This article appears in today’s Malta Independent on Sunday.
Bank Error (Not) In Your Favour
We were beginning to cope with the idea of a recession weren’t we? Not that we really understood the numbers that were being crunched or the reasons why the effects of the innumerable bloopers by those that invest were being passed on to our purses. We were simply becoming accustomed to the general idea of it all. It ran something along the lines of less money to spend, higher costs of living and tough times ahead. We were getting ready to grit our teeth, tighten the belt and just trundle along as jollily as we could afford to be.
That was until EUROSTAT decided to rub salt into our wounds. I mean it’s ok to be told that notwithstanding the price of oil returning to more civilised levels most adjustments to prices in the energy sector will remain in place…. many never swallowed the oily justification anyway. It’s also ok to suddenly have become penny pinchers every one of us. Each to his energy saving bulb before the EU signs the death warrant for the wasteful precursors of the lights that shine like a million candles but use one tenth of the energy. All that was ok.
Then came EUROSTAT and they released an ugly statistic just before Christmas. They (these fine purveyors of statistical niceties) told us (the guinea pigs of economic laboratories) that your average Maltese person has the purchasing power of seventy seven per cent (77%) of the EU27 average. Now I have always been the first to confess an innate inability to deal with percentages and averages in the same sentence but it sounds very much that EUROSTAT are reminding us (just before Christmas) that not only do we have to weather the recession storm but that we have to do so with 77% of the purchasing power of the average EU citizen.
I happen to earn a living in the EU state where citizens have the highest purchasing power – wait for it – two and a half times that of the average EU citizen. Again, I am not exactly sure whether that translates as 250% but it still sounds like quite a handful more purchasing power. Luxembourg’s economy is blessed in no small way by the presence of a huge (proportionally speaking) foreign workforce that includes the European Institution personnel. These earn money (strangely still calculated on a Belgian cost of living coefficient) directly from the EU Institutions and then spend more than two thirds of their monthly salary directly into the Lux economy. It will not figure anywhere as a form of state aid but surely a nice injection for the Luxòs all the same.
Back to the spending power. So we have less purchasing power in Malta than the average EU citizen. Do not despair. One population that is really really feeling the crunch is the UK one. To make matters worse (?) the Brits still hang on to the Pound decorated with inventors, scientists and royals as against that drab euro (as one comedian would have it – the euro is for countries who do not have famous people to put on their bills). The pound has witnessed a gradual decline vis-a-vis the euro. On December 12th 2007 a pound would buy you 1.39 euros. A year later it is down to €1.15. The decline looks uglier when compared to the greenback. A year ago one british pound would get you $2.05… now it is down to 1.48. Woolworths is shutting down. Prices are being scrapped but the purchasing power can still only be described in one way… it sucks.
Pressing the Wrong Buttons
Ho Ho Ho! No. It’s not the misappropriated email that I want to talk about first. It’s RAI DUE. I was scrolling through the channels earlier this week and I did chance upon the screening of Brokeback Mountain on the channel some Maltese still affectionately call “is-sekondo”. I hesitated for a moment whether or not to watch the film again but I have developed an utter dislike of films dubbed into Italian (this might have something to do with French gradually replacing Italian as my third language but it’s beside the point). So yes, I did not tarry to watch Ang Lee’s gay cowboy Oscar-winner and this only for linguistic reasons and nothing to do with any homophobic disquisitions.
It transpires that even had I had any homophobic thoughts I needn’t have worried for the version that appeared on Rai this week was a watered down version. It seems that the version screened did not include the two love scenes between the male protagonists. Needless to say the gay community was up in arms. They (the gay rights people) are particularly irritated in Italy at the moment since the Vatican (a symbiotic neighbour on the stivale) has just criticised an EU proposal for the UN to formally condemn discrimination against gay people.
So Rai’s directors had to explain why a film that was aired after the watershed (the deadline where more adult movies can be shown) was still subjected to censorship. They replied that it was all a big mistake. When they had asked the distributor for a copy of the film they had done so with the intention to screen it before the watershed. There had been no intention of screening a toned down version, no homophobic censorship – just a genuine error. Someone had pushed the wrong button at the wrong time.
Funny how this business about mistakes seems to be perpetuating itself. You have to be careful not to criticise too much for you never know when it will be your turn to mistakenly hit that “send” button and before you know it your very dark secrets are in public domain. Unfortunately we seem to be heading to a situation where the silliness of the “mistake” eclipses the gravity of the content of the information mistakenly sent. While you may be forgiven with a slap on the back of the hand for sending an email to a political opponent, the dealing with information in breach of Data Protection rules is another matter altogether.
Errors of Judgement
Erring is human and forgiving divine, we all know that. Apart from all the erring and forgiving surely there is also place for a bit of contrition and admission of one’s errant ways. It has been interesting to note that the culture of lack of accountability is strongly fortified by a willingness to gloss over certain information and twist and turn the truth according to convenience. Columnists and opinionists can be hired (or even rise of their own accord) to defend the apparently indefensible and before you know it accusers are being shamed with some nonsensical argumentation – so long as the untouchables remain untouched.
Is that too cryptic? Let us get practical shall we? Only this week critics of the idea that the old opera house should house our parliament were told in no uncertain terms that “those who dismiss parliament dismiss democracy”. For a second I thought the title was some sort of joke. A Christmas aperitif to be served before cutting into the duck. ‘Twasn’t. Whoever came up with that formula was being bloody serious – as serious as the whole “wasted vote” notion… and we know where that took us!
Now everybody has a right to his opinion as to what should be made of the old opera house. Only last week I wrote of my serious doubts as to whether this is a matter for the majority to decide or whether it should be left to those who have an idea or two in matters of design. This would not mean however that anybody suggesting that a Modern Art centre and/or opera house should be built does not value the concept of a parliamentary democracy.
To be fair one cannot blame the voting public if the general reaction to creating a smashing new seat for parliamentarians is not exactly warm. You reap what you sow and over fourty years of dismal alternation and black and white politics mean that yes, parliament moves two notches down the priority list for the general public. You could argue the contrary – that a new parliament might provide more impetus and urge for fresher blood beyond the theatrics and partisanism – you could and you would have every right to.
You could also, like I did, argue that a magnificent setting for the new parliament building would be on the bastions – a huge hall with a large window overlooking the majestic harbour. Call it House of the Seas or something just as fittingly bombastic and majestic. Of course a new parliament building is a symbol of the importance we give to democracy in this country… but let us not, as we say in the vernacular, confuse our lettuce with the proverbial wind. Shooting down arguments against parliament moving to the opera house site by claiming that they lack respect of all that democracy is about is a bit like unpacking the “Wasted Vote” theory all over again.
A Comedy of Errors
In this time of pre-Christmas storms and sales the news takes an interesting form. The lifestyle sections of the papers start to take over and the closer we get to the 25th the more the news on “l-unu” (that’s Rai Uno) is taken over by documentaries about zampone, cotechino and lenticchie. Alitalia may be grounded ad eternum, Rome may be about to be submerged in floods and Turin might have become one big cake of ice – so long as we remember the Veronese origins of the pandoro and appreciate the importance of sipping on the vino moscato while biting into the panettone then the world is ok.
Here in Luxembourg we get to appreciate some regional Christmas traditions – a bit of a change from the anglo-saxon/italianite variety. There’s the Wihnachtsbredele, the Kugloff (hope I got that one right) and more which cannot come to mind right now. The main reason that my memory fails me is that I am experiencing a common phenomenon in this festive season as I write. You see it’s rather cold here with temperatures varying from minus three to the warmer one degree. It is thus no surprise that the locals tend to keep themselves warm by putting plenty of wine and spirit into Christmas – which is where the gluhwein (warm wine) comes in. I was rather overenthusiastic in the “keeping warm” department last night.
No worries. I’ll have time to recover during my tour of the Christmas markets in the region. From Metz to Colmar to Strasbourg to Saarbrucken … there’s loads on offer in this Europe of ours. Speaking of Europe, January will mean the proper kicking off of the MEP campaigns. I intend to start a little quiz (a quizlet not a quisling) each week. All you have to do is find out which of our aspiring MEP’s came up with the words of wisdom chosen by J’accuse. Yes googling will help. No prizes for guessing … you will only be filled with the spirit of knowledge and share their European quest. Here’s the first one. This candidate believes that we need to work towards “putting cats, dogs and domestic animals on the EU’s agenda”. Now that will take Barroso by surprise! Woof and Miao!
Instead of the usual tip regarding blogs and the blogosphere I would like to dispel any doubts regarding a particular blog which is enjoying a rise in the popularity stakes at this time (and which J’accuse really digs) . I am not the anonymous person/s behind http://daphne4dummies.wordpress.com -they did rewrite a slogan I had (mis)appropriated from another blogger, they do tend to cross-refer to my blog, and I do find their writings rather witty and engaging but let me put it in the words oft heard round the halls of the courts of law… it wasn’t me. Easy on the Egg Nog!
Jacques is going all Christmassy on https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. Why don’t you pop around and join the carol singing?