A Shift in My Trajectory

Batten down the hatches… Hate mail on the way…

I’ve started writing a series of articles for an independent Maltese news site called The Shift.

One of the paper’s founders contacted me at the beginning of November to ask if I would comment on things that appear completely bizarre to an outsider, but which are accepted as normal in Malta.

Some of the topics I’m writing about are cultural, and some are devious tactics used by politicians to cast smoke screens of confusion or stir up bitter Red/Blue partisan rivalry.

I’m not a very political person, but I feel able to comment from this perspective because it crosses over into anthropology. And after traveling through more than seventy countries and living in a few of them, I’ve got some basis for comparison.

I don’t know if my articles make any difference. They get a lot of shares, but I’m guessing it’s probably by people who already agree with me. Ploughing the sea, as the saying goes.

Then again, I do sometimes enjoy spitting at fish.

Here’s what I’ve contributed so far:


Where’s The Personal Accountability in Malta? 

Politicians never resign in Malta. People who break the law and get caught don’t feel guilty, they just feel unlucky. It isn’t the person who does something wrong who’s to blame but the person who shines a light on it. This isn’t just a political issue. In Malta, it’s part of the culture.

The Appeal to Hypocrisy

In this instalment, I’ll tell you why “Charlie did it too! Why are you picking on me?” is not an acceptable excuse, even if politicians in Malta use it.

Public Roles and Private Rants

There’s a parallel universe where government officials can say whatever they want and call it “freedom of expression.” It’s a little island off North Africa where every politician is a Doctor, and where public officials are never held accountable, but they’re always very well paid.

Hey, Look Over There!

Ratings agency reports on Malta, and positive spin from the travel media — including those “best place to live for expats” stories. It’s all paid for by tax dollars. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat uses them to distract attention anytime he’s caught in another corruption scandal that won’t go away. It works because the majority of Maltese voters are totally fine with corruption as long as they believe the economy’s good, and they’re getting a piece of it.

Better to Hide Than Save The Day

In this instalment, I’ll tell you about a very strange place where cowardice is a virtue. Where children are taught that the best way to deal with a bully is to hide and hope he picks on someone else. And where murder may or may not be wrong, depending on what you think of a person’s writing.

Sorry Man, Can’t Tell You

This article is about how parliamentary democracies are supposed to work, and what happens when government ministers say, “We’re in charge and you can’t make us, nyah nyah nyah.”

Sorry, But… It’s Your Fault

This one is about non-apologies, and a government official who acted up at the United Nations and called a policy advisor from PEN International a “biased shithole.”


I’ll keep updating this list as new articles are published.

I hope you find them interesting, even if you’re not very interested in Maltese politics.

I’ve tried to give each piece a cultural or anthropological slant, and to illuminate aspects of life in a place that often felt like a parallel universe.

Life on the road sure does lead to some unexpected digressions.

I never imagined a time when I’d be writing political commentaries. But then, I never imagined spending 6 years of my life in Malta, either.

I went there with the intention of writing an island book, something inspired by Lawrence Durrell. I chose Malta because I knew so little about the country, and because no one else had written about it in this way.

I only wanted to stay 4 or 5 years at most. And I didn’t stay so long because I loved it there. I only failed to leave.

I’ll keep writing these pieces as long as I feel I have something useful to offer. The people at The Shift need support. And the people who killed Daphne Caruana Galizia with a massive car bomb need to see the inside of the prison they so richly deserve.






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