Saturday, 27 April 2013

Mmm . . .

James Madison (1751–1836)

“History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and it's issuance.” ― James Madison

Want to know what is wrong with the world economy? Just listen to James Madison, the fourth president of the United States of the America, and “Father of the Constitution”.

A Confession of Momentary Loneliness -- and the Remedy of Art

Yesterday afternoon after I taught my last class for the week, 19th Century English Poetry--we are currently covering Lord Byron--I was suddenly overcome with loneliness. It is a queer feeling and is a bit like a headache for me, which is another sensation I very seldom experience. And that is the problem with both loneliness and headaches; because I so seldom feel these phenomena, they feel extra acute when I do experience them. I very seldom feel lonely. I'm usually too busy, to be honest. My life is filled with so many things, that there is hardly the time to be lonely. Then, there are also many people in my life. I am richly blessed with friendships, although many of my closest friends are not close at hand. Another reason I don't experience loneliness much is because I actually enjoy alone-time. I am an introvert. Many people are surprised when I tell them this, because I'm not shy and love meeting people, yet I'm an introvert in the sense that I recharge alone and have a need for lone-time. I think part of the reason I've been quite content not being married yet is because I really do enjoy my time alone.

So when a sudden bout of loneliness strikes, it is often a shocking sensation and it sometimes take me a while to figure out what it is I'm feeling. What I felt yesterday was a sense of loss and loneliness; something that the mere presence of people--just any ol' people--would not have been able to fill. I realized my longing for company yesterday when I headed off to go watch a movie. Unlike most people who cannot imagine going to the movies alone, I actually prefer watching movies alone. For me, watching a movie is not a social event. It is not as if we are going to the cinema to have a conversation. In fact, I often find watching movies with friends distracting. I really love watching movies, and sincerely go for the movie itself, and therefore watching a movie by myself is actually one of the things I enjoy doing. It is something I started to do from a very early age, and have always felt quite comfortable in doing so. Yet yesterday, I really did not want to go to the movies by myself--this then, was the cue for me that I'm having an "attack" of loneliness.

Nevertheless, I was on my way to see Iron Man 3 when a friend texted me to tell me of a small show of hers being played at an art festival. She is a theater director and often invites me to her shows. Not one to give up on free shows I quickly changed my plans from going to a cinema to going to an art festival.

While I enjoyed my friend's production, it was the dance performance afterwards that really did it for me. I've noted before how dance--bodies in motion--has an uplifting effect on me. One particular show I saw last year had an almost life-changing effect on me. The art festival yesterday (which continues the whole weekend) was just what the Doctor ordered. I reveled in the sounds and movements and images and could hardly sit still in my chair. I just wanted to jump up and move along with them. It was wonderful. Walking back to the subway station I saw beauty where ever I looked and took photos with my phone as far as I walked. Below are some of the photos I took. (The collage above is also something I made from the pictures I took yesterday.)

I can't say that my sense of loneliness has completely parted, but it is not as acrid as it was yesterday. In fact, it is a Saturday night and instead of going out I'm actually planning to stay in and relax, watching the final episode of the Lord of the Rings trilogy which I started re-watching two weeks ago. In any case, tomorrow will be a full day with people around me.

"Korean Wave"

"The Mermaid's Palace"



"Holding on to Dreams"



"Open Door Policy" 

"The Green Witch and Her Apprentice"


Friday, 26 April 2013

Two Bags

I bought two bags recently.

The one I bought at a flea market -- the Seoul Folk Flea Market, to be exact. An old second-hand leather bag. It is not very big -- big enough for a book or two and my cellphone. Just the right size for when I don't feel like carrying anything heavy, but also don't want to put things in my pant pockets. It actually has two long bands, so it functions as a small backpack. Somebody told me it looks a bit girlish (I guess because of the size), but I love it.

The other bag I bought online as a pouch for my laptop. Since I bought my laptop only a few months ago it has already gotten some scratches on its body from carrying it in my regular backpack together with all the other things I have in there, so I started hunting for something appropriate. In an Apple Store I saw something that I really liked -- a pouch for an 11" Macbook Air, but it cost around $80. A friend suggested I look online, which I did, and bought something similar for much cheaper. Honestly I didn't expect the quality to be as high as the bag I saw in the Apple Story, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a great purchase.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Cats & Dogs

Laura Miller, in her essay "Cat People vs. Dog People" provides the following succinct description of the points-of-view of Dog People vs. Cat People.

Dog people profess to be baffled by the cat person's affection for an animal that provides so little active amusement: Cats will not frolic for you in the surf or fetch sticks or point with their noses at a bird for you to shoot. Because cats can't be trained to do the same sorts of tricks that dogs do, they are considered to be less intelligent, and paratively aloof or indifferent to humans. Dog people think cat people are suckers for doting on sneaky, selfish creatures that only pretend to like people in order to get food and other goodies and that will never, say, jump into a raging, flood-swollen river to rescue a small child at the risk of their own lives, as the faithful hound supposedly will.

Cat people heap contempt on dog people for actually thinking a dog's devotion counts for much. A dog's love for its owner is, cat people say, entirely instinctual, indiscriminate and often unearned by it''s object; you are not loved for yourself but for the position you assume in the dog's life--anyone else would do as well. Therefore, dog owners must be so desperate for love as to be nearly undeserving of it. The willingness of dogs to learn tricks is a result not of their intelligence but of their dopey eagerness to please. That cats can't be bothered to sit or heel on command is, their partisans insist, a sign that they are more clever by half. Cats are also self-cleaning, slobber-free, hand when you've got a mouse problem and on't have to be walked.

The rest of Miller's essay is also well worth reading. I wrote something similar--with my cat preference clearly spelled out--back in 2009 in Afrikaans.

Personally, although I have had and loved dogs, I am undeniably a cat person. It is indeed the fact that one has to earn a cat's love, that I like about them. In this regard a relationship with a cat is more on an equal plane, rather than a master-subject relationship as is the case with dogs. But actually, I just find cat's very beautiful. A part of it is that they are hunters, I think. Dogs, like jackal, are mostly scavengers. Yes, dogs do hunt, but when they do it is usually as part of a pack, which reminds me a bit of gangs. Cats, on the other hand, would find the idea of being part of a pack, a gang, a posse, quite distasteful--as do I. I'm guessing that is part of it, isn't it? I don't like groups and am not someone to succumb to peer pressure. With friends I prefer the depth of one-on-one encounters, rather than the superficiality of a party.

I found the following video quite hilarious.

Friday, 19 April 2013

About Women's Beauty and the Absence of Manhood

Dove has a new video that is going viral at the moment. It is about women's flawed self-perceptions and how they tend to perceive themselves in a negative light in comparison to how other's see them.

I liked the video -- but then the person who sent it to me, also sent me a link to a blogger's analysis of the video. The blogger made some piercing observations and highlighted a big problem with modern expectations of beauty. I highly recommend you watch the video and read the blogger's post.

The post made me think of one of my favourite essays which I do in one of my classes every year. It is by Susan Sontag and about the problem of beauty--how it is both a power source for women, but also a way of negating power from women--a way to always make them the fairer, and by implication, the weaker sex. Anyone interested in gender equality and parents concerned about the values they teach their daughters will find value in reading Sontag's "Women's Beauty: Put-Down or Power Source?" (No copyright infringement is intended with the sharing of this link.)

This then made me think of something else I read recently regarding men. While women in the modern Western world have seized the gender equality they deserve, men have in a sense abdicated their role as men. Young men, it seems, get stuck in a state of pre-adulthood: neither adolescent, nor adult; unwilling to grow up and take up the responsibilities of manhood, leaving the question: "Where Have All the Good Men Gone?" The article is a very interesting read.

I think part of the problem is the lack of fathers, mentors, and role-models. In years gone by, sons used to learn a family trade. This close working relationship between father and son was a way to nurture the boy into adulthood. "Masculinity is bestowed," as John Eldredge so famously said in his book Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul. A boy becomes a man through the guidance of his father (or a father figure). The problem is, however, that father's are generally absent; they may be workaholics--as my father was--or just plain missing, and the boy has to stumble his way towards adulthood without the guidance he needs. Sure he becomes an adult, but does he truly become a man? I wrote about my personal journey in adulthood and manhood some years back. It is still a topic I find fascinating.

I've watched the first season of Kitchen Nightmares recently and a common theme that I noticed was how these men (often the problems in the restaurants featured in the series involved a man not manning up to responsibility) really just needed someone who can tell him to get his act together, but also tell him that he has faith in him, that he can make it. In other words, these men just needed an involved and encouraging father (-figure). I wonder how much of the world's problems are centered in this very issue: absent, uninvolved fathers?

Even though there is still room for progress, there have been many good changes towards gender equality. At the same time, however, the genders have also lost much of their innate respective value, and it seems to be at a cost.

Pocket -- reading the webpages I don't have the time to read, but want to

One of the elements on the side of this blog included a list titled Web Pages I Fully Intend to Read One of These Uncertain Days. These were things I found interesting and hope to read eventually, but they are not a priority so I just listed them there for when I have the free time to get to them. The thing is, however, whenever I do have the free time, I'm not necessarily in front of my computer and when I am in front of my computer I often have more pressing or interesting things I'd like to do instead.

Here's the list of pages I haven't gotten to yet. Some of them have been on that list for a couple of years!

Then I discovered Pocket. This great app allows me to save webpages from my browser with one click into my "pocket", allowing me to retrieve them on any computer or on my smart phone during those times I do actually have the time to read something, like while commuting on the bus or subway, while waiting in line somewhere, or in the movie theater during the trailers before the feature starts.

What I like about Pocket is that it renders the webpages in an easy to read format, similar to a Kindle reader, making the reading clutter free and efficient. One can also add tags to the pages to sort them according to keywords. It is not really a feature I have used much yet, but I can see the value in it, and as I start to use Pocket for more focused reading, I will definitely use it. I've tried some other online readers, but this is definitely my favourite at the moment.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The North Korean Threat

Image Source
A number of concerned family and friends have been texting me, asking what the situation here in Korea is like--if I am safe? So I decided to quickly respond in this post.

The first important thing to realize is that the two countries are technically still at war. However, since 1953 when the countries agreed on a seize fire, the peninsula has been relatively peaceful. Of course there had been the occasional incident, just to underscore the point that the two countries are still at it, but has been mostly symbolic rather than truly serious. Particularly North Korea has felt a need to bark up the tree every so often. I guess it is good for their suffocating economy and every dictator knows it helps to keep the masses in check if you keep them focused on an outside threat. It is not altogether different from what even democracies are doing, for instance America's constant focus on the terrorist threat.

Regardless of North Korea's recent war talks, in both South Korea and North Korea life is continuing on as usual--whatever "life as usual" means for these two countries respectively. In South Korea it means that people are still going to work early and coming home late, the K-Pop stars are still dancing provocatively, and kimchi is still eaten by the tons. The new South Korean president has issued a statement that South Korea would unwaveringly retaliate to any North Korean attack if it occurs, but that is to be expected of a leader, and especially of a new one. President Park was only elected a few months ago. She also said that girls that show too much skin in their daily fashions will get a $50 fine. Politicians say many things about many things.

Basically, I'm not too concerned and I don't think my life is in any more danger than it would have been had I lived in South Africa. In fact, I think South Korea is by and large much safer than South African, even with the North Korean threat.

Now, it is not wholly impossible for war to occur. America and South Korea's joint military exercises are definitely displays of threat, which is putting the jittery North Korea on edge. Particularly the United States' stealth bombers which had been flying over the Korean peninsula of late could cause a trigger-happy, insecure boy-dictator to act irresponsible. Whether the North Korean leader is indeed trigger-happy and insecure I do not know. I doubt he is stupid though. He must know that a war would be the end of him. American and South Korean forces far out weigh North Korea's outdated arsenal of weapons and a war would mean the end of the Kim-regime just as the Iraqi war meant the end of Saddam Hussein.

So what would make me sit upright in my chair? Well, if North Korea suddenly expel or imprison the South Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Region. This is basically an industrial complex just north of the North Korea-South Korea border (i.e. in North Korea). North Koreans and South Koreans both work at the industrial complex. The moment we see North Korea shut down the complex, or deny South Korean workers access, or imprison South Koreans at the complex--that is when I will worry about war on the peninsula. Since the industrial complex started in 2003, production there has not stopped even during the most tumultuous back-and-forth bickering between the two countries.

The latest news is that it is still "Business as Usual at the Kaesong Industrial Park", although some say that there is some tension in the air.

Another element that could also suggest actual trouble is China's reaction. China is North Korea's main and probably only ally. This means that China has the best insight into North Korean politics. Beijing and Pyongyang also have a defense treating, so that the one would come to the other's aid in time of war. What is worrying is that China has been sending military towards the North Korean border since the middle of March. In other words, China is backing up its promise to aid North Korea in a time of war. What we are seeing here is both the United States of America and China are showing solidarity to their allies. If war action were to take place in Korea, it would be a world war, not merely a local war, affecting everyone around the world.