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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Atrioventricular Reentrant Tachycardia

Most of the entries on my blog are not too personal. They almost always reflect personal thoughts or experiences, but I rarely write much about my private life. Today I was tempted to comment about the latest development in the calls for electoral reform by Alternattiva Demokratika (Malta's Green Party).

There's quite a bit to say about this, especially since AD has also applied for a TV station license. In doing this, AD has decided to fight fire with fire with regards to the most undemocratic situation where political parties take over terrestrial TV frequencies, for their own partisan political purposes. These frequencies should be used by private citizens and not by politicial parties. I am very passionate about this topic and I believe that one day soon there will be a revision of this situation, which is unique not only to the EU but also to most (if not all) other democratic countries.

Instead of all this, today I want to share with you something that is very personal. Something about my health: less than 24 hours ago I was diagnosed as having Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome. This was quite visible from an Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) test I had yesterday. The medical name for this heart condition is the title for today's blog entry.

WPW Syndrome involves an abnormality in the electrical system that normally tells the heart muscle when to contract. An extra electrical pathway in the heart acts as a short circuit. Impulses coming down this accessory route prematurely excite the ventricle of the heart, causing it to beat too rapidly and, sometimes, ineffectively.

Symptoms of WPW include palpitations, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, chest pain, fatigue, and a general feeling of unwellness. Most of these symptoms are due to the diminished amount of blood transported by the heart to the brain and other organs. I often feel some of the symptoms, particularly unpleasant sensations of irregular or forceful beating of the heart and dizzy spells. My doctor has instructed me to get an Echocardiogram as soon as possibe so we can take a look at the shape of my heart before we decide what to do next. I have an appointment for an Echocardiogram in two weeks.

Although medications that prevent abnormal rhythms were used extensively in the past, most specialists now recommend radiofrequency catheter ablation as the treatment of choice. This procedure destroys the abnormal electrical pathway. I've been told that in experienced hands radiofrequency catheter ablation can be performed safely with minimal discomfort. This involves placing wires in the heart using x-rays under local anesthesia. The wires are placed in various parts of the heart until the short circuit is found. The short circuit is then destroyed using radiowaves which cannot be felt and do not damage the rest of the heart.

A Normal HeartHeart with WPW Syndrome

Thursday, July 29, 2004

A little fish soup

Following the tomato disaster in Nadur this past weekend, I was somewhat amused to learn about the upcoming Mediterranean Seafood Festival today. I wonder how many Mediterranean countries will be represented at this festival. How many of them will be North African and how many will be European? Or will this be just one big Maltese smorgasboard from a restaurant with an Italian name? What a great marketing idea!

Even more bemusing is the case of 6 Italian fishermen who were arrested by the Armed Forces of Malta early this morning. Apparently they were just fishing in Maltese territorial waters. Fishing in Maltese territorial waters by all foreigners has been illegal for many years, but I would have expected this law to be amended now that Malta is a full member of the EU. Through Medisamak, 11 Mediterranean coastal states receive financial support from the European Union: Albania, Algeria, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia.

If it is indeed still illegal for any non-Maltese EU national to fish on a large scale in Maltese territorial waters, I suppose we have encountered one of the first examples where the Maltese government is protecting the economic interests of our country in an assertive way. If this is really the way things are, it almost makes me nostalgic for the days when Malta's way of life was far removed from that in any other country.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Seeking a new President for the U.S.A.

Judging by the reception he received at the Democratic National Convention in Boston last night, Barack Obama could some day become the first black president of the United States! His speech was Barak Obamaexcellent and the best part was the masterful delivery. It has been quite a while since I saw a politician who spoke powerful words with such grace.

He is currently running for a U.S. senate seat in Illinois, but according to all the political pundits I heard comment about him over the past couple of days, he will be running for president by 2012. What makes this most amazing is that if he is elected to the U.S. Senate this November, he will most probably be the only black senator.

Anyway, I realize that most people reading this do not follow U.S. politics, so I will not elaborate much further. I just wanted to make sure I took a moment to note the arrival of Barack Obama to big-time politics. After listening to him speak at the DNC last night, I truly believe that he will play a significant part in the future of American politics.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

A woman's right to choose

Last week, an official Maltese delegation made a medieval spectacle of our country by presenting a conflation of religious beliefs and civil legislation during an official discussion with the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The reasons the Maltese government has against full compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women are religious rather than legal.

The main issue is women's reproductive rights. Does a woman have the right to choose whether to reproduce or not? According to Maltese law, the answer is no, never!

I will be the last person to argue against the idea that life begins at conception. However, I am the first person to insist that my views should not be imposed by law on any woman who believes otherwise. Why should I, or anyone else, restrict her option to terminate her pregnancy in a way that is safe for her? There are a number of options for any Maltese woman who seeks an abortion. Why should Maltese law eliminate the possibility of this practice in the safety of a Maltese clinic?

There's no point in asking whether this legislation should be passed in Malta or not. The right question is: when will there be a government that truly represents all to such an extent that it allows citizens to decide for themselves what to believe?

I am not advocating abortion. I am simply arguing for the legal right of anyone who feels that they should have one. In their moment of distress they should not be burdened further by a non-supportive government. Imposing religious beliefs by law on everyone in the land is the sort of thing we associate with the Taliban and other oppressive regimes rather than democratic and progressive governments.

The same line of reasoning goes for divorce too, of course. But that's another argument for another day.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Gay Rights? Human Rights!

The first Pride March in Malta was organized yesterday by the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM). The march took place in Valletta and marks an important turning point for the Maltese society at large. Most noticeable was the presence of MPs from both sides who appeared in the march at the risk of some flack from their homophobic constituents. Yet, in some ways, this can be seen more as an act of conformity than bravery.

Things have improved tremendously in Malta over the past ten years or so, thanks in part to older legislation passed decades ago. However, discrimination still exists and sadly will continue to some degree or other for some years to come.

I'm not trying to be controversial here. What I have in mind is the fact that for young gays who have been disowned by their families, survival comes before pride. Here in New York, there is no official count of gay homelessness, but the number of homeless teenagers is certainly growing. Most studies estimate that as many as half of all homeless youth are lesbian or gay, many of them tossed out by parents who scorn homosexuality for a variety of reasons.

Malta's case is not as severe as that of larger countries where a substantial number of gays end up homeless or dispossessed. Yet we all know that not every family embraces a son or daughter who comes out with pride. For such families (and not just the sons and daughters!) the MGRM has also just launched a National Gay Helpline on 21430006.

Malta can avoid running towards a similar situation by offering a better environment for all homosexuals. As one of the placards at yesterday's march pointed out: homophobia is a social disease.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Rebuilding Malta's old Opera House

Yesterday, the newly elected Maltese MEPs attended the opening session of the new European Parliament in Strasbourg. The fact that this is the first time Maltese MEPs are sitting in Strasbourg as full members of the EU made me wonder whether they are now in a priviledged position to discuss certain issues with their counterparts from other countries, on equal footing.

Royal Opera House in ruins during World War III bring this up in light of the long overdue rebuilding of the old Opera House in Valletta. As we all know, this was destroyed mainly by German Nazi bombs during World War II. While some may argue that all is fair is (love and) war, perhaps Malta is now in a better position to request financial aid from Germany to rebuild the old Opera House. I would not be surprised if Germany has a way of getting special EU funds allocated towards this exercise too. Something tells me that Italy may have a thing or two to say about this issue, not to mention support from the UK, which got us in the whole WWII mess to begin with.

An achievement of this magnitude would show that the Maltese MEPs are truly serving a practical purpose in Strasbourg, beyond their bureaucratic call of duty, or perhaps as a natural part of it. I wonder if they'll use the Maltese language during their discussions on this matter, if they have any talks at all about this issue.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Making polluters pay

As I flew over the Atlantic Ocean back to New York last Wednesday, the Malta Government introduced the Eco-contribution bill. My friend Silvio De Bono commented about this before the ink had dried on newspaper reports about it.

I'm still trying to figure out what this is all about. I'm slightly confused by the fact that the government is moving forward with what may be considered a "green tax" after the Nationalist Party attacked Alternattiva Demokratika (Malta' Green Party) about its proposal for such legislation before the recent MEP election. I'm also a little unsettled by the idea that both the Malta Federation of Industry (FOI) and the General Retailers and Traders Union (GRTU) as well as Friends of the Earth (FoE) have issued statements against the Eco Contribution. As expected, the government released a counter-statement stating that this move is in favour of the Maltese environment. They all make a strong case; each in their own way.

As I understand it, the idea is supposed to make people buy and use environmentally friendly products. But because there are so few green alternatives in the Maltese market this bill is little more than a revenue-raiser: it will bring in about Lm4 million per year, according to official estimates!

However, as environmentalists and others have pointed out it is not the polluters who are paying but the consumers. The first impression will be that things are just more expensive because the government some of the funds it needs to upgrade its waste management programmes. This will give taxation in favour of environment-friendly products and practices a bad name.

The long-term intention is just right, but unless something is done about the immediate impact of the Eco Contribution, this so called green tax will be seen by most citizens as a worse burden than a polluted environment.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Reflections after a brief trip to the UK

I just returned from a three-day trip to the UK where to my delight I found out what it means to enter an EU country with a passport from another EU country. I'm simply talking about entering the country at the airport.

This was the first time I traveled to Europe since Malta became a full member of the EU. In the past my passport has experienced some rather long and intense glances by immigration officers both in America and in Europe. Multiple US visas and changes in my immigration status were among the reasons for this. Part of that was finally settled when I received my green card last year.

The usual airport ritual has now been terminated completely with my landing in the UK as an EU citizen. Still, I missed having my passport stamped by the British immigration officer. Anyone looking at my passport now would not know that I had visited the UK.

This may not seem like much to anyone who has not experienced the roller-coaster ride I've been through at airports during the last 10 years or so since I left Malta. If you have anything to say about all this I'd love to hear from you. You can either post your comments directly on this blog or just drop me a line via this link to my online contact form.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Olympic Mind Games

Marion Vella is a member of Malta's Olympic Gold-winning Women's National Basketball team. Besides basketball, she also has a passion for environmental issues. She is from Mgarr. Last Tuesday she was the 587th person to sign an online petition to get the Bruges dolfinarium closed. She is not the only Maltese person who has signed this petition. Ms. Vella is a supporter of Malta's Green Party, Alternattiva Demokratika (AD). During the recent European Parliament election she publicly endorsed Arnold Cassola in his run for a seat in the Euro house of representatives.

Would you believe that the Malta Olympic Committee (MOC) has threatened to sanction her because of her public support for Cassola? AD has written to the MOC asking several important questions, which essentially boil down to one simple question: when did Marion Vella lose her right to express her political views?

The MOC is surely aware of such human rights as freedom of expression and freedom of association! In fact, during past political campaigns various well-known Maltese athletes endorsed other political parties or candidates and rightly so no action was taken.

Is the MOC unaware of the historical connection between the Olympic Games and politics? Has the MOC never heard of the medal-winning black American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos who used the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City to protest racism in the USA by showing their support for the Black Panthers? As they received their medals for the 200 meter sprint, gold medalist Smith and bronze medalist Carlos raised their black-gloved clenched fists high above their heads in a salute identified with Black Power. When the International Olympic Committee expelled them it faced the wrath of the oppressed and all free thinking people around the world. Dare I mention the horrible bloodshed during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich?

I doubt that Ms. Vella is as bold as Smith and Carlos, but I'd be shocked if the MOC actually decides to censor her in any way. I'm sure Mr. Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco (who according to the MOC website is President of the executive board) will see the folly in even bringing up any queries against Ms. Vella's rights and her political beliefs. This matter is undoubtedly below his honor's standards.

Are PN sympathizers (particularly those appointed to the MOC executive board) really that sore about all the votes the Nationalist Party says it lost to AD in the European Parliament election? I hope this is not the general sentiment from the PN camp towards AD and its supporters.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Is Malta sexist too?

Last week the Xarabank team delivered the official verdict: Malta is a racist country. This came as no surprise. Actually, I believe that the Maltese are even more racist than the Xarabank survey says. Think about it for a minute. If you're not proud of being a racist and someone asks you if you're a racist you're either bound to decline to reply or better still deny it categorically. This means that more than 70% of the country is racist.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Malta is a country of sexists. Or perhaps I should say that men in Malta are racist. Sure, the law says that men and women are equal. Woman's rights in Malta have made huge leaps in status over the past 30 years or so. But there are still only a very small number of women in public life.

This was highlighted most recently by the fact that Malta is one of only two EU countries that has no women to represent it in the European Parliament. The other country is Cyprus. At least the Nationalist Party, with all its dried up dynamics, fielded two excellent female candidates in Dr. Joanna Drake and Dr. Roberta Tedesco Triccas. The MLP, which is presenting itself as the future solution to Malta's problems, did not have a single woman on its ticket. And its understandable that Alternattiva Demokratika should first establish itself before tackling the sexism issue.

So, where does this leave us? I suppose Malta will forever go down in history as one of the two most sexist countries in the EU at the turn of the 21st century. Personally I don't like that one bit, but then again Malta always has a way of standing out in the crowd...even if it is the tiniest nation in the EU.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Souad Massi in Central Park

Last night I went to a SummerStage concert in Central Park featuring the wonderful Souad Massi and her band. It was a lovely Souad Massisummer evening and the music was a welcome change of pace from all the commercial junk on mainstream media. What would I do without BBC 6 Music? That's where I first heard Souad Massi, on the Bob Harris Show.

Souad Massi is from Algeria. She sings most of her songs in Arabic. Her type of music is often described as Rai, and it has been popularlized by singers like Cheb Mami (who sang Desert Rose with Sting) and Cheb Khaled, who's music I heard for the first time about 15 years ago thanks to the ever-resourceful Guzi Gatt.

As I sat there on the bleachers in Central Park last night, I couldn't stop but think about the Maltese counterparts to Souad Massi and other Rai musicians. Sadly, they are few and far between. However, the examples that came to mind are quite remarkable.

The first is Mary Rose Mallia, singing that set of delightful songs written by Charles Camilleri and Joe Friggieri on Songs from Malta. The second would have to be Vince Fabri's songs based on Oliver Friggieri's Mal-Fanal Hemm Ħarstek Tixgħel, with the exquisite voice of Philisienne Brincat. And the only other example I can think of is the Etnika combo, which appeared in recent years, or perhaps some of the songs by Fr. Karm Debattista. Still, something tells me that the work Walter Micallef is doing now would also fit in this category. I must look into getting his CD M'Jien Xejn, which was published last year.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Happy Birthday Mr. Prime Minister

Today is Prime Minister Gonzi's birthday. I wish him all the best on this day, which also happens to be his 100th day in office.

I'm most fascinated by the fact that July is a crucial month for Malta's Prime Ministers' birthdays. Fortunato Mizzi, who was Prime Minister for a short period after World War II, was born on 5 July 1844. Gorg Borg Olivier, who was Prime Minister for most of the 1960s, was born on the same day as Fortunato Mizzi, but in 1911. And Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who became Prime Minister after Dom Mintoff resigned in the early 1980s, was born on 17 July 1933.

Interestingly enough, one former Prime Minister died in July. Paul Boffa died on 6 July 1962 at the age of 72.

I wonder how many more Maltese Prime Ministers will be born or die during the month of July.

Incidentally, don't think I'm a history buff, because I'm not. I know all this from the wonderful database at called Today in Maltese History. All this can also be sampled via email through the Newsletter; the July 2004 issue was released today.