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Political prestidigitation

So they set up a Foundation to organise national festivities. So far so normal. This is after all the Malta of Saints and Fireworks where every raħal worth its globigerina limestone has at least one Kumitat tal-Festi. This is the country of the xalati and illum il-festa tagħna so the setting up of a Kumitat tal-Festi Tagħna Lkoll was just waiting to happen. No surprises there. It was even less of a surprise given how Joseph Muscat has been harping on emptily about some kind of breaking of barriers insofar as the “us and them” is concerned. The fans of the PLPN crowd have long obsessed about the greatest national holiday and about how divisive their respective celebrations can be. In truth the approach to each of our nation’s dates with history simply betrays a shallowness bred out of partisan ignorance and stereotyped fallacies.

Back to the Foundation though. The news causing greatest ripples across all the media was the appointment of Where’s Everybody main man Lou Bondi to the same Foundation. Oliver Friggieri would be chairing the committee and one sincerely hopes that his current health  situation will allow him to provide a decent input, whatever that may be, given the already limited (and doomed) remit of the Foundation. What really I found really jarring at the moment of the announcement of the committee members was the importance given in Malta to a new kind of professional – “the TV personality”.

Back to Bondi though. The net – especially the net – exploded with expressions of dismay bordering on angst as many a hardcore Labour supporter expressed his disdain that a member of the EvilGonziClique had been given a place in the wider court of this government’s workings.Everybody knows that Lou Bondi would  feature close to the top of a Labour hate list – trumped only by the one they refer to as the Witch from Bidnija and a close competitor to Lawrence Gonzi himself. And here he was – Lou Bondi – entrusted with the organisation of the nth anniversary of Jum il-ħelsien. Horror. Surely Dom would be turning in his grave.

The beauty of it all was also the reaction from the nationalist side of the national whinge fest. Apparently Bondi had just lost his credentials as a decent journalist. Really? Caruana Galizia even attempted to twist and turn the argument on its head by affirming that Bondi was not a partial journalist and that it was his impartiality that was being rewarded. In a world gone mad it was only another hapless voice to add to the chorus of dismayed and angered oohs and aahs.

The real winner in all this? Joseph Muscat. Not only has he set up a Foundation that is basically there to perpetrate the mental masturbation of an idea that is “reconciliation through celebration of all our national days”. Not just that. He has appointed one of the most hated personas in the Labour, chip-on-the-shoulder based, psyche to the very same Foundation that is supposed to be a stepping stone towards the breaking down of the “us and them” barriers. Chapeau. Really. A magician’s hat from which to extract the rabbit.

 Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”. – The Prestige

We all saw the object. The object was the inherent contradiction. “What? Lou Bondi appointed onto a board by the Prime Minister himself? Had we missed his billboard where he expressed blind belief in everything Joseph does?” We were supposed to be awed. Stunned. The wizard behind the curtain had his eyes on a bigger picture. Most talk and criticisim in the first 100 days of Labour rule has been about the way meritocracy was thrown out of the window. Merit was scratched from the vocabulary as billboard folk were appointed to government posts and most of the Super One workforce shifted to ministerial salaries. What happened next came as a surprise. All of a sudden you had the most nationalist of nationalists – a hated journalist, friend of the witch, cousin of one of the most disliked Ministers – elevated to a government appointed position.

It’s one big distraction. The biggest yet. While everyone and everybody complained we would forget the Marshalls, the Testas, and the Micallefs of this world. Muscat became the magnanimous. Too magnanimous. Under Muscat EVEN Lou Bondi gets a blessing. We even forgot to ask what this committee is really about and how important it really is. Prestidigitation took care of that. Just like the idea of building a bridge to Gozo. Now that’s a project that could only be conceived or supported by a Baldrick or an equivalent turnip. Muscat has not built the bridge and I am prepared to wager that it will not be built. What we have is the prestidigitation – the signing of contracts with the Chinese and the illusion that “we are thinking about it”.

All you needed to complete the magic trick was the couple of hired hacks who would sell the tenuous argument that all the unmeritocratic change that has been happening is normal and should have been expected. Give them the chance to look shocked and slightly angry that Muscat went so far as to appoint Bondi – it gives them an amount of cred doesn’t it?

The truth? The truth is that a wave of politically motivated appointments should not be normal and is not to be expected, no. That’s bullshit – particularly coming from supposed pundits and ex-columnists. When combined with all the talk of reconciliation and new way of doing politics, the wave of appointments simply confirms that the Labour government is one big magic trick that only needs a not too particularly alert audience to notice the scam that lies beneath the surface.

So while you whinge and whine about whether Bondi should have been appointed to a post by Muscat, or whether he should have accepted, remember that you are wasting your time.

Try to stop looking at the rabbit and the hat or at the magician’s eyes… look at his lips instead… that smirk on his face will speak a thousand words.

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”


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