On Speaking English (Better Than Dhivehi)

I speak English as a second language and I have been doing so for as long as I can remember. Over the years, I have gained some mastery over the foreign germanic tongue, perhaps owing to my affinity for the language, its history, its originating place and even its global appeal. I am also a bit of stickler for the rules of the language including its grammar, spelling, enunciation and even pronunciation — a trait that has earned me the not-so-flattering epithet of ‘Grammar Nazi‘.  I am quick to correct anyone who pronounces ‘Nazi’ /ˈnɑːtsi/ incorrectly and that just results in more taunting. That never bothered me but here’s something that does, in deed, grind my gears.

Maldivians, especially younger ones, claiming that they speak English ‘better’ than their native Dhivehi. I think it is quite inconceivable, and ludicrous, that someone might make this bold claim when they’ve lived their entire lives in the archipelago and speak Dhivehi 90 percent of the time. My assertion isn’t just based on self-aggrandising conjecture but I have spoken with a number of these so-called ‘completely anglicised’ persons and all too often they would switch to Dhivehi when struggling to express something in the popular foreign language. This is, of course, completely discounting all the errant grammar that slips into their conversation. They don’t need no education, ain’t it the truth? Let’s not get into written mistakes for now.

I had this conversation earlier with a friend and he offered the explanation that those who consistently made this assertion, including an ex-girlfriend, perhaps meant to say that they found the utility of the English language to be more useful in certain contexts. For a non-technical example to illustrate this point, I don’t think I have ever had a (romantic or sexual) relationship where the primary mode of communication wasn’t strictly in English. In hindsight, I suppose it would be a bit awkward to say ކަލޭދެކޭ ވަރަށް ލޯބިވޭ in lieu of the more traditional trisyllabic phrase (not to mention the… err… sexting).

If my mate’s assumption were to be true, then I should highlight the failure to communicate on part of the overly pretentious, well-spoken linguists of this country. Also, I don’t agree with the oft-cited premise that Dhivehi is a language deficient in vocabulary and I think its nonsensical to demand it produce words for utterly alien concepts such as ‘snow’. It is perfectly suited for the locale that gave it birth and this is evident in the language having words to describe every stage of a coconut’s ripening. As for technical language, be it sciences or accounting, I think we still have a long way to go as a linguistic culture and our mother tongue needs to be adapted for a globalised word (and fast).

So to wrap things up, what makes me qualified to lampoon these enlightened and über-hip persons I’ve mentioned several times here? Well, I am not and to reiterate what I said earlier, I speak English as a second language. Despite the fact that I’ve had British mates tell me that I speak English better than most… well… English people, I am still learning. Everyday. I make mistakes all the time and I am fairly certain that there are more than half a dozen of those strewn across this very post. English grammar, after all, is tremendously complicated if you get down to the fine details of it. Which is precisely why I am never going to claim that I speak English better than my native Dhivehi. I will, however, begrudgingly admit that it is sometimes easier to express certain ideas in English as opposed to Dhivehi. Regardless, the latter remains my one true lingual identity.

This is also why I feel the subject matter of this post deserve some derision. If you, my imaginary reader, feel that I need some ridiculing myself, then the comment field is right below and as long as it’s not spam, it’ll get immediately published. Oh, and the irony of this post being in English isn’t lost on me. 🙄

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Hoara Ibbé: Society’s Double Standards

The latest political storm to hit the nation comes in the form of a local man convicted of having had sexual relations with a 17-year-old girl (a minor) and subsequently imprisoned for 10 years back in 2013. This present controversy arose when incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih granted him clemency and had the remainder of his sentence commuted. Seeing that this idiot, the convict and not the President, was affiliated with MDP and more crucially, a current sex offender, I think it’s probably not the best political move of the nascent government. But I am not really concerned with the politics.

Reading on, I was a bit taken back to learn that the man married the girl (the victim) when the scandal broke loose. Huh? Yeah, I am made aware of the fact that this country’s hotchpotch legal system allows matrimony between adults (say a 50-year-old man) and post-pubescent minor who can be as young as 16 (i.e. as long as there is parental consent) but I am left wondering how on earth did the concerned court allow this marriage. Regardless of whether consent was involved in the relationship between the man and the girl, and I think it was consensual, this is a clear cut example of statutory rape. (I am assuming that the nation’s child protection laws are comprehensive enough to include this definition. They are, right?). My sister thought it was odd for the man to be convicted with such a hefty sentence under the sociopolitical reality of this country (where we don’t even have a true age of consent) and insisted that some 17-year-old girls were more sexually adventurous than women in their early to mid 20s. I pointed out that the psychosexual maturity of people varied widely and instead of tackling issues on a case-by-case basis, it is a lot easier for society to simply assume that all minors are vulnerable to being preyed upon by sexual deviants. “So what if the girl is 17 years and 11 months and 29 days old?” she asked me and I brusquely replied, “Then the man is a sex offender.” This system is hardly perfect but I agree with all four assertions made by the lawyer below:

This brings us to the next observation I made from the whole debacle. Social media is awash with people describing the man as a ‘paedophile‘. Here’s an example:

Paedophilia is the primary or exclusive sexual attraction felt towards prepubescent children and it is rightfully classed as a psychiatric disorder. The person in question had relations with a 17-year-old so unless he went out of his way to target (grooms) girls of this age, I think he is just a hapless idiot who was rightfully convicted of being a sex offender. Which he is and on unequivocal terms. But c’mon, people. Words mean something! When we lump paedophiles, either a real threat to society or a group of people who needs serious help, with creepy adults who sleep with teenagers, then the word begins to lose its meaning and impact. Now I don’t intend to split hairs here but I think it is important for us to make such distinctions when we engage in this type of serious discourse.

As for something that we really do need to talk about… let’s address the elephant in the room here. How could person A have sex with a pubescent minor albeit under the pretext of marriage and be sanctioned by both society and the judicial system when person B does essentially the same thing and be classed as a sex offender, miscreant and rapist? 🤔

Addendum: Following this post, I had a conversation with my mate H who said that he agreed with my sister. She thought the whole thing was politically motivated, too, and it is hard to dismiss this considering that the victim (and wife) of the man spoke out in his defence.

In light of this new information, I am more sympathetic towards the man. Life is too complicated to believe that morality can be chalked down to a dichotomy where there is either right or wrong. The man broke the law and he should be punished. But given the circumstances of his crime, where the girl was 17 and whatever they had between them being consensual, I don’t think sentencing him to a decade behind bars is the proper carriage of justice. Especially knowing that there are perpetrators of far, far worse sex crimes that essentially got off with a slap on the wrist compared to this.

On the Geneva Conventions

I had worked for the Maldivian Red Crescent for a couple of years so I was intimately familiar with the International Federation’s Seven Fundamental Principles (although I can no longer recount them in order). The trainings that staff and volunteers had to undergo taught us the that the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement comprised of the (190) national societies such as MRC, the International Federation and finally the International Committee of the Red Cross.

I could recount a lot about the first two including history of the movement itself but ICRC was an organisation that I didn’t know much about; besides the fact that they are Swiss-based, that they operate in war and conflict zones, that they have won the Nobel peace prize a number of times (thrice!) and that they are the primary promoters of international humanitarian law including the Geneva Conventions (of 1949 and their Additional Protocols). Again, familiarity with the movement means that you can’t be oblivious to its history but I never truly bothered to read into the details of these conventions and what they mean. So here goes…

The basic structure of the modern Geneva Conventions (for anyone interested) involves four conventions; the First Convention protects wounded soldiers on land while the Second protects the same at sea. The Third Convention protects prisoners of war (like ol’ Rambo below) and the Fourth one finally relates to the protection given to civilians even if they are in occupied territories. Modern warfare usually includes armed conflicts such as civil wars so stressing the need for a binding treaty that would govern non-international hostilities, the world’s nations created an Article 3 that would be common to all four Conventions. So it basically extends all the protections afforded in the main Conventions to smaller scale but more prevalent scuffles. I think this is the primary reason why they thought necessary to create 3 additional protocols (international conflicts, non-international conflicts and a litany of protected identification symbols) to accompany the Conventions and perhaps to incorporate proscriptions to new or old hostilities used in war. Think biological and chemical warfare. A fair bit of warning but these documents aren’t exactly as concise as I am making them sound out to be, because you’ll encounter a (figurative) mountain of legal text if you start wading through them. Despite this, I am relieved to learn that this conventions and their additional protocols are universally applicable. Clearly, somebody took the time out to write/read them all. Right?

You can hear Rambo frantically invoking the Geneva Conventions (presumably the Second Convention vis-à-vis act of torture) in this Robot Chicken sketch.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can talk about this conversation I was having with a mate who recounted a paramour having basically sabotaged his life in the wake of their ill-fated dalliance. I jokingly asked whether she had a ‘scorched earth’ policy. To those who don’t know, this is  rather cruel military strategy that involves destroying non-military and civilian resources when an army withdraws from foreign lands. I wondered whether this was covered by the Conventions and sure enough, I found the reference buried in article 54(2) of the additional Protocol I:

It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.

Yup, that’s great. Military conflict should be, where possible and ideally without exceptions, limited to inflicting damage on military assets and resources, not those of common people. Regardless of the fact that there’s something seriously evil about intentionally burning down farms or poisoning water resources so that civilians and non-combatants suffer, I was not entirely surprised to find out that there has been multiple instances of this heinous crime in history. How could I be surprised? We live in a world where fighters hide in schools and shoot at enemies who fire back without the least bit of consideration to ‘collateral damage’ (AKA children).

So at this point, I put aside my burgeoning misanthropy and read some more of this cheerful stuff when a thought occurred to me… we are here in the 21st century and we still need things like these Conventions, written by belligerent and far removed old men, to dictate the correct protocols on how we should wage war on another while refraining from the most atrocious acts imaginable including what some believe constitute as crimes against our very own species. I know that this is hardly the spirit of the Conventions but I swear that is how they read out to be.

Let it sink in for a moment. We need guidance on what not to do while we are killing one other… Now don’t get me wrong. I am beyond glad that humanity has reached a point where we have come up with the Conventions and other instruments of humanitarian law designed to protect people. What I am lamenting is the fact that, despite our pretensions on the sanctity of life and mastery of a plethora of existential matters, we still need them.

No Water But Fast Internet

Despite being fairly well travelled, I had not really seen much of my own country when I travelled to the southern most atoll of Addu in mid-2013. It was touted as a city but I found little evidence to support this claim… it wasn’t anything like a modern metropolis. To be completely fair, Malé is hardly that but at least we had running water and a functional sewerage system (although I should point out that the sewage itself is pumped out without the slightest treatment… this shall be the topic of a future post). What they had even half a decade ago was atoll-wide high-speed 3G internet. I remember thinking the unfortunate technological juxtaposition there was a bit odd.

I’ve combed through the news feeds to find out if a lot has changed. We have nation-wide 4G LTE now, that’s a definite improvement but the sewerage network is still under construction last anyone heard. I think the water supply network has been completed so that’s cool. Good for them.

This brings me to where I am right now. Velidhoo Island in northern Maldives. The first time I came here, they didn’t even have a bank ATM. It’s here now and I am told that this is a relatively rare luxury in these islands. I can imagine the type of economic impact it would have on a small population when people are able to access their own money. What about other facets of development then?

One thing that I absolutely dread about travelling in the Maldives is being forced to shower using groundwater. The low-lying aquifer often gets exhausted and becomes salty and sometimes absolutely reeks. Oh, and a local hydrologist once confided in me that testing an oily meniscus lying on top of a water sample collected from a well, tested out to be human remains. ގަބުރުފެން. Ugh.

The groundwater in Velidhoo, by strict comparison, is absolutely delightful as its fresh and has no odours to speak of. However, it is still quite hard so it isn’t very easy on the hair. Even with conditioner which I never use unless I am outside of the capital. Okay, okay, I am not as vain as to whinge about having to use water that gives me frizzy hair but the real concern is groundwater contamination — a common problem in the Maldives due to the lack of adequate sewerage systems and overuse.

I was delighted to know that the local utility co., Fenaka, had done the groundwork of laying out the water pipes and even installed the water meters. That was apparently months ago and there’s still no sign of when the service would begin. Great.

Considering that this water meter has been here for months, I am guessing that it’s purely decorative at this point.

I am not entirely sure whether it is functional or not but I have been told that the same utility company has finished the sewerage network; they are, however, asking the locals to pony up MVR 6,000 for the privilege of connecting to it. That is on top of a monthly fee for using the same. One local I spoke to thought it was incredibly unfair that people in the capital didn’t have to pay a single laari for the maintenance of their decades-old sewerage network. I agreed… maybe charging everyone would lead to actual treatment of this sh… sewage before it’s pumped out into the ocean.

Dhiraagu took only a few weeks to install this fibre connection after the application form was filled out. Other utility co., take notes.

What about the internet then? Dhiraagu, to its credit, recently installed a high-speed fibre optic network here on the island so now they get ultrafast broadband speeds with the same paltry download allowance as we do in the capital. I didn’t know that the telco had their submarine cable landed in each and every island in the Maldives so the techie who came to do the installing filled me in. The closest landing is in Baa Eydhafushi and nearby islands are linked through microwave links. Cool.

The nation is obviously making great strides in terms of its ITC infrastructure… Now if only we could do the same in sanitation and water, too.

Oh well, at least they have a reliable and fee-based waste collection system. Where the waste ends up disposed is a different matter altogether. Much like the capital.

On Red Dead Redemption 2

Unlike the rest of the gaming world, I have never been too much of a fan of Grand Theft Auto so I was a bit surprised to having enjoyed playing the original Red Dead Redemption in the summer of 2011. There was something about the idea of riding around all over [a fictional part of] the western United States, evading the law and shooting up outlaws at the same time, that deeply appealed to me. Maybe it was just good ol’ gaming fun.

Fast forward 7 years to Rockstar’s new AAA follow-up to the game, a prequel, Red Dead Redemption 2 for the eight generation of home consoles. Recently, I’ve got used to just downloading games digitally because I can’t be arsed to pay extra for the shipping or buy it locally at a grossly inflated price (typically USD 25-30 extra) but this title came as a hefty download sitting at almost 100 GB. So I bought the physical game which came in two Blu-ray discs. Yeah, it’s that big.

As for the game itself, I don’t think anything can match the vastness of the world that has been intricately created by the developers. Here’s a video I captured riding from the location of the prologue, up in some snowy mountains, to where the actual game began in the second chapter. It took me 12 minutes!

The game is technically (and visually) unsurpassed as well. Digital Foundry did an in-depth technical analysis of it.

Despite the visual fidelity presented in this game, there were the occasional bugs and glitches. My mum was the one who noticed this.

My mum complained about these clothes hung on the clothesline without clips. So much for physics.

Of course, all of that is strictly eye-candy without a compelling and engaging story. That is precisely what RDR2 offered in the form of its protagonist Arthur Morgan (Oh, Arthur…) A turn of the century (that’s the 19th century, by the way) outlaw and part of the van der Linde gang, his lifestyle of roaming around on horses and looting (and shooting) folk was quickly becoming endangered due to encroaching concept of civilisation. So as the story goes, they brace themselves for “one last job” that’ll set them up for life and things go awry. It is not terribly endearing as the recent God of War but by the end of it, I was deeply attached to Arthur and I cared about most of the characters. Hated a few of ’em, too. Then the main campaign ended [spoiler alert!] and a 10-hour prologue began with the protagonist of the previous game. This is my only complaint with the game because as much as I cared about this new fella, I just didn’t connect with him at an emotional level like I did with Arthur.

I must’ve sunk nearly 100 hours into the game and at one point, I was walking outside when I saw a policeman and thought, “Crap. A cop! Wait, I am not a criminal and this is real life!” Yeah, maybe I was playing too much RDR2 and this was perfectly parodied in a recent South Park episode. Anyway, I did beat it though and in about three weeks, too.

What’s surprising here is fewer than 16 percent of people had beat this piece of software that costs $60 at retail.

Games are becoming more and more immersive now and it’s a great time to be a gamer. I can’t wait until we get to plug a cable into our cerebellums and begin playing them in real virtual reality. I just hope that I’ll be alive and have this much time to burn by then.

Apple FTW (And Oh, They Suck)

I bought my first phone and Apple product over a decade ago. Since then, every consecutive phone that I have owned has borne the insipid half eaten fruit logo, not to mention three out of four computers, two tablets and a watch. I must have spent close to USD 10K on the tiny Cupertino startup (hah!) so I can understand, albeit with a bit of resentment, when some of my friends accuse me of being an Apple loyalist. Sure, they’re not nearly as innovative as their competition and it would be an understatement to claim that Apple products are a bit overpriced. But the real reason I keep coming back to them was demonstrated by MKB in the following video.

Yeah, the famed Apple Ecosystem. I love the ability to pick up phone calls on my computer or tablet or even, hey, my watch (although one drawback is when all of my devices start ringing at the same time). And it’s pretty cool to copy something on my iPad and then paste it seamlessly on my computer. When I got my iPhone X earlier this year, I was surprised to know that I didn’t even have to put in my Apple ID when setting up my phone. There was a prompt on my iPad and then iCloud took over the rest of the new phone’s configuration. It’s simplicity, really… Oh, and the apps. There are those for just about anything that you can think of. Not to mention the security on these phones. Personally, I think it’s a lot better than Android but of course, this means that iPhones are a lot less customisable.

So okay, maybe I am a bit of an Apple fanboy. Whatever. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have any complaints with their products and their platform. One thing that has been bugging me for the entire duration that I’ve been an Apple customer is the absence of an App Store for the Maldives.

This is the Change Country or Region page on iTunes. You can bet that there’s no mention of the Maldives in that dropdown list.

Well, we are just four hundred thousand people here so maybe Apple’s not really interested in marketing to us. Except, you know, they do. Both mobile operators here, Dhiraagu and Ooredoo, have been offering their products for a few years now and I’ve seen the country’s name listed on official Apple pages and even unveiling events. But no  App Store. Seeing that it says, ‘You need a valid method of payment and associated address for a country and region in which iTunes is available‘ on the country selection page for the App Store, I am wondering if Apple expects us Maldivians to use our phones as shiny, overpriced and gimmicky paper weights, or even worse, to make regular calls or send text messages like a bunch of cavemen. Brilliant. Thanks Apple.

Of course, there are workarounds to this limitation. You can always provide a fake US address and get an account with the American store. And if you need to make purchases, I think iTunes gift cards are easily accessible. I was trying to make such a purchase when a customer care agent at the bank helpfully recommended that I change my country to Mali. Sure enough, setting the App Store to the West African nation meant that I can now purchase apps using my credit cards. Apps that I had bought on the British store are no longer available for download but they didn’t charge me when I tried to re-purchase them. Hopefully, this policy will not change.

So if there are relatively easy workarounds, why the heck am I bellyaching about this? Let’s forget that choosing a store outside of the country of one’s residence is probably a breach of the iTunes App Store terms of service (there’s a funny South Park episode on this) for a second and focus on the fact that Apple products are legally marketed and sold here. I know I am probably in the minority of people who think that it’s unscrupulous of Apple and the local telcos to sell their products without legal and convenient means of actually using them.

Anyway, now back to wondering whether I’ll upgrade next year when the iPhone XII comes out… 🤔

On littering

Few things annoy me more than littering. But living here in the Maldives, where we pride ourselves being cleaner than the rest of the subcontinent, I have to contend with this problem everyday.

I’ve asked people why they litter and here are four oft-cited answers.

I. Look around. Everyone else is littering, so why shouldn’t I?

Well, if you’re intent on being an arsehole inconsiderate jerk, then you really you don’t have to be the first one to do something bad. Of course, this is only applicable if you completely ignore that every bit of garbage adds to the place turning into a dump. So never mind creating eyesores or breeding grounds for vectors (e.g. rats and flies)… just don’t be an ar… jerk and not litter, maybe?

Malé (2018). There’s a bin right in front but people wantonly throw rubish onto the ground because everyone else is doing it. Although fairly innocuous, this is also a great example to illustrate the attitude of ‘not my job’ behind littering (below).
Youth City, Hulhumalé (2018). There’s a lot more garbage hidden in the grass. Everyone’s doing it, right?

II. There are no trash bins outside while I’m walking around. Where else am I going to throw my supari wrappers?

Granted that the government really ought to be doing a lot more in terms of placing trash bins outside and especially at public places. Given the lack of resources that this country struggles with, I can imagine that this may be logistically difficult but the government, to their credit, has made improvements over the years. However, even if there are no bins, people should really ask themselves, whether this truly justifies littering.  I recall littering is an offence even here in the Maldives. Now I know not everyone is going to carry a chocolate-smeared ice cream wrapper in hand all over town like I once did but here’s a suggestion… carry a bag if you’re wont to buy stuff out on the road or perhaps, not buy stuff in the first place if you know you’ll end up littering.

Kaashidhoo Island (2014). I am guessing these people pondered the same question but on a larger scale: there are no designated garbage dumps so let’s make the whole island just that!
Addu City (2013). The second most populous region in the country and the place was littered with… well, this. I hope it has become better since then.
Maafushi Island (2015). The recent local tourism boom there clearly didn’t help with the island’s waste problem. Note that there’s basically nothing to keep the waste from washing into the sea — a common sight here.

III. There are people who are employed to pick up my trash so what’s your problem?

Notwithstanding the fact that saying this makes people sound like privileged douchebags who think the world revolves around them, I think, it might be prudent to bear in mind that waste is not picked up immediately after people mindlessly throw it out onto the street. That is, of course, assuming that the government does pick up litter throughout the Maldives, and we all know that that’s not the case. So yeah, a little bit of consideration would go a long way in this regard as well.

Artificial Beach in eastern Malé (2016). Someone dumped this garbage bag right there and I have no idea how long it had been sitting there. Small pieces of trash can be seen lying around despite multiple bins within arm’s reach.

IV. It’s organic/biodegradable so who cares?

There are local laws and international treaties that do care, regardless of the types of waste that’s dumped out. I’ve had former colleagues working in the environmental field chuck things (e.g. pits of fruits) out of moving speedboats and into the ocean saying this.

Villingili Island in North Huvadhoo Atoll (2015). I’ll bet there are more than a handful of those wonderful ciggies in this toxic mess. Note that there’s a rudimentary fence enclosing the area but it’s not going to do anything to prevent leachate from leaking into the surrounding lagoon.

Then there are those people, including an ex-girlfriend, who flicked their cigarette butts into the ocean thinking that “it’s just paper”. Wrong. They are made out of a material called cellulose acetate and that’s a type of polymer plastic. That means that butts would remain in the environment for a while and leach out the toxic chemicals in tobacco that they are designed to capture. They might even end up in the stomachs of aquatic animals and cause acute poisoning. So this isn’t a great idea either.

Waste is one of the biggest developmental challenges that we have… people in the capital produce 1.7 kg per person per day which translates to a conservative estimate of 170 t or 62 million t per year. Now while we don’t really have a safe way to dispose all this waste at the moment, there is something that we can do at a personal level. We can at least stop littering all over the place.

A park in central Malé (2017). This is the cleanest spot I was able to find there. Oh, and note that those are children playing nearby.

 

Sticks and Stones

My mate H recently pointed me to an interesting post on Twitter in which an elderly man (and former civil servant) had lamented the destruction of the ECC (Equatorial Convention Centre) in Addu City and attributed it to the work of a… well, that’s not important for now. The ensuing bickering was.

His word to describe what had been done to the convention centre was ‘rape’, which didn’t sit well with a woman who asked everyone to stop using the offending word in the ‘wrong’ context. I am going to ignore her seeming insolence in doing so and move on with my point.

Of course, the netizens of this country pounced on the opportunity to whip out their dictionaries and point that the noun/verb could in fact be used to describe ‘the wanton destruction or spoiling of a place’. Never mind that rape has three other definitions including a plant of the cabbage family, stalks and skins of grapes after winemaking and ancient divisions of the English county of Sussex. (I wonder if the lady would object to these usages as well…)

Another woman defended the first by claiming how the ‘negative impact’ of the word could trigger rape victims.

Now I don’t think the first woman, or anyone else for that matter, is in a position to define the correct context of a well-known word, and I certainly don’t accept the second woman’s premise that using the noun/verb like this somehow demeans the victims.

I am not oblivious to the implications of what I am going to say next but the behaviour of such people seems to be reminiscent of that of ‘social justice warriors‘ (SJW). Although, it is quite impossible to know whether their outrage stemmed from deep-seated conviction or personal validation, but from my vantage point, this is (demanding for) censorship plain and simple. Proscribing the usage of a specific word simply because it offends someone’s sensibilities and perhaps, world-view certainly doesn’t lend credence to the conviction argument.

To be clear, I am not writing this to admonish anyone, whatever their underlying motivations and intentions were, but I am doing so simply because I am an advocate for freedom of speech and asking someone to stop saying a word is infringing on that. The man had every right to use whatever word that he saw fit as long as it made sense — I would argue that he could’ve used words that didn’t even make sense, although that would be nonsensical. Should he have opted for a less loaded word? Perhaps but I reckon he felt strongly about his message which would explain his choice of expression. Having defended someone’s written words, I must now begrudgingly admit that there are limitations to freedom of speech, which although sacrosanct, must sometimes be curbed when you consider things like hate speech, divulgence of state secrets or defamation of character through libel and slander. What someone deems to be the improper and non-politically correct usage of a common noun/verb ostensibly doesn’t fall under that. (Who died and made anyone the king and arbiter of the proper usage of words, anyway?)

Then what about the victims of this heinous crime against persons? The second woman I mentioned here linked an article describing another woman’s harrowing experiences with sexual assault and how she reacted to the frivolous use of the term after that. Not to sound dismissive or insensitive but this is purely anecdotal and completely subjective. I sympathise with such people and if I am made aware of the circumstances,  I will go out of my way to show a modicum of sensitivity and consideration. It is the decent and humane thing to do… In fact, I apologise profusely if such a person ever stumbles upon this post and is subsequently triggered by the word ‘rape’. However, I still cannot abide by when people mindlessly attack free speech, without which no one could even indulge in such discourse. Nor would I self-censor and for this, I remain unapologetic.

Victims should be protected, no question about that but not at the cost of infringing upon a right that is not only inviolable but also a pillar of modern democracy. I have never been a victim of sexual assault (nor have I ever perpetuated any such crimes) but I would still venture to say that the true disservice to them would be to cocoon them up from so-called offensive words that are uttered innocuously by well-meaning everyday people and then proceed to call them callous. As the old rhyme goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words…” Well, we all know the rest. Words don’t hurt rape victims. Other people do. We should focus on changing that.

Addendum: It seems the first woman had got fed up with the constant barrage of people offering her dictionary definitions and muted her Twitter conversation. This does not redeem someone who thought it fit to police another person’s usage of common language. Anyone who is going to insist on doing this, should grow a tougher skin and be ready to defend their position instead of being petulant about it. But hey, that’s just being accountable for one’s actions and words. Incidentally, that’s what I would do.

 

Typos Abound Vol. I

Spelling mistakes and typos can either be annoying or amusing depending on where they are found. If someone spells separate with three Es in a text message, then that’s a bit annoying, less so if they use apostrophes to denote the plural form of words (e.g. apostrophe’s, now this denotes the possessive form). Over the years, I had got into the habit of taking a photo every time I saw a mistake out in the public that wasn’t on paper, physical or digital. I am hereby presenting the first volume of my findings.

The gelato from… when?

I saw this first entry from the inside of the establishment itself so the letters were inverted. And yet, somehow it irked me. I know, I know… like my sister said when I showed it to her, I need to get a life. But in my defence, this isn’t someone’s text message or God forbid, term paper. This decal was designed by a graphic designer, a tragically confident one in his/her spelling ability, then printed and ultimately set on the glass window; I am guessing at least 2-3 people would’ve been involved in the process. Yet, no one thought that there was something amiss about their rendition of one of the commonest words in the English language. Helpful tip: In older literary works, it was spelt ‘to-morrow’ where morrow simply means the following day.

The stationary bookshop.

This is a fairly common typo to be fair but it is still not entirely forgivable considering that the vehicle belonged to a local bookshop. Oh by the way, it should be stationery, spelt with an e and since it is a mass noun, you don’t need to add the suffix -ies to pluralise it. I’d advise them to pick up a book but where could they possibly find one? It’s not like they are a bookshop. Oh…

Blech! I say… I am not quite sure if this is right recipe for a salt beef!

It grinds my gears when I see ‘milk shake’ written on restaurant menus so imagine my absolute annoyance horror when I saw this next entry. We should gather all these errant, sand-loving label makers and burn them at the stake! That ought to teach them a lesson or two. By the way, this breaded delicacy was eponymously attributed to the indolently aristocratic John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich. Now this is a bloke with a legacy!

Every drop c… hey, careful with that spelling!

Not a spelling mistake but the first thing I thought when I saw this sign way back in 2012 was, ‘That o is a rather risky letter to replace with a graphic of a blood drop…’ Seeing that this graffiti was advertising a blood drive, I must say that people who donate are definitely heroes and not… well… c💧unts. Sorry, couldn’t resist. [Note to self: replace droplet with a blood drop if Unicode 12.0 incorporates it in 2019]

They accept all blood types. And spellings, too.

I tweeted this image a while ago and much to my chagrin, the caption was ‘You have to be a special sort of anal-retentive grammar Nazi to spot a spelling mistake here’. Call it my brand of self-deprecating humour. Hah! Of course, it’s not a spelling mistake per se; not if one opts for the more simplified American version of these sanguine words and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I was taught that it is indeed considered a mistake when you can’t quite make up your mind on the spelling — and within the same document, too. As for why exactly I am picking on the Maldivian Blood Service… well, thalassaemia, like related haemolytic terms such as anaemia, should be spelt with double vowels (they got the much more complex haemoglobinopathy right) when writing in British English — which is the sort of English that we are taught and largely use here. That is unless, of course, you can’t be arsed to change the default proofing language on Microsoft Word (American English) and all your documents end up spelling the noun as ‘color’. Ugh. Insufferable, I know…

Aluminium has no qualms (with spelling).

I am nitpicking again but this one is a bit special even though it is along the same vein as the previous entry. I once got into an argument with someone when she insisted that there weren’t two spellings and accompanying pronunciations of the lightweight metal aluminium. She was so confident that she bet anything on it. Of course, the more sensible among us know that Americans spell it without the second and they say /ə-ˈlü-mə-nəm/ instead of the much more elegant sounding British /al(j)ʊˈmɪnɪəm/. Oh, as for what I won, it was a kiss and I collected… with interest nonetheless.

Well, at least they got the first and last letters right.

The final entry is a street sign in Malé and it’s in romanised Dhivehi but I would still consider it a spelling mistake. We all make them… spelling mistakes, typos, gaffes, and whatnot, but few of us have them set in ruddy stone. Like a commemorative plaque reminding us that maybe, sometimes, we should spell-check.  This was from 2014, so I am wondering if the concerned authority has corrected the misspelt word Magu (street) yet. As for who that is, given the bureaucratic nightmare our government is, it’s probably the blood bank people.

I know I am being pedantic and a bit of a captious arsehole what with the absurd premise of this post but I should point out that it was written in the spirit of having a laugh about the whole thing. I used to go around pointing spelling (and grammar) mistakes but then a friend apprised me of not everyone wishing to have them pointed out, and certainly not by a priggish twat. (My words. His sentiments. Probably). Which made sense, to be honest, and since then, I have ceased this infernal business of providing unsolicited lingual advice. Of course, I am not one of those people who’d rather stick their head into the ground and ignore their errant spellings. I am painfully aware that I, too, make mistakes and all the time. Some of those mistakes aren’t even committed on paper — imagine in real life — and yet, I am grateful for everyone who has deigned bothered to show them to me. Yes, it is sometimes embarrassing, I freely admit that, and some people can be less than gracious or solicitous when doing so but still… how else could anyone possibly learn, right?

This post celebrates the life (and the countless mistakes) of my chum, the extraordinary Scumbag Philosopher. I wrote this thinking that you’d enjoy it, so consider it a belated birthday present, you decrepit, pusillanimous wanker.

Help with Assignments?

A friend called me yesterday and said that her colleague needed help with a college assignment. I suspected where this was heading but warily agreed… I made sure that I stressed on that particularly verb ‘help’.

My suspicion was confirmed when this colleague sent me her presentation slides and assignment brief in the mail. She then called me and casually asked whether I could do her assignment for her and if I was going to charge. Despite her cavalier attitude of going about this somewhat irking me, I told her that I needed to think it over and hung up. Then I debated with myself whether to tell her that I was not going to help her cheat and (potentially) commit academic fraud or come up with some cockamamy story. Ultimately, I just texted and told her that I was too busy. I didn’t want to seem too priggish. Well, at least not to a stranger.

Of course, this is not the first time that I have been asked to help someone cheat on their university or school essays. I have always maintained my integrity and unequivocally refused, no matter how close I am with the person asking me. I made sure that I offered help but I am not going to sit down and do someone else’s work for them. It’s cheating, plain and simple, and I refuse to participate! It’s a matter of principle, after all.

Then I began to wonder just how widespread this practice is and started some light reading. There’s this website in Australia that’s actually offering professional, plagiarism proof works for a fee. The universities are naturally trying to shut it down, while students there had paid over $160,000 for these bespoke essays. Over in the United Kingdom, figures point to 20,000 students who had done this and, shockingly, a third of them were from Russell Group (including Oxbridge) universities.

Personal ethics and breach of university rules aside, I wondered if this phenomena of using ‘essay mills’ was, in fact, legal. In Australia and the UK at least, it seems to be just that (although not in New Zealand). Which would explain why The Telegraph estimated that the industry around this was worth £100 million. The UK is considering deploying their Fraud Act (2006) and prosecuting these companies that facilitate contract cheating. Frankly, I think they really should. I can’t think of any other word to describe this heinous act but fraud, really. Students on the other hand, well, the universities are equipped to deal with them through legal means if they find out that the student’s submitted work is not their own.

What about right here in the Maldives then? Well, a cursory search on the local ibay website yielded at least three dozen results for people who were offering to ‘help’ for MVR 500, presumably for each essay (screenshot of the first page of results). I am sure that the universities and colleges here are aware of this but what exactly are they doing to address this issue, I can’t help but wonder. And then there’s the matter of why people cheat in the first place. Elsewhere, the amount of course work and increased competition from hyper-competitive international students are a factor but surely not here. Are people simply too busy to put in their honest work?

To end this brief foray into the murky depths of this seedy business, which no one seems to treat as such, and at the risk of sounding a bit preachy, I must conclude that everyone should listen to their guts when enlisting the help of someone else with their academic work. If you’re submitting something bearing your name, regardless of the context, then it stands to reason that the effort that it took to produce said something should be your own, too. So should all the rewards, and yes, even the risks. The worst case scenario for the latter, if it’s an academic essay, would be a simple instruction to ‘do over’ and you get to learn from your mistakes, retain your honour and integrity. You’ll manage to do that while preserving the standards of higher education and especially that of your institute.

On Haunted and how good it is.

Now the genre of horror has always been a hit or miss for me. That has been the case ever since I started watching stuff. Of course, horror literature is a different matter altogether and maybe I’ll write about them in a different post but yeah, movies like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby are all time favourites of mine. There are others like The Thing that fall into the broad category of horror but I am in the mood to write about supernatural horror tonight. And for good reason.

I just finished watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. And I was completely blown away. I did read a good chunk of the book a few years ago so I don’t remember much of the lot but I think the show is a loose adaptation. You know, you really can’t have the verb ‘haunting’ in the title without invoking terrifying images and there are plenty of those here. Those include the ever-present staple of the whole genre, those dastardly jump scares but I didn’t feel like any of those in this show were gimmicky. Not in the slightest. As for the show’s brand of horror itself, at one point mid-way through the series, the events unfurling on my screen were so… unbelievably taxing and emotionally draining and yes, even horrific, I honestly had to take a breather and go outside before continuing later. I was glad that I saw that bit while it was still broad daylight. It’s remarkable how the show’s creators were able to achieve this without using buckets of blood and the usual Hollywood trope of torture porn. This is unadulterated psychological terror.

Anyway, despite its premise of horror, I think at the crux of it, Haunting is just a family drama. An extraordinarily good one at that. I don’t really want to talk too much about the plot because that probably risks venturing into spoiler territory, but the show manages to capture the complicated nature of adult members of a family, which most people, including myself can relate to. Of course, what we can’t find a frame of reference for is the events tied to the titular house which all the characters lived in when they were younger. As I said, this is about family and at times, the thematic exploration of parents and siblings is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching.

My mate, who had seen Haunting a few days ago and then pestered me to finish watching it after, remarked that it is brilliantly shot, too. I noticed this in many key scenes and I think anyone would appreciate the visuals associated with the creepy ambience of both interior and exterior shots. Especially of that damned house. Of course, the haunting visuals are accompanied by a quaint soundtrack which is more than fitting.

Now I don’t normally like non-linear narrative storytelling, but this show uses it to near perfection. Of course, that’s a nod to the writing staff. Inexplicable things, that you would expect in a supernatural story, are peppered into its ten episodes but the reason behind them are similarly thrown in in a seemingly haphazard manner. And what’s weird and wonderful is that doing so doesn’t detract from the story.

And then there’s the casting of the show, I really can’t praise the group of actors that carried this horrifying tale. My (stupid) sister was thrilled because some heartthrob stars in it but almost none of the actors left me wanting for more. Not just the ones behind principal characters and they include very small children, but even the supporting cast were ridiculously good. There were many times throughout the show when I found myself on the verge of tears… this just reinforces my earlier point that this, after all, a damn good drama.

Now that I am done ranting about Haunting, it just struck me that this is the first time that I have felt this way about a television show. In fact, I am thoroughly convinced that Haunting, is far, the absolute epitome of the genre of supernatural horror… at least on television. Netflix and the show’s producers have set a high bar, in deed. Well, at least for me.

Aslu kihineiiy?

This morning I stumbled upon a web platform Aslu Kihineiiy [How Are You Really?] where Maldivians could ‘express themselves without hesitation or fear’. The site turned out to be something created by the Maldivian Red Crescent’s Villimalé Unit and in connection with the World Mental Health Day. I thought it was a cool idea and dove right in but I quickly realised I was way in over my head (but I’ll get to that in a bit). There was a bloke who was having trouble with peer pressure when it came to drinking (a big no-no in a country of teetotallers — well, at least out in the public). One person ‘helpfully’ suggested that he should simply leave his friends. My suggestion, I think, was a bit more nuanced than that as I advised him that, perhaps, he should talk to his mates about his aversion and reasons for it, hoping that they would respect him and his decision.

Okay, moving right on. The next post was from a woman who described her marriage as loveless. One commenter quipped about the reason why she had managed to have two kids in such a relationship and I quickly reminded him/her that we really ought not to judge others without understanding their full stories. Yeah, I was helping with the dialogue. This felt good!

The next post was from a kid who was apparently being bullied (they were calling him rand’u or effeminate — a common taunt here, unfortunately) and telling his mum about it only escalated the issue because she complained to the teacher who was probably ill-equipped to deal with the situation. I didn’t know how to respond to this but I still wanted to help so I forwarded the link to a friend who works with families. I also suggested the site developers to provide a link where people could get help.

Later in the day, I came across a post from someone who expressed concern about an issue that had occurred to me earlier but I had dismissed it for whatever reason. The problem of moderation. Now this sort of open platform attracted not just the people who needed to express themselves but also some not-so-helpful types. Trolls for instance. Apparently some arseholes were going around calling depressed people ‘weak’ and I realised that this sort of behaviour would only increase as the platform became more popular.

This was when I realised that the site’s developers had opened Pandora’s box. I am a huge advocate for free speech, (everyone is entitled to their opinion even if it’s not exactly agreeable, or even helpful for that matter), but at the same time, the mindless (and sometimes crass) comments of someone could be read by a deeply vulnerable person… I didn’t know how moderators were going to juggle between those two paradigms or what ethical measures they would use to screen out pernicious comments from ones that were helpful. I had just finished typing that as a comment when I realised how an untrained person could unwittingly do damage although their intentions were genuine. Like mine were.

At this point, I couldn’t, in good conscience, be responsible for potentially hurting someone in this manner. I wrote this down in a comment and someone suggested that perhaps people who quit [the platform] were being apathetic. I, somewhat defensively, wrote back and said that that was far from the truth but I simply could not risk hurting anyone. I had always lived by the principle of ‘doing no harm’. This person also suggested that perhaps the platform was some sort of experiment to “see if the benefits out weight [sic] the bad”. I thought about this for a while and decided that I couldn’t stand by an experiment where the subjects were the most vulnerable people in our society.

Some of the people (whose comments) that I had seen on this site sounded downright suicidal and in dire need of professional help. Knowing this, I didn’t think that accepting the premise that the moderators were acting on good faith (alone) was enough to risk doing potential harm. Wilfully or otherwise. I wrote that the moderators, needed to be trained professionals, or at the very least,  trained by them to handle the influx of comments. It would also be helpful if their guidance policies were published on the site, too, so users would have an idea of what they should and shouldn’t say. Until such times, I think I am going to keep the site at arms length although I do wish I could’ve been more involved.