Monday, 30 July 2007

Dom Mintoff: An Advocate of Socialism

The intention of this post is not to worship Dom Mintoff, one of Malta's former Prime Ministers. Having said this, I would like to echo what many Maltese people still say about him -he was the person who rescued Malta from a state of gross ignorance and poverty. As is the case with any other human being, Mintoff was not perfect. With the benefit of hindsight, certain things could have been avoided or been done differently. In spite of his faults, he surely had the guts to face various opponents as he tried to convert the Maltese society into a socialist one.

Raised by a family that supported the Nationalist Party absolutely blindly, I grew up to see Mintoff as a terribly evil man. As a child and as a teenager, I never questioned the propaganda that was injected into my blood at home and via reading materials supplied by the Nationalist Party. It was only during the last year or so, once I started doing my own research, that I realised that even though Mintoff was not perfect, he was no monster.

In order to understand a person, it is essential to read his/her own words. I would like to quote a section of a speech that he gave at Mosta on the 28/02/1976:

"Kieku jien ghext biss biex nara l-poplu jitghallem, kieku wkoll kuntent. Il-poplu llum tghallem hafna affarijiet. Tghallem li l-poplu huwa familja wahda u l-kap taghha jrid jahseb l-ewwel ghall-batut u wara ghal min hu b'sahhtu. Il-poplu tghallem li rridu nghixu u nahdmu ghal xulxin. Dan huwa bidu ta' generazzjoni socjalista." ("If I had only lived to see the people learn, I would be happy. Nowadays, the people have learned many things. They have learned that we are all members of a family and that the head must first think about the suffering member and then about the healthy one. The people have learned that we have to live and work for each other. This is the beginning of a socialist generation.")

In future entries, I will quote other excerpts from Mintoff's speeches. For now, I would simply like to show that the Nationalist Party had waged a strong campaign to demonise him. Hopefully, history will help to reveal him as the strongly socialist man that he was; he was completely dedicated to his task of persuading the Maltese electorate that the socialist path was the best one for Malta.

It is important to note that when Mintoff was the Prime Minister of Malta, the Cold War was still raging throughout the world. Various US Administrations kept viewing any person who talked fervently about socialism as a serious threat to the interests of the capitalist system. According to an article which appeared in The Malta Independent (03/06/2007), the US Administration had toyed with the idea of assassinating Mintoff. Quoting from the article, "there was a plot to overthrow and possibly kill Mintoff, Allende-style, but it was being crafted by US Navy intelligence in conjunction with the neo-fascist and renegade Italian intelligence elements in Rome. The US Navy wanted to overthrow Mintoff to gain access to its former NATO base on the island nation off the Libyan coast."

Based on my research, it seems that a number of other countries were somewhat involved in the events that shook Malta during the 1970s and, especially, during the 1980s. Although I do not have any evidence of this until now, it could be that the Nationalist Party had contacts with other political movements abroad in order to overthrow the Malta Labour Party. Hopefully, we will learn more about all this as we take a deeper look at Malta's history.

Malta Independent article available at:

El Salvador

I left Spain to go to El Salvador on the 10/01/2005. I only spent a few months living there, but I have to say that the memories I have related to that country are among my most treasured ones.

The following clip shows some breathtaking pictures of El Salvador:

Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero was a Salvadoran archbishop who fought incessantly against the injustices that were being perpetrated in El Salvador by the right-wing factions that ruled the country mercilessly. He was assassinated in 1980.
The following video clip is a wonderful tribute to one of El Salvador's most admired men:

Where Have All the Doctors Gone???

A few days ago, I went to see a General Practitioner (GP) at the St James Hospital in Sliema. I was instructed to wait in the Emergency Care Unit section. I found that rather odd since it had never happened to me before. In the past, whenever I went to see a GP at the hospital, I used to wait for around 10 to 15 minutes in an area close to the reception desk.

This time, things were totally different. The waiting area was different and so was the time spent waiting to be seen by a doctor. I waited for at least 40 minutes and even though I asked two staff members for further assistance, I was merely told that someone would eventually call my name. The number of people in the area started to increase. The facial expression on some faces started turning from boredom to frustration. Since I had to meet my dad, I could not wait any longer; I left the hospital, informing one of the receptionists that I was going to return later on.

I returned to the hospital at around 06:30PM. I waited for an additional hour or so!!! I went to complain to one of the nurses and to the receptionist. Around 10 minutes after I complained, a nurse called my name. As was the case on previous occasions, I was expecting to be accompanied to a room in which I could talk to the GP about my problems. Wrong! I was escorted to an area that was separated from the other clients by a curtain!!! Just for those of you who still do not know this, the St James Hospital is a private hospital. Given all the expectations associated with the service provided at such a type of hospital, the treatment that the clients were receiving on that day was grossly disappointing.

The fee for the GP consultation was also higher than before. In the past, I always paid Lm5.00 for a GP consultation, but I was charged Lm8.00 when I went! When I enquired about this increase at the reception desk, I was informed that the fee was higher since I had received the treatment after 8PM. Well, I had returned to the hospital at 06:30PM; it was not my fault if I ended up receiving the treatment after 8PM!!!!

A couple of days later, I was talking to a nurse who works at the St James Hospital in Sliema. I told her about my experience at the hospital earlier during the week and asked her if there was a staff problem. Looking sadly, she commented that there was a huge shortage of GPs. She informed me that the hospital had issued vacancies for GPs with a starting salary of Lm14,000, but nobody was applying!!! Many doctors were going abroad almost immediately after graduating from university, leaving the country with a need for more doctors. The shortage of doctors is also putting a huge amount of pressure on the ones who remain in Malta; the remaining doctors have to meet the medical demands of the population in Malta and the work that should be done by three people is apparently often being done by one person whose physical resources are stretched to the limit!

It seems that most of the doctors who are graduating from the University of Malta are going abroad because of the appalling working conditions that exist in Malta. The Maltese government is surely to blame for allowing the working conditions to be so bad to push the bulk of Malta's graduating doctors to other parts of the world. Solving this problem should be a priority if we want to avoid a continuation of the current crisis in the medical services sector.

Seeking what is best for oneself, I can understand a young doctor's desire to go abroad immediately after graduating from university in order to earn more money and to enjoy better working conditions. Yet, when one considers the fact that Maltese university students are able to get an education for FREE (not to mention the grant which is received on a monthly basis), I believe that every graduate should spend some time working in Malta before going abroad. If the country has invested in you by allowing you to pursue your education freely, it is only reasonable to expect that that act of goodwill should be returned. In retrospect, perhaps Dom Mintoff (one of Malta's former Prime Ministers) was not totally wrong when he insisted that graduating doctors should spend around two years working in Malta before being allowed to practise in other countries.

Apart from rectifying the working conditions problems, I believe that the government should also do more to encourage young people to study medicine so that we can overcome the current shortage of doctors. Doctors might be contracted from foreign countries, but the process might take time and there is no guarantee that a desired number would be willing to come over to work here on a long-term basis.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The Chilean Case

In the early 1970s, Salvador Allende - a leftist politician - came to power in Chile after winning the elections. Nobody could deny the fact that his party had come to power democratically.

Although the US is often depicted as the strongest supporter of world democracy and self-determination, the Nixon Administration showed that it did not really care about democracy when it decided to support Augusto Pinochet's coup in September 1973. In its attempt to establish capitalism in every corner of the planet, the US Administration provided a great deal of assistance to overthrow a legitimate government. As the historical records show, Allende's government was replaced by Pinochet's dictatorship, which led to the murder of thousands of Chileans.

Countless Allende supporters used to sing "Venceremos" (We Shall Win) during various political events. It is a wonderful song that is still sung by several socialists all over the world, especially in Latin America. I was able to find a video on the YouTube site where you can listen to it. Socialists of the world, WE SHALL WIN!!!!

Please click here to watch the video and to hear the song:

Be a Man!!!

Nowadays, one can frequently hear a person telling somebody else to "be a man". There is little doubt that once a human being is born with the structural characteristics which make him a male, society tends to brand that individual with a list of expected behaviours.
What is a man supposed to be like as a person? Based on the messages that are often circulated in most societies, a man should never cry, should never shun physical work, should not like to gossip, should prefer engineering or mathematics instead of home economics and English literature, should exercise almost daily in order to have an athlete's body, should love cars and driving, should only be attracted to females, should lose his virginity in his teens....

Although some could argue that the above characteristics are due to genetics, I strongly believe that they are stereotypes. Furthermore, they tend to instill fear in many, if not most, males - the fear of being different. Society's pressure to conform seems to be most evident when puberty kicks in and a young male reaches the teenage years. During that period, most males usually start becoming more self-aware than ever before. Indeed, likes and dislikes normally become more prominent, doubts concerning personal attractiveness could easily take more importance over one's studies, and losing one's virginity frequently develops into an obsession. The most important thing for what appears to be the majority of teenagers is to "be cool" since it is not always easy to talk about manhood to a 15-year-old male.

Of course, the problems start when individuals stray from society's standards. How does society react to a male who suddenly confesses that he feels more attracted to other men than to women? What happens when a man expresses a desire to be a baby-sitter? How is a crying man normally treated in most societies? Isn't it true that a 40-year-old male virgin is likely to end up as a subject of ridicule and perhaps the protagonist of a movie that is supposed to make people laugh like crazy simply because of the man's sexual status at his age?

Nowadays, most people appear to enjoy talking about psychology. Well, whoever bothers to take a serious look at what various scholars have written about gender stereotypes would probably be shocked to discover the negative impact that such assumptions could have on the lives of countless individuals. Yes, males and females are anatomically different. Yes, there are physiological differences between males and females. Yet, has genetics determined the age at which a man should lose his virginity? Has genetics determined whether it is acceptable for a male to cry? (By the way, crying is said to be a healthy activity for the body.) I strongly doubt that genetics has anything to do with such behaviours!!!

One of my favourite songs is called "Uomini Soli". The latter was composed by Pooh and it helped them to win the Sanremo Song Festival in 1990. The song dwells mainly on men who are alone for various reasons. The words are excellent food for thought! For those who are interested, the video is available here:

With reference to this song, a certain Francesco220 wrote: "In questo mondo infame all'uomo non gli son rimasti ne gli occhi per piangere,ne la voce per gridare,ne le mani per pregare..." (In this awful world, a man no longer has the eyes to cry, the voice to scream, and neither the hands to pray.). Another person, nicknamed "lunaestiva", stated: "A tutti quelli che si sentono soli e diversi..a tutti quelli che non trovano pace nel cuore e che viaggiano lontano con la mente perchè non possono cambiare questa realtà ... spesso tanto difficile da comprendere e da accettare, dedico queste mie parole!!" (To all those who feel lonely and all those who cannot find peace in their hearts and who travel far in their thoughts since they cannot change this reality...often so hard to understand and to accept, I dedicate my words!!").

To conclude, I believe that we should never forget that we are, first and foremost, human beings. Perhaps we could prevent a huge amount of pain in the lives of many people by focusing on what unites us rather than on what separates us. And if there are differences, perhaps the time has come to start understanding and tolerating them rather than to immediately perceive them as inherently negative.

Socialist Societies

I was recently going through my university notes. On one of the many pieces of papers lying around, I found a paragraph which I would like to share with you here:

"Societies with socialist principles make a particular effort to minimize the frustration of their citizens by ensuring that people have access to necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter and health services."

Unfortunately, I do not have the source for the above excerpt.

Long live socialism!!!

Child and Teen Obesity in Malta

This morning, I had to go to the St James Hospital. While I was there, there was a small card which captured my attention. It said: "Malta places first in child and teen obesity." There were also some statistics available:

Wales: 21.2%
USA: 25.1%
Malta: 25.4%

The above percentages "refer to the countries with the highest prevalence of overweight youth aged 10-16 according to Janssen et al."

Compared to adults, it is often assumed that children and teenagers should be fitter since they spend more time playing games like soccer and running around. Perhaps soccer and other sports activities were more popular when I was a kid. Nowadays, with Internet, the countless Playstation games, cable TV, and other similar ways to spend one's leisure time, children and teenagers are able to gain more weight as they do very little exercise.

Obesity during one's childhood and teenage years is unhealthy. Yet, there is another particularly worrying aspect to it - the psychological problems that can develop as a result of this condition. In a culture which strongly favours slim - almost anorexic - individuals, obese people are likely to suffer from discrimination and other negative social treatment.

The Dangers of Dogmatic Thinking

Imagine that you had a question about the structure of atoms. Imagine that you asked me this question and I gave you an answer. Imagine that when you asked me to explain my answer, I told you: "Whatever I say is true; you should therefore accept whatever I tell you!" Would you take my answer at face-value? Or would you want to investigate further so that you could confirm whether what I said is truly based on facts?

It seems that human beings could be divided into two main groups - those who are willing to believe almost everything they are told at face-value and those who are more analytical and enjoy looking for facts. Ever since I was 16 years old, I belonged to this latter category. I simpy could not accept something simply because a popular person said it! As time went by and I furthered my studies, I became increasingly analytical. I fell in love with the sciences; a love affair that has never decreased in its intensity! I learned how to identify facts from superstition; I read about the way scientific theories are formulated; I realised the importance of challenging assumptions in the quest for Truth...

As my scientific knowledge broadened, I found myself looking back at different historical eras; at the ways in which various civilisations tried to understand the world. The prevalence of dogmatic thinking throughout a number of historical periods made me shudder! Even a superficial reading of what happened during certain eras is sufficient to show the highly destructive effects of dogmatic thinking. Entire civilisations based most of their beliefs on nothing more than assumptions; ignorance was the order of the day.

I am glad to see that we no longer live in times similar to the Middle Ages! I am so happy to know that Albert Einstein was able to challenge Newton's ideas without fearing the possibility of being burnt at the stake for doing so!!!

In spite of the greater popularity of scientific thinking nowadays, it is still possible to encounter countless individuals whose minds have been taken hostage by dogmatic thinking. These people tend to be found within politics and religion. Just as dogmatic thinking was unproductive and dangerous in the past, it can still be dangerous in our times.

When the fires of Marxism were being kindled in the hope of building a better world, a philosophy that was designed as a guide to action was transformed into a dogma. Most people know what happened once the Communist philosophy was taught as a dogma; hundreds of thousands of people were massacred!

If we look at religious creeds, the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church usually comes to mind as the best example of the shockingly disastrous effects of dogmatic thinking. So many people were tortured and killed simply because they were regarded as "deviants"!!!

Dogmatic thinking can lead to total sterility within the scientific field. Yet, what happens when this type of thinking is applied to the analysis of human behaviour?

I spent four years of my life studying Psychology at the University of Malta. I graduated in this area and I have read many books that are somewhat related to it. Having said this, I still consider myself to be light years away from having a full understanding of human behaviour. I do, nevertheless, know that just as is the case with physics, human behaviour cannot be analysed on the basis of opinions.

When faced by the complexity of human behaviour, I am blown away by those people who waste no time in judging the actions of other people purely on the basis of dogmatic beliefs. Do such people really know what they are talking about? As children, many of us were told that doing certain things was good while performing other actions was bad. When we reach adulthood, several people realise - frequently as a result of direct experience - that not everything can be seen in black-or-white terms. Not everything that we see or do is ALWAYS good or ALWAYS bad.

When it comes to the various religions in the world, every one of them claims to reflect the Truth. Of course, as soon as one joins a particular church, the tendency is to look down on all the other churches as delusional or merely as wrong! Such strait-jacketed thinking has often led to interpersonal as well as regional conflicts.

Of course, every church bases its principles on something. The Roman Catholic Church has the Jerusalem Bible, the Papal Encyclicals, and the Church Catechism; the Mormon Church has the King James version of the Bible, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Book of Mormon, the Muslims have the Koran and the Sharia law...

It is hard to discuss the specifics of every religious group unless one is extremely familiar with the beliefs. I was raised as a Roman Catholic and my faith was quite strong until I was 16 years old. It was at that age that I started questioning a number of things. For example, I asked myself: how could a God that possesses the greatest amount of love imaginable create a place called Hell where all his enemies would burn for eternity? Hadn't his son, Jesus, talked about forgiving your enemies? Whenever I looked at The Old Testament, I was often disgusted by the violence that I encountered. Even more shocking was the thought that such brutality came from God!

I am not saying that religion is inherently negative. Various religious groups have done extraordinary work in numerous parts of the world; thousands of lives have been helped thanks to the projects of organisations such as Caritas. Furthermore, if we look at the Jesus that is conveyed to us by the Christian Scriptures, millions of people would agree that his life was geared at relieving human beings from their suffering.

Although the Scriptures provide some information about Jesus, we are left with many questions about him. Why didn't he get married, for instance? (Some scholars believe that he got married, but that is another story!) Why didn't Jesus have any female apostles? Why didn't he write any books during his lifetime?

Unfortunately, many human beings have - over the centuries - tried to answer these questions in two ways: by resorting to dogmatic beliefs or by saying that certain things are bound to remain as mysteries. Should people then be expected to base their lives on things which have to be taken for granted just because someone else told us to do so? Should our lives be based on mysteries?

One could write volumes about this topic, but this would take weeks! To conclude, I believe that we should not be afraid to question the assumptions on which we base certain actions. We should embrace science so that we can avoid the dangers of dogmatic thinking.

This article was originally written on the 09/01/2007.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

A House in St Paul's Bay: A Building That Was Never a Home

During the early 90s, I was delighted when I found out that we were going to move from our apartment in Mosta to a huge house in St Paul's Bay. It was said that the place was one of the biggest in St Paul's Bay. I had also been told that the building was over a hundred years old.

At first, we started spending the summer months there, enjoying the sea that was only a few minutes away. In the evenings, I often used to go out to meet some friends and have a great time in Bugibba. As time wore on, we finally packed our things and the chapter of our lives at Mosta came to an end.

We moved permanently to the house in September 1994. There were countless plans for the new place; we all talked about how beautiful the garden would look once it was given a proper facelift, we fantasised about spending cosy winter nights next to the fireplace, we dreamt about the wonderful furniture that would decorate the house...

The works started in 1995. The old paint was removed, my brother and I spent hours in the garden trying to restore some order and give it a new look, the old electricity system was pulled out and plans were made for new connections and outlets. Work also started on the construction of a fireplace in the living room. A shower with new tiles was added in the bathroom and it was agreed that some new rooms were going to be built on the highest floor. Everything seemed to be going according to plan.

Unfortunately, things suddenly ground to a halt. It appeared that my grandfather used to pay a certain sum of money to the Church each year as rent and when he passed away, nobody paid the rent. Instead of demanding the usual amount of money, which was a very low sum, the Church apparently requested thousands of pounds!!! In order to keep the house, my dad had to pay. The issue dragged on for a number of years. During that time, most of the projects were shelved. The walls remained without any paint, the new carpets were never taken out to decorate the place, the fireplace was never completed, the furniture present was little and fairly old, the foundations for the rooms on the top floor were laid, but the rooms remained open and exposed to the elements. Only the garden looked quite organised and a pleasant sight. At one stage, there were plans to construct a swimming pool, but - like all the other big plans related to the house - it was just another dream that never came true.

In 1997, at the age of 18, I started studying at the University of Malta. The apartment in Mosta had remained vacant and I decided to go there for two reasons. First, the place allowed me to study in peace. Second, at the time, Mosta was the only town that had a bus (Number 58) that would go directly to the university. I would sometimes visit my family on Sundays to have lunch with them, but I hardly went to the house in St Paul's Bay during the week.

As time went by, the house started looking terribly neglected. My mom tried to sweep and to keep it clean, but the place required a huge amount of work to prevent it from falling into further decay. I believe that she felt increasingly depressed about the fact that this house was supposed to be the cradle of countless happy memories, but it turned out to be a factory of nightmares. Apart from the obvious lack of progress in improving the physical conditions of the place, the issue was accompanied by numerous family problems that brought about a great deal of sadness.

To make matters worse, one of my family members was a compulsive collector. He gathered all sorts of items and started placing them all over the house. Whenever the rest of the family tried to highlight the fact that the place was not a museum, he would get into a heavy argument that never improved matters. Entire rooms were packed with various items related to his collections! He often talked about the projects he had in mind for all the things that were usually placed on the floor, but as soon as some of the objects were moved to more tidy locations, new batches appeared. I can still recall very clearly that to walk from the door of my bedroom to where I slept, I had to trod extremely carefully since the floor was littered with books, magazines, and boxes! This person can be a very kind-hearted individual, but the attitude displayed towards my desire to sleep in a clean room was unacceptably selfish.

When I returned from El Salvador, I spent some time living at the house in St Paul's Bay. Fortunately, I managed to move again to Mosta after a few months. During that period, my mom was very ill with cancer and her pain added to the horror associated with the place.

At the moment, the house is for sale. My dad wants to move out. My brother is living elsewhere. My mom passed away in March of last year. We are hoping that it will be sold by December. The place is in a dehumanising state and short of demolishing it, one would require thousands of pounds to restore it. The pictures posted here were taken a few weeks ago. They show a building that was never a home to me.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

I have just finished reading Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. This book is a MUST for anyone who is interested in the struggles faced by low-wage earners in the US.

The author, who has a Ph.D. in biology, decided to try her hand at a number of low-wage jobs to see what life is like for the millions of people whose current occupations do not constitute a pathway to prosperity.

The book is packed with food for thought on the misery faced by countless individuals living in the capitalist system. I strongly recommend Ms Ehrenreich's work to any politician who wants to obtain a clear view of various employment-related issues that need to be tackled fairly urgently in order to build a more humane as well as healthy society.

While reading this book, I thought about the lack of democracy in most, if not all, capitalist workplaces. I find it baffling that while so many people talk about the importance of democracy nowadays, very few individuals seem to report its near-total absence when one goes to work. Talking about low-wage employees, Ms Ehrenreich (2002) stated that "When you enter the low-wage workplace - and many of the medium-wage workplaces as well - you check your civil liberties at the door, leave America and all it supposedly stands for behind, and learn to zip your lips for the duration of the shift...We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world's preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship." (p. 210).

I will stop here for today, but I will keep referring to Ms Ehrenreich's remarkable work in future entries.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Life on the Maltese Islands: Religion, Sex, Italian Cuisine, and Politics

I was born in Malta, one of the three inhabited Maltese islands. Although I have lived in other countries, most of my life was spent in Malta. Being a keen observer of human behaviour, I would like to report my comments about life on the Maltese islands.

Malta has a very long history. Various foreign powers colonised the country over the centuries. Many say that an analysis of the mixture of peoples, languages, and traditions that was witnessed on the Maltese islands is necessary to understand several aspects of what might be called "Maltese behavioural characteristics".

Broadly speaking, the Maltese society could still be regarded as a theocratic one. Although the influence of the Catholic Church on everyday life has waned during the last decade or so, there are many things which serve as powerful reminders that the Church is still very powerful. Just to mention a few examples, it is impossible for a married couple living in Malta to obtain a divorce (It is said that the Philippines is the only other country where divorce is not allowed.); abortion is illegal; there are over 300 churches spread around the islands; there is no law that allows gay couples to get married...

As an institution, the Catholic Church could be praised for countless projects that it has carried out around the world. The work done by various missionaries to combat disease and poverty is fascinating. Yet, there is no denying the fact that just like any other religion, even the Catholic faith is rooted in dogma. Hence, when a society is strongly influenced by a dogmatic way of perceiving life and the world, the attempt to introduce new perspectives is often met by very heavy resistance. Questioning various religious beliefs or criticising the Church are still frequently frowned upon by several Maltese people, regardless of their age.

Before the use of the Internet revolutionised the ways in which people made friends or even sought a date (not to mention other things!), one of the only ways to socialise was by joining a group that was somewhat related to the Church. To this day, although there are non-religious social groups, many would agree that the amount of people attending the activities held by religious ones is far greater than the number of individuals who are more interested in more secular gatherings.

Any foreigner would probably be amazed at the sheer number of religious feasts that are celebrated in Malta. Such celebrations could easily give the impression that the typical Maltese person is a model Catholic. Of course, there are many Maltese people who strive to emulate Jesus, but there is also a huge amount of hypocrisy. This appears to be most evident when one takes a look at two things: the perceptions of several Maltese individuals concerning irregular immigrants and the ways in which sexual matters are often handled.

Starting with the first issue, I would say that there are numerous individuals who have statutes of various saints all over the home, but who then forget about the concept of viewing other human beings as brothers and sisters. Whenever there is a discussion about irregular immigrants (most of whom are black), one can often hear extremely nasty comments which offend the feelings of any person who believes that all human beings should have the same rights. For many Maltese people, loving one's neighbour does not apply to the thousands of irregular immigrants who came to the Maltese islands during the past few years.

Moving to sexual issues, it might be interesting to note that there are no sex shops in Malta. There are some shops which sell a handful of sex games, but I have never come across a shop selling pornographic movies. When Playboy was introduced in Malta sometime in the 1990s, there was a huge fuss made about this; the magazine - which is incredibly soft-natured compared to what is presently available on the Internet - was perceived by many people as a symbol of sin! Prostitution is apparently not a crime, but soliciting is. The Church's history of promoting chastity and its numerous attempts to tarnish any sexual activities outside marriage as sinful have undoubtedly affected the perceptions of countless Maltese individuals. Even though the younger generations are more open to talk about sexual matters, I often still get the impression that the average Maltese person does not like to portray himself/herself as a sexual being. Hence, even though one is frequently exposed to sexual jokes, any person who attempts to have a frank discussion about sex in a public place is often labelled as a pervert. Again, I believe that this is very hypocritical because some of the most popular Maltese chatrooms on the Internet are packed with sexually-loaded comments! Of course, while online, people can hide behind a nickname and they can, therefore, talk as they please and express their fantasies without any restraint. Although Malta still does not have any sex shops, I can only imagine the number of people that are presently downloading pornographic pictures and videos from the Internet!

Sexual repression in a society is unhealthy in many ways. First, if people never talk openly about sexual matters, it is very likely that ignorance will pollute the minds of countless individuals. Sexual myths and unrealistic expectations could cause a great deal of harm as people try to build and to maintain romantic relationships. Second, if there is fear or shame to analyse sexual issues, it is quite probable that people will seek inappropriate or even damaging remedies to any problems they might have.

Turning to food, the Italian influence on the local cuisine is incredibly evident. Pizza and pasta are among the favourite foods for a large percentage of the Maltese population. Coffee and wine are also consumed in great amounts. These characteristics make the Maltese islands highly attractive to those who are in love with countless Italian dishes such as spaghetti alla carbonara. Of course, there are also some local specialities such as the famous "pastizzi" or rabbit cooked in a wine sauce.

Moving on to politics, there are two big political parties in Malta - the Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista) and the Labour Party (Partit Laburista). Taking a look at the political spectrum, both parties are currently fairly centrist. This has led certain people to argue that there are presently very few differences between the two parties. I will not delve into this issue here; I will limit myself to saying that belonging to one party or another can still strongly affect a person's life. In order to understand this phenomenon, one must devote a few words to the historical relationship between Malta's principal political parties. During the 1970s and, especially, during the 1980s, there was a great amount of bitterness between the two parties. Indeed, I strongly believe that a civil war could have easily broken out during the 1980s. Even though the political situation in Malta has calmed down a great deal since those times, the memories of certain events are still very fresh in the minds of countless individuals. For this reason, it is possible to find people who will refuse to employ a person simply because of his/her political beliefs. Since the Maltese islands are so small, it is not so difficult to find out who supports which type of party! My dad, who was a fervent Nationalist for many years, always told me that if I wanted to marry a girl that supported the Malta Labour Party, he would not attend my wedding!!!

There are several other things that could be said about life on the Maltese islands; I could write a volume about each matter discussed above! Having said so, I hope that this article serves to throw some light on certain aspects of life on these islands that are hardly, if ever, mentioned by a tourist guide.

Image taken from:

Friday, 6 July 2007

The World's Next Top Egoist

As one hops from one TV channel to another, it is almost impossible to avoid the deluge of reality-tv shows that has spread like a virus across all the continents! One day there is "Big Brother", the next day "The Girls of the Playboy Mansion", the following day "Britain's Next Top Model"...the list is almost endless!!!

I must say that I am not so surprised by the increase in the number of shows such as "Britain's Next Top Model"; the engineers of a capitalist society are expected to do their utmost to seduce people into believing that capitalism is the only path towards a better world. The same individuals are often heard saying that capitalism has no alternatives. In that way, they attempt to dissuade millions of people from trying to break away from the capitalist system in order to construct a world in which all people live happily and without any deprivations.

Unfortunately, it seems that few people have been questioning the beliefs that are being supported by such shows. Taking "Britain's Next Top Model" as an example, what can one see? Of course, many people might enjoy seeing a handful of good-looking individuals parading some of their best assets. Yet, like most of the other reality-tv shows, only one person is expected to make it to the very end. Indeed, the programme is not called "Britain's Next Top Models"; the producers are seeking the "next top MODEL"! One of the main implicit messages of the show is that you should do whatever it takes in order to win! The friendships developed during such programmes seem to come and go according to whether they enable a contestant to look better or to be more popular. In short, a show such as "Britain's Next Top Model" is merely a tool to promote competition over co-operation.

Some scholars talk very positively about competition, but few people can deny various things associated with it. Competition normally leads to a great lack of trust, secretiveness, less sharing, and the desire to be better than most, if not all, other people.

Rooted in capitalist systems, most countries in the Western world have become champions of competition. Virtually every company in such countries talks about being competitive, about smashing its rivals, about keeping an eye on what the other companies are doing so that they do not become more popular...

In a nutshell, shows such as "Britain's Next Top Model" serve mainly to promote egoism. No matter how entertaining they are said to be, I strongly doubt that they will help to build a better world for everyone. Perhaps we will soon be watching "The World's Next Top Egoist"!!!

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Wedding at Mdina

Last Friday was a public holiday in Malta. My wife (Wendy) and I were invited to attend a wedding of one of my colleagues at the Olive Gardens in Mdina. The food was great and we had a lot of fun!

Just in case you were wondering, the tie colour was not chosen randomly! ;)