Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meanwhile, in Malaysia...

So apparently Malaysia is rocking out on the social change these last few days...  Not so much for the better, I'm afraid.  The other day, my BBC World News feed treated me to a story about Malaysia deciding to incorporate BMI into students' report cards, then the following day, I read about an anti-gay camp for, get this, THIRTEEN TO SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD BOYS who are accused of "acting feminine."  I don't even know where to start!  I suppose I'll tackle them chronologically.

Now, admittedly, the first article, Malaysia obesity campaign targets students, might have slipped right past my radar were it not for certain contextual factors surrounding it.  After all, obesity can lead to some very serious health problems, and schools getting involved in the health and wellbeing of their students can’t be bad, can it?
It can when that involvement draws on pseudoscience like the BMI for its declarations of obesity.  While I can’t speak for other countries’ inhabitants, I can say if you’ve grown up in the US, it’s likely that you’re vaguely familiar with BMI, even if you don’t remember quite how to calculate it.  This is a measurement that’s been around since the late 19th century.  However, as NPR brought to light nearly two years ago, “There is no physiological reason to square a person's height (Quetelet had to square the height to get a formula that matched the overall data. If you can't fix the data, rig the formula!). Moreover, it ignores waist size, which is a clear indicator of obesity level” (NPR 2009).  In just a quick Google search for BMI and obesity, I was able to turn up quite a few articles both before and after the NPR piece suggesting that use of the BMI to judge the individual was misguided at best, and outright useless at worst.

This creates a two-fold problem, or perhaps a vicious cycle, depending on how you care to read it.  If a child is deemed obese by this archaic and physiologically nonsensical system, it is bound to have a psychological impact on the child.  Some kids are more resilient than others, maybe they won’t be bothered.  Some children, however, are bound to become insecure about their weight at the accusation of obesity.  It’s bad enough for a child to develop a complex about weight if they should be tracking it for health reasons, but to cause a child with no real risk factors to obsess about their weight?  Sounds like a recipe for eating disorders to me.
Even if these children are secure enough not to be distressed by a number, other kids can be cruel.  Although the numbers will be on their report cards, such information has a way of circulating back to the playground eventually.  Maybe the parents of the child whose BMI indicates obesity start sending dramatically different food to school with them.  Maybe zie is suddenly prohibited from buying lunch at school.  Maybe zie gets called to the nurse’s office.  Maybe the kids simply begin taunting each other, bragging about particularly low or average BMI, as this is apparently what’s being valued suddenly (despite the fact that an individual purporting Malaysian heritage claimed on the Facebook feed for this article that slightly above “average” weight was smiled upon by hir culture) and terrorizing those with higher BMI.  There are plenty of ways for this information to inadvertently become public knowledge among hir peers, and once that happens, there’s only so much an anti-bullying seminar will do.

The other thing that really got my hackles up about this article was, in truth, not the article at all, but its reception on the feed where I encountered it.  In an effort to be a responsible citizen of the world, I’ve rolled some news feeds into my Facebook, including NPR and BBC World News, the latter being the source of both articles I’m tackling today.  (T/W fat-hatred) The response to this article far surpassed simple cultural ignorance and superiority complex straight into fat-hatred.  The original article states that “Malaysian cuisine is full of deep-fried, oily and spicy dishes … [and] coconut milk” (BBC World News Apr 19), but much of the blame in the comment feed is placed on traditional American junkfood, like Hostess and Little Debbie products.  One poster goes so far as to suggest, “THIS IS A EPICDEMIC WORSE THAN THE CRACK PIPE OR THE NEEDLE WE NEED TO PUT A END TO THIS MONSTER!” (emphasis original) (Facebook April 19).  Obviously, as anyone with an ounce of knowledge of appropriate Netiquette knows, this person is trolling the thread, but that’s not the point.  The point is that the majority of these comments are not productive in any way; on the contrary, many are completely destructive.

The following day, still childishly checking my email every time my Blackberry blinks to see if a more experienced blogger will tackle the article I’ve just finished discussing, the anti-gay camp article comes up.  Again, there are so many issues present in the article from a humanist perspective that I hardly know where to begin. As I mentioned, these 66 boys were selected to attend this camp on the basis that they were “acting feminine.”  The article fails to state just what that means, because apparently those making the judgment call about this behavior failed to specify what constitutes “feminine mannerisms,” too.  The camp is supposed to be in the boys’ best interest, and is supposedly not compulsory.  This is a clear cut case of institutional homophobia: “State officials say that, if left unchecked, the students - aged between 13 and 17 - could end up gay or transsexual” (BBC World News April 20).  Yet, at the same time, according to women's minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who is a member of the Malaysian cabinet, "the camp violates the Child Act, which protects children without prejudice" (BBC World News April 20).  As with any camp or program that claims it can “change” an individual’s sexual orientation, this camp is bound to do more harm than good.  It’s a basic human rights violation, and at its core, it’s institutionalized bullying.

And just what do these educators expect the reception to be like for students who attended, or declined the “invitation” to these camps?  In a society where homosexual intercourse is illegal and “homosexuals say they face discrimination from government policies such as a law that makes sodomy punishable by 20 years in prison” (BBC World News April 20), it is unlikely at best that other students will simply shrug off the fact that these boys have been labeled as “potential gays.”  These boys have already been targeted by their educators, people who are supposed to be invested in their growth and best interest; it is almost a certainty that their peers’ perceptions of them will be negatively affected by this.

In addition to peers’ perceptions, these camps will also impact how these boys view themselves.  As if it isn’t bad enough growing up in a culture that tells you that your sexual feelings are unnatural, aberrant, and even against the law, now they are being paraded about as deviants and told again how wrong their feelings are.  All this does is inspire self-loathing and encourage “passing” as heterosexual to gain acceptance, a phenomenon better known as being “in the closet.”

Let’s hope the anti-bullying initiatives are as strong in Malaysia as they have been recently in the US.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Ordinarily, I won't post twice in a day.  Hell, I can hardly commit to twice in a month.  I mean to post when I'm moved to do so.  The previous post was sparked by the sheer amount of effort involved in creating this venue for the very post I am making now.  Why is it hours later?  Well, unexpected lunch with Mum and reluctance to post twice in a day when, as I have already said, it's not going to be my modus operandi.

Now, where was I?  Yes, the internet killing the internet.  These days, people like to get all bent out of shape about new tech killing off old tech in some way or other, or how the internet is killing the English language or whathaveyou.  A good deal of it is Henny Penny-esque rubbish about how the sky is falling.  Back in my day, we had DIAL-UP internet, it took a MONTH to download a whole movie that only played at a grainy 480x360 (which, incidentally, is the display size of a Blackberry Torch), and we LIKED IT!  Now get off my lawn!  You see what I'm saying here?

However, I lead in with a mocking hyperbole to address something much more serious.  Some of you may recall the affair of early last year concerning a youngish Englishman, a poorly thought out tweet, and a whole lot of debate over intent.  In February of 2010, Paul Chambers was arrested for tweeting, "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!" which the South Yorkshire police deemed "grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003."  Now, mind, there are a lot of issues at play here, and no one particular thing can be singled out as being entirely to blame, except perhaps the incredible power of human stupidity.

Twitter, in case you've been hanging out under an even bigger rock than I have over the last several years, is the most condensed to date form of social network spam.  I'm sure the nice folks responsible for this blight on the face of the internet wouldn't care for my characterizations of it so far, but I can't honestly say I care too much.  Following on the heels of the wildly successful social networking megasite that made us all say, "WHOSEspace?  I'm on Facebook now," Twitter hit the social networking scene in 2006, two years after Facebook's humble beginnings, but still a few months ahead of its transformation into the all-inclusive networking giant it has become.  Twitter allows you up to 140 characters to get your point across, whatever that may be.  140 characters?  Really?  Just "Back in my day, we had DIAL-UP internet, it took a MONTH to download a whole movie that only played at a grainy 480x360 (which, incidentally, is the display size of a Blackberry Torch), and we LIKED IT!" would be too much for a limit so strict.  That single sentence clocks in at a whopping 202 characters; 62 characters over the established limit of a tweet.  You're probably beginning to understand why I don't use the service.

Once in a while, a 140-character-or-less gem comes along and simply must be shared with no context at all.  Such incidents have a tendency to be what we refer to as inside jokes.  If I were to shout, "THIS IS *NOT* A DRILL!" there is a small group of my friends who would laugh, but most of the rest of them would either need to hear the story, or would only find the short exclamation humorous because I told them the story around when it happened.   Sometimes, brief statements require greater context to be funny, or insightful, or even simply to make sense.  Sometimes, *gasp*, humor is lost in translation!

C'mon, guy, this is the internet.  Get real.  You cannot tell me that someone who has had the internet for more than about five minutes hasn't had some kind of misunderstanding based on social cues, or lack thereof, present in a text based communication.  If my friend texts me something and I feel compelled, for some strange reason, to go all 90s and exclaim, "Shut up!" in reply, depending on whether or not this is normal for me (hint: it's not), my friend may then, and justifiably so, become quite incensed with me for being an insensitive wretch.  So, in this media sensationalized world where everyone is a lurking terrorist, I can't BEGIN to imagine what would possess a man to tweet that he wants to blow up an airport.  Seriously?

However, had he chosen to blog about the shortcomings of the system that caused the airport to be closed, this story would likely have progressed very differently than it has.  Not knowing the details myself, it would be difficult for me to successfully mock the system, or even effectively complain about it, but being that he was expecting to make use of the airport, I would imagine he would be aware of why he was prevented from doing so.  As it stands, he was found guilty in May of last year and is still working through the appeals process.

The moral of this story?  Firing off a quick, and pithy, if you do say so yourself, complaint about your local transportation hub isn't as brilliant, or pithy, as it probably first seems.  More detail-oriented forms of communication will never be completely eliminated by things like tweets because sometimes, you just want to make sure you're not going to be arrested and fined for that joke you just cracked.

Open letter to the internets:

First, an admission.

I am as guilty as anyone of wasting space on the internet.  I have begun more websites than I can keep an honest tally of at this point, and abandoned all.  One of them, frankly, wasn't ENTIRELY my fault; my (parents') isp changed up some policies, I missed the memo (as a minor child at the time), lost access to my webspace, and haven't quite worked out how to get it back.  Continuing in this frank trend, I'd really LIKE to get back into that one, as it's home to an incomplete project that I wouldn't mind finishing and to some things that I'd quite like to remove.  Foolish youth.  I've had multiple active online personas since I've had the internet, but I can't say I've always exercised the best judgment concerning keeping them separated. *cue Offspring riff*

With all of that said, however, there is one thing out there in internets land that is an ENORMOUS pet peeve of mine.  It's something you encounter in many facets of web life, be you blogger, gamer, enterprising entrepeneur, casual emailer, or anything else.  This obnoxious phenomenon is known as ... well, it doesn't have a name, but it should!  For lack of an existing term, I shall call it Name Wasting.  Name Wasting is every unused email address, every single-post or empty blog, every under level 10 character that hasn't been logged into since Vanilla.  To Blizzard's credit, at least THEY will do something about the WoW example I've cited.

It took me hours to come up with the name and address for this blog.  There were a couple of legitimately used blogs that merely annoyed me in their content and the audacity to use my awesome idea for their terribly uninteresting/trite/trendy/god-y blog.  I will respectfully avoid referencing these directly.  There are some, much to my annoyance, who have chosen to use an awesome address on BLOGGER for their personal internet diary.  Hay guise, LiveJournal is THAT way <-----.  The following, however, infuriate me to a point where I can't be arsed to care about putting them under fire.  YOU MADE ONE DAMNED POST, AND IT WAS YEARS AGO!  HAVE SOME BLASTED CONVICTION!  Or, worse yet, YOU NEVER EVEN MADE A DAMNED POST!  WHO THE HELL STARTS A BLOG AND DOESN'T POST ANYTHING?! - Absolutely ZERO content. - Not only empty, but incorrectly subtitled as a compendium of "random pros[sic], poems, and musings."  *sigh* I suppose they at least get points for the Oxford Comma?  Nope.  No points.  Not unless for some strange reason this WAS meant to combine some sort of professionals with (likely) sad attempts at depth and the odd rambling. - Nothing here but an offensively hideous layout; I'm torn between hoping that it's a Blogger default, because then at least they didn't put more time into that atrocity than they did into the text, and hoping against hope that it isn't a default because I cannot begin to fathom why someone would deem that aesthetically pleasing enough to warrant mass-use. - Your typical twittering "about me" introduction from another of the internet's special snowflakes who may be laboring under the false pretense that gamer boys are actually correct when they say there are no girls on the internet.  For a thirty-something by the name of Scout, she could sure use some tips on not sounding like a teenage girl that has just learned how to make her mysterious and intriguing life a matter of public record.  Oh, and did I mention that in addition to sounding like a teenage girl pretending to be older for some bullshit credibility or similar nonsense, the lone entry is 5 and a half bloody years old? - Tried this AFTER proved unavailable, and TOTALLY would have used it.  This one proved more entertaining than my other disappointments as it contained a series of comments entreating the author to either get her slacker arse blogging or to surrender the excellent domain.  In nearly seven years neither has occurred, sadly. - The subtitle says it all, really.  Simply "Stupid Blogger."  Yes, yes you are.  "ahhhhhhhhh. there is nothing to do" is neither a good reason to start a blog nor a valid blog post.  It's a pretty pathetic tweet, for chrissakes.  TEN YEARS THIS MAY. - Tearing a page from an old friend's book in desperation to find SOMETHING that, well, wasn't taken, and, of course, it was.  Taken, I mean.  Wasted on a one-line entry that will be NINE YEARS OLD tomorrow.

An amused, but less frothing-at-the-mouth mention goes to  Yes, in my ire over being unable to obtain any of the scores of excellent blog addresses I wanted, I punched in yourmom to see what would come up, and so help me, if it was free, I was GOING to use it.  But it wasn't.  It, too, has been abandoned for years, but at least this one saw SOME use in its day.  Looks more like something that belongs on LiveJournal, or maybe even DeadJournal, than Blogger, but hey, 10 years is a LOOOOOONG time in internet years, so maybe it's more excusable; perhaps this was a time before Blogger went legit.  Bonus lulz because in the most recent "entry" she critiques a 17 year old girl for being pretentious in the way that only a 17 year old can be, while writing like she's not much older.  Yeah, most 17 year olds don't live with their boyfriend so when they break up it's less weird and life-altering, but seriously, woman?  Pot, meet kettle.  You know the rest.

And I'll cut it there, meekly acknowledging that I may already have taken the flying leap past where the gag is still funny.  Seriously, people, do you not understand that awesome addresses are a finite resource?  All of the clutter and nonsense I referenced in my opening admission?  TIED TO WEBHANDLES.  We're talking addresses like  Who in their right mind is going to go after an address like that?  Not to mention the fact that Angelfire had housekeeping built right into their terms of service, so if you made a site and dropped off the face of the planet, someone else could eventually claim your domain.

This is the beginning of the end of the internet that we're looking at here.  There are only so many possible, intelligible letter and number combinations out there in the world, and while the more mathematically savvy among you may argue that the number is still so great as to approach the infinite, I would urge you to remember also how many people in this world have internet access.  Then, as an internet user yourself, obviously, please also consider your impression of a web handle like dqxwv11.  Probably a spammer, right?  Maybe someone phishing for your valuable identity information.  Maybe just some troll who couldn't be bothered to register properly to do their trolling.  All in all, it's unlikely to be anyone worth your time.  Assuming we discount nonsensical combinations such as the aforementioned, keep the character limit to, oh, let's go with AIM and say 16, and, for the sake of argument, let's also avoid leet speak.  That makes your pool of potential addresses/handles a hell of a lot smaller than the near-infinite supply of sheer randomness.

So please, before you jump headlong into TEH BLOGOSPHERE, consider whether or not this is something you will actually pursue.  Hell, test the waters.  Post a few entries.  Notice how obsessively and compulsively your chosen blog host saves your every word (I'm estimating about 30 seconds to a minute between saves right now and I'm just watching it autosave as I type).  But in the name of all that is good about the internet, if you get bored, PLEASE DELETE YOUR BLOG!