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Tag: Europe

Pictures From Grímsvötn Volcano

Here are a couple of new images from Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland. The volcanic eruption has already caused cancellation of various flights and closure of various airports in Britain, Ireland and Germany while warning has been issued to Denmark and Sweden airports. Volcanic ash also led to changes in president Obama’s travel plans as he had to shorten his Ireland trip and leave for Britain earlier to avoid the volcanic ash which is heading towards Britain’s air space.

Image credit: 1) Olafur Sigurjonsson/Reuters 2) STR/AFP/Getty Images

Leave a Comment May 25, 2011

A Conversation With Dr. Lammert de Jong: Author of “Being Dutch, More or Less…”

As promised, here is the first interview of Science is Beautiful blog. In this interview I got an opportunity to discuss with Dr Lammert de Jong about his new book ” Being Dutch, more or less” which focuses on the issue of Dutch identity crisis and the politics involved. Dr. Jong received his PhD in Social Sciences from Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam in 1972, following that he worked at University of Zambia and the National Institute of Public Administration in Lusaka, Zambia from 1972-1976. He then worked as Director of the Netherlands Development Aid Organisation from 1980-1984. From 1985-1998, he served as Resident Representative of the Netherlands Government in the Netherlands Antilles. Currently, he resides in New York and Amsterdam and has been a freelance scholar, his latest work being the book ” Being Dutch, more or less” published by Rozenbergps Publications.

Science Is Beautiful: Hello Dr Lammert, thanks a lot for taking time out to talk about your new book titled “Being Dutch, more or less…”. How and when did you start thinking about writing a book on Dutch identity crisis? Can you also elaborate about your Frisian heritage? Is it still relevant in Dutch society?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: My interest in Dutch identity goes way back. During my formative years, especially the university years, it felt very comfortable  to be Dutch: lots of freedom, a civil society blessed with a safety welfare net for people who couldn’t make it on their own, prosperous etc. Read the chapter on Dutch Wonderland (Rozenberg Quarterly). I felt privileged. After my university education, I spend many years in Africa and the Dutch Caribbean. In Zambia and Benin I was representing the rich Western world that wanted to fight poverty in the Third world, while in the Dutch Caribbean I was – literally- a representative of a former colonial power. Very different roles.

Especially in the Dutch Caribbean I was struck by how strong people feel about their island identity, or manipulated that identity to define themselves independently from the Netherlands, though being Dutch citizens, nourishing the island’s Patrimonio Nashonal, occasionally against their economic interests.

In particular the language issue I could grasp, as part of my Frisian background, coming from Friesland, a Dutch province with around 650.000 people. In the Netherlands the Frisian language had been recognized, after a lengthy battle, in primary education, on condition that when entering secondary education pupils had to be bi-lingual: Dutch and Frisian. This model worked well there. I have tried to showcase this model in the Dutch Caribbean where on Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire Papiamentu and Papiamento is spoken. For many years the unresolved conflicts about the language of instruction -Dutch or Papiamentu- had a destructive impact on the quality of education. Especially in the Dutch Caribbean I have learned that identity issues are rather insensitive to intellectual reason and better wisdom. That is now also demonstrated in the Netherlands.

So at the end of my career (I am retired), disparate experiences in different place of the world came together in a strong interest to tackle the variations of Dutch identity; something to write about.

Science Is Beautiful: According to you, what are the main reasons for the current situation of identity crisis in Netherlands?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: I think a major reason is the contrast between the reality of Dutch well-being and a growing doubt about the endurance of Dutch Wonderland. In many ways the Netherlands is one of the best places in the world, in terms of freedoms (speech, religion, end of life, sexual preference, abortion, soft drugs) and securities (income, welfare, unemployment benefits, healthcare, pensions and old age provisions etc.). The Dutch have been for years proud carriers of this Wonderland. Nowadays the Dutch realize that they have lots to lose in a world without borders because of globalisation, represented by immigration, supra-national governance and free -uncontrolled- financial and economic markets. The paradox is that Dutch well-being has been built on their very productive interactions with the outside world, going back for centuries, which now is perceived as a threat to True Dutch identity. In a way, the outside world has now penetrated the Dutch home, while before the Dutch actively navigated large stretches of this world. This changeover has made them realize how small the country actually is, and induced a True Dutch and  Take Back the Netherlands sentiment, expressed in a No vote against the Constitution of the European Union, and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim movement. Where once personal freedoms blossomed, a ‘let it be’ for everyone, now the Dutch try to keep their homeland clean: “no non-western foreigners in our (Nether-) land.” On such moments the Dutch are loud people, very different for instance from the Portuguese who, as Antonio Labisa proclaimed during our walk and talk in Lisbon in the summer of 2010: “we are modest people.”

Science Is Beautiful: What do you think are the possible measures which Dutch leadership and public in general can take to overcome these turbulent times and move in right direction? What is the role of Dutch youth in identifying the Dutch identity which seems to be lost?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: It’s easy to say that the Dutch should come to their senses again. But how to achieve that? The prevalent uncertainty has become the playing field for a politics that promises to restore the old order, denying the irreversible changes in the world. The uncertainty agenda is addressed by what people want hear, resulting in a populist political take-over, silencing any agency that aims to strengthen Netherlands’ participation in this new world. This carries over to most supra-national (or global and European) dimensions of Dutch well-being: development co-operation, global warming, resource exploitation, sustainable live-style and development. Those who aim for political platforms that incorporate these dimensions into the definition of Dutch citizenship are nowadays disqualified as global frequent flyers who are out of touch with True Dutch sentiments. This global agenda requires that the out-dated fragmented political party system of the Netherlands must be overhauled. The traditional political clustering of left and right, liberal and socialist, and christian-democrats-in-between, does not fit the supra-national challenges. That’s why a charter for Dutch-European citizenship, or the cause of European Union democracy are not addressed as primary challenges in Dutch politics.

Yes, youngsters tend to be more globally oriented and connected, yet without the necessary clout to make a political difference in the Netherlands. That day will arrive, just as  in bygone days universal voting right, women’s rights, free education and welfare provisions were realized against the odds of a surely by class and religion divided nation.

Science Is Beautiful: What parallels or differences you draw in immigration issues when comparing Dutch issue as compared to other countries in the world, say USA or other European countries?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: When I discussed in the process of writing this book the Dutch identity crisis with friends and colleagues, quite a few people came up with a rather lame statement: it’s all over the same, so why bother. Even if this would be the case (which it isn’t), that does not justify taking this crisis as a matter of course. The Dutch identity must be still probed and analyzed in order to find out what is going on. In the book’s introduction I’ve made it clear: this book is about being Dutch; it is not a comparative study. Obviously the Netherlands does not stand alone in Europe having issues with immigration and national identity. Also in France, the United Kingdom and Germany red flags have been raised over these matters.

Sarkozy, President of France, initiated in 2009 in the French Republic a discourse on French identity. Apparently the iron-clad certainty of what it meant to be French and the solidity of the French Heritage have been shaken by immigration tremors and Muslim believers. France’s early exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was blamed on a lack of patriotism, shared values and national honor of a French soccer team with many members who are black or brown and descended from immigrants. The National Front, a persistent far-right party, preaches French purity and exceptionalism, and opposes immigration and the European Union: “Like the Soviet empire in its time, this E.U. empire will collapse.” Debating French identity, newcomers appear to be the real patriots, referring to the gift France bestowed on immigrants: the grandeur of France.

In the United Kingdom a ban on the Muslim veil has been in the making since 2006. Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary until 2005, tabled this garment as “a visible statement of separation and of difference.” According to the Dutch press, close to a majority of the Britons wants to leave their island, which they see as having been flooded with scores of immigrants. Most Britons want job-less immigrants to be asked to leave. Interestingly, the large immigrant population originating from countries that were once part of the former British Empire now declares that Britain is full when counting the large numbers of Eastern European immigrants.

Germany witnessed in the last decade of the 20th Century serious incidents of violence against immigrants and Muslims. At the same time Germany’s second-generation “foreigners” achieved significantly higher levels of employment and experienced less segregation in schools, less dependency on welfare, and being less often convicted of crimes than their counterparts in multicultural Netherlands, a study by Koopmans pointed out. Meanwhile Thilo Sarrazin stood up in 2010 with his book Deutschland schafft sich ab, which translates as Germany does away with itself. He claims that the country is on the road to ruin because of the influx of immigrants from the Middle East, which will overwhelm the indigenous population and create a nation of ‘dunces’. In particular he singles out Muslims for failing to integrate and having low IQs: ‘Germany is becoming more stupid.’ Sarrazin was a leading member of Germany’s central bank.

The USA is of course a special case as a very young state, with  -out of necessity- a permanent stream of immigrants to fill the land of the Amerindians. The American Way enforces immigrants to Americanize. In a recent study, Caldwell argues that it is a European myth to imagine the USA as an open immigration country: ‘America may be open in theory, but in practice it exerts Procrustean pressures on its immigrants to conform, and it is its pressures, not its openness, that have bound America’s diverse citizens together as one people.’ These pressures to Americanize are never stated; they are embedded in the social and economic systems through which immigrants must move in order to survive.

There are many parallels, but differences as well. A comparative study would have taken me many more years to complete. Yet I wanted to “out” the Dutch identity crisis against its specific Dutch background. In my book the Dutch stand out; it is their story, by a Dutch author, but in English so that people other than the Dutch can also share this narrative. Being Dutch, more or less explores the critical stage of Dutch national identity due to changes in the Dutch social habitat at home, and by intrusions of immigration, globalization and free marketeers.

Tentatively I would say that the Dutch stand out for being their country being very small and very prosperous in combination with their iconic reputation of tolerance (which may just as well be a modus operandi for a strongly divided people). Now that the Dutch are being tested by globalisation and immigration, they are not able to accept foreign intrusions. Muslim compatriots, who ask what they must do to become accepted, heard in a debate in December 2010 in Amsterdam: apostasy!

Science Is Beautiful: What suggestions would you like to give to new budding writers? Where should they begin with if they have some topics and ideas on which they would like to write?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: Some ten years ago I followed an online Skilled Writing course, offered by Charlotte Balfour, a friend of mine. Brainstorming, one of the best instructions, advised you to close doors and curtains, telephone and internet, and just type in the wild what you want to write about for ½ hour, without care for grammar, typos or spelling. Repeat this a few times in the course of a month, and start streamlining the purpose of your writing in an Umbrella Statement. That is a statement of about ½ page (or more, but not much more) that contains the core of what you want to write about. The Umbrella Statement may change during the course of you writing, but principally must govern the argument that follows in your subsequent text. In such a way you protect yourself (and your reader) against digressions that have nothing to do with the subject you have set to explore. Each and every chapter should also open with an Umbrella Statement.

Science Is Beautiful: Where can readers get a copy of your book in US?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: At Amazon. But that may still take some time. In the meantime you could order it from the Netherlands, from the publisher’s website or send me an email at lammertdejong AT gmail DOT com

Science Is Beautiful: Thanks again for answering my questions. All the best for success of your book “Being Dutch, more or less”. Further details of the book:

Title: Being Dutch, more or less: In a Comparative Perspective of USA and Caribbean Practices

ISBN 978 90 3610 210 0

Author: Dr. Lammert de Jong

4 Comments December 21, 2010

New Section: Blog Interviews

I have been thinking for a while to add an interview section in my blog and finally I am going to do that. I will be posting first interview of “Science Is Beautiful” blog during the week. My first blog interview will be with Dr Lammert de Jong, author of new book “Being Dutch , more or less” about which I wrote in one of my previous posts. In coming months , I will be adding some more interviews to the blog which will be a good opportunity for me as well as the readers to get some new perspective about various issues and topics. Here is a sneak preview of the interview:

“My interest in Dutch identity goes way back. During my formative years, especially the university years, it felt very comfortable  to be Dutch: lots of freedom, a civil society blessed with a safety welfare net for people who couldn’t make it on their own, prosperous etc…… After my university education, I spend many years in Africa and the Dutch Caribbean. In Zambia and Benin I was representing the rich Western world that wanted to fight poverty in the Third world, while in the Dutch Caribbean I was – literally- a representative of a former colonial power. Very different roles…. ”  – Dr Lammert de Jong.

Stay Tuned!!

Leave a Comment December 14, 2010

Austerity Measures: Yes or No?

The usage of word “austerity” is on the rise these days in all kinds of media, thanks to the global recession. You read any economy related news and chances are you will come across the word austerity. That explains how the word made to the top 50 list of words searched by NY Times users in its dictionary feature to understand the meaning (it’s ranked No. 4 in the list). So let’s see what it means. According to Oxford Dictionary of Difficult words, Austerity means

noun– sternness or severity of manner or attitude

  • extreme plainness and simplicity of style or appearance
  • conditions characterized by severity, sternness, or asceticism
  • difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce a budget deficit, esp. by reducing public expenditure

In the current grim economic scenario, the word austerity relates to stern economic steps taken by governments in form of increased taxes and reduced benefits to overcome budget deficit. Economic crisis has hit all the countries badly including US and Euro zone and there has been debate going on whether austerity is the way to go. European economies have already started taking austerity measures and in US debate is going on.  The countries which are taking austerity measures include Greece, Spain, Italy, Hungary, UK and even France and Germany as a pre-emptive measure and also to be a role model to other less regulated European economies. So how countries are doing it? Salary freezes, wage reductions, reduced reitirement benefits, reduced pensions, increased taxes, higher retirement ages  are few of the measures taken by these governments to reduce the deficit, which ofcourse has met with serious opposition from their citizens (picture above shows protest in Greece). Greece is being bailed out by IMF and other European countries, so these austerity measures were imposed as conditons of bailout and they are supposed to reduce their deficit from 13.6% of GDP to close to 2.6% by 2014.You can read in detail about what measures other countries are taking in this CNN article.

I don’t know anything about economics and seeing economies of countries falling one after the other like a deck of cards, I doubt if any of these governments understood the dynamics of economics clearly. Whenever I try to understand what’s going on in the fiscal world, I turn to Nobel Laureate Dr Paul Krugman’s blog to get some basic understanding. In his recent posts he has discussed that he does not support this austerity-mania in Europe and more thoughts need to be put into it. He also suggests that US should avoid falling into this austerity frenzy.

Let me start with the budget arithmetic, borrowing an approach from Brad DeLong. Consider the long-run budget implications for the United States of spending $1 trillion on stimulus at a time when the economy is suffering from severe unemployment.

That sounds like a lot of money. But the US Treasury can currently issue long-term inflation-protected securities at an interest rate of 1.75% . So the long-term cost of servicing an extra trillion dollars of borrowing is $17.5 billion, or around 0.13 percent of GDP.

And bear in mind that additional stimulus would lead to at least a somewhat stronger economy, and hence higher revenues. Almost surely, the true budget cost of $1 trillion in stimulus would be less than one-tenth of one percent of GDP – not much cost to pay for generating jobs when they’re badly needed and avoiding disastrous cuts in government services. [Paul Krugman]

It makes sense to me now why stimulus is needed for strengthening the economy in the long run  rather than mindlessly reducing spending, especially for economies like US, UK and Germany where the investors have confidence and offer securities at low interest rate. While for countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland where investors have lost confidence austerity might be the way to go, even that is debatable. The whole idea of world economy is based on belief and confidence in each other and if a country spends for bolstering the confidence and strengthening of the economy, it should be ok, although carefully planned and regulated spending is the need of the hour. Mindless spending needs to be stopped, case in point being the spending by Greece govt on it’s employees; they were given 14 months salary and 75% of their money was spent on supporting Govt staff!!

So that was the word of the day- Austerity!

Picture: Caption-Greeks on streets again; demonstrating against IMF austerity measures— by Flickr user apostolosp . Used under Creative Commons License.

Leave a Comment June 16, 2010

The Courageous Life of Sophie Scholl

While wandering in the blockbuster last Saturday night and unable to find any interesting title, I went to the international section and picked up a German movie– Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl – The Final Days). I am glad I got that movie. As the title says, the movie shows last five days of Sophie Scholl before she was beheaded on Feb 22nd, 1943 on charges of high treason. Now, who is Sophie Scholl? Sohpie Scholl was a member of non-violent student resistance movement against Nazi rule in Germany. The group called itself “White Rose” which was mostly based in University of Munich campus and its main activity was printing and distributing leaflets denouncing Hitler’s rule, which was equivalent to asking for death sentence in Hitler’s regime.

White Rose consisted mostly of students, including the Scholl siblings, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl. Sophie was younger sister of Hans Scholl; earlier Hans wanted to keep Sophie separate from the White Rose’s activities in order to protect her, but Sophie joined the movement anyhow. On Feb 18th 1943, Hans and Sophie carried suitcases full of the sixth leaflet and placed it in different locations in University of Munich, but unfortunately they were seen by one of the janitors and ultimately handed over to Gestapo for interrogation. Over the last year, the leaflets distributed by the group has caused a stir in the Nazi regime and they were looking out for the group members. Sophie bravely faced the interrogations, and the ideological discussions between her and the prosecutors/interrogators are interesting to watch in the film. She was just 22, and the whole life was ahead of her– her boyfriend, her loving family– but she heard the voice of her conscience and did what she felt was right thing to do. We live in a relatively free world, where we are free to to say or write anything we want. Anyone can write a blog expressing his/her ideas, opinions, start a petition and so on, so it might be difficult for us to understand how much courage it took to write and distribute a leaflet in Nazi regime when one knew the consequences of getting caught- a certain death. Yet Sophie and her friends did, because they believed in an idea of free Germany, free world and equal rights for all, and they took actions on what the believed in. Sophie died as a martyr at the age of 22, Salute to her and her courage to stand by her ideals!! Grab the movie, if you get a chance. Here are few of Sophie’s quotes:

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

“I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.”

“How can we expect fate to let a righteous cause prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up undividedly to a righteous cause?”

“It was a sunny day, I was carrying a child in a white dress to be christened. The path to the church led up a steep slope, but I held the child in my arms firmly and without faltering. Then suddenly my footing gave way … I had enough time to put the child down before plunging into the abyss. The child is our idea. In spite of all obstacles it will prevail.”

1 Comment May 23, 2010

The Eyjafjallajökull Show

My fascination with the stunning visuals of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano continues. This  recent video by Sean Stiegemeier was filmed during May 1st and 2nd, 2010 who took a trip to Iceland just to shoot this event. Landscape of Iceland looks just stunning, makes me want to visit Iceland. Well, sometime soon… Anyways, you can also view the volcano live in action 24 hours a day!! A website from iceland MILA has set up a camera to provide the live action. You can also check out the thermal images of the eruption. Here is the link for the Live camera. Right now when I checked, it was bit dark but I could see random eruptions and smoke plume, probably during the daytime the view will be much better.

Ok, enough of Eyjafjallajökull, there are some other volcanoes too which deserve attention and they too are equally tough to pronounce. So let’s take a look at another volcano located nearby to Eyjafjallajökull and was erupting the same time as Eyjafjallajökull, but it didnt create any havoc to the air traffic by spewing out smoke and ash, so it was lost into oblivion.  Here is volcano Fimmfördurhals, shot beautifully by Marc Szeglat. Anyways, which one is tough-er to pronounce Fimmfördurhals or Eyjafjallajökull?

Eyjafjallajökull – Fimmförduháls Eruption on Iceland from Marc Szeglat on Vimeo.

Leave a Comment May 13, 2010

Greek Crisis Explained

Here is a nice animation explaining the Greek Crisis. It’s funny and probably this two-minute animation explains much better what the heck is wrong with Greece than all those lengthy and wordy analysis. Will be eagerly waiting for the next episode in the series: Will the EU make it? Infact the whole world awaits for the answer…

Nice job Nomint!

Leave a Comment May 12, 2010

Eyjafjallajökull Update

This is the latest image of the Icelandic Volcano Eyjafjallajökull, the name you can’t pronounce, still. The volcano which started erupting on March 20th continues to spew ash as can be seen in this true-color image. The ash now extends atleast 530 miles from the Eyjafjallajökull and the ash has reached altitudes of 14,000-17,000 ft. The ash continues to disrupt the air traffic in various European countries including Spain, Ireland, Morocco. In the image you can see dark landscape close to volcano eruption area which is due to dark ash covering the ice. This image was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, May 11th 2010. Photo Courtesy- NASA Earth Observatory.

Leave a Comment May 11, 2010

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