EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Tag Archives: culture
Monday, June 17, 2013
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Recently we posted a fascinating story about a legal ruling in Iceland that allowed parents to set aside centuries of Icelandic history by naming their girl “Blaer” — a traditionally male name. You see Iceland has an official organization — the Iceland Naming Committee — that regulates and decides if a given name is acceptable (by Icelandic standards).
Well, this got us thinking about rules and conventions in other nations. For instance, New Zealand will not allow parents to name a child “Pluto”, however “Number 16 Bus Shelter” and “Violence” recently got the thumbs up. Some misguided or innovative (depending upon your perspective) New Zealanders have unsuccessfully tried to name their offspring: “*” (yes, asterisk), “.” (period or full-stop), “V”, and “Emperor”....read more
Sunday, March 17, 2013
No, we don’t mean war on apostasy, for which many have been hung, drawn, quartered, burned and beheaded. And no, “apostrophes” are not a new sect of fundamentalist terrorists.
Apostrophes are punctuation, and a local city council in Britain has deemed to outlaw them. Why?
From the Guardian:
The sometimes vexing question of where and when to add an apostrophe appears to have been solved in one corner of Devon: the local authority is planning to do away with them altogether.
Later this month members of Mid Devon district council’s cabinet will discuss formally banning the pesky little punctuation marks from its (no apostrophe needed) street signs, apparently to avoid “confusion”.
The news of the Tory-controlled council’s (apostrophe required) decision provoked howls of condemnation on Friday from champions of plain English, fans of grammar, and politicians. Even the government felt the need to join the campaign to save the apostrophe....read more
Saturday, March 9, 2013
“England and America are two countries separated by the same language”. This oft used quote is usually attributed to Oscar Wilde or GBS (George Bernard Shaw). Regardless of who originated the phrase both authors would not be surprised to see that book covers are divided by the Atlantic Ocean as well. The Millions continues its fascinating annual comparative analysis.
American book covers on the left, British book covers on the right.
From The Millions:
Monday, February 4, 2013
The gods of Norse legend are surely turning slowly in their graves. A Reykjavik, Iceland, court recently granted a 15-year-old the right to use her given name. Her first name, “Blaer” means “light breeze” in Icelandic, and until the ruling was not permitted to use the name under Iceland’s strict cultural preservation laws. So, before you name your next child Shoniqua or Te’o or Cruise, pause for a few moments to think how lucky you are that you live elsewhere (with apologies to our readers in Iceland).
From the Guardian:
A 15-year-old Icelandic girl has been granted the right to legally use the name given to her by her mother, despite the opposition of authorities and Iceland’s strict law on names.
Reykjavik District Court ruled Thursday that the name “Blaer” can be used. It means “light breeze.”...read more
Thursday, January 24, 2013
These three locations in Nevada, China (near Hangzhou) and Paris, France, have something in common. People the world over travel to these three places to see what they share. But only one has an original. In this case, we’re talking about the Eiffel Tower.
Now, this architectural grand theft is subject to a lengthy debate — the merits of mimicry, on a vast scale. There is even a fascinating coffee table sized book dedicated to this growing trend: Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, by Bianca Bosker.
Interestingly, the copycat trend only seems worrisome if those doing the copying are in a powerful and growing nation, and the copying is done on a national scale, perhaps for some form of cultural assimilation. After all, we don’t hear similar cries when developers put up a copy of Venice in Las Vegas — that’s just for entertainment we are told....read more
Friday, November 23, 2012
Starting up a new business was once a demanding and complex process, often undertaken in anonymity in the long shadows between the hours of a regular job. It still is over course. However nowadays “the startup” has become more of an event. The tech sector has raised this to a fine art by spawning an entire self-sustaining and self-promoting industry around startups.
You’ll find startup gurus, serial entrepreneurs and digital prophets — yes, AOL has a digital prophet on its payroll — strutting around on stage, twittering tips in the digital world, leading business plan bootcamps, pontificating on accelerator panels, hosting incubator love-ins in coffee shops or splashed across the covers of Entrepreneur or Inc or FastCompany magazines on an almost daily basis. Beware! The back of your cereal box may be next.
From the Telegraph:
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Humans do learn from their mistakes. Yet, history does repeat. Nations will continue to rise, and inevitably fall. Why? Chrystia Freeland, author of “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else,” offers an insightful analysis based in part on 14th century Venice.
From the New York Times:
IN the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages....read more
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Following decades of one-way cultural osmosis — from the United States to the UK, it seems that the trend may be reversing. Well, at least in the linguistic department. Although it may be a while before “blimey” enters the American lexicon, other words and phrases such as “spot on”, “chat up”, “ginger” to describe hair color, “gormless”
From the BBC:
There is little that irks British defenders of the English language more than Americanisms, which they see creeping insidiously into newspaper columns and everyday conversation. But bit by bit British English is invading America too.
“Spot on – it’s just ludicrous!” snaps Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley.
“You are just impersonating an Englishman when you say spot on.”
“Will do – I hear that from Americans. That should be put into quarantine,” he adds....read more
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
It takes no expert neuroscientist, anthropologist or evolutionary biologist to recognize that human evolution has probably stalled. After all, one only needs to observe our obsession with reality TV. Yes, evolution screeched to a halt around 1999, when reality TV hit critical mass in the mainstream public consciousness. So, what of evolution?
From the Wall Street Journal:
If you write about genetics and evolution, one of the commonest questions you are likely to be asked at public events is whether human evolution has stopped. It is a surprisingly hard question to answer.
I’m tempted to give a flippant response, borrowed from the biologist Richard Dawkins: Since any human trait that increases the number of babies is likely to gain ground through natural selection, we can say with some confidence that incompetence in the use of contraceptives is probably on the rise (though only if those unintended babies themselves thrive enough to breed in turn)....read more
Monday, March 19, 2012
From the Wall Street Journal:
Can physicists produce insights about language that have eluded linguists and English professors? That possibility was put to the test this week when a team of physicists published a paper drawing on Google’s massive collection of scanned books. They claim to have identified universal laws governing the birth, life course and death of words.
The paper marks an advance in a new field dubbed “Culturomics”: the application of data-crunching to subjects typically considered part of the humanities. Last year a group of social scientists and evolutionary theorists, plus the Google Books team, showed off the kinds of things that could be done with Google’s data, which include the contents of five-million-plus books, dating back to 1800....read more
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Secretly, you may be wishing you had a 12 foot satellite antenna in your backyard to soak up these esoteric, alien signals directly. How about the 1990′s sitcom “The Nanny” dubbed into Italian, or a Russian remake of “Everybody Loves Raymond”, a French “Law and Order”, or our favorite, a British remake of “Jersey Shore” set in Newcastle, named “Gordie Shore”. This would make an interesting anthropological study and partly highlights why other countries may have a certain and dim view of U.S. culture.
The top ten U.S. cultural exports courtesy of FlavorWire after the jump.
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Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Author Susan Cain’s recent presentation at TED lays out a good case for preserving and encouraging those introverts hiding amongst us.
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Monday, March 5, 2012
In the early 19th century Noah Webster set about re-defining written English. His aim was to standardize the spoken word in the fledgling nation and to distinguish American from British usage. In his own words, “as an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”
He used his dictionary, which still bears his name today, as a tool to cleanse English of its stubborn reliance on aristocratic pedantry and over-reliance on Latin and Greek. He “simplified” the spelling of numerous words that he believed were contsructed with rules that were all too complicated. Thus, “colour” became “color” and “honour” switched to “honor”; “centre” became “center”, “behaviour” to “behavior”, “traveller” to “traveler”....read more
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Monday, February 6, 2012
French children, it seems, unlike their cousins in the United States, don’t suffer temper tantrums, sit patiently at meal-times, defer to their parents, eat all their vegetables, respect adults, and are generally happy. Why is this and should American parents ditch the latest pop psychology handbooks for parenting lessons from La Belle France?
From the Wall Street Journal:
When my daughter was 18 months old, my husband and I decided to take her on a little summer holiday. We picked a coastal town that’s a few hours by train from Paris, where we were living (I’m American, he’s British), and booked a hotel room with a crib. Bean, as we call her, was our only child at this point, so forgive us for thinking: How hard could it be?...read more
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Much has been written on the subject of television. Its effects on our culture in general and on the young minds of our children in particular have been studied and documented for decades. Increased levels of violence, the obesity epidemic, social fragmentation, vulgarity and voyeurism, caustic politics, poor attention span — all of these have been linked, at some time or other, to that little black box in the corner (increasingly, the big flat space above the mantle).
In his article, A Nation of Vidiots, Jeffrey D. Sachs, weighs in on the subject.
From Project Syndicate:
The past half-century has been the age of electronic mass media. Television has reshaped society in every corner of the world. Now an explosion of new media devices is joining the TV set: DVDs, computers, game boxes, smart phones, and more. A growing body of evidence suggests that this media proliferation has countless ill effects....read more
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
From Scientific American:
Cities reverberate through history as centers of civilization. Ur. Babylon. Rome. Baghdad. Tenochtitlan. Beijing. Paris. London. New York. As pivotal as cities have been for our art and culture, our commerce and trade, our science and technology, our wars and peace, it turns out that cities might have been even more important than we had suspected, influencing our very genes and evolution.
Cities reverberate through history as centers of civilization. Ur. Babylon. Rome. Baghdad. Tenochtitlan. Beijing. Paris. London. New York. As pivotal as cities have been for our art and culture, our commerce and trade, our science and technology, our wars and peace, it turns out that cities might have been even more important than we had suspected, influencing our very genes and evolution....read more
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Whereas in postmodernism, being was left in a free-floating fabric of emotional intensities, in contemporary culture the existence of the self is affirmed through the network. Kazys Varnelis discusses what this means for the democratic public sphere.
Not all at once but rather slowly, in fits and starts, a new societal condition is emerging: network culture. As digital computing matures and meshes with increasingly mobile networking technology, society is also changing, undergoing a cultural shift. Just as modernism and postmodernism served as crucial heuristic devices in their day, studying network culture as a historical phenomenon allows us to better understand broader sociocultural trends and structures, to give duration and temporality to our own, ahistorical time....read more
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The earthquake in central Italy last week zeroed in on the beautiful medieval hill town of L’Aquila. It claimed the lives of 294 young and old, injured several thousand more, and made tens of thousands homeless. This is a heart-wrenching human tragedy. It’s also a cultural one. The quake razed centuries of L’Aquila’s historical buildings, broke the foundations of many of the town’s churches and public spaces, destroyed countless cultural artifacts, and forever buried much of the town’s irreplaceable art under tons of twisted iron and fractured stone....read more
Friday, September 19, 2008
Having condemned hyper-sexualized culture, the American religious Right is now wildly pro-sex, as long as it is marital sex. By replacing the language of morality with the secular notion of self-esteem, repression has found its way back onto school curricula – to the detriment of girls and women in particular. “We are living through an assault on female sexual independence”, writes Dagmar Herzog.
“Waves of pleasure flow over me; it feels like sliding down a mountain waterfall,” rhapsodises one delighted woman. Another recalls: “It’s like having a million tiny pleasure balloons explode inside of me all at once.”...read more