Smoke and Mirrors. Are you sure The Matrix isn’t true?

If you’re following the Edward Snowden story then you’re seeing something that’s almost exciting as a film – but without the pictures – unless you count the one of aircraft on the ground, empty aircraft seats and people standing around at airports.

Except,of course, that shouldn’t be the “story” that everyone is following at all. Since the current whereabouts of the man who told us all about what secret government agencies REALLY do is unknown (currently, on Twitter, he is said to be in Iceland, in Russia, in Hong Kong, in Ecuador and, in one extreme case, not actually to have ever been in Hong Kong at all!) and whereas the story of his flight and the reactions of the US government and the Russians, etc. is great fun, it shouldn’t really be what all the respectable journalists are covering.

Instead, surely, the focus should be on the enormous amount of data that GCHQ and the NSA have been (and almost certainly, still are) collecting on innocent people.

Being in Italy I can assure you that many of the ways that the Fascists collected and reviewed data on the common person are still in place, even if a little more relaxed now (I’m sure if I’m wrong on this, I will be corrected). The Fascists wanted to know everything about everybody because knowledge is power and, more importantly, the power to control (the masses).

WWII was all about defeating Fascists and the Fascist idea.

It seems that the whole thing was a waste of time because what we have now is the collecting of all this data and the controlling of the people.

And, yet, the main focus is on one man. Not even a very powerful man (since he’s given away the secrets).

Instead of very hard questions being asked of Obama and Cameron – the very hard questions are being asked of a man who is somewhere that only a few know. All the while, the destruction of his credibility goes unchecked and unquestioned.

To be honest, it’s not really important WHY he went to work for a particular company nor HOW he was able to take the information nor, even, WHERE he is.

What IS important is the WHAT he has exposed.

I would like for it to be stopped, this collecting of data. I would like the real freedom that was promised by the fighters of WWII. I don’t vote any more (because what’s the point) – but I say now that should anyone come up with a plan for ridding us of these Fascist principles of governing, I would go back out there and vote.

Spying – for the masses or, rather, on the masses.

Police spy on innocent people to try and find some dirt to discredit them.

Someone tells us that British and American secret agencies are spying on us all.

The whistle blower above is “chased” across the world by the very people who did the spying.

And those are just the very latest. We could add Bradley Manning, Undercover British Cops having affairs and babies under false names to find information and then “disappearing”, those same cops planting bombs and writing leaflets, and so on and so on.

It’s nothing new and nothing entirely unexpected.

But, for God’s sake, don’t buy into this “If you’re innocent, you have nothing to fear” crap. You have everything to fear. You don’t know when, at some point in the future, for some reason you can’t now foresee, that information about you will be twisted and turned against you. No one is safe.

And we aren’t really in a democracy unless, by that you mean that everyone gets a vote. They used to get a vote in the USSR too, you know?

What makes me laugh is the discreditation of Snowden. Apparently, people are castigating him for going to a country with less “freedom” than the USA. Whereas, of course, if he were to go to a country that was “friendly” and as “democratic” as the USA, he would, undoubtedly be sent back to the USA and suffer much the same fate as Manning or the others.

So, when Hilary Clinton said:

“countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century”.

Maybe she didn’t quite mean what she said. This was back in 2010 which I wrote up in this post.

I guess it’s OK if you’re letting them do what they want but just recording everything they do. Eh, Hilary?

Going to an Earthquake Zone?

You may or may not have heard about the earthquakes that have been occurring in the Apuan Alps.

And, even if you had, you may not have thought much about it.

But, let me explain that Carrara, where F has his house and where we spend the summer, is overlooked by the Apuan Alps. In fact, Carrara is partly up the mountains. Where we actually go is the coast – but we’re talking a few miles.

So, Marina di Carrara, Avenza and Massa di Carrara have all felt the earthquakes quite a lot and, according to one newspaper, yesterday, people were fleeing from the beach at Marina di Carrara – which is where we have our umbrella.

And, next weekend, I shall be going there. F is working but we have the umbrella and he wants me to go as, otherwise, it doesn’t really make so much sense to take the umbrella for the whole season (as it’s not exactly cheap) and then only use it for a couple of weeks.

And, with the idea of fleeing the beach, I thought, initially that that was not such a clever thing to do. Of course, in different circumstances, I would stay – however, in my circumstances I would be racing back to the house. Not for me, you understand, but because Dino and Piero would be there and I would be worried for them and, most likely, they would be frightened.

So, let’s hope the aftershocks are all finished by next weekend.

p.s. the title is a bit misleading since the whole of Italy is an Earthquake Zone!

Am I dreaming or what?

Everything just seems “not quite right”.

I’m not going to be able to explain this very well.

If, at all!

The alarm goes off. I had already woken almost an hour earlier. F had opened the window and turned the fan off. He is Italian and drafts are like some black magic. Drafts make you ill and can, probably, kill you. Therefore the fan, excused by the need for the dogs to keep cool, had been left on for a few nights. But the weather has “broken”. It’s not so hot (although still hot by British standards). Therefore we can now turn the fan off. Personally, we could keep the fan going all summer – however, not for him.

Instead the window is open although the shutters are drawn.

But Friday is bin day. The bins from the apartment block have to be put outside. The guy comes around 5.30 a.m. to do this. He is noisy but it’s not so bad if the windows are closed – open he might as well be dragging them past the bottom of the bed!

I wake up. And then it’s difficult to get back to sleep with all the noise and so I get up and close the windows.

So, back to where we were. The alarm goes off. I feel like I’ve been drinking the night before – which I had, of course. With A. And I promised not to blog about it, so I won’t.

Anyway, that’s not the point.

Unusually, instead of turning the alarm to “snooze” mode, giving me an extra five minutes (not of sleep, of course, since I am always worried that, inadvertently, instead of pressing snooze, I have pressed “dismiss”), I get up.

It’s all a bit sudden. And all a bit early. And, for some reason, it’s all quite wrong as if I have forgotten something.

I go to the kitchen and switch the coffee machine on. This is normal and, yet, it doesn’t feel quite normal.

It’s as if I am not quite in my body and yet I am still controlling it. It is just taking a bit if effort.

I go to the bathroom to shave. I am doing the normal things without thinking and, yet, I am having to think. I am having to make myself and my limbs and my fingers do things. Obviously, I know HOW to make them do things but this morning I am having to concentrate to get them to do anything.

And, yet, they seem, sometimes, to be doing things on their own, as if I am, in fact, not needed nor indeed part of the act.

I shave, shower and get partly dressed and then I go back to the kitchen to press the button to make the espresso pour into the cup below the nozzle and press the switch so the steam can pressurise to make the frothy milk.

I return to the bathroom to dry my hair.

I wonder if I should wake F up. He had said, earlier in the week, that today he would get up at 6.30. But there is something in my head saying that we had a conversation last night and he told me that it was not necessary now because “someone else was going to do it”. Whatever “it” was that he was going to do.

Except that I’m not sure if I had the conversation with him or not.

I weigh up the possibility that I had, in fact, just dreamed that we had the conversation. Was it real or not? Should I wake him to check or not?

But part of me is certain that the conversation was real and not a dream.

And, in my partial, out-of-body-experience state even thinking is by extreme effort.

But something is wrong.

I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. That sort of achy, butterflies thing. As if you’re going for an interview. I push myself forward and do the milk.

Perhaps, actually, I am dreaming. Except this cannot be a dream because everything is real. And, yet, I know that in a dream everything feels real so who knows?

I sit and have my coffee, reading the web pages that I normally read – doing the things that I normally do but with this very uneasy feeling that I should be doing something else. Or maybe that something is about to happen? It’s not exactly a feeling of dread although it isn’t pleasant.

For sure, something is wrong.

I realise I am going to be a little late abut I am finding it hard to motivate myself to move. Much as now, I am finding it hard to motivate my self to type. To think. To do anything.

Yet I do get up and wash up and clean my teeth and gel my hair and go back to the kitchen to put my shoes on. Piero comes to say “hello” and I give him a stroke.

I leave the flat. As I reach the internal courtyard, I light up my cigarette. It’s not the first this morning, of course. I’ve already had the usual three. As I walk towards the door of the building I feel for the car key in the bunch in my hand. But the keys are different – lighter – and missing the car key because, actually, these are F’s keys. Damn! I KNEW I should have changed them last night.

The lift is at the bottom. I take the lift to my floor and go in and swap keys.

I reach the car and get in. It still doesn’t feel quite right. I am worried that, at some point, I shall lose my ability to control my limbs which is still taking some effort. I am still not wholly inside my body but neither am I outside of it.

I drive to work. Things seem to be “in my way”. I try to concentrate on driving like you do when you’re a little drunk. You know? When everything requires you to do something that normally you “just do”. But I’m not drunk. This is the same and not the same. I feel like I’m going to have an accident. Like some sort of premonition.

This feeling of an almost impending doom won’t go away. No, something is most certainly not right.

And I still have it. Not quite so bad as this morning but, all the same, it’s still here.

So, there you have it.

Not explained at all well but I just can’t seem to put my finger on it.

Can’t wait ’till I’m home. Thank goodness it’s Friday.

Dino, the vet and taking temperatures.

The exchange went something like this:

“Dino did diarrhoea this morning and there was blood in it. Please take him to the vet”
“If you can’t do it then I will do it”

Hmmmm. The thing is that he is VERY busy right now with the showroom sales starting on Monday. And then, because he will be involved in the showroom sales, he will be even busier.

So this was not a “I can help by taking him for you” – instead, this was a “I will take him if you don’t but I will make you suffer for it because I am far too busy to take time off work to take him”.

I’m not stupid.

Even if his understanding of English is not always so clear, the underlying meaning to this is flashing lights and ringing bells.

I ring the vet. Yes, bring him along but before 5 o’clock.

Which means that I have to leave work early.

Apparently, I have done everything right, so far. His temperature is taken. It is 38.6°C. It should not be higher than 39°C – so he is fine.

He has an injection of antibiotics for the stomach. Red blood, apparently, is common (although I knew that) it’s the black blood you’ve got to be worried about. Starving them (for a day) is perfect for diarrhoea and not to worry too much if it’s still not perfect. It is, after all, exceedingly warm (we’re getting highs of about 34°C at the moment with minimums, overnight of the low 20s.)

So, nothing to worry about.

Of course, I had also been a little bit worried – but not as much as him – so to find out that everything is really OK makes me feel better and I’m not too upset that I took him. It’s nice to know that all is OK.

Anyway, the weather is about to “half break” – i.e. it’s about to get a bit cooler and, maybe, we will have some thunderstorms. It’s likely to be under the 30s for most of next week.

I was advised by the vet that, if I get worried again, I should take his temperature myself. So, as well as some pills recommended by the vet, I go to the chemist later and buy a thermometer.

Later that evening, we go for a drink in Polpetta with An, his friend. I tell him that I have bought a thermometer and that I have written “DOG ONLY” on every surface of the box – to ensure we don’t get it mixed up with ours.

He is very excited. He wants to try to take the temperature. He thinks you just put it in the dogs mouth – this makes me laugh. However, good the dogs are, telling them to close their mouths and wait for a few minutes is very unlikely to work. Especially in this heat where they are panting most of the time.

I explain how their temperature is taken. He still wants to do it. He is quite crazy.

Weather extremes ………….. and Dino

A few weeks ago (in the first week of June), travelling to work, I looked up from the road to the Alps (well, not the high Alps but the lower Alps – just really big hills really) – and saw snow on the tops of them.

In all the years I have been here, I have never before seen snow on those hills/mountains in June. But, it was cold. And, by cold I mean it hardly made it above 15°C during the day. And it had been raining a lot and, really, felt more like winter.

Then we went down to Calabria for the wedding. The Thursday was cool and about 18°C but, thank goodness, the day of the wedding dawned bright, clear and warm.

And that was the change.

From 7th June, it went from feeling like winter to feeling like mid-summer.

Now we are in the 30s with the temperature “dropping” at night to a hardly cool 22°C.

Obviously (or obvious if you know me), I am delighted with this.

Except for one thing.


I am a bit worried about Dino. I’m not sure if it’s because of the sudden change but he seems to be suffering a little too much over the last few days. I mean, we’ve gone from almost winter to summer – full on and full blast, so to speak. Normally, he’d have a few months to acclimatise. But this year, no.

So, now I’m looking at ways to try and keep him cooler.

We shall shut the shutters in the bedroom (leaving the windows open) as the sun beats down there from about 11 a.m.
We are giving him cool water baths.
The fan is on.
I shall make some ice-cubes to put in their water.
I might fill their dog bed (which is plastic) with some water so they can put their paws in.

As a last resort, I may go and buy one of those portable air conditioners which we can put in the lounge to keep that room cool.

Obviously, as you may be able to tell, I am a bit concerned.

Anyway, this heat doesn’t normally come until the end of June or, more likely, July. Maybe it’s because we seem to have gone from winter to summer bypassing spring that is the problem.

Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve? Yeah, right!

The problem with violence depicted on film and TV is that it desensitises us to real violence and death.

The killing of Lee Rigby was a case in point. The advent of mobile phone cameras allows us to see the aftermath and not be particularly shocked by the footage on the basis that we’ve seen much worse in films. Don’t get me wrong, it was a terrible thing – but the video itself was hardly shocking in itself. It could have been the scene of a badly shot film.

So, too, we seem to become desensitised to the runnings of those in power. We’ve all seen the Matrix, haven’t we? The Net. James Bond, etc. We know how the Governments and their spying agencies work. After all, it makes for exciting films.

And so we come to Prism. Sounds like title for a film anyway, doesn’t it?

We understand that the US Government, by way of it’s spying agencies such as the FBI, have been collecting a load of data on almost everyone. Instead of being horrified we are saying “Well, what did you expect?”.

Let’s not get this out of perspective. Governments and powerful individuals and organisations have been doing this for centuries. Those of you from the UK will have seen the Tudors and read the books of the Tudor period when it was well known that letters were intercepted and read and eavesdropping was commonplace.

And, of course, if the letters and conversations were innocent, then there was nothing to fear. Was there?

Well, yes and no. History, it is said, is written by the victors. WWII has the Germans as the bad guys. But, of course, had Germany won the war, history would be different.

And now, you will notice that all the whistle blowers of recent times have, within days, been portrayed as bad, mad or just plain vicious. It has always been so. Mary I was portrayed as either a wicked woman or a bit stupid. But, I’m guessing that, had she had a successful marriage and had children, history would show her in a different light.

But, the justification by the FBI for the Prism stuff is amazing.

I read this:

[They claim] such programs could have foiled the 9-11 terrorist attacks and would prevent “another Boston”.

Erm, excuse me. The Prism thing has been happening for a number of years. One has to ask, why didn’t it prevent the Boston thing in the first place? The argument that it “would prevent” just doesn’t hold water. And, in any event, if someone wanted to do something, there will be a way to do it.

But, of course, we are all compliant in this thing now. We’ve read the books and seen the films. We aren’t up in arms because we already knew all about it. We say “Tut tut” and carry on with our lives in a society that seems to become more Fascist/Communist by the day.

But, Mr FBI man, please don’t think that we are all as stupid as you like to think. “Would prevent another Boston”? Well, maybe. But let’s see when the next atrocity happens, shall we? I’m sure you’ll be explaining why, in that particular case, all this data didn’t actually help.

Sometimes, I’m grateful that I’m old now.

Anyway, the title of the post made me think of this great song. One of my all time favourites. Enjoy but remember that they know you’re watching ;-)

Beverley Knight – Shoulda Woulda Coulda

Don’t mind me, I’m just having a little rant that’s all.

This is a post for non-Italians.

Italians – don’t read this.

That includes you, Lola and you, Pietro. This doesn’t apply to you.

I’m just having a rant.

I have come to the conclusion that Italians are a) ignorant b) bad-mannered, c) rude or d) stupid.

Or, of course, all of the above at the same time.

Yesterday, it seemed they were all those and all at the same time.

Let me give some examples:

1. I’m taking the dogs for the evening walk. We get in the lift and we arrive at the ground floor. I open the lift doors and there is an older couple waiting to take the lift. From the front of the lift to the door to outside is a matter of a few feet. There are some steps on the right (the stairs to the floors going round the lift) and to the left is the corridor to go to the shops and café that are on the ground floor. When the lift door is open, this corridor is, effectively, shut off to you.

There is, just about, enough room for two people to pass each other without going up the stairs a step or two, providing you walk a little sideways.

I am holding two leads connected to two excited dogs. They enjoy going out for a walk. They are straining on the leads. It is not possible for me to either go sideways nor to go up the steps.

The two people stand, one behind the other and, two people, one behind the other, effectively block the door outside.

I wait for a few seconds.

The dogs don’t. The people stand there – in my way. They give no thought to moving. I decide they are stupid. Surely, it must be that? They look like perfectly respectable people but, quite obviously, the fact that they have lived so long is purely a matter of luck and definitely not judgement.

As the dogs strain to get past, the woman turns a little and tries to step back. She is obviously more stupid than I had at first thought as there is nowhere to go. So the dogs brush against her (much to her chagrin) and I mutter that they are stupid.

2. On the same dog walk. We are nearing the end. We have to pass the tobacconists. They are doing some road works (on the pavement) and the pavement is not so large.

As I approach, I see that there are about 5 or 6 people who are at the cigarette machine and as if they are in a queue. They are completely blocking the path.

They see us but do not move. I mean, why would you? We are in Italy. We get to the point where in a second we will collide with them. Two of the people who are “at the end of the queue”, move back slightly, permitting us to squeeze through. Again, I have two dogs. They are obviously not happy about the dogs touching them. Because, quite obviously, they just didn’t realise that the dogs would touch them if they leave a minuscule gap for us to get through!

3. I am driving. I need to turn left. There are two bikes (one after the other) coming towards me on the opposite side of the road. If I were Italian I would just turn into the road and go. I am not. I am polite. I wait. The first bike, without any signals turns right into the road into which I will be turning. It is annoying but it’s OK. The older woman on the second bike sees that I am waiting and so tries to cycle a bit faster.

Without signals, she also turns right. I could have turned right before the first one, IF ONLY THEY HAD SIGNALLED. Bastard people with no thought for anyone but themselves.

4. I am driving down the road. Cars are parked either side. There is enough room for a car to double park (providing it is “tucked in” and for another to get past. Just about. The car in front is driving a little slowly – but anyway, suddenly stops without any indication that they were going to do so. They have not “tucked themselves in” and, therefore, there is no way I can get past. Obviously, the road belongs to them and I should have realised that. Also they had absolutely no idea that I was behind them. I guess their mirror is used to check hair and make-up?

There were lots of other examples last night – but I can’t list them all.

But, can I just say, it FUCKING ANNOYS me!

* Of course, this doesn’t apply to any Italians that are my friends. Except, of course, the ones who are a) ignorant b) bad-mannered, c) rude or d) stupid. But you’ll know who you are.