The Malta Independent 19 August 2019, Monday

The never-ending story?

Charles Flores Sunday, 30 June 2019, 10:26 Last update: about 3 months ago

The other day, a bright young TV presenter was publicly asking how and why the media seems so hooked on this never-ending story of the PN crisis in the aftermath of the recent electoral debacles, when there is “so much else” to which they could turn their attention.

Quite obviously, he was seeking to justify his station’s blatant camouflage of the whole affair while the rest of us – in blogs, newspapers, radio and TV – continue to follow, with bated breath, events occurring in such rapid sequences that make one wonder whether the never-ending story is actually meant to stop. Figuratively speaking, it’s like having a bowlful of apples desperately trying to work out which of them is actually the rotten one causing all the circus.

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While the current PN saga has taken unprecedented twists and turns, thanks mainly to that one rotten fruit that looks like the rest in the basket but is stinking brown inside, this is not the first time the Maltese media has had such a field day. Nor will it be the last. We all remember the Dom Mintoff affair during Alfred Sant’s two-year Labour Government in the late 1990s. Sad though it was, the media lapped it up as we followed the goings-on – frequently and strikingly similar to the present-day PN scenario – that eventually led to a hasty general election (1998) which, unsurprisingly, produced a dramatic, second consecutive change of government.

That was more or less a never-ending story as well. The Media, again with the exception of the station having to defend the status quo, fell like hawks on the protagonists. With the ways things are going within the PN compound, however, it is difficult for anyone to foresee how the story is going to end – when or if it ever does. In the ‘traditional’ Maltese manner of dealing with near-future issues, the betting scale continues to oscillate between rupture and a coup both, of course, in the name of democracy.

Ivan Bartolo, a member of the PN executive – the one out of three namesakes with a penchant for resignations – at least had the courage of his convictions and came out presenting what turned out to be a dubious two-hundred-signature petition for the Party’s general council to meet over the leadership issue. Not doing anything, he argued, could mean there would be “no party and no democracy.” A bit grandiloquent, one would say, given that history is replete with parties that had died or almost died and been reborn. The petition was, in the meantime, superseded by another petition – this time from the incumbent’s side – calling for the rotten fruit to accept the reality of things as they have developed since 2013. 

In this ever-changing state of affairs, the media’s concern is the PN’s inability to officially identify the rotten apple and decide on how and when to remove it from the fruit bowl. How can one expect the media to act differently when this never-ending story continues to unfold into a soap opera of such quirky dimensions?

 

Fake began a long time ago

So it has now transpired that the moon rock given to the then Dutch Prime Minister by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969 was a fake. Previously valued at £308,000, the ‘lunar rock’ is confirmed to actually be Earth-produced, petrified wood.

The Dutch have a queer sense of humour. One of their TV stations once came all the way from Amsterdam to interview me in the middle of Mdina’s main square, asking why the Maltese national jury, which I chaired that year, had chosen to include the Dutch song in its vote when they themselves had thought it was such a poor composition.

Now, instead of crying ‘shame’ at the Americans (easy these days with The Donald at the helm) and quickly throwing the stone into some nearby canal, curators at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum have said they will continue to keep it as a curiosity. When it had not yet been declared a fake, the moon rock used to attract thousands of visitors each year. “We can laugh about it” was the stoic reaction from one of the museum’s investigators. See the assimilation?

But then, NASA is known to have presented moon rocks to more than a hundred countries, Malta included, following lunar missions in 1969 and the 1970s, which inevitably brings me to our ‘lunar rock’. Was it a fake too? I use the past tense since the stone was stolen from the National Museum of Natural History in May of 2004 and has since never been recovered.

Our piece of now dubious lunar rock from Apollo 17, presented to Malta by US President Richard Nixon more than four decades ago, was valued at a staggering £5 million. If the Maltese were also taken for a lunar ride, the thief – or whoever bought it from him – must be simmering in his own skin. Had he stolen the Maltese flag that was displayed next to the rock and which, allegedly, the US astronauts had taken up with them in their 1972 mission, he would have made a better bargain. Can we laugh about it, too?

                                               

 

Golden comeback

I know, I know. It’s a fixation on my part as a purely curious, amateur observer of things economic, but I continue to wonder what gold reserves this booming national economy is yielding. I am not using a metaphor for the unprecedented increase in the number of social benefits, the reality of almost zero unemployment, the drastic reduction of poverty, the sustained achievement of a budgetary surplus and the rush of foreign investment. I really mean ‘gold reserves’, those shiny ingots nations keep hidden away for a rainy day.

Throughout this month, gold prices have rallied to six-year highs, powered by countries seeking to move away from the US dollar. At a time when global central banks are accumulating gold reserves in record numbers, China alone has purchased more than 70 tons of the precious metal since December. In the first five months of this year, Russia added 78 tons, having already stocked 274 tons last year. In 2018 alone, gold reserves of central banks around the world surged by 651.5 tons, an increase of 74 per cent.

With the world’s two largest economies, the US and China, involved in an aggravating trade conflict, one can understand the current global hesitation. But as Malta happily slashes her debt to well below the EU benchmark, how is our real gold doing?

 

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