Thursday, February 7, 2008

Above and beyond the call Maltese kindness

Today I set out to walk a few kilometers to the Coastline hotel for a Climate Change conference (more eventually). I had looked at the hotel website for a sense of where it was and decided I had been there. I thought it was on the St. Paul's side on the shore. But as I rounded the corner to where I expected to see it, I realized I was wrong. I walked some more and then realized that I was really wrong. It was across another arm of the bay. I was not going to make it on time, there are no taxis just roaming around, I didn't feel like calling my usual one and paying a large amount. So, I started to walk again. I said to myself, "I wish there were a ferry or something." A few minutes later I saw some fishermen with a boat. I got up my nerve and called out to them. "Would you give me a ride to the Coastline hotel? I made a mistake and will be late to a meeting." They were surprised at the request by some crazy American lady but waved me to come down. I do not have much "boat" experience and I was semi dressed up. But with help from two of them and my own efforts I got in. Zip, off we went. The guy at the tiller apologized for the water everywhere, "We just pulled in our nets." Moments later I was by a ladder to get up to the hotel. I only managed to get a quick photo of my knight in shining armor. I didn't get his name or those of his fellow fishermen. I will have to go find them again to thank them once more.

The photo at least has the name of the boat showing--so Maltese readers, if you know this man or the men who work from this boat...let them know of this blog post. THANK YOU--I made it in great time and told everyone of your kindness to a stranger.

Dog situation

I've gotten emails from back home asking how my foster dog is doing. In case others of you wonder, too...

He is much better. The infection cleared up, but the claw will never grow back. He was in pain and pretty subdued for a while there. He didn't seem to have confidence walking and was losing his balance. The lack of walks made us both crazy. The vet told me to get a "dog sock" for him, and I finally did. There's not much to it, but it really seems to help. We're back to one or even two walks along the our shoreline path. He doesn't even put up much of a fight against having me put it on, and he doesn't try to take it off, either. I feel a bit silly walking along and then having to pull up the dog's sock. It starts conversations. Today he actually got excited when I produced the sock, so perhaps he is associating it with either comfort or a walk or both. See photo--I didn't mess with iphoto to get rid of the red eye (or is it blue?).

Monday, February 4, 2008

What students taught me about American power

In my US Foreign Policy class I offered them the option of answering the following question:
You are the new US president. You want to use American power well, perhaps even enhance US power. You are going to discuss your ideas on TV in a major national talk. Write the script that has your three main points. [For purposes of this essay, do not worry about whether the new president is a Republican or a Democrat.]" I'm still in the midst of reading the essays. Some of the students have given me permission to "show" their work. So, I'll do some posts with excerpts in the next few weeks.

I thought the assignment would give them a chance to reflect on US power and offer me a way to understand what young Europeans (plus a Canadian and two Japanese) think about the US. I was also hoping I would have a better answer for my Michigan Tech students when they ask "why do they hate us?" I think the assignment must have struck a chord, because virtually all of the students took this as one of their options. I know I have learned a great deal.

First, they don't hate us. They are frustrated by us, they feel abandoned, maybe. But, hate is not in the picture. In fact, cynicism hardly comes through. Maybe they can't afford cynicism, because they really want to get things done and cynicism never has accomplished anything. I would say they want us to lead, they want us to remember who we are and what we stand for in the world as a place of hope and freedom. I would say that they think if we want to lead, we have to have followers who feel they will be stronger for having followed the US. Some of them think, too, that to enhance US power we need to take more care at home to improve the economic fortunes of all Americans. Why? So that we can participate effectively and with confidence in the globalized world we have created.

They want American leadership to cope with terrorism, climate change, the Middle East, and the disastrous lack of policy towards Sub-Saharan Africa. They would like to see us use the UN more and to be more obviously supportive of international law. They would like us to use our power to build things anew. They would like like us to work with countries in a multilateral rather than unilateral way. They want the US to think very hard about China, India, and Russia, because they are big players. Some of them were amazed by a global poll they found that said 70% of the respondents thought China provided more leadership for the world than the US. No, they think, this cannot be. The leader they want is the United States. I guess you could say they want us present and listening and acting effectively at home and abroad.

Some of the writing literally brought tears to my eyes with the wishes of what they would like to hear from the US. I want to believe my country could not just say such things, but also to do such things. We have done great things in the past with all our resources--political, military, economic, and cultural. Why not now? That's what they want to see, too. No one wants terror at their doorstep, but only where the US has found cooperative methods (as in reducing money-laundering) do we seem to reduce the terror for all. What came through in the essays--just like after 9/11--are millions of hands and minds around the world that want to work on eliminating terrorism and many other global problems. All that's lacking is leadership. Some of them think that we can't lead because we are too caught up in the politics and rhetoric of fear. Fear excludes and closes; hope and engagement do not. As FDR said in a dark hour, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Can't forget this cutie

I mentioned to the Mother of this little girl that I come from a place that has a Native American community (Keweenaw Bay Indian Community) near by. The Mother said, "Oh, I hope they won't be offended." I said I doubted it very much.

More Carnival photos


Carnival: And then they get older (smile)

The teenagers and young adults go for a different style. Some were walking alone, some in groups, some were definitely with floats and dance groups.

Carnival: Princesses and Princes (and Pirates) #2

Carnival: Princesses and Princes #1

It is Carnival time in Malta, as in other parts of the world. So, I went to Valletta this evening (yes, students, I am making progress reading your exams) to see what it was like. As you'll see from the photos, parents dress up their young children and take them out. Some might be in dance contests, but mostly they seemed just to be out. I was struck by how the parents were delighted to let me take a photo. The children, as always here, seem happy and much loved--though some were a bit camera shy. Here as back home, girls like to be princesses and the young boys make fine looking princes and soldiers. Enjoy. It was a very happy evening.

Visit with University Rector

Last Wednesday, I had a lovely visit with the University of Malta's energetic Rector (equivalent to a university president, but with strong components of an American chief academic officer, too). He is Dr. Juanito Camilleri, an engineer with extensive experience in business and at the University. Part of the visit entailed my giving him a gift from my university president, Dr. Glenn Mroz on behalf of Michigan Tech. And, Dr. Camilleri gave me a gift on behalf of the University of Malta to give to my president. I sincerely hope our two universities will come to have many more exchanges of people and ideas in the years to come.

Tech sent a polished piece of local copper. The Rector says theirs is also based on a mineral. What's in the box?..we'll all have to wait until I get home.


Well, I've known since the summer that Malta would have to have elections. All the guesses were that it would be March and March it is. According to today's Malta Times, Prime Minister Gonzi will visit President Fenech to tell him he is dissolving parliament on Monday and calling elections for Mar 8 (there must be a minimum of 33 days between the dissolution of Parliament and the election day). Local Council elections will also be held on the 8th.

Unlike the US system where there is a fixed date for national elections (and endless campaigns in between), the rules here say how often a national election must be held, but leave it to the ruling party to select the exact timing, which can be well before the final "must have" date. This gives a special flavor to political calculations in political systems of this type. The ruling party wants to hit a time that will put it at best advantage and their opponents at the worst advantage. Polls apparently suggest the opposition Labour party will win the election, for the first time since 1996/98. I haven't seen the polls, but I'm erratic about getting one of the newspapers or remembering to read one on line.

Malta has a mostly two-party system despite a proportional representation system. It uses what is called the SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE (STV) system for determining who gets a seat. Only Ireland uses this system for national elections. Australia uses it for Senate elections and a few municipalities in the US use the system. Here's what a website on the Malta electoral system says about STV:

"STV is part of the large family of voting systems known collectively as proportional representation. STV is quite different, however, from such proportional representation arrangement like the "party list" system that is the norm in much of Europe. Under STV the ballot gives voters a choice among individual candidates rather than political parties. It asks voters to rank-order their prefences for various candidates and, within limits, have each vote contribute to the election of one of the voter's choices.

The system is quite simple for the voter, who confronts a ballot with the names of a number of candidates and then simply numbers them in the order in which the voter prefers them. But the system involves considerable complexity in the subsequent counting -- and transfering -- of the various voter preferences. On this Web site are several descriptions, with varying degrees of detail, of how the STV process works. (See the section entitled The Rules of STV Elections in Malta )." You can find the site at:

From what people tell me one reason it remains a 2-party system is because the system somehow produces a very high threshhold of votes for getting a seat. What I am unclear on--HELP ME MALTESE READERS--is how the STV produces the effect, as I've been told there is no formal threshhold of votes. I'm guessing it has to do with the dynamics of how many counts and recounts to move votes to the 2nd or third candidate. Elections are not my area, however, and STV is pretty exotic for me. In other places that use party list (you elect the first person from the party first and if you get a bigger percent they you work your way down the list) there are constitutional rules saying a candidate or party must get at least 5% of the vote. Without such a rule, one often gets the bad effect of dozens of increasingly more radical/reactionary splinter parties and a weakening of centrist parties. But there doesn't actually seem to be any formal rule of this nature here.

I've heard but not confirmed for myself that the two main parties are only separated by a few thousand votes, so the fortunes of any third parties do factor into the party calculations of the Labour and Nationalist Parties. for politics. I pray I will not be out of line reporting what I've read and heard. I'm a guest of Malta, this is their country.

The ruling Nationalist Party has both good and bad news facing it. The good news is that there are jobs, they did mange to finish some projects, tourism is up, and the switch to the Euro seemed to go fine. Plus, whenever the Labour party has come in things have not gone so well (and my Labour friends explain to me that the party did do many good things, but X or Y things happened beyond their control). But, the bad news is that I've heard a lot of people say the ruling party simply needs to be changed to force a reconsideration of some policies. Moreover many in Malta say the economy has not gotten better for those earning lower wages. With the price of food high and the insane lack of connection between the supply and demand for houses/apartment (lots of empty places, but the prices keep going up and are going out of reach of the middle class), the less affluent Maltese worker has little left at the end of the paycheck. My hairdresser said the minimum wage needed to be increased and/or something had to be done about housing. Next on the list of little problems for the ruling party is that just in the last day or so the government said it would abide by a European Court of Justice ruling against spring bird hunting should it go against Malta (which looks likely). The hunters are outraged and say that wasn't part of the deal when Malta joined the EU. The hunters blame the current government. Labour, as near as I can tell, is keeping its mouth shut on the matter. Of course, both parties will have to abide by the EU rule and the vast majority of Maltese favor an end to spring hunting anyway. But the hunters will vote. Last but not least, the Nationalists got bad press for translating the slogan from the presidential campaign by Sarkozy of France into Maltese and using it for themselves.

My friends from both parties (and one from the green party) say to hold my hat. It will be crazy around here for the next month or so--and even more interesting if there is a change in government. I can hardly wait to see what happens. But today...I go to Valletta to see the floats for a Carnival of an entirely different nature!