J’accuse: Growth Factor


This article appeared in The Malta Independent on Sunday (31.08.08).

I wasn’t sure how to start this article. I was hoping to kick off with a good pun, a good play on words or a direct statement that simply shocks. The problem is that this is a Sunday Paper (a cool one at that) and I am not sure that the editor would be too happy having the f-word bandied around in the title of a pundit’s column. I am aware that fellow columnists have taken to using the Maltese name of female genitalia to describe politicians but the f-word might be taking it a step to far. So as in the old joke, I’ll have to use a euphemism.

We’re Not Euphemism-ing Enough
Explosive fireworks, beautiful (beautiful) women, the sea, the sun, the summer nights, the great windy winters, the good food… we have it all. We are the happiest people on earth (apparently). Yet something is definitely wrong. We either lack in  euphemistic action or there’s simply too much use of flexible rubber (or latex) sheaths. Wake up Malta – our population is shrinking! It’s useless debating giving votes to 16 year olds (more on this later) when we only churn out “little maltin” at the rate of 1.4 per rude columnist’s insult.

We all have our own responsibility to bear – the men and women of this land. We cannot go on lagging behind. We cannot go on abstaining from productive euphemism and above all… above all… we cannot be beaten at the growth game by pesky Luxembourg. My eyeballs almost fell out of their sockets. The people of this cold, humid and garrulous (ok – if I am deported you will know why) land are predicted to keep on going forth and multiplying to the extent that their population will boost upwards.

Is religion holding us back? How can it? It’s the same religion that condemns condoms as abominable and whose main policy is best summed up by Monty (Python) – “every sperm is sacred“. Is our society then not geared for having kids? Are we discouraged by this rat race? By the soaring costs of living? Or by the fear that the nuclear family is no longer a dream of the happy home but an explosive bomb of problems? What is it exactly?

I think we should ask the French. For the first time in a very long time (you will notice I am lax with facts because I am ad libbing from this weeks’ newspaper reading but I promise it’s true), the French birth rate is back to two kids per mummy. On average of course. It’s the highest in Europe. It’s in a country where the church is the church, the state is the state and Ceasar is busy doing many euphemisms with Carla euphemism-ing Bruni (what do you mean get over it?).

I am not saying we should all become Brangelinas – the model 21st century couple foisted upon us by the paparazzi and pink news. Anyway I am not sure we could all find a shortcut through the diplomatic procedures for adopting kids around the world. Besides, I do sort of remember the PN government piling on the incentives for households to have kids. What is wrong with us then? Whatever it is I’d like to know. I can only promise to do my best – and contribute as much as possible… all in it’s own good time of course.

Look Who’s Voting Now
Maybe we should have a special day in which we all agree to retire to our bedrooms and contribute to the national population growth. Then we could celebrate the baby boom nine months later and keep both days as additional national holidays. How’s that for incentive? Then  we could begin to consider the newfound importance of the youth in the eyes of our budding leader of the opposition.

What was all that fuss about anyway? So out comes “Inhobbkom” Joseph and suddenly we are discussing whether 16 year olds should vote. Poor 16 year olds. First they are demonised as the horrible youth that they are. Imbibing large amounts of drink, causing havoc to the Paceville bar owners and even forcing the hand of the powers that be to write ridiculous bye-laws. They are constantly reminded that they bear the burden of “the future” of this country and suddenly – without their even having been consulted – they find themselves at the center of a national pontification of a debate. Should 16 year olds be allowed to vote?

Why do I get back to this point anyway? It is more about the reactions than about the matter itself. Take the young man who got many pats on his back when he said that giving votes to sixteen year olds would mean giving an extra vote to their families. “Bravo” yelled the rent-an-opinion crowd. “Well said” repeated the general yes-men. Not that he was wrong of course. In all probability there is much truth in the question of political DNA. The problem I see is that no one – I repeat no one – questioned the sanity of such a situation.

The debate never got off the ground as far as I am concerned. It was an exercise in mental masturbation that the New Left is unfortunately getting us used to. It was also an opportunity for the conservative wolves to  denigrate the value of our youth with a patronising “let’s not trouble the MTV generation with politics”. Well done. Very well done. Full marks to the young lad for spotting that the Emperor is as naked as he can be. Nul points for the gloaters who are actually content with this state of mind.

For the truth is that it is worrying – very worrying – that we can confidently assert that the younger generations will just go on parroting the old without asking any questions. It is worrying that this does not cause a reaction. I know, it’s my usual tune. They’ve numbed us into accepting this as a matter of fact reality. These are the kids who do not venture too far from the nest that is home and will even spend most of the university years (when they get there) under the protective wing of mummy, daddy and their tessera tal-partit.

They’ll join SDM and Pulse and mimic their elders (if they want to start climbing the ladder just like Joseph did) and hopefully find their little place in the system. Sad isn’t it? Sad but true. At the bottom of it all this is why the idea of lowering voting age can be shot down – because it only adds to the critical mass of sheep and flag wavers. It adds a new set – the MTV generation who think it’s cool to think up rude slogans for t-shirts and think that the whole point of elections is carcades and painted faces. A vote for our 16 year olds? Euphemism that!

I Hope the Russians Love their Children Too
I know that we spoke about this last week but there’s been Developments. With a capital D that is. President Vladimir was on the news earlier tonight mumbling something about the Yanks having something to do with the Georgian ‘provocation’. He went so far as to say that one of the Georgian generals was in possession of a US passport. Vladimir is kidding no one. The White House immediately described his comments as “not rational” but it’s not just the Yanks. The indignation at the Russian sabre-rattling is world wide. Prime Minister Medvedev attended some sort of Asian forum and left after having been forced to sign a document that implicitly condemned Russian action in Georgia.

The Russian Bear is struggling to rediscover its pride. The trouncing the Russians received at the Olympics was only another reminder that they still have not recovered from the topple from the dizzy heights of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Now the West is putting down its shaky hand. NATO has moved in to help with Georgian restructuring. The US is cancelling collaboration on space programmes worth billions of dollars for Russia. Europe (as in the EU) still cannot quite get its act together with the Germans struggling to condemn what they see as a good business partner.

The signs are not nice. Russia is still unsettled. It means business. It wants to be clear about the stakes within what it considers historically as its sphere of influence. They have not chosen the best way to go about it. The US may be in election mode but I am sure that no amount of sabre rattling will make the US forget its pride and weight abroad. Let’s hope that when push comes to shove there will be a more reasonable bunch sitting in the White House (Washington).
Otherwise the words from Sting’s song will come back to haunt us… and we’ll be hoping that the Russians love their children too.

Sons of Obama
The Democrat primaries gave birth to that most lovable of Presidential candidates – Mr Barack Obama. He already has his copycats the world over getting on the “Yes We Can” bandwagon of change. We are now shifting into top gear as the 4th November election date looms. We will be bound to discover new depths of Obama’s campaign when the affable success story and whirlwind of change is buffered with stronger policy arguments. Until then we have been regaled with a number of great speeches at the Convention – and here Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton merits a special mention.

I may not be the number one lover of things american but when it comes to political demagogy the yanks are perfecting it to a tee. It’s the speech writers of course, they come up with timeless quotes that give you goosebumps the instant you here them. My favourite bit of Hillary’s speech went like this: “…to make our government an institution of the public good, not of the private plunder.” It says it all doesn’t it? In a nutshell she hit on one of the main aspirations of the people of change.

Expect more as the roadshow goes on. Believe you me – how you live the next four years also depends on this outcome. It wouldn’t harm you to know who Mr Joe Biden is either. Osama and Biden. Now that’s a ticket.

Davy Jones’ Locker
…is another euphemism. The earliest known reference to Davy Jones is in a book called The Adventures of the Peregrine Pickle written by Tobias Smollet in 1751:”This same Davy Jones, according to sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes, ship-wrecks, and other disasters to which sea-faring life is exposed, warning the devoted wretch of death and woe.” (Yep, Wikipedia).

Unfortunately, the dastardly Davy Jones seems to have taken up permanent residence in the seas surrounding our islands. While we struggle to keep the flag flying on our population count we have witnessed the death of 71 souls that have perished in yet another fatal unfinished crossing. Bear with me as I once again use this column as a feeble reminder that all is not right this side of the world.

It is our problem too. It will not vanish if we ignore it – more souls for Davy Jones. We may not have the means to tackle it alone but we should take advantage of the fora of which we form part to ensure that it is being tackled. Otherwise we are relegated to the sorry status of undertakers of the Mediterranean… and heaven help us if we allow that to happen.

Jacques has been discussing the political properties of watermelons this week on https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. All sorts of people have an opinion about that… I’m sure you do too.


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