Friday, 25 October 2013

It's not the guns, it's the culture

So two days ago two American policemen shot and killed a boy carrying a plastic toy gun. The policemen were probably all trigger happy because of the recent Nevada school shooting where a pupil went on a shooting spree, thinking that this boy was also on his way to do something similar.

There is something really out of whack in America. I mentioned at the beginning of the year about America's "gun-threat": the case of a kindergarten kid getting in trouble for blowing bubbles with a toy bubble "gun", a 6-year old boy getting suspended for making a "gun gesture" with his fingers, and a fifth grader getting in trouble for having a paper "gun".

Now I'm not trying to make light of the recent school shootings, but let's get it clear -- it is not because of guns. There are many countries in the world with lots of access to guns, yet kids don't go on shooting sprees.  Take South Africa for instance, where illegal guns are rampant, but I can't remember any case of a mass killing by a pupil. In fact, mass killings are quite uncommon in South Africa -- a country infamous for its high violent crime rate. Or think of Switzerland. Time Magazine reports:

Switzerland trails behind only the U.S, Yemen and Serbia in the number of guns per capita; between 2.3 million and 4.5 million military and private firearms are estimated to be in circulation in a country of only 8 million people. Yet, despite the prevalence of guns, the violent-crime rate is low: government figures show about 0.5 gun homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. By comparison, the U.S rate in the same year was about 5 firearm killings per 100,000 people, according to a 2011 U.N. report.

These killing sprees are therefore not a gun thing. It is, it would seem, a culture thing. Something else is at play in America. Possibly a culture of violence.

The philosopher John Kozy explains it as follows in his essay Violence: The American Way of Live:

The United States of America was conceived and nurtured by violence.
Americans not only engage in violence, they are entertained by it.
Killing takes place in America at an average of 87 times each day. Going to war in Afghanistan is less dangerous than living in Chicago.
The Romans went to the Coliseum to watch people being killed. In major cities, Americans just look out their windows. Baseball, once America’s national game, a benign, soporific sport, has been replaced by football which is so violent it destroys the brains of those who play it. Violent films, euphemized as action flicks, dominate our motion picture theatres and television sets. Our children play killing video games.
So do you really believe that gun control will miraculously make America into a tranquil nation? Do you really believe that outlawing products and practices will make Americans peace loving? A culture cannot be changed by laws, change requires a sustained effort over several generations. Are Americans  up to the task?

Sorry to give the spoiler to his essay, but Kozy doubts that Americans can change such a deeply ingrained culture. It just worries me, though, because the USA is a cultural trendsetter and their most prominent export is pop-culture.

And the increased police brutality is scaring me. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Some things I did over the last four weeks

It has been almost exactly a month since my last update. I've been quite busy with various things and honestly, a bit lazy about updating my blog. One reason is that I've started using a Korean mobile phone app that works similar to Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram called Kakao Story. Since it is so much quicker to just take a photo with my phone, write a sentence or two, and post it with almost instantaneous feedback from my followers, it has admittedly given more gratification. One of the main reasons for this blog is for me to record my life, and jot down some of my thoughts about stuff - I have a bad memory and therefore I use this blog as a type of journal. I also started this blog as a way to keep my friends and families updated with my life, but I have found that they are fare more likely to follow me on other SNSs than come visit me at my blog.

Well, these other apps are achieving these goals much better and consumes less time. What I like about the blog though is that it gives me the room to write my thoughts out better. The problem is, however, that these days I'm so busy that I don't have much time to do much writing. I guess I'll have to rethink the value of my blog versus the other SNSs that I use. It would be great if I can update all of the SNSs at the same time, rather than having to update them individually, which is clearly not working well.

In any case, here is a selection of things I did these last couple of weeks.

In the middle of September I went to see the Broadway musical American Idiot based on Green Day's album by the same name. It was awesome.

I usually buy shoes whenever I go to South Africa because it is difficult to find shoes that fit me here in Korea, but since I have not been able to visit South Africa in a while I have not been able to buy any new shoes and I've been in serious need of some new shoes for work. Then the other day a new E-Mart opened very close to my house and there is a small shoe outlet with American stock. It was fantastic. I bought four pairs. I'm yet to wear the red shoes though. Obviously they were not bought for work purposes.

Over Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) my employer gave me a box of vegetarian meets. Speaking of my employer -- the last weekend in September the freshmen students had to go on a camp and us lecturers had to join them for a few hours -- about an hour and a half trip one way.

The South African Embassy in Korea initiated a new association for students studying in Korea. At the end of September the new South African Students in Korea (SASKOR) was founded, and I was chosen as chairperson. If you know of any South Africans studying in Korea, or if you know of anybody wanting to come and study in Korea, please get them in touch with me.  I'm standing next to the ambassador in the photo above.

The embassy also put the new leadership for SASKOR up in a hotel for one night during our conference. I had a very pleasant evening.

I won a one month membership to a private lounge (Roni Project) in Gangnam in Seoul, allowing me unlimited free drinks. I've been spending many hours there recently, working in various projects.

One of the main things I've been working on has been the page layout for the second edition of the South African literature and arts magazine Guillotine. The magazine is sold at Protea bookshops in South Africa. The launch for the second edition happened last week Friday in Hatfield, Pretoria. This edition of Guillotine focused on the city Pretoria, featuring articles on architecture, art, poets and writers that are connected with the capital city.

As always, I'm still constantly busy with martial arts training. The photo above shows some recent bruises from Taekwon-Do sparring. I also hosted and organised some martial arts workshops for my group The Seoul Martial Arts Circle. In September we had a Basic Grappling Self-Defence session that I taught, a Kicking and Counter-Kicking workshop taught by my friend Leo Snel and an Introduction to Dahn Mudo workshop. This coming Sunday I will teach a Basic Martial Arts Principles workshop. Speaking of martial arts, have I mentioned somewhere that I got my 3rd Dan in Hapkido?

I recently went to see a production of The Tempest by the Chekhov International Theatre Festival which is a Russian theatre company directed by Declan Donnellan. Even thought the production is in Russian and French, I still thought it was brilliant. Of course, it helps being an English Literature lecturer who is familiar with many Shakespeare plays. You can see a YouTube trailer of the production here.

Last weekend (or was it the weekend before last?) I went to the annual Seoul International Fireworks Festival at which time Korea and three other guest countries put on a fireworks display like nothing you have seen before. I try to go to it every year, but I missed it last year. Of course it is tremendously popular. The photo above shows thousands of people waiting at the subway station, trying to get onto the train to get closer to the Han River where the fireworks festival is held. I'm thinking of next year either renting a boat or hiking to a nearby mountain.

Well, these are some of the things I did recently. They are all I can remember because I took pictures of them. Of course there are more . . . I hanged out with friends, ate good food, found a new chocolate place (see the photo), did exercise, worked, studied (PhD still going strong), and did the regular household chores that I dislike doing such as laundry, dishes, and the like. During August and September I watched all three seasons of the funny show Bored to Death. I also finished watching the sci-fi series Farscape. I just watched the last episode (a movie) today. The first season started of very slow, but once it gained momentum it was great fun. Now I'm watching the second season of the brilliant show The Newsroom and after that I plan to start watching a Korean series, probably Iris 2.

Today I gave an exam in my Creative Writing class and tomorrow I'll give a poetry writing workshop in the same class.

Oh, and I caught a cold.