LETTERS | Sunday, 18 November 2007

Caravaggio the movie? More like Caravaggio the hoax

I do not know if anyone else has already pointed out as to yet another ‘Caravaggio’ related rip-off. Yes, I am writing about what was gallantly splashed on various prominent local media as the world premier - that’s right, WORLD PREMIER – of the Rai Fiction and Titania Produzioni (Italy), the Institut del Cinema Catala (Spain), EOS Entertainment (Germany) and GMT Productions (France) feature movie on Caravaggio.
Should anyone would like to check this out, they can search on their favourite search engine and voilà; except for one little problem. Apart from the Maltese internet sites I could not find any mention of such an event anywhere, not even the Rai Fiction official site. Now I used to think that world premiered movies would at the very least be mentioned such. So what happened was this.
I read about the event, got excited, made my way to the ‘Eden Century Cinema’ box office and parted with a hard earned fiver (Lm5) in exchange for a ticket for this one-time event. Unfortunately these were the worst Lm5 ever spent, given that all this was a hoax. That’s right, because if this was not a hoax can someone please explain to me the appalling pictures and sound quality? The screen aspect ratio was not of cinema standard. All through the movie there was low interference, faint horizontal lines on the picture which occasionally drifted in and out of focus. The sound was not your usual fanfare but stereo at best, and of a very narrow midrange quality reminiscent of cheap desktop speakers, only louder. At one point the mouse pointer from the PC appeared on the majestic silver screen.
I am not kidding. I paid Lm5 for what seems to have been a cheap, downloaded pirate version of a great epic movie by RAI. This so-called world premier was organised by Renaissance Productions in collaboration with Heritage Malta, not to mention all the prominent sponsors. Funnily enough, by the time the movie was over all the Caravaggio movie posters at the Eden Century were removed. Coincidence? I have hunch that it was not.
How long will it be for that day when companies, especially those working for profit will be made accountable? As for anything which is run by the state, well enough said. Oh, the shame.

Gilbert Micallef


The cost of hot air

By strange coincidence both your resident columnists John Dalli and Anna Mallia took up the subject of energy in Malta Today of 11 November. For the first, the spur was the soaring price of crude, while for the second the threat comes from possible penalties for exceeding our EU-determined CO2 emissions. Regrettably, neither columnist appeared to be particularly well informed, though it would be unfair to put John Dalli anywhere near the elevated level of misinformation that Anna Mallia operates on, in this case at least.
Mr Dalli mentions coal “properly managed and properly processed to filter all CO2 emissions” as one alternative source of cheaper energy. The CO2 that is captured into permanent or long-term storage to keep it out of atmospheric circulation. The technology does indeed exist. It is not yet fully on the market; cost is reckoned at €50-60 per tonne of captured CO2. For application at Delimara, there are a number of problems: space for coal storage; adapting Delimara boilers to take coal… although, irony of ironies, their original design was intended to take coal and oil; finding a suitable store for the CO2… A rather more attractive alternative is to keep oil firing and capture the CO2 as feed for algae that produce biofuel.
A “careful” analysis of nuclear power is not likely to yield much in our situation. Some current designs are on a scale more suited to our needs — 500MW rather than the 1000MW usual in the past. We would still need some conventional generating capacity to meet demand peaks. Leaving aside the capital cost, the heavy cost of final dismantling and of storing long-lived waste, the long lead time poses a simple question. Where do we put it? There is no space at Delimara for such an installation while retaining adequate generating capacity for the several years the plant requires to come on stream. Can we spare anywhere else, and is it safe anywhere?
Mr Dalli is not convinced that wind energy is an alternative for us, the reason why he does not tell. Wind, I would suggest, is one of the alternatives open to us, an alternative moreover which could have been yielding significant dividends by now if we had not dragged our feet. There are others, more to Mr Dalli’s liking, like photo-voltaic (PV) panels. Here an attractive incentive package will give a more rapid yield than “new technologies”. The PV glass mentioned by Mr Dalli is not new and it is not anything as good as he makes out. There is no chance that a few windows will “generate all the power that a house needs.” And then, increasing the area of glazing could easily increase the air conditioning load of a building.
The confusion in the writing of Ms Mallia protects it against riposte. To pick on a few points – if it came to the pinch, we would surely choose to buy carbon credits at perhaps €10 a tonne than pay a fine at €100 a tonne. But it need not come to that. Without running serious risk, we could drop the so-called New Entrant Reserve, which the National Allocation Plan itself says is most unlikely to be called upon. That would almost meet the EU demand. An energy efficiency campaign with real drive could complete the job.
On diesel and sulphur Ms Mallia goes completely haywire. For a start, the major generation fuel is Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) not diesel. For a long time Enemalta was using HFO with 3% sulphur, ignoring the loud chorus of justified complaints at the quantities of sulphur dioxide (SO2) produced by the power stations. The EU has imposed the use of 1% sulphur HFO, which costs more; we say we are complying, but as the monitoring equipment at both power stations is not functioning, there is no confirmation of that, as the EU keeps pointing out. Now if Ms Mallia prefers cheaper and dirtier HFO, as she seems to do, she can always write to the appropriate commissioners in Brussels to convince them to allow us to continue to choke our citizens and erode our stonework.
Diesel hardly comes into this matter. Enemalta does use diesel in its “gas” turbines, but it has been buying low (<0.5%) diesel for years; and the present transport diesel has less than 0.1% sulphur. In any case, “better (higher sulphur?) and cheaper diesel” is a figment of Mallia’s imagination.

Prof. E.A. Mallia


Annie get your gun

Anna Mallia’s opinion column of 7 October (“A Gunshot Country”) concludes with the line: “We feel utterly disgusted.”
If this piece represents her own opinion (to which she is entitled, no matter how obnoxious) who are the “we” she refers to? Is it the paper, her friends, fellow journalists? If there is anyone who should be utterly disgusted then it is us serious gun enthusiasts and the authorities when confronted by Ms Mallia’s cheap and irresponsible reporting, which scrapes the bottom of the barrel of mediocrity.
Ms Mallia appears to have been stirred into writing this piece by the gun shop adverts which appeared in the AFM “On Parade” magazine (incidentally, it was three adverts, and not two as quoted). Her piece quotes (verbatim, in some cases) from The Times’ editorial of 1 October and is therefore peppered with the same gross errors and misinformation.
Both the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs and the Association of Maltese Arms Collectors & Shooters (AMACS) set the record straight in subsequent letters to the editor. The latter was man enough to apologise for the errors. Ms Mallia must have missed these replies, otherwise she would not have repeated the same drivel.
We need not go into detail and list all the absurdities with which your readers were regaled. They may wish to refer to the AMACS reply in the 6 October issue entitled “The pen and the sword”. To this we may add that it is only in Ms Mallia’s fertile imagination that any Tom, Dick and Harry (or Annie for that matter) may walk into a shop and walk out with a Kalashnikov (unless she is referring to the vodka which bears the same name). Only licensed target shooters and collectors may purchase firearms.
Unbelievably, she goes on to state that once a licensed person obtains a firearm he can donate it or lose it without any trace and liability. You can try it, but we recommend that you first read Part XI of the Arms Act, Articles 51 to 64 – Offences against the Act. And instead of panicking and unduly alarming your readers, she would do well to consult the police to confirm the number of persons licensed as target shooters and she would realise that only a limited number of enthusiasts manage to acquire the licence. In the case of collectors the figure is even lower. Moreover, the number of licensed gun dealers remains a very small figure. But even if there were a thousand gun dealers, their combined clientele would still be limited to the few licensed target shooters and collectors. Contrary to what Ms Mallia wrote, our arms legislation has not been “liberalised”. In effect the Arms Act restricts the sale of firearms to persons who qualify as collectors and/or target shooters. It is under the previous law that one could purchase a firearm irrespective of the motives.
It is beyond us why a learned person like Ms Mallia, who actually served on one of the Government-appointed committees which recommended changes to the old Arms Ordinance (and which are the basis of today’s Arms Act), could pen such an ill-researched piece. Did she bother reading through the Act and Regulations? Did she consult the Ministry, the Police, the Weapons Board, the dealers, the clubs? Apparently not. After all, plagiarising other papers’ reports is far easier. To this may be added the pathetic attempt on Friday 5 by a crony who phoned some dealers from the same publisher’s office and feigned an attempt to purchase a gun – the poor idiot delegated to the task didn’t know what hit him when faced with technical questions.
Annie get your gun... but do get your facts right and don’t shoot from the hip.

Stephen A. Petroni
o.b.o. Association of Maltese Arms Collectors & Shooters (AMACS),


Malta must be freed

While through the medium of your newspaper, I congratulate the production company Unifaun for a most successful run of Equus – easily the best production we theatregoers have had in 2007 – there is a socio-cultural Maltese significance behind the public lure of this and similarly-oriented productions.
Our people have long become liberals, but are scared to demonstrate their liberalism publicly because of insularity-connected issues. Such plays give vent to the inner repressions most of our people feel on matters like the manipulative influence of the Catholic Curia; legislating for divorce, cohabitation, euthanasia, gay rights, women`s rights (for instance, the decriminalisation of abortion); authentic respect for fundamental  individual freedoms of thought, expression, opinion and communication; liberal media laws and assertive access to the media of diverging views; and above all the gargantuan overpowering hold on our feeble society of the two major political parties with their hypocritical stances.
Malta must be freed!
Equus and Paul, by the same production group, are the types of plays the Maltese Liberals want to support and watch. Please let us have more of these ultra explicitly-specific plays to instigate Maltese liberalism to come more to the fore and expunge decisively the manipulative, hypocritical, insular, submissively feeble mentality.

Emmy Bezzina
Leader, ALPHA Party


The rape of Xemxija

Permit me to vent my utter dismay regarding the Mistra Village development.
I find it hard to believe that MEPA would even consider to process an application for the rape of our beautiful village. How can it be that a beautiful hotel development that employed hundreds of Maltese, and did not in the least interfere with the beauty of its surroundings, was allowed to be demolished?
How can MEPA even consider giving the go-ahead to a development that will totally overshadow all the village in an area, zoned for only villas and bungalows?
We at Xemxija are already witness to blocks that have been given permits for commercial levels at ground floor, which instead have been turned into domestic apartments, and also domestic stores which suffered the same fate.
Why is MEPA not issuing enforcement notices, or better still moving to direct action? What is MEPA there for?
The only hope remaining for us long suffering Xemxija residents is that future administrations will consider totally disbanding a useless and utterly hopeless authority such as MEPA, and that one day the rape of our country by developers will finally come to an end.

Mark Spiteri

Land of contradictions

If we have 53,000 unoccupied housing units in Malta, should we still be sleeping under the stars in Republic Street to collect money for the homeless? 
When are we going to make a serious effort to find an equitable solution to the antiquated 1939 Rent Laws in order to release onto the market a number of such empty units for occupation?  
After all, if a just solution is found, this could prove to be a win-win situation for both landlords and would-be tenants.

V. Piccinino

All out war at PBS

Your front page article in last Sunday’s issue of your paper, styled as above, comes as no surprise to me, nor probably to many of your other readers. I have been harping on the serious problems that befell the national station since its very inception under Dom Mintoff’s regime.
When the Nationalist Party was returned to power way back in the late 80s, many so-called efforts were made to put the then Xandir Malta on the right track once and for all.
Unfortunately, despite the millions of liri spent supposedly to give the electorate the public broadcasting station it deserves, all attempts failed miserably. I for one truly believed that these reforms were all destined to failure. So much so, that I have long expressed my views, publicly, that what was being suggested by the appointed media experts was not the right approach to the situation at the national station.
What is surprising is the fact that notwithstanding the failures, the same people were time and again entrusted with the task of upgrading the station’s mediocre programming, as well as the station’s poor image and mismanagement.
One simply cannot conceive how it was possible that within a period of some 10 years or so, certain media experts still failed to find the right prescription to solve the station’s many ills. At one point in time, the situation at PBS was so bad that it was likened by some members of its senior staff to the killer disease of cancer. There were even suggestions that the only solution to the problem was to amputate whatever was rotten.
This advice was music to some ears and, in fact, the powers that be started looking in this direction. However, rather than amputate what was rotten, some wise guy came up with the idea of terminating the jobs of some 80 employees, whose names and faces, apparently, did not feature on the list of buddies.
This drastic measure could have been avoided had the state company took the matter seriously and employed a person with the necessary managerial and financial skills, who would not hesitate to cut down to size that handful of employees who could have had a political motive in their misconduct.
What I find extraordinarily disgusting is PBS chairman Mr Fenech Conti’s poor excuse for concluding that the Editorial Board’s decision was “null and void”, simply because the MLP’s protest letter was not addressed to the station’s Registered Editor. Particularly, when taking into consideration that the same Registered Editor sits on the same Editorial Board, though perhaps without a vote. Even more disturbing is the fact that he was aware of the Registered Editor’s total agreement with the decision taken by the Editorial Board.
The case borders on the ridiculous when one considers that in John Dalli’s case some time ago, Dalli’s protest letter was addressed to the Editorial Board and not to the Registered Editor and yet it was accepted. Is such a decision the result of a petty mind?
But the cherry on the cake was the Register Editor reference to “an imposed media blackout”, and the authority’s ban that refrained her from talking to the Press to the extent that whatever she has to say has to be referred to the CEO prior to opening her mouth. In short, the Registered Editor is being denied the right to defend her decisions.
I am at a loss to understand why the PM did not consider it appropriate to intervene on this occasion, as he did when he took it upon himself to appoint the current incumbent to the post of News Manager and Registered Editor, some time back. Surely his intervention could have saved the national station from further embarrassment, and perhaps bring to an end to the never ending comedy at PBS?
It is likewise very sad to remark once again that both Minister Zammit Dimech and his right-hand man Fr Joe Borg seem to have gone into hibernation. We haven’t heard one word from either of them on the matter.
Some men are indeed made of straw.

John G. Borg-Bartolo


Happy blue year!

I am either becoming colour blind, or Malta is going berserk.
Christmas is normally, morally and understandably, an event which embraces all humanity. Christ was not clad in any particular colour when he was born. His teachings, and actions were always, without fail, all-inclusive and his love was, is and shall always remain unconditional and indiscriminating – a perfect love. 
How difficult it is for us mortals to emulate Him completely! Speaking for myself and, not including the “pure” out there (a phrase I borrow from a close friend of mine), I am far from being even close to perfect.
But the colours that depict the Christmas spirit are traditionally red and green. Not that our faith needs to be colour-coded, but over the years the consumerist society has managed to influence us all with the “Xmas” (sic) custom of decorating a tree which has now become a symbol of the impending birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Cribs have been unfortunately relegated, even by Christians, to second division, if at all. In the latter years we have also come to accept, and use, gold during these holy festivities.
This brings me to the subject of this letter. Was I hallucinating or is it fact that the lights placed on the festoons in Kingsway (excuse me, Republic Street) in Valletta are blue? I drove past the Kappara car-ramming-bout and this too was decorated in blue lights – they were not happy with red, amber and green, even though the imported consultants were paid out of our taxes to help us get it right for once! But ADT knows it all and they removed them without refunding us, taxpayers, with the double expense. 
During the Old Labour days, we were all aghast and disgusted by red paint and bulbs all over the island. Thank God the saviour of Malta knew it all as well, and did not believe in traffic lights. Otherwise we would have had them all in red, red and red. Remember the scarlet television screen on Xandir Labour? Do you recall the present ministers shouting foul, disgrace, dictator and resign?
Mr Prime Minister, if your henchmen have taken over, please move out, and hurry. As an ex-Nationalist voter, I apologise to all other parties’ supporters for this unbecoming conduct by the now spent regime. And what does the Opposition leader quip in his glass house? Ah yes… well past the expiry date.

Jo Said


You can’t trust Labour

What happened after the last edition of Bondiplus, which discussed the promises made by Alfred Sant in his reply to the budget speech, clearly shows how seriously one should take Alfred Sant’s promises.
The programme was entirely about Labours’ proposals on the overtime and on the public holidays which fall on the weekend. Lou Bondì’s guests were Labour deputy leader, Charles Mangion, who is also finance shadow minister, and parliamentary secretary Tonio Fenech. During the programme we also heard the reactions of the constituted bodies, which in the majority were against both policies. Lou Bondì twice asked Charles Mangion if the Labour Party had consulted anyone before announcing these proposals; twice, Charles Mangion did not reply.
This shows that, when Labour was faced with the positive reactions to the Budget, Alfred Sant had to quickly invent something. Worse, it seems that the Labour Party did not even do any calculations of how much these promises would cost the country’s finances.
From the estimates that were shown during the programme, produced by Lou Bondì on information provided by the Government and confirmed also by economists, Labour’s promises would cost the country Lm115 million a year.
One would have expected that, if Charles Mangion did not agree with those figures, he would contest them during the same programme, and that he would be prepared enough to show the figures on which they had calculated their promises. But surprising everyone, Charles Mangion did not have any figures at all. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that Charles Mangion forgot or did not take the figures or estimates with him. I would have expected that the Labour Party, which issues a press release on everything, would issue a press release with the estimates they projected. But this did not happen either.
This means that if Bondiplus did not make this programme to discuss these proposals, the Labour Party was not bother at all to work out how much these promises would cost the country, because for labour the most important are votes and nothing else.
This has to be taken seriously, because it clearly shows that Alfred Sant, apart from not consulting anybody, did not verify if these promises can really be afforded by our country.
All this reminded me of what Lino Spiteri wrote in his book “Jien u ghaddej fil-politika”, about how Alfred Sant declared before the 1996 election that he would remove VAT when in government. Lino Spiteri, at the time Shadow Minister for Finance, wrote that Alfred Sant consulted neither the Parliamentary Group nor his own shadow minister. Spiteri said that he heard VAT would be removed from a friend, who in turn heard the news reporting Alfred Sant saying VAT would be removed if Labour were elected. This convinces me more that Labour has remained the same. The experience of Alfred Sant as Prime Minister between 1996 and 1998 taught us how much weight we should give to the promises made by Labour.

Jurgen Cassar


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