Posts Tagged ‘the Netherlands’

To fail or not to fail… Piratenpartij 2.0

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

I’m writing this post in English for two reasons. The first is that I find it easier to express myself in English, having lived abroad a lot over the last years. The second is that the eyes of pirates worldwide are upon us!

For the last few months I’ve been the campaign manager for the Dutch Pirate Party. Even though last night’s results are disappointing in one way, we’ve accomplished something to be proud of. From being a very small group of people, we’ve formalised a political organisation, jumping all the bureaucratic hurdles along the way. We made it. With hardly no grassroots activity (except for in Brabant) and almost no funds, we’ve managed to convince thousands of voters (exact number unsure at this moment) and to reach millions of people. As a communication specialist I have to say that’s a spectacular result, even though it didn’t get us a seat in parliament.

If you look at the below map, you can see there are pirates almost everywhere in The Netherlands!

Via twlevo.

Now we face a choice. To fail or not to fail. So we didn’t get seats in parliament, which isn’t easy to accept, seeing the fact that some of us sacrificed their lives for this, over the last months. What we do have is national awareness and support! We cannot let our ideas, our principles, our vision go to waste.

What we need to do is ORGANISE. In my eyes, the most fundamental challenge in our campaign was having to cope with almost zero grassroots activism. That’s why I believe the main focus of the Pirate Party in the next months, should be on setting up local chapters that are self-organised modules in a lean mean Pirate machine. The idea of local groups is to give our formal organisation a more informal character and base. This informal character will attract a lot more people that can support the organisation in a lot of ways. These local groups will have FUN first and they’ll combine it with activism. That’s the opposite from what a lot of us have been doing in the last months: work hard first and hopefully have fun along the way.

We cannot let our new government ignore the fact that copyrights and the patent system are up for reform. We cannot let them take away more privacy without being challenged. We need to get the local organisations growing, so that we can group together whenever it is most needed.

We’ve worked hard. We can be proud of ourselves.
We said we wanted to remix politics; now we’ll have to!

For a free information society.

Yaaarrs truly,

P.S. Let’s support the people of Piracy Festival (June 19, Utrecht). They still need some volunteers. See you there!

(this post is a crosspost from the Pirate Party blog)

Training Our Kids to Be Hackers

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Due to the recent case against The Pirate Bay in The Netherlands, which could render The Pirate Bay inaccessible to Dutch internet subscribers, I decided to look at ways that I could access the site if it were to get banned. Not because I want to download copyrighted material from it, but because it’s one of the best ways to distribute my DJ sets to fans. If it were to get banned, the Dutch court would sever a great distribution channel that can be (and IS) used in legal ways too.

It’s not just this case that makes me wonder, but also the fact that Dutch ISPs are required to store the surfing history of their clients for 12 months. They are required to keep a whole list of information, which can be seen at the previous link. Since I don’t trust my backwards, Christian democrat government with my data, let alone the possibility of a right-wing extremist gaining access to it after the next parliamentary elections, I decided to look into proxies.

Then I realized something. Monitoring users and infringing on their privacy, but especially restricting a medium like the internet, turns users into hackers. For instance, a lot of kids are fascinated by hackers – not just because of the picture Hollywood paints of them, but also because they face a lot of restrictions on the internet. Filters on their computer or browsers at home, even worse filters at libraries or their schools, etc. So they figure out how to dodge these filters.

It’s no coincidence that in countries like Iran, or China, which have some of the most restricted internet connections in the world, there are very high amounts of hackers. This should be a warning to those trying to control the flow of information on the internet by banning sites: we, the Internet users, will become better at dodging your filters and will become even less trackable than we are now.

What this means to the content industries (movies, music) is that right now there’s a huge database of information on the use and downloading of music. If the ‘pirates’ weren’t so scared of the industries, they wouldn’t be so anonymous and the information would be even more useful for things like testing popularity of music, but also marketing music to the right people.

Another example are the recent calls in Germany to block right-wing extremist websites. The problem with this is that it will only drive this movement underground, making it harder to track them and to prevent hate crimes. They’re already getting more internet savvy. Instead of spending so much time discussing how they can censor such websites (which will NOT decrease the amount of people with right-wing extremist tendencies), maybe they should look at how they can profile different types of people that fall prey to extremist thoughts and think of ways to integrate them into society, instead of alienating them further and making them more extreme.

By blocking our access, we’re turned into hackers. We go underground. At that point, you lose your opportunity to monetize or to influence us via our favourite medium. You’re not disconnecting us from our favourite sites, you’re disconnecting yourself from us.

Image by LShave, shared under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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What the Ban of The Pirate Bay could mean for The Netherlands

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

This afternoon a Dutch court ruled in favour of Dutch copyright protectors, BREIN, in a case versus The Pirate Bay. Within ten days, The Pirate Bay must block access to all Dutch users. BREIN’s head honcho, Tim Kuik, is happy about the verdict, because The Pirate Bay (TPB), according to him, is simply illegal.

What does this verdict change though? Internet users can make TPB’s servers think they’re not in The Netherlands simply by using a proxy. The less tech-savvy users can simply use one of The Pirate Bay’s clones. Those that are getting paranoid can be relieved that people are constantly working on increasing the quality of filesharing and making it harder to track (see this article about HydraTorrent, which, by the way, has already copied all of TPB’s torrents). Now that The Pirate Bay is gone, will the market for music in The Netherlands suddenly be a little bit bigger? No, no, no. Only the lawyers are profiting from this.

So what does it achieve? It makes it easier for people to get websites banned if they disagree with the content. The Pirate Bay doesn’t host any copyrighted content, it links to it. It also hosts a lot of legal content, I personally use it to distribute my DJ sets, so thanks BREIN for killing one of my best distribution channels.

While living in Turkey I witnessed horrible web censorship. I couldn’t use YouTube, one of the most popular sites on the web, unless I used a proxy or some other workaround that simply kills the user friendliness. Why was YouTube banned? Because the Turkish government didn’t like the content of one of the movies on YouTube, because it was against the law in Turkey. When YouTube didn’t remove it, the government had ALL of YouTube blocked via the courts. For years! In an older post I already mentioned that the whole YouTube ban is pointless anyway. Research in’s traffic ranking system has shown that YouTube is the 10th most popular site in Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan surprised everyone when he stated that even he uses YouTube.

Not only was YouTube banned, at some point ALL of blogger/blogspot was banned, because some blogs contained copyrighted material. The website of atheist Richard Dawkins was blocked, because somebody found it to be offensive.

In Holland, blasphemy is also illegal, so is disturbance of the peace, or insulting people. These could all be precedents to take down websites now that that door has been opened. Tim Kuik is proud, but he’s only keeping lawyers paid and limiting the freedoms of the citizens of The Netherlands.

The Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde wants to appeal, but they’re looking for a lawyer that can do the job for free, since they’re out of money. Besides that, they’re suing Tim Kuik for slander, because he accused them of hacking BREIN’s website, which was a hoax by the way, BREIN was never hacked.

Help us out. Spread the word. Understand that blocking sites like this does not help artists make more money, it only helps LAWYERS make more money. When they killed Napster, 10 things came in its place. There is no more stopping it. The business model needs to change. That’s the only way.

Besides that, don’t buy from artists that support this. I personally won’t buy anything anymore from any artist supporting or represented by BREIN. Especially artists shouldn’t align themselves with freedom-infringing practices like this. Art is about expression, not repression and free expression only happens in free environments.

Amsterdam is a cesspool of corruption

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Someone on Twitter just sent me a video of conservomonster Bill O’Reilly using his errr… ‘talent’ on Amsterdam. Completely ridiculous, yet so awesome. I’ll let the video speak for itself.

Don’t even mention us again, Billyboy.

Thanks @panciuc.

Bulgaria’s inferiority complex?

Friday, March 13th, 2009

I’m sure I’ll offend someone with this; good. This needs to be said and people have to start becoming aware of this. The following is possibly the biggest hurdle for the Bulgarian people and it needs to be discussed.

A few months ago I was on Bulgarian English-language news website, where I often got into discussions with other readers through their commenting system. One day one of the people argued that foreigners that come to live in Bulgaria must be the lowest of the low in their country. Why else would someone move to Bulgaria? Most of the commenters on the newsportal are Bulgarians that have moved abroad, mostly the USA. They are very hateful and find reason to despise just about everything. They point: the corruption is the fault of them, they hate parties on both sides of the political spectrum, except for the extreme right-wing party Ataka. It’s like they’re reading the news just to get an affirmation that their move abroad was a good choice. These people are among the most negative Bulgarians I’ve come across and  they mask their own insecurity and feelings of inferiority by pointing, pointing and pointing.

Many people I meet have trouble understanding why someone from Holland would ever move to a country like this (twice!) and even bother to pick up a few words and sentences. To me, Holland is organized, linear, and everyone stays in their own bubble. To some that might sound appealing, but to me that sounds boring – and on top of that, the weather’s always shit. I went to Bulgaria to taste a little more of life. The food is better and more authentic, the people are not emotionless robots when they’re working, and they worry a bit less about their time. Whereas in Holland people look up the exact times of the bus and try to be at the busstop the minute before the bus comes, here people are more likely to simply go to the busstop and wait. That’s what I like, that’s why I’m here.

But why I really believe there’s some type of underlying inferiority complex in the Bulgarian society is the expressions of powerlessness people give. They feel their vote won’t change a thing, they feel it doesn’t matter who they vote for, they feel corruption can’t be solved….. They feel completely powerless to change anything about Bulgaria. That’s why I believe this is a more important thing to handle than fixing corruption, the justice system, or anything else. People have to believe they can make a difference; and then they will. The state of Bulgaria is improving, but slowly and with a determination to make a difference, from person to person, this process could speed up ten-fold.

People need to stop pointing at politicians, politicians need to stop pointing at each other, companies should stop pointing at politicians and politicians should stop pointing at companies. We ALL live in this country and we ALL want to have the best we can get; every time you point a finger, you can also pick up some of the litter on the streets and make a real difference.

Life’s not perfect people, nor will it ever be. Stop expecting to get something great, while you don’t believe other people deserve something great to happen to them. You are part of those other people, we are one society. Now stop pointing or holding out your hand and DO something. Anything at all. Make a difference today. is about my life abroad. I regularly write about my adventures in Istanbul, Bulgaria and travels in the region, but like to ponder about the future also. If you’d like to stay up to date, you can subscribe to my RSS feed or get email updates in your inbox. You can also follow me on Twitter.

Politics 2.0

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

The influence of new media on current day politics

An essay by Bas Grasmayer

The 20th century was the age of mass media. The impact of radio during the first half of the century and that of television during the second brought politics closer to home. Starting from people grouping around the one radio in their neighbourhood, to the radio in their street, until the point that everyone had a radio in their home. The same happened for television and through these media politics entered the living room. Through sound at first, but later through moving images which became more detailed and more accurately coloured over the course of the last century.

We’re now close to ten years into the new century. Television and radio are still important, but there is a new player in the field of mass media: the internet. This essay will look at how the internet has already influenced politics and hopes to answer, in part, the following question:

How is the World Wide Web as a medium influencing
politics and the government right now?

New Media

In the 2008 US Presidential elections, politicians were seen embracing new media. Barack Obama became microblogging service Twitter’s most followed user and YouTube set up a site called You Choose ’08 dedicated to the elections. On the latter, campaign teams posted videos hoping they would go ‘viral’, a term used to describe the phenomenon of certain content on the internet being spread out through huge networks of users, which is often initially an exponential process. Ron Paul, who was running to become the Republican presidential candidate, had so much support on the internet that TIME magazine at one point commented that due to “his  success  recruiting  supporters  through  new  social  media  channels” he was “the  new  2.0  candidate”.


Dutch Journalists Tricked by ‘Magic’ Mushroom Ban Opponents

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

You would think that journalists’ intelligence and street smarts prevents them from falling for hoaxes, but recent attempts to show the insanity of the Dutch ‘magic’ mushroom ban by opponents of the ban show otherwise.

Ridiculing the mushroom ban, a website called (Shroom Removal) has been created promoting a service that supposedly helps keep innocent people safe from the long arm of the law. PaddoBestrijding’s press release reports that home-, land- and gardenowners as well as nature preservation organisations risk prosecution over ownership of one of the 186 mushroom types banned in The Netherlands, starting the 1st of December. This could lead to sentence of up to 6 year imprisonment or a 740,000 euro fine.

The ban is quite controversial as I’ve stated before in the following two articles:

One of the mushrooms getting banned is the Fly Agaric, or Amanita muscaria (picture below, by Roger B.), a popular mushroom in European folklore (and in Super Mario), one of our nature’s beauties, and a popular sacrament in ritual shamanic use. Looks like the Christian Democrats are still on a witchhunt, with the aid of the Labour Party.

The Fly Agaric is one of the mushrooms illegalized in the Netherlands

It took me a second to figure out that PaddoBestrijding was an eleborate hoax, but three sections of the site really give it away and I’m stumped that journalists didn’t get the joke. Then again, the Dutch government did try to ban the use of satire once (1, 2, 3). The pages that really give the spoof away are the methods, testimonials and shroom of the month. Some translated quotes from the various pages:

ShroomRemoval about methods:

“Depending on the scale of infection and the soil type, we choose for a surface-, or a depth treatment. With the latter a fungicide is sprayed into the soil under high pressure as deep as 70 cm. Thankfully this is not always necessary and most of the time a surface spray can be utilized, after which the fungi killing substances slowly seep into the soil. Modern fungicides are extremely poisonous, meaning that only a small amount has to be used; a comforting thought.

If that last sentence doesn’t give it away, maybe one of the silly testimonials might:

“When we could access our garden again, eight weeks after the mushroom removal, all mushrooms were gone. We were warned about dead animals, but luckily it wasn’t that bad. The plantgrowth has recovered a bit by now and every now and then we’re also seeing some birds in our garden again. In a few years we will once again be able to safely eat from our garden.”

Hellooooo gullible journalists… you got it yet?! No? How about the mushroom of the month, where an opposition to the new mushroom ban is subcommunicated. Strange, for a company that can profit so much from this, no? Here it goes:

“Even though the ‘orange funnel’ (Rickenella fibula) doesn’t contain psylocibin or other related tryptamines, it has still been put on the list of banned mushroom types under the aged synonym ‘gerronema fibula‘.”

All of this, combined with pictures of people in yellow suits and gas masks spraying toxic chemicals should raise some doubts in the mind of journalists, but nope, they fell for the hoax. An eleborate and modern version of the type of jokes Provo’s played on Dutch society, which I blogged about before.

I must admit that as I started writing this article I wasn’t 100% sure about this being a joke. Since I don’t want to spread misinformation, I did some research, like any self-respecting journalist should. Through some very simple domain name research I found out that registered MushMush was selling magic mushroom growkits until the ban and talks about growing methods. So of course it is a hoax!

So far ShroomRemoval has been featured in the following media:

  • Spits (Rush Hour), one of the biggest (if not the biggest) free newspapers in Holland. [web article, newspaper clipping (from the frontpage apparently)]
  • NOS Headlines on 3FM (Radio), one of Holland’s most popular radio stations. [online, direct download]
  • FunX (Radio), popular radio station for teenagers and other people with a poor taste in music. The two DJ’s spoke with a representative of PaddoBestrijding on the air and showed particularly gullible behaviour and nauseating stupidity. ;-) [direct download]

Just shows how gullible the media is and makes one think twice about the trustworthiness of news. With one I mean me, and hopefully you too. is about a Dutch student living in Istanbul. I regularly write about my adventures in Istanbul and travels in the region. If you’d like to stay up to date, you can subscribe to my RSS feed or get email updates in your inbox. You can also follow me on Twitter.

The Dutch Tradition of Sinterklaas

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Photo by FaceMePLS

Said to be the origin of Santa Clause, the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas is one of the most typical traditions one can experience in the Netherlands (besides Queen’s Day). Sinterklaas means Sint Klaas, or Saint Nicholas in English. On December 5th, Dutch families get together and exchange gifts. If the family has young children, Sinterklaas himself brings the presents to the door or through the chimney, usually in secrecy (especially when using the latter ;-) ) or it’s done by one or more of his helpers. This leads me to the first oddity about this day of the Greek-Anatolian saint, Saint Nicholas of Myra.

Black Petes

That’s the name of the helpers. When Sinterklaas comes to Holland on his steamship from Spain in November, he brings along his cheeky helpers which then give out candies to the children. Yes, he’s from Turkey, but comes from Spain, I don’t know why. I suppose he’s an expat like me. Back to the helpers… They have different functions. One is the guiding Pete, the other does poems, the other sings, the other climbs, the other rhymes, the other wraps the presents and they all have nicknames based on their function, much like the Smurfs.

Originally the Petes looked like south Europeans, but over the course of 50 years, they started getting darker and darker and around 1900 they looked likedarkies‘. Until this day, this is still the day us Dutchies dress up to entertain our kids, as shown on the right (picture by Merlijn Hoek). The Saint and his helper, that was called a servant and a slave in a book that influenced much of current day traditions, are normally seen as friends and the Petes gladly help Sinterklaas, because he’s old and cannot go around the whole country on his own. You can view the 19th century book that established much of the current day Sinterklaas tradition online.

When people started saying that this is racist, we started saying they’re black because of all the chimneys they have to climb through to deliver their presents. It’s a well-known scientific fact that soot from chimneys of houses with children living in them also causes afros and big red lips. Political correctness created Petes with faces painted in purple, green, yellow, you name it. This was not a big hit. Back to the chimney explanation it is.

Through the chimney, into your shoes

When Sinterklaas is in the country in the weeks leading up to the 5th of December, the children are allowed to put their shoe under the chimney twice a week or so, depending on the parents’ generosity (and willingness to spoil their kids). I suppose the tradition varies a bit from home to home, but when I was young my brothers and I would first draw a picture for Sinterklaas. Then before going to bed we’d put one of our shoes under the chimney, with the rolled up drawing in it, a carrot for Sinterklaas’ horse, and we’d sing Sinterklaas songs at the chimney. We would then go to bed and the next morning we’d find a small present (usually candy) in our shoe! Schools and even supermarkets also let children leave their shoe overnight for Sinterklaas.

Photo by poederbach

Usually the candy you get will be kruidnoten or pepernoten, which are small ginger-bread like biscuits or speculaas-like biscuits (as seen above). You’re also likely to receive a chocolate letter of the first letter of your name. These are cleverly nicknamed “chocolade letters”, because this holiday’s a feast of creativity! I have an aunt whose name begins with the letter I, so when she was young she always got the first letter of her second name, the R. Much bigger, at least to a child, since they all weigh the same. So, candy from the chimney!

Oh, unless you’ve been a bad child that is.

Kidnapped and taken to Spain

Children are warned that if they are not behaving well during the year, Sinterklaas will look in his Golden book and will not be able to find your name (which means no presents). One popular song goes “Wie goed is krijgt lekkers, wie stout is de roe” which means that who is nice will get something sweet, but who’s bad will get a bundle of sticks in his shoe (a roe). If you’ve been particularly bad, you will be put in one of the sacks which Sinterklaas and his jolly slaves Black Petes use to take all the presents to Holland and you will be taken back to Spain. In recent years Sinterklaas has condemned this practice, saying that it was a thing of the past. Still 400 children are reported missing in Holland each year though. What are you hiding Sinterklaasje?


That’s what he’s hiding. Usually they’re dropped down the chimney overnight and unpacked in the company of family in the evening of the 5th of December. In my youth we’d be at our home with my relatives on the 5th and as my parents were cooking or doing whatever in the kitchen, someone would ring the doorbell and the presents would be there. As we grew older, faster and more familiar with what to expect, my poor parents had to increase their speed to run from the frontdoor around the house and back into the kitchen. If I remember correctly, usually my mom would come into the room and keep us busy for a moment saying “Heeeeeyyyy! Who do you think that is? Could it be…?” andddd it’s a blurry memory, but I think they made us sing a song before having a look at the front door.

The presents are often accompanied by poems, composed by the Poetry Pete (or the Rap Pete in families with parents that try to be too hip). The child receiving the gift has to read the often wittily composed poem out loud as seen on the right (picture by hondjevandirkie). The poem often says things about the person receiving the gifts and hints about the content of the wrapping paper.

The unravelled wrapping paper is usually a welcome and interesting object for pets, cats and dogs alike. I am not aware of turtles’ attitude towards wrapping paper lying all over the living room floor. But then again, I don’t care.

If the parents actually managed to convince Sinterklaas to come to their home to deliver the presents personally, children are often left arguing at school over who had the real Sinterklaas coming to their home and who had a “helping Klaas” over. It’s very important to be right in this case, even though in the end you’re all wrong. Some kids already know this and spread seeds of doubt among their fellow classmates over the reality of Sinterklaas, those damn fascist toddlers.

Have fun!

That wraps it all up (no pun intended). For expats in the Netherlands, you can have a look at the Sinterklaas survival guide on Expatica. For lazy Dutchies, you can make your poems using a Sinterklaas poem generator.

I wish everybody lots of fun with Sinterklaas this year! Especially my family. Sorry I can’t be there for the festivities for the second year in a row. Last year I celebrated Sinterklaas with some international exchange students while I was living in Sofia, Bulgaria (see the pictures). This year I’m avoiding the tradition – even though I live in Saint Nicholas’ country… Turkey!

I know similar traditions take place all over the world, especially in Europe. What about in your country? Can you tell me a little about the December traditions where you’re from or where you currently live? is about a Dutch student living in Istanbul. I regularly write about my adventures in Istanbul and travels in the region. If you’d like to stay up to date, you can subscribe to my RSS feed or get email updates in your inbox. You can also follow me on Twitter.

Drugs, Prostitution and Same-Sex Marriage

Monday, November 24th, 2008

That’s the title of a 10-15 minute presentation I’m giving soon for my Intercultural Communication classes at Yeditepe University, here in Istanbul. I designed it in such a way that it can also be enjoyed without my vocal explanations and here it is!

The Intercultural Communication course is likely to be the most innovative course I’ve taken during my higher education (sadly — universities should make more use of modern technologies). Every Tuesday, we get into a classroom at 4 o’ clock in the afternoon and have a video conference with a class in Lincoln, Nebraska, US. We present ourselves, our culture, customs, daily lives and our countries to each other. It’s fascinating, because both the Turkish class as well as the American class have students from many different backgrounds.

This part of the Intercultural Communication course, called Global Classroom, has been quite fun so far. We’ve managed to make 2 students from the Nebraskan class dance in front of the camera and they’ve managed to make 2 of our students wrestle in front of the camera (or was it Jiu-Jitsu?).

There’s only a few sessions left, so I hope I actually get to do my presentation, as our lecturer wanted everyone to prepare one, but there will be no time to actually execute all of them.

I hope the presentation has given you an insight into Holland’s liberal policies and if you have any questions please feel free to reply. I love answering questions about these issues.

How about in your countries, how is your government dealing with these issues? What is your personal opinion on these matters? Has the war on drugs failed? Is same-sex marriage morally wrong or is keeping it illegal a form of discrimination? What about prostitution?

Mosque Street Shot

Monday, November 17th, 2008

click to enlarge

A typical shot of a street on the Asian side of Istanbul in Kadıköy, where I live. I didn’t want to feature this picture until I realized that this very every day scene for me might not be so ‘every day’ for the my many visitors from around the world. Click on the picture or here to get a larger and higher quality version of the photograph. In Holland we have a huge debate about the towers of the mosques, called minarets, spoiling the way the street/neighbourhood looks.

What do you think, would one (or a few) of these towers spoil the sight of your neighbourhood? Why (not)?

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