Arguing over dinner
Having an opinion is easy. Discussing that opinion with strangers, however, is not as easy. But during the first Kennisdiner (knowledge dinner), people seem to be doing quite well. The food probably helps.
By Thereza Langeler / Photos Reyer Boxem / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Information sciences student Floris Cornel (22) swallows a bit of white chocolate mousse and repeats his opinion: tinkering with the DNA of unborn children is just fine. ‘If we can save them from certain diseases, what’s wrong with that?’

Next to him, chemistry student Merlinde Wobben (20) contemplatively moves her spoon around her dish. ‘Sure, but where do we draw the line? Don’t you think it’s dangerous?’ Their table companion Ingrid Munneke (71) backs her up: ‘What if the technology ends up in the wrong hands?’

They’re enjoying the last course served at the first Kennisdiner on Monday evening, 18 September. The dinner is organised by Studium Generale and the Grand Theatre. In the theatre hall, 75 people are sitting at thirteen tables. They are here to listen to three lectures and eat a three-course meal. Every lecture is followed by a course. And then they talk.

‘Damn lies’

‘The talking is the focus of the evening’, says Kirsten Krans, one of Studium Generale’s programme makers. ‘We usually organise lectures that last an hour, with a thirty-minute question round. That’s a fairly one-sided affair. But it’s just as important to engage in conversation, share your thoughts and potentially have them changed.’

We should do this with people other than our friends, our roommates, or our fellow students. ‘We talk to those people anyway. We’re much less eager to share our opinions with people we don’t know. So we thought: let’s organise something where strangers share a table.’

Some people are taken a little aback, but sitting with strangers is truly compulsory. Upon arrival, guests are presented with a quote that corresponds to their table. ‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored’, one of the tables says. Another reads: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.’

One way or another, all the quotes used harken back to the evening’s theme: the fiction of reality. Historian Jan Blaauw, professor of artificial intelligence Bart Verheij and biologist Désirée Goubert have each put their own spin on the theme.

Chickpea soup

Blaauw gets the ball rolling with his research of censorship of textbooks. The room is transfixed, and they haven’t even had their appetizer yet. Once the chickpea soup with puréed feta cheese has been served, the diners start various animated conversations.

‘In my own experience, talking over dinner is much easier’, says programme maker Kirsten Krans. ‘Any other setting quickly feels too formal, too forced. But when you’re having dinner together, conversation often just flows.’

It does look as though the guests have quickly forgotten that they don’t know each other. After the soup, Bart Verheij tells them about his ambition to create an argumentation system: artificial intelligence that can test hypotheses and have a critical discussion.

At Floris Cornel, Merline Wobben, and Ingrid Munneke’s table, they start talking about self-driving cars. When it comes to the pear couscous with orange and date salad, Cornel says: ‘I haven’t had food this healthy all year.’

Doubts

In between the main course and dessert, Désirée Goubert presents the room with a difficult ethical issue. Goubert practices epigenetic editing: she alters DNA. It’s indisputably for the greater good – curing breast cancer – but the technique can also be used on unborn children. Is that something we should want?

Cornel is for, but his table mates are not so sure. Over bitter fruits with white chocolate mousse, they argue, philosophise, and fantasise. The dessert ends the dinner, but fanatics are welcome at the bar.

‘I had a great time tonight’, Merlinde Wobben says, satisfied. ‘Educational, fun…’ Floris Cornel would probably go again. ‘Not every week, though. But a few times a year could be fun.’

The choir that cannot sing
‘Na na na na… BAM!’ Everybody can sing along with the Groningen Vocal Exploration Choir, even if they can’t sing, says founder and RUG lecturer popular music Chris Tonelli. The group gathers in Usva twice a month, and they even bring a musical saw. What’s more, it doesn’t sound bad at all.
Video by Robbert Andringa
Art for a few euros
If you have ever wanted to own an original painting but never had the funds to purchase one, here is a golden opportunity: this week, 360 pieces of art will be auctioned off at the RUG.
By Wigger Brouwer / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

It concerns art (mainly paintings) that were made during the BKR, the Beeldende Kunstenaars Regeling (a government allowance for artists). They have either been on display in rooms and hallways in buildings at the RUG for years or were in storage somewhere. Now, the storage space needs emptying.

The auction started on Monday and will end on the evening of 24 April. Art lovers and other interested parties can view the art pieces on auctioneering firm Omnia’s website and bid on the art (bids start at 5 euros). There will be an opportunity to see the pieces at the Zernike campus in the weekend of 22 and 23 April. While 360 pieces will be auctioned off, a small number will be donated to the Groninger Museum.

Rolf ter Sluis, curator of the University Museum, is happy that the art will go to new homes. ‘Storing art costs money and benefits no one. This way, people who value the art get to enjoy it.’

Allowance

The art pieces date back to the period of the Beeldende Kunstenaars Regeling. This arrangement, which gave artists an allowance in return for art pieces, existed between 1956 and 1987. The artists in turn provided their pieces to the municipality.

The idea was good (the artists had room to work on their art), but in practice, the BKR was not a success. To this day, many municipalities still do not know what to do with the large amount of art pieces in their possession. The quality is also lacking at times: some artists would slap together a painting just to be able to get their allowance.

Whether the BKR pieces at the RUG are any good is up to the average visitor to decide, says Rolf ter Sluis. ‘There is no prescribed code of what constitutes good art. Whether you appreciate the painting, drawing or printing technique, or the composition or the subject all depends on your own perspective, experiences, and emotions. And if you’re lucky, it’s relatively affordable.’

And the best student band is….
The Mudd has won the prize for best student band of 2017. The four-man band won Usva’s Battle of the Bands last Thursday. International rock band Motherland came second.
Text and video by Wouter Hoogland / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The three-person jury, consisting of Melanie Schiller (instructor of media studies at the RUG), Stefan van der Wielen (singer for Orange Skyline) and Bram Vink (singer for Marble Heart), picked the winner from four student bands. The Mudd impressed with their strong compositions that were rooted in nineties alternative rock.

The runner-up, Motherland, nicely matched the theme of the evening: People of the World. The band consists entirely of international students. Last year’s winners, the medical students that form the band E Causa Ignota, were unable to retain their position. The international medical students of Auricle also missed out on any prizes.

In addition to being able to call themselves the best student band, The Mudd also won a spot in the line-up at the Usva at the Park festival. The fifth edition of this festival will be held at the Noorderplantsoen on 28 June. The Mudd also received a voucher worth 200 euros for music store Plato.

No alcohol for a month
They may not be enjoying it, exactly – their friends are even calling them ‘unsociable’ – but RUG students Reinout and Laura have survived their first two weeks without alcohol. All that is left is the rest of the month.
By Freek Schueler / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Since 1 March, neither Reinout (23)* nor Laura (20)* have touched a drop of alcohol. Together with more than 10,000 others they are participating in the IkPas (IPass) campaign, which means they are not drinking alcohol for a month.

For Reinout, a master’s student in technology and operations management who drinks approximately 20 units of alcohol a week, the main reason to join the campaign was to live a healthier life. ‘I want to be more motivated to work out more and be healthier, to have a better waking rhythm and get more done because of it’, he explains.

Harder

A few months ago, he quit drinking for a longer period of time for medical reasons. But that was because his health was at risk. ‘This time around, I’m really doing it for myself. I do think that’ll make it harder’, says Reinout.

Laura, a student of religious sciences and a member of student association Dizkartes, is mainly curious about the effects of not drinking. ‘I expect I’ll be losing some weight and that I’ll be sleeping better, which will probably give me more energy’, she says. She does not think she will have trouble sticking with it, although she will miss her glass of wine with dinner.

Halfway there

After two weeks, Reinout and Laura are halfway there. Are they seeing the advantages yet? Do they indeed have more energy? Or did they slip up with even just a sip of booze?

Laura says it was fairly easy for her to stick with it. Her friends also reacted positively to her sobriety: ‘As long as I still joined them in going out, they were all fine with it.’ Reinout agrees. ‘I announced beforehand that I wouldn’t be drinking, which makes it easier’, he says, referring to drinks organised by his study association a week earlier.

And yet they are both enjoying things a little less than before. According to Reinout, there is something nice about drinking beer just like everyone else. His friends even said it was ‘unsociable’ of him to not drink for a month. Laura, meanwhile, has decided to not attend a gala because she is not drinking. ‘The entrance fee includes alcohol, so just drinking water or coke would be a waste of money’, she says.

Fitter

But the two have noticed that there are advantages as well. Shortly after he had stopped drinking, Reinout discovered he woke up feeling fitter. Especially getting out of bed has become easier. Over the past few weeks, Laura has been plagued by a nasty cold. She thinks that not drinking meant it has not turned into something worse. ‘I probably would’ve gotten ill if I were still drinking.’

They both expect to last the month. After all, they are already halfway through. Besides, says Laura, March is not a very exciting month. There are few parties and it is too cold to sit outside on a terrace, so not drinking is quite easy. Reinout is missing his chill-out beer and is looking forward to the end of the month. In two weeks, we will learn the end results.

* At the request of the interviewees, the names Reinout and Laura are fictional. Their full names are known to the newspaper staff.

Help, I get to vote!
Even one day before the national elections, many students did not know which party they were voting for, or even if they would be voting at all. ‘The electors’ are trying to change this, providing an elucidating overview of the current political situation.
By Freek Schueler / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

On the eve of the elections Floris Rijssenbeek, Dylan Ahern, and Jochem Jordaan filled the city theatre in Groningen with their performance De Kiesmannen (The Electors). Not only do they want to use their theatre show to convince students to vote, but they also hope to create order in what they call political chaos. After a successful show in Amsterdam, they are coming for the ‘ordinary citizens in the north’, according to the gentlemen.

They use humour to lead the audience from left to right through the political landscape. Paying attention is a must, because the men are not afraid to ask the audience critical questions. In between the serious themes, there is time for a breather with a fun audience poll.

After thunderous applause brought on by an amazing rap performance, there is one last surprise: each chair has a red voting pencil attached underneath. The message is clear: go out and vote!

 

Scoring on a talk show
What happens behind the screens of talk shows in the run-up to elections? Politicians adapt their message to the nature of the programme they are on. Talk shows are very deliberate in deciding which politicians they allow speaking time and which subjects are to be discussed.
By Leoni von Ristok / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

These are two of the conclusions of Birte Schohaus’ research, “Entertaining politics, seriously?”, for which she will receive her PhD from the Research Centre for Media and Journalism Studies at the University of Groningen on 14 March, the day before the elections. She wanted to use her research to find out how the political debate in talk shows comes about.

‘Geert Wilders doesn’t do talk shows because they’re politically risky and he doesn’t stand anything to gain from them’, says Schohaus. ‘Wilders can tweet his opinions without anyone going up against him. You can’t do that on a talk show. And he knows that all too well. He uses the argument “you guys are too left-wing anyway, I won’t stand a chance”. It’s all to his own advantage.’

Message

Politicians who do engage in public debates thoroughly prepare in order to present their message in the right manner, Schohaus concludes. A manner matching the format of the talk show they are on. A programme such as Buitenhof allows Rutte plenty of time to explain his reasoning. Shows with stricter programming, such as De Wereld Draait Door, will force him to summarise his message in a few pithy one-liners.

On the other hand, talk shows prefer politicians who match their programme’s format, says Schohaus. For example, the manner in which guests get their message across is just as important as the content of that message. ‘It has to be interesting to watch.’ The same applies to the subjects. Buitenhof, for instance, likes to discuss subjects suited to a well-educated, politically informed audience. DWDD will spend limited or no time on a complicated subject.

So Schohaus understands why politicians adapt their message to the show they appear on. ‘Spokespeople like to compare it to football. When the Dutch team is playing they prepare for the team they’re facing. They use a different strategy when playing France than when they’re playing Germany, for example.’

Sound bites

According to Schohaus, the talk show creators do not particularly like that politicians and their spokespeople prepare all their answers beforehand. However, this does not mean that the viewers only hear sound bites, she says. Journalists and politicians agree on the subject, the time allotted, and who speaks when beforehand. ‘But they can never completely predict what’ll happen.’

There are two criteria politicians have to meet before they get invited, Schohaus says. On the one hand, they have to be politically relevant. That means that the more ‘power’ a politician has, the more attractive he is to talk shows. On the other, they need to be smooth talkers. They might be tempted to infodump, but if viewers stop watching after five minutes the talk shows are in trouble. ‘Ratings are very important to talk shows. All they want to do is score.’

Schohaus says that experimenting with the format of a show by inviting more unknown guests and discussing less obvious subjects might make talk shows a little more diverse. She would advise them to take a few risks.