A dull European election seems inevitable

Tomorrow, Europeans will go to the polls to elect candidates to represent them at the European Parliament.  Or, more accurately, about 40% of the eligible voters will go to the polls.  In apathetic-sceptic Britain, turnout is expected to be about 30%.

The low turnout figures reflect a general malaise with the European parliament and democracy in Brussels.  During the heady days of the early elections, we saw chart-topping percentages like 62% & 59%.   Since then, turnout has been steadily falling, down to 43% at the last election – 35% in the UK.

In no small part, this is because the elections are boring.  There are plenty of reasons for this.

The first is that Brussels seems removed from our lives.  Seeing the raw fury in a commuter’s eyes as she spits out “can you move down the carriage!?” has taught me it’s easier to get fired up about the injustice right in front of you.   When conducting research in Brussels I found that most people preferred to let the professionals in various interest groups speak on their behalf in Brussels, farming out their voice to civil society groups with a sprinkling of clicktivism.

It doesn’t help that the candidates are overwhelmingly dull.  Possibly the most watched speech in the European parliament’s history is Nigel Farage being extremely rude about Herman van Rompuy. Who? You ask.  Well quite.  Nige sums it up: “Who are you? … No-one in Europe had ever heard of you!”  (Rompuy was President of the EU).  Even if his speech was rude, the European Parliament is hardly a hotbed of charisma.  Being an MEP is not an especially desirable position for the politically ambitious, so stronger candidates go to national parliaments rather than Strasbourg, leaving debates lacklustre.  I’d almost take a bit of sleaze just to spice things up; If Herman was caught with his trousers down the chance to splash “Rompuy-pumpy” all over the headlines would be too good to turn down, and we’d at least hear something about what was going on Brussels.

The campaigns can also be dull because the Parliament itself doesn’t propose any legislation, so no one can campaign with a grand idea – MEPs don’t typically take policy ideas with them to Strasbourg.  They review, revise and approve legislation – important work, but does not make for interesting campaigning – “I am a competent reviewer of legal clauses” isn’t exactly “I have a dream.”  This is a shame.  As the parliament has grown in significance within the European system, its MEPs have become more influential stakeholders; a campaigning European parliament could, if it wanted to, take matters to the Commission and be proactive in influencing the European policy space.  Having things to rally around is a route to engaged voters.

In the UK, national political parties share some of the blame for voter disengagement.   Sheltering in my South London bunker, I’ve been subjected to a blitzkrieg of leaflets for the local and European elections, most of which make scant reference to Europe.  Labour, one of the worst offenders, packed their leaflet full of policy pledges for national government – Wandsworth Council will not freeze energy prices, and neither will the European Parliament.  The leaflet actively encourages us to treat the election like a popularity poll for the Coalition: “This election is your chance to show David Cameron what you think of his A&E crisis.”   If national parties, who control candidate selection and the organisation of MEPs, don’t take the election seriously, can anyone else be expected to?   Political parties need to take European issues to citizens.  They aren’t always that interested in hearing it, but if politicians don’t make the effort they never will be.

As for tomorrow’s election: It’s not clear what will happen. My only hope is that the likely sharp rise in the number of anti-Europe and extreme MEPs will give some of the established party groups the kicking they need to plan how they can get voters to take this process seriously. Otherwise we risk continuing to see the Nigel Farages of this world gaining influence in Brussels, and using it for no good at all.

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That Controversial Eton Exam Question is Worth Defending

A couple of days ago a friend of mine commented on something on Facebook, resulting in it being on my news feed.    The person was expressing horror at a question on an exam paper from several years ago set by Eton College for its prestigious King’s Scholarship (Boris Johnson being a former recipient).   By the end of the day I noticed it had been picked up by HuffPost Students UK, which focussed on some of the outrage expressed on twitter.

The question, taken somewhat out of context, suggested a hypothetical situation:

The year is 2040.  There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East.  Protestors have attacked public buildings.  Several policemen have died.  Consequently, the government has deployed the Army to curb the protests.   After two days the protests have been stopped but twenty-five protesters have been killed by the Army.  You are the Prime Minister.  Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.

This came after other questions centred on a passage from Machiavelli’s The Prince, where he argues it is better to be feared than loved (if you have to pick one).   Candidates were asked both to summarise the argument and explain why it is unappealing.

As for the offending part – I can see why there was some horror on reading this.   The question asks 13 year olds to justify the killing of civilians by the police.  ‘Necessary and moral’; it seems a bit heavy duty.     However, once I had gotten over the innate tendency we all share of being either outraged or infatuated with anything shared widely online I realised what an interesting question this is, as part of a series of extremely interesting and often perplexing questions.    If you have the time I absolutely would check the other questions on the paper.

There are short, snappy questions designed (I believe) to test lateral thinking, such as determining the time on a partially functioning digital clock.  There is a code that needs breaking; these are engaging questions.   Another asks student to consider a passage from Thus Spoke Zarathustra; challenging material, dealing with a genuinely interesting question, that of respect for teachers.    It’s actually one of the most stimulating exam papers I can remember reading.  Puzzles that draw you in and test your reasoning, not your recall.    My overriding memory of most exams I did at that age, Key Stage 3, is that they were never this engaging.  In the Eton paper you even have to translate from a made up language based on reoccurring phrases.  This is exactly what an aptitude exam should be, and critics would do well to think about the rest of the exam before launching into a tirade about it.

That said, context only gets you so far, and if the question was really that offensive then no amount of praise for the rest of the paper will change your mind.  It’s my view however, that it is misguided to criticise a hypothetical question designed to test and assess someone’s critical faculties.   Challenging questions are asked of students all the time, at all levels, and are essential to developing reasoning and critical thinking.  Taking these questions and assuming they represent some sort of internal bias can amount to a short-sightedness and is often foolish.  In 2011 then Labour MP Denis MacShane accused an LSE professor of “filling the minds of our young students with the most poisonous drivel” after quoting an exam question which asked students to explore the question of why, if we can hire women as poorly paid cleaners is it not legitimate to hire them as prostitutes?   This prompted, in true British style, a strongly worded letter from a number of academics (including my old supervisor Martin O’Neill at the University of York), denouncing the claim, and supporting the academic in question.  They contend an essay problem is not an assertion of belief.

Whilst an A-Level student of Economics my classmates and I had to give speeches on the privatisation of the NHS; I think it was an off-syllabus activity, but one of the more interesting ones I did in that class.   I was assigned the position of opposing privatisation, and had to argue in a speech against it and defend the current NHS under questioning.   Is that inappropriate?  Does my being assigned a position remove my ability to think for myself about a challenging issue?  Of course not.

The question set is a difficult one.  It would challenge any school pupil.  Unsurprising, as it is for a scholarship exam to one of the most prestigious schools in the world.   It is not however, horrifying, terrible or immoral to ask students to take a hypothetical position, even on such a divisive topic.   It’s one of the most interesting questions I’ve seen for pupils at that age.

So when do I get to join The Legion?

Last week brought me my first experience of Dutch football culture, in a game between Feyenoord Rotterdam and RKC Waalwijk, both teams in the Eredivisie, the top Dutch league.   Feyenoord are generally considered to be one of the top Dutch teams, whereas Waalwijk are more mid-table fare (they are actually an amalgamation of three Catholic clubs). The match was at De Kuip, The Tub, Feyenoord’s ground.

The tickets were thanks to Michiel, a true fan.

The tickets were thanks to Michiel, a true fan.

Rotterdam has a fairly strong footballing tradition, with three professional teams in the city, Feyenoord, Sparta and Excelsior.  I’m not sure Feyenoord got the best name there, but it’s certainly the best team of the three.  Incidentally it used to be Feijenoord, after the district of the city in which it is situated, but was changed because non-Dutch speakers could never pronounce the ‘ij’.   It’s a very working class town, being the largest port in Europe, and it looks very different to the quaint canalside houses you imagine a Dutch city to feature.  If it helps to get a picture, Rotterdam is twinned with Hull in the UK, although that might be as much to do with the ferry route which connects the two.  This feeds into their huge rivalry with Ajax and Amsterdam generally.  Matches between the two are ‘De Klassieker’ – The Classic.

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The Feyenoord – Ajax rivalry is the pinnacle of what seems to be a football culture more prone to hooliganism, and it seems very severe; for the last six years away fans have not been allowed to travel when the two teams play.  At all.  So when they play in Rotterdam Ajax fans aren’t allowed into the stadium to watch the game, which is seen exclusively by home fans.  In previous meetings the fan violence got so out of hand that this was seen to be the best option, a five year ban which has so far been extended and shows no signs of being withdrawn.   The authorities have a new dilemma, which is that the first meeting after the ban is lifted with be one of the most tense meetings in many years, and some hooliganism seems likely.   In 1997 an Ajax fan was beaten to death, and in 2005 Ajax fans destroyed the train due to take them home (no idea how that happened), and so were stranded in Rotterdam, prompting the riots which caused the latest ban.   You can enjoy some grainy footage of Dutch people stoning police and being taken out with a water cannon here.   Any conversation I’ve had about Dutch football normally involves being warned away from mentioning Ajax in Rotterdam or Feyenoord in Amsterdam.  Random people in bars have even explicitly told me not to talk about it.

Feyenoord scores

Feyenoord scores

Nothing like that happened at the Waalwijk game, although I enjoyed the tendency of Feyenoord fans to shout abuse and make the apparently universal ‘wanker’ sign at opposition fans who were penned up in a tiny segment of the stands above where I sat.  The game itself was good to watch, although the atmosphere in the stadium ebbed slightly in the second half when it was fairly clear Feyenoord were going to win.  They were fairly dominant throughout, missing quite a few chances but still coming away with a 2-0 victory.  The stand-out performance  of the game came from Italian striker Pelle who scored both goals, and was one of the only non-Dutch players on the pitch.  Waalwijk boasted Rodney Sneijder, the plonker brother of Wesley.

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After the game I enjoyed a moment in the Feyernoord supporters bar in the stadium, Het Legioenzaal – The Legion Hall, names after the collective term for Feyenoord fans, The Legion.  This will give you a feel for the place.  It was quieter when I was there, but the music was the same.  The room was dominated by angry 20-30 year old Dutch guys, and I think I was the only person not in jeans and a black puffer jacket.  Honestly, it was pretty intimidating on a quiet day – Not a chance I’d venture inside for a quiet one after an Ajax game.

With thanks to Andrew for the photos.

Dirk Kuyt outside Het Legioenzaal

Dirk Kuyt outside Het Legioenzaal

The chip van, naturally.

The chip van, naturally.

You’d better watch out… Sinterklaas comes to town.

I had been warned about this.  Before I had even arrived in the Netherlands, people I met warned me, just as a friendly heads up, that around Christmas time the Dutch all became a bit… well… ‘funny.’   “It’s a bit like all the normal Christmas traditions you see elsewhere in Europe, only like you dropped some acid and things just aren’t quite right any more.”  I found myself imaging the Big Lebowski scene where The Dude gets knocked out (marvellous scene by the way), but that doesn’t really explain it in any way shape or form.

Let’s get the key name out there: Sinterklaas.   The Dutch Father Christmas.  Now I know Santa is a pretty bizarre figure anyway, but the Dutch manage to max it out with some neat changes.   Firstly, Sinterklaas is a real live Saint;  The former bishop of Turkey as it happens.  Obvious in retirement from that job, he went where old people go to retire – Spain.  Well, I hear you can buy English Breakfast all along the Costa del Sol these days, who could turn that down.

A Catholic (despite Protestant being the dominant Christian tradition in the Netherlands), Sinterklaas is kitted out in a red robe, a pope-like hat and staff, and a large white horse.  There is still a part of me which is honestly disappointed he doesn’t get around by bike.  I really feel the Dutch are missing a trick here.  It’s so obvious, I don’t know why he hasn’t made the transition.  Anyway, a horse.

The man himself

Kids want to be like him

Sinterklaas visits Dutch children on the night of the 5th December, so naturally he arrives a few week earlier to scope the place out.  He comes by boat, from Spain, and is met by throngs of cheering Cloggies (which is a colloquialism I’m going to start using for the Dutch, because I like it and I can.  I saw it on Urban Dictionary once if you must know), at ports all along the coastline.  He spends the time up until the 5th visiting Dutch town, and Leiden was no exception.

The boats were out in force – Sometimes the best way to get a good view is drive your boat into the action

Sinty came into Leiden by canal, disembarked onto his horse, and was flanked by his helpers.  Elves? I hear you ask, in your minds.  NO you fools!  Zwart Piet.  Black Peter.  A Dutch icon, Black Pete is everywhere at this time of year, in shop windows, on cakes, billboards, in sweets, you name it, he’s there.  You can see the pictures, you know what this is.  Black Pete is represented by the Dutch by blacking up.  Black-face.  They paint their faces black.  And dress up in bright coloured clothing, and hand out sweets to kids.  Okay the sweet thing isn’t that mental for a Christmas tradition, but the rest. Yeah.   It’s everywhere.  The cake shop near my house has what can only be described as a very large Gollywog in the window.  I bike past it daily, and it still freaks me out.

Zwart Pieten line up for the disembarkation of Sinterklaas

A lonely looking Pete

Growing up in Britain you don’t really see this sort of thing. I saw a guy blacked-up at a College party once, and there was almost a fight over it.  To me, it seems pretty racist.   Here though, it isn’t.  After some soul searching, I’ve calmed down a little about it and I now think of it as a very bizarre Dutch novelty, which isn’t malicious at all.  From what I gather there was no Black and White Minstrel Show in the Netherlands that everyone is collectively embarrassed about, so blacking up doesn’t have the same stigma at all.  There is an annual collective ‘so guys… is this racist?’ debate, which normally involves foreigners being surprised and everyone else shrugging it off.   Lots of children I saw that day were themselves sporting the blacked-up look; they’ve all done it at some stage so its completely normalised for future generations.  For me though, it all seems a bit odd.   Explanations for the blackness vary.  The tradition replaces a pagan one based around a story involving two ravens who helped the Norse god Odin, so the blackness comes from the ravens.  I’ve heard they are slaves, or that Pete was a slave boy liberated by Sinterklaas who helps him out to show his gratitude.  I’ve even heard the black is soot from the chimney; a PC rendering absolutely everyone agrees is bollocks.

You can’t fault them for having fun with it though.  There was even a black Elvis riding around on a segway for the day; I defy you not to smile at the absurdity of that. The day continued with a rather anarchic parade through town, involving Sinterklaas and a small army of Zwart Pieten accompanying him with sweets (candy for you non-brits) for the crowd.  A marching band was pursued by some Pieten in a clog-car, and aside from a slightly hairy moment when the fabled white horse stumbled on a cobblestone, the whole thing was very fun.

Black Elvis on a Segway. It’s okay. I know. I know.

Obviously Sinterklaas can’t hold his cane when he is riding

Sure, it’s a racist caricature, but the kid was having a great time!

This guy just looks good 365 days a year

Well…huh… there you go folks.

A Whole New World… You’re telling me.

Fairly recently I was on my way out of a meeting about the international student newspaper of Leiden, when someone said to me, “are you going to this thing at 7pm on Nieuwe Rijn?” Now, I live on that canal, and that anything was going on there was news to me.   This happens fairly regularly.  Leiden is a fairly small town, but is buzzing with a seemingly limitless number of events I normally know nothing about.  I didn’t have plans, so I thought I would go along.  If nothing else I live on the street so it’s not exactly far out of the way.   No one could tell me what was happening though; the closest I got was “all the kids of Leiden wonder around a lot.”   Mysterious.

It was a bit drizzly, but then it normally is here.

There was a lot of security tape on scene when I arrived, but almost no people.  Some friends and I parked up with a beer in a nearly café and waited for something to happen.  Sure enough, within 10 minutes .. well… a lot of children started wondering around.  It took a little asking around to establish that what we were waiting for was Leiden’s rather unique take on turning on the Christmas lights.   It’s not exactly like the UK tradition of a Z list celebrity pressing a plunger outside of the shopping centre.    Children of Leiden parade through the streets carrying lanterns, converging on the centre of town by the city hall.

Lanterns abandoned by unruly children

All the big names were in town

Once everyone was gathered on either side of the canal, the music started up… and what a playlist.   Disney songs, many translated into Dutch, swept forth.   You’ve really never heard Sebastian the Crab sing “Under the Sea” until you’re heard it in Dutch , Jamaican accent and all (Diep in de zee – although in this version he sounds a bit like Omid Djalili) .  I don’t think there was any deep meaning to this, just that any public occasion is enriched with a bit of “Oh I just can’t wait to be king,” from the Lion King.  The more musical amongst you might even want to try and sing along to A Whole New World.  And to think you said Dutch wasn’t a beautiful language.

Just as I had reverted to the state of an excited 7 year old, I noticed two longboats being rowed towards each other in the canal, lit by blue lights.   It’s best to just check the pictures here, because I honestly don’t really understand what happened or why.  Men dressed as clockwork figures stood at the front and lead the boats, finally touching with an explosion of red flares.  It was an impressive sight.  Everyone was happy and cheering as the flares burnt, and then about 30 seconds later everyone left.  Just like that.  Oh, and at some point in all this they turned the Christmas lights on.

 

 

Den Haag International Kite Festival

This weekend I made the trip to Scheveningen Beach, a few miles outside of Den Haag/The Hague, for the International Kite Festival.   It’s not that I’ve harboured a secret love of kites or anything, I mostly anticipated and interesting trip out of Leiden on one of the few vaguely nice days left of the year.  Scheveningen is a slightly strange seaside town, simultaneously exuding the depressed seaside atmosphere typical of most British coastal resorts, yet seeming very salubrious at the same time.    Being some of the nicest beach near Den Haag it’s managed to keep fairly lively and boasts all sorts of bars and a casino.   Then again, I also bought 5 DVDs for €5, including the Patriot starring Steven Segal; I was lead astray by a friend into that misguided purchase.  It’s not that classy.  Sadly no 1950’s saucy postcards to be seen.

View from the Pier

New idea for a film.

Scheveningen also retains a very Dutch flavour though.  For reasons that escape me the pier contains a naughty lingerie shop, so browsers looking for a good sea view are treated to mannequins dressed as smutty policewomen.   There is also a nudist section of the beach further north – It’d have to be a nicer day to visit that strip though.

I found a few interesting bits of history with about 12 seconds of googling the town.  The Battle of Scheveningen was a Dutch-British naval battle, watched from the beach by the citizens of the town.  Apparently there was ‘no clear winner,’ but the Dutch ships all sank or fled, so I think that basically counts as one for the Brits.  Sorry chaps.   The Netherlands very own Boat that Rocked was moored a few miles off the coast, and even ran aground on the beach during a storm.  Pirate radio Veronica (now the name of a commercial TV station).

Statue of the Dutch way to eat raw herring – Gulp it like a gannet

The thing I’d heard before going was that the name was used to identify German spies by Dutch resistance groups.  The German and Dutch accents have a different pronunciation of the SCH; the Dutch used it to root out Germans during WW2. Not quite as jazzy as ‘good luck,’ but served a purpose.

Cycling there and back was an adventure in itself, I had to nonchalantly bike past a mob of angry Muslims protesting… well, it’s hard to say.  The US state department maintains it was “a protest against the U.S. and French Embassies outside the Ministry of Finance,” although why there I couldn’t say.   It also impressed upon me just how easy it is to bike anywhere in the Netherlands.  Cliché I know, but even longer rides on main roads were a doodle on my single gear bike.

Museum art instillation in Den Haag

Transporting my very beautiful bike Charlie on the train.

I should probably mention the actual kites.  The number of them was impressive, from large whales to small… kite shaped kites.  Well, they can’t all be funky shapes.  I’m not sure how one gets into the international kite circuit, but a nice bunch of eccentrics put on a good show.  I’ve put some photos below, you can pick your own favourite.    Myself, I had my heart set on one kite:  I was understandably distraught when I heard that the largest kite in the world – all the way from Kuwait – wasn’t able to fly.  It was, if you can believe it, too windy.

Spinning kites looked very cool

Ig Nobel Awards 2012

This week I spent an evening at a theatre in Leiden celebrating the Ig Nobel Awards 2012, a series of prizes run by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which rewards research which makes you laugh first, and then think.

I was initially trepid about the whole thing.   The event ran from 10pm – 3am, with the actual awards being live streamed form Harvard from 1.30am (7.30pm EST).  Up to then was a programme of events which as far as I could gather was entirely in Dutch.  An email to the organisers was met with a quick response, which basically said ‘you might not understand large chunks of the event, but I’m pretty sure you’ll have a great time anyway.’    With a ringing endorsement like that I was sold.

I had never heard of the awards before, and I really wasn’t prepared for the sheer absurdity of the evening.  The Leiden-run part of the evening was in part a celebration of the Netherlands’s contribution to strange science, with 6 former winners presenting a 5 minute summary of their victorious research.  There was also an English language science opera, some other brief talks and a few demonstrations.

The only way to articulate the kind of evening I ended up having is to explain some of the science I heard about and witnessed.   On entering, I was confronted by two experiments.   One related to the likelihood of buttered toast falling butter side down if it was dropped from a plate.  The conclusion of the experiment, which essentially involved dropping a lot of toast, was that we should all carry our plates around head height, as that increased distance to floor allows the toast more time to spin full circle and fall the right way up.   Another experiment involved finding the ideal dunking time and time technique for biscuits in tea. It’s actually a very complex bit of research with elaborate formulae, but for the layperson here are a few handy hints: Don’t use boiling water, let it cool a bit first.  Dunk at an angle closer to flat; withdraw before it soaks all the way through. This allows for lots of dunked goodness, but a significantly reduced likelyhood of loosing it into your tea.   Finally, dunking enhances biscuit flavour by almost 10 times, so it’s worth it!   Needless to say research I highly approve of, even if the scientist does make a terrible cup of tea.  Continentals.

Then followed the talks, which were officiated by a Dutch man dressed slightly like Willy Wonka and an American referee to keep time. I still don’t really know if he was American; he had a good accent and only spoke English, but seemed to understand Dutch very well even if he didn’t speak it at any point.

Some of the research presented seemed absurd, and some of phenominal use.  One former winner had been awarded a grant of $8.5million from the Bill Gates to implement his work into the smell of feet and Limburge Cheese.  This epitomises the awards at their best; The Dutch researcher was examining the relationship between Malaria, the smell of cheese and feet.   Certain sepecies of Mosquito disproportionally bite feet, attracted by a particular bacteria.  The research noted this same bacteria was present in Limburgse Cheese;  the likely reason being that in the original making process, curd was broken up by mashing it with the feet (like grapes in wine making).  Incidentally, this also shows that cheese smells like feet and not the other way round.   The upshot of all this seemingly strange research is that he has been able to synthesise cheese based honey traps to attract mosquitoes and so lower the spread of malaria.

That being said, his colleagues now refer to him as “The Cheese Man.”  You can’t have everything.

Other research seems less instantly useful, and even more bizarre.  A particularly odd example was “homoseksuele necrofilie bij de wilde eend.”   Yes, it does say what you are probably thinking is says: Homosexual Necrophilia in the Wild Mallard Duck.   I dread to think who might stumble upon this blog with that search term.  The inspiration for the work came from the glass building the professor worked in; ducks would fly into the glass walls of the offices and die.  Duck corpses littered the ground below the scientists office.  Soon, other things happened which required investigation.  If you want to know more you can look up the study; I myself was left wondering is the guy who lowered incidence of Malaria ended up as “The Cheese Guy” what is this bloke labelled as in the Academic community!?  He did say that he got a lot of emails about related work in the field.  Saw this and thought of you if you like.   He did bring a stuffed Mallard with him though, so he can’t be too phased.

Other pioneering work by Dutch scientists included the simply titled “Sex in an MRI Scanner.”  The presentation consisted of a very eccentric Dutch academic showing historical images of penises which were incorrect.  His work revealed it’s actually more like a boomerang.  You can see an English video of him explaining his work here, which includes a couple lying in a barrel shaped compost bin in a field.  Naturally.

Of course the evening wasn’t all hard science.  There was an Opera, “Atom and Eve.”  Actually very well sung by a man dressed in a spotty morph-suit (sadly I can’t find a picture for you), the opera was about the innuendo filled tribulations of being an atom looking to bond with a human woman.  The same guy played the woman, resplendent in wig and lab coat.

By 1.30am I was all set for the AWARDS.  Streamed from Harvard University, they were even more bizarre than the evening so far.  With regular paper aeroplane throwing breaks, children whose job it was to shout “please stop, you’re boring” to professors who spoke for more than their allotted time, and another science based opera, the whole event was a well organised and hilarious farce.

Below are the 2012 Prize winners, along with a few comments explaining some of them. The awards are presented by Noble prize winners, including a British one sporting a novel Union flag hat.

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan [THE NETHERLANDS] and Tulio Guadalupe [PERU, RUSSIA, and THE NETHERLANDS] for their study “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller”

Exactly what is says, and nothing more.

PEACE PRIZE: The SKN Company [RUSSIA], for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.

ACOUSTICS PRIZE: Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada [JAPAN] for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person’s speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.

I’m not entirely sure this works that well at all; it didn’t really work in the demonstration.  This video showcases it, and is pretty funny in itself.

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Johan Pettersson [SWEDEN and RWANDA]. for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people’s hair turned green.

Turns out it’s the copper piping.

LITERATURE PRIZE: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

Given I’ve got to get the certification of my birth certificate certified by the Foreign Office before the Dutch authorities will accept it, I can sympathise with this award.  A certification of the certification of a document.  Honestly.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Joseph Keller [USA], and Raymond Goldstein [USA and UK], Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball [UK], for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.

Apparently the inspiration for this research was the professor watching young female students going for runs around campus and noticing how their ponytails moved. And nothing else.

FLUID DYNAMICS PRIZE: Rouslan Krechetnikov [USA, RUSSIA, CANADA] and Hans Mayer [USA] for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.

ANATOMY PRIZE: Frans de Waal [The Netherlands and USA] and Jennifer Pokorny [USA] for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.

MEDICINE PRIZE: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti [FRANCE] for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.

Apparently this really happens – Something to do with the concentration of chemical gasses causing the patient to explode.  I’m not kidding.  On the plus side, since this research no one has exploded during a colonoscopy.  Job well done I’d say.