... in politics

Election Day (2017)

15 Mar 2017 | 435 words | elections politics europe netherlands

As i am writing this i am on a flight from Strasbourg back to Amsterdam. At the same time people back in the Netherlands are voting in one of the most contested elections of recent memory. There is a real (although increasingly unlikely) chance that the xenophobic, populist and anti European PVV of Geert Wilders will become the biggest party and that the rest of the political spectrum will splinter into 15 or more parties. The dutch elections are seen as a first test for the future of a united and democratic Europe, to be followed by the French presidential elections in a month where the Front National is currently leading the polls.

Much has been written about how this is due to fact that much of the populations feel ignored, left behind and threatened by immigrants and other outsiders. Looking out of the window of the plane this is somewhat hard to reconcile with the landscape passing 8000 meters below. The regions between Amsterdam and Strasbourg (Alsace, Luxembourg, Limburg, Brabant, South Holland) are some of the richest and happiest on earth. You can see that from above, the fields are lush and green, the tractors draw their GPS guided straight lines across the landscape, the roads and other infrastructure are well maintained, the dutch waterworks proudly face the expanses of the North Sea and the villages and small towns are orderly clusters of individuals houses, surrounded by patches of lawn and other greenery.

To anyone who has ever looked out of a plane window when flying approaching airports in South America, Africa, the Middle East or Southeast Asia this will look like paradise. There can be no doubt that Europe is one of the most fortunate places on earth and there can be no doubt that we have the resources not only to support those who have the privilege to be born here but also those who are looking to come here for a better future.

The political crisis that we are facing and that is driving much of the electorate into the arms of xenophobes and populists like Wilders and Le Pen is clearly not the result of resource scarcity. Instead it is a crisis of resource allocation. The fat, rich landscapes passing below us can easily support many more than just the lucky few that are already here. As Europeans this requires us to understand that we need better, fairer ways of sharing our collective wealth…

Meanwhile in the seat next to me: VVD MEP Hans van Balen reading the biography of his party leader and most likely election winner Mark Rutte.

A new era

09 Nov 2016 | 737 words | elections politics trump united states future

When I went to sleep yesterday night I was expecting my daughters Yuki and Mika to wake up in a world where three of the most powerful persons are women. Instead, we woke up to a world in which a misogynistic, ignorant, racist, fear-monger was elected to be the next president of the United States of America. That makes it pretty likely that they will grow up in a world that is considerably worse than the one I grew up in.

Breakfast with vodka shot

2nd breakfast of the morning: double espresso + vodka shot

But this is not about my daughter’s role models (we will find others), this is about the end of an era. Most directly Trump’s victory will affect the US. While this can play out in many ways, it is hard to imagine a way in which this will not cause a lot of hurt to the most vulnerable people in society: (undocumented) immigrants, minorities and generally all those who can’t or don’t want to come up for their own interests at the expense of others.

Trump, and more importantly the extremist right wing networks and strategists who have enabled success, will have the full political apparatus (both houses of congress, the presidency and the supreme court) aligned to turn back progress that has been made over the last decades. America will become a worse place to live for lots of people, and that fills me with dread.

Even worse, Trump will inherit the targeted assassination machine built and employed mercilessly by President Obama1. From the perspective of those killed and maimed by drone strikes and other assassination methods it does not really matter if the strike was authorised by Obama or Trump, but it does not take a lot of imagination to fear that President Trump will be even more indiscriminate in unleashing the hellfires.

An uncertain future for Europe

Closer to home, Trump has questioned the traditional security alignments between the US and Europe. At the same time he has shown remarkable affinity with the Russian President Putin. If this leads to a strategic new alignment between Russia and the US this may very well have far-reaching consequences for peace and stability in Europe. Much of the uncomfortable but peaceful co-existence between the European neighbours of Russia and Russia itself is based on military hegemony of the US that is backing us up. We may soon find ourselves in a drastically different environment characterised by a degree of instability and danger that is unknown to most of the European people of my generation (with the exception of those who witnessed the self-destruction of Yugoslavia from close by).

It also looks pretty certain that the era of free trade fundamentalism will come to an end. TTIP & TTP are effectively dead as of this morning 08:29 CET and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it makes me wonder whether the system that put free trade ahead of pretty much all other considerations will be replaced by something better. I have been somewhat hypocritical in enjoying the perks of being in a privileged position of the ever more interconnected world produced by this system, and I can’t really imagine being thrown back in a world that is much more focussed on nation states, but this seems to be where we are heading.

Standing up against populism at home

Closest to home, the most worrying thing about this morning were the triumphant tweets of Geert Wilders (the racist and nationalistic populist who fancies himself the equivalent of Trump over here) in which he predicts to “win back the Netherlands“. If we have learned one lesson this year it is that we have to treat a Wilders’ victory during next year’s election as a very real possibility.

While most of the developments I have described are out of my realm of influence, this morning made something crystal clear for me: If we do not start doing everything we can to prevent a Wilders’ victory from happening, we have only ourselves to blame and then we will be in even deeper shit when we wake up on 16 March 2017.

  1. If Trump really wants to install a special prosecutor to go after a member of the Obama administration, this prosecutor should not go after Clinton (who has misplaced a couple of thousands of emails), but after President Obama (who has assassinated hundreds of people). ↩︎

Seeing with more precision than a state

27 May 2012 | 299 words | facebook politics review books

So i am finally finding the time to read James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. At the end of chapter 2 he makes the observation that…

…the modern state, through it’s officials, attempts with varying success to create a terrain and a population with precisely those standardized characteristics that will be easiest to monitor, count, asses, and manage. The utopian, immanent, and courteously frustrated goal of the modern state is to is to reduce the chaotic, disorderly, constantly changing social reality beneath it to something more closely resembling the administrative grid of it’s observations.

This observation, which is essential in understanding how governments work, is even more interesting when seen in the context of large non-state entities like facebook. It clearly illustrates why the recurring attempts to compare facebook to a nation state (most recently in this otherwise rather informative Verge article on facebook’s security).

Seen in the light of Scott’s observation facebook is a quantum leap ahead of the modern state: Facebook does not need simplified abstractions to make sense of the social reality of it’s members as it had direct and unmediated access to this social reality (if you want to understand how granular Facebook’s analytical grid is, this Planet Money episode is a good start).

In the end this is what makes Facebook dangerous: it may very well be that this direct access to the social reality of it’s members does not justify it’s inflated IPO price, but with increasing pressure to monetize the social reality of it’s members, Facebook will sooner or later realize that governments are probably willing to pay for access in order to once and for all achieve their utopian, immanent, and courteously frustrated goal of total information about their populations.

Harwood on the 'Steam Powered Census'

04 Apr 2011 | 392 words | politics democracy

Over the last couple of month i have completely lost my ability to follow the exchanges on the nettime-l, and i have come close to unsubscribing for a couple of times. Fortunately i have not had the guts to do so yet and have forced myself every now-and-then to scan through the subject lines of 100s of posts before dragging them to the trash. During my last scan-and-trash operation i have come across a intriguing essay titled ‘Stream Powered Census‘ by my old friend Graham Harwood.

In his essay Harwood examines the contemporary open (government) data movement in it’s historical context: the emerging bureaucratic apparatus and the census data that enables its mechanisms of ordering and control. Through this lens Harwood provides us with a much needed critical perspective on the contemporary perception of ‘open data’ as a panacea for the effects of the crisis:

The government’s radical pension reforms of last year were based on the current life expectancy figures of 77.4years for men and 81.6years for women. This statistic sent thousands of analysts scurrying off during lunch hour. Flurries of emails later revealed that people in Kensington and Chelsea’s life expectancy for females is 85.8 years, almost nine and a half years more than Glasgow’s 76.4:therefore the question was,who was living longer and who would pay.

Due to historical and social formations too numerous to mention here, the gap between the wider public’s perception of data and the social experience it attempts to model, creates a form of indifference toward the expectations of this kind of narrative. A partial remedy for this

indifference might be found in making data more vital through taking a more critical view of transparency. This would require seeing it, not so much in technical terms – the protocols of the enlightened yet unequal participants of the governed and government – but more in terms of the data itself having some kind of agency.

Such a perspective can be imagined through a critical reading in which we are able to see what decisions the data has informed and evidenced and how that data has been collected, for what purpose and by whom. Taking this thread a little further it would also be illuminating to see in which positions the data places the subject of its records, and where too it places the user of the data.

Can someone please throw that PVV dude out of the overland bus?

10 Feb 2011 | 397 words | politics netherlands xenophobia

So apparently this idiot has fielded the idea that hijab-wearing women should be banned from using overland public transport and that the police should be tasked with removing women who wear the hijab from public transport (you can see the exchange on national public television here).

Now obviously this is a completely idiotic idea (which goes further in discriminating specific population groups that the treatment of blacks in apartheid south africa Ot the treatment of african-americans in the US before 1968) which is obviously in line with the fundamental principles of post-war Europe, but it is still kind of scary. It is people like Louis Bontes on whom the current dutch government is dependent for it’s majority. That is a sad state of affairs that probably says just about as much about the moral-integrity of PM Rutte and his cabinet as it says about the delusional ideas of the PVV.

What is striking about this latest proposal is that it does not even make sense by the PVV’s own rationale: Their last high profile intervention regarding the hijab, the idea to introduce a tax for women wearing the Hijab in public, still made some degree of sense (if you buy into their idea that the only reason why women wear the hijab in public is because they are forced by their husbands/fathers to do so to signal their ‘inferiority’). Of course that is utter nonsense, but in this scenario you could possibly argue that slapping a tax on this behavior would hurt the family income and as a consequence might make the men reconsider their behavior. Reasoning along these lines enables the PVV to package their xenophobic ideas and proposals as proposals aimed at promoting equality and freedom.

Now banning hijab-wearing women from public transport does not ‘promote equality’ no matter how you look at it. It would simply deprive Hijab wearing women from using public transport. This is clearly something that increases inequality and constitutes discrimination plain and simple. There are laws against that (for good reasons) and it is a shame that the current government does not realize (they probably do, but apparently they do not have the courage to take the consequences) that by playing their stupid ‘we have agreed to disagree’ game they are undermining the basic principle that all human beings are equal and should be treated as such by their governments.

Required reading? de schijn-élite van de valse munters

Two days ago i finished reading ‘De Schijn-élite van de Valse Munters‘ the much-hyped book by Martin Bosma who is credited with being the strategic brain behind the rise of the populist/islamophobic PVV that is enabling the current right wing minority government in the Netherlands.

I am not exactly sure why i started reading this book in the first place, but i guess it was because i wanted to get a better understanding some of the reasoning behind the (often extreme and seemingly irrational) politics of the PVV. I had also hoped that the book would contain some level of analysis of socio-economic issues that could contribute to my understanding the unprecedented electoral success of the PVV and learn from that. In short, i think that i had hoped that Bosma would turn out to be a really smart strategic thinker from whom i could learn a thing or two. unfortunately, the book has been a huge disappointment in all of these regards.

To be fair, i do not think that Bosma intended to analyze the current status of Dutch society or provide insights into his (or the PVV’s) strategic thinking. For him the books seems to serve one single purpose: to discredit his political opponents on the left.

In essence the entire book consists of an endless collage of quotes from various sources (his favorite sources are post WWII social democrats and fringe lunatics whom he refers to as ‘islam-experts’). From these quotes he tries to weave together a narrative that is supposed to show that following the 1960s Dutch society has been taken over by a far-left elite whose primary concern is to surrender the Netherlands to hordes of muslim immigrants who’s prime concern is to establish sharia law/a caliphate.

To ‘prove’ his theory he relies heavily on his impressive collection of quotes but presents almost no empirical evidence other than a number of references to surveys that have found that ‘the dutch people’ do not desire immigration or any other of the policies of the elites such as subsidies for the arts.

As a result, the biggest part of his book is devoted to a rather absurd attempt to frame the current elites as far-left extremists. This culminates in an entire chapter that is devoted to explaining that Adolf Hitler was, in fact, a far-left extremist1. While Bosma’s almost physical rejection of what he identifies as far-left extremist politics is palpable, i am still a bit puzzled what he wants to prove here: defining his own political position primarily in opposition to (a grotesquely twisted description of) the positions of your opponents does not strike me as something you would do if you had a well developed understanding of your own position.

All of this does not make Bosma the most stupid member of parliament ever (dutch, google translation here), but after reading through his book i am relatively certain that i overestimated his intelligence and the analytic rigor quite a bit. Now this is almost certainly a good thing…

  1. If you read Dutch i recommend reading Ed van Thijn’s response (pdf) in the most recent issue of Socialisme and Democracie in which he strongly objects to Bosma’s attempt to equate socialism and national socialism. ↩︎

Breakfast with Joe Lieberman

29 Oct 2010 | 442 words | doha internet politics united states

On monday during my short trip to Qatar i had breakfast with Joe Lieberman1. to be precise ‘having breakfast’ is a bit of an exaggeration here, but i was sitting at the table next to the table where Senator Lieberman and seven of his aides were having breakfast.

Interestingly my table was within hearing distance and so i could pick up most of the conversation that was unfolding at the table next to mine. Conversation is a bit of a big word here. What was gong on at the other table was more of a briefing: a couple of (rather young) US diplomatic staffers gave the senator an introduction to Qatar and the he was asking a couple of rather simple questions in return.

What was interesting about of this was not so much the subject or the contents of the briefing but the way how these diplomatic staffers described the country of Qatar. Instead of describing specific qualities the country they almost exclusively described how certain aspects of the country compared to other countries in the region: instead of saying that Qatar has a relatively well developed set of banking regulations they would say that the banking regulations in Qatar are better developed than those in Saudi but less developed than those of the Emirates. This style of relaying information went on for the entire 20 minutes or so that i cold listen in to their conversation: Everything was presented in relation to other countries in the region (‘more liberal than Saudi Arabia’, ‘more oil reserves that the UAE’, ‘more stable than Bahrain’, etc.)

Now describing a country according it’s relative position within a region probably is an extremely accurate way of doing so. On the other hand it also assumes that the person you are briefing has a good understanding of the absolute characteristics of those other countries (‘i.e ho politically stabel is bahrain?) and it also strikes me as somewhat disrespectful (which is probably a bad idea if you are describing a country that owns your own Embassy in London) since it implies that the country in question does not possess any noteworthy characteristics by itself.

Update 28.1.2011: boing boing has a post what shutting off the internet looks like (in egypt) that contains this image.

  1. For those of you who forgot about him he was vice presidential candidate who together with the inventor of the Internetset us up with Bush Jr. and who instead of taking this as clue to stop (like gore did) tags along in US politics and comes up with really stupid proposals like the one for an internet kill switch once in a while). ↩︎

For future reference

04 Oct 2008 | 443 words | politics united states

Excellent collumn by Matt Taibbi over at smirkingchimp.com on what the candidacy of Sarah Palin says about the state of American politics [read the whole thing is is worth it!]:

Here’s the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she’s a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed middle-American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin’ Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else’s, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because the image on TV reminds him of the mean, brainless slob he sees in the mirror every morning.

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she’s a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she’s the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV - and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

(…) The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters.

[smirkingchimp via boingboing]

Pirates for Obama

Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas brought together a bunch of american musicians and actors to record a video clip (song) based on the ‘yes we can’ thank-you speech held by Obama on January 8th in Nashua, New Hampshire. The whole clip (‘yes we can song‘) is extremely well done (you might want to call it ‘slick’) and certainly makes me want him to win as many delegates as possible tonight. Especially since, towards the end, there is some proud display of a pirate flag tattoo by one of the female vocalists (excuse my ignorance, but i have absolutely no clue who most of these people are, but then i have mostly listening to Bach in the last couple of days):

Bonus points for the reader who tells me the name of the depicted person.

Migrant Media Metropole

31 Jan 2008 | 416 words | migration labor politics capitalism amsterdam

This saturday my friend Valery (together with Eric & Merijn) are hosting a mini conference called ‘Migrant Media Metropole – New labour struggles in the global city‘ at the Balie in Amsterdam.

Migration and media-activists gather with theorists and labour organizers to discuss and share best practices in the fight against precarity and insecure labour conditions. Sharing inspiring examples of social justice unionism and creative campaigning like “Justice for Janitors” in the U.S. and “Cleaners For a Better Future” in the Netherlands. The aim is to challenge traditional labour practices, syndicate and inspire a sharper network of social activists, academics, media makers and artists to join contemporary urban labour struggles and confederate into a globalization from below.

This mini conference, which brings together lots of people i have been working with over the past few years, should be extremely interesting for anyone being even remotely interested in issues of migration and labour. Originally it was planned as part of the escalation strategy of the Cleaners For a Better Future campaign here in the Netherlands.

As part of this campaign cleaners, organized by the FNV trade union, in collaboration with activists from social movements in the Netherlands fought for a minimum hourly wage of €10 and a number of other social befits. The campaign made heavy use of direct actions (which is relatively new and uncommon for unions in the Netherlands) and ultimately succeeded in realizing all the demands of the cleaners:

We won 10 euros an hour for everyone starting on January 1st 2009. Workers above 8 years seniority will get the 10 euros in April of this year while everyone else will go from $8.50 to $9.70 an hour in April as well. We got an extra paid holiday, additional travel pay increase, Dutch and vocational training on company time for every worker, initial language to protect staffing levels upon contract change and full access. The contract will cost employers and clients 135 million euros. This is a national agreement covering 150,000 cleaners.

As far as i can tell this is mighty impressive (although V. who expected this struggle to go on for much longer describes this sudden victory as a ‘premature ejaculation’). It seems as if there are very few places in the world with a minimum hourly salary of 10 euros for cleaners (ironically one of them seems to be the kingdom of Belgium, where the minimum hourly salary for cleaners is €10.73 – but then cleaners are called ‘surface technicans‘ in Belgium).

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: