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December 13, 2005

Just my imagination

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4522044.stm

Or at least I thought it was. Turns out the sawfish really exists! It's the time of the season where the year is re-assessed, and it turns out Europe is doing really well. There are only five sites of imminent extinction of endangered species here, 4 of which are islands. Or maybe all that's left after these are the Trafalgar Square pigeon and the Warwick campus fox.

In the Netherlands, an ecological "mainframe", a framework of nature reserves or land dedicated to conservation spread across the country. But again it misses the point, as most endangered species live in the unprotected areas, nearest to the people, which are often highly profitable lands. The solution is to trade land from the mainframe [indeed, not a computer] with developers, in return for the gardens and motorway shoulders where the cherished species reside.

I can't say anything sensible about this subject, but let me bring up one more great theme in conservation: hotspots. I came across these in a course on ecology, and was intrigued by the favoritism in nature conservation, and how they try to be as fair and ethical as possible. So, in finding their hotspots, they don't go for the adorable species, but for ecological regions [as large as for instance the Mediterranean] where 1 dollar spent on conservation saves the highest number of species.


November 15, 2005

Why smoking should not be banned

Writing about web page /bjkeates/entry/the_boar_this/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Okay, that entry title was mainly to mirror the previous entry, but still. Smoking is stupid. Anyway, here’s the entry.

On a break from doing what most people here tend to do(studying) I came across this rant. It led me to the Union website and I had a look at the forthcoming referenda. For the record, I hate smoking. I understand that some people feel the need, and usually these are the more polite smokers, that get out of your way, and don’t smoke while you’re eating. Some of my friends are convinced that smoking while going out will actually make them drink less [mainly coz they’ll be having a cigarette in their hand rather than a drink]. Wait. I’m losing the point.

Basically, I don’t mind people smoking when I’m going out – provided the place has good ventilation and a high enough ceiling. I’m more annoyed by overly drunk and unnecessarily pushy people, by the music being about 5 times too loud [especially when the building is quite empty], and the general sweatiness of the Union. But well, I can see a Union without smoke could be more fun and less sweaty, so let’s see what we need to do to get there.

This Union Resolves:
4. That cuts to Union services, as a result of this policy, will begin with the following:
The least commercially successful events (possibly including Vapour, Crash, Pressure, Coalition, Heat and live music events);
Society funding;
Opening hours;
Computing and support facilities for clubs and societies.

Now I thought Warwick student life is mainly bearable because of a great SU, with many societies to choose from and where each day you can have a different night out. Without the “least commercially successful events” the Union will discard all its variety. With less funding for societies [I’ll leave it to you to find out how much funding there is now. Suffice to say that I know of only one society that doesn’t need Union funding to stay afloat. Who knows, there might not even be a Warwick Boar!] many will find it hard to stay functioning, and students will have to find other ways to bide their spare time. Maybe that time will be spent finding another uni…

Lately I’ve found that policy changes apparently have to be drastic. In Rev, there was the motion to ban alcohol from big national events. There is no need to bring alcohol to the building, as we usually manage to find a church with a pub around the corner, but sometimes people just need a drink after a hard day of singing/organizing/general stress, and that time might come after 11pm. To ban alcohol from all events is petty and shows of little faith in the choir members to behave. Sure, there have been occasions where individuals lost a bit of control, but there is no reason to let individual actions ruin everything for the rest of the choir.

Now with the smoking ban, the only way to change the current badly adopted policy is to turn to zero tolerance? There are enough enclosed seating areas in the Union to designate as smoking areas, away from eating establishments such as Rococo, South Central, and the Cholo bar. Similarly, if you ban smoking from the dancefloor [which is where most people will/should be at Union events, and where most oxygen is needed!] you still leave people with the choice to smoke elsewhere in the building, where they can still hear the music, talk to their friends, stay warm, and get their daily dose of nicotine.

Most importantly, the Union will stay an important place in Warwick students’ lives. I’m not sure but I hope this motion is just a big joke, to see if students care enough to read the policy changes and see how ridiculous they are. If not, then I hope the policy makers will rethink the motion and see that there is always a middle way. And everyone will live happily ever after. Just with a slightly blacker lung.

EDIT: Just found the policy list here hopefully the link works, but you might have to sign in for the Union portal to see it. The smoking policy is 368. The only changes necessary I can think of now is making Rococo non-smoking, with the Piazza area smoking instead. Then smoke will be far away from the food! Also, the Graduate Bar and Club are not being mentioned, whereas they seem to be the more cloudy places in the Union.


August 10, 2005

The day democracy died

Follow-up to While you were talking about Bush from [TBA]

Oh dear, a maths student trying to write an entry about politics. Again! Do not worry, this is just my attempt of translating Mohammed B.'s last word into English. B. has been convicted of murdering Theo van Gogh, a Dutch film maker, 2nd November last year. It was the second political murder in a short time in the Netherlands, and was followed by many threats to key political figures. As B. is not seeking to fight the conviction, the media have been allowed to broadcast his last word. For anyone trying to understand terrorism, this should be a good read (despite possible Dutchisms). Any suggestions welcome.

This is how the article appeared in De Volkskrant online, today. It can be found in Dutch here

Mohammed B.: 'Wow.'

Judge: 'Excuse me?'

B.: 'I said "wow". You have written well. You enable me to say something. You are not going to interrupt me. And I can be critical.'

Judge: 'You are allowed to say what you wish.'

B. starts in Arab.

Judge: 'I will have to interrupt you here, however. To ask the interpreter to translate.'

Interpreter: 'This is a usual text to start with. He says: "I wish to thank Allah. I ask Allah for help with the words I am going to speak. I testify there is no other God than Allah."'

B., in Dutch: 'Long have I deliberated whether or not I should say something. Before I say more, I would like to comment on what has been said about the two faces. I assume it referred to the defence, Mr Plasman and Mr Sarikaya, here behind me. (The judge had challenged the defence accusing them of using hard words defending their client in the media, but refraining from defending him with such conviction in court, red. De Volkskrant) I think and I believe they don't deserve it that you attack them as such. Despite the fact that the gentlemen know that I despise their disbelief (or lack of faith, T) with all my soul, they do their job with conviction. In eight, nine months they have been two of very few people of whom I believe they act with conviction. You can't say that of a lot of people.'

'The reason I speak now, is not because I feel compelled by this court to say something. The only person I might be compelled by, is the mother of Mr Van Gogh. In all honesty I must confess I do not feel compassion. I do not feel your pain. I can't. I don't know how it is to lose a child that you have raised in this world with so much pain and so many tears. Partly because I'm not a woman. Partly, I cannot feel compassion because you are an infidel. You cannot, should not hold me accountable for that.'

'I know that my behaviour, my attitude yesterday and today, is very confrontational to you. And to many more here. And many people know they are not just watching a suspect, and battling a suspect, but they are battling their own emotions.'

'Concerning the charges: I can completely agree what the public prosecutor has said. Largely, that is. I take full responsibility. You have characterized what would have driven me to my act. I am purely driven by my faith.'

'It would indeed be cowardice if I would hide myself here behind the rules by holding my silence. I also do not wish to avoid the chance to receive the highest punishment. With this I immediately point out the weakness of this system. I do not recognize your judicial system. Possibly you do not recognize mine either.'

'I understood that Mrs Van Gogh might find some peace if maximum punishment is given and in the fact that I received maximum punishment, that is what I understood.'

'Concerning your advisor, Mr Peters (professor in Islamic law, red. De Volkskrant): he has indicated that indeed I posess texts preaching violence. He also says there are texts that preach peace. But you haven't asked Peters when peace is preached and when violence. You neglected that.'

'I am not going to talk about politics or give a religious flavour to my speech, I am not here to make a political statement, or a political statement flavoured by religion, I'll save you from that. But I do want you to know that I acted with conviction. It's not because I hate your son Theo van Gogh that much, nor because he is Dutch or because I feel insulted being Moroccan. I have never felt insulted.'

'I can never suspect your son of hypocrisy. He was no hypocrite. He spoke with conviction. I know he said things with conviction.'

(B. stays silent for a while)

'So the main story saying I would have been insulted for being a Moroccan and him calling us goat fuckers, is completely false. I acted from faith. If it were my father or brother, I would have done the same. You cannot suspect me of having any sentiment.'

'The question this court holds: a maximum punishment, but the suspect gives no insight into his state of mind. But I can assure you: if ever I'd be released, I would do exactly the same. Exactly the same. You thought I might feel trapped. I don't feel trapped by walls or a cell. I'll tell you: I feel free and I am free. Furthermore, concerning your criticism: maybe you mean muslims when you say Moroccans. I won't hold that against you. The same law that tells me to cut off everyone's head who insults Allah and the prophet, that same law tells me not to settle in a land where, using the words of the prosecutor, the "free word" is being preached.'

'But what is it then? I'll tell you, your criticism… This is judicially valid only if there exists a land where people like me can go in exile. That you stop a man like me, I won't hold it against you, it's your job.'

(Mohammed B. looks back at the police officers sitting in the back of the room)

'And I think that those officers confronted with me on the second of November (the day B. killed Van Gogh, T) also have a right to know that I didn't shoot to get away, but I shot to kill. And to be killed.'

'You can send all your psychologists, psychiatrists, and counsellors to analyse me, but I shall tell you, you will never understand. You cannot understand. If I am released, and I would have the opportunity to do again what I did on 2nd November, wallah (with Allah, De Volkskrant), I would have done exactly the same.'

Judge: 'That is what you wanted to tell us?'

B.: 'Maybe, ya know… I am not here to be pathetic or to criticise. Maybe this could be a little consolidation to Mrs Van Gogh. Apart from that I couldn't care less, to be fair.'


July 08, 2005

What is actually going on?

I have no clue. All I know is that I watch far too much TV. And I'm not even talking about lovely mindnumbing shows such as Hollyoaks or The O.C. The problem is in the ism.

Environmentalism

Earlier this week five showed a program on environmentalism. A Danish professor pretending to be a cool dude explained me from his side of the TV what is actually going on. Oh there you go – Google just helped me find out it's Bjorn Lomberg in Big Ideas that Changed the World. Right. To be fair, he gave a very objective and thorough overview of what happened in the 20th century. Starting with a 19th century paper on the growing population and the earth not being able to feed the population, ending with a woman writing about anti-pesticides killing birds (Silent Spring).

But then the last 10 minutes he tried to convince me that the Kyoto protocol is useless and wrong and doesn't help the world at all. For the next century, he says, it will cost 150 billion dollars every year, with the only benefit that by the end of the century, the effects of global warming will have been delayed by 6 years. Right. Lost me there. So in a world-important conference where high ministers and leaders are gathered, and probably backed by their own environmental staff, Lomberg reckons that this is the best they could come up with. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough time to explain where his figures come from (probably have to read his book - highly criticized on his own website ) hence failed to convince me.

Terrorism

Great. Wikipedia states there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. I guess it involves terrifying people. I watched Question Time last night – mistaking it for the Stephen Fry programme, but intrigued by its set-up in Johannesburg hosting African (should-be) leaders – and the most note-worthy development was the deviation from the topic (how to make poverty history, get rid of HIV/Aids, save the world) due to the bombings in London, discussing fears that it will deviate attention in the G8 from poverty to terrorism. Thankfully, they did return to the original debate, but not after a few emotional arguments.

"Why is a lost Western life so much more valuable than an African life lost?" (not an actual quote, but close) the problem being that with the bombings in London, nearly the whole world shows sympathy and attention, and offers to help search for the criminals. In the case of Darfur, it took ages before observing the situation developed into a discussion of the troubles in this region, and as far as I know even now, no decision has been taken. Similarly in the 1990s, it took the near genocide of the Tutsis before any action took place. Does that mean a Western life is worth more than an African, or more generally speaking, a poor life? It's an easy but I think faulty conclusion.

Main counterexample: the Tsunami appeal. Within a month, millions of dollars worth of aid had been set aside to help the suffering countries in Asia. Now the problem is how it will be used. It seems as if the aiding countries would like to spend the money themselves, but don't want to impose their values and ideals on the ailing countries. Letting the latter spend the money, often means that a considerable part of it is lost in bureaucratic games ends up in the wrong place. In the end, the relations between countries are more important than the relations between people. The same happens when trying to make poverty history, and is unlikely to happen when aid is sent to more developed (and democratic) regions.

Why did I mention terrorism again? Oh right. Some studio audience member got up and told the west to stop complaining about terrorism, as terrorism was the dayly news in Africa for the hundreds of years of colonization. Again, that was the gist of his comment, not an actual quote. Minor point. Europeans came to Africa to explore exploit the country, and in that way exploited the people, and thus created the current situation. The word terrorism is generally used in case the actual offenders are unknown, as are their ideals, and their acts usually have no other outcome than fear. Despite all cruelty imposed by them, the ideals of the colonists were mostly clear, the outcome of their actions were a more developed land, and the cultivation of the people they encountered (or in the cruel cases, the infection of the people by European diseases, or the massacre of people in times of conflict). Some of these acts are even worse than terrorism (if there were any level of severity of offensive acts) but that doesn't mean they're terrorist acts.

It's a shame. 80% of the arguments, questions, and explanations I heard were interesting and seemed rational, but the other 20% were either besides the issue, or too much blurred by emotion making them irrational or even erroneous. I had deep respect for Mbeki's brother, until he countered the concern that Africa's development will end up in a racial war. He said that it's not Africans against white people or Indian (Asian) people, as Africans kill Africans, see Ruanda, see Darfur. Although he does counter the man's actual concern (the man being white and worried about his own interests), he unintentionally does point out the underlying cultural problems. In Ruanda, Hutus slaughtered Tutsis. In Darfur, ethnic cleansing is daily business.

So what is actually going on? I have no idea, and I have no idea how to solve it. Most hailed Tony Blair for announcing debt relief (or cancellation) as an aim for the G8, but almost as many stated that unfair trade regulations are the bigger issue. How to tackle HIV/Aids? Condoms and education, but no way that Bush will tell the Africans they have to use condoms – abstinence all the way! And what if we don't want malaria in England? Even if the USA sign up for the Kyoto protocol, apparently we only delay greenhouse effects by 6 years and lose billions of dollars (that could be used in Africa?) every year. It's complicated. It's a game of politics, and games are never fair.


June 02, 2005

From Holland

Follow-up to In Holland from [TBA]

Nothing to do with my previous entry (although coincidentally I did ask my mom to vote for me while I was at home) [approving the 'constitution' for the sole reason that I like a united Europe and think it needs a constitution at some point anyway] but Charles indirectly asked for it.

This map (from Telegraaf who got it from ANP and CBS) shows all the towns and cities within their council borders and their voting pattern. The first list of towns have the highest percentage of "nee", the second have the highest percentage of "ja" votes.

I haven't done any data analysis for years, but this is roughly what I can tell. (Closest to) Voting "ja" were the Randstad suburbs (kind of left of the middle, green line), two student regions (Utrecht and Wageningen) and some more affluent regions (suburbs of Eindhoven [green scribbly circle, is where I'm from] and Groningen).

If there's any pattern in strong "nee" votes, it would be the so-called 'Bible belt' that ranges from the South-West (Zeeland) to North-East (Groningen) [yellow line]. Throughout the latest centuries, affiliation to church has been strong in these towns, and Christian political parties gain most votes here. I personally have no idea why they would vote "nee" however (though most of these are rural areas as well, so it might rather have something to do with lack of agricultural subsidies rather than religious beliefs that drove the "nee" vote).

One surprise to me is the region in the pink scribbly bit, the south of Limburg. This region is squished between Germany and Belgium, and you would think closer cooperation would benefit the region, and I thought it had benefited from the EU so far. It's also where Maastricht is (55–60% "nee") so a bit sad that even this city couldn't reach a "ja" vote seeing the important treaty created here.

Ah well. Charles' second entry shows a somewhat irrational reason to vote "nee" which was hardly the strongest reason. The Netherlands are per capita the largest contributor to the EU (or that's what we believe), and get hardly anything back. Our political power is too small (if we compare it to contribution, not to size), and we're afraid to lose our own identity (though in the mean time it seems like 90% of new words in the dictionary come from [American] English).

P.S. Apologies for crap picture quality. Can only use paint here unfortunately.


January 31, 2005

Boys and Girls

Writing about web page http://www.boston.com/ae/tv/articles/2005/01/29/sweet_buster_is_far_from_radical/

Now I'm not a psychology student either, but as far as I know this is just plain silly. US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings denounced an episode of a popular US kids TV show as the bunny character visited lesbian moms raising children in the state of Vermont.

I know you guys can read for yourselves, so will mainly leave it at that, but still. SpongeBob SquarePants would advocate homosexual behavior as the main character holds hands with his best friend for a suspicially long amount of airtime. Kind of reminds me of a rumour that Bert and Ernie were actually gay lovers.

Let me tell you about my childhood. OK I won't, but as far as I remember, these shows are for say 4–10 year olds. When I was 4–10 year old I held hands with my best friend on the way to school – like everyone else did. Ditto when we had to walk to the gym. It was indeed thought to be weird when as a boy you'd hold hands with a girl! Hence, isn't it easier for kids to relate to a character that shows the same behavior, than to a boy and a girl who hang out together? 10–4 year old boys and girls generally don't share interests, so it would only be confusing if their cartoon heroes would.

As far as Buster the bunny from the article is concerned: the show designed to teach children about different lifestyles that make up our society. Exact figures are hard to get, but say 5% of the world's population is gay (won't go into details of definitions), that's 1 in 20, I'd say it sounds reasonable. In that case they share a significant part in our society, certainly more significant than the 2 million or so mormons living in the US, who were visited by the same cartoon bunny.

I'm not saying morals and values are unimportant, but lately the governments I'm interested in (US, UK, Dutch) seem to be too focussed on enforcing what they deem the general standard on their people (or even abroad) instead of, I don't know, take away the fear and anger that drives people apart? Just and idea.


December 16, 2004

Tired of living, ready to die

Writing about web page http://www.volkskrant.nl/

Not me - still got loads to write about Barbados, and need to do Christmas shopping. Just came across this article (link will probably not work but well) in the Dutch newspaper 'de Volkskrant', concerning the verdict of a commission scrutinising a case of euthanasia.

Euthanasia for suffering from a disease with no prospects of getting better has been allowed in the Netherlands for a while now. In this case, a former senator was both psychologically and physically tired of living, and asked his GP to perform euthanasia on him. The GP answered his demands in 1998.

As the senator did not suffer from any specific disease, the GP was convicted, and the Dutch Government claimed the euthanasia law did not allow for 'levensmoeheid' (being tired of living). The Royal Dutch Society for Medicine asked for a commission to survey this case, as the request to end a patient's life without him or her suffering from any recognisable disease is not uncommon.

The commission now has found that the keyword in the euthanasia law is 'suffering', and that this has been focussed too much on suffering from a disease. Dijkhuis, chairman of the commission, states: "If we focus on the pressure of suffering, then within the boundaries of the law and medicine there is room for termination of life when life itself is suffered from."

Article is freely translated from Dutch. Don't really know what I think of this development. The commission also recommends clear and strict guidelines defining when life is genuinely suffered from, and when it can be terminated for this reason. Still, I think it's impossible to define such a law, without leaving room to wiggle around it. I'm sure the intention is good, but to be honest I already loathe 'normal' suicide (don't loathe 'regular' euthanasia though) - however, this version would in general be less messy and less psychologically damaging to others involved in a 'normal' suicide. Anyway - let me know what you think!


November 10, 2004

While you were talking about Bush

Just before the US elections last week, something probably more important took place in the Netherlands: Theo van Gogh, a controversial film maker whose films are enjoyed by just a few, got brutally murdered in one of the busier streets in Amsterdam. A few gun shots and knife stabs, with finally a 5-piece letter pinned to his chest did the trick. Why? Because he had his heart on his tongue and used his pen and camera to spread his thoughts – thoughts that were easily dismissed by some, but heavily provocative for others, especially when time after time he insults the islam and its followers.

I didn't like Theo van Gogh. I surely didn't like his movies or columns, didn't enjoy TV shows he was in for his rudeness, bluntness, and lack of respect (I believe he was so rude once that an [islamic] guest left the show). I did respect the man, however, for speaking his mind, a gift which many politicians in the Netherlands lack.

"We should denounce actions like this", PM Balkenende said, when the umpteenth islamic school had just been turned into ashes. Instead of being honest and express his disbelief and horror over these actions, his response needs to be marinated in some euphemistic oils and enriched by a political sauce, leaving a message that basically says "Yes, well, we'll discuss it in our meeting and will let you know next week what we'll do about it".
"Not only do we need to tackle the terrorists, but also the people who vandalise and threaten islamic institutions", another minister (Verdonk) blurted out. But wait, aren't people who destroy buildings with the intention to harm called terrorists nowadays?

Tensions have risen since last week Tuesday, and are still rising. My hometown (Eindhoven) made it to the BBC News – not because PSV (football club) finally won something important, but because some idiots decided to bomb the local islamic school (fortunately they didn't realize that even muslims don't send their kids to school at 2AM, so no one got hurt, only the front door was completely destroyed). An islamic school in another Dutch town was destroyed by fire overnight, and as I'm writing the authorities in the Hague have surrounded a whole district in the city after 3 policemen were injured by a grenade when they tried to arrest someone because he was suspected of terrorist activities.

Problems all over the place, but most important (I think) is that people continue to talk about 'them' and 'us'. The Van Gogh assassin had a Dutch passport but isn't seen as Dutch citizen but muslim terrorist. The fools attacking mosques and islamic schools are suspected to be white Dutch adolescents, but are referred to as people who burn down institutions, as if they're on 'our' side. We – as in the people who value freedom of speech, and the right to follow their own religion and find their own education, that is muslims, baha'i, buddhist, jewish, christian, atheist, and whatever religion you can think of – should set ourselves apart and remind ourselves that the terrorists aren't muslim, jewish, or christian, by the contemporary sense of these beliefs, but hardcore fundamentalist, whose only truth is what is said in their scriptures and hence lack any sense of compassion or reality or democracy. (*)

As you might sense from this rant, it's highly disturbing living in another country you cannot yet call home whereas your home country is going down a spiral of violence and you cannot do anything about it. I know that in Britain, you have your own problems with military action in Iraq and a lack of good football players, but please take some time and think about what's going on in the Netherlands, which is just a stonethrow away (seriously, Amsterdam is easier to reach than say, Inverness). Thank you for your time!

(*) I wouldn't have been able to write it in this way without reading a beautiful article in this Saturday's Guardian. If you want, I can give you a reference or something.


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