Saturday, 13 December 2008

A Walk to Remember

Last Saturday, my wife and I went out for a drink with Kim and Glenn, two very special friends of ours.

As we talked about various things, they suggested that we watch a movie called A Walk to Remember. I watched it with my wife earlier on today and I must say that it is a wonderful film! I will not talk about the specific contents of it here in order to avoid ruining the surprise for those people who have still not watched it, but if you want to witness a story of love, friendship, and forgiveness, this movie should not be missed!!! The story was so moving that a few tears just streamed down my cheeks during certain parts of the movie!

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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Memories

Around a month ago, I visited the apartment in which my maternal grandparents used to live. (The photos in this post were taken during my visit.) When my grandmother passed away in 2005, the flat remained uninhabited. Nobody has lived there since that time. Most of the furniture was left untouched. Even certain dry food items in the kitchen were left there. When I went there, it felt as though someone was still living there.

During my late teens, it was very common to spend Christmas Day with my maternal grandparents inside that apartment. My aunt used to join us and we always had a wonderful time, eating a delicious cake that only my grandmother knew how to prepare and exchanging countless funny tales! Any gifts were obviously welcome! :)



As I walked through the apartment, so many memories came rushing back from my mind's archives. I thought about my grandfather, who passed away in the year 2001. His brother had kicked the bucket only a few months before him. I visualised my grandmother, always ready to offer me some tea or something to eat. I saw myself on the scarlet sofas, laughing my head off, free of any worries, enjoying several Christmas Days...

The apartment belongs to the Government. The latter is expected to reclaim it by the end of this year. I wanted to visit the place before entry will no longer be possible.

As I left the apartment, I felt as though a thick chapter of my life was coming to an end. That place represented the source of so many happy memories. Walking through it without seeing the faces that I was used to seeing there filled the place with sadness. I left with a very heavy heart.

Christmas Day is exactly one month away. Talking about memories, during this time of the year, I cannot help thinking about my mom. Even though she passed away in 2006, I still think about her quite frequently. She was a stubborn person, but extremely loving. To her, Christmas was that time of the year during which one ought to do his/her utmost to transform this world into a better place.

Since she passed away, whatever was left of my biological family broke into several fragments. Since then, my wife and I always wonder where and with whom we might be able to spend Christmas Day. How different things would be if she were still here! She would probably still be calling almost daily to see how my day was, to see that my wife and I are fine, to make sure that we do not need anything...

My mind is packed with several wonderful memories of events shared with my mother. Having said this, almost whenever I think about her, my thoughts frequently go back to the last few months she spent here. Her pain as she struggled with cancer. The terribly cold night my wife and I spent with her at Boffa Hospital only a few days before she passed away. The times when she asked me to give her something to drink and I could not do so since she could no longer ingest anything. Imagine how you would feel if you could barely help a person who had devoted many years to making sure that you never went hungry, cold, penniless!

It is quite fascinating to think about the ability that human beings have to recall memories. They can make us feel enormously happy, but they can also reduce us to tears.

Conversations with an Evangelical Christian

Red: So, do you think that homosexuality is bad?

Evangelical Christian: Yes.

Red: Why is it something bad?

Evangelical Christian: Because it is a sin and the Bible says so!

Red: Oh...but how can you be sure that the Bible is correct? How can you be sure that many of its writings are nothing more than a reflection of beliefs that were somewhat popular several centuries ago?

Evangelical Christian: The people who wrote the Bible were inspired by God...

Red: Ok, let me ask you another question. Do you believe that there is a place called Hell where there is fire and eternal pain?

Evangelical Christian: Yes, I do.

Red: I thought that if God represents the highest degree of love imaginable, he should be able to allow his children to progress, to develop, to change...don't you think that the concept of eternal damnation is against the idea of love?

Evangelical Christian: No!

When having such conversations, all the reasons which had compelled me to drift away from virtually any popular religion come strongly back to mind. I really enjoy thinking about the possibility of building a better world where all people could live together in peace, but it is extremely difficult for me to switch off my rational mind as I try to make a number of positive differences in my life. To believe that homosexuality is wrong or evil simply because of what a person wrote hundreds of years ago is unacceptable to me.

As a person, I like supporting my beliefs with various rational arguments. If, for example, I believe that socialism is better than capitalism, I will do my utmost to provide solid evidence to explain my position. I would never even contemplate going out there to praise socialism simply because somebody wrote that it is a great ideology several centuries ago!

I have to admit that during the past few years, my flirting with religion has often been motivated by the desire to enjoy the nice aspects associated with various religions - the commitment to friendship, to helping one another, to believing that we are brothers and sisters, etc. Those things could be quite attractive, especially in a world in which true friendships seem incredibly hard to find. In the past, I had tried to find such things in secular organisations, but the only time I came close to witnessing a genuine commitment to achieving goals such as co-operation with other human beings, helping those who are suffering, and building a fairer world was when I met several Communists at an international seminar in Brussels earlier on this year.

As stated in a previous post, I cannot deny the fact that praying has often made me feel good. Yet, I still wonder whether my mind was playing tricks on me to convince me that prayers really work...

It is so sad to think that there might be so many other people out there who yearn for friendship, support, and love...who try to find these things in a secular way without too much success...and who eventually end up forcing down a number of totally irrational beliefs down their throats simply to have some true friends, family-like occasions, and perhaps even a romantic partner. Why is it so hard for so many people to adopt the nice and practical qualities of various religions (such as caring about your neighbour) without carrying the burden of having to believe in countless ideas which often lack scientific support?

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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

An Interview with...Myself!!! Part 2



Q: The current government in Malta, led by Dr Lawrence Gonzi, has often argued against the concept of subsidising companies such as the Malta Shipyards Ltd. The government keeps saying that if a state-owned company is transferred to private ownership, the company will be much more profitable. What are your views about all this?


A: Unless I am mistaken, the European Union strongly limits the amount of aid that the State can give to one or more companies. That is not something about which I am very happy.

As far as Malta Shipyards Ltd is concerned, I totally disagree that this should be privatised. Let me explain further. A company's success or failure is usually determined by its management. In the case of the aforementioned company, it is quite clear that it has suffered from fairly inadequate management strategies for many years. This has led to the company's incurring losses for a fairly long period of time. The government has pumped millions of Euros into this company in order to sustain it, but the masses keep being told that all that money was wasted. Nowadays, we have heard about the necessity to privatise this company so often that few individuals seem to bother to ask: why has the Malta Shipyards company been incurring losses for so much time? Furthermore, it appears that an even smaller number of individuals has wondered whether there are any alternatives to privatisation.

When it comes to the provision of subsidies, I am totally in favour of this, as long as certain conditions are satisfied. In the past, whenever a state-owned company faced countless difficulties, the government simply pumped huge sums of money into those organisations in order to help them remain afloat. What is so wrong about that? When a human being is in serious trouble, millions of people around the world would agree that providing some form of assistance to that person is a highly admirable thing to do. Is one, therefore, to conclude that it is fine to help another individual, but totally wrong to attempt to rescue a state-owned company that is caught in the grip of a financial storm? Whenever people provide charitable contributions, they hope that that money will be used for its intended objective. Likewise, whenever tax-payer money is utilised to help a company, a country's workers hope that those contributions are going to be used to achieve the desired goals. If money is given to a company and it is not used wisely, then it is quite understandable that several people might prefer to cut the umbilical cord with that company. When subsidies are used wisely, a company can generate more income and job stability is retained.

Going back to the Malta Shipyards company, I still believe that if the government had really wanted to help this organisation to get back on its feet, the subsidies that were given to it for so many years could have been utilised in a much better way. A good management team could have been assembled to rescue the company from chronic losses. If it is true that there were too many employees, the management should have consulted the government and the unions so that a plan could have been drafted to transfer the extra employees to other organisations. All this was possible without the need to resort to privatisation.

Q: Why are you so sceptical about privatisation?

A: A private company is mainly interested in the maximisation of profit and the minimisation of costs. A state-owned company also wants to be profitable, but it also has other interests, such as providing stable and fulfilling jobs. Obsessed with profit, most private companies would not think twice about sacking countless employees if such individuals are not deemed to be "profitable".

It is also important to remember that the profits earned by a private company end up in the pockets of a relatively small percentage of the population (the shareholders). Any profits made by a state-owned company would benefit the entire population. In a discourse published in 1993 (Abuses of Socialism are Intolerable), Kim Jong Il said the following: "The renegades of socialism are converting socialist ownership into private ownership, claiming that the 'administrative command system' relies on the absolute dominance of state ownership. The socialist ownership which consists of state and all-people ownership and cooperative ownership forms social, economic foundations which enable the popular masses to occupy the position of masters of the state and society and play their role as such. It is clear that if socialist ownership is dissolved and converted into private ownership, the means of prodution, having been privatised, will be concentrated, sooner or later, in the hands of privileged people, speculators and a handful of other exploiters, no matter what the method of privatisation may be. It is not long since privatisation was carried out in those countries in which socialism had collapsed, but millionaires have already appeared while the vast majority of the working people are suffering because of unemployment and poverty" (p.141). Kim Jong Il has been criticised for several things, but his comments have been supported by historical events in many countries.

Q: Any comments about Dr Joseph Muscat?

A: I like the fact that he is a very good diplomat. His attempts to foster fraternal relationships within the Malta Labour Party are highly admirable. Having said that, I believe that he should be more critical when it comes to the neo-liberal ideology that has pervaded virtually all the countries in the Western world. I understand that it is not realistic to expect huge changes to happen in a short span of time, but I would love to see Dr Muscat talk about the plight of the suffering in this country more frequently.


To be continued...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

An Interview with...Myself!!!

During the past few weeks, even though I was extremely busy with my insurance studies, I went over several things in my life. More specifically, I wanted to open the various drawers in my mind and to clean out any cobwebs or dust that had accumulated there over time. :) It was not an easy process, but it was definitely a rewarding one! In order to avoid a rather tedious post about my latest thoughts/beliefs, I have decided to list a number of questions to myself in an interview format. Hope that you will enjoy reading this "interview"! :))

Q: You have an Honours degree in Psychology, but you are studying and working in insurance. In a fairly recent post, you mentioned an interest in studying Medicine. As far as career aspirations are concerned, what plans do you have for the future?

A: It is true that I have an Honour degree in Psychology. It is also true that I have been studying and working in insurance for approximately three years. I cannot deny that there have been a number of instances in the past when I harboured the desire of studying Medicine, but this dream has always ended up being archived somewhere in one of the hidden corners of my mind! Although I will probably always remain fascinated by medical matters, I am hoping to build a future that is somewhat tied with my current occupation. At the moment, I am working as a Senior Claims Insurance Officer and I am presently studying to obtain my Diploma in Insurance. I have recently noticed that many individuals who work on claims tend to take a fairly active interest in legal studies. Working in an insurance management/broking firm, I really enjoy that feeling of safeguarding a client's interests! During the time that I have spent working in the said company, I have often managed to persuade a number of insurance companies to settle countless claims. If I see that a client is right and deserves to be paid a certain amount of money, I can be a big headache for the company that keeps refusing to pay! :)

Ever since I was a child, many people had encouraged me to pursue legal studies. Fascinated by Psychology, I never really thought about studying Law. Nowadays, as I gain more experience in insurance and develop a better understanding of various legal principles, I strongly believe that I could eventually further my studies in Law. I consider myself to be a very assertive person and my ability to communicate in several languages would surely be an asset!

In a nutshell, I plan to continue working and studying insurance for a while. Yet, I also hope to study Law so that I can work as a lawyer sometime in the future.

Q: Your favourite dish?

A: Spaghetti alla carbonara! :)

Q: Favourite TV show?

A: Boston Legal.


To be continued...

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Power of the Media

When I was younger, I used to consider Western media such as CNN as the truth and nothing else but the truth. I never questioned what was said by the capitalist media and the views they espoused became my own during conversations with family and friends. During those days, I never tried to go beyond the rhetoric to see what was NOT being said.

As time went by, however, I became much more critical of the capitalist media. I realised that a journalist or a contributor to the media is, deep down, a person who is trying to transmit their viewpoints across to the world in order to achieve certain goals. Of course, given the fact that most Western countries have adopted a predominantly capitalist economic model, it is not surprising to see that most newspapers, radio stations, and TV channels broadcast pro-capitalist messages. Furthermore, I have noticed that anything or anyone who tries to criticise capitalism is usually either ridiculed, demonised, or simply ignored. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are the perfect examples of this phenomenon.

While the Western media barely ever takes a break from transmitting speeches about democracy and human rights by individuals such as George W. Bush or Gordon Brown, it rarely focuses on what has really happened throughout history once the sweet rhetoric of such people is brushed aside in favour of the hard facts. I will try to shed some light on this point in this post so that every time you hear a UK or US government representative talk about democracy and human rights, you will be able to go beyond the rhetoric and examine the facts.

I guess that few people have heard about a certain Sandy Mitchell. The latter was a British citizen who spent some time working in Saudi Arabia as an anaesthetic technician. In the year 2000, he was accused of being involved in two bombings that shook the country. The authorities arrested Sandy and subjected him to a great deal of torture. Back in the UK, his sister struggled almost constantly in order to push the British Government to do something in order to secure her brother's release. The Foreign Office was clearly terrified of upsetting the good commercial relations that existed between the UK and Saudi Arabia and were, therefore, very reluctant to do much in order to obtain Mr Mitchell's release. As stated by Mark Hollingsworth and Sandy Mitchell, the authors of Saudi Babylon: Torture, Corruption and Cover-Up Inside the House of Saud (2006), "It was clear from the Foreign Office reports that ministers were raising the case but there was no negotiation, lateral thinking or pressure being applied" (p. 163). The same authors added that "Secret trials, torture, no legal defence after uncorroborated confessions and arbitrary detention without charge are features of the Saudi judicial system. Crimes involving national security are so broadly defined that they encompass all non-violent opposition to the government. The Saudis refuse to allow the UN Human Rights Committee to investigate allegations of systematic torture in the Kingdom" (p. 228).

Sadly, it seems that the Western media hardly ever criticises the appalling human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. The authors of the aforementioned book stated that "Concern for human rights in Saudi Arabia ranks very low on the agenda of the US and UK governments. Apart from noting that women face discrimination and the court system is secretive, abuse of human rights is barely mentioned by the UK Foreign Office or in US State Department presentations to Congress about programmes to promote democratic values across the world" (p. 229).

The media is extremely powerful. I believe that it should do much more than simply broadcast capitalist messages. The media should trigger discussions and focus on genuine attempts to reduce the suffering of millions of people all over the world.

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Friday, 12 September 2008

Career Aspirations

A few days ago, La Delirante and I met this girl at a private educational institute. She said that she graduated as a lawyer, but has never really worked as one. Indeed, her current job has virtually nothing to do with her legal studies. She did not complain about the fact that she is not working as a lawyer. The girl said that compared to some of her university colleagues who went on to work as lawyers, she has a much better job. We asked her about decent work opportunities for lawyers here in Malta; her comments were far from encouraging! She said that unless one comes from a family of established lawyers or has strong connections, it is extremely hard to find a good job as a lawyer in present-day Malta. A friend of hers, she told us, had tried to work as a notary and opened an office, but hardly anyone ever turned up. This friend ended up working in a call centre.

Studying something and ending up having to work in a sometimes totally different field is a situation which seems to be affecting a growing number of university graduates locally as well as in many other countries. I spent four years of my life studying Psychology. I was one of the top students in my course, graduating with a high B+ average from university. I also studied Philosophy for several years. When I started looking for a job related to my studies, I could not find anything that matched my knowledge and skills. Some of my classmates ended up working for organisations that helped individuals suffering from a number of behavioural problems, but their jobs were often terribly ill-paid and with very bad conditions. I still remember one girl telling me that she sometimes had to work at night as a sort of security guard in a home for troubled teenagers. She said that she would take a book with her and spend most of the night reading.

I eventually ended up working as a Support Officer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My job did not even require a university degree!

Although the acquisition of knowledge can always be seen as useful (and I surely do not regret having studied Psychology), it is extremely frustrating to see how nobody ever turned on the alarm bells when I was about to enter University. Why is it that nobody informed me that the chances of finding a decent job with an Honours Psychology degree were going to be minimal?

A great deal of the textbooks we used were from the US. Such books often gave one the impression that there is such a huge demand for psychologists that a graduate in that area would never have to face the spectre of unemployment! We were being exposed to the US and sometimes to the UK markets, but hardly anyone was ever enlightening us about the Maltese job market!

Several years have gone by since I graduated. I am presently studying and working in insurance. Up to mid-2005, I had absolutely no idea about how insurance worked. Today, I am working hard to obtain my Diploma in Insurance. As I said in a previous post, I love working in insurance. Yet, there are times when I feel that I could do something more than that since one of the things I like most in life is that beautiful feeling that flows in my system whenever I do something to make other people feel happy. At the end of the day, I studied Psychology for two main reasons: I had fallen in love with science and I wanted to help other human beings to overcome various problems in their lives so that they could feel better about themselves.

If I had the opportunity, I would love to be able to study Medicine. I am sure that the study of how countless body systems work would satisfy my craving for scientific knowledge. More importantly, working as a doctor would allow me to really contribute to improving the welfare of many other people. Moreover, there is always a huge demand for doctors and it is, therefore, virtually impossible to end up unemployed.

The dream is great, but how on earth would I be able to study Medicine today? The course is fairly long and it requires full-time study. With all my current financial commitments, I cannot just stop working to spend the next five years of my life studying! Sadly, this is a dream that is going to have to wait for quite a while until it is turned to reality...

I have focused a great deal on my own experience. Yet, I know that there are several other people out there who could identify with various issues mentioned in this post. During the last month or so, I have come across a girl who graduated in Communications and Psychology, but who is presently working as a receptionist (her duties include preparing coffee and hot chocolate for the directors!). I have also recently met another girl who graduated in Geography, but is working for a financial services company.

One question: shouldn't the government do more to see to it that if a person is studying something, there are several good opportunities to apply the knowledge that is gained painstakingly over a number of years? What is the point of having a Philosophy course at university when the newspaper adverts are almost always looking for graduates in Accounts, Economics, and IT?

Monday, 8 September 2008

The Gods that Failed


I have just finished reading a great book entitled The Gods that Failed: How Blind Faith in Markets Has Cost Us Our Future (2008, The Bodley Head) by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson. I strongly believe that all true left-wing thinkers should read this book. The book, however, also offers a great deal of food for thought for all those individuals who support the free-market economy.

The "gods" referred to in the aforementioned book are a number of ideas that have been and are still predominant in several capitalist countries such as the UK. To mention some examples, the authors talk about the effects of "gods" such as liberalisation, competition, and privatisation.

I will end this post with some quotations that will hopefully encourage the readers to purchase a copy:

"In Britain and the United States a very strange sect has seized power. They believe that we can all reach financial paradise. If only certain sacrifices are made. There must be deregulation, there must be privatisation, and markets must be left unmolested, the better to perform their magic. Democratic governments, unions and professionals will all have to accept that there is no alternative. Meanwhile job security, affordable houses and decent public services wither away in the white heat of financial engineering." (taken from the book's blurb)

"The New Olympians are unconcerned with - in fact, hostile to - job security (other than their own), social tranquillity, and the traditional middle-class aspiration for both the good life and the quiet life. Our modern day Olympians sit in judgement in their central banks, their skyscraper blocks in the financial districts and in the headquarters of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. In these houses of the holy, they roll their eyes in despair when they hear that the Detroit car worker, the Argentinian shopkeeper or the Cornish fisherman is complaining that their way of life is under threat. Like it or lump it, that's just the way it is and has to be, the New Olympians say." (p. 5)

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Friday, 29 August 2008

Two Years...and a Promotion!!!

The 21/08/2008 marked my second year working for an insurance management/broking company. I had never spent so much time working for a specific firm.

I started working in insurance in September 2005. Prior to joining, I had practically no idea about what insurance was all about. I had never studied it or even come close to working in an area that was somewhat related.

My first job in this sector of the financial services industry was that of a health claims handler. The job was very interesting and I learned a great deal about various illnesses, surgical interventions, and treatment types. The company I worked for had also sponsored an insurance course for me to learn the concepts underlying the day-to-day work. I was doing quite well throughout the early stages of the course (I obtained a score of 96% in the last exam that I sat for!), but I had to drop out because of the many times that we had to work overtime. I also decided to drop out since my mom was very ill at that time and it was extremely hard to work, study, and deal with my mom's devastating illness.

I spent less than a year working as a health claims handler. Although the job was very interesting, the employment conditions were not so good. I, therefore, moved to an insurance management/broking company.

Since August 2008, I have dealt with countless commercial and personal lines claims. Thanks to the company's sponsorship policy, I have been able to further my studies in insurance. Indeed, earlier on this year, I obtained my Certificate in Insurance with the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII). I am presently studying to achieve my Diploma in Insurance.

Given the fact that I am very good at communication and that I am able to express myself in other languages (such as Italian and Spanish), most of my time has been dedicated to the handling of the claims issues pertaining to an international client. Nowadays, it is very common for me to spend my day writing emails in Italian although I also send several emails in English. Every now and then, I also have to translate some material from Italian to Spanish or from Spanish to English.

As a person, I am an extremely analytical one. This helps a lot when discussing claims with one or more insurers. By using my argumentative skills and by being assertive, I have often persuaded an insurer to reconsider their settlement offer. :)

I love working in insurance! Once the basic skills are learned, one can go to almost any part of the world to work since insurance companies have become extremely widespread over the last few years.

As is often said, success is the fruit of hard work. After a little over two years, the directors have reviewed my performance favourably and decided to give me a promotion!!! Indeed, I have been promoted to the position of Senior Insurance Officer - Claims. :)) I received several emails from many of my colleagues and their words were very nice.

It is now time to celebrate!!! :)))))

Monday, 18 August 2008

Spreading Democracy?

For the past fifteen years or so, the government of the UK and, especially, that of the US have frequently talked about the concept of "spreading democracy" to every part of the world. Indeed, various covert military operations have been carried out in numerous countries to ensure that "democracy" is sowed. Books such as Guns for Hire: The Inside Story of Freelance Soldiering (by Tony Geraghty) and Veil (by Bob Woodward) provide ample evidence of the attempts made by several US and the UK administrations to instill their vision of democracy in many countries.

As a person with a very strong interest in world events and in politics, I have often asked myself: why do the UK and the US governments talk so much about democracy? Why is this word invoked so many times during countless speeches? What exactly do individuals such as Gordon Brown and George W. Bush mean when they speak almost incessantly about democracy?

Just yesterday, I was reading an article by Stephen Gowans about the demonisation of Robert Mugabe in the Western world. Whilst reading this article, I came across the following part which clarified the meaning of the term "democracy" when used by various representatives of the UK and of the US administrations: "To the US, British and European governments that back the MDC, democracy is more or less equivalent to free trade, free enterprise, free markets and above all, the sanctity of private property, within other countries’ borders. Equally, in the Anglo-American sense, democracy is an electoral competition among two or more parties committed to these values, or what Robert Dahl called polyarchy and Karl Marx called a contest to decide which representative of the bourgeoisie will oppress you for the next four years."

In the eyes of the UK and of the US governments, as long as a country allows the possibility of competition between two or more political parties of virtually any kind, there is nothing much to fear in terms of being able to spread their own business interests. This is because when such a political environment exists, it is extremely common for the UK and for the US administrations to work as follows:

1.) Identify a political party that can be used to further UK/US business interests;

2.) Provide economic and other support to help such a party win as many elections as there are in order to ensure the spread of UK/US business interests;

3.) If there is no political party that currently favours very close ties with the UK/US administrations, transfer a great deal of money to a particular group in the target country to set up a party that can try to win the elections;

4.) Once the chosen party wins an election, keep on providing all the necessary support so that this party can remain in power and so that the country is transformed into a client state.

The UK and US governments sometimes try to persuade the world's population that their desire to spread democracy is motivated by a wish to improve the human rights plight of every human being, regardless of where he/she lives. During the past few months, it has been possible to come across a number of representatives of both governments engaged in extremely heavy criticism of individuals such as Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez. The criticisms seemed to be triggered by a high level of concern about various human rights issues in Zimbabwe and in Venezuela. At this stage, it is very important to bear in mind the great opposition displayed by people such as Mugabe and Chavez when faced with a huge amount of pressure to implement countless neo-liberal economic policies in their countries.

As I listened and read the articles written by numerous representatives of the UK/US governments about several human rights issues in anti-imperialist countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, there was one question that kept cropping up in my mind: if the US and the UK governments are so concerned about improving the human rights situation for every person in the world, why is it that individuals such as George W. Bush never talk about the human rights situation in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Why is the attention of capitalist countries so selective?

In view of the above, it seems pretty clear to me that the UK and the US governments are mainly interested in spreading their economic policies to every part of the world so that a relatively small number of their citizens can continue becoming richer and richer. To conclude, every time you hear a representative of a capitalist country talk about democracy, always go beyond mere rhetoric and appearances.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Self-Development

When I decided to study Psychology many years ago, one of the main reasons which encouraged me to choose such a discipline was the belief that the more we know about ourselves, the more opportunities we might have in life. Several years later and with a Psychology degree under my belt, I can say that I have learned a great deal about how and why certain behaviours occur. When I wrote about failure in my previous post, studying Psychology helped me very much because it shed a lot of light on the issue of human learning as well as coping mechanisms. Of course, it is one thing to know the theory and something else to start applying various principles to one's own life.

Over the past few years, I have come across several books, individuals, and Internet presentations which highlight the importance of thought in our daily lives. At the moment, I am reading an extremely interesting book called The Answer: Your Guide to Achieving Financial Freedom and Living An Extraordinary Life by John Assaraf and Murray Smith. A great deal of the material that I have read so far in this book is consistent with my Psychology studies. The contents are also in harmony with several scientific ideas that are normally found in Physics books.

Whilst reading the aforementioned book, I was really struck by the following sentence: "Thought creates everything". Perhaps this made such an impression on me because only two weeks ago, somebody asked me: "Do you know what is the most powerful thing in the universe?". I said, "Love?". His answer was "Thought".

As I kept thinking about the power of thought, I realised how certain beliefs we might have about numerous things can become so entrenched that they become habitual. Put differently, such thoughts become automatic. Sadly, some people might have incorporated so many negative thoughts during their lives that it might not be so surprising to see them living in very unpleasant situations.

Let us go back to the issue of coping with failure. If, say, John fails his English O-level exam, he might convince himself that his result meant only one thing - that he is "not good" when it comes to English. By repeating this thought over and over again until it becomes a dogma, it is extremely likely that John will not even consider the possibility that he failed his exam because he did not dedicate enough time to study. Or perhaps he was not using the best studying techniques.

When thinking about it, it is quite scary to imagine how many people have blocked themselves in several ways because of what other people have said to them over and over again. Parents, teachers, relatives, partners, friends...all of these individuals might have had a strong impact on the thoughts we hold today.

The worst thing is that like attracts like (this is known as the Law of Attraction). If I convince myself that I am fundamentally hopeless in Chemistry, I can only aspire to creating more situations in which I am going to fail.

If one wants to develop or to progress in life, it is important for each person to examine their thoughts. A good way to start is by asking oneself: what do I say to myself when faced with certain situations in life? What do I say to myself when I fail an exam? What do I say to myself when I get a poor review at work? What do I say to myself when I am rejected by a person I fancy? Surprisingly, you might discover that in the areas in which your "self-talk" is almost always positive, it is very hard to find any negative experiences.

To conclude, I believe that life is a journey during which we should be constantly trying to develop or to progress. As we acknowledge our potential and transform our negative thoughts into positive ones, we will realise that we have so many beautiful opportunities in life! Of course, nobody ever said that it is easy to change thoughts that have been repeated over and over again for countless years. But it is never too late to start changing! So...what are you thinking about now??? :)


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Friday, 1 August 2008

Perseverance

Earlier on this week, one of my colleagues at work failed two important insurance exams. He was absolutely devastated by the results. Although he said that he was going to apply for a revision of the exam papers, he was immediately filled with self-doubt. He spent most of the week saying that insurance is not for him. To me, this was another case of a person whose future choices in life are strongly moulded by failure.

What about you? Have you ever failed an exam? Have you ever been deserted by a boyfriend, girlfriend, friend? Have you ever been fired from one or more companies?

When faced with questions such as the aforementioned ones, I believe that most people have had to deal with a failure of some sort in their lives. Failure can be a very tough experience to deal with. Whereas some individuals are able to stand back up on their feet almost as quickly as Bobo dolls, there are also many people who react rather negatively when they fail to achieve certain goals.

I hate failure. Whenever it strikes, for one reason or another, I always feel quite bad. The experience always comes like a strong punch in the stomach. And the worst part of it is that it usually takes me fairly long to get back on track.

Given the devastating effect that failure has on my thinking, I am a great admirer of all those people who never give up when faced by one or more setbacks. Indeed, it is sometimes said that the most successful people in life are those that never throw in the towel when confronted with failure. Perhaps that is why I love reading biographies and watching movies based on true stories; several of them portray people who have managed to persevere in spite of coming across a number of setbacks in their lives.

I am still working on improving my reaction to failure. I want to be able to say to myself,"Well, I must have done something wrong this time, but I will keep on trying because I know that as long as I want to achieve a goal, I CAN be successful!" I want to become a truly persevering person and never give up after the smallest setback. :)

Friday, 11 July 2008

True Friendship

During the past few days, apart from following the world's latest news and doing my part to spread socialist values in the corner I inhabit, I have also turned my attention to some lifestyle blogs. I found a number of blogs that were quite interesting and have added them to my blog list.

Whilst reading a post on one of these blogs, I came across the following passage:

"When I mentioned how I hadn’t heard from a certain friend in months, mom asked, “So, why didn’t you call her?”

“Why should I?” I shot back angrily. “It’s always me. I’m always the one chasing after people to hang out with me. Do you know [how] that makes me feel? Like some loser who has to try and convince people to hang out with me all of the time. If they can’t be bothered to pick up the fucking phone or shoot me an e-mail every now and again, then why should I bother wasting any more of my time? I’m so sick of this shit.”

During my university years, I managed to develop some friendships with a number of classmates. Over the four years that I spent at university, some of those friendships grew quite strongly. The shocking part of the story is that almost immediately after the graduation ceremony, most of those people just drifted away. I used to send emails, call them over the phone to meet....I eventually realised that I was usually the one chasing these "friends". One of them got married around a year after we left university; he did not bother to invite me to his wedding. By the way, I was the person who had introduced him to the girl he married!!!

Nowadays, even though I am very happily married, there are still times when I feel that I have to chase certain people in order to do something together. I find this issue quite disturbing. As a person, I do not smoke or use any drugs whatsoever. If I drink, I only do so on a social basis and I never go overboard. I have countless interests and enjoy laughing. Financially, I could be in a better position, but it is not so easy to be very rich when you are working in a country that promotes its low operating costs to attract foreign investors! Why, I ask myself, do many people seem to get invited to events almost every weekend whilst I - with all the qualities I have - frequently end up being the one to chase another person to organise something?

In the past, I have often wondered whether I expect too much from those individuals that I consider to be true friends. I am aware that we live in a fast-paced world with several things to do in a relatively short span of time. Yet, with all the technological advances witnessed during the last few years, I find it extremely hard to believe that a person cannot find a couple of minutes to send an email, a text message, or to make a quick phone call. Is it really that complicated to show some care towards another human being, to say something like "Hi there, just wanted to make sure that you are fine! Can't wait to meet up sometime soon...!?" It took me a few seconds to write those words myself! LOL

Throughout the past ten years or so, many people have crossed my life path. The vast majority of them ended up drifting away for one reason or another. A few of them were initially very friendly, but ended up hurting me a great deal. Of course, you do learn from every experience, but the painful memories also add up. Every time a so-called "friend" drifted away, I felt abandoned, used, lonely, sad...

In spite of the above, I still believe in the existence of true friendship. To me, a real friend is one that will always stand by you. That person might not agree with you about everything (anyway, is that ever possible?), but he/she will always care about your well-being. It is a pity, though, that it seems to be so hard to find such people. Long live true friendship!!!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Another Attack on Workers' Rights

Employers use federal law to deny benefits

Saturday July 5, 11:31 pm ET

By Mark Sherman, Associated Press Writer

Workers - and some judges - frustrated in legal fights over benefits with large employers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Dying of cancer, Thomas Amschwand did everything he was told to make sure his wife would collect on the life insurance policy he had through his employer.

"He was obsessed with dotting every `i' and crossing every `t'," Melissa Amschwand-Bellinger recalled about her husband, who died in 2001 at age 30.

But Spherion Corp., the temporary staffing company where Amschwand worked, told Amschwand-Bellinger she would not receive any of the $426,000 in benefits she believed she was due. When she went to court, Spherion succeeded in getting her lawsuit thrown out. The Supreme Court on June 27 refused to review the case.

Amschwand-Bellinger received a refund of the few thousand dollars in insurance premiums she and her husband dutifully had paid. The total, she said, would not cover the costs of his funeral.

The story has played out often under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Designed to protect employee benefits, the law has been used by employers as a shield against suits.

Federal appeals courts, interpreting Supreme Court decisions dating to 1993, consistently have said companies that offer health, life and retirement benefits under ERISA cannot be sued for large amounts of money, or damages. Instead, they can be sued only for typically smaller sums such as Amschwand's insurance premiums.

Several federal judges have bemoaned the unfairness even as they have felt constrained to rule in favor of employers.

"The facts ... scream out for a remedy beyond the simple return of premiums," Judge Fortunato Benavides of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in the Amschwand case. "Regrettably, under existing law it is not available."

The Bush administration has argued that the appeals courts are misreading the precedents and has asked the high court at least twice to clarify the earlier rulings. So far it has refused.

Congress, which could amend ERISA to make clear such suits are allowed, also has taken no action.

The result, in the view of ERISA experts, the administration and some lawmakers, is perverse.

"The beneficiary under the policy didn't get the promised benefit," said Colleen Medill, an expert on ERISA at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "To say we're just going to return your premiums, that's a total farce. That's not what they paid the premiums for. They paid them for the benefits."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at a recent hearing that before ERISA became law, employees clearly could sue for benefits in state courts.

The court rulings, said Leahy, D-Vt., have left people "more vulnerable than they were before the law was passed."

Spherion's decision to deny benefits to Amschwand-Bellinger turned on an odd set of facts. Spherion, which employs about 300,000 people, switched insurers after Thomas Amschwand was diagnosed with a rare form of heart cancer. The new policy did not take effect until an employee worked one full day. Spherion never informed Amschwand of the requirement.

Amschwand asked repeatedly whether there was anything else he needed to do and was told no. He asked that the new policy be sent to him. Spherion never did so.

He died without returning to work. His widow said he easily could have worked a day if that was what it took to activate the new policy. Spherion could have waived the one-day-of-work provision, as it did for other employees but not for Amschwand.

Spherion spokesman Kip Havel issued a brief statement when contacted by The Associated Press after the high court declined to review the case. "We are pleased the court has made its decision and the matter has finally been resolved," Havel said.

The court also recently turned down an appeal from Louis Gerard "Gerry" Goeres, who sued Charles M. Schwab & Co. over hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement plan benefits.

For 16 months, Schwab mistakenly refused to acknowledge Goeres as the beneficiary in the retirement plan of his domestic partner, Stephen Ward, a Schwab employee who died in 1999. By the time Schwab acknowledged its error, the value of the account had declined by more than $500,000. Goeres sued for the rest. Federal courts dismissed the suit. "Unfortunately, legal relief is not available," U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said in ruling against Goeres.

"You know the Schwab commercial, `Talk to Chuck?'" Goeres said. "I thought if Chuck knew this, he'd say, 'Oh my God, this is so wrong.' I live on naive dreams."

Schwab said in court papers that Goeres could have taken legal action soon after Ward's death, when he first was told he was not the beneficiary.

Amschwand-Bellinger said the cases show the need for either the court or Congress to provide "some sort of meaningful remedy for employees when employers have a breach of fiduciary duty."

A Texas native who lives in an unincorporated Houston suburb, she has since remarried and has an 18-month-old daughter. She is president and executive director of the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation, which she founded with her first husband.

She recognizes that she is more fortunate than many others who have fought similarly futile battles for benefits under ERISA. "What if we had had children and I was a stay at home mom?" said Amschwand-Bellinger, who previously worked for a public hospital system. "What if I was 60 years old, with no skill sets, and I had to go back to work?"

Source

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Virgins and Stereotypes

The blogosphere is full of blogs written by single people. Among these sites, there is a small percentage that was set up by male and female virgins.

A few months ago, I stumbled across one of these blogs. It was entitled Almost 40-Year-Old Virgin. The author describes his site as "The blog of a man from New York City who's closing in on 40 yet still remains a virgin. And not by choice." The last post goes back to 16/03/2008. Visibly tormented by his "virgin status", several readers left their comments. I was intrigued by some of the contributions. One person wrote the following:

"I think that I understand where you're coming from. I'm a 30-year old male virgin. I tried and I tried to get a girlfriend (or just a willing sexual partner) all throughout my 20's and it never worked; I'm not outgoing or confident, I'm not physically attractive, and I make below-average income despite my education. Somehow, when I turned 30, it was like a huge weight was taken off my shoulders...a voice told me: "OK, you've missed your sexual peak, you've missed having sex in your 20's (and not out of choice) something's probably wrong with you, you're too old to start now (who wants to fuck a 30 year old virgin?), you've failed, you can just give up". It feels better, you know...kind of peaceful. Maybe we're better off without women in our lives; I don't have to worry about infidelity, betrayal, or getting STI's. Anyways, if it all gets too much to bear someday I can just "bow out gracefully" (this will probably involve a shotgun). Oh well, on that note, I'll end it (no pun intended)."

A female reader wrote:

"Well, I'm a 35 y/o female virgin (African-American) at that (you hear that we are oversexualized -- not all of us). I was thinking about trying to have sex with someone just to gain more experience (I've done up to the deed), but never followed through. When it is right, it will happen. I just don't want to randomly have sex with someone. I won't romanticize virginity. It is what it is. NO SEX."

Another male reader said the following:

"I just stumbled across this blog from the other end of the world. (Bangalore, India). Oh well..glad to know that I am not the only one out there and there are other men who have the same problem all over the world. I am am a 28 year old male and I unfortunately don't have any excuse - apart from being a nerd - on why I never got around to it. I only came close once. I like and admire most women - just that I am unable to get past talking :) Though, I am mildly surprised that one can be a virgin in NYC of all places. One tends to feel a freak sometimes. Lol, I *so* wish there was something special in being a virgin - one wouldn't mind the state then. :). Where I come from (India), one generally gets the opportunity to do the deed only *after* one gets married, not before. And most marriages are arranged - which is something I *dont* want. :( Thats also the one of the reasons why nearly everyone marries by their mid 20s here - they all get sex-starved. At 28, you have already missed the boat and if you hit 30, there aren't many women left. Unfortunately, with my kind of lifestyle (and attitude) there is little chance that I will be getting into any relationship with any sort of woman any time soon. :) I do hope things work out for you and you find a great woman in your life. Don't give up hope! Hope is what gets you on with life!"

Yet another reader wrote:

"I've had this blog in my bookmarks for probably a year now, checking back to see if you would ever post again. I'm happy to see you've returned, if only for one more post. I'm a 27-yo virgin who's never had any sort of female contact beyond casual conversation. While your stories didn't help me, they were certainly very interesting to read. Thanks for sharing."

The above comments and experiences say a lot about the expectations that are drilled into the minds of many people. Given the number of gender and age stereotypes that exist in several societies around the world, it is not so easy for an involuntary virgin to talk about their sexual status. I can still clearly remember my adolescent years and I surely cannot forget the importance attached to losing one's virginity before reaching the age of 20. I also remember how the notion of being sexually experienced was often said to enhance a man's ability to attract girls. Upon reaching a certain age, several people expect one to have reached specific goals in life. Nowadays, in most parts of the planet, if a 25-year-old male asserts that he is still a virgin and that his status is not voluntary, many people would probably suspect that there is something "wrong" with such a person.

The bulk majority of movies and TV programmes do not make life much easier for involuntary virgins. Nowadays, almost every movie includes some degree of sexual intimacy. Quite astonishingly, most of the couples portrayed on TV never seem to experience any sexual problems; their sexual activities are normally featured as relatively problem-free. Once again, this creates various expectations among the millions of viewers glued to their screens. It is quite amazing that the various health professionals who deal with myriad sexual problems on an almost-daily basis do not seem to be doing much to replace various myths with facts.

Some movies could also be blamed for apparently propagating the notion that if a person reaches a certain age and is still a virgin, he/she could be considered as a "loser". Such movies tend to portray virgins in a terribly negative light. This tendency is frequently exacerbated by linking a number of physical and psychological characteristics to the imagined typical virgin.

I think that some beliefs can be particularly harmful to involuntary virgins. When it comes to men, the notion that unless a guy has certain physical characteristics (such as a particular height) or has a specific job, he can forget about ever finding a partner with whom he could have sex is extremely likely to have very harmful effects on one's self-esteem. It is true that some things are more desirable than others in various societies, but the attempt to demotivate or to degrade those people who - for one reason or another - do not have a number of attributes is utterly unacceptable.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

More Worrying News for the Exploited Masses


As I read one article after another, it appears that the economic situation for the exploited masses of the world is getting worse. According to an article published on the Mail Online website (18/06/2008), "Chancellor Alistair Darling...told families to tighten their belts and accept lower pay or risk inflation 'spiralling' to the levels of the 1970s. As average pay rises fell behind the official rate of inflation for the first time, he said it would be 'disastrous' if Britain became locked in a Seventies-style vicious circle of spiralling wages and prices." The same article affirmed that "Traditionally, workers have always depended on becoming slightly better off every year thanks to pay rises above the inflation rate. But research yesterday revealed that they are now falling behind in a dramatic way. For a worker on the average salary of £23,750, a 3.2 per cent pay rise means take-home pay rising by £500 a year. This is only half the £1,000 extra which a typical family face on their annual bill for food and drink alone. And that is before they find the extra money for all the other soaring bills such as power, mortgage and motoring costs."

The turmoil caused by the international financial crisis is clearly also affecting thousands of Maltese individuals. Turning to an article published by the Maltese-language newspaper Illum (15/06/2008), "A survey that was carried out by the MaltaToday newspaper in September 2007 suggested that 37.4% of the Maltese population never go out to eat at a restaurant. According to another survey conducted by Illum nine months later, the percentage of those people who never go out to eat at a restaurant has increased by 7% and has now reached 44.4 %."

I think that these articles are sufficiently clear in their messages and any further comment from my end would be superfluous.

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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

YMCA: Two Thumbs Up!

I have just finished reading an article that was published on the Times of Malta during the first week of June (01/06/2008). It seems that the Sunday edition of the paper is devoting some space to a number of individuals who have benefited very much from the care provided by the YMCA staff.

I decided to visit the website of the YMCA branch in Malta. While going through the site's contents, I totally agreed with the part which said "Malta is often referred to as a 'happy island', with a pleasant, mediterranean, sunny lifestyle. But for some people, this is only a distant dream. Their reality is dramatically different. " The site's "Untold Stories" section provides a sample of the chilling hardships that several individuals might face in this country when they find themselves in certain situations.

Living on a small island where the individualist cult appears to be increasingly popular, I could not help feeling the greatest level of admiration towards all the YMCA staff who do not hesitate to give their utmost to transform the frowns of the individuals they work with into smiles. It is so nice to notice that there are still some people in this country who cannot rest when they know that there are other human beings who might be homeless, involuntarily unemployed, sick, or facing tremendous hardships.

Although organisations such as the YMCA surely deserve the proverbial "two-thumbs up", their resources are fairly limited. I believe that the Maltese government should be doing much more to safeguard a number of rights in this country. The right to a job, the right to a decent home, the right to have easy and free access to health care services...these are all fundamental rights that every government should safeguard so that no person ever has to face the various horrors witnessed by the YMCA staff.

The government affirms that it does have a number of schemes to help those citizens whose plight requires emergency assistance. One of these schemes consists of the social assistance (relief) that unemployed people could apply for. Whoever bothers to investigate the weekly amount of money that these individuals receive would be shocked when comparing that amount to the sum of money that is necessary to cover several survival costs. In 2005, I remember that a single person would receive around Lm34 (EUR 79.19) per week whereas a married individual would receive around Lm39 (EUR 90.84) per week. I strongly doubt that the government has increased these weekly benefits to a level that reflects the current average weekly survival expenses. Of course, it is better to have something rather than nothing, but those amounts are clearly an insult to those who are dealing with a huge amount of psychological pain as they struggle to live a decent life.

Let us hope that the present government will do more to help those in need. In the meantime, I hope that organisations such as the YMCA will continue to represent a strong guiding light to all those people who feel trapped in the dark.

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Sunday, 15 June 2008

Timpana

A few weeks ago, La Delirante and I were invited to have dinner with some friends. As always, we laughed a great deal and enjoyed ourselves very much.

Something must, however, be said about the food. It was absolutely DELICIOUS!!! I am not sure whether I had ever eaten Timpana (baked macaroni) in the past given that I was quite fussy about certain foods up to a couple of years ago. As far as La Delirante is concerned, she got her first taste of this extremely popular Maltese dish...and she loved it! :)

Whoever is interested in learning more about Timpana, please take a look at the following site: http://rgalea.com/recipes/timpana.html

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Wage-Slaves

There comes a time in almost every person's life when they have to start working. I believe that as far as most human beings are concerned, the moment one decides to look for a job is also the time when a person decides to join the millions of wage-slaves spread all over the planet.

What are the implications of becoming a wage-slave? Most wage-slaves spend most of their waking hours from, at least, Monday to Friday carrying out a specific number of activities in return for a particular amount of money. Given the greed for profit normally exhibited by private employers, salaries are often fairly low when analysing a country's cost of living. Indeed, according to a recent article published in one of the Maltese newspapers, Illum, "39% of the Maltese population fail to get to the end of the month with the salaries they are earning". According to the same article, "a further 18.3% stated that they are not always able to get to the end of the month". Although some people might say that many individuals spend their income impulsively and without proper financial planning, there are clearly several cases of workers who barely ever go out to relax and who still face huge difficulties in trying to make ends meet.

Apart from earning ridiculously low salaries, numerous wage-slaves frequently complain of having little job security. Such feelings are often heightened by the news reports from various parts of the world which talk about thousands of jobs being slashed. When talking about those workers who want to have a child or who end up being burdened with bank loans in view of the fact that their salaries do not allow them to save any money, the lack of job security seems to cause a great deal of anxiety in their lives. Many couples often have to face a huge amount of pressure as they try to map a stable future for themselves.

There are cases whereby the struggle to survive experienced by the typical wage-slave often creates a cycle of poverty. This is how it works for many people. A person finds a job and starts working. After a while, that individual might think that if they switch to another job, they might be able to get a better income. Sadly, in order to obtain a much better job, a certain level of expertise is usually required. This expertise, which is often of an academic nature, can usually only be obtained via further studies. As specialised educational courses are rarely ever free in capitalist countries, one would need a great deal of money to enrol. The fees that are charged by numerous academic institutions for several courses are clearly beyond the reach of thousands of wage-slaves. Furthermore, several courses require the students to enrol on a full-time basis given the demanding nature of the academic work that has to be done. When a person is trying to make ends meet with a relatively low salary per month, how is it possible to expect that worker to stop working in order to attend a full-time course? Some might suggest that such people could apply for a loan. This is not really a good option for two reasons. First, it increases an individual's debt, making life much harder for the worker should they lose their job (it also increases the person's amount of fixed expenses per month). Second, if one had to apply for a loan to cover the course fees as well as the survival expenses for a number of months, the amount that would have to be borrowed from the bank would be enormous! Consequently, many wage-slaves end up going round in circles; they might benefit from small increases as a result of extra work experience, but several of them tend to end up feeling that significant improvements are beyond their reach.

In view of the above, it is not surprising to come across a shocking amount of resignation when talking to many wage-slaves. Several workers seem to believe that they will never be "as good" as some other people. This belief often leads to a great deal of pessimism when talking about self-improvement.

It is not easy to be a wage-slave. Like millions of other wage-slaves, I am also facing several difficulties to achieve certain goals in my life. I would like to obtain a Master's degree, but I do not know how I am going to get the money to do so. I would like to clear my bank loans as quickly as possible, but when I look at my monthly salary, it looks as though this will take several years. I would like to travel more often and see other parts of the world, but my salary makes that extremely hard to accomplish.

As the prices of various items continue to increase and as numerous salaries remain stagnant, when are the wage-slaves of the world going to unite to say "Enough is enough!"?

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Sunday, 8 June 2008

Hard Times Ahead for the Masses


I have just come across an article on the Internet which stated that "OPEC members saw no need on Sunday to pump more oil in response to last week's double-digit surge in oil prices to over $139 a barrel that top exporter Saudi Arabia described as unjustified." In the same article, the German Economy Minister, Michael Glos, affirmed that "The increase of the oil prices is becoming a real threat to the worldwide economy."
The shocking increase in the oil price per barrel is only one of the factors underlying the greater level of stress experienced by millions of individuals around the world. The increasing prices of various food items is also making life tougher for several people.
What about Malta? How are these issues affecting the Maltese workers? According to an article published in The Times on 03/05/2008, "While Malta has not yet reached a situation of hoarding or food riots, it is still feeling the pinch - a one-litre milk carton has just gone up by €0.07 (3c) and importers are about to raise the price of flour, which will affect the price of bread." The article also stated that "The pockets of lower-income families will be worst hit because this sector of society spends some five to 10 per cent more on food than their wealthier counterparts." Some newspapers have also already mentioned the fact that the surcharge tax related to the utility bills is going to increase from July onwards.
In view of the above, are salaries going to increase? How are the various governments of several nations going to help the masses overcome such crises?
It really seems as though there are going to be some pretty hard times ahead for the masses...

Sunday, 1 June 2008

From El Salvador to the US

As I was browsing today, I came across a very interesting article entitled The Reality of Migration: A View from El Salvador. Written by Joe DeRaymond in February 2008, the article stated that "The latest United Nations figures indicate that 1,070 people every day are leaving El Salvador for the trip north."

To many people who grew up in fairly comfortable surroundings, it might be very difficult to imagine the enormous suffering - physical and psychological - that thousands of Salvadorans endure on a regular basis as they try to improve their lives. Faced with a government that continues to pursue strongly capitalist economic policies, countless Salvadorans are left in a state of despair.

I had lived in El Salvador for a few months in 2005. I used to read the newspapers there and I was often shocked by the comments made by a number of columnists. I can still remember some articles which asserted that any government social assistance was a burden on a country's economic growth and should, therefore, be eliminated. Of course, such articles were never penned by those earning a minimum wage in El Salvador!

As is often said, "the grass is greener on the other side". To millions of poor Salvadorans, it seems that moving to the US is frequently perceived as a journey towards an earthly paradise. Indoctrinated with the concept of the American Dream, many risk their lives in search of a better life. Sadly, many of those who eventually manage to settle down in the US end up seeing their dream transform into a nightmare. Decent jobs are often hard to find and the low salaries earned by several Salvadorans in the US rarely allow the possibility of enjoying a stable roof over one's head.

As far as the US government is concerned, this seems to continue endorsing the witch-hunts for any illegal immigrants. Various anti-immigrant groups have apparently been set up close to the US borders in order to stem the flow of any new immigrants.

It is very sad to see how human beings can turn against one another simply because of the notion of "nationality". No person gets the opportunity to choose the country in which they are born and it is grossly unfair to invent borders in order to avoid sharing the world's resources with other people.

Only Socialism will lead to a world in which man-made borders can be torn down so that all human beings can live together as members of a single family. Only Socialism will ensure that the rights to education, decent housing, and health care are FREELY available to all people. At this stage, I encourage you to learn more about Socialism and to join a Marxist-Leninist party so that we can build a better world for everyone.

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Thursday, 29 May 2008

Workload Anxiety

Tomorrow morning I should be moving into a new office at work. I am quite happy about the move because the office is a very beautiful one and it is also extremely quiet. I will be sharing it with another colleague.

In spite of the change of office, there are many things that are worrying me at work. During the last couple of months, my workload has increased a great deal. I have discussed this matter with my manager, but I keep being told the same few words: "The company has no intention of hiring any additional staff within our department!"

When I was in El Salvador in early 2005, I remember attending this teacher-training event. The speaker, who happened to be from the US, said that if you have a sandwich which has way too many things stuffed inside, a good deal of the filling will splatter all over the place as soon as you try to take the first bite. He was talking about how some teachers attempt to transmit too much information to their students.

There are times when the same image comes to my mind whilst sitting at my desk. Having worked in insurance for almost two years and being in possession of the CII Certificate in Insurance are definitely important assets, but this does not mean that I have reached a level of expertise which allows me to take on huge chunks of work. Sadly, the management guys seem to fail to understand this point! They keep pushing and raising their expectations in order to achieve goals that were never discussed with the grassroots employees.

I am very pleased about the fact that my company strongly encourages further studies as well as training. Academic training is always positive, but on-the-job training is also extremely important. I must say that even though a staff development hour has been introduced some months after I brought the issue up with one of the directors, I still believe that more time should be devoted to training. Of course, as an employee's performance improves, the amount of training is expected to decrease, but it is ridiculous to expect relatively inexperienced staff to master certain procedures after a couple of demonstrations!

I guess that I am not the only person who dislikes feeling overloaded at work. In my case, I must admit that this issue is gradually taking its toll. On most days of the week, I leave the office feeling totally drained. Coffee helps a great deal to keep me going until around 10:30PM; in its absence, I would probably drop asleep in bed shortly after arriving home!

Given that most of my colleagues leave at 5PM sharp and that we are not paid for working overtime, I usually try to leave a few minutes after the aforementioned hour. Having said this, it takes a bit of time for me to draw those mental curtains that serve to cover the many things that still have to be done at work. I am extremely grateful to have La Delirante in my life since she does a great job at helping me to relax. I really cannot imagine what life would be like without her!

When reading the above, there are some people who might say: "Why not change your job?" My answer to such a question is that even though there might be better jobs out there, I believe that the overloading of employees at work is a central component of the capitalist philosophy. Have we forgotten the famous idea of maximising profits whilst minimising costs??? The typical employer will prefer to avoid employing additional people given that this means denting one's profits. Consequently, the work that would be done in a much better way by, say, three people often ends up being carried out by only one person. The fact that trade union membership has decreased so much during the last few years has not been a positive factor in order to combat this tendency.

Well, I just hope that things will get better... :)

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Living in a Decent Home


A few days ago, I came across another very interesting leaflet published by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). It was entitled Decent homes for all!

In the past, I had already written about the right to live in a decent home. Having such a home is fundamental in order to allow the members of a particular society to live much better lives. The home is a place where one can focus on relaxing, learning new things, making plans for the future.


In the past, I had lived in situations whereby the threat of ending up homeless was not a remote possibility. At the time, I was working as an English teacher in Madrid (Spain) and my income varied so much from month to month that I could never really be sure whether I was going to have enough money to cover the rent (let alone the other essential items to survive!).


Here in Malta, my wife and I have lived in various apartments. We had spent a few months living in an old maisonette that was in a terrible condition. Sadly, given the amount of money I was earning and the fact that my wife was unable to work at that time, it was almost impossible to rent a more decent place.


When we eventually moved to more decent places, the amount of rent money that had to be spent every month increased. Before moving to our current residence in Ta' Xbiex, we were paying Lm250/EUR 582.34 per month!


Throughout all the time we spent paying rent, I was always anxious about how we would be able to survive if one of us ended up unemployed for one reason or another. My anxiety level was often exacerbated by the fact that the government assistance for the unemployed is not particularly easy to obtain and it is usually so little that it would probably be insufficient to cover a full month's rent and various other fixed expenses.


I am quite sure that there are many people out there who have endured similar experiences. People who have also been tormened by the fear of homelessness. People who feel that they have been ignored by the capitalist governments in their countries. And it is precisely to counter the indifference displayed by such governments that a strong Communist party is required in every corner of the world.


A Communist party in power would ensure that the spectre of homelessness would be exorcised once and for all.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Solidarity Among the Members of the Working Class

On 1st May, I participated in the march along Republic Street. Organised by the Malta Labour Party (MLP), this march in support of Workers' Day is held every year. I was invited to take part as a member of the Zminijietna Left Youth organisation.

After shaking hands with the President of the MLP (Dr Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi) and with Mr Ray Azzopardi, we started the march sometime after 6PM. Carrying a red flag, I walked behind the Zminijietna banner accompanied by my comrades.

As we walked through Republic Street, I noticed that there were very few youths there in Valletta. It seemed as though most of the people present were the MLP loyalists who probably attended the 1st May events every year. There were also some foreigners who snapped a few photos of us as we marched.

I could not help asking myself: where are all those young people who are being exploited by their bosses as they earn little more than the minimum wage at the end of every month? Where are all those young people who are having problems finding a job because they are described as being "overqualified" or because they "lack any job-related experience"? Where are all those young people who want to start a family, but are scared of doing so because of the economic crisis that is also affecting Malta?

It is so sad to take note of the degree of alienation affecting thousands of Maltese youths who constitute a certain percentage of the local working class. By trumpeting the notions of excessive individualism and constant competition via various TV shows, the capitalist media has really managed to put a lid on any type of class consciousness among countless young individuals. As the same TV channels are shown in most entertainment spots, several youths absorb their messages unquestioningly. Caring about oneself and only about oneself becomes the top priority; the community can go to hell!

The lack of class consciousness and the individualist cult are affecting many working-class youths. Yet, they also seem to be influencing the lives of several older members of the working class. As far as the workplace is concerned, the idea of joining a trade union is shunned by countless employees. If there is a dispute between some employees and the management level, it has become fairly common for the other employees to take a totally passive role. If the conditions at work take a serious turn for the worse, most employees seem to have become terribly scared of uniting in order to complain about such matters. As many employers threaten their employees with the spectre of unemployment, a great deal of fear is injected among several workers. Consequently, it is plausible to argue that such fear strongly discourages any collective efforts at work.

Sadly, none of the main political parties in Malta are really addressing these issues. As more and more places continue broadcasting music videos produced by extremely rich individuals who do not have to worry about having enough cash to cover all their fixed expenses, the miserable working conditions associated with the lives of thousands of Maltese workers continue to remain hidden behind a veil.

Long live Socialism!

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Friday, 2 May 2008

Malta-North Korea


During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, it seems that Malta was forging a close relationship with North Korea. In his Liberta' Mhedda, Dione Borg had written about the arms treaty signed in the early 1980s between the two governments whereby North Korea had supplied Malta with a certain amount of weapons for free. It seems that some advisors from North Korea had also been involved in at least one local construction project.


It is a pity that very little information has been published about the relationship between Malta and North Korea. Indeed, very few people probably know that North Korea's current leader - Kim Jong-il - had visited Malta during the 1980s to study English. I wish that Dr Mifsud Bonnici and Mr Mintoff could shed more light on this very interesting chapter of Maltese history.

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Sunday, 27 April 2008

No to the Privatisation of Schools!

As a former British colony, it is my opinion that as far as economic policies are concerned, Malta often seems to follow those implemented in the UK. This normally tends to happen a few years after such policies are adopted in the UK, but they eventually reach our shores. Taking the financial services sector as an example, similar to the UK, Malta is presently trying to be one of the world's hotspots for investments, insurance, and the like. Although there is nothing wrong in adopting a number of sound policies, there is always the risk that certain strategies might not really be socially beneficial.

The privatisation of schools in Malta does not appear to be on the current government's agenda. Until now. Yet, given the Nationalist Party's support for privatisation, I would not be so shocked to see Dr Gonzi showing an interest in following the model that is being adopted in the UK.

Copied below is the text from a leaflet published on the 24/04/2008 by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). It is important to take a good look at the issues touched upon in this document since they could be witnessed in Malta during the next few years:

Stop the privatisation of our schools! Free, quality education for all

The Labour government is in the process of privatising the school system by means of an array of different measures, each dressed up as a boon for teachers, parents and pupils.

Private Finance Initiative

Schools have been the primary target of PFI. Major building work in schools is now almost invariably funded and managed by private profiteers, who make their investment back through payment of instalments.

Ostensibly, this is done in order to get the most 'competitive' prices and services; in reality, it is done in order to get taxpayers' money into the coffers of massive construction companies and consultancy and management firms, whilst giving the illusion of lower public spending.
The various PFI consortia make big promises but provide a terrible service. According to a recent government-level survey, half of a sample of 52 secondary schools built in England in the last five years were at best "mediocre". Nine of the worst ten had been built under the PFI.
As George Monbiot points out: "Once the consortium has its foot in the door, it starts to raise its price and reduce its services. It will discover costs which weren't envisaged before. It will price the likely inflation of labour and materials as generously as possible." (The Spectator, 10 March 2002)

And yet it's becoming extremely difficult for schools to get funding from anywhere else. When PFI was introduced, it was described as an adjunct to public spending; in fact, it is the replacement for public spending.

Since there's no other viable source of funding, relatively cheap proposals to refurbish or modernise existing buildings often have to be scrapped in favour of more lucrative demolition and rebuilding proposals that attract the PFI vultures.

The outlook for schools is dangerous. Schools get stuck in a debt trap and are unable to spend sufficient money on teachers, books and resources. "There is only one means of meeting the outrageous costs of PFI, and that is by cutting public services." (Ibid)

PFI is simply privatisation under another name, and should be opposed. Our call must be for free, high quality education for all, funded at state level.

Academies and religious schools

BBC News Online of 3 July 2007 reported that there are now only 340 comprehensive schools left in Britain - the rest have all become grammar schools and city academies.

The government target is for 95 percent of all schools to be grammar schools or city academies, which indicates a very clear policy: grammar schools for the middle -class kids that can't afford to go private, and vocation-centred, skills-based schools for working-class kids.

What's more, the funding model for the academies is heavily based in the private sector. Although they officially fall within the state sector, they are funded jointly with private 'sponsors', with the private 'sponsor' taking the lead in decision-making.

As Fiona Millar has pointed out: "It is still the case that parents and pupils in academies receive less protection under the law on everything from exclusions to special needs and admissions than their counterparts in community, voluntary aided, foundation or, indeed, trust schools . Staff are not protected by statutory terms and conditions, the governing body arrangements are still wholly undemocratic and largely exclude elected parents and other representatives of the community." (The Guardian, 9 October 2007)

Meanwhile, religious schools of all kinds continue to flourish. With increasing freedom to overthrow the curriculum (eg, some christian schools now teaching creationism instead of evolution), these schools are more than ever a breeding ground for bigotry and superstition, separating children along racial and religious lines and thus fueling racism.

The CPGB-ML is firmly opposed to academies, which are a form of privatisation, and to religious schools, which breed racism and division. Our children deserve a well-rounded and fully state-funded education via truly comprehensive schools.

Widening gap between rich and poor

A 2007 study showed that only 25.3 percent of pupils in the 10 percent most deprived areas gained at least five A-C grades at GCSE level. In the richest 10 percent of areas, the figure was 68.4 percent. This is a sharp increase in the disparity between the groups - in 2006, the figures were 29.2 percent in the poorest areas and 57.6 percent in the richest areas.

According to The Times of 31 December 2007, "The figures also show that the attainment gap between rich and poor continues to widen as pupils progress through school. At age 7, the performance gap between pupils in the 10 percent richest and poorest areas was 20 percentage points in 2007. At age 16, however, the gap had more than doubled to 43.1 percent, suggesting that far from being a leveller, school was increasing the disparity."

The widening class divide in state education did not come about by accident but by design. Maximum resources are being channelled to the middle class and a few bright working-class kids that the bourgeoisie feels will be useful in the attainment of profit, whilst the bulk of the working class is neglected.

There is a good reason for this. With British manufacture in freefall, there are going to be very few job opportunities for the workers, and those jobs there are will not require much in the way of education; therefore, to educate the workers is to help them on the road towards radical resistance to capitalism.

One means through which this class divide is enforced is the extraordinary array of national curriculum tests now in place, which are a source of great anxiety for children and teachers alike, and are an area of education that the majority of teachers are particularly unhappy about.
Study after study shows that excessive testing has a detrimental effect on children's learning and is a significant demotivating factor for kids who do not perform well. However, this government has ruthlessly pursued the assessment agenda, as these tests exist to help the bourgeoisie 'separate the wheat from the chaff' at an early age, so they don't waste money creating a class of literate unemployed.

Free, quality education for all

We demand free, universal, high quality education, which, apart from imparting skills and qualities for the "world of work in the 21st century", develops the critical and analytical skills of students.

Only socialism will bring true freedom and equality to the classroom. Meanwhile, we put forward the following demands for the interim period, demands which go some way towards alleviating the gross inequalities of the present educational divide:

the abolition of all private schools, grammar schools, religious schools and city academies;
a return to public funding and an end to PFIs;
an end to local management of schools, the internal market, league tables, 'parental choice', SATs, the privatisation of services, and the national curriculum;
the establishment of a proper comprehensive system of education with mixed ability teaching;
a dramatic increase in funding;
an end to tuition fees and loans for university students.

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