Comfortable and Charming: Campus Life in the USA

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May 12, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online

By Lobke van Meijel

Living university life on a beautiful campus made for some of the most influential reasons why I still call my time in Chapel Hill (NC) the best time of my life so far.  Simultaneously, it was one of the subtler ways through which my exchange became such a success. Today I want to discuss campus life on American universities a bit more. Why is it so attractive, and are there potential threats to campus life still?   

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Let’s go back to August 12, 2015. I was sitting in a bus departing Durham, a town I would soon know as the hometown of the worst university in the States: Dook. As I got off the bus in a little place called Chapel Hill, a large first park that was part of the college campus was immediately in sight. I worked my way through the amazingly green place, walked past UNC’s most controversial statue of a confederate soldier and made my way to the Old Well. Things quickly fell into place. This would soon become an awesome home base for the next four months.

Every campus in the USA is different, but most campuses have many things in common. These common grounds can often bring comfort to the thousands of students living on the same lands, and sometimes even in strange ways.

For one, campus life quite literally brings everything closer and within an arm’s reach. In Groningen I was living and studying in the city. In Chapel Hill, all non-student residents were living in a town catered almost completely to its university. From my residence hall I could walk to all my classes in under ten minutes. I could go to the dining hall in under five minutes, where I had enough options to eat healthy or like a carb-depraved cavewoman. Going to sports games, a Christian studying place, the swimming pool, the library, the bars and supermarkets… Everything could be accessed within 20 minutes of walking.

Schermafbeelding 2017-05-12 om 10.47.45In addition to having all these services and accommodations close by, we also should not forget the people using these services and accommodations. In Chapel Hill, I sprinted to my classes along with hundreds of other students. The social center of campus, also known as the Pit, was crowded everyday as students organized cookouts, dances, bible study sessions, and came together for activist purposes. Over 200 student organizations gathered together on this campus, and among the thousands of people there was always somebody to do something fun with.

I was never alone. I am convinced that living together and sharing similar experiences in terms of undertaking the same activities, going to the same bars and eating the same foods (even if it is instant ramen) can bring students together as a community: they can identify with each other at least on these basic levels. Campus life probably is a big part of school spirit—after all, if the sports games that America’s school spirit is known for weren’t so close by, would they still be so popular? Even when finals were coming up, we were all sitting in the library halls until 2 AM. It might not make the learning any more fun, but suffering collectively has a certain charm and wit to it which makes the all-nighters bearable.

A third reason why campus life felt like a breeze was the way in which money was taken care of right from the beginning. To be fair, this can be a pro or a huge con: if you don’t have heaps of cash available at once, it’s difficult to pay all the bills upfront. However, if you can make a loan or borrow money from your folks, it’s a deafening blow at first but a breeze from then on. I already purchased my right to make use of the campus pool, gyms and all other kinds of accommodations well before the semester started. I had a meal plan and a “flex card” which allowed me to get food inside and outside the dining halls without having to hand over a single dollar. As long as I was on campus, I never had to worry about spending too much money—everything was already taken care of from the start.

Schermafbeelding 2017-05-12 om 10.48.04These things became some of the prime reasons why I personally felt right at home on the UNC Chapel Hill campus. But I recognize that campus life may be much more dark than the picture I painted here. When somebody’s talking about campus life, we must also be aware of some of its downsides. For instance, in the Netherlands we talk about moving away from your folks in terms of finally building some independence and gaining valuable ‘adulting’ skills. In the United States many students move away thousands of miles from their parents, but they end up in a bubble—protected by their peers and the easy access to everything they need. The easy access to everything makes it even easier to avoid learning useful skills like cooking a decent meal. It may cause an atmosphere in which students—who come to campus to learn—end up only meeting people with similar outlooks on life.

In addition, it’s well known that American campuses are not always safe places for students around the world. For instance, campus rape situations mark even the best schools—also at UNC. Campus shootings still happen—also at UNC. And statistically, USA university campuses make up some of the worst spots in the Western world if we talk about mental health—also at UNC. Of course, these dangerous, sometimes even potentially lethal situations are not caused by campus life alone, but campus life can be a facilitating factor. Such problems need to be addressed whenever one is critically assessing the advantages and disadvantages of campus life.

For me personally, campus life at UNC was great. I still reminisce about my nights walking back from the Daily Tar Heel to my residence hall after a busy day, just enjoying the pretty trees and the squirrels under the dimmed lights and watching other students playing football or chatting together on their quads. UNC offered me so much, and I made the most out of every minute I was there. Somehow, though, among all of the thrilling activities and fantastic trips to wonderful locations, these nights walking back to my dorm room and amazing roommate became some of my most treasured memories. No matter how quiet and uneventful they seemed at first.

What’s in a game?

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April 28, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online

by Hanne Nijtmans

When considering culture, we discuss movies, literature, TV-series and even sports events. Yet one big domain of culture is often left out in this equation: video games. Except for the Special Topic “Virtually American,” which is no longer available, this area of cultural production is almost completely left out in our program. This might for one be because video games suffer from the stigma that they are only played by fifteen-year old boys. The statistics, however, prove this wrong. About sixty-five percent of the American households play video games, and the average age of the players is thirty-two years old. Furthermore, two out of five gamers is female. Another reason might be that games are mainly made for commercial purposes, but then again, so are movies and TV-series. However, games are harder to analyze than other forms of popular culture, as in many games there is no clear storyline. But the one thing that all games have in common, which hardly any other medium has, is the agency of the player. Gamers can decide for themselves how they want to proceed in a game. The amount of agency is dependent on the game itself: open-world games such as World of Warcraft or Red Dead Redemption allow for much more agency than Sonic or Mario. The more extensive the game, the more interesting the analysis.

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Just shooting around?
If there is this huge open-world game such as Red Dead Redemption, situated in the Wild West, where you can spend over thirty hours exploring maps, killing coyotes, and enjoying yourself in saloons, how then can you derive any meaning from that? In order to look into these games, scholar Ian Bogost suggests that one should look into the processes of the game. One of the processes of Red Dead Redemption is the honor-system. If you, as a player, decide to just ride around on your horse and shoot everything that moves, that influences the behavior of the Non-Player Characters (NPC’s) in the remainder of the game. People who normally would be inclined to help you now scarily run away and your bad behavior makes you a wanted person which makes bounty hunters, outlaws, and sheriffs come for you.
By implementing this system, the producers of this game show the player what moral behavior should be, and if the player decides to behave otherwise there will be consequences.

Another process in Red Dead Redemption is the content of the missions which you need to complete in order to complete the game. Surprisingly, the missions in Red Dead Redemption do not only include killing outlaws or chasing villains, but a substantial part of the first storyline in the game is to help farmer girl Bonnie out in the farm, which includes taming horses, herding cows, and protecting the crops against rabbits and the animals against the coyotes. These tasks need to be completed, or the player is unable to go to the next part in New Mexico. Interestingly, this ideal of farming reminds us to “the Americas II” and the Jeffersonian republic. The ideal that farmers are “the people of God” is echoed in this game, which is produced in 2011. The processes of this game embed lessons of morality and historical values which can only be found when one delves him or herself into the game and looks closely, as on the surface this game seems like “just a shooter.”

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So what?
Rockstar, the producing company, is situated in the United States, and it’s games are sold globally. However, it’s not just the games they sell, it’s also American norms, values, and stereotypes. Within the processes and the assumed agency, individualism, capitalism, and masculinity are rewarded and the storylines and the system of honor move players towards a certain way of thinking. These are just two out of many aspects that can be assessed in games, and this makes the inquiry of games much more layered and complex than what one might expect at first sight. As games are upcoming forms of media and they allow for new methods of research, this would greatly complement the program. Moreover, the fact that our American Studies program leaves out a billion-dollar business which touches the majority of American households, might implicate that our understanding of popular culture is outdated.

Rehabilitating a War Criminal: Bush Jr. on DeGeneres & Kimmel

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March 21, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online

By Aaron Magunna

As of lately, George W. Bush Jr., president of the United States from 2001 to 2009, started to appear on numerous talk shows on US-TV, namely The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!  Both shows have been applauded in the past for their liberal-progressive attitudes as well as their humorous, yet respectful discussion on controversial issues and topics.

This approach towards controversial issues is not applied to the former Republican president. Bush has been president during a pivotal time in US and world history and substantially shaped the role of the United States in the world. Him announcing “the war on terror” as a reaction to the 9/11-attacks continues to severely affect vast parts of the globe. The civil liberties of American citizens were curtailed, while parts of the Middle East were bombed into a parking lot, going hand in hand with the murder of non-combatants. The emergence of ISIS and the contemporary situation in the Middle East is, arguably, a direct result of the policies instigated by the Bush administration.

P100605ed-0117dh President George W. Bush addresses his remarks on the War on Terror, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005, speaking before the National Endowment for Democracy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. White House photo by Eric Draper

President George W. Bush addresses his remarks on the War on Terror, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005, speaking before the National Endowment for Democracy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. White House photo by Eric Draper

The armed forces of the US have committed war crimes throughout their occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. These crimes were authorized in a presidential memorandum in 2002, which provides evidence that Bush himself authorized the commitment of war crimes. These crimes included for instance torture (directly violating the Geneva Conventions), the humanitarian disregard for POWs, the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, and the use of drones throughout the Middle East, resulting in a yet undetermined number of civilian casualties.

This war was (and is) based on lies, justified by made-up facts. Bush and his neoconservative administration instigated this war, attempting to sustain the dominant role of the US as well as ensuring the access to oil fields. The Republican government lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the ties between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, as well as about the role and influence of the Taliban on 9/11. The Center for Public Integrity calculated that the Bush administration lied to the American people and the rest of the world 935 times about the reasons why it went to war in the Middle East. The price for the sustainment of the hegemonial role is henceforth quite literally paid in the blood of slaughtered civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kimmel and DeGeneres fail to address this topic, rather focussing on, for instance, the artwork produced by Bush after his time as president. DeGeneres, for example, addressed Bush releasing a book containing oil paintings of veterans wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead of focussing on the fact that the man sitting right in front of her is responsible for these injuries and deaths, she emphasizes the artwork conducted by a man who has actively encouraged war crimes during his role as commander-in chief.

george-w-bush-1488465104Article 86(2) of the Geneva Standard, commonly referred to as the “Yamashita Standard,” addresses command responsibility:
“The fact that a breach of this Protocol [the Geneva Conventions] was committed by a subordinate does not absolve his superiors from … responsibility … if they knew, or had information which should have enabled them to conclude in the circumstances at the time, that he was committing or about to commit such a breach and if they do not take all feasible measures within their  power to prevent or repress the breach.” 

Bush did not just know about the commitment of war crimes – he actively encouraged them. This makes Bush Jr., per definition, a war criminal. Instead of acknowledging this, Kimmel, for instance, sketches around with the former president, and talks about dating Richard Nixon’s daughter.

In both interviews, Bush is portrayed as a very likable person, while his partly disastrous role as head of state is not mentioned whatsoever. Kimmel and DeGeneres therefore help to politically and publicly rehabilitate a man who deserves to be tried as a war criminal in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He would certainly be in good company, following the footsteps of other very likable characters: Slobodan Milošević (died in 2006, tried for war crimes including genocide and crimes against humanity in the Balkan Wars), or numerous Rwandan Hutus, responsible for the slaughter of more than 800.000 member of the Tutsi minority in the space of a month in 1994.

For anyone interested in watching the interviews:

Kimmel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ir1hhpkwbo

Excerpt from The Ellen DeGeneres Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKeFXs8a0Xk

Fighting for Honor: Dueling in America

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March 1, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online

By Lobke van Meijel.

Those up to speed on their knowledge of Broadway musicals likely already know about the most famous duel in American history: the duel that led to the death of Founding Father and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.

In 1804, Alexander Hamilton was challenged to a duel by then-Vice President Aaron Burr. Both men almost despised one another, as Hamilton was actually working to prevent the (in his eyes) opportunist Burr from becoming President, and as Burr saw his political reputation and ambition being damaged by a meddling Hamilton. They took their personal issues to the ‘field of honor,’ a field in New Jersey where Hamilton had lost his son to a duel just two years earlier. Both men fired their guns, and one fell. Hamilton’s first bullet had missed Burr, and Burr had shot Hamilton in the torso. The Founding Father, who had written in a letter the night before the duel that he meant to miss Burr to end their conflict without bloodshed, died the next morning.

Arguably, Hamilton and Burr’s fatal duel is the most famous duel in American history. Yet it was remarkable in several aspects. For one, continued meddling in one’s career actually made for a somewhat understandable reason to demand justice. Additionally, duels seldom ended with fatalities.

16649492_968040836662995_1570319815215369899_nAmerican duels were practices of honor, often reserved for upper-class men in the South; politicians and lawyers. As a European ‘trial by combat,’ early colonists brought the ‘form of justice’ to American lands. Yet Americans stretched the historical basis of dueling, and transformed it almost into a sport to prove masculinity and honor. The Art of Manliness described dueling as “a way for men to publicly prove their courage and manliness. In such a society, the courts could offer a gentleman no real justice; the matter had to be resolved with the shedding of blood.”

These ‘matters’ could mean all kinds of things. Conflicts of all sorts and kinds had to be resolved with duels. Reputable duelist Charles Dickinson, for example, apparently cheated in a horse racing bet between Dickinson’s father-in-law and Andrew Jackson, who would go on to become a President with so much lead in his body that people described him as ‘rattling like a bag of marbles.’ The apparent cheating led to an insult-heaped conflict, which resulted in Dickinson insulting Jackson’s wife. As it turned out, Jackson had a special “angry place” reserved in his heart for all who insulted his wife, and could not let the insult go unpunished.

The men met in Kentucky and Dickinson took the first shot, which fired in between Jackson’s ribs. Jackson, who had survived many battles already, gave no kick and pulled his trigger as well. His gun did not fire, and an angry Jackson stroke again and fired a fatal bullet into Dickinson.

Despite his win, this duel led to great dishonorable shame for Jackson, who should not have fired the second shot and could have ended the duel with both men’s honor and lives in tact. In eighty percent of cases, duels were fights ‘to first blood,’ not to death. Moreover, duels were comprised of elaborate and cool processes. First, (public) letters were exchanged to try to solve a conflict peacefully. 16830970_968040756663003_8287283852265667536_nOnly when a peaceful resolution was out of order, a duel would be instigated. The challenged party could pick weapons. Guns took over the popular choice of weapon from swords in the 18th century as they were deemed more ‘democratic’ (after all, everybody could pull a trigger), but duels were even fought with weapons such as billiard balls. After weapons were chosen, the “seconds” (referee-type gentlemen chosen by the duelers) had to locate a dueling ground and possibly step in if either dueler stepped off their marks during the fight. Only one shot could be fired, and duelers could choose to deliberately miss their target if they did not wish the battle to end fatally. However, etiquette and frames of masculinity made it dishonorable to refuse a duel, and honor became the number one reason for men to accept and obey the rules of the game.

American men continued to duel throughout the 19th century, but the Civil War and industrialization brought an end to the level of popularity that the practice enjoyed. As a man’s prestige and position in society became attributed to his amount of cash more so than his reputation and honor, disputes were increasingly taken to the courts instead of the fields. And as Southerners were occupied with fighting for and against the Reconstruction and the rebuilding of their society after a damaging loss, less attention was devoted to violent resolutions for petty conflicts.

Totalitarian Trump: the danger of his rhetoric. An inquiry of Trump’s rhetoric and Orwell’s totalitarian regime from 1984 and its worrying similarities

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February 15, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online

By Hanne Nijtmans

President Trump’s mode of communication has led to some serious concerns. His tendency to announce his plan on Twitter first restrains his explanations to a mere 140 characters, while presumably the plans of the President should be more complicated than that, shouldn’t they? The point, however, when the President’s communication became problematic is when Sean Spicer presented false facts, which were exposed by the media, and Kellyanne Conway described those statements as “alternative facts.” This is when my alarm bells started ringing at full blast.

After the statements from Spicer and Conway, the sale of Orwell’s famous book Nineteen Eighty-Four rose to unprecedented heights and saw an increase of more than 6000 percent. Why is this book so relevant, and why are there so many comparisons between Orwell’s totalitarian regime and Trumps early administration? The significance of Orwell’s book and it’s totalitarian regime are to a large extent based on the power of language. “Newspeak” is the dominant language in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a severe simplification of English that serves (in Orwell’s words) to “provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [the ruling party’s ideology –red.], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.” Newspeak lacks the complexity to think deeply about issues and makes it almost impossible to critically reflect on the Government’s actions. The way Trump uses Twitter with major simplifications and ideas opposing to what we perceive as facts, in combination with his refusal to ever admit that he is wrong, resembles Orwell’s concept of Newspeak. Trump’s policies, strong words, and use of language can in some other ways also be compared to ideologies and actions of the totalitarian government in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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WAR IS PEACE
One of the three pillars that are on the base of all propaganda by the “Party” in Nineteen Eighty-Four is “War is Peace.” This seemingly contradictory phrase is invented by the party to encourage “doublethink” which is accepting a premise as truthful, depending on what the party wants to do with this. In Nineteen Eighty-Four war is peace is used to invoke nationalism and to unify the country itself against a common enemy. While Orwell’s totalitarian government tries to keep the country together to create a common fear for “the enemy” and the people who live there have a daily session of “two minutes of hate,” Trump does basically the same thing as he refers to foreign countries as “the enemy.”

His most controversial policies such as the Muslim ban and the wall with Mexico are filled with hostile rhetoric. He, in his words, has imposed these measures to “keep the bad people out.” These can either be “terrorists” or “bad hombres,” but the point is that those people are supposedly enemies of the United States. He engages in hateful language when he literally named Mexicans rapists and murderers, and he has created more hate and fear in the country. However, it would be too early to say that Trump will declare wars to maintain peace, but his tweets about Iran can mean no good. 

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, “Freedom is Slavery” because those who think and act independently are doomed to fail. The Trump administration shows these same characteristics as Donald Trump has created a rhetoric that denounces everyone that disagrees with him. It seems as if he tries to supply information what he sells as the only facts. The fact that he denounces the media and the press as “against him” leads him to rely on his “own” facts, which could also be described as “the fantastic actions and adventures in the world of Trump.” John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight” argues that Trump’s reality is based on ill-researched television shows (such as Infowars & Breitbart News) or the very conservative and biased Fox News. When he randomly talks about numbers which seem to appear out of thin air, he is convinced of his own reality and so are his voters. For example, when he announced that he won the popular vote due to “millions of illegal voters” and “serious voter fraud” in California. All of those who debunk his ideas about how fantastic he is are fired or discredited. The media are accused of “false news” now almost on a daily basis by President Trump, and the judge who ruled against the Muslim ban is a “so-called” judge.

In the totalitarian regime of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government has an absolute control over the news and the Party describes the only true beliefs and identity. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, it goes so far that citizens would actually believe that two plus two equals five, if the government would say so. This seems like a far stretch to Trump, but Trump lied even about the weather on his Inauguration day and the amount of people that showed up, while there is visual evidence that he lies.

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the party slogan “Ignorance is Strength” is based on the fact that the less the people know, the less they will contradict the Party. The authoritarian government goes as far to hear and see everything what the inhabitants think as “thought crime” and people are caught, imprisoned, and tortured for that.

Trump-1984Luckily, in the United States, the checks and balances system as well as the Constitution and it’s very first amendment protect the American citizens from this fate, but the words “Ignorance is Strength” could be easily applied to Trump. Trump himself is quite ignorant, as he admitted that he did not read the Constitution (as four thousand words was too long for him) and he is the least qualified President in the history of the US. His supporters apparently do not care about his lack of knowledge, on the contrary: it proves his distance from the established politics. Nonetheless, now that he is the President, he does not allow any criticism: all who have an opposing view are removed from his administration.

Orwell warns us that the “abuse of language” can happen in all democratic societies as advertisements, political soundbites, and the media are not only influencing our thoughts but also our behavior. The overly simplified and abusive language of President Trump and his attacks on the media, judges, colleagues, and the entire democratic system in the United States is to some extent predicted by Orwell. Who controls our thoughts and behaviors can control the world.

Want to know more about Orwell and his social critique? There is an interesting TEDxEd video link below, and I would recommend you to (re-)read Nineteen Eighty-Four as it is more relevant today than it has been for the past decades.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oe64p-QzhNE

Roads Trippin’

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February 2, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online

By David van Hulzen

Even here in the Netherlands, we often complain about other people’s driving skills. Rightfully so, I might add, because sometimes it seems like over here people get their drivers’ license for free with two kroketten at FEBO. It might be useful to add that (here in the Netherlands) I ride a motorcycle, and doing so really opens your eyes to how incapable some people on our roads are. Florida’s roads, however, are tripping on a whole other level. Unfortunately, I was lucky enough to experience this first hand.

A recent study conducted by insurance company QuoteWizard showed that Florida drivers are the second best drivers in the United States, just behind Rhode Island. But if that is actually the case, I most definitely do not want to know what the remaining forty-nine States’ highways and interstates are like.

Right side overtake (1)Let’s start with a really, really short story. I love the fact that in the US right side overtakes are allowed (well, not really, but everybody does it and nobody cares). It can, however, create some risky situations. One time, me and some friends headed for Cocoa Beach; cruising down the highway, rocking some country music in the background – probably not, in all fairness, but all the same I wouldn’t be surprised if that was actually the case. Either way, I was driving, and had been doing so for quite some weeks already, so it would be fair to say that by that time I had already gotten quite used to the American road system. I was truly enjoying the practicality of being able to overtake other drivers on the right side, and could not really find any downsides to it, up until one time when I overtook a bus on the left side. When – after finishing my takeover – I started to merge back into the middle lane, some guy overtaking the bus on the right (can I say wrong?) side had the same brilliant idea. Well, I can tell you: two cars merging into the same lane at the same time is not an ideal situation. I swerved back, and luckily we did not hit him (he probably never even noticed, too busy looking on his phone), but it showed me for the first time why it is a good thing that right side overtakes are not allowed in the Netherlands.

Something else that can also potentially be pretty dangerous in the US is tailgating. Basically, the US knows two types of tailgating; a really good one, and a pretty bad one. The good one involves a lot of students drinking a lot of beer – and a little bit of sports (Go Knights!). The bad one involves driving bumper to bumper. No hard feelings to any of my American friends, but do you really think that two meters – I know, six feet sounds like a lot more, but it isn’t – is going to save you from kissing your windshield (especially since none of y’all are wearing your seatbelts)? Yeah, well, it isn’t.

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 14:  Traffic on the highway heading out of Miami at Opa Locka Boulevard, Florida, United States of America  (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 14: Traffic on the highway heading out of Miami at Opa Locka Boulevard, Florida, United States of America (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Talking about a lot of students drinking a lot of beer: Americans do know how to party, I’ll definitely give them that. But whereas drinking and driving is a bit of a taboo here in the Netherlands (good for us), that is slightly different at the other side of the pond. I have to defend them on this issue a little bit, though. Going out in the US is a bit of a hassle sometimes. Take my university, the University of Central Florida, for example. There are some fun bars and clubs near campus, but if you want to do it right, downtown Orlando is the place to be (got to love how some Americans actually use that phrase in all seriousness). The only problem, however, is that downtown Orlando is a twenty minute drive from campus. And, besides the fact that hardly anybody even owns a bike over there, cycling from campus to downtown would take you about one and a half hour. Thanks a lot, but no thanks.

This, then, means that students have a choice: pay a shit load of money for a cab every time they go out (or pay slightly less for an Uber, but still), or simply drive home a little less sober than you would normally be while moving at one hundred kilometers – right.. that would be 60 miles – an hour. Even though it is definitely not the morally preferable choice, it is (and I hate to say this) somewhat understandable. It’s a bit of a shame though that, during all this, they are texting – or even facetiming (yes, I’ve actually seen that happen) – a friend about their drunk escapades..

I have to add, though, that Americans are a bit ill-informed about how alcohol works – which is probably caused by the fact that many American parents rather deny the entire existence of alcohol than to educate their children about how to enjoy the most deadly drug in the US responsibly. It happened more than once that I heard a friend say that, after drinking nine beers and four shots, they would stop drinking one or two hours before leaving and would be perfectly fine to drive when that time came. Yeah, well, that’s not how alcohol works. They all got home safe though, I got to give them that. But then again, they have all been practicing driving under the influence since age sixteen.

Good Cop/Bad Cop

Picture from Conservative-Headlines.com. Original photo by Jared Wickerham.

January 18, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online

By Guido de Bloois

So, some things happened in 2016. We all know a few, but to avoid crippling depression, let’s not go into detail regarding most of those. The past year and recent history beyond the bounds of 2016 have known their fair share of violence, hate, intolerance, and polarization within societies, and I’ve picked just one theme to say something about real quick.

One aspect of U.S. society consisted of arguably excessive use of force by the police against especially African American men (sometimes boys even), resulting once again in some of their deaths. Retrospectively, many victims were claimed to be innocent or unarmed, which is most likely and tragically true in several cases.

The media were not shy at all in their coverage of these mishaps and helped to paint a very negative image of American police officers throughout the country. That is because, as somehow often seems to happen, a large part of the public quickly tends to unconsciously assume that (inexcusable) acts of individuals are committed by the entire group that those individuals are from. Now, a lot of particularly African American citizens fear police violence, and many of us soft Europeans in our welfare states are appalled by the continuing police-related deaths in the savage land across the pond. Rightly so, I would still say.

Picture from Rand.org. Original photo by Jay Lazarin

Picture from Rand.org. Original photo by Jay Lazarin

This reaction has to do with the fact that most issues simply aren’t quite as big or deadly in our own little country of the Netherlands. We are famous for finding smaller problems within society everywhere, out of lack of bigger ones. This is what we call “ant-fucking” and we do it all the time; just spend literally one minute on social media.

Coming up with countless irrelevant problems does cause real problems to be overlooked. For example, it usually doesn’t really come to mind that fast, but we have our own issues with law enforcement here and they are far from similar to those in the U.S. Instead of concerning about police violence, many Dutch officers are concerned about their own safety. Especially towards New Year’s Eve. Some individuals carry out their deranged plan to attack policemen who are there to protect them, 2016 included. The officers have come forward several times now to claim that they don’t feel safe on the streets, because they are undermanned and under-equipped. Naturally, it is a problem when law enforcement isn’t confident enough to enforce the law.

It’s easy to think that our socialist European piece of land that’s half the size of South Carolina is so culturally divergent, and the big, bad U.S. of A. is so far away, but surely we can learn from each other? With some officers shooting up the place on one side of the spectrum, and the other side not being able to use their Taser without causing a national outrage, I would be inclined to feel that surely there is some middle ground to be found.

Maybe our police department could look to the U.S. when it comes to improving the availability of backup when needed, the effective use of (non-lethal) force, or police authority in general. Maybe American officers could take some inspiration from the Netherlands in regards to toning down the gun violence a little, connecting to local communities, or the public image of law enforcement in general.

Picture from Politie Stichtse Vecht Facebook page.

Picture from Politie Stichtse Vecht Facebook page.

This photo is from my own home town of Maarssen, where small kids were allowed to sit on police bikes and played little quizzes with the officers. In the back of a police truck, citizens were given the opportunity to express their opinion on the local police department, which was generally very favorable.

Of course, by writing this I paint a very rose-colored picture of the obscure hamlet that is Maarssen, and I casually speak of the “public image of law enforcement” as if that is something we can actively control. Nonetheless, I believe that we as a local, regional, national, and perhaps even international community do have influence over how our police officers are portrayed in society.

Yes, the media can be toxic when it comes to covering police-related incidents, especially in the era of instant news and catchy headlines of social media, but we as quasi-intelligent human beings have to be able to see through this. Some of us are quick to focus on all the negative aspects of today’s world and easily slip into a belief that everything used to be better “before,” and I have to admit that I sometimes find it hard to avoid being cynical in present times myself.

Maybe it is possible to change this by trying to highlight positive aspects in some occasions and trying to look for ways of improving our police departments, instead of continually bashing what is wrong with them. We could start changing our attitude and media-extremes by being a little less single-minded and moderating ourselves just a bit more when it comes to these issues. But then again, who am I but a suburban 19-year-old Dutch boy who practically never came into contact with the police at all?

Kaepernick, Davis, and the Raiders: Civil Rights Activism in the NFL

January 3, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online

By Aaron Magunna

In 2016, the quarterback of the NFL (National Football League) team San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand up for the national anthem during a preseason game. After receiving rigid criticism for the refusal (videos emerged showing fans burning Kaepernick’s shirt, Kaepernick received death threats and an anonymous NFL executive called him a ‘traitor’), Kaepernick stated: 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the streets and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick referred to the police brutality conducted against African Americans and the subsequent emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. The NFL has been used as a pivotal stage for civil rights activism in the past. One particular person, and one particular team, has been involved in remarkable fashion in the fight for a more just US society: Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders.

Allen Davis, better known as ‘Al’ Davis, took charge of the Raiders in 1963 and is still perceived to be a cult figure in Oakland until this very day. Davis, who passed away in 2011, was a respected head coach, but was also renowned for his fierce stance against racial oppression and discrimination.

During Davis’ time as a head coach, one particular incident outlined his activism and his opposition to discrimination in the US. When the Raiders travelled to a match in Mobile, Alabama, in 1963, Davis refused to field his team because of laws that implemented racial segregation at that time. He demanded the game to be played in the rather liberal Oakland and ultimately refused to send his team to play in cities that demanded the segregation of white and African American players, for instance in terms of accommodation.

Al Davis at a Raiders press-conference in 2004. Picture from CBSnews.com. Original photo by Justin Sullivan.

Davis continued his activism when he eventually took over the Raiders as a part owner in 1972. Him being in charge saw the Raiders become the first franchise to employ the first African-American head coach in NFL history (Art Shell from 1989 to 1994) and the first female Chief Executive in NFL history (Amy Trask from 1997 to 2013).

Davis’ activism was not only closely associated with the Raiders as a franchise, but also with the city of Oakland (California). Known to be a city with a historically high crime rate and deeply implemented issues of racial zoning, the Raiders became a team for the socially disadvantaged. The most active fan group of the Raiders, Raider Nation, is consequently known for its close association to the working class of the entire Bay Area and its ethnically diverse fan base.

The Raiders are the team that is the most well-known for its activism for civil rights and the rights of African-Americans in particular. They are, however, not the only franchise that openly criticized the police violence conducted against African Americans. When Michael Brown was infamously shot in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, five players of the St. Louis Rams came out of the tunnel with their hands raised as a display of solidarity.

The St. Louis Rams show solidarity with the victims of police brutality in 2014. Picture from USnews.com. Original photo by L.G. Patterson.

When Colin Kaepernick decided to take a stand against the contemporary racial disparity by not rising for the national anthem, he received harsh criticism, often with an underlying racist tone. He certainly incited a lot of activism with his refusal: numerous NFL players started using the Black Panther greeting (a raised fist) instead of locking up arms with their teammates before the start of the game. Jeremy Lane from the Seattle Seahawks argued: “It’s something I plan to keep on doing until justice is served.” The incident also sparked protests in other professional sports in the US: female soccer star Megan Rapinoe started kneeling when the national anthem was played. Basketball stars such as LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Kobe Bryant (L.A. Lakers) started warming up in shirts saying “I can’t breathe,” protesting the shooting of Eric Garner in New York City.

Kaepernick is in line with other individuals in professional US sports leagues that stood up for civil rights. The NFL has nonetheless a very distinctive history in the fight for a more equal US society. This is pivotally connected to the high amount of African Americans professionals in the sport and also the activism that was imposed by individuals such as Al Davis, and, currently, Colin Kaepernick. Figures such as Davis and Kaepernick have henceforth been essential to raising a broader awareness for the struggle against discrimination and oppression. They stood up for something that was and is a lot bigger than themselves and deserve the upmost respect for doing that.

Keeping it Small – Tiny Homes in the USA

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December 21, 2016 | Posted in ASH Online

By Lobke van Meijel

Henry David Thoreau might actually think there is still hope for us, now that the United States is moving more and more to his former living standards: a cozy little home, near or inside the forests. And the movement even holds communal values dear to its heart. Indeed, Americans are increasingly embracing the tiny house hype. Time to elaborate the reasons and show some examples, I think!

A tiny house is tiny. Logical, but vague. To put its size a bit more into perspective: a typical American home takes up about 2,600 square feet of space (240m2). For a tiny house, that number is decreased to 100-400 square feet (9/37m2). That is right: more and more Americans are choosing to live in spaces as big as student rooms that Dutch students immediately cross of their lists.

In addition to the cramped space–which tiny house owners consider a positive as it leads to less clutter and more time to focus on what they regard as truly important—there are several other things that tiny homes often have. They are often placed on long trailers to make them mobile. In many instances, the second-floor bedroom space is vertically low, which requires its inhabitants to crawl to bed. And although most have a working shower and toilet, many owners choose for a composting toilet because of sustainability reasons or because they can be used off-grid. Last but not least, there are even those who choose not to install a toilet or shower in their home altogether. These people must really enjoy nature.

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Picture from CountryLivingSpace.com. Original photo by Garett and Carrie Buell.

What is the appeal, then, of the tiny house movement? Well, some of the more popular reasons include financial motivations, environmental concerns, minimalist wishes, and the desire to be less tied to specific investments or a specific space. Financially speaking, tiny homes are a great option because the cost for land and for utilities is low. In addition, there is the dream of not having to pay mortgage, of course. Nevertheless, one should not expect to drop a couple thousand dollars and get the tiny house of their dreams. Precisely because of its small size, careful planning and good use of space and materials is vital. A great design costs money, one always has to calculate the weight of every screw and piece of wood, and if you want your living space to truly match your needs and desires, almost every piece of furniture has to be custom-made. Tiny house designers and builders have stated that in their experiences, costs are often cut in places where there is no room to save money; on the very frames of the house, or on the trailers that supports the mobile home.

Unless someone wants a house that will break down after a couple years of use because of its unsustainable or insufficient frame, therefore, tiny homes still call for financial investments at first. Still, many people take the initial costs to build their dream house (by themselves or by a tiny home designer—what a fantastic job) and to be able to pursue their desired mobility.

To make this a bit more real and to brighten up your day, I want close with a few examples of wonderful tiny homes and equally wonderful life experiences and desires.

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Picture from CountryLivingSpace.com. Original photo by Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

This guy lives in the forest in Maine, where he built his own (immobile) tiny home with 80% recycled materials. He made his own wood-fired brick oven to make pizzas when his friends come over. They do have to cross the forest though, because there is no road to go by car. He does not want to imagine dealing with a huge house and heaps of stuff anymore.

These two converted a big yellow school bus into a tiny home for themselves and their dog. Felix considers his stereo and his slingshot some of his most prized possessions. Mogli is incredibly happy with their hand-made shower tiles. They started off in Alaska, and are now crossing Canada, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama and so much more to make their way to Argentina. Oh, they even have a blog!   

Jacob and Ana White are carpenters from Alaska who show you how to build a tiny home over here. There are many different episodes, and I love watching the final one with the actual reveal! This is somewhat of a more “traditional” tiny house, with it being on a trailer and actually mobile. They did, however, opt for an outhouse instead of a inside bathroom.

And then there is this man, who just had a nice idea and went on to executing it without a plan or anything.

For additional awesome videos, here are some suggested channels: Explore Alternatives (Canada), Tiny House Listings (US), Living Big in a Tiny House (NZ), and Dylan Magaster (US).

An insight in the life of an NCAA-athlete

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December 15, 2016 | Posted in ASH Online

Interview with NCAA-player at Miami University Laura Cornelius

By Hanne Nijtmans

Dutch basketball player Laura Cornelius comes from Groningen and has lived here and played basketball in the Netherlands for several years. She has played in the youth Dutch national teams with as one of the highlights that she won a bronze medal with her team in the European Championships (which is quite an accomplishment, considering that the Netherlands are not really big in basketball) and recently played her first game for the Dutch national women’s team. She decided to take her basketball career to the next level and moved to the United States to play college basketball in Miami. Although in the US first year players, or rookies, usually won’t get much minutes to play, Laura did get a chance to shine on the court. This year she is a second-year (or Sophomore) and in this interview she reflects on life as an athlete in the US and the importance of sports in American culture.

Miami guard Laura Cornelius (1) dribbles past South Dakota State guard Chloe Cornemann (22) in the first half of a first-round women's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Miami guard Laura Cornelius (1) dribbles past South Dakota State guard Chloe Cornemann (22) in the first half of a first-round women’s college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Why did you decide to go play basketball in the US?
Laura: “Because the level here is way higher than the level in the Netherlands, and I can combine basketball here with an education as well.”

What did the university provide for you to be able to play basketball at a level this high? How do you combine classes and basketball?
“Well, I’m here on a full scholarship, which means that all athletic and academic costs are being covered for me. Our class schedules are adapted to our practice times, which is in contrast to the system back home. When I played in Amsterdam, my practice times were adapted to our class times. Combining academics and basketball takes a lot of self-discipline, especially because we often miss classes when we are on the road. The U [Miami University, red.] provides free tutoring and required study hall hours for athletes who struggle, but so far I’m doing pretty well.”

I heard there were quite some sponsors for your team. What kind of sponsors does your team have?
“We indeed have quite some sponsors. Most sponsors are alumni and just individuals or families who just love basketball. They have season tickets and every now and then they donate money to our program. Recently we had a 1 million dollar gift and we upgraded both men’s and women’s basketball locker rooms with that money.”

What is the atmosphere like at the games?
“Great. In general, America has a great passion for sports and especially basketball is so big. I played for 10.000 people once and people on campus just recognize you because you’re on the basketball team. It’s just a complete different world, I never had that in the Netherlands. I love the sports culture here.”

What’s the difference between playing in the Netherlands versus playing in the United States? Is there a difference in attitude?
“The level is way higher. I play in the ACC, the best league in America and the pace of the game is just so quick. Also I play against the best athletes so you really have to bring your A-game every day. I think Americans do show more attitude and emotions, but that also has a lot to do with the passion for the game.”

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How is the relationship between the basketball team and the community?
“Good. Multiple times a season we go out to the community and give back to the people who need it the most. We all know and appreciate the fact that we are privileged, but the opportunity to help people in our community is just awesome. We visit elementary schools to help kids with their homework and play a little with them. But we also help giving away Thanksgiving boxes with food for homeless people.”

How important is basketball for Miami University? Are the coach polls and rankings compared to some kind of status symbol?
“Basketball and football are our biggest sports. We get the most attention, money etc. But our programs also make the most profit for the U. Rankings and polls come out every week, but as soon as you lose you’ll drop. Therefore in my opinion, these rankings are a little overrated, but people pay a lot of attention to them. And they do show status. Most of the big schools are ranked, we are currently ranked #16 in the nation.” [They even climbed to 13 now, red.]

A few weeks ago you flew back to France and The Netherlands to play for the Dutch National Women’s team. How was this coordinated?
“We played on Wednesday the 16
th a game with Miami, the day after we flew straight to Paris, had one practice with the team [national women’s team, red.] and we played the 18th a game against France. The next day we flew back to Amsterdam, and we played the 23rd our final game against Estonia and we flew the next day back to Miami to have a game on the 25th. So it was pretty intense to say at least, but it was also a lot of fun.”

What do you like best from playing at Miami?
“I just love our culture and the family we created here. I really see my teammates and coaches as family and this place really feels like a home far away from home.”

Finally, what are your plans after graduating from Miami?
“After I graduate, I would like to play professional basketball, and until my body gives out I will keep on playing. After that there is always time to look for a real job.”


Do you want to know more about the sports culture at the American universities? Make sure you won’t miss the next ASH!