Before David Cameron flew back from Brussels, last week’s political headlines were briefly dominated by a tussle between a man who has taken a vow of poverty and a billionaire tycoon. At an appearance in Mexico, Pope Francis criticised US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s stance on immigration. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Trump has pledged to build a multi-billion-dollar wall across the US-Mexican border.
With his characteristic humility (and cavalier attitude towards grammar), Trump replied: “If and when the Vatican is attacked by Isis… the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.” Trump’s supporters also noted that the 110-acre Vatican City is itself partially walled, ignoring the fact that, as CNN’s Daniel Burke noted, “anyone can stroll through the Pope’s front yard – St. Peter’s Square – at nearly any time”.
The real problem with walls – apart from that they’re mostly built by totalitarian regimes – is that they don’t work particularly well. The Great Wall of China, which Trump has mentioned approvingly, took 1,000 years and an estimated 400,000 lives to build.
Yet it failed to keep out invading forces. But perhaps the best example is the Venetian fortress city of Palmanova. Construction of this utopian Renaissance new town began in 1593. As Michael Caines points out in The Independent, its wall was “intended to express ideals of social harmony” as well as “warding off any barbarians at the gates”.
Yet despite costing about three million ducats (£300m in today’s money), it was so suffocating that “nobody wanted to live there”. Eventually, “the Venetians resorted to pardoning criminals and offering them financial incentives to settle”. By the time it was occupied by Napoleon in the 19th century, the “immobile Renaissance Death Star” had become a “miserable little town”.
Sympathy for traffic wardens
Parking wardens and traffic police are not universally loved. Like many motorists, I’ve often wondered whether they’re more concerned with raising revenue than ensuring road safety.However, sometimes it’s hard not to feel sympathy for them.
One 21-year-old Australian woman, Beth Louise Jarvis, has racked up A$153,000 (£78,000) in unpaid traffic fines in more than 200 separate offences. With little power to force her to pay, the authorities are publishing her name, along with those of other miscreants, in an effort to shame her into coughing up.
Perhaps Ms Jarvis should consider moving to Europe, where there is a more casual attitude to such things. The first traffic camera installed above a stop sign in France caught 517 motorists ignoring it in just one day. The police did the only thing they could: they prosecuted those who didn’t even bother slowing down and let the rest off with a verbal warning. Vive la différence, indeed!
Tabloid money: going for a song on eBay – an airbag, one careful owner
• “In 1980 a first-class stamp would set you back 12p,” says the Daily Express. However, that cost is now due to rise to 64p, with a second-class stamp costing 55p. Much of the rise has come in recent years, after price controls were scrapped in 2012 – second-class stamps are now 53% higher than in 2011. Yet, “the postal service is not a patch on what it was ten, 20 or 30 years ago… you cannot guarantee that a letter sent first class will arrive the next day”. Of course, “the world has moved on, with email playing an ever greater role in daily life”. But “a lot of people are still heavily reliant on the postal service and send far more than 52 letters a year”. These people “need a reliable postal service”.
• Police have issued a warning about fake airbags being sold on eBay, writes a perplexed Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. “Who would buy an airbag from eBay?” After all, “it’s not something even the most skilled DIY enthusiast would be able to fit”. Mind you, those selling them might have hit upon the “perfect crime… if you sell someone a fake air bag, they only realise they’ve been had as they are flying though the windscreen on their way to the Pearly Gates”.
• Prince William is living the life of Riley, says Carole Malone in the Daily Mirror. “He does so few royal engagements these days that it’s embarrassing.” And “he’s rarely at the 22-room Kensington Palace apartment, which taxpayers paid £4m to renovate”.
Sure, the Duchess of Cambridge has had two children in the past three years, but “so have lots of couples who still manage to do full-time jobs without the help, the money and the advantages these two have”. Instead of “being the man to modernise the royals”, the prince “is fast becoming the Prince Andrew of his generation – the one who ducks out of much of the work but still expects all the perks afforded by his surname”.