The Curse of the Undead: Is Berlusconi Returning to Haunt Italian Politics?

My piece on the latest in Berlusconi’s trials has just been published by Time.

For those hoping to watch another nail driven into Silvio Berlusconi’s coffin, the decision last weekend by a Milan court to cut short his corruption trial must have come as a disappointment. “Everybody was waiting for the verdict to knock him out,” says Paolo Guzzanti, an independent member of Parliament and a onetime ally of the former Prime Minister. “But now, because the trial is finished, he’s going to still feel very much in the game.”

Many Italians, including it seemed Berlusconi himself, expected the court to hand down a conviction on charges that he bribed a British attorney to provide false testimony in an earlier case, thereby landing the ex-Prime Minister a politically painful blow. Instead, the court ruled the statute of limitations had expired. In Italy, the time limit is usually 10 years. In this case, the wrongdoing was alleged to have taken place in 1999, but the charges were only filed in 2006. In the meantime, several postponements in the process took place. The prosecutor apparently believed he had a few months left; the judge decided otherwise.

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The Atlantic has just published my profile of the celebrity chef who designed a burger for McDonald’s.

One brisk autumn day in Milan, I walked into Il Marchesino—an upscale eatery inside La Scala opera house—carrying a brown-paper takeaway bag from McDonald’s. My lunchtime companion that day, the Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi, was waiting at a small table against a wall. He was dressed in a well-tailored dark-blue suit, his silver hair swept back. On his lapel, he wore a coin-size replica of his most famous dish: a saffron risotto topped with a square leaf of edible gold.

Marchesi, a cherubic 81, managed to seem pleased, surprised, and embarrassed by my offering. With a giggle, he took the bag and set it down on the floor beside his chair. Marchesi is widely credited with elevating Italian food from home cooking to haute cuisine. He earned his first Michelin star in 1977 and eight years later became the first non-French chef to receive three. But I had come to see him about another, more recent, first. In 2011, Marchesi became the first celebrity chef to design a hamburger for McDonald’s—two of them, in fact, and a dessert to go with them. What I had brought in the brown-paper bag was Marchesi’s own creation.

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Eat Like an Italian

Time has just published my piece on the Mediterranean diet, and why it’s under threat.

In the fall of 1957, a Minnesota doctor named Ancel Keys traveled from Naples to the southern Italian town of Nicotera. The road was long and dusty, winding for hours into the mountainous toe of the Italian boot. But the trip was worth it. Keys, a physiologist who had spent World War II developing combat food rations, was searching for the answer to one of the great questions of healthy living: Why did heart attacks plague some groups of people (say, Minnesota businessmen) while leaving others (southern Italian farmers, for instance) nearly untouched?

Keys spent his stay in Nicotera measuring body-fat and cholesterol levels, gathering the first data for a global comparison of eating habits that enshrined the mediterranean diet as the gold standard for a healthy menu. in subsequent visits, Keys and his colleagues weighed the villagers’ meals and recorded their contents, showing up unannounced to ensure that what the locals were eating when the scientists arrived was what they normally ate. “Without asking permission, they would open the door and walk into the kitchen,” recalls pasquale Barbalace, 76, a resident of Nicotera who participated in the study as a young man

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Vatican Confidential: Why Are So Many Rumors Coming out of the Holy See?

Time has just published my piece on what Italians are calling Vatileaks.

Maybe the Vatican is not so good at keeping secrets after all. In the past few weeks, the Holy See has sprung a series of leaks. Their contents range from allegations of corruption and cronyism in Rome, to internal criticism of a Vatican effort to tackle money laundering, to a bizarre letter speculating about an assassination attempt on Pope Benedict XVI.

Each leak would be embarrassing enough on its own. Together, they add up to a picture of disarray at the top tiers of the Catholic Church, even as the Vatican admitted 22 more clerics to the College of Cardinals on Saturday, expanding the ranks of those who could one day become pope. “The real news isn’t the content of these documents,” says Andrea Tornielli, a long-time Vatican watcher. “It’s the fact that all these documents are coming out at the same time.”

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Grounds Zero: A Starbucks-Free Italy

Businessweek has just published a story I’ve long wanted to do: on why Starbucks has never come to Italy.

If it weren’t for Italy, Starbucks might not exist. After all, it was on a business trip to Milan in 1983 that Howard Schultz had the revelation on which he built his global empire. At the time, Starbucks was a coffee roaster—it didn’t own a single cafe—and Schultz was its marketing director. In a book published after the company had become an international behemoth, Schultz described how he set out one morning, sipping espressos at the cafes near his hotel. By afternoon he had sampled his way to the Piazza del Duomo, home to Milan’s famous Gothic cathedral. The large square was “almost literally lined” with coffee shops, he wrote. The air was alive with the sound of opera and the smell of roasting chestnuts. Schultz noted “the light banter of political debate and the chatter of kids in school uniforms” and watched as retirees and mothers with children made small talk with the baristas behind the counters.

It was at this point that Schultz, no doubt heavily caffeinated, was seized by inspiration. Most Americans were still drinking their coffee at diners, in restaurants, or at the kitchen table; Italians had made cafes part of their community. Coffee didn’t have to be just a drink, he realized. It could be an experience. The opportunity was enormous, and Starbucks, by limiting itself to roasting, was in danger of missing it. “It was like an epiphany,” Schultz recalled in his book. “It was so immediate and physical that I was shaking.”

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The Church of Internet Piracy

I recently went to Sweden for Businessweek to find out more about the new church of Internet piracy. The article has just been published:

Sweden’s newest religion may be the only faith that was born out of an insult. The idea to form a church promoting Internet piracy first came to an activist named Peter Sunde “four or five years ago” when he saw a comment by one of the lawyers seeking his prosecution for facilitating copyright infringement. Asked in an interview for her opinion of enthusiasts such as Sunde, at the time the spokesman for the popular file-sharing site Pirate Bay, the lawyer replied: “They’re a cult.” The slur provided a new direction for Sweden’s vibrant anti-copyright community to explore. “We have this history that every time somebody calls us something negative, we just take the name and make it ours,” Sunde says. “We were called pirates, so we said, ‘Let’s make pirates cool.’ O.K., so now, we’re a cult. Let’s make that fun as well.”

Thus was born the Missionary Church of Kopimism. Sunde never took action on his idea, but he mentioned it to his fellow activists and mused openly about it on the Internet. Soon enough a group had gathered that held sacred the act of copying information. The group adopted the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste, ctrl-C and ctrl-V, as holy symbols—the church has no formal doctrine regarding ctrl-X—and began to develop a theology.

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