Wednesday, January 30, 2013

戲曲中心 Xiqu Centre

近日討論戲曲中心 Xiqu Centre 的聲音很多。正反意見都有。陳雲這一篇亦有讚同反對聲音。在云云議論之中,他的一篇算是最深入,起碼他的意見有點基礎,不像一些見有政府關係就一概反對。

不過以純文字角度來解構 xiqu,我覺得是跌入了文字的井內,看不到整遍天。先說大家都說的 Chinese opera。Opera 是一個獨特的體裁,起源於意大利。雖然亦有 German opera,English opera;但其實是同一體裁,不同語言。Opera 基本上是音樂劇,很多地方有其自己名稱,美國叫 Musical。現時西九藝術區針對的戲曲,是泛指中國戲曲,不單是廣東粵曲。以戲曲作為一個專有名詞是一個可行的選擇。以中國戲曲獨特的體裁,獨有的唱功,舞台設計,戲服化妝做手動作的象徵性,是很難在英語中找到一個貼切的意譯名詞。不如乾脆就叫做戲曲,對這門藝術有興趣的觀眾自然會找門路去理解。至於 xiqu 是否適合,就見人見智。在香港說粵語方言,我自我覺得可以叫 hey cook。不過如要惡搞,就什麼名字都可以搞一番。既然這個名詞會全在世界推廣,不如就用最通用的寫法,或用聯合國都使用的寫法。

語言約定俗成,大家常用又理解就變成文化一部份。針對中文名詞在英語的譯法,有很多是不能準確意譯,或是中文發音已廣為接受,中文拼音就直接成為英文名詞。這些名詞可以融入英語文化,成為英文寫作標準用詞。我在網上問一問有什麼英文字其起源是中文。新版英文字典列出很多,其中包括: qigong  coolie  kowtow  tycoon  typhoon  cheongsam  chowmein  ramen  dimsum  fengshui  kungfu  mahjong  sampan 等等。我們不用妄自菲薄,xiqu 這個名詞經香港推廣後可能以後無人不識,音樂界以之為重要派流,和 opera 一樣由外語變成英語一部份。

在中心 centre 一詞,亦可以作同樣思考。看西九文化局介紹,這個不是一個純表演場地。除了招納中國各地戲曲外,設施包括表演廳、實驗劇場、茶館、教育中心等。叫做館好像古典一些,高級一些;叫中心就有點現代感。我們又要思考現時搞戲曲是想懷舊還是想持續發展至適合今天的觀眾。我覺得館,或 house,較為中性,做什麼都可以。但中心 centre 就有了目的,環繞一個主題發展。

再解構一下名詞。Gallery 其實只是一條通道。古時有人在通道兩旁擺擋,吸引買家,要買好東西可以去看看。Gallery 現時就可解作畫廊或名店街。博物館 museum 更遙遠。Museum 其實是 house of the muse,是靈感女神住所或神廟,內裡藏有可以引發靈感的聖物。博物館是有很多好東西的地方。但有些專題博物館其實不博物;只有某人或某事不能稱為博物館,應只叫展覽館。

陳雲見識廣博,看他的東西刺激一下腦筋得益不少。不過他有一個敗筆,就是經常說自己是文學和文化權威,然後就攻擊政府和民政局白痴。不知是否以前有過未解的恩怨。

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戲曲中心、Xiqu Centre 與 Chinese Opera House  陳雲
聞說西九文化區管理局將規劃中的戲曲中心,英文定為Xiqu Centre,還說是從學術 上考慮到西洋的opera不能用來翻譯中國的戲曲云云,不禁令人失笑。此英文譯名一出,社會輿論嘩然,但西九當局依然故我。不學無術的機構一旦學術起來,就是這個模樣。我是中西比較文學專家,也曾供職於香港藝術發展局及民政事務局,出任研究總監一職,xiqu這個名也是在我任內採用的藝術界別名稱,在此向西九當局進一言,請他們不要一意孤行,貽笑天下。

首先,中文定名為「戲曲中心」,就是專業失準,也無文化修養可言。中心(centre) 是綜合文化建築或多功能建築之用,專門建築的文化場館(purpose-built cultural venue),應該叫house、gallery、museum之類。專門演出中國戲曲的場館,中文是「戲曲館」、「曲藝館」,不是戲曲中心。香港太空館、香港藝術館、香港科學館,都是叫館,不是叫中心的。藝術館叫中心的話,就變成巴黎的龐比度中心(Centre Georges Pombidou)、 紐約的林肯中心(Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts) 那類綜合大型場館,集展覽、收藏、研究、教育與表演於一身,也是跨界別藝術的。

其次,是英文譯名。在中國文化研究、中西比較文學的學術討論,要用xiqu的拼音詞,是避免套用opera的西洋觀念入宋元戲曲,然而通用英文,大家依然用Peking opera或Chinese opera。西九文化區的內頁宣傳也是用Cantonese opera之的英文名稱的,中國大陸則用Chinese Theatre之類。如果要依循採用xiqu拼音的原則,粵劇的英文請改用Yuet Kuk (粵曲)或Kwang Tung Tai Hei (廣東大戲),不要用Cantonese opera。至於xiqu用了漢語拼音的x和q,在大部分歐洲語言都是不熟悉的輔音字母,用英文發音,毫不便利。也許若干年之後,西九文化區落成,一個美國人見我是香港文化專家,便對我說:"I want to attend a xiqu show in West Kowloon . Can you give me some hint?" 我答,"Oh? You'd better go to New York . Broadway has it better." 西九文化區的Xiqu Centre,是戲曲中心, 還是西曲中心。戲曲的拼音是xìqu, 西曲的拼音是xīqu, 由於在英文上面標音是匪夷所思的,故此Xiqu Centre不好意思標音,而且西人也無法辨別普通話的第一聲和第四聲,故此聽起來都是xīqu,即是西曲。
Xiqu從學術譯名演變為香港的文化行政(cultural administration) 名稱,源自是藝術發展局內訂立戲曲界(xiqu group)之後的譯名,主要在對內文書使用。界別包括粵劇、京劇、崑劇、京崑、地方戲等,故此不宜用Chinese Opera來概括,便引用源自比較文學和漢學研究的音譯譯名xiqu。此譯名是避免套用歐洲的opera觀念入宋元雜劇。當年藝術發展局戲曲組採用xiqu group的譯名,無傷大雅,組內全是華人,英文譯名只是符合中英並重的行政需要,例如在中英文的年報使用。世上沒幾個研究中國戲曲的漢學家,西九文化區是面對全世界觀眾的,用漢學界才會明白的xiqu來翻譯,而中心主要用於舞台表演,而非用來召開宋元雜劇的學術會議,故此翻譯為Chinese Opera House已經可以。翻譯為Xiqu Centre, 是個文化行政的大笑話。

近代粵劇及革新京劇在舞台表演上,頗多採用西洋歌劇和音樂劇的技巧,故此在舞台表演用Chinese opera也是無妨,宋元雜劇當然不可翻譯為opera。戲曲踏入民國之後,已經現代化和西化,也在現代舞台表演,堅持翻譯為xiqu, 根本是拿着老黃曆做人,不知道業內情況。戰後香港的粵劇,大量採用西洋技巧:編劇、主題曲式、旋律、人物角色佈局,甚至電影編劇及鏡頭(粵劇電影而言)。將現代化了的戲曲表演,堅持翻譯為xiqu,是不知今日何日。
九七之後,香港的政府和公營部門行政,已經脫離常識。一句話:不懂裝懂。我在比較文學及文化行政兩方面,都算是本地權威。西九文化區管理局的人聽不聽, 他們要出學術笑話,是他們的事。反正一開始,他們就是無從問責的獨立王國。這也是我向 來不屑評論它的原因,這次涉及語言,是例外。
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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mickey Mouse is following you

Your personal data privacy is constantly invaded by various parties; to many of those you voluntarily and happily give out personal data.  Who else is the most likely party than your favourite games and toys.  IT World recently disclosed that the Disney World is planning to improve the fun and her services this Spring by introducing RFID wristbands to visitors to the park.

This gadget is not new.  Many game parks are already providing RFID bracelets to children to monitor their whereabout in the park.  Lost kids are now history.  Many large safari parks also use such devices on vehicles in order to monitor the movement of tourists.  A safari park is practically the wilderness and safety of tourists is a major concern.  The Disney wristband attracted media attention because it is an upgrade of RFID usage and could do a lot more.

RFID is basically an electronic barcode from which simple information such as a serial number can be read.  It is convenient because of the proximity access; it can be read from a short distance.  More importantly, it can be read by scanners placed at strategic locations, thus obtaining location-based data.  The advertisement of Disney announced many benefits.
  • Use your wristband to open the door of your Disney World hotel room.
  • Use your wristband to directly go through the turnstile at the entrance of the park.
  • Use your wristband to buy a cinnamon bun at the park bakery.
  • Meet Mickey Mouse, and it will address you by your first name.
  • Hold up your wristband for the photographer, and he will take the classic family photo at the famous spot for you.
  • Use your wristband to play the interactive spy game.  It can help unlock the hidden secrets for you.
  • Just hold up your wristband at the thrill ride and a video of you on the ride is added to your PhotoPass account.

All these friendly features and improved services hinged on the fact that you gave out your personal information and credit card information to be recorded; and the many scanners located at service delivery spots around the park.  The reporter asked the obvious conspiracy theory question: What are you going to do with my personal data?  The standard answer is: Data are only used for park business; more convenient, fast and personal services, easy accounting, and safety in the park.

The worry of the privacy advocators is how long will these data be kept, and will they be disclosed to others.  Despite the assurance that data will be destroyed after a certain period, the fact is that data will be kept for accounting and audit purposes for as long as they are required. If the data are stored somewhere, then someone somehow may gain access to them.  Many large corporations have stated the intention that the data en masse may be used for statistical and research purposes.  However, the assurance of the security of personal identity is still weak.  We may have to live with the fact that our personal data are always in the cloud.

Personal data privacy with the RFID technology has been studied for quite some time.  Notwithstanding its convenience and power in logistics, marketing, and commerce, its weakness comes from its strength.  It is as convenient as air that anyone with a scanner can read the RFID information from a distance.  The initial success of RFID was from warehouse control where the movement of pallets and inventories were accurately tracked.  Academics warned that RFID is not secure and should not be used on sensitive information and personal identification.  There is a related article in IT World on this topic which is very interesting.  However, hopefully after weighing all the pros and cons, the government moved away from the personal privacy concern and pushed RFID technology into diverse areas.

The basic form of RFID only records a number.  This number can be related as an index to a database for further information.  The hardening of the database and its security measures could provide strong security to information.   Plain scanning of this number may not have deep meaning.  New RFID chip could do a lot more.  The memory capacity could be a few kilobytes large.  It could then store identity card number, social security number, full name, credit card information and much more.  We are all quite familiar with the Octopus Card where storage of door access code or membership number is now very common.

printoutSomeone swiped the Octopus Card to buy something.  Just see what happened.  This was a printout for the customer.  The shop should know much more.  From the printout, this Octopus Card holder, whose identity and credit card information were known to the merchant, was at Apleichau shop AL03 on 13 January 2013 at about 1 pm.  He bought two packets of biscuits at a discount.  He is probably a teenager who likes sweet snacks, and is probably a couch potato who likes to watch TV while nibbling on the snacks.  Without his knowing, the shop based on his personal data rearranged the shop front, putting sweet snacks and soft drinks at prominent location; more stocks and more varieties of snacks were ordered.  Next time he visits, he will probably buy a lot more.  If the shop did this for me, I will be very happy.

Proximity is relative.  We have a false sense of security that keeping the card safely in the wallet is good enough.  But being a proximity card, RFID can be read from a distance; and the distance depends on the scanner device.  We again have a false sense of security that the card must be swiped against the reader for it to function.  But it is not quite true.  If you have watched the MTR advertisement, you should know that you do not have to hit the turnstile with the Octopus Card; just pass the card a few millimetres above.  With a powerful scanner, few millimetres could become centimetres or even metres.  There was an experiment that a powerful scanner carried along a busy street could capture many credit card information of people passing by.  But don't panic.  The thief who carried this scanner all day could die of cancer first because of its strong radiation.

tagOn the good side, we could make use of the convenience of RFID technology to improve our quality of life.  Embrace Mickey Mouse while you still can, and on a more friendly term because you now know each other by first name.  The reporter said, RFID is good, but not in my arm.  What if the RFID tag injected in your arm recording your every move is also your cell phone, digital camera and MP3 player.  Would that be cool and worth a bit of your personal data?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

算命失準

下面的花邊新聞,不知你是否看到其中玄機。算命算不算是宗教呢,還只是一個騙局?有人指出學名可叫 narrative fallacy;廣東話更傳神,真接叫吹水,或大隻講。不過亦有擁護者言之鑿鑿,說有根有據,歷史悠久,還有統計數據基礎。面對一半應驗一半失準,有人說是和大師功力有關。不過我覺得是否有人信卻是和大師口才有關。至於有一半靈驗的現象,可以聽講波佬預測:呢個12碼,一係入一係唔入。同兩個人講相反結果,靈驗機會是百份之五十,易過中六合彩。有新聞報導很多騙局的基礎都是如此。

算命比一般騙局更客易令人相信是因為其宗教元素。很多大師都可以舉出其履歷,很多和宗教掛鉤,在香港流行的多數是道教佛教,還有各種民間宗教分支如矛山,黃大仙,或任何一位土地公公;再加上表面功夫技巧如八卦、命盤、擺陣、起壇、請神等等。最重要的是求助者多有心結,主觀要求解救辦法,還將私隱資料奉上;大師的勝算就大大提高了。

最理想的情況就正如宗教的正面效應一樣,聽了大師一言,有了安慰,心結解開,心理健康了。但世事不是這麼理想;有宗教就有迷信。看看這位縱火客,他原來是大師忠實擁護者,對他言聽計從,幸運地 (或不幸地) 命運被算中了,從此跌入迷信深淵。到了發現被騙時,受到的傷害極大而反應亦極強烈。其實他才是受害者。大師口才甚佳,還要極力保持大局;竟然說縱火事件一早已算到。但其實糾紛已有數次,激動行為是意料之中。不如一早對受害人說明他有衰運,或是一早報警。大師的功力在此還差少少。

古語有言,風水佬呃你十年八年。古人的經驗已說明十年八年後真相會揭開,而風水佬騙人的事實就很清楚了。但宗教會更進一步,同你講下一世運程。宗教更有政治優勢,政府會保障宗教自由,所有迷信吹水騙局都受保護。不單止大師受保護,連法輪功都一樣。受害人發覺被大師騙了還可以回來討回公道,但發覺下一世被騙了就無能為力,因為人死了就什麼都沒有了。

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2013-01-10 07:33 新聞快訊
楊天命辦公室被縱火遭客指算命失準尋仇

堪輿學家楊天命被指算命失準,遭一名舊顧客索還送贈的三尊觀音像費用。多次上門向楊索錢不果後, 昨午在楊天命位於銅鑼灣辦公室門外淋天拿水縱火,幸及時被職員用水及滅火筒救熄,不致釀成巨災,警方事後拘捕涉嫌縱火男子。

楊天命於事後承認為其舊顧客,在多次被對方滋擾後,楊又聲稱自己龍年犯太歲,早前卜算出昨日會遇火劫,一周前已在辦公室配置九桶水及一支 滅火筒, 以防對方上門縱火。

事件緣於9年前,楊當時為經營建材的樂姓夫婦算命擺風水陣求子,後來樂喜獲一子,生意更蒸蒸日上,樂送贈一套三尊觀音像答謝;往後數年, 樂都有找 楊算流年運程。其後樂疑因生意失敗及與妻子離婚,更因犯事在當地入獄。 樂認為楊算命不準,去年7月返港後多次找楊,稱要索回以三萬元購買三尊觀音像的款項;其後更在其辦公室外派傳單,呼籲客人不要相信算命,驚動警員到場調 解。

 到昨午3時許,樂到楊天命的辦公室追討,被女職員阻擋下一怒離去;不久樂雙手各拿住一樽及一罐天拿水折返,將天拿水淋 於門外,然後取出打火機點火,女職員見狀即取起放在門旁的九桶水及滅火筒救火,瞬即將火救熄。樂縱火後逃去,警員到場翻看閉路電視片段相信他未逃 脫,封鎖大廈逐層搜查,在四樓一間食肆將他拘捕。
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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Megaflood

aIn 1861, starting from Christmas Eve, there were several continuous severe storms in California.  It rained for 43 days.  You could call it biblical scale.  The result was mega flooding in the Bay Area and Central Valley.  The heavy rain quickly transformed rivers running down from the Sierra Nevada mountains into raging torrents that swept away entire communities and mining settlements. The rivers and rains poured into the Central Valley, turning it into an inland sea 300 miles long and 20 miles wide. Thousands of people died and 200,000 cattle drowned.  Sacramento was submerged under 10 feet of brown water filled with debris.  California’s legislature was unable to function.  It had to move to San Francisco until Sacramento dried out six months later.  By then, the state was bankrupt.

If such event occurs today, it would be catastrophic for USA.  Unlike 200 years ago, the Central Valley is now home to more than six million people, 1.4 million of them in Sacramento. The land produces about $20 billion in crops annually.  Portions of the land have dropped 30 feet in elevation because of extensive groundwater pumping, making those areas even more prone to flooding.  Scientists who recently modeled a smaller event that lasted only 23 days concluded that this smaller visitation would cause $400 billion in property damage and agricultural losses. Thousands of people could die unprepared.  Central Valley is a major food supply site.  Such loss could seriously affect the food supply of the entire world.

So scientists started to investigate the cause of such event and the likelihood that it would occur again.  The result is very alarming.  Scientific American reported this in an article in the January 2013 issue.  You may wish to read the online version for details.

Geologic evidence of sediment in that area and in coastal region along the west coast of North America shows that truly massive floods occurred in California about every 200 years.  Layers of deposit revealed that extensive flooding of a mega scale occurred in AD1100, 1400 and 1650, preceding the 1861 incident.  A pattern was established thus hinting that the mega flooding events were not incidental.  There must an underlying cause for their recurrence.  A theory was proposed that such floods were most likely caused by atmospheric rivers: narrow bands of water vapor about a mile above the ocean that extend for thousands of miles.  Much smaller forms of these rivers regularly hit California, as well as the western coasts of other continents.

riverAtmospheric rivers were discovered relatively recently by serendipity.  In 1998, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA conducted a research on storms and found some were the result of jets: streams of high altitude humid wind.  Also in 1998, MIT researchers doing computer simulation of global wind and vapour pattern found that water vapour from the tropic were transported to high latitudes from east to west in just several narrow bands.  At about the same time, satellites with the new Special Sensor Microwave Imager for the first time observed images of water vapour distribution globally.   It showed concentration of water vapour appearing as tentacles from the tropic to cooler region formed and dispersed on time scales from days to a couple of weeks.  The three findings collaborated on the theory.

In perfect conditions which on average could appear at intervals of several hundred years, an especially strong jet of water vapour, or atmospheric river, could reach coastal areas and be blocked by mountain ranges, thus causing heavy and continuous precipitation.  Just imagine the Mississippi River is vaporized.  The volume of water expanded several hundred times, now a mile deep, a hundred miles wide, and extended several thousand miles into the Pacific Ocean; it then empties itself over Sacramento.

Based on this mechanism, it is estimated that atmospheric rivers could form over large body of water in the tropic.  The west coast of all continents are under threat.  For the North America west coast, layers of sediment being evidence of serious flooding were found from North Mexico up to British Columbia.  England and Spain suffered from serious flooding recently, which were also the result of such phenomenon in the Atlantic Ocean on a smaller scale.  Western Australia also experienced the same attack.

The researchers duly raised a warning that the California government should get prepared, set up warning system and emergency response procedures for flooding of mega magnitude, same as those for hurricane and earthquake.  As a normal gesture in any research nowadays, they added the perspective of global warming.  Owing to the warming of the earth in the last one hundred years, the energy and moisture in the atmosphere have increased a lot compared with that 200 years ago.  Statistically, California is now due for another mega flooding.  This time it would be much more severe in magnitude.  The damage would also be much greater owing to the increase in human activities and production in the area.  If we are looking forward to the end of the world, this may be a rehearsal.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Towards Our Better Natures

Towards Our Better Natures
Wendell Funk

The environment, education, equality - attend to these three well and one will be an exemplary citizen.

Without a healthy environment, we, and the generations following, will not have a healthy economy.

Over population and over consumption, especially of carbon-based energy, are root causes of socioeconomic ills.

Earth climate is changing - for the worst - yet individually, collectively and intentionally little has been done to rectify our destructive ways.  Bad habits are difficult to end.  Are we virtuous enough to accept a carbon tax as a means of lowering our carbon consumption?

An educated citizenry is essential to the advancement of any society.  The earlier it begins, the greater its effectiveness.  A child mind is very plastic.  If began early, curiousity, knowledge and rationality will have their greatest positive impact.  Humanity, unfettered by ideologies embodying arrogance, excessive competitiveness, parochialism or selfishness will be our lasting legacy.

To attain this enhanced level of learning, are we willing to devote to education as much as our wealth as we do to the militaries or prisons?

Unless equality prevails, no culture can long endure, nor should it.

We all do not receive the same deck.  Our DNA and exposure to beneficial experiences (education, health, economic opportunity and goodness) are not equally apportioned.  Treating unequals, equally, magnifies the inequality.

Justice cannot exist in a climate of inequality. Confucius said it well, “Do not pervert justice, having one judgment for the poor and another for the rich.”

A nation, or world, in which great wealth and great poverty coexist in no measure exhibits equality.  Haven’t we each a moral obligation to at least mitigate this grievous wrong?  Can a culture or country claiming to be Christian ignore, “as you have done unto the least of these, my brethen, so have you done unto me.”

Wendell Funk
December 2012

Sunday, January 6, 2013

On Equality

On Equality
Wendell Funk

Placing figures on social issues is an iffy and contentious proposal.  However, a dialogue of socioeconomic equality is long overdue.

Does one percent of our population control forty percent of the nation’s wealth?  Do annual earnings of $350K get one into the top one percent?  Are exact figures as important as what flows from their disparity?  Is it the ‘richness’ or the increasing ‘gap in richness’ that is of greater significance.

Runaway income at the ‘top’ while those at the ‘bottom’ gain little, if any, increase, rapidly widens the gap between the haves/ have nots.  Is this increasing rate of income disparity acceptable in a democracy?  Why should the non-affluent pay proportionally more taxes than the affluent?  Does anyone believe that tax dodges, tax loopholes, and tax shelters were created to serve the middle class?  Government should not be an institution that allows some to benefit and others to suffer - Gandhi.

The plight of those at the bottom (reduced access to nutritious food, inadequate health care, and low quality education and a greater exposure to violence) are large negative impacts to their mental and physical health and to opportunities for economic advancement.

If one percent of the population accounts for thirty five percent of health care spending, is this equality? Is rationing health care on the basis of who can pay, moral?

The wealthiest consider themselves in excellent to good health with longer life expectancy.  Those at the bottom have far lower expectations. Extra millions are not going to make the one percent live much longer but a small amount of extra income can make a huge difference to the health of a broad band of those low on the ladder!

The poor have the largest families and shortest lives but are denied family planning assistance.  Greater economic and social equality would improve health, education and social cohesion.  However this worthy goal is not likely to be attained without a great shift in western political culture.  Must we await another evolutionary leap forward?  Darwin II, perhaps?

Though the young can’t, on their own, develop the data displaying the damaging effects of inequality on their education, it is as grievous as that resulting from inadequate health care.  Growing income inequality has widened the disparity in resources that rich vs poor families can invest in their children.  Early schooling can greatly affect income distribution in later life.  The earlier the schooling begins, the more effective and rewarding it will be.
Does the absence of economic justice make charity necessary?  Can perpetrators of unbounded wealth honestly display regard for the impoverished and defenseless?

When deciding issues such as equality it is most productive if input to the brain is rational in nature rather than emotional - though emotions have an important function in sensitizing us to the vital needs of society.

We claim to believe in the rights of man, but isn’t it primarily the rights of property that are upheld?  We claim to stand for freedom, but isn’t it the freedom of the strong to dominate the weak?  To make them work harder, we pay the rich more, but pay the poor less, expecting the same result!

The magnitude of inequality damages social cohesion.  When the affluent pay directly for necessary services in their lives, they become less willing to spend tax money on everyone else.  This erodes public services and creates a hierarchy of quality - hardly typical of a ‘one’ society.

The issues of relative poverty are more subtle than those meeting basic needs.  It matters if one can answer “yes” to the questions: 1. Can I participate in society?; 2. Am I a member of the community?  Community being a focus on what is best for all rather than of what is in it for me.

Inequality serves the interests of some.  Equality serves the interests of all. Making societies poor, poorer is repulsive.  When we see gross inequality, vanity, greed and corruption it saps the will to contribute to society.

If our moral concepts coincide all too well with our personal advantage, we should be suspicious of them.  Do not pervert justice, having one judgment for the poor and another for the rich - Confucius.

Wendell Funk
27 September 2012

奶粉廣告

奶粉市場極為龐大,所以奶粉廣告鋪天蓋地,極力誤導。曾在電臺聽過一位主張母乳的醫生投訴,說奶粉害人,應要立法像禁煙一樣來管制。又說嬰兒自己不能選擇,所以對他們不公平。這可能有點極端,但奶粉應該不會有如廣告所說般神奇。

最近很紅的奶粉廣告,說吃了之後會覺得啤啤熊會大過蜜蜂好多。大人們連說 very good,非常好,Excellent。我看了覺得有點奇怪。為何要稱讚一個對形狀大小不會分辨的小孩呢?大人可能覺得小孩吃了這種奶粉之後IQ會爆棚,見到毛公仔就會以為是真動物,所以懂得說啤啤熊大過蜜蜂。但面對真實的巨型蜜蜂毛公仔,為何還要說小小的啤啤熊更大呢?如果有一大塊蜜蜂形曲奇和一粒小小的啤啤熊餅又如何?

bee   bear

真相原來是不容易辨認的。任何一個現實都會因為不同的觀點而有不同的認知。人的自由意志會不斷受到外界的影響,改變又改變。每天都可能會有人對你灌輸他們自己的想法,又有似乎很充分的解釋。如果沒有分辨是非的能力,不懂得如何正確地思考,後果是不能認清事實,陷入迷信。

小孩子不顧一切認定啤啤熊一定大過蜜蜂,其間必定經過洗腦,再吃了添加了化學物品的奶粉。可能事前家長曾進行密集式訓練,以各種類型的動物玩具代表真正的動物。小孩子腦部發育未完全,不能分辨真假,只能夠重複輸入的訊息。大人對他說小小的啤啤熊就和大灰熊一樣大他就會相信;後果不知是否會產生恐懼感,不敢和啤啤熊同睡。

小孩子心智如白紙一張,可以寫上任何文字。專家們都說幼兒教育如充分發揮功效,對幼兒一生的意志和取態有重大影響。教會對此認識更深。曾有教士說過如果從小教導,可以使任何人做任何事。這引來一個問題,有些嬰兒一出生就已領洗,就此屬於某一宗教,別無選擇。如果幼兒教育成功,當然一生道路已被安排。但如果受另一些事實影響,心理的撕裂就要花很大氣力去修補。有些宗教如有外人想入教需要參加慕道班,經評估合格才可;有心理衝突就只能怪自己。

從蜜蜂和啤啤熊的相對關係可以看到人類對現實真相的演繹其實很模糊。面對事實但可以因為傳統、經驗、價值觀或受別人影響而有截然不同的認知。有些時候對現實的引申可以對一些高層次的理論增加了解。但如果遇上一些有意的誤導,或別有用心的曲解,就要小心判斷。多方求證是一個有用的應對方法。

Friday, January 4, 2013

Choice is ours: Living better or living consumptively

Choice is ours: Living better or living consumptively
Wendell Funk
To the Herald-Whig

A frog does not drink up the pond in which it lives.

Not every single natural disaster (e.g. drought, flood, tornado) can be directly attributed to global warming, but collectively their increasing frequency and severity can.  It is delusional to claim otherwise when a majority of national or world climate professionals say it does.

No attempt to protect the environment will be successful unless we are willing to adjust our lifestyles.  We need to power down our penchant for energy consumption and power up an active concern for the conservation of resources.  Let our morality be judged by how modestly we consume.  Do we care?

Our consumptive lifestyle is environmentally degrading.  Individually, we can slow the error by conservation measures.  Turning off lights/appliances when not needed; using shade (window blinds to trees) or fans; reducing the cold/heat of drinks, washers/dryers and rooms; closing off closets/attics; and insulating will greatly reduce our carbon footprint.  Collectively, we can to a great extent utilize public transportation, especially bus and rail.

Curbing our temporal pleasure from ever newer toys (hedonism) and directing our major concern toward slowing environmental degradation is long overdue.  A robust environment is essential if a viable economy or a sustainable social system is to exist.  A healthy economy cannot rise from a sick environment.  Our finite earth cannot support infinite growth.  Until we come to term with living on a single planet, we simply are stealing from the future.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise” - A. Lepold. 
“Everything is hitched to everything else” - J. Muir.

The choice is ours - living better (a viable environment) or living consumptively (a degraded environment).  As self-interested individuals we will fail.  As a cooperative society we will succeed.  Promoting community wealth through environmental stability.

If humans become extinct due to unchecked global warming, will it be our shame to finally realize that we were the tenants from hell?  Or do we care?

Wendell Funk
Quincy
30 August 2012

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Reality Mining

Scientific American in its December 2012 issue reported on Ten World Changing Ideas which are innovations that are radical enough to alter our lives in the near future.  These ideas are not pie in the sky.  They are practical breakthroughs that have been proven or prototyped and are poised to scale up.  This article is not available online.  So you need to buy the magazine if you are interested in reading it.

One of the ideas that struck me as very common but normally does not attract our attention is the enormous information given out by portable devices.  The penetration of smartphones and portable devices with location-based information is very high nowadays.  It has surpassed 50% of the population in the USA, and it should be higher in Hong Kong.  All these devices are constantly giving out information on their whereabout.  This enormous amount of data contain a great deal of information to be mined.  Furthermore, they can be collected and analyzed in real time, making it much more than data mining but into "Reality Mining".

It may be frightening to realize that our personal information are being collected by the phone companies and Internet service providers.  There are outcries that legislation must be in place to protect the privacy of citizens.  Many telecommunication companies are bound to destroy communication data within a short period of time.  Apple and Google are very careful in handling log-in records.  Google announced that it would destroy all location data after a week.  However, many such companies are selling statistics based on such data to advertisers for the purpose of doing market research and formulating advertising strategy.  It is hoped that with proper legislation in place providing the necessary security, citizens may be more willing to agree to let the companies use some of the non-essential personal data.

miningBesides data mining on consumer behaviour, pilot projects are being carried out to use the location-based data linked to some personal data en masse in real time in order to gauge the demographic of a particular geographic location as it happens.  Just imagine a street corner where a large number of people gathered.  Through this channel, the demographic of this group of people can be known, also who they are calling, what information they are reading, and who may be affected by an accident nearby.  Advertisers can make use of the information to broadcast the most effective advertisement.  The real time information is also useful to the government on emergency response, disease outbreak control and public order. 

Initial findings of the projects came up with interesting results.  The researchers found that the largest number of people who clicked on the advertisement on their smartphones were those sitting in a cinema waiting for a movie to start, and those sitting on a boat fishing.  They obtained the information from the locations which showed the addresses of cinema or the middle of a lake.  Once enough data are available and systems are in place to analyse them quickly, reality mining can greatly affect our daily live by enhancing public health, transportation and the electric grid, just for a start.

The researchers liken the ability of reality mining to a society's nervous system.  Humanity could really sense what humanity is doing.  This will be a great advance in the complexity system of humanity as a whole.  Humanity can achieve consciousness as a whole being instead of just reacting to the deeds of neighbours.  We are much more than a school of fish of a flock of sheep, but one whole being.  A society can behave like one organism with a mind of her own in real time.