Hello again, and welcome to those who’ve just signed up. Here’s what’s been happening.
Did any of you catch that weird story about the Pentagon’s plans to open a market trading in bets on terrorism? Faced with a lack of reliable intelligence on terrorist activity, the Defense (sic) Advanced Research Projects Agency – Darpa – came up with the idea of using the movements of speculators as a way of gauging the likelihood of any particular scenario occurring. The Policy Analysis Market would have enabled participants to use money in an account to buy and sell contracts. (Sounds very much like the spread betting craze that’s playing an increasingly big role in football in the UK.)
On the face of it, it sounds like an innovative way of pooling and gathering the expertise of people using that old favourite motivator – money – to ensure that the analysis involved is as rigorous as possible. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz certainly agreed, describing Darpa as “brilliantly imaginative”. As he went on to say, however, maybe they got a little too imaginative. The programme attracted huge criticism, partly for its bad taste but also because potentially there was nothing to stop terrorists earning money from insider knowledge. It was hastily withdrawn just days after it became public knowledge.
Silly season stuff, eh? Well, if you’re going on holiday spare a thought for the three million or so Italians who fake their holidays. Yes, three million! Apparently almost no Italian will admit to staying at home when asked where they’re off to for the summer (which I find a bit surprising myself, given how keen other Europeans are to go there). Yet three million of them don’t travel. Instead of owning up, though, they’ll go to some lengths to pretend they’ve been away. According to one survey, two-thirds of them bone up about their “destination”. But nearly a quarter of them go further by using UV lamps to get a tan – and nearly a fifth go as far as leaving their plants with a neighbour!
Meanwhile, Europe is sweltering in a summer of near-record temperatures. The French have had to hose down one of their nuclear power stations to prevent a reactor meltdown. The Germans have been advised to avoid strenuous exercise except in the morning, to avoid dangerous build-ups of ozone later in the day. The Spanish, Portuguese and Croatians have been fighting some of the worst forest fires ever. And in Britain. the trains have been forced to slow down or have been cancelled to avoid risks of derailment through buckled tracks.
Till next time…
British Expat Magazine
“I remember on our honeymoon, having drunk too much, drawing my husband’s attention to a beautiful full moon. After peering at it intently for a while, he announced with great satisfaction that it was a lamp-post.”
– Carla Powell, wife of former Cabinet Secretary Sir Charles Powell (now Lord Powell), summarising the gulf between Italian sentimentality and British pragmatism.
I went into the pub a few weeks ago, and found my friend Dave looking depressed. I asked him what was wrong. He said that next week was his wedding anniversary and his wife wanted a fur coat and a holiday, but he couldn’t afford it as he only had £100.
I said, “Well, you’re in the right place. See that man at the bar? – breeds hamsters. Those he can’t sell, he skins and he can make you an excellent fur coat very cheaply.”
Dave went over and spoke to him, and came back smiling. “He says he’ll make a coat for just £50, now all I need is the holiday.”
Again I said, “Don’t worry, Fred the landlord has a brother who keeps a hotel in Blackpool. Have a chat with him.”
Later Dave came back and said, “That’s great, I’ve got a week in Blackpool for my other £50 – brilliant!”
Last night I saw Dave again and asked him how things went:
“The coat was great. Vera opened the parcel and was ecstatic. It fitted perfectly and looked great. Then I told her about the holiday – she kissed me and we went to bed and celebrated.”
“So how did the holiday go?”
“Marvellous! She wore the coat throughout the holiday and was very proud of it. There was only one problem.”
“What was that?”
“I couldn’t keep her off the big wheel.”