Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Gun Violence, Media and Politics

In media, Uncategorized on July 27, 2012 at 2:39 pm
Federally-supported gun violence intervention ...

Federally-supported gun violence intervention program (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since the Colorado massacre, debate has been raging in the media over America’s gun laws.  Republican pundits such as Bill O’Reilly and Greg Gutfeld have referenced similar cases of shootings in countries not traditionally associated with  gun violence,  like the horrific rampage in a Norwegian summer camp  in 2011, to make the case that the issue is the psychological profile of the individuals committing the crimes, and not America’s gun laws which need to be reviewed.

Certainly, in the case of  Jared Loughner who killed six bystanders and shot thirteen others, including US representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona last year, fellow classmates had expressed concern over his psychological state.

With the scandal over 28 year old George Zimmerman’s shooting of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin having only just disappeared from the media spotlight, to claim that other countries suffer from as much gun violence if not more seems besides the point.  The CDC US crime survey taken in 2005 puts the total firearm related death rate in the US at 10.27 per 100,000 population. This is somewhere in-between Mexico and the Philippines, but significantly higher than Argentina. According to these statistics, the US homicide rate is only slightly lower than that of Zimbabwe.

List of countries by firearm-related death rate

This is a historical list of countries by firearm-related death-rate per 100,000 population in one year.

Country Total firearm-related death rate Homicides Suicides Unintentional deaths Year Sources and notes
 South Africa 74.57 74.57 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Colombia 51.77 51.77 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 El Salvador 50.36 50.36 NA NA 2009 OAS 2011[2]
 Jamaica 47.44 47.44 NA NA 2009 OAS 2011[2]
 Honduras 46.70 46.70 NA NA 2007 OAS 2011[2]
 Guatemala 38.52 38.52 NA NA 2009 OAS 2011[2]
 Swaziland 37.16 37.16 NA NA 2004 UNODC 2006[2]
 Brazil 14.15 10.58 0.73 0.28 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Panama 12.92 12.92 NA NA 2010 OAS 2011[2]
 Estonia 12.74 8.07 3.13 0.93 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Mexico 12.07 9.88 0.91 1.27 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 United States 10.27 4.14 5.71 0.23 2004-2006 CDC[4]
 Philippines 9.46 9.46 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Argentina 9.19 2.11 3.05 0.32 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Paraguay 7.35 7.35 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Nicaragua 7.14 7.14 NA NA 2007 OAS 2011[2]
 Finland 6.86 0.86 5.78 0.12 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Northern Ireland 6.82 5.24 1.34 0.12 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Switzerland 6.4 0.58 5.61 0.13 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 France 6.35 0.44 5.14 0.11 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Canada 4.78 0.76 3.72 0.22 1992 Krug 1998[3]
 Zimbabwe 4.75 4.75 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Austria 4.56 0.42 4.06 0.05 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Norway 4.39 0.3 3.95 0.12 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Portugal 3.72 1.28 1.28 0.21 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Belgium 3.48 0.6 2.56 0.06 1990 Krug 1998[3]
 Costa Rica 3.32 3.32 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Uruguay 3.24 3.24 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Slovenia 3.07 0.35 2.51 0.2 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Barbados 3 3 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Israel 3 0.72 1.84 0.13 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Italy 2.95 1.66 1.11 0.11 1992 Krug 1998[3]
 Australia 2.94 0.44 2.35 0.11 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 New Zealand 2.66 0.17 2.14 0.09 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Denmark 2.6 0.23 2.25 0.04 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Azerbaijan 2.38 1.47 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Sweden 2.36 0.18 2.09 0.03 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Slovakia 2.17 2.17 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Peru 1.87 1.87 NA NA 2009 OAS 2011[2]
 Czech Republic 1.77 1.77 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Germany 1.57 0.22 1.17 0.04 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Greece 1.5 0.59 0.84 0.04 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Republic of Macedonia 1.28 1.28 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Kuwait 1.25 0.36 0.06 0 1995 Krug 1998[3]
 Hungary 1.21 0.23 0.88 0.09 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Ireland 1.21 0.03 0.94 0.11 1991 Krug 1998[3]
 Latvia 1.2 1.2 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 India 0.93 0.93 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Spain 0.9 0.21 0.43 0.25 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Bulgaria 0.77 0.77 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Netherlands 0.7 0.36 0.31 0.01 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Scotland 0.58 0.19 0.33 0.02 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Moldova 0.47 0.47 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Lithuania 0.46 0.46 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 England/ Wales 0.46 0.07 0.33 0.01 2002 Krug 1998[3]
 Taiwan 0.42 0.13 0.12 0.11 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Belarus 0.38 0.38 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Ukraine 0.35 0.35 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Poland 0.29 0.29 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Singapore 0.24 0.07 0.17 0 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Hong Kong 0.19 0.12 0.07 0 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Mauritius 0.19 0 0.09 0.09 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Qatar 0.18 0.18 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 South Korea 0.13 0.04 0.02 0.05 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Japan 0.07 0.02 0.04 0 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Chile 0.06 0.06 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]

Protecting Second Amendment rights is a hot-button issue for most Americans, but the fact is the misuse of firearms is a cultural problem. US citizens were appalled when then senator Obama commented in 2008:

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them,” Obama said. “And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” .

Perhaps it’s time to consider, was he really so wrong? A couple of days ago, I went to see The Dark Knight Rises and a chill went down my spine as Ann Hathaway’s character commented to Batman during an action scene “I know how you feel about using guns, but…”. It may only be a Hollywood movie, but guns are as characteristically American as apple pie. It’s figuring out how to manage them that presents the hardest task.


67 Minutes for International Mandela Day

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm
English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo date...

English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo dates from 1937. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Story by: Roane Swindon

South Africa’s largest icon recently celebrated his 94th birthday, and his nation marked International Mandela Day by giving 67 minutes of their time to a charitable act. The 67 minutes are a symbol for the time former SA president Nelson Mandela spent fighting for the freedom of the people of the country.

I can say 67 minutes a year is not enough to make a real difference, and a lot of South African companies acknowledged this fact by investing and promising much more time and money to a good cause. As an example, popular radio station Jacaranda 94.2 adopted a school for the entire year.

However, many South Africans made an effort to do something on the day, and for many, it’s the only charity work they’ll do for the entire year. Driving back from my hour and a half service with my team from work, we discussed the fact that 67 minutes was not long enough and it was also not acceptable to do something good for only a single day in the year.

The problem for many South Africans, though, is that they have good intentions, but are not eager to commit to a charitable project, especially in the face of the seeming futility of helping out. People got caught up in the spirit of Madiba Day, especially after massive companies promised huge donations that really make a difference.

The problem for the normal man on the street though is that small offerings for charity feel like a drop in the ocean for most of us. It is disheartening to see the rampant homelessness amongst the population, and we are faced with poverty on a daily basis. Add to this the fact that the government is seen to be squandering taxpayers’ money at the expense of “generational fun days” and paying for the medical costs of former political cadres convicted of fraudulent activities, and the average South African is completely downcast.

So what is the solution for the average human being trying to make a difference to the lives of those around them amidst the political posturing that goes on around them?

It’s easy, in my opinion. Spend 67 minutes of your year on a charitable act, but whatever you do, treat your fellow human being with respect and courtesy every day. Smile when you say thank you to the lady packing your grocery bag or to the hawker offering you goods, even if you’re saying no to him. Stand aside to let someone past you first, ask the security guard how they are, and give away your last sandwich to the beggar standing on the corner – yes, even if he’ll possibly throw it down on the floor.

All in all, you might spend five minutes of your day being nice to those around you, and in the end you’ll be spending almost 2,000 minutes making a small difference. It might only be a drop in the ocean, but the smallest drop can create a ripple.

10 ways to speak like a native English speaker

In stuff, Uncategorized on July 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Some students never learn! Do you ever feel disheartened by your slow progress with learning English? Perhaps you feel ‘stuck’ at a certain level, as though you’ve reached a plateau? Actually, this is a common misconception students often voice. In the initial stages of language learning, you may feel that you are making rapid progress, as you continue to learn you will be honing the knowledge you have already gained, working on your accent, and acquiring new vocabulary, idiomatic English phrases and phrasalverbs. Even if you’re relatively fluent, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re speaking accurately. Perhaps you need to work on improving your pronunciation? Above all, it’s important to stay focused and motivated – don’t get complacent!

English Language Camp 2008 SMK Taman Rinting 2...

English Language Camp 2008 SMK Taman Rinting 2 #224 (Photo credit: Roslan Tangah (aka Rasso))

1) Be aware of your teacher’s accent

It sounds obvious, but often students don’t realise they are taking on the traits of their language teacher. Often students who have had North American teachers will develop an approximation of a  North American accent, in addition to using North American English (quite different to British English).  Within any country there will be variations on accent and dialect, depending on where you come from.  A Scottish teacher could have ESL students who will sound very different from students being taught by a teacher from Wales. Find out where your teacher is from and expose yourself to native English speakers from other areas of the UK to familiarise yourself with the different accents and UK dialects.

2) Work, work, work on your pronunciation

Get a phoneme chart and learn them! It really is on of the most useful things you can do to improve your pronunciation. Record your spoken English on your phone, or your computer and play it back to identify continued mistakes in your pronunciation which you can work to iron out.

3) Use, but don’t overuse, phrasal verbs and idioms

Yes, phrasal verbs and idioms are great. Idiomatic English is fun and easy to remember because it is very visual. Generally, students tackle these at a higher level because they are difficult to incorporate into everyday spoken English in a natural way. Used effectively, they can impress people; used ineffectively, they can highlight that you are foreign.

Student teacher in China teaching children Eng...

Student teacher in China teaching children English. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) Review basic structures from time to time

Even if you think you have the present perfect down, you can still benefit from going back to the basics from time to time and just checking that you have been using the structures correctly. I’ve had students who took a look at exercises on the Conditionals and were astonished to discover that they had been misusing the Third Conditional for 4 years! Occasionally looking back at old grammar books or doing some exercises online should help you to pick up on any mistakes you have been making.

5) Keep building your core vocabulary

Keep a glossary of new words, and carry a notepad around with you to jot down new lexical items as you travel around. If you make a ‘mental note’, the chances are you will have forgotten what the word is by the time you get home.

6) Socialise

There is no better way to learn a language that fully immersing yourself in the culture. Socialising with native English speakers will give to an opportunity to learn idiomatic English in a natural environment, and to speak outside of the classroom. It will also give you an insight into British culture, traditions, and English people, helping you to think English!

7) Utilise every situation to maximise your education

Whether it’s a trip to the seaside, a visit to the dentist, or a date with a hot girl/boy, each situation is a chance for you to learn English in a new context. This should help you to build your vocabulary and to continue to improve.

Student preparing for exams

Student preparing for exams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8) Work on your mistakes

Once your aware that you make repeated mistakes in a particular area – for example,  misusing prepositions of time, articles, or mixing up the tenses – you can work to improve this. Take a look at some exercises to clarify the rules, then utilise the correct form in your spoken English. Unlearning bad habits is one of the most difficult things to do; however, it’s difficult but NOT impossible, and with hard work and attention to detail you can get past your mistakes.

 9) Avoid over-monitoring your speech

Worrying about what you’re going to say next is a huge barrier to fluency in English. Be careful, think before you speak, but don’t freeze up completely if you can’t work out how to use a particular tense. Just find a different way to say what you want to say. Above all, don’t worry! Making mistakes is part of the learning process and most people will be kind, helpful and understanding. They will appreciate that you are trying to communicate in English.

USFK Good Neighbor English Camp students visit...

USFK Good Neighbor English Camp students visit USAG-Humphreys (Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys)

10) Stay confident and motivated

Setting goals for yourself and being clear in what you want to achieve is probably the best way to stay motivated. But, try not to set unrealistic targets for yourself as this could lead you to become disheartened if you feel you haven’t achieved everything you set out to do. Most people seriously underestimate their linguistic abilities and sound much more natural and clear than they imagine. Be confident, enjoy studying and speaking English, and you’ll be amazed at your progress. Good luck!

Justin Bieber’s Short Fuse

In media, stuff on July 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Whether getting a ticket for speeding down a highway to avoid Paparazzi, snapping at radio DJs over Timberlake comparisons, or blowing up at over-zealous reporters, it seems that new stories about Justin Bieber’s ‘bratty behaviour’ make the headlines practically every day.

So, what about the man himself? Is he justified in wanting a little privacy, and the same rights to an opinion (or perhaps, an occassional lapse in judgement) as any other person? Or does his celebrity status make him fair game for a tabloid trashing?

Anderson Cooper’s Coming Out Matters

In media, Uncategorized on July 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm

CNN’s silver haired, blue eyed adonis, the network’s most eligible bachelor, Anderson Cooper, is now officially off the market for us ladies.

A few days ago Anderson publicly came out  in an email to The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan:

Andrew, as you know, the issue you raise is one that I’ve thought about for years. Even though my job puts me in the public eye, I have tried to maintain some level of privacy in my life. Part of that has been for purely personal reasons. I think most people want some privacy for themselves and the people they are close to. But I’ve also wanted to retain some privacy for professional reasons. Since I started as a reporter in war zones 20 years ago, I’ve often found myself in some very dangerous places. For my safety and the safety of those I work with, I try to blend in as much as possible, and prefer to stick to my job of telling other people’s stories, and not my own. I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist. I’ve always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss publicly. As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in his or her work, their private life shouldn’t matter. I’ve stuck to those principles for my entire professional career, even when I’ve been directly  12039_084asked “the gay question,” which happens occasionally. I did not address my sexual orientation in the memoir I wrote several years ago because it was a book focused on war, disasters, loss and survival. I didn’t set out to write about other aspects of my life. Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true. I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand. The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud. I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I’m not an activist, but I am a human being and I don’t give that up by being a journalist. Since my early days as a reporter, I have worked hard to accurately and fairly portray 19447_001_1563_CCgay and lesbian people in the media – and to fairly and accurately portray those who for whatever reason disapprove of them. It is not part of my job to push an agenda, but rather to be relentlessly honest in everything I see, say and do. I’ve never wanted to be any kind of reporter other than a good one, and I do not desire to promote any cause other than the truth. Being a journalist, traveling to remote places, trying to understand people from all walks of life, telling their stories, has been the greatest joy of my professional career, and I hope to continue doing it for a long time to come. But while I feel very blessed to have had so many opportunities as a journalist, I am also blessed far beyond having a great career. I love, and I am loved. In my opinion, the ability to love another person is one of God’s greatest gifts, and I thank God every day for enabling me to give and share love with the people in my life. I appreciate your asking me to weigh in on this, and I would be happy for you to share my thoughts with your readers. I still consider myself a reserved person and I hope this doesn’t mean an end to a small amount of personal space. But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter’s shield of privacy.

Anderson Cooper is an incredibly talented reporter, and his decision to come out is a very brave choice to make. Homophobia and anti-gay sentiment appears much more prevalent in the US than in the UK, where an electoral candidate’s views on gay marriage could  never be used as a platform for an election campaign or as a way to gain favour with potential voters. In addition to facing domestic opposition in the US from the religious right, Cooper of course regularly interviews foreign leaders whose political ideologies directly oppose his own. Certainly, I think Anderson Cooper’s coming out will have repercussions on the way people react to and interact with him in the future. Although I believe that reporters should be allowed the same rights of privacy as anyone else, his sexuality does matter. As a media celebrity, he has the power to raise awareness about gay rights issues, and hopefully to get some people to question their own prejudice.