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April 29, 2008

Sociology Annual Debate 2008

The Sociology Annual Debate takes place on Monday 19 May, and is about the possibility of a scientific definition of humanity. An interesting topic, given the advance of a new technological era and its perceived threat by certain sociologists. See also flyer below. Please attend in large numbers!
Sociology Annual Debate


April 24, 2008

Waterboarding

Writing about web page http://www.unsubscribe-me.org

waterboardingIf you were ever wondering, like me, what waterboarding is exactly like, you do not have look any further.

Amnesty International has made a tv ad where a man is shown to be waterboarded, for real. It looks pretty gruesome, even though the “detainee” in the ad “always had the ability to stop (something real detainees do not have)”.

A few of my thoughts on waterboarding:

- a society, in its drive to protect its liberties, gives them up in the act of protecting
- the sinister tieing up and enactment of drowning of detainees is a whole world away from the glamorous and proud cultural achievements of the USA; it’s an idiosyncracy that just doesn’t suit it
- I would have second thoughts if my country’s intelligence service claims to derive reliable information through means as forceful and torturous as waterboarding
- I tend to connect such methods sooner with mafia than with state practice

If you’re agreed that waterboarding must stop (not a wholly controversial viewpoint, it seems to me), you can immediately “unsubscribe” from it via the Amnesty website.


April 16, 2008

Trojan…errr…dog?

“Outside of a dog, a book is Man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Wise words by Groucho Marx. If you want to laugh out loud to yourself for a while, enter his name on Wikipedia, and a whole bunch of witticisms will appear, one even funnier than the other.


April 15, 2008

Berlusconi Winner

BerlusconiBerlusconi is smiling again.

To my absolute amazement, Berlusconi was again elected by a comfortable majority yesterday. I would not have believed that the country would have voted a clown like him for a second third time. But then, more things about Italy tend to surprise me. The fact that very few people these days actually bother to vote, because they want to “punish” corrupt politicians. The fact that private tennis schemes for kids are common benefits for politicians of some stature, and that the Italian presidency spends twice as much as its French counterpart (and I don’t believe they are known for their thrift). The fact that many people really don’t care that Berlusconi is a multi-billionnaire implicated in around ten courtcases and owning about as many media outlets. And the fact that news bulletins on tv are these days either frivolous or unreliable.

I think non-Italian Europeans don’t make a real effort to understand Italy (and perhaps, fair enough, how much do I know about Hungarian or Greek politics, although an Italian wouldn’t be happy to hear this line of reasoning). Or maybe Italy is just such a special case that anyone who’s not grown up in it would not in a million years really understand. Without wanting to offend any of my Italian friends, I think democracies (and yes, I would still count Italy among them) reap what they sow. 62 governments in 63 years, let’s see if Silvio can manage for longer. And at what price.


April 14, 2008

"If You're Not There Yet, You Soon Will Be

As was written in a page-wide BlackBerry ad.

I was reading a well-known opinion magazine last night. A special report on “Nomadism”: phenomena of the new technologically mobile class that scatters around city parks, cafes, and public libraries. (Yes, among other place also Warwick University’s library, I dare say.) An excerpt about an American college student gives you a flavour.

Permanently connected, she communicates by text, photo, video or voice throughout the day with her friends and family, and does her “work stuff” at the same time.

And then a word came around the corner. BlackBerry. It popped up in various of the reports articles. “[T]he BlackBerry by Research in Motion (RIM), a Canadian firm, has since 1999 made e-mail on the go seem normal.” Sounds like a regular phrase of global technology enthusiasts. And a little bit further, a new business at their first meeting: “The most urgent item, everybody agreed, was to get BlackBerries.” BlackBerry really gets smart people enthusiastic, I thought by myself. And if one read a bit further, it seems to be everywhere, too. “In physical meetings, they are the ones looking at their BlackBerries under the table”.

I was amazed. BlackBerry seemed to be the undercurrent of the entire global trend in wireless communication. I read on, to find that the multifunctional machine also has developed a crowd of addicts, who go by the name of “CrackBerries”. And that businessmen at home secretly sneak to the bathroom to quickly check their e-mail on it. A better way of making this thing appeal could hardly be thought of. “Addictive, ok,” I thought by myself. “That must have a reason. I should have a look how much these thingies cost”.

And then, when I flicked over the page, the ad. Very smart. A little bit too much for my sensible mind. “If You’re Not There Yet, You Soon Will Be”, the white letters on a black background informed me. First all these subtle insinuations in these articles, then this ad. Not so subtle at all, in my opinion.

“If You’re Not There Yet, You Soon Will Be”. Pffaaa. I don’t think so.


March 19, 2008

Library

Day five in the library. (Where have I heard this before?) This time it’s in the good old Warwick library on Library Road. If I come in during the morning, it’s still not too busy. I find my way to the same spot as usual – after all, we are creatures of habit. I can see that I’m right by the covers of certain books that are now becoming my dissertation companions by simply sitting on the shelf where they always sit: Norman Davies, God’s Playground. Another book called Inside Putin’s Russia. “Everything as a political biography should be”, praises the Sunday Times right above the title. See, when I read something like that, my reflex thought will be: “If everything is as it should be, then it can’t be a good book.” Of course I can, but that’s the kind of thought such a slick comment provokes with me. DK 441.H2 – DR 701.S55, that’s where I am and will be for the coming days. Luckily, the library will close for Easter in a few days, that’ll push me to get some more work done.

And on that note, time to get on with it. Have a productive day.


March 18, 2008

Difficult Language

A thought that crossed my mind tonight as I was trying to remember my five years of French from seven years ago:

“If French wouldn’t have been such a difficult language, then maybe the French would have had some time left to study other languages.”


March 15, 2008

How Do Africans See Us?

“Sometimes the police raided the beggars, but just for show, for Aburiria’s prisons were already full. Most beggars would have been quite happy to jailed for the meal and a bed. The government also had to be mindful not to upset tourism by sweeping too many beggars off the streets. Pictures of beggars or wild animals were what many tourists sent back home as a proof of having been in Africa. In Aburiria, wild animals were becoming rare because of dwindling forests and poaching, and tourists pictures of beggars or children with kwashiorkor and flies massing around their runny noses and sore eyes were prized for their authenticity. If there were no beggars in the streets, tourists might start doubting whether Aburiria was an authentic African country.” (p. 35)

“The foreign journalists were particularly interested in the scene, for they believed that a news story from Africa without pictures of people dying from wretched poverty, famine, or ethnic warfare could not possibly be interesting to their audience back home.” (p. 74)

From: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wizard of the Crow (2006)


March 10, 2008

Pencil

In the unfolding course of my dissertation write-up, I have tended to increasingly use pencils, instead of pens. Primary reason is simply that I have more pencils at hand (when all other alternatives lack…), but I was also advices once in a (creative) writing workshop that you should always use a pencil instead of a pen. “Because you can then subsequently make alterations in your text, or simply wipe out a whole block and use the page again!” our resourceful tutor pointed out.

All this reminds me of a Soviet joke I once heard. It goes something like this. In the time when the space competition was at its very height, the Americans pumped several millions of dollars into a new research project. Objective of the project was to develop a pen that could be used in space. Normal ballpoint models would have trouble with floating ink, as this is obviously a liquid substance.

When the Soviets came to hear about this project, they all laughed out loud. They simply used pencils.


March 05, 2008

Daffodil Lament

Flowering campusWhile the University babbles about becoming the best green company of the UK, this blog’s scribbler contemplates the ostentatious nature of going green.

Despite the cold and windy weather, our campus these days is graced by a vast orchestra of trumpetting daffodils. These fragile flowers provide a promise of pending spring. (A that it may come soon!) But all of campus? Or is there a “politics of flower planting”? (Note the postmodernity of my argument.)

If you, like myself, live in Hurst, have a look to the left when you’ve just crossed Gibbet Hill Road towards home. A hill shields this residential part of campus away from the road. And on one of its sides – the road side, obviously – can be seen for one instant a blossoming sea of yellow that makes one’s heart skip. The side that automobilists do, and Hurst residents don’t see. Ostentation? Of course. It made me laugh and shake my head.


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