Sunday, May 02, 2010

Staring at The Sun; or How I Began to Start Worrying About Daphne Caruana Galizia

The sun is great and all, but looking directly at it will make you go blind. One cannot help but think the same about Daphne Caruana Galizia.

When that volcano erupted earlier this year, Caruana Galizia graduated from the ranks of the outspoken to an unbridled temper with a laptop and a keen determination to wreak vengeance.

For those that are not her unquestioning adherents _ of whom she has many _ the spectacle has cast a car crash spell. But whatever voyeuristic appeal there once was has now begun to wear thin.

Reading Caruana Galizia’s blog, Running Commentary, once felt like trawling those YouTube clips of BMX bikers smashing into walls, but now it just leaves the unpleasant aftertaste that comes with watching al-Qaeda beheading videos.

But how exactly did Caruana Galizia evolve from an engaging and persuasive, if frequently disagreeable, poison pen letter writer into an unremitting practitioner of the self-righteous apoplectic fit? And why should any right-thinking Maltese person care?

The transformation was in part accidental; precipitated by media reports about her husband’s domestic abuse report to the police and the alleged whispering plot hatched by Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera and her friends. Her indignation and the torrents of abuse that followed, she explained between jigs of cholera-induced St. Vitas’ dance, was an adequate response to the brazen intrusion on her private family affairs.

Well, fine, it was an absurdly hypocritical position to adopt for someone that has made a cottage industry out of spreading salacious tittle-tattle and dubious insinuations, but what to do? She was scorned, and vanquishing her foes and salting their fields must have seemed like the only fair retort.

What seemed like a fleeting moment of pique, however, has now calcified into a permanent register of bilious ire. Caruana Galizia quickly took advantage of the popularity of her rage-shtick. Despite her affected air of insouciant contempt, she craves approval and infamy, or what passes for it on the Internet at any rate.

Running Commentary has accordingly morphed from a platform for a contrarian know-it-all into a round-the-clock acid reflex.

Deploying insults that she doesn’t always appear to fully understand, Caruana Galizia’s antagonists are now variously dismissed as slags, whores and chavs, among a panoply of other decidedly adolescent put-downs.

And it should go without saying that Caruana Galizia has still not located the exact whereabouts of her reverse gear. The bloody-minded tend to bear this unidirectional condition with pride, and Caruana Galizia must be in the running for some of award from the fraternity for her unremitting perseverance in battle.

That the ability to go backwards is not in of itself a bad thing, however, is a piece of wisdom quite unappreciated at Running Commentary. Even standing still is viewed with suspicion there, as the hundreds of verbose retorts to readers’ comments in bold black print attest.

Putting these quibbles to one side, however, there is no denying that Caruana Galizia is the closest thing Malta has to a proper columnist. Her newspaper articles are usually well-argued and mercifully light on disheartening attempts at wit and rambling insider-y references.

Her blog, meanwhile, is another matter. In addition to the qualitative shortcomings that inevitably come with this unmediated off-the-cuff format (see this blog, for starters), Running Commentary has facilitated the debasement of public discourse in Malta, not least by enabling the creation of the colossally foul and stupid Taste Your Own Medicine site.

But just because Caruana Galizia’s abuse is spelled correctly and more grammatical, it doesn’t necessarily make it any more worthy.

Malta is a special needs case when it comes to Internet debate, as the comments section under any widely-read Times of Malta article effectively demonstrates. This is why the country really needs its only effective columnist to cease indulging in petty verbal mud-wrestling, which only serves to engender a spiral of noxious mutual sniping.

It is easy to imagine how grating such an appeal would be to Caruana Galizia, were she to read it. She would bridle at the suggestion that her prominent role in Maltese public life puts her under some obligation to act as an arbiter for standards in debate.

But, simply put, she would be wrong.

If it isn’t too histrionic to suggest, I would argue that once we get stuck down this stygian Internet rabbit-hole of petty, scurrilous name-calling, the country is going to become a worse place.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Zodiac Columnist

Piecing together epistolary squabbles in The Times requires a rich blend of skill sets, ranging from investigative prowess, methodical cataloguing, and a healthy dose of psychological nous.
For the novice, there are the unending George Cross and internment debates, which will crop up with predicable regularity in the letter pages. The arguments and the people making them are invariably the same, and tracing back the well-rehearsed and badly executed duels is a simple exercise.
As a matter of course, the correspondent will open their missive with the tried and tested: “I refer to the letter by So-and-So (insert date)”. On any given day, up to half or more of the letters in The Times will begin with a variation on that theme – fitting with the paper’s evident calling to become a PO Box sorting house.
Beyond the routine task of fitting together the backward chronological order of the letters, it is also important to make out of the manifold grievances fuelling the anger felt by the respective jousting participants of any letter-writing contest. This can often date back several decades – to before a time when even the parents of most Times readers were born.
On occasion, however, the detective has nothing to work but the standalone text as a means by which to comprehend the inner workings of the epistle-composer’s mind. Like the letters of the Zodiac Killer, every epistle presents its own puzzle and no single link appears to make sense of the larger picture.
Such is the Internet scribbling of Anthony Licari, who teaches psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics (but no longer geolinguistics, it would seem). He is also married to a Russian woman 30 years his junior, one learns with interest, for it puts this choice Licari quote once featured on this blog into some perspective:
"Men of the West seem to be increasingly finding wives and partners in Eastern Europe. No formal scientific study that I know of has attempted to analyse this phenomenon. However, Western newspapers, often for reasons of sensationalism, like to print stories about East European women who have 'tricked' West European men."
So, already we have divined of our subject that he has aspirations to clinical insight, as well as being the erratic moth-bumping-into-light-bulb-minded goon that any regular reader of his column will recognise.
Quite literally, every single word Licari has ever committed to the page can be dismissed as inane gibberish on its own terms, but a recent exchange tantalisingly brings more fascinating strands to his “personality” – startling narcissism and almost childlike sensitivity to even the slightest criticism.
On Nov. 21, one Mario Dingli of Sliema ventured boldly to submit to the following pithy one-lined opinion:
“I am more than certain that columnist Tony Licari (who teaches psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics - very long words indeed) knows that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”
Harmless stuff, one would imagine. But as members of the Maltese blog-writing community know all too well, Licari is not one to take even the most passing of barb lying down. In immediate response to the letter, he posted this reply in the comments section (as sure a sign of having too much time on one’s hands as any):
“I have had the pleasure of discussing Mr Dingli's letter with the gentleman himself. I am pleased to say that the conversation was very mature and cordial. We did mention the fact that great writers like Shakespeare, Molière and Voltaire did use sarcasm as part of their writing style without indulging in a low kind of wit. So a negative opinion about sarcasm may not be a general opinion. Mr Dingli and I also mentioned the fact that other columnists in The Times sometimes use sarcasm and that their writing may be pleasant indeed. We tried to understand why I was singled out. This is the only thing that remains unclear in my discussion with Mr Dingli. However this will also be ironed out soon as Mr Dingli has invited me for a drink. Finally I wish to apologise to the world for teaching psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics. Maybe these subjects harm students of linguistics?”
Leaving aside the factual merits of the retort and the fanciful comparison that Licari appears to be drawing between him and the great figures of Western literature, there is the matter of his worrying insistence on confronting his adversaries face to face over drinks and snacks. This author of this blog is not the only one to have been subjected to such advances amid sinister threats of legal action for having had the temerity to question Licari’s lucidity.
As an aside, it should be obvious to anyone that it is by no means the subject matters that Licari inexplicably feels compelled to advertise beneath his articles that are of concern, as much as the teacher himself.
The world hears no more of Dingli for some time – and some perhaps wonder if they ever will again. But lo, on Friday, he writes in again, this time without his now trademark impishness, but with the dispirited air of an apprehended dog-botherer. He opens mournfully:
“I refer to my letter of November 21.”
What follows is recited in the simpering, contrite tones familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of 1930s Stalinist show trials.
"May I say that I have had a very friendly discussion with Tony Licari regarding the letter. May I also state that when I wrote that "sarcasm is the lowest form of with" I never intended that Dr Licari was "low". If I was understood in this sense, I apologise.
May I also say that I am looking forward to meeting this gentleman when, I am sure, we can have a very good talk together. I am sure there are other columnists and writers who sometimes are sarcastic in their writings and, here again, I am sure that they are not "low".
Regarding the quote itself, I think (I am not sure) that it was Oscar Wilde who coined this phrase. However, I hold myself open to correction.”
Unwilling to let it go there, however, Licari responds with a victory lap of sorts in the comments section, while presumably addressing some apt sniping from Andrew Borg-Cardona further down. If this seems to not make any sense and unfairly taken out of context, only Licari is to blame as the text is presented in full and quite unadulterated:
“Indeed the analysis of writing attempts to find a rapport between the writer and his/her writing. This rapport is often, but not always, discovered in spite of the possibility that a writer does not always wish readers to establish any connection between the person and his/her expression. I wonder, for example, if one may say - and be believed: "My writing is politically obsessed but I am not." Psychoanalysis of writing is one subject that perhaps overemphasises this almost inevitable rapport - which may be subconscious. It is also interesting to observe in some critics a strong obsession to comment patronisingly [thus not sarcastically] on all matters under the sky - if not above it. There is obviously a reason for this phenomenon - perhaps even more than one. I was once amused by an expression used by a letter writer, "zatatism", which is an unkind word - if I suspect correctly the meaning behind it. Finally I tend to disagree with the opinion of some that there is also a rapport between a person's shape and his/her expression.”
And what exactly was the point of this excursion in the nether regions of this peculiar man’s feverish mind?
Well, none at all really. But, and this is said in the weary resignation of a man that knows his words will fall on fallow ground, would The Times please consider barring this fucking nutter from their pages?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Dali M for Murder

Now, many people may dismiss David Casa as little more than crashing dunderhead of negligible importance and mental acuity, but his contribution to keeping our religious heritage at the forefront of our lives is surely second to none.
In this frenetic, modern world that we inhabit, what should be a daily habit of praying tribute to the baby Jesus, our Lord and saviour, and his saintly virgin mother often becomes the first casualty of venal, day-to-day endeavors.
But never fear, it’s Thursday and David Casa is here. This week, he devotes his routine bombastic claim of Maltese greatness to the earth-shattering news that the country has victoriously swept aside EU titans Cyprus and Bulgaria to claim its title as host of something called the European Asylum Support Office.
In characteristic fashion, he doesn’t deign to actually inform the reader of what this nebulous agency might actually do remotely anywhere near the top of the article, but he does indulge in an unseemly gale of verbal high-fives and Jerry Springer-style whooping. Read on and get the rosary beads out:
“Gaining the right to host the EASO comes after months of negotiation, excellent teamwork and coordination between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Maltese Representation to the European Union in Brussels. The lobbying and the huge effort that every official involved in this project made have given us thisprestigious seat. Hats off to those who made all this happen; these are people who, unlike us politicians, are rarely mentioned and are never in the limelight, but I think that their work and unconditional commitment should be lauded as they are the ones who make Malta stand out and they are the ones without whom we would never dream of being in the position we are now.”
Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph and all the saints!
It is mystifying that so many people should have written indignant letters to the paper about how unsuspecting youths could have accidentally picked up the small circulation university magazine containing Alex Vella Gera’s sexually explicit story, but that nobody bats an eyelid at this rancid, stomach-turning display of self-love in the country’s most influential newspaper. There are specialist publications for what is going on in this article, and they can usually be found in Hamburg sex shops.
Once the reader has recovered from the bout of dry-heaving over the Corn Flakes, they are at liberty to read on and discover what exactly this EASO does anyway:
“Malta in the centre of the Mediterranean will indeed be the most excellent location to better understand the phenomena that have caused immigration to soar in these last few years. The setting up of this agency will enable us to share ideas and act more quickly and effectively.”
Christ on a bike!
This kind of vapid flimflam sounds like it belongs in a television advert for washing machines and does woefully little to enlighten anybody as to what this thing actually does. It is hard to know whether Casa acts out of a lack of political acumen or some implausible scruples in failing to spell out what this body is actually for, namely (to slightly amend his description): “The setting up of this agency will enable us to share [immigrants] and act more quickly and effectively.”
Anyway, let Simon Busuttil deal with all boring “explaining stuff to people.” Casa has more gushing to do:
“Events and achievements like these are significant for our country. They are steps in the right direction, towards achieving the goal of a Europe that is equal but diverse, a Europe where the standard of living is the same throughout, where the conditions of work offer our workforce peace of mind; a Europe that is greener and, thus, the air is cleaner than it is now and, at the same time, a Europe that does not lose its traditional roots even at national level; a Europe that will still keep the same values that our forefathers fought for, the traditions that each single town or village has and the dialect that even the citizens of the smallest hamlet speak. It took 500 years of war and bloodbaths to have the Union we have now.”
Holy Mary, mother of God!
It is purely an accident of fate that Casa was born when and where he was, because it is frightening to think what would have happened if he had fallen under the spell of American cult leader Jim Jones. The image of him stampeding towards a big jug of Kool-Aid springs to mind.
“A Europe that is equal but diverse?” Equal to what, exactly?
“A Europe that is greener and, thus, the air is cleaner than it is now?” Jesus H. Christ.
“It took 500 years of war and bloodbaths to have the Union we have now?” Please God, make it stop.
Bored with this thoroughly inconsequential political onanism, he then turned his sights to voluptuous proposition of John Dalli (or Dali, as he misspells it on first reference, failing even to get his sickening sycophancy right).
“I again congratulate him and give him my word I won't be too tough during his grilling session at the European Parliament!”
Again, Jesus Christ! Grilling? A spit roast seems more likely.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

He's Behind You!

MADC is making a slightly unfortunate offer in promoting its Christmas panto:

Just one more reason for the children to be afraid.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I, Saviour Balzan, Is Clever

It is nice to think that an opinion set forth should be a decantered goblet of wisdom poured from a sage vessel of learned introspection, rather than the verbal equivalent of soiling your trousers when all you meant to do is break wind. In an ideal world, a thought expressed could be a distillation of education, wit and intelligence.
And yet, there comes a point while reading a recent Saviour Balzan column that brings to mind one of the best-known scenes from the biopic of Iris Murdoch, Iris. In the latter stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, Murdoch is comforted by life-long partner and husband, John Bayley, who tenderly recalls her vast body of written work, which she struggles any longer to comprehend. In a rare and dramatic moment of lucidity, her memories flood back and in sad, stilted measures, she proudly intones the words: “I … wrote … books.”
Now, she may have been completely gaga at that stage, but that scene demonstrates dramatically what even a mind withered by disease can achieve. Some will say that Murdoch was cheating in the first place, because not only did she bash out a few books in her time, but unlike Balzan she had probably read a few as well, without having to resort to the Internet for basic general knowledge.
All this being a roundabout way of saying that it never ceases to amaze how the pig ignorance of certain Maltese journalists forces them not only to filch material from the Internet in lieu being cultured, but also to think they stand any chance of getting away with it.
One might imagine that Balzan would have been too old to properly enjoy the cartoon Dogtanian in the mid-eighties, but it is evident that is where most of his knowledge of 17th century French royal intrigue comes from if his article on Richard Cachia Caruana is anything to go by. Well, Dogtanian and, of course, Wikipedia _ the refuge of every journalist in a hurry.
Just to back up a bit, Balzan attempts in his column to cast Cachia Caruana as the sinister behind-the-scenes operator _ a narrative so hackneyed and past its sell-by date that, oh my word, is that Smells Like Teen Spirit that I hear in the background? But witty to a T, he ploughs on with his distressingly idiotic attempt to draw a parallel between Cachia Caruana and Cardinal Richelieu.
Not that Balzan introduces the parallel that simply. Which is where his wicked and dimwitted scheme of plagiarism goes so terribly awry. For more, read ahead:
“People call him RCC. I prefer to simply call him “Cardinal Richard”, like Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu. Consecrated as a bishop in 1607, he later entered politics, becoming a secretary of State in 1616.”
The similarities between the two figures are striking, now that Balzan mentions them. Not, however, as startlingly identical word-for-word as the biographical notes on Richelieu provided by Balzan and Wikipedia.
A tip here for the aspiring plagiarist (as opposed to the pathetic, failure of a plagiarist that is Balzan): Change the odd word here and there, or Google _will_ catch you.
Also, try not to show off with additional detail like the date of Richlieu’s consecration as bishop. When even your mother is surprised that you have learnt to tie your own your shoelaces, you should not expect us to believe that you know _ off the top of your Cro-Magnon head _ that:
“[Richelieu’s] chief foreign policy objective was to check the power of the Austro-Spanish Hapsburg dynasty. Although he was a cardinal, he did not hesitate to make alliances with Protestant rulers in attempting to achieve this goal. His tenure was marked, among others, by the Thirty Years War.”
Again, as an aside, the parallels with Cachia Caruana are eerie.
The problem with Balzan’s article though goes beyond the mere impudence of thinking that copy and pasting out of an offline encyclopedia could pass for erudition. The cack-handed stupidity of trying to shoehorn this historical analogy falls even on the merits of Balzan’s own poorly written article.
He insists on never actually referring to Richard Cachia Cachia by name _ preferring like some loner ham-radio enthusiast to refer to him cryptically as RCC _ which tends to undermine his attempt to describe the villain as a dark and secretive master of shade and deviousness.
His (stolen) crib notes on Richelieu also do little to preserve the wretched, still-born baby in a shoebox misery of his argument:
“Cardinal de Richelieu was often known by the title of the King’s “Chief Minister” or “First Minister”. As a result, he is sometimes considered to be the world’s first Prime Minister, in the modern sense of the term. He sought to consolidate the monarchy and crush domestic factions.”
Unless the mention of the monarchy is some unfortunate reference to queens, it is again hard to see the relevance of all this. Other than, that is, 2,000 words-plus don’t just write themselves and it will be a cold day in hell when Balzan actually has to write his whole column himself.
The said conceit behind this piss-poor hatchet job on Cachia Caruana truly begins to unravel before your eyes, when Balzan (again pilfering liberally from his fount of all knowledge) reminds us that:
“Richelieu is also known by the sobriquet l’Éminence rouge (“The Red Eminence”), from the red shade of a cardinal’s vestment. Well, RCC is undeniably l’Éminence grise.”
Well quite. And if he were not so lazy and easily distracted to read past the introduction of the Wikipedia article, he might have learnt that the term “éminence grise” was actually applied historically to quite another person altogether.
The clue is in the term really. François Leclerc du Tremblay _ Cardinal Richelieu’s right-hand man _ was a Capuchin friar who wore grey robes, as Wikipedia helpfully notes.
Is that, therefore, what Malta is doomed to? Opinion by plagiarism, penned by individuals whose very existence serves purely to act as a flesh-and-blood adjunct to electronic knowledge.
Next time you see that ruddy-faced goon staring out at you open-mouthed from his column portrait, just remember that:
“Richelieu is also a leading character in the novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, as well as the film based on the same, in which he was portrayed as a main antagonist, and a powerful ruler... even more powerful than the King himself, though events like the ‘Day of the Dupes’ show that in fact he very much depended on the King to keep this power.”
Well, that settles that then.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Saving the World, One Article at a Time

Imagine the scene five centuries from today as wild-eyed mutant people sail the high seas Waterworld-style in search of juicy kelp and human flesh upon which to feast. On one of his many deep-sea expeditions, a gilled subaqueous scavenger chances upon the remains of Malta International Airport, where a handful of the fabled winged machines lie stranded in their watery grave. So much for the inflatable slide, a modern-day reader might be tempted to observe.
Through a little window he sees seated rows of putrefying bodies, little knowing that most of the ones toward the front of the plane already looked like that when they were alive. Drawing on his mutant strength, the door comes away with ease. The pickings are rich – casserole upon casserole chicken and beef, not to speak of a panoply of water crackers and processed spreadable cheese. Sure, dolphin and seal meat is delicious, he thinks to himself, but there is nothing like chicken to really spice things up.
But suppressing the excitement of finding so many dry buns and plastic packets of unsalted Danish butter, he reminds himself that what he is looking for is much more important.
“How did this happen? Who has the solutions? What could we have done to avoid this? This is what we seek,” he intones to himself, somewhat redundantly.
After all the years of searching, however, his day had come. For on this plane, of all places, was a surviving copy of The Times of Malta dated Nov. 7, 2008, tucked hermetically inside a pouch and held in place by the decomposed knees of a dead Foster Clark’s powdered drinks sales rep in row seven.
On the surface, a wise old man carefully leafs through the sun-dried parchment and nods sadly as the secret of what went wrong is finally revealed.
It turns out that the onerous task of saving the planet was entrusted into the hands of gibberish-spouting buffoons.
If it isn’t clear by now, it should be explained that we are dealing here with a masterwork of non-speak penned by none other than former Malta football team manager Pippo Psaila:
“True to its electoral promise of placing the environment at the top of the national agenda and its work plan for the next five years, the government, through the budget for next year, has, for the first time ever, put in place a holistic macro plan for the environment.”
Using up a year’s supply of punctuation, Psaila’s opens his manifesto for a brave new world doomed to drown in water and drivel with the kind of self-aggrandising style that befits his ilk. What managerial guide was he trying to read while holding upside down when he learnt phrases like “holistic macro plan”.
Woe to us that are subjected to this tale told by an idiot, full of claptrap and nonsense, signifying nothing.
To give him credit, Psaila is not shy of aiming high. The budget of 2008 aims to address no less than “global warming and climate change,” he argues, and shame on anyone who thought it was just a quick-fix sting on hapless shoppers and galoots driving cars that would be better suited to driving up and down Route 66.
Just in case the reader had forgotten just how holistic this budget is, Psaila is on hand to drive (environmentally) home the point:
“This is the first time ever, as far as I can recall, that such a holistic exercise has been launched…”
Read the article itself if you feel you have to, but rest assured that the most environmental thing to do with the hard copy would be to use it to line the birdcage or wipe your bottom with it, as people in Malta were forced to do in the 1980s. If you feel compelled to print the article out and use it as loo paper though, it is unlikely anyone would begrudge the compulsion.
The Russians used to do with their copies of Pravda, after all _ often out of choice. And the tone of that publication is what springs to mind when Psaila offer his laundry list on how the Party will save its people.
To précis one main points, the government will subsidise businesses to become more eco-friendly. But why summarize when Psaila himself puts it so succinctly in this elegant, flowing 91-word sentence:
“While advocating growth and economic regeneration, the budget provides key economic players with the right synergies to operate in an environmentally-friendly context where initiatives, such as the energy performance certification prior to the issuance of a development permit, the allocation of €33 million to promote the generation of energy from clean and renewable sources and the provision of €10 million for business and industry to invest in cleaner and sustainable technologies, combined with support for the compilation of energy audits for businesses, are all part of a very clear strategic direction.”
Moving on to transport, he rambles on pretentiously about how heavy emitters of “particulate matter” will have to cough up (along with along with anyone driving behind them) for their excesses. Again, he is too diplomatic to say that what he means is the Bob Marley-loving Ford Escort fanatics and assorted other working-class miscreants that will insist on driving only the cars they can afford to own.
And finally, Joe Citizen (his term) himself gets a look in:
“The possibility of exchanging high-consuming/cost domestic lamps for energy-saving ones through a voucher system is not only a far-reaching initiative but one that makes a difference in household expenditure and will go a long way to mitigate the announced increase in the utility tariffs.”
Although Psaila cannot compose a proper English sentence to save his life, he is cunning enough to shove the question of utility tariffs right to the end. Even then, it is casually dropped in almost as though it were a manifestation of natural will, as opposed to a policy endorsed by his visionary political associates.
The offer of providing Joe Citizen with a shiny, free light-bulb, a la The Sun, brings to mind that old gag. How many Belarusians does it take to change a light-bulb. “Vot is light-bulb, please?”
Is this shallow gimmickry and crass way to buy off the electorate with shiny trinkets, as though they were Native Americans trading their beloved land for pox-ridden blankets and coloured beads? Not according to Psaila:
“This budget has truly set the stage for what has to be Malta's future in energy generation and conservation where, through the initiatives announced, not only has the government come up with the first ever national strategic direction of some substance but has put in place those synergies to promote and foster a real culture change in terms of consumption and the source and application of our energy mix.”
The old man is indeed wise, but he has no absolutely no idea what exactly synergies are. Staring at the newspaper, he sighs ruefully and after a short while he sits back and smiles to himself contenting himself with the slim consolation that as bad as things might be, there is no longer anyone alive on the planet who will tell him that “it really is the case of putting one's money where one's mouth is and avoiding the usual rhetoric linked to topics such as the environment.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Downward Learning Curve

“Hey teacher,” sang a cherubic choir in overwrought prog rockers Pink Floyd’s seminal hit, Another Brick in the Wall, “leave us kids alone”.
Few students through the decades have failed to engage with the sentiment at the heart of that song, namely that schools are little more than chambers of repression where learning happens by accident. But no classroom is complete without its clutch of nerds and teacher’s pets, which is where poor Christopher Bezzina steps into the breech.
To give him credit where it’s due, he opens his column The Capacity to Create Better Schools with an assured, telegraphic intro that is Dickens without the verboseness, Melville without the tortured introspection:
“We are living in exciting times.”
So far, so good. There is certainly no problem with setting the bar high, but let’s remember that this is The Times we are dealing with here. When it comes to bars, the Olympic gold here is in the limbo dance not the high jump.
Fittingly, Bezzina torpedoes all his early promise with possibly the most unwieldy, and definitely the least interesting, sentence ever committed to paper:
“They are exciting times for those who want to be directly involved and engaged in the educational reforms promised by the Education Reform encompassed in the amendments to the Education Act (2006), in the Reform Agreement entered into between the government and the Malta Union of Teachers in July 2007 and the various policy documents that have come out through the ministry responsible for education over the past few years.”
Bezzina is supposedly in the business of assuring quality in the education sector, which holds out no great promise for whatever tedious government initiative about which he is writing about so uninspiringly. Then again, he is a technocrat and a satisfactorily grey one at one, so no more should and could be expected of him other than the parroting of hideously vacuous government policies. The educationalists churned out of the University of Malta need to be employed somehow, after all, and what better way than getting them to overhaul the teaching sector like monkeys typing out the complete works of Shakespeare.
Could anyone be blamed for finding this paragraph, for example, as inspirational as watching a dog being run over:
“Both the Education Act and the subsequent Collective Reform Agreement (2007) recognise the need to create a context for professional learning to take place within schools and their networks and outside, and to have professional staff that work within the networks and support the networks from outside to improve and enhance the learning capabilities of everyone - adults and students alike.”
Bezzina is apparently never happy with a sentence unless it is far too long, contains at least one date and repeats the key word no less than three times. Networks anybody?
But if Bezzina is the willing executioner of this largely uninformative puff piece on how the government is saving Malta’s children from certain unproductive cretinism, who is the enabler?
An abettor of inadequacy or excess can take several shapes, from the small-time pimp to the street corner crack dealer. A most disturbing manifestation of this abusive role was shown in a Channel Four documentary in Britain some years ago about the weird and perverse men that feed their gargantuan wives to states of such criminal obesity that they can barely walk. The women become so fat, their layers of overlapping skin putrefy and turn black, unseen but detected by the sensitive nose.
It is a disgusting and cruel form of indulgence that has found its home contentedly on The Times’ editorial board, where quality assurance might as well be a tin of chocolates. Nothing is too dull, badly written, rambling and uninspiring for the weasels that get paid for copying and pasting straight from their inboxes into the publishing software.
Bezzina is little more than a pride gourd to inflate, who will provide the reams of inconsequential copy to fill all the newspaper space The Times’ utterly lunatic advertisers will not buy.
So, to get back to the article… It drones on about improvement, learning, experience, network, unifying ethos etc. And then ends with the obligatory platitude about the future, God help us:
“It is indeed an exciting time to be in education. Together we can make a difference for the youth and young adults of tomorrow.”
Indeed, indeed.