Fresh outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease

It is rare to meet someone who admits to having voted for Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi – it’s like telling the psychiatrist, “A friend of mine has been feeling depressed lately and I, er she …”. So the best you get are explanations by proxy, such as, “A lot of people figured that since he was such a successful entrepreneur, he could use his Midas touch for the whole country.” Berlusconi also knows how to feed the Italian desire to present la bella figura to the world, saying, “I like to see myself young, and it’s a form of respect towards others”. The Prime Minister disappeared from view last summer while recuperating from his lifting and hair implant treatment. He emerged, chrysalis-like, smooth and shiny to boast that he felt 20 years younger. You’re only as old as the woman you feel, would have been a classic quip in the style of Il Cavaliere, but I don’t think it translates well. Nevertheless it is the truth. He’s proved his virility with 3 children by his second, younger model, wife, and has avoided being seen with his grown-up children from his first marriage.

What always stuck in my memory from the Midas story was that the proud king was condemned to live forever – he just got older and older, more and more shrivelled until he ended up like a grasshopper. How many lifts can you have before it snaps?

Oh, but he’s so charming. When asked about his latest cosmetic surgery (he’s a recidivist here too), he reminded the press conference how important it was to look good on television and finished his briefing with a wink at a female journalist and the promise, “I can give you some addresses …”

Other outbreaks of foot-in-mouth disease, strain B:

Investment advice at the New York Stock Exchange
“Italy is now a great country to invest in … today we have fewer communists … Another reason to invest in italy is that we have beautiful secretaries… superb girls.”

On his conflict of interest as prime minister and one of Italy’s biggest tycoons, with major media holdings
“If I, taking care of everyone’s interests, also take care of my own, you can’t talk about a conflict of interest.”

On Mussolini
“Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile.”


Be informed that this disease is highly contagious. The feeble-minded are most at risk, such as the leaders of The Northern League, which has remodelled Italy into 14 independent states, with their own, The Republic of Padania, preserving such ancient Celtic traditions as hunting, drinking and shooting immigrants.

Now wake up.

The Northern League is a key member of Berlusconi’s coalition government, together with the “post-fascists” (sic) I mentioned previously. The Minister of Justice is theirs, as is the most incongruously-titled Minister of Reform and Devolution (very sic), Roberto Calderoli. There is an online prize named after him (in Italian), awarded to victims of foot-in-mouth disease. The inspiration for the prize was Calderoli’s suggestion that for each day Italian hostages were held in Iraq, “1 000 Islamists from so-called gangster states will be rounded up and shipped home.”

SinkingShipAs for incoming immigrants, crossing the Mediterranean in often unseaworthy boats, Calderoli demanded that the Italian Navy should not aid sinking ships but “repel” them. The ships, he said, did not only carry helpless children, but people who would “plunder the cities, deal in drugs on the streets, traffic in prostitutes […]”.

So there’s the checklist for the 1 000 repatriates per day.

Advanced foot-in-mouth disease severs the connection between the victim and the world of rational thinking. Life’s complexities fade away as the sufferer veers towards megalomania and the belief that the world would be a better place under his benevolent dictatorship. Nonconformism gets short shrift. Sinking ships are cast adrift.

Calderoli imagined himself in a spaghetti Western last November when he sparked a manhunt after offering € 25 000 for the capture of a murderer. When he was told bounty hunting was probably illegal, he backed down regretfully.

I would have preferred something like “dead of alive”, but they told me the law wouldn’t allow it.

In Calderoli’s world, the law would be privatized and the rich and virtuous would be free from crime.

His attitude towards penal reform is equally blunt:

Once upon a time one spoke of chemical castration, but personally I tend more toward simpler methods: scissors, and ones that are not necessarily sterilized.

His cross-cultural sensitivity is unveiled:

If someone comes from the jungle and is used to going around dressed like Tarzan, they can do it there, but not here.

And most recently, he railed against the verdict allowing a gay Senegalese asylum seeker refuge in Italy. The court decided that the man faced persecution and prison if he was sent back to Senegal and was therefore entitled to protection of his human rights. And yea verily there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by Calderoli who saith unto thee:

Poor justice! Poor Italy! Once celebrated as a land of saints, of poets and explorers, is today a land of terrorists and illegal queers!

On that last point, my only question is – how could they tell? Most Italian men live with their mothers until their mid-30s, they love tight clothes and shopping for shoes, and are quite open about waxing their eyebrows.

We therefore call upon Minister Calderoli to draw up a new checklist to help us identify all the deviants among us.

8 thoughts on “Fresh outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease”

  1. Great post!

    Sharpen the pencils- another trip to the ballot box is in the offing.

    In fairness to Berlusconi, he has probably done more for the Italian economy than most other Prime Ministers- in terms of actually getting Wall Street to realize there actaully is an Italian economy.

    Still, the more, uh, colorful, uh, members of his political coalition, are, uh, interesting, to say the least- as you so succinctly pointed out.

    Ah, Italian politics. Never a dull moment.

  2. Isn’t it patronising not to take Italian politics seriously? Political decisions can have serious consequences here as elsewhere. We may laugh at Berlusconi’s or Bush’s faux pas – people also laughed at Mussolini and Idi Amin – but we shouldn’t dismiss them as clowns and buffoons.

  3. Ria, I found you!

    Sorry to go off-topic but I found the answer to your Dutch citizenship course question on my blog (second most recent post). Maybe you already know the answer but if you don’t, check it out and remind me to put you on my blogroll.


  4. Sig et al. The Italian economy is in the toilet. The only way they have the 6th largest economy in the world is through Parmalat accounting. Where do the stats come from? Mr B’s ministries.

  5. You are right of course, when we don’t take Italian politics seriously.

    To illustrate the point you made re Bush and Berlusconni- and I’m not opining on the politics- a very influential congressman from NY, Democrat Charles Rangel, remarked during the first election campaign, that it was a big mistake to call Mr Bush ‘stupid’ because a) it wasn’t so and b) there has to be more substantive debate on a candidate and his party’s views.

    Simply differing in opinion does not make one’s political opponents ‘stupid’ and to label political opponents as such only ensures a lesser debate.

    Higher forms of debate does voters everywhere a greater service.

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