Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Facebook Claims to Save Lives

By Stella Toonen

“Facebook wants to fight the number of suicides” it said on Dutch online newspaper last Wednesday. It sounds like an honourable project, but thinking about it more critically one might start to wonder how they actually want to achieve such a thing.

The idea is that users can send a notification to the Facebook team when one of their friends posts a suicidal message, and Facebook will then personally contact this person. In the case that the notification is serious, the author of the message will receive an e-mail with a telephone number and a link to a live chat, in which he (or she) can express his feelings and talk about the solutions.

Research of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has shown that young people prefer to use an online chat for talking about their problems than to make an actual appointment with a psychologist. In that view Facebook would lower the threshold for people to start searching for professional help.

But at the same time it also seems to create many problems for the Facebook team. Where will they for instance set the border between a serious suicidal message and a fake one? What if they ignore a message that was actually not a fake one? And if the victim still commits suicide after the chat session with the Facebook psychologists, could Facebook then be charged guilty of motivating this person? There is no one who could prove that the person would have killed himself if he had not been on the chat website.

The main question is what Facebook actually tries to win by it? They do not get an award if they save people’s life; they will only have to hire more people to check all the notifications for relevance and to translate the chat messages of non-English speaking Facebook users. What is the motivation behind what seems a completely altruistic act then?

Would it not be more appropriate if Facebook did not interfere in the other people’s lives at all? Does the network not try to create a place where people are in touch with each other, so that if someone posts a depressed message others see it and try to help their friend? Is that not exactly how social media are supposed to work in such cases? Where is this world going if this kind of social involvement has to be taken over by internet companies?

Facebook’s new suicide prevention system is definitely an application we are going to hear more about in the future, either about its removal or about various lawsuits connected to the notification system, because the development seems to be doomed to fail.

Categories: Opinion

TT3D; Closer to the edge. A review.

By Tom Schoonen

The starting line in sight. The roaring sound of the powered engine motor. Then, take off. You can almost smell the burned rubber on the tarmac. TT3D provides a real experience of how it would be to join the racers and visitors at the TT on the Isle of Man.

TT3D by Richard De Aragues follows a couple of riders in their preparations for the world’s most dangerous bike race. Guided by the stories of the rich history from the TT, De Aragues shows in a sparkling manner the 2010 edition of this race. Following Guy Martin as the main protagonist, De Aragues shows the preparations the racers take leading up to the TT. Martin however is not an ordinary guy. Living in Lincolnshire, Martin works with his father as a truck mechanic. Why he also races in the most dangerous race in the world? Martin claims that, although he wouldn’t mind it, he doesn’t care much for ‘shagging’, and cares more for trucks and motors. Martin raced on the Isle of Man twice before, but he never won anything. This year he is determined to win.

Next to Martin his opponents Ian Hutchinson and John McGuinness are followed in their preparations. McGuinness, 15 time winner of the TT and one of the most experienced racers on the track, and his family life and breath TT. In the huge camper that stands on their driveway they all go to support McGuinness. McGuinness thrives on the support of his family and needs their mental support. Hutchinson on the other hand prepares mostly physically. Training three to four times a week in the gym and three to four times on his mountain bike, Hutchinson believes that physical fitness is the key to success in the TT.

Compared to these two professional motor racers Martin is a very down-to-earth kind of guy. Working on trucks, training on his bike and sometimes sleeping in his van, Martin is one of the most extraordinary types in the TT. De Aragues captures this so well that it is almost impossible not to like the main protagonist Martin. Not only in his preparations but also on the festival itself Martin immediately makes a scene for himself. Being late for test drives, upsetting the mechanics by changing his bike, and even getting his bike impounded for driving through the village with a race bike.

When the TT starts the audience is already so engaged with the dream of Martin to win a TT race everybody hopes for him. This makes for an atmosphere of pure excitement when watching the final races.

De Aragues captures the atmosphere, preparations, but especially the protagonists so well that it is more than just a documentary, it is a proper film. Together with the empathy De Aragues creates a serene atmosphere with beautifully captured nature on the Isle of Man together with a very calm and gentle voice over, that even the most horrible crashes sound as a pleasantry.

When going to TT3D the first thing that came to mind was “Not another stupid 3D movie”, however, De Aragues does not misuse this special effect. On the contrary, De Aragues may have made the first film in which 3D actually adds something to the story. No misused, misplaced special effects just to show of the capabilities of the film production, but just very subtle effects. Such as photos of crashes, not even moving images, which come out so well with the high quality camera and the pieces of metal flying round, just slightly highlighted by the 3D effect.

I strongly believe that De Aragues not only made a good documentary, but that he actually made a film. The first film in which 3D adds something to the story. Only this is already a reason to watch this film. Along with the beautiful scenes, the great pictures, and the charming protagonist Martin this film is an absolute most. Not only for motor fanatics, but for everybody who likes good films.

Categories: Entertainment, Home, Opinion

Ajax robbed?

By Christiaan Frankin

AMSTERDAM – Fans of Ajax were outraged Wednesday, when a 7 goal difference between their team and Olympique Lyon was undone in the last round of the Champion’s League group stage matches. Not only did the linesman deny Ajax two legitimate goals for offside, some of Dinamo Zagreb’s defending was put into question as the Croatian goalkeeper was beaten seven times in twenty minutes.

Though the allegations of corruption in Champion’s League football are a serious matter, underlying are more important issues to the sport in today’s age.

After the match, Ajax manager Frank de Boer, though careful to make allegations, expressed his suspicions, saying, “If there was something unusual, UEFA should investigate what happened in Zagreb. My assistants have told me that the goals came quick and easy, because you can’t normally score these goals in half an hour.”

Dutch football analysis and former player Youri Mulder was quick to suggest the possibility of a fixed match, stating the score was “at the very least suspicious”

A reported wink from Dinamo defender Domagoj Vida to Lyon’s Bafetimbi Gomis, who set a Champion’s league record by scoring a hattrick within seven minutes, did little to quiet down the controversy around the controversial scoreline.

Declan Hill, author of ‘The Fix’, perhaps the most renowned and book on match fixing in football also commented that the 7-1 result fits the profile of a potentially rigged match. On his blog, Hill remarked, “any fair-minded person could be suspicious,” highlighting the progression of the match, the high stakes, and the historical prevalence of corruption in Croatian football as reason for suspicion.

There certainly is much evidence to suggest that Zagreb was the scene of a crime perpetrated on a greater scale than seen in a long scale in international football. But there is another side to the picture.

Dinamo Zagreb was, undeniably and throughout the group phase, the weakest team in this year’s installment of the Champion’s League, accumulating a total of zero points and conceding 15 goals in the five matches prior to Wednesday’s. Zagreb went a man down early, and perhaps a fired up Lyon squad desperately in need of goals was able to truly dominate over a  demoralized and unmotivated Zagreb to the extent that the scoreline demonstrated.

Furthermore, The Champions League organizational body UEFA has announced on Thursday that their Betting Fraud Detection System did not identify any inconsistencies, and they will therefore not investigates Lyon’s unlikely victory, the Telegraph reported

Assuming the match was indeed fixed, then even with an official UEFA investigation it is likely that nothing conclusive could have been proven and that Ajax fans would still be disappointed with their team’s exit from the Champion’s League. As long as huge amounts of money are involved in the sport of football, there will be attempts to circumvent the rules of play.

Therefore, supporters of Ajax and those seeking justice should redirect their attention to another issues that many see as a fundamental flaw to the sport as it is today. Namely, the archaic system of linesmen that is so obviously susceptible to the factor of human error.

If the Portuguese linesman Bertino Miranda had not incorrectly denied Ajax two goals, the match would have ended quite differently, and the controversial score in Zagreb would likely have been of no importance.

Instead, the FIFA has resisted various forms of ensuring correct calls such as goal line technology and instant replays, allowing for such injustices to occur frequently at all levels of football.

Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA has defended this decision, arguing, “Other sports regularly change the laws of the game to react to the new technology. … We don’t do it and this makes the fascination and the popularity of football.”

Further criticism of instant replay technology is aimed at the perceived interruption to the flow of the game that these measures would bring. Yet, considering the amount of time that play is halted because of players arguing with the referee after a controversial decision, this can hardly be considered a serious concern.

Though Ajax, arguably unjustly, is out of this season’s Champion’s League, and will have to improve on their domestic form to even have a chance to participate next season, for the sake of the sport of football, it is time for FIFA to abandon its outdated stance on technology and accept that we live in an age where such human errors are no longer acceptable.

Fortunately, change may be underway since the 2010 World Cup when England’s Frank Lampard scored a clear goal that was controversially disallowed. The resulting wave of outrage has finally caused FIFA to investigate the possibility of implanting technologies to prevent such fiascos.

Mistakes happen, but when the means to prevent them are available, yet not utilized, it is truly inexcusable .


Categories: Opinion

The Ambassador; How white diplomats use Africa for diamond trade and other pleasures.

Photo: Pressphoto/Johan Stahl Winthereik

By Eline Hædersdal

The documentary film The Ambassador, directed by Mads Brügger Cortzen, reveals the underworld of white businessmen and diplomats, which uses their position in a corrupt society of the Central African Republic (CAR) and Liberia.

“I want to show an Africa stripped of NGOs, Bono, child soldiers and kids with bloated bellies, to show the kind of people you never see in the documentaries: white businessmen and diplomats, the fat cats in the urban centres, all the people who are in postcolonial Francafrique having a great time,” says Mr. Cortzen.

The film opened the world’s largest documentary festival, International Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), which toke place Nov. 16-27.

The Danish film company Zentropa, which produced the film, says to Amsterdam Today that they, together with Mr. Cortzen, are very pleased and proud that the film opened the IDFA.

“We are of course very happy that The Ambassador was chosen as starting film from all the documentaries in the IDFA 2011; the worlds largest documentary festival. It is a great honour.” Says Assistant Producer Julie Elmquist E. Neergaard, from Zentropa films, Denmark.

The documentary questions not only the diplomatic white men’s positions, but also the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s role in the system since she signed the document of Mr. Cortzen’s fake diplomatic title.

The president won, together with two other women, the Nobel Peace prize on Oct. 7. Cortzen finds this very odd due to his findings about her and the people around her.

“In the film I’m dealing with her right hand … it is Liberia’s most powerful corporation lawyer H. Varney G. Sherman, who facilitates that I, with an amount of 35,000 dollars, which will go to her presidential campaign, can become General Consultant for Liberia in the Central African Republic … it’s surprisingly close to Ellen Johnson” said Cortzen to Danish TV2 News on the day of the award’s announcement.

Cortzen questions her judgement to elect him, on false papers, as Ambassador of her country.

“You might think that it’s odd that she has not considered why a man, without connections to either the Central African Republic or Liberia, should be ambassador in the Central African Republic representing her” says Cortzen to Amsterdam Today.

Nevertheless Cortzen acknowledges that she possibly fits best for the role as president compared to other officials in the country.

“I prefer Ellen Johnson as president at any time compared to, for instance, Prince Y. Johnson, who is Charles Taylor’s companion during the civil war until they split, because he is absolutely mad, insane, and simply a murderer” said Cortzen to TV2 News.

He also stated: “I am aware that it should be celebrated that this is Africa’s first female president”.

Not surprisingly, the film has mainly got positive feedback from film-critics.

“Balled with beard, riding pants and boots up until his knees Brügger has made his title as a ‘diplomat’ in The Ambassador clear, as Müller from the Tin Tin universe. It is a design that works and it underlines the more grotesque moments of the film,” says Jacob Wendt Jensen, film-critic from the Danish large newspaper Berlingske. Jensen gave The Ambassador 4 starts out of 5.

However the film-reviewer Kim Skotte from Politikken, another large Danish newspaper, has very strong opinions against the film.

“It is not much of a documentary film when you self-promote your self, using cigars, bribes and lies to provoke the absurdities. In-between the black, whom are stupid or sneaky, and the white who all are devious, Mads Brügger shines as the master in his own absurd circus, while the pigmies are left to them selves. I think The Ambassador is too self-centered,” says Skotte in his review of the film.

Assistant producer of the documentary, Neergaard, does not wish to comment much on the review. She says to Amsterdam Today: “Kim Skotte has his full right to have his opinion.”

The documentary is mostly shot using a hidden camera, since the statements and actions will be impossible to capture in any other way.

Mr. Cortzen uses ‘performative jounalism’ to act as a main character in his own film, taking the role of a white Danish citizen coming to the Central African Republic with Liberian diplomat credentials.

“I dress for my part and interact as an agent provocateur,” says Cortzen.

The plot is Mr. Cortzen coming to CAR to become a Liberian ambassador. Here he starts a match factory run by Pygmies to cover up his illegal trade of diamonds.

The satirical humour of the film is clear. One scene shows Cortzen playing a whale-song tape to his two Pygmy assistants. Another, showing him dancing with a group of Pygmies with an assistant standing ready with an umbrella for the white balled Diplomat.

When watching the film the message quickly becomes clear – to reveal the illegal businesses of particular white men in countries as CAR; using their powerful positions and the corrupt poor society to earn millions on illegal trades with diamonds.

The society Cortzen illustrates has many dark sites; so dark that many wants to escape from it. In his diary Cortzen says: “even minister Gaston [Garston Mackouzangba, Minister of Civil Service, Labor and others, of CAR] said … ‘Please Mr. Cortzen, please, help me, please, help me, help my daughter’ he begged” writes Cortzen .

It is the direct message and the way in which the film reveals the system that makes The Ambassador interesting. Ally Derks, founder and president of the IDFA talked about the importance of freedom of expression in her opening speech of the festival Nov. 16. She refered to The Ambassador.

“It is still a core purpose of any documentary to defend the rights to free expression and free speech. To challenge – or be challenged by – ethical boundaries, as tonight’s film aptly demonstrates,” says Derks.

Marjolein den Bakker from IDFA, Press Department, says to Amsterdam Today that Derks chose the film to start of the famous festival, possibly do to the qualities she described in her opening speech. Derks confirms this to Amsterdam Today.

As imagined, The Ambassador has caused discussions and some of the people, being revealed in the film, to deny their illegal businesses. This includes the Dutch businessman Willem Tijssen denying any illegal businesses and has previously tried to prevent the screening of the film.

At the screening of the film in Amsterdam’s Tuschinsky cinema the director and the businessman met each other. Cortzen explaines to the Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant, that the atmosphere was tense when the two ran in to each other. “It was a bizarre situation” says Cortzen.

“If Tijsen was my PR agent, then I’d say ‘Good job’” says Cortzen, implying that Mr. Tijsen’s anger worked to the director’s own advantage; enforcing the message of the documentary.

The Ambassador competed in the IDFA category of the best feature-length documentary. Neergaard said she thought The Ambassador had good chances.

“I think the possibility of The Ambassador winning an award is quite high, especially since we were selected to start the whole festival, that must mean something. … We are so excited to see the results in the end of the month.”

On Nov. 25. the winning awards of the IDFA was presented. The Ambassador did not win a prize.

Categories: Home, Opinion

Will the Sinterklaas tradition die without Black Pete?

December 4, 2011 1 comment

By Anneclaire Michele

AMSTERDAM – A YouTube movie of two activists getting kicked and sprayed with pepper spray by several police officers led to nationwide attention to the arrestees.

Why were these men, one of them repeating, “I did not do anything, I did not do anything” over and over again, so forcefully arrested by the police force?

The answer is that they were protesting against the current style of celebrating of Sinterklaas during the arrival of Sinterklaas in Dordrecht.

Sinterklaas is a part of a century-old Dutch tradition, during which every child who has behaved him- or herself in the past year receives presents on the 5th of December.

During his arrival in the Netherlands, a white horse and many Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) accompany the Sint.

It is this notion of Zwarte Pieten both men had problems with and would like to see changed.

They represented the movement “Zwarte Piet is Racisme (Black Pete is racism)” at the arrival of the Sint in Dordrecht, by wearing t-shirts with that slogan across their chest, which according to the police was reason enough to arrest them with an iron fist.

What is at heart of there movement? Why are these men demonstrating at what at first sight appears to be an innocent celebration for children?

“Zwarte Piet is Racisme” first and foremost stresses that they want to enter a peaceful dialogue.

As one of the men arrested in Dordrecht, Quinsy Gairo says in a radio interview: “Do not use force, we want to engage in dialogue, not violence”.

The group states on their Facebook page that “for the greater part we have nothing against our national holiday. Unfortunately, there is an element in the celebration that promotes inequality and racism.”

The element promoting this inequality and racism is Zwarte Piet, a figure that was added to the Sinterklaas celebration during the colonial times.

Five years prior to the abolishment of slavery, “a Negro, under the name of Pieter” is firstly described as the “servant” of Sinterklaas, he received his name Zwarte Piet (black Pete) three years later.

Currently, Zwarte Piet has a black skin tone, frizzy hair and thick lips that are often painted red.

His clothing is based on the uniforms black pages wore in the 17th and 18th century and his earrings are large golden Creole earrings.

This image shows many similarities with the stereotypical representation of Africans.

This image coming from the colonial times is an expression of the notion that the ‘White race’ was supreme to the ‘Black race’.

Moreover the cast between the white boss (Sint) and his black servants (the Pieten) inevitably evokes associations with the Dutch colonial past.

Zwarte Piet usually talks improper Dutch, often with a Surinamese accent, and does silly tricks, which in the eyes of many stimulates a negative imaging of certain groups in society.

“The message behind the ‘Zwarte Piet is Racisme’ campaign is not that the Netherlands are bad, the message is that the Netherlands can do better”, says Jerry ‘Kno’Ledge Afriyie’, one of the men arrested in Dordrecht on Facebook.

The group is not against the poems, the idea of giving and receiving or children getting presents, but he continues: “Our campaign wants to get rid of the racist element in our national celebration, namely Zwarte Piet”.

Their main goal though, is to get people talking: “We want people to enter a dialogue with each other about their personal experiences with Zwarte Piet and his image.”

A lot of Dutch people are not in favor of changing the celebration of Sinterklaas and are in favor of maintaining this image of Zwarte Piet.

An often heard counterargument is the argument that Zwarte Piet would get his black colour due to all the trips to the chimney he makes and thus has nothing to do with the racism.

But then, proponents of the ‘Zwarte Piet is racisme” movement state: “Why does Zwarte Piet has red lips and frizzy hair?”

Some state the tradition will die without Zwarte Piet, however, in earlier celebrations of the tradition, up to the 1850s, there was no Zwarte Piet.

Another important question to ask is whether will Sinterklaas be affected when the notion of Zwarte Piet will be gone or changed?

Is the essence of the party the look of the servant of the Sint or that children are being spoiled with gifts and sweets for their good behavior?

There is also a possibility that the people that believe Zwarte Piet needs to remain part of the Sinterklaas celebration, want to secure the economical benefits of Sinterklaas.

A spokesperson of “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” says: “The police literally told us that Dordrecht has spent a lot of time and money in obtaining the arrival of Sinterklaas and that they will not tolerate any opposing opinions.”

People do not want to change the Sinterklaas celebration, because they don’t want to lose their part-time job, and companies are also reluctant to change the celebration, because they will then be stuck with all the merchandise.

“It is very sad to hear that apparently economic interests are more important. Society has seriously drifted away from its original foundations, if we allow this organization of priorities,” the spokesperson continues.

It is safe to say that the discussion about Zwarte Piet has not settled yet, and one might wonder if it ever will.

But what is maybe even more worrying, is how this debate uncovers the racist ideas some people still have.

The people disagreeing with the current Zwarte Piet are by many not consider to be Dutch, which can be seen in their arguments starting of with: “Well, WE Dutchies, …”.

Moreover, as long as people post messages on Facebook telling the supporters of this movement they “have to stop with playing the eternal victim”, the Netherlands still has a long way to go, not only regarding the Zwarte Piet issue, but also in terms of becoming the tolerant nation they claim to be.

Sympathy for the Devil

By Meike Mol

The arrival of Sinterklaas was celebrated on Sunday November 12 in Dordrecht. A perfect opportunity to draw the attention toward the racist roots of Zwarte Piet or Black Piet, or so judged. Armed with printed shirts and banners Jerry Afriyie(30) and Quinsy Gario (27) made their way to the festivities.

They never got a warm welcome. Instead, their peaceful protest was met with a violent police arrest.

Afriyie and Gario seemed to have touched upon a sensitive topic in Dutch society. For many, their views pose yet another threat to an old Dutch tradition. And indeed, it cannot be denied that Zwarte Piet is in fact part of a tradition. This tradition is however not characterized by pepernoten, chocoladeletters and miters; instead it is colored by the colonial past of the Dutch.

To find the origins of Zwarte Piet, we have to go back to pre-Christian times in Holland. Parallels can be made between the legend of Sinterklaas and the figure Odin, a Germanic god worshipped in Northern- and Western Europe.

Many customs present in the Sinterklaas festivity can be related to this pagan figure. The depiction of Sint riding the rooftops on his white horse are very similar to how Odin rode the sky on his grey stallion. More importantly, we can conclude that Sinterklaas stole the idea of his black comrades from Odin; already back in the days, Odin carried around two black ravens as his companions.

But there is more to the history of Zwarte Piet. The legend of Sinterklaas survived the centuries, and so did his black friends.

In the early middle ages they undertook a drastic change in role; under Christianization, Sint remained a good holy man, but the Church promoted Zwarte Piet to being the direct representation of the devil. The relationship between good and evil was not one characterized by equality: With all his goodness, Sint had triumphed over evil and was thus free to make the devil into his servant. These mischievous servants performed whatever action was required from them following the white man’s instructions.

The image of zwarte piet as a slave grew only stronger during the colonial period of the Netherlands.

Although Sint originally was only accompanied by two Zwarte pieten, their numbers rose along with the colonial expansion. Also, the dominant Eurocentric view placed the white rulers far above the colonials in levels of power, but also in civilization and intelligence. The colonials had no idea of reality, were lost and stupid and had to be saved by the Western űbermensch; and so did zwarte piet. As a finishing touch, their dress was changed to that of a 17th century Moore page.

Finally, the still persistent image of Zwarte Piet was complete: one of an evil, dumb, black slave, meant to entertain his master.

We cannot ignore the history of this legend; it perpetuates the approval of the Netherlands’ racial past.

People who explain the colour of Zwarte Piet’s skin as a result of climbing through a chimney, or argue for the positive contemporary associations made with him, use nothing but a simplistic and weak excuse for continuing a tradition rooted in discrimination.

We should rethink the role and representation of Zwarte Piet to prevent the spread of its vividly discriminating messages among youngest members of Dutch society.

Categories: Opinion

Occupy movement take center stage in Amsterdam

By Zahra Runderkamp

AMSTERDAMSeems like the Occupy movement is here to stay.

All over the world, from New York to Lisbon, people have been protesting.

Amsterdam has been having its own share of spoils.

For days now, an unknown number of participants have been staying at the Beursplein economic hub, in the centre of Amsterdam.

It is not entirely clear what they want.

Some protest against capitalism, some against the recent economic situation, or even against something more philosophical.

Everything seems possible at the Occupy demonstrations. That is, some participants say, the strength of this protest. There is not one clear subject. It reunites people that dislike something in modern society.

However, interest in Occupy movement has been growing so much so that the Beursplein  now needs to restructure. reports that there are now over  100 tents on the square.

The organization argues that the restructuring is necessary to make sure that there is enough place for visitors and activists. Moreover, they do not want to give out a ‘Lowlands’ idea, where all the tents are randomly built together, but create and maintain a serious protest environment.

After the Arab Spring, and then the student protests in several countries such as Spain, we now have another unsatisfied group of protesters. The Occupy movement has its origin in New York, most specifically Wall Street. For over a month, people have been demonstrating in New York.

Indeed, it is a leaderless movement, without an official set of demands. In Amsterdam, a microphone is placed in the middle of the crowd and everyone is invited to have their  say.

It remains unclear what the Occupy movement in Amsterdam wants to say or change. What, however, is clear is that they are unsatisfied with the current status quo. Maybe it is, once again, time for change.

Categories: Home, Opinion, Politics