Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Mormon People: Making of an American Faith

The Mormon People is an objective, popular academic work on the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It does not shy away from the controversies in the history of Mormonism. However, it also does not give them disproportionate influence. The early origins of the church are put in the context of their times (early 19th century America). At that time, the belief in supernatural was common and many churches were appearing. (I was reminded of the setting of Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series.)

The origin of the church with Joseph Smith and subsequent exodus to Utah under Brigham Young are well documented. Doctrinally, the church has not changed much since then. Socially and organizationally, however, the church has changed significantly. This book spends a large amount of time tracing those changes. Some areas, like polygamy are pretty well known. This book presents a neutral view of the practice. Many women struggled with it, however, many (including some of those that struggled with it) were ardent supporters. Most men tended not the be polygamous, with only those "most successful" men taking multiple spouses. And, even in those cases, there were some "spiritual" spouses who were married for eternity, yet had no intimate relations in this life.

Other areas are not commonly covered in theological studies of the church, but very important in understanding the modern church culturally. Early on, the church was more closely attuned to the progressive movement. Later, during the post-World War II era, the church was seen as a highly conservative, "model minority". While the church has retained its conservatism, today it sometimes finds itself viewed with cynical disdain. The evolution of the church culturally proceeded at its own pace, sometimes being in line with mainstream culture, while at other times seeming to turn in the opposite direction. This book helps to present the church in its cultural context.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Friday mixes some of Heinlein's early and late career style. It is a space travel adventure, but also a sociological critique. The eponymous Friday is an "artificial person". She was created by combining the best bits of DNA from different people to create a "super-human" embryo. She works as a courier, delivering special items (often in a secretive navel case). She knows little about the true purpose of her mission, and is thus not able to reveal much when tortured. She longs for a normal life (in one of those bizarre Heinlein familial relationships.) However, after joining the family, she is offended by the prejudice shown to other races and to artificial humans. (The New Zealand family is against a marriage to a primitive Tongan, however, they would have been ok with a Maori, because they are "normal") She gets booted, and goes back to other jobs before getting the big job as a courier for the seed of a ruler. However, she realizes she will be killed after delivering, and jumps ship with the help of her artificial human guards. She then goes on to live happily ever after on the "Botany Bay" planet colony.

So much for the plot. It is not bad, but the real power of the novel is in the world that is created. This near-future world has been balkanized in to many new states (like independent Texas and California.) Multi-nationals also play a strong role, often being more powerful than the states - in part because they don't have a distinct area that can be attacked. California is democracy and equality taken to the extreme. The referendums can be used to correct any "wrong". (People were upset that people with bachelor's degrees earned more than people without, so they legislated that everybody would receive a degree as soon as they graduated from high school - and then later grandfathered in people that graduated a long time before.) These places also have many laws that are not enforced, thereby degraded the remaining laws. Artificial people have a strange role here. They are often given false birth certificates, usually from places that have been destroyed (like Seattle). People expect them to be easily recognizable as artificial. However, in reality, they blend in with normal people. They however, become a vehicle for rhetoricians that need some foil to advance their cause.

He also describes a balmy planet, with near perfect weather, flora and fauna. It becomes an ideal retirement community. And in order to enforce that, voting is restricted to those property owners above the age of 70. Younger people serve long periods of indentured servitude, thus providing services at much lower wages than would otherwise be required. (Hmm... Many examples of similar situations could be pulled from the earth today.)

In the end, the lead character finds pleasure in the simple life of being a mother and a homemaker on a rather primitive colony. Perhaps this slow pace is a utopia from the modern, fast-paced world.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Post American World

I think I read the 1.0 version of this book. Some of the parts seemed to be a few years old. This author states that he is not describing the fall of America, but instead the rise of everyone else. However, he does have plenty of observations as to why the US is losing its edge.

Much of the book focuses on India and China. These are by far the two most populous countries in the world and they have both been growing at an amazing clip. They have been doing that growth in very different ways. Both also have made advances in education and entrepreneurship, yet still send many of their brightest to the US for education. Being a native of India, the author is most aware of the situation in India. Even when the Indian government was lined up against the US, Indians found themselves greeted with open arms in the United States.

The author also spends some time discussing the relative "fall" of the United States and comparing it to the experience of Great Britain. The UK was once the most powerful country in the world, with a far-flung empire. Like the US today, it played the world's cop. Unfortunately, also like the US, it didn't no when to stop. It got tangled in the Boer war and eventually lost its supremacy. The US has been involved in wars in the Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that have sucked away its resources. It has also become extremely paranoid about terrorism. This has led to extra security and difficulties for immigrants. All of this has led America to be seen by the rest of the world in a negative light. The main benefit of the US is its openness. Countries like Japan and Europe are facing native population declines with little immigration. In the US, almost all population growth has come from immigrants. Without this growth, the engine will slow down and stop.

The discussion in the book centers around the "big" countries: US, Brazil, China, India. However, it also mentioned that Europe was able to become so strong because of the many competing small countries. Will this return to "big dominance" hurt the world as a whole? The large bureaucracies that come about in the big countries can be an impediment to economic and scientific advancement, just as the large resources can help advancement. What will the result be?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fun Size

Fun Size is released as a Nickelodeon movie, but it is geared towards older teens rather than kids. It is set in Cleveland (the mistake by the lake) at Halloween. Somehow, even though it is a big city, every body seems to know everybody else. (I knew Cleveland had been losing population, but not that much...) A teenage girl wants to go to NYU because that is where her late father went. Her kid brother is a major-league ruckus maker and hasn't said much of anything since their father died. Their mother has reacted by dating guys much younger. It all makes for a pretty messed up family.

The lead girl gets invited to a party at the house of the "hot guy". However, the mother is going to party with her boyfriend, so the girl is now babysitting. She goes trick-or-treating with her brother and friend and accidentally lose the brother. With some nerd guys, they go to find the brother. They have crazy adventures. The brother has crazy adventures and eventually the girls decide they like the nerds and everybody's happy. It is pretty over the top, with a lot of vulgar (alternating between teen and child) humour.


This is a movie shot in stop-motion black and white. Would anybody other than Tim Burton dare make a movie like this?

The movie is set in typical Tim Burton suburbia and the characters are typical Tim Burton quirky. Many of the characters are named after famous monster characters. The main character is a smart loner named Victor Frankenstein. He doesn't have many friends at school, but is good at science and likes to make movies. His only real "friend" is his dog Sparky. One day, while chasing a ball, Sparky is hit by a car and dies. Victor is devastated. However, in class one day, his science teacher shows them how a dead frog can be twitched with electricity. He attempts to do the same to bring Sparky back to life - and succeeds. He tries to keep it a secret, but Sparky runs out and is spotted by others. They want to try the experiment too, but there attempts result in giant scarey monsters instead. Everything eventually works out in the end, with Sparky becoming irrevocably "dead".


Argo won the Oscar for best picture. It is a good movie, but not a great movie. The politics of the movie are somewhat confused. The open sequence gives a brief background of Iranian political history. It had been a kingdom for millennial. In the 1950s, it democratically elects a president. The president nationalizes oil companies. The Americans and British don't like that and decide that oil trumps democratic ideology. They put the Shaw in power. He is friendly to the west and attempts to westernize while looting the country. Finally in the late 1970s, the Iranians take back their country and the Shaw sneaks out. Ok. So far, Americans = bad guys. Then we go to the American Embassy. All these evil Americans are hanging out in there. They are preventing the evil dictator from getting his just rewards. We should side with the students that want to jump in the embassay and take hostages, right?

Well, no. At this point, the politics shift. Now the Iranians are bad guys and the Americans are the innocent workers who happen to be trapped in the embassy. The good-guy Americans aren't going to release the Shaw. Instead, they are going to start some great secret mission to get the Americans out.

Now that the story movies back to "raw raw" America, we discover that 6 of the embassy workers managed to escape and are now hiding out in the Canadian embassy. The CIA hatches a few plans to get them out. One involves riding bicycles 300 miles to the Turkish border (in winter!). Then one guy comes up with the genius plan of making a movie. They go through great details to get a real script and make it all appear to be a real movie. It seems ok and a lot of work is done to set it up. He goes off and tries to get them out.

The escape is melodramatic. Everything seems to come through at just the last minute. We even get a chase where vans are zooming after an airplane that is about to take off. Is this real?

No it isn't.

Yes, it was based on a true incident. However, the melodrama was greatly amped up in the movie. The "super-close-calls" were actually not that close. And the runway chase? Well, nothing even close to it happened. In this case the melodrama was pumped up just a little too much, moving it from exciting to pure fanciful. With a little more restraint, this could have been a better movie.

Breaking Dawn 2

I saw the first Twilight movie. I read all the books. Breaking Dawn 2, however, was just plain bad. As a stand-alone movie it makes no sense at all. The film expects that you've seen the earlier movies and know everything that happened and what all the characters are up to. Even then, the events don't make a whole lot of sense. Why do the characters react in seemingly bizarre ways? Why does Alice run away? And what is the whole point of the passports? There is just not quite enough clue to bring all these things together.

What else? The Slavic accents of the Romanians also annoyed me. If they have lived for 3000 years, you think they would be able to talk without a Russian-sounding accent. The many beheadings were also annoying. (Hello! Your target audience is the no-longer-quite-so-young girls that want to see all the cute guys. Do they really want to see all that gore?)

The whole movie just feels dirty and slimy. The characters all have sour faces and seem to be just there to collect a paycheck and go off to party.

I'm glad this series is finally over.

Wreck it Ralph

It has been a while since Disney has released a good animated movie. However, they have bought Pixar, who seems to have a recent monopoly on quality animation. So, it would only be time before Disney would start poaching Pixar to ramp up the "native" animation studio. John Lasseter (of Cars and Toy Story fame) was the executive producer of Wreck it Ralph. This film has much more of the Pixar "magic" than Brave, the most recent Pixar release. The director, Ralph Moore is best known for directing Simpsons and Futurama episodes. This just sounds like a great combination for a fun movie.

The movie doesn't disappoint. Apparently, the film had been seeded back in the 80s when the video game arcades had their initial burst of popularity. Now it is 30 years later and the movie thrives on a lot of the nostalgia for the video games. The video game characters work their games during the day, but after the arcade closes, they can freely travel. (They just need to be careful not to die, because they don't regenerate outside their game.) "Ralph" is the "bad guy" in the Fix it Felix video game. He feels sad beacuse the good buy always gets the credit and the medals. He eventually goes to a "bad guys anonymous" meeting (run by one of the Pac-man ghosts). Unfortunately, he soon discovers he hasn't been invited to the big party for his game's anniversary. He gets upset and runs away to try to find a medal. He finds one in a modern first person shooter game, but ends up being flown out to Sugar Rush, a candy go-kart racing game. There he meets a "glitch" who wants the medal to be able to race, they fight, become friends and eventually have a happy ending after some close calls.

The movie is filled with a lot of the small visual details that are common in the Simpson's episodes. There are plenty of inside jokes and video game allusions. The music works well, with a nice classic video-game influence. The closing credits song, "Sugar Rush" is by AKB48, A Japanese girl group. I seems just perfect in the video game setting.


When you look at events in the past it all seems clear. Of course Lincoln was a great president who ended slavery and kept the country together even after secession attempts. However, when events are occurring things are much different. There was strong opposition in congress for repealing slavery. (And this is a congress that doesn't include any members from the confederate states). The arguments used sound similar to arguments we hear today opposing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan or just about any other major policy movie.

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln focuses on this debate. Here we have just a few weeks in the life of the president near the end of the war. He is portrayed as a mere human. He has struggles with his wife. He has to deal with children growing up. He is fighting for what he feels is right against his own cabinet. He is willing to be pragmatic and change his tactics and policy in order to achieve the greater long term result. He is also a great storyteller who always seems to have a good story for any situation.

After watching the movie I was left wondering how things could have been different. What would have happened if Lincoln didn't free the slaves and accepted a reconciliation from the south? The war may have ended, but the doctrine of equality would not have been established. Then, perhaps Adolph Hitler's rhetoric would not seem so outlandish. Lincoln may have been that bad president who lead the US in to a useless war that achieved nothing. Hitler could have then been the great ruler who united Europe in a common nation. It seems preposterous now. Living through the events, however, it is difficult to discern how things will eventually work out and who will be vilified and who will be praised.

You also have to wonder what would happen to Lincoln today. He would be accused as a waffler, unable to stick with his views. Every little defeat in the war would have been on the news. But, he would have probably had many good quips for the evening news.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a masterpiece of quality production. The movie starts out great, giving the background of a boy that grows up in French India. His name means "swimming pool" in French, but people make fun of him, so he tries to go by "Pi". One day, he writes a huge number of digits of pi on the board and the name sticks. Growing up, he tries just about every religion, being secular, Hindu, Christian and Muslim. His family has a zoo, but they eventually fall on hard times and decide to take a boat with the animals to Canada.

There is a big storm on the boat trip. Pi is exited and happens to be outside when the storm hits. He eventually ends up as the lone person on a lifeboat that has a bunch of animals - including a tiger. At this point the movie starts starts to slow down. I wouldn't have minded if about 30 minutes of lifeboat time were cut out. You can get the point that he is struggling, yet the character just doesn't seem to grow.

At the end he is finally found as the lone survivor and the tiger scampers off in to the wild. The shipping company comes to ask him about it, but they don't believe the first story, so he tells a different story where the animals are people and he is the tiger. Was he with a tiger? Was it imaginary? Does it even matter? The end result is he survived but lost everything. There was some force that helped motivate him to survive.

Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon is written as a series of first person "progress reports" written by Charlie Gordon. Charlie is a hard-working, mentally retarded young man who wants to be smart. He is chosen to be the first person to undergo a radical new procedure that can help him gain and retain intelligence. The experiment had previously been performed successfully on mouse, Algernon, who was able to gain and retain intelligence.

In the course of the novel, Charlie grows from a "moron" to a "super-genius", before returning to his moronic state. During his super-genius state, he realizes the flaws in the science and knows that he will not retain his intelligence. He also struggles with emotional growth that falls behind his intellectual growth. By writing the novel in the form of first-person "progress reports" we can relate with Charlie and his struggles. We see him struggle with knowledge of his own imminent decline. (This is even more so as we see what happens to the mouse Algernon as he declines.) However, we also see the joy and happiness return to his life as the intelligence falters. The life as a super genius may appear nice, but this also creates more challenges, especially when emotional and social skills lag behind. You don't accomplish as much in the simple life, but at least you are happy.

Some thoughts on Marriage

Marriage is a religious rite that has been adopted as a secular legal institution. As a religious rite, it is up to the individual religions to decide how it gets managed. There is not a whole lot of debate on the religious rite aspects. Most American religions maintain a traditional monogamist heterosexual definition of marriage. There are also religions that condone polygamy and others that allow same-sex marriage. You could probably find others that have other definitions or attitudes about the rite.

Since this religious institution was so common, the secular government has found the rite to be useful base for its legal institutions. It had already been adopted by the dominant religion and had been extremely useful in regulating standard relationships among people.

Initially, marriage was used in part to regulate sexual activity. This has largely been dropped from current legal framework. (You don't see many people bearing scarlet A's in this country.) Alas, there is very little in strong legal framework to replace it. Sex crimes are some of the most strongly punished crimes, with people required to be on registries even after serving the sentence. Yet, the barrier between legal and not legal is in the mind of the participants. If it is consensual (and both parties are deemed capable of providing consent) then it is legal. If one person does not provide "legal" consent, then it is a heinous crime. Alas, there is no formal means for providing consent. (You don't see people filling out a "consent" contract.) So, it comes down to what people thought at the time. In attempt to protect the harmed, the names of victims are not reported in the media; however no protection is given for the names of the accused. (Alas, this can open the system for abuse, as somebody can remain anonymous while dragging another's name through the mud.)

Marriage has also been used as a means of regulating reproductive activity. Potential partners are required to have a sufficiently different genetic history in order to provide a diverse "breeding stock". (Marriage among immediate family members is prohibited.) Blood tests were often performed to check for irregularity. Regulations were also made to require similar racial status of partners. (People of similar races were deemed preferred.) There have also been regulations on mental status of the partners. Today, however, the government for the most part has dropped out of the eugenics business, with only a few rules remaining.

Marriage is a valuable institution for ensuring the children are properly cared for. Records can also be traced to determine genetic history and propensity towards various diseases. Marriage provides rights and benefits for both parents to provide for a basic level of care for the children. While the government is still heavily involved in child care, it has been doing so largely outside of the realms of marriage. Many children are born to unmarried parents or even to mothers who are not sure who the father is. Marriage can be used to help determine custody and responsibility for children, but marriage is often not involved when there are problems.

Another useful aspect of marriage is in providing a legal framework for the relationship among different people. A marriage is deemed to be an implicit legal contract with many rights and responsibilities. The tax system provides both benefits and penalties for those that are married. There are also rights for inheritance, medical directives and other areas. These rights are granted based on marriage. Most of these rights can also be obtained through legal activity. However, the tax status is perhaps the only thing that can only be obtained through state-recognized marriage.

So where does that leave the current marriage debate? Basically, the secular use of marriage has been debased of most of its legal utility. Most of the "obligations" are now assumed outside of actual marriage. However, there are still a number of legal benefits reserved for those that are married. And now, through the courts, there is an attempt to extend the remaining benefits to homosexual couples under the name of "gay marriage".

On the surface, the idea sounds noble. It appears to be extending equality. After all, interracial marriage was once restricted, but now is accepted. Why not extend same-sex marriage? Alas, the big issue is the nature of marriage as a religious institution. The secular definition at one time was tightly intertwined with the religious definition. Now most of the secular purposes have significantly diverged from the legal purposes?

Why don't we separate marriage and secular unions? The "secular" version would be a special form of legal partnership. Like other partnerships, it would not discriminate based on age, sex, race, family relation or anything else. It would also allow multiple participants. Dissolving the partnership or breaking the agreements would require going through the appropriate channels in the legal system. Existing marriages and domestic partnerships would retain their same rates and be migrated in to the new legal system. Same-sex partners would now gain all the legal rights they desire. (No longer would there be a differentiation between some state laws and federal tax status,) Polygamous relationships could also be officially recognized. (No longer would only one spouse get the "privilege" of marriage.) Even family members could adopt this status. (Two siblings could receive the benefits of the partnership even with purely filial relationships.) This solves most of the "issues" gay-marriage advocates are attempting to solve as well as the more quiet "issues" of many others. It also keeps the government more clearly out of the religious realm. Marriage could then be strengthened as a strong family religious relationship.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire lasted for a long time. Thus, a work tracing the details of the empire takes up a lot of space. Gibbons focuses on the Empire itself, leaving out the history of Rome before it became an "empire".

I listened to the audiobook which alternated between the actual text of Gibbon and brief synopses of abridements. Alas, this gave it an encyclopedic tone and broke the narrative flow. It seemed as if they were intentionally trying to make it boring with the abridgment and musical interludes.

One point that I did get from his work is that he considers the institutionalization of Christianity as a primary factor leading to the empire's fall. Ironically, this institution lead to the one remaining empire emanating from Rome, the Catholic church. This religious "empire" ended up supplanting the remnants of the worldly one in Constantinople. Maybe Rome is doing right after all.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Sixth Column

Sixth Column starts out fast. In the first few sentences we hear of the Washington D.C. and New York going down as the U.S. is taken over by "Pan Asians". The story then focuses on a research outpost where most of the people have recently been killed. It turns out they have some "super-weapons" that can be tuned to only impact certain groups of people. They also have the ability to perform modern alchemy and change molecules to different elements. However they only have a half dozen people in their facility.

One "lawyer-turned hobo-turned private" goes on an exploratory mission and discovers that the pan-Asians have severely clamped down on the freedom of Americans. About the only venue for public meeting that remains is the church. Thus, they decide the way to organize is through the church. They create their own "church" that focuses on giving freely to the poor (with transmuted gold), while freely accepting the creeds of other religions. Eventually they prevail, vanquishing the Pan-Asians. Now the question remains of how the US will be organized. (This is touched briefly in the book. However, it could easily be an entirely new book. The technology could greatly alter the economy, while the extreme disruption may make alternate political organization more feasible.)

The book was first serialized in 1941 and later published in 1949. Its portrayal of races would probably never go in today's politically correct environment. However, considering the time it was published, it seems quite progressive. (In the novel Asian-Americans are in a no-man's land, killed off by the Pan-Asians who don't know what to do with them, but not trusted by most Americans.) The use of a scientific psuedo-church for ulterior means seems quite similar to modern scientology. (Perhaps Hubbard got his idea from reading Heinlein.) The story itself is an enjoyable, quick read.

Children's Literature: Between the Covers

These lectures on Children's literature attempt to tell a story of the history of books written specificity for children. "Children's" books are seen as a relatively recent innovation, starting only a few hundred years ago. Prior to that, children were just expected to read adult books (if they read at all.) Much of the early works tended to be religious and didactic in nature.

After this point, however, the professor's biases come in to play, making it hard to discern what the true path of children's writing was. The focus is very British-centric. (I guess that is appropriate since she does teach in the UK.) Very little attention is given to writing in America, and almost none to anywhere else in the world. (It would have been nice to see how it evolved in non-English speaking countries.) Also, she tends to bring emphasis to works that meet certain criteria that she is interested. This makes it tough to tell whether she is describing a dominant form of writing in a period, or just some obscure story that happens to deal with subject matter contrary to the prevailing standard.

There are a few lectures in this course that discuss the evolution of "teen" literature as a separate form from adult and children's literature. Like the children's discussion, it can be difficult to separate "history" from "agenda".

The closing remarks do hit on some important points. Many young readers are turned off literature by the way it is taught in school. They don't aren't interested in seeing some grand principle or social trend in the story. They just want a good read. Alas, this course falls victim to the "looking too much in to things" category and doesn't provide enough on the "good reads."

Big History

This is the history of the universe as we understand it now. It goes from cosmology to astronomy to geology and biology before making it to man. It is slow moving, spending a lot of time just talking about the scale. Perhaps this speed is to emphasize the vastness of the timeframe that is being discussed. (Though it does slow the narrative.)

The descriptions of time periods millions and billions of years ago are described as they are currently known today. The lectures spend plenty of time detailing the discoverers and discoveries. Some of the controversies and the evolutions of views are also given for these. The end result is a "popular" view rather than detailed specialist view. (Something from Scientific American rather than Journal of Cell Biology) This makes it more of a "history of science" than a "big history." One hundred years from now, whole sections could be completely rewritten. (Even basic things like plate tectonics were considered poppycock a little more than 50 years ago.) Many of the arguments put forth for accepting the "consensus view" seemed rather simplistic. (For example, one of Darwin's reason to espouse evolutionary species differentiation rather than creation was the use of "hands" for different purposes in mammals - such as a bat's wing, a whale's fin, and a man's hand. However, from an engineering viewpoint, this seems like a great argument for creation. If I find some part that works well, I will use it for as many different purposes as possible. I can just imagine a universe created entirely out of duct tape!)

The rise of man and civilization takes up only a brief sliver of time in the entire history. The professor puts forth "collective learning" as the trait that has allowed man to dominate the earth. The last century has greatly accelerated that dominance. He poses some interesting theories for what the future will hold. Many of these have come from the field of science fiction. These all sound like interesting things to read. One holds that societies that increase in collective learning eventually develop the power to destroy themselves, bringing them back down to the start again. Others talk about the universe collapsing and then big-banging again. Others say it will keep expanding. There could be intelligent life everywhere or life nowhere. I'm surprised they didn't mention a Truman Show possibility where we are in a little container separate from something vast.

The attempt to bridge the gaps between various disciplines to provide a large scale history is a noble endeavour. It acknowledges that some key time periods tend to be ignored because they lie within the cracks between disciplines. (For example, the human agricultural era is too old for historians because there is no writing, yet too new for ancient archaeologists.) Alas, this division is what has enabled professionals to delve deeply in their areas. Stripping it away tries to present a coherent story of the history of "life, the universe and everything" based on man's current scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, this also points out there are still many gaps in understanding.

Saturday, March 02, 2013


[August 2011] In 1434, Gavin Menzies provides an Chinese-centric history of the renaissance. This is a follow up to 1421 in which China is seen as having early contact with the American continent. Eventually bureaucracy shut down the grand explorations and Europe went on to assume its role as great explorer and innovator.

The stories presented are roundly criticized by historians for not being factual. However, the arguments do have a strong element of plausibility. Perhaps the real truth is somewhere in between. China obviously provided some inspiration to Europe. (Nobody discounts Marco Polo). There could have been much greater connections that were simply lost in the historical record. (People would much rather have appeared to come up with something on their own than to have copied it.)