Monday, 31 December 2007

2007: A Very Good Year



There are only a few hours left until we bid farewell to 2007. In my case, the latter has been a very good year. Much better than 2006.


There were various positive aspects related to 2007. As far as the job area is concerned, I managed to pass the necessary CII (Chartered Insurance Institute) exams to obtain the Certificate in Insurance. Apart from achieving this certificate, I also travelled to Italy a number of times to attend a workshop or other business meetings. As a claims officer, I felt that I learned many new things throughout the year. It felt good to be described as a "valuable employee" by one of the company directors during the Christmas staff party.

During the Christmas staff party, I also received the Department of Information Award. As a person who likes to read a great deal and who enjoys keeping up with the latest world news, such characteristics led me to win this award.




The year was also a very positive one when talking about the social sphere. Wendy and I met some new people with whom we shared some marvellous times. The fruits of friendship are always so sweet!


The blog experience was also something new during 2007. Writing online has allowed me to express my thoughts to several people around the world. It has also allowed me to meet some very interesting individuals. I will write more about my views concerning blogging in another post. Having said so, initiating and maintaining this blog was surely a very rewarding experience!


There were many other positive aspects related to 2007, but it would take ages to list them all. I surely cannot omit the the fact that living with my wife gives my whole life experience a wonderful glow! Thanks a lot, Wen! :)

I just hope that 2008 will be an even better year! :) Happy New Year to All!!!

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

ABBA : HAPPY NEW YEAR

Happy New Year to All!!! :)

Twenty Questions

While reading Malta Girl's blog, I came across the Twenty Questions post and I decided to put myself on the hot seat! :)

Instructions: remove one of the twenty questions and replace with one of your own. Then tag eight people.

1. At what age do you wish to marry? I got married in September 2006. I was 27 years old.

2. My question: If you had to study (again) at university, what course would you choose? Law.

3. Where is the place that you want to go the most? Cuba. I have heard so many things about that place! I would like to go to see what life is like there with my own eyes and ears! :)

4. If you could have one dream come true, what would it be? To be immortal. :)

5. What's the best compliment you've ever received? Can't decide which one to write...probably, the fact that I have an excellent memory! :)

6. What are you afraid to lose the most? My wife. :)

7. If you win $1 million, what would you do? Buy a wonderful apartment to live in, buy another apartment to rent it out, purchase a fantastic BMW car, and travel as much as possible.

8. If you meet someone that you love, would you confess to him/her? Or would you keep it to yourself and observe from afar? I am already married, so this question does not really apply to me. Having said that, in the past, when I was single, I always tried to show my feelings to a person I liked. I never believed in keeping my feelings to myself.

9. List 3 good points of the person who tagged you. Malta Girl is an avid reader, jovial, and an inspirational person. :)

10. If you could go back in time, would you like to change something in your life? What would it be? I would have probably studied something else rather than psychology. Psychology is a great discipline, but good job opportunities related to this area of study are still quite rare in Malta.

11. Which type of person do you hate the most? A person who is extremely self-centred and who is not ashamed of showing it to the rest of the world.

12. What is the thing that will make you think he/she is bad? Total indifference when confronted with the misery of others.

13. What is your ambition? To have a successful career and to build a very loving family. :)

14. Christmas is coming, who do you like to celebrate with? Anyone who cares about me!

15. What do you think is the most important thing in your life? My wife.

16. Are you a shopaholic or no? When it comes to books and DVDs, yes! :) I also enjoy buying clothes every now and then, but I find it quite tiring to go to around 5 shops to buy something! :)

17. Which actress or actors you would like to be? Al Pacino, especially during his younger days. :)

18. It would be 2008 in a few days, do you have a new year’s resolution? To lose some weight! :)

19. Do you have any plans for tomorrow? I have to go back to work...I can only imagine how many emails I am going to find there! :(

20. What is one of your all time favourite books, and why? Human Cargo, by Caroline Moorehead. I really enjoyed reading this book because it gave a brutally honest look at the immigration issue that is affecting several parts of the world. By focusing on individual stories, it made it very clear that one cannot talk about immigrants as though they were all identical; behind every face, there is a story. Very often, this story is a terribly sad one. The book also shows how shocking the response of various governments is when it comes to dealing with the thousands of people who are searching for a better life in a number of continents.

I tag: anyone who would like to be on the hot seat! :)

Monday, 24 December 2007

An Interesting Encounter

As an avid reader of biographical/autobiographical literature, particularly when it is related to politics, I could not avoid buying Professor Guido de Marco's book The Politics of Persuasion. I have still not started reading it since I am reading many other books right now, but it is on my list of "Must-Read" books for the near future. :)



Yesterday morning, Professor de Marco was at the Agenda bookshop in Sliema. I decided to go to meet him and to get the book signed. There was an incredibly long queue! After around two hours of waiting, I finally got to the table where he was signing the books. I informed him that we had already met when I was working for the Malta-European Union Information Centre (MIC) in 2003. (In fact, I have a photo of him shaking hands with me during his visit to the MIC stand at the Trade Fair.) I told him that since that time, many of the colleagues I had there have gone to work in other countries. He said that it is so nice that people can now move in such a way. I also introduced him to my wife (Wendy) and informed him that she is from El Salvador. I added that she was the first person from that country to get married to a Maltese citizen. He smiled and then said, "El Salvador! Oh, so you saved him!" :)



It was a pleasant and interesting encounter. Having said that, as I walked away from the Agenda bookshop, I wondered why so many books about Malta's relatively recent political history are mainly being written by Nationalist Party supporters. When one scans the bookshelves in search of literature about Malta's history during the 1970s and the 1980s, it is possible to come across Dione Borg's Liberta' Mhedda, Evarist Saliba's No, Honourable Minister!, and now there is Professor de Marco's book. This suggests that only one side of a significant portion of Maltese history is being presented to the masses. It is true that Lino Spiteri's book was somewhat helpful in providing further detail about various events related to the time when the Malta Labour Party (MLP) was in power. Yet, Mr Spiteri did not disclose a great deal of information about a number of issues, such as the activities of the SMU or about Mintoff's close relations with North Korea.



At this stage, I ask myself: will Mintoff or Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici ever write a book to present their analysis of what happened during the 1970s and the 1980s? Will anyone ever venture to write a detailed biography about countless individuals such as Lorry Sant? I strongly hope so!

Bloggers of Malta Meeting


Last Saturday, various members and supporters of the Blogs of Malta group met up for the first time at a beautiful band club in Mellieha. Unfortunately, I did not manage to talk to all the people who attended, but I hope that I will be able to make up for that during the next meeting! :)

Anyway, the various comments I have seen so far by the people who were there bear testimony to the fact that the event was a huge success. Hope that we will all be able to meet again sometime soon! :)
More pictures of the event can be seen on Wen's blog. Take care and wish you all a very Merry Christmas!!! :)

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Homelessness: A Shocking Report from the "Land of the Free"

Tent city in suburbs is cost of home crisis
By Dana FordFri Dec 21, 8:18 AM ET

Between railroad tracks and beneath the roar of departing planes sits "tent city," a terminus for homeless people. It is not, as might be expected, in a blighted city center, but in the once-booming suburbia of Southern California.

The noisy, dusty camp sprang up in July with 20 residents and now numbers 200 people, including several children, growing as this region east of Los Angeles has been hit by the U.S. housing crisis.

The unraveling of the region known as the Inland Empire reads like a 21st century version of "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck's novel about families driven from their lands by the Great Depression.

As more families throw in the towel and head to foreclosure here and across the nation, the social costs of collapse are adding up in the form of higher rates of homelessness, crime and even disease.

While no current residents claim to be victims of foreclosure, all agree that tent city is a symptom of the wider economic downturn. And it's just a matter of time before foreclosed families end up at tent city, local housing experts say.

"They don't hit the streets immediately," said activist Jane Mercer. Most families can find transitional housing in a motel or with friends before turning to charity or the streets. "They only hit tent city when they really bottom out."

Steve, 50, who declined to give his last name, moved to tent city four months ago. He gets social security payments, but cannot work and said rents are too high.

"House prices are going down, but the rentals are sky-high," said Steve. "If it wasn't for here, I wouldn't have a place to go."

'SQUATTING IN VACANT HOUSES'

Nationally, foreclosures are at an all-time high. Filings are up nearly 100 percent from a year ago, according to the data firm RealtyTrac. Officials say that as many as half a million people could lose their homes as adjustable mortgage rates rise over the next two years.

California ranks second in the nation for foreclosure filings -- one per 88 households last quarter. Within California, San Bernardino county in the Inland Empire is worse -- one filing for every 43 households, according to RealtyTrac.

Maryanne Hernandez bought her dream house in San Bernardino in 2003 and now risks losing it after falling four months behind on mortgage payments.

"It's not just us. It's all over," said Hernandez, who lives in a neighborhood where most families are struggling to meet payments and many have lost their homes.

She has noticed an increase in crime since the foreclosures started. Her house was robbed, her kids' bikes were stolen and she worries about what type of message empty houses send.

The pattern is cropping up in communities across the country, like Cleveland, Ohio, where Mark Wiseman, director of the Cuyahoga County Foreclosure Prevention Program, said there are entire blocks of homes in Cleveland where 60 or 70 percent of houses are boarded up.

"I don't think there are enough police to go after criminals holed up in those houses, squatting or doing drug deals or whatever," Wiseman said.

"And it's not just a problem of a neighborhood filled with people squatting in the vacant houses, it's the people left behind, who have to worry about people taking siding off your home or breaking into your house while you're sleeping."

Health risks are also on the rise. All those empty swimming pools in California's Inland Empire have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can transmit the sometimes deadly West Nile virus, Riverside County officials say.

'TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT'

But it is not just homeowners who are hit by the foreclosure wave. People who rent now find themselves in a tighter, more expensive market as demand rises from families who lost homes, said Jean Beil, senior vice president for programs and services at Catholic Charities USA.
"Folks who would have been in a house before are now in an apartment and folks that would have been in an apartment, now can't afford it," said Beil. "It has a trickle-down effect."

For cities, foreclosures can trigger a range of short-term costs, like added policing, inspection and code enforcement. These expenses can be significant, said Lt. Scott Patterson with the San Bernardino Police Department, but the larger concern is that vacant properties lower home values and in the long-run, decrease tax revenues.

And it all comes at a time when municipalities are ill-equipped to respond. High foreclosure rates and declining home values are sapping property tax revenues, a key source of local funding to tackle such problems.

Earlier this month, U.S. President George W. Bush rolled out a plan to slow foreclosures by freezing the interest rates on some loans. But for many in these parts, the intervention is too little and too late.

Ken Sawa, CEO of Catholic Charities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, said his organization is overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the volume of people seeking help.
"We feel helpless," said Sawa. "Obviously, it's a local problem because it's in our backyard, but the solution is not local."

(Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Ohio; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eddie Evans)

Source

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Homelessness


A few weeks ago, I was watching a feature on Al Jazeera about present living conditions in Russia. I was shocked when I heard that there are around 4 million homeless people in that country! The TV report also stated that during the Soviet era, homelessness did not exist; it was actually a crime!

While browsing the Internet, I came across a blog that contained some interesting information about homelessness in a part of the US:

In January 2005, an estimated 744,313 people experienced homelessness in the United States. In Idaho there are estimated to be 5,092 homeless people in shelters and 332 without shelter, giving Idaho one of the highest rates of homelessness per capita. The national average is 0.30% of the total population. Idaho's average is 0.38%. In comparison, Utah's average is only 0.13%.

56 percent of homeless people counted were living in shelters and transitional housing and, shockingly, 44 percent were unsheltered.


59 percent of homeless people counted were single adults and 41 percent were persons living in families.


In total, 98,452 homeless families were counted.


23 percent of homeless people were reported as chronically homeless, which, according to HUD’s definition, means that they are homeless for long periods or repeatedly and have a disability.

A number of states had high rates of homelessness, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington State. In addition, Washington, DC had a high rate of homeless people.

[Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness]


How could any caring government accept homelessness???

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Venceremos!!!

We Shall Win!!! Otro mundo es posible!!!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

What Makes a Good Manager?

Nowadays, one can find countless books about management. Several courses are also held every year about a number of management issues. In spite of all this information about managers, it still appears to be fairly difficult to provide a detailed answer to the following question: what makes a good manager?

Living in Malta for most of my life, I have noticed that managers are frequently appointed to such a position after having spent many years doing, more or less, the same set of activities. In such a case, the assumption seems to be that once a person has become highly skilled at the job he/she has been doing for several years, that individual could be a good manager. I find this assumption to be extremely faulty and I will explain why.

First and foremost, I consider management to be an academic discipline. There are various ways in which a company or a department could be managed; the management discipline explores all the facets related to each approach as it tries to map the pros and cons of every one. As a field of study which requires a certain amount of effort to master, it seems totally illogical to appoint a person with no background in management studies to a position which calls for a particular set of skills. When this happens, it is as though a lawyer were being appointed to conduct a surgical intervention!! Sadly, I still see this event occurring quite often in numerous Maltese companies.

Apart from the importance of being familiar with a number of management principles and techniques that only a solid study of the field would normally provide, I also believe that a manager's social skills play an extremely essential role in determining his/her performance in such a position. I have come across some managers who have no idea about working as effective team leaders or as people who contribute to the development of the individuals they manage. While receiving incredibly high salaries, such "managers" act more like slave masters; their roles are often simply confined to giving out orders, delegating tasks that they do not want to do to those who cannot say no, and pretending to be know-alls. On the surface, such people seem to be performing well since they convey the impression that they are hell-bent on achieving the company's goals. When one takes a closer look, however, the situation is usually as follows: the "slaves" taking the orders from the manager cannot stand the person and even though the main objectives are achieved, the "slaves" do not feel any enthusiasm to be pro-active. The "slaves" tend to realise that their master dishes out all the dirty work to them and eventually portrays himself/herself as the one who did it all when dealing with the directors; this also breeds a great deal of resentment and kills the enthusiasm that is necessary for a company to really advance. In the long run, when slave masters put excessive pressure on their "slaves", the latter frequently end up leaving the company. Of course, this creates disruptions in the company's activities, but the trusted manager can always come up with a nice story to convince the directors that the "slave" was a weakling and that leaving was the best thing that person could do! These situations - which still occur quite frequently - say a lot about how poor the social skills of many "managers" are!

It would take a great deal of time and space to go into the details of what makes a good manager. The aim of this post was merely to stimulate the readers to think about this issue. As I set down some of my thoughts, I wanted to draw attention to the shocking fact that there are still many people who are being appointed to a managerial position for the wrong reasons.

Monday, 3 December 2007

The Working Class

As we slip from one TV channel to another, as we leaf through various magazines found in shops, it seems that the efforts of many capitalists to make countless individuals forget about class issues is working. As societies all over the world are polluted by numerous broadcasts or features about people such as Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, many fall into the trap of thinking that there are no considerable differences between such individuals and the average person selling Whopper meals at a Burger King restaurant. Britney Spears has kids, right? Well, there are thousands of young mothers out there, but does that mean that just because they also have children, they are also able to spend several nights at extremely luxurious hotels? For the vast majority of young mothers, the answer would probably be as follows: Of course not!!!

Every capitalist country has noticeable class distinctions. In some places, the gap between one class and another is more visible while in others, the gulf is not always so clearly evident. It is still perfectly possible to talk about the working class. Indeed, I have found a very interesting article about the latter. I am quoting this article below:

What is the working class?
Thursday, May 11, 2006 By: Ben Becker
Part of a series on the fundamentals of Marxism


The Marxist outlook is based on the irreconcilable conflict between the working class (the proletariat) and the ruling capitalist class (the bourgeoisie). But how do we determine which people belong to which class? Is a secretary a worker? What about professionals? Isn't there a middle class as well? Why do Marxists look to the working class to bring revolutionary change?

When class is talked about in the media or schools, it is in terms of income. "Upper class" means "rich," "lower class" means "poor," and everyone in between is in the middle class. Mainstream commercial culture idolizes the ruling class, demeans the average person's lifestyle, and refers to blue-collar work as "working class." It is not surprising that a vast majority of U.S. workers believe they are middle class.

But the commonly held definition of "class" is imprecise. Is everyone with a bank account or a child in college middle class? Is class just a question of how you perceive yourself?

The working class is composed of people who work for others, while members of the ruling class have people work for them. The vast majority of the U.S. is working class.

Different sources of income

The word "working" is not arbitrary. It refers to people who must sell their ability to work to employers. They are paid a set wage, salary or commission (regardless of how much profit they make for their bosses.)

Employers own the factories, offices, mines, restaurant chains and banks. To make money, however, they also need labor. The employers buy the workers' most valuable possession-the ability to work-and apply it to their businesses to turn a profit.

But don't CEOs work? Although it is true that some employers take on managerial duties, that is of a completely different nature. Employers earn their money not from their own individual labor, but from their ownership of the wealth produced by others. They own and sell the services and goods produced by the working class.

When the capitalists divide up the ownership of a company into shares, they each take a certain percentage of what the worker makes. They are only "sharing" amongst themselves. The ruling class survives and thrives due to its ownership, not its labor.

The "middle class"

Does this mean there is no middle class? Surely, there are different layers of the owning class as well as of the working class.

Among the working class are professionals whose work and elevated incomes differentiate their ways of life from lower-paid workers. While the average worker hopes to have some spending money for the weekend, the professional often hopes to build a stock portfolio, become a partial owner and live off the labor of others. This privileged layer of the working class easily intermingles with the small owners like shopkeepers or self-employed lawyers and doctors, who often identify with the interests of big owners even though they are usually victims of the banks and big corporations.

In the last few decades, the U.S. economy has transformed greatly. The workforce is no longer only concentrated in factories although millions of workers still do work in the industrial sector. Millions of other workers are now working in service industries, including ever-growing numbers of women, African American workers and immigrants.

For some workers, these changes have fostered the illusion that they are part of a permanently stable "middle class." But service-oriented jobs hold the same problems for the working class as manufacturing positions. In every kitchen and every cubicle, workers' wages and benefits are under attack.

Workers see the growing army of unemployed and fear for their own jobs. No matter how many mornings they come to work, they recognize that the building still does not belong to them. No matter how many times they have worked a particular machine, the machine is not theirs. Most workers still spend their days repeating a few tasks over and over again.

Revolutionary potential

Underneath these miserable conditions lies the potential for revolution. The working class, which on the surface appears to hold no power in politics or the workplace, actually possesses the greatest power of all. If workers unite on a political or economic issue and withhold their labor, the power of the working class becomes instantly recognized.

The working class holds the ability to create a new society. It produces the wealth, it has the training and, most of all, it is the vast majority of humanity.

Working people are taught to feel grateful for the small comforts they receive in exchange for the vast wealth they produce-their home, their car or their television. All these comforts evaporate, though, the second that bosses announce layoffs or a family member becomes sick and healthcare costs mount.

An economy based on a tiny handful of people owning the wealth produced by the great majority can only offer the promise of subsistence wages and perpetual job insecurity. In the daily grind, workers inevitably find themselves laboring for an economy that takes without giving. They find themselves, like U.S. soldiers in Iraq, fighting a war that does not serve their interests.

History shows that in times of great social change, the illusions of today are cast aside as the working class moves forward to fulfill its historic role as the agent for revolutionary change. Socialists work to hasten this process.

Monday, 26 November 2007

More Research about Death

I have recently finished reading Emma Heathcote-James's They Walk Among Us: An Investigation into the Phenomenon of After-Death Materialisation. Although some careful editing could have prevented a number of spelling mistakes from appearing in the final version, I found the book to be an extremely interesting one. Written by a person who is not a medium, Ms Heathcote-James tackled the subject of materialisations in a very scientific way. As an avid supporter of scientific research, I favour the approach taken by the author. Of course, further studies are required so that we can all learn more about ourselves. As stated by Professor Peter Wadhams, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, "Much more research is needed, and it is ironic that this, the most important scientific question of all, has the fewest people working on it and the least (that is, zero) support from scientific funding agencies" (2007, p. xix).

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Sunday, 25 November 2007

Involuntary Unemployment: A Terrible Experience


For those people who have never experienced the devastating status of involuntary unemployment, it might be very hard to imagine what life is often like for the many individuals who are struggling to find a job. There are several articles and studies about how this type of unemployment, especially when it becomes chronic, can harm a person physically and psychologically.


I have never been involuntarily unemployed for long periods of time. Yet, whenever I tasted such unemployment, it was surely not associated with pleasant memories. My first experience of this phenomenon goes back to 2001, shortly after graduating from university. At that time, I strongly believed that an Honours degree in Psychology was going to open several doors for me. Within a month or so, I thought to myself, I was going to find a great job. Totally disconnected from the reality of the local job market, I had no idea whatsoever about the real demand for psychology graduates in Malta. I scanned the newspapers and started sending out copies of my CV. For the sake of clarity, when I sent my CVs, they were not for jobs related to my studies; I had not found a single job that requested the skills I had. I nevertheless wanted to start doing something so that I could earn enough money to live comfortably without constantly feeling like a beggar for every item I needed.


Even though I registered with the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) to help me in my quest for a job, I remeber that some of the letters I received from them were for jobs that clearly demanded a higher level of education. Indeed, I had received a letter for a post that required a Master's degree in Management or Economics; I had none of those assets!


The first interviews were not successful. I was considered as over-qualified or as lacking enough experience to do a good job. When it comes to the experience issue, I totally agree with the question put forth by a Washington, DC job-junter: "How can I have experience in this field if nobody gives me the chance to gain the experience?". The latter has a very interesting blog which details her attempts to find a job in a country that is supposed to be overflowing with work opportunities: http://searchingforajobinwashingtondc.blogspot.com/


I eventually found a job as a Support Officer in an organisation that formed part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although the job was very interesting and offered a relatively decent salary, the fact that I had a university degree was not even taken into account. This was said to me extremely clearly during one of the interviews. Looking on the bright side, the job allowed me to escape the misery of the unemployed life.


I tasted involuntary unemployment again shortly after my return from El Salvador in June 2005. I returned to Malta with hardly any money since I had spent most of the dollars earned in El Salvador to purchase my flight ticket. Once again, I registered with the ETC. Given that I had worked as a language teacher in Spain, I was informed about some teaching vacancies at the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS). I sent my CV, but they never even bothered to contact me for an interview! After some other rejections, the only company that accepted me was an insurance one.


During the short periods of time that I spent unemployed, many thoughts and doubts crossed my mind. Would I ever find a job? Would I ever be able to develop a career? Should I have studied something more marketable instead of Psychology and Philosophy? I am quite sure that the same questions are asked daily by the millions of job seekers all over the world.


With so many companies currently winding up or restructuring and, consequently, throwing several people out, involuntary unemployment is still a terrible experience that few governments are really trying to eradicate completely. Sadly, I have come across some people who - having never experienced such unemployment - said that if someone loses a job, one could either look for another job or improve one's skills to find employment within another company. I find such statements to be absolutely ridiculous, showing virtually no understanding of the socio-economic circumstances of countless individuals. Perhaps an example would help to clarify how hard it can be for many unemployed people to look for another job or to acquire new skills.


Let us imagine a man called James who is in his early 30s, married to a woman who is a full-time housewife, and who has a 2-year-old child. James only has a few O-level passes and has always worked as a warehouse keeper for a company that has recently decided to shut down. His wife has no qualifications. The family, who has no car, is living in a rented apartment; every month, the rent consumes a considerable percentage of James's salary. Upon being made redundant, James could apply for social assistance. Given that he is married and has a child, he might be able to receive around Lm40 a week. On a monthly basis, this money would be just enough to pay the rent. From where are they going to obtain the money to pay the bills? Food expenses? He could find a part-time job, but the income would probably still not be enough to allow the family to meet all their expenses. The wife could also look for a job, but with no qualifications, it could take a while until she found something. The main problem is that they do not have any relatives with whom they could leave their child during the day since they all either work or are not perceived as sufficiently reliable to do so. Of course, they cannot afford to pay a nanny! Who is going to cover all the survival expenses until jobs with decent salaries can be found? (When I use the word "decent", I am referring to a salary that would allow one's survival expenses to be covered.) These are only some of the problems that might torment a family once unemployment rears its ugly head.


I believe that every government should do much more to eradicate involuntary unemployment. The latter breeds despair, illness, anger, and crime. A society cannot really be considered as a just one if it even tolerates this type of unemployment.


Relaxing at Home

It feels so nice to be able to relax at home after spending most of the week at work or running around to restock the fridge or the kitchen drawers!


I am presently living in a rented apartment. I really like it! It is quite spacious and cosy. It is also located in one of the best parts of Sliema.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Empanada Night


A couple of weeks ago, some of our Argentinean friends invited my wife and I over to eat some home-made empanadas. The latter are very popular in Argentina. The food was delicious and we all had a great time! Unfortunately, we did not have our camera with us that night. Thus, we were unable to take any photos of the empanadas.

Monday, 19 November 2007

A Wonderful Evening with Friends


Last Saturday, Wendy and I were invited to a friend's place. Once there, we ate some minestrone, pupusas (shown in the photo above), and a rice dish that is fairly common in Peru. Pupusas are synonymous with El Salvador; they are extremely good!!! Wendy and I used to love eating them when we were living together in El Salvador way back in 2005. On Saturday, a Salvadoran friend brought the necessary ingredients to prepare them and they were simply delicious!

Apart from enjoying the exquisite food, I also felt great to be among good friends. We talked about several topics and laughed a lot.

Sadly, I think that friendly gatherings are sometimes brushed aside nowadays due to the long working hours and many other issues. While understanding the importance of having time for oneself and to take care of certain personal matters, I believe that friendships should never be taken lightly. True friendship does not develop overnight; it requires dedication and trust, but the rewards are so wonderful.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Robert Kennedy: A Utopian Politician


A little more than a week ago, I watched a very interesting movie about Robert Kennedy. Various excerpts from his speeches were included in the film. His words were frequently similar to the ones a person would hear while listening to a fervent Roman Catholic believer; the importance of brotherly love, the desire to help the poor, "working through" a disagreement rather than resorting to violence...


As I heard Kennedy express himself about various issues, I realised that I had once strongly echoed many of the ideas that he advanced. Like him, I also often talked about matters such as brotherly love and world peace, but I rarely attempted to match my talk with specific ways in which I could truly achieve such goals. When listening to certain passages of rhetoric, it is sometimes very hard to disagree with the content. For instance, it is so beautiful when a person states that the poor should be given all the help in the world so that they can enjoy a life free from the misery that poverty brings. Yet, it is one thing to know how to come up with such statements while it is something completely different to focus on the realistic implementation of various programmes. To mention just one example, what is the point of having countless meetings with numerous employers about increasing the shockingly low wages they give to many of their employees when they simply refuse to do so? I do not really believe that a great deal of talk about brotherly love would have such a dramatic impact on most employers to increase the salaries given to many of their employees!!!

Nowadays, there are still numerous individuals like Robert Kennedy. There are still several people who are totally utopian, but who are quite disconnected from the mechanics of the everyday world. Nice rhetoric is simply not enough to solve the world's problems! In order to put an end to poverty, for instance, certain measures might be necessary; measures which could be viewed in a very hostile way by the people who believe that a certain degree of poverty in a society is useful to achieve various goals. When confronted with a myriad social troubles, I believe that the person whose feet are firmly anchored to the ground must ask oneself: how can I realistically tackle such problems with a view to eliminating them once and for all?


Monday, 29 October 2007

Multi-Level Marketing: A Personal Experience

A few months ago, a close friend introduced me to the concept of multi-level marketing (MLM). I attended what is known as an overview presentation and I was persuaded to purchase a starter-pack. The latter was aimed at giving me an idea of some of the products that the company sold; I also received some material about how to run my own business as a product distributor.

Multi-level marketing was presented to me as a way of becoming rich - very rich - over a period of three to five years. As the boss of my newly-formed company, I was expected to undergo a training phase that would help me to persuade other people to repeat what I had done; buy a starter-pack, buy the products, and sell the opportunity to others.

Apart from providing ample assistance to beef up one's business skills as a product distributor, the people who persuaded me to board the MLM bandwagon stressed the importance of personal development in order to succeed. This took the form of countless events, usually organised at extremely luxurious hotels, during which a "life skills guru" would come down from the proverbial mountain to enlighten the masses who had paid a considerable amount of money to discover how they could become ultra-rich. Out of curiosity, I attended some of these events. In spite of the profiles of the gurus present, I was not really impressed by what I heard. Most of the "wisdom" was a mixture of personal experience with undergraduate-level psychology. As a psychology graduate, the talks were useful to remind me of some basic principles that I had studied at university several years ago. The personal experiences were sometimes encouraging, but I have learned to interpret such tales very cautiously.

Human behaviour is frequently a product of numerous variables, many of which are still being studied by several psychologists all over the world. If a person had a god's-eye view of all the possible variables and of the ways in which they interact to produce a particular action, it would be very easy for that individual to replicate a behaviour. Sadly, it seems that we are still quite far off from being able to obtain such a broad understanding of human deeds.

During a personal development event, it is fairly easy to hear gurus saying that following a certain event in their lives, they "put their minds" to their goals, "worked extremely hard", and eventually succeeded. Apart from the fact that such terminology is quite vague, the fact that the listeners are not exposed to the god's-eye view mentioned above means that some key variables or some vital interactions among a number of factors might not be mentioned during a presentation. Let me give an example. If Bill Gates had to write a book about how he became so successful, there might be countless variables which he fails to mention due to the lack of detailed knowledge about human behaviour. Consequently, the reader who is interested in duplicating Bill Gates's actions to become equally successful might fail miserably unless all the essential variables are in place.

Although something small could always be learned by attending the personal development events, they were mainly a big waste of time and money for me. I, therefore, decided to stop attending.

There were, however, several business development events. Even though I managed to attend a few of these, I found it very hard to attend them all regularly. This was mainly due to the fact that they started at 7PM and normally dragged on for around two or three hours. After a day's work, attending such events was very tiring!

As the months went by and I was better able to analyse the development of my own business, I started formulating a number of observations. First, all my efforts to persuade other people to start their own business failed miserably. The reasons such individuals offered varied, but the general reaction was that this was just another of those schemes that promised huge wealth in return for relatively little work. Once a person had that perception, it was incredibly hard to change such beliefs. A great deal of the people I talked to had already been approached by others and they had already made up their minds about MLM ages ago. Second, in spite of all the big talk at the events about the potential of MLM to make one achieve financial freedom, I realised that even though I had already spent well over a hundred pounds on products and events, I had still failed to see a single cent roll into my pockets! This is not to mention the amount of time spent on the business, too. Third, even though the products had a lot of research to back them up, I was unable to notice any significant difference in the way I felt when I compared them to the products I had been using in the past. Since the products supposedly contained various beneficial ingredients, they cost much more than the ones normally found in an average supermarket. If one wanted to see some considerable financial results, it was essential to persuade people to start their own business and to spend, at least Lm 40.00 per month.

Although I eventually managed to convince a couple of close relatives to start their own business, they could not see themselves spending a minimum of Lm 40.00 every month. And this is one of the biggest weaknesses of MLM, at least the way that it has been operating in Malta thus far. Since Malta is a very small country and many people know or are related to one another, it is not so difficult for countless individuals to persuade others to spend that initial sum of money to start one's own business. The problems start when people are expected to be spending the aforementioned sum of money on a monthly basis and on products that are mostly food supplements, personal hygiene, and household cleaning ones. A full-time university student who still lives with his/her parents and even an individual with an entry-level job might be able to start their own business, but it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to spend a minimum of Lm 40.00 per month on such products. After having spent over a hundred pounds and after having persuaded two people to spend more than Lm 70.00 each, I only earned Lm 8.00 or so in return!!! At least, it was something, but there was clearly a huge imbalance when comparing my income with my expenses. This factor played a big role in pushing me to drop out of my MLM business.

At the beginning, I had decided to approach the business as a way to earn a secondary income. I had surely no idea of the many disappointing factors with which I came into contact as time went by.

Nowadays, I am no longer involved in the MLM business field. I think that I bailed out just in time. This is because the concept is reaching cult status here in Malta; the same quotations about success and wealth are being circulated all over the island in an extremely annoying way. It is becoming impossible to have a rational discussion about the weaknesses of MLM with the individuals who have transformed themselves into converts of this new religion. Furthermore, the greed element is so strong that I have often got the impression that a great deal of the people involved in MLM are only interested in making huge sums of money; they appear to have little interest in anything else. Given my political views, such greed for money makes me feel sick!

In theory, MLM sounds great as an attempt to earn some extra money. It seems to have worked out well for those people who had access to a strong social base consisting of individuals who already had enough cash to be able to spend, at least, Lm 40.00 per month. The personal development aspect appeared to work extremely well with those individuals who, devoid of any ideology to turn to, adopted the type of business I was introduced to as a new religion. In my case, I currently prefer to think about ways in which the members of every society can be guided towards a future whereby every person can be happy without having to depend on money.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Do We Ever Really Die?

I saw a dead body for the first time when I was 13 years old. The body was that of a boy who was hit by our school bus. My paternal grandfather died of cancer less than two months later. Both experiences brought me face-to-face with what I consider to be humanity's worst enemy: death.

Since then, I have been intrigued by the following question: do we ever really die? I tried to find some solace by turning to the Jerusalem Bible and to other Roman Catholic books. As expected, all the material I found in religious books was based on faith. I felt somewhat comforted by what I read and by the assurances uttered by various priests that no human being really dies; the spirit that resides in every person simply moves to live in another part of the universe, commonly referred to as "the spirit world". When I was still in my early teens, the religious material was enough. During those days, faith in God and in other related matters came easily to me. As time wore on, however, I felt the need for more scientific answers. Putting the religious literature aside, I started hunting books that treated death in a more analytic way.


Nowadays, I have quite a few books about the subject in my library. Many of them were written by internationally-renowned spirit mediums such as James Van Praagh. A number of scientific studies were carried out on various mediums and the results were quite interesting. Sadly, given that death is still widely considered to be an issue that falls within the religious domain, very few scientists have taken the plunge to conduct numerous studies about it.


As far as I am concerned, I must admit that death scares me. There are so many things that I would like to do! The fact that death could strike at any second compels me to believe that there is no time to waste; today could be my last day and I, therefore, have to work as hard as possible to achieve all my goals. Of course, this sort of thinking is the result of my fear that death could be the end. If I were absolutely sure that we do not ever really die, I would feel much more tranquil; I would be able to think that I have the rest of eternity ahead of me in order to make all my dreams come true...


Almost every time I watch the news or read the papers, I come across articles about people who lost their lives in car accidents, wars, and in many other ways. I always wonder about the goals that such individuals had and about how many of their goals they had achieved at the moment of their deaths. It makes me shudder to think that all those people will never be able to continue trying to translate their dreams into realities.


I get the same feeling when watching movies involving the killing of several people. Most individuals might be disturbed by the ways in which the people are murdered, but few seem to think about the implications of every death that is shown. In order to be more specific, I would like to mention Spielberg's Munich. The movie shows how a team of Israeli agents was sent on a mission to assassinate a number of Palestinian individuals who were supposedly responsible for the organisation of various terrorist acts. As each Palestinian was gunned down or blown to pieces, I kept wondering: what about that person's dreams? What about his family and friends? These issues were totally omitted from the movie. I am not saying that I approve the actions of those Palestinians, but I have often believed that murdering a person is not the best way to deal with a terrorist. Sadly, when watching such movies, the "bad guys" tend to be depicted as monsters who have never carried out any good deeds in their lives and who need to be killed in order to build a better world. Seriously, how many war movies are there which present an objective picture of the "evil guys" and which show the grief of their loved ones following their deaths at the hands of the "good guys"?


Back to the main question: do we ever really die? On the basis of what I have read until now, I must say that some of the books that I have read present various interesting points that strongly suggest that no person really dies. Having said this, the fact that so little scientific attention has been devoted to the possibility that human beings are immortal leaves many questions unanswered. Furthermore, it seems that the findings that have been reported so far are not strong enough to reject the possibility of other explanations besides the one that asserts that we never die. Consequently, there is still a great deal of uncertainty in my mind.

I strongly believe that since death affects all people, the scientific community ought to devote more time and energy to discover whether human beings are immortal creatures. I think that if death is currently the end of a person's life, it is fundamental for scientists to work harder on how to make people immortal. And assuming that death is the end, perhaps a time will come when science would also be able to resurrect all the human beings who have ever lived on this planet!!! I know that I am letting my imagination run a bit wild here, but what is there to lose by nurturing such a dream?

Image source: http://missouricivilwarmuseum.org/JB%20National%20Cemetery%20Monuments%20017.jpg

Visit to Sicily

Yesterday Wendy and I went for a day-tour to the beautiful island of Sicily. The tour included a visit to Taormina and to Mount Etna.


As we journeyed to Sicily on the Maria Dolores ferry, the sea was quite choppy. Although this only made me feel a bit dizzy, it had a fairly negative impact on Wendy's stomach. Given that we did not take any medication with us, I asked one of the crew members for a pill that could help. I gave it to Wendy, but we were already close to Sicily when she took it. Hence, the effect appeared to be negligible while on the ferry, but she felt much better when we arrived at our destination.


Shortly after our arrival, we had a 10-minute breakfast break at a very nice bar in Pozzallo. I had a delicious chocolate croissant. Still worried about her stomach, Wendy did not eat anything. While the other individuals in our group were still having breakfast, Wendy and I took some pictures on a nearby breathtaking sandy beach.



After our brief stay at Pozzallo, we headed towards Taormina. The coach trip was quite long, but we really enjoyed the view as we went from one area to another. Our guide was a very pleasant fellow and he provided us with some interesting facts about life in Sicily.

Taormina is a spectacular place. When we got there, Wendy and I were extremely hungry. We bought some souvenirs, took a few pictures, and we then had lunch at a beautiful pizzeria. I ordered a pizza 4 formaggi while Wendy, being a sea-food lover, chose a pizza with shrimps, small tomatoes, and mascarpone cheese. Both pizzas were DELICIOUS!!! They were not too big and the base was not overcooked. Sadly, when we eat pizza in Malta, it seems that the edges of the base are often burned as a result of negligent cooking.




While we were having lunch, the weather changed completely. A few claps of thunder were followed by extremely heavy rain. Totally ill-equipped to deal with such terrible weather, we were trapped in a small alley. The rain prevented us from visiting many of Taormina's spectacular spots. In order to avoid losing our bus, we dashed to a souvenir shop and purchased a couple of plastic raincoats. Although our heads were covered, when we got to the bus, our jeans were drenched!


After our adventure in Taormina, the coach moved on to Mount Etna. We stopped at Il Refugio della Sapienza, which is the highest spot that can be accessed by such a means of transport. The temperature stood at around 11 degrees celcius. There were thick clouds of fog which often enveloped the entire area, making the various people walking around look like ghostly apparitions! The sky was overcast and even though the rain was not as strong as at Taormina, we got a bit wet once again. While there, we bought some more souvenirs. In particular, we bought a small doll of Orlando Furioso, a couple of chocolate bars produced in Modica, and two honey jars (one of these contained almond-based honey while the other one contained pistacchio-based honey).



Since the weather was quite cold outside, Wendy and I went into one of the bars there for a snack. I had a small pastry and a delicious capuccino while Wendy had a canned drink. The place was very cosy!



Following our short stay at Mount Etna, we boarded the coach once more to go back to Pozzallo. While on the coach, we watched an interesting documentary about the volcano's history. Looking out at the dark sky, it was possible to observe the almost-constant flashes of lightning.

Although one does not get to see or do much during a one-day tour, we really enjoyed it! Indeed, we are already looking forward to our next visit to Sicily!!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

A Period of Study and Reflection

The regular visitors to this blog might have noticed a break in my posting. This was mainly due to two factors: first, I have an insurance exam coming up quite soon and studying eats up an amazing amount of time! Second, I have also been thinking a great deal about various social problems and about the extent to which most of the current social democratic parties are equipped to deal with them successfully. Unfortunately, the more I read about the agendas of numerous parties of this kind (including the Malta Labour Party), the more disillusioned I felt.

Nowadays, many individuals are still saying that socialism is dead. For all those who dedicate themselves to a rigorous study of this ideology, it will become extremely clear that socialism could still be a very relevant set of principles for our times. I believe that it is the social democratic parties that are dying a slow death since by embracing numerous aspects of capitalism, they are not really distinguishing themselves from other capitalist political parties.

With reference to Malta, as pointed out by one of the regular visitors to my blog, when Dr Alfred Sant was Prime Minister, he implemented a number of measures which could not be called "socialist". The cutting down of the university stipends was an example. The fact that Dr Sant's policies do not always appear to be leftist should not come as a big surprise; the man studied Business Administration at Harvard University and one could, therefore, expect him to apply various capitalist principles that he learned there to the Maltese society.

Malta and every other country needs to understand that as long as capitalism reigns, the world will never witness a lasting peace. The capitalist ideology has become so deep-seated in the minds of millions of people that few individuals seem to be capable of realising how it is affecting their everyday behaviours. In virtually all the countries that have embraced capitalism, it is quite easy to notice an obsession with individualism. In such places, one could really talk about an individualist cult; the underlying notion seems to be that every person is a god who ought to live as he/she pleases, regardless of the plight of the other members of the community. If one wants to play loud music all night long, nobody should dare to tell that individual that he/she is disturbing other people in the neighbourhood. If someone attempts to regulate another's annoying behaviour, there is often a huge fuss made about trampling on one's rights. This state of affairs is likely to lead to more social unrest and to more exploitation as one capitalist government after another sit by and adopt a laissez-faire attitude.

As capitalist political parties continue to hold sway in various parts of the world, the obsession with individualism has profound implications for the way in which countless private businesses operate. As the owners of such organisations brandish their freedom to act as individuals and the capitalist governments remove more and more regulations so that they can benefit from the generous donations that are handed out during election times, the private sector is clearly becoming more powerful than the government in affecting the lives of countless individuals.

After much reading and reflection, I have drawn the conclusion that Malta needs another political party. The country requires a party that clearly understands the perils of capitalism and is willing to struggle against it.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici: A Very Brief Analysis


Having grown up in a family that strongly detested the Malta Labour Party, my first impressions of Dr Mifsud Bonnici were far from being positive. He was the Prime Minister of Malta while I was still a child and he was depicted by many individuals as one of the most evil people in the country.

I fell in love with politics from a very early age. Virtually all the members of my family were also quite passionate about anything political. While other children were only interested in playing with toy soldiers or reading comics, I used to love listening to political hymns and attending public meetings.

It was only after I started analysing the ideological differences between being a right-wing and a left-wing supporter that I decided to do my own research about Malta's political history. There is no doubt that the political violence which occurred during the late 1970s and throughout most of the 1980s characterised one of the darkest chapters in Maltese history. A detailed look at those sad events is beyond the aim of this post and I will, therefore, avoid discussing them here. I am still learning more about certain events and I am strongly confident that as more stories are heard during the coming years, an increasing number of people will be able to view that part of the country's history more objectively.

Turning to Dr Mifsud Bonnici, I believe that even though he might not have been able to prevent various outbreaks of violence in the country when he was a Prime Minister, I think that he was a person who worked hard to teach the Maltese people about the beauty of the socialist ideology. Like any other human being, he was not perfect; some serious mistakes might have been committed when dealing with certain issues, but the most important thing is to learn from such errors so that they are not repeated in the future.

Whoever would like to learn more about Dr Mifsud Bonnici should read the book Karmenu: Is-Snin tat-Thejjija. The book is a collection of speeches that he gave in various parts of the country. I have decided to quote a couple of excerpts to demonstrate his commitment to transforming the Maltese society into a perfectly socialist one:

"Ahna niftahru mad-dinja kolha, ma ghandna xejn li jhammrilna wiccna li nghidu, li t-taghlim ghalina ma ghandux ikun mezz ta' negozju u lanqas mezz li jifred klassi minn ohra. Ahna nemmnu li t-taghlim ghandu jkun b'xejn ghal kulhadd, bhal ma ghandha tkun b'xejn ghal kulhadd il-kura tal-mard." ("We boast to all the countries of the world that we have nothing to be ashamed of when we say that education should not be used as a money-making tool or to create class distinctions. We believe that education should be free for everyone, just as healthcare should be free for all people.")

"Ftakru li dik [l-imhabba lejn il-proxxmu taghna] hija l-arma, dak huwa li jaghraf it-twemmin taghna minn twemminijiet ohrajn, minn partiti ohrajn, minn ideologiji ohrajn. L-imhabba kbira lejn ghajrna, li naghtu servizz lil haddiehor, li nghinu lil haddiehor fil-bzonn. Min m'ghandux bzonn ma jistenniex li ahna nghinuh imma min ghandu bzonn, ghax ahna Socjalisti, jistenna li jsib l-ghajnuna." ("Remember that that [loving one's neighbour] is the instrument, that is what distinguishes what we believe in from other beliefs, political parties, and ideologies. The great love towards our neighbours, giving a service to others, helping those in need. Whoever does not need help does not expect us to help them, but - as Socialists - whoever needs help expects to find it.")

In future, I will quote more sections from Dr Mifsud Bonnici's speeches to show that - like Mr Mintoff - he was also an advocate of Socialism.

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmelo_Mifsud_Bonnici

Literal Interpretations of the Bible

Although there are some very comforting words in the Bible, there appears to be a huge amount of material that should not be interpreted literally. Although interpreting the Bible literally eliminates the hassle of trying to reason about various topics, I believe that the human ability to analyse things should never be replaced by a sort of faith which is totally cut off from any type of rational thinking.

Sadly, there are still millions of people - especially in the US - who have embraced a completely literal interpretation of the Bible. Logical conversations with such individuals can sometimes be quite hard since debate is usually discarded and almost every topic is discussed in an extremely dogmatic way.

I was relieved to discover that the Roman Catholic Church does not endorse a totally literal interpretation of the Bible. Indeed, below is a copy of a very interesting article which I found on the Internet:

Vatican Condemns Literal Interpretation of the Bible

VATICAN CITY, Italy - The Vatican criticized a literal interpretation of the Bible and said the fundamentalist approach to scripture was “a kind of intellectual suicide.” A Vatican document said fundamentalism “refuses to admit that the inspired Word of God has been expressed in human language... by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources.” The 125-page document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, was written by the Pontifical Biblical Com-mission, a group of scholars who assist the Pope in the study of scripture. It noted that a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible had been gaining strength. The Vatican is increasingly concerned about the number of Catholics, especially in Latin America, who have abandoned the church for fast-growing fundamentalist sects. “The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life,” the document said. Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide.” A fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible began during the Reformation, when Protestants showed an increasing concern for fidelity to the literal meaning of scripture. The document said fundamentalism refused to admit that there was a human element in the transmission of the Word of God. One member of the commission, Jesuit Father Joseph Fitzmyer, said fundamentalists failed to recognize that several years elapsed between the time Jesus spoke and the time when the gospels were written. “There was no stenographer, no one with a tape recorder on that time,” said Fitzmyer.

From The Star, 1994 Manila, Philippines

At the end of the day, I believe that for a Christian organisation to be socially relevant, it has to apply the principles it upholds to modern-day difficulties. Helping all those people who feel ostracised in today's world believe that they also have an important role in society is - in my view - far more important than spending hours talking about Moses or about Abraham. Merely babbling away about Jesus without taking any sort of action when there are still so many human beings who are lonely, hungry, and sick does not really strike me as a highly effective way of building a better world.

Friday, 21 September 2007

21st Century Socialism

Many people have been extremely critical of Hugo Chavez, especially in the Western world. He is often depicted as a dictator or, worse, as a totally crazy guy.

I had decided to keep an open mind from the very beginning. I was aware of the bias that still seems to persist in many parts of the world; that of smearing any individual who praises socialism as a totalitarian person with no respect for human rights.

A few months ago, a great deal of attention was given to the Venezuelan government's decision to avoid renewing the license of a famous TV station. This was described by various reporters as an attempt to curb the freedom of speech in Venezuela. Although this was the version propagated by numerous organisations that oppose Chavez, another reporter who had been living in the country for 8 years presented another view about this controversial matter. Mr Bart Jones, the author, has also published a book about Chavez fairly recently and it seems destined to correct the record about many misconceptions that have been spread about the Venezuelan President over the last few years.

Chavez has often talked about 21st Century Socialism. For all those who keep on insisting that Chavez is a dictator and that 21st Century Socialism is anti-democratic, I would like to quote the following excerpts from a speech made by one of his former Ministers:

"When I say that we find ourselves in an unprecedented transition, the political and social order that our nation is experiencing, among other things, I am referring to the process of construction of a new political, economic, and social order that we have denominated 21st Century Socialism. The term socialism, unfortunately, does not have a homogenous and fixed meaning for everyone who uses the term and from there comes, perhaps, the uncertainty and uneasiness that is created in some sectors of the country when it is only mentioned. The call from President Hugo Chavez to construct 21st Century Socialism implies the urgent necessity to formalize our own theoretical model of socialism that is adapted to our historical, social, cultural, and political context.

We have to admit that this theoretical model, for the time being, does not exist, nor has it been formulated and I am guessing that as long as it remains so, there will remain uncertainties in some social groups. As I have said, on the other hand, we must invent 21st Century Socialism, yes, but not in an unorganized and chaotic way, but rather taking advantage of the tools and the framework of references that science gives us...

We have listened in recent times to some theorists who want to contribute to the construction of a specifically Venezuelan socialist model, about how inconvenient it would be to repeat the errors made in countries known as socialist, among them the emblematic example of the extinct Soviet Union. However, I think that the errors that these theorists point to belong exclusively to the failures of the political order of the Soviet model, for example, with respect to the relationship between the revolutionary party and the government, and between the party and the population, or in the danger in making the same errors of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which became n organization that substituted and displaced the society, and ended up being controlled by the Central Committee of the Party.

In the political order, our model of socialism must be profoundly democratic. It must explain once and for all that a system of socialist production is not incompatible with profoundly democratic political system and division of power. In this aspect, I think that indeed we should separate ourselves from the Marxist orthodoxy that considers that democracy with a division of powers is only an instrument of bourgeois domination. As our President pointed out in an interview with Manuel Cabieses, the director of the magazine Punto Final, I quote, “In the political line, one of the determining factors of 21st Century Socialism must be participatory democracy, popular power, everything has to be centered in the people. The party must be subordinated to the people, not the other way around.”

However, the errors of the political order are not the only errors that we should consider. We must not forget something fundamental. Socialism is, in a strict sense, a system of economic production, just like the capitalist system that it must replace is also a system of economic production but in subjugating terms against the human condition, and therefore, with an abysmally different focus...

And our President’s call to construct and invent 21st Century Socialism has also been accompanied by some guidelines and directives such as that our model must and has to be profoundly Christian, based in the ideas of social justice, of Christ our savior."

The full speech is available here: http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/2512

It is hoped that by educating themselves about socialism, many people can overcome their destructive biases and help to build a better world for everyone.

The Perfect Highly-Skilled Human Being

I must say that I am a perfectionist. When writing something, I tend to go over and over whatever I write in an attempt to polish it up. There have been times when things written several months ago were revised in order to convey a message in a better way.

Being a perfectionist can be extremely frustrating when coming to terms with the several imperfections found in this world. I acknowledge the fact that no human being is perfect, but that does not stop me from wanting to become perfect.

Apart from hoping that a day will come when I can be perfect, I also aspire to being extremely skilled in various areas. Indeed, I really admire individuals who are highly competent in a number of disciplines. When I was younger, I often enjoyed spending a great deal of my time acquiring knowledge about physics, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology...Nowadays, the demands of a typical working day do not leave much time and energy to focus on the pursuit of excellence in several areas. Furthermore, most disciplines have become so specialised that in order to remain as an expert in a particular field, it can be quite challenging to find the resources to maintain a certain level of expertise and achieve the same degree of skill in many other areas. This matter has been brought to my attention by a number of IT specialists who talked about the need to keep attending courses on a very regular basis in order to keep up with the latest developments in the computers industry.

In any case, there is no harm in having goals in life. I like to imagine myself as perfect and highly skilled in countless disciplines; no matter how long it might take to get there, the journey is an extremely interesting one! :)

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Nationalist Party Independence Day Celebrations

I did not attend these celebrations as a Nationalist Party supporter; I only went there to give my wife an idea of what a Maltese political meeting looks like!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Reflections about Jesus


I was born and raised in a Roman Catholic family. My Christian faith was a very important part of my life until I was about 16 years old. Shortly after I started reading Nietzsche's works, I slipped away from the Roman Catholic Church. I lost all my faith and became a fervent atheist. I reached a point where any religious talk was so annoying to my ears that I used to engage in very heavy discussions with anyone who voiced such discourse!
A year or so after turning into an atheist, I realised that I had no evidence to show that God was merely a human invention. I was, consequently, drawn to the agnostic position whereby I could not really say whether there was a God or not. I spent around 4 years living as an agnostic.
The strange thing is that during all that time, I never lost my interest in religion. Even though I still found it extremely hard to believe in something that I could not see, I kept reading books about religious matters. At university, some of my closest friends were preparing to become priests/missionaries. I remember thinking to myself that if I did not want to know about God, it seemed as though he was not equally willing to let me go!

In 2003, I went to Spain. I spent more than a year living in Madrid. During my time in the Spanish capital, I came across a number of religious creeds. Although I was initially very sceptical about any religion I read about, I gradually felt a desire to give faith another chance. I befriended some members of an Evangelical Christian organisation. They were very nice and honest people, but they would hardly ever talk about anything that was not somehow related to the Bible. Furthermore, they took the Bible very literally.

Although I enjoyed spending time with the Evangelical Christian friends I met in Spain, I did not really like their Sunday gatherings so much. These events were normally characterised by a great deal of singing, hand-clapping, crying, and other emotionally-charged behaviours. The pastors usually shouted as they spoke to the audience. There seemed to be a huge emphasis on drama rather than on inducing people to reflect so that they could do something practical to change the world. This is not meant to be a critique of Evangelical Christian gatherings; I just did not feel so comfortable in such a setting. I also disliked the fact that the Bible was often discussed without much reference to the reality of one's everyday problems. Social and personal difficulties were mentioned, but these were frequently dealt with in a very simplistic way, failing to take into consideration the complexities of the human condition.

Though disillusioned with the Evangelical Christian organisation, I still harboured a strong interest in Jesus's teachings. I then came across a book called Salvar a Los Ninos Soldados by Gervasio Sanchez. This book focused on the work of Chema Caballero, a Spanish missionary in Sierra Leone. As I moved from one chapter to another, I felt a great joy in my heart. Unlike several priests I had met until that stage in my life, Chema was quite different; he managed to support the Catholic Church without trying to impose his views on the readers. He also came across as a person who enjoyed thinking rather than simply regurgitating dogmas. The book had a profound impact on my views about God. Indeed, I decided to identify with the Catholic Church once again and to take a fresh look at Jesus.

As I was still going through that phase, I found another book which also had a huge impact on my faith. Written by Vicente Romero, it was called Donde Anidan Los Angeles. Although the book was not about the Roman Catholic Church, it focused on several Catholic missionaries. To my surprise, a section of the book was devoted to Chema Caballero and his remarkable work with child soldiers in West Africa! Once again, I noticed how the missionaries who viewed human suffering first-hand on a regular basis had very interesting views about God and the Church; faced with countless complex problems, they tended to retain the love of humanity associated with Jesus while being less dogmatic when analysing various issues.

In January 2005, I left Spain to go to El Salvador. During the few months that I spent in the latter country, my interest in religious matters waned a bit as I focused on settling down in a new country. The stay in El Salvador did, however, help me to learn more about Archbishop Romero, a remarkable individual who was assassinated in 1980. I also read a bit about the admirable work of the Jesuits in the country over many years.

I returned to Malta in June 2005. My interest in the Catholic Church was fired up for a while, but in the absence of any nourishment, my enthusiasm waned once again. I eventually slided back to my agnostic stance. Wendy came to Malta in October of the same year and for a fairly long time, religion became little more than an interesting topic to discuss with other people.

My mom passed away in March 2006. Contrary to all expectations, my family deserted us completely. With Wendy's family far away in El Salvador and my family acting in an incredibly distant way, we felt like orphans. Support from friends was also very hard to find since many appeared to be more interested in other things rather than in nurturing the friendships.

As time went by, Wendy and I developed some new friendships. Some of them were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the members are often referred to as Mormons). These new friends seemed to understand the meaning of the word "friendship"; they were there with us to share the good times and they were also there to help in times of need.

The Mormon Church does not have many members in Malta. This creates a certain familiarity among the people who attend the services every Sunday. As a Christian organisation with a focus on Jesus Christ, it promotes some very positive values. Having said that, certain beliefs can be very hard for individuals with a Roman Catholic background to digest. For instance, Mormons are not supposed to drink tea or coffee. Drinking wine is also prohibited.

Brushing aside some of the beliefs associated with the Mormon Church, virtually all the people we met who belonged to that organisation were really friendly. Unlike most of the other individuals I knew, they were genuinely interested in spending quality time with friends.

When I wondered about why the many Mormons we met were so pleasant, I drew the conclusion that this was mainly because of their efforts to apply the teachings of Jesus to their lives. I had always believed that Jesus was a remarkably positive person, but I had met few people whose Christian principles were consistent with their everyday actions. With the Mormons, it was quite different.

Nowadays, I still have many friends who are Mormons. Having said that, I feel more attracted to the Roman Catholic Church. I believe that the latter provides a better chance to those people who admire Jesus to translate their faith into action in the everyday world.

At this stage, what are my current views about Jesus? To me, he is a role model. Having lived so many centuries ago and having never written any books himself, he might be misunderstood by countless individuals. Yet, I believe that Jesus was a person who wanted to show us that we could all live happily together. He taught us about the importance of love. He was interested in human wellbeing and his several healings bear witness to this. He often talked about his heavenly father and I do not feel that I have anything to lose by believing in God. At the end of the day, how could I show that God is a myth?

Unfortunately, many people perceive God as a stern police officer that is always ready to judge and punish us every time we do something wrong. The God I believe in, represented on Earth by Jesus, is a God of LOVE. Real love always seeks to heal, to improve, to build. I always say to myself that if I, an imperfect human being with all my biases, am able to forgive the person who has hurt me most in my life, imagine what God - the most loving entity in the universe - is capable of doing!!!


In the past, when I brushed God and Jesus to the side, I tried to find lasting happiness by resorting to other things. For a long time, I also believed that I would always be able to rely on a number of individuals considered as extremely good friends or family members. Experience has clearly shown that all those people who have not acted in a Christ-like way have ended up going their separate ways in order to pursue a life dictated by very selfish motives.

To conclude, I would like to say that the main factor which prevented me from believing in God for a long time in my life was the thought that God might be a human invention. Nowadays, that possibility no longer troubles me. Regardless of whether God exists or not, the values promoted by Jesus are good ones. The notion of transforming this universe into a place characterised by peace and love does not need to rest exclusively on faith; it is a goal which all true Catholics should aspire to achieve. The transformation of the universe into a better place need not await a miracle; we can all contribute to it starting from today. Starting from now.

Image taken from: http://oneyearbibleimages.com/jesus_heals___1.jpg

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Cards and Photos

Yesterday afternoon and earlier on today, I was having a look at various birthday cards that I had received several years ago. I also opened some of my photo albums. As I read the words written on some of the cards, I could not help feeling a bit sad. I felt pretty much the same as I looked at many photos.

As a person, I love cards and photos. They help to remind us that we are loved and that life has so many beautiful things to offer. Yet, the same two things can also be a reminder of broken promises and of the fact that loss is a part of life. In 2006, my mom passed away and one of my best friends also grew distant from me. I felt very angry and and terribly wounded. I thank Wendy for having helped me throughout the healing process, but the scars are still there.

When I saw countless photos of my mom and of the many good times we shared, I felt as though someone was squeezing my heart. I felt the same when I was reading the birthday cards she had given me over the years. The melancholy was strengthened when I saw the beautiful words about lasting friendships penned by various friends who have almost completely disappeared since the days when those cards were written.

To me, friendship is extremely important. It is one of the most beautiful things in this world. I do not treat my friends as though there were a contract stating that the friendship would only last for a specific period of time. I am one of those individuals who still believes that friendship should be eternal. There might be misunderstandings and conflicts, but true friendship can overcome all such things.

I would not like to generalise, but it seems that several people befriend others for very selfish reasons. Once an individual is no longer necessary to achieve certain goals, he/she is dumped and totally forgotten. Sadly, I have seen this happen MANY times!!! Just to mention what appears to be a fairly common situation, numerous individuals seem to be extremely friendly when they are single. As soon as a romantic partner is found, a huge change becomes noticeable; the former friendliness is replaced by a distant and uncaring attitude.

In spite of my negative experiences, I am still confident that there are many people out there who believe that true friendships exist and that such relationships should last forever!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Blogs We Luv

I recently answered some questions that were available on the following very interesting site: http://blogsweluv.com/

If you would like to have a look at my answers, just click on the above-mentioned link and enjoy!!! :)

Sunday, 2 September 2007

My Current Position on the Political Compass

While reviewing Confessions of an Atheist, one of my favourite blogs, I came across a very interesting test that should show a person his/her current position on the political compass. The above diagram features the way in which the compass is divided.

Should you want to see my position on the political compass, please click here: http://www.politicalcompass.org/printablegraph?ec=-9.25&soc=-5.54

If you would like to go through the test to see where YOU stand, please click onto the following link: http://www.politicalcompass.org/test

Diagram source: http://www.politicalcompass.org/test

My Wedding Anniversary


Today marks my first wedding anniversary. I am so glad to have Wendy in my life! She is a unique person and I feel so happy to be with her! We understand one another so well and we have always been able to weather all of life's storms together.

Wen, te quiero muchisimo!!! Eres mi luz en la oscuridad, mi esperanza en la desesperacion, mi sonrisa en la tristeza, mi medicina en la enfermedad, mi riqueza en la pobreza...eres mi futuro en el presente!