Wednesday, May 31, 2006

You don't want to be a criminal, do you?

Originally uploaded by georgeaye.
Bling..a box appears on my screen. "Working break." Two hours later the same happens again. Bling-beep at 17.30. "End of the day."

We have a new time management system on our computers at work. It is slightly annoying but I guess it is a good reminder in the end that you should stare at the screen 7,5 hours continuously. (Oops, already posted this when I noticed that the previous sentence is missing a crucial word. There should be a NOT between should and stare. Sort of a Freudian, is it?)

The best part of the programme is the tone of the messages. And I thought it was uniquely Nordic that The System is in control. My favourite box of this programme is. "You have been working now for two hours without a break. You are about to break the Dutch labour legislation." Talk about attitude.

Dutch words of the day:
- herinnering (reminder)
- het meest beslissende (the most decisive)
- communiceren (to communicate)
- veilig (safe, secure)

And I am still not sure how you spell the word "write" in Dutch....

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Joining the team

And orange were the stands
Originally uploaded by Rúben.
I have been living in the Netherlands for seventeen months. I realised a while ago that this country is a really easy place for an EU citizen to remain detached. I have been able to keep this "I am only visiting" attitude for this entire time.

Well, after some pondering I came to the conclusion that even if I would be staying for only a short time, it does not hurt to integrate with the society. The expat bubble feels a bit small after some time.

I took a step to this direction a while ago by subscribing to a Dutch newspaper. It has helped me to realise who are people like Minister Donner, John de Mol, Femke Halsema, Hasna El-Maroudi, Ahmed Aboutaleb, Laetitia Griffith and Marco Borsato. As a political scientist this has made me feel less ignorant.

My second step has been speaking Dutch more often. I have written several text messages and emails in Dutch and decided to speak only Dutch with two of my colleagues. It is slow and at times frustrating but I am sure that in the end it is the right decision. I realised that it is really a silly attitude to think that Dutch would not be a useful language to learn. All languages are useful.

I decided to document my learning process by listing in my blog new Dutch words that I have learned. Yesterday's and today's words are (translations are not exact):

lullen - babble
gek - strange, unusual
lief - sweet
huilen - cry
afstand - distance
pot - lesbian, dyke (offensive phrase)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Confession of a killer

Well, it started as a decision a few years ago to stop eating red meat. Last year I saw a documentary on a poultry farm and decided to cut chicken out of my diet. I have been quite successful in that. Until yesterday.

I had dinner in a superb restaurant in Brussels called La Manufacture. Beautiful interior, top of the class service and remarkable food on decent prices. I started with the best prawns I have had in years. They were served with vanilla marinated tomatoes. Weird but nice.

I ordered a fillet of gilthead as main course. When the waiter brought the main courses, she put a plate with chicken in front of me. For a reason difficult to explain I did not react. I checked with my dinner date: no, this is definitely not gilthead.

Well, I outsourced my principles, hoped that this chicken had a happy life and enjoyed every bite. The chicken was moist and slightly crispy served with a rhubarb compote and a cake with olives. It was absolutely divine. And I was even happier when I saw the gilthead dish I ordered being served to the next table and it looked like the fish was slaughtered on top of mashed potatoes.

Very delightful act towards my principles.

p.s. My last column for Ellit was published. It is on where people should take photos and where not. I must admit that I feel a bit sad that it ends.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Reason to worry?

Moving Day 08
Originally uploaded by NYC Stygian.
After the Verdonk-Hirsi Ali affair the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende, expressed his concern of the incident's influence on the reputation of the Netherlands abroad. Is Netherlands still an attractive place to live in? Well, the statistics from last year (Centraal Bureau voor Statistiek CBS) show the following:

- The Netherlands is the only Western European country with more people moving out than in.

- in 2005 121.000 persons left the country. This is the highest figure ever. The number of people moving in (immigrants) was 92.000.

- During the first quarter of 2006 5.000 people more than last year decided to leave the country.

- Emigration rose most among the over 55-year-olds. A majority of the emigrants are 20-30-year-olds.

That's something to think about. In the article the prices of housing are mentioned as one reason.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Telecommunication from yesterday

Originally uploaded by johannestyve.
"Lordi will win this wussy competition!...Lordi is the best!" (man, late'50s, Finland)
"This was worth living this far. I am so happy we are alive. Vodka!" (woman, late-20s, Finland)
"I am ashamed! I am sure they will drag some man from Lapland on stage and Marco B. will host it." (woman, early-30s, Finland, commenting on next year's ceremonies)
"Euphoria! National trauma has been overcome!" (man, mid.-20s, Finland)
"I have already fainted." (man, early 30s, Finland)
"Never been a democrat and proven 2 b right again." (man, late 20s, the Netherlands)
"Finnish popular culture goes Europe. Halleluja." (man, late 50s, the Netherlands)
"U need treatment... I always knew u Finns were a bit weird but this? Too much vodka in yr brains. And the worst thing is to see lobotomized Europe following u guys...It's a whole continent of zombies. Well, congratulations anyway, even though I would consider professional help ;)" (man, mid-30s, the Netherlands)
"Damn, it's your country. Almost forgot." (man, late 20s, the Netherlands)
"We had an afterparty until eight in the morning." (man, early 30s, Finland)

Friday, May 19, 2006

"Ik ga weg"

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Originally uploaded by Nic Name.
It has been less than a week from the decision of the Minister of Integration to take away the Dutch citizenship of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In the press conference she gave on that day Hirsi Ali explained her position and then stated that it has been difficult to work as an MP under heavy protection but it has not been impossible. She concluded by saying:"Ik ga weg." (I will go away)

I just glanced through the website of NRC Handelsblad. Hirsi Ali as an actor in this drama has disappeared completely. It is all about Rita Verdonk and Dutch politics now. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has even been replaced in the Dutch parliament.

Hirsi Ali is a fascinating figure. She is very difficult to situate on the political landscape. I do not doubt that this process has been overwhelmingly horrible for her but it also makes her a more prominent figure in the so-called Clash of Civilisations debate.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Never Look Back

I got an email today. A friend of mine had been following my blog comments on Hirsi Ali and reminded me of the fuss in Finland a few years back on Rosa Meriläinen. The young member of the Parliament from the Greens irritated many with her outspoken strategy. She wore provocative buttons at the parliament and tried to change the language of politics.

Hell broke loose when she said in an interview for the magazine Image that she had tried cannabis (but also mentioned that she did not really like it - if that matters). She was prosecuted because she confessed breaking the law.

In the end Meriläinen was found not guilty. The court stated that a testimony needs to be given in front of a police or judge and the prosecutor in this case was not able to prove that Meriläinen had used cannabis. A comment from an interview was not valid in court. They ruled that comments in the media could be done as an act of provocation or art.

I wonder if the same interpretation is in the Dutch system. Now Minister Rita "agreement is an agreement, I could not do otherwise" Verdonk took Hirsi Ali´s citizenship away based on an interview in a TV documentary.

Verdonk wants to profile herself as a politician who is firm and strict. No special treatment for friends. She is popular because of her "agreement is an agreement" policy. She tried to play the empathy card with the classic "do you think I find this nice" comment.

Of course one should not allow Hirsi Ali to break the law because she is in the parliament. As she has pointed out, several people change their stories in order to get an asylum. Hirsi Ali really brings the human stories behind all those deportation decisions on the consciousness of the average man or woman which is valuable as it is. The main question here is that everybody has known for years that Hirsi Ali lied. Why is Verdonk acting now?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On power and tolerance

Politiek Café
Originally uploaded by
Nic Name.
I have been upset the entire day due to the Hirsi Ali issue. It tells too much about the general mentality in this country at the moment. The newspapers today write that several leading politicians including ministers wish "to take distance" or "are critical" towards Verdonk´s harsh actions. But still, Verdonk remains as a minister and Hirsi Ali does not have a Dutch passport anymore.

I would still say that it is way too easy to blame Verdonk for all this. We are witnessing in a very clear manner the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Most of the immigrants have been tolerated in this country for years. Of course people are not openly happy with Verdonk´s actions but it is still going on. She is doing what several people have been hoping for but have not dared to say out loud. When Hirsi Ali was asked to leave her apartment last week, the neighbours did not react.

I feel helpless. I feel like I should do something but I have no idea what. As a Moroccan-origin writer Abdelkader Benali wrote today on"Het Nederland van de jaren negentig - open, tolerant, multicultureel - is hiermee in één klap afgebouwd, ingeplakt en klaar voor vernietiging." (Loosely translated: The Netherlands of the 90s - open, tolerant, multicultural - is now with one smack being blown into pieces and ready for wrecking.)

But of course the minister is not an innocent bystander. She was saying over and over again in yesterday´s parliamentary debate that she couldn´t do anything else. She claims that this was her duty. This answer tells too much of the way politics is seen in our societies at the moment. Politics turns into execution and management and politicians claim they do what they have to do.

A friend of mine told me yesterday that she was some time back in a discussion where the representative of the Commission said that understanding diversity is in the European genes. I would dare to argue that.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Back to one identity

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Originally uploaded by Nic Name.
The country of my residence, The Netherlands, is turning into a scary place. The country known as the centre of tolerance on the continent has taken a radical shift to the other direction in only a couple of years. The person in the focus is once again – although this time as a victim – the Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Or Dutch, yes, that is the issue. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Somali-turned-Dutch politician who worked with the murdered Theo van Gogh on the film Submission and who has been living undercover and with police protection. During the last years she has been one of the most visible Europeans speaking her mind in favour of tougher integration policies.

Last week Ayaan Hirsi Ali said publicly in an interview again that she lied about her background and name when she came to the Netherlands. Minister of Integration Rita Verdonk - from the same party - told on Monday that the investigation that she did in a couple of days showed that Hirsi Ali is not a Dutch and has never been one. She is therefore requested to leave the country. Hirsi Ali announced yesterday that she would be leaving the Dutch Parliament and would start working for an American think tank.

The issue is the biggest political debate currently in the Netherlands. Members of the parliament are attacking the government and especially Minister Verdonk for the issue and this could bring the government down. One of the parties in the cabinet coalition is considering leaving the cabinet for this. The main question in the parliament debate has been why Minister Verdonk is acting on the issue now when Hirsi Ali confessed the lie already years ago. A parliamentary group leader of Verdonk’s own party VVD said today that if the procedure would go like the one week investigation on Hirsi Ali now, it would be very difficult to explain the cues in the immigration procedures.

I am really scared. Even if I would not agree with Hirsi Ali in all the things she is saying, I find Verdonk's actions inhumane and cruel.

The country that took pride for tolerance and being able to manage diversity is shifting its policy to follow the lines favoured by most countries: identity politics. I find it irresponsible that a politician who wishes to get the leading position on their election list next year (Verdonk) decides to gain points by playing with people’s destinies and lives. Verdonk is the same politician who suggested a national code which would pressure immigrants to speak only Dutch in public.

But the worst things in the current situation are the following:
1. All the other politicians find it all too easy to point the finger at Verdonk. She is still a minister appointed by the Queen and a member of a governing party.
2. As my flatmate pointed out, most Dutch people accept this. They think that Verdonk is doing a good job in being tough. A poll just published in the TV news stated that 43 % of the Dutch think it was right to take away her citizenship because she lied.

I have my TV on. The most popular Dutch soap opera started now. It is called Goede tijden, slechte tijden (Good times, bad times). Well, it is easy to know which one we’re in now.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rise and fall

Originally uploaded by newquebec.
What a positive surprise. The Finnish weekly, Suomen Kuvalehti, has put online and on the front page of their website the article I wrote last year on the rise and fall of Blair.

The article is mostly about his rhetorics that got him into power and are now bringing him down. The layout is also pretty stunning.

What is also nice that one is able to download the article as a pdf.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Today´s reasons for happiness

Originally uploaded by
It must be the summer but my mind has switched from thinking in big schemes into snap-snap-snap stuff. Result: more lists in this blog.

I feel really happy. Today the reasons for this were - in addition to the weather - the following.

1. Pink: Stupid Girls

This woman just kicks ass. Her attack on bimboism is fantastic. Lindsay Lohan (pic) is one of her targets. My favourite part of the lyrics is the following:

"What happened to the dreams of a girl president/She's dancing in the video next to 50 Cent."

2. Pet Shop Boys: I´m with Stupid

The coolest guys in pop singing about the relationship of two of the most powerful men on the planet. Tip: both last names begin with B and they attacked jointly to a country with a name starting with I. Again, abfab lyrics:

"See you on the TV/Call you every day/Fly across the ocean/Just to let you get your way/No one understands me/Where I'm coming from/Why would I be with someone/Who's obviously so dumb?/Love comes/Love grows/Every time you rise to meet me/Take my hand to greet me/Love comes/Love grows/And power can give a man/Much more than anybody knows"

3. I have clever friends. My friend Pinja is so right when criticising the argumentation of precariate movement. Highly educated people fighting for the right issues with highly disturbing, pampering and condescending rhetorics.

4. Don Johnson Big Band: Road

I really like the new single of the Finnish intellectual hiphop band.

"Keep one eye on the road/The other one fixed on the one you hold."

Monday, May 08, 2006

It's summer in Amsterdam when

Originally uploaded by Photochiel.
1. I have been on a roof terrace two days in a row.

2. I have put my hand accidentally into something sticky on the ground while on a picnic in Vondelpark.

3. the gelateria at Nieuwmarkt is once again open even in the middle of the night.

4. some yellow dust sort of thing covers the seat of my bike in the end of the day.

5. I need to sneeze every 10 minutes and I cannot smell that well.

6. more and more people want to come and visit.

7. I can once again use my father's old sunglasses.

8. lunch breaks are once again held by the canal outside the office.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

20 observations über Oberhausen

FiKuFe 05
Originally uploaded by The Infatuated.
I love film festivals. The buzz and intensity is highly addictive. During the last year or so I have managed to get to festivals with an accreditation either through my work for the Foundation or as a journalist. I just spent two days at the 52nd International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany. I was invited to speak in a panel discussion on film education in schools. Oberhausen is one of the leading short film festivals in the world and only two hours by train from Amsterdam. I think I will head back next year. This is what I found myself thinking.

1. Every time I present our theoneminutesjr project, I get even more convinced that the project kicks ass.

2. Germans have supermodern and fancy cars. And they all seem to have been polished on the same morning.

3. If you know that you’re going to spend the day in a cinema and it’s over 20 degrees, don’t put on the trendy polyester shirt from the 1970s.

4. They really play the LAA-LA-LAA-LAA-OY-OY-OY schlager music in German bars. It is not a myth,

5. A festival should always have tasty food. All the food at Oberhausen was ”politically correct” meaning organic. As one of the organisers phrased it:”Some people really have their digestion system messed up cos they eat healthy food for the first time in years and their system starts running again.”

6. Let’s face it, Germans produce better beer than the Dutch.

7. I am fascinated by film on teenagers when the approach is a non-moralistic one. I saw for instance a fantastic film on kids and teenagers from Italy (Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio: Zakaria) and Lebanon (Mahmoud Hojeij: Once). And just to clarify things: I cannot stand things such as ”Kids say funny things” or talking babies in diaper commercials.

8. Virpi Suutari and Susanna Helke clearly belong to the best documentary makers from Finland. Their short film on teenager boys called Kevät (Spring) manages to show the enormous amount of energy of teenager boys in a rare, authentic and positive light. The film also shows once again how girls and boys develop with a different speed. When girls are already young women, boys still run madly around the forest, beat each other with sticks or jump up and down on a bed in an IKEA store.

9. At the festival there was a special programme curated by Lebanese video artist Akram Zaatari. I am starting to understand the fascination on Middle East.

10. Germans should get rid of dubbing films and television programmes. On television you are able to hear only German and even film festivals are done with simultaneous translation.

11. I am going to start saving the festival passes.

12. I really have to come up with a technique to learn names.

13. Nationality matters still. I felt a sense of pride when Suutari’s and Helke’s work was shown. And Finnish people manage to find each other.

14. My parents have always had a fascination on Germany. For me it started with Berlin and now it is being extended to the rest of the country.

15. I cannot stand cynical journalists. I saw once again colleagues who think that a sign of a professional journalist is stating that everything is shit and that you don’t get excited.

16. One should not sit next to heavily breathing men in cinemas.

17. How many music videos can you do using clips from old movies?

18. The coordinator of the music video category looked like my hipster-gone-goth friend Jonna.

19. I found new bands that I like: Catpower, The Kooks, Die Sterne, The Concretes, Mediengruppe Telekommander, Phantom/Ghost.

20. German is a really good language for rock. All magazines should give out sample CDs like the German magazine Musikexpress.

Friday, May 05, 2006

iLife, therefore iAm

Apple in the street
Originally uploaded by t_a_i_s.
I have been a proud Apple owner for a few years now. I love my iPod and iBook. I get a sense of satisfaction when I take my white plastic laptop from my bag in a public place.

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, said once that Apple users talk about their computers in non-technological language. I can relate to that. I don't need to know the technical details. I am just happy that it works. And that it is cool and hip.

Well, the new Apple campaign is playing with this. Apple is represented in the ads by a cool, 20-something, relaxed guy whereas PC is a middle-aged man in a suit. The ads are nasty and funny. Have a look.

Amusing situation related to this happened this morning. I was showing the ads to a friend of mine from his PC. QuickTime (Apple programme) was not working properly, the sound quality was awful and in the end the browser crashed. Just like in the ads..

I had a discussion about the ads with two colleagues yesterday. The other (Mac user) said that they propagate having a Mac as a lifestyle issue. The other (PC user) did not find them that funny.

Steve Jobs, I remain in your party - now and forever.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Obligatory civil service

NY kiosk
Originally uploaded by plumstead_girl.
I used to work in a kiosk the first two years of my studies to finance all that barhopping - and to pay the rents.

I am immensely grateful for that experience. When you have been on the other side of the counter, you remember forever what is the impact of someone smiling to you or just being polite. Based on those two years in one of the poshiest districts in Helsinki I can tell you that drunken teenagers are nothing compared to middle-aged men in suits. Some of them treat the waiters and kiosk workers like these people wouldn't have brains. It is unbelievable how arrogant and rude people can be.

I remembered those times when I was flying today back to Amsterdam with SAS. I could not help overhearing the discussion between the man behind my back and the steward.

SAS has a policy that one has to pay for all drinks in economy class (that shitty policy is a subject for another post). When the man behind me (Swedish) heard this, he went ballistic saying that he had paid for a meal and so on. The steward was very polite in explaining that this has been the policy in economy class as a difference to Economy Flex since 2004. The man told him extremely loudly that this is outrageous and he will stop flying with SAS because in his reservation he was promised a meal. The steward asked to see the reservation and the boarding pass. Result: the man was sitting in the wrong seat.

The worst thing was that after all this he got up, walked up to his seat and waited for them to come and serve him. And with no apologies at any stage for his behaviour. I would like to speak to his parents and check how he was raised.

At times like this I feel that instead of military service everyone should be forced to work in a bar or a kiosk for a year.