Apologies for light posting - the Olympics seem to have taken over.
For a non-Olympic moment let me draw your attention to this superb little profile of the Italian PM, Mario Monti. I didn't know much about him other than that he's unelected, and therefore a "technocrat". But as this piece by Tobias Jones makes clear, he's also a supremely accomplished academic and businessman, who seems to be making progress in untying some of Italy's oldest political and economic knots:
Although courteous and suave, he's also an inflexible man of principle, dedicated to balanced budgets and the dismantling of cartels, be they unions, corporations or criminals. This is the man who, as European competition commissioner, was responsible for Microsoft being fined a record €497m, earning him the predictable nickname Supermario.
That unexpected toughness comes from the certainty that he feels as an economics professor of international renown. There's even a sartorial rigidity about him. At a conference in Idaho, when world leaders took off jackets and ties, Monti could only bring himself to remove the latter. Journalists talk of his alterigia, his haughtiness, and he has an understated humour that reveals a rock-hard self-confidence. When Berlusconi boasted that he could "unplug" Monti whenever he wanted, Monti quietly said "I'm not an electrical appliance". For decades politicians have sucked up to Bruno Vespa, host of a long-running political chatshow. In reply to one of Vespa's disdainful questions, Monti simply said, "If you'll allow me, I'm not here to please you." His chilling replies to frothing Northern League politicians – shutting them up with lethal quips – have become legendary.
That's perhaps why Monti seems so un-Italian to his countrymen. They say that his humour – calm but cutting – makes him appear very English.
It's funny how Italy can repeatedly elect someone like Berlusconi and at the same time produce men of enormous seriousness (see also, for example, Giovanni Falcone).