Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Changing Nature of Romantic Relationships

Over the past few weeks, I have been able to count - at least - 4 people who went from being in a romantic relationship to single. One of these individuals had even, up to fairly recently, been planning to get married! All these break-ups made me wonder whether many people are finding it increasingly hard to work through certain problems in a relationship and to simply move on in search of something better. Could it also be that more and more people are less willing to commit themselves to long relationships in order to enjoy a higher degree of personal freedom?

In the absence of any scientific studies close at hand, it is hard to come up with any statistics about this issue. Rather than focusing on how prevalent such trends are, I would prefer to analyse the reasons underlying the aforementioned phenomena.

As more importance is given to the individual in the Western world, it could seem only natural for many people to dedicate more time and energy to themselves rather than to caring about others. Consequently, if a partner develops an addiction to something which is harming the relationship, it might seem better for certain individuals to just dump the partner instead of trying to help out in various ways.

The use and development of communications technology and the introduction of countless social networking sites appears to have fuelled the belief that a better partner could just be a mouse-click or an email away. Given the temptation and the ease to look for an "easier" relationship, many people are probably finding it less difficult to ditch a partner when confronted with certain problems.

The Internet has also made it considerably easier for thousands of human beings to obtain sexual pleasure without going through the process of getting involved in a lengthy romantic relationship. Such sites also allow people to go in search of those specific things which really turn them on. A Glamour article (December, 2009) that analysed the issue of women who have sex with people they meet via the Internet mentioned a website whereby "users select what they're into: one-on-one sex, discreet relationship, erotic chat/email/phone fantasies or group sex. Forget waiting until the third date; forget dating altogether. Most users on these sites just want sex, and they're fuelling a booming trend" (p. 162).

At this stage, what could be said about the future? Will there be more people who prefer to just hop from one fling or short-term relationship to another without even bothering about the type of commitment that is associated with marriage? Will there be a huge increase in the number of individuals who are over 35 and single? Will there be more loneliness as a result of a growing tendency to just be with someone for a brief spell of flirting and sexual activity? One final question: assuming that a person has only had casual sexual and short-term relationships over the course of his/her lifetime, how many of those individuals would come to visit that person when he/she is fairly old and perhaps dying from an incurable illness?


Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A Trip to Spain...and Back to Malta!

My wife and I returned from a brief holiday in Spain yesterday afternoon. The time we spent in Madrid and in Toledo was magical. It really felt as though we had visited another planet! Faced with the many beautiful things that Spain has to offer, neither one of us was particularly enthusiastic about returning to Malta.

When it comes to living in Malta, there are some very positive points that should be mentioned. One is the high level of safety that exists. Another positive point lies in the small distances that exist between one place and another; this makes it easy to visit many spots in one day.

Once a person has spent some time abroad (working or studying or even on a holiday), comparisons are virtually impossible to avoid. My heart sinks when I start making those comparisons and when I become aware of the several negative points associated with living in Malta. Since I had spent over a year working in Spain, it is extremely easy for me to list a number of problematic issues related to life on the Maltese Islands:

1.) Low salaries: At little over EUR 600 a month, the minimum wage in Malta is a joke. Furthermore, with the exception of certain jobs in a small number of areas, many people are paid a pittance when compared to how much they would earn to do the same thing in several other countries.

2.) High cost of living: There was a fairly long time during which Malta had the highest inflation rate in the European Union! How is the average worker supposed to live comfortably when they struggle to make ends meet with the relatively little money that they receive every month? Whilst in Spain, we took a taxi from Puerta del Sol to the Barajas airport (a drive of around 20 minutes). The trip cost us around EUR 22,00. In Malta, one might easily end up paying the same amount of money to take a taxi from Ta' Xbiex to St Julian's (a drive that is often less than 10 minutes long).

3.) Public transport: The public transport system in Malta is a disgrace. Many buses are incredibly old, dirty, and uncomfortable. If you live in, say, Tarxien and need to go to work in Mosta, you would need to wake up very early in order to make sure that you get to work on time. In Spain, the public transport system is absolutely great! The use of the subway allows one to travel from one part of a city to another in only a few minutes. The buses are clean and air-conditioned.

4.) Entertainment: Malta is so small that after a few months, one would have done it all, seen it all...After a while, one ends up going to the same places, seeing the same people, doing the same things. Yes, there are exhibitions here and there, but it can be expensive to attend some of them and it may also be hard to go as a result of the poor public transport system. In a place like Spain, it is so easy to go from, say, Madrid to Toledo and feel as though you are visiting another country!

5.) Degree of conservatism: Although there have been some changes during the past few years, Maltese society could still be regarded as a very conservative one. To me, it is ridiculous that there are still huge debates about whether there should be a condom machine on the University campus! *rolls eyes* When it comes to religion, although fewer people are going regularly to Sunday Mass, the Roman Catholic Church is still quite powerful in Malta. Indeed, a huge number of youth organisations are somewhat linked to the Church.

6.) Making friends: Since many Maltese people do not move from their family homes until they get married, it is plausible to say that most individuals born in Malta stick to the same group of friends throughout their lives. This group would normally include childhood schoolfriends and some other people encountered at work/in some religious organisation. Once it is formed, a Maltese social group tends to be quite strong and does not allow an easy entry to "outsiders". This situation is very different from the one witnessed in other European countries whereby individuals often move to other cities for various reasons (such as finding a good job). In such cases, the person who moves has to start from scratch and this makes it easier to move from one social group to another. Furthermore, the fact that there are more secular groups abroad makes it easier for non-religious people to make friends.

In a nutshell, I strongly believe that Malta is a great place for people who have a certain type of job, are religious, do not have to depend on public transport, are fairly conservative, and who have belonged to a strong social network for many years. I do not match this profile and I do not, therefore, feel very comfortable living in Malta. Yes, things will probably get better as time goes by, but life is short and I am not willing to wait decades until Malta can offer what I can find today in many other countries...

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

To Love and to Be Loved

Like millions of other teenagers, shortly after my 13th birthday, I was really looking forward to having a girlfriend. Unfortunately, the fact that I was attending a boys-only school and that I had no young female relatives made it quite hard to have access to potential girlfriends.

As time went by, the desire became stronger, but I was not having any success at all. All my friends were males and they did not have any female friends. Whenever we used to go out, my mind used to be flooded with images of gorgeous girls and my heart used to be racing like a Formula One car! During those times (and throughout most of my teens), I was extremely shy and that certainly did not help me to start a conversation with a girl I fancied.

By the time I was 18, I had still not had a romantic or sexual relationship with a girl. As more and more people of my age group were talking about having sex here and there as well as about moving from one relationship to another, I felt very sad. It seemed as though everybody was managing to find somebody to love whereas I often felt as though I were invisible.

Shortly after my 19th birthday, the use of the Internet allowed me to get in touch with various single girls. I went out on several dates, but virtually all my encounters were sexless one-night stands. Looking back, I am aware that my appearance during that time could have been better, but it was very painful to go from one date to another - hoping that something would eventually happen - only to be told that it would be better to be "just friends". Of course, whenever things went wrong, the usual phrases were used: "you're not my type", "I got back with an ex-boyfriend", "there was no chemistry", etc. There were even a couple of instances whereby the girls were even fairly malicious - one of them (who is still single) told me that we could not even be friends after our first and only date. Another girl saw me shortly before we met and said that I was so "not her type" that she was not even interested in being just friends!

With such a shocking dating history, I started wondering whether I would ever find somebody to love. A person with whom I could share the ups and downs of my life. An individual who would care about me. I started worrying that I was going to end up like Friedrich Nietzsche (photo posted above). The latter had been a very influential philosopher, but his life was characterised by a horrendous degree of loneliness and unrequited love.

My fears were washed away a few years later when I had my first romantic relationship. Although I am presently happily married, I have occasionally come across blogs written by individuals who are in their late 20s/early 30s and who are still virgins/have never had a romantic relationship. Whenever I read some of their posts, their feelings and thoughts mirror a great deal of what had gone through my mind when I was in a similar situation.

As I come across such blogs, one question comes to my mind: is it becoming harder for certain people to love and to be loved in our times? Considering the individualistic cult - which encourages the belief that if you are fine, you do not have to worry about anyone else - and the enormous pressure to look/dress in a specific way, it is plausible to argue that a number of people might be feeling excluded and totally forgotten when they fail to conform to society's expectations. As a person feels increasingly distant from most of the other members of a particular society, there is a greater likelihood for that individual to suffer from a number of behavioural problems (e.g., depression).

When talking about involuntary single people who have reached a certain age and have still not been in a romantic/sexual relationship, the feeling that "something is wrong with me" could be highlighted by the fact that this reality is almost completely ignored in literature and in most cinematic/TV productions. I remember that even though the Ally McBeal TV series had shed some light on the problems faced by a single woman in trying to find a romantic partner, she was clearly not a virgin or a person who was still trying to go on her first date. Many issues that a virgin has to deal with are different from those of an individual who has had some sexual experience.

Talking about TV productions, I believe that these could often be detrimental in the way that they portray a number of people who do not conform to Western society's expectations. The movie about the 40-year-old virgin was regarded as a comedy, suggesting that a human being who gets to that age and is still a virgin is a figure of ridicule.

Tackling this matter in a scientific way, there must be reasons to explain why Person A goes out there and is hit upon by various individuals whereas Person B may go out there every day and feel as though he/she is invisible. I think that, whether we like it or not, looks play a big part in all this. Many societies have been brainwashing us so much about the importance of having the slender, tanned, athletic physique that whoever does not fit into that equation might have a harder time in finding a partner. In my case, I still remember that some of the girls did not seem to be interested because of my complexion and because I was not 6 feet tall. :) Dress is also important. Although it is not necessary to wear the most trendy items, it is important to wear something which transmits the message that "I care about the way I present myself". The same discourse applies to hairstyles and to other accessories, such as the sunglasses one wears.

Social skills are also extremely important. The subject matter of a conversation, the tone used, the dominance of a conversation....these are all things that could make a difference.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. A person who is obese cannot expect to change overnight. Having said that, weight is thankfully one area that could be controlled. It is much worse when we are dealing with characteristics whereby medical science still cannot be of great help (are there any pills that would allow one to grow taller???).

It is very understandable that the thought process following a rejection or surrounding one's chronic single status could be quite painful. Indeed, a 27-year-old female blogger wrote that "I am trying not to dwell on the reasons why no-one has ever been interested in me romantically, or at least not enough to do anything about it, because it is too depressing, and frankly, too humiliating. Terminal loneliness is fairly ghastly at the best of times, and when a difficult patch in life coincides with the realisation that the overwhelming majority of ones’ close friends are married, engaged or likely to be that way within the next year, it’s pretty hard to take. I think even my mother, previously the champion of remaining independent and only being ‘friends’ with men – and she doesn’t mean the sort with benefits – has started to realise that there is something fundamentally off about a twenty-seven year old daughter who has zero romantic history. Single and twenty-seven is one thing. Twenty-seven, with no past entanglements at all is quite another."

As a chronically single person grows older and more of their friends become entangled in romantic relationships or start having families, it becomes easier to think that "something must be wrong with me". Furthermore, as previously single friends are no longer available, it is very likely that such people will experience severe loneliness. Katya, a blogger in her 30s, wrote the following about many of her weekends: "A lot of my weekends I don’t do much at all, and what I do do doesn’t vary much – grocery or clothes shopping, watching TV at home, a trip to the shop to buy a newspaper, a visit to church (yes I go to church but that’s most definitely not why I’m a virgin. I disagree with a fair few of the church’s rules on sex and relationships). Obviously all of this is done alone. Often the only people I speak to are shop assistants as I hand over money".

I strongly believe that many societies could do more to help those people who yearn to love and to be loved. Local councils could organise events for single individuals to meet and to do things together. Even if no sparks fly following a couple of events, it would still be possible to develop new friendships with people who are in a similar situation. Local councils could also organise a number of events aimed at boosting the participants' self-confidence. Of course, for such events to be organised in the first place, it is fundamental to live in a caring society. A society where no person is left behind.

It is hard to regard most Western societies as caring ones. Yet, it is never too late to start doing something to change the status quo. It is never too late to start contributing to the building of a better world for everyone.


Things I Still Cannot Explain

I consider myself to be a very scientific person. Having studied psychology, I enjoy analysing things. Furthermore, I believe that understanding the world allows us to make a number of positive changes. When people stop questioning things, it becomes quite easy for them to absorb many beliefs in a dogmatic way. For the past few years, I have always ended up pushing religion away from my life because it is way too hard for me to believe something just because I am told that it is the "Truth".

Having studied a bit of physics, I am aware that there are a lot of things going on in the universe which we cannot witness with our naked eye. Of course, the fact that we cannot see something does not mean that it does not exist. The electron had existed for countless centuries, but it was not identified before 1897. Having said this, the discovery of certain particles in the universe is hard to compare with the discovery of, say, an entity that plays an active part in human life.

Although I believe that various phenomena could be explained quite easily nowadays, there are a few things which I still cannot explain. Two specific events are mentioned below.

The Prediction

In October 2006, the Malta Labour Party won the general election. The Labour Party had not been in power since 1987. A few days following the Labour Party's 1996 victory, I remember that I was talking to some friends at the Junior College in Msida. One of them said that a certain woman from Girgenti had predicted that Dr Alfred Sant's government would not last for more than 2 years. (I believe that the same woman was also famous for having visions of "the Virgin".) When I heard the prediction, I was very sceptical; I told the guy that since Malta had become a Republic in 1974, such a thing had never happened. In September 1998 - almost two years following the Labour Party's victory - a crisis within the Labour Party sparked an early election. The Labour Party lost that election and the Nationalist Party was returned to power.

A Visit to a Psychic Medium

In July 2008, I went to a Maltese psychic medium. Although I had read a great deal about a number of famous psychic mediums such as James Van Praagh, I had never been to one. I had received some positive feedback about the Maltese medium and I decided to go with a very open mind. I clearly remember that I called from a phone that did not belong to me, but I cannot recall whether I gave my name. The reading took place around two days after I called.

At first, the guy seemed to be completely off the mark. He said that there were three spirits close to me. One was of a young male called Ivan. The medium stated that he was a dancer from Santa Venera. Nothing.

He then described a woman who seemed to match my mom's physical description ("light-coloured eyes, fair, and stout"). During the session, I was taking notes, but I was not volunteering any information. The medium said that there was a family connection between me and her, meaning that she was a blood relative. The medium was supposedly conveying information that he was receiving from my mom when he told me "inti ma tantx temmen" ("you are not much of a believer") and "inti z-zghir" ("you are the young one"). True. The most shocking part came when the medium told me the exact date of her passing! He was also spot-on regarding the cause of her death.

I am aware of the fact that with reference to both cases mentioned above, it is still possible to argue that the "information" was the result of guesswork. Having said this, I keep asking myself: was it just guesswork? Or could it be that such cases represent phenomena that still cannot be explained very easily using our current knowledge of the universe?

Friday, 31 July 2009

What Makes a Communist?

Almost whenever the term "Communism" is mentioned, many people tend to think of a secret police force, labour camps, repression...but what does it mean to be a Communist in the 21st century?

Several decades ago, Liu Shaoqi had written an essay entitled How to Be a Good Communist. Although written many years ago, certain parts of his work could still be relevant to our times. Take a look at the following excerpt:

"What is our most fundamental duty as Party members? It is to achieve communism. As far as the Communist Parties of different countries are concerned, in each country it is for the Communist Party and the people there to transform it by their own efforts, and in that way the whole world will be transformed step by step into a communist world. Will the communist world be good? We all know it will be. In that world there will be no exploiters of oppressors, no landlords and capitalists, no imperialists and fascists, nor will there be any oppressed and exploited people, or any of the darkness, ignorance and backwardness resulting from the system of exploitation. In such a society the production of both material and moral values will develop and flourish mightily and will meet the varied needs of all its members. By then all humanity will consist of unselfish, intelligent, highly cultured and skilled communist workers; mutual assistance and affection will prevail among men and there will be no such irrationalities as mutual suspicion and deception, mutual injury, mutual slaughter and war. It will of course be the best, the most beautiful and the most advanced society in human history. Who can deny that such a society is good? But can this good communist society be built? We say that it can and will be. Marxist-Leninist theory has explained this scientifically and beyond all doubt. A factual testimony has been provided by the victory of the Great October revolution and the successes in socialist construction in the Soviet Union. Our duty is constantly to advance the cause socialism and communism in accordance with the laws of development of human society, so as to make socialist and communist society a reality as soon as possible. This is our ideal."

When looking back at what happened in Russia and in Eastern Europe during the existence of the Soviet Union, there is no doubt that many mistakes will be identified. Having said this, it is important to bear the following points in mind:

1.) A top-down approach to doing things was very common for a fairly long period of time in human history and certain changes in one's behaviour do not happen overnight;

2.) Russia and the Eastern European countries spent decades living in a state of siege (one should not forget the fear of a nuclear war during the times of the Cold War). When a population lives under such conditions, there tends to be a certain degree of paranoia.

3.) The construction of Socialism on the scale witnessed during the 20th century was unprecedented. Of course, when you are trying to do something for the first time, you are bound to commit a number of mistakes.

The mistakes committed by various Communist parties during the 20th century might have discouraged many potential Communists from joining such organisations. A 21st century Communist will admit that several mistakes occurred in the past, but he/she will criticise those errors so that they will not be repeated in the future.

At this stage, it is very important to note that just because one or more Communist parties committed numerous errors does not mean that the whole Communist belief system is wrong and that it should be discarded in favour of....neoliberalism?? Superstition? Communists have traditionally attached a great deal of importance to scientific thinking. Unlike the typical religious fanatic, a Communist knows that what might seem good today might need to be revised tomorrow. Marxism-Leninism was never intended to be a dogma.

So, what makes a Communist in the 21st century? I would say that the defining characteristic of a Communist is their strong desire to put an end to the capitalist economic model in order to replace it with a much fairer system. A system whereby resources are shared and distributed according to need.

The past should be discussed and analysed, but it is important to be able to move on in a constructive way. As stated in an article published by the Progressive Labour Party, "The working class has no reason to hang on to outmoded ideas, refight old battles, or embrace errors made by our heroic ancestors in the communist movement." It is essential to identify other groups in society that have had enough of capitalism so that more attention could be given to what unites such groups rather than what keeps them apart. At the end of the day, capitalism enjoys the support of several millionaires and billionaires; without a strong opposition, it would be extremely hard to do much in terms of social justice.

There are many parties that do not call themselves Communist, but which offer many interesting arguments when discussing the struggle against capitalism. Taking the Socialist Workers Party as an example, this organisation does not describe itself as a Communist one and it is very critical of the events that took place in Russia and in Eastern Europe during the existence of the Soviet Union. This does not mean that whatever they say is incorrect. I believe that the 21st-century Communist should be able to identify those points where it is possible to agree and to also employ rational arguments to criticise any assertions that might not appear to be factually correct.

I have recently borrowed a book entitled Anti-Capitalism: A Guide to the Movement. Published in 2001, the book contains numerous articles written by members of the Socialist Workers Party. Although I did not agree with the contents of every article written by the representatives of this party, I found myself agreeing with many of the points mentioned by Colin Baxter, one of the contributors to the book. I think that few Communists would disagree with the following words penned by Baxter:

"Those who hope to change things by persuading corporate bosses to behave morally are genuine utopians." (p. 330)

"Capitalism depends on an ever-expanding class of workers. Each, to live, must enter into a contract of unfreedom, agreeing to obey their employer. Each must compete with other workers for the privilege of being bossed and exploited. Each, to eat, must spend her wages on goods produced, not for need, but for profit. Workers for Ford, Nike, Safeway and McDonald's don't simply make cars, shoes, groceries, hamburgers; through their effort and weary sweat they reproduce and fatten the corporation bosses and their system." (p. 330)

"The capitalist system absolutely dominates the world, shaping everything humankind does." (pp. 330 - 331)

"So far as the working class is concerned, the argument goes, surely it's not the force it used to be? It's shrunk, it's defeated, it no longer has the capacity to change the world. But what's the working class? It's not confined to manufacturing. It's not confined to manual jobs. It's composed of everyone who, in order to live, must depend on earning a wage. In those terms, it's still growing. Shop assistants in supermarkets, computer technicians, teachers, nurses, bank and insurance workers and the like are, in the proper sense, workers...Today the majority of the world's population are workers - or would-be workers, the unemployed." (p. 332)

"A strategy for changing the world that doesn't directly involve that majority will always fail. Socialism has to speak to every facet of people's lives, and not least their working lives. It has to be about the majority empowering themselves, taking control of their workplaces themselves, putting themselves as people before profit..." (p. 333)

"Socialists have to change: they must be more open to impulses from without, more discussive in style, more able to relate to a multitude of new issues and arguments. They need to learn new ways of uniting in agreed common action with people who agree with them on many things but not all. Socialist organisations need, of course, to be inwardly democratic." (p. 335)

As more time goes by, it is hoped that more people will learn about how destructive capitalism is. Hopefully, more people will also learn about the possibility of building a much better world by embracing Socialism. There is no time to waste. As long as capitalism is allowed to reign, thousands of people will continue starving, losing their jobs, losing their homes, and seeing the environment around them being destroyed in order to generate huge profits.

A Sad Conversation

A few days ago, I received a call at work. The person had applied for a post and he was calling to enquire about whether the vacancy was still open following his interview. The caller had apparently been unemployed for over a year.

When he called, I already knew that the post was no longer vacant. I told him so. He thanked me for the answer. As he did so, I could sense a certain degree of sadness in his voice.

When I put the phone down, I felt angry and sad. What has happened to the right to work? Why can't the government do more to eliminate unemployment in this country? Given that Malta is supposed to have the highest inflation rate in the EU, could you imagine what life might be like for a person who has been unable to find a job in over a year?

A Visit to the Public Library

Last Saturday, La Delirante and I visited the public library at Belt is-Sebh. This library had been built for the masses by a Socialist government in the 1970s. It is important to remember that back then, a relatively small percentage of the population was able to buy books on a regular basis. The library was, therefore, an excellent place for a person to visit in order to borrow a book and acquire knowledge without paying anything.

One of the most interesting things about the aforementioned library is that it has several books that are no longer found in local bookshops. For example, I borrowed a book entitled The Marxist-Leninist Teaching of Socialism and the World Today. Published in 1978, the book was printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Such books are extremely engaging because they reveal several thoughts that were popular during a specific period of time.


Monday, 29 June 2009

Stephen Gowans - A Different Voice

I discovered Stephen Gowans's blog, What's Left, around two years ago. I consider it to be an extremely interesting blog that dares to challenge many of the dominant ideas that are broadcast by various pro-capitalist TV channels in the Western world. Furthermore, his posts are usually backed by extensive research.

Sadly, the views of bloggers such as Stephen Gowans do not seem to attract much attention. This could be due to the fact that when one does not have the sort of capital that various TV news channels have, it is extremely difficult to make oneself heard.

Earlier on today, I came across an article that he had written in April 2009. Although the article focused on Cuba, I was struck by the last part of the post. Talking about former East Germany, Gowans stated that "After experiencing two decades of a resurrected capitalism, half of East Germans want to return to what they had before. Reuters, hardly known for promoting socialism, revealed that a public opinion poll had found that 52 percent of East Germans had no confidence in capitalism, and most of them wanted to return to a socialist economy." A 46-year-old IT worker from East Berlin said, "We read about the ‘horrors of capitalism’ in school. They really got that right. Karl Marx was spot on. I had a pretty good life before the Wall fell. No one worried about money because money didn’t really matter. You had a job even if you didn’t want one. The communist idea wasn’t all that bad."

Taking a look at the comments that were left regarding the aforementioned post, I was struck by the first one. More specifically, one of the readers wrote the following:

"I was born in an Eastern European country which was formerly communist. My Dad did not have much love for that system, but even he admitted that there were good things about it.

1. Paid vacations for all. There were government resorts where you paid a pittance to go with your family and not have to worry about being broke after coming back.

2. Free health care. When there was a public health risk because of a disease, ie flu, the authorities immediately setup mobile vaccination units and told people to immediately get vaccinated. If you did not, they came to your house and made sure you got one (for free, of course)

3. You always had a job and when you got old, you were guaranteed a pension and could live out the rest of your days in peace.

4. It was against the law to be unemployed. If someone did not want to work, and they were healthy, the government found a job for you.

5. Public order and a very low crime rate.

This author is right about the fact that socialist countries may not have offered the high end luxuries that capitalist countries offered, but in a socialist country everyone was guaranteed a safe life with all the basics taken care of.
Many people there would like to go back to the old socialist system.
The world has two choices: luxuries and high tech toys in a capitalist system, or do without them but have all the basics taken care of in a socialist system.
It’s really a trade-off."

Using a Marxist-Leninist analysis of current events, I believe that Stephen Gowans does a great job when discussing the nature of journalism. Many people hardly ever seem to pause to question certain features on TV or to go beyond what is written in a newspaper article. Gowans, on the other hand, stimulates the reader to ask a number of very important questions pertaining to the media: who is writing an article? What is that journalist's socio-political background? What message are they trying to convey via a specific article? What issues might have been brushed aside for fear that they could challenge the points raised in the article? Focusing on the two US journalists who were recently tried and convicted in North Korea, Gowans wrote the following:

"Are Ling and Lee politically neutral? No journalist, no matter how hard she strives to be impartial, is free from class or national allegiances. As journalists employed by capitalists based in the dominant imperialist power, it is inevitable their reporting on north Korea would have had a decidedly pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist tilt, at odds with north Korea’s interests. Ling and Lee are every bit as much warriors in the struggle between Washington and Pyongyang over the question of whether the whole of the Korean peninsula will be dominated by US geopolitical interests as US military and intelligence personnel and Washington decision-makers are. Their battlefield, while it may not be one of missiles and artillery, is people’s minds, and is every bit as important. Ling and Lee are not innocent, politically neutrally journalists, who accidentally stumbled across the north Korean border. They are promoters of an imperialist ideology who almost certainly intruded illegally on north Korea with unfriendly intentions. The evidence suggests they are guilty as charged."

Friday, 26 June 2009

The Overwork Culture

Today I managed to listen to some music. A few songs that I really wanted to listen to. I managed to listen to some good music for more than 20 minutes. I have not been able to do something so simple in a relatively long time. Why?

When I return from work during the week (at around 17:30), I am usually so tired and hungry that my first thoughts normally revolve around food. What am I going to eat? Are the necessary ingredients available in the kitchen? How long will the cooking take?

Once the food issue is dealt with, the Insurance Law coursebook on one of the tables reminds me that my exam is only a few months away. And that I still have to memorise tons of cases, some of which date back to the 18th century!

All the above after what is normally a fairly hectic day at the office. I really enjoy what I do, but the never-ending demands coming from above and the ultra-tight deadlines that are sometimes given could easily make one feel pretty squeezed! :)

When surveying various workplaces in Malta (and even abroad), it seems that there has been a great intensification of the work done by several employees over the past decade or so. As far as skills are concerned, it appears that many employers have been expecting more flexibility from an increasing number of workers. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear various individuals saying that they are doing the work that should be done by three people!

The intensification of the work done by thousands of employees could be regarded as a product of the overwork culture. A few months ago, I read an excellent book by Madeleine Bunting about this subject entitled Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives (2004). Focusing on the British working environment, the book's blurb states that "Work-related stress is soaring and Britain has one of the highest rates of job insecurity in the world. Over a third of the workforce is so exhausted at the end of a day's work that they can only slump on the sofa...Technology was supposed to create a leisure society. Yet the British are experiencing job intensification in every office, classroom, shopfloor and hospital as a cult of efficiency drives ever more exacting targets. The phenomenon has been masked by a type of management which promises much but delivers one of the most exploitative and manipulative work cultures developed since the Industrial Revolution."

Although the book deals mainly with the situation of many workers in Britain, there are many parallels that could be drawn when focusing on Malta. For instance, I believe that the following assertion could also apply to many employees in Malta, even though the statistics might be a bit different: "Nearly 46 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women work more hours than they are contracted for...For about 2.4 million [people] there's no overtime pay; their organisations depend on motivating the free labour they need because it is one of their cheapest resources. Don't employ more people, just devise an organisational culture which will ensure that people will give you their free time for free" (p. 7).

I yearn for more hours to spend doing other things besides working. It would be so nice if the working day were shorter so that one could have more time to spend with their loved ones. Or to indulge in various activities.

In view of the above, I keep asking myself: where are the trade unions? Where are the organisations campaigning for an acceptable work-life balance? And which political party is really doing something about the overwork culture that has, unfortunately, also invaded our country?

It is now time to go back to my work-related studies...


Friday, 19 June 2009

Another Look at the DPRK

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been the subject of a great deal of criticism for many years. Most of the "news" channels of the Western world tend to repeat the same stories over and over again until most people hardly ever stop to question what they are hearing or seeing. Some of the most popular criticisms are that thousands of people are starving to death, no criticism of the government is tolerated, and that the country is still living in the Stone Age.

I have recently had the opportunity to review some literature that was published fairly recently in the DPRK. More specifically, I am referring to the Korea Today magazine and to The Pyongyang Times. I was struck by how different such literature is when comparing it to several magazines that are printed in other countries (including Malta).

First and foremost, when flipping through the pages, one does not come across countless pages that advertise things that are often beyond the reach of several people. With reference to some of the local publications that are included in the Sunday newspapers, if one had to tear out the pages showing the adverts, one is left with very little reading material.

Second, I was impressed by the content itself. In strongly capitalist countries, numerous magazines focus on the lives of a handful of ultra-rich individuals (company directors, singers, etc.). In such publications, the individual is frequently given much more importance than the society in which they live. A magazine such as Korea Today, on the other hand, is packed with articles about social issues. Furthermore, the individual is almost always depicted as a member of the collective.

In order to show the difference between the literature that is often found in North Korea and that found in strongly capitalist countries, I decided to focus on an article entitled If They Could See Their Houses. The latter focused on Kwangmyong Village, where 35 blocks of houses were specifically constructed for blind people. The article states that "Officials of the district People's Committee and the district Workers' Party of Korea committee decided to build houses for the blind residents first as part of the plan to facelift streets and villages in the district as required by the new century. They had always given primary thought to the blind working at the Sungho Kwangmyong Daily Necessities Factory. With the blind in their district, they had acquainted themselves with every article of the DPRK law on protecting the handicapped whereby they are to be treated preferentially by the public and their life is to be taken responsible care of by the state, and put the articles into practice" (Korea Today, 2, Juche 98 [2009],p. 24). Sadly, it seems that such articles are never mentioned by the most popular "news" channels in the Western world.

It is not true that the literature published in North Korea never deals with certain problems. I have, for example, seen articles that mentioned the food problems that affected the DPRK between 1995 and the year 2000. The difference between these articles and the ones that are usually found in capitalist countries tends to be characterised by the analyses that are carried out; a person who is interested in overthrowing the DPRK's socialist government is likely to argue that any food problems were caused because of the Workers' Party of Korea and might even come up with a few figures that are quite hard to verify whereas a more rigorous study of North Korea's situation during the aforementioned years would indicate that many natural disasters as well as various economic sanctions did contribute to a certain degree of hardship for several people in the DPRK. Such problems do not, however, suggest that socialism does not work and that the government led by the Workers' Party of Korea should be overthrown so that it could be replaced by a capitalist party.

Talking about food problems, I have recently discovered a website called Feeding America. According to the latter, "for 1 in 8 Americans, hunger is a reality. Many people believe that the problems associated with hunger are confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country, or certain neighborhoods, but the reality is much different.

Right now, millions of Americans are struggling with hunger. We all know and are in contact with people affected by hunger, even though we might not be aware of it.

These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days. Most of us simply have no idea. It’s time to educate ourselves about America’s hunger problem." (italics added for emphasis)

In spite of the alarming food situation for millions of individuals in the US, it is hard to come across an article or a feature on one of the popular TV channels that asserts that the US government should be overthrown in order to solve this problem!!!

The aim of this article is not to say that there are no problems in the DPRK. The objective is to get more people to question what life is really like in that part of the world. And to reflect about the fact that just because the government in the DPRK opposes capitalism, it does not mean that it is evil.


Thursday, 18 June 2009

A Blog Award

This beautiful blog award was received from G. She thought that it could look a bit girlish, but I guess that it's the thought that really matters... :))

I would like to present this award to Ninu Hadida and to Progressive Malta. :)

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Another Political Party in Malta?

Following last Saturday's EU Parliament elections, many people are debating the future of small parties such as Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) and Azzjoni Nazzjonali (AN). Compared to the 2004 elections, Norman Lowell's Imperium Europa did better this time round, but it still failed to garner enough votes to really make a difference to the way things are done in Malta or on a European level.

With reference to AD and to AN, I have never believed that such parties would go very far in Malta. First, when one is battling with two other parties that have their own newspapers, TV channels, and radio stations, it is incredibly hard to convey one's message to the electorate in the same way that is done by the two biggest local parties (i.e., the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party). Second, even though a party might be excellent at drawing popular attention to certain issues, if that party is not perceived as an organisation that is guided by a specific ideology, many people might not feel sufficiently attracted to it to give it the first preference during an election. Over the past few years, AD had frequently talked about a number of civil rights such as divorce, but the campaigning was not particularly strong and it is highly questionable that thousands of people would vote for AD because of one issue. No ideology, no road map, no vote. That is, I believe, the way many people think when it comes to small parties that only focus on particular issues without displaying the struggle for certain goals as a result of an ideological process.

Sadly, even though the European Parliament contains a group of parties that emphasise the importance of having an ideology, Malta has still not witnessed any organisations belonging to this group. More specifically, I am talking about the GUE/NGL group. The latter consists of a number of parties from various countries that strongly oppose the neoliberal economic model that has been embraced to different degrees by numerous European countries. The parties in this group believe in a different Europe. A more social Europe.

Many people could argue that as a member of the Party of European Socialists, the Labour Party could contribute to the construction of a more social Europe. I do believe that it is better to have a social-democratic party in power rather than a centre-right one such as the Nationalist Party, but the relatively poor performance exhibited by a number of other social-democratic parties in countries such as the UK and Spain could lead to one very important question: how can a party criticise the effects of capitalism and promise a different way of life without locking horns with the capitalist economic model?

Taking Malta as an example, both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party stress the need for the creation of more jobs. When the government is unable to create more jobs on its own (possibly because it has sold most of its assets to a number of individuals), it will attempt to lure foreign investors to our shores. The key question here is: why would that person or company decide to set up shop here in Malta? Is it because they are being promised lower taxes compared to other countries? Is it because the "new jobs" would offer ridiculously low salaries to the employees? These are just some of the questions that I ask myself when I listen to the rhetoric of several politicians.

Will Malta witness another political party? A party that could truly contribute to the construction of a more social Europe by implementing a number of genuinely social policies? Only time will tell...


Sunday, 7 June 2009

A Massive Blow to Dr Gonzi's Government

The first result is finally available! And it is extremely clear that the Labour Party has won the EU Parliament election in Malta.

After more than a month of destructive propaganda by the Nationalist Party (PN), a clear message was sent to Dr Gonzi's government in yesterday's election - his administration no longer enjoys the support of a majority of Maltese voters. From this day onwards, Dr Gonzi and the rest of the PN team need to bear this message in mind as they continue delivering one blow after another to countless members of the working class in Malta.

A quick look at the PN's electoral campaign suggests that it failed to address many issues that were affecting thousands of Maltese families. It is not enough to simply promise to create more job opportunities in Malta when several people are struggling to make ends meet. Dr Gonzi failed to offer concrete solutions in terms of how he was going to address the precarious employment conditions endured by numerous workers (especially those in the 18-25 years age group), the incredibly high inflation rate, the water and electricity bills...Instead of focusing on these fundamental matters, a great deal of time and energy were wasted criticising Dr Joseph Muscat's apparent lack of punctuality and on trying to deceive the Maltese electorate that the Labour Party was still sceptical about Malta's position within the EU!


Whilst awaiting the EU Parliament election results, I was thinking about an article that I read a few minutes ago. The article was entitled Shortage of nurses at Mater Dei emergency.

Just a few days ago, whilst listening to one of Dr Gonzi's speeches, he was boasting about Mater Dei, the hospital that has often been described as a "state-of-the-art" one. During his speech, Dr Gonzi seemed to forget that when it comes to hospitals, the most important thing is that patients are given the most appropriate treatment they require. When a person needs to undergo an emergency operation and is constrained to wait for a number of hours due to a shortage of nurses, something is clearly very wrong! According to the aforementioned article penned by Cynthia Busuttil, "Patients requiring emergency surgery are at times made to wait because there are not enough nursing staff to man Mater Dei's emergency theatres..."

Scary and shocking news!!!


The TV has been on since 8:30 this morning. Apart from checking the latest reports on the different channels, I have also been monitoring the news on the Internet.

The vote counting is expected to start pretty soon. I am sure that thousands of individuals will be glued to their TV screens as they look for any signs of the winning party.

The waiting game can sometimes be a fairly tiring process. Some journalists keep repeating the same list of statistics over and over...and over again! *Yawn*

Looking forward to the start of the vote counting in Naxxar!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Big Day Has Finally Arrived!

I went to vote in Ta' Xbiex a few hours ago. I did not see many people at the voting station and I was ready in less than 5 minutes.

Since my wife is still not a Maltese citizen, she was unable to vote. Whilst I was voting inside, she was instructed to stay at a distance of, at least, 50 metres from the voting station. Thinking that I had my mobile phone with me, she sent me a message to let me know that she was going to meet me at home. When I finished voting, I never saw the message since I had left my mobile phone at home! I waited for a couple of minutes near the entrance of the voting station, hoping to get a glimpse of La Delirante. Nothing. When one of the police officers saw me just standing there, he asked me if I had already voted. I replied affirmatively and told him that I was waiting for my wife. He informed me that I could wait for her at a distance of, at least, 50 metres away from where we were standing!

I walked away, hoping that La Delirante was not looking for me inside the building!! I stopped at the street corner, where some political party observers were taking notes. After a couple of minutes, one of them told me, "I think she went home". I had no idea who that man was and I am sure that I looked quite puzzled there. I asked him, "Are you sure that it was her? She was wearing a pink top." The guy replied: "Yes, yes, it was her. I live in the building in front of you and I have often seen you together." Good gosh, I thought to myself! I cannot recall ever seeing the guy and he seems to know about many of my behaviours!!! An excellent example of neighbourhood watch! :-)

When I returned home, I was just zapping from one TV channel to another in order to get the latest news. The different Maltese channels were not saying much. I watched the footage of Dr Gonzi, Dr Muscat, and Dr Abela going to vote. I also heard that compared to the 2004 European Parliament elections, there were an additional 5,000 or so votes that were not collected. This means that even though Malta has been a member of the European Union for 5 years and even though an increasing amount of Maltese legislation is originating in the EU institutions, there are more people who are not interested in the EU today than in 2004.

I just hope that those people who did not bother to collect their vote will not go around complaining that things are bad in Malta and that there is little one could do to change the current state of affairs. I believe that even though one might not agree with all the beliefs associated with a particular political party, it will always be possible to identify a party that shares a good number of one's principles. As we saw in the 2008 general election, every vote counts and every vote is fundamental to either maintain the status quo or to change the way numerous things are being done in this country. Fair enough, the EU Parliament elections should not be regarded as national elections, but with so many laws coming from the EU, many national policies are going to be reflecting decisions that were taken in the EU Parliament.

By the way, for those of you taking a look at the photo posted above, even though there is a PN flag in the background, please rest assured that I did NOT vote for that party! :-))

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Members of One Family

Many years ago, there was a Queen song that I really liked called “All God’s People”. During that time, I was still a member of the Roman Catholic Church and I was strongly attracted to the notion that all human beings are members of one family. It felt nice to think that all the people who have ever lived could be regarded as my brothers and sisters. Believing that life was eternal, it felt even nicer to think that no matter how many conflicts there have been in this world, a day would come when all human beings would be able to live together in an atmosphere of peace and love.

As time went by, I drifted away from the Roman Catholic Church and from all religious organizations. I never, however, stopped believing in how much better this world could be if we all attempted to regard each other as brothers and sisters. It is true that our own imperfections and the faults we perceive in many other people sometimes create a great deal of tension. Yet, if a person is committed to the ideal of living with others as members of one loving family, it becomes easier to overcome various impasses and to seek reconciliation.

Sadly, the cynicism exhibited by several people about human beings and what I have termed as the “individualist cult” have strongly contributed to a society often characterized by a shocking degree of selfishness. It could be that many individuals have become much more selfish because the economic model that has been adopted in many countries promotes such behaviour. Given the cut-throat competition that exists between numerous companies as they indulge their greed, it is not surprising that countless individuals are encouraged to believe that the only way to live decently in contemporary society is by embracing the social Darwinist creed that “only the fittest will survive”. On an almost daily basis, people all over the world are bombarded with TV shows about competing with the proverbial neighbour in order to be considered as more beautiful, more “talented”…and all this done to become rich and to acquire the power that is associated with fame. Nowadays, children below the age of 10 are sometimes gripped by despair when they get a B instead of an A in certain subjects at school!!

The “individualist cult” has pervaded numerous countries. Malta is surely no exception. The sickening number of dance and singing competitions that are held on an almost monthly basis bear witness to this point. Furthermore, various individuals have become so selfish to believe that if another human being ends up unemployed or homeless, it is only “that person’s problem” and “only they should deal with it”.

Considering that many Maltese people still pride themselves on being Catholic, the “individualist cult” exhibited by many individuals might come across as strongly at odds with the principle of fraternal love. What has happened to co-operating with other human beings? What has happened to helping those who need a hand in order to progress? What has happened to forgiveness?

I do not think that I would be exaggerating when I say that there are several individuals in Malta who feel extremely lonely and abandoned. Uncared for. It could be the single parent who gets no help with their child. It could be the 16-year-old who feels that they will have to go through life as a second-class citizen because they do not have any academic qualifications. It could be the person who lost their spouse/partner as a result of an illness or an accident. It could be the university graduate who spends months looking for a decent job. It could be the person who is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Earlier on today, I was talking to a foreign friend of mine who has been living in Malta for many years. She is planning to move to another country later on this year or sometime next year. She told me that she found it extremely hard to make friends here in Malta. Many people would talk to her, but they would not go the whole way to treat her as though she were family. It was only after she joined an Evangelical Christian Church that she met people who displayed genuine care towards her. It was only then that she felt treated as a family member.

I find it very sad that in many countries, several people are only able to nurture the goal of building a more fraternal society by joining religious organizations. At this stage, I do not intend to criticize such groups because I am aware of the admirable work that is done by many of them. My only concern is that many people seem to end up constrained to believe certain things dogmatically just to feel that they are cared for and loved as family members. As far as I am concerned, my questioning mind prevents me from joining a religious organization and accepting various things just because I am told that they are true. Having said this, I yearn to be with people who care about me in a fraternal way.

In the case of those people who prefer a more secular pathway, Malta does not seem to have many organizations characterized by fraternal love. Some individuals might attempt to find a bit of solace by joining a political party, but the excessive ambition displayed by a number of people within a party might occasionally make it quite hard to feel that building a more fraternal world is that party’s top priority.

In spite of the friction that can be witnessed within almost every political party, I still believe that becoming involved with a political party appears to be one of the best options for secular-minded individuals to contribute to the construction of a more fraternal world. Of course, it is important to analyse a party’s ideology and objectives prior to joining. Joining a party could give a person the opportunity to make a number of positive differences in one’s environment.

Hopefully, a day will come when all human beings can live together harmoniously as members of one family.


Wednesday, 3 June 2009

People Should Come First

Malta joined the European Union in 2004. Since then, although several individuals might have benefited from the country's EU membership, it is my impression that the greatest beneficiaries were a relatively small number of business owners. Following Malta's entry into the EU, such people have been able to expand their operations in many other Member States, thus increasing the chances of earning much more money. Having said this, how has the life of the typical Maltese worker changed since 2004?

There is little doubt that the EU provides various opportunities for Maltese workers to improve their skills. Many people have heard about the Social Funds that could be utilised to help various individuals acquire a number of skills. Being a member of the EU also makes it easier for a Maltese worker to move to another Member State where they could earn more money and live more comfortably. Since 2004, new companies have set up shop in Malta, making it possible for new jobs to be created.

In spite of the above, there are still several points that suggest that many Maltese workers are still not doing so well when comparing Malta to many other EU Member States. Indeed, earlier on this week, I heard that Malta presently has the highest inflation rate in the EU. At little over than EUR 600 a month, the minimum wage in Malta is a joke and a strong slap in the face to thousands of Maltese people, especially those that have dependants. Although there might have been an increase in job opportunities within certain areas of the Maltese economy, the Nationalist Government rarely talks about the conditions associated with many jobs that are being created in our times. What is the point of boasting about how many people are working when several of those individuals might be on short-term contracts, earning relatively low salaries, and working under very stressful conditions?

When politicians face each other during various debates, it is quite common for numerous spectators to feel lost or confused. Given that many politicians are lawyers or economists, it is plausible to expect a great deal of jargon about the Euro, the calculations underlying countless figures, and so on. To a specialist, such discourse is likely to be interesting, but wouldn't the typical Maltese worker prefer to listen to a different type of talk?

The EU needs to ensure that people come first. Of course, it is fundamental to safeguard the welfare of every citizen, but when we know that there are so many workers all over the EU that are yearning for a brighter and more secure tomorrow, it is so important for politicians to dedicate more time as well as energy to focusing on various issues. Could there, for example, be more talk about the possibility of creating a decent minimum wage across the entire EU? Could there be more talk about preventing work from spilling increasingly further into one's home life? Could there be more talk about specific strategies aimed at ensuring that there is full employment in the EU?

Next Saturday's EU Parliament elections are another reminder that we have the possibility to do something to change this Union. Next Saturday is another reminder that your vote could contribute to ensuring that the EU becomes an organisation that truly promotes the message: "People Should Come First"!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Fortress Europe or a Social Europe?

Over the past few months, many EU citizens have been discussing the impact of illegal immigration on various countries. Malta has been mentioned by a number of EU politicians on countless occasions even though not everyone thought that enough was done to address the issue in the best possible way. As shown by the photo posted above, one of the key questions for this year's European Parliament elections is: What kind of borders should we have?

In view of the fact that I consider myself to be a citizen of the world, I strongly believe that human beings should be allowed to move from one corner of the planet to another without having to face a shocking number of hurdles. At the end of the day, no person gets the opportunity to choose the country that they are born in; why should one be constrained to spend all one's life in a specific country without the opportunity to move easily to another place? Why is it that if one is born in an EU country, they are able to move freely to over 25 other countries whereas an individual born in, say, Sudan would probably have to face an incredible amount of bureaucracy to attempt to move to another country?

People decide to move from one place to another for various reasons. One of them is that an individual could nurture certain beliefs that are much more popular in one country than another. One country could offer more job opportunities than another. One country could provide more space, more greenery, more cultural organisations...

If capital can move around the world so swiftly and, in many cases, with hardly any obstacles, why can't human beings also be allowed to move around so easily??? Is money more important than human welfare?

The immigration issue is not a Maltese one. It is affecting several other European countries such as Italy and Spain. In my view, it is extremely important for EU politicians to be able to come together to find solutions that will avoid creating first-class and second-class citizens. Perhaps the time has come to revisit the various laws regarding immigration so that the world could become a fairer place. Is it fair to treat an individual who simply wants to move to another country in order to work and live there like all other law-abiding citizens as a dangerous criminal?

Over the past few weeks, some people have strongly criticised the ways in which a number of supposedly socialist parties have reacted to the illegal immigration phenomenon. Real socialists, it is often said, should try to tear down the artificial barriers that separate human beings from one another. Having said this, it is still comforting to know that even though some socialists could sometimes appear to have been injected by a heavy quantity of nationalism, their parties represent much greater hope than others that are also contesting the European Parliament elections.

The European Union should not become a fortress. It should serve as a model of fraternity to the other regional blocks around the world.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Paceville and the Quest for a Romantic Partner

When talking about Malta, many young foreigners would surely know about Paceville. The latter represents the island's clubbing capital and it attracts thousands of people every weekend.

In this post, I do not wish to analyse the virtues and vices that are frequently associated with Paceville. I prefer to focus on the popular belief that Paceville is the perfect place for a single person to find a romantic partner.

During my late teens, whilst complaining about being single, many people encouraged me to go to Paceville during the week and, particularly, on Saturday nights. I followed this advice for a number of months. Result? I remained single throughout the entire period when I used to stay out at Paceville until 6am.

Of course, there could have been many reasons underlying the lack of success in finding a partner during my frequent visits to Paceville. My appearance during those times could have benefited from certain changes, but I still believe that there were other issues to take into consideration. More important issues.

To this day, I believe that Malta is a country of clans or tribes. The clans tend to develop in many ways; sometimes they are formed by individuals who had attended a particular school for several years, people who had worked together, people who believed in the same religion, etc. As a member of a clan, it becomes relatively easy to be introduced to potential romantic partners, to individuals who could offer one a decent job, to a network of friends.

In my case, I was not very comfortable with the notion of being a part of a group for a fairly long time. I stayed away from the many religious groups that exist in Malta since I did not want to be a hypocrite; as an atheist, I did not want to go singing religious hymns just to make friends or to find a girlfriend.

Since I did not belong to any specific clan, whenever I went to Paceville, I often felt as though I were a total stranger. I would see pretty girls all over the place, but they were virtually never on their own; they tended to be with many other people.

Furthermore, the noise level inside most clubs in Paceville was so loud that it was quite hard to imagine myself trying to strike a conversation with a girl that captured my attention. Such loud music makes it possible to flirt using body language, but there is little more that one could do in similar circumstances.

Since those days, the Internet has become an extremely popular tool. With the appearance of social networking sites such as Badoo and Facebook, an increasing number of individuals have made friends and even started romantic relationships via the Internet. The latter has certainly helped several people in Malta who did not belong to a specific clan. More specifically, the Internet contains countless groups that allow easy membership and contact with other people. Such access to one or more groups is not always so easy when analysing, say, a group of individuals in Paceville.

To conclude, I am glad that - in a very small country like Malta - the Internet has provided another way to make friends and to meet a romantic partner. :)

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Food for Thought

Whoever knows me will be aware of how much I enjoy dissecting various articles related to current affairs. In this post, I have chosen to focus on a number of points that have recently struck my attention.

According to an article published in the latest edition of The Economist, "India is a land of bright promise. It is also extremely poor. About 27m Indians will be born this year. Unless things improve, almost 2m of them will die before the next general election. Of the children who survive, more than 40% will be physically stunted by malnutrition. Most will enroll in a school, but they cannot count on their teachers showing up. After five years of classes, less than 60% will be able to read a short story and more than 60% will still be stumped by simple arithmetic" (p. 11). When reading such an article, many questions come to my mind: why is India often regarded as an economic giant that has benefited greatly from capitalism when faced with such shocking statistics? When reading about such poverty and misery, there is hardly any talk from several countries about the need for "regime change" or any discourse aimed at introducing different economic policies. There is talk of implementing numerous reforms, but the arguments are often very broad and fail to analyse several details.

In the same edition of The Economist, there was an article which praised the recent election of four women in the Kuwaiti Parliament. Although the article mentioned the fact that "Parties are officially outlawed in Kuwait, meaning that candidates run as independents" (p. 45), the tone did not appear to be as harsh as that often used when describing political events in countries such as Cuba and Venezuela. It might be interesting to note that whereas this magazine frequently talks about political prisoners in Cuba, this article did not really say much about the human rights situation in Kuwait. According to a website that I found whilst carrying out research for this post, I came across the following information: "There are scores of political prisoners in Kuwait, and prison conditions are often inhumane. There have been reports of torture and inhuman treatment of detainees, and some of those responsible have been prosecuted. Freedom of speech and the press is severely curtailed, and journalists have been sentenced to prison for criticizing the government or Islam. Most practice self-censorship. There is no freedom of assembly. The death penalty is applied."

Friday, 22 May 2009

Having a Child

As stated by La Delirante in her latest post, we have recently talked about the issue of having a child sometime during the next few years. Considering the fact that I am already 30 years old, an increasing number of individuals keep asking me about when La Delirante and I will have a baby; until now, our answer has often been something along the lines of "sometime in the future". Following yesterday's late-night discussion, however, both of us are having second thoughts about the matter.

At the moment, the thought of having a child in Malta could be described as a source of anxiety for both of us. There are several reasons underlying this feeling. First, La Delirante and I have virtually no family support in this country. Nowadays, given the high cost of living prevalent in several countries, it is extremely hard for numerous families to survive on one income. Consequently, both parents often try to maintain full-time jobs whilst recruiting family members in order to help with the baby whilst they are at work. I have witnessed this phenomenon at work; all the colleagues who have one or more children benefit from some type of family support. In the absence of such support, it is logical to ask: who could give us a helping hand? Private child care would be too expensive for us. Sadly, the current Maltese government does not seem to offer much in the way of child care centres; if my memory serves me right, many of these centres are not open throughout the whole working day and none of them appear to be free. Furthermore, it seems that a number of scholars have written against the idea of sending children to such centres before the age of three. If these scholars are right, one of us would have to stay at home and look after the child for the first couple of years. This would mean trying to survive on one income, which would probably lead to many problems (financial, psychological, etc.).

The idea of having a child is also a source of anxiety for us since this would undoubtedly affect our current standard of living. All the parents I know at work hardly ever go out to a restaurant or to the cinema and travelling becomes virtually impossible (unless some family members are able/willing to keep the children for some time whilst the parents relax abroad). Furthermore, the time that was once utilised to watch DVDs, read a good book, write, go to exhibitions would suddenly be replaced by changing diapers, frequent visits to the doctor, hours spent helping out with studying prior to exams, and so on.

When viewing the point mentioned above, some people might argue that we are being selfish in preferring to indulge in our hobbies rather than in rearing a child. Not really, I would say. In my 30 years of life, I have only been able to enjoy the things I liked during the past 3 years or so. I am not saying that I had an unhappy childhood, but my family was never the type to take me out to restaurants or to the cinema on a regular basis. I grew up as a very sheltered individual and I only managed to start enjoying the nice things that life has to offer during my early 20s. Even then, however, I could not do much because of my relatively low salary. Only now am I getting the opportunity to travel more frequently or to indulge in certain pleasant activities more regularly. La Delirante's background was strikingly similar to mine in this respect and we, therefore, both understand each other when we talk about the importance of having a reasonable amount of time for the things we really enjoy doing. We are still far from living the type of life we want to live. Faced with such a situation, when we ask ourselves whether we are willing to endure several years of numerous deprivations in order to have a child, the answer is a clear no.

Considering that La Delirante and I have bought a place for ourselves last year, there is still a lot to be done before the apartment looks the way we want it to. Bearing the ticking of La Delirante's biological clock in mind, we would only have around 4 years to carry out several huge projects before it starts becoming dangerous to get pregnant. Even though our salaries have improved over the past couple of years, we are still not earning enough to be able to do all the things we need to do during such a short period of time. The next few years will still see us trying to deal with a number of debts. Furthermore, the idea of trying to carry out numerous projects as quickly as possible would require sacrificing several things and putting a huge amount of pressure on ourselves.

Another worrying aspect of having a child in Malta is the country itself. Yes, one can eat well here and it is perfectly plausible to say that Malta is a very safe country. Yet, as stated in an article which appeared in the Times of Malta on the 21/04/2009, "Malta is the worst country for children to grow up in, if a study by York University is to be believed."

When it comes to State support, La Delirante and I do not believe that the current Maltese government could do much to help us rear a child. I have already mentioned the child care centres. Apart from that, Malta has one of the lowest periods of maternity leave in the EU.

The above are a list of points that we discussed vis-a-vis having a child. Bottom line: we are currently not willing/able to have a child.


Thursday, 16 April 2009

A Better World

One of the best books that I have ever read was Vicente Romero's Donde anidan los angeles: Historias de la lucha contra la injusticia (Where angels nest: Stories of the struggle against injustice). Published in 2004, I had purchased the book in Madrid a few days before I went to live in El Salvador.

In his book, Romero - an atheist - documented the efforts of several individuals scattered all over the planet; individuals who were determined to fight against the suffering that still plagues so many parts of the world. Many of those interviewed were Roman Catholic missionaries.

As stated in a previous post, there is probably no other organisation that has done so much to help other human beings in the way that the Roman Catholic Church has done over a number of centuries. Of course, there have been several political parties and non-governmental organisations that have also contributed to improving the lives of thousands of individuals. Yet, as we read about the increasing inequality in most parts of the world and as we read about the many social ills that still affect millions of human beings, there are several times when the efforts mentioned by countless politicians in summit after summit appear to be little more than pleasant rhetoric. In such a situation, one could not be blamed for asking: how could the world be transformed in order to become a better place for ALL people?

In his work, Romero echoed similar concerns. Indeed, he wrote "What instruments of change are available to those who decide to rebel against a radically unfair system, established as the best of all possible worlds? Political parties, social movements, humanitarian organisations, individual projects...? All could count, but none are working. The classical leftist movement has disappeared, reduced to ideological discourse and to sterile testimonies...Parties and trade unions have lost their identifying traits and in practice seem to be accept the inevitability of injustice when it comes to the global distribution of wealth, giving up even the dream of revolutions against a system that was unacceptable in the light of the principles that had given rise to them a long time ago" (pp. 12-13).

As various organisations are hardly anywhere to be found in those parts of the world where a great deal of help is required, the Roman Catholic Church has never given up its commitment to provide assistance to those who have nobody else to look to for a piece of bread, a life-saving medicine, a hug...Even though Romero does not believe in God, he cannot hide his praise for the many missionaries who have brought some degree of happiness to thousands of people.

When I read Romero's interviews with the Catholic missionaries that he met, I was fascinated by how critical many of them were of the type of church that seemed to be more interested in rules and in dogma than in following Jesus's example of building a better world by helping other human beings. In the post I wrote a few days ago, I mentioned my belief that the Roman Catholic Church could attract more people if it implemented a number of changes. Taking celibacy as an example, one of the priests told Romero "The [Church] hierarchy should think seriously about it since celibacy is causing many dysfunctions" (p. 173).

One part of the book also contained an interesting discussion about the notion of salvation. When asked about the latter, Enrique Figaredo - the Jesuit priest quoted above - said the following: "God's salvation starts here. It consists in the fact that all people have something to eat, that people are able to get an education and medicines. Theologically, salvation is feeling loved by God. But how are you going to tell a person that God loves them if they lack a roof over their head and if their children are in pain because of hunger? I cannot understand religious work that is done only by preaching since deeds are also important, doing something that could change people's lives. For this reason, when dealing with the communities I work with, I try to avoid cult clubs and I try to ensure that they are organisations that can help others" (p. 172).

Talking about catechism, Joaqui Salord - another Jesuit priest - had some interesting views. Indeed, he said "Look, catechism does not worry me. I have never used it. That is something that belongs to a very narrow section of the Church. For example, when they say that what is moral is not cultural...yet most moral values are cultural! The same thing applies to catechism. Although I can barely remember what I had studied, I could not forget that it defined God as 'our Father who art in heaven, who rewards the good and punishes the bad'. Such an image of God was very harmful for me; I noticed that I was believing in a sort of judge, that I had grown up with such an absurd belief, and in order to be free I had to kill that God who had been transformed into a policeman. In my family, we believed in a different type of God; not in a salvation obtained through merit, but in a God that offers, invites, gives. There isn't a a heaven for good people and a hell for evil individuals. We construct heaven and hell. Good and evil are a part of every person, like the two sides of the same coin, and human beings have the potential to do both" (p. 176).

I do believe that it is possible to build a better world. At the risk of sounding too simplistic or romantic, I think that this can only be done if we are guided by love. A love for ourselves and for every other human being.