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Institutes of Confusion

confucius_akkuzaChina Today. It’s all about China isn’t it? The latest very superficial Memorandum of Understanding to be signed with what Saviour Balzan in his infinite wisdom terms a “former communist giant” was the subject of discussion in parliament tonight. The opposition raised some valid questions about a number of matters mentioned in the Memorandum – o as the case may be, about a number of matters not mentioned in the memorandum. One matter that both parties seem to be warm about is the benefits of cultural exchange with the global behemoth – in particular the setting up of the Confucius Institutes. Many seem to labour under the impression that this kind of centre of cultural enlightment has the same value as, say, the Alliance Francaise or the Istituto Culturale Italiano. Only it doesn’t does it?

Confucius Institutes have been set up the world over by China in an effort, true, to spread its cultural enlightenment to the world. These institutes though are not totally bereft of controversy and this mainly because of the very nature of their backer. Alas Chinese culture includes a dark void in such subjects as democracy and human rights. Don’t expect the institutes to be a shining example or learning center where these subjects are concerned. Last year a number of Canadian Universities were up in arms and sought to eliminate all ties to their Confucius Institutes precisely because of behaviour that was not fitting for liberal democracies:

Here’s The Times’ educational supplement (no not the Times that accepted the trip to be part of the Potemkin group selected by Muscat – the real Times):

The most recent controversy over the Confucius Institutes has flared up in Canada, where one university is shutting down the programme on its campus because of a human rights complaint and two more have declined to serve as hosts.

McMaster University in Hamilton, near Toronto, will close its Confucius Institute when the current term ends this summer, citing the institute’s requirement that its instructors have no affiliation to organisations that the Chinese government has banned, including the spiritual movement Falun Gong.

In the past few years, too, the University of Manitoba and the University of British Columbia have turned down proposals for Confucius Institutes to open on their campuses.

The Confucius Institutes are under the control of Hanban, a branch of China’s Ministry of Education. They supply money, teachers and Chinese- language instruction to universities.

The network has grown from one campus in Seoul in 2004 to more than 400 today, including 11 in Canada, 70 in the US and 11 in the UK. According to reports in the Chinese media on 11 March, the head of the Confucius Institutes, Xu Lin, has said the institute plans to expand to 500 branches worldwide by 2020. (Link)

There’s more in this article in the New York Times also highlighting all the strings that are attached to setting up a China funded institute within a Western University. In the article the difference between Confucius Institutes and the Alliance Francaise is stressed:

The British Council currently operates in more than 100 countries; the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institute, in Germany, all run on similar lines. And though the United States Information Agency library program has wound down considerably with the end of the Cold War, the State Department still makes an effort to promote American culture overseas.

However, none of these programs are based on university campuses. And according to Mr. Davidson, none adopt the same homogenous approach to their native cultures found in Confucius Institutes. “No one would regard Zadie Smith or Grayson Perry as someone controlled by the British Council,” he said.

“The Chinese are very clear on what they are trying to achieve,” said Mr. Davidson. “They want to change the perception of China — to combat negative propaganda with positive propaganda. And they use the word ‘propaganda’ in Chinese. But I doubt they have to say, ‘We’ll only give you this money if you never criticize China.’ The danger is more of self-censorship — which is a very subtle thing,” Mr. Davidson said.

Wikipedia, the site censored in the People’s Republic, has an article dedicated solely to Criticism of Confucius Institutes - such is the extent of controversy surrounding these units of Chinese propaganda abroad.  Academics find the idea of the institutes abhorrent because they symbolise the stifling of academic freedom – and they insist on being intrinsically linked to university campuses. Their use as a tool of propaganda while censoring controversial parts of the Chinese story (the three T’s are blacked out: Tiananmen, Tibet and Taiwan) makes them stick out like ugly warts within the Western concept of liberal seats of learning that is supposed to underlie the very basis of academic development.

On March 28, 2012, the United States House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on “The Price of Public Diplomacy with China,” focusing upon Chinese propaganda efforts in the U.S., including Confucius Institutes on university campuses. Representative Dana Rohrabacher said, “The two pillars of America’s status as an open society are freedom of the press and academic freedom. Communist China, which does not believe in or allow the practice of either type of freedom, is exploiting the opportunities offered by America to penetrate both private media and public education to spread its state propaganda.”Steven W. Mosher testified, “there have been allegations of Confucius Institutes undermining academic freedom at host universities, engaging in industrial and military espionage, monitoring the activities of Chinese students abroad, and attempting to advance the Chinese Party-State’s political agenda on such issues as the Dalai Lama and Tibet, Taiwan independence, the pro-democracy movement abroad, and dissent within China itself.”Responding to Mosher’s testimony, Rohrabacher argued, “It appears as though Beijing is able to expand its campaign against academic freedom from China to America when U.S. universities value Chinese favors and money more than truth and integrity.

That’s it really. It’s not just the US universities. Dealing with China means that sacrifices have to be made and reaching ugly value conclusions. Dealing with China brings in Chinese favors and money but the ultimate result is that what suffers are truth and integrity.

The object of the superior man is the truth. – Confucius

Our missionary position

missionary_akkuzaThis is a guest post sent in by a J’accuse reader. 

While everyone this side of the Great Wall is falling over themselves to figure out how much of our taxes are being used to remunerate “our” emissary in the Far East, one simple fact from the horse’s mouth seems to have been missed.

I, for one, could not care less if the salary Hon. Mizzi’s wife is supposedly on is €3,000, €13,000 or €130,000 per month if it means the overall economic boost to our nation’s coffers results in a net gain from this promotional mission. However, what is most striking, is that for all the hard work she is meant to have done in the past year, all she has to show for it is interest from a ‘top digital company’ to come to Malta and set up a ‘free trade zone centre’.

Sai Mizzi’s quote to Times of Malta reporter Ariadne Massa:

“This company is looking to set up a showcase for all Chinese products in Malta so that European countries will not need to travel to China to see their goods but they can just go to Malta, which is on their doorstep”

That sounds like top work to me, but only if your remit was to bring China and Chinese products to the EU. Does Ms Mizzi not know which side of her bread is being buttered? Apart from saving a little airfare for our EU brethren I fail to identify any benefit that this may bring to our economy. Even the trade zone centre is “free”!

A Nonny Moose

(All that) Bull in a China shop

allbull_akkuzaThis must be the year of the bull. I know it isn’t (it’s the year of the horse and there’s no bull in the Chinese zodiac) but there’s so much bull in the year that it’s hard to miss it. Only the other day Malta’s ex-Commissioner to the EU now turned “I’ll never bend over to the Europeans” repeatedly referred to a Dr BS in one of his apologias to the world. Must be the summer sun.

Anyways. Today’s Times of Malta reports a government spokesman as saying that Malta’s newly signed medium-term cooperation agreement with China has “sparked interest from other European countries seeking to tap similar deals”.

Malta will be the first EU country to sign a medium-term cooperation agreement with China when the Prime Minister flies to Beijing on Tuesday. According to the government, the five-year memorandum of understanding announced on Thursday has already sparked interest from other European countries seeking to tap similar deals. “We have been approached by four other European countries asking what this deal will entail to see how they can follow suit,” a government spokesman said when contacted. (Times of Malta)

The ambiguity of the phrase regarding interest is such as to raise a couple of questions. First of all, the minor detail, I believe that it is safe to assume that for once the government’s spokesman remembered we are part of Europe and therefore the “other” in that phrase means “other than Malta” (the alternative interpretation would be a sad condemnation on government spokesman’s geographical proficiency).

The second bit of ambiguity concerns the deal that is being asked about. Are other European countries interested in the same kind of agreement with Malta? Or are they genuinely asking Konrad Mizzi and co. for advice on how to deal with China? Both alternatives stink of stercus taurinum. The first alternative (European countries inquiring about a possible cooperation agreement with Malta) tends to ignore the fact that we are currently very strongly partnered with 27 member states of the European Union. Are these extra-EU European states? All four of them? Highly unlikely.

So chances are that the government spokesman was actually referring to the second option, namely that Malta’s government was being asked for advice on how to clinch great deals with the Chinese. Which is interesting and also stinks of bovine excrement. The statement implies that the poor European states (all four of them) are living in a sort of Martian isolation from the rest of the world and had hitherto never made contact with the Chinese empire beyond the cave. In this day and age when the Republic of Ghana has the remnimbi in circulation alongside the national currency it is hard to believe that there are European countries (presumably members of the European Union) that need the Labour government’s assistance in establishing ties with China.

Or maybe (just maybe, as Louis CK would say) they need to find out how Labour pulled off a very particular kind of relationship with the Chinese. The kind of agreement that makes use of the public good in order to pay off an inordinate amount of IOUs and commitments that were made BEFORE it was even a government. THAT kind of understanding where the contents of agreements are rarely public but where you can smell certain beneficiaries from a mile away. Who knows there may be Energy Ministers in European countries who have woken up and smelled the coffee and are planning a posting for their companions in far off Shanghai (remunerated by the public purse).

In the end it’s not the deals with China that are a problem. Sure, the whole world is currently rushing to benefit from China’s huge reserves that are waiting to be spent and invested in every corner of the planet. What remains a problem are the clouds hanging on the not too fine line of distinction between Labour as a party (and its favourites) on the one hand and the public assets that are entrusted in the hands of the executive for a good administration in the best interests of us all.

In that department at least I strongly doubt whether Labour has any good lessons to impart to any other nation, let alone European partners.

The ghosts of politics past

ghosts_akkuzaThe French news world was rocked this morning with the news that former President Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under “garde a vue” pending investigations into possible “trading in influence” that he might have engaged in during his presidency. Those more familiar with Italian political jargon would call a garde a vue an avviso di garanzia (indictment). What it means is that the person receiving the order is deprived of his freedom pending investigation by a judiciary authority.

European politicians (at least European politicans) would do well to look closely at the events leading to this state of affairs. Investigations had originally concentrated on Sarkozy’s 2007 electoral campaign – yes, the original Flimkien kollox possibbli or as the French would have it Ensemble tout est possible.  Sarkozy and his electoral team were suspected to have received funding from – of all people – Colonel Muammar Gaddhafi in return for future favours and considerations from and for Libya’s government. While listening in into conversations related to this investigation, the investigators noticed that Sarkozy kept a secret phone registered under a false name.

It later transpired that this second phone was being used to “trade influence” with judicial authorities in order to favour Sarkozy’s situation in another hot affair – known in France as the Bettencourt Affair (another case of trading in influence and corruption). Sarkozy would allegedly use his network to get important information about investigations into the Bettencourt Affair – particularly any information that would draw him into the case. This network involved high-end magistrates and police officers, or as Le Monde puts it: “ les enquêteurs pensent avoir mis au jour un « réseau » d’informateurs, au sein de la police et de la justice, susceptible de renseigner les proches de l’ancien président de la République dans les procédures judiciaires pouvant le menacer.” (the investigators have uncovered a network of informers at the heart of the police and the justice system that might have informed persons close to the former president with regards to judicial procedures that could be threatening to him). 

Quite a network there. From electoral funds and favours linking Sarkozy to a dictatorial regime to meddling in the judicial and police system in order to protect ones own interests. This is a strong warning signal to politicians – given a functioning system of checks and balances there will always come a time when past mistakes and abuses will come back to haunt you. Such events also highlight the importance of the rule of law and of institutions of review that allow for independent monitoring of the political elite.

Simon Busuttil at the helm of the PN’s storm tossed ship is surely aware of the dangers of the errors of the past committed by others coming back to haunt him. It makes his task of changing the direction of the ship and shedding that image all the more difficult. Sadly the people’s habit of thinking in terms of guilt by association – so often milked by past PN administrations and its sympathisers will not help this particular ghost vanish too quickly.

Joseph Muscat on the other hand is currently running the show of government without making too much of an effort to hide not so tenuous links with authoritarian governments. His main political moves during the first year of his legislature were obviously dictated by and dependent upon agreements with such governments or their people; three obvious cases spring to mind: (1) the Chinese influence on the power station; (2) the huge question marks hanging around the process of attribution of Malta’s passport scheme and those who would ultimately benefit from it; (3) the hopelessly short-sighted dealings with transient Libyan governments over the provision of petrol (and subsequent use of Maltese resources to provide “security” to unknown persons).

Add to all that the bumbling interventions in the army, the sorry state of affairs of the police, the current spats with the Ombudsman, the hideous conniving to postpone a judge’s impeachment – and you begin to see a ghost in the making for Muscat’s band of politicians.

En garde à vous!

Triton’s Sons

triton_akkuzaYet another tragedy has occurred in the Mediterranean. The Italian Marina Militare have found a fishing boat with around 600 people on board. 30 of these persons were dead in the hold – dead of asphyxia. As the mayor of Pozzallo decried the lack of space where to put the corpses, it is rumoured that (Commission Head Designate) Jean-Claude Juncker is mulling the idea of an ad hoc Commissioner for immigration.

Greek mythology has it that when Jason and the Argonauts were stranded on a Libyan lake (what could now be Xatt el Djerid near Carthage), Triton promised to assist them out of their predicament in exchange of a tripod that was in Jason’s possession. As Herodotus explains, Triton helped Jason and his Argonauts out of the lake and into the Mediterranean sea. History (and mythology that is an ancient way of “explaining” history) has a weird way of repeating itself.

Weird that Triton would come to the fore by assisting a pilgrim out of the Libyan deserts (Libya for the Greeks stretched from the Nile to the Atlantic) and into the Mediterranean. Weird that the deity inhabiting the Libyan cities would project such immigrants northwards, out of the dryness of the desert. Weirder still that this deity would be Triton who would command the seas with his conch and would be able to multiply into many Tritones – demons (daimones, dimonji) of the sea.

“carried him out of his course to the coast of Libya; where, before he discovered the land, he got among the shallows of Lake Tritonis. As he was turning it in his mind how he should find his way out, Triton (they say) appeared to him, and offered to show him the channel, and secure him a safe retreat, if he would give him the tripod. Jason complying, was shown by Triton the passage through the shallows; after which the god took the tripod, and, carrying it to his own temple, seated himself upon it, and, filled with prophetic fury, delivered to Jason and his companions a long prediction. “When a descendant,” he said, “of one of the Argo’s crew should seize and carry off the brazen tripod, then by inevitable fate would a hundred Grecian cities be built around Lake Tritonis.” The Libyans of that region, when they heard the words of this prophecy, took away the tripod and hid it. ” – Herodotus, Histories 

Rear-Ended Reporting

rear_akkuzaMinister Mallia has justified the posting of army personnel at the entrance of ministries by claiming that extra security is needed. “Security from what?”, we felt obliged to ask, “Ze Germans?”. Well, as it happens, the immunity and safety of our representatives (on the opposition side, but who’s bothering with these details?) was actually threatened by a holder of a passport issued by the Bundesrepublik.

One of the big news items yesterday was that PN MPs Frederick Azzopardi and Censu Galea were involved in a freak traffic accident that ended up with them being hospitalised. For a few fleeting news minutes you got the impression that there might have been some political motivation behind the traffic accident since we got a description of someone barging into the honourable gentlemen’s (yes, there is a bit of tongue in cheek behind the use of that appelation) vehicle. The description was one of crash, insult, drive away. Why else would someone stop and insult two MPs (two for the price of one even) if not for some political motive?

Anwyays. It seems that a traffic incident involving members of parliament must have some form of “crimen laese majestatis” classification (crimes against the king) since the long arm of the law were apparently up all night searching for the perpetrator of this crash’n’run. Now I have no disrespect for messers Azzopardi and Galea and do hope that in the end their hospital visit was for a routine check-up and that they escape the affair unscathed but you do get the feeling that our political class are reserved some extra attention worthy of divas a little bit too often. Would the PCs of our realm have stayed up all night trying to get lucky finding an anonymous perpetrator (not so anonymous – how many Volvos with foreign number plates can there be on the island?) if it was you or me who were in the driving seat of the car that got rear-ended.

What? You don’t know what “rear-ended” means? Oh come on. You’re so two thousand and late. It means (apparently) that your car got barged into from behind (hence, rear-ended) by another in a not too comfy fashion. I had to compare MaltaToday’s report with that of the Times in order to come up with that explanation. Sorry but some jargon is not exactly up my old-fashioned street. Also, I was rather thrown by the idea that two of our MPs drove a car that also doubled as a stationery. So that is how Frederick and Censu make ends meet? Selling sharpeners and stencils after hours?

Here is the relevant part of the MaltaToday report just in case you think I jest. I’ve given it the Lorna treatment. Been a while…

This morning at around 8.00am the District Police arrested a German national who allegedly crashed into a car carrying two Nationalist MPs, Censu Galea and Frederick Azzopardi [Strong people these Germans. They crash into cars and then walk off. Unbreakable]. The accident happened yesterday at Triq ix-Xatt in Pietá.

The two MPs were in a Toyota driven by Azzopardi and their car was stationery near the KPMG offices [Investigators are out on the street right now trying to understand whether the MPs car was actually being used as stationery by employees of the KPMG firm or whether the car was actually doubling up as a stationery on wheels] when the German, driving a Volvo with foreign number plates [Have you ever tried manouevering a steering wheel using just number plates? It's effing hard. I promise. Even for a German.], rear-ended [This gets confusing (see above). At first I thought the German did some weird manouevre other than use number plates to drive a car, then I sort of understood] and pushed the Toyota more then 10 meters [Let's get finnicky shall we? First of all, "then" and "than"... right... you got that one. Next up. "Meters". Electricity meters? Parking meters? Ah no.... American Style spelling of the measure equal to 100 centimetres] .

Following the incident, the man alighted [Did you know that the first recorded use of the word "alight" was in the General Prologue from the Canterbury Tales?] from his vehicle and hurled insults  at the two MPs. However by the time the police arrived on the scene, the man had driven away [having presumably un-alighted and applied his number plate driving skills].

Both Galea and Azzopardi were hospitalised and treated for slight injuries.

The search for the foreigner was on all night [They stayed up all night to Get Lucky] but it was not until this morning that the man was arrested at his residence in Pietá [Did you see that? Accident in Pietà, residence in Pietà, foreign number plates, and we spend all night to find him]. He is being kept by the police for further investigations and will be arraigned in court in the coming days.

Police Inspector Jason F. Sultana is leading the investigations.

O Jogo Bonito


Brazil were three-one up, the Cameroonian brave effrontery of the first half had all but faded and you got the sense that finally, in their third match of the home finals, the verdeoro were letting their hair (and oh what hair) down. The fear of losing could finally vanish together with the trepidation of committing that ultimate Marcelo-style mistake. Not that Thiago Silva had not come close on at least two occasions earlier in the match.

Still. Tension was down and bar a few unnecessary fouls by the Lions in green the stage was set for some beautiful football. And Neymar obliged. The chosen one had the ball at his feet close to the far corner, infront of him the impudent giant called Nyom. Neymar had a 101 options on how to go around the defender who had earlier, surely in a bout of heat-provoked insanity, gratuitously pushed the very same Neymar onto the photographers with the ball already out of contention. Would Neymar dance over the ball until the defender lay there hypnotised and then push it away beyond Nyom’s grasp? Would he kick the ball one way and dart another? Would he just cross over his head?

None of that. Neymar went for the Ardiles move. You know, the one featured in Escape to Victory (see video below), where the player lifts the ball with both his legs, rolling it gently until it hits the base of one of them and then loops it over his head. Audacity, flair, creativity – the core of beautiful football. O Jogo Bonito. Neymar’s move failed as the ball rolled away for a spot kick. Nyom was not having it though. He grasped the Chosen one by the neck and gave him a good telling off. The French commentator was jaw-droppingly on the defender’s side. “He’s right to be pissed off. You cannot mock defenders like that”.

“Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy.” – Socrates

Mock defenders? What kind of attitude is that? A few minutes later Neymar did a double umbrella on Nyom – leaving him transfixed. The telling off had not worked and Neymar still had more than a few tricks up his sleeve. And rightly so. Of all places and tournaments where we need more of the beautiful game, of the cheeky game, I would say the World Cup is it. Club football has become overtactical, overphysical and overcommercial. The stakes are too high to allow for the magic and beauty of great exploits and golden touches. So the World Cup where the only prize at stake is the famous golden trophy (and not the millions of the Champions’ League – the money at the world cup goes to FIFA and its nefarious plans of world domination). At stake is the glory and greatness of being the best team in the world – not according to IFFHS standards but as a result of a one-month tournament andhaving outwitted seven opponents.

There are so many factors that influence the final outcome that you cannot deny that the team lifting the trophy at the end is not necessarily the one that “deserved” to be called the best at the end of the day. We all know that cups and trophies are not about desert but about winning. Score one more goal than your opponents or suffer one less goal than your opponents – those are the two pragmatic philosophies of football that end up with the same result when successful. But from kick off to the final whistle there is some football to be played and we really should be encouraging the World Cup teams to show off their beautiful game.

It’s not just Neymar, it’s Dempsey, Messi, Kwadwoh Asamoah, Pirlo, Pogba, Mertens, Robben. Let them shine. Let them caress the ball and make it move in wonderful ways that defy physics and defy your very emotion. Is there really a more beautiful expression than that of Joe Hart as he watches Pirlo’s freekick turn in the air like a UFO on drugs? (watch Hart tell Pirlo about his impression here). Can we not all watch in awe as Mexico’s Ochoa pulls out the saves and moves of a lifetime, away from the misery of his Ligue 1 performances? Legend has it that during Poland’s 7-0 rout of Haiti in 1974, the Polish coach reminded the team during half time that “This is the World Cup” so they should not lift their foot off the pedal.

And now we have all this talk about “respect”. It’s the football equivalent of politically correct. By “respect your opponents” they mean that when a team like the Netherlands are cruising against Spain then they should stop after, say, the third goal. Out of respect. They mean that when Neymar can and will be able to pull off a magic trick against an opponent he should, if possible, refrain from doing so, and attempt the boring move. Out of respect.

Now I am the first to back the “Victory” philosophy at club level – much as I am a firm believer in the beautiful football (joga bonito). I will gladly watch my club sacrifice any semblance of beauty if only to get to the final and win the Champions League. But not at national level. Bereft of any sense of fanaticism I will only root for teams that showcase a beautiful game – a mixture of determination, creativity and flair. Which is why I cannot but admire Costa Rica, Chile, the United States and even unlucky Ghana at this stage. I would rather Brasil play a beautiful game and get knocked out than they win the trophy with a dry pragmatic team as in 2002 1994.

Sometimes a match can be the making of a champion’s myth. Look what 1986 match against England did to Maradona. Had he handballed or scored the “Goal of the Century” against Algeria or Honduras it would not have made half the impact it did. They called David Seaman Mr SafeHands. Until Ronaldinho decided to hit a free kick from almost the half way line and Seaman had no idea it was coming until he heard the ball hit the back of the net. Remember Branco and his cannon shot free kick against the Netherlands? Remember the exploits of Hagi, Stoichkov? Now name one great move by Greece’s European Cup winning team.

International competitions are over a short period. It can be too hot for some teams. One wrong game and you are out or almost. Then there could be a refereeing factor – because even these men tend to not always rise to the occasion. You could have luck on your side or you could kill the game until you make that one attempt to cross the centre pitch and you score. Take away the beautiful game from these competitions and you are not left with much. For those short seconds when a player tries the impossible you get the great rush and feeling of joy that only football can give you.

Then you are brought down to earth and Germany are lifting the trophy. Again.

That topless obsession

topless_akkuza The Malta Police have issued a video with a number of tips for tourists. This is a commendable effort aimed at informing tourists of their rights and obligations while holidaying on the island of milk and honey. I’m assuming that this is a serious effort and not some kind of parody and once again – bar the insistence on pronouncing “Malta” in Maltese while speaking in English – I will repeat that it is a commendable effort of the kind that should be encouraged.

Yes, tourists should be reminded that we drive on the left, that jumping off cliffs or high places can be dangerous (and once you are at it why not warn divers about the perils of rough seas too?). There is no doubt that the ins and outs of alcohol and tobacco policies are best explained beforehand and there is no harm in asking tourists to be considerate to the locals throughout their stay (will somebody warn them about the risk of being told to “Go back to their country?”).

The promo does verge on the comical on a number of occasions though. Forget the fake “student with head wound” in the water bit which might serve as a dire warning for all those planning to jump from Cominotto. I am more interested in the obsession with toplessness and “walking without a shirt” in public places. The Superintendent was rather eager to stress that the police would not tolerate skinny dipping, topless bathing or walking around without a shirt. Don’t offend the locals.

You see what is interesting is that under our criminal code, contravention 338(q) (“in the harbours, on the seashore or in any other public place, exposes himself naked or is indecently dressed”) is just one of a series of quirky contraventions affecting public order. It is of the same importance as the contravention committed by someone who “without permission cuts any grass in or about any fortification” (338 (a)). There’s also a contravention that is committed whenever someone “refuses to receive at the established value, any money lawfully current” (338 (k)) or one that is committed whenever someone “taking advantage of the credulity of others, for the purpose of gain, pretends to be a diviner, fortune-teller or an interpreter of dreams;” (338 (l)).

You think THAT is weird?  How about 338 (s) that deems anyone who “drives animals (whether of burden or riding animals) over a drawbridge, with or without a vehicle, otherwise than at an amble” to be guilty of a contravention? My favourite remains 338 (w) that deems anyone who “leads an idle and vagrant life” guilty of a contravention. Don’t miss 338 (cc) which  finds anyone who  “runs violently in any street or open space, with the risk of running into and injuring other persons;” guilty of a contravention.

I could go on. But back to out “indecently dressed” contravention. It was last amended in 1933 though I am hoping that the question of “decency” to be applied will use a modern day standard. Weirdly it only refers to “exposes himself” naked – thus excluding all instances of female nudity should you be of the literal minded persuasion. Why is it though that this particular contravention is given so much importance? In 2014 is a bit of naughty skinny dipping by a bunch of students in a beach at night really such a threat to public peace? Are we really to bother our magistrates and searjeants-at-arms with the problems of topless sunbathing or beer-bellies being overly-exposed?

The Police video also warns tourists about disturbing locals during their siesta. Sadly for the PC there seems to be a bit of license being taken there since 338 (m) does not cover the afternoon. It’s only a contravention if he/she “at night time, disturbs the repose of the inhabitants by rowdiness or bawling, or in any other manner;”. Bawling eh.

In the end, kudos to the Malta Police for the effort in the information campaign but please can we drop this obsession with toplessness and nudity? So much fuss for so little. Really.

Playing that Criminal Record

criminal_akkuzaThere’s an item in the news about the Earth Garden concert. The article title is “DJs ‘humiliated’ by police at Earth Garden Festival“. This is one of those instances where you have to wonder what the quote marks around the word humiliated are intended to convey. Is it sarcasm? Irony? Is the journalist taking the piss out of the DJs and saying that they are making a mountain out of a molehill?

I’ll leave you to guess about the employment of quote marks by the Times journalist on this occasion. What is more interesting, and worrying, is the existence of a policy that is being applied by the police in these circumstances with regard to the line up of DJs. So, from what I gather, when you apply for a permit to have a concert such as Earth Garden (in this day and age when people are paid commissions by government to look for garages for performing artists to practice in – coz we iz cool and with it) your line up of DJs gets vetted for any “priors”. If what the organisers said is true then apparently even a minor crime (I’m assuming possession) that dates over 20 years is sufficient for the long arm of the law to strike you off the list. I am also assuming that no such vetting occurs for the other people emplpyed for this concert – the barmen might have just finished their latest stint in Kordin, the cleaners might be on parole and there is (I am still assuming) no quick check up at the door to ensure that all concert goers have a clean bill on their social conscience.

If at face value (yeah Prima Facie) this is not already a ridiculous state of affairs in your mind then just put it all in context. This kind of attitude is a clear demonstration of our society’s lax and arbitrary attitude towards any sense of justice and equity. Policies such as this might (and I stress the might) have a place within a comprehensive program of – let me see – drug dissuasion. But is there one? What is the national policy on Dj’s and their role in concerts? Is there one? Has a spin doctor within the Taghna Lkoll government noticed the potential niche market and come up with some new groundbreaking “social legislation” to add to The One We Allowed the Puffs to Marry, The One We Made Being Gay Legal and The One We Introduced Social Security. (Warning, Irony and sarcasm might damage your brain)?

Not yet it seems. So the branch of the law that most randomly interprets policy and the rule of law decides to suddenly make even the most minor of infractions hidden back in time a huge handicap for DJs. yep. Just DJs. All this while the Prime Minister of the Republic openly embraced a convicted criminal and proudly declared him a soldier of steel. Mixed messages? Who cares? We work in niches and pigeon holes. Even far from the political rhetoric there is something very worrying about the haphazard way that we go about creating, applying and interpreting our laws and policies. The man in the street cannot be blamed for having a skewered view of the law and all that pertains to it.

Cause the police always got somethin stupid to say
They put out my picture with silence
Cause my identity by itself causes violence - N.W.A. (includes O’Shea Jackson a.k.a Ice Cube, Andre Romelle Young a.k.a Dr Dre)

This is the country that hosts the Isle of MTV and will (rightly) close an eye for performers such as Snoop Dogg yet small-time DJs will be struck off the list. A video about FIFA and its corruption is making the rounds – it mentions how in Brasil alcohol consumption was illegal in stadia until FIFA obliged Brasil to make it legal to accomodate main sponsor Budweiser. It is this kind of inconsistency that makes a mockery of any social and legal system. Policies are meant to be created and used with real social purposes. The law should not simply be a toy for bullying selectively and making a mockery out of citizen rights.

The law – the rule of law – is essential to the fabric of society. It can erode slowly and gradually but the ultimate implosion will not benefit anybody. Justice and equity deserve more careful and less partisan application. I will never tire of repeating the old latin adage. We are servants of the law so that we may be free.

“Police on the scene, you know what I mean, they passed me up, confronted all the dope fiends”- Robert Matthew (a.k.a Vanilla Ice, criminal record includes possession of firearms, domestic violence, expired pet tags, driving with expired licence)

They think it’s all over, it is now

match of the dayWhat better way than an historic footballing phrase to end this round of MEP elections that was characterised by a peppering of footballing jargon. I was told that I was still very pedantic in my posts (thanks markbiwwa) so I shall give you the bullet point view. Better still let’s do it pagelle style sticking to the footballing metaphor for a little while longer.

Final Result It dragged on for over 72 hours. We finally got a result. The fact of the matter is that the result was already there in the sealed ballot boxes before the counting began. Malta had voted with a significant downturn (80,000 non-voters) and the result was only waiting to be unveiled. It would be a laborious process made even more laborious by the fact that the two main parties were short of counters: the effect? Less agents to allow the skeleton crew to monitor every step. The PLPN system continues to debilitate our way of doing politics – down to making the smallest electorate’s decision the longest one to be read. Don’t get me started on ballot boxes abroad. Verdict: SLOW

Non-European I’ve tackled it elsewhere. There is nothing European about our MEP vote. The voters were dragged into another partisan sling-match and this resulted in a chain reaction of events that gave us most of the types of votes (see below). Interestingly you can compare the victorious Renzi’s approach to the result and that of Muscat. The former painted a red map of Italy – his first reaction was similar to that of our premier (we will not let this go to our heads), the second was to rush to Brussels with a clear message: this is a vote for change in Europe. The Maltese vote was absolutely not concerned about spreading representation in the European parliament for Malta’s best interests. It was all about “winning” over the eternal opponents. Verdict: ISLANDERS

Winners & Losers: There can be only one. That is the mantra that is sold time and time again when time comes for choosing representatives. This is the real winner takes all mentality that should not be translatable at a European level since we are choosing who represents us within the formations that make up the European Parliament. Instead we had the PM pouncing on polls and setting the target on an electoral “win” translatable in votes obtained while the opposition fell for the trap and accepted the challenge to a large extent. In the end, the “gain” for the Maltese is measured in how well represented they are in the European Parliament – at 3-3 it’s a draw between the Popular Parties and the Socialists. No Green representative yet again. At most if you really want a result it’s a resounding draw. Verdict: NO EXTRA TIME

Naming the votes: The ballot sheet had to be reprinted because of the Engerer debacle. More expense to the voters and a chance for more charades at partisan level leading to the infamous “suldati tal-azzar”. The alphabetical order gave us the “donkey vote” – unlike the one in Shrek this one is not funny and rather mechanical. Combined with the siege mentality born of partisan votes it meant that most times vote inheritance could be – to a certain extent – predicted. Bar the “protest vote” of course. Discounting the firmly convinced AD and Imperium voters you end up with a number of undecipherable cross-votes switching from right and left of the spectrum with an undignified nonchalance. Even the comical Zaren tal-Ajkla garnered a thousand plus votes that probably did not have the main parties laughing as much as the bored counters in the counting hall. Verdict: STICKS AND STONES

Racist Alarm: It’s a huge wart on these election results. Lowell bowed out rather late in the day having summed over 7,000 votes. You cannot see anything other than a warning sign in this. The intolerant vote is not one to be toyed with and the main parties are duty bound to tackle this head on without much ado while setting aside their partisan approach. Muscat’s final pre-electoral speech did woo the anti-immigrant lobby with much talk about standing firm – his record in this field is still not convincing when it comes to really understanding the humane approach – thankfully the warning signs were lit across the continent so there might be a renewed sense of cooperation among European leaders across the board. Verdict: SHAMEFUL

Simon Busuttil: The gun was jumped early in the vote count. The first result – the numerical one – was devastating for the PN. Many elements within the PN were as quick to speak of “defeat” as the elements in the PL were prepared to speak of “victory”. The after effects of the Busuttil vs Muscat bout were reaped at this moment – strike while it is hot. So on Monday and most of Tuesday the question put to Simon Busuttil was “Will you resign?” I do have the benefit of hindsight but it would have been much better for the the PN leader to wait until the sixth seat was finally decided before pronouncing himself on the matter. It’s all so different now that Comodini Cachia will be filling the last spot. Had the message been drummed earlier on about what constitutes a real victory in European terms there would not be so much of a conundrum within the PN. Sure, there is work to be done and it has to be done yesterday but given the starting point, the proximity of last years general election and the resources of the current PN the three-three draw is anything but a defeat. Verdict: SURVIVOR

The ladies: A pleasant aspect of the end result is the majority of women that will be flying up to Brussels and Strasbourg. Four out of Malta’s six MEPs are women. They deserve to be there in the same way as any other candidate deserves to be there. I am glad that this is a pleasant aspect of the outcome. It would be amiss though to not analyse this vote just like any other labelled vote. For a long time early in the counting process we heard about the Gozitan vote having an effect for example. There seems to have been some form of slight cross-voting between parties from women candidate to women candidate which cannot be ignored. Even if we grant that the last two (Mizzi and Comodini Cachia) benefited from the donkey vote in their own way there is still an acknowledgement to be made that women candidates found some special favour among the electorate (even within the labyrinth of partisan and protest voting). We cannot ignore the fact that women candidates could have been chosen over their male counterparts in an effort to provoke a different kind of change in the way politics is done. When I said it is a protest vote I meant a protest against the politics we have had until now dominated by male figures. If you like (prefer) call it a vote for change. Applaud it I will but in the end, as someone else has already commented, if they end up parroting their parties and allowing partisan politics to trump real representation then this change will not count for much. Verdict: A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

There’s much more to be said but I’ll leave these handful of points for your perusal. A plus.