleagues engage in a clumsily ironic bike race in Pinerolo!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A walk from from Vetta d'Italia to Finis Terrae and beyond

1600km from perennial snow on the Austrian border to Mediterranean sea life in Southern Sicily is how far Italy stretches North to South. A similarly stark change in landscape is what you get if you travel from the North Western border, looking onto France, to South Eastern one, looking onto Albania and Greece.

The geographical differences, and some of the socio-economic ones that spillover fro such different lands have been nicely collated in a photo album by Nat Geo

Headphone tips to complement the landscapes: Lou Dalfin , Agricantus , Abies Alba and Taranta Power

Friday, 1 July 2011

New Labour leader or CD album!?

Ed Milliband the Labour party leader in the UK has recently been interviewed about the strikes by public sector employees. In his attempt to revive the little harsh opposition by the Labour party lately and prepare it for the next elections in 2014, or earlier, he discussed in the interview a broad number of issues, ranging from economics to party politics and social challenges for the country.

Thanks to the editing of the interview, what may have gone unnoticed in his preparation for the interview is the low level of details that Ed was prepared to give on a number of issues, which a disappointed interviewer could not help disclosing.

This may suggest how hard it is for a politician to competently span in no time across Philosophy, Politics and Economics (not by chance a popular degree in Social Science in the UK), and the harder the younger and less experienced the politician is. On the other hand, not all interviews by a journalist, who may repeatedly interview a person over time, can be as abrasive as sandpaper!

Hat tip for both Ed and the disappointed journalist for future interviews: The Best of Jeremy Paxman !

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Britain Bike Week (18-26th Jun 2011): Everyday cycling for everyone!

What an "every-rich" motto for the Bike week initiative in the UK, which is held yearly in June all over the country!

While zipping to work this morning I bumped into a stall advertising the initiative in bike-friendly Fitzroy Sq. By the stall were an employee from Camden council and an officer by the Met Police.

In about 5' they kindly stamped on my bike frame an "anti-theft" unique ID with permanent ink, that the police officer ensured it has been tested against the latest bike thieves' "entrepreneurial ideas" and technology. My bike details, as well as my contact details, are now in a database by the Met police.
My dear old Pinncle also has a flashy sticker flagging thieves that my bike is tagged, and not worth their effort.

Most impressive of all the police officer confidently knows stat.s about the share of bike stolen out of the total no. of bikes in town, which the police adjusts for underreporting to the police w.r.t. all bikes that are stolen in town. This share is in the range 20-30%.

Two hat tips:
1) Go and get your bike tagged! You can search the closest stall by postcode in

2) Listen to London while you read top 10 bike maintenance tips !