Thursday, December 29, 2011

Equality: the natural method

This article was first published in the Times of Malta on Saturday 24th December 2011.

An article entitled Women want quotas (December 6), reported gender equality organisations asking Parliament to introduce quotas. I totally disagree with this and I'll explain why.

Quotas go against the very concept of meritocracy. Meritocracy means that whoever is the best suited for an appointment or responsibility, gets it, regardless of his gender, political beliefs, race or sexual orientation, but solely on his merits and competencies. Quotas, on the other hand, eliminate the "regardless of his gender" part. If for example, it happens that the best four candidates for a post are all men, why should they be balanced out by short-listing two men and two women? Likewise, if the best four candidates are women, why should two men replace two more capable women? This happened for example in Malta's nominations for ECHR judge. The Council of Europe ironically called this anti-democratic concept as the "democratic principle of gender balance". What's wrong  if the three most competent judges for the post were men? What would be wrong if the three most competent judges for the post were women? It seems the Council of Europe too is more inclined on balancing statistics than common sense.

Quotas are anti-democratic. If applied to Parliamentary elections, it would mean that male candidates who garner a certain number of votes would not be elected, to make way for female candidates who garner less votes. Does this not contravene the basic principle of democracy: respect to the will of the people? And where would quotas stop? Should we set quotas to balance out also homosexual candidates with heterosexual candidates? Should we balance out candidates who hold a degree with candidates who do not? Should we balance out candidates wearing glasses with those who do not? Should we balance out candidates according to their hair colour as well? Just for the sake of balance and statistical equality? You can already see this being implemented in the elections to the executive of Malta's two main political parties. On each election, valid male candidates who garner more votes than female candidates have to be left out for the sake of balancing women representation.

So why are there much less women in certain posts than man? There could be many contributing factors, pre-dominantly our cultural mentality which yes, must be changed and educated. But there may be other factors too. Right now, 60% of graduates are female. Was this the case up to twenty years ago? No. Right up till the eighties, only around 30% of graduates were female. It would be quite valid to assume that in the current pool of qualified people with reasonable work experience to expect certain posts, there are much more males than females. It therefore stands to reason that there will be more males in certain top posts than females. This trend is already being automatically reversed naturally, and in time, the pool of qualified people will balance out, moreover it will probably consist of more females than males. There's no need for quotas to force it now. It will come naturally, and through merit, not through discrimination.

As for quotas being termed with the oxymoron "positive discrimination", I believe there's no positivity in any form of discrimination. There's either discrimination or equal opportunities. I am all for women having equal opportunities for education and employment, as can be witnessed by the high percentage of female graduates. I am all for women having equal opportunities and rights in elections. That's why they can contest equally with men and on the same alphabetically ordered list. I am all for incentives to help mothers return to work, since they are the gender that can bear children.

But I am not for competent men to make way for less competent women, as much as I am not for competent women to make way for less competent men. Equality is to be sought in opportunities and their availability, not in the resulting statistical outcome. All the outcomes that follow are to be based only on meritocracy and competency, regardless of everything else, including gender, and regardless of statistics.

We are different unique humans, and not numbers.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Journey to the Marathon (3):
The Charitable Cause

Since it's Christmas, today's blog will not be about my running. On Christmas, a special feeling of wanting to do something for others fills the air. Now running the Marathon is mostly pursued for personal reasons, which differ according to the individual. But running it for a charitable cause spices up your motivation to see it through. The feeling of doing it for others, rather than only for yourself, makes it much more beautiful.

This year's official charity is the Maltese NGO Inspire. Quoting directly from their website:
"Inspire helps over 1,000 children and adults with learning and physical disabilities across five centres in Malta and Gozo. Its clients are treated with the utmost care and professionalism through speech therapy, therapeutic horseback riding, occupational therapy and sports therapy, to name very few. There is even a support system for parents. Inspire relies heavily on people's donations to be able to offer its services for free for those who cannot afford such treatment."

A recent article by its President, Lino Spiteri, in the Times of Malta, was a genuine appeal to the Maltese authorities to take note of the financial difficulties this NGO has to face in order to provide for a better quality of life and inclusion of children with disabilities. But let's not just wait for the authorities to help - let's do our part! Grab your mobile phone now, and pledge your donation: help a genuine cause and boost an athlete's moral :)

I'm sure you'll be sending countless SMS this Christmas and New Year, an extra €2 (or more if you can afford) wouldn't make such a big difference to your bank account, but it can make a big difference in these people's lives, and also make my Marathon experience more worth it ;) And after you're done, please, email or share this with your family and friends, and keep the donations pouring in! Every cent goes for Inspire and for the therapy these children and adults need.

"È Natale e a Natale si può fare di più...per noi" - You can do something...for them.

To make a donation, send an SMS to one of the below numbers, with the text "Mark Sammut, Malta Marathon"

50617359 - €2.33
50618080 - €4.66
50618926 - €6.99
50619215 - €11.65


Send them by bank transfer by going through this link. You will receive a notification by email, which I kindly ask you to forward to so that I can trace the amount donated through me :)

Merry Christmas to all of you and your loved ones!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Journey to the Marathon (2):
The Runner and the Consumerist Society

It's 10 weeks to go. This week's training included a very enjoyable Trail Run from the Salomon Trail Running League in the San Tumas/Delimara area, and another trial run in the Mistra/Selmun Area, courtesy of Ruben Degiorgio and his group. They were my first experiences in trail running and I must say they were fun. The alternating terrain, magnificent views, and buzzing atmosphere make it impossible for boredom to show its head. I also took part in the 10km Garmin Run organized by Mellieha AC, and obtained a personal best of 41:56. Not much to be surprised about; my last 10km run was 18 months ago, so I was expecting some sign of improvement in a year and a half. Apart from that, I had my usual recovery swim, speed session and tempo run. This morning's 23km long run closed the week off.

During this week's runs, I kept wondering at what has caused the sudden surge in recent years of people taking up running, triathlon and other outdoor sports. Is it only due to health awareness? Or is there something more?

We live in a world where material possessions have become our measure of quality. Society no longer values knowledge, art, music, spiritual well-being and a genuine search for truth, as our ancestors did. Today's consumerist society urges us to seek happiness in the new things we buy: a new sleeky sports car, designer clothes and accessories, the latest smartphone or gaming console.

In all this, I think the runner seeks to be a sign of contradiction. By baring himself of all that is unnecessary and redundant, he seeks his happiness in man's most primitive and ancient way of play: running. The true runner understands that real happiness and well-being, come from within and not from the peripherals surrounding us on the outside. In a time where our fast-paced lives and materialistic urges have taken over our sense of being, the runner seeks a time where he can break the daily chains enslaving us, and just BE.

In these last three years, the financial crises and its effects has made more people realize that the new sleeky sports car is devalued the minute you sign the log-book; the designer clothes and accessories which cost pennies to the manufacturer but hundreds of euro for you to buy, get out-of-fashion by next year; and the latest smartphone or gaming console which you were so proud of, will get out-dated in a few months. They have no real value.

More people are realizing that true happiness, happiness which you can recall years later, a happiness that can really make you feel alive, comes not from the things which you buy with money. But it comes from the things which you can only reach through commitment, dedication, determination and sacrifice. From things which are not paid for in cash, but are paid for in sweat.

I hope that running the Marathon is one of these things.

In the meantime, I take this opportunity to wish all readers a happy Christmas...and remember, the true happiness of Christmas comes not from gifts and shopping. There's something more to Christmas as well.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Journey to the Marathon (1): The Dream

It's how every project or endeavour starts. With a dream.

I can't say that running a Marathon has been a life-long dream, for the simple reason that up to two years ago it was beyond my dreams. I had never thought about it because it was something completely unreachable. But I have always enjoyed watching two particular events during the Olympic Games: the 100m sprint and the Marathon. One showcasing the fastest, and the other the most enduring, man on earth.

Slightly more than two years ago I went for my first jog. Had started doing the President's Award programme at the time, and part of the requirements were to do a physical activity at least one hour per week. Jogging seemed to be the easiest and least expensive thing to do. Together with my friend Warren, we went for  first run. It was just 4km along the runway strip, and took us almost 30 minutes. That day, under drizzling rain, was our baptism into running.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we started enjoying doing it regularly, and in time increased both pace and distance. We did some 10km races during that year, a sprint triathlon the following summer, and a half-marathon a year later.

The first time I thought about doing a Marathon was quite co-incidental. I had decided to do the Qormi 10k on the 7 June 2010. A few weeks earlier, my friend Cyprian asked me to join him trying the route out. I had just bought a new car, and the new number-plate showed my initials and birth-date: MAS 262. Jokingly, Cyprian asked me if it was a reference to the Marathon.

"What Marathon?" I asked. "The Marathon-distance", he replied, "it's 26.2 miles".

During that run I couldn't stop thinking about it. I knew the Malta Marathon usually took place on the last Sunday of February. Could it one day co-incide with my birthday? That would be a nice way to celebrate it.

As soon as I arrived home, I quickly checked my calendars. 2012. The 26th February of 2012 was going to fall on a Sunday. And guess what: it was going to be my lucky birthday! How many people have the opportunity to run 26.2 miles on their 26th birthday on the 26th February?

A dream was born. 26.2.12, my lucky birthday, was set to be the day I would attempt my first Marathon.

And since then, I have dreamt about it every single day. Not a day has gone by without thinking and planning what my next step would be in order to move closer towards achieving it. Because that's the only way a dream can become reality.

I am now in the last stage, only 11 weeks of preparation before D-Day. Still much to go. I have only run a distance of 25km twice in my life, in the third stage of my two participations in the Malta Challenge Marathon. There's still another 17.195km to add to that to reach the total Marathon distance of 42.195km, or 26.2 miles. But my mind is focused, my spirit craves for it, so I'm sure that with the proper commitment, my body will be prepared for it as well.

I have decided to share through this diary what I'll be going through in the coming weeks for two reasons: one is to help keep myself motivated, and the other is that by letting everyone know, I will add an extra reason why, come rain and shine, I will not let myself lose any training sessions, especially during the frantic Christmas and festive season.

Follow this diary by joining or subscribing to this blog. It should be one hell of a ride...or rather, one hell of a run ;) 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Freedom at a high price

This is my article published in the Times of Malta on Monday 5th December 2011, the 25th Anniversary of Raymond Caruana's murder:

My generation has grown up in the age of the internet, free market, media pluralism and a multitude of education and work opportunities. Free to air our views, discuss issues civilly and protest without fear of intimidation, it is sometimes difficult for us to appreciate what these liberties have cost us. It is only after witnessing the fight for liberation experienced in our neighbouring Arab countries that we might realise how fortunate we are to live in a free country, where respect to the democratic process is paramount. But it was not always so and, like every country in the world, our freedom too came at a high price.

Let’s go back to December 5, 1986 at 11.15 p.m.
A group of men are enjoying a last round of drinks at the Nationalist Party club in the usually tranquil village of Gudja following a party celebrating the opening of their new club. Among them, a 26-year-old youngster. Suddenly, a stream of bullets showers the club’s façade.
The bullets were from a gun that, four days earlier, had already been used in a similar attack on another club in Tarxien during a former minister’s carcade.
The gun was later used in a revolting frame-up of a completely innocent human being. A gun, which, on December 5, however, did more than that. It spilled blood and claimed a human life.

It was a time when people were prevented from the freedoms that we take for granted today. Opening a radio station, holding a mass meeting, inviting foreign speakers and holding industrial action were all things that were either forbidden by law or violently punished.

Many University faculties, deemed unnecessary, were closed down and the subjects taught underground while students were besieged by the army for delivering a speech on democracy during their graduation ceremony.

A printing press was burned down, judges were juggled as the Executive deemed fit and the Constitutional Court spent years suspended.

The police force itself, the supposed safeguard of law and order, attacked people holding peaceful meetings and demonstrations, was involved in the murder and cover-up of a man held for questioning and the frame-up and attempted murder of an innocent man in order to try to bury the truth forever.

It is not my intention to enter into the historical details of these events; whole books have been written. Nor do I wish to dismiss any political party because of its past. I believe it has changed since then.
But on the 25th anniversary of this political murder and the surrounding unrestrained violence, I would like to commemorate what our nation went through, in the hope that we learn history’s lessons.

I hope our present politicians and opinion writers realise what horrible actions can hate incitement lead emotional-blind supporters to and, thus, the enormous responsibility they hold. I am still amazed, for example, at how the Press Ethics Commission and the Institute of Maltese Journalists stayed unashamedly silent when an article in a Maltese newspaper called for the “liquidation and elimination” of one of their fellow journalists who was described as an “abject rodent”.

I would like our political discussions, speeches and media to be more focused on policy-making and intelligent proposals, rather than personal attacks and emotional rhetoric, in which we all – myself included – sometimes get carried away.

I would like to see the day when all the country, and not just half of it, is able to pay homage and respect to someone whose life was innocently taken away in our common fight for democracy. This seems rather difficult when even some of today’s politicians still call the years described above as being “golden”.

At the Gudja PN office, a Maltese flag tainted with the dried blood of one of our brothers is still kept in remembrance, a constant reminder that politics should be the battlefield of ideas and not the battlefield of brothers, an arena for the clash of policies and not the clash of fellow humans.

And, like all the countries in the world, we too owe a huge debt to the persons who payed with their life for our freedom, a debt that can never be sufficiently redeemed, a debt that should never be forgotten.

The Czechs owe it to Jan Palach. The Tunisians owe it to Mohamed Bouazizi. The Libyans owe it to many rebel fighters.

We owe it to Raymond Caruana.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Il-Kultura tal-Liberta'

A speech I gave during the event "Towards the Culture of Freedom", held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the tal-Barrani incidents, the murder of Raymond Caruana, and the frame-up of Peter Paul Busuttil. The event was held at the Nationalist Party's Headquarters on Sunday 4th December 2011. Apologies for reproducing it here only in its original Maltese language.

Diskors li għamilt fis-serata "Lejn il-Kultura tal-Liberta'", kommemorazzjoni fil-25 anniversarju mill-inċidenti tal-Barrani, il-qtil ta' Raymond Caruana, u l-frame-up ta' Pietru Pawl Busuttil. L-attivita' saret fid-Dar Ċentrali tal-Partit Nazzjonalista nhar il-Ħadd 4 ta' Diċembru 2011.

Segwi s-serata kollha:

Segwi d-diskors tiegħi:

Onorevoli Prim Ministru, Segretarju Ġenerali, President Emeritus, sinjuri,

Il-liberta’ u d-demokrazija. Valuri li għalihom popli sħaħ issieltu u bnedmin xerrdu demmhom. Forsi għall-ġenerazzjoni tiegħi, ġenerazzjoni li għexet u kibret fl-era tal-internet, tal-pluraliżmu u tas-suq ħieles, ġenerazzjoni li sabet opportunitajiet edukattivi kbar miftuħa quddiemha, huwa diffiċli napprezzaw il-prezz li din il-liberta’ swietna. Għal xi wħud minna, forsi kienu biss l-avvenimenti riċenti li seħħew fid-dinja Għarbija li għenuna napprezzaw kemm aħna xortina tajba li ngħixu f’pajjiż demokratiku, fejn il-libertajiet fundamentali tal-bniedem huma mħarsa. Pero t-triq għal-liberta’ fl-ebda pajjiż fid-dinja ma kienet waħda faċli. U Malta ma kinetx eċċezzjoni. Anke’ f’pajjiżna din il-liberta’ swiet il-ħajja ta’ wieħed minn ħutna.

U għalhekk, quddiem dan il-prezz għoli li tħallas biex illum aħna nistgħu ngawdu minn din il-liberta’, ir-responsabbilta' tagħna biex inkomplu nħarsu u nsaħħu dawn il-valuri tikber. Qed ngħixu f’soċjeta’ li iżjed ma timxi ‘l quddiem, iżjed tkompli tfittex libertajiet ġodda. U għalhekk, jekk ma nagħrfux inżewġu l-liberta' u d-demokrazija, dawn iż-żewġ valuri jafu maż-żmien jinfirdu. Għax id-demokrazija, jekk ma tagħrafx biżżejjed il-liberta’ tal-individwu, tista’ tibda timponi dak li jrid min qiegħed fil-poter, kif kien qed jiġri propju 25 sena ilu, tista’ issir saħansitra dittatorjali. Mill-banda l-oħra, il-liberta’, jekk ma tirrispettax biżżejjed il-ġid komuni u l-liberta' ta' ħaddieħor, tista’ ssir anarkika u anti-demokratika.

Ħafna drabi nassoċjaw mad-demokrazija d-dritt tal-vot lil kulħadd, l-ugwaljanza quddiem il-liġi, it-tmexxija mill-maġġoranza, il-pluraliżmu, il-liberta’ tal-espressjoni u d-drittijiet ċivili. Pero' nemmen li d-demokrazija ma tikkonsistix biss f'dawn. Biex id-demokrazija tkompli tiżviluppa u timxi ‘l quddiem, biex id-demokrazija tkun verament sana u tiggarantixxi l-liberta’ ta’ kulħadd, trid tkun demokrazija li ssostni d-drittijiet u l-parteċipazzjoni ta' kulħadd, u dan ifisser anke' d-dmirijiet ta’ kull individwu biex iseddaq il-liberta' ta' ħaddieħor. Kemm id-drittijiet u anke d-dmirijiet. Għax jekk il-bniedem, biex ikun iżjed liberu, ifittex id-drittijiet individwali tiegħu biss, u jinsa d-dmirijiet li hu għandu lejn l-istat u lejn il-komunita’ li jgħix fiha u lejn id-drittijiet tal-membri l-oħrajn ta' dik il-komunita', jibda jintilef l-irbit tant essenzjali bejn il-liberta’ tal-individwu u d-demokrazija. Għalhekk nemmen li fl-iżvilupp demokratiku tagħna, jeħtieġ nagħrfu nfittxu li niggarantixxu l-liberta’ individwali lil kull bniedem sakemm din ma tafettwax il-liberta' ta' ħaddieħor, liberta’ li tħallilu l-bibien miftuħin quddiemu, u li ma xxeklux milli jilħaq il-potenzjal kollu tiegħu. Anzi, din il-liberta’ stess tkun il-fjamma li l-individwu tħeġġu jimxi ‘l quddiem u jfittex opportunitajiet ġodda. Opportunitajiet li jkunu hemm, b’mod ugwali, għal kulħadd, biex kulħadd ikollu d-dritt li jikber u jiżviluppa. Hija biss demokrazija ibbażata fuq il-meritokrazija li twassal għal vera ugwaljanza ta' opportunitajiet u ġustizzja soċjali. Irridu mmorru lil hemm mit-twemmin li l-istat irid jaħsbilna għal kollox. L-istat irid jiftħilna beraħ l-opportunitajiet għal kulħadd, imma huma l-individwi liberi li jridu jaspiraw għalihom. L-individwu għandu jkollu l-liberta’ li jeċċella, il-liberta’ li jaspira, il-liberta’ li jista’ joħlom u jħares ‘il quddiem mingħajr xkiel, imma mhux isir liberu minn dmirijietu lejn id-drittijiet ta' ħaddieħor u mir-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu lejn il-komunita' sħiħa.

Huwa f’demokrazija li tippremja lil min jaħdem u lil min jerfa' dmirijietu, f’qafas ta’ meritokrazija, li l-Malti liberu jista’ jilħaq l-aspirazzjonijiet u l-ħolm li Maltin oħra twaqqfu fil-fjur ta' żgħożithom milli jilħqu, minn min kien ħaseb li seta' joħnoq iż-żerriegħa tal-liberta' li hemm tgħajjat f'kull wieħed minna. Demm Raymond saqqa din iż-żerriegħa. Huwa d-dmir tagħna, illum u fil-ġejjieni, illi nkomplu nsaħħuha u nikkoltivawha.