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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ghost Dance

Perhaps this will become my Halloween tradition: I first posted these photos last year, but I thought it would be a good idea to re-blog them this year along with the original text:

Happy Halloween!

My father sent me these two pictures of a tomato he just cut up for some traditional Maltese ħobz biż-żejt. He just couldn't resist saying Happy Halloween with this. So, a Happy Halloween to you too. Boo!

Now, go BOO!

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: This post is not to be considered as an endorsement of Halloween, which is the second most commercial festivity after Christmas.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Separate Lives

It was an interesting day today observing how Prime Minister Gonzi's visit to London was reported by the media in Malta and how it was (not) reported in the UK media. In Malta it seemed Gonzi's meeting with Tony Blair made headlines on most, if not all, media outlets. By contrast, none of the mainstream news sources in the UK reported that Malta's PM was in a joint press conference with Blair this morning...not even the BBC.

I know that the UK media has stories of higher news value than Gonzi's visit today: Blair made important announcements about the education system this morning (after seeing the Gonzi entourage off) and between hurricane Wilma and the dead parrot diagnosed with the current strand of bird flu it's little wonder that the British public cared very little to hear or read about the Maltese PM's visit to London.

I was also quite struck by the contrast in the way Blair and Gonzi addressed each other during the press conference. In his now-legendary cool Britannia style, Blair addressed Malta's PM as "Lawrence" while Gonzi keep traditional protocol and called Britain's PM by his formal titles and never "Tony" as I'm sure he did off-mic earlier while they sat in one of the many rooms in Downing Street over a nice cup of English tea.

Anyway, I'm actually writing this while I wait for the British Airways flight from New York's JFK airport on my way back to the UK. I don't know that I'd be even interested in blogging about this if it weren't for the fact that I have some time to kill as I sit here at gate 4 in terminal 7.

The two PMs acknowledged two things we already know. One is very obvious, the other not so obvious. The obvious one concerns the ever-growing problem of illegal immigration, which Blair declared needs reviewing from a legal and pragmatic perspective within the context of globalization. The other concerns the complexity of organizing an event on the scale of the CHOGM. I have a feeling that the issue of illegal immigration will be on many agendas during the CHOGM next month, both for official as well as informal encounters.

It will be interesting to see the difference between the perspective of the local media on this upcoming event and the way it is reported in countries other than Malta. If any journalists from mainstream media organizations want to pick up on this, I promise not to ask for credit for the idea...just remember you read about it here first.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Get Back

This is not a post about my trip back to Scarborough from New York. The title refers to a blogging feature that's now also available through Blogger: Trackback. The term Blogger uses for the ability to automatically track links to a particular page on your blog from other blogs is backlinks.

Apparently another article about blogging has featured in the mainstream press in Malta. That article is not available online (yet) so in terms of the way we do things nowadays the whole approach of mainstream media to the web in Malta remains quite retarded and very underdeveloped. And if the mainstream content creators are still lagging behind, you can imagine where most of the rest of the population stands. Pink Floyd's Hey You is such an appropriate soundtrack for all that. Have you listened to the lyrics on that song lately?

Meanwhile, we, the lone rangers of the Maltese blogosphere, remain ahead of the curve, so to speak. Yet the actual curve is so ahead of all this that some of us are still trying to catch up with it. The backlinks feature is just one manifestation of this situation.

Those among us Maltese bloggers who use typepad or some other sophisticated system to managing the contents of their blog have had ways to track back links to their blog posts for quite some time. I haven't really seen it work properly, but judging from the fun I've had messing with Feedburner and Technocrati recently I have a feeling that I'll enjoy playing with backlinks too.

If your blog runs on Blogger and you're using (or planning to use) backlinks let me know what you think of the service. I'm sure Pierre and Robert will want it on their blogs too very soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Psycho Candy

I'm reading Steven Johnson's new book, Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. Unlike many academic books about media, performance and culture, Johnson's books are very accessible. I've previously enjoyed his Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate very much. His writing style is a good way for anyone not used to reading scholarly works to get into cultural studies, without being put off by lots of jargon or mind-numbing theorectical posturing.

The premise Johnson presents in this book is quite controversial, but he presents his argument in a very convincing way. Everything Bad is Good for You deals with the general misconception that popular culture is dumbing us down. Johnson is convinced that in time society will come to see video games, (some) television, and the Internet as enriching resources. He calls this the Sleeper Curve, after a scene in Woody Allen's film Sleeper, where scientist from 2173 are astounded that people in the 20th century failed to grasp the nutritional merits of cream pies and hot fudge.

I haven't finished reading the book yet because I'm busy with a couple of work-related deadlines, but the part I like the most so far deals with a quotation from John Dewey's Experience and Education: "Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only that particular thing he (sic) is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of like and dislikes, may be and often is much more important that the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future."

As a teacher I have come to see more and more where the pitfalls are in the various education systems I've engaged with throughout my life. I have also come to appreciate that the fundamental aspect of learning is fun...and I'm not just punning on FUNdamental. I often tell my students, if I'm not having fun I can't imagine you are, and if it's not fun than why bother doing it. That actually sells the idea of fun a little short because it implies instant gratification. Yet doing things that are not necessarily fun in themselves should always lead to good things. If not than there really is no point in spending time doing them at all.
Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson
I like Johnson's book because it's making me sort out my thoughts about why I bother doing things I really don't care for. Johnson's insights into popular culture are interesting. I'm getting to think about other things that are not in the book by virtue of the way he discusses things that either seem to matter so much in our contemporary lives or simply amuse us into not realizing that we are now in the least passive mode ever in our engagement with popular culture, even though it doesn't seem likely.

The present generational gap is even less about age than it ever was. In the words of Marshall McLuhan: "The student of media soon comes to expect the new media of any period whatever to be classed as pseudo by those who acquire patterns of earlier media, whatever they may happen to be." At the same time, even if we embrace new media we should not just dismiss earlier media. After all, I am reading Johnson's idea in a hardback book, and I don't really find that too ironic.

Perhaps I've found another reason for MaltaGirl's desire to sit for an English A-level exam, even though she doesn't really need the qualification.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Tomorrow's People

This morning I was speaking with my parents on the phone and my father told me that Salvino Tellus passed away on Friday, suddenly and peacefully, aged 87. They found out about his funeral, which took place early on Saturday morning at St Gregory's Parish Church in Sliema, after it happened and regretted not going.

Any Maltese person over 40 who had access to the Rediffusion cable radio service in its heyday remembers Mr Tellus as Iz-Ziju Salv, host and producer of the daily (and eventually weekly) children's programme along with the late Nannu Peppu (Guzi Mallia) and iz-Ziju Frans (Frans Said). This team shaped the psyche of Maltese children significantly in the post-war years, all the way into the development of what we would now call the early post-colonial years: a time before colour television and deregulation in broadcasting.

Younger generations who follow the Malta football leagues may know his grandsons Justin and Shaun Tellus. My family knows most of his family because iz-Ziju Salv was also our neighbour at Depiro Street in Sliema when I was a child. His children often visited the Dhow Bar (my father's establishment between 1954 and 1979) some more frequently than others. Johnny Tellus, (also known as J.J. or Krazy JJ) was like an older brother to me and nurtured my interest in what he called show business. Sadly, Johnny passed away a few years ago and that must have broken his father's heart immensely since this was the second son he had lost during his lifetime.

Luckily I managed to spend some quality time with Iz-Ziju Salv during my years as a radio producer in Malta and came to know the man for the kind, warm-hearted person that he was. In 1989, when the cable radio service was officially discontinued by Xandir Malta, I produced a weekly six-month series about the history of cable broadcasting in Malta; this was also at the dawn of a cable television service in the Maltese Islands. Among the first episodes in my series I prepared two about children's programmes and Iz-Ziju Salv was among my guests, along with his two main collaborators.

I clearly recall going to his house (he had moved from Depiro Street by then) where he very generously helped me do my research in preparation for the two episodes I had designated for his work in the Maltese broadcasting scene between the late 1940s and the 1970s. He even gave me unrestricted access to a rare recording he had from his broadcasts from the 1960s. Thankfully, the patchy archives at Xandir Malta held a small number of good quality recordings from the children's programme too.

His work in establishing awareness for the needs of handicapped persons in Malta was also something that endeared him to many. In this regard he gently urged me to delve into the issue even further than I would have in my radio series if it wasn't for him.

To say that Iz-Ziju Salv was a national treasure would not be an overstatement about a very understated man. Anyone who ever met him in any meaningful way can surely testify to that. May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Changing Everyday

I'm amazed at how people who follow this blog can tell when I'm too busy to blog. (Many thanks for all the kind emails!) When I first started blogging I believed that as long as I blog at least once a week my blog would remain active. My understanding is/was that any blog that is not updated regularly cannot be attractive enough to pull in loyal readers.

Blogs that are updated daily (and sometimes more than once daily) tend to overwhelm me. I either start skimming through them, with the risk of missing something I would have otherwise read closely, or simply stop following them. I will be forever amused by the number of blogs that come and go. I am particularly tickled by blogs that start out as if they're the greatest thing in the blogosphere to then simply sit there untouched for months and months. Just have a look at the blogs listed by and you'll see quite a few of these. Striking the right balance seems to be quite an acrobatic act.

The idea of blogging as a navel gazing exercise doesn't bother me. We all have our own ways to filter through the bellybutton fuzz. Still, socially engaging blogs, or at least the occasional entry in this vein, keep the Maltese blogosphere vibrant. The current campaign against the GWU president is one of the best examples of this sort of thing. Racism and the immigration situation in Malta could seriously be the main issue for the next general elections. I'm not sure how things will pan out because this is not as clear an issue as the removal of VAT (1996), political [in]stability/mediocrity (1998) and accession to the EU (2004).

On a less melodramatic note, blogs as chronicles of the blogger's thoughts on life and the universe still make sense to me. Although I am not particularly keen on diary-like entries about what's what in the life of whoever, I thoroughly enjoy reading and writing about significantly happy/sad moments.

Anyway, I'm off to New York again this weekend. The physical distance doesn't bother me as much as the psychological distance between where I am now and where I'll be spending next week. I have a feeling I'll find some time to blog about that while I'm there. Another academic conference is on the agenda for next week as is an updated book proposal for Franklin Furnace. Yet, if you know me, you know that my most cherished moments will involve being home with my monkey and my dog...and it's not the last time this year either.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Punky Reggae Party

It's been quite a while since I gave up on mainstream Maltese media. The only downside to this is that some news doesn't always reach me in a timely way. Today I discovered that Manwel Tabone's Reggae Club will not return to the Radio Malta airwaves this weekend. This brings to an end 16 years of almost non-stop broadcasting for a show that started back when I practically lived at the Radio Malta studios in Gwardamangia.

Whenever I hear of things such as the demise of Reggae Club I am reminded of an important part of what drives me from returning to Malta as a full-time resident. While the Internet has made space on the local air waves close to irrelevant for die-hards like Manwel Tabone, it pains me to see what could potentially be an enviable broadcasting scene eat itself alive because of bad management and an anemic environment for creativity.

Don't think that I'm being hard on Malta or that I'm not aware that mediocrity rules in many places beyond the Maltese shores. I'm simply lamenting lost opportunities our country has had and given away to the dogs. Perhaps I'm part of the problem because I left all those years ago. However, I don't know that I could have really fixed anything. The forces working against a vision of a tiny nation blessed by its limited resources are too much for anyone to waste their life on.

The news that Reggae Club has come to an end saddens me not because I'm going to miss listening to Manwel Tabone on Radio Malta but because his creative energy has been squandered by two-bit charlatans who think they know what's what. I don't know who or what drove Manwel's radio show off the air. I admire his stamina and I am in awe that he stayed on as long as he did. Lasting as long as he did with something as off-beat as his Reggae Club is something we should cherish anyway.

In honour of Manwel and others who have fallen before him, I end today's post with a quote from the holy book of Jah, which many know as the Bible: "Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith." (Proverbs 15:17).

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Addicted to Love

This morning we finished preparing the newsletter as we do at the turn of every month. This month's issue marks 5 years since we started doing this. Interestingly, the "we" who produce this newsletter has changed several times over the years. Amazingly, some might say, we have delivered a monthly newsletter without fail every month since October 2000. I believe that this is a main part of the success of's newsletter.

From time to time we also publish special issues of the newsletter: Christmas, elections and other such life-altering moments in Malta. I'm quite pleased with the way subscription to the newsletter has swelled over the year. The newsletter is only delivered to people who opt-in to receive this monthly online publication.

If you're not subscribed to the newsletter, or if perhaps you've never even seen what it looks like, you may find it useful to receive a round-up of the previous month's news headlines from the news service, highlights from's Today in Maltese History featuring birthdays, death anniversary and historical events, as well as a sampling of what's on in the Maltese Islands during the coming month.

Away from all this, I was deeply touched by Kenneth's request to hear the music I made with my bands in the 1980s. I really plan to make some of those recordings available online very soon. I've already sorted out the equipment I need to convert some of my old cassettes and digital audio tapes into files that can be made available through the Internet, so it's just a matter of time before I get to it. Hopefully, the rough time we've had with the MaltaMedia servers is (almost) behind us and now that the academic year is slowly settling into a routine I can find a few hours to cross off an item that's been on my 'to do' list for a number of years.