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Friday, January 28, 2005

Do you really want to hurt me?

I've heard from two separate sources that Maltanet (one of Malta's largest Internet Service Providers) is limiting access to websites located overseas in an effort to control bandwidth usage on the international internet backbone connecting Malta to the rest of the world. This is unbelievable!

I understand that Maltanet has a great challenge in offering a quality service at competitive rates and all that, but this is a ridiculous policy indeed. If Maltanet is having a hard time with its business, can you imagine what it's like for smaller independent internet service providers like Euroweb, Waldonet, and all the rest. Malta is too small a country and there's far too much good material coming in from web servers hosted abroad to justify this control in any way.

This is the worse example on propagating a digital divide I've heard since last year's unnecessary inflation in phone rates. It's almost as bad as Mintoff's old decree prohibiting "foreign political interference". (Remember that on?) How can the Malta Communications Authority let any service provider get away with this sort of policy? Better still, how can users remain subscribers of such a restrictive service?

Someone please tell me that this only Maltanet is resorting to such extreme measures. That way I can rest my mind that this is simply another ill-informed move on the part of a clueless business manager who is only concerned about the bottomline of the company rather than offering a reliable public service at affordable rates.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Give me some truth

It appears that Archbishop Mercieca is grossly misinformed about the nature of the internet and its true powers. I was shocked and dismayed to read today that he preached a dire warning about the ills of the internet, without exhibiting any idea of the incredible power it has to enable individuals to raise their voices above the humdrum of mainstream noise and mediocrity.

I mean no personal disrespect to Mons. Mercieca. I met the man face-to-face in December 1999 and he was very generous in giving me some of his time to record a message to be webcast on the MaltaMedia Online Network in marking the millennium. I don't believe that he had used the internet much at that time.

Yes, the woes of the internet are well known. We have a tsunami of porn. And countless hours are wasted online in practices abhorred by the Catholic Church and other right-wing conservatives. (Not to mention spam!) However, the internet also brings much joy to many. It also promises to break the hierarchical nature of the mass media. It decentralizes old powers like nothing else before it.

After reading the report on this morning sermon, if I didn't know any better I'd say that His Grace has no concern for the truth. Then again, truth is so relative. I wonder if he agrees with that. I doubt it.

In decrying the dark side of the internet without much regard for the liberating aspects of the Net, the Archbishop chose to convey to his audience that there's still hope for old media to retain their sense of power over the masses. It's interesting to note that his audience this morning was made mostly out of old-fashioned journalists, who are little more than mouthpieces for Malta's main political parties; bastions of relative truths.

For the sake of the Catholic Church in Malta, let's pray that the new archbishop (will he be appointed this year?) believes that the Internet is better that Mons. Mercieca declared it to be this morning.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Favorite waste of time

(I'm sticking to the American spelling here, so it's favorite rather than favourite.)

I love Sunday mornings. When I lived in the USA, watching Sunday Morning on CBS had become a weekly ritual, not too unlike going to mass. Now that I'm in the UK, I no longer have live access to CBS-TV so I have to make do with the next best thing on Sunday mornings: Breakfast with Frost. If we keep the mass analogy, Breakfast with Frost is a service at your local church, while CBS's Sunday Morning is mass at the Vatican.

This morning I woke up wanting to catch-up on my most recent post in this blog, where I said I'd write about my favorite waste of time. I don't mean a pass-time or a hobby, I really mean a waste of time. I refer here to my interest in Malta's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Malta Song for Europe 2005With less than a month to go until the final night of Malta Song for Europe 2005, I have been keeping abreast of the latest development as Malta chooses its representative/s at the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. My colleagues at the MaltaMedia Online Network have always been very supportive with my little project at This year the website has the best coverage pre-Song for Europe that we've ever had. Although I should thank Roseanne, Ruth and Martin from our news team for this, perhaps I should really thank the Maltasong committee, the organizers of this and all other taxpayer-funded song festivals in Malta.

Nothing beats controversy when it comes to making a splash as a newsmaker. Sure, there's natural catastrophes like the tsunami, but those are mostly inevitable. This year's controversy started with a lingering debate on the role of foreign songwriters, which came to a boil when the Union of Maltese Composers and Authors (UKAM) called a boycott on the contest in November. To Maltasong's credit (and with the direct intervention of the Culture Minister) an agreement was reached so as from next year the participation of foreign composers and authors in the Malta Song for Europe contest held in Malta shall be restricted to composers and authors of those countries where Maltese composers and authors have equal opportunities to participate. Fair enough, no?

Still, I'm not sure all this makes sense. I always thought the Eurovision Song Contest was the equivalent of football's European Cup and that the whole purpose was to play up the strength of national strength in the field. It would be indeed ironic if Ralph Siegel and his buddy John O'Flynn won the Malta Song for Europe and then moved on to acquire the grand prize for Malta at the Eurovision Song Contest final in Kiev. That would undoubtedly be postmodern bliss for all.

Can you see why I call all this my favorite waste of time? If you don't understand what I'm on about just yet, stick around...there's still lots more to come before the end of May, and possibly even beyond.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Seven days

I received a bunch of messages from various people, some I know and others I don't, asking me why I have not blogged since last Friday. One email from my good friend Pierre Mejlak even posed the question: are you still alive?

There's a simple answer to all the questions: I've been swamped with work and I have been unable to afford even half an hour to write anything that's even remotely meaningful over the past 7 days.

Oh, I'm alive, damn it!

I hope to find some time to catch up this weekend, especially because the first round of my annual favourite waste of time is in full swing. If you're curious about this come back to this blog in a day or two and you'll know what I'm on about.

By the way, thanks for caring about me. I really appreciate it!

Friday, January 14, 2005


The news from Malta these last couple of days is quite astounding. I refer of course to the unrest at Safi Barracks where refugees are detained until they are granted asylum or deported.

Last year I blogged at least three times about the flood of refugees and illegal immigrants reaching Malta. The first post was about Malta appearance on Amnesty International's 'baddies' list. The next post was a welcome note to the first asylum seekers and other boat people who had just reached Malta as a full member of the EU. And the last post was a clarification about terminology and actual conditions this unsettling phenomenon from a friend of mine who truly knows much more than I do about all this. This week's incidents will most probably land Malta on Amnesty's 'baddies' list for 2005. I wonder how this will be received in Brussels.

Photo by Alfred Giglio
The above picture was taken by Alfred Giglio during yesterday's incidents at Safi and appeared along with others published this morning in The Times.

Protest is never unprovoked. Peaceful protest is the manifestation of a plea for change from people who feel oppressed for one reason or another. And the most violent of protests is known as terrorism (in the broadest sense of the word, since there is no universally accepted definition).

Most violent protest occurs when the suffering protesters either believe that they should govern themselves or feel that rather than voice their opinion against a particular issue they should eliminate the cause of their subjugation. In this way, terrorism is a form of violent protest. I believe that terrorists resort to individual or group terror acts when other avenues for change do not appear as effective. It is my opinion that one way to reduce terrorism is to ensure that where there is a population feeling oppressed, some avenue of problem resolution is kept open, and that both sides see and feel the openness.

It is not my intention to be controversial without cause in this blog entry. All I really want to do is mark this sad moment in Malta's history while raising awareness about something that can potentially escalate into an international scandal. The Prime Minister did the right thing asking for an official inquiry after he saw the pictures by Alfred Giglio. Let's hope that the inquiry leads to radical changes within the way Malta deals with refugees and illegal immigrants very soon.

2 MCs can't occupy the same space at the same time!
It's against the laws of physics.

- Lauren Hill

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Plastic fantastic lover

I'm still looking at other people's blogs, and I must say it is a wonderful way to learn about what other people are thinking. How did we do this before blogs? Newspaper letters to the editor? Radio call-ins? How liberating blogs are for anyone who believes they have anything worth saying.

My favourite blog entry this year (at least so far!) is one on a blog called to infinity and beyond. As you can see from the picture I've reproduced here, there are people who are really giving the new eco-tax on plastic bags a lot of thought.

Now why didn't I think of that? I can't decide on whether it's because I sometimes do that already or because I'm too busy with other things that supposedly matter more.

Here are the instructions:

...if you don't have enough space to carry a cloth bag here is the solution in 6 easy steps ;-) It's fast, easy, saves you money and it helps save the environment by reusing the same bag!

1. Smoothen a plastic bag and fold in two
2. Fold again from the middle (the shape is now similar to a rectangle)
3. Fold the "rectangle" diagonally ...
4. ... until you have a triangle shape
5. Fold the handles into the slit of the triangle
6. Carry your neatly folded space-saving plastic bag in your pocket

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Picking up the pieces

When I started this blog, early last year, there was hardly any regular activity in the blogosphere from and/or about Malta. Five months into the adventure I blogged about the other Maltese blogs I had discovered. Since then a small number of blogs have entered the scene, making blogging something that is now also becoming quite Maltese.

Take in the first instance what is by far the most active blog of all Maltese blogs: Wired Temples. This blog belongs to an old schoolmate of mine; most people know him as one of the 2004 MEP candidates from the Malta Labour Party. Robert Micallef and I went to secondary school together between 1978 and 1983. I have fond memories of him at school because he managed to get me expelled during my first year at St. Paul's Missionary College. Perhaps I'll blog about that some other day.

Robert's blog is a very ambitious blog, but it is quite refreshing to see someone so committed to blogging daily about things that are neither too personal nor of little interest to a larger public. He has even mentioned my blog a couple of times, so indubitably this is what I would classify as a good blog.

I'm pleased to see that there are also Maltese blogs by non-Maltese bloggers. The best example of this category I've seen so far is the Maltese Vagabond by Jess, an American college student spending her junior year in Malta. This blog reads mostly like a personal journal or diary. Quite different from this other blog.

I was also very pleased to receive messages from a couple of other Maltese bloggers to alert me to their blogs or tell me that they've done something or other to/with their blog. From among these bloggers I'd like to point out Maria Calleja and Owen Cutajar, two people I know only through their blogs.

Maria remains one of the most active Maltese bloggers. I mentioned her first blog in my previous entry, but since then she's moved on to other adventures. She abandoned her first blog, and now blogs regularly about her globetrotting adventures at

Owen's blog is mostly about technology, but he blogs about other things too. His blog is called Ugh!!'s GreyMatter Honeypot, but I think the subtitle (Distracting the mind with information overload) really captures the spirit of his blog. What I find most interesting in this blog are glimpses into Owen's life as a Maltese man in the UK.

There are other blogs I've been looking at recently. These include Immanuel Mifsud's blog (probably the very first Maltese blog!) alond with its extraordinary Maltese edition and the anonymous Malta, 9 Thermidor (sadly not as active as it used to be until last November...the last post mentions my ramblings about the Budget for 2005). Speaking of ramblings, there's also Diverse Ramblings from Maltagirl: a very bloggy blog that's not a blog in blogger; I can't believe she pays to host her blog.

Have you had enough yet? Well, there's lots more where all this came from...and to throw another cliché into the mix: you ain't seen nothin' yet! My prediction is that blogging will become extremely popular with Maltese people in and out of Malta in 2005. This time next year remember you heard it here first.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tumble and Twirl

Have you recovered from the seasonal madness yet? Today is the first day in many where I've sensed a degree of normality. I say this with a clear understanding that normality is very subjective.

My thoughts are saturated by media images of the devastation and the tsunami relief efforts in SE Asia; constant reminders of the fragility of human life on earth.

What can I really do about what's going on now. Is donating money really enough? Should we feel that we've done our part just because we've donated some cash or whatever. Does that really make things better or does it simply make us feel better about it? Whatever the answer to that question, I believe that things can never be the same again for any of us, however close or far we are from it all.

I don't want to come across as a cynical bastard. I'm just being sincere about my thoughts on what's going on around the Indian Ocean as I am bombarded by a media frenzy to capture the aftermath of the catastrophe and the tough circumstances thousands of people have found themselves in.

In truth, I am rendered speechless.