The art of prestidigitation

They say statistics are the best liars – as in ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ – but sometimes I wonder whether another genus shouldn’t be added into the mix.

Of course, calling someone a liar is very offensive and it is an epithet to which one should not resort except in very serious circumstances. For instance, if one is lied about in court, by having specific, and untrue, allegations made against one under oath, one is entitled to ask for the court to act as one’s saviour and have proceedings for perjury instituted against the liar.

You might wonder what it is I’m on about in the preceding paragraph and you might even say I’m giving some sort of thinly-veiled hint as to upcoming fun and games, to which I would respond in the time-honoured, Francis Urquhart (Underwood in American) manner, “you might say that, but I certainly couldn’t comment”.

But leaving that aside and, if the mood takes me, I’ll file an application and see where the lies come to roost, I’m amazed at the aplomb with which people make assertions that leave me shaking my head in something approaching disbelief.

The missus, for example, brought to my attention a clip going the rounds of the programme Reporter hosted by Saviour Balzan.

His guests were Jason Micallef, whose electoral prospects were buoyed up no end when his Fearless Leader took the virtual hatchet to his hapless, and now erstwhile, deputy leader’s head and lopped it neatly off, and Clyde Puli, who did a rather smart job eviscerating Manwel Mallia, always in a political sense, lest anyone perceives me as a bloodthirsty wretch, I hasten to add.

Micallef – at least if my ears weren’t deceiving me – blithely made the assertion that the Nationalist Party had produced its manifesto so late that they had copied plenty of what was in Joseph Muscat’s. The opposite applies, as anyone who has read both will confirm, but that’s not my point.

On the point, forgive me, but, as far as I remember, Labour as one of the two Big Beasts in the jungle only managed to produce its road map, sorry, programme, sorry, manifesto, after much straining and sweating, a week and a bit after the Nationalists, so what was Micallef blethering on about? If I’m wrong, please let me know, there’s a comments board below this when it’s eventually online but I’m pretty sure I’m not.

Unsurprisingly, Balzan did not question the Porky-Pie that Micallef had just plonked onto the table – unsurprising, of course, because Balzan has to kowtow to the Broadcasting Authority’s edict of blandness, under the terms of which talk show hosts can’t have the temerity to argue with their guests, even when the latter say things that would raise the eyebrows of any self-respecting journalist.

This prestidigitation with reality has become quite a trend with Muscat’s star candidates, you have to admit. Back at the beginning of the campaign, if you can remember that far back in history, we had that Mizzi fellow (Konrad of that ilk, Joe seems to have gone the way of many good men and true within Labour) expecting us to believe that some kindly entrepreneur is going to pitch up and throw many millions of euros our way, against a sweet smile, with an undertaking that he’s almost going to pay us to use his electricity, so rosy was the deal made to sound.

Konrad Mizzi also expected us to believe that the whole project would be finished in 24 months and that it would not be required to undergo such pesky formalities as public procurement rules, environmental impact assessments and, for that matter, a pretty basic reality check. He also expects us to believe that having a nice new power station is actually needed.

Muscat, incidentally, also expects us to believe that, having been elected, he will resign if utility rates are not brought down within the same time frame.

What he hasn’t taken into account is the fact that we’re not as dumb as he thinks we are. I’m pretty convinced that the rates will, somehow or other, be brought down by the due date, artificially or otherwise, in breach of cross-subsidisation rules or not, whatever, because Muscat is not about to leave Castille except kicking and screaming. He’s going to owe so much to so many, having promised so much to so many, that there’s no way he’s not going to do his full five years. Not if he can help it.

His writer-in-chief – or should that be cartographer – Karmenu Vella also has a touching faith in our gullibility. His performance on Bondì+ last week is proof positive that he thinks we will fall for anything.

Take one of the proposals that Muscat’s lads are putting up for us, the one where medicines are to be delivered free to older folk. Not an iota of planning has gone into this, not a single thought as to the number of drivers needed (plenty) or to the fact that pharmacists, not delivery boys, are the people who should dispense drugs, many of which have a rather nifty selling price on the street. And he expects us to believe that this is a proposal, one I use only as an example, that is designed to be anything but a vote-grubber? Next they’ll be telling that they’ll be buying our groceries, bagging them up, delivering them, putting them in the fridge and then coming round later to cook up a nice candle-lit supper.

Just to come round almost full circle, consider the defence made by Mallia, an accomplished defender of criminals, of his colleague Toni Abela.

The latter, according to what he is heard to tell a bunch of Labour local politicians (one of whom recorded his pearls of wisdom), seems to have sought to persuade the cops (and perhaps, only coincidentally, it was a Labour-leaning cop who was approached) not to push a possible prosecution “for now”. His context, according to what I understand he said, was that the local council in question was in the public eye and, thus, one extrapolates, a touch of discretion was needed.

Mallia’s defence was that this is something that lawyers do all the time, which is as may be, but not all lawyers are deputy leaders of the Labour Party, not all lawyers do it to gain time in a political context and not all lawyers make a point of making the officer’s political allegiance known when reporting on their interaction with the police. You see, when you make a point of saying you’re whiter than white, every mark shows up starkly.

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