The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Acknowledging and Understanding Differences

We Are Not the Same
(On Acknowledging and Understanding Differences)
by aLfie vera mella

Yesterday during breaktime at work, a coworker and I had a small chat about racial discrimination. She said that we should not think about different colors or things like that because we are all the same.

I boldly responded, "Of course not—we're not the same."

She was surprised and dumbfounded.

I supported my response with "We're not the same—you have a whiter complexion; I have tan complexion. You have curly hair; I don't. You most likely prefer Italian food because you are a Canadian Italian, and I eat usually Filipino food. I may be an excellent user of the English language—even better than many Canadians, but you cannot expect me to speak English 100% all of the time simply because this is not my natural language."

My point was, to insist that we are all the same is to deny our differences and our personal preferences—by doing so, we become more prone to misunderstanding other people. There's nothing wrong in recognizing such differences—skin color, food preferences, favorite music, cultural gestures, etc—because by knowing all these—especially the how and the why behind all these—we get to understand more other people especially of other cultures.

Customary Gestures May Be Similar at Times but Not Always Universal
I know a fellow Filipino here who once told me that he got into a fistfight with an Eritrean (Eritrea is an African country) because apparently that Eritrean (a coworker of his) called him to tell him something and the way this person called him was by using his pointy finger. The Filipino got offended right away because he assumed that the Eritrean was belittling him this way. Clearly, the misunderstanding originated from the Filipino's assumption that to call another using a waving finger is automatically rude and offensive, failing to realize that it was a common customary gesture of many African people.

If the Filipino was familiar with that particular cultural/customary gesture of many African peoples—calling someone with the aid of the pointy finger—then he would have not interpreted this as a rude action which made him react in a violent way. (In the Filipino culture, calling someone with the use of the pointy finger is often taken as derogatory and oppressive because the action is interpreted as the caller's expression of arrogant authority.

Speaking in One's Own Language Is Not Always Equal to Rudeness
One coworker of mine hates how many Filipinos at work couldn't help talking among each other (fellow Filipinos) in Filipino despite the rule that only English should be used at work. While it is the responsibility of all non-English-as-first-language speakers to use English at work, there would always be moments when they would unintentionally slip in some portions of their respective native language in their conversations for the basic reason that it's their natural language. If an English speaker couldn't understand this, then she would always assume that speaking in another language is always rude, which is not the case—because there would always be unguarded moments when a person, engaged in a conversation with a fellow compatriot or a fellow native speaker, will and will always switch in her naturally spoken language once in a while—and this is not rudeness—this is simply a case of acting and talking in her natural state.

To speak in the official language of the place where one works is one's responsibility, yes!; but to expect a non-English speaker to be able to speak in English with 100% fluency, competency, and compliancy all of the time is unrealistic; in fact, this may be already bordering cultural discrimination.

Sa Madaling Salita
Kung palagi na lang nating hindi tatanggapin na ang bawat tao o lahi ay magkakaiba-iba sa maraming aspeto ng kanilang pagkatao e mas hindi natin maiintindihan o mauunawaan ang mga intensyon o ikinikilos ng ibang tao. Ang pagpipilit na pare-pareho lang naman ang lahat ng tao e katumbas ng pagtutol na tanggapin ang kanya-kanyang pagkatao, na lalong karaniwang nauuwi sa hindi pagkakaunawaan at pagpapatuloy ng diskriminasyon.

Or, in Simple Words
If we keep on denying that we are different from each other, we actually become more inclined to misunderstand or misinterpret the words and actions of other people. To insist that we are all the same is tantamount to the unwillingness to accept the individuality and idiosyncrasies of other people, causing the unwilling person unable to understand or even accept such differences.

The key to understanding is not only to celebrate our similarities but more so to acknowledge and understand our differences.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On the Technical Meaning of Plagiarism

Sa Bawat Pahina ng Literatura
by aLfie vera mella

It's Just a Matter of Quote-and-Quote
(On the Technical Meaning of Plagiarism)

In light of the controversial issue of plagiarism that is on the limelight in the Philippines these days--sometimes, the real problem is not the intentional copying of other writer's works but the ignorance of many writers concerning the proper way of referencing, quoting, and using other people's works.

For instance, many writers think that just because a particular issue is common, they could already copy whatever another writer has written about this without the need to credit or acknowledge the source or the writer.

Plagiarism—whether the copying was intentional or not—remains plagiarism—and this is the greatest sin a writer could commit—the second, being incorrect grammar, and this is a separate issue.

So, two tips that I may suggest is—every time a writer copies a paragraph or even a sentence word-for-word (verbatim) from another writer's work, an encyclopedia, a book, or any reference at all, the writer must ensure that she encloses the copied portion within quotation marks. And most importantly, use as an opening phrase "According to..." or "In the book... [title of book by name of author]...."

Those are all it takes to avoid the pitfall of plagiarism.

The Importance of Honesty
For example, I will write an article about The Importance of Honesty, and I wanted to define 'honesty' in the article. I can either define honesty in my own words (based on my correct knowledge about it) so I don't need to use quotations or references; as in the following sentence, which is my own:

Honesty is the virtue of not telling a lie.

However, if I wanted to give the definition of 'honesty' word-for-word as it is defined in a respectable source such as a dictionary or an encyclopedia, then I need to give citation and to enclose the definition in quotation marks; for example:

On, honesty is defined as "the quality or fact of being honest."


According to Wikipedia, honesty is "a facet of moral character and denotes positive, virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness along with the absence of lying, cheating, or theft."

The Last Leaf
Many writers—bloggers or even professional ones—think that they could copy portions from sources and from other people's works just like that, without citing their sources or references and without using quotation marks whenever they copy excerpts word-for-word. Maybe they do this to appear smart and authoritative and to impress others, failing to realize that presenting a well-referenced piece of written work makes them more impressive, more authoritative, and more credible.

According to Wikipedia, "plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the 'wrongful appropriation,' 'close imitation,' or 'purloining and publication' of another author's 'language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,' and the representation of them as one's own original work."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

On the New Album of Counting Crows

Sa Ugoy ng Musika
by aLfie vera mella

The Crows Are Back with Old Emperors Dressed in New Clothes
(On the New Album of Counting Crows)

One of my favorite Alternative Rock bands that shot to popularity in the 1990s is back with a new album. In April 2012, Counting Crows releases its sixth studio album, entitled Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation). The only downside is that the album consists entirely of cover songs. Regardless, the band presents the old songs dressed in freshly different flavors, so it compensates for the album’s lack of original materials. The Crows’ sound is unmistakeable—Postpunk-influenced with a touch of Folk and Pop. Worth checking out are their versions of songs by Teenage Fanclub (“Start Again”), Travis (“Coming Around”), Fairport Convention (“Meet on the Ledge”), and Faces (“Ooh La La”).

Counting Crows’ debut album contains their most commercially popular songs, “Mr. Jones,” “Round Here,” and “Rain King.” The band's complete studio discography comprises of August and Everything After (1993), Recovering the Satellites (1996), This Desert Life (1999), Hard Candy (2002), Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (2008), and Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation) (2012). Other songs that I personally recommend are “Angels of the Silences,” “Daylight Fading,” “Holidays in Spain,” “If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead),” “When I Dream of Michelangelo,” “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago,” and “Insignificant.”

Final Note
Fronted by lead vocalist and occasional pianist Adam Duritz, Counting Crows was formed in 1991 in California, United States. Currently in the band with Duritz are David Bryson (guitar, vocals), Charlie Gillingham (accordion, clarinet, keyboards), Dan Vickrey (guitar, vocals), David Immerglück (guitar, pedal steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, vocals), Jim Bogios (drums, vocals), and Millard Powers (bass, vocals).

On the Distinction between Good Jokes and Bad Jokes and On the Revised CPR Procedure

Sa Madaling Salita
by aLfie vera mella

Two Bad Jokes with One Stone of Criticism
(On the Distinction between Good Jokes and Bad Jokes and On the Revised CPR Procedure)

I was watching a Filipino show on GMA channel; one of the hosts joked about “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” when the contestant he was interviewing said that he had once saved a life. The host quipped, “then you must know mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; can you render it on her?”, referring to the female host, of course expressed in a joking manner.

Good Jokes versus Bad Jokes
I have two issues about the joke. First, it’s a pathetic fact that toilet jokes and sexual innuendos are still very much a part of the sense of humor of many Filipinos; I say pathetic because if we categorize jokes into levels, those involving sex and taunts and ridicule on races/nationalities remain to be the lowest and the cheapest of jokes. The primary purpose of a joke, some will argue, is to poke fun on various issues and human weaknesses and to elicit laughter. However, I believe that there should remain a degree of respectability beneath such jokes. More so, a joke has to depend not solely on what kind of joke it is but primarily on the timing and the manner of delivery on the part of the jokester. Therefore, to claim that sexual and racial jokes are the most laughable is highly subjective—maybe yes, but only for people who have secret envy for others, who have unresolved insecurities, and who are either sexually repressed or lacking in knowledge about other more worthwhile issues.

Failure to Update One’s Knowledge Breeds Ignorance
My second issue with the bad joke of that TV host is the realization that many people have an outdated knowledge about CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

To this day, many people still think that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is the highlight of CPR and they happily use this to joke on someone, playing on the sexual or “gross” image of a lip-lock especially between strangers.

These people should be updating their knowledge on CPR because, as of 2008, there is already a campaign by American Heart Association (AHA) to start eliminating mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as a standard part of CPR.

“The idea of a lip-lock with a stranger makes people uneasy; plus most people don’t know how to do mouth-to-mouth correctly. American Heart Association estimates that only one-third of the 300,000 Americans who go into cardiac arrest in public each year is given CPR, and theorizes that part of the problem is the mouth-to-mouth obstacle.

“In 2008, AHA began exploring a new protocol in which civilian CPR training consisted of rapid chest compressions only. Now several studies have supported this change, finding that chest-compressions-only CPR may not only be more palatable, but more effective at saving patients.”

Sa Madaling Salita
Hindi lahat ng biro o patawa ay nakatatawa. At hindi lahat ng nakatatawa ay kaaya-aya. Sa ibang banda, hindi lahat ng nakaugaliang paniwalaan e dapat patuloy na paniwalaan; maraming lumang kaisipan e nararapat nang baguhin dahil hindi na sumasang-ayon sa pangkasalukuyang pag-iisip at kapakanan ng nakararami.

Or, in Simple Words
There are good jokes, and there are bad jokes. A good joke is that whose purpose is to elicit from its audience not only laughter but also momentary lightheartedness, or “the good feeling of not being burdened by trouble, worry, or care.” Good jokes carry a sense of classiness and respectability for the audience. Bad jokes are bad jokes. They, on the other hand, are those which are insensitive to and unmindful of the dignity of the audience. They are cheap and rude and whose main purpose, whether intentional or not on the part of the jokester, is not to elicit laughter but to ridicule people and poke fun on their weaknesses and differences.  

On the Importance of Quantifying Adjectives in Avoiding Generalized Statements

Sa Bawat Pahina ng Literatura
by aLfie vera mella

Many Canadians Are Friendly; Some Filipinos Are Stupid
(On the Importance of Quantifying Adjectives in Avoiding Generalized Statements)

“Canadians are friendly.” Do you agree? What about the snobbish or hostile Canadian lady you encountered at Walmart one weekend?

Okay, “Canadians are snobbish then.” Not quite also, because what about the countless friendly Canadians whom you meet at work or at the same shopping center on any given day?

What then is the problem with the statements I quoted above?

What else, but the lack of quantifying adjectives such as ‘many,’ ‘some,’ and ‘most’—words that may seem trivial and insignificant but serve an important purpose—that is, to avoid expressing generalized statements that accuse everyone, including the innocent ones, as guilty of such claims.

Not because you encountered some hostile or snobbish Canadians that you will automatically generalize that Canadians are hostile or snobbish. This is unfair to those Canadians who are not like them. In the same manner that not because many Canadians are friendly that you will generalize that all Canadians are like this, letting those who are not get away with their bad behavior.

Quantifying Adjectives
‘Many’ pertains to "an indefinite number." ‘The majority of’ or ‘most’ is the one that really needs verifiable statistics, because while ‘many’ may be used independently of the whole where it comes from, ‘most’ or ‘the majority of’ should be relative to the entirety—it means at least more than 50% of the sample. To leave a claim without a quantifying adjective, however, (e.g. Canadians are snobbish) is tantamount to using ‘all’ (All Canadians are snobbish); therefore, the quantifying adjective ‘all’ is a delicate word to use—utmost consideration must be taken into before deciding to use it in a claiming statement.

Many Filipinos Live in Metro Manila
For instance, when I say "Many Filipinos live in Metro Manila," I don't need to prove the exact numbers in relation to the entire population of Filipinos who live in that region—the fact that there are at least more than five Filipinos living in Metro Manila is enough to support the claim that "Many Filipinos live in Metro Manila." However, the moment the claim is "Most Filipinos live in Metro Manila," that's when the flaw or problem arises; because the claimer then has the burden to prove if more than 50% of the entire number of Filipinos are indeed living in Metro Manila (not only that, the sample should be also identified—is the claimer referring to the Filipinos living in the Philippines or the Filipinos all over the world?)

Most of My School Class Advisers Were Females
That is the reason I don't use the quantifier ‘most,’ because this should be really verifiable and should depend on its relation to the entire sample where it comes from; unless I'm really sure—like, for instance, I could claim that "Most of my class advisers in elementary and high school were females," because I am sure of this fact—that of my 12 class advisers in elementary and high school combined—Miss Palomique (kindergarten), Miss Magpoc (Gr. 1), Miss Almaden (Gr. 2), Miss Matutilla (Gr. 3), Miss Ignacio (Gr. 4), Miss Manuel (Gr. 4 repeat), Miss Lising (Gr. 5), Miss Manguera (Gr. 6), Miss Fantastico (1st year), Mr. Mercado (2nd year), Mr. Jarder (3rd year), and Miss Agbay (4th year)—only two were males.

That's the reason I liberally use ‘many’ but am particularly careful in using ‘most’ and definitely conscious not to leave a claim without a quantifier because this is tantamount to falling into the sweeping trap of the shotgun ‘all.’ 

All’ unfairly puts every single entity in a guilty position, including those who are innocent—in case the claim is something negative (To claim that "Canadians are snobbish" is being unfair to Canadians who are not snobbish); in the same manner that its use lets the guilty ones get away with their bad behavior in case the claim is something positive (To claim that "Canadians are friendly" lets those Canadians who are not friendly get away with such behavior, enabling them to hide behind the generalization that all Canadians are friendly). That’s why trivial and superfluous they may be, quantifying adjectives are serving a crucial purpose in avoiding generalization and promoting fair judgment and respect for individuality.

The Last Leaf
I use the following guideline in using such quantifiers; there is subjectivity in most of these quantifiers, but the key is consistency in their use in one given article, publication, or literary project:

a couple = exactly two
a few = three, rarely four
several = at least three but not exceeding five
many = more than five
most or the majority of = more than 50% of the sample being referred to
all = as in all! 100%! No one is spared! No one is excused!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Blame Lies Not Only on the Fraternity Leaders

Sa Madaling Salita
by aLfie vera mella

The Blame Lies Not Only on the Fraternity Leaders
(On the Accountability and Underlying Reasons in Joining a Fraternity)

"The dreams of a freshman law student of San Beda College abruptly, violently ended on a farm in Dasmariñas City.

“Mark Andrei Marcos was the latest fatality in an apparent case of fraternity hazing.

“Police said the bruised body of  Marcos, 21, was brought to De La Salle University Medical Center in Dasmariñas City, Cavite province, at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday by two women— identified as Marlen Guadayo and Soledad Sanda—and two unidentified men. Marcos was pronounced dead on Monday.”Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 1, 2012

That’s another widely reported casualty of hazing in the Philippines.

According to Wikipedia, “hazing is the practice of various rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse, or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group. Hazing is seen in many different types of social groups, including in gangs, sports teams, schools, military units, workplaces, and fraternities.”

Personal Responsibility and Unresolved Issues
While I express my condolences to the loved ones of the casualties of fraternity hazing, I will not hold myself from expressing also what I think about those who join fraternities. While I denounce the irresponsibility and powertripping tendencies of many if not all fraternity leaders and favoured members, I think that victims of hazing are responsible as well for what befell them—because the moment they decided to join a fraternity, they knew that the risk of death or, at the least, getting badly beaten or injured during the initiation rites will always be there.

Yes, peer pressure is also a factor, so as the desire to belong to a faux brotherhood; but I think individuals who join fraternities have some degrees of insecurity and a yearning for power, belonging, and to boost their self-esteem, seeking these in the company of supposedly future brothers.

On the other hand, every blow of the paddle of many if not most fraternity leaders is an expression of their frustrations, repressed negative emotions such as hatred, insecurities, and powertripping.

Better Alternatives
I know a lot of people—friends and acquaintances—who survived highschool or university/college life without getting lured into joining a fraternity, and they turned out fine if not better individuals. Most often, these individuals are more talented and have more useful skills, worthwhile hobbies, and sets of good friends.

Sa Madaling Salita
Maraming mas kaaya-aya at produktibong paraan para mapunan ang pagnanasa ng isang tao na makilala sa kanyang komunidád at maramdaman ang pagkalinga ng mga taong nakapaligid sa kanya. Kung susumahin ang mga positibo at negatibong naidudulot ng pagsali sa isang pakikipagkapatiran, mas hamak na lamang ang pagkawalang-kuwenta sa pagsali rito—pakikipagkapatirang karaniwang pinamumunuan ng mga taong handang manakit, manakot, mangmaliit, at maglaro sa dignidád ng mga nagdesididong sumali rito.

Or, in Simple Words
There's nothing noble, substantial, nor special in joining a fraternity especially if we are to weigh in the risks and degradation every neophyte or aspirant has to endure to be able to survive the initiation rites inevitably involved in completing his membership in a fraternity. There are many more worthwhile, more productive, and less risky ways of curing one's insecurities, boosting one's self-esteem, and gaining a sense of power—activities, passions, hobbies, and preoccupations that do not rob a person of his life, dignity, and respectability.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”—Lord Acton (1834–1902), British historian