Wednesday, December 19, 2007

law in malta

No, unlike the dog bite and medicine, I am not writing because of a recent encounter with the law.

Rather, I went to the Christmas party of the Laws faculty and got a ride back to university with the associate dean, who does constitutional law here.  I now have the very basic outline of things. Malta has mixed code/common law system.  In Civil Law, it is based on code law.  But in other areas of law and in Constitutional matters, it has elements of the Common Law.  Apparently there is judicial review by the courts, and lawyers will cite other cases.  But, equally, the lower courts are not bound by their precedents.  I may have this somewhat wrong, but that seemed to be the gist of things.  

The Malta Constitutional Court is not as powerful as the US Supreme Court, but it does adjudicate issues of human rights and of the constitutionality of actions and rules (hence judicial review).  If I learn more, I'll write it up.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Malta Medical Care

I got a question from a student in the US on whether Malta had socialized medicine or highly subsidized medicine.  I had answered that I didn't know, but thought it was subsidized.  Apparently, it is somewhat subsidized (I'm open to comments from any Maltese readers!). 

I asked my friend Carmen about it.  She says pensioners and people with low income do have cards that give them free care.  Everyone else pays.  She also reminded me that doctors recently agreed to a new contract with nearly double the pay of the old one, and that is a government-paid thing, I believe. I'm still unclear on whether that is all doctors or just those who would use the new hospital, Mater Dei, participate. I am also unclear whether doctors get one rate for hospital service and can supplement it with office visit fees like what I experienced.  The reason for the big increase was that Malta was losing doctors to better paying places in the world.  Now, some are returning and they are keeping a greater percentage of the newly-minted ones.  

I asked if there was private medical insurance.  There is, but it is generally less expensive to just pay out of hand (I am still unclear what happens in the event of a major illness for those who must pay).  I asked about the low price I paid for my doctor visit, and she said the visits ranged between 2 and 4 liri.  She also said it should be evaluated in light of the local income levels.  But, even that doesn't explain it to an American, where the average family income for a family of 4 is $60,000 (around LM17,000)--and that's not counting the growing income inequality in the US.

SO... Malta's medical care is not socialized  and may be less subsidized than I thought.  But, it doesn't seem as costly as in the US for the little everyday medical troubles.  I shall keep asking around and paying more attention to this question. 

Friday, December 14, 2007

Seeing the Doctor

I've had two instances where I saw a doctor here. Once, when a combination of a local bug and a pulled muscle got me wondering if there was something really wrong and just now about the dog bite.  Both were very different from in the US.  The first one was a house visit and cost me about 15 liri (~$50) plus a few dollars for the medicine.  Today I went to the local apothecary store, where Dr. Gonzi holds walk in (and perhaps also appointments) hours.  Friends here and in the US told me to get antibiotics for the dog bite and today it started to swell, so I dropped in.  Even before he took a look at it, he said "you need antibiotics."  I also learned this particular dog has a 'history' so I will stay far from him from now on.  Anyway, this doctor visit was all of 2 liri (~$7) and I only waited 10 minutes.  The medicine cost more and I was able to get it right in the apothecary. I liked him a great deal more than the other doctor, so I will use him in the future if needed.

It's interesting that doctors do both house calls and this low cost clinic-type thing.  The clinic idea in the local pharmacy is a really good idea in my view.  I imagine the doctor really gets to know his local patients through the house visit and the clinic--perhaps even better than the way we come to the doctor's office on an appointment back in the US.

Anyway, no complaints about medical and pharmacy care in Malta.  


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Malta is rabies free

Due to an unfortunate encounter with the neighbor dog, I learned that Malta is free of rabies. Good to know.  I may  have a permanent memento of my visit to Malta.  It can go with the dent on the finger next to it that I got when I banged myself on a door while carrying a box to mail to  Malta.

BUT... it does mean that Malta has extensive regulations for anyone wanting to bring a dog to the island. So, potential visitors out there, check well in advance of your visit if you hope to bring your dog.

And, while dealing with my bleeding finger, my dog got so excited by the delivery man that he forgot himself and peed in the house. I cleaned that up with my good hand.  He is now in the other room looking contrite. Smile.  

I do believe that I will remain a cat person. 


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gaia Foundation

Today I said good bye to Chris and Sayward, who are headed to visit a friend from Tech doing her Ph.D. in Sweden. I went to meet with Rudolph Ragonesi, the leader of the Gaia Foundation project here at Malta. It is located at Ghajn Tuffieha (Ayn Too fee ha) on the coast and has a number of project to protect coastal areas, encourage the planting of native trees and plants (Malta has been heavily affected by exotic species), and encourage environmental education. The meeting was arranged by Joanna Zingarello of the US Embassy. She has been arranging meetings with the leaders of a number of Maltese environmental non-governmental organizations for me.

The Gaia Foundation is going excellent work here--and would like to do more. If you would like to learn more check out their website at: As far as I'm concerned, Malta is a special place and in critical need of efforts to enhance and protect its natural and heritage resources. Various development projects, however, seem to crop up rather ad hoc and threaten the islands that make up Malta. Local residents are increasingly alarmed, so this is not just the view of a visiting foreigner. Sprawl threatens agricultural and natural areas of the US. It threatens Malta--but the Maltese have literally no room for error.

In any event, here are some photos. First is seeing Chris and Sayward off --we were at opposite bus stops. A photo of Dr. Ragonesi. One of Charlotte (foreground) the new communications person and Carmen, who has an astonishing capacity to collect and sprout seeds of highly endangered trees and plants of Malta. Then come some photos of Carmen's handiwork in the Gaia nursery.

More clouds and rainbow

Sorry...more clouds and rainbow. The three of us got very excited over a double rainbow in one direction and sunset in the other.

Dingli Cliffs

Chris, Sayward and I went walking/exploring on Sunday. It was cool, quite windy and rainy at times. Nevertheless, we had a fine time. We got day bus passes and went to Dingli Cliffs. There are few photos of that. My camera died and nothing was close for new batteries. Then we had lunch at Bobbyland, a local favorite. Then we went to Buskett Gardens, created by the Knights of St. John in the 1600 and 1700s. It's the largest forested area on the Island of Malta and quite pretty. For reasons that made sense at the time we went home via Valletta. The ride was longer than expected, but worth it in the end. Valletta has some great Christmas lights up. We stopped at a courtyard cafe near the Manoel Theater where there was a showing of local artists.

Monday, December 10, 2007

visitors from Tech/Ghana 2

Another try on photos.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Visitors from Tech/Ghana

Chris (with beard) and Sayward Fehrman came to visit me. They are making their way home to Michigan Tech after finishing their two year tour with the US Peace Corps in Ghana. It's been a pleasure. They talked to my classes, have been off biking in Gozo, we went to a party (which I forgot to take any pictures of) and yesterday we had a lazy day. So, we found Christmas music and Paul's Christmas decorations and did up the department. I may well take some of their Gozo photos, but here are some from the effort to decorate. The Nativity display is remarkable with its giant camels and water buffalos.

I'm having some picture troubles...stay tuned.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

victoria Lines 3

More photos as we headed along the limestone formation and down the hill. It was a great deal of fun. I'm becoming a member of the Malta of the Geographical Society and will go on more of these rambles. Given that I had walked at least a couple of kilometers earlier in the day and then added another one or two, I must have walked 8-10 kilometers yesterday. I'm not too worse for the wear today. There's one picture of me, just to mark the fact that I did it.

Victoria Lines 2

This set of photos are from a place we stopped at after an hour of walking or so. It begins (photo at the top) with a view towards the distant cliffs of Gozo. The rest are other views.

Victoria Lines

I share an office with Paula, who does the administrative work for the Mediterranean Journal of Human Rights. She is one energetic person! She told me about a "walk" the Malta Geographical Society was having yesterday and asked if I would like to come. I said yes. I took the bus down to Valetta, where the group was getting picked up. Off we went. We walked at a good pace for 2.5 hours. That was quite a ramble. We went from a place near Chadwick Lakes (actually an irrigation project) to Mgarr [sounds like emjar]. There are two Mgarrs, this is the one on Malta, not on Gozo. The walk took us up and along what are called the Victoria Lines. Malta has a series of limestone ridges and this is one of them. While walking I suddenly realized that clumps of leaves were really bulbs like paperwhites. I asked and people said yes, they would bloom in January. I can hardly wait. Also, up in the area we were in we found wild thyme and many other fragrant leaves. Quite nice!

This set of photos begins (at the top) with a picture of Paula in the foreground and her friend Hilda. It has scenes from the way up the hill to the limestone formation.


My favorite natural feature of Malta are clouds. I know that sounds odd, what with the lovely sea views and limestone cliffs. But the clouds are simply remarkable. You can look to your right and have blue sky, to your left is a dark grey mass bringing rain, behind you are clumps of them. They build up in the sky, take fantastic shapes. Well, I just love them and can say I've never seen anything quite like it. This is a photo of a rainbow against the dark rain clouds.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Everyone here was interested to learn about the American Thanksgiving holiday. People have political and religious holidays, but something like Thanksgiving is not so common in the world (I know Canada has one). So I told them about it. Th is my main teaching day, and even my students were curious. That, or they were trying to get professor off track from lecturing on liberal theories of international relations (morning class) or Presidential-Congressional bargaining (afternoon class).

I invited three friends to dinner for T-day. We went to a wonderful restaurant in St. Paul's Bay, Tarragon. Turned out our waiter (and manager, I think) was from the US and had fallen in love with Malta while on a visit during an Army leave. We did not have turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie or any of the traditional things, but the food was excellent. We had some very nice wine, followed by a digestif (not sure how to spell that) and then our waiter asked if we would like some cognac on the house. Sure. He brought it out slightly warmed--the bowl of the brandy glass was set in the top of a glass with hot water in it. It was an attractive presentation and released the aroma of the brandy perfectly. We had a lovely carrot soup, I had an Indonesian style chicken, others had duck and there might have been a pork dish. Tiramisu was dessert (not a half bad idea for Thanksgiving, I think). We laughed a great deal. I was and am grateful for their friendship and for the chance to be here in Malta.

I hope any American readers out there had as nice a Thanksgiving as I did.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

weather report

Here's reason to like Malta in late November. Sunshine. Wore a short sleeve shirt to walk the dog this morning.

Our high will be around 22 (72F) our low will be around 16 (65)
Houghton Michigan's high will be -1 (around 30F) and its low will be -6 C. (oops forgot to look it up, but I'll guess the lower half of the 20sF).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Switch to the Euro

One subsidiary reason I wanted to go to Malta was because it will switch its currency from Malta Liri to the Euro effective Jan. 1, 2008. My Liri account will automatically become a Euro account overnight. It will be possible to convert cash at the official price for quite some time. There are signs everywhere. All prices are put up in Liri and Euros, the final rate having been set some weeks ago. I think many Maltese are tired of hearing about it, even as they are nervous about inflation after the change and just how smoothly it will go.

I've been quite interested in how they are giving the information as the final run up to the change happens. They have in place hotlines to call if prices for products suddenly rise in advance of the change. They just passed a law limiting "rounding up" prices under certain circumstances. You can get little cards wtih equivalencies. This weekend a local market in a town is going to let people practice by only accepting and using Euros. The Bank of Valletta sent everyone a little calculator set for the conversion. You select whether you want to convert from Euros or Liri or vice versa, then you input the amount and hit the calculate. Bingo, the other currency number shows up.

Yesterday I got mail, all in Maltese, from the Central Bank of Malta. It was easy to see what they were explaining. They showed pictures of the new currency, both the folding kind and the coins. As you may know, the coin currency has one side that is all Europe and one side with scenes related to a particular country. But, in addition to that bit of information, they sent plastic cards that have holograms--on one side you shift the card back and forth and can see key prices change between Liri and Euros. On the other they illustrate how to check that the currency is real, by illustrating the security thread in the bill and the watermark. Cool. I plan to keep some of these examples to show my students back at Tech and as mementos of my stay.

I've rather lost track of the discussion, but Malta also has an opportunity to reduce its national debt and thus be able to use the saved interest for other purposes. The Euro zone Central Bank does not require the various country banks to keep as high a level of reserves as the Central Bank of Malta has. Apparently, however, some people still think they should keep the reserves anyway. Seems like a curious discussion to me. They could use a few more millions in their national budget it seems to me.

Anyway, the change is even more interesting than I thought it would be. It has even affected the decision by the governing party on when to hold elections. Everyone things they will call the election in the first quarter of the new year. The logic--in other places, the inflation that attends the switch takes a few months to appear. But, all the planning will certainly pay off for the government/ the governing party would benefit from that bit of good government. But they have to hedge their bets about the inflation and get the election done before any inflation gets going. [Note: unlike the endless campaigns in the US, elections happen quickly in most European nations. Voters are supposed to pay attention to what the party in power really has done (the Responsible Party Govt concept, unlike the American "responsive" government) and what the opposition parties say they will do if elected.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

My morning walk (November)

The main reason I chose to live in St. Paul's Bay is the view and easy access to the sea. Virtually everyday Floppy, my foster dog, and I go down to the seafront in the morning for our walk. Today was typical. The weather has cooled into the upper 60's (16-20 C) and it is simply delightful to go out, day or night.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Met Govt leaders

I was sick the week before this past week and missed class, didn't go out much.

This just past week, however, found me feeling better. It also had (and still has) fabulous fall weather--sunshine, temps in the upper 60s or low 70s (19-21 C.). It was glad to be alive weather, for sure.

I finished my lectures at IMLI and the students were so sweet. The students gave me a certificate of appreciation in a frame. I learned later that this was entirely their own initiative, so it means even more to me than it did. What a fine group of men and women--real credits to their countries.

On Wed. Prof. Attard of IMLI and his wife hosted a lecture, statue unveiling, and reception in honor of Arvid Pardo, who was the first to say that the resources of the deep seabed should be the "common heritage of mankind.' He was, at that time, Ambassador to the UN from Malta, having had years of experience in the UN. There were a number of very interesting talks, then we went out to unveil the statue and on into IMLI for the reception. The Prime Minister of Malta unveiled it, after talking about the governmental history on how Pardo became the Ambassador. Prof. Attard introduced me to him--PM Gonzi. That's the first time I ever met a PM. Other ministers were there. I had a quick chat with the chief of the Central Bank about the planned switch to the Euro on Jan 1 and a somewhat longer one with the head of the Malta Defence Forces. And, of course, I talked with the IMLI students I had just finished teaching the day before.

The week also was the start of a series of lectures in Prof Attard's International law class for the 3rd year law students (bachelors degree, not JD). They are a lively group.

Friday, November 2, 2007

ships in bay

Quite a few large ships have been in St. Paul's Bay. Here are three of them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Calypso's cave, Dwejra, taxi

On a better day, I'll return to the area of Calypso's cave...the one in the Odyssey. You can climb down into it..but as the top photos shows, it is not easy. The beach below is a red sand. Then come a couple of photos from my boat ride at Dwejra. Unfortunately, my camera battery died. The Azure window (not shown) is very blue. In fact the whole look of the water is blue, and that despite the overcast, grey day. Worth a special trip. The last photo is of Mr. Gregory Spiteri and his cab. I met him on my first trip and found him congenial and his car comfortable. So, I hired him to drive me around for my tour. He was very good at it. If you want to call him, his mobile is: (356) 99440353.

Ggantija 2