Bunga-Bunga Mogul

Prison Sentence Is Unlikely
to Set the Sun on Berlusconi

An Italian court has sentenced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to a four-year prison term. But a long appeal process has just started and, if the flamboyant billionaire can help it, he may not spend a day in jail. After all, he’s beaten the rap a couple of times before.
The 76-year old owner of a media empire and a major soccer team, who was forced out of office last November, has been known as much for his frequent sex scandals as for his failure to prevent Italy from sinking under the weight of Europe’s debt crisis that started in 2009.
Despite being in and out of the government for 20 years, Berlusconi’s center-right political coalition has done little, once in power, to limit Italy’s economic instability, which seem to pervade it at regular intervals. But it’s clear that he’s increased enormously his personal wealth through the connections his position allowed.
Of all world leaders of the early 2000s, a particularly uninspiring bunch, Berlusconi managed to be the most visible, both for his political gaffes and for his ostentatious lifestyle. Propped up by his personal fortune, though, he’s arguably one of the few who still stands a chance for a political comeback.
That is, if he overcomes the latest tax evasion charges, which originated from a far from sensational set of circumstances. Along with seven other defendants, he’s accused of purchasing rights to broadcast U.S. movies on TV networks belonging to his Mediaset company, through shady offshore deals done to avoid paying taxes.
In the past, Berlusconi’s has shown an uncanny ability to skip convictions and prison sentences, for false bookkeeping, corruption, or sex with minors, all the while keeping a high profile as an international playboy. It’s possible that this time Italians have finally had enough with his stunts.
It’s possible but, as we said, unlikely. In the meantime, we’re republishing a post we wrote two years ago, about a particularly revealing episode made of equal parts of money, crassness, culture and cult of personality. It goes a long way to illustrate the way this short-temper buffoon goes about his business. Enjoy it.
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Members Only

A Gift to Mars, King Tut’s
Loss & Iran’s Penis Cemetery

Italian billionaire Silvio Berlusconi is not the only politician, or rich person, who believes the world’s his playground. But you gotta give it to him: he’s astonishingly oblivious to the horror that usually greets his decisions, mostly guided by the pursuit of fun, candy and more power. As for us, we just happen to be camping around, mostly annoying the hell out of him. (*)
So when the 1800-year old classical Roman statue of Venus and Mars was loaned to his office, Berlusconi immediately made plans to fix it.
As it turned out, the likeness of the ruler of war had its penis chipped off circa 175 C.E., and the goddess of love was missing a hand too. Continue reading

The Week So Far

An Iceberg, a Sugar Pill, Mona 
Lisa’s Bones & That’s the News?

An irony fit for our times is that the bigger the media gets, the less it gets to cover. As nothing hits the air without a sponsor, it gears heavily to ‘human-interest’ stories, from the latest about your diet, to what’s happening with Tom and Kate. But today we’ve got a few topics that belong neither to this nor to the breaking category. We call them bottom of the top, or cover of the well stories. 
The iceberg bears troubling news about the climate. Homeopathy’s not usually associated with harassing scientists. Mona Lisa’s bones, yes, that one, are about to be uncovered. No word about her smile. Plus, a guy who wrote his own obit and confessed to crimes and misdemeanors. And guess what? there’s a new widow crawling in town. Relax, you cheating hearts out there; she’s not wearing black. 
Be it for fascination, or out of sheer obsession, we keep collecting stories like that, which anyone can see, are not ready for the prime time that once was, neither can be boxed into the weird category. We think of them as spices we add with caution, to flavor our sometimes depressing streaks.
Some of you, though, would be quick to call us lazy, for we extract Continue reading

Counting Glyphs

Three Outstanding Numbers &
a Century of the Voynich Enigma

For budding mathematicians, the Number Pi is sacred territory. For mystics, there’s the cryptic Belphegor’s Prime. Some social pundits give currency to the Dunbar Number. But after one hundred years, no one has come even close to decipher the Voynich Manuscript.
While Pi is called an ‘irrational number,’ Belphegor is a palindrome with a religious cipher at its core, and a glyph lifted from the Voynich. Now, about the Dunbar, guess what? is not even a number.
We’ll go over each one in more detail, of course. But we do love this sort of thing, even without quite fully understanding their implications. So what? Does anyone need to be an astronomer to admire the stars at night? OK, that was a cheap shot.
But there are definitely ways of immersing oneself in the beauty of these mysterious landmarks of the human thought, without necessarily being current with quantum semantics and the intricacies of code-breaking and algorithmic calculations.
One of them is, naturally, shut the hell up and just enjoy them. But we, dilettantes and amateurs of all stripes, fancy ourselves to be able to Continue reading

Age of Voynich

“Most Mysterious Manuscript
in the World” Has Been Dated

When American antique book dealer and collector, Wilfrid M. Voynich, discovered the manuscript that now bears his name, in Frascati, near Rome, he couldn’t have known that the enigma of its authorship would be still strong, almost a century later.
For since its discovery, in 1912, celebrated cryptologists and scholars, many of whom went on to start intelligence and Continue reading

Eye of Beholder

Eyes of Mona Lisa May Hide
Leonardo’s 500-Year Secret

So it turned out that, while we were being captivated by her smile, the real enigma of the Mona Lisa was hidden in her eyes. It’s just the latest mystery surrounding one of the most famous paintings of all time, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, of which we know close to nothing.
In fact, our five-century old fascination with La Gioconda, as it’s known in Italy where it was painted in 1503, bears pure obsession. Throughout the years, scientists have engaged in heated contests as to why she didn’t have eyebrows, whether her smile had something to do with high cholesterol, and who on earth was she. Was this the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife Continue reading

Members Only

Berlusconi’s Gift to Mars, King
Tut’s Loss & Iran’s Penis Cemetery

Italian billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is not the only politician, or rich person, who believes the world is his playground. But you’ve got to give it to him: he’s astonishingly oblivious to the horror that usually greets his decisions, mostly guided by the pursuit of fun, candy and more power. As for us, we just happen to be camping around, mostly annoying the hell out of him.
So when the 1800-year old classical Roman statue of Venus and Mars was loaned to his office, Berlusconi immediately made plans to fix it.
As it turned out, the likeness of the ruler of war had his penis chipped off circa 175 C.E., and the goddess of love was missing a hand too. Never mind that it’s been exhibited that way at the Palazzo Chigi in Rome for years.
The other day, the work was completed and delivered to his door, and Berlusconi was beside himself. After all, a man known Continue reading