johandp

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The accidental sexist

Recently I ran into a woman I met a few months ago. When I saw her I remembered she was the girlfriend of a man I had met on the same occasion. “Oh, you’re Damien’s girl,” I said immediately. I realised then my brain, despite my rational and reasonable nature, is wired for sexism.

It is peculiarly sexist that the single most important fact I could remember about this girl was that she was somehow connected to a man. My very language implied that he owned and controlled her. It would probably exaggerated to say that this implied that she had no separate existence. But it would not be a gross exaggeration.

I always find it interesting to observe how my brain does not work they I would envision it to work. I am a white heterosexual male, endowed with male white cisgender privilege. The unconscious pathways of my brain were formed in the soup of this privilege. It will take time and deliberate conscious effort to rewire them. In the mean time, feminists (and I consider myself one, despite my sexist brain), be patient with me.

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Saffa in Japan – Part 4

(This is part four of a series of posts about my impressions of Japan. Please forgive any generalisations, inaccuracies and the taint of a mindset unaccustomed to the East)

Gratuitous picture of Ramen to prove I did actually go to Japan

Gratuitous picture of Ramen to prove I did actually go to Japan

This post is an assortment of some of the more interesting things I encountered during my visit to Tokyo and some of the surrounding areas. Look out for strange English translations, museums with parasites, street music, and people who just give you pens.

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Saffa in Japan – Part 3

(This is part three of a series of posts about my impressions of Japan. Please forgive any generalisations, inaccuracies and the taint of a mindset unaccustomed to the East)

Cherry blossoms in yoyogi park

Cherry blossoms in yoyogi park

This post is loosely concerned with food and socialising in Japan. Cherry blossoms, sushi, cats, apples, bars, and more, including pictures.

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Saffa in Japan – Part 2

(This is part one of a series of posts about my impressions of Japan. Please forgive any generalisations, inaccuracies and the taint of a mindset unaccustomed to the East)

In my previous post I expressed great admiration for the culture of service and deference in Japan. However, not everything in Japan is amazing. The efficiency (things are really efficient here) and orderliness come at a cost and Japan has a darker side.

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Saffa in Japan – Part 1

Just some amazing sushi, served with the utmost humility.

Just some amazing sushi, served with the utmost humility.

(This is part one of a series of posts about my impressions of Japan. Please forgive any generalisations, inaccuracies and the taint of a mindset unaccustomed to the East)

I am currently in Tokyo and perhaps one of the strangest experiences I’ve had is being thanked and greeted, in unison, by all the waiters when I left a restaurant. It was as if the king and his retinue had just visited. This is not uncommon, apparently. The last customers to leave a store are often bowed to, I’m told, and it’s a distinctly unpleasant experience for a Western mindset.

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The singularity is nigh

The singularity is, by one definition, the first point at which an artificial intelligence equivalent to that of a human is created. There are several ways this could happen, but there is one that I find particularly interesting and that I which I envisioned in a kind of post-apocalyptic story some time ago. Recently, I learnt that a rudimentary first step in realising this future has been taken by science: scientists have mapped the brain of a worm and used it to control a robot.

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Are car guards a form of charity?

In South Africa we have an interesting phenomenon: car guards. These are people who stand in parking lots and parking spaces generally, typically wearing a neon vest, “looking after” your car. Typically they receive (at least part of their) income as donations from the motorists whose cars they have kept safe.  I have encountered car guards for years and I realised I actually know little about them.

I suspect international readers may find this concept hard to understand and I refer you to this comical video by a South African comedy duo.  Despite the comedic element, the portrayal is fairly accurate. As in this video, car guards are almost always male, but unlike in the video, they are also almost always black.

Many car guards are hired by the owners of the premises. I am not sure of how much protection they actually provide. I have never heard of a car guard actually stopping or attempting to stop a theft.  That does not mean, however, that car guards do not prevent attempts – like visible policing they may make thefts less likely. For the most part, however, their role seems to be to help motorists get into and out of tricky parking spots. These men are not security guards – they are not armed and I suspect most are not trained to deal with proper criminals.

Many “car guards”, I suspect, take advantage of the fact that anyone with a neon vest has a legitimate claim as guarding any otherwise unattended parking facility. Car guards have become so ingrained in daily lives that we hardly even think about paying them. Much like providing a tip to a waitron, it has been customary and we feel guilty if we shirk this duty.

In so far as car guards are not actually providing a useful service, they effectively represent a form of charity, a means of creating employment not unlike asking people to dig holes and fill them up again. This is probably not entirely fair and we must consider that South Africa sits with a glut of unskilled labour that is not being put to productive use (our youth unemployment rate is notoriously high). Car guards represent one way of giving an income, one that is earned, at least in some measure, to a portion of our unskilled labour force.

The question of whether this is good or bad is moot. It is certainly better than having a larger supply of beggars. The fact that this country has no better way of employing much of its population is the problem.  It’s also probably true that the South African public has come to expect car guards: we want them there.

I leave you with some questions. If you have something to say about any of them, please leave a comment:

  1. Do you know of any research on whether car guards do reduce car thefts?
  2. Do you feel safer with a car guard nearby?
  3. Have you heard of a car guard preventing a theft?
  4. How do you feel about paying car guards?
  5. Do you think there are more “productive” means employing a larger part of our population?

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