19th-29th August 2004


Venice (Venetzia) is a small island with canals dividing it, connected by a causeway to Italy.  Venetzia is located in the north of the Adriatic near to where the Po drains Italy's largest agricultural plain.  It took about two hours to dawdle to get from one end of Venice to the other.  Before settlement Venetzia would probably have consisted of two largish marshy islands divided by a channel, with a scattering of other smaller islands nearby.  Further channels were probably excavated in an effort to drain marshes and/or facilitate trade. 

During Italy's warring states period Venetzia was a free trading port, governed by an oligarchy of merchant princes.  The wealth generated by trading was used to build beautifully frescoed churches, grand residences and magnificent opera houses.  Regrettably many of those buildings are now crumbling masonry.  There are problems with subsidence.

I found Italy to be cheaper than anywhere else in Western Europe.  Italians queue for just about everything.   Perhaps because there are so many queues people have become inured; everybody seems to know what they want, and they obtain it with a minimum of fuss, in contradistinction to the queues in Germany, where a Frau might engage in a lengthy cross examination of the attendant, much to the unexpressed annoyance of myself (following).   I suspect that queues are part of the low cost structure in Italy.  I had to queue for my hostel accommodation at Campo Roma.   It was much cheaper (10 Euros) than anywhere else I had been in Europe, although still expensive (for what was provided) compared to the USA except NY & Boston.   Any good fast food outlet in Italy has a queue. (After a bad experience, I actually would not want to try food in Italy if there was not a queue.)  There are queues for the purchase of travel tickets, but that happens everywhere in Europe, however, in Italy they seem to use most of the ticket selling windows, as opposed to other countries (Paris & London are noteworthy) where they seem to only ever use about two of 10 windows available.

Unlike Amsterdam, the waterways of Venice had a lot of privately owned high powered boats.  On the other hand, there were no houseboats.  (On reflection, I suppose the one would tend to exclude the other).  The canals of Venice have a different quality to those in Amsterdam, which were fairly obviously dug out.  Venice uses canals for goods transport.  There are no cars or trucks.  Sometimes the entrance to a Venice residence is across a bridge which bridge is the porch and finishes at the front door.  Some of the footpaths, even along the Grand Canal, are privately owned, and not open to the public.

During my perambulations I noticed a church.  Inside the atmosphere was a transformation.  There were brilliantly colored paintings.  The ceiling was arched and very high.  There was recorded organ music.  A family and a sister of the church were the only other occupants in a church that would have seated hundreds.


Eurostar nationally franchised buses seem to be the cheapest way to travel internationally inside Europe, however there are a few traps.  Tickets must be purchased from the franchisee in the country of departure.  APEX (advanced purchase) fares (one month prepaid) are definitely recommended, being up to 50% cheaper.  Unlike Greyhound in the USA, the passenger does not have one month to complete the journey, so you cannot alight at intermediate stops (as I did at LA and Dallas on my US$100 journey from San Francisco to New Orleans.)  And, of course, travel is far more expensive (I would estimate more than double) per kilometer traveled than in the USA.   The English franchisee holders operate an excellent service, the French and Netherlands services are very good, and the German franchisee might be the best, unfortunately they were totally booked out when I attempted to use them.   On the other hand the Italian franchise of the Eurostar line is particularly hopeless, the prices posted on their web site were wrong and the address given for their ticket agencies was wrong, and of the two buses that I traveled on, neither had a functional toilet.  (However the staff were friendly and we stopped frequently).  The Spanish franchise was also an unknown, I did not have the opportunity to find out because their web site was incomprehensible and I could not discover whether they actually operated any buses at all.

 - ROME.IT -

Rome is about five hours by fast electric train from Venice, the journey cost about 37 Euros.  Italian metro (city) trains are often covered by graffiti, but it is a different form of vandalism to that which I found in Frankfurt.  The trains I rode in Frankfurt had most of their windows opaqued by scratches.  Italian trains have colorful "protest" graffiti.  The message in Frankfurt was nihilistic destruction.   In Italy the message was discontent about not getting enough (in life).

In olden times Rome was known as the city of the seven hills.  I think I have climbed all twenty of them.  Perhaps those hills are why modern Romans use scooters rather than bicycles.   The old city of Rome was enclosed by a wall that forms an irregular shape about 6 or 7 kilometers across.  The Tiber traverses the city from north to south somewhat west of center.   The Vatican is built against the west wall.  Most of the archaeologically significant ruins are east of the Tiber in the southern part of the city.  The ruins, which are undergoing considerable archaeological restoration, are mostly near the east side of the Tiber.  The Fashion district seems to be in the region around the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps.    This region is NW of the archaeological digs, and across the Tiber from the Vatican.
The Tiber is to Rome what the Seine is to Paris & the Thames to London.  The water level was about five to seven meters below the banks.  The many bridges across the Tiber are mostly arched stone, the two near the Vatican have statues.  As in Paris, there is an island in the middle of the Tiber near the center of Rome.   One pleasant aspect of Rome is the hundreds of public drinking fountains scattered throughout the city.  Being able to find clean cool drinking water was a major plus in the August heat of Rome.  These fountains are probably a proud heritage from the era of the Roman empire.  I understand that Rome was the first world city with free public aqueducts supplying clean water to the residents, (and incidentally scouring out the wastes.)

The Roman civilization started circa 700BC with the founding of Rome although recent archaeological evidence indicated settlement as early as 1000BC.   The Roman empire was a military civilization, built on conquest and good government, in which it was unlike the Muslim Turkic empire, which was built on conquest and oppressive discrimination.  Roman conquest was based on two crucial military discoveries, which were military discipline and road building.  (According to the information bureau in Rome, the word "emperor" originated as the honorary title given to a successful Roman general.)

An undisciplined army may consist of excellent fighters, but they fight as individuals.   Each individual requires (say) six feet (1.8 meters) of battlefront space to swing his ax or sword or whatever.  Thus undisciplined troops present one fighting unit per 1.8 meters of attacking frontage, or if we divide the fighting units by the frontage, we get something we might call an attack equivalent, which would be (1/1.8) which gives 0.56 attack equivalent units per meter of battlefront.  On the other hand, soldiers in a disciplined army are taught to fight close together, and fighting units could be spaced at say one meter, and although the proximity of other soldiers might require the use of certain weapons because of the limited space, (the spear and short sword were favoured weapons in Roman armies) and so reduce the fighting efficiency of each unit (say by about 15%, meaning they fight at only 85% effectiveness), the disciplined fighters would have an attack equivalent of (1 * 85%) which gives 0.85 attack equivalent units per meter of battlefront.  To computer gamers this would mean that the disciplined army has an attack rate of 0.85, but the undisciplined army has an attack rate of 0.56.  The disciplined force would consequently win battlefront fights in the ratio of (0.86/0.56 =) 3 : 2 (on dice throws) against the undisciplined force in an otherwise even battle.  It is on such advantages at the battlefront that victory often depends.  With equal morale, the side suffering greater battlefield losses will frequently break and the battle rapidly turn into route, at which point losses go exponential.

Good communication & military transport was obtained by the Roman road networks.  These were so well made that many are still in existence.  Communication is important in a military civilization because it allows intelligence information about enemy activity to be rapidly obtained & disseminated, thus permitting small units scattered throughout the empire to be rapidly united into larger forces.  The basis of tactics is to have your larger force demolish smaller enemy forces, (preferably from ambush).  So if you have 100,000 men, and your enemy has 150,000 men, then if you can engage his forces before they have united and fight only 75,000 men twice, then you will have a much better chance of winning each battle, hence the war.

Originally Rome was a Republic governed by a senate.  (It might have been more accurate to describe the senate as a large oligarchy of middle class families.)  In its early expansionary stage Rome conquered most of Italy, and eventually came into conflict with the maritime Phoenician colony of Carthage.    Rome started it's course into greatness when Hannibal the Carthaginian failed to conquer Italy circa a few hundred years BC.  I suppose that the Romans must have had some sort of a wall even in those days. In that era I believe that military engineers had not yet utilized arrows or siege machinery.  Hannibal would have found archers to be very useful in giving covering fire to troops who stormed a Roman walls with ladders.  The current Roman wall is up to about fifteen meters high and was reputedly built by Marcus Aurelius circa 300AD, who was known as the philosopher emperor.

One of the greatest ancient Romans must have been Julius Caesar.  Julius conquered Britain circa 44BC, and was murdered shortly thereafter because he was suspected of attempting to subvert the constitution.  After his death the republic became a quasi kingdom when his second nephew the self styled "Emperor Caesar Augustus" took control.  (Caesar was taken as a title honoring Rome's greatest general Julius, and Augustus meant "plentiful, beneficial to all".)  Augustus had a forty year reign starting 27 BC.  He later said "I came to a city of brick and left a city of Marble".  Following Augustus a series of relatives governed Rome, many of whose names are now recognized for the excesses they committed.   Nero & Caligula had a bad press, although Claudius got a good review by Robert Graves.  Then came a period when successful soldiers were chosen as leaders, and two Spaniards were emperor, followed eventually by Marcus Aureleus. After Marcus the seat of empire was moved by Constantine to Constantinople.

I found the Colosseum to be the most impressive structure in Rome.  It is four stories high, and although some of it is missing, (apparently it was used as a stone quarry circa 18th century) what remains is impressive.  There is a legend from the middle ages that when the Colosseum falls, so will Rome, and western civilization will follow.

The beggars of Rome were an unexpected surprise.  One day I was standing near the Colosseum, attempting to read a map to discover the best way to lythe Tiber.  A "rattle - shuffle - shuffle - rattle -shuffle - shuffle - rattle" approached from behind, and shortly thereafter what appeared to be a raggedy, bent over, crippled old woman shuffled past.  Her head bent over by (presumably) a hunched back, her gait an uneven a shuffle because of  (what looked like) a crippled foot.  After limping two steps, she would pause and rattle the polystyrene cup in which were a few coins.  I instinctively reached for a coin.  Before I could act a youngish woman ran from behind and furtively threw a coin into the plastic cup.  In acknowledgment of the gift the pitiful creature slowly increased the curvature of her spine, then, without looking up, continued her course.  For some reason my gaze drifted to her foot, and after a few moments I realized that it was not deformed in the slightest.  Rather the shoe had been cleverly engineered to make it look at a cursory glance as though the enclosed ankle was hideously twisted.  From that moment I observed all the beggars of Rome much more closely.  That mother in Termini with a six month old sickly child, with the word "poverty" on a sign, who looked so pale, who nodded so wanly when given a coin?  Her paleness was makeup, not pallor.  That child was not breathing.  It was a doll. (I discovered that by chance, she broke character when she stood up, dangling the "child" by it's arm).  That proud patrician gentleman, in threadbare but clean clothes, standing without acknowledging passers bye, a classic image of nobility met with misfortune.  I don't anymore believe it for an instant!  I now see the beggars of Rome as in a class of their own.  They are the professionals; the Hollywood stars of the world of beggars.  The beggars of Paris, NY or LA are mere provincial amateur actors.  It would not surprise me if the beggars of Rome had a union and professional training at a beggar's school which taught "makeup" and "image projection to evoke sympathy", and the various engineering & stagecraft technologies necessary to simulate incapacity.  I also began to notice that the Roman shopkeepers treated the beggars like vagabonds, rather than the piteous creatures that they portrayed.  I have noticed that the beggars of Rome seem unerringly to know who are the strangers to Rome.

I found tented bed accommodation for ten Euros a night about 30 minutes from the center of Rome, at a place called Campo Roma.  It was the same deal as Venice, but in Campo Roma it was near impossible to find a hot shower.  There is cold and "not so cold".  (If one arose at 5AM in Campo Roma, the water was hot.)  These two camping grounds are part of a chain, started by an Irish company.  The basic accommodation is cheap, but their services (restaurant & internet etc) are not so cheap.

In Rome near Termini a Cappuccino can be had for as little as 80 cents (there are 100 cents to the Euro), and Croissants for around 45 cents.  Termini is the central railway terminal of Rome.  A more normal (tourist) price is about E1.50, near the Trevi fountain I paid Euro 2.90.   Public transport in Rome is an integrated subway/bus/tram system, a ticket costing one Euro entitles one to 75 minutes of travel near Rome, including one ride on the subway.  The central subway is two crossed lines, each about 12 kilometers long, intersecting at Termini.  Other electric trains operate outside that area.

I found Italian easier to read than French or Dutch or German.  For instance: on a subway train near the door there was an important looking red lever with the word ALLARME on it, and below that were written the words "agni abusu verra punito" which did not look too remotely different to "any abuse very punished".  One bit of abuse scrawled on the front of that train, "FICA" did not require much imagination.  Of course translation is not always that simple, the message scrawled on the outside of a political party office in downtown Rome was


where the vigili seems to mean "be vigilant (in observing)" and bastardi seems to mean something like the English word "bastards" but merdosi is not from the root  "murder"; it apparently comes from the same root as the French word "merde" which means "excrement".  (hence perhaps "keep a close watch on the shitty bastards")

Italian politics are ridiculed in the liberal press of Australia, who like to poke fun at a country that has had more government than years as a republic.  Basically the Italians have a multi-party parliamentary system with a President who does not seem to have much executive power, and a prime minister who wields the executive power.  Multiple parties actually sounds like a good idea to me.  I imagine that with about eight political parties to choose from I might find one that has policies that I am in agreement with about 75% of the time, rather than having to flip a coin because each of our two parties in Australia seems to be about half right in it's choice of policies.   What seems to have gone wrong is that the Italian parliamentarians apparently need to form a majority executive government.   To keep in power, the government must vote as a block.  This means that instead of (rather sensibly I would have thought) deciding legislative policy by a majority vote of Parliament, the ruling power bloc decides legislative policy within the party rooms.   This can theoretically result (as in Australia) in a policy that is wanted by as few as 26% of parliamentary representatives becoming law.  Come to think of it, our own government allows "conscience" voting on contentious issues.  Why shouldn't our parliament extend conscience voting to everything except (maybe even including) taxation policy?


Venetzia, like the rest of Europe, has incredibly bad air pollution.  When traveling the causeway the mainland factories can be seen belching pollution, adding to the low lying smog which reduces visibility by about 50% over a distance of 7 Km.  Venetian canals were surprisingly clean, except for the occasional scrap of paper.  In Rome I met an Italian Canadian (from Quebec) who was on a sentimental return.  He said that in his Italian hometown, at 1,500 meters elevation in the Appalachians, the sunrises were not red.  This tends to confirm the hypothesis that visible pollution is caused by large particles, and hence by gravity confined (at least in still air) to the lower elevations.  I believe that such large particle pollution is causing more of what we call "global warming" than the much publicized CO2 greenhouse effect.  Most of that large particle pollution is caused by aircraft takeoffs and incompletely filtered coal fired power station smokestacks.  That electric power is increasingly being used to filter and cool the dirty, hot air caused by electric power stations and aircraft.  Of course the "merdosi bastardi" (e.g. Greenpeace) whose self appointed task it is to make us aware of pollution sources are almost certainly major users of air travel and air conditioning.


In earlier diaries I explained why capitalism was declining.  (Let me define "capitalism"".  I am not talking about free enterprise.  Capitalism necessarily includes investment, usually measured in billions of dollars, not necessarily in a free enterprise environment.)

Wal-Mart in the USA is the largest importer of Chinese manufactured goods into the USA.  It operates a shop-concept called a "Superstore" and other smaller specialty stores, (which have some lines missing.)  The Superstores are (by my cursory observation) physically identical,  I paced a store near Denver (NW) at 250 meters long, about 150 meters wide.  Like one huge factory shed, high roof, and shelves and shelves of just about everything (except cars and houses).   The typical superstore is built on the urban fringe of a metroplex (which is the US name for a city, but that is another story.)  It typically occupies am  land space of around two hectares, (five acres), most of which is set aside for free parking for the customers.  Main retail lines are kitchen consumables, fresh food, alcohol, clothing, vehicle maintenance & repairs (with discount petrol), electronics, sport equipment, furniture (I have probably missed a few.)  There are usually some forms of franchise/concession inside the store, which may be MacDonalds or Burger King, maybe a bank outlet, a chemist etc.  The thing about Wal-Mart is, everything is cheaper.  Unlike our home grown Woolworths/Coles combination, Wal-Mart do not sell a cheaper product at a lower price, they sell the same quality product at a lower price.  They are a Mall without the expensive Mall Management.  My own wish would be for Wal-Mart to come to Australia.

Australia has not got stores equivalent to Wal-Mart.  Woolworths and Coles largest stores are not at all like Wal-Mart Superstores. With the unfolding of the "Orange Grove" scandal in western Sydney it is becoming clear just why this so.  Our home grown entrepreneurs (Lowy etc) seem to have sewn up the "planning permission" method of curtailing competition.  Quite simply, it seems that our councils have had written into their planning code (by the state government?) a rule that Wal-Mart like developments are to be refused.  Instead, seemingly, a "shopping development" must have a balance of stores, preferably two competing supermarkets.   So basically, our "malls" or supermarkets are another (indirect) form of taxation which directly subsidises our established state political parties in the form of frequent cash "gifts" in return for their oversight of refusal of planning permission for any development which might be in conflict with the donor's interest.   Against that sort of arrangement, Wal-Mart has possibly found the entry cost too high.   I am not sure that Australians benefit from a "developer" who skims off the cream, and pays it to planning authorities.  Wal-Mart build their own sites, and consequently can (and do) undercut all competing Mall supermarkets.

Wal-Mart is a corporation with a mission. Their boast is "We Sell For Less".  And they do, literally.  Unlike Woolworths & Coles in Australia, who sell shoddy goods for a lower price than the better quality goods sold by other department stores, Wal-Mart sells high quality goods for less than anybody else sells that same quality.  In fulfilling their boast they are probably doing more good for the poor and poverty stricken in America than all US charities combined.   For those in poverty the few dollars saved by buying at Wal-Mart means another family meal for the week, or a new outfit for a child.  I might be wrong, but I do not get the feeling that a Wal-Mart accountant has made a calculation of what price will maximize the profit, without regard to "morality".  Rather I get the feeling that Wal-Mart are happy to make 20% (or 50% or whatever) markup on their goods, without regard to some accountant's calculation which seeks to maximize their short term profit.

Let me give an example.  In the USA there exists a chain called "Trader Joe".  You can look them up on the internet.  From the number of stores and the size of the market they serve, I would estimate that they are probably several times larger than the Woolworths and Coles chains (combined) in Australia.  They too have a mission, which could be stated as "delivering healthy (organic type) food at the cheapest price to the public.  They certainly are cheap.  In LA I noticed that their organic salads undercut the non-organic salads of their nearest supermarket competition, they provide parking for their customers, (even within 5 miles of the center of Chicago & near Washington DC) although their stores are strictly organic food.   Then I visited a Wal-Mart.  Lo and behold, they had apparently recognized that a market for organic foods existed, so alongside all their non-organic (i.e. pesticide & herbicide contaminated foods), they were selling the same organic lines as Trader Joes, at about 10% cheaper!  (as per their boast)

Wal-Mart is the harbinger of the new form of free enterprise.  It was grown from small by the genius and enterprise of it's founder, who recently died.  I understand that it is currently the largest importer of goods from China into the USA.   The new form of free enterprise is exceptional because the enterprise management policy depends on the genius of one man.  Other examples are Apple, which required one of the founders (Jobs) to succeed, (They tried an MBA, but he failed) News Limited, which has founder Rupert Murdoch at the helm, Microsoft (which has Gates), Virgin (Branson).  These new millennial enterprises are more dynamic than those of past centuries (Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie) because computers and communication technology allows the founder/manager a greater degree of control.  For the investor, the older corporations that are managed like department stores (specially those managed by MBA's) are not good investments.  Examples are Telstra Australia, Qantas, Disney, many banks, nearly all the insurance, superannuation and finance corporations.  In general, if a corporation has gone IPO, it has already finished it's early extreme growth stage (e.g. Sausage).

Detractors (including daughter Viola) say Wal-Mart should pay proper wages inside and outside the USA.  If improving the income of the 0.1% of the USA workforce who are Wal Mart employees by 50% at the expense of increasing the cost to Wal-Mart's customers of food and other necessities by 3% (always remembering that Wal-Mart customers include most of that portion of the population who are described as "living in poverty") sounds the right way to do your governing, then you are probably a rich Democrat.  Wal-Mart is paying market wages.  If America had no poverty, those people who accept Wal-Mart wages would not exist. QED.  As for paying "proper" wages outside the USA, does anybody think that China would be a major USA supplier if Wal-Mart paid Chinese workers a "living" wage?  (Whatever that is.  So we pay the workers extra, and the local retail shops, realizing the workers can now afford more, charge more so that the retail workers get a "living wage" and so on, ad infinitum).

Cynics say that Wal Mart's mission is to make money.  I do not think that is accurate. There are many MBA managed corporations that seem to have a mission to make money.  Even with the injection of large amounts of capital by other MBA managed banks and investment funds, (who have probably performed the same calculations as the MBA managed corporation, probably because they were taught by the same professors) those companies are not nearly as successful at making money as is Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart's success has generated problems.
  1. Unionists are making protectionist noises, hoping perhaps to have some of Wal-Mart's purchasing moved to local (union employing) manufacturers.  Even if they succeed, they will hurt the poor most.  (Wal-Mart will make money no matter where their goods are sourced.  It is the poverty struck who will suffer because the price of food or clothes has gone up, and the children will be unclothed or hungry.).
  2. Class action lawyers are attempting to sponsor litigation against Wal-Mart (and any other corporation that gets too large.) 
  3. The decline of capitalism (as defined above and in the link) is producing strains in the world economy that are most strongly affecting Wal-Mart customers (the poor and the needy and the underemployed in America.).  Wal-Mart is already acting to assist the poor, by advising those of it's staff who are entitled on "how to claim government assistance."  Beyond that the problem is one for America.  Of course as large scale capitalism declines and a greater number of people become unemployed, Wal-Mart's customer base will again expand.
I believe that Wal-Mart's current strategy is deconstruction and enfranchisement of the pieces.  Wal-Mart has already begun that process.  I have observed (and been advised) that store managers have relatively enormous discretionary powers to adapt to the local market.   All that has to be done for deconstruction is to continue that process.  The stores will be sold to the employees and/or local businesses and/or even onto the stockmarket.   Those parts would operate on a very loose franchise.   Probably the wholesale importing would be spun off as another or several businesses.  A third type of business might produce a management advisory newsletter, as part of the franchise management process.  This strategy will also tend to diminish the problems (especially legal) outlined above.


My congratulations to our neighbors the Indonesian people on what has been reported in "The International Herald Tribune" by Andrew Ellis as an outstandingly successful vote on a new constitution.  I can only hope that the people whom you entrusted with the task of devising that constitution have been intelligent and honest in framing a document that you can rely upon to govern yourselves despite the machinations and manipulations of self serving politicians.

One enviable constitutional power brought to my recent notice was that exerted by the people of Venezuela when those who were discontent with the activities of their President Chavez attempted a recall.  (Similar to the recall of Gray in California, which I and many US citizens have discussed.  In general they believe that it is a good thing.  A common remark by Americans of both parties is "Gee, I wish we had that power in the Federal sphere").   The Wall Street Journal is taking a rather dark view of the fact that the Chavez recall failed, with hints at conspiracy in counting votes and tales of vengeance by Chavez partisans against those who engineered the recall.  I am sure that if there is any substance to those claims, then that will not be the last that we hear of them.  As a libertarian I wholeheartedly endorse the constitutional amendment permitting the recall, which was apparently introduced circa 1999 by then & current incumbent President Chavez.