Category Archives: news

facebook free february

For the month of February, an Irish NGO issued a challenge to quit Facebook. Just for the month (though you can go longer if you’d like). The idea behind it is to examine your connection with social media (vs the real world). The hope is that, for the month, a person can reframe their relationship with online and outside, and maybe fill those now-vacant hours with other activities (going for a walk, a show, dinner; learning a new hobby; writing?).

I’m not one of the people who think Facebook (and other forms of social media) is a menace, though I can certainly see how it can be addictive for some, or a replacement for “in person” interaction for others. I can also see how it can create a skewed perspective of the world (a la internet trolldom). Of course, the things we see in others are often the last things we see in ourselves, so I could be fooling myself when I say I think my relationship with social media, although very deep, is healthy. Nevertheless, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, are useful tools for me to stay in touch with friends from around the world. They are also great sources of information – either through links posted, or through status updates/tweets/photos from people “on the ground”, as it were.

Of course, social media’s big drawback in all of this is that you curate your feeds. You only see what you wish to see, and if you don’t wish to see it, you can unfriend, unfollow, block, mute, etc. In some ways, I can see how this can polarize further our societies, and also how it can translate to “real life” in the sense that people can find it so easy to turn away from things they find unpleasant or distasteful. Of course, we do this all the time, turning off the TV or not reading the newspaper, but the difference with social media is the social aspect – it is a conversation with others that is being turned off, not a one-way push of news.

I do think social media can be a means by which “offline” life could be bettered. For example, social media could be a place to learn to skillfully manage conflict such that could be applicable in real life, but unfortunately, it becomes a way to tune out. It also becomes a way to hide behind anonymity or firewalls and not have to take responsibility for, or face the consequences of, hateful or offensive speech. People say things on the internet that they would be unlikely to say to another person’s face. The internet free-for-all, while a great equalizer for free speech, also becomes a breeding ground for hate. I suspect that in coming decades, we will learn to harness the strengths of social media for better in-person interaction, but for now we’re just children with new toys and we’re still trying to figure out the rules.

So, I’m 8 days in now on my own social media experiment. I’ve stayed off Facebook this time, though I’ve been tempted to log on and see what my friends are up to. One thing I realized is that I can use this time away to have some more personal interactions with people, so I’ve started reaching out to people to set up skype calls. Another thing I’ve noticed is that I seem to have a lot more time to watch Netflix and read. For the former, I’ve made a queue of interesting documentaries that I hope to check out in the coming weeks. But on the reading front, I managed to read 2 books since late Jan to now, and I’ve got a whole list in my Nook app to still check out. I also bought a book recently (actual tangible pages to touch!) and I’m excited to read it too.

I do miss talking to friends, and there are a few who I know are going through difficult times and I regret not being there to see how they are doing. I could do it on email, but sometimes the collective approach of the group is more comforting. Of course, this “ban” on Facebook is not absolute, and I could always go back if I wanted to. But for now, I’m exploring the possibility of taking this time for myself, and seeing to some personal needs.

One thing I thought would happen though – I thought I would have more time for writing. I do seem to be getting more work done, so maybe I’ve filled some hours with that, and I am spending more time on Twitter (something that should be addressed too, though Twitter fills a different niche for me). But I haven’t been blogging more, so I think it’s time I turned my attention to that.

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realismo magico

Santiago de Cali

Santiago de Cali

Despite an incredible backlog of posts here for my life in Ireland, I’m interrupting the daily grind to bring news from Colombia, la tierra de realismo magico. I’ve been in Colombia almost a week, initially for a meeting and now just for fun. I’ve been in Cali, where I’ve had some incredible experiences and met great people, and in another day I’ll head to Bogota and then places beyond.

Colombia gets a bad rep. Everyone thinks it’s funny (or maybe they are being serious) to say “don’t get kidnapped” upon hearing I was traveling here. Years ago, that might have been some good advice (we’ve all seen “Romancing the Stone”). These days, though, unless you head into some really remote areas (generally to the south), you’ll be fairly safe, at least from terrorism. Regular crime (muggings, mostly) are a completely different matter. Continue reading

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down to the last drop

It’s no big secret that Irish weather is not for the faint of heart. But it’s been particularly hard to deal with the past few weeks, with constant clouds, rain, snow, sleet, hail, and the coldest, most biting wind ever. However, the past few days has brought a dry spell (and mostly sunny skies), which would normally be great news. Except, for reasons I am still trying sort out, the dry spell has coincided with water rationing. Continue reading

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simple religion

The more time I spend in Kerala, the more different it seems from the north of India.   The people look different, the food is different, even the clothes are different.   And most striking to me, is how religion in the South, particularly in Kerala, is unlike much of the rest of the India.

For starters.  Kerala seems to have managed to find a way for its various religious adherents to co-exist peacefully.  One of the big roundabouts in Trivandrum has a massive cathedral, impressive mosque, and humble temple all within spitting distance of each other.  No one has to sneak in, no guards are visible, and traffic bustles along as if this were some every day scene.

But in India, and much of the world, this isn’t ordinary.   Religious and ethnic groups the world over collect in their little groups, and tend not to mix so overtly.  Not so in Kerala, where “syncretism” seems to the catchword.

The theyyam is a great example – it seems to pre-date established Hinduism, reaching back to some murky roots of animism and shamanism.  But it’s managed to incorporate Hindu deities (many of whom I’ve never heard of before).  Granted, Hinduism is a religion that easily lends itself to consilience – explanations of the divine tend to revolve around so-and-so being an incarnation of Shiva/Vishnu/Parvati.

More interestingly,  theyyam also includes some popular Muslim figures, many of whom who have been deified themselves.  Not something you see everyday.   And then there are the various warriors, wronged women, ghosts, etc, incorporating an astonishing complexity of social justice as well.  Af ter all, unlike the rest of Hindu rituals, the theyyam is dominated by lower-caste families, and not Brahmins.

But there is more.  The Sabrimala temple plays host to a massive pilgrimmage every year to honor Ayappas, a god not mentioned in any Vedic texts, but revered by Malayali Hindus all the same (some stories of course claim him as an incarnation of Vishnu).

Kerala has its history of religious violence, but always perpetrated from the outside.  The Christians trace their history back to St Thomas, who visited India after Jesus’s death (which means Christianity came to India before Europe).  In the 4th Century, they aligned themselves with the Syrian church.  When the Portuguese came centuries later, they brought Roman Catholicism in all its violence with them, converting by the sword, so to speak.  Eventually religious fervor calmed, and today both Catholics and Syrian Christians worship peacefully.

Islam has a strong presence in Kerala as well, with strong ties to the Middle East.  There are madrassas here, and also Dubai’s own religion – capitalism (which melds seamlessly with communism here).  Kerala is the would-be poster child for utopia.

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darshan

Kannur was an idyllic 3 days. after which I headed back down to Trivandrum.  There, some family friends picked me up and brought me to their house, where I dozed a bit before hopping a bus to Kanyakumari, at the very southern tip of India.  Kanyakumari is in Tamil Nadu, and it is located at the confluence of 3 seas.  Inevitably, the sunset/sunrise is gorgeous, and I managed a fabulous picture of the former. Kanyakumari is the sight where Gandhi’s ashes were set adrift in the ocean, and where Swami Vivekananda meditated on the social justice aspects of Hinduism.  Both events are commemorated by excellent memorials.

Then I hopped an overnight train to Rameshwaram, which I shared with about 10 other people, all elderly.  It was nice to be in A/C and have the compartment to myself.  At the very early hour of 5:20 am, we arrived, and I departed and wandered my way through the dark to the main temple of Ramanathaswamy.

There are 4 main temples in India that form the Char Dham, sites of pilgrimmage undertaken by all Hindus in their lifetime.  Two of them I’ve seen – Dwarka in the west and Badrinath in the north.   This third one is in the south, and I decided, since I was in the area, that I would go visit.

So, before sunrise I showed up, and made my way to the water to take a quick dip (or rather, dip my toes).  Then I dried off to some extent, and made my way into the temple.

The temple is enormous.  I walked the corridors for quite some time (coming across an elephant in a pen at one point), stopping for darshan at various points.  Then I meandered my way to the center (after considerable wandering and getting a bit lost) for a brief puja, and then made my way out again.  Then I hired a rickshaw driver to take me to the end of the island, where I could just barely make out Sri Lanka in the distance.

At Rameshwaram, it is said that Rama took his steps toward Lanka to free Sita from the demon Ravana.  It is also said that Ravana’s brother surrendered here, and offered penance.   After defeating Ravana, Rama offered penance for his sin of killing a Brahmin.

After leaving the temple, I made my way to the bus stand, to take the bus to Madurai.  Just as a note, always ask about where the bus stops…. in my case, it took almost 5 hours to arrive as we kept stopping everywhere…..

Madurai is the home of the Sri Meenakshi Temple – a blinding display of S Indian architecture.  Also huge.  Tonight, I take the train back to Trivandrum, and find some way to Periyar…..

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