Monday, June 30, 2008

Dog photos

I'll be leaving Malta this week (sigh). This means I'll be leaving my foster dog in the care of others until his owner returns. We ended up doing OK with each other. Here he is.

Sun rise in St. Paul's Bay

I woke up very early today and surprised the dog by taking him out for a walk--had to wake him up. This is partly due to the very warm weather--30-33C (upper 80s, low 90s F). I've been told by the Maltese that this is nothing--it can hit the mid 40's (110-115F). It is also humid and the lows are only in the mid 20s (mid-upper 70F).

Anyway, I remembered my camera and took photos of the sun rise.

Malta Women in Business Association

In April I was asked to be one of the guest speakers at an annual event of the Malta Women in Business Association. My task was to talk about life experiences--an inspirational talk. I did my best and very much enjoyed the meeting. US Ambassador Molly Bordonaro gave a talk on balancing work and life (she has young children!). Mariana Mizzi talked on where women are now in Malta and changes needed. Doris Sammut is president and led the panel and Anna Ferris is also an officer of the association. Ruth Genovese, from the Bank of Valletta, talked about wealth management.

Here's the whole panel, except for Anna Ferris.
Mizzi, Ambassador Bordonaro, and me
Mizzi talking, the rest of us listening
Then two of me talking.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

MCAST-Carbon Stabilization Game

The most complicated environmental education activity I did in Malta for the US Embassy was at the Malta College of Arts, Sciences, and Technology (MCAST). This is a school that is not university, but is more than secondary school--sort of a mix of a technical school and a community college. It has 16- year olds on up. It uses a more "American" style of teaching than the University, so it was very congenial to me.

The teacher in the class, Mario Balzan, was one impressive man, who really got his students ready for this project. Mr. Balzan is completing his Masters at the University of Malta and is doing an interdisciplinary research thesis on the use of dragonflies as indicators of ecosystem health--novel for Malta (I put him in touch with our Michigan Tech School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences dragonfly expert).

We did a shortened version of the Carbon Stabilization Wedges game created by professors at Princeton. Website: I first encountered the concept when my colleague at Tech, Dr. David Shonnard, suggested we use a scholarly article on it in our team-taugh graduate class, Sustainable Futures I. It generated a lot of talk among our M.Sc. and Ph.D. students. Now the author and his Princeton colleagues have turned the concept into a game. It would be easier for you to go to the website to see what the game is than for me to try to explain it.

The idea is what kinds of changes in transportation, energy etc it would take to cut out large chunks of carbon emissions in order to mitigate climate change. You can't do it all with one technique, you need a mix. Mr. Balzan had each student become a content expert and then we put them into groups who discussed among themselves the best strategies. Then they presented their "wedge" with the mixes of strategies.

We easily could have gone on another hour or two.

Luqa Primary--ecological footprint

I also did the ecological footprint concept with younger children. I have permissions to show the children. Like the secondary school (see Gzira post), they were very lively and fun.

Gzira Secondary

I did a talk/demonstration of the Ecological Footprint concept with the Gzira Boys Secondary school. Here are a few photos. I don't have permissions to show full faces of the children.

What's the apple? I got the idea from a teaching website. You take an apple and call it Earth. The idea with the footprint is how much land we have to grow things and to build our homes. It allows us to compare our life to the available land. In the US my life, if used by everyone in the world would take 13-14 Earths; in Malta 7-8. ANYWAY: you ask how much of the Earth is covered with oceans (3/4). You cut the apple into three and take the 1/4 piece. You ask how much of this should we leave because it is freshwater or very unhospitable. You cut a chunk off. Now you ask, who/what else needs to use the Earth [plants and animals]. Cut some more. Then you ask if the remaining slice is all arable/habitable? Um, no...that would be the moltencore and rocks. So, you cut away all but the little think strip of peel. That's it.

The exercise, hard to see, had students following some guidelines and putting marbles in socks and comparing. The winner was the one with the least marbles.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

sunset at Dingli

The Malta Geographical Society had a sunset walk along Dingli Cliffs. It was lovely.

two odd photos

Yesterday, I took two photos of odd things while going on a Malta Geographical Society walk to Dingli Cliffs. There's a building being renovated near me (OK, dozens of them). Anyway, they have kept the facade, but there's no building yet behind it. Talk about "blue sky thinking."

The other is one of those endlessly fascinating things about Malta--snails. Now, you'd think there would not be many snails in such a dry place. Not so. There are lots and lots. Most have developed techniques to seal themselves up against the heat and dry. The while things on the plant are snails. Now, for all I know they may be dead, but it was fun to look at.

Goodbye to IR department

My friend, Carmen Sammut, organized a dinner to say good-bye to me and, more important, to wish Joe Pirotta a happy retirement. He's chair of the international relations department. The photos are my giving him a squeeze thing (I think it's supposed to be a fake ice hockey puck) with Michigan Tech on it. I told him he'd be restless in retirement and could take it out on the thing. Needless to say, he threatened to throw it at people a few times.

THANKS. I enjoyed my Fall teaching for you.

Malta Bloggers Dinner

I got a note on this blog from Sandro Vella inviting me to a dinner of Malta bloggers. I went, and it was quite interesting. I met Maltagirl, Sandro, and Jacque Zammit of J'accuse fame. In fact, Zammit gave me a right home. I rather like the idea that bloggers would get to see each other face to face--all the different politics and interests. Photos are from the dinner, sorry I can't name everyone. Sorry for the fuzzy ones. I think my camera is getting tired.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Taxes and War

Taxes and War: Ross Perot Was Sort of Right
Mary Durfee

Long ago, Ross Perot ran as a 3rd party candidate for U.S. president. 3rd parties have no luck in the US any more than they do in Malta. I did not vote for him, but I’ve been thinking about one of his crazy ideas. He said every time US troops were in harm’s way (under threat of enemy fire), US taxes should automatically go up 10 percent.

This was a crazy idea because, under the US Constitution, only the House of Representatives can initiate a revenue bill and most US fighting would be over by the time the full Congress actually approved such a thing. It would take forever. I doubt Congress could just pass a law saying they would automatically raise the tax, because it would be struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. No president would want the law, so there would be no help from that quarter.

The only way you could get such a rule in place would be through a constitutional amendment. Now, that’s REALLY tough to do. Just figuring out the wording/definition would be hard. What's war or warlike? When is a US soldier a soldier, does it include intelligence operatives (I'd say yes on that one, but that's another story),? Does it include terrorism ? Would it apply if it were prompted by a UN Security Council decision? Here's an example of what it might need to say somehow : ten federal or federalized employees or contractors engaged in military or military-related activities killed non-accidentally by non-US citizens operating in a country outside the United States and its territories. Even that would be litigated forever, but you get my drift.

But, maybe the effort to mount such a doomed constitutional campaign would be worthwhile for the US. We'd have to talk to each other about what we are doing to ourselves and others and how we going about doing it.

The US Constitution says the President is supposed to get a declaration of war from Congress when the US goes to war. That was a nice idea, but not really too practical. It’s rarely been used since 1787, though US troops have been sent off to fight somewhere nearly every year of the United States’ collective life. Declaring war, for example, causes huge international legal consequences. Better to save declarations of war for massive problems—something I hope never to experience.

But, two problems with the situation have made themselves clear over the years. The president is very hard to control when he wants to use force. We Americans get no say except through the very unclear voice of the ballot. Second, Americans aren’t generally held responsible for their government’s policy in the sense of serving in the military or paying for it. Thus, even the ballot isn’t too likely a control.

Congress will nearly always back down when facing the president—especially when he sends troops first and then reports it later. Congress is, it seems to me, not nearly as energetic in these matters as it should be (after all Congress can fire the president but the reverse is not true, Congress can pass a law over the president’s objections…etc, etc). Congress has all the cards, except for speed. Congress is supposed to be slow, but we hardly communicate any more by sailing ships and horses and the power of the executive matches the world of today better than the world of the 1700s. So, the virtue of legislative deliberation tends to get stomped on by the virtue of executive speed.

The US media is not helpful. It will print or broadcast whatever the president gives them. Then when it is too late to stop foolishness it will get critical for a bit. After a while being critical stops selling ads, and so they stop being critical or even reporting the news.

The other problem with the current method is that Americans don’t really suffer any immediate consequences when a war is going on. We only used a peacetime draft in the year or two before US entry in WWII and in the 1950s, ‘60s, and part of the 70’s. We’re spending $12 billion a month in Iraq alone and hardly anyone notices other than those who lost someone.

Yet, the war does cost American lives and we are going deeper and deeper into debt, our states are having troubles managing various disasters, social security is failing and the list could go on. Meanwhile, Americans have recently gotten tax money back from the US government in order to spur spending. This is like putting a happy face bandage (plaster for you Maltese) on a rapidly spreading cancer.

I should also point out that, despite appearances, Americans aren’t as warlike and stupid as they seem. I taught international law to my mostly engineering students (19-22 years old) the fall before we went in to Iraq. We did a problem on whether the US could go to war without another approval from the UN. I had them prepare the arguments for both sides, split them up, and we had at it for 40 minutes. It was wonderful and many times more sophisticated than anything on TV. As we closed it down with some general discussion, one of the women asked, “But, professor, even if it is legal under international law to attack, how will we get out?” I told her we would not get out, it would drag on and on with a number of deaths on our side and many thousands more on the Iraqi side.

Which brings us back to Perot’s idea. Emmanuel Kant, the philosopher, said that democracies would value peace more than nondemocracies, because the public would pressure the government against war. Tocqueville, the brilliant observer of American life in the 1840s, doubted democracies could even do foreign policy because of the open and pacific nature of democracies.

Perot’s idea of instant tax increase would put some teeth into the impact of the public on foreign policy in a democratic country. The president and Congress would have to cooperate with each other more, if both sides knew that once the deployment started it would mean higher taxes on individuals and businesses alike right away. After all, the fighting could end up being an election issue because it hit the pocketbook. At the very least, Congress would ask more questions.

If Congress asked more questions, the press might spend a minute or two reporting on those questions each day. Bloggers would spend a lot more time on it. Public opinion could actually have an influence on a decision to fight. Americans would have to be responsible citizens, at a minimum paying cash for their policy instead of charging it to future Americans.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dog Pee

Dog Pee
By Mary Durfee

As readers of this blog may recall, I have had a foster dog, Floppy, for nearly nine months. I was a novice dog owner in October, having only really interacted with cats. It has been quite an experience. Going on walks has been especially informative as one does not, as a rule, take them with cats. My dog had not really been taught to walk on a leash and he would have helped the Red Queen zoom even faster through Alice’s Wonderland—and to the same effect of not really getting anywhere.

As the struggle of just walking him got less intense, I’ve had occasion to wonder about dogs and dog pee. I realize this is hardly a scholarly topic, but with all these hours in Malta invested in walking that born and bred in Malta dog, I think it’s fair game for my blog.

I know that dogs leave notes to each other through their pee. We have our blogsophere, they have the dogosphere. Apparently, they can tell sex, size, when last came by, and perhaps individuals. I know my dog was suspicious that a new dog had arrived in the building, and it had to be from smell and the new markers. I was astounded by one enterprising little dog I saw once. He would do a “handstand” and pee with his hind legs in the air. Perhaps he had a “Napoleon complex” about his size.

One of the local females went into heat, and her pee was apparently ambrosia of the dogs, fraught with unspoken canine desire. My dog could moon over one of her wet spots indefinitely, if I let him. Other scents from her meant that every walk was a tug of war over whether to go to her front door. Perhaps he left “pick up” lines for her.

I also know that it’s perfectly sensible that dogs would have likely spots to pee (and the other event, as well). My husband claims I know all the likely good bathrooms from our house to St Louis, a previous sabbatical locale, and also all around Lake Superior. So, I am not surprised my dog has preferences. I don’t quite know, however, why some spots have to be carefully considered, from all physical angles, before a well-aimed shot can take place. What Jane Austen-like like doggy etiquette requires this considered response, I wonder?

But, I am most amazed at how he manages his pee. Mine seems to leave something about every 10 meters. Eventually he really lets loose. What I don’t get is how he can always have enough pee for whatever length walk we go on, so that the 10-meter rule can be obeyed. How can he determine that one walk will only be for a quick relief, while another might take 40 minutes?

I have a physical image of his bladder as a little train with boxcars, each with a tiny door. He drops his cargo in one place and new boxcars get added. Some of his “I was here” announcements require just a drib, while others take considerably more. So he can control his little railroad of dog pee. He can go from a dot to an “AHHHH stream” with no trouble.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fulbrights and Palestinians--update

I was happy to learn today that Secretary of State Rice intervened in the matter of the Fulbrights being withdrawn from Palestinians. They have been restored, and the State Dept. is working with Israel to get the scholars their permissions to leave. Good for Sec. Rice. She did the right thing--and I'm a Democrat!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

More Mt Etna

Mt Etna, Sicily

My friend, Josephine, and I did a tour of Mt. Etna through Sicily Life. It was fun with a driver and car for just the two of us. It was quite cloudy, so we only caught glimpses of the smoking top, still, the many lava flows that have made Sicily such a rich agricultural land are easy to see.