What your teen should be doing this summer

Diverse teens1[Join the group and make life-long friends: It'll be a life changing experience]

 

A new summer program is perfect for Hong Kong teenagers

By Cheryl JC Cheung

PARENTS: KNOW ANY HONG KONGERS with teenage children 15 and up? They should consider grabbing one of the few slots left on an amazing UK summer program that’s been designed with Hong Kong youngsters in mind.

It’s a great opportunity for the kids to have fun, make new friends of the best sort—and get a good career boost too!

The cool thing is that it is in Edinburgh, in an amazing building listed as “the birthplace of capitalism”, no less!

Edinburgh_Castle_from_the_south_east

[Picture shows nearby Edinburgh Castle: the course takes place in the historical Panmure House] 

EASY AND FUN

The Student Summit is a two-part program. The first part is a nine-hour prep course in Hong Kong. It’s easy and fun, part live and part online, and your youngster can do it over several days: no pressure, but a good mind-stretching exercise.

The second part is the wonderful trip to UK, from July 26 to August 10. It takes place in Edinburgh—a literary city famed as the birthplace of the world’s most famous fictional characters: Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes were created by citizens of that city.

It’s a beautiful city overlooked by a stunning castle. You can’t help but feel super-creative there.

Girl-1721429_1280[The course has been designed to benefit Hong Kong young people]

FOR THE AMBITIOUS

Why is it so perfect for Hong Kong students? It’s a fun program for teenagers, yet it has been designed for seriously ambitious youngsters who are going to be natural leaders—and good with money.

Here are three reasons to get this done:

1) It’s easy to sign up—and there are a few slots left at the time of writing this.

2) The organizers are four famous names in education, so it’s a world-class operation: GROWDynamics, London Gifted and Talented, Edinburgh Business School, and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

3) It’s brilliant value. It’s basically the airfare plus HK$44,500 to cover tuition, full board and accommodation, ground transport and so on. It could be a really smart investment in your child’s future.

Related image

[Adam Smith, father of capitalism]

GREAT LOCATION

Birthplace of capitalism? Yes, that’s what we said.

The course takes place in the home of Adam Smith -- the guy who more or less invented the modern, free market system in the 1700s -- and at Edinburgh Business School on the idyllic Riccarton Estate, Scotland.

Adam Smith became “the god of economics” and every business school in the world teaches his book as the foundation stone of capitalism.

You can see why people say it’s perfect for Hong Kong youngsters!

Portrait-787522_1280

[It includes leadership training and critical thinking skills useful for IB, A Levels and SAT]

ESSENTIAL TOPICS

The theme is “Future Global Leaders” and the course focuses on some cleverly targeted topics.

As well as leadership skills, there’s a lot of emphasis on developing critical thinking skills, so it’s incredibly helpful for young people doing IB, A-levels or SAT.

It’s also going to be a really special experience to add to a resume, or write about for a personal essay for university entrance.

Downsides? Some teenagers can be a bit nervous about heading off to a summer school—but if you’re a parent you know how it works. They’re reluctant to go—and then they have so much fun and make such great friends that they’re annoyed when it’s over!

For parents who want to spend a summer there (it’s actually Edinburgh Festival season so there's a lot of entertainment going on), organizers welcome family members to join the final few days of the program to look at their children’s achievements.

DO IT NOW

But you’d be wise to move quickly. There’s a limited number of places in the program. You can get a brochure and get your youngster on the course very easily. Just follow the link below.

 

https://www.growdynamics.net/summer-summit

 


Vittachi's daily humor column returning to Hong Kong

Nury profile hi def

(Photo: Tsz Lam/ Starpix)

By Lainey Ho Ting-wai

THE SNARKY HONG KONG columnist formerly known as Lai See is coming back to life. Author Nury Vittachi is returning to write the humorous diary that launched his writing career.

         But this time, the funny, gossipy column which had the city laughing from the late 1980s through much of the 1990s won’t be in the South China Morning Post. Vittachi will appear "almost every day" from October 30 in The Standard, which now has a significantly bigger circulation than the Post.

PRINT AND ONLINE

The column will also be available online, and intends to feature the same madcap humor, contributions and observations as the pre-Handover column.

        "I'm really looking forward to it," Vittachi says, pretending to bite his fingernails.

         In the 80s and 90s, Vittachi’s daily column was a must-read, and the best parts were spun off to produce five of Hong Kong’s top-selling books of the period.

        But the column was abruptly halted by the South China Morning Post soon after the city’s change of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997.

        The writer’s friend and one-time creative partner, cartoonist Larry Feign, had already been removed by that time.

6a00d8341c00c753ef01bb09aa6603970d-800wi

(Collage: Nexttext.org) 

        But 21 years after the Handover, some parts of the press are ready to rehabilitate the voices that were quieted--while others aren't. Vittachi talked to numerous editors and got a range of responses before settling on The Standard, part of Sing Tao News Corporation, which also publishes Hong Kong's most popular paper, Headline News, plus the large circulation broadsheet Chinese paper Sing Tao.

        The Standard, for years the poor cousin of the South China Morning Post in the English language sector, now has a bigger circulation, younger readers, and is perceived as less beholden to the powers in Mainland China which own it. 

         Yet both carry a lot of bad news. “Today, when so much of the news is depressing, the need for humor is bigger than ever,” says Vittachi, interviewed at a coffee shop in Central.

CHEEKY LAUGHS

And cheeky laughs are likely indeed, judging by past records. It was Vittachi who insisted on referring to Filipina domestic helpers as “expatriates” and Western bankers in Hong Kong as “economic migrants”.

         It was Vittachi who handcuffed himself to a mainland architect for 24 hours to symbolize the new “forced togetherness” of Hong Kong and China.

         And it was Vittachi who wrote, after the death of China’s 92-year-old supreme leader Deng Xiaoping: “Let that be a lesson to all of us: smoking kills.”

WHERE HAS HE BEEN?

But where has he been? Having been rejected by nervous Hong Kong newspapers in the late 1990s, Vittachi changed course to become a moderately successful author, his books picked up by top publishers, including Allen & Unwin, Penguin, St Martin’s Press and Scholastic.

Nury Vittachi at Jumpstart-14  Bangalore (photo - Jim Ankan Deka) 2

 (Photo: Jim Anken Deka)

        He eventually gained an audience of millions when an agency syndicated his essays to newspapers and magazines, mostly outside Hong Kong. People in many countries know him as a weekly columnist or “the Reader’s Digest humor guy”.

         But it is safe for him to return to the fold in his hometown? What about censorship?

        “Commentators often talk about the creeping way Hong Kong is becoming more like Mainland China,” he says. “But they miss a parallel story. The mere fact that we can now talk about that shows that the Hong Kong press today has become much freer than it was in 1990s. Today, only some newspapers are politically influenced, and it’s pretty obvious which ones.”

RIGHT OF ABODE

Does he worry about suffering the same fate as Victor Mallet, the Financial Times writer who was given a super-short visa?        

        “No. I’m a Hong Kong permanent resident,” he said. “I have right of abode so intend to remain aboding at my present abode, or as the hymn says, ‘abode with me’.”

Nury at knutsford

(Photo: Tsz Lam/ Starpix)

UNLIKELY CHAMPION

Vittachi, a short, bald Sri Lankan with a ski-slope nose and a surprisingly shy demeanor, is an unlikely champion of free speech in this corner of China.

        But crossing cultural barriers is his specialty: he has an English wife and three adopted Chinese children.

        He is also multicultural professionally: the syndication experience has been valuable in teaching him to make people laugh across borders, as do his speaking tours.

UNIVERSAL HUMOR

“Humor depends on cultural references, but people in different countries have different songs, different celebrities, different clichés, so there’s the challenge,” he says. “You seek out what’s universal.”

         Vittachi’s column, which won't be called Lai See, will appear in The Standard from Tuesday, October 30.

         When this interviewer eventually gets up to leave, Vittachi slips into comedian mode, making everyone in the coffee shop laugh: “You’re leaving me? Is it because I keep quoting song lyrics? I will not let you go! Bismillah! I will not let you go, oh, oh, oh, oh, no, no, no, no.”


20 Shameful Things People Are Desperately Hoping No One Will Remember About The Hong Kong Handover

Laisee

By Nury Vittachi

THE HANDOVER of Hong Kong from British sovereignty to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 was not just a change of flag.

It was a scary time which some faced with courage, while others committed extreme acts of brown-nosing, self-censorship and shoe-licking.

Here are 20 things people will be desperately be hoping will be forgotten.

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1) PRAISE FOR THAT HAIRCUT

With para 01

IN 1997, BOSSES OF MING PAO, once a proudly independent newspaper, ordered staff to carry fawning full-page profiles on Hong Kong’s first post-97 leader Tung Chee-hwa for FIVE DAYS IN A ROW.

One report focused just on the psychological implications of having a hairstyle like his.

(Mr Tung had a crew cut.)

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2) THAT PLEDGE

With para 02

BEFORE THE HANDOVER, Jasper Tsang Yok-sing pledged in front of TV cameras NEVER to take a seat in Hong Kong’s parliament unless he had been democratically elected to it.

At the handover, democratically elected politicians were thrown out and a seat was offered to election-loser Tsang – who immediately took it.

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3) THAT PLACE

With para 03

ALSO BEFORE THE handover, Discovery Bay residents set up an organization called The Association for Celebration of Reunification of Discovery Bay with China. (This is not a joke.)

Shouldn’t they have waited for a reunification between Discovery Bay and the rest of Hong Kong?

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4) THAT FLIP-FLOPPER

With para 04 chung-sze-yuen002 rthk

AT THE HANDOVER CEREMONY, businessman S.Y. Chung took his pledge in Mandarin Chinese to show his new-found patriotism.

His Mandarin was so bad that the assembled multitudes (including fossilized communist comrades from the north) laughed.

The next day, the media featured discussions trying to decipher what he had actually pledged to do.

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5) THAT STATUE

With para 05

PRO-ESTABLISHMENT POLITICIANS denounced Hong Kong people as “unpatriotic” when statuettes of the Goddess of Democracy were found in the city.

They shut up when a newspaper columnist (me) bought one and revealed that all the statuettes were “Made in China”.

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6) THOSE PATRIOTS

With para 06

6) THE HONG KONG STANDARD urged readers to mark the handover by buying a set of patriotic videocassettes called The Original Video Tapes of Deng Xiaoping.

“Special Offer to HK Standard Readers at HK$1,380,000.” [sic]

I don’t think they sold many at that price, or any other.

***

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7) THOSE LOYAL FOLK

With para 07

OF THE 58 “LOYAL” pro-Beijing people who turned up to form the provisional legislature (the gang that replaced Hong Kong’s elected governing council at the handover) 27 owned overseas properties.

Twenty had properties in destinations in “safe haven” countries popular with people trying to emigrate from Hong Kong, such as Canada, Australia, the US, Britain and Singapore.

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8) OUR GENEROUS TYCOONS

With para 08

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER Gren Manuel wrote an expose of how Hong Kong’s business community was claiming everyone should stay put while quietly moving their money out of Hong Kong.

His editors rewrote it as a puff-piece about how Hong Kong tycoons were generously funding projects around the world.

As if anyone would actually believe that tycoons re-register operations to places such as Panama out of a generous impulse to bolster distant economies.

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9) THAT BUSINESS COMMUNITY

Para 09

THE PRO-DEMOCRACY Next Media Group, run by Jimmy Lai, was popular with the public.

Its Initial Public Offering was timed for the spring of 1997 and investors were excited.

But the group’s journalists pledged that they would remain faithful to the truth – and the project’s investment bank, Sun Hung Kai International, pulled out of the IPO, causing it to be cancelled.

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10) OUR CARTOON HEROINE

With para 10

LARRY FEIGN’S celebrated Lily Wong newspaper cartoon strip was cancelled before the handover, with South China Morning Post editors saying there was zero interest in it.

Feign was number one in the Hong Kong bestseller chart at the time.

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11) THAT CENSOR

With paragraph 11

EDITOR JONATHAN FENBY became a legend for the enthusiasm with which he tried to turn the legendary South China Morning Post into a sad propaganda sheet.

The front-page headline on July 2, 1997 was: “Beijing extravaganza charts China’s heroic path to glory.”

The picture shows a pair of headlines as written by SCMP journalists, and the same headlines after the reptilian Fenby re-wrote them.

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12) THAT NERVOUS TV COMPANY

With para 12 HK_Wan_Chai_分域街_Fenwick_Street_電訊大廈_Telecom_House_carpark_interior_TVB_van_Toyota_night_Oct-2013

HONG KONG’S DOMINANT television station, TVB, purchased an acclaimed documentary on Chairman Mao, and then lost the nerve to broadcast it.

TVB spokesmen said they could not find a time slot and criticized the documentary makers, implying that they were tin-pot amateurs in the TV business.

It was a BBC documentary.

***

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13) THOSE FEW WHO TOOK A STAND

With para 13

OFFICIALS COMMEMORATING THE 20th anniversary of the handover ceremony will neglect to mention that the representatives of the two countries that mattered most to the organizers left before the event.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and American representative Madeleine Albright flew out of Hong Kong hours before the ceremony, to protest the removal of democratically elected people from Hong Kong’s parliament.

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14) THAT LUDICROUS SUGGESTION

With para 14

PRO-BEIJING ELEMENTS in Hong Kong in 1997 demanded that the word “independent” be removed from the name of the city’s anti-graft agency, the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Wags suggested that all Hong Kong freeways be renamed “ways”, the Hong Kong car firm Honest Motors be renamed “Motors”, and the Sincere Department Store be renamed “Department Store”.

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15) THE MYSTERIOUS, DISAPPEARING FILE

With para 15 Emily_Lau_by_VOA_(1)

BEFORE THE HANDOVER, pro-democracy campaigner Emily Lau used Hong Kong’s personal data law to ask Xinhua (China’s office in Hong Kong) for the file they kept on her.

Silence.

After the handover, Xinhua said they had no files of any kind on her, a claim no one on either side of the debate believed for one second.

The new Hong Kong government admitted their behavior clearly broke laws but declined to prosecute.

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16) THOSE IRRITATING FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS

With para 16

SHORTLY BEFORE THE handover, I wrote a column criticizing foreign correspondents, who were parachuting into Hong Kong, and who I felt were missing the story.

I said that as July 1 dawns, the important question was NOT how China will change Hong Kong, but how Hong Kong will change China.

After all, Hong Kong only had 6.3 million people….

A few days later, Nicholas Kristof wrote a front-page article for the New York Times:

“July 1: As dawn rises for the first time over red Chinese flags officially fluttering here in a capitalist breeze, the most fascinating question is not how China will change Hong Kong but how Hong Kong will change China. At stake is not just the fate of the 6.3 million who live here…”

Yes, it was my column, reworked. Cheeky bugger.

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17) THOSE UNTHINKING SOUVENIR HUNTERS

With para 17

IN JUNE OF 1997, people were so confused about the change of power, that a member of my network offered to sell a HK$2 coin with the Queen’s head on it as “an important colonial era souvenir”.

A buyer paid HK$9, not noticing that the Queen’s head was on much of the cash in his pocket and everyone else's.

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18) OUR SO-CALLED RIGHT TO PROTEST

With para 18 HKFP pic

SENIOR ASSISTANT POLICE Commissioner Lee Ming-kwai ordered Beethoven’s Fifth to be played at a loud volume to drown out the sound of reunification protestors exercising their democratic rights.

The Independent Police Complaints Council declared it “unnecessary use of authority”.

But police ignored this, gave Lee a Commendation for Government Service, and made it standard policy.

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19) THAT DUMB COLUMNIST

With para 19a

NURY VITTACHI (the guy writing this article) needs to join this List of Shame.

After the 1997 handover, I was told my daily gossip column at the South China Morning Post was being “temporarily” put on hold because there was “a redesign of pages” at the newspaper.

I believed it, and denied that I had been silenced when other journalists asked me. What an idiot.

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20) THAT HOPEFUL PREDICTION

With para 19

BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE staffer Derek Fatchett was tasked with keeping an eye on Hong Kong for its former colonial masters.

In the spring of 1998 he told the UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee that he was confident Tung Chee-Hwa would introduce universal suffrage in Hong Kong in 2007. Hmm. 

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NOTE: The above tales are true, and on the record, and can be easily checked. But I think it’s worth pointing out that many of the newspapers mentioned above, including the Hong Kong Standard and the South China Morning Post, are very different today, and include some excellent staff. And some modern journalists understand that we should not hide our history but learn from it.

(All images are from Wikicommons or other public sources and are used under Creative Commons license 2.0. The picture of police officer Lee Ming-Kwai is from the Hong Kong Free Press.)


Humans just touched the edge of reality. And it feels good

Reality

This week’s breakthrough detection of gravitational waves is far more amazing than the media is telling you

 

By Nury Vittachi 

EINSTEIN'S BLANKET EXISTS. One of the biggest discoveries in modern science was announced this week. For 100 years, we’ve been pondering Einstein’s assertion that space was not just a place and time was not just a process, but both were aspects of something physicists call “the fabric of spacetime”.

            We’ve long known that Einstein was right, but we’ve never been able to feel the threads that make up this mysterious “fabric” until now.

386913main_Swift_M31_large_UV

GRAVITATIONAL WAVES

What happened? Physicists around the world are this week celebrating “the discovery of gravitational waves”. But I didn’t see a single media report that successfully explained what was actually discovered or what it means to our understanding of who we are and where we live.

            So I’m going to try to do so, using the explanations, as much as possible, of scientists in history and the actual scientists doing the work.

NOT ABOUT GRAVITY

But first we need to define our terms. All the reports are about Gravitational Waves: these are not about gravity, and they are not about waves. That’s the problem.

            Gravity, Sir Isaac Newton famously taught us, was a puzzling force that seemed to pull objects toward each other. Most people still think of it like that, and there’s nothing really wrong with doing so.

          And we all know what waves are: it is our word for an up-down movement in a separate medium – a ripple flowing through water, for example.

Relativity_light_bending

(Gravitation as a force of relativity)

AN ILLUSION

But Einstein showed that Newton’s view of gravity was an illusion. There is no “force” that exists in the way that most people envisage. Instead, reality itself is shaped by the objects within it, causing objects to seem to be pulled together. Einstein called this “curved spacetime”.

            Physicists today use the word “gravitation” to refer to the new vision of reality we learned through Einstein’s theories of relativity.

            And that’s something else that needs to be explained. When we talk about “the universe” we think of a big space with stars and planets in it. But Einstein (and physicists in general) mean something quite different: they use “the universe” to mean this version of physical reality as a whole.

A HUGE DUVET

Let’s stay with the fabric analogy, but to make it easier to visualize, let’s think of the universe as a huge duvet containing all of reality. Like a duvet, there is some space inside it, containing all sorts of stuff (feathers, padding, tiny bedbugs, etc). Also like a duvet, reality is not a straight-edged cube or rectangular monolith, but a thing with a relatively complex outer shape.

            We live inside the universe (inside the duvet) and that is interesting enough for most of us – but for physicists, the ultimate goal is to reach up or down and actually touch the outer surface, or detect its presence in some way.

Shake a blanket2

(The fabric of spacetime contains the universe) 

EDGES OF REALITY

This week is the first time that we have really “felt the edges” of reality. It’s as if we have long known that reality is duvet-shaped, but this is the first time we have perceived the duvet’s outer cover, if you like. We have seen it and heard it. That’s why it’s such a big deal.

            “It’s the first time the Universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves. Up until now, we've been deaf,” Prof Karsten Danzmann from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, one of the team on the project, told reporters.

WAVES THROUGH A MEDIUM

The question of waves is important too. Waves are ripples which flow through a medium – a movement through water, for example. Take away the water, and the waves disappear too.

            But the waves scientists detected this week are not movements through a physical medium in our universe–they are a ripple running through reality itself. To go back to our universe-as-a-duvet image, the ripples are not a wave flowing through the padding inside the duvet. They are ripples in the place we call reality: the duvet itself was manipulated and we have felt the results.

            “The fact that we are sitting here on Earth feeling the actual fabric of the Universe stretch and compress slightly due to the merger of black holes that occurred just over a billion years ago: I think that's phenomenal,” Prof Sheila Rowan, who is one of the lead UK researchers involved in the project, told the BBC. “It's amazing that when we first turned on our detectors, the Universe was ready and waiting to say ‘hello’.”

Reality wave1

(The reality in which we live is part of a malleable structure called spacetime)

TEARS IN SPACE

We also need to touch on the mechanics of the experiment. How did the Universe say “hello”, as Prof Rowan said? How did we detect the edges of reality?

            The actual edges of the universe, if they exist, are too far away for us to reach out and touch.

            But the universe (by which, remember, we mean “reality”) has huge numbers of tears in it – which we call “black holes”, a term coined by legendary physicist John Wheeler. In sci-fi books and movies, these are dangerous patches of space which suck in everything, from planets to stars to light itself.

            None of that is true. Black holes do not suck anything. They do not pull at anything, nor do they draw things toward them.

            Black holes are places where the fabric of time has been compressed so much that the reality in which we live is “damaged”, in a way of thinking. Think of a blanket (or our duvet) which has been scrunched up really hard in one particular place. It has been scrunched up so hard that the fabric is compressed and the cloth is torn—and that tear usefully teaches us something about the edges of reality.

Black hole

(Black holes don't suck things in, but are "scrunches" in spacetime)

THE EXPERIMENT

What scientists revealed this week, using a process called LIGO, which I won’t explain here, is that a billion years ago, two black holes (tears in the fabric of reality) came together causing a huge scrunch in the duvet: a scrunch so powerful that it caused a ripple in reality which we can feel today.

            That was the ripple LIGO detected—and that’s why this week’s discovery is so important.

PROBING THE EDGES

But what’s really exciting is that the process worked, and that means we can continue to use it and find more about the edges of reality.

            Team member Prof Gabriela González, from Louisiana State University, told the BBC: “Now that we have the detectors to see these systems, now that we know binary black holes are out there, we’ll begin listening to the Universe.”

            We are feeling the edges of reality itself. And that’s pretty exciting.

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Nury Vittachi writes about science for young people. His book on Einstein and the fabric of time was shortlisted for the  Aurealis Award

 


Why poets will build a better future than rationalists

Scientist and poet
Book lovers’ have far sharper critical thinking abilities than scientists, a study of educated terrorists suggests

By Karl Mikael Lustig

London

 

IF ONLY PEOPLE WOULD put down their old books and their magical thinking, and pay attention to science and rationalism, most of the terrorism in the world would disappear, right?

         Wrong. Violent jihadists were mostly educated in fields such as science, engineering and medicine, a new survey reveals. People from similar cultural backgrounds who studied arts, humanities, and social sciences almost never follow the path of violence.

        

MORE EMPATHY

Contrary to conventional assumptions, it’s the book-lovers who are far more likely to have the critical thinking ability to look at ideas flexibly. They can hold different ideas in their heads at once, and are far less likely to become radicalized, researchers say. They also have more empathy.

         In contrast, those who take “rationalist” courses such as electrical engineering are trained for years to think that there is only one right answer to each question—and thus are much more open to radicalization.

         Immunising the Mind, a paper just published by the British Council, shows that of jihadis who had higher education, the percentage with degrees in engineering-type subjects were 44% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 59% in the West. A study of terrorists in Tunisia similarly shows a powerful focus on scientific subjects. Almost none have arts backgrounds.

        

CRITICAL THINKING

Science education fails to inculcate critical thinking in the way that the debates within arts teaching does, says the lead investigator, Martin Rose. The culture of science teaching resolves issues into a binary choice of correct and incorrect. 

         But could the stark anomaly be explained in other ways? Perhaps it is because people in Islamic cultures prefer to take science? No, the evidence does not say that, Rose argues. About 70 per cent of students in the Middle East and North Africa actually select what might be called social sciences.

         Classic books and magical thinking are not the enemy but the friend, the figures suggest. The study of arts subjects involves discussion and debate, interpretation and the seeing of multiple points of view.

         

SEEING THE HUMANITY

Furthermore, a focus on the arts, particularly reading, creates strong empathy—the whole point of literature and drama is to spend time in the heads of human beings other than ourselves. The result is a generation of students who are accepting of other cultures – who can see the humanity in people who are different.

         This turns them away from the jihadi worldview in which everything is either black and white.

        

LITERATURE ELIMINATED

In the territories controlled by ISIS, many university courses have been eliminated, including drama, literature, fine art, comparative religion and philosophy.

         The result is the triumph of the black and white rationalist way of thinking. Characteristics of what Rose calls the “engineering mindset” is that it asks “why argue when there is one best solution?” and asserts “if only people were rational, remedies would be simple”.

         In contrast, traditional university courses in literature require the reading of all the great classics of humanity, including the Quran, the Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, Homer’s Odyssey and so on. It’s virtually impossible not to benefit from such a rich pot-pourri of humanity’s finest ideas.

         The answer to the radicalization problem may be right there on our bookshelves.

         But what is actually happening, sad to say, is that the great books of humanity are being less read even in the West. Drama and arts are being dropped in favor of science and maths. Perhaps many parts of the world are putting their trust in “rationality” and “the one right answer” according to science.

ENDS

"Immunizing the mind" can be found by clicking this link.

The photograph at the top is a montage featuring a work by Charline, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0


Science just confirmed the wildest implications of quantum physics

Montage reapers apprentice

New experiment provides hard evidence that reality is not what it seems

 

By Mads Jeppe

 

IT'S OFFICIAL: LIFE IS A DREAM in the mind of Brahma. Everything we call reality is a structure on top of an underlying dimension with different laws of nature, a dramatic new experiment confirms. It may sound flakey, but make no mistake—this is experimental physics, the most concrete of the hard sciences.

            For more than 80 years, physicists have struggled over repeated signs from quantum physics experiments that indicate that reality was some sort of weird, set-up job. Spacetime itself was an illusion, as there was really no such thing as distance or time; things don’t seem to exist unless they are observed or detected; and the fundamental particles of which all things are made have neither matter nor position in themselves.

            This week, scientists at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands revealed that they had created a clear, repeatable experiment that shows that the quantum physicists’ extraordinary view of the world is the correct one. Physicists around the world are excited, and there's talk of a Nobel Prize in the offing.

 

LABS SEPARATED IN SPACETIME

The scientists set up two separate laboratories in different parts of the city, with 1.3 kilometers of spacetime (ie, almost a mile of what we’d call reality—buildings, air, people and things) between them. We know from easy calculations that the fastest time anything can travel that distance is 4.27 microseconds.

            That’s not because we have been unable to build anything that moves faster than that, but because nothing CAN move faster than that. The speed of light is the speed limit of reality itself, as Einstein conclusively showed. We know that to be 299,792,458 meters a second.

            In each of the labs in the Netherlands, a diamond was placed containing an electron with a certain property that physicists can measure – call it the spin signature.

            They then shot each diamond with a microwave pulse, causing it to emit what physicists call “an entangled photon”.

           

PHOTON’S JOURNEY

An entangled photon is a tiny particle with strange qualities. It exists everywhere and nowhere until it is observed, and it acts as if it comes from a separate dimension, in which distance doesn’t exist. You can put such a particle in the next city or at the edge of the universe and it will effect a sister particle as if they were touching.

            Both lab A and lab B shot their photons in the same direction: at lab C, which contained an “observer” in the shape of a photon detector.

            The pairs that arrived at the same time become “real” [for scientific readers, their superposition collapsed following Schrodinger’s wavefunction equation]. They both become particles with a certain spin signature which also effected the “parent” particles in the two diamonds.

            In other words, the whole system got a related spin signature instantly: think of a speedometer saying 0.0000 microseconds.

            But we already established that the maximum speed of THIS reality for this set of labs is 4.27 microseconds. Nothing at all that follows the laws of physics in this dimension can move between those labs faster than that.

            So what actually happened? The spin signature could only have transferred itself through an underlying dimension separate from our physical reality.

            Physicists are excited about theses experiments not because they show anything new, but because they are particularly clear, repeatable proofs of something that we have long believed to be true, weird though it may be.

Helical_fluorescent_lamp_spectrum_by_diffraction_grating
 

SCIENTISTS EXCITED

Lead investigator on the project is Ronald Hanson, but he is not granting interviews until full, peer-reviewed publication of the results is completed. Yet the results are already out on the web, in a pre-publication paper published at the science website archiv.org.

            “Our everyday experience tells us that distant objects cannot influence each other, and don’t disappear just because no one is looking at them…but it turns out we’re wrong,” says Jacob Aron writing about the experiment in the latest edition of New Scientist.

            Writers at Nature, the science journal, are even more stunned. They quote quantum physicist Nicolas Gisin of the University of Geneva in Switzerland: “From a fundamental point of view, this is truly history-making.”

            In the past, Stephen Hawking has already signified that he has sympathy for the “holographic universe” theory, which postulates that what we think of as reality is actually a projection from the universe’s outer boundary.

 

IMPLICATIONS

Yet where does this lead to? This week, scientists became a little clearer about the mysterious facts of base reality. But what does it actually mean for human consciousnesses: the observers?

            That’s a question for philosophers. Maybe we’ll find out when Brahma wakes up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Journal reference: arxiv.org/abs/1508.05949v1

Top illustration: Montage containing work from The Reaper's Apprentice used under CC license 2.0 

New Scientist reference click here 

Nature reference click here

 


S P L I N T E R S

Splinters 3


Let this 4-minute read transform the way you feel about the universe, God and yourself

***

THAT DARKEST OF WINTER NIGHTS, I dreamed about Einstein. Not a surprise: I’d been writing a book about him.

But this time I saw him sitting at a desk in a white room with no walls, no ceiling, no floor.

And then it was the figure approaching him that caught my attention: an elegant woman in white-on-white clothing who came to stand next to him.

Einstein was explaining the extraordinary law that lay beneath his 1905 discovery of special relativity.

“A beam of light travels at 186,000 miles a second for everyone, whether the measuring apparatus is being held by an observer standing still, an observer traveling alongside the beam of light, or an observer traveling away from it. But how can the speed of light be the same for everyone? It makes no sense; yet such is the case.”

The woman listening said nothing, merely bowing her head once to acknowledge his statement.

The physicist gestured at a copy of his 1935 joint work on the quantum entanglement paradox, which lay in front of him. “If a person makes a measurement on half a particle pair here at my desk, science indicates that the act instantaneously creates the same result on the other half, on the other side of the universe. This is not only inexplicable, but contradicts my earlier discovery, that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. It simply cannot be.”

The listener nodded again.

Einstein continued to list the biggest mysteries of physics: “My friend Erwin Schrodinger said that if no one knows whether a cat in a box is alive or dead, then science indicates it is neither alive nor dead. But how can it be both at once?”

The listener tilted her head, as if thinking.

“And that leads us to the central mystery of quantum physics,” the legendary physicist continued. “Experiments indicate that fundamental particles only exist when we measure them or observe them in some way. Yet everything that exists is made of these particles, including you, me and the universe. Who or what observed it before we arrived? Some alien? Is the universe itself conscious? Was it God? For years, I have been convinced that these anomalies were so bizarre that scientists would quickly find answers. But they have never been satisfactorily explained.”

The listener moved, slowly walking around the great man’s desk, hands behind her back, head slightly bowed forward. Then she spoke, rather tentatively, as if she were thinking aloud.

“What if the person standing still to measure the speed of the beam of light… and the person traveling alongside the beam of light… and the person traveling away from it—what if they were somehow splinters of a single person?” 

Einstein pondered for a moment. “So there would be only one observer. I can see how that would work. But this is not so, as far as I can tell. Or is it?” The physicist’s eyes flickered as he pondered the implications. “Are you saying that all of us, all conscious beings, are pieces of a single consciousness?”

She didn’t answer, but pointed to the paper on quantum entanglement. “And what if all the particles in the universe, whether they were at the edge of the universe, somewhere in the middle, or right here, were all projections from a single place? What if there was only one location, one city or house or room, if you like?”

Einstein pondered. “That could explain the anomaly. But is it so?”

The listener pointed to the quantum physics textbook on the desk. “And what if our reality had no independent existence, but segments came into being when one of the splinters of the single consciousness looked at it or stepped into it, needing it to exist, calling it into being?”

I wanted to join this discussion and stepped forwards. “Like a computer game,” I said. “When Mario goes off-screen, the program scrolls with him, creating an environment for him to step into.” I was instantly embarrassed at the juvenile nature of my contribution. But the two of them just turned to me and nodded.

Her ideas had my mind whirring. I spoke to the listener with excitement: “What you are describing would explain all the anomalies, and a thousand others, without the need for conjuring up an infinite multiverse or 11 dimensions or an endless number of parallel worlds.”

Einstein stepped forward to catch the woman’s eye. “This situation you describe. I must know: is it so?”

The listener said nothing, but gave the slightest of smiles.

“Then answer this question,” Einstein said. “If all consciousnesses are splinters of a single person, who is the person?”  

The listener smiled and closed her eyes. “You,” she said.

“Me?” Einstein and I said at the exact same moment.

“Yes,” said the listener, somehow looking at both of us.

“But that would make me God,” Einstein and I replied, again speaking at the same time.

“Yes."

Einstein shook his head. “No, this cannot be right. This human life is not divine. It is full of darkness and evil and suffering.”

The listener agreed, saying: “Exactly. Without darkness there can be no light; without evil, there can be no good; without suffering, there can be no overcoming.”

“Aren’t we talking science?” I complained. “We should not wander off into philosophical realms.”  

“Then choose other words,” the listener said.  “Refer to God as nature or evolution or alien intelligence or the universal mind or the life force or directed panspermia or whatever you like, as if these things were different—but think about what it all implies. Humanity provides what God lacks.”

Einstein gave a puzzled snort. “Ha! But can God lack anything?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” the woman said. “Oh, yes.”

And then I began to understand.

Einstein was there before me.

“It’s love, isn’t it?” the physicist said. “The universe IS conscious. But a single consciousness can neither give nor receive love. A consciousness splintered into a billion glittering parts, and given freedom of choice, can choose to love.”

“Yes,” I said, anxious to keep up. “Choice is the key. The splinters: in this scenario, and only in this scenario, are they free to choose light over darkness; to choose good over evil; to choose to respond to suffering with overcoming.”

The master physicist’s eyes lit up as he continued this train of thought: “It’s more than that. They can even choose death over life. For love. That’s why we obsess over choices so much, and why love is so ridiculously, ludicrously important to us.”

I smiled at Einstein as I ran over to the listener to thank her, to shake her hand.

But where she had been standing, I found only a full length mirror.

As I turned away in puzzlement, the mirror broke into innumerable glittering splinters. The pieces fell, slowly spinning, and I fell with them, back to earth.

*****

*****

*****

ENDS

*****

*****

*****

If you scroll down, you will find an annotated version of the same story.

*****

*****

SPLINTERS: The annotated edition

***

Splinters 3

THAT DARKEST OF WINTER NIGHTS, I dreamed about Einstein. Not a surprise: I’d been writing a book about him.1

But this time I saw him sitting at a desk in a white room with no walls, no ceiling, no floor.

And then it was the figure approaching him that caught my attention: an elegant woman in white-on-white clothing who came to stand next to him.

Einstein was explaining the extraordinary law that lay beneath his 1905 discovery of special relativity.

“A beam of light travels at 186,000 miles a second for everyone, whether the measuring apparatus is being held by an observer standing still, an observer traveling alongside the beam of light, or an observer traveling away from it. But how can the speed of light be the same for everyone? It makes no sense; yet such is the case.”2

The woman listening said nothing, merely bowing her head once to acknowledge his statement.

The physicist gestured at a copy of his 1935 joint work on the quantum entanglement paradox, which lay in front of him. “If a person makes a measurement on half a particle pair here at my desk, science indicates that the act instantaneously creates the same result on the other half, on the other side of the universe. This is not only inexplicable, but contradicts my earlier discovery, that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. It simply cannot be.”3

The listener nodded again.

Einstein continued to list the biggest mysteries of physics: “My friend Erwin Schrodinger said that if no one knows whether a cat in a box is alive or dead, then science indicates it is neither alive nor dead. But how can it be both at once?”4

The listener tilted her head, as if thinking.

“And that leads us to the central mystery of quantum physics,” the legendary physicist continued. “Experiments indicate that fundamental particles only exist when we measure them or observe them in some way. Yet everything that exists is made of these particles, including you, me and the universe. Who or what observed it before we arrived? Some alien? Is the universe itself conscious? Was it God? For years, I have been convinced that these anomalies were so bizarre that scientists would quickly find answers. But they have never been satisfactorily explained.”5

The listener moved, slowly walking around the great man’s desk, hands behind her back, head slightly bowed forward. Then she spoke, rather tentatively, as if she were thinking aloud.

“What if the person standing still to measure the speed of the beam of light… and the person traveling alongside the beam of light… and the person traveling away from it—what if they were somehow splinters of a single person?”

Einstein pondered for a moment. “So there would be only one observer. I can see how that would work. But this is not so, as far as I can tell. Or is it?” The physicist’s eyes flickered as he pondered the implications. “Are you saying that all of us, all conscious beings, are pieces of a single consciousness?”6

She didn’t answer, but pointed to the paper on quantum entanglement. “And what if all the particles in the universe, whether they were at the edge of the universe, somewhere in the middle, or right here, were all projections from a single place? What if there was only one location, one city or house or room, if you like?”7

Einstein pondered. “That could explain the anomaly. But is it so?”

The listener pointed to the quantum physics textbook on the desk. “And what if our reality had no independent existence, but segments came into being when one of the splinters of the single consciousness looked at it or stepped into it, needing it to exist, calling it into being?”8

I wanted to join this discussion and stepped forwards. “Like a computer game,” I said. “When Mario goes off-screen, the program scrolls with him, creating an environment for him to step into.” I was instantly embarrassed at the juvenile nature of my contribution. But the two of them just turned to me and nodded.

Her ideas had my mind whirring. I spoke to the listener with excitement: “What you are describing would explain all the anomalies, and a thousand others, without the need for conjuring up an infinite multiverse or 11 dimensions or an endless number of parallel worlds.”9

Einstein stepped forward to catch the woman’s eye. “This situation you describe. I must know: is it so?”

The listener said nothing, but gave the slightest of smiles.

“Then answer this question,” Einstein said. “If all consciousnesses are splinters of a single person, who is the person?” 

The listener smiled and closed her eyes. “You,” she said.

“Me?” Einstein and I said at the exact same moment.

“Yes,” said the listener, somehow looking at both of us.

“But that would make me God,” Einstein and I replied, again speaking at the same time.

“Yes."

Einstein shook his head. “No, this cannot be right. This human life is not divine. It is full of darkness and evil and suffering.”

The listener agreed, saying: “Exactly. Without darkness there can be no light; without evil, there can be no good; without suffering, there can be no overcoming.”10

“Aren’t we talking science?” I complained. “We should not wander off into philosophical realms.” 

“Then choose other words,” the listener said.  “Refer to God as nature or evolution or alien intelligence or the universal mind or the life force or directed panspermia or whatever you like, as if these things were different—but think about what it all implies. Humanity provides what God lacks.”

Einstein gave a puzzled snort. “Ha! But can God lack anything?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” the woman said. “Oh, yes.”

And then I began to understand.

Einstein was there before me.

“It’s love, isn’t it?” the physicist said. “The universe is conscious. But a single consciousness can neither give nor receive love. A consciousness splintered into a billion glittering parts, and given freedom of choice, can choose to love.”

“Yes,” I said, anxious to keep up. “Choice is the key. The splinters: in this scenario, and only this scenario, are they free to choose light over darkness; to choose good over evil; to choose to respond to suffering with overcoming.”

The master physicist’s eyes lit up as he continued this train of thought: “It’s more than that. They can even choose death over life. For love. That’s why we obsess over choices so much, and why love is so ridiculously, ludicrously important to us.”11

I smiled at Einstein as I ran over to the listener to thank her, to shake her hand.

But where she had been standing, I found only a full length mirror.

As I turned away in puzzlement, the mirror broke into innumerable glittering splinters. The pieces fell, slowly spinning, and I fell with them, back to earth.12

*****

*****

NOTES

1. The author of “Splinters” is China-based novelist Nury Vittachi, who often writes about science and history, particularly for younger readers. He wrote a book for featuring Einstein and the theory of general relativity some years ago, and has been nominated for a sci-fi award.

2. Einstein did not discover the speed of light, which was already well known, but changed our understanding of it—turning it into the speed limit of reality itself.

3. In 1935, Einstein published a paper with two other theoretical physicists (the paper is generally referred to as the EPR paradox) puzzling over the implications of quantum entanglement, which he felt was clearly impossible.

4. Schrodinger originally posited his famous cat-in-a-box theory to show how outrageous the implications of quantum physics were, but the image summed up the paradoxes so well that it became the iconic symbol for that entire branch of science.

Schrodinger later wrote: “We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us; we are not in it. We are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe that we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture.”

5. There have been literally thousands of attempts to explain the intriguing connection between the observer and the existence of the quantum particle. Some attempt to do away with the observer entirely. However, while many of these papers have added to our understanding of processes such as decoherence, few people think of this puzzle as satisfactorily solved. The measurement puzzle remains an enigma, and a vast number of options remain open.

“It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is inherent in every atom,” said Freeman Dyson, one of the world's most respected theoretical physicists.

 6. Could all consciousnesses be part of a single consciousness? Many thinkers have moved away from the “you-are-your-brain” school of thought, finding it too mechanical and simplistic to explain the process. Elements of the way our brains work appear to function on a quantum level – which raises a great many intriguing possibilities. It has been experimentally confirmed that plants and birds operating using quantum processes. Scientists say: "If vegetables can do it....?"

Sir James Hopwood Jeans wrote: “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.” The great British scientist believed that all consciousnesses could be seen as "cells" of a larger consciousness.

7. In an extraordinary development in 1964, John Stewart Bell confirmed that behind our known physical reality was a layer of reality which appeared to be “non-local”, by which he meant that physical distance had no meaning.

“In spite of the local appearances of phenomena, our world is supported by an invisible reality.” (JP McEvoy, “Introduction to Quantum Physics”)

8. “The universe may only become real because we are looking at it.” This is not a statement by a “new age” philosopher, but part of a strap headline in New Scientist magazine in 2015. Scientists now say that there is enough experimental evidence to show that the universe really does seem to be, in some important senses, “a human universe”.

9. The existence of our universe is highly improbable, to say the least. This has caused physicists from to posit numerous explanations for why it is here. Might we live in an infinite multiverse? Another theory says that every time an observation of a superpositioned particle (a particle which is in multiple places at once) is made, new universes covering every possible position of that particle come into existence. For an excellent review of the various theories, look at Paul Davies' "The Goldilocks Enigma".

10. The problem of evil as a question was first posited by Epicurus, more than two millennia ago. Since then, it has been answered by numerous thinkers, from Kant to Cousins—all well worth reading.

11. The best discussion of why humans are obsessed with reason and making choices (in both religious and secular contexts) can be found in Thomas Nagel’s seminal work, "Mind and Cosmos". This is a must-read by arguably the finest philosopher of science working today.

12. By positing our individual consciousnesses as derived from but separate to a higher consciousness (the universe, God, nature, etc), the author of Splinters argues that the universe has created for itself the only possible system which hinges on the making of individual moral choices.

 

 

 

 


THE EXTRAORDINARY TRUTH ABOUT HONG KONG'S MUSLIMS

O-MUSLIM-GIRLS-facebook

Most people have no idea how much this quiet community has shaped the city, writes Nury Vittachi


MEN IN HONG KONG are taking “creepshots” or sneaky surreptitious pictures of Muslim men, women and children and posting them on the Internet.

A Facebook user who calls himself Azure Main posted a picture of a brown-skinned man in the MTR with the caption “Muzzie scouting the MTR for the next plot?”  A user named Chan posted a picture of a woman and a child in Tuen Mun.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as just the usual narrow-mindedness you see everywhere. Bigots exist, we all know that.

But the tragedy is that these attitudes hide an extraordinary true story about the nature of community that should be a model for the rest of the planet.

*** 

The “lascars” of Hong Kong have long been the glue that held East and West together in the port city on the south coast of China.

They first arrived in the 1840s from India. The first police force in Hong Kong was neither Chinese nor Caucasian—they were ALL brown-skinned.

***

The Indians became the entire police force, plus they worked as security guards, door guards and so on.

The British governors found that the Indians had the perfect qualities to fit that role.

They were trustworthy, obedient workers who didn’t drink or party like the whites, and they didn’t make up a "mysterious, impenetrable" society like the Chinese. (The favorite British adjective for the local population was “inscrutable”.)

***

Furthermore, the Indian community, which comprised Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, worked in almost perfect harmony with each other and with other communities.

While English struggled to learn Chinese, and Chinese often found English a tricky language, the clever “brownies” were quickly fluent in both tongues.

***

Star

(Star Ferry: Set up by Indians in Hong Kong)

The local Cantonese society liked the dark-skinned community---they identified with them as quiet, hard-working non-drinkers.

The men were known as Lascars, after the Persian word for “troop”, and would gather on the Sheung Wan side of Central, slightly up the hill – even today you can see the road called Lascar Row, where they met for prayers.

Chinese shoppers, when they were carrying their roast pigs home for dinner, would respectfully make a detour around Lascar Row.

The Cantonese realized that they did not have to avoid pork themselves, but were happy to take an accommodating attitude to the newcomers.

***

In the 1860s, the Muslims who worked for the British East India Company asked for a place where they could meditate and pray. 

They were given a site in Tsim Sha Tsui (then within the British army barracks territory).  Again, it was highly peaceful operation, with the British, the Chinese and the Indians setting it up in harmony. Today, we find Kowloon Mosque there.

***

For the next 175 years, the Muslims and other Indians of Hong Kong became a model community, being extremely creative and remarkably good at setting up businesses and organizations. 

Hong Kong’s iconic Star Ferry was started and run by an Indian.  

Indian investors played major roles in setting up the University of Hong Kong, the Ruttonjee Hospital, and even the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

Indians played a major role in the import-export trade, the key driver of Hong Kong’s rise to wealth.

*

The Muslim community in Hong Kong, which now numbers 250,000, remains a model for the world.

As a community, it is quiet, hardworking and peaceful. The violent disputes in other parts of the world are often painted as an Islam versus the West war.

But historians know the truth –that the vast majority of the victims of ISIS and associated groups are Muslims. What we are seeing are terrorists attacks largely within a single culture.

Yet what do we see in Hong Kong? Peace between different beliefs and different factions.

Today, you can visit the mosque and see Sunni and Shiite Muslims praying together, shoulder-by-shoulder in perfect harmony. This is the model that the rest of the world should be looking at for a peaceful future.

***

Muslim girl

Meanwhile, the people who post creepshots of Muslims might be surprised to learn that the average Hong Kong Muslim is not a bearded brown man in baggy clothes.

The typical Muslim is a young Indonesian woman.  (There are 150,000 Indonesians here.)

The second biggest group is ethnic Chinese Muslims (numbering about 30,000 to 40,000).

The darker skinned Muslims are mostly from Pakistan, and number only about 17,000.

***

Image11

And now for some fun. Below is a list of words that English-speakers in Hong Kong often assume are Chinese, and Chinese speakers often assume are English.

But they are really from Muslim and associated roots: Malay and Indian origins.

***
Shoppers in Hong Kong and across East Asia, from Taiwan to Thailand, buy their groceries by the catty, a weight of just over 600 grammes (about a pound and a third).

Each community has its own name for it: "jin" in Mandarin, "kin" in Japanese and "kan" in Cantonese.

But all translate it in English to “catty”, because that’s what early European travelers called it, having picked up the word kati (a unit of weight) when they passed through Malay-speaking Muslim regions on the way to the South China coast.

***

Also consider the word tael, a bar of gold. Chinese assume this is English, since their own word is "liang", and English speakers assume it is Chinese, since it isn’t used in the West. It comes from the Malay tahil, a one-sixteenth of a catty measure.

***

One of the most often misunderstood terms is "congee". Westerners think it is the Chinese word for "rice-gruel" and Chinese think it is the Western word for "juk"! The word congee is believed to come from Dravidian roots.

***

Shroff is an Indian word, originally “saraf”, meaning banker or money changer.

***

The word coolie conjures up images of porters wearing Chinese conical straw hats. Type it into Google and it literally conjures up such pictures. While there is a similar sounding term in Chinese ("koo li" can mean “suffer labour”) most authorities trace the term back to the Hindi term "quli", meaning “hired servant”.

***


What could be more Chinese than the palanquin, the stately box on poles used to hand-carry the wealthy? Actually, the word is derived from “palyanka-s”, a Sanskrit term literally meaning “that which bends around the body” but generally used to refer to a bed.

***

The word pagoda is also neither English nor Chinese. It is believed to come either from the Persian "butkada" ("idol dwelling") or the Tamil "pagavadi" ("deity’s house").

***
Even the word mandarin is neither English nor Mandarin.

It comes from the Hindi term mantri, or councilor. It was first used for Chinese officials by visitors from India and Europe, and its meaning spread from there.

It is recorded as referring to the speech of Chinese people in 1604, and became a name of a fruit by 1771. (The fruit was a deep orange in colour, similar to that of the robes worn by Chinese officials.)

***

The name of The Bund, the waterside promenade in Shanghai, neatly shows the South Asian role as the invisible middleman holding East and West together.

While the early residents of the swamp on the River Pu were Chinese, the colonialists setting up the infrastructure were mostly British.

But the workers pulling the barges along the riverbank were Indian, and used the Hindi word bund, meaning “water enclosure”.  

***

Kowloon_Clock_Tower_June_18_2007

While the words given above are familiar in East Asia today, they hark back to a specific period in the early history of the region, from about 1590 to 1850. The population of Hong Kong was Chinese, but many socio-economic decision-makers were European sailors fresh from Malay-speaking Muslim lands, and other expatriate communities, with Indians playing a key role.

***

Visit the area around the mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui today, and you will see the best possible vision of Earth’s future: people of all beliefs and no beliefs, people of all cultures and mixed cultures, living side by side, speaking a language that quietly mixes words from all their roots.

 

 


Facebook meme fakers target women and churchgoers

Blogging-15968_640 pixabay

BY LUCA ESPOSITO

MILLIONS OF PEOPLE are sharing fraudulent memes designed to make women and other groups look stupid.

            Male trolls are setting up fake Facebook pages such as Feminists Against Vaccines and then pushing out dozens of graphics taking extremist positions designed to engender scorn against feminists.

            Any woman who complains is told: “It’s satire, so we’re not the problem. You are, because you have no sense of humor.”

            The trolls present themselves as groups of feminists, anti-vaccine campaigners, churchgoers, Betty Bowers, supporters of Michele Bachmann, anti-drug campaigners, or all of the above.  Their choice of targets show that they have a particular dislike for women and Christians, so bad luck if you are a female churchgoer.

           

TRACING THE SOURCES

 

Some posts have been traced to one “Knox Stonewall Johnson”, although this appears to be a pseudonym.  Judged by their targets, the trolls are chauvinistically male, aggressively atheist and strong supporters of the US Democratic Party.

            To be clear, this article is NOT referring to parody and satire, which is something most people enjoy (including, often, the people being targeted). The issue is with graphic posts, many of which are brilliantly positioned to lie just over the line that turns satire into deception.

            The result is that a significant portion of readers take the postings as clear proof of the idiocy of the target group, be they feminists or Christians or conservative voters. Anyone who points out the fraudulent nature of the post is judged to have suffered a sense of humor failure. Either way the victim loses.

            Facebook, which has a policy against fraudulent misrepresentation of individuals and groups, has deleted some of the pages, but the gang simply restarts them. Their “Christians Against Michele Bachmann” page has been deleted and restarted at least 10 times.

16187_782711195146277_3855200178399976556_n

 

IS IT LAZINESS....?

 

The numbers are high, running into hundreds of thousands of shares. “Several memes have tricked a ridiculous number of people that were too lazy to bother source checking into thinking they were the real deal,” according to the writers of Rational Wiki.

            A “Feminists Against Vaccines” meme created as a part of “Photoshop Phriday”, a game organized by the website “Something Awful” in 2013, was recently (in March 2015) picked up and pushed to go viral on the Internet as proof of feminist idiocy.

            “A friend posted it to me earlier. I laughed. Two other friends shared it as if it were serious,” said Facebook user Shannon Lee, discussing it in a forum.

         In a piece called “The menace of memes: how pictures can paint a thousand lies”, Isabel Hardman of UK’s The Spectator laments the “failure to read the internet critically”.

           

... OR MALICIOUSNESS?

 

But others say that it’s not lack of critical thinking, but deliberate hatred of the target groups. Many people know or at least suspect the memes are fake, but share them anyway, with the full knowledge that a significant portion of people will take them seriously.

            “People who share the memes often defend themselves by claiming that it is obviously satire and anyone who takes it seriously is stupid, so it’s their own fault,” says Anne Bogdani, a feminist activist. “But that’s wrong. People of all levels of intelligence fall for them.”

            She points to the fact that actor (and atheist activist) Stephen Fry took one of the memes as true, spreading them as proof of the vileness of non-atheists. Geneticist Richard Dawkins has also taken the memes seriously, using them as conclusive proof of the idiocy of Christians. Nobody would call Fry or Dawkins unintelligent.

 

INFANTILE MORALITY

 

Bogdani points out that when sharers of the memes are challenged, a common response is that “feminists/ Christians/ Republicans say things like this anyway, so that makes it all right to make up stuff”.

            “A facepalm does not do justice to the infantile morality behind such reasoning,” she laughs. “My child in the playground would not use such an excuse.”

            It's not a small problem. One researcher who collected dozens of graphics which purported to show Christians making anti-science statements traced them back to their sources: not some, but all were fake.

                Another group which is deeply worried about the spread of fake news is the journalistic community. Several surveys have shown that Facebook is already the main source of news for many people. They argue that without gatekeepers who have some sense of morality, it’s only a matter of time before serious harm is done. But what we do? 

 

COMEDIANS DEFINE SATIRE            

 

How do you judge whether a meme is satire or fake news?

            Professional comedians take Woody Allen’s dictum, “The audience is always right,” as their watchword.

            Comedy is defined by the listener, not the speaker. Only if your audience greets your utterance as a joke, is it a joke. If a significant proportion of them don’t realize it is satire, it isn’t satire.

            “Will we ever teach people to think before they post?” asked Bogdani. “I don’t know. But I hope so.”

 

(Image at top from Pixabay/ Creative Commons license 2.0)


How To Be Funny: attack people, researchers say

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 (Audience laughs as researcher tells a surprise-free joke: Pic courtesy GBO Delhi)

 

LAUGHTER IS CLOSELY RELATED TO FEAR, RESEARCHERS FIND

 

HONG KONG, March 2, 2015: THE SUREST WAY TO MAKE someone laugh is to attack them, researchers said this week. Humor is rooted in fear, and laughter is a type of screaming. 

 

The widespread belief that surprise is the basic unit of joke delivery is wrong, according to entertainment researchers at the School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Unpredictability is a common but OPTIONAL element of the process of making people laugh out loud, while the creation of emotional tension is far more significant.

 

“People create laughter by attacking others,” said lead researcher Nury Vittachi. “Parents nibble their infants. Comedians verbally abuse audiences. Successful TV sketch-writers create material which threatens violence to our conventional moral assumptions.” 

 

To test the hypothesis, researchers studied live and recorded incidents in which people laughed out loud at material which lacked the traditional structure of a set-up line followed by a surprise punch-line. Rather than laughter being missing, audiences were more amused. 

 

AMUSEMENT DELIVERY CONTEXTS

Laughter was studied in various “amusement delivery” contexts, including storyteller and child, comedian and audience, parent and baby, and so on. 

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CHILDREN: Audiences of children heard a repetitive folk tale about an “impolite” worm who eats members of his family, one by one—and they laughed out loud even though the progress of the story was so obvious that they could finish it themselves. “There were no surprises. What made them laugh was the attack on their basic assumptions, which is that children should never eat their siblings and parents,” said Vittachi.

 

TV COMEDIANS: The investigators also reviewed the acts of professional comedians, noting that punchline-driven jokes had been overtaken on TV by deliberately repetitive skits, such as Catherine Tate’s “I’m not bovvered” sketches, focused on personal conflicts, and containing no surprises. 

 

LIVE COMEDIANS: They also noted the deliberately hostile relationship between stand-up comedians and their audiences, characterized by Bernie Mac, whose opening-line is “I ain’t scared of you m***********s.”  They noted that comedy club live shows regularly featured comedians taking a highly combative stance against the audience. 

 

FAMILIES: Researchers found that parents, observed in public spaces, physically attacked babies, toddlers and small children to make them laugh. They nibbled their children’s arms and necks, threw them in the air, or pretended to drop them. In all cases, the reaction was laughter, with the children typically saying: “Again! Again!” This indicated that the cause of the laughter was not surprise, but the attack itself. 

 

WHY YOU CAN’T TICKLE YOURSELF 

 

The study, called “How to be funny”, sheds light on long-running laughter-related puzzles.

Why can we not tickle ourselves?

Answer: because you can’t attack yourself.

Why is embarrassment sometimes expressed by laughter?

Answer: Gross emotional discomfort is the root of involuntary laughter.

 

The hypothesis also gives a new understanding of human utterances sometimes defined as “courtesy laughter”, reclassifying them  as “discomfort laughter”. If a sufficiently scary boss is speaking, subordinates will laugh even if the leader makes no jokes at all. 

 

The study shares anecdotal evidence of an experiment in which an individual says to a child in a classroom setting that he can make her laugh with a single word. The researcher then waits for a period of about 10 seconds for tension to build up, before saying a random word. The laughter that inevitably follows is not caused by the word, but by the tension that has been allowed to build up.

 

“In live situations, making people laugh has surprisingly little to do with the words used,” said Vittachi. “It’s all about the spiky, dynamic relationship between the speaker and listener.”

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The full paper is available free of charge as a download in the PDF below.

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Download HOW TO BE FUNNY March 2 2015 

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This was a project of the Creativity and Education Research Lab, School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.