Once upon a time, there was a coastal town stretched like strip along a sandy beach, with a shy creek in the middle. The inhabitants of this town were of mixed origins and various cultures, but the common denominator among them was their thirst for technology. They loved their gadgets and devices to the degree of worship, but they also craved the human connection. However, there's nothing the devices can't help you with. Sites, were you can display pictures and update ‘statuses’, were relied upon to provide that connection. Soon enough, a large contingent of the population were wholeheartedly immersed in the online networking experience. Updating, checking their friends' updates, chatting and typing furiously on their mobile devices wherever they were, and as frequently as they could, while the creek sat there heaving and receding with its shy tidal waves.
Capitalizing on the success of bringing people together, the active members of the online community sought to exploit this popularity by a number of different means, depending on areas of interests and common concerns. People who were crazy about shopping exchanged notes and pictures of display windows. Individuals who were compulsive eaters exchanged pictures and recipes. Banking services, statutory procedures and medicinal concoctions were rated, reviewed and analyzed, through updates and replies and, the more private and secure, direct messages.
One area of concern for the residents of this town was speeding camera. The traffic police, cognizant of the rising number of traffic accidents and fatalities, had deployed massive number of speed-cameras, mobile and stationery. The speed cameras, wicked devices themselves, reduced accidents and generated some revenue. But human nature is inclined towards speed and oblivious of the repercussions. When social networking websites had become as popular as they were ever going to be (with at least 50 percent of the population connected to, plugged in, wired in, hooked and tethered to the web one way or the other), one active mind on the social sphere had an idea.
What if we took advantage of our mobile devices to beat the mobile speed cameras? After all, knowledge is power. And there's nothing more efficient in beating the mobile radars than an army of volunteer, mobile informants. If you know for sure where the mobile cameras are, you can either avoid them or preempt them by slowing down well before location. The active minds came up with something called a 'hash tag'; a predefined common word after a hash symbol '#'. The whole concept relied on the reporting thoroughness. And, being the wiseasses that they were, the active minds understood that if everyone online was just a recipient of information, eventually no one would receive any.
So reporting was encouraged.
After the concept gathered momentum and popularity, the reporting breadth and extensiveness covered almost the entire town. There was not a single mobile radar that wasn’t picked up on the network and which location and malice was broadcast to the grid. It was an amusing case of rule-reversal. The law enforcement division responsible for revenue collection noticed the sharp drop. The policemen operating the radars noticed the drop. It was first thought that the radars are not being hidden well enough. but no matter how creative and surreptitious the placement was, no radar was able to pick up more than two or three speeding vehicles, before all those behind them fell to well below speed limits. Pretending to be the thoughtful, scrupulous drivers that they were actually not.
The hash-tag in question grew more and more popular. And the revenues suffered acute falls. But accidents also rose. Partly because people were now more distracted by the informative hash-tag while they were driving, and partly because mobile cameras lost their edge of surprise.
The hash-tag had become the talk of the town. Even to the point where drivers of public transport buses check it out on a frequent basis. Even passengers riding the metro had a quick look at it while on-board, to see if they could steal a glimpse of a policeman crouching with his radar gun behind a hedge on a road edge. It was celebrated, blogged about, even attempted to be made a global trending topics. After all, the netizens have won. They should consolidate their win by a TT. They even went to the extent of thinking about a dedicated account with a full time employee to collate info, but then they dropped the idea since it bellied the ghostly, dynamic and illusive spirit of the hash-tag.
But the popularity of the hash tag also meant it was impossible to keep it away from the knowledge of the authorities. The police were eventually made aware of it. Some of them even availed themselves of its services while off duty. But those were the minority. The majority of law enforcement officers were unnerved by it. It was virtually impossible to deploy radars all over town. If the hash tag wasn’t dealt with, there was going to be some unsightly consequences.
The creek heaved and sighed and rose and fell. And accidents kept rising.
A group of nervous traffic policemen brought the subject before the police commander-in-chief. A man who’s known for his calm and his acumen. He digested the problem and asked for a suggestion. One hesitant officer proposed blocking the website. But the chief was not prepared to do that. For he knew that such websites brought the good with them along with the bad. And besides, online groups like "Citizens For Preserving The Wilderness of The Internet", "Don’t Retweet if You Can’t Stand The Heat" and "Cyber Bullies United" were powerful enough to cause a public uproar in case of a block. He concluded the meeting by asking for a report to be prepared and sent to him, explaining the mechanisms and the workings of the social networking website in details. The officers were puzzled; here we’re telling him about a serious threat to our road safety, and he wants to learn how the website works?
But orders were orders. And soon enough a report was made. The commander in chief read it and then thought for an hour. He then called the head of his IT department and asked for additional tasks to be assigned to his 100 strong employees. Rotating shifts on 24 hours basis or even taking fully compensated overtime. The Commander-in-chief explained what he wanted them to do. A thin smile of recognition spread on the face of IT specialist on the other end of the line. He hung up and set his men to work.
The next morning something eerie and incomprehensible was unfolding in the cyber sphere. The social networking website was abuzz with activity. The speed cameras hash-tag much more active than ever before. Speed cameras were reported on virtually every corner of the city. And then denied. And then reported again. And then denied again. Traffic came to standstill at some places while drivers with gaping mouths started in disbelief at the unraveling drama on their little screens.
But better be safe than sorry. They stuck to speed limits for the day, leaving it to the active minds to pinpoint the flaws and sort out the problems of the dysfunctional hash-tag. Those proposed a new hash-tag, to be used with the start of business hours the next day. The bulk of online dwellers have been informed. Everyone slept happily with the prospect of a new, unblemished hash tag in their minds.
However, the next day was no different. Again, reports about speed cameras were far more than usual. The virtual image they drew was of a town with a network of roads with more radars studded on them than the there are trees in the amazons. And again, ‘peeps’ were deeply troubled by the uselessness of their precious hash-tag. They had no choice but to again stick to speed limits for the day. And this they did. Hoping the active minds would address the problem that was now more serious that it had first appeared to be.
But the active minds were more perplexed than their statuses would let on. They hypothesized, debated, argued with and cursed each other. They followed and unfollowed and threw hints left and right. Alliances formed and fault-lines emerged and groupism snuck its ugly face to the surface. The hash-tag was in a serious threat of a complete meltdown.
One such active member was keeping quite the entire day. Except for a silly line of poetry and a 4square check-in at a pub in the afternoon, he’d not joined in the whirlwind of discussion. Eventually, his absence was noticed and 'peeps' started worrying and asking his whereabouts and his advice.
The said active member, however, was hunched protectively over a bottle of fine European beer. Deep in thought. He had been analyzing the problem for the last three hours. Tossing ideas and testing them for loopholes and flimsy logic. Eventually, he concluded that the hash-tag, and all other and related future hash-tags, were gone forever. And for a simple reason.
The commander in chief was from a military background. He knew about the art of war. He knew his adversaries’ edge was their possession of information. And if you can’t cut off the flow, then you may as well resort to the oldest, most underestimated trick in the book: disinformation.
The commander had instructed his little battalion of IT technicians to inundate the now deceased hash tag with bogus information. Each one of them made up a dozen fake accounts and then worked on making them look normal, following each other back and forth, until they looked legit. Until they matched the criss-crossed, incestuous networking pattern of the larger community. And they were impossible to detect. All risqué updates and bios replete with words about guruism and entrepreneurship. Who was going to make them? Once they started their false reporting, the net of speed cameras was virtually spread all over town. And they were going to stay that way till eternity.
The half-drunk active member of the city's online community whipped out his blackberry from his back pocket. Some 3500 notifications told him he had as much mentions, direct messages and chat boxes active. He ignored them all and went to his status update box and typed the following short message and hit ‘Send’:
“for get it guys…. hash tag is fucked. Just stick to speed limits. Or take a mortgage on the house & go pay fines. OK?! #IDontGiveAShit”
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I translated parts of a shocking and eye-opening investigative report which was published in the supplement of Arabic Al Bayan newspaper yesterday.
(This is Egypt in the 21 century, by the way.)
Marriage at police stations, stories that will leave you teary eyed
What a perplexing and bizarre thing to be happening.... As it's well known, according to Sharia, law and tradition, it's the marriage contract first and then the wedding, accompanied by celebration of all involved. But what the following stories reveal to us is that sometimes the wedding [I believe the writer here is alluding to the sexual intercourse that takes place on the wedding night], precedes the marriage contract, forcefully, under the sad and silent stare of all involved.
No one can imagine the bitterness those who're forced into marriages in police station experience. It's where their dreams are shattered and hopes are crushed and future is destroyed. Their eyes sinking in waves of tears as they realize the darkness that lies ahead. A stark contrast to what they were planning and hoping for. They suddenly realize they'll live a painful life at the constant threat of divorce. No choice in this life but to wait and hope. Their stories are all replete with tears and miseries and heartbreak.
How could this girl marry the guy who'd brutally raped her? How can she live with him?
This is what Asma, 23 years old from Mansoura (the delta of Egypt), asked after narrating her story.
"After I finished work one day I headed to main street and waved a taxi to take me home. I'd fallen into the habit of writing the number plate of all the veihcles I ride on my mobile phone. And this one was no exception. There were two men sitting out front, so I sat in the back. After a while they both started giggling in muted voices and looking at me furtively. I got suspecious and asked the driver to take his fare and stop to let me out.... but his laughing only got louder, and the other man joined in, too.
I tried to give the driver his fare and asked him to stop more assertively. But he kept driving to a dark and deserted place and moved fast to gag me with his shirt... (Asma' here is crying her eyes out, the report notes). Then he and his partner raped me several times. Every time I tried to get up he'd hit me hard and force me back on the ground. When they were finished he gave me back the fare and drove away. I hurried to the nearest police station and told the officer on duty everything. I gave them the number plate and within hours the perpetrator was brought in the station. When he stood before me I couldn't help myself; I took my shoes off and hit him on the face. He stunned me by saying: "I'm going to marry you...." So I hit him hard again with my hands. Until I saw the officer lift the phone and ask for the station's marriage officiator to be brought in. All at once the world turned black: how could I marry the guy who raped me? but the marriage went ahead. And the dowry was set for 25 piaster [one quarter of an Egyptian pound]. And then the criminal took me away. I saw it on his face, the smug bragging that he'd gotten away with his deed by agreeing to marry me. I see the crime he'd done to me every time I look at him. I'm reminded of that trauma everyday. I don't know what to do."
Suad, 18 years old student of humanities, also narrated her painful story:
"I loved him and he loved me. After we'd agreed to get married, he came to my parents' house to propose. But my father turned him down on the account that he doesn't have a job or a residence for himself. My father had then given him a chance to at least find a house for us to live in. The next day he called me and asked me to meet him, we sat and talked about our future and what to do. He then asked me to come to his mother's house so that we try to convince her to allow us to live with her. I first refused but then I reluctantly agreed and went with him. But when we got there there was nobody home. I asked where his mother is, he said she must have gone shopping. He then proceeded to beat me violently until I passed out. When I came to, I realized that everything was over: he raped me to put my parents under a de facto situation where they'd have to agree to his proposal to marry me. He said he'd only done this because he loved me. I couldn't tell my parents so I went to the police. My parents were called in and they blamed me for going with him. The police officer then brought the rapist and ordered him to marry me. At that moment I'd felt my heart crushed. And my tears fell nonstop. This is not the marriage I was looking for. I can't look the guy I once loved in the face anymore."
Nadia, 20 years old, has more or less the same story.. After she'd been raped and battered by A, she felt she had no chance to avoid scandal and scorn but to get him to marry her. But when she stood in the police station while the papers were being signed, she felt as if her death certificate is being produced, not a marriage contract. "I prayed to God to take my life before I'm taken to this monster's house. No one can imagine how dark and bleak my life is, completely devoid of hopes or ambitions. I can't even have a baby: how can I have a baby with this monster? I don't think our life together will last. All I got from this marriages is the affidavit number I'd gotten from the police when I came in to press charges. But I got none of my rights back..."
The report ends by providing some statistics. Mohamed Fekri, a sociologist, estimates there are more than TWENTY THOUSANDS forced marriages conducted in Police Stations every year in Egypt. The cases invariably stem from rape, sexual harassment, girls lured to sexual relationships by the promise of.....marriage, and other related circumstances. In some cases spurned men resort to rape to get to marry a woman who'd turned them down (or whose family turned them down). Fekri states that these marriages are emotionless and brittle and 80% of them end up in divorce. Add to that all the emotional suffering of victims, who has the reason of their misery stated in the marriage contract: rape, sexual harassment, violation of honor...etc..
How could a marriage that start off with a disaster last?
End of report.
(p.s. I intentionally left out a paragraph where Sharia experts were interviewed and they opined that these marriages are all null and void because they don't enjoy mutual consent ..etc.. Of course, these Sharia experts and clergy men are missing the point. And anyway, they have had enough time and authority to treat societal maladies, and they're failing at it. It's time for a complete mentality overhaul...)
at 7:56 PM
Monday, November 08, 2010
The first thought that flashed across my mind when I laid my eyes upon this gem of an article was: wow, something that combines two of my favorite subjects, sex and shisha. This must be one hell of an article. Turned out I was right, but for the wrong reasons.
Let me say this upfront: smoking is bad. There is no argument from there. It makes man prone to a whole array of heart diseases. Raises the probability of gum, throat and lung cancer. Ruins your teeth. Messes your pharynx. Badly affects your physical fitness. And, yes, it might slow you a little in a sack, if you don’t counter-balance it with cardio workout.
However, it’s really funny and ironic how the subject of smoking (and especially shisha smoke) is handled in the media (and advertisements, commercials, awareness campaigns.. etc..). I’ve written before about a health radio show, in which the presenter rattled off a series of regurgitated stereotypes about shisha and its smokers. And I said then and I say it now: I’ve seen all sorts of horrid anti-smoking ads, I’ve seen the charred lungs, the enshrouded cadavers; wriggled and squirmed on a lip of a huge ashtray to resemble a crushed cigarette. I’ve seen a huge billboard with bullet laid side by side next to a cigarette, with the obvious fatal common effect articulated below: smoking kills. I’ve seen the zombie-like faces of cancer patients in their last days of struggle, (a struggle which, by the way, I completely respect and admire and don’t intend to ridicule or underestimate)…. I’ve seen it all.
But I’m not deterred.
It seems to me that the anti-smoking literature needs to mature, to grow out of its rigid stereotypes, its childish quibbles and stating-the-obvious rhetorics. Smoking, especially shisha smoking, isn’t all about substance dependency and craving chemicals. Forget the ostensible image of fumes inhaled and exhaled. Smoking, and especially shisha smoking, is a way of life. However harmful, wasteful, unpleasant and counterproductive that way may be, it’s still a way of life. You can’t just expect people to drop it and move on because it’s bad.
In other words, if you’re really concerned about smokers and their health. Then be empathetic to them. Try and see things from their point of view.
But this, of course, isn’t happening. What anti-smoking campaigns end up doing is bashing smokers and showing them what retarded, unsightly, selfish, worthless pieces of turd they are. How they’re going to live miserably and die lonely and unloved like smelly dogs.
How do you expect smokers to take you seriously if this is the message you’re getting across?
Now back to the aforesaid article. No doubt this piece of rehashed talking points pushes the fatuousness a little further. Gloatingly basking in the light of the sexual impotence of whoever smoked the pipe, even second-handedly or experimentally.
Smoking is sexual suicide, comes the resounding statement from world-renowned author and sex therapist, Dr Rosie King, with shisha smoking being the root cause of impotency in men in the Middle East.In a country where the shisha culture is embedded in its social makeup, the news that excessive usage of the water pipe causes impotency in men has seen many a heavy smoker cross his legs in a seemingly protective move.
Sexual suicide. How very intriguing.
The second paragraph reminds me of a session with a world-renowned crime author I’ve attended a couple of years ago. She mentioned how cases of men rape in US prisons are a serious endemic and that whenever she narrates the horrors of these rapes stories all the men in the room cross their legs.
My splayed-legged self at the time thought: how typically womanly of her to think so. It’s probably more of a woman habit to cross legs when she hears of rape or forced intercourse, since, well, your vagina is out front somewhere. On the other hand, we don’t cross our legs because of that. I assure you. We might clinch our butt holes. (probably just to suppress a long due fart), but we don’t cross our legs.
The rare occasions when I had to cross my legs in public (and some of them while I was, indeed, smoking shisha in public) were because I had to hide a raging erection. You see, I’ve developed the compound habit of reading books while smoking. I can hardly do either of them alone. And when I come across a raunchy chapter, I would have to evoke all the turn-offs in the world (including some anti-smoking diatribes), in order to allow my penis to stand at ease and not to make a jerk out of myself.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and governments across the Middle East are upping the efforts to kick the butt. The Egyptian Ministry of Health took a drastic step earlier this year and unveiled a graphic warning label of a drooping cigarette, symbolising the potential for tobacco-induced impotence, plastered on every pack sold throughout the country.
See, Egypt, with its 80 million people and sky-rocking population growth could use the smoke. That’s one more reason to thank the shisha for having curtailed the explosive, almost exponential, increase of birthrate in the Nile country.
Indeed, shisha, the water pipe that burns flavored tobacco, can expose users to the smoke equivalent to five packs of cigarettes, according to statistics from the WHO.
The water pipe can expose users….. We never get to know what that water pipe here means. And how it’s quantified. By time? By the amount of smoke exhaled from the man with the flaccid dick? An hour worth of smoke? Two hours? 15 minutes?
"The more you smoke, the less you poke," she states.
I think this is supposed to be the funny punch-line. If you wanna get the man to react (or act), then get him where it hurts. Under the belt. In the groins. Threaten his sexual self esteem, and encourage his atavistic lust and unlock the beast in him by promising more fulfilling and frequent sex once the water pipe is ditched.
Wow. What a brilliant reverse psychology and turn of phrase.
Don’t get me wrong, guys. I’m all for scientific research on the subject. But real and comprehensive research. Not crock of shit, un-peer-reviewed research.
at 11:00 PM