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The multi-faceted argument of drug decriminalisation

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I am starting to realise that the motto of a certain famous (notorious to some) whiskey may be wrong, and maybe Bob Dylan was right: The Times, They Are A-Changin’.

Though it feels like yesterday, it was four years ago that the Divorce Referendum, the pulpit (some pun intended) for the first major social change in a generation, was in full swing. From then on, we have moved onwards towards unrivaled social change: Divorce was introduced, marriage rights were extended to both transgender and homosexual couples, and now we are within touching distance of a some kind of drug decriminalization.

The White Paper on Drug Decrimilization has just been issued and, as expected, the aye-sayers and the nay-sayers have come out all guns blazing stating their points. A prima facie, all sides have relatively valid points; but the argument is as widespread as can be…

So here is a plausible list of the possible points of departure for any possible argument related to drug decriminalisation… and I am pretty sure that there are others which I have left out, but here we go….

 

Are all Drugs harmful?

 

This is not a question of whether all drugs are the same: I am pretty sure that ‘Breaking Bad’ would not have been such a success if Walter White grew cannabinoids instead of methamphetamine…

However, in the eyes of the beholder, apples and oranges are still fruit; anything which diminishes the capacity of understanding or mental thought of any person and may prove to be addicting and/or harmful to the human body should be out rightly banned. End of Story.

Oh wait….. Of course it isn’t.

Some of these drugs are used as medicinal prescriptions by the local doctor or pharmacist for both serious and less worrying diseases: The aim is far from recreational, and although it is true that some of these narcotics seem to diminish the mental capacity of the person to some extent, this is all done in order to help the human body repel its sickness… and preferably without suffering from side effects which make the whole situation even worse.

And if we forget the medicinal side of things, critics may point at two other things: tobacco and alcohol. It is not possible for tobacco in itself to be used, but in effect any normal cigarette has a number of chemicals which give it the blend and taste needed in order for it to be smoked: And herein lies the rub, for according to Cancer Research UK, any normal cigarette must have any, if not all, of these cancerous chemicals: tar, arsenic, benzene, even polonium-210. And talking to students about getting drunk is like talking to a baby about bed-wetting… We know you did it once too many times, you’re just embarrassed to talk about it with others unless we realise that they have done it as well. And if they outdrank (or out-sh*t themselves, than the competition is on…)

Yet it would be wrong to assume that with tobacco and alcohol it’s all carte blanche:  Anti-tobacco legislation has been as ferocious as never before, while alcohol is out rightly banned in public spaces: (In case you’re wondering, yes: getting drunk in Paceville, which is considered as a public space, is illegal by a contravention. That’s the pesky law for you)

 

Government Interference… Aye or Nay?

 

Simply put, the Government has a bonus pater familias duty of protecting the individuals of their state from each other. But the point of conflicting convergence is here: Does the Government, or any state organization for that matter, possess the duty and obligation (legal or otherwise) to protect the individual from him/herself?

Extending from this line of thought, people who are against the decriminalization of drugs argue that the state has the duty to combat the recreational use of any drugs whatsoever as the beneficial aspects of such use, which are few or non-existent, are vastly outweighed by its negative aspects. Meanwhile, others argue that the state should politely sod off and mind its own business.

Starting from the most obvious drug in question: Marijuana. Yes, it is a lesser form of drug whose effects are relatively few in contrast with other, high-potency narcotics.  It does not make your teeth fall off or lose your hair more than you should, but the myth that marijuana is “completely harmless” is just that… a myth. Smoking marijuana, just the like the smoking of any other narcotic, has severe physical cardio-vascular and respiratory problems.

 

Gateway Drugs… Fact or Fiction?

This ‘theory’ explains that any person experiencing marijuana and other lesser drugs for recreational use inadvertently leads to them experiencing other, stronger types of drugs, which in turn will lead to a never-ending circle of drug abuse from which there is very rarely any absolution.

The truth is that this theory can neither be completely disregarded as trash, but should not be taken as a narcotic commandment. Studies have managed to come up with inconclusive results.

The best part: The Gateway Theory is used by both sides of the Drug Decrimilization Debate: Those in favour argue that, by legalizing said lesser drugs but outlawing the rest, there would be no gateway to more powerful narcotics as they would have enough to be satisfied as there is. Meanwhile, the nay-sayers argue that no matter how harsh or severe a punishment can be, any substance will make the recipient body build up resistance to it, until it eventually makes the person move away to other narcotics in order to be satisfied.

 

Well… Is a Change needed?

 

If the recent arguments about drug decriminalization have reached a consensus on at least one of the possible points, it is the fact that the punishment and outlook of the law with regards to narcotics, in some cases, has been completely over the top.

The Daniel Holmes case, which maybe is still fresh in the sheer majority of the Maltese population, students notwithstanding, has been the major pivotal point of this whole debate. Even non-drug users still felt pretty aggrieved when a ten-year sentence and a €23,000 fine were splashed on him for drug trafficking and possession of more than one kilogram of cannabis.

Here lies the rub: The police investigation, when taking into account the amount of cannabis found in the apartment where Mr. Holmes resided, forgot to mention that they also included the stalks and roots of the plants, which are not used in any way for the usage of marijuana. Taking this into account, the amount of illegal substances found was supposed to be much less than it was declared. Mr. Holmes’ defence lawyers also pointed out the anomaly that was that this man, who was supposed to sell said drugs, ‘could not afford utility bills, had to borrow a car and his rent was paid by his parents,’ with the only cash being found in the apartment amounted to €100, and no other cash was in Mr. Holmes’ name.

The uproar was enormous, yet it did not do any affect, as the sentence and punishment were soon confirmed by the Court of Appeal.

And so, even though there may not be a clear direction in which the next Maltese social revolution must arrive, the hardest part of all has already been accomplished: We have started paving the way for change; lest we not stall in our progress.

What was that cheesy quote by what-his-face about the only thing having to fear is fear itself… or something? Yeah, well… You know the drill: get inspired and move along.

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

Malta’s mediocre music scene

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After a dreadful exam last Wednesday, I decided to treat myself to a cheeky mid-exam period break and promptly head off to one of the many fancy, overpriced cocktail bars in Paceville for a drink with a friend.  Considering I’m supposed to be studying while writing this article, I will cut straight to the chase and make this as brief as possible:

After rebelliously ordering a pint and enduring the resulting smirk from the waitress, I noticed a small stage set up in one corner of the dance floor.  A few seconds later, a five-piece band started making their way towards the stage, equipped with some of the most expensive equipment I have ever laid my eyes on.  As a musician, you can only imagine what was going through my head at this moment: Go out on a random night out to a random bar and find a live band – I’ve hit the jackpot!  I let my naivety get the best of me as the anticipation for some jazz-fusion or jazz-funk that one automatically expects from such a band in such a location took over.

The drummer knocked his drumsticks together, setting the time signature and pace of the song for his fellow band members.  This was happening…

….“Yellow” by Coldplay….

 

Halfway into the song, things got even more intriguing.  Two police officers in full uniform walked into the bar and put an abrupt end to the gig.  It was 11.45 pm and the music was too loud.  Music.  Too loud.  In Paceville.

A small argument then ensued between the band members, the manager of the bar and the police.  It turns out the band members are all Italian.

I will now attempt to continue studying and allow you to draw your own conclusions after reading this.  For those who are not sure what to make of it, these are the most salient facts in one sentence:

Despite the huge amount of mediocre local bands, a local bar employed a foreign mediocre band to play their mediocre music in their mediocre bar in our mediocre clubbing district, only to be stopped by the police.

Posted in Opinion

10 Effective Ways to Improve Your Studying

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After the strong reaction to last week’s ’10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Stay At UoM To Study’ article, and the fact that finals are now closer than ever, it seemed like perfect timing to write another study-related article which readers can this time actually get something out of. Scrapping pessimistic views on revising, here are 10 practical ways to improve your preparations for these upcoming exams. Some of them might appear obvious but it’s not the first time we tend to forget about them once the going gets tough. Also note that these ways may not all apply to each and every student, so feel free to pick out and adapt the ones you prefer.

 

1. Use highlighters and sticky notes. The reasoning behind it is simply to have notes which are more interesting to look at for hours on end. Line after line of black sentences on white paper tend to get boring after some time, so going for a more colourful approach might help to make the whole process slightly more bearable.

2. Shorten and repeat your notes. If, like me, you tend to give up when going through whole pages of block text, another piece of advice would be to take only the most important points from that text and write or type them elsewhere in the form of separate sentences, therefore creating a much more concise summary of what you need to study. This will prove beneficial when you get to your final revision the day before the exam because, by being able to go through your brief notes quicker, you have more time to repeat them and get them into your coffee-stricken brain.

3. Go for healthy food and drinks. Speaking of coffee, even though it might keep you awake, we all know it’s not that positive in the long run to use it as your only constant beverage. A simple glass or bottle of water by your desk will keep your brain going, especially now that the summer temperatures are starting to kick in. As for food, we all know what is the most accessible and enjoyable to consume while we’re trying to study, but increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet during the next few weeks is guaranteed to help you in many subtle ways.

4. Note down and plan out what you need to study. Instead of starting from your very first lecture and just seeing where it takes you, make sure you make a concrete list of all the topics you have to revise. Keep it with you at all times to make sure you leave nothing out and, at the same time, not to go overboard by going through stuff you don’t actually need to know for your exam. You can also attach each topic in the list with the corresponding pages or chapters you can refer to from your books or other source material you have.

5. Do not study by heart. Unless your lecturer told you do this word for word, in which case he or she might also be wrong, stick to your own unique method of studying instead of forcing yourself to develop photogenic memory. Face the fact that during the exam you will not remember every single detail you would have gone through. Try to repeat and remember the most important points and you should be fine.

6. Take plenty of productive breaks. This implies two things: firstly, make time for short breaks every hour or so that you’ve been studying. Secondly, instead of limiting your study breaks to going on Facebook or watching an episode of your favourite series, try to go for motivational breaks, after which you will actually have the determination to continue studying. Common examples would be going for a short walk or jog, or having a coffee with one of your friends. As long as you are able to unwind and relax during that break, and simultaneously not staying at home stuck by your bedroom desk.

7. Find your own way to stay relaxed. Whether it’s your favourite genre of music in the background, studying on the couch, having scented candles in your room, yoga stretching or squishing the hell out of a stress ball, it’s vital that you find methods to keep calm and decrease your stress levels which work the best for you. And the best way you can achieve this is pretty much by trial and error.

8. Maintain your social life. Sure, clubbing is pretty much out of the question. But locking yourself inside and studying for days on end is not healthy at all. Keep your friends close during this period by occasionally meeting up so you can keep each other’s morals up. It’s ok if you inevitably end up talking about exams or a particular subject you’re finding difficult to get through, as long as you don’t end up psyching each other out, and as a result doing more harm than good. And if you still are not willing to leave the house, especially in the last days before your exam, you can always phone your friends or Skype with them. Just try to opt out of endless hours chatting on Facebook.

9. Use past papers. This is a very effective way of testing yourself and, at the same time, of attaining a clearer idea of what you need to study and what you can expect in the final exam. Get your hands on recent papers and try them out once you feel you have grasped the topic at hand. Ask your course mates, or contact your lecturer if possible, whenever you find difficulties, or you can even organize a study group during which you can go through past papers together. See, that’s another way of keeping your social life on track during exam period.

10. Do not force all-nighters. I myself can never stay focused after midnight, which means I can never do all-nighters. If they work for you its fine, but personally I’ve found that sleeping earlier will help you wake up early too, which works for me since I tend to go through more material in the morning when my brain is a fresh clean slate. I also wouldn’t advise an all-nighter the day before your actual exam. Even if you still have a lot to revise and not enough time to do so except if you spend the night awake, an all-nighter will only exhaust you and drain your energy once you come to the point of sitting down for your exam. If you want to keep nerves on the down low, start early and you will not be disappointed.

Posted in Opinion

Everyone’s water breaks in June

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I’ve got a thing for analogies.

Not only do I use them to prove a point or to make situations clearer for myself and to others, but I sometimes find myself going specifically out of my way to try and draw a comparison between two completely unrelated things. Call it an elitist tick. The last of these came to me and it was as sudden as it was flawless – a year at University is pretty much like being pregnant.

You’ve got your standard nine(-ish) months of random cravings which keep escalating into a couple of painful pangs right around the end, and if you’re lucky enough, you get to cradle an adorable little “A” by the end of it all. Sure, one of the two can get excruciatingly worse at times, and the comparison isn’t a totally fair one – we all know how much harder it is to wake up for 8am lectures on a wintery Monday, so point taken. The two do end up getting shockingly similar at times though; no matter how many people around you try to comfort you and tell you that others have been through this before and that you’re going to be just fine, you somehow feel like no one can really understand all that you’ve had to go through, and the trials and tribulations of staying up all night, unable to sleep, staring up at the ceiling with a strange, random and painful pang in your stomach.

So, what does one write to comfort the hundreds of proverbial pregnant post-teens reading this? I could whip up a couple of comforting clichés, something on the lines of a light at the end of a dark tunnel, or a pretty little rainbow after a hailstorm. However, knowing me (and I do pride myself on you know, knowing myself), I’d much rather go for the “buck up and face the music you sad excuse for a student” technique. We’re all in this together – see it as one huge Prenatal Class. Which begs the question – is your chosen thesis supervisor you midwife? I’ll just leave that here.

I think I might actually be able to milk this analogy a little further (props to you if you got that last pun by the way, I swear it was initially unintentional). Everyone knows – or at least they should – that pregnancy isn’t just about those last couple of weeks. Every part of those nine long months build up to that one moment, but they’ve all had their own important role to play. We hear of pregnant women listening to Beethoven to inspire a more creative and artistic spawn…which might explain why I study better with classical music in the background (although I might be pushing it too far with that one). And don’t forget that anxious anticipation right at the end of it all, where you’re still not sure whether it’s all gone smoothly or whether you’ve sadly just wasted nine months of your life.

I feel like I should stop here. This might end up spiralling into the politically incorrect even as far as my standards go. But work with me on this one. And even more importantly, work with yourselves. Take care of that baby, nourish it, and come June, when you’re sitting down in that heat, looking at that piece of paper, panting regularly, remember to slowly breathe in and out, push all the information you know onto the paper, and hope for the best.

I’ll be seeing you all once we all get knocked up again at the end of summer x

 

This article was first published in the May edition of The Insiter. Grab your copy from the designated pick up points.

Posted in Opinion, Opinion

Confessions of a University Student

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1)      We sing erratically when we reach that moment of helplessness and insanity in our work

2)      Procrastination becomes an art-whether it’s looking at the formation of the clouds or a bug on the wall, it suddenly becomes more interesting than whatever you were studying.

3)      Food is the key to all boredom and irritation.

4)      We become obsessed with the things we did not really notice beforehand; ‘Is my hair ok today?’ ‘Is the cat all right?’

5)      We divert our attention by consoling ourselves with our friends and end up in a deeper pit of procrastination as we team up to fight the odds. (or just go out/mope)

6)      Whatever the season, Christmas carols, ice-cream and the odd sweet here and there mean the world to us.

7)      Caution: Approach at a distance if we sound like a dying whale at deleting an important document.

8)      For those of you that think you will have a life at University:

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9)      When someone offers to take you for a ride/ have a break, you treat them like God’s gift to mankind.

10)      When a family member attempts to downplay your course/work you glare at them with rabid teeth and hop through the mess in your room to diplomatically shut the door.

11)      There is no such thing as normal. We all panic and frantically check and re-check exam dates and deadlines and think they are going to magically change to screw us over.

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12)      The sardonic smiles from teachers and adults surrounding you make you daydream about a Utopia where the educational system is deemed incompetent and inept.

13)     No matter how many times you proof read your assignment, you will always feel like you are giving away your unborn child to a totalitarian state when the time is due.

14)     English students quote Shakespeare in our conversations and are only appreciated by the other socially deprived study companions.

15)     We feel we fully deserve a cookie after all our work. (Who doesn’t like a cookie?)

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16)     Sarcasm and witty humour amongst the trail of YouTube videos and film repeats become part of our routine.

17)     Our favourite song becomes the doomed anthem to hell as it will forever remind us of studying.

18)     Post-exam period is visualised as a paradise filled with no worry and food. In reality it’s work, sweat and heat.

19)     Student budgets mean cutting costs- We flock to free stuff and gigs. (Please do not judge us in study mode.)

21)     We cry out existential questions- and debate the pros and cons about being a student.

20)    Our virtual world becomes the representation of what’s ‘out there’ (shudders)

22)     Alcohol is the equivalent to fairy dust. It’s one of the only things that can temporarily take away our worries.

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23)     At any sign of illness, we frantically look up our symptoms online and break out in cold sweats.

24)     We automatically envy and hate anyone who is enjoying the sunny, beautiful day outside while we are rotting on our desk and simmering in our mental stews.

25)     You won’t admit it, but after 17 years of studying, the real world seems almost scary. For most of us we just want to start working.

 
Featured Photo: http://arjunkarthaphotography.com

Posted in Opinion

Of pancakes, hot dogs and beer

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Hello children, it’s me again.  Forgive the condescending tone, but you must all be pretty used to it by now.  After all, you’ve just spent two whole weeks being told what the nice people in the big photos are going to do for you if you tick the box next to their name, all the while being stuffed with free pancakes and hot dogs and beer.  The fatter the pig, the richer the meal.

This year’s student elections had their own beautiful oxymorons to reflect upon, and who better to do it than your not-so-friendly neighbourhood Nitpicker.  The first glimpse I got of this year’s campaigns were the approximately five thousand and seventy four colourful banners leading up to Quad, half of which were shouting PAVING THE WAY at me, which ironically turned the whole pathway into a narrow corridor of awkward shuffling of students rushing off to their lectures against others who were just casually strolling up to listen to that horrible One Republic song being played for the sixty sixth time that afternoon.  No more counting dollars, we’ll be counting how many times I had to listen to that tune while having to walk past the SDM vs. Pulse Daily DJ Mix-Off, gathering enough flyers and booklets to kill a tree or two on the way.

One of the easiest criticisms to whip out when it comes to student elections is the commonly-held belief that SDM is as much of a collection of Nationalist puppets as Pulse is a Labour megaphone.  Representatives from both organisations have over the years done their very best (which is clearly not nearly good enough) to overcome this dogma, and yet, here we are, in 2014, with a now one-year-old new Government, with both groups opting for slightly different shades of blue, and most people still can’t tell the difference between student elections and national ones.  All we know is that one of them has a larger bearing on society in general and our futures, and that we have an obligation to vote since our voice will have an overarching difference in the grand scheme of things – I’ll let you be big boys and girls and decide for yourselves which is which (NB: be wary of trick questions, it might be neither).

The sheer beauty of it all, however, came about when, during a heated (it was around 21 degrees if I’m not mistaken, and I stupidly had a jacket on) debate between SDM and Pulse, if one had to – if only for a second – deviate their awed stares from the two gods-to-be on the panel, they could see Lino Bianco, a Labour Party MEP candidate, sneaking around, talking to disinterested people at the back of the crowd, handing out business cards like there’s no tomorrow.  He eventually made his way towards me, and because my affectionately cradling a pint of beer at the far back didn’t put him off enough, actually started talking about why he was there.  I’m honestly not trying to play the part of a nonchalant cool kid here – I have no idea what he said.  All I know is that by the time he was finished, I grinned and said, “What a way to promote non-political allegiance to a student group by coming here to do this today of all days, am I right?”, to which he smiled, said he agreed, shook my hand and left to harass another lonely soul.  The poor bugger didn’t even get my snide sarcastic comment, and he wants my go ahead to go to Brussels.

I’m writing this on midnight of Thursday the 10th of April.  In a coupe of hours’ time, my phone is going to start going off every couple of minutes, with people I barely know from sight calling me up and speaking to me as if we were long-lost lovers.  I’m actually going to leave my phone charging all night, with the hopes that it would be ready to face the day with a much-needed 160% battery.  One can only hope that this year, I’m offered a chauffeur service to campus, with an all-inclusive pit-stop at the new McDrive on my way there, so I won’t be forced to vote on an empty stomach.  The funny thing is, I’m probably not even going to add anything to this rant after the results come out. I would have, but then again it wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever.  This feels like that one time when Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park, had finished an entire episode that was pretty much all to do with the presidential election on the eve of the results coming out and of the episode airing, and then just added Obama as the protagonist instead of whoever the other guy running against him was.  Different name, different country, same bull.

Now I understand that no one can afford to do the incentives we’ve seen happen these last couple of days all year round (unless whoever gets elected receives an additional 250,000 Euro just to spend on more pancakes and hot dogs), but why splurge on this one-off occasion? Why does Quadrangle need to be literally dead and dull on practically every other day, only to be transformed into the Paceville stairs when the people behind it expect something back for all the air hockey and Nutella they’re willing to offer for free (given you line up like hungry dogs and wait an hour or two in the blistering sun)?  Surely, the people who get my vote are the ones who want it to be this way as often as possible? Who am I kidding though, talking about votes as if I was actually considering voting this year round.   Of course, I’m not in any way urging you to do the same; brainwashing was never my forte.  If you feel like things will really change if you vote for one specific group of twenty somethings and not the other, or if you’re afraid that your candidate friends won’t speak to you anymore unless you rush off and vote for them, then by all means, go forth and tick boxes.  As for me though, when I feel that there’s a bigger difference than a couple of names (because I can’t even say I prefer one colour to the other anymore), then I might actually have a ponder or two about the matter.  But until then, it’s downing free beers and listening to One bloody Republic yet again.

 

 

Posted in Opinion