Society & Culture


On a wall in Constanta, a city in Romania, on the coast of the Black Sea.

ma gandesc

For those who weren’t there (and the photo isn’t great and it had been raining), it reads:
Mă gândesc la tine în multe feluri foarte des.

For those who don’t speak Romanian, it means:
I think of you in many ways very often.

Romania, like everywhere else if you look hard enough, is a country of contrasts. The first impression you get, on leaving Otopeni International Airport, is of coils of black-coated wire cabling hung up on the posts, as if the installation company thought it was a good place for storage. The second impression you get is of buildings of every kind: some aged with discoloured concrete and rusting metal; others brand new with modern design and architecture. Many times they are right next to each other.

Infrastructure
In some areas, quite a few of the buildings exist in a state of semi-repair, or demolition, or construction, or at least looking as though they need repairs, or tenants. For some buildings, only the concrete frame is in place. Very close to the centre of town there is a block (as in a city block of land) with four enormous buildings, stately, with fluted columns at the front. Apparently Ceaucescu intended them to be Romania’s radio city, but they are empty shells, still looking majestic but friable along the edges.

On the whole, the impression you get of Bucharest by a glance at its infrastructure is of trying to start an old car on a cold day: it won’t at first; it tries and fails, but with care slowly comes closer to starting up. The idea that it will start eventually is because of the modern high-rise buildings and businesses that are operating in Romania. Not just McDonald’s either – thankfully, there seem to be few of these – but there are many clothing retail chains of all kinds and styles, from high-end to be-sloganed teeshirts. Then again, I’m comparing Bucharest with Perth, the cultural Rip van Winkle of cities. (more…)

The book that made your world: how the Bible created the soul of Western civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi.

Whatever you think of the Bible and Christianity, you can’t deny they’ve changed the world. I knew this, but I never realised in what ways and to what extent, until I read The book that made your world.

The Bible gives a particular view of the world – it is not divine, nor a living entity; it is able to be understood and investigated – and of humans: by nature equal, but because of pride and selfishness, socially unequal; born to rule the world but not to abuse it; the crowning glory of creation but rebels against the God who made us.

Manglwadi notes how this unique view of the world and humanity shaped the Western view of life; of humanity, education, technology, science, finance, work, heroism, ethics, equal rights, charity, justice, and compassion.

Considering just one topic, technology, he notes that Korea had movable metal fonts two centuries before Gutenberg developed wooden ones, and that China had developed the printing press before 1000 AD, and Buddhist monasteries contained 130,000 pages of writings; so many that they also developed rotating bookcases. In six out of ten monasteries you could hear the bookshelves revolving day and night – not because the monks were reading the books, but because they were meditating on the sound of the turning bookcases. This was because of their worldview, which sought to stop thought, not encourage it. A culture of sharing information only develops if there is a reason to share information.  (more…)

Are you the self-aware hypocrite, who believes what you do is wrong, but you still do it again, and again? You despise yourself for falling into the same behaviour, and want to live what you say you believe.

Or are you the hypocrite in denial? Perhaps you advocate tolerance but then, if another person disagrees with you, you excoriate them, and justify your actions by saying they are intolerant and hateful. Even if they are, tolerance is your creed, not theirs.

“That’s disgusting!”

We were in the teacher’s lounge discussing marriage equality.

“People talk about marriage equality, but what they really mean is same sex marriage,” I had said.

“Exactly; and I think polyamory should be included as well,” he enthused.

I thought I’d stir the pot. “But even then, that’s not full marriage equality,” I said, emphasizing the “full”. “There’s equality in gender and number, but what about….”  The word “species” came to mind but wasn’t what I meant. “What about people who are objectophiles?” I was ready to explain but my friend knew what I meant. “That’s disgusting!” (more…)

Do you think you’re an original, rational, objective thinker? These three aren’t synonymous; nor is a person one because they’re the other. Moreover, we can be rational on one topic but emotional on another, or objective about one topic but allow our bias to sway us on another.

George Bernard Shaw acidly remarked, “Most people think they are thinking when they are merely changing their prejudices.” People generally swap the opinions of their parents to those of their friends, of their professors, of other authorities, each time and each time, perhaps, believing they are thinking, because they have been given a more convincing rationale: although what convinces one person may not convince another.

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself, to test whether you tend to swim in the river of thought or drift with the current.

1. How many of your beliefs make you uncomfortable? (more…)

People
Thankfully for the native Anglo, almost everyone speaks reasonably good English. Romanians are friendly and hospitable, although they tend to be reserved around people they don’t know. Possibly this is related to the fact that theft is a problem, which is why security guards are everywhere, even during the day. Security guards take their jobs seriously, and generally the only indication you get from them that you’ve somehow offended against a rule of order is a point with the chin, and perhaps a grunt. On the other hand, the youth, while high-spirited and energetic, seem polite and self-controlled. It’s almost like you’ve stepped back in time to the 1950s.

Food
The national Romanian food is meat. Any kind. One popular food is mici (it’s pronounced “mitsh”), basically a rissole made of various minced meats, usually pork and mutton or lamb; grilled and served with bread and mustard. The Romanians have their own take on the haggis, called drob, thankfully served only at Easter. Made of lamb, it looks like disturbingly grey meatloaf. (more…)

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