A lot of people have pondered whether television, and the slim, perfectly formed actors and presenters who appear on it, influence what the young and impressionable see as a desirable figure. Wonder no more. The case has been proved.
Our story begins in Fiji where, since time immemorial, the feminine ideal was the fuller, rounder body shape. Men admired what we would regard as the plumper look, and women were comfortable in their well-filled skins. Eating disorders among teenage girls were virtually unknown. Then, in 1995, along came television, and centuries of cultural assumptions changed. Harvard psychologist Anne Becker, who conducted the research, said that before television, no Fijian girl had induced vomiting to lose weight. Just three years later, 11 per cent of them had done so. They had begun to regard the sylph-like women on their screens as role models, and people to whose skinny appearance they wanted to aspire.
But this is not just a study revealing what happens with the advent of TV. It also – by examining attitudes to weight among girls with widely varying, or no, access to television – showed that the girls did not even need to watch television themselves to be affected. What counted, and what was enough even for girls whose parents had no TV, was that their peer group watched, and so imposed television's near-impossible ideals of slimness and sleekness on their friends.
* People, I think, generally get the governments they deserve – or, at least, the ones they are willing to tolerate. But this idea runs into apparent difficulties when we come to Italy. How, you wonder, as you return from Rome, Venice, Padua, or Umbria, can a place so obviously civilised and stylish bear to be governed by a man whose private life owes much to the unfortunate example of the Emperor Tiberius? The answer, of course, is not found in rented villas, Etruscan ruins, Renaissance palaces and charming restaurants or with the sort of liberal Italians who speak good English. It lies in the other Italy, the right-wing one which endorses the routinely racist press coverage of immigrants. And it's also in that curious attitude, certainly not confined to Italians, which holds that the government's leader, deplorable though he may be, is nothing to do with them and doesn't really affect the core of their lives, which is family. And so, Silvio Berlusconi, the 13th Caesar and by no means the least degenerate, merrily carries on. He seems like a national soap opera Italians are reluctant to turn off.
* The statistic of the week comes from a study carried out by the University of California at Berkeley, which found that there may, in the United States, be eight parking spaces for every car. Think about it: perhaps as many as two billion boxes, averaging 15 square metres (which includes access area etc). This works out at 11,583 square miles, an area equivalent to all of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Surrey, West Sussex, and East Sussex being concreted over and marked with white lines. The authors of the study say that parking spaces can be as environmentally harmful as the cars for which they are created, what with the making and transporting of all that asphalt, the "heat island" effect of it on cities, and the car use this staggering over-provision of parking spaces encourages.
* Among the mobsters arrested in New York on Thursday were "Jack the Whack", and Vinny Carwash. This duo now joins other evocatively named Mafiosi: Otto "Abbadabba" Berman; Tony "The Ant" Spilotro; Ronnie "Balloon Head" DeAngelis; Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso; and "Joe Jelly" Gioielli. Websites often mention the likes of "Eddie the retard" Lombardi, and "Hysterectomy Mick" Mancuso, but these, I suspect, are the inventions of fertile minds – a reminder that a good parlour game is to dream up mob-style nicknames for friends and colleagues.