Dare wonder beyond the Dutch borders as you will be on your own

"Oost West, Thuis Best"

What do you do when you live in a foreign country where you know you will stay for many more years to come? If it is a reasonable option, you will try to become a citizen of that country. You will have equal rights to the people around you. You can travel to your country of origin and back without having the fear of being deported. You are eligible for jobs or in science, for funding that otherwise would out of your reach.
The notion of citizenship in a modern globalized society is not the same as it was in the 19th century when nationalism entered the world stage. It means that you will do what you can to make your own surrounding as livable as you can. It simply solidifies your civic duties as a human being living in a society, but adding unrepealable basic rights.

So I did become a US citizen a few weeks before my daughter was born. In addition, as a claus under Dutch law allowed it, I retained my Dutch citizenship. Useless in the US, I understood that I would be able to give my daughter dual-citizenship. She would have options in life, as she would be both a US citizen, but also an EU citizen. As a parent all you can provide for your kids are options.

So I went to the Dutch consulate in San Francisco to apply for her Dutch passport, as Dutch citizenship is normally obtained jus sanguinis. Little did I know that proving I was still Dutch would this difficult. After all I obtained my US citizenship jure matrimonii (and my daughter is a US citizen jus soli).

I filled out all the paperwork and the three of us (my wife, my daughter and I) went to the consulate. Of course I had forgotten to get an apostille for our wedding certificate or for my daughters birth certificate, which were both printed on official US paper with watermarks. We were also reminded that both documents had to be younger than 5 years from the date of obtaining them. As if either a marriage or birth certificate would become otherwise obsolete  I entered the University of Leiden with the same old birth certificate used to get my very first Dutch passport at the age of 6.

To proof that I was still Dutch I had to get my naturalization document certified by the USCIS, the same institution that gave me the document and subsequently I had to send it to the State Department in Washington, DC. In addition, I had to proof that my wife is a born US citizen by showing her birth certificate that is less than 5 years old. The problem is that the original US birth certificate of a UC citizen born abroad is only given once at birth. To make matters more complicated, this original document was with her parents in Colombia. Nevertheless, the people at the consulate in San Francisco were very helpful and suggested my parents-in-law to contact the embassy in Colombia to show them the original document and make a copy of it to be send to San Francisco. Let is be that the people at the Dutch embassy in Bogotá are not as helpful or friendly as the people at the consulate in San Francisco. It did not matter if my parent-in-law called, or my wife or myself. They would refuse to talk about it as it did not involve a Dutch citizen, except it did. My daughter after all is a born Dutch citizen as I still am one. This argument fell to deaf ears and the people at the Dutch embassy told us to not bother them anymore (for all intends and purposes they used more stern words).

Luck was on our side. I had already registered our marriage in The Hague and we had plans to travel to both the Netherlands and Colombia during this period. This allowed us to 1) get the original birth certificate of my wife to proof I am still Dutch and 2) get a Dutch copy of our wedding certificate, which in this case did not need an apostille.

With all the documents in hand we go to the consulate for a third time and yes, this time all was fine. At that point I reminded myself of all the parents I had seen at that consulate that tried the same thing: obtain a Dutch passport for their kids who were Dutch in sanguinis.

Does this mean that her Dutch citizenship problems are over? No! She will only remain a conditional Dutch citizen for as long as I am a Dutch when she is younger than 18 years of age. If I would lose my Dutch citizenship or I would die before she turns 18, she will automatically lose her Dutch citizenship. Also, I am a profissional Dutch citizen. If I do not renew my Dutch passport every 10 years, I will automatically lose my Dutch citizenship, as will my daughter if she is younger than 18. Once she is 18 that very same rule applies to her.

My proof of my Dutch citizenship is now sealed in a print-out that says how I obtained a second citizenship. Add a signature and a stamp and I remain a Dutch citizen ... for the next 10 years.

At least from a geographical point of view I am lucky to live fairly close to a Dutch consulate. If you would be living in Uruguay, Ecuador, Camerun, or Eritrea or the major European city of Barcelona you would have to travel a bit further than usual as these countries don't have a Dutch embassy let alone a consulate. This is not where the Dutch government wants to stop. It also want to make the lives of its citizens in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Zambia and Burkina Faso more difficult by closing down their embassies and there is even talk to close down more.

It is hard to imagine that a government would make it this hard for its own people to obtain the legal documents they need to be able do their regular business or remain the right to do so. Getting apostilles on original documents seem like a sensible way to take care of forgeries. But that would only be a reasonable step if forgeries were a serious problem. To my best knowledge this is not the case. It is hard to not consider the social tentions that arrose foling the assassination of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh have nothing to do with this. Actually, it is hard to imagine that the national animosity that exist against the Moroccan-Dutch and Turkish-Dutch (read dual-citizens) are not at the root of these draconic regulations. Reading Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma strengthen my suspicions. It is not just me who sees a boiling hattred between different sub-groups within the Netherlands. One who considers themselves natives or "autochtoon" and the outsiders or "allochtoon" people or simply recent immigrants.
At the time when I tried to get my daughters Dutch passport there was a heated discussion going on in the Netherlands to ban any form of dual citizenship. The argument made by those in favour was that you can only be loyal to the one country for which you hold a passport.
It is a shame that the estimated 2 million Dutch citizens who live abroad are essentially victims of their government making policy based on trying to target a particular group of people within its own boarders. As if you are being punished for having the guts to leave your country of birth.
Do you start to act any different when you have another passport? Does a German act like a German because of his passport or because he grew up in Germany in a German family? And would that very same German act very different if he lived in the Netherlands, naturalized Dutch or not? I sincerely doubt this. I don't think I act much different because I live in the US. Sure I have to passports, but no matter where I lived I have tried and I am still trying to make best of out any situation I live in. No passport will chance that. It not that I look at my US passport and think: "let's get a fully automatic assault rifle, because that is what you do as an American". No, I don't think any person should carry a weapon of any sort. Yet, during the World Cup I still cheer for the Netherlands. I still enjoy watching speed skating. My heart still beat a bit quicker if the chance of an "elfstedentocht" is forecasted. And I still will do my civil duties when I am called for jury duty. If an earthquake hits the Bay Area, I will still do what it takes to help out. That what you do because you are human, not because you are Dutch or American or Togolese.

A 'funny' side-thought also made me aware that these regulations regarding proofing that I am still Dutch, is that you can fake being Dutch for quite some time. As my Dutch passport is not proof of me being Dutch, it is proof that I am Dutch if I go through immigration anywhere in the world. They will not ask for my actual proof of Dutch citizenship, the piece of paper that most Dutch citizens don't have. An immigration officer will simply assume that I am Dutch if I hand them my Dutch passport.
For those people who did naturalize but kept their Dutch passport can now enter any country pretending to be Dutch. They can do this for up to 5 years (Dutch passport are only valid for 5 years). From October 1st, 2013 a Dutch passport will be valid for 10 years. This means that a recently naturalized person can pretend to be Dutch for up to 10 years without foreign authorities knowing that you are not a Dutch citizen. Not that being Dutch is helpful abroad in case you do get into trouble as they enforce a strict policy of respecting the sovereignty of foreign governments and their legal systems, as well as an absolute no-negotiation with any group deemed a terrorist group in case of a kidnapping.

Once a Dutch citizen leaves the 'save' confinements of the Dutch territories  you are on your own. At least that is what the Dutch passport regulations and diplomatic personal help policy will tell you.


How does a Dutch cabinet compare to neighbouring cabinets?

by Daniël P Melters

On September 12th, 2012, the Dutch went to the polls for the 29th time since the end of the Second World War to vote for who will represent them in parliament. On April 23rd, 2012 the first Rutte cabinet fell after the Catshuis Negotiations went nowhere (austerity measure negotiations with the "gedoog" (which translates to 'active tolerance') Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders and the Rutte cabinet). Today (Nov 5th, 2012), 169 days after the fall and 54 days after the elections, Rutte's second cabinet was sworn into office by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Rutte II with Queen Beatrix present themselves to the media - from NRC Handelsblad: http://www.nrc.nl/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/bordes.klein_.jpg

On average a Dutch cabinet is in power for 2 years and 5 months (standard deviation of 553 days and a median of 2 years and 2 months) since the end of World War 2 (including demissionary cabinet). The average demissionair time of a cabinet is 96 days (with a standard deviation of 75 days and a median of 69 days). In other words, after 29 elections in the last 67 years, the Netherlands didn't have a ruling government for 2,788 days or over 7.5 years.

How does the average time of a Dutch cabinet in office compare to the time in office by cabinets from its neighbouring countries? To make any meaningful comparison, I had to limit myself to countries with similar types of governments. The obvious candidates were Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium. All four countries are monarchies, just like the Netherlands, and in all four countries the Prime Minister is the political head-of-state. I also added the United Kingdom, despite it less well defined role of the Prime Minister, as well as Germany even though it is a republic. In Germany the head-of-state is the president, but the political head-of-state is the Prime Minister. All seven countries are in close geopolitical proximity and share considerable historical, cultural, and economical ties. Where things differ a bit are that both Belgium and Germany are federations, in contrast to the other five.
Countries like France or Finland would not have been good candidates for a comparison, as these countries are, just like Germany, republics, but the presidents in these countries are not only the head-of-state, they are also the political head-of-state.
I obtained the times in office per cabinet per country from the respective lists on Wikipedia (follow links per country above). Below are some basic statistical findings.
Table 1: The mean, standard deviation (StDev) and median per country are given only considering cabinets since WWII. In addition, the total number of Prime Minister (PMs) and cabinets are given, as well the total number of elections, percentage of cabinets that served their full 4 year term, total number of incumbent PMs and the ratio of number of incumbents over the number of cabinets. In bold the highest value is given per parameter.
Overall, little difference was observed between cabinets time in office between the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, or Denmark (Table 1). Cabinets in the two larger countries Germany and the UK stayed in office longer, but the standard deviation was similar to aforementioned countries. The standard deviation was rather large, but when you look at the relative time in office graph of Figure 2, it is not surprising. What was more striking is that the median time in office was larger than the mean for the average cabinet in Germany and the UK. The big outlier was Belgium, whose cabinets last substantially shorter than that of any other country in this small subset. In part maybe the complex political system explains this, which was exemplified in their last election where it took them 541 days to form a new government.
Without exception, an incumbent Prime Minister has about a 50-50 shot at becoming the next Prime Minister, irrespective of his/her performance in the term leading up the election. Although these are high numbers, they are not as high as the incumbency rate for members of the House of Representative or the Senate in the US.

These are average or absolute numbers, but what is the data spread of the average time in office? To answer this question, I normalized the time in office to a full 4 year term (=1.0). Of course, some of the data will be skewed depending on how quick a new cabinet is formed after an election (the last Belgian formation is a case in point). In Figure 1 you can see the spread of time in office per country. Countries like Sweden, Germany, UK, and even the Netherlands stand out for their relatively large bar for full term (1.0) cabinets. In the latter case, this graph is deceiving, as only 24% of the cabinets in the Netherlands go full term, a number similar to Norway (27%). Again, Belgium stands out on the other end of the spectrum and Denmark has a rather even spread of time in office per cabinet (which also explains the lowest StDev number of the seven selected countries).

Figure 1: Histogram of how long a cabinet is in power. Full term would 4 years in power and thus a perfect score of 1.0. If a cabinet fell early for what ever reason, the relative fraction was calculated. Germany had most full term cabinets (10), whereas Denmark had the least full term cabinets (1). On the other hand, Belgium had the most very short term cabinets (19 cabinets that served 0.1 or 0.2 of full term), whereas the United Kingdom had the fewest (1).
 When we look over time and plot each cabinet's time in office (Figure 2), we can see how erratic time in office per cabinet is. Especially in the Netherlands, it seems that a cabinet's performs in either all or nothing. This quick and dirty analysis does not include continuing Prime Ministers, in which Sweden would stand out with Tage Erlander ruled for over 23 years (from 1946 to 1969). On the other end of the spectrum, Denmark suffered the loss of two Prime Ministers in succession (Hans Hedtoft and Hans Christian Hansen). Similarly, the Netherlands suffered some political/social unrest following the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn (2002) and Theo van Gogh (2004), whereas Sweden had to deal with the still unsolved murder/assassination of Olof Palme. The precise effects (long or short term) of such events are difficult to calculate.

Figure 2: For each country a histogram plot was made to display the relative time in office of each cabinet since WWII.
In conclusion, a cabinet in the Netherlands performs as a function of time in office roughly similar to its neighbouring cabinets. If anything does stand out, is that a cabinet in the Netherlands will either stay in office full term or will fall within the first two years in office. This means that Rutte II has a 25% change of serving for 4 years, yet no Dutch citizen should be surprised to go back to the voting booth within the next 48 months. With the social outcry following the presentation of the plans of Rutte II, this might be more likely than not.

Update 2012/11/08:
It only took 4 days since their inauguration for Rutte II to show their first cracks. After the debate in Parliament where they defended their proposed 4-year plans or cabinet-plans, a session of urgent consultation (spoedoverleg) was ordered to discuss the general opposition to their plans, including opposition from their respective party-members.

Sources: follow the hyperlinks as provided.


This blog is like a sleeping vulcano

This blog has been rather quiet lately. Currently I am working on some new stuff (hint: Dutch judicial system), so please be patient.


I must be racist because I celebrate Sinterklaas and Black Peter

On the eve of December 5th (this is not an official holiday), Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas visits children in the Netherlands and Belgium to bring them presents. At night the children will put their shoe next to the fireplace or window and sing songs to Sinterklaas before going to bed hoping to a present filled shoe in the next morning. Often children will also leave a carrot in the shoe for the horse of Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is the biggest celebration of the year in the Netherlands, bigger than Christmas. Just as Santa Claus has elves that help him out, Sinterklaas has helpers to. These helpers are called Black Peter or Zwarte Piet. This character is often perceived as offensive and racist beyond the Dutch boarders (including former Dutch colonies and the Dutch Antilles).
Of course I will defend the practice of Sinterklaas celebration. I grew up with it and I see it as a stand alone event. Also, it is one of the few celebration or traditions left in the Netherlands that the Dutch can claim as typical Dutch, together with Queensday. This does not mean that I am not aware of the aversion of many foreigners of the character Black Peter, in particular those from English speaking countries. The picture of character Black Peter is not that black and white. Let me try to put into context.

Slavery in the Netherlands was illegal, as this was considered not in line with good Christian moral standards. This did not mean that oversees colonies didn't have slaves. In contrary, the Dutch held a strong position in slavery. In the Dutch colonies slavery was banned rather late in comparison to most other European nations. In most colonies slavery was banned in 1863, although the slaves weren’t fully repatriated into society for several more year. A peculier moment in Dutch history was that slave owners were given compensation (about 300 guilders per slave) for lost property. The last place slavery was banned in Dutch controlled regions was in Sumbawa in 1910. Of course, the Dutch were also responsible for about 5% of the transatlantic slave trade. Overall, this is not a part of Dutch history to be proud of and I am saddened that this is not properly thought in Dutch schools.

That bring us to the origin of the character Black Peter. It is easy to just see Black Peter as a stand alone character who is a dispensable entity in the Sinterklaas celebration. For today's person aware of the transatlantic slave-trade (not to be mixed up with slavery as this still exist today), he will instantaneously connect the transatlantic slave-trade, the role of the Dutch in this, and Black Peter. In short, Black Peter must be a representation of a slave and therefore Sinterklaas celebration must be a racist tradition. Simple, black (Peter) and white (Sinterklaas). Is this assumption, fed by in gut-feelings, correct?

To be able to answer this question, we have to understand the history of the character of Black Peter? What is the origin of Sinterklaas (or Saint Nicolas) celebration? Parellels have been drwan between Sinterklaas and the Germanic god Odin (or Wodan). Upon Christianization of the Germanic regions, the worshipping of the god Odin and his black ravens were incorporated into the Christian believe system in the Germanic regions. This would be supported by the fact that Saint Nicolas was one of the mots important saints in Christianity for many centuries. Although this is largely a theory, it is a practice commonly used to subdue the conquered people into believing the new religion; the incorporation of pagan symbols into the new religion, such as the wedding rings most Christians use today as proof of their marriage.

The current Sinterklaas is a Turkish bishop who lives in Spain with his helpers, the Black Peters. Each Black Peter is highly specialized and indispensable. Sinterklaas keeps a log of all the children and those children that are good will get presents on the eve of December 5th. You might see some similarities with the American Santa Claus, but I will come back to this later. Why is Sinterklaas a Turkish bishop living in Spain and why do Dutch people celebrate this on the eve of December 5th. December 6th is the name day of Saint Nicholas (280-342), patron saint of children, sailors, . Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop of Myra in what is present-day Turkey. Centuries after his death his relics were transferred to Bari (current day Italy). At one point Bari was part of the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon until the 18th century. Some parts of Germany, Austria and Switzerland also celebrate a variant of Sinterklaas, but they celebrate it on the actual name day: December 6th. The people of the Low Countries celebrate it on the eve, similar to some countries celebrating Christmas on the eve of December 24th, rather than December 25th. These historical events could explain the use of Spain and Turkish bishop in the Sinterklaas tradition. It is also believed that his placement in Spain explains why he uses a (steam)boat to arrive a few weeks before December 5th.

Sinterklaas is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colorful Moorish dresses. These dresses are very similar to the dresses worn by the Spanish soldiers during the 80 year between the Spanish king and rebelion in the 17 provinces of the Low Countries. A remnant of Dutch mocking of the Spaniards still exist in the Dutch anthem: ‘de koning van Hispanje heb ik altijd geëerd’ = “the king of Spain I have always honored”. This ultimately led to the independence of the Dutch Republic, the first protest country. Whereas at first all Christian celebrations were prohibited, the rulers were forced to allow private celebrations, including Sinterklaas. The mischievous helpers are the contemporary notorious Black Peters. Part of the Sinterklaas celebration was to award good behavior and punish the bad. The common colors to be used to identify good is white, whereas bad or evil is associated with the color black. Sinterklaas was obviously the good guy, whereas Black Peter represented the bad (or evil). At least that is the prevalent theory of the origin of Black Peter and the origin of his wardrobe.

By the mid 1800s Sinterklaas had no helper, but was accompanied by the devil. But in 1850 a book by the school teacher Jan Schenkman, named “Saint Nicholas and his Helper”, changed the course of the Sinterklaas celebration. This major overhaul has been modified many times into the celebration we know today. This was the first time Sinterklaas came by steamboat and that he has a helper, which replaced the devil. This helper was alone and black, the color of bad/evil. After the liberation in World War II in 1945, the Canadian liberators organized a huge Sinterklaas celebration with many Black Peters. These numbers stuck, as well as the name Black Peter.
The mischievous behavior of the Black Peter also remained, but he gained highly specialized skills, unique to each individual Black Peter. Controvery is the Netherlands is slowly growing about the appearance of Black Peter, but at the most people do not see Black Peter as a racist character, but rather as a playful, happy and generous helper of Sinterklaas.

Does this mean that racism doesn't exist in the Netherlands or Belgium. Of course it does. A more appropriate question would be: name one place where racism doesn't exist? The far right is gaining more and more ground on the establishment. Racial tensions between the Moroccan and Turkish people (who are largely Muslim) and the white indigenous population (or native if that is less offensive) (who are largely Christian) after the murders of Theo van Gogh (2006) and Pim Fortuyn (2002) were undeniable. Having a Moroccan or Turkish looking last name doesn't help you at job applications and you are more likely to be in contact with the police. Issues eerily similar to that of the afro-American populations in the US.

So what about Santa Claus? New York was founded by settlers of the Dutch Republic and the Dutch introduced varies traditions and vocabulary into US society. Just think of the word “cookie”, which is derived from the Dutch word ‘koekje’. Santa Claus is a modification of Sinterklaas, where he changed his horse for a sledge with flying reindeers, he moved from Spain to the North Pole and he replaced his Black Peter helpers with elves. The elves work in a workshop in close quarters at the North Pole.

This year (2011), Sinterklaas celebrations were cancelled in Vancouver, Canada. For the past 25 years Sinterklaas was celebrated with Black Peters, but this year Black Peters were deemed offensive and racist by the local authorities. For the local Dutch continency the solution was easy. There can be no Sinterklaas celebration without Black Peters, so they cancelled the whole celebration. Leaving sad children in the wake. This only highlights the vastly different perspectives of what Sinterklaas is between the local Canadians and the expatriate Dutch community.

By stating that the character Black Peter is racist creates an instantaneous dichotomy. You either agree with the statement and are considered socially correct. Or you disagree and you are a racist yourself (or this clearly insinuated). This does not allow for a civil discussion about the character Black Peter, its history, its social position and its local perception and perception abroad. Raising objections to Sinterklaas celebration in the US for instance, would make sense. A different country that is trying to get grips with its own racist history and the remnant of it. But it is for a foreigner, who does not speak Dutch or understand Dutch society, to dictate what is a morally correct national celebration of any other country?
As Dutch society changes, Sinterklaas celebration will change as well. I can imagine a moment when Black Peter’s appearance has changed so much it does not remind people of the transatlantic slavetrade/slavery. But at the same time, I would not be surprised that people would still be offended by this future Black Peter because Black Peter’s history has already been tainted by the projected association with the transatlantic slavetrade/slavery. I can only see a no-win situation with those people who call Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet celebration racist. So, I must be a racist because I see no reason to change the current Dutch Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet celeberation.

Sources (and sources therein and therein):


Need I say more?

Yesterday (Nov 18, 2011) was not a day I could say I was proud in being a graduate students at UC Davis. Read here for more what went down and how Chancellor Katehi responded.


Knowledge behind paywalls and glass doors

People want to know things (biased or unbiased). This quest over time led to the development of what we call: science, the systematic enterprise that build and organizes knowledge (according to wikipedia).

The 19th century 'scientist' was a man with enough wealth (or his family's wealth or to paid by a very wealthy individual) to support their hobbies. This process, facilitated by discussion of Charles Babbage, John Herschel, Williamn Whewell, and Richard Jones (as described in The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura Snyder), was transformed into a profession with career paths and guidelines of sorts. Now anyone could go to university and be trained to become a scientist. If you that: Welcome to the academic rat race.

For your work to be acknowledged and appreciated by your peers, you have to publish your work. Where do you publish? If you are in the field of biological sciences, you want to publish in journals with high impact factors (as calculated by Thomson Reuters Corporation), such as Science, Nature or Cell.

So how does this process work?
It all boils down to who is paying at the end of the day (hint: are you paying taxes?):
1. you do your experiments and write a manuscript of your results
2. you submit your manuscript to a journal
3. your peers review this manuscript as quality control for free (after the editors of the journal deemed the research presented in the manuscript innovative enough)
4. if accepted, you pay a fee to publish
5. for your peers to read your work, their universities need to have a subscription to that specific journal.

In steps 1, 3, and 5 the funding that supports your research is paying for this and in most cases researchers are funded with state or federal funds. Thus, the taxpayers are indirectly paying for this. In addition to cashing in on federal funding, publishing companies will also demand full copyright on all work published under their banner. In other words, they claim legal ownership of this work, of this knowledge. All of that without having done a single experiments. Without having analysed any data. Without having thought how this data fits in the current body of knowledge. Without having written any article describing primary research. And as a courtesy to everyone, they demand that everyone pays them to read the body of work they have not intellectually contributed to in any form. Intellectual and experimental contribution are a pre-requisite to be a co-author on a particular paper. Yet, the authors give up the legal ownership of their own work, yet pride themselves for doing so and showcase this where ever they go to give a talk (their own work that is). This means that the libraries of universities and research institutes pay these publishers large sums of money (up to 65%) to have access to the articles that in part have been produced by the very same researchers who are affiliated to these universities and research institutions. The circle has been completed. The operating profit margin publishers make (36% in case of Elsevier) is nearly completely funded by the taxpayers.

What are the consequences of this system?
From a resource perspective, only the wealthiest universities can afford to pay for most of the available journal prescriptions. This means that there is a knowledge resource gap between the wealthiest universities versus a relatively poor college. For a researcher at a 'poor' college it will be much harder to stay up to date with his/her field compared to his/her peers at one of the wealthier universities/institutions.
This means that the wealthiest universities have the capacity to do great review work of the currently available knowledge on any given subject, yet this rarely happens. This can be contributed to the peer pressure to publish novel research in top tier journals. With these publications in top tier journals the researcher has a greater chance of getting funding, as well as maintaining on the path to become a tenured professor (the holy grail of the academic researcher). Even in a more junior position, like if you want to get a good post-doc position, publications in a top tier journal greatly helps your cause. So, to be a competitive researcher you are forced through peer pressure and institutionalized bureaucratic guidelines to publish in journals that are run by publishers that greatly (albeit indirectly) profit from federal tax-money.

What about a researcher in a developing country?
In developing countries this problem is even bigger. First off, there is less money to do research. Second, getting supplies to do expensive experiments are hard to get and nearly always come with long delivery times. Third, it is hard for these researchers to keep up with literature because of above mentioned reasons, but also because of visa issues to attend meetings in the Western world. The WHO, in part, tried to accommodate this by creating HINARI, a program that gives access to ~8000 journals to researchers in developing countries (but only a select group of developing countries).

Breaking this cycle will be difficult, as it is difficult to dismantle any established system. What can be done is breaking Open the Access to the literature. The very research funded by the people and
Make all published work openly accessible to anyone who would like to read it, no matter where this person lives, no matter the income or affiliation this person has, no matter the eduction this person has received. Everyone will be able to read the finding and claims of scientists without having to pay exorbitant amounts of money to companies who are currently claiming copyright ownership on knowledge being produced by people who are, by enlarge, being paid with federal or state money.

The first steps have been taken by the creation of the Public Library of Science or PLoS. They promote OpenAccess and Creative Commons. The success of this movement is obvious, as the established publishers are now creating their own version of an OpenAccess journal. Even the three largest private funding agencies (Max Planck Institute, Welcome-Trust, and HHMI) are working together to create an OpenAccess journal. That is type of publishing is necessary has not been misunderstood by the developing countries, as Brazil has launched SciELO in 1997 (PLoS was founded in 2001). Slowly but steadily science is becoming an open endeavour for everyone to follow and thus creating public accountability for work done with public money.

Protists in the lime light (of a microscope)

Our world is much more diverse than just plants and animals or even bacteria. Have a look at this video highlighting some of the diversity of our fellow eukaryotes, the protists.

Microscopic Worlds - Life that we don't see from Daniel Stoupin on Vimeo.


US Grand Prix Formula 1 comes to Austin, TX with Red Bull

Lovely promotion video and I am sure that the mechanics were thrilled with all the dirt and gravel in the engine and the rest of the car.


RevoLight - (almost) a new light-system for your bike

Jim, Kent and Adam from Palo Alto, CA came up with a new light-system for bikes. It looks very nice in their video, but I think it is also a major improvement over the currently existing bike-light systems (dynamo-driven light or LED-light on batteries). Have a look for yourself.


Chewing gum. How to swallow it.

There are several things you can do with gum. You can make bubbles, stick underneath a desk or seat or even make art with it. But let's focus on the other end of your mouth for the moment. Let's swallow gum. When we were younger our parents would tell you not to swallow chewing gum, because it might obstruct your digestive tract. What kid has ever listened to their parents?

But how can you swallow chewing gum. There are several ways you can do this.
1) The obvious way, just swallow it like a pill.
2) While you enjoying your gum, take a bite of cookie. You will be surprised to notice that your gum is slowly disintegrating. How do I know this? Well, as any normal kid, I never had the patients to enjoy one candy at a time. Whenever my parents weren't around I would put a piece of gum in my mouth and on occasion after some time I would feel like a cookie. After a bite of the cookie and chewing the cookie a bit, I noticed that the chewing gum I was hiding in a different place in my mouth (so I could enjoy it after the cookie further) was slowly disintegrating or dissolving. Which ever it may be, it made NOT swallowing the gum a lot more difficult.
3) Leave your gum in the car under a backing sun, especially the long/flat shaped gum. The gum might be a bit stuck to its wrappings, but it will come off. Put it in your mouth and start chewing. At first the gum will behave normally, but after a minute or so, the gum will feel as it is dissolving in your saliva. It takes patience in chewing NOT to swallow the gum. The nice thing is, you will get a nice fresh breath more quickly this way. Again, I found this out by parking my car in the sun of Davis in the summer. If you use chewing gum with sugar, the effects of the heat are even more pronounced.

Why would you want to swallow your gum? I am not sure, but disintegrated/dissolved gum does taste just like mints.


The Netherlands - much more religious than you think

Let's start with a confession: yes! the Netherlands has a bible belt and it is prominent and has a continuous present in Dutch parliament. It is also the main group that resists to creates laws against criminalising psychological manipulation and exploitation, a feature that sects use on their followers. Let's look at some maps of the Netherlands. The 12 provinces of the Netherlands are shown in the first figure.
Fig 1. The 12 Dutch provinces
In short the main regions in the Netherlands are the 'Randstad', which is most of Zuid-Holland, the southern part of Noord-Holland and most of Utrecht. Or the square Amsterdam (Noord-Holland), Den Haag (Zuid-Holland), Rotterdam (Zuid-Holland) and Utrecht (Utrecht). The West is bit larger and entail the provinces Zeeland, Zuid-Holland, Noord-Holland and Utrecht. This is also historically the most influential region of the country. Then we have the South, which is the area below the rivers Rhine (Rijn) and Meuse (Maas) and are comprised of the provinces Noord-Brabant and Limburg. Finally we have the North, which are the provinces Fryslân (Friesland), Groningen and Drenthe. As you might have noticed, I did not mention the East or the provinces Gelderland and Overijssel or the completely man-made province Flevoland. The reason is that the East is rarely used a specific area in the Netherlands. Of course there are many smaller areas, such as the Achterhoek (most eastern part of Gelderland) and Betuwe (southern part of Gelderland between the rivers Rhine and Waal).

Fig 2. Religious division in 1849
Calvin's version of Christianity caught on in what now is called the Netherlands, resulting in displacement of the Roman Catholic version of Christianity. This can be clearly seen in the Netherlands as the South is predominantly catholic (shown in green in Fig 2) and above the rivers people are predominantly protestant (shown in red in Fig 2).
Fig 3. Current religious groups, including non-religious (!= atheist)
This has not changed much over time as Figure 3 shows, with one major difference. The rise of self-proclaimed non-religious people (salmon pink colour in Fig 3). This is not to be confused with atheism or agnosticism, as many of these people do believe in some sort of higher supernatural power, but renounce organised religion.
Fig 4. In colour the extremely religious communities
But there is one thing that is striking in the Netherlands and that is the small communities that are deeply religious in a very extremist manner. In not a single community do they make up the majority, but their practises are peculiar in many different ways. In most cases the religious communities are split offs of the more moderate form of protestantism. Their distribution pattern runs from Zeeland to around Staphorst in Overijssel, creating a sort of a belt on a map: the Dutch Biblebelt.
Their strength is clearly present in Dutch parliament by the SGP (Staatskundig Gereformeerde Partij or Political Reformed Party, where reformed refers to a type of protestantism), who have had about 2 of the 150 seats in parliament since 1918 and that number barely changes between elections. In other words, their voters are very loyal, their agenda very religious. These communities also refuse to vaccinate their children, because if they get a disease it is God's will. It is not surprising that the last person in the Netherlands to be diagnosed with polio was a kid from one of these communities, namely Streefkerk in 1992. Depending on the community, they don't pay taxes to the government or have insurances, as their loyalty is with God and not the state. They do pay large sums of their income to their respective churches. And on Sunday it is illegal to do anything as that is the day of the Lord and you must rest and go to church. In some communities is considered to be a sin to have televisions or radios or wear anything that might reveal some skin, especially on Sunday.

In summary, Dutch politics is not free from religious influence, which makes the Netherlands less secular than you might think. The consequences of making sect-like behaviours a criminal offence, especially psychological manipulation, very unlikely, as these Dutch bible-belt communities would have to be considered sects. No self-respecting politician in the Netherlands wants to burn their hands on these communities, even though none of them would ever vote for them anyway. A very strange relationship, indeed and it shows the power of well organised and financially able extremists groups.