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


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."


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.


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)


Saturday, 15 December 2007


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???



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.