... in review

REMINDER: the CIA were the good guys when we were kids

20 Nov 2009 | 340 words | cinema propaganda review war

So the opening evening of IDFA 2009 was a bit of a disappointment (if you do not count new insights regarding the size of mice living in Tuschinski and the esthetic co-dependancies between skimpy dresses and high heels). For some rather dubious reason (must be the general obsession with the fact that the berlin wall came down 20 years ago) ‘War Games And The Man Who Stopped Them‘ was chosen as an opening film.

This turned out an really self congratulatory cold-war warrior biopic about a polish colonel who (with a little help from his friends at the CIA) claimed to have more or less singlehandedly brought the entire Warsaw pact to it’s knees. If we are to believe the movie he did this by providing the CIA with over 40.000 documents detailing russian strategy for attacking Western Europe. Conveniently not a single of these 40.000 documents was shown during the course of this ‘documentary’.

Instead we got to see lots of former CIA agents saying nice things about the CIA and the Polish colonel, and lots of former Warsaw pact military and intelligence officials saying nice things about the Warsaw pact and not so nice things about the Polish colonel. As far as the sources are concerned i can hardly imagine less selection than relying exclusively on (ex)intelligence officers.

Throw in lots of shots of the widow of the Polish colonel browsing through photographs of the Polish colonel when he was looking good being young-and-in-uniform plus lots of unrelated shots of sail boats and you have a perfectly meaningless film.

If this is not bad enough, i would not be surprised if the entire film was commissioned by the CIA. If i was part of their public relations department this kind of cold-war-porn would be very welcome in order to distract from the fact that since they have brought down the wall (with the help of the Polish colonel) the CIA has mainly been busy using these newly freed countries to run torture prisons in upscale horseback riding schools.

Parallel infrastructures

Over the last year or so Sara (together with Suzanne Valkenburg and Eefje Blankevoort) has explored the world of vacation parks in the Netherlands. Many of these parks that had originally been designed for dutch families to spend their summer vacations have – over the years – attracted new types of temporary and permanent residents: Kenyan athletes competing for price money in dutch running events, Afghani refugees, African agriculture students, Dutch drop outs and polish contract workers and their families. Slowly these vacation parks have morphed into an almost invisible buffer zone, assigned to those people that mainstream society attempts to keep out of sight.

The website www.beloofdeland.org (‘het beloofde land’ (‘the promised land’) is the name of one of these parks) documents 5 of these vacation parks through video, text and photo’s, contrasting their current status with archival material from times when these places where the unchallenged territory of families on vacation. Installations based on this online documentary can be seen in the context of the Made in Arnhem exhibition (from 12 september until 25 october), in the Open Air Museum Arnhem (inside a 1950s vacation house by dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld – from 13 september until October 27th) and in De Verdieping in Amsterdam (from 26 september – October 4th).

Yellow suzuki swifts issued to polish temporary workers by their temp-working agency ‘Exotic Green‘ in front of vacation homes in Patersven/Zundert (foto: Suzanne Valkenburg).

The socio-economic impact of file sharing [popular science edition]

I just finished reading ‘Ups and Downs – the economic and cultural impact of file sharing for music, film and games’ (see my earlier post for context). All in all the full version does not contain a lot of surprises when compared to the executive summary (which my first post was based on): It is a well written report that, although it makes a lot of sense to someone familiar with the subject, does not really come up with much new insights either. The strength of the report is that it places file-sharing within the wider social and economic context (as opposed to placing it solely within the economic logic of the entertainment industry). While they sometimes appear naive (it does not seem to occur to them that buying CDs or renting DVDs from the video-rental-shop is rapidly becoming obsolete from a technicals point of view) the researchers do seem to have a fairly good understanding of what is going on.

The core of their argument (to be found in sections 5 & 6) is that there is no direct causal relationship between file-sharing and the decline in revenues in the music industry. On top of this the researchers argue that even tough it is likely that there is a substantial decline in revenues for the recording industry as a result of file sharing, this is offset by an even more substantial increase in welfare for the general public (or at least that proportion of the general public that downloads musical works). This finding is based on an economic model that is summarized in figure 6.1:

Figure 6.1 from ‘Ups and downs’ – blue boxes and grey arrows and labels mine (personally i am a bit surprised by the relative amounts of lazy and smart peple implied by this figure. life experience tells me to expect the opposite distribution).

  1. The orange block represents the revenue generated by selling recoded music in the absence of file sharing, which equals the maximum possible revenue for the recording industry. In this situation the rich people(a.k.a stupid people) profit (save money) because they would have been willing to pay more than the market price. All the people to the right of the orange colored block simply could not afford to buy recorded music.
  2. With the possibility of file sharing available to consumers we see a shift: a certain amount of people who used to buy recorded music now download it for free (‘cheap people‘). In addition the smart people (a.k.a poor people) now have the same access to recorded music as all the others and finally there also is a group of lazy people who simply cannot be bothered to download because they perceive the process as too burdensome.

When comparing the changes between (1.) and (2.) in economic terms the researchers conclude that while there is a negative impact on the recording industry (caused by the cheap people) the fact that the smart people now also have access to recorded music represents a much bigger increase in economic welfare (and does not hurt the recording industry as it is ‘demand without purchasing power’ that is being met)1. As mentioned in my earlier post the researchers value the damage to the recording industry at a maximum €100 million p.a while they value the socio-economic gain caused by the increased access to recorded music at at least €200 million p.a.

Personally i am not sure if this will be of any consolation to the recording industry, but as far as i can see it is a fairly adequate description of the current transformation process: A business model anchored in an outdated means of distribution is (partially) being replaced by a social practices that are (a) more in line with the technological state of the art and (b) provide greater socio-economic benefits to society at large.

For the rest the report does not contain much news: Chapter 3 (‘the legal framework’) gives a solid and up to date (it even includes last years legislative battle around the EU’s telecom review) overview of the legal implications of file sharing (in the Netherlands) and Chapter 5 gives an overview of recent studies on the economic impact of file sharing2. Apart from the economic model described above chapter 6 also lists a number of ‘dynamic and indirect’ effects of file sharing that are fairly obvious but nevertheless worthwhile to repeat: The researchers argue (p.123) that while it is likely that file sharing hurts big successful artists (as cheap people will buy less CDs from them) it has a positive impact on smaller artists (as it allows more people to sample their works, which will turn some of these people into buyers of their CDs or make them attend concerts). More interestingly the researchers also argue (p.125) that acceptance by consumers of the substantial increases in ticket prices for live-concerts has to be seen in the context of file-sharing: The increased willingness to pay high prices for concert tickets may be due to the fact that consumers are aware that they are spending less on recorded music (or the other way around: as they have to pay more for concert-tickets consumers are less willing top pay for recorded music and resort to file sharing).

When it comes to their conclusions the researchers note that file-sharing is here to stay and that we (the recording industry) are beyond the point of no return: It is impossible to build a successful business that is solely based on trading recorded music. According to the researchers is is also highly unlikely that there will be a point in the future where all music will be obtained from authorized sources (p.136). Given this they argue (inter alia, their official recommendation comes down to a pathetic paragraph where they make a plea against criminalization of end users and for more awareness building among file sharers) for a model where internet service provides offer internet subscriptions that include a fee for the access to copyright protected content (a.k.a the content flatrate).

  1. Note how the rich people profit in both scenarios: they always pay less then they could (or should). this is probably why the distribution model the Nine Inch Nails used for Ghosts I-V worked so well↩︎

  2. Chapter 4 ‘Downloading in the Netherlands’ is a bit of a disappointment. If presents the results of a representative survey that was conduced (by an external research-firm) among Dutch internet users. While the researchers repeatedly mention that the survey shows that file sharers have no clear understanding of what they are doing the data presented by them also underlines that the researchers (or the company contracted to carry out the survey) lack a clear understanding of their research object: see table 4-9 (usenet and newsgroups are two synonyms for the same source of files) or table 4-13 (most sites listed as sources for paid-for downloads do not offer downloads to users based in the Netherlands). Given this Chapter 4 casts a shadow on the otherwise high methodological standards claimed by the research team. ↩︎

Thinking in times of social hypochondria

30 Oct 2008 | 1633 words | sociology xenophobia netherlands review books

Finally finished reading ‘Denken in een tijd van sociale hypochondrie‘ (‘thinking in times of social hypochondria’) by the Dutch sociologist Willem Schinkel a couple of weeks ago. By the standards of Dutch sociologists, Schinkel is fairly young (31) and relatively famous (he was one of the 6 summer guests appearing on VPRO’s zomergasten in 2008 [torrent-file here]) which however does not mean that there are any english language references or translations of his work or available on the net (hence all the quotes in the remainder of this post, have been translated by myself and might contain translation mistakes).

The book is rather long and at many times hard to read as he cultivates a way of writing that is obsessed with tracing every single observation/thought/proposition back along the entire back-catalog of philosophers & sociologists. This of course is common among theoretical social science scholars (and probably the reason why most people don’t read these kind of books) but in his case it seems to serves a special purpose: Distancing himself from all pre-Schinkel sociology and declaring most of it worthless. According to Schinkel, Niklas Luhmann (who’s theoretic work already constituted a fairly radical departure from the works of many of his colleagues and predecessors) was the last of the line of ‘old Europeans’ all of whom worked based on a misleading concept of ‘society’. Schinkel, who borrows heavily from Luhmann’s work1, comes to the conclusion that even Luhmann was wrong where it comes to conceptualizing ‘society’ (Schinkel uses the term ‘society’ (‘maatschappij’/’samenleving’ in Dutch) exclusively in quotes) and that it rests on him to demonstrate that there is no empirical entity called society:

We therefore leave behind the fictional character of ‘society’ and exploit it. A ‘society’ is a creative fiction, a map that pretends to be a landscape. Or at least a map that pretends to be a map of a landscape – within the metaphysics of society thinking has never advanced further than this. It is the fiction of a ‘together’ and co-existence, and therefore we now refer to ‘society’ as a certain kind of confiction. We are talking about the fiction of a ‘con’, and ‘with’ or ‘together’ […] The observation ‘society’ is such a confiction. This term is a fictive representations (representation fictives) and has a fonction fabulatrice which we will call a fiction function in this context. ‘Society’ is just one example of such a confiction but conficties exist in all types and sizes and at different levels of aggregation. A ‘neighborhood’ is a confictie, as well as a ‘club’, a ‘nation’, a ‘people’. […] The ‘society’ is a fiction which must be believed in. (page 286 f.)

Throughout the book Schinkel continues this arrogant way of writing/reasoning but for me he manages to get away with it: The entire book seems to be torn between two main objectives: One the one hand he tries to develop his own sociological grand theory (including an appendix of 20 or so pages to explain the terminology that he introduced in order to do so) and on the other hand he delivers one of the most powerful analyses of contemporary Dutch ‘society’ that i have come across since i am in the Netherlands/stopped studying sociology (which – to those not familiar with my biography – is a direct casual relationship). For me, this second aspect of the book is much more interesting than the first (and makes it a must-read in the current political discourse in the Netherlands). His analysis is not limited to Dutch ‘society’ alone and he places the current Dutch obsession with [integration] (the term is used in brackets throughout the entire book) within a wider analysis of late/developped capitalist ‘societies’ at the beginning of the 21st century2:

The only remaining collective project after the demise of the credibility of the projects of the Enlightenment and Modernity is thus what we call Operation Obesity. This concerns a residual-organicistic discourse that conceptualizes ‘society’ in terms of growth. In this discourse, unguided but necessary growth has taken over the position of progress within the project of modernity. For society Operation Obesity results in all the accompanying feelings of guilt that are characteristic for overconsuming obese people: concern about weight, fitness and health, guilt with respect to those less fortunate and the environment. Where it comes to the politics of [integration] this manifests itself in adressing the problem of [integration] spcifically growth inhibitors are observed. “Integration policy revolves around the words ‘modern citizenship’ and ‘economic participation’. By this the government means that citizens feel involved with each other and with society.” In short ‘the society’ is largely defined in economic terms. […]. The words “goal of integration policy is a society in which everyone actively and fully contributes”, must therefore be taken literally: ‘Society’ is compromised by those who ‘work’ in economic terms. (page 379 f.)

In other words the process of [integration] that is primarily defined and debated in cultural terms is – above all – a mechanism that attempts to ensure the as total as possible inclusion of migrants into the economic system. He argues that migrants (and other outsiders) are not placed outside of ‘society’ but that they rather form the (economic) underside of the system that perceives them as outsiders. Schinkel is certainly not the first one to point out that the concept of [integration] implies that that migrants are somehow languishing in a place other than ‘society’ and he devotes much energy (and many pages) to illustrate the more or less obvious point that there is no place outside of society where those that are expected to [integrate] could be located (the moment they are identified as objects in need of [integration] they are already part of ‘society’). Consequently he concludes that the persistent demands to [integrate] are primarily aimed at reproducing the position of migrants as ‘outsiders’:

When it comes to [integration] of the n-th generation migrants the bar is raised so high, that the result is a permanent somewhat weak state of [integration]. This is illustrated by the themes that make up the curriculum of the current naturalization courses: A pre-modern conviviality sentiment (voormodern gezelligheidssentiment – ‘What do you when your neighbour has her birthday?’), a responsible eco-consumerism (‘to what category of waste do frying fats belong?’) – things characterizing the Dutch ‘Judaeo-Christian-Humanist culture’. This is also evident from the [integration]attempts from neighborhoods such as the ‘greeting zones’ and the ‘street contracts’ mentioned in the intermezzo that intend to promote a sentimental disciplined ‘street contact’. [Integration] is everything except in-corporation (the real and literal inclusion in the social body). […] [Integration] is thus also the symbol of the utopian ‘self’ observation that is based on a provincial petty-bourgeois community-rhetoric. In fact [Integration] reflects an observation that is contrary to the postmodern hyperindividual constantly looking for connection-opportunities, mobility, self-transformations and reinventions. […] That the ideals of naturalization and [integration] are so petty-bourgeois and confer so little integrity, has everything to do with their ridiculous nature in a time of ‘self’description crisis on a global scale. (page 390)

For Schinkel this ridiculous vision on [integration] is functional. The constant pressure on migrants to participate in the ‘host society’ needs to be read literally: They can only become part of the imagined ‘society’ if they contribute their labour to the economic project of perpetual growth without progress (‘Operation Obesity’). At another point in the book (and i think that was the example from the current Dutch debate around integration that for some reason most disgusted me) he quotes from a website providing information at migrants that are expected to [integrate] in Dutch ‘society’ through taking ‘citizenship’ courses:

See: www.hoemoetikinburgeren.nl [pk: the site is not active anymore and forwards to www.hetbeingtmettaal.nl. A pdf (see excerpt below) with the content of the site is still available here] On this site we find the following vision as a normative decoration: “During the naturalization course, I met a couple of nice people. I am still in contact with one girl. She is Vietnamese and she also works for Shell. We speak Dutch with each other.” Typical migrants trying to become citizens work at Shell, or: directly see ‘how we live together in the Netherlands’: preferably working for Shell. (page 394 footnote 63)

  1. For example in this crucial passage on page 211: “Dat differentiatiedenken dat zich oriënteert aan hand van het systeem/omgeving-schema gaat precies aan die grenzen voorbij door een sociaal systeem (bijvoorbeeld een ‘maatschappij’) te conceptualisieren als iets dat alleen bestaat in een bepaalde verhouding tot een omgeving van dat systeem en dat bovendien mogelijkerwijs functionele relaties onderhoud met die omgeving. In geval van het onderscheid systeem/omgeving is de omgeving een ‘unmarked space’ die verder geen informatie biedt. Maar word de omgeving systeemintern gethematiseerd als bestaande uit andere systemen en gaat het om wat Luhmann ‘Systeem-zu-System’ relaties noemt dan is ook de ander kant van de vorm iets dat gemarkeerd kan worden. Kortom het onderscheid systeem/omgeving betrekt een systeem altijd noodzakelijkerwijs op iets buiten dat systeem en ondertekend daarmee dat systemen. hoewel ze autopoietisch en dus operatief gesloten zijn , nooit bestaan onafhankelijk van een systeemomgeving.” ↩︎

  2. At another point in the book he makes a rather interesting observation about the process commonly called globalisation: “De Globalisering was bovendien het meest anti-filosofische dat het westerse denken had kunnen overkomen: en immanent geheel van niks anders dan banale connecties. Een geheel zonder buitenkant ook, met alleen maar nog interne omgevingen. een ruimte van eeuwige herhalingen van steeds iets anders: andere connecties. Een ruimte die niet te bezetten is, maar waarin ieder zich slechts kan redden door kwetsbaarmakende connecties aan te gaan. Het gaat hier om de teloorgang van van iedere historische taak en de implausibiliteit van iedere filosofische constructie , zoals bijvoorbeeld Sloterdijk die ondernomen heeft, om die te herstellen.” (page 386) ↩︎

Salat | ‏صلاة‎

I spend last weekend at ars electronica speaking at the symposium on a new cultural economy curated by Joi and hanging out with an amazing bunch of people. Did not see much of the exhibitions, but at least managed to see the cyber arts 08 exhibition in the OK center and found another nice CFL for my collection. Most of the works were rather underwhelming. One of these exceptions was ‘Salat‘ by Johannes Gees which was documented at the OK center. Salat (the arabic/quranic term for prayer) consisted of a series of interventions that Gees did in the summer of 2007 in Swiss Cities. He constructed so-alled sound bombs that consisted of adapted megaphones combined with a time controlled the mp3 player that – once activated – would play the pre-recorded call to prayer of the muezzin of the grand mosque in mecca at prayer time.

Gees secretly placed these sound bombs on church towers in Basel, Zürich and Sankt Gallen and documented the reactions by passers by on video. While the work itself is certainly not the most original (apparently similar things have been done before), Gees had the luck of being sued by an overzealous Swiss christian who claimed that he had insulted objects of religious worship (which is a criminal offense in Switzerland) and as a result the police impounded one of the sound bombs and opened a case on him. After a while the public prosecutor came to the conclusion that there was no criminal wrongdoing involved. Now this being a proper legal case the public prosecutor had to write down the reasoning in the document that declared the case closed. At ars electronica Gees had displayed copies of the official documents from the public prosecutor alongside video stills and one of the sound bombs (see picture above). The interesting aspect of the installation is the way the public prosecutor attempts to get a grip on this artistic intervention in legalese. I cant find the text of the documents online but here is a short snippet (in german) that i could reconstruct from one of the pictures i took:

Im vorliegenden fall käme allenfalls die Tathandlung in Form von Verspotten in Betracht . Die Verspottung selbst gilt nach herrschender lehre als Unterfall de Missachtung und beschreibt Äusserungen, durch welche die angegriffenen religiösen Überzeugungen als lächerlich dargestellt werden (Stratenwerth, Schweizerisches Strafrecht BT II Straftaten gegen Gemeininteressen , Bern 2000 §39 N 5). Indem der Angeschuldigte den Ruf des Muezzins erschallen liess, ist eine Verspottung der religiosen Überzeugung des Geschädigten Richard Scholl, welcher gemäss Anzeige an das Stadtrichteramt Zürich vom 13. Juli 2007 der evangelisch reformierten Kirche angehört, nicht ersichtlich. Mithin wird durch das Verhalten des Angeschuldigten die glaubensbezogene Überzeugung des Geschädigten als Christ nicht in unsachlicher weise herabgesetzt oder lächerlich gemacht. Das heisst der Gottesglaube des Geschädigten wird nicht tangiert. Es gilt festzuhalten dass vielmehr sich Angehörige der islamischen Religion, mithin gläubige Muslime, durch die Aktion des Angeschuldigten in ihrer Ãœberzeugung in Glaubenssachen – Achtung vor dem Mitmenschen und seiner Überzeugung in religiösen dingen – hätten verletzt fühlen müssen, zumal der ruf des Muezzins in der hiesigen Geselschaft bis dato nicht zum Alltags- bzw. Ausleben der islamischen Religion gehört. […] Dennoch vermag der Ruf des Muezzins das Durchschnittsempfinden eines vernünftigen Durchschnittsbürgers (sic!) nicht in schwerer Weise verletzen. Ebenso wird durch den Gebetsruf nicht die christliche Überzeugung der Geschädigten tangiert, da der gläubige Mensch in seinem Innersten und seiner religiösen Entscheidung nicht beeinflusst wird.

In the end the case against Gees was dropped but he was ordered to pay CHF 900 in legal costs because he ‘could have asked for permission’ before placing the sound bombs. As if someone would have given him that permission…

Tantalum Memorial / Pandoras Index

27 Aug 2008 | 347 words | art exhibition review copyright technology memories

For some reason i never managed to write about manifesta7 after having visited 3 of the 4 locations on the opening weekend back in mid july. not sure what to say of the overall exhibition but it included a number of really interesting and beautiful artworks. my favorite among them was Tantalum Memorial – Residue, by Graham Harwood together with Richard Wright and Matsuko Yokokoji. Is a memorial/intstallation to the Congolese people who have died as a result of the coltan wars. Regine over at we make money not art has posted a short description of the installation:

This installation is constructed out of an old electro-mechanical 1938 Strowger telephone exchange, discovered amongst the remains of the Alumix factory. Seen from afar it looked like it does belong to the ex-factory. An old telephone switch forgotten for decades. The switches are reanimated by tracking the phone calls from Telephone Trottoire – a social telephony network designed by the artists in collaboration with the Congolese radio program Nostalgie Ya Mboka in London. The TT network calls Congolese listeners, plays them a phone message and invites them to record a comment and pass it on to a friend by entering their phone number. This builds on the traditional Congolese practice of “radio trottoire” or “pavement radio”, the passing around of news and gossip on street corners in order to avoid state censorship.

More pictures on my flickr page.

The same location (the ex-Alumix factory in Bolzano) also hosted the first ever installation by my good friend Lawrence Liang: Pandoras Index consists of a filing cabinet filled with index cards referring to various aspects of the debates around, cultural production, intellectual property and piracy. Having known Lawrence for years some of the drawers appeared to me as elaborate attempts to replicate parts of reasoning (or parts of his brain) in a series of index cards. probably only makes sense if you know Lawrence or if you are really familiar with the topics he addresses, but i liked it quite a lot (again, more pictures are available on my flickr page):

Deja vu

01 Jun 2008 | 108 words | amsterdam theatre review iran art

We saw ‘Quartet: A Journey to North‘ by Amir Reza Koohestani & Mahin Sadri at the Bellevue Theatre tonight. Quartet tells the story of two murders in contemporary Iran through the intertwined narratives of the two killers and two witnesses.

Definitely reminded me (both in terms of stage setup and narrative) of the works by Rabih Mroué. Also one of the video stills looked almost exactly as this pictures i took in Abyaneh last fall:

Looks peacefull but while we were enjoying the play a newborn Eurasian Coot was drowning in the canal outside of the theatre under the eyes of the helpless parents. R.I.P little fulica atra!


18 Dec 2007 | 216 words | dance berlin art review argentina theatre

Went to see Constanza’s latest piece at the Schaubühne in Berlin on Saturday and quite liked it. With Brickland Constanza (and the equally amazing rest of the the Dorky Park ensemble) manages to combine usual chaos with something similar to a narrative that does not get lost in 2 hours of brutal chaos.

Brickland is about despair, insanity end everyday evils behind the walls of gated communities (the name is taken from an existing decaying community in the vicinity of the international airport on the outskirts of Buenos Aires). One of the strongest aspects of the performance is the tight integration of the beautiful video material (shot by Constanza and Maria Onis on location in Brickland, Brazil and Berlin) with the on-stage action. Works even better than it did in Back to the Preset (which is probably also due to the fact that they finally seem to have learned how to do a proper video projection at the Schaubühne).

So if you are are in Berlin and you ever considered giving up your 3 bedroom apartment in prenzlauerberg/friedrichshein/mitte for a place where the kids can safely play outside, then go see this show. (plays again on 18 december and then from 24 to 27 january).

Knut Berger, Hyoung-Min Kim & Gail Sharrol Skrela (photo: Thomas Aurin)

Tehran has no more pomegranates!

01 Dec 2007 | 257 words | film movies review iran cities tehran

Watched a screening of ‘Tehran has no more pomegranates!‘ by Massoud Bakhshi this afternoon, which turned out to be a beautiful film that manages to pay homage to the incredibly strange and complex reality of the city of Tehran. While Tehran is one of the least likely city to fall in love with it had a certain strange attraction to me. tehran has no more pomegranates! manages to somehow capture this attraction and to turn it into an extremely entertaining complex portrait of the city. Bakhshi intelligently juxtaposes old documentary footage (and extremely beautiful pictures of bearded men) with footage he has shot in Tehran over the last 5 years or so (including lots of time lapse shots of crazy traffic). The film starts off with the observation by someone called Asar-o-blad (no idea who that is since google returns exactly 0 results) who in 1241 remarked that:

Tehran is a village near the city of Ray. It’s inhabitants live in anthill like underground holes. Tehranis’ main occupation is theft and crime. They fight each other and can’t obey any king. They grow excellent pomegranates which are found only in Tehran.

The film then goes on to portray various stupid rulers, collective opium addiction, visits by Stalin, Churchill (‘You really have big oil wells’) and Roosevelt, the fall of the Shah and the explosive growth of the metropolis with all of its magnificent transportation problems. Well worth watching (apparently there will be a DVD release by the Jan Vrijman Fund later this year or early next year)

The myth of invasion

Just finished reading a fairly intresting reserach paper by Hein de Haas of the International Migration Institute in Oxford that deals with the ‘The myth of invasion – Irregular migration from West Africa to the Maghreb and the European Union‘. In the paper de Haas attempts to show that immigration to Europe by western African migrants crossing the Mediteranian or Atlantic is fairly small both when compared to migration of western africans to North African Countries and compared to other ways of gaining access to the EU (mostly by overstaying visa).

While this is probably a fairly realistic conclusion when it comes to the relative numbers, his estimations concerening the absolute numbers (25.000 successful crossings per year) are fairly unconvincing: there is almost no reliable empirical data on undocumented border crossings available and that does not get much better by ‘triangulating’ a bunch of unreliable data sources. Still the paper makes a fine antidote to ramblings about hordes of african would-be terrorist immigrants who are waiting in Africa planning organized assaults on our coasts.

For those to lazy to read the 83 page paper, here are two extracts from the conclusion:

This study showed that apocalyptic representations of a massive exodus of desperate Africans who are pushed out of the continent by poverty, war and drought are fundamentally flawed. The popular perception that irregular migration from Africa is growing at an alarming rate is deceptive. Since the introduction of visa requirements for North African countries by Italy and Spain in the early 1990s, illegal crossings of the Mediterranean Sea have been a persistent phenomenon. Rather than an increase per se, the major change has been that, after 2000, sub-Saharan Africans started to join and have now overtaken North Africans as the largest category of irregular boat migrants. Although almost all West African countries are represented in these flows, most migrants tend to come from a relatively small number of countries, in particular Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Nigeria. It is a myth that all West African migrants crossing the Sahara to North Africa are ‘in transit’ to Europe. There are probably still more sub-Saharan Africans living in North Africa than in Europe. Libya in particular is an important destination country in its own right, in particular for Chadians, Nigeriens and Sudanese. Other North African countries house smaller but growing West and Central African communities. […]

The common portrayal of irregular African migrants as “desperate” and impoverished victims of “unscrupulous” traffickers and “merciless” criminal-run smuggling networks is inconsistent with empirical evidence that the vast majority of migrants move on their own initiative. Migration is generally a conscious choice and often a family investment rather than a desperate move. Migrants are generally not among the poorest and least educated of their origin communities. Smugglers are usually not part of international organised crime, but tend to be locally based and operate alone or in relatively small, flexible networks. Migrants travel in stages and typically pay smugglers for one difficult leg of the journey.

Bonus: the cover of page of the study shows a photo of a fragment from a painting hanging in a restaurant in Dakar showing a number of wooden Cayucos which are commonly used for the voyage to the Canary Islands. One of the boats is named ‘Barsaa ou barsaqq’, which according to de Haas means ‘Barcelona or hell’ (according to this earlier story in the Guardian it translates to ‘Barcelona or afterlife’, but given that Egypt’s top religious advisor has just issued a fatwathat muslims who die attempting to reach Europe can not be considered to be martyrs, hell might indeed be a more precise location (at least when it comes to muslims)).

See also this video for more Barsaa/Barsaqq statements (and somebody needs to tell de Haas that the boats are called Cayucos and not Pirogues).

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: