How The Ancient Egyptians Spoke

If you have ever wondered how the Ancient Egyptian language sounded, listen to the liturgical hymns of the Coptic Church, the only place it is still widely spoken.

First recorded in 3400 BCE, Egyptian is the earliest known language in history, rivaled only by Sumerian. Like all languages, it evolved over its long lifespan, becoming Demotic by 600 BCE and Coptic by 200 CE. It began to decline thereafter, going extinct by the 17th century and surviving only as a religious language, with very few fluent speakers outside of some clergy (my research suggests that only one family is known to speak it as a first language).

There have been sporadic but unsuccessful efforts to revive Coptic for mainstream use. Below is one of the few videos I have found of Coptic being spoken outside of a liturgical context. Superficially, it sounds a lot like Arabic, which isn’t too surprising since it falls under the same large language family of Afro-Asiatic and evolved during centuries of Arab rule (some things do sound familiar to me, such as the term for “and”). 

The Troubled Waters of South India and How It Impacts Us

I love and appreciate art of all kind, especially that which brings attention to important issues and conveys them in an impactful and digestible manner. Such is the case with the photographs of Selvaprakash Lakshmanan, who has captured the lives and struggles of South Indian coastal communities while bringing attention to a troubling intersection of several modern global problems.

Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu. Fishermen protest near the proposed nuclear plant on World Fisheries Day. Credit Selvaprakash Lakshmanan / New York Terms

The New York Times offers a great slideshow and summary of his brilliant and thus far unique project, as very few journalists or photographers have explored this area.

It was as much an environmental project as a human one, he discovered. As he learned while making “Life in Troubled Waters,” the harrowing issues facing these communities encompassed many symbolic and complex problems that resonate in the globalized 21st Century.

Mr. Lakshmanan was educated about the environmental issues while serving as a participant journalist for the Fojo Institute’s Coastal Management program. “With most of my stories before, it was more people-centric,” he said. “And the cause made me look, holistically, at how it is closely connected to the environment and the social, geopolitical, and economic issues. Each issue is interconnected, either in a direct or indirect way.”

While interviewing residents of villages in Tamil Nadu, he learned that an increase in shoddy industrial construction on the shoreline had led to erosion, which threatened the fishermen’s houses. Several of his photographs documented homes falling back into the sea and the attempts to build storm walls that buttressed against its power. Rising tides, a byproduct of climate change, presumably played a part too.

Indeed, Lakshmanan’s work is sorely needed, since this part of the world — like so many others — remains invisible to the wider global community, let alone the powers that be.

Since most of India’s massive population lives in inland cities, the coastal areas he’s investigating are typically underreported and overlooked. It is Mr. Lakshmanan’s mission to bring awareness of what’s going on in those areas. He has seen the effects of coal-fueled, thermal power plants spewing fly ash into the ocean. And salt mines that raise the salinity of the soil, destroying mangrove forests, which leads to further erosion. In addition, he said, “human waste and urban sewage systems go directly into the sea.”

But like so many humanitarian issues nowadays, the bigger picture is far more complex, and the intrepid photojournalist did an excellent job capturing both the nuance and global relevance of this seemingly localized issue:

But rather than present the fishermen as blameless, Mr. Lakshmanan was quick to point out why the Sri Lankans are so angered by the poaching. Apparently, the Tamil Nadu fishermen use a technique called bottom trawling, which has been banned in Sri Lanka but not India. In this type of fishing, nets are dragged along the seabed, which destroys fragile Sri Lankan coral reef ecosystems.

This was confirmed earlier in the year by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Development, who said, “Because of this method of fishing, the bottom of our Northern sea and the marine environment get completely destroyed. In the future there will be no fish left in the North.”

Ironically, most of the catch for which these Tamil Nadu fishermen risk their lives is then shipped out internationally or to the voracious urban markets in India. From there comes the sewage that pollutes the water, forcing the fish further out to sea where the fishermen follow, to their peril. It is a baroque tale that befits our intricately woven globalized society and perhaps a harbinger of larger resource wars to come.

It is that final point, which I have emphasized, that made this project stand out for me. It reaffirms a crucial but underestimated fact about our rapidly globalizing world: that just about every system — commercial, political, or cultural  — on every level — local, national, and regional — has significant  international connections and influences.

Much like the butterfly effect of chaos theory (which I admit to possibly misattributing), even the seemingly smallest and most localized actions can set in motion numerous other changes and consequences beyond our initial calculations.

As Lakshmanan notes at the end of the article, the environmental calamity looming over south India and northern Sri Lanka — like so many catastrophes across the world — is in large part driven by the voracious demands of consumers halfway across the planet. We take for granted how easily our goods come to our homes and stores, unaware of the exploitation, corruption, and environmental degradation we are unwittingly driving.

And just as our actions have impacts across the world, so too does the reverse happen: the destabilization and degradation resulting from our consumption will come back to haunt us, in ways ranging from refugee crises to climate change. We need a global perspective that recognizes this reality and can implement solutions across borders — no small feat, to say the least.

The Joys — and Benefits — of Houseplants

To those who don’t know, I love plants. In fact, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t (or don’t still) become a botanist. Whether it is reading up on them, admiring them on walks, or tending to them in my garden, I love immersing myself in plants. I just can’t make enough space in my home, bedroom, or office for plants of all shapes, colors, and sizes; no visit to a store with a garden section is complete without me passing by to see what’s available and what more I can squeeze in.

Of course, you don’t have to be a plant-fanatic to appreciate the joys and practical benefits of plants. They are an important but often overlooked element worth considering for almost any room. Available in many shapes, sizes, and varieties at affordable prices, they offer everything from aesthetics to even health promotion.

For starters, houseplants add well-needed, eye-catching greenery to bland spaces, especially offices, waiting rooms, foyers, or other utilitarian areas that often lack decorative pieces. They’re a great way to bring some life and vibrancy into your living space, and the presence of houseplants has been known to promote relaxation and reduce stress – needless to say this is a must for offices and study rooms, and I find myself feeling much less stressed and unfocused in the presence of my plants (after all, one’s environment plays a big role in mood and psychological health).

Speaking of environment, research has shown that plants create healthier environments by serving as natural filters, sucking up harmful pollutants and producing oxygen to clean out and freshen the air. Many plants also help to regulate the temperature and humidity of a room, not unlike the cooling effect you may experience among lush vegetation outside. To maximize these effects, at least four plants per person are recommended, although any number will offer some benefit — including, say, the dozen or so I have in my own bedroom.

While all houseplants confer some benefits, a few do so better than others. Here are the big three to consider as air cleaners courtesy of News.Mic.

Areca Palm: Instead of splurging on a humidifier, you might want to try one of these. At its full height, this tall, leafy plant transpires up to a full liter (about four glasses) of water, warding off dry office air. The shrub also absorbs particulate matter, some of which can lead to heart disease, asthma and a host of other severe health problems, according to a NASA study.

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue: While many plants inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen during the day, this plant’s long, dark leaves push fresh air into the environment at night, making it a good complement to the areca palm. It also absorbs nitrogen oxide, a fossil fuel and agriculture byproduct that accounts for 6% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and cancer-causing formaldehyde.

The Money Plant: Instead of another cup of coffee, you might want to give this plant a shot. Like Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, the money plant sucks up formaldehyde and other building pollutants. It also absorbs benzene, an air pollutant found in car exhaust that can cause dizziness, drowsiness and headaches.

Here’s a great TED Talk by researcher Kamal Meattle that explores the benefits of plants in indoor areas, ranging from greater health and productivity among workers, to even lower energy costs:

For what it’s worth, my own personal experience confirms a lot of this research; as a sufferer of depression and anxiety, not to mention mild respiratory problems, I have noticed a notable alleviation of all these issues.

Of course, even if I didn’t enjoy practical benefits, I’d love plants all the same. There is just something so visceral about it — maybe it’s an atavistic impulse from our origins in more natural environments (which we’ve long since detached ourselves from), or maybe it’s a natural yearning for the (idealized) tranquility of nature — who knows. But it makes no difference to me.

 

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Chart: A ranking of European countries by how much couples argue over household chores

Eupraxsophy:

Interesting research. I wonder what, if anything, does this say about sociocultural attitudes towards gender roles, relationships, romantic expectations, or other factors that may contribute to conflict between partners. I’d be curious to see research like this involving other countries across the world.

Originally posted on Quartz:

Marital bickering is not just for married couples. If you’re an unmarried cohabiting couple in Europe, you’re actually more likely to argue about whose turn it is to clean the toilet than a married couple would, according to a new report. But you may be less likely to argue over paying the gas bill than a wedlocked duo.

The report, published in the journal Demographic Research, surveyed cohabiting and married heterosexual couples in 22 European countries and determined how much they each argue about specific issues. Couples living together are more likely to argue over housework than married couples, while married couples were more likely to disagree over paid work and money, the researchers found.

The report also exposed differences in the overall rate of couples arguing from country to country. Couples in Greece, for example, are living the good life; they’re the least likely to squabble about household work divisions, paid work and money. Norway and Finland are…

View original 163 more words

Hats From Around The World

Since I am busy and not in the mood to write, today’s post will be light but fun — here are eighty hats from around the world courtesy of DesignTaxi.com, which in turn pulled them from travel website Venere.

In addition to the iconic hats we all know and love — the French beret, Mexican sombrero, and so on — there are some pretty interesting and little-known varieties (especially from Africa and South Africa). Fellow artists and writers might benefit from these as a point of reference.

Hats Around The World I Hats Around The World II Hats Around The World III Hats Around The World IV

I think you can learn quite a bit from a culture by looking at its attire — what sort of inferences can you make from these samples?

Street Life Through Puddles

One of the great things about art is its ability to unlock new perspectives and angles that can change our own everyday perceptions and thoughts. Such has been the effect on me of Un Regard,” a photographic series by Congolese painter-turned-photographer Kiripi Katembo Siku.

His artwork captures daily life in the bustling city of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as reflected in puddles. As you would imagine, this adds a pretty interesting effect to each photo.

Here are some photos courtesy of HuffPo, where I first stumbled upon this unique series.

2014-07-11-Rester.jpg

2014-07-11-Subir.jpg

2014-07-11-Survivre.jpg

2014-07-11-Avancer.jpg

2014-07-11-Devenir.jpg

2014-07-11-Errer.jpg

2014-07-11-Evolution.jpg

A pretty neat way to capture the everyday world around us. It kind of makes me want to get a closer look at puddles from now on! What do you think?

 

Global Spotlight: The Nihang Sikhs

Members of the Nihang, a military order in the Sikh religion also known as the Akali (The Eternal) and the Akal Sena (The Army of the Eternal). Renowned for their strict discipline, courage, and martial skill, the Nihang are named after a Persian mythical sea creature to which their fighting prowess was compared (historians of the Mughal Empire likened their ferocity to that of crocodiles).

The Nihang are accorded considerable respect and affection among Sikhs worldwide, for although their role is primarily ceremonial, they are bound to defend their community in times of war. During the festival of Hola Mohalla (which usually occurs in March), thousands of Nihang gather at Anandpur, a holy city of the Sikhs, where they display their famous martial skills (known collectively as gatka).

As you may have noticed, the Nihang are best recognized by their large and often elaborate turbans. They are often reinforced with steel and fitted with various weapons, including a trident (for stabbing in close-quarters), bagh naka (claw-like weapons) and one or more chakram (steel throwing weapons).

I love the character, color, and personality in these photos (the first of which was taken by Mark Hartman but the others whose . Many thanks to my friend and colleague Richard for first sharing the first photo with me, and thus piquing my interest to learn more about this fascinating group and faith.

National Pride Around The World

With the rise of the nation state — whose conceptual origin is disputed but typically traced back to the Treaty of Westphalia in the 17th century — has emerged the idea of patriotism and pride in one’s civic and national identity — equally contentious and amorphous concepts.

As a life-long American, I am intimately aware of the impact, prevalence, and subsequent controversy of patriotism — indeed, national pride is seen as one of the definitive elements of American identity, coinciding with and emerging from notions such as American exceptionalism and the American dream.

But how deeply is patriotism ingrained in the  U.S. collective consciousness, especially nowadays, amid so much declinism and cynicism about our future? What of the effects of globalization on our and other nations’ sense of national belonging: in an increasingly globalized world — with so many people traveling and living abroad, exchanging one another’s cultures, and forging deep emotional and social ties across borders — how influential is the nation state on our psyches?

Well, data from the 2010-2014 World Values Survey (which is still being completed) offer some interesting insight on how citizens of select countries feel about living there. Citizens in 52 participating countries were asked the following: “How proud are you to be [insert nationality]” to which they could select “Very Proud”, “Quite Proud”, “Not Very Proud”, “Not at All Proud”, or “Unsure”.

Here are the maps courtesy of Vox.com.

Note that this only signifies people who selected the highest option of “very proud”. The total percentage of citizens who are proud of their country is much higher when you add the follow data showing those who are “quite proud” (the second highest option, although it does not sound that much lower than “very”).

Moreover, a redditor named DMan9797 put together the following custom chart based on the total responses, which I feel does a better job of giving us the bigger picture globally and for each individual country (click the image to see it bigger).

So in total, there are 48 out of 52 participating countries in which 70 percent of respondents are proud or very proud to be a part of; the four notable exceptions are Japan, Germany, Ukraine, and Taiwan (although Russia, Estonia, and Belarus were not that far off). The Vox articles offers some interesting  explanations as to why these countries stand out:

For Germany and Japan, it suggests that the post-World War II hangups about nationalism may have not quite gone away. Since their defeats, both countries have developed a much more complicated relationship with national pride — in some ways, German and Japanese nationalism run amok were responsible for the whole thing. This sense of national guilt, or at least a wariness of too much national pride, might be making it harder for German and Japanese folk to feel immense amounts of national pride.

In Ukraine, the issue may be the country’s ethno-linguistic divides. As many know by now, eastern Ukrainians and Crimeans tend to be more sympathetic to Russia than the rest of Ukraine. That divide was one of the underlying causes of the current crisis between Ukraine and Russia. So it’s likely that eastern Ukrainians and Crimeans, many of whom were less than thrilled about being Ukrainian even when the survey began in 2010, reported abnormally low levels of Ukrainian pride. Estonia’s results may support that theory as well: the Baltic country just barely dodged the sub-70 percent prideful club, and it has a significant ethnic Russian minority.

Then there’s Taiwan, whose results are almost certainly about tension with mainland China. 20 percent of Taiwanese outright favor reunification with China, and 43.5 percent of Taiwanese also identify as Chinese (“Zhongguo ren,” which could mean Taiwanese, mainland Chinese, or both). This complicated relationship with the People’s Republic probably explains why Taiwanese people aren’t quite as proud of their country as other peoples are.

Personally, I think these explanations make sense, although it is interesting to note that Germany’s national pride has presumably been growing in light of the country’s renowned economic performance and subsequent international clout. It may be that Germans are simply sheepish about being more explicit in their patriotism.

In any case, it is interesting to see such a mixed bag of countries at the top: Qatar, Ghana, Ecuador, Uzbekistan, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Philippines could not be any more different from each other. Whether a country is authoritarian or democratic, rich or poor, or developed or underdeveloped doesn’t seem to impact peoples’ sense of national pride; nor are certain linguistic, ethnic, or religious compositions more or less likely to feel strong national pride.

All this probably speaks to the complex factors that go into one’s sense of belonging to a nation and feeling proud of it. Plenty of poorly governed and impoverished nations are nonetheless rich in culture, history, or national achievement (Qatar is an outsized player in the Middle-East affairs, Ghana paved the way for African independence movements, etc).

Conversely, having a high quality of life and an enviable socioeconomic system, even in combination with a rich culture and much accomplishment, doesn’t mean everyone will feel a strong sense of national identity or pride — Germany and Japan can speak to that, albeit for reasons unique to themselves.

Of course, every country — like every individual — has its own unique characteristics, history, social dynamics, and other factors that explain its standing among its own citizens and the world at large. It goes to show just how complicated the concepts of nation and state are, let alone the political and psychological relationship with these entities and ideas.

What are your thoughts?

 

The Treasure Voyages

Today marks the anniversary of the start of the Treasure Voyages, an incredible series of diplomatic and commercial expeditions undertaken by the Ming Dynasty during the 15th century that reached Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle-East, and East Africa. The scale, scope, and technical sophistication of this fleet — which involved over 27,000 personnel — was unprecedented in known history, and remained so for centuries.

The outward route of the fleet during the seventh and final voyage. Source: Wikipedia

The ships involved were marvels of engineering, reflecting the sheer technological might of what was then the world’s most advanced and powerful civilizations. See how the Treasure Voyages’ flagship compares to that of Columbus’ ship, St. Maria, used just decades later:

Unfortunately, I do not have the time to devote myself to writing more about this fascinating event or time period. Instead, I invite you to check out this detailed but succinct blog post about it, or listen to this great 45-minute BBC Radio post. The hyperlink to Wikipedia in the first sentence offers an extensive guide as well (it seems to be one of the better written and cited articles on the website).

Liquor Consumption By Country

I’m a sucker for charts, graphs, and maps, especially those that explore global trends and attitudes — no matter how seemingly trivial or mundane. Often times you learn some pretty surprising things about other cultures and societies. For example, take a look at who the world’s heaviest liquor drinkers are, courtesy of a chart from Quartz (a great source for such infographics).

Note that the chart is also measuring the change in average consumption over the span of a decade, beginning in 2000. Some countries remain largely flat in their liquor consumption (such as Austria, Belgium, and Muslim-majority countries like Egypt and Indonesia) while others have grown (the U.S. and especially the Philippines) and still others have declined (Brazil, Ukraine, and Greece).

So I know what many of you must be thinking: how are South Koreans, not exactly well-known for their hard-drinking, ranking so incredibly high? We’re talking 13.7 shots of liquor per week on average, followed by Russians and Filipinos at less than half that amount (6.3 and 5.4 shots per week, respectively). Well, the Quartz piece offers a simple explanation:

South Korea’s unparalleled liquor consumption is almost entirely due to the country’s love for a certain fermented rice spirit called Soju. The South Korean liquor accounts for 97 percent of the country’s spirits market.

Like most countries where alcohol consumption is high, South Korea is combating the subsequent social and public health consequences, an approach that accounts for the decline or stagnation of liquor consumption in famously hard-drinking countries like Russia, Ukraine, and the U.K. Of course, when the particular spirit of choice is so culturally and historically ingrained, it can be a pretty difficult battle.