Friday, September 01, 2006

Boat, museum and party (abr)

Woke up with a terrible headache this morning, and still feel a bit sick. I don't know if it was that glass of Heineken I drank yesterday, the nuts, olives or airline sandwiches, but ever since this morning I've been having this terrible feeling of dizzyness and like there's air in my chest I can't get rid of. When I breathe hard, the back of my neck hurts and my chest feels compressed.

I blame it on the beer. Frankly I don't like beer, and it's been years since my last 'pint', until yesterday that is. I don't know what posessed me to drink something that makes me want to throw up and pee all the time, and feel all gasy and nauseous afterwards...I guess when all the guys were drinking it, I sort of 'had' to too.

Since today's programme didn't start until noon, I could lie in a bit, which helped get rid of the nauseating feeling, if only a little bit. Picked up our 'packed lunch', packaged in a green paper bag, the contents of which look like they managed to skim off the left-overs of KLM's (Royal Dutch Airlines) on-board catering service.

Met some more people, all on the same course I'll be doing. And that was pretty nice, since for the day I basically had company and people to talk to. We did a boat trip, cruising around the canals and lakes around Leiden. This ancient city is shaped like a star and surrounded by moats. It was here that resistance against the Spanish (Catholics) was staunchest. For the sake of religious freedom and freedom of expression, the citizens of the town refused to cave into a siege in 1574. As a token of appreciation was rewarded with a university in that very year by William of Orange ('Father of the Netherlands'). That university is Leiden University, with the motto Praesidium Libertatis, (‘bastion of freedom’) on the emblem. And I'm now a member of that bastion.

Old(er) students
and professors of Leiden include Rembrandt van Rijn (painter), who never actually graduatlly and registered for the sake of getting cheap beer as a student (believe me beer is definitely not the reason why I'm studying here). The Dutch Royal family has traditionally gone to this university too. Rumour has it that during the years when our Crown Prince William Alexander, who is reputed for being a bit...slow, the tradition of publishing everyone's grades in public disappeared. Einstein taught here a while (there's a pub named after him), while Kamerlign Onnes was won the Nobel Prize for Physics for achieving the lowest temperate possible (absolute zero). My law faculty buidling is named after him, and located in the very building where he conducted the experiment. Then there's Huygens, who invented the telescope, and has a space probe named after him. Then there's the likes of Spinoza and Descarte, who escaped to Leiden on account of its libertarian values and freedom of expression. I doubt I'd come close to what these great people have achieved in my lifetime, but it's something to mention when people ask me in the future why I chose this uni as my own. I guess.

A museum visit was also part of the tour, and we were taken to Boerhave Museum, named after the physician who introduced natural sciences as key to the study of medicine
in Europe. Besides the famous Huygen telescopes and clocks, the sight of numerous 'pickled' feotuses, ovaries with a fertilised egg, fingers of young children, skinned snakes, inner ear of a dog, drawings of a disected woman carrying a baby, real skeletons of human beings, cats, elephants, horses and a turkey were not all that appealing. Especially when I was already feeling like throwing up the whole day. Dinner was immediate after the museum. I waited at least an hour before I could take a bite and swallow.

It was a bit silly how they organised the programme. By five we were ushered into the canteen and fed. The next event was the party at 10pm. Five hours to kill, in a town, in a country where shops are few and close at 6pm sharp. A bunch of us, three guys and two girls, all on the same course, sat around, got to know each other better, lurked around the empty streets a bit more, sat at a cafe and chatted the hours away. It was surprisingly relaxing, and we were pretty much on similiar wave lenghts, so I had a really good time. [...]

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Starting 'school' (abridged)

Woke up this morning a little before 7, and it was the earliest I’ve woken up in months. A laid-back life of being a bum gets you…laid back. Didn’t get too much sleep last night, since, well, ‘worry me’ lay in bed and had thoughts running around like crazy trying to picture what’s going to happen today.

Showered, got dressed, got beautiful, and got out the door. Sat in the train with a bunch of commuters trying to get a shut-eye, or open their eyes into through papers. It’s been over two years since I felt I was part of a community—a community of commuters with a purpose and a destination. Though by the looks of some people’s haggered faces and sad expressions, some may feel less like they have a purpose in life, let alone at work.

Arrived at the place where we were supposed to gather, only to be intimated by a crowd of around 100 people standing around, surrounding by a slight drizzle and the background noise of general chatter. They were doling out tea and coffee, so I got myself one, to keep warm, and keep my hands from fidgeting from nervousness. I don’t function well in crowds. Glanced around, looking for a place I can ‘butt in’, but everyone seemed so engaged in their little groups and conversations already. There were a couple of others who hadn’t managed to mingle yet, like me, and I wondered if they were as nervous as I was. Stood around a bit, thinking what a great way to start.

Then we got divided into smaller groups, according to our studies. Phew, I thought. Much better, since you know then the people walking around with you are going to be your classmates. One thing you have in common, one common topic to break the ice. Once that ice is broken, I guess the conversation just rolls from there…where are you from, what were you doing before, where, smile, why, how, when, smile, listen, talk, relate, answer, ask, smile.

The tour itself was alright, though our group was a little left out. You see, I’m going to be doing a Masters in Public International Law (LLM), and at this uni there are two courses of that: there’s one which is so-called ‘advanced’ LLM, because it offers more choice and better facilities and services, and then there’s the ‘normal’ LLM—the one I’ll be doing. The difference between the two? Oh, only around €10,000, give or take. No surprise why I’m doing the ‘normal’ one.

And from the moment go the differences in treatment were clearly visible. The ‘advanced’ people were taken away for an exclusive meet-and-greet with staff over coffee and a choice between apple pie, chocolate cake and cookies. We were told to hang around and wait to be picked up. There was coffee to be fair, but no pie, or given the choice, chocolate cake.

I guess the time we were ‘abandoned’ to wander the corridors of our new faculty was a welcome opportunity to mingle, meet and greet more people. And I guess it went pretty well. There are lots of Americans and Brits on the course, and all the rest are from the rest of Europe. We basically just talked and exchanged one another’s lives and experiences, and that’s plenty of material to cover. Another topic of common interest was how disorganised the whole course is, since courses start next week and almost everyone I met had no clue when and where the classes are going to be. Complaining, another ice-breaker.

All the new people had a welcome address from the Rector Magnificus (Latin for ‘head rectum rector’). Whenever that name was said a bunch of people burst out laughing. Not too much exciting news there, the usual why-this-university-is-so-great, how-privileged-you-all-are-to-be-the-select-few, and well-wishing for our future studies, because frankly we might not even get to see him again. Then this academic coordinator came up and started going through the list of (almost) all the countries in the world. The point of the ‘game’ was whenever a country is mentioned, people from that country should stand up, and he’ll try his best to say ‘hello’ in that country’s language. The first, being ‘G’day’ (Australia)…half an hour later Zimbabwe. We all sighed with relief that that was the end.

But it wasn’t the end. We were treated to a ‘movie’, made probably more than a decade ago, about Holland. Witty, amusing and revealing, but sometimes left me wondering why I need to know that the highest point in the country is 322,20m, and the lowest is 7m below sea level, or that Amsterdam, with 725,000 inhabitants, is the world’s smallest metropolis. All the facts, figures, need-to-knows, national dish (buttered bread and cheese), national flower (tulip), national sport (football) etc, etc. People cheered when the picture of a cannabis leaf appeared on the screen (cannabis is ‘legal’ in this country).

And that wasn’t the end either. Another lady came up and gave us a lecture on ‘culture shock’. Generalisations of course, but having lived here for years and years a lot of these things I can relate to:

  • While visiting someone in their home, when offered a biscuit, take only one. Take two and you won’t be invited again. (Dutch stinginess)
  • Complain, curse, whine, lament about the weather (Dutch national topic of discussion)
  • Guys will not pay for dinner on a date (heard of ‘Go Dutch’?)
  • Men do not hold doors open for women (Dutch sexual equality)

As we left the lecture hall and walked passed town hall, a lesbian wedding was in progress (Dutch sexual orientation equality)—Congratulations to Ilse and Roos!


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Late summer's rain

Though the leaves are green, they are yellowing. Just a little bit, on the corners.

I stood under a chestnut tree today, trying to escape from the rain. For many days in a row already we've been having sudden freak showers to be followed by sunshine and clear skies. Just as I was cycling home from the station, it started to drizzle. I thought I could just bear the rain, but then within minutes it poured, poured, poured! Water drops splashed on the rain, like peas, disspating in all directions as they bombed the tarmac road and cycle path. I had to find shelter, and I sought it under the arms of a chestnut tree.

For a while the tree was enough to protect me from becoming wet. But only for a while. Soon enough it started to rain even harder, rain to the degree it was reminiscent of horrendous typhoons I experienced last summer. And mixed with the falling rain were pea-sized chuncks of hail. They broke through the leafy shield and struck, bombarding my coat, jeans and cheeks. I was soaked, completely soaked like I had fallen in a pond. Water ran down my eyes till all I could see were blurs. My hair plastered to my forehead, and I could just feel the papers and book I had just bought for my studies in my bag go soggy.

And then it cleared. And the sun came out, surrounded by beautiful pure white clouds. Like it never rained.

Still dripping, I cycled home.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Go Dutch: study in the Netherlands!

It's cheap(er), not much differnce in quality, a lot of the courses are in English, and a wonderful experience!

Dutch universities are the first in continental Europe to offer a full range of postgraduate courses taught and assessed in English.

The fees represent exceptional value: €1,500 a year (£1,000) compared with a minimum of £3,500 in the UK. It is possible to pay as little as €500 because many EU students are eligible for an annual rebate of €1,000. Add a lower cost of living and budget air fares, and you have a compelling economic argument for student migration.

Low fees do not mean poor quality or limited choice. There are new universities at Maastricht and Rotterdam, early 20th-century red bricks at Nijmegen and Tilburg and fine 16th- and 17th-century foundations at Groningen, Utrecht, Amsterdam, and Leiden.

'Go Dutch - save a fortune in fees'

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Weekly Roundup: Week 34

“[…] Stay the course, bring them to justice, we will prevail, as the president says.

With this world strategy, the American government has piled failure upon failure, and seen its credibility evaporate. Nonetheless, Bush, his direct surrounding and a big group of neo-conservative thinkers hold fast to this. That is at the moment one of the greatest risks for the West.

And in order to prevent every kind of misunderstanding: nobody here thinks about the sacrifice of Israel. But the fact that has been consistently bypassed is that all problems begin with the relationship of this nation with the Palestine. If there is already a new Sarajevo in the making, such as [Richard] Holbrooke says, then that would now be called Ramallah.”[1]


>>‘Stelling: Hysterische tijden vragen om nuchterheid’ [Statement: Hysterical times demand soberness], Forum, p17, 26 August 2006, De Volkskrant

Nausicaa Marbe:

“Nowadays we all have fear of flying. Also in the train, on the boat, in the metro and on the bus, in the cinema and restaurant. Rightly so. The world is sown with imbeciles who want to kill out of religious nonsense and hatred. The world has too many naïve people who, under the cover of soberness, deny this fact. The threat of terror is permanent and the knowledge that the terrorist is always a step ahead does not make the danger less real. The power of terrorism rests on creativity and the ability to adapt. The only adequate solution to this is to surpass this.”

Oscar van den Boogaard:

“September 11 was the turning point. While we saw images of planes which flew into the WTC, we understood that the air of lightness has ended. War was not something far away, but among us. It could raise its head at every moment and everywhere. However innocent and lovable we think of ourselves, we had enemyies and those enemies live in our midst. Our eyes opened. We were forced to realism.

From now on we can no longer permit [ourselves] to be naïve or thoughtless. The world is too dangerous. We are more than ever aware of our own vulnerability and that of others. Of what binds us all. Life itself. […]

We must listen, reflect, talk, pay attention, be indignant, firm, active, political, careful, brave, patient, and not let ourselves be led by fears, or our egos, but by our wisdom and love.”

>>‘Commentar: Terroristen of lastposten’ [Editorial: Terrorists or Troublemakers], Forum, p17, 26 August 2006, De Volkskrant

On the 12 Indians who were arrested for looking ‘suspicious’ aboard a Northwest Airlines plane which turned back to Schiphol Airport (AMS) shortly after taking off.

“The more false alarm is set off, the more terrorists get their way without having to do anything. […] There exists a climate of fear and suspicion very easily that will undoubtedly lead to even more false alarms. […] Whoever would rather take certainty for uncertainty is not yet discharged from the duty to make a real estimation of the danger.

In recent times numerous incidents in airplanes have presented themselves, in which suspicion of terrorist activities rested primarily on the appearance of the passengers. [If] they look ‘like Muslims’, and behave ‘supiciously’, then alarm is all too quickly sounded. This alertness does not necessarily contribute to a greater [sense of] security, [but does contribute to] a stigmatisation of all travellers with a dark appearance.”

  • To forget, and not let our emotions get in the way, like Chinese Daoist masters have taught thousands of years ago is ‘the Way’ to stop, or at least be unaffected by the escalating violence and the chaos of modernity.

Karen Armstrong, ‘The power of forgetting, 19 August 2006, The Guardian

“[…] poets and artists have always known how to hold themselves in an attitude of silent waiting. Keats called the creative process "negative capability ... when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason". Wordsworth understood that the poet needs "wise passiveness" and "a heart that watches and receives". When our minds are stuffed with current ideas, we cannot be truly creative because there is no room for anything new. Creation is ex nihilo: out of nothing, the "wild and empty waste" described at the beginning of Genesis.

“People who have no religious beliefs are often willing to talk to contemplative nuns, because these women, who have embraced silence and emptiness, know how to listen. Listening is rare in our chattering society. It is often all too clear that, while their interlocutor is speaking, participants in talk-shows and phone-ins are not really listening, but thinking up the next clever thing that they want to say. I am certainly guilty of this myself. If we are to break the deadly cycle of escalating violence - of strike and counter-strike, atrocity and enraged reaction - we must listen intently to what everybody, even our enemy, is saying, and be sincerely ready to let it change us: to get beyond the rhetoric, decode the imagery, and hear the subtext of rage, grief, fear, pain, hatred and despair.”

  • Opinions on the state of Israel and the Palestinian people from two Dutch-Israeli doctors who have worked in Israel for many decades[2]


On checkpoints:

“[For soldiers at the checkpoints] it is sometimes dangerous, of course. But you do not need to treat the Palestinians like dogs, to snarl and to growl.”

On long ques at the checkpoints:

“We have a [festive] holiday or elections and therefore we just lock the Palestinians up [in their villages]. For our security. If I see the ques, I do think of photos of German camps, but as leftist activist you cannot make such comparison. If you are rightist you can, just think of the colonists who called the soldiers at the evacuation of Gaza last year.”

“You cannot oppress three million people in this way. Internally as well as externally that can lead to the destruction of the state. As long as we continue to oppress the Palestinians, the war, the attacks and the Qassam rockets remain. And in the meantime we go downhill morally, we undermine our values.”


“[Israel] is in shambles. We have already gone along the wrong way for a long time. We lean too much on violence. There is no dialogue. The settlement politics of one government after another is lunacy. Israel has become a very malicious country. It has certainly not become what we had hoped for forty-four years ago. Many people believe that, there are only not many who says that out-loud. It takes [time] before achieve [that] insight.

Everyone knows that a two-state solution must come. I compared it once with a strike. [from a strike] you know that it rests on a compromise, though for four weeks [everything will be a mess]. Maybe there must first be many more deaths before we reach our senses. There must first be […] pain and apparently the pain is not bad enough, but the two-state solution will come. Whether I will experience it? Peace with Egypt and Jordan I had not foreseen after the Six Day War. […]”

  • Yoel Marcus, ‘A far cry from Ben-Gurion’, 19 August 2006, The Guardian

    Criticism of the war was strong, even within Israel. And the Olmert administration bears the brunt of the blame.

Much has been said and written about the wisdom of launching a full-scale war instead of making do with a retaliatory operation after the kidnapping of two soldiers; about the first Israeli government to allow its citizens to be bombarded by 4,000 missiles from a terrorist organisation; about a million Israeli refugees making a beeline from north to south; about the tremendous loss of life and property. Who would have imagined, with all our military might, that we would not be victorious in a war where Israel was Goliath and Hizbullah was David?

Blindly, without thinking, Israel volunteered to leap for the second time into the Lebanese bog. With an army of reserve soldiers sitting there until the multinational force arrives, it's only a matter of time before Hizbullah creeps out of its lair and batters us with roadside bombs and suicide bombers.

Rather than look before you leap, the Olmert administration was guided by the opposite principle: leap before you look. The bombastic threats against the enemy, the promises of a new Middle East, the talk about disarming Hizbullah and ending the rocket fire - it was more a shot in the dark than a premeditated plan.”

  • Roots of terror, at the grass roots

Of the many actual and foiled terrorist attacks, the people involved are surprisingly young, middle-class, well educated Muslims who have lived or been raised in the ‘west’. Does this say anything about the acceptance of ‘western’ societies of Muslims?

“there is undoubtedly an antagonistic attitude towards British society among some Muslims, particuarl the younger generation. They are througouly westernised, yet anti-Western […]

But what shapes [their] wider grievance-obsessed attitude? Some blame British or US foreign policy. Others claim it is all about Islam. But that cannot explain why young people appear more zealous than parents who came from traditional Muslim countries.

I think the big factor comes from closer to home—the multicultural identity politics that is institutionalised from the top down. The distinctive identiy promoted by multiculturalism is that of the victim. Each identiy group vies to win prestige and grants by parading its suffering. Thus Muslim community leaders elevate any perceived slight into evidence of a wave of Islamphobia, and depict foreign policy as proof of persecution.”

Certainly the more you are made to feel like victims, coupled with diminishing, or at least lower, prospects of prosperity and ascension of the social ladder compared to your (white) peers, the more these youths are going to feel frustrated and hemmed in. the result is striking out, venting frustrations in a desperate cry for help…or at least attention.

“This sort of victim identify feeds the emotions of pity and outrage rather than any political understanding. And it can lead some to lash out like sullen adolescents.”[3]

Shocking revelations that, in the UK, though I suspect elsewhere as well, in this day and age a large minority still reject evolution theory in favour of creationism.

“Twelve per cent believe God made the world in the past 10,000 years and put man in it. Another 19% believe God's hand can be seen in all living things, whose existence is otherwise beyond our comprehension. Only 56% put their money wholesale on the theory of evolution. And the reason this is terrifying is that the beliefs of this 31% are rooted in extremes of religion that teach metaphor as fact, and we know where that takes us.”

It’s not so much what they believe in that is the matter, but what the consequences are of the basis of their beliefs, which in turn affect the way many are brought up in their perceptions of and dealings with the world:

But the worry is that students who buy into creationism aren't prepared to test the evidence against it, and minds closed to the truth have been dangerous since the year dot.

The prime minister put his finger on it a couple of weeks ago in his alarming speech to the News Corp executives in Florida, on the current political state of the world, as viewed by him. The real divisions, he said, were no longer between left and right, but between advocates of modern, open societies and closed, traditional ones - and they are, even if they aren't the only ones.” [emphasis mine]

  • On a lighter note…

A campaign by ‘Sex voor Dieren’ [Sex for Animals] last week is collecting signatures to initiate a citizen legislative proposal to make it a right for animals to have sex.

Campaigners argue that millions of animals die yearly in the Netherlands without having had the chance to develop themselves sexually. Some die as virgins. They suggest maybe people can start organising ‘speed dating’ for their pets, or even a ‘peepshow’ for couples, or perhaps start apologising to cows in the field.

“Animals work hard for us people.

They deliver, among other things, milk, eggs, meat, wool, and pleasant company. Therefore animals have the right to good working conditions and pleasure in life. It is up to us to provide for their primary needs of living, such as fun, good food, fun work throughout the week, and now and then healthy love making.

Sex for Animals strives for the animal rights mentioned below:

  • The right to sex
  • The right to reproduction
  • The right to choose partner freely
  • The right to family life

These primary animal rights are unfortunately under pressure, because artificial forms of reproduction are more profitable. In order to allow animals to taste love, special effort is necessary.”

Hmmm, I feel guilty now about my little kitty…

[1] H.J.A. Hofland, ‘De Derde Wereldoorlog’ [The Third World War], Opnion, 7 16 August 2006

[2] ‘Sjifra Herschberg, ‘Reportage Annelien en Eldad Kisch-Kroon: Koppige idealisten’ [Report Annelien and Eldad Kisch-Kroon: Stubborn idealists], p67, 19 August 2006, Vrij Nederland

[3] Mick Hume, ‘Latest drama from the War on Terror: er, all quiet on the Walthamstan front’, Comment, p19, 18 August 2006, The Times [of London]

United 93

United 93
Not sure what to think after watching that move. I heard it wasn't very good, but wanted to see for myself. The way it was shot was chaotic, shaky and at times confusing. Not confusing because of the plot, because frankly everyone knows more or less what happened on that fateful day. Confusing in the sense that you didn't really know what was happening. I guess that was the intended effect, since a lot of the people then didn't know what was happening.

The scenes of the passengers saying goodbye on the phone to the loved ones were touching, almost tear jerking. A stark contrast to the demonising portrayal of the bomb-brandishing terrorists who slashed and stabbed like madmen any one who got in the way. Brutal blood spilling and scenes of gore and horror. And then heroic and selfless passengers go up against the hijackers in a last ditch attempt to prevent the plane from being used as another crash weapon.

Some innuendos here and there that perhaps the higher levels of the Bush administration were idle in their response, even after the threats were very real. At the end of the movie you read that the nearest fighters scrambled to the intercept the plane was in fact some 100miles away, and far out at sea. Fuel for conspiracy theorists.

Not really a movie I'd linger on and recommend. Perhaps because I was watching it with a critical mind, and half-expecting that it would just be another attempt by Hollywood to portray America's innocent role as vicitm and sufferer of the world's greatest act of terror. And to be even more cynical part of the political-entertainment complex geared at justifying American reaction and response to terror. The flight control commander said it best when it became apparent after the second plane crashed into the World Trade Centre.

"This is war."