The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

People I like…

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 10 October 2021, 10:32 Last update: about 5 days ago

Bernard Grech: one year on

During this one year he's been leading the Opposition, Bernard Grech has proved himself an asset to the country, mostly thanks to his authenticity. Unlike the incumbent and his immediate predecessor, Dr Grech is authentic, with no pretensions. He's humble, down-to-earth, open and honest, and generally well-versed about all the usual things people do.

He's indefatigable, and - though he's clearly the underdog - he's leading his Party to offer alternative policies viable for the country. Some of them are so good, the government's actually poaching them.

The fact that he didn't have a silver-spoon upbringing gives Dr Grech the solidity of character necessary to make a first-class statesman.


Clyde Caruana

I like our Finance Minister. Let me clarify. I disagree with his ideas, almost fundamentally, but I like his approach. He belongs to those few who take an intellectual (as opposed to ideological) approach to problem-solving. I like, and respect, that.

The Most-Corrupt-Man-of-the-Year tackled problems ideologically, like a religious fanatic, only that his religion was Neo-Liberalism. Clyde Caruana's approach, on the other hand, is analytical. His solutions - though clearly misguided - are predicated on analysis and a logical method.

So, I like the method but disagree with the solutions.

I mean, in his previous incarnation, the minister was the brains behind the ballooning of Malta's population. The country needed an economic boost (analysis) so Labour imported foreign labour (solution). In the short term, it raked in truckloads of money. Long term, the impact on the country will be hugely negative and far-reaching.

The minister's obviously endowed with an analytical and logical mind (kudos for that) but he then proceeds to embrace solutions that ignore the new, albeit entirely foreseeable problems stemming from those very same solutions.

In the case of the population boom, he didn't take into consideration the environmental and infrastructural price to be paid for his push to pump steroids into the muscles of the economy, when he could've advocated regular economic weight-lifting work-outs. Muscle - both literal and metaphorical - is built not through quick-fix injections but through regular raw hard work.

By importing foreign workers, Malta opted for the quick fix instead of hard work (education).

Now, as Finance Minister, Mr Caruana is talking about the role of education in economic growth. Again, his method is correct: he analyses. There's indeed the need to change the mentality in this sector. If 13 years of schooling don't produce skills, why should two more extra years do the trick?

But then he proposes questionable solutions. He seems to ignore that those same kids who get little out of schooling, will then go on to master the rules of football, say: which team scored how much in which game, the (sometimes hard-to-pronounce) names of international football stars, and so on. And these kids don't spend 13 years learning this essentially useless knowledge - they learn it overnight. Which means that while the brains are there, something else is missing.

The minister's right: the mentality needs to change. But how to change the mentality when the State offers non-productive, decently-paid jobs effectively poaching workers from private-sector productive jobs? This is the mentality that needs to change.

If the average youngster figures out that irrespective of intellectual achievement, one day a politician will find him/her a Government job, that youngster will not want to learn anything. Why waste energy when an MP will roll out the red carpet leading to non-productive but decently-paid employment? And when the wheels of the economy keep turning as the Government consistently imports foreign workers from underdeveloped economies to take up employment opportunities in this country?

There are of course other elements to factor in. Minister Caruana compared Malta with richer, Northern economies. I'll ignore the claim that the Protestant ethic helped create these economies' wealth, despite Weber's famous thesis. Economic historians, such as Cipolla, have refuted Weber, successfully arguing that non-Protestant countries/regions too have become wealthy (take northern Italy as an example; but also Ireland, mentioned by the minister himself).

Instead, I'll insist on the linguistic element. The richer countries work in their own languages and use English as a proper second language, not as a make-do lingo. (In Ireland, English has become their language and they struggle to keep Gaelic alive.) Mine isn't insistence stemming from some "romantic" notion of folklore or airy-fairy nationalism. Other Europeans have achieved the mental precision needed for economic success by infusing their native languages, and therefore thought patterns, with precision. Even the smaller nations, like the Baltics (small countries that are making impressive strides), have striven to achieve mental precision by harnessing the full potential of their respective languages.

We Maltese, instead, persist in our neo-colonial attitude of communicating in a sort of English. Maltese speak in pidgin, displaying lack of subtlety and shade of meaning, double meaning, hidden meaning, deeper meaning... How can children learn the mental skills needed to make sense of the world, when the world makes sense only because syntax and semantics give it meaning? Incidentally, in its misguided crusade to reform the spelling system, the Maltese Language Council drove many away from a rational use of the people's real language. The situation is messy.

What I'm saying isn't novel. Vassalli understood these principles and even wrote about them. Two hundred years or so later, they are still relevant, as can be seen from the OECD's PISA Malta Report of 2018, which repeatedly takes the language factor into account in its analysis of student success, and failure.

An overhaul of the entire system and its mentality is needed, not just in the education sector. But can the present government manage it?

Consider the logic of those who govern us. Minister Caruana rightly points out that the national birth rate is plummeting (using this fact to justify importing more and more foreign workers). At the same time, his Prime Minister wants the discussion on abortion to continue. First contradiction.

Second contradiction: Dr Abela also wants the rights of the unborn to be heard. The mind boggles. So, (1) with a declining birth rate he wants to discuss abortion, and (2) when abortion is the right of the mother to kill her own baby in her womb, he wants the rights of the killed unborn to be heard. No doubt Minister Caruana - who clearly possesses a broad skill-set in logical analysis - will immediately grasp his boss' logic. Or the complete lack of it.

If the Prime Minister means what he says about the "rights of the unborn", he should write those rights into law. Why doesn't he kick-start the process to entrench the explicit protection of life from conception in the Constitution?

But while the Prime Minister flexes the muscles of contradiction and the Finance Minister uses his analytical abilities to come to wrong conclusions, the fact remains that ordinary folk don't need abortion, cannabis, and all the other liberal stuff. What people need - but nobody talks about, because there's big money involved and a lot of ideology - are innovations in less sensational aspects of modern life.

For instance, less sugar and salt in processed foods, in order to decrease the incidence of diabetes and high blood pressure. Less plastic contaminants in beverages and foods, to decrease obesity and infertility. Less mercury in the sea that ends up in the fish we eat, to decrease Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, autism, depression, and anxiety. Less pesticides on vegetables and fruits, to decrease an incredibly vast range of adverse effects... Well, you get my drift.

This is where public money and effort should be spent, not on legalising irresponsible behaviour. Liberals will argue that life being short, we should reduce misery; the level-headed, that it's wiser to strive for a healthier, and hopefully longer life, given that misery will forever be humanity's faithful companion.

It boils down to philosophy. And psychology.


And things I dislike...

The Prisons controversy raises many questions which I haven't seen addressed and answered on the media. And if there's one thing I really dislike, it's unanswered questions. Let's highlight four such questions.

1.     Do the prison authorities consider the possibility of miscarriage of justice? Are they mindful of the possibility - remote as it may be - that certain people end up in prison when they didn't really commit crimes? Despite its many safeguards, the justice system isn't infallible. This is one major reason why the death penalty has been discontinued: to avoid executing the possibly innocent. It's also one very important reason why inmates should be dealt with humanely. There's always the admittedly small possibility they're really innocent.

2.     Is the aggressive treatment alleged by certain quarters applied to all inmates or only to those with documented violent tendencies?

3.     Does the administration allow for different treatments, or are all inmates to be taught fear? Are inmates serving time for white-collar crimes regarded as physically dangerous as inmates serving time for violent crimes?

4.     Is there any psychological literature linking institutional aggression/torture to improvements in inmate behaviour?


The pro-tax-evasion campaign

Another thing I definitely dislike is the pro-abortion campaign being waged by that other Sunday newspaper.

Since they're at it, I'll kick off my own campaign: FISCAL PRO-CHOICE.

I want to pay tax only if I choose to; tax evasion is already being practised in Malta anyway!

I want to choose when it's the right moment for me to become a taxpayer, possibly never!

I've already paid a lot of taxes: I don't want to pay more!

I want to be empowered to spend my money as I want: MY MONEY, MY CHOICE!

To all the bigots: stay out of my wallet!

Fiscal rights are human rights!

And so on and so on.


My Personal Video Library (23)

The BBC has had a big hit with a "genetically-modified" Father Brown, the detective priest G.K. Chesterton created 100 years ago who has been transformed by the BBC into a sort of superhero.

While Chesterton's Father Brown short stories satirised how Protestant England treated Roman Catholics, the BBC's Father Brown is a Catholic priest who lives in what feels like a Catholic enclave in the Cotswolds and solves the inordinate number of murders that routinely liven the place up.

Like all superheroes, he wears a costume (a cassock in his case) and he wields a superpower (he appeals to the conscience of murderers and convinces them to admit their guilt to save their soul - the murderers unfailingly oblige).

On the one hand, it's a pity to see Chesterton's literary genius almost mocked in this way. On the other, it's telling that a Catholic priest should be so popular not only among a supposedly post-Christian viewership as that of the UK, but also in the 200 or so territories to which the BBC sold the series.


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