Dumb ways to die – be safe around guns!

Recent situation on the West and aggressive politics of Russia is certainly worrying most of the world. Those who are touched by the problem the most are Ukrainians, but their neighbours don’t feel completely safe either. Some Poles are also afraid of the possible danger. Thus, a draft of the bill concerning legalisation of gunfire in order to protect your home prepared by an organization called Citizen Movement of Gun Lovers (Ruch Obywatelski Miłośników Broni) has been brought to the debate. The vice chairman of this organisation wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, to state that he and his organisation along with their supporters think that everybody should have legal access to guns, in order to protect ‘domestic peace’. But I really doubt that this is good idea.

Firstly, we should keep in mind that actually you can have legal gun in Poland.  The thing is that you have to go through numerous trainings and you are examined. This way, it is very unlikely a weapon will be obtained by somebody who may potentially be dangerous to others. And you are able to handle gun properly. Not ensuring that the person to be given permission is responsible enough not to go around and kill people and animals on his or her way is a huge mistake, especially in a politically and economically unstable country which Poland certainly is. Even if this country has one of the most strict policies towards gunfire, arming people who are angry at the  government and dissatisfied with their lives may not be the best idea.

The gun culture is something we associate the United States with. Its history starts with Samuel Colt and lasts till today, as it is important part of American culture. The famous Second  Amendment is probably what some Poles would like to see in their law. But the statistics are clear – the more strict policy towards gunfire, the less hold ups there are in the country. In the USA each year more than 11 000 people die by the firearm, while in Poland in 2012 there were only about 500 crimes involving gunfire, with only 30 murders. Of course, there is also Switzerland where guns are easily accessible and the gun crime rate is one of the lowest in the world. But the society is completely different and the social gap almost doesn’t exist unlike in United States and Poland. pistol-106630_640   The main argument for facilitating the access to guns is to protect our lives and property. But people don’t seem to want guns around. Recently, I saw a debate about the safety of Poland during which one of the representatives of nationalistic party, that is very fond of the idea, asked if what others think about legalizing gunfire. Everybody laughed. It probably shows the general attitude towards weapons among Poles – let’s invest on professional army who is able to protect our property as the idea of teaching teenagers how to shoot seem  potentially dangerous. But on the other hand, reading comments along the web, there is also plenty of people wanting everybody to have possibility to have legal weapon. So as always, there are those who are in favour and those who are not.

When I was browsing the website of the ROMB is that there is a lot of quotes from such great personalities as Bonaparte or Thomas Jefferson. But uploading only half of a quote I deem inappropriate. I was struck when I saw only the first part of famous words by John Fitzgerald Kennedy – ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’. These words are all about  patriotism and willingness to stand for your country. Using it in the gun context seem out of line to me. Let alone the fact that some of these sentences seem absolutely out of touch with the subject.

All in all, nobody said that current world order and peace assured by organisations such as UN or do EU will last forever. In today’s world, we have to think how strong in the military way we have to be in order to maintain peace. Even if it’s a paradox, the logic says that if we have power to fight back, we will be left alone. But let’s not risk galloping rate of gun crime. It’s not worth it.

 

Winnetou and the stereotyping of Native Americans

Who was the first people to dwell the continent of North America? Famous Pilgrim Fathers? Not really. The oldest inhabitants are Native Americans who lived peacefully with nature, worshipping Mother Earth and Great Spirit. Children listen to the stories of brave Chiefs and Pocahontas’ love. We seem to forget that they are still normal people, living in today’s world, not only in legends and myths.

The ordinary people’s knowledge about Indigenous people comes from literature and films. They perceive them as all looking the same – black, straight hair, with no facial hair, with the same colour of skin. To a large extent, these stereotypes are based on famous stories by Karl May “Winnetou”, a German teacher who wrote innumerable novels about Native Americans in the 19th century. Interestingly, May had never seen Native Americans with his own eyes. Westerns and documentaries in general have tended to portray Natives in stereotypical terms: the wise elder, the aggressive drunk, the Indian princess, the loyal sidekick, obese and impoverished. These images have become known all across North America. Stereotyped issues include simplistic characterizations, romanticizing of Native culture and stereotyping by omission—showing American Indians in a historical rather than modern context. We still tend to think about them as “Indians” which is  now commonly considered pejorative.

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A series of stories about Wild West by Karl May.

Some of the tribes had very well-developed societies as for example Sioux had. Their government was divided equally – men were chiefs, but they were dependent on women that chose them and stripped of power if needed. It is said that Siox people influenced the first constitution of United States. Besides, it was Native Americans, especially one – named Squanto who taught first white men on the territory how to survive on land where their seeds wouldn’t grow and the land seem hostile. So why they had to be put through so much?

Colonisation always involves killing, territorial expansion and eradication of culture. That’s more of less history of Native Americans. White men wanted the land – more and more of it, moving the boundaries of where red-skinned people lived, killing many in the process.The interesting thing is that contrary to the popular belief,  Indians have not mostly been killed by gunfire, but died of white men’s diseases and alcohol which they were vulnerable to. Another black mark on the history is residential schools in Canada. Created in 1870’s by Catholic church and Canadian government, these places were destined “to kill Indian in the child”. And more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were taken from their families and treated them as subhuman. Many reported emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The last school was closed not so many years ago, in 1996.

Moreover, the stereotypes have real impact on Indigenous people’s lives. As for example, Indigenous women are considered to be sexually available and willing to have intercourse with any and every man. Such misconceptions lead to murder, rape and violence of Native women and girls by non-Native men. But the physical violence is not the only damage done to Indigenous people. Stereotypes become discrimination when the assumptions of being more prone to violence and alcoholism limit job opportunities. This leads directly to Indians being viewed less stable economically, making it more difficult for those that have succeeded to fully enjoy the benefits is the same way that non-Indians do, such as obtaining credit. The government also spend statistically less on their kids’ education in comparison to other children. Even though it is commonly said that in return for their land, natives get some benefits that other do not, it is certainly not true.

In the heat of the debate about their rights and its infringements, we seem to forget that they are all people like us. To fight the stereotypes, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made efforts to improve the portrayals of Aboriginal people in its television dramas. Spirit Bay, The Beachcombers, North of 60 and The Rez used Native actors to portray their own people, living real lives and earning believable livelihoods in identifiable parts of the country. Unfortunately many of accurate portrayals even if critically acclaimed are not widely distributed and existing in mainstream. Although, there are few exceptions, for example one of the most popular song from American rock band, Anthrax named “Indians” that is about injustice in treating Indigenous people.

In the age of globalisation, when no matter which end of the continent you are currently in, you have the same Starbucks and the same menu in the restaurants, preserving your culture and traditions is very rare. Let’s sometimes look up to those who have suffered so much and still want to live in harmony with nature, being grateful for the world.

 

Gaza’s conflict – let’s watch it together

Right now you are probably in front of a screen, sipping your favorite tea, wearing clothes that were made in China and thinking about the dinner you will eat later on. You more or less have anything you need to live. Yet you still complain. You’ve got your reasons – high unemployment rate, galloping inflation or these annoying neighbours who play that goddamn guitar every evening. And when we peacefully coexist in a society where the most important event is the final match of World Cup, somewhere else, in the Gaza Region, people are mercifully killed. The rest of the world just watch it with indifferent faces, acknowledging just one of the today’s news.

The conflict between Arabs and Jews on the territory of Israel has its roots in the aftermath of Second World War, when in 1948 Israel has been created as an independent country. Since that time, Palestinians and Israeli deem that territory as theirs and thus there are constant problems, especially in Jerusalem – the city which no body wants to give up on. Both sides have their reasons and both have lived there for quite a long time. In many cases, they were able to inhabit the same villages without killing each other, some even walk up the aise with ‘the enemy’. But as the land is divided into two different communities, having two different languages, Hewbrew and Arabic, and people want to achieve their goals by military actions, it is very unlikely that they will gain anything more than another casualties. Families separated, maybe never to be reunited again. Is this right to do such things in the name of territory and religious beliefs?

The bombing on the border of Gaza City started about two weeks ago. More than three hundred people passed away, mostly civilians. But show must go on. Citizens of Gaza City still work five days a week and send their children to schools. Once in a while there is a signal to run to the shelters, when the bombers are approaching. Some have to just lay on the ground, no matter where they currently are. In shelters, there are women with only few nails coloured or in the process of getting their new haircut, because the attack surprised them at the manicurist or hairdresser. Can you imagine living with fear that any moment a bomb can be dropped right where you stand? It is no surprise than so many need tranquillizers or sedatives.

What is even less surprising is a fact that amidst the body fighting, tanks and general chaos, people flee their homes, almost bare handed. More than 50,000 have already fled and this number will probably rise even more. Even the famous writer, Sayed Kashua, who has been writing about the Israelis and Palestinian stories for more than 25 years announced he is leaving his beloved Jerusalem for the United States, place where he and his family will be safe. At some point, the safety becomes more important than the love of your homeland.

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Yesterday, there was a protest in London during which thousands of protestes demanding a ceasefire and freedom for Palestinians. But most of us just sit and watch how the situation changes every few hours. There’s no bomb to blow up all your possessions and no gunmen to take away your life. Respect it and do everything not to lose that luxury.

Fast food culture – calories that make you happy

   Who have never been to the McDonald’s in his or her life? Or never ate in that hot-dog stand nearby? I suppose hardly anyone. Modern lifestyle revolving around tasks and deadlines, makes us more impatient, caring more about the speed than about quality. It can be applied not only to food, but also to the work done or services. But is this the only reason why we spend so much time and money in such restaurants?

   Junk food overflows the world. We don’t want (or we cannot afford) to eat in fancy restaurants where you have to spend quite a sum on a dinner which will be probably too small for your liking. Let alone time required to prepare that boeuf stroganoff you ordered. We want our food to be quick, cheap and in large size. The fact that it is harmful for our health, containing a lot of calories and saturated fats is only a minor drawback. If you only have twenty minutes to eat something in between two meetings with clients who ensure your safe place at work, you won’t be worried about how healthy your diet is. But as you think of it, fast foods are not stuffed with businessmen and women. It is full of teenagers. image  
  Let’s not forget that the main reason we eat out is to socialise. Young people crowd in Mc Donald’s after school or during holidays as there is not many places to go, especially if you don’t live in a big city. Besides, since early childhood we were taken for a cheeseburger and cola by our parents as a reward for being polite or doing some houseworks. This way, we always see junk food as something special and when we can go there by our own, we do it a lot. Sometimes I see mothers with children as young as four or five years, ordering Happy Meals with a nice toy. That’s just another reason why we like to eat junk food that much – we associate it with that careless times when we had so much fun playing and spending time with our parents.   

The popularity of fast food restaurants, which is part and parcel of our globalized world, makes local food industry disappear. Some countries defend themselves against this phenomenon, as France does, but of little avail. Even in Israel the burger industry is big, swerving the kosher meat – as the religious tradition requires. There’s no way of stopping it. Fast food culture is something we associate with modern world as much as social media, smartphones and watching TV every evening.

   As a result, the percentage of obese people with health problems is constantly growing. Those whose habit is to drop by and leave with a paper bag full of salt, sugar, fats and calories are susceptible to future weight problems, heart attacks, high blood pressure and many more. But healthy food is not necessarily expensive, although in some cases  may be, but it surely requires time and effort. But for the good physique and general condition it is worth it. Cook something by yourself on a regular basis and enjoy some burger now and then. All within reason and you will be in good shape for a long time.   

America’s dream of Independence

Today is the Fourth of July. Two hundred and thirty eight years ago United States ceased to be only a British colony, becoming an independent country. Back in XVIth century, considered a land of wilderness and new opportunities, a land where the Pilgrim Fathers hoped to find their own place, free from England’s ‘ungodliness’. Today, America is probably the most important and most powerful country in the world, having the newest technology, the most popular ( and controversial at the same time) stars and celebrities and being one of the richest countries in the world.

American culture may be experienced everywhere – we, Europeans are as much influenced by United States as United States are influenced by us. It is not only about the endless fast food chains that overflow all countris of the Old World. It is much more than that. We would miss a lot, had the country not been born. It gave birth to so many influential figures, ideas and inventions. Maybe we wouldn’t argue about whether modern art is rubbish or not if Andy Warhol hadn’t  shocked the whole art world saying that anything is art, presenting soup cans as his new work of art. And how different the way we create films could be if we hadn’t our beloved Hollywood. No Citizen Kane, no Casablanca, no Marilyn Monroe. And some of the most thought-provoking books as Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Walt Whitman’s groundbreaking poem Leaves of Grass, which changed the way people look at poetry to this day. During more than two hundred days Americans created their very own identity. image

The American's Old Glory. Source: http://www.whatistruth.info

The culture is an important part of the nation, but not the only one. Let’s not forget how many inventions we have now due to American people. In today’s world almost everybody owns a car – we can mostly owe this to the Henry Ford’s dream that every worker can afford an automobile. Samuel Colt’s made the mass production of revolvers and pistols possible, making rich himself and the generations after (whether it brought good or not, I cannot answer, but it was certainly pivotal point for world’s history). Also, you probably wouldn’t be reading this now if Americans didn’t came up with the idea of connecting the computers by a network, called now Interbet. Sounds banal? Well, it has not always been that way.

One of the first things that comes to mind when we think about United States is the beautiful concept of ‘American Dream’ and ‘rags to riches’. No matter how unrealistic your aims are, through hard work, motivation and belief you can do everything. You are your own key to success and you can, and even are expected to, strive to be better version of yourself. Just follow your dream and get it.    But America’s not the paradise on earth, even if it may appear so. It also have social problems, political wars, famous stupid laws and social stratification as the gap between the rich and the poor is enormous. But they are, without a shadow of doubt, a brave nation who value freedom and justice very much. So, happy independence day, my dear Americans!

Literature? Who on earth reads books?

Computers make the world go around. We cannot live without technology, and I don’t mean the teenagers who wouldn’t be able to check their facebook and instagram accounts anymore. It is everywhere and we are completely dependent on it, as it is necessary in so many areas of life – a doctor use their computer programs to analyze the progress of chemotherapy, a stockbroker needs the Internet to observe changes on the market, a librarian use achieves to find a particular book. Most schools use various programs and tools which facilitate the learning process. Some teachers are even unable to make lessons without their notebook with access to Internet. Moreover, we should bear in mind that in the world there’s more ‘virtual’ money than we can back up by the real currency. If the system goes down, our money stored in banks will simply disappear, leading in riot and social unrest.

Generally speaking, technology makes our lives easier and is a very positive phenomenon. But since we can do almost everything with it, we are getting more and more lazy. What’s the point in calculating anything if a computer can do it for you and in addition will highlight the most important figures? The danger starts when one doesn’t see the reason in reading books if he can surf the net instead.

Young people tend to spend more time behind the screen (on their PCs, tablets, smartphones or other devices enabling quick connection to the Web) than the adults, wasting huge amounts of time playing Angry Birds, liking their friends’ photos on facebook or chatting online. It is said that the generations that grew up with computers are less intelligent, less sociable and less read. Teenagers take no interest in reading books. Their knowledge about literature ends with some information about set books the teachers told them, because few of them have read it themselves. And if they have some story on paper ( or online, e-books are becoming more and more popular) it is mostly not Waiting for Godot, but something more like Twilight or Fifty shades of grey. The popularity of these kind of literature is unbelievable. Even if there are novels written by young ambitious writers, it usually doesn’t receive great popularity, which only vampire stories can attain. But maybe what is popular should not be of quality, but be written in simple language and tell the simple stories – of romance, cheating, family feud or school life. And all the characters are just like hundred similar before and after. Plastic hero in plastic story for plastic people in plastic world. The literature has been dethroned. Using the newest iPad is cool, reading books is not.
Fortunately, printed word is not yet completely forgotten
We cannot ascribe this phenomenon only to the Internet, although it is responsible for enormous part of it. The second is the way we are educated – since every employer wants a specialist in one particular domain, nobody cares about general knowledge. Nobody requires a lawyer to know how many orbitals the atom of hydrogen has or the chemist to know who the Frederick Nietzsche was. Nobody ain’t time for reading, especially if the set books were an unpleasant experience back in the day. Since that time, novels and poetry are things considered ‘for swots only’. But wouldn’t it be good if all citizens of a country knew the most important figures for their homeland’s history? One might ask what for. For the sake of knowledge itself. An educated person should know certain things.

There is, though, a lot of social campaigns encouraging people to read and they have been largely successful in many countries of Europe. It is very important to emphasize the importance of reading in our lives, as the activity that enriches our vocabulary and imagination, simultaneously widening our horizons and sometimes even changing our views on world. Let’s not forget that literature makes the culture.

 

Dress code

The summer has begun. The scorching sun makes people all sweaty and looking for a fan or a seat near the window. It is natural the higher the temperature goes, the scantier the people dress (within reason, of course). But the problem appears when men are allowed to go shirtless and women are frowned upon when they put on shorts or a top with moderate cleavage. It is especially visible in schools, as in workplaces people are usually dressed in a way it is acceptable for the company, although it is not always a rule. But when a teenager, who already kicks against all possible rules, is told what he is to wear, it cannot end well.

Dress code is sometimes necessary and understandable, as for example in politics or marketing, in situations when you have to deal with customer or represent a big company or political party. Then you must look professional, but being professional doesn’t have to mean that you must wear the same attire in summer and in winter. For example French police officers have two kinds of uniforms – one with light materials and with short sleeves for the warmer part of the year and one more ‘heavy’, for wintertime. It is a solution which is very good for both image of institution and for people working on behalf of it. There are also some initiatives to make employees more comfortable not only in their clothes, but in company in general, such as allowing the workers to dress more casually on Fridays.
The way one dress is very important for an individual, and the right to wear whatever you want is as important as the freedom of speaking your mind.

The high schools and their expectations of how their attendants should look like is a completely different story. Firstly, we have young people who aren’t necessarily willing to comply with what the principal says is allowed and what is not. Some schools have their uniforms and nobody have any problem with it. But in most of them, there are only some rules what you cannot dress, rules which majority breaks. The question is if these regulation follow the common sense or not, and if they treat everybody the same way. Making girls put on so-called modest attire when boys are allowed to wear almost anything and giving an argument that any part of women’s (girls in high school age are almost adult, at least in terms of appearance) body which is not covered would distract their male peers or male teachers is ridiculous. It is a claim that men have no brain to tell them that they shouldn’t touch anyone without their consent and excusing such actions by putting the guilt on females.

The problem also lies in the language we use while addressing such issues. Few moths ago, all Internet talked about a 16-year-old girl who was offended when their principal used the phrase ‘the modest the hottest’, as a mean to get the girls to cover their bodies. But it is somehow inappropriate to use such sexually-connotated word to get what he wants. Especially as most girls in that age already have low self-esteem and such sentences are very unlikely to improve their situation, making them ashamed of their bodies.
Another thing is how teachers address these who violate these rules and for example come to school in shorts or leggings – some make humiliating remarks like ‘why you are wearing panties in school?’ or even tell them to put on shorts when they have leggings (but that one is extreme). Let’s have some mutual respect, teachers towards pupils and vice versa.

It is obvious that we cannot let everything pass without a word, some rules must be followed in order to ensure safety and good atmosphere in class. But going too far in one or other way will do no good. Neither very strict nor very liberal policy towards the clothes is good. School should ensure that their pupils know how to dress appropriately for it will be required of them afterwards, and also that each of them have some freedom to express himself or herself through their clothing. Both things should be learned at high school and be obvious in adult life.