This article appeared in The Malta Independent on Sunday on the 24th August 2008.
Never mind the Anschluss
The Russian withdrawal is on schedule. Or so they tell us. Picture the tanks crawling out of Georgian territory, the Russian Bear having done its questionable duty with enough sabre rattling to show NATO and co that it means business – even in what could be considered as one of the most Westernised of former Soviet Satellites. Georgia, as a Soviet Republic and then as an independent nation has always intrigued me. The land of Kalahdze and Shevernadze has a rich history and is particularly exciting because of its transcontinental geography – where cultures are bound to meet along the faultlines of great civilisations.
Putin’s Russia (Medvedev is to Putin as KMB is to Mintoff) might have unwittingly committed a faux pas by baiting the rash Georgian President into this Olympic war. It may have proved its point that it has guts to stand out alone and retain its sphere of influence but this might be of the same level of effectiveness as the drunken man in a bar waving a broken bottle haphazardly -he’s fast moving down on the “friends” scale, risking the general condemnation of all patrons and looking at a long period of isolation in some prison cell.
Of course Putin is not drunk (at least not when working) and much still has to be read into the feeblish response of the great Superstate that is willing to Shock and Awe in Iraq, Generally Screw Up in Afghanistan but only sheepishly ferry some leftover Georgian troops back home. A little rap on the hand for Putin from Georgie Bush and then there was the EU. Naughty naughty they said collectively. NATO said it would not be business as usual and Russia is suddenly the bully in preschool who has no-one to share the lunchtime break with. Unless of course it does not get busy stealing lunches during that time.
What do we make of it? A general redefining of the international power struggle? Russia beating its chest and showing us that we are from the days of Gentle Yeltsin and hot on the heels of another nation that acts nationalistic and totalitarian? Is this what had been predicted in the late 90s when they said that Russia would not tolerate further NATO or EU expansion into its sphere of influence?
Russia. It should be so obvious. Will we never learn? Napoleon, Hitler, and Risk (c) and Diplomacy (c) players learn it the hard way. Ignore Russia at your peril. If the EU were not so busy having its own identity crisis and disquisitions on democratic governance in the age of looming global economic crisis the answer would be obvious: Russia an EU member state … NOW. But then I am no stateseman merely a pretentious pundit. Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Ivan the Terrible and now Vladimir the bloody irritating. Good night, and good luck.
Slowly, slowly… catch a monkey
It’s official. The land of reggae is officially the land of the fastest people on earth. The Jamaicans have made a clean sweep of all the fast athletic disciplines in both the male and female categories. As I type Usain Bolt has just picked up another gold and World Record, this time in the company of three team mates while running the 4 X 100 relay. Son of Wind sounds more of a red indian or Japanese description but the sons of the land of rasta and sun have run like the wind this time round. It’s incredible when you see relatively small countries break the hegemony of Olympic powerhouses.
It is just as incredible to see Trinidad & Tobago and St. Kitts and Nevis make their mark on the sporting map in just the same way – de Coubertin may have been right when he said that it is more about the struggle and less about the triumph but there is a poetic beauty to see these little islanders achieving their place in the Olympic Pantheon. A pleasant surprise has also been forthcoming from a not-so small participant – Great Britain. This is the general warm up before the olympic hoops return to London (controversy and all) and the Brits are doing pretty well considering all the doom and gloom reporting that preceded the games.
In all this there is a lesson to be learnt even for a tiny, tiny nation like ours. Perseverance and dedication are always awarded. I have seen blog comments about Canada, with Canadian citizens reproaching their governments for not backing sufficiently the effort of its athletes. Money is not always everything. The Azerbaijan and Kazakh wrestlers receive money to the tune of 5 euro a month from their Olympic Committee. Not exactly Olympic backing yet the athletes give their utmost and bring home the dough. The olympic spirit, de Coubertin’s spirit, is all about dedication, sacrifice and daring to go for more.
Seen from the point of view of the 5 euro a month wrestler, the complaint of the Italian athletes who did not get a Business Class place on the flight back home (unlike the Italian calcio team) begins to sound superfrivolous. Even when such a complaint is disguised as some kind of protest against the positive discrimination football enjoys in the Italian sporting hierarchy, it just won’t do.
Play it by Ear
That’s how I work these days. Getting back into a winter routine and all. It’s always safer to employ a good maxim and increase the rhythm gradually. It applies to all spheres – take the gadget I had so enthusiastically announced as being revolutionary. I am talking about the iPhone 3G – the gadget I had prophesied (and not just me) would change the way you live and breathe. Well the iPhone is having teething problems. Big ones it seems. The biggest obstacles seem to be concentrated on reception (when it switches from 3G to normal network) and the support software services. Apple is still relatively mum about the issue – not commenting about the problems but issuing “fixes” at the same time.
Well, Rome was not built in one day and I still back the iPhone 3G as the winning horse. Google is on warpath in this sector – they have just announced their handheld communication device called “Dream”. This will definitely not be one to be ignored – particularly since it will integrate smoothly with Googles smooth suite of free service software that ranges from word processing, to calendar, to notebook, to maps and more. The only winner in this kind of battle is the consumer. And seeing that it’s listening devices that we are essentially talking about there can be no better advice than “play it by ear”.
Erring on the Side of Caution
… was not the spirit behind a confidential letter sent from the Office of the Prime Minister to AD Secretary General Victor Galea. In essence Mr Galea was being told that his position as Secretary General of a political party was incompatible with his post in the public service. There’s no contesting that such a rule as was being applied exists (in a code that goes by the acronym PSMC). There is no doubting that the correspondence did happen: the curious can go to http://www.victorgalea.blogspot.com for the full monty.
This episode does beg many questions though. Many more than are generally being asked. To begin with there was the backtracking of the PM’s office. It was of the kind that was best summarised by the Times: “a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing”. It’s beginning to be an inconvenient truth in certain issues. Like the arrest warrant handed to Harry on the eve of the election. Of course there was no political motivation. We are just bumbling imbeciles and sometimes we act on the spur of the moment. Oh ok. That’s all right then. Your not ill intentioned – just bloody incompetent. And that’s ok isn’t it?
Even if you accept that, there remains the uncomfortable fact that other people in Victor Galea’s position, but who were happily dedicating their time to one of the two big parties, never received such a letter from a scrupulous civil servant (on OPM letterheads but all the same without Dr Gonzi knowing about it all). Which could probably be dismissed with the same naive nonchalance as all the above. Just like the overscrupulous police officer who wanted to get rid of the pile of notifications on his desk, a civil servant somewhere might have decided to see whether it was time to revive an obsolete PSMC proviso. And where better to begin than with Mr Victor Galea – general secretary of the party that can only enjoy wasted votes?
Oh stop making a fuss Victor. Your party is already useless. The pundits who tend to blow the trumpet for the party with the relative majority have already advised you to disband that irritating party of yours and form some form of pressure group that does not risk wasting people’s votes. Most of all do stop wasting our time acting like some kind of oppressed minority. You silly, silly man. Have you never heard of the adage “if you can’t beat them join them”? It’s simple really. Anybody can become secretary general of one of the two open parties that think they have a god given right to represent the country. For heaven’s sake – you could even snatch an electoral loss from the jaws of victory and still be reconfirmed by party diehards full of recognition. So what is all this whinging about?
They’re right really. We should get a grip. We should stop thinking that politics is almost a vocation. It’s not. Political parties are the way of the future here in Malta. So long as it’s one of the chosen two. They have the media empire, the connections, and now you can even work in the public sector AND do your duty to party and voters. The sly people at Dar it-Trasparenza know that. They’ve even created a CEO to show us that we are not far from having a corporation on the way. What’s next? Buy a share in Labour… In the meantime the folks at the spanking new Dar Centrali are busy illuding us with some talk about all inclusive politics. If you are really really attentive you might even notice that PN is after all a liberal movement in christian democrat clothing.
Alternatively you can remain a realist… and a pessimist. Because change does not seem to be coming any faster.
Sometimes force majeure or uncontrollable circumstances will bring about change all on their own. Which is why the Carpe Diem advice remains one of the best. Grasp the moment and live life by the day. Destiny has it’s own funny way of throwing the dice and sometimes you might not be aware how all the things that seem so negative are actually the dark clouds preparing to exit (stage right) and let the little (miss) ray of sunshine, shine on in.
Then again, if you don’t really believe in destiny, or merit, you could always renew the subscription to the large party of your (limited) choice. You never, never know when that can come in handy. What with all these haphazard bumbling civil servants lying in wait nowadays.
Have a good Sunday… it’s Schuberfouer (a sort of end of summer fun fair) period here in Luxembourg. Which really means summer is ended. Who cares? After all we do live life by the day, in the hope that the next door we open will definitely be the good one.
Jacques still muses daily on https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. Occasionally people come by and throw their own ha’penny worth of ideas.