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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

One Vision

I'm confused. More precisely, I'm undecided. It's all about Live 8 and Make Poverty History. Who organized this mess?

Should I go to the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park on Saturday? Or should I head up to Edinburgh for the Make Poverty History Rally? The rally is where it's really at, if you ask me. I'm quite keen to take part in Operation HaHaHaa (Helping Authorities House Arrest Half-witted Authoritarian Androids), which will begin during the July 6th global day of action and blockades. I have work I can't get away from next week, so being in Edinburgh next week doesn't look very doable when I glance at my diary. That's just pathetic! It seems like I've dug myself into a hole and I'm just work on making poverty history in my own life rather than for others in my lifetime.

The concert in Hyde Park is as attractive to me as an open flame to a mosquito. Still, without a ticket to the concert, or even the big screen area/s, it seems rather silly to head towards London this weekend. Getting there is not a problem. Yet the thought of making the trip to just sit or stand somewhere quite far off all the action in Hyde Park doesn't excite me at all. I'd much rather just watch the concert on TV. After all, that's what the official Live 8 website urges people without a ticket do: watch Live 8 on TV and online.

My last hope for a ticket to the concert came from BBC Radio 1. I'm too old to be considered for anything associated with Radio 1 (especially now that John Peel is gone) and not having a mobile phone must disqualify me automatically. Strangely I find solace in thinking how much worse off people living in extreme poverty have it from me. If only their cause for concern was just getting a stupid ticket to a rock concert. I wonder if Bob Geldof is sophisticated enough to realize this situation. He strikes me as a tunnel visionary; not that there's anything really wrong with that. It was quite amusing to hear Gordon Brown describe Geldof as both his mentor and his tormenter on TV the other night.

So it looks like I'm staying in Scarborough this weekend after all. You never know, I could change my mind at the last minute and just go anyway. I've been known to do that sort of thing. Perhaps I need a tor/mentor of my own.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Gap

It's been six months since the catastrophic tsunami in SE Asia. Here in Britain, the media is taking this point in time as an opportunity to assess what's been done with the millions in cash raised in aid of the survivors of the disaster.

This morning's report from the BBC shocked me, even if it did not exactly come as a surprise. A survey by UK-based charity Oxfam reveals that the poorest victims have benefited the least from the massive relief effort. They've found that aid has tended to go to businesses and landowners.

I expressed my doubts about the efficacy of simply donating money way back in January. It seems that my sense of helplessness, or rather the sense that donating money is not enough, was not unfounded.

I have great respect for Oxfam. They are the people who revealed that the precious white bands that are expected to make poverty history have been produced by labour exploitation in China. They are not armchair critics. They are still quite active in the Make Poverty History campaign, of course. They're also involved in other campaigns too, ranging from the Sudan crisis (yes, that's still on!) and helping women in Brazil's Conceição das Crioulas to develop craft products and market them. Income from crafts supports not only their culture, but also their agricultural livelihood and their struggle to reclaim their stolen ancestral farmland.

Oxfam continues to help more than one million people since the tsunami and has raised more than US$250 million to support its aid effort, which is the largest in the organization's history, according to the same report quoted by the BBC this morning revealing the intolerable gaps in aid.

It seems that it takes more than money or politicians to resolve poverty and economic hardship. Unfortunately, money is not easy to administer, and many politicians can hardly manage their own countries' best interests, let alone someone else's. It's so complex. It's so sad.


UPDATE [less than 24 hours after original post] The Girl in the Café, a movie made for TV by director David Yates and screenwriter Richard Curtis, was shown BBC One on Saturday evening. A beautiful love story, not so much about a romance between a mana and a woman, but more so about the scar of poverty on humanity. It hits the nail on the head about the urgency to support Make Poverty History. It's not very comforting to think that "war president" Bush, media manipulator Berlusconi and "lame duck" Chirac are among the 8 men around the G8 table. At least Blair and Brown can ride on the Geldof factor; not to mention Brown's own (positive) political ambitions. We'll see how it goes. It doesn't look too good, but stranger things have happened.

I must read Jeffrey Sachs The End of Poverty.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

New Kid in Town

Please join me in welcoming magnumT to the MaltaMedia Online Network. Starting today magnumT will be contributing a weekly cartoon to the MMON. The new series is called Whatever.

You may have noticed the "coming soon!" sign on the main Whatever page for the last few days. Although it's not really a blog, we've experimented using Blogger as the content management system to bring you this new cartoon series. It's an easy interface to use and quite secure. So we're sticking to it. It also gives readers easy access to post comments about the cartoons.

MMON's first cartoon series, Gattaldo's Brave Cissies, first appeared online in January 2003. Whatever follows up on the success of that series. Brave Cissies lasted until last September and we have been asked to re-introduce a cartoon quite a few times over the past several months. Perhaps we can convince Gattaldo to find some time in his busy schedule and return online with another cartoon series, if not another set of Brave Cissies.

Meanwhile, enjoy Whatever by magnumT and feel free to visit the Brave Cissies archive.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Fly

From an Associated Press box published this morning.

SARTRE REVISITED: The French are taking a fresh look at the 20th century philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre as they mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.

COUNTRY IN CRISIS: Sartre's influence has declined but fans say he is more relevant today than ever as the French question their role in the world after voters rejected the European constitution.

ACTIVIST PHILOSOPHER: Sartre's unapologetic support of controversial left-leaning causes has overshadowed his philosophy of existentialism, which holds that people are born without meaning to their lives and can choose to determine their "essence."

And this was not in the Associated Press box:

"to be is to do" - Aristotle
"to do is to be" - Jean Paul Sartre
"do be do be do" - Frank Sinatra

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Send in the Clowns

This weekend I visited the city of Newcastle in the north east of England. I'd never been there before but was fascinated by the place for many years, mostly because it produced The Animals, whose Chas Chandler brought Jimi Hendrix to the attention of the world, not to mention Sting - possibly the world's most famous Geordie. The main purpose of my visit was the opening of an art show dedicated to Live Art from New York since 1975 from the Franklin Furnace Archive, entitled History of Disappearance.

The exhibition is open at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, just across the River Tyne from Newcastle's city center, until early September. The Baltic is a phenomenal place indeed. I was very pleased to see what I feel is a good representation of the Franklin Furnace Archive outside New York. The work covers the last 30 years without emphasizing any one era more than the others. Franklin Furnace founder Martha Wilson has produced two new oral histories on performance art and alternative art spaces in collaboration with the Baltic. I hope these two gems make it to the Furnace website soon.

It was also quite rewarding to travel up to Newcastle to spend some quality face-time with artists Diane Torr (whom I've admired from afar for many years) and the resilient Billy X. Curmano. Even without all the amazing Franklin Furnace goings on at the Baltic, the two-hour journey to Newcastle would have been worth it just to have the conversations I had with Diane and Billy this weekend.

Besides this, my trip also featured a spectacular evening with the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, currently touring England and Scotland in preparation for the upcoming G8 anticapitalist protests led by CIRCA: the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army in Newcastle - 18 June 2005It's all a healthy mixture of live art and cultural resistance training camp for civil disobedience strategies and non-violent direct action. It was good to have the opportunity to buy a copy of the Lab of ii's video production of 13 Experiments in Hope, featuring works by CIRCA, My Dad's Strip Club, and The Vacuum Cleaner, among many others, including the amazing Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. All the videos are also freely available through the Lab of ii's web page for the DVD.

Seeing all this cultural resistance and creative interventions against capitalism made me start thinking seriously about the upcoming G8 and how this year it will be dominated by Bob Geldof's Live 8. I was looking for Live 8 concert tickets just the other day, but I seriously doubt we'll be able to get any. The official website is actually encouraging people not to go to Hyde Park for the concert (yes, the one where Pink Floyd will appear with Roger Waters again) on the 2nd of July and descend on Edinburgh for the Long Walk To Justice four days later instead. I haven't made up my mind yet. I'd like to go to both events, but I'll probably only going to one of the two. Anyway, there's still more than a week left to decide.

Friday, June 17, 2005

I Want to Brake Free

A close friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, at least for now) is currently being harassed by his boss at work over the most simple things written in his blog - some of which are just comments by his readers. I believe that this constitutes the first case of a Maltese blogger who is being censored by senior management at his place of work.

(Do you know of a similar case? Are you involved in one yourself? Please let me know.)

Unlike the notorious cases of the Google employee who was fired for commenting about things he really shouldn't have (free speech doesn't mean saying anything that comes to your head, dude! ever heard of common decency?), or the flight attendant who lost her job after posting what some considered "inappropriate" photos of herself posing "suggestively" onboard a Delta airline plane in her work uniform, the Maltese blogger in question is miles away from really offending the organization he works for in a significant way. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose much more without giving away his identity and getting him into more trouble than he cares for.

A couple of days ago, USA Today published an interesting article about companies who are firing and disciplining employees for what they say about work on their blogs. While the article focuses on cases in America, this is obviously not an issue that is restricted to the States. And this is to say nothing about government control over bloggers in countries like China and Iran. Malta's own blogosphere is clearly not letting sleeping dogs lie. Take a look at the anonymous blog Nurse Life, for instance; wonderful stuff, but I doubt some bureaucrat doesn't think that it's (at the very least) highly problematic. We even have one Maltese blogger (indirectly) begging not to be employed after going through the ordeal of applying for a job. (I know you really don't care, Alex!) Blogs are quite liberating, but they can be quite dangerous when not handled with care.
Keep on Blogging!

So, what are our legal rights as bloggers? Some of our rights are outlined in the USA Today article I mentioned above, but there's obviously much more to it than a simple newspaper article can cover. Quite serendipitously, this morning I received a press release from the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) announcing the publication of the EFF Legal Guide for Bloggers. This guide is mostly addressed at bloggers living in the USA, so there's a need to address similar issues for blogger in other countries, even if the basic guidelines apply in most democracies.

Some major corporations already see blogs as double-edged swords. They recognize that blogs can create valuable buzz about a company, but at the same time they definitely want to stop the online publishing of trade secrets. Their solution is to provide clear blogging guidelines designed to prevent problems, without stifling blogs. Some already have. It's a tricky balance to achieve, but if you don't like your employer's blogging guidelines there's now another reason to look for work elsewhere...unless you're comfortable with being a corporate slave.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Open Book

I've paid back all my sleep debt and things are back to "normal" after last week's trip to Italy. Before my 2005 Italian adventure becomes just another travel memory, I'd like to point out something that's going on at this year's Venice Biennale; especially because as far as the Maltese media scene (including the blogosphere) is concerned, it almost feels like this is happening in private.

Maltese poets Maria Grech Ganado and Immanuel Mifsud are among 250 poets whose work (on page 21) makes part of Isola della Poesia (English title: The Poets of the Virtual Island), curated by Achille Bonito Oliva and Caterina Davinio, along with an installation by Marco Nereo Rotelli, at the 51st Biennale di Venezia. It's not a project for the masses, even though it's still open to all. Still, it's really good to see Maltese poets mingle with others from abroad in such an environment. I believe others may still join them.

And speaking of privacy, I was thrilled to read the following in today's Washington Post:

"The House handed President Bush the first defeat in his effort to preserve the broad powers of the USA Patriot Act, voting yesterday to curtail the FBI's ability to seize library and bookstore records for terrorism investigations. Bush has threatened to veto any measure that weakens those powers. The surprise 238 to 187 rebuke to the White House was produced when a handful of conservative Republicans, worried about government intrusion, joined with Democrats who are concerned about personal privacy."

Why do I (often) give democracy a bad rep? I'm really tickled to bits whenever I see American democracy working its magic. Perhaps the system works (sometimes) after all. Then again, this is how conspiracy theories are born.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

You Can't Erase A Mirror

For the 2005 Digital Communities conference in Italy, I had planned to present a paper entitled Where is Malta? (Re)Mapping a Small Island Nation on the Internet. My intention was to follow-up on a similar study, Dealing with Malta's Image on the Internet, which I began back in 1996, when I started my post-graduate studies at New York University.

For many years, I've been fascinated with the relationship between the natural space of our small nation and its mediated social presence on the Internet from the perspective of its Internet-using inhabitants, the Maltese living in diaspora, and some of the tourists who visit the Maltese Islands. I base my observations mainly on material from online message boards, blogs and websites I've followed over the past ten years as a participant observer. Such work raises questions about how and why new communication technologies are being used to produce new geographies, new types of space, and new communities.
Toni Sant at the 2005 Digital Communities conference in Benevento
It appears that the Internet is giving Malta a new space wherein it can be re-mapped. Through the Internet, Malta is enacting a complex strategy for survival. In some ways it is an attempt at what geographer David Harvey calls "spatiotemporal utopianism." This new map of Malta has Borgesian aspirations but even if the (re)mapping exercise is a failure, it is important to trace the moment when the readers start mistaking the map for the territory.

After reading about this year's Prix Ars Electronica awards in the Best Digital Communities category I decided to alter the tone and scope of my presentation at the 2005 Digital Communities conference. Instead of the planned academic paper, I chose to give a position paper about the read/write effect on Malta of what is being called Web 2.0.

What follows is a brief excerpt from the presentation I gave in a seminar room adorned with ex-voto frescoes at the Universita' degli Studi del Sannio in Benevento just a few days ago. I reproduce these fragments here to give you, my blog readers, a sense of what's going through my head as Immanuel Mifsud and Sharon Spiteri prepare to launch Tabellina, and in the aftermath of all the attention the Maltese blogosphere received in the popular press last week. Please keep in mind that the text presented here has been slightly amended/abridged for practical purposes.

I believe Malta is currently witnessing a silent revolution through a growing number of Internet users who are coming to realize that they can have their voices heard without a controlling intermediary. This major paradigm shift is silent because those most active in it are yet to realize the true potential of digital communities and still see themselves as isolated individuals.

Although Malta is a tiny nation dominated by majority rule, embodied in the major political parties and the Roman Catholic church, a small digital community is about to embark on a path of social change which potentially has a much larger effect than any other effort the same social network could attempt without the benefit of the electronic networks of digital telecommunications.

Identity and self-image play an important part in the formation of digital communities. All identities are filtered through the personal experiences and the emotional ups and downs that flow through our interactions with and in everyday life. The Internet goes beyond all other media formats in altering a person's relationship to the so-called 'real' world of everyday life. It offers more possibilities than any other single-medium satellite communication. I don't say this hypothetically or from a position of utopian desire. I've lived on the frontline of Malta's cyberspace for over 10 years.

My observations of Malta's image on the Internet are informed by the way I value my roots. By roots I do not mean that which ties me to a place, but a political stand that permits me to change places. My analysis is shaped by a revaluation of my own Maltese identity. Eugenio Barba, the founder of the International School for Theatre Anthropology, maintains that, "defining one's own professional identity implies overcoming ethnocentricity to the point of discovering one's own center in the 'traditions of traditions'." I have come to see the Internet as an arena where what Barba calls the 'tradition of traditions' can manifest itself in the formation of digital communities that would not come together as easily off-line.

Over a short period of about 10 years, we have become used to a worldwide web that is very different from what came before. Dubbed Web 2.0, the current online experience and the power and potential of the read/write applications that have risen over the past few years, make the web a truly different medium from all previous communications media.

With applications like blogs and wikis, web users have started to control their own media content. These users are not only consuming content but creating it too, and often for the same people whose content they're interested in. The possibility for many to communicate with many others is a different model than the one-to-many format seen in radio and television broadcasting. This new mode of communication is very different in structure and level of access to the channels of production. More than any other country that boasts a deregulated media scene, Malta gives ordinary citizens very few opportunities to reach a mass audience.

Several Maltese bloggers, both in Malta and overseas, have publicly observed that the traditional media are dominated by mainstream ideas manipulated by the traditional institutions. They have already recognized that there is the potential to create a loose social fabric among the online community forming around the various bloggers who want to speak and hear about ideas that are not in line with those of the politicians or the church. Some of these ideas are sometimes aired by the traditional media in Malta in the guise of democracy and freedom of speech, but they are either editorialized in a way that the dissenters are marginalized or used to strengthen the main message proposed by the traditional institutions in the first place.

Digital communities enable group action and interaction. They also engender constructive contexts and social capital. Reconfiguring the power relationships between ordinary citizens and traditional institutions, digital communities can give a voice to marginalized individuals providing peers who listen and contribute to the development of their unpopular ideas.

This is precisely what many Maltese Internet users are on the verge of discovering.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Funiculì Funiculà

I just got back from my trip to Italy. The last few days were quite interesting. Being too busy to blog while at a Digital Communities conference in Benevento is something I lamented about earlier. Yes, pure irony indeed! Now that I'm back home in Scarborough I can afford all the time I need to catch-up and review the ins and outs of the trip.

The conference was an unusual event, in many ways. To begin with, the conference started and ended in Naples, which is about 100km away from the Universita' degli Studi del Sannio a Benevento, where the main academic sessions took place. This created the opportunity to visit the ancient city of Naples and some of the surrounding areas, like Pompeii and Ischia. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Napoli Sotterranea and the adjacent remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, but the real highlight of any trip to Italy has to be the food. Where else can you get mozzarella made from buffalo milk? And where's a better place for a Neapolitan pizza?

The Campania region of Italy is quite beautiful. Naples is not exactly the best first impression anyone who has never been to the country can get. Luckily, I visited Italy about four times in the early 1990s, so I had a broader context for my experience in the so-called "armpit of Europe". Deciding to spend the first night at a small hotel in Piazza Garibaldi was probably not the best decision. The square is very busy and noisy because it's also home for the main train station and the Market District. However, this makes it very colourful, and in many ways reminded me of Istanbul or certain parts of New York City, or even Berlin just after the reunification.

A sense of danger and grittiness that comes from cultural clashes and the natural disharmony created by the vast chasm between extreme poverty and great wealth. Moving to a small B&B in the Chiaia District for the days at the end of the conference in Naples was a wise decision. Naples is a vibrant city that doesn't necessarily leave a good impression on first time visitors, but I believe it has a worse reputation than it deserves.

Benevento is a typical country town in southern Italy. A city of 60,000 people located in the Apennines east of Napoli. Nothing too special about it except its long history and heritage sites. The local university has an impressive engineering department. This is understandable when one considers that two major centers of scientific research are also in the area. Toni Sant at MARS in Italy - June 2005The Digital Communities conference included extensive programmes at both the Mediterranean Agency for Remote Sensing (MARS) and the Centro Italiano Ricerche Aerospaziali (CIRA).

Both these facilities opened their doors wide open to the conference participants and it was quite impressive to see how sophisticated satellite image gathering has become (at MARS) and how crash-tests are performed on all sorts of aircraft. Part of CIRA's research includes work on three-dimensional immersive environments (also known as virtual reality) that is quite similar to what my colleagues at HIVE do at our own University of Hull. As a subscriber to NASA'S own remote imaging newsletter I was familiar with the work presented at MARS but incredibly impressed by the amazing surroundings (on the edge of Benevento) where the agency is housed. Their satellite dish is housed at the top of the colourful structure you see me standing with in the photo I've inserted here. It was good to see scientific things I care about presented in a different environment from my own, even though the more time I spent in Italy the more I managed to reconnect with my Mediterranean roots; something I don't think I managed to do so well during my last trip to Malta.

The academic program at the conference opened another door for me. Although I've attended many academic conferences in the last eight years or so, this was the first multidisciplinary conference I attended where the glue that holds everything together is not directly associated with performance, media or popular culture. Many of the participants are geographers, but there were also architects, urban planners, lawyers, education technologists, and engineers, among others. I was not the only presenter who comes from a creative media background. Enrico Maria Milic is the founder and editorial director of StudentiMediaGroup, which operates on lines similar to the MaltaMedia Online Network. The editor of the Journal of Urban Technology was also at the conference, and a number of papers from the conference will appear in an upcoming issue of his journal.

Now I need to rest a while to shake-off the road from my system. My brain is still saturated with last night's band tunes in Piazza Plebiscito. I also don't want to write blog entries that are too long. Tomorrow I'll write about my presentation at the Digital Communities conference.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

It's Now or Never

I've already been in Italy for 3 days and this is the first time I managed to get online long enough to blog a little note saying that I wish I had more time to blog right now.

In an effort to keep my blog alive by posting something at least once a week, I write these words to let all my readers know that I'm currently at the Digital Communities conference in Benevento, just outside Naples. The conference programme is very intense and it leaves little time for blogging.

If I manage to get some more time while I'm here I'll probably blog about the conference, my visit to Italy, and other such things. If not than I guess I'll have to wait until I'm back in the UK sitting comfortably at my desk in Scarborough.

I'm sorry this is so short and dry...but I guess it's better than nothing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Unchain my heart

[Still too busy to write a proper blog entry. I wish I had the time to muster the required brain space to blog about the current EU Constitution debacle.]

Went to the doctor for a medical review this morning. He doubled the dose of my heart medication. He says that this new dose is more common than what I've been taking since last August. My father has been taking twice my new dose for many years, so I'm not too worried. After picking up my prescription I also bought a year's supply of garlic capsules because I just learned that allicin is destroyed when garlic is cooked.

If you're new to my blog or weren't following what went on last summer, you could have a look at previous entries to get a better picture of what this is all about.

Anyway, back to writing my paper for the Digital Communities conference now. It's not looking too bad for an unfinished work; some of the award winners at this year's Prix Ars Electronica are most inspirational. I hope to have a full draft by tomorrow evening so that I only need to tweak and fine-tune before Wednesday's presentation.