All entries for May 2008

May 28, 2008

The Final Hours

Follow-up to Does the final push begin here and now? from Scribbles of a Dutch/Polishman

“Does the final push begin here and now?” I asked myself already on the 23rd of February. Looking back at it now, how early was that?!

But now it’s for real. Four days and three exams to go, my bachelor is soon coming to an end. I start in an hour and 15 minutes. In 75 hours and 15 minutes I’ll be done for good. This is the final push.

May 26, 2008

Something There for Everyone

“Seven social sins: politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.”

M.K. Gandhi in Young India (22 October 1925)

Nothing to add. Carefully picked words really speak for themselves don’t they?

May 25, 2008

Exercises of the Mind

A blog entry a few days ago (“Riddle”, 19 May) seems to point at the craving for creative, out-of-the-box-typed thought exercises people might have at this time of exam revision. So here’s another one. Below is a photo fished out of the current news cycle which I reckon is pretty stripped of its context. What first thought or caption comes to your mind when you see it? Within limits of decency, I’m interested to find out where this image takes people’s minds.

riot police

May 21, 2008

USA Today


May 20, 2008

Ironie: nu óók op je website!

Writing about web page

De ironie!De opgetrokken wenkbrauw, de centimeterdikke ondertoon, de uitwisseling van veelbetekenende blikken… ze zijn allemaal verdwenen met de tussenkomst van het beeldscherm. Betekent dit de dood van dubbelzinnigheid?

Dús niet! Op de website van de Boekenweek 2007 is een nieuw ontwikkeld leesteken te downloaden: het ironieteken. Toegegeven, een beetje laat ontdekt, maar het zal de schrijfervaring ontegenzeggelijk verrijken. Ook voor slechte grappen-makers. Immers, je gooit er gewoon het juiste teken achter, en iedereen zal weer als vanouds lachen om je grapDe ironie!

The Sociology Annual Debate: Human Folly over Transhumanism

“There is no scientific basis to the concept of humanity” was this years proposition at the Annual Sociology Debate. Hardly a topic I knew much about, but soon I discovered that was not necessary.

John HarrisSpeakers and audience were, to use a metaphor on the shortcomings of the human being, all feeling their way around in a dark room at this debate. Professor Harris from the University of Manchester (Law) and a co-editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics was invited to speak in favour of transhumanism, scetching a science-fiction type of future that had the audience both grinning and incredulous. The human being as it now exists, was prof. Harris’ proposition, will die out, and a very similar type of being that is better adapted must take his/her place. And if I understood him correctly, he argued that, if that is to happen anyway, we might as well participate proactively in the “shaping” of this “transhuman”. We are now working on the strengthening of regenerative capacities of the body (an arm chopped off will grow back again), our eyesight should not have to deteriate any longer, and the gaps in our memory would be bridged by synthetic implants that enable us to access memory at will. The audience was, I may say, a little flabbergasted. Beyond all the technological rifraf I was having some trouble understanding what it was that prof. Harris was really after: to transcend the human species, and to defend human interests at the same time? And if he, as he claimed “frankly did not care about the human being per sé”, how could he so easily assume that there was not also another type of animal specie “essence” that would be worth preserving in some evolved form?

Steve FullerProfessor Fuller from Sociology at Warwick, instead of arguing against, took a different route of critique. As might have been expected of him, he questioned the understanding of the concept “human being”, and the imminent self-glorification implicit in this understanding. Yes, we are essentially animals, he admitted, but the way we speak about ourselves and our experiences is in no way systematically connected to our bodies. In court, it is our story that the judge wants to hear. (Note the gap in reasoning here: for example dna-tests can provide “hard evidence” that overrides any sort of social narrative.) Through institutionalisation (what Fuller called the “universitas”, or “corporation”), human beings have created projects that exist as independent interests outside of their personal need for survival, as is common for other animals. Institutions, as Fuller noted, have historically included as well as excluded people, but the overall tendency has been towards greater inclusion and overcoming of social barriers: in our institutional roles we more and more often meet and interact with people of other backgrounds. However, we have not yet overcome all barriers and inequalities. And now we’re already looking at the next elite project of growing “beyond our species”?

These two stories seemed to provide two vivid panels of a larger painting. Or rather, perhaps, two corners of a huge mural. The questions from the floor revealed something about the very limited extent to which we had dug into the topic just yet. If we seek to become “fitter, more efficient”, asked one, why don’t we simply evolve into a photo-synthesising sponge? Fuller answered that what he wanted to know, was whether future species would still identify themselves with the “human project” as he set it out. Harris was more ambiguous. Yes, he would future beings to have some of our human aspects, a sort of likeness. But only millions of years ago, our ancestors looked like apes. How much do we have in common? Questions about guarantees against the abuse of such future potentials seemed poorly thought out. Harris believed these developments should take place within a Hobbesian-Bethamian framework: utilitarian equality and the welfare state. Admittedly, Fuller was in the comfortable position, not having to fend off such remarks. A last, and most interesting point came from a Warwick psychologist. We have up to now discussed the transhuman potential in terms of individuality, the “improvement of the human being”. But what improvement of human interaction does transhumanism bring?

From the debate, I took two major lessons home. One: sociologists need to start understanding and positioning themselves in ethical debates around bioscientifical developments. Two: all participants, and surely prof. Harris too, were still engaging in this debate with obvious partiality towards the human being as it is now, and not some higher truth. And that is a somewhat reassuring social observation.

May 19, 2008


1. It is greater than God,
2. It more evil than the Devil,
3. Poor people have it,
4. Rich people desire it,
5. If you eat it, you die.

What is “it”? Check back at this blog tomorrow for the answer!

May 15, 2008

Argentinean Joke

Laugh out loud if you’re Argentinean or if you know what Argentinians are like. Here it is:

One day, the pope visits the American president in the White House. After some conversation in the Oval Office, he asks the president if he could please make a phone call. “Sure”, the president says, and he points to the desk, where there is a red phone and a white phone. “What are the colours for?” the pope asks. “Well, red is a direct line to the Russian president,” the American president says, “and white connects you directly to God.”

The pope uses the white phone for five minutes and then hangs up. He asks how much the president would like him to pay for the call. The president asks for 5000 dollars.

Days later, the pope sits in the office of the Argentinean president. After some conversation with the country’s leader, he asks if he can make a phone call. The president points at a desk, on which there are two phones, a red one and a white one. “The red one is a hotline to the American president, the white one to call with God”, he explains.

The pope uses the white phone for twenty minutes, after which he asks the president how much the phone call should cost. “5 dollars”, the Argentinean president says. In utter surprise, the pope remarks that a much shorter phone call to God had cost him a thousand times more in the United States. “That is easily explained,” the president says. “See, in Argentina it is a local number.”

May 03, 2008

Rechtspraak en de EU: hoeveel macht voor activistische rechters?

Staat de Europese Commissie in de komende jaren een nieuwe serie gezichtsbepalende rechtzaken te wachten?

Het Brussel-blog van opinieblad Elsevier berichtte vorige week dat permanente vertegenwoordigers van de Tweede Kamer in Brussel alvast een voorschot hebben genomen op de nieuwe spelregels zoals vastgelegd in het nog niet geheel door alle nationale parlementen geaccepteerde Lissabon-verdrag. Ze zijn in gesprek gegaan met collega-permanente vertegenwoordigers over het coördineren van een nieuw wettelijk gereedschap die het tegenhouden van Europese regelgeving makkelijker maakt. Als een meerderheid aan nationale parlementen onoverkomelijke bezwaren opwerpt kan deze regelgeving worden tegengehouden. Deze procedure heet in het verdrag de “oranje kaart-procedure” en is voor een kleine lidstaat als Nederland een welkom middel om al te assertief wetgevend gedrag vanuit Brussel tegen te gaan.

Vraag vóór alles is natuurlijk, welk soort bezwaar ontvankelijk wordt geacht. Een nationaal parlement mag zijn oneensheid nog zó welbespraakt en overtuigend voorleggen aan collega-parlementen, de procedure moet wel op een bepaald principe rusten wil het de Europese Commissie niet in de wielen rijden. De Nederlandse delegatie leest in het in het verdrag vastgelegde protocol de principes van subsidiariteit en evenredigheid. Subsidiariteit is geen nieuw thema. Al bij de oprichting van de Europese Unie werd hierover gerept en in het Verdrag van Amsterdam in 1996 werden nog wat maatregelen genomen om de nationale greep ferm in de hand te houden.

Het is het evenredigheidsprincipe waarop wij onze aandacht moeten vestigen. Elsevier-columnist De Hen beschrijft het als volgt: “Evenredigheid betekent: zijn de maatregelen niet zwaarder dan strikt nodig is om het probleem op te lossen?” om vervolgens direct duidelijk te maken dat dit principe niet geheel oncontroversieel is. Anders dan subsidiariteit, wordt het namelijk niet geheel als procedureel, doch meer als inhoudelijk bezwaar gezien. Veel nationale parlementariërs zien daarom niet zoveel mogelijkheden in dergelijke bezwaarvoering.

De werkelijkheid ligt natuurlijk wel iets anders. Want laten we wel wezen, is het subsidiariteitsprincipe niet ook overduidelijk een subjectief en uiteindelijk politiek getint thema? Op welk niveau kan een probleem het best aangepakt worden? Of het efficiëntst? Ongetwijfeld bestaan er bovendien situaties waar “best” en “efficiëntst” niet inwisselbaar gebruikt kunnen worden. “Goed” is een waarde-oordeel, en dus politiek.

Zo bekeken ligt het principe van evenredigheid direct in dezelfde lijn der retoriek. Goed, efficiënt, proportioneel. En om er nog zo’n term naast te gooien: dat lijkt me niet meer dan redelijk. Wie het wettelijke recht krijgt bezwaar aan te tekenen moet ook het recht hebben dat breed te baseren op basis van relevante argumenten. Helaas, wat relevant is, daar is niet iedereen het over eens. Zo zou de oranje kaart-procedure in de toekomst tot interessante rechtzaken aan het Europees Gerechtshof kunnen leiden. Gezien het track record van de Europese rechters heeft de Europese Commissie daar geen slecht kans gelijk te krijgen. Hetgeen uiteraard niet zonder gevolgen blijft voor de ontwikkeling van EU-beleid.

Maar, laten we niet op de zaken vooruit lopen. Eerst moet het Verdrag van Lissabon nog langs alle nationale parlementen, en een Iers referendum.

May 2008

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