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October 7, 2012

Hagar Qim

Hagar Qim is a megalithic temple complex dating from the Ġgantija phase (3600-3200 BC). The Megalithic Temples of Malta are amongst the most ancient religious sites on Earth described by the World Heritage Sites committee as "unique architectural masterpieces." In 1992 UNESCO recognized Ħaġar Qim and four other Maltese megalithic structures as World Heritage Sites.

The lowest temple is astronomically aligned and thus was probably used as an astronomical observation and/or calendrical site. On the vernal and the autumnal equinox sunlight passes through the main doorway and lights up the major axis. On the solstices sunlight illuminates the edges of megaliths to the left and right of this doorway.
Although there are no written records to indicate the purpose of these structures, archaeologists have inferred their use from ceremonial objects found within them: sacrificial flint knives and rope holes that were possibly used to constrain animals for sacrifice (since various animal bones were found). These structures were not used as tombs since no human remains were found. The temples contain furniture such as stone benches and tables that give clues to their use.
Many artifacts were recovered from within the temples suggesting that these temples were used for religious purposes, perhaps to heal illness and/or to promote fertility.

Cyprus crisis getting ugly!

Cyprus' banks are in worse condition than imagined, and the bailout amounts has jumped again.
How can a tiny country get in so much trouble in such a short time?
The real-estate and construction bubble, fed by corruption and abetted by banks, burst two years ago. Home sales and prices have collapsed. Some 130,000 homeowners (in a country of 840,000 souls) are tangled up in a nationwide title-deed scandal.
It is estimated that 50,000 homes would be dumped on the market—though only 4,876 homes were sold during the first nine months of the year! Losses have gutted banks. Unemployment has reached record levels. And the construction industry, once a major employer, is being annihilated.
The index of building contracts, after a two-year downhill slide, has reached the lowest point in its history, and “activity is expected to continue dropping,” lamented the Federation of Associations of Building Contractors (OSEOK).
Contractors are going out of business. Over the last four months, the crisis has deepened. And now there are only enough pending construction projects for seven months, and after that, there are no projects.
Locked out from the financial markets since early summer 2011, Cyprus was bailed out by Russia last November with a €2.5 billion loan. In June, as the banks began to topple under a mountain of Greek debt and rotting mortgages, Cyprus asked for a bailout.
The Troika took a look and figured €6 billion for the banks and €4 billion for the government. €10 billion in total.
But in August, Central Bank Governor Panicos Demetriades told parliament that the banks alone would need €12 billion!
Then Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told last week: Cyprus would indeed seek a €15 billion bailout from the Troika, and an additional €5 billion from Russia, for a total of €20 billion.
A vertigo-inducing 107% of GDP.
But he cautioned that Russia and the Troika would need to coordinate the loans—thus throwing a monkey wrench into Christofias’ efforts to use the negotiations with Russia as a lever against the Troika to get a better deal and more lenient conditions.
Conditions that the Troika had already spelled out in a memorandum.
In short,  a privatization of state-owned enterprises, a 15% cut in the public payroll by the end of 2013, a 10% cut in benefits, elimination of the automatic Cost of Living Adjustments (CoLA) that index salaries to inflation, and an increase of contributions to pension plans.
The CoLA elimination would also hit private sector employees, as would the elimination of the 13th month salary.
“You cannot tell someone they won’t receive a 13th salary. It automatically means you paralyze the market” declared communist President Christofias during a TV interview.
He would, however, try to cooperate with the Troika. “We aren’t just saying ‘no’ to them,” he added. “We are giving them counterproposals.” They focus apparently on a VAT increase, a luxury car tax, taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, disincentives for public sector workers to take early retirement, and a 5% wage cut for those earning over €1,500.

October 6, 2012

Blue Grotto

Every day from sunrise until about 1 pm a unique sight can be observed here. The location combined with the sunlight lead to the water mirroring showing numerous shades of blue.

Julian Treasure: Why architects need to use their ears

Because of poor acoustics, students in classrooms miss 50 percent of what their teachers say and patients in hospitals have trouble sleeping because they continually feel stressed. Julian Treasure sounds a call to action for designers to pay attention to the “invisible architecture” of sound.

October 3, 2012

Marsaxlokk, Malta

Marsaxlokk is a picturesque fishing village on the south-east side of Malta, it has an ancient history being the site of a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Juno, but no ancient remains are visible. On Sundays there is a fish market where one can get the best fish available, a particular local favourite is the Lampuki.
The sight of the traditional luzzu's (fishing boats built according to a design dating back to the Phoenicians) and the tranquil surroundings make this a very pleasant place to have lunch at one of the quayside restaurants.  

Fishing Boats
Marsaxlokk Bay


Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” -- standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident -- can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

Tax collectors steal 100 million euro from the Italian Government

Employees protesting not being paid since 5 months

Another day another colossal fraud in Italy!
Today Mr. Saggese, the boss of Tributi Italia, a tax collection agency has been arrested for pocketing 100 million euro from taxes collected on behalf of over 400 Italian cities.
Mr. Saggese had been arrested twice in 2001 and 2009 nonetheless he become the director of Tributi Italia which was until recently the biggest collection agency in Italy with a revenue of 280 millions in 2008 and thousand of employees who have lost their job.
The agency is currently filing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, while the government has been considering a bailout of the firm.
His former administrator Mr. Cali' had been arrested in 2007 for a 93 million euro fraud against Banca di Roma while many of the auditors were not even qualified.
It did help of course to enrol government auditors and pay lavishly some inspectors to join the company, furthermore city administrators and councillors were granted luxury holidays and gifts to cooperate.
Tributi Italia was paid a commission of 30% of the amount collected and in some cases the commission went up to 75%.
According to investigators the amounts stolen were used in part to pay debts contracted with banks and more than 20 million euro were pocketed by Mr. Saggese.
Of course having control of so much money meant a lot of leverage power for Tributi Italia who was also able to dictate to municipalities to hire friends and relatives.
The 400 cities which took advantage of Tributi Italia services are either broke or in deep trouble and the final price is being paid by the citizens who are losing services and jobs.
The money has vanished and so far has not been traced yet.
Municipalities, regulation authorities, Ministry of Finance, government and regions were either blind, pretending to be blind or useless in controlling the largest tax collection agency in Italy.
This is again not an isolate case, many more scandals like this will rock Italy soon, let us not forget that Tributi Italia started to fail when austerity started to bite and reduced tax figures.
Corruption is surfacing because the economic crisis is stalling its engine.
Be prepared to enjoy soon more colourful tales from Douche Land!

October 2, 2012

Italian politics reaching new level of corruption

While the International Press is rightly blaming the Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy for a lavish consumption of alcohol in time of austerity.

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his advisers often consume more than 1,000 euros ($1,286) of alcoholic drinks when they fly on the government’s official jet, Interviu magazine reported in its Sept. 24 issue.

For Italians though, to waste 1000 euro on beer is merely a drop in the ocean of waste the Italian government is accostumed to.
Latest case, Italy's Ambassador to London, Giorgio Maria Economides decided to replace a simple Lancia with license plate "ITA 1" with a more artistic Maserati (shown below in front of the Embassy) at the bargain price of $200.000:

Way to go Ambassador in representing a broke country with class and style!

We must admit though that Italian politicians at home are far classier than our Ambassador in London.
Today Mr. Fiorito, the Regional Leader of the PDL (Berlusconi's party) has been arrested in Rome for embezzlement, he ransacked 1.3 million euro from the Region of Lazio for his many private pleasures, he was not alone 70+ more councillors did the same with public money.

Last week the Governor of Lazio, Polverini resigned after it was found that for more than 2 years the entire council of the Region of Lazio was hell-bent on spending public money like if there was no tomorrow.
The estimate is that in 2 years they spent over 30 million euro.
Some of the most interesting expenses are the following:

14000 euro in a wineshop
16000 euro to pay private electricity bills in arrears

thousands more paid for unspecified "collaboration services" to the fiancee of Mr. Fiorito
5000 euro dinners 
Toga Parties paid with public money: photos here
Trips for councillors and lovers/hookers to exotic locations
Houses and Villas
Jeeps bought on the occasion of a rare snow storm in Rome

and much much more...

This is not an isolate case many more regions in Italy are facing the same scrutiny and new stories are surfacing on the Italian press each week.

Last week the Region of Piedmont has been searched by investigators after the discovery that all the regional councillors have requested refunds for travels and activities even during the summer stop of the regional Council.
The best part is that regions do not check if true what declared, it was enough for a councillor to say he travelled 5000 miles in one month to obtain refunds amounting to tens of thousands of euros per month.
For those interested in reading the full details here a link to published data

Although, let us not fool ourselves, this is NOT an attempt to clean up the house, this is action pointing to strike political forces and push them to accept another Monti term or at least to be servile when it comes to vote and accept the Prime Minister diktats.

Italy is between a rock and a hard place, Italian politics is rotten, diseased and inept at ruling the country, hell-bent as it is in ransacking public money for their private interests. They have no credibility left but they are still useful to Monti being discreditable and therefore prone to manipulation.
On the other side, an un-elected prime minister is ruling the country with no public consent and following EU diktats not ratified by the people.
Italians are being told that politicians are scum and they are unable to rule therefore an enlightened technician has to take control.

What if next elections will bring to another rotten parliament or a fragmented one unable to form a government?
Are we going to ask again Monti to rule the country because our politicians are unable to do it?
Are we going to suspend again the right of the people to decide of their future?
Would this still be a democracy?

Valletta Square

October 1, 2012

St. James Cavalier Center for Creativity

Housed in a 16th Century fort, the centre is home to a small theatre-in-the-round, an art house, cinema, a chamber music room and gallerias.
A labyrinth of art gallerias and multimedia installations stretching into the ancient walls and towers of the fort, carefully placed in a unique architecture.
The centre has welcomed both local and foreign artists, writers, singers and actors, dancers, musicians as well as thinkers, scientists and other creators.Few examples of the original interior design are shown below.

 The Entrance
 Modern Art Wing
The Observatory