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Silvio Berlusconi: Italy's Salesman-In-Chief Spins Out Of Control

Essay: Reaching yet another new low, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi suggests a vulgar, sexist new name for his political party. No less disturbing is how the economic crisis has revealed the fact that he's been selling Italy an empty ba

Massimo Gramellini

TURIN - After a long debate between his most trusted advisors -- him and himself -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has finally understood the true issue facing his country.

The central problem Italy must confront as soon as possible is a new name for Berlusconi's political party. The leader's decline, his subordinates' mediocrity and inability to maintain their promises and reform the huge and corrupt system…these are not such pressing matters.

In his natural-born-adman's mind, the things themselves are never the point – the labels are. Whatever markets, entrepreneurs and electors (even his own) may say, Italy can still be considered a great theme park, and Berlusconi still the most popular attraction in the world, if only his Partito della Liberta" (Freedom Party) had another name. Consequently, a proposed bill to increase productivity cannot be the solution to the current political and economic crisis. The answer is a more catchy name.

Out of control

In front of a small group of smiling supporters, who gathered in the Parliament building, the prime minister suggested as a new name Forza Gnocca…CNN's website translated it as "Go Pussy." Signor Berlusconi has proved once again his preternatural elegance. There are still some doubts about the symbol of the renamed party. Luckily, Berlusconi has some valuable allies. Umberto Bossi, Minister for Institutional Reforms and leader of the Northern League party, is one of them. When a Parliament Member expressed some concerns about the name, Bossi yelled back, "Go f*** yourself."

It seems that both the political situation and the Prime Minister himself are totally out of control. The other day, he welcomed the President of Macedonia with a pun on fruits (in Italian, macedonia means: fruit salad.) He could end playing hide-and-seek in his private Roman residence Palazzo Grazioli, or capture-the-flag during the G20 meetings, which are so boring and complicated after all.

Despite this neverending twilight, Berlusconi remains faithful to his advertiser's essence. He thinks that packaging is the most important part of a product. Ten years ago, he suggested that Fiat should have renamed its cars "Ferrari Young." Probably, he has already tried to christen his Minister of Economy Giulio Tremonti with a new handle: Thatcher, or to call another ally: Einstein.

For 20 years, he has sold empty boxes, promising he was preserving an affluent society, even if reality proved otherwise. It is not just his fault. Times have changed, and he is no more a man of his time.

Beyond names, he is also obsessed with numbers. When he wants to brag, he declares with precision his 211 approved laws, the 23 cups won by his soccer team A.C. Milan, the 144 meetings he has attended, and so on. Packaging and quantity are his twin totems. They were the focus of the 1980s when consumerism and easy debt where the rules in Italy. The country has tried to keep this alive, relying on the champion of those values to lead. Sadly, in 2011, commercials are no longer enough. Smiles and "pussies' will not help survive the current economic and moral crises.

Truth is that the Prime Minister's party has actually an issue with a name: his own. Using Berlusconi's name used to be a guarantee of success. Now it is disappearing from all the posters. And one day in the not-too-distant future, those same supporters who laughed at his sad and sexist jokes will simply start to deny that a certain chap named Silvio who was never able to sell anything for 20 years ever even existed.

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

photo - EPP

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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