One million

One million - A new pandemic - Failures in environment - Chimera - No holds barred

The BOV-Deloitte Hotel Performance Survey presented some weeks ago gave a glowing review of the tourist industry during the third quarter of 2023.  Tourist arrivals in Malta exceeded one million, having increased by 9.5 per cent over the same quarter last year. On average, each tourist spent €1,026.  Occupancy in three-to-five star-hotels ranged between 80 and 93 per cent, even though there was a persistent trend towards stays in AirBnB accommodation.

Of course, many people will have welcomed this set of statistics. We all know how dependent the Maltese economy is on tourism and how much we suffered when the industry almost closed down during the pandemic.  Others will have complained that the buses were full of tourists, that they couldn’t walk down Republic Street for the mass of people, that the beaches were too crowded, that the Italians were too noisy, and so on.  None will have complained that the Maltese on the bus, on the street, and at the beach were … well, grumbling about everything.  Probably, they were all phoning in Andrew Azzopardi on his programme on RTK, complaining that they cannot breathe.    

Mind you, I do not blame them, considering that even the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA), Tony Zahra, was complaining when he spoke about the statistics.  He is reported to have warned that this set of goods results could be skewered by over-capacity in accommodation, increases in payroll costs, new green regulations, potential disruptions due to conflicts in neighbouring regions, and the introduction of the skills card for foreign workers.

Having been associated with transport and tourism for a third of a century, I can assure you that I can recite by heart this litany of complaints from both the general populace and the experts. It is nothing new. I won’t say that we should rest on our laurels, but I wonder whether it is possible that, at least once in a while, we can enjoy the fruits of our labour without invoking the risk of Doomsday.    

Photo: Joe Serge

A new pandemic

Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, has written an article in The Guardian about the profound human suffering being experiencing globally.  Khan says that “a pandemic of inhumanity” has taken hold, from Darfur to Ukraine, from the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan to the seemingly forgotten voices of Rohingya refugees in Myanmar, and now the intolerable tragedy that is deepening in Israel and Palestine.

He is right.  I remember that, in my younger days – the days when my parents used to tell me that I should study because there were “a hundred dogs for every bone”, when people were emigrating in their thousands to Australia because there were no jobs, when we went to Valletta and there were beggars at City Gate, and when our only entertainment was going to a movie – people talked rather a lot about what was happening in the rest of the world.  Now that we expect everything but appreciate nothing, we are so absorbed in our own tiny world that we care little for what is happening elsewhere.   

Khan refers to something that one would not immediately associate with the pandemic of inhumanity. It is in times like these, he suggests – when vulnerable people in Sudan, Ukraine, Myanmar, and the Holy Land feel that they may have been forgotten – that we need the law more than ever.  Not food, water, and medicines, though those too are very badly needed – but The Law. 

Some people will wonder why The Law comes into these situations.  Khan isn’t referring to the law in abstract terms, but as a set of rules capable of providing tangible protection to those who need it most.  He is right.  When people are living dangerous and desperate times, they need to see that the law and respect for human rights have a real impact on their lives.  People who have lost their loves ones, most of their possessions, and their dignity, should at least be able to cling on to something that shelters them from the worst elements of inhumanity.

Photo: Ahmed Akacha

I agree with Khan that the brutal nature of war is not some kind of fait accompli.  Even if Putin, Hamas, the Israelis, the Myanmar Generals, and other despots win, there are international laws that govern their conduct.  They do not have a blank cheque, even in war.  International conventions and the Rome Statute require that innocent lives are protected, irrespective of race, religion, nationality, or gender.

A group of activists in Malta have called on the Government to withdraw the Maltese ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest at crimes against humanity by Israel in Gaza.  Personally, I do not agree, particularly since they did not call for recall of our Representative in Palestine too. 

The Government is taking quite a pro-active stance at the UN Security Council, on which we currently have a non-permanent seat.  But I do agree that a more forceful position by the Government would be in order. Malta should make it clear to the two parties concerned that they have both moral and legal obligations to comply with the laws of armed conflict, and that their failure to do so will justify their referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Failures in environment

Three news stories illustrate the frequent failure of authorities to assure the protection of the environment in the widest sense of the word.  One concerned the building of a block of 22 flats on the site of an ancient farmhouse close to Ġgantija World Heritage Site; another one was about the Planning Authority’s ‘outline permit’ – issued against the advice of heritage authorities – to build an extra glass floor on gutted 19th century townhouses next to San Gejtanu church in Ħamrun; and complaints by local councillors in touristic localities about authorities’ inaction against restaurants which encroach on public pavements.

This government has made multiple commitments about the environment in its electoral manifestos and other policy documents.  I am not going to exaggerate and claim that nothing has been done.  In certain instances, in fact, there has been considerable progress. However, I am astounded every week by the foot-dragging of certain authorities and their seemingly sycophantic subservience to  developers.  It seems that citizens can only look to the Courts to hope for a modicum of Justice, but the Courts can only do so much. 

From time to time, the PA ignores the recommendations of the common people, activists, other public entities or even its own officials.  To that, add the claim that its hands “are tied”.  I fume in frustration and, frankly, I am morally convinced that there is more to it in certain cases.  No, Ministers, I do not have any evidence.  It is the job of the Police to find it, but they too often claim that their hands are tied … by none other than The Law.  Now, we know that The Law is an ass.  But, if the Government does not want us to say that it too is an ass, then it is its job to change The Law and to start making sure that its commitments are not tansformed into empty words by others.

Chimera

Scientists in China have created the world’s first chimera monkey with two sets of DNA in experimental work that, it is claimed, could ultimately benefit medical research and the conservation of endangered species. The monkey‘s green fluorescence in its brain and eyes is proof that it was created partially from a normal embryo and partially from stem cells: a method only previously used in mice and rats. 

Birth of the macaque, with glowing fingertips, could shed light on how stem cells work in early embryonic development and create life.  Writing in the journal Cell, the scientists say they hope to refine the process in primates to better study treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.

By the way, the term ‘chimera’ comes from the fire-breathing creature of Greek mythology which looks like a lion, has a goat’s head sticking out of its back, and has a serpent’s tail.

The news makes you wonder at the marvel of science, but it is also disturbing.  Just like some scientists are saying that Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) could present an existential threat to mankind, the Chinese experiment could eventually lead to a  threat peculiar to Malta – the possible reproduction of the famous Ġaħan and the risk that all homes in Malta will become doorless.   

No holds barred

Trawling the web for some unusual news, I came upon a Lovin Malta item on a feisty exchange of words on what the site described as “a new no-holds-barred podcast” hosted by JD Patrick and SandMax24.  The podcast Bajd u Bejken hosted Rachel Thake, who goes by the name of inked_kitten.  JD and SandMax kept needling Thake by referring to her work as “porn”.  So inked_kitten shot back that she had mistaken a subscriber called smallpenis69 for JD. 

I do not customarily watch follow such podcasts, particularly when they are called Pjaċir u Pastażati, but it seems that quite a few do.  The one I watched had 23,000 views.  I am sure that the fact that the participants use a lot of swear words, foul language, and sexual innuendos has nothing to do with the number!  It’s just fun, they would say. 

Main photo: Efrem Efre

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