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Italy: Car sex making a comeback

How the economic crisis revived the popular pastime of vehicular nookie in Naples.
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Fiat, the automobile of choice for Italian car sex. Here, Fiat 500 cars are shown on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 17, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Kevork Djansezian/AFP/Getty Images)

In Italy, the automobile has been associated with romance for at least as long as the “'bamboccione“ (or “mama’s boy”) has been recognized as a cultural phenomenon.

While car sex isn’t an solely Italian invention, it was the Italians — southern Italians to be precise — who perfected the craft, The Independent reports.

It really is quite logical. More than one half of Italians aged 18 to 34 still live at home with their parents. In Naples, it’s more than two-thirds. For a lot of these folks, the only place to enjoy a bit of privacy is to seal oneself in a car.

The epicenter street of vehicular nookie in Naples has always been just one: Via Manzoni.

Via Manzoni was the place to be since the brothels were shut down in Italy in 1958. If you could find a parking spot, that is.

The old timers recall that the whole city used to be parked there, making love under the stars, typically in a compact Fiat, cursing the gear stick always getting in the way. This amorous pastime even sparked a thriving retail business along the road.

Makeshift stands sold Scotch tape and old newspapers (to cover the windows), contraband Marlboro, pirated music cassettes and coffee liqueur to help set the right mood.

Of course, the people who remember what car sex was like decades ago, think the modern version of it is a complete abomination.

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It's Europe, they do summits differently here

Leaders agree fiscal compact - details left for later
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The EU's Big Three: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti at eysterday's summit in Brussels. (PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)

EU leaders met in Brussels yesterday. By their standards things went well. Contentious pre-summit issues were kicked aside - in this case, Germany did not push for the right to install a budget czar in Greece. Agreement was reached on a new fiscal compact for the euro zone, although the details of what was agreed were left for later. A lot of money was pledged, enough to make a person wonder where it will come from given how indebted many European governments are.

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Austerity bites, pt. 2

Second thoughts about austerity cuts as the cure for what ails Europe's economies
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Retired hedge fund manager George Soros at Davos today. He expressed concern that the euro zone's austerity policies would create social unrest that would engulf Europe. (VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

Austerity cuts seems to be the theme of my blog posts today. Heavily indebted European governments need to "deleverage," as the current buzz word has it, but how far and, crucially, how fast?

In Britain, despite warnings from the opposition Labour Party about the pace and size of cuts doing more harm than good, Britain's Conservative-led coalition government has reduced the size of government spending with abandon. Predictably Prime Minister David Cameron's austerity program has landed the country on the door-step of a double-dip recession. The economy contracted in the last quarter of 2011 by 0.2 percent.

At Prime Minister's Question Time today, Cameron contemptuously swatted away criticism from Labour leader Ed Miliband. But that is party politics. The IMF's chief economist Olivier Blanchard is no left-wing politician and he told the BBC today it would be wise for Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to slow down the pace of the cuts.

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IMF report sharply downgrades global growth and blames the euro. European daily economic round-up

IMF dramatic revision of figures projects euro zone as a whole will be in recession in 2012

The IMF has sharply cut its growth forecast for the global economy this year and reason number one is the euro area. Just last September, in its World Economic Outlook, the IMF had projected world output to grow by 4 percent in 2012, now because of the euro zone debt crisis it expects growth of just 3.3 percent. The organization made clear what this dramatic reassessment means.

“Given the depth of the 2009 recession, these growth rates are too sluggish to make a major dent in very high unemployment,” the IMF said.

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The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group have been on patrol in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has threatened to close the Strait in response to EU sanctions on the import of Iranian oil. (U.S. Navy/AFP/Getty Images)

Is the Iran oil embargo another staggering step towards war?

The EU's Iran oil embargo had been expected but that doesn't mean it won't significantly up the temperature.

Julian Borger at The Guardian has a lengthy essay on what this means and how the EU action might lead Iran to indulge in " ... harassment of the oil trade that would drive the price of crude up and keep it up, very much to Iran's benefit, but fall short of a casus belli for war. However, exercising such options requires subtlety and fine judgment on all sides and that is by no means a given. "

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Euro zone credit ratings downgrade ... reactions

Friday's Standard & Poor's downgrade of several euro zone countries' credit ratings have only made the faintest ripple across the continent
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French Prime Minister Francois Fillon shrugs off the Standard & Poor's downgrade of France's credit rating late Friday and visits the site of a big infrastructure project: the Cite du Cinema in suburban Paris (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

Given the hysteria that greeted the announcement that Standard & Poor's was taking away France's AAA rating (along with that of Austria leaving Germany the only euro zone country with the top rating) - at least in the press - you might have thought the euro zone crisis was going to explode again. Not so.

That isn't to say some political leaders weren't angry. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was, following Spain's downgrade to A from AA-, according to this headline in El Pais.

Rajoy to Standard & Poor's: we don't need economic lessons:

"My government knows perfectly well what it needs to do to improve Spain's reputation, stimulate growth and create jobs," PM fires back after rating downgrade.

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Euro zone debt crisis: focus returns to Greece

Negotiators head to Athens to try and nail down agreement on bail-out
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The rioting has calmed down in Athens but negotiations on the Greek bail-out aren't going so well. This week is crunch time and depnding on what's decided the streets may catch fire again. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

You may have thought the Greek crisis was pretty much over. After all the headlines from last November were: Greek bondholders agree to take a haircut and the country's Prime Minister George Papandreou resigns to be replaced by a technocrat named Lucas Papademos, who is more congenial to the needs of the EU's leadership in Brussels, and more important, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But as focus shifted to Italy and now to France, the Greek situation has remained bogged down in details. This week Greece's creditors in banks and hedge funds (not necessarily interested in the same outcome) plus representatives of the "Troika" (EU, IMF and European Central Bank) descend on Athens for an intensive round of negotiations with the Greek government.

Larry Elliott at The Guardian has the best line of the day on the event. "It is international finance's version of Sartre's Huis Clos, a vision of hell where three people who loathe each other are stuck in a room for eternity."

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Euro zone crisis: has a corner been turned?

The atmosphere is calmer these days - politically and in the bond markets. Why?
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Was Silvio Berlusconi's departure the turning point for the euro zone debt crisis? (ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

There is probably no riskier form of behavior for a blogging journalist than to claim that a corner has been turned in solving the euro zone's debt crisis but two weeks into the New Year it feels like something has changed - and changed for the better.

It may be a moment akin to something in an episode of ER where the patient is in the emergency room and the crash carts have been deployed and vital signs have stabilized and the family - you and me and everybody in the world who understands that a euro crash will mean Great Depression MkII - are taking a deep breath, sipping tepid coffee, and feeling tentatively hopeful that the patient will make it.

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Strong demand for Spanish and Italian debt sees borrowing costs fall

The sales reflect renewed confidence in both countries’ efforts to tackle their debt problems, with newly-appointed governments implementing budget cuts and other austerity measures to cut their respective deficits. 

Europe: Daily economic round-up

Draghi speaks, bonds sell, euro rises, markets calm
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Mario Draghi at his monthly press conference today. His words were like balm on troubled financial market waters (DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images)

ECB chief Mario Draghi held his monthly news conference today and re-iterated he is not changing anything. Interest rates on ECB lending would remain at 1 percent. The bank plans to make further three year loans available for euro zone retail banks starting next month.

The first tranche of three year loans was made available just before Christmas. Almost half a trillion euros was borrowed by around 500 banks. Since then almost as much money has been deposited every night at the ECB leading critics to say the banks were borrowing the money but not getting it out in to the general economy by lending to businesses or buying euro zone nations' sovereign debt.

Draghi told the press conference that the program was working.

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