Sunday, May 14, 2006

Weekly roundup: Week 19

On the Vatican and Beijing

Vatican’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China would immediately mean derecognition of Taiwan. Is the trade off worth it? While the former has 1.3billion people, the latter only has 23million. China has been adamant that it will not allow the papal state to dictate its handling to religious affairs. Let’s not forget the role Pope John Paul II played in toppling the former dictatorships of Eastern Europe. Perhaps the ties with the Vatican will draw attention to the prosecution and restrictions on religious freedom in the world’s most populous nation. The issue now seems to be more a question of when, not if.

On the role of the US in the Pacific

That the US’ presence in the North-East Pacific is important cannot be disputed. With a rising China, an ‘evil’ North Korea, signs of terrorism, piracy and an explosive Taiwan Strait, the threats to regional, and perhaps world peace, cannot be underestimated. It is a delicate balancing act of national and geo-strategic interests. A report from the world’s biggest naval battle group, the Seventh Fleet.

On the security situation in Iraq

The war was won, and now to win the peace. They say life was terrible under Saddam, but life has become a nightmarish struggle with death, as kidnapping is becoming big business.

The spirit of being Taiwanese

Taike” (literally ‘Taiwanese guest’) is a term that has come into fashion lately. Whereas before it was associated as being a condescending term, today, with the explosion and increasing popularity of local culture, it has become synomonous with being ‘in’.

Taiwan has never had a Cultural Revolution; it never needed one. Taiwanese know how to balance respect for the past with growth for the future. While Taiwanese respect their ancestors they know it does not mean to be slaves to them. Many say if you want to see Chinese culture at its best, come to Taiwan. Taiwanese embrace their roots and add to them the many other experiences of their past. They embrace and adapt.”

On Tibet

Articles on the situation in Tibet, one on the future of the country, one an eyewitness account of the conditions in a gulag, and another on the railway that is supposed to link it to the rest of the world.

On human trafficking in Europe

Excruciating tales.

To say or not to say

How sorry can you be for something in the past?


Sean Connery: The Ballet

On Bush and Blair

Leaving a legacy

Self interest first

The recent commotion about President Chen Shui-bian’s refusal to stop in the US on his way to Latin America may be telling about the realignment of US’ foreign policy strategy. And Taiwan, an international pariah floating heavily on the tacit support of the US, is not the only country that needs to worry. (or lack of it).

Around the world in a week

President Chen flew around the world, whereas his real destination was actually just across the Pacific. Desperate for diplomatic allies, trying to rebuff the US snub for denying him the proper reception, or just a skilled politician winning a small diplomatic victory?

  • “Somberheid is net als slecht weer” [Somberness is like bad weather]
    Simone de Schipper, Kennis pg 7, De Volkskrant, 13 May 2006

Traditional therapy taught people to change their thoughts. There is now a new study that proves that maybe accepting your thoughts may just do the trick even better. And the technique stems from the Buddhist training of MINDFULNESS—having your attention concentrated in the here and now without judgment. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT, or aandachtgerichte cognitieve therapie in Dutch) is becoming ‘in’, already in the US, and now in the Netherlands, according to Dr Willem Kuyken:

“ Mindfulness is an exercise to have the attention to be present in the here and now, and to be with everything that is happening in the here and now—the breath, physical sensations, feelings, thoughts and sounds. If the thoughts do wander—and they do that continuously—than you kindly bring them back to the breath or to where you focus the attention. Through this you try not the change or judge the experience, and you don’t even think of it as positive or negative, but you welcome it as it is.”

“Mindfulness training is not about what people think, but about the way they think…People learn: a thought is but a thought, not a fact.”

“Somber thoughts or feelings will still arise, but you learn to treat them like the weather: there is another black cloud, with depressing thoughts and despair. You can be in the middle of it and become desperate, but you can also take a step back and see it as a dark cloud, a bad moment or a bad day. Then you know: this will be over again…It takes the oxygen out of the fire.”


  • “Praten met Al Qa’ida en Hamas, er zit niks anders op’ [Talk with Al’Qaeda and Hamas, there is no other way]
    Wim Bossema, Het Betoog pg 5, De Volkskrant, 13 May 2006

    See also transcript of on 26 February 2006

The stereotypes of blood-thirty terrorists and wanton destruction based on hate are wrong, argues Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou of Harvard. Organisations like Hamas and Al Qaeda should instead be seen as an organisation with political goals, and many of those goals, but not necessary the means by which they achieve them, have broad sympathy amongst Muslims worldwide. Dialogue is necessary to address those grievances and to recognise that fighting fire with fire will not extinguish anything.

[I] think that we cannot invisiblise the situation of occupation and the fact that this is a liberation movement gone from armed struggle into the political realm, and this would merely fit into the historical pattern that we've seen with the Algerian FLN, the Irish IRA and beyond. It is the traditional pattern where these groups enter the political realm.


  • “De kritische mens zit ons in de weg” [The critical person is in our way]
    Jeroen Busscher, het Betoog pg 5, De Volkskrant, 13 May 2006

The Dutch have a way with creativity.

“Without creativity [there is no] innovation. We Netherlanders like to see ourselves as a creative people. Look to the arts: Rembrandt, van Gogh, Mondriaan, de Kooning.”

But Dutch culture has another element that seems to be hindering progress and creativity: the critical person, or the critical voice, which seems inherent in all endeavours and breakthroughs.

“We are still stricter to ourselves than we dare admit. That is not a positive characteristic, now that the world is undergoing so many changes. Just as the Calvinistic outlook on life which once brought us welfare and security, it has now become one of the characteristics which hinders us to hitch onto amazingly fast changes.”

So in this critical culture things that are simple are thought to be unworthy of attention; and things that are easy are not thought of as good enough.

Post-modernism taught us that there is not one reality, but that everything exists due to an infinite number of realities. There is always a reality to be found which you can be critical about […] Enthousiasm we associate with critic-less-ness. Criticism we associate with insight.

With increasing globalisation and ‘outsourcing’, the author argues, this inherently critical self will inhibit all things new and innovative, and thus break this generation from our history of having a creative national culture. Instead of trying to deconstruct new ideas and find faults, we should be bolder and “not be afraid to be stupid or to make a mistake” for a change. For “a good mistake seems all too often the start of innovation.”


  • “Verdeel en heers” [Divide and rule]
    Wilco Dekker en Ben van Raaij, het Vervolg pg 25, De Volkskrant, 13 May 2006

An alarming article about how ministerial posts are predominantly allocated to members of political parties only. And not just any member, but members that are most active… in ‘backroom’ dealings that is.

“[…] political scientists have for years warned about the existence of a ‘political caste’, ‘governing class’ and a ‘cartel democracy’. That closed ‘political-bureacratic complex’, separated from society, not only prepares policy, it also exercises and controls it as well, and thereby denigrating the democratically elected parliament to a rubber-stamping [function]. “The problems is”, says Rinus van Schendelen [political scientist], “that the political elite is not rooted in society, but does have its branches dangle all over society.”

The evidence for this is that only 23% of civil servants are not affiliated to any political party, compared to 98.5% of the eligible voters in the Netherlands. That means even though the Constitution (Article 3) guarantees that any one eligible to vote is also eligible to stand for office, the reality is that only a very marginal minority that are party members have the most likely chance to be given public office.

  • “Seks-voor-iets” [Sex-for-something]
    Rob Vreeken, het Vervolg pg 27, de Volkskrant, 13 May 2006

A few months ago there news broke out about young teenage girls exchanging their bodies for a ‘breezer’ (ride home). Apparently young girls are beginning to realise their ‘sexuality’ could be ‘sold’ in exchange for something, anything.

A recent report by the Royal Institute for the Tropics (Knonikrijk Instituut voor de Triopen) on such a phenomenon in Ghana revealed:

“[…] the materialistic foundation of their relationship with the boyfriends, the principle of sex-for-something. Sex for food, sex for clothing, sex for the hairdresser, sex for shoes. I needed something, so I got a boyfriend, they all said. What is striking is the naturalness with which the girls talk about it. Doesn’t love play a role? The question is answered with an almost empty look.

More striking that this is happening in a society that perhaps not even a decade ago chastity was perceived as a must for girls waiting to be married off. Maybe there is something ‘good’ about greater promiscuity, as the Dutch experience has shown. With greater openness and acceptance of sex as a natural activity there is also greater awareness of the risks and dangers of unprotected/unsafe sex. Certainly as the country with the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, the evidence seems clear.


  • “Stelling: Het is beter als Tony Blair opstapt” [Statement: It is better if Tony Blair resigns] Oscar van den Boogaard, Forum pg17, de Volkskrant, 13 May 2006

“I don’t know if in politics at the world level honest communication sis still possible. And friendly, intelligent discussions [for that matter]. Maybe it never existed. Against that powerless feeling of being played by lies and shamlessness, you must take a stand as an ordinary citizen. It is a struggle not to become cynical, to transform into a rottweiler—or turn [your] back to politics.”

Disclaimer: Translations of the texts above are mine. Translations were done to convey the original message as well as is possible, according to my understanding of the original articles.

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