Do we still dare to speak out against anti-social behavior?

In July I enjoyed a weekend of holiday in the Dutch province of Zeeland with my family. At one moment I was riding a bicycle with my brother, his wife, their baby and Stephanie in northern direction over the Oosterscheldekering and we arrived at a sluice called the Roompotsluis. Both bridges over this sluice are not wide enough to allow simultaneous passage of two cars, yet traffic from both directions is allowed. So drivers have to allow other drivers to pass if they arrive at the bridge at the same time.

At the moment we arrived at the eastern bridge over this sluice two drivers wanted to pass over the bridge. From the norther direction came a car with an older couple, around sixty years of age. From the southern half a Mercedes Benz SUV drove on, with a couple approximately fifty years old. Both drivers obviously wanted to pass the bridge first and didn’t want to let the other pass first. Both stopped on the bridge itself, with the noses of their cars facing each other.

While we drove on the bridge the driver of the Mercedes Benz stepped out to do something about the impasse that had arisen. I could have thought of many ways to solve the situation with good deliberation. Throw a coin, be the first to guess a number under ten. Or just simply giving the other driver some room and letting them pass first. But Mercedes man had other ideas. He stepped out, walked over to the other driver’s opened window and said approximately “I was first and if you don’t make way now I’ll do something to you”. I didn’t follow exactly what happened next, but it looked like the other driver didn’t say anything in response. In any case, the Mercedes man walked back to his car and the other driver drove backwards.

While he was walking back to his car we passed him at the center of the bridge. For some reason it always takes some time before these kinds of stressful situations with anti-social behavior register with me. A few seconds later we had passed the bridge and I said we should have told the Mercedes man that his behavior was unacceptable. My brother and his wife responded that they had ignored the event because my brother was vulnerable with their baby in the cargo bicycle. And because the Mercedes man could later use his car to ram us off the road.

I’m ashamed of myself for doing nothing, because I don’t consider my ‘freezing’ to be an excuse. In my rich fantasy the event keeps replaying, with alternative endings based on how I respond. In one version I have such a commanding presence that I convince the Mercedes man to apologize to the other driver for his threat. In another version I seethe with anger as soon as I hear the threat being uttered. I grab the Mercedes man by the collar and shake him up while I, screaming, make him clear how far he has crossed the line. Then the Mercedes man feels for himself what it is like to be on the receiving end of intimidation.

It is reasonable to consider whether intervention in this kind of situation is wise or not. If a group of drunk people passes me at night in a deserted street and exhibits aggressive behavior I would also avoid them and call the police at a safe distance. However, I get the idea that we make to choice against intervention too easily. The Mercedes man wasn’t drunk and was accompanied by his wife in his car. In the unlikely event of a fight I or my brother would have easily gotten the better of him. It didn‘t seem likely that he would damage his expensive car to ram us off the road a moment later. He behaved sufficiently rational to realize that his license plate would have been remembered. If every one of us in our group would have spoken out against his threat he most likely would have been scared off.

All of this is of course reasoning in hindsight, but the question is what kind of society we want to live. A risk averse society in which everyone has to fend for themselves, or a society in which we dare to stand up for strangers? De other driver who was intimidated by the Mercedes man must have seen us abandoning him. We can always think of some reason why we shouldn’t address others if their behavior is out of line. But what if you were that other driver? Would you have had sympathy for a group of cyclists who pass you and act as if they hear no threatening language?

I remember an event from about fifteen years ago quite well. When I was walking through the center of Culemborg a man on a moped was driving aggressively through the traffic. He snapped at a woman on a bicycle that she had to move out of the way. Almost directly he was called out on his behavior by another man on a bike, who told him resolutely that his behavior was detestable. The man on the moped, obviously surprised, drove along calm and quiet. There were more people around, but the man on the bicycle was the only one who intervened. My memory of this event is so clear because I look up to this man. Someone who, given an acceptable risk, stands up for others and reprimands bad behavior without freezing.

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Why is there such a geographic variety in hospitality?

On the website of the Dutch travel TV program 3 op Reis I’ve recently started watching all the episodes I’ve missed since the start of the program. The program captured my interest since I zapped to it accidentally a few weeks ago. Right now I’m at episode fifteen of the first season, of five seasons with 110 episodes in total so far. In the first season the presenter Floortje Dessing makes a long journey from Amsterdam to Bhutan through Europe and Asia. When she leaves Europe and Asia I notice that the population is much more hospitable to her. When she leaves Ukraine and arrives in Georgia, she is given breads for free by a baker. Later in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and and especially Iran she receives gifts and is invited for dinner or parties even more often. Of course I’ve merely seen fifteen episodes of the first season and a few more of the last season of only one travel program so far, but I detect a general tendency that some Asian cultures are much more hospitable than Western cultures. The question if that is indeed the case prompted me to write this post.

From my personal experience I remember when I was on vacation with my family in the west of the USA, in Zion National Park. When we stopped our car along the road in the middle of nowhere to enjoy the scenery, two cars drove by. Both stopped, with one driver taking our photo because he noticed us taking photos and another driver because he was concerned our car might have broken down. But I’ve experienced generous hospitality even more in Nepal: I was invited to weddings and dinners often and I was even given a place to sleep for free in a private home by Uttam and Meena. But, being such a rational person I’m not going to trust my and other’s anecdotal evidence alone, so I fired up Google Scholar. It was a bit difficult to find studies on the subject because unrefined and even more refined search terms return articles on the hospitality industry, but after filtering I read two interesting articles.

In a study of the hospitality of the Jordanian Balga Bedouin, Shryock (2004) writes that for these (formerly) nomadic people, hospitality was/is a means of public security. They are hospitable to strangers because they might one day be strangers themselves in need of hospitality when they have traveled for a long distance and are in need of food and a place to sleep. It is like a tax they voluntarily accept from each other, comparable to the Golden Rule they treat others how they would like to be treated themselves. Yet, the hospitality in its purest form is disappearing because now there is a government which imposes taxes and provides social security, among other influences of modernization. In the past hospitality served as a substitute for government (p. 48–51). But still, hospitality has it’s uses. Hospitality should impress your guests who will then spread the word about your hospitality, increasing your reputation (p. 36–37). A greater reputation gives you fame and influence. (p. 54-–55). While Shryock’s article is behind a paywall, you can read a shorter news article explaining his findings more briefly.

Lashley (2008) combines multiple social science perspectives to explain hospitality. He describes a common theme of religious and cultural factors as motives for hospitality (p. 71–72). In the studies he cites reciprocity is a red thread. What is very interesting is how people from a remote tribe in Indonesia invite tourists to their celebrations, even though the tourists are not able to offer reciprocal hospitality (because tourists stay for only a short time). They do not feel there is a lack of reciprocity however, because tourists bring news from the outside world and feel honored by the presence of tourists (p. 74). But there is also much discussion about what genuine hospitality is. Another scientist is cited who argues that genuine hospitality is fueled by altruism, which includes the following motives (p. 75):

  • the desire to please others, stemming from general friendliness and benevolence or from affection for particular people; concern or compassion;
  • the desire to meet another’s need;
  • a desire to entertain one’s friends or to help those in trouble;
  • a desire to have company or to make friends, and the desire for the pleasures of entertaining – what we may call the wish to entertain as a pastime.

The paper ends with a conclusion mentioning that cultural and religious obligations to be hospitable no longer have a weaker moral force in mature industrialized societies (p. 83).

I think the hospitality given to me by Uttam and Meena definitely falls in the category of genuine hospitality. Since then I’ve had a desire to offer them hospitality in return, but that’s not realistic because it’s unlikely I will meet them again in the near future. I probably have done something in return for their hospitality already by doing volunteer work in their country and helping Meena with teaching English. But if I can’t offer it to them, I can offer it to others. As soon as I’ll move out of my parent’s house (maybe this year or the next) and get my own place to live, I intend to sign up for CouchSurfing so I can provide others with hospitality.


Lashley, C. (2008). Studying hospitality: Insights from social sciences. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 8(1), 69–84.
Shryock, A. (2004). The new Jordanian hospitality: House, host, and guest in the culture of public display. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 46(1), 35–62.

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Adaptation to cold and winter swimming

Since I’ve seen a Dutch news report on Siberian winters last Friday I have been fascinated by how some (or many?) people in cold environments can adapt to very low temperatures. In the news report they cover ice fishing on the Ob river near Barnaul. Let me translate it for those who don’t know Dutch.

Reporter: it is -27 ℃, the ice one and half meters thick. But the Siberians here don’t think it’s cold at all, it is ‘just’ -27 ℃, they say.

Siberian: what do you mean, cold? I don’t even have my jacket on. Are you making a joke? It is warm today, it’s not cold at all! We think it’s cold when it’s -42 ℃, -25 ℃ is warm and if it’s -15 ℃ it is so warm that it isn’t interesting to come any more. Then it’s like summer.

Reporter: tents provide some protection against the cold, but seasoned Siberians like Aleksandr don’t even need those.

Aleksandr: why would I need a tent? The sun shines! Today it’s extremely hot, it’s beautiful, it’s a delight to sit here.

Both Siberians which are interviewed are ice fishing without any gloves on, with their bare hands. The comment about -27 ℃ being extremely hot seems like hyperbole to me, because the average high for Barnaul in July is 26,2 ℃ according to Wikipedia. But they’re not bragging if they have no qualms about exposing their bare hands in that low temperature. The Wikipedia article on frostbite mentions that some individuals and population groups are more resistant to frostbite because of their adaptation and exposure to very cold environments. Curious as I was, I decided to fire up Google Scholar to learn more.

A more recent article by Daanen (2003) which is cited often gives a review on cold-induced vasodilation (CIVD). I noticed this term doesn’t have an article on Wikipedia yet so I hope to write one in the near future myself. When the finger tips are exposed to cold CIVD usually occurs after five or ten minutes and is believed to reduce the risk of injuries from cold exposure. People who are often exposed to local cold such as fish filleters develop an increased CIVD response with an earlier onset, and race (along with many other factors) also plays a role with black people having the weakest CIVD response. Further on in the article adaptation and acclimatisation are elaborated on, with a large table showing the large differences in CIVD obtained from many prior experiments.

However, the notion that black people would have an inherently inferior CIVD response as the introduction of the article seems to indicate is put into perspective at that point. One experiment showed that tropical residents who lived in an Arctic region for seven weeks acclimatized and showed the same CIVD response as the Arctic natives. Caucasians had a lower CIVD response than Japanese, but when the Japanese were compared with Caucasians living in the same region in Japan there was no difference. Therefore the conclusion is that ambient factors such as acclimatisation and diet may be more important than ethnic differences. The article concludes that while it is difficult to distinguish between the effect of adaptation and acclimatisation, people born in cold regions and people who expose their hands to cold for a prolonged period of time have an increased CIVD response.

We had some very cold weather in the Netherlands for the last weeks, see this graph with the grey line showing the normal average temperature for February and the blue and red line showing minimum and maximum temperature respectively. After witnessing the Siberians on the news I thought I should be able to handle the cold without gloves too, but it was not an easy ordeal. Let’s take last Monday for example, February the 6th. According to the graph the minimum temperature was -15 ℃ and the maximum -3 ℃. That day started with me going to the bus stop. Without gloves my hands felt cold and painful initially but after approximately ten minutes the pain went away and I regained the sensation in my fingers. However, later I had to wait at Utrecht Central Station and Rotterdam Central Station for delayed trains. As such, after my hands had warmed up in the bus they had to cool down again two times. These subsequent periods were much more painful for my hands and my CIVD response seemed to take a lot longer to kick in.

It seems like I still have a long way to go until I can compete with the Siberians, and right now it looks we’re going to see warmer weather in the Netherlands for the rest of the winter, without temperatures below freezing during the day. Not that I expected that increasing my acclimatisation would be easy. But even if the freezing temperatures are going away, there still is another solution, winter swimming.

Yesterday I watched the short documentary The Ice Tribe on YouTube, which shows ordinary Finnish people enjoying ice swimming. That’s winter swimming in a hole in the ice, in this case with a water temperature of 0 ℃. There are more video’s on YouTube showing this, for example a Estonian women even dives under the ice without too much discomfort. These persons do seem to have some experience which enables them to endure the cold water for at least one minute, because other videos show inexperienced people quickly leaving the water within ten seconds. And I was thinking only supernatural persons like our Wim Hof, the Dutch Iceman, could pull off feats like that.

What is notable is that the ice swimmers in the documentary describe ice swimming as a great experience. Some scientific research has been done on the benefits of winter swimming, with the consensus being that it indeed provides physical and psychological benefits. In their introduction Siems, Brenke, Sommerburg and Grune (1999) argue that we have effectively become weaklings thanks to our modern Western society because we protect ourselves so well from cold and heat stresses with heating and air conditioning. This sounds very familiar to me, with my sister and brother who are eager to turn up the heating to 21 ℃ with the recent cold temperatures here.

This absence of cold and heat stress is suggested to have led to a greater incidence of disease. These negative consequences can be partly prevented by exercise and body hardening, with cold exposure being a traditional example of hardening. They report that previous studies have revealed that winter swimmers contract infectious diseases much less often. They researched experienced winter swimmers who swim at least once per week in ice-cold water for about five, but not more than ten, minutes. Their research concludes that winter swimmers have a better defence system against oxidative stress than the Average Joe. Similarly, Huttunen, Kokko and Ylijukur (2004) also conclude from their experiment that winter swimming significantly improves general well-being.

So, if both anecdotal and scientific evidence says it’s good I want to start doing it too. There are several large bodies of water in my neighbourhood which are suitable for swimming, but I think it’s too much trouble to make a short trip to go winter swimming. I could fill the hot tub in the garden without heating it up, but this is also troublesome for me because a hot tub needs a lot of water before it’s filled and it needs to be cleaned because it’s exposed outside. What seems like a better idea to me are cold showers. This alternative is easy, saves water and saves gas for heating. With the current temperatures I like standing in the shower for a long time with very warm water. Today I’ve taken a shower with lukewarm water without any discomfort, and plan to lower the temperature each time for successive showers until the water doesn’t get heated at all. Unheated water from a water pipe is probably not 0 ℃ even in the winter here, but it should do. Maybe I’ll switch to hot water for a minute to finish off, but from now on I’ll be taking ‘winter’ showers and doing myself, my father’s wallet and the environment a favour.


Daanen, H.A.M. (2003). Finger cold-induced vasodilation: A reviewEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(5), 411–426.
Huttunen, P., L. Kokko and V. Ylijukur (2004). Winter swimming improves general well-being. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 63(2), 140–144.
Siems, W.G., R. Brenke, O. Sommerburg and T. Grune (1999). Improved antioxidative protection in winter swimmers. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 92(4), 193–198.

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The problem with capitalism

On Wednesday the 19th of October the documentary Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) by Michael Moore was broadcast by the Belgian Flemish channel Canvas. In its subject matter there are similarities with the documentary Inside Job (2010) I mentioned earlier, but the style of both documentaries is quite different. The makers of Inside Job took a serious, objective approach, interviewing people and explaining events in the history of the financial world. Moore does the same but broadens the subject. He isn’t objective but subjective, polemical and demonstrates a great sense of humour with a lot of sarcasm and cynism. What I dislike are his silly antics to grab attention, such as him driving a truck for money transport to the banks to demand the return of the taxpayer’s money.

In the Netherlands we also have some problems with greed, even if it’s not as bad as in the USA. In the Netherlands there is a rule that public administrators and servants shouldn’t be paid salaries higher than that of the prime minister at € 188.000 a year, the so-called Balkenendenorm, named after the prime minister who was in power at the time when the rule came into existence. Recently it was revealed that Nurten Albayrak, the director of the COA (the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers), thought that the rule didn’t apply to her. She enjoyed a salary of € 273.000 and tried to get an Audi A8 to replace her old car, which is against the rules because that car is too expensive. Fortunately this fraud was unmasked by journalists and now she’s on suspension, likely to be fired after an investigation. The inconvenient truth for me is that this despicable person is also a member of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, the VVD. As readers of my Dutch weblog can relate I’ve already figured out that a relatively large percentage of the members of my party are prone to greed.

Now another example from the corporate world. During March this year the troubled Dutch bank ING was heavily criticised because it wanted to pay bonuses again to its top executives while it still hadn’t paid back the Dutch state for its bailout. The CEO Jan Hommen thought a bonus of € 1,25 million on top of his salary of € 1,35 million would have been adequate compensation for him, but he and his cronies who have an insatiable lust for money backed off after public outcry. Had there been no complaints they would have went ahead, why should they care about the massive inequality of their income with the average Dutch person? That was March, but I’ve got a good memory. As soon as my bank account at ING is no longer free when I get my master’s degree (yes, it’s free for students) I’m going to switch to a more ethical bank like Triodos Bank or ASN Bank as soon as possible. Remember, like Moore said the masses can change the game when they think enough is enough, vote with your wallet!

When Moore started comparing the Christian view on capitalism with the practices of Wall Street we saw a fragment of a banker calling Wall Street holy ground, but I had something different in mind. I still remember that CEO of Goldman Sachs which reminds me far too much of Dr. Evil, Lloyd Blankfein, saying in an interview that he was doing God’s work. Later Goldman Sachs dismissed it as a joke, but had the interview been published while Moore’s documentary was still in production, it’s inclusion would have been priceless.

It’s a pity these people with their extravagant salaries do not have any notion of frugality, like Cincinnatus, Jesus or Gandhi had for example. Currently in the USA CEO’s of large companies earn 364 times as much as the average worker. Not too long ago the difference was much smaller. The USA should start taxing the rich more again, which would have already happened if the Republicans would not have blocked Obama’s proposals. In Europe  we’re tougher on executive compensation, and we already hear complaints from European banks that it’s harder for them to attract talent because the rules are not so tough elsewhere. Ideally, we could fix this by imposing a tax rate of 100% for, say, all income above € 500.000 a year. I know that’s not going to happen any time soon and the idea might be a bit too leftist for a liberal like me, but I don’t see any other solution when the current distribution of wealth in the world is a far cry from justice.

On the other hand, I’m not sure if I would be opposed to high (but not disproportionate) salaries if a person is actually ‘worth’ his or her salary. This is a difficult issue, but take a look at this article (Dutch, English people could use Google Translate) for example about presenters working for the Dutch public broadcasters earning higher salaries than the Balkenendenorm I mentioned earlier. On the one hand you could say that it’s not principally right that a presenter employed by a public broadcaster makes more than the prime minister. On the other hand, if you’d consider the increased income generated with advertising due to the work of the presenter and this income minus the salary of the presenter turns out to be more than the income generated by a presenter with less skills who is paid much less, then it’s easier to see why it would be justified.

As a concluding remark, I don’t think capitalism is necessarily a problem. Everything should be enjoyed in moderation, it only becomes a problem when an economy is in imbalance on the scale between capitalism and socialism, or in other words the scale with completely free market economy being one extreme and a completely planned economy on the extreme. The USA leans more towards the free market, while most European nations are more balanced mixed economies. There does not seem to be a correlation between these observations I just mentioned and the placement of the USA and European nations on the Human Development Index, which the USA scoring higher than the majority of European nations. However, when we look at the comparisons with the Gini coefficient and the Human Poverty Index we see far more difference. To continue my comparison, the statistics for homicide by country show a similar correlation. Statistics aside, we don’t have neighbourhoods as bad as in the USA in the Netherlands, we have much less poverty and we never had evictions on a scale like in the USA when the crisis hit us. That’s why I think the mixed economies of many European nations are superior in to the economic system of the USA.

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Ancient art versus modern art

In my post about my visit to London I mentioned seeing Ancient Greek pottery in the British Museum. The finest examples of their pottery are painted and display a wide variety of scenes ranging from daily life, war, symposia (drinking parties), the heroes of Greek mythology, sports and the gods. The users of the pottery must have been proud of their cultural heritage, they probably had quite an ego as well considering how much the Greeks enjoyed feeling superior over the ‘barbarians’, a term which they invented.

While painted pottery was expensive and the lower social classes used undecorated pottery, the painted pottery was used by the elite in their daily life. The functions of the pottery are geared for use in daily life (for the uninitiated, consulting the Wikipedia article on ‘Pottery of Ancient Greece’ will enlighten you) just like Ancient Greek philosophy was supposed to be applied to daily life instead of being restricted to discussions and writing. The scenes displayed on some of the pottery indicate that they were used for specific activities, the pottery painted with scenes of symposia were likely to be used for that activity, one would assume.

Fast forward to today, approximately two and half millennia later, and most of the pottery we use is undecorated, despite our massive wealth in comparison to ancient times. Many Dutch retail chains don’t sell decorated pottery at all, and if it is decorated it’s meant for children. Many households don’t have any art on display at all. Art is no longer part of our daily lives, we don’t seem to appreciate art as much as in past times anymore.

What has also changed is our taste for art. The painted Greek pottery is beautiful and the painters who produced it were obviously highly skilled. When it comes to modern art, I really like the work of the Impressionist school such as the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. I like Pablo Picasso’s Cubism. But after that taste rapidly deteriorates in the 20th century. For example, take a look at the work of the Dutch painter Piet Mondriaan. He produced paintings consisting of solid colour squares bordered by black lines, which intersect other black lines, on a white background. I won’t say it’s ugly, abstract art can be nice. But anyone could that with even the simplest of painting applications. Mondriaan might have had an original idea which he developed, but the work he produced doesn’t require skills or mastery, it lacks uniqueness as anyone who is unskilled could have done it. But there is a point where this pattern in modern art (a container term for all modern art which, admittedly, so far only includes painting in my critique) crosses the line: the work of Barnett Newman. Even if he spent 43 years to arrive at that style, so what? It still nonsense and it’s irrelevant that some art critics think it’s great, good art doesn’t need critics for it to be appreciated.

While the old arts such as painting are in decline – I’m sure there are still good painters out there, but the fact that museums spend a lot of money on unworthy paintings just sets the tone for this period of time – it’s comforting to see that other arts flourish in our day. Literature, film, photography and more recently video games are an important part of our popular culture and give us contentment with their artistic achievements.

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Are sunglasses a necessity?

With the beginning of spring the weather has been very good in The Netherlands for the past week. Temperatures hovered around 15 ℃, and quite a few days were cloudless with constant sunshine. So I sat in the garden for long hours, studying the literature for my upcoming exams. Yesterday my father noticed me reading in the garden without sunglasses. He wears sunglasses all the time, and advised me to wear them too in order to protect my eyes from the sun. I should especially remember to take along sunglasses when we visit the USA in the summer. I refused, because I don’t think they were necessary.

My line of thinking is that if you see images from sunny places like Iraq or Afghanistan on the TV you almost never see the indigenous population wearing sunglasses, only western soldiers are frequently seen wearing them. You practically never see the Tuareg with sunglasses either, and if anyone would need them it would probably be them; they’re pastoralist desert nomads living in the Sahara and hence should probably experience the most sunshine, spend the least amount of time in the shadow or in their tents. I haven’t seen Afghans, Iraqi’s or Tuareg wearing hats either to protect their eyes from the sun. Another fact is that  sunglasses started to become widely adopted at the beginning of the twentieth century according to the Wikipedia article on sunglasses. So, assuming that sunglasses are a necessity for protecting the eyes from harmful sunlight, there should be ample of evidence that a huge amount of people who lived before the twentieth century should have suffered from eye damage. I have not been able to find such evidence, however.

After consulting Google, I found this article which claims that sunglasses are not necessary. It does mention a reservation however, if you are exposed to sunlight for too long (how long is not specified) you do have a higher risk of developing cataracts. Apparantly ’numerous studies have found that people living in high-intensity UV areas such as the equator have a higher incidence of cataracts than people living where UV is less intense’. There are also many results showing up on Google which tell me the contrary, that sunglasses are necessary for protection or at least give a less nuanced view than the article I just mentioned. This article for example, but I question the objectivity because it is written by a salesman of sunglasses.

As a scientist like me is obliged to do, I also fired up the scientific search engines like JSTOR and Google Scholar provided by my university’s library. Scientific articles confirm that sunlight can damage the eye, that sunglasses can protect the eye [1] and that sunlight is a cause of the development of cataracts [2]. But they do not tell me how much exposure, in amount of time or intensity, is required for the eye to be damaged. Other articles illustrate that results of studies vary, one study [2] asserts that wearing a hat or sunglasses do not alleviate the risk of developing ocular melanoma while another study [3] demonstrates that sunglasses do play a role in preventing the development of nuclear cataract. Different diseases of course, but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier. The question ‘how much is safe’ remains unanswered according to the fifth article [5]. The fifth article is also interesting because it questions the danger of sunlight for the eye under normal circumstances, based on the lack of scientific consensus.

With regards to sunglasses, I think I’ll take the middle ground. I won’t deny sunglasses have their merits, I’d certainly wear them during winter sport vacations because of the risk posed by snow blindness. When I was reading my books in the garden I also noticed sunglasses are more comfortable because the mostly white pages of books reflect a lot of sunlight, they’re a bit too bright for my eyes to keep looking at the pages for hours. But I’m not giving in to the exaggerated sunlight scare. The Netherlands doesn’t have as much sunny days as warmer countries, I don’t do much sunbathing, I don’t have a job which requires working in the outdoors for long periods. I try to avoid long exposure to sunlight anyway because prolonged exposure can be dangerous for the skin. In other words, I don’t think I’m running a significant risk if I’m outdoors without sunglasses for some hours.


  1. Frederik J. G. M. van Kuijk. “Effects of Ultraviolet Light on the Eye: Role of Protective Glasses”. Environmental Health Perspectives 96 (1991), pp. 77–184.
  2. Cécile Delcourt et al. “Light Exposure and the Risk of Cortical, Nuclear, and Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts”. Arch Ophthalmol 118 (2000), pp. 385–392.
  3. Anthony R. Pane and Lawrence W. Hirst. “Ultraviolet light exposure as a risk factor for ocular melanoma in Queensland, Australia”. Neuro-Ophthalmology 7:3 (2000), pp. 159–167.
  4. Rachel E. Neale, Jennifer L. Purdie, Lawrence W. Hirst and Adèle C. Green. “Sun Exposure as a Risk Factor for Nuclear Cataract”. Epidemiology 14:6 (2003), pp. 707–712.
  5. David H. Sliney. “Photoprotection of the eye – UV radiation and sunglasses”. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology 64 (2001), pp. 166–175.

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Postmodernist nonsense?

Today I was searching the Internet for ideas on writing a position paper for a course I’m following this period. The course could be translated as ‘fundamentals of history’ as it aims to teach students the principles of the science of history. For this course a position paper needs to written consisting of approximately 1.500 words, this seems like a walk in the park after you just finished writing a bachelor’s thesis of 12.000 words. I’ll blog about that later. The subject of the position paper I had in mind was criticizing the Sonderweg thesis in favor of the chaos theory.

While searching on ‘chaos theory hitler’ (to filter results which relate chaos theory with nazism, because the Sonderweg thesis is related to nazism) I stumbled on this blog post by Anders Rasmussen. Rasmussen writes many interesting things, but I was specifically interested by his post on postmodernism. I agree with him that certain texts can utilize a smokescreen in the form of difficult language, making it difficult to dissect the information they provide and that once dissected the provided information could disappoint. I’ve been told Foucault and Kant can be hard to understand, I haven’t read those myself. I also often question the benefit of certain areas of science, a lot of scientific knowledge in the field of the humanities doesn’t provide the public or scientists with any benefits except for the satisfaction of our curiosity.

Rasmussen targets Judith Butler specifically. I agree his citation of Butler is incomprehensible, but I’ve had to read Butler during the course ‘Research Seminar 3’ which had ‘history of the body’ as it’s subject. Butler’s insights on gender were quite interesting in my experience, fortunately Butler has also written works which are sanely understandable.

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Productivity advice

Recently I read Planet GNOME and found this blog post by Nat Friedman. He links to a blog post of Marc Andreessen. I think he gives some great productivity advice, I will certainly try the method of writing a short list of three to five items to do the next day. In turn, he links to an essay on structured procrastination in his blog post. This is especially useful to me as a notorious procrastinator, I’ll try to follow the advice.

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Free will, and the self-contradiction of omnipotence?

Wikipedia provides an article on free will, which links to Plantinga’s free will defense. Quote:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.

And also:

Plantinga’s argument is that even though God is omnipotent, it is possible that it was not in his power to create a world containing moral good but no moral evil; therefore, there is no logical inconsistency involved when God, although wholly good, creates a world of free creatures who chose to do evil.

I think the defense is flawed. First, it starts with a value judgment which is subjective, and which I can’t agree with either. Why is an non-free world without evil less valuable than a free world with evil? I wouldn’t hesitate to choose for the non-free world without evil, I’d be happy with the illusion of having a free will. For all we know we could be living in a world with such an illusion of free will right now. Of course it is much more valuable if people would decide to do good out of free will instead of a non-free will, but that’s just one aspect of the value of free will which pales in importance when compared to the value of the absence of evil.

I agree that God couldn’t cause free creatures to do good because that would cancel out their free will. But, as is also clarified in the second quote, Plantinga thinks that ‘even though God is omnipotent, it is possible that it was not in his power (etcetera)’. Another flaw, because being omnipotent means that nothing is impossible. Of course it all depends on how omnipotence is defined, and I’m merely giving my interpretation of omnipotence here. In the end it all comes down to that and all the logic to construct the defense is useless.

Apparently I’m discussing the omnipotence paradox, which is also covered by Wikipedia, so unfortunately I’m not thinking of something new. After reading all of it I think it present some clever solutions, such as that omnipotent beings cannot do the logically impossible while still retaining their omnipotence. But that’s only true if you assume the being is not accidentally omnipotent. The solution presented by Descartes is totally lame because it says omnipotent beings aren’t constrained by logic. If omnipotent beings are placed outside logic, you can’t describe them with logic either and they become meaningless.

All thought about omnipotence is pointless anyway, because it was probably invented by people who did not consider the logical problems of the concept. Only gods are considered to be omnipotent and they haven’t been proven to exist through the use of the scientific method.

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Global warming and measures to reduce energy consumption

In the past I had my doubts about global warming, but since I’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth I’m convinced that the danger is real. It is true that the documentary contains some errors, but those who deny climate change sometimes use these errors as a pretext to denounce An Inconvenient Truth in it’s entirety. Often they point at the other documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, to prove that global warming is not caused by human activity. The Wikipedia article describing The Great Global Warming Swindle convinces me that it is pseudoscience, the evidence linking global warming to human causes is far more convincing to me.

Even if you are a skeptic, it never hurts to consume less energy for savings on the electricity bill or petrol costs. Recently I’ve been considering to replace the remaining incandescent light bulbs in my house with LED lamps. My parents prefer incandescent light bulbs because it’s possible to use them in combination with a dimmer, unfortunately fluorescent lamps are not compatible with the same dimmers as incandescent light bulbs. Certain LED lamps are compatible with dimmers used for incandescent light bulbs. However, LED lamps still have disadvantages. Recent research (in the Dutch language) conducted on a selection of LED lamps revealed that they do not meet their specified levels of luminous intensity (and as a consequence, neither their claimed efficiency) and that their life expectancy has not been proven. Here in the Netherlands they aren’t easy to find in stores, but there are quite some Internet stores which sell them. Unfortunately they are still very expensive, so I think it’s best to wait until improved designs are available for a lower price. I’ll make sure to replace every incandescent light bulb which does not need to be dimmed with a fluorescent lamp though.

Another important measure is using a bike or public transport instead of a car. Some of my family members still insist on using a car for short distances which can be covered with a bike. It’s hard to convince them to change, but I reduce my car usage as much as possible. My PC consumes quite a lot, an average of 180 Watt when I play a game. Saving energy is a bit more difficult here, but in the near future I want to buy an ultraportable laptop which consumes far less energy. I could also use it as an alternative for my PC in certain cases when I don’t need much processing power for gaming. When it comes to water consumption, I think I should spend less time on taking a shower, usually I take quite a long time for that.

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