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Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

The Internet today

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Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web - Opportun...
Image by Fräulein Schiller via Flickr

Ben Hammersley, at FT.com, gives this capsule description of the Internet profile today:

The internet has come a long way since Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, turned on the first web server in Geneva on Christmas day 1990. Today, 2bn people are online; 800m of them are on Facebook. Every minute, 24 hours worth of video is uploaded to YouTube. Google, a company founded only 15 years ago, has a market capitalisation just short of $200bn and a mission statement that it intends “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – something no one thinks unlikely or even remarkable. We now bank, shop, communicate, work and date through the internet. The internet has come of age. It is as defining an achievement for humanity as the Enlightenment or the industrial revolution.

This article includes a review of three books that are longer reports on the state of the Internet, or SOI.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2011/01/28 at 15:16

The folly in the quest for perfection!

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Lee Smolin at Harvard University
Image via Wikipedia

Lee Smolin is a world class scientist and does his science in Canada. He recently reviewed a book by Marcelo Gleiser that has a highly suggestive title “A Radical New Vision for Life in an Imperfect Universe”. Here is a telling excerpt from that book selected by Smolin for his review:

It became clear to me that scientists and seekers of perfection from all walks of life have been courting the wrong muse. It is not symmetry and perfection that should be our guiding principle, as it has been for millennia….The science we create is just that, our creation. Wonderful as it is, it is always limited, it is always constrained by what we know of the world….We may search for unified descriptions of natural phenomena, and we may find some partial unifications along the way. But we must remember that a final unification is forever beyond our reach….The human understanding of the world is forever a work in progress. That we have learned so much, speaks well of our creativity. That we want to know more, speaks well of our drive. That we think we can know all, speaks only of our folly.

As I read those lines I couldn’t help thinking that he could be describing how religious authorities propose unified models for human morality. Surely the one constant here, human folly, applies as much in the scientific domain as in the moral.

Scientists seem to be ready to express humility in the face of human intellectual weakness. When will religious spokespersons do as much? Is it possible that religious authorities speak from a position of intellectual arrogance since they propose that they are the final judges on earth of the perfection of their vision of human life.

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This may explain why your personality hasn’t fit with your Zodiac sign

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Astrological signs
Image via Wikipedia

It turns out that until recently we have been offered Astrological explanations based on an inaccurate calculation of the dates used to identify our astrological sign  Check out this link for the explanation.

Most astrological “advice” seems to depend on the imagination of the individual offering that “advice”. Is there an Astrological authority? Well there may be one depending on how you feel about Astrology and what it offers. In an age when scientists can’t even agree whether or not Pluto is a planet, it’s hardly surprising that astrological calendars are now being recalculated.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2011/01/13 at 18:42

Phallic symbols in Bhutan

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Bhutan shares borders with India and China.

The image below is clear evidence that Asia offers many cultural variants that would be considered gross and completely immodest in Western cultures and maybe even in China.

Check out this link to learn how and why Bhutanese use phallic symbols to “protect” their homes.

Here is an image that is clear evidence of the use of phallic symbols on outside walls of family homes in Bhutan:

Yes, the caption says that the phallic symbols “welcome visitors” to Bhutanese homes. Is it the Himalayan mountain air that affects them?

I wonder how phallus symbols fit with use of the left and right facing svastika in Eastern cultures. No doubt politically correct fanatics will deplore these “far out” symbols but those are Western values and in this global world all symbology should have equal visibility and cultural treatment. That is my humble opinion!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2011/01/08 at 17:34

That time of the year when we think and talk about religious matters

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Belly dance, by Brazilian dancers
Image via Wikipedia

Last night, Xmas night, I was in a Chinese restaurant in Ganjingzi, a new and expanding neighborhood near the Dalian International Airport. I was the guest of Sherry Cai and Bin Qui, her husband. It seemed  like a normal Chinese dinner in an average to good area, lots of fresh seafood.

And then there was a sort of night club show with pretty girls doing a sort of belly dance routine, an MC who recognized the only Laowai in the restaurant, yours truly. I guess this was more evidence in these good times in China, that the Chinese enjoy parties and celebrations as much if not more than many other places I have lived.

So I am in an Xmas mood this morning and couldn’t help feeling touched by these thoughts written by Alan Wolfe in a review of an interesting book about the connection between religion and culture. Here is a telling excerpt from that review:

We are, in addition, witnessing the severing of religion from the cultures within which it was once embedded. Religion and culture have long existed in an uneasy embrace. Catholicism is presumably a universal faith, yet long before the reforms of Vatican II allowed Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular, Brazilian Catholicism owed as much to its South American roots as Polish Catholicism did to its Eastern European ones. Islam sought to conquer the world, or as much of it as it could, yet it was intimately connected to the Arab culture in which it was born. The only reason we do not find the term “secular Jew” puzzling is because we appreciate that Judaism is both an ethnic and a religious category. Much the same can be said for many of the other world religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism.

If religion is in decline in the modern world, Roy argues, so is culture. On the one hand, we have multiculturalism, celebrations of diversity that somehow wind up making all cultures look and feel alike. More important, we face globalization, today’s true universal faith, which subjects all local customs to the laws of the market. Under the influence of both, religion loses whatever affinities it may once have had with the cultures that sustained it. Jakarta, the capital of the world’s largest Muslim country, lies some 5,000 miles from the holy city of Mecca, and even Mecca, Roy argues, has lost much of its specifically Arab character.

I am a declared Agnostic about all  religion and especially about the intersection of religion and North American politics. Here the reviewer and the writer point out that religion begins in a cultural context but it tends to cool as its original cultural connection wanes and withers. Is that what happened to me? Did my cultural unrootedness lead to my Agnosticism? I think that could be the case.

In Dalian I am a Laowai but I don’t feel a strong cultural attachment to that connection, since most Laowai here seem to share a very shallow and uninteresting cultural view, at least here in Dalian. Oh, I can’t pretend to be Chinafied but I do enjoy my cultural connection with them better than I do the connection with Westerners. Maybe I just prefer to seem different because that’s what I have always felt in whatever city/community that I lived or worked in.

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I visited Yili Yining in Xinjiang Province last Sept

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picture of a wallpainting in a laotian temple,...
Image via Wikipedia

When I was leaving I decided to buy a few mementos, first an English language description of the SAR and its special touristic features. Then I bought a small bracelet that features a left facing svasticka symbol along with a set of nice stones.

More than one person has wondered why I should have bought such a controversial artifact. I have always said that the left facing svastika had some connection with Buddhism and peace. Here is an authentic sounding explanation copied in from Wikipedia:

The paired swastika symbols are included, at least since the Liao Dynasty, as part of the Chinese language, the symbolic sign for the character 萬 or 万 (wàn in Mandarinman in Korean, Cantonese and Japanese, vạn in Vietnamese) meaning “all” or “eternality” (lit.myriad) and as 卐, which is seldom used. The swastika marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. The swastika (in either orientation) appears on the chest of some statues of Gautama Buddha and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha in statuary.

My family and emotional connections with this fractious world is so varied and light that I feel ok about wearing a semi-religious symbol that is connected to so many East Asian cultures and quasi religious origins.

I kind of like the sense that I feel ok wearing a symbol that has such a complex history.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/12/21 at 16:24

Sometimes the Internet offers odd combinations

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And this morning I found an odd one indeed. Hitler, Zuckerberg and Stalin, who each made Time’s MAN OF THE YEAR:

Let me be crystal clear I did not set this combination up, I simply found it and found it curious. Maybe such combinations point to the trivial value of Time’s nomination of a Man of the Year. The connection between these three is a bit of trivial interest, but does indicate how some people do “free association” and then post such on the Web.

I did kind of like the Borovitz report that Time made a startling discovery in finding that Zuck was a man/person and not just some online abberration!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/12/19 at 15:59