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Archive for August, 2009

An illness needs to be discovered and get a name first to be cured … yesterday I had to confront again a social malady and gave it a name: KAFKAPHONE


A preliminary diagram I made today after spending over one hour on the telephone trying to contact the firm that had place a new gas meter in my house without checking if it worked

A preliminary diagram I made today after spending over one hour on the telephone trying to contact the firm that had placed a new gas meter in my house without checking if it worked properly (and it did not). I do not have the time to make a complete diagram of the multiple-choice menu structure of the telephone system of my energy provider NUON (it must have more than 20 options) and other enterprises which have some relation to my gasmeter. What I have depicted here is just one of many stages of inquiry with four enterprises/institutions that were needed before I had a real person who understood my real problem and managed to arrange the right thing to allow me I to cook again. Several times the end point of yet another telephone answering system 'bifurcation' was another help number, or just a spoken message + the announcement "you will now be disconnected". The blood pressure graph below, is still imaginary, but I could picture a serious research method which would use such an objectified ways to measure the growing anger one experiences while navigating spoken messages larded by muzak style pause music and interwoven with announcements like "just be patient, one moment more..." Who knows there may be some USB connector blood pressure meter on the market that could be connected to my wrist while I am on phone to help creating such a visualization ... Click image for full size view.

Automated telephone menu/choice systems must be one of the most hated renewals of the last decade in the realm of customers or citizens and the way they are forced to communicate with the institutions that claim to exist on their behalf. I have tried to find analytic researches on the subject but failed to do so (I will be grateful for any hint). The variety of reasons one can have to call for a certain inquiry any kind of service or institution is theoretically endless. The repetitive character of certain questions certainly does exist and to a certain extant some preliminary sifting and redirecting of incoming calls is needed and can be beneficial to both customer and provider, but once the number of options channelled into one central telephone number goes beyond a total of 5 or 6 options, there is left only a customer that is subjugated to the economy, arrogance or negligence of information and service providers (the Dutch energy firm NUON has a total of 25 spoken options in 5 sub-layers with general messages in the opening menu and for each of the 5 sub-levels, bringing the total  messages to 33; there could be even more layers but researching that, goes beyond my actual research energy potential at this moment).

I am not a mathematician but still familiar with programming routines and the building of web sites and the design of navigating tools and principles, a field of activity known as ‘interaction design’. The ideal, rule of thumb, is three steps to get there and one step to get back to where you were before  or the beginning. This can be achieved easily with a visual interface, whereby they agile eye  scans a page like a map or landscape and quickly discovers visual signposts leading the way. Spoken language as an interface is not at all of the same order and speed. One has to wait till someone has finished speaking a sentence. One has to try and memorize the different options to make – after the summing up – a meaningful decision. It is not for nothing that restaurants tend to have a menu card plus a waiter to facilitate the needed decision process. A rattling waiter listing the offers of the day – that are not on the card – just in speech, knows that he may need to repeat what is on offer several times before a customer is comfortable enough to decide.

Imagine a list of possible questions in the head of a customer and the idiosyncratic logic each one of us has about the order of things and how things can be named and arranged. Imagine this customer, telephoning to a specific service, who is going to be confronted with a series of list by a speech computer and is asked to react to this list by choosing one of the items by pressing one of the telephone number buttons offered as a concordance for a specific option at a specific level. After having taken the first question-level barrier, try to understand how it feels, to be once more confronted by yet another speech computer list and another series of choices, using the same numbers. Already at level two the customer does not feel anymore a honored “client”, but becomes a subjugated pawn, instead. It often gets worse, one may discover that the chosen level x or y is not the right level and one has to go back to the very beginning, try once more and try even harder not to make mistakes because of irritation. Some people try to jump the line and start pressing a choice number on their telephone before the whole list has been spoken, but not all automatized systems react favorably to this and also presented choice lists have become more easily adaptable by  desk-managers of enterprises and tend to change much more frequent, hence… one runs a risk to end up in a wrong ally of the system. Still, apart from these common observations, there are always more customer questions than automated options in the pre-configured lists of such telephone-service-systems. Most telephone answer systems-designers know that people hate their system and they would opt for any choice whereby a real person, through a not listed question, can be reached. So the practice is to hide the “other” option somewhere down in a sub-menu, to avoid people to use a short-cut to what they actually want, a thinking human that answers the phone. There is also a danger in such non-human-response systems and one wonders if ever statistical data has been gathered to show where and how it can go wrong when we are forced to communicate first with a stupid machine routine before an intelligent being is able to react to an emergency.

Structure of multiple choice telephone system of NUON Netherland: 5 options at lthe first level and 20 options at the sub-levels (2009/08/28)

Multiple choice matrix of the NUON energy company answering system in the Netherlands. 5 options at the first level and 20 options at the sub-levels (2009/08/28). The same numbers 0-5 on a customer's telephone pad can have different meanings depending on which level one has entered, something confusing for many people, as people have little problem with naming 25 different objects, but when 25 objects are represented by only 6 numbers (0-5) as shown in the example above , most people are getting mixed up.

What is the probability rating of a satisfactory answer of  a provider of public services to a question of a customer? What is the frequency of alignment between the mind of a customer and the pre-configured matrix of an automated telephone system? How much mismatch will be produced between need and provision? The kafkaphone-workers themselves will have a story to tell here. They do have to bear in the first place – literary – the blunt  for the programmed decline of our social realm. They will get a whole heap op bad vibes during their working day. The desk-managers that decide on distribution and navigation of questions and answers have shielded off themselves from this anger, they remain – like officers at the front – in the rear-guard. The real decision makers may not even be aware of the realities of the policy dictates wrought by them. For them it is just to economize, everybody does it nowadays… and now and then they commission an advertisement agency to make some nice flyers with pictures of actors posing like smiling and helpful personnel, send around to all their customers by post and also posted on the firm’s web site.

We, the customers, can not anymore directly ask to be called back, let alone to either friendly ask or to summon the switchboard of an enterprise or organization to connect us to the right person in charge. The somehow democratic traditional medium of the telephone – “we will put you through, one moment please!” – dwindles under the growing  kafkaization of automated telephone inquiry systems. Kafka, because we speak to ‘kafkaphonists’ who are mostly anonymous functionaries with no decision power at all in a system that is kept hidden from us while we are send around through a telephone labyrinth in our vainly quests.

It is time to get rid of these primitive and de-humanizing communications systems. There is a need for employment of knowledgeable functionaries who can combine the wonders of electronic communication with the pleasure of a human voice and a minimal understanding of  human needs at the other end of the line. These reborn telephonist diplomats of the 21. century can be home workers linked by the internet to all necessary information, having smart systems for quickly checking with the right persons in charge, having a telephonic impromptu consultation meeting on a special case to come up with quick results for a client, using SKYPE, mobile phones transfer of documents and chat, whatever comes handy. This is in the end a real profitable economic way to engage happy customers and an open democratic way to deal with citizens needs and demands.

it is time for reborn telephone-diplomats of the 21. century to re-humanize communication

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clcik picture for bigger size view ....

click picture for bigger size view ....

These last weeks my research for making a momental monument for migration involves collecting pictures on a daily basis and this morning a press release in which the EU agency Frontex (*) was mentioned (once again) made me do a search just for that word, limiting the search to high resolution pictures only. One of the first pictures that came up was on the website of the Slovenian Presidency of the EU in the year 2008 and showed a dinner that formed a part of the Ministerial Conference on the Challenges of the EU External Border Management (day 1); the caption of the happy crowd well attended by waiters did read “Dinner at Grand Hotel Toplice.” Next picture that catched my eye was the high rise office building, seat of this EU border policing organization Frontex in Warsaw (it is said that the EU had a hard time to find sufficient personnel to serve in Poland because of its lower wage level that the Western part of the EU). The emblematic pictures of what may be Saharan desert road traffic (**) and dangerous rubber boat trips on the Mediterranean were quickly found, as were the few extra elements that show a way of possible reading of the tableau in the diagonal between Frontex logo and member state special police uniforms with golden lettering symbolizing the new European ‘el dorado’.

In the middle of the green EU fortress map there is a hole: Switzerland. One day some smart migrants will dig a tunnel all the way form Africa to that hole in the EU  …. to arrive directly into the bank faults containing mountains of gold safely deposited by African leaders and their cortege favoring – for over half a century now – the silent Swis banks as a place to deposit their revenues. Every year 148 milliard dollar are stolen from the continent by its leaders and civil servants and it is not just old time business à la Mobutu, there is for instance a new trade in special minerals from Rwanda and profitable deals made by depositing toxic waste in Somalia. Till this very day  (money) migration from Africa has heartily been welcomed in Europe. Has that fact been a table talk topic of the ministers – last year – having their nice dinner in the Slovenian Toplice Hotel (as a less corrupt and more equal Africa may diminish the urge and need to sneak through the walls of the EU fortress and may greatly simplify the task of the Frontex agency)?

Not only the Swiss fraudulent hole has to be closed, but also the Guernsey postal box firms, the Luxembourg and Liechtenstein bypass and who knows what other financial loopholes are offered by European Fortress bank managers and the like to the African elite, who are always most welcome and just take a legal airplane for a visit or a more permanent stay, instead of an attempted illegal entry in a leaking rubber boat. Where will be the European headquarters for this new organization that will forcibly round up all those deposited African milliards and send them back to where they came from… and what would be a good catchy name for such a new agency? Or … would such honorable seizures trigger yet another financial crisis because most of  our trustful banks may collapse once again without the use of these migrated African assets?

(*) European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union)
(**) The Sahara picture shown I found in the form of  a kind of postal card with the text ‘Greetings from Malta” in pseudo arabic lettering on the web site of a Danish man Hans-Jørgen Gotsche, who also resides apparently part of the year in Malta; a bit more visual research made it clear that such overpacked trucks are a regular sight on the route from sub-Sahara Niger to Libya, an impressive documentation can be found on the Flickr pages of the photographer Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak, Trucking across the Sahara. Another example is on the MSF Photo Blog that has a page with posts with the tag ‘refugeees’ with a picture of such a Sahara truck by Sven Torfinn “Niger – March 2003 150 young men loaded on a truck, on their way through the Sahara – from Sub-Saharan Africa to Libya or any other North-African country, with a final destination of Europe. Crossing the desert takes about a week.”

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OnTheirWayToTheFront

click the picture to enjoy all the details of these rather high res pics...

Doing almost daily intensive searches for pictures for the different projects I am involved in, often there are those pictures that do not fit in any way that what you are actually looking for, still some images that pop up are so gripping and surprising combinations may appear shortly within a few minutes, pointing you in a direction unknown before… so today serendipity brought me these two pictures of warriors on their way to the front; one is US soldiers in Afghanistan, the other had no caption but seems to be in Brazil and most probably a indian delegation on their way to Brasilia, the seat of the government on the Alto Plano… way back in the 80s I have travelled such busses over endless slippery red earth roads in Amazonia…

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Wilders vermijdt dat wat het Fortuyn-effect genoemd had kunnen worden, ware het niet dat de moord op Pim Fortuyn een zodanige term niet heeft doen ontstaan. Bewegingen stoelend op de populariteit van één leider brengen met een overweldigende verkiezingsuitslag in zicht een toevloed van door opportunisme gedreven nieuw kader zonder een andere discipline dan hun eigen carrièrezucht. Deelname in meedere gemeenteraden door de PVV had de zwakte van dit opportunisme al snel blootgelegd. Plaatselijk gouvermenteel zijn betekent compromissen sluiten en kan de huidige landelijke oppositierol van de PVV in discrediet brengen. Is niet het compromisloze in Wilders zijn grootste aantrekkingskracht en rede en overleg zijn grootste zwakte? Algemene deelname aan gemeenteraadsverkiezingen had ook tot deelname aan het dagelijks gemeentebestuur onder het oog van de plaatselijke bevolking kunnen leiden. In dat proces wordt pas duidelijk wat de ideeën van Wilders en zijn PVV werkelijk waard zijn. Dat inzicht heeft de PVV door haar zeer beperkte deelname aan de raadsverkiezingen (tot nog toe enkel in twee steden een PVV lijst) ons doelbewust onthouden.

Wolve pack behaviour in politics with the 'alpha' leader, the 'beta; followers and the lowest cast the 'omega's

Wolve pack behaviour in politics with the 'alpha' leader, the 'beta' followers and the lowest cast the 'omega's', often maltreated by the rest. Click picture for full view

Nu nemen bij gemeenteraadsverkiezingen allerlei plaatselijke en incidentele partijtjes en groeperingen deel, vaak met nieuwelingen in het politieke en bestuurlijk bedrijf. Het waren bijvoorbeeld de plaatselijke ‘leefbaarheids-partijen’ die de eerste machtsbasis vormden in het inmiddels vrijwel ten ondergegane  landelijke Pim Fortuyn domein. Groen Links en de SP zijn merendeels vanuit de gemeentelijk politiek ontstaan.  Het ideaalbeeld van de parlementaire democratie omvat juist dit groei- en leerproces van onderop in zeg maar ‘de onderbouw’ van het democratische systeem. De vraag rijst of Wilders zijn eigen achterban niet vertrouwd of wellicht helemaal niet kent en dus geen verantwoording durft te nemen, of bij voorbaat de risico’s te groot acht. De lange mars door de achterafzaaltjes – waarvan  ontluisterende beelden van trotse Rita op campagne mij bijgebleven zijn – kunnen de lijsttrekker van de PVV ook dusdanig met afschuw vervult hebben dat hij liever afziet van het voetenwerk van de parlementaire democratie in de lagere overheden en verkiest zich enkel te concentreren op het hoger gelegen nationale podium. Dit laatste kan de rechtsvrezende doemdenkers enigszins geruststellen, aangezien dit betekent dat ook al krijgt de PVV en Wilders ooit de absolute meerderheid in het nationale parlement, zij voor de uitvoering van een groot deel van gedecreteerde  maatregelen gedwarsboomd zal worden door de provinciale en gemeentelijke overheden waarin de PVV nagelaten heeft zich een  machtsbasis te vormen.

  • In NRC/Handelsbald van 12 juni 2009 publiceerde Herman Staal een nuttig achtergrondartikel over het intern functioneren van de PVV.
  • Op 20 augustus 2009 is er een korte reportage in het televisieprogramma Netwerk met door de PVV niet aangenomen gemeenteraadskandidaten voor de gemeente Venlo.
  • Netwerk plaatste ook een persbericht van de PVV op haar website waarin initiatieven van onderop om PVV-achtige lijsten bij gemeenteraadsverkiezingen te vormen er bij voorbaat op gewezen worden dat zij niet op PVV steun hoeven te rekenen en ook geen gebruik van de naam of logo van de PVV mogen maken.

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Volgens een onderzoek van de Europese Commissie willen de meeste internetgebruikers niet betalen voor online content schrijft Maraie-José Klaver in haar weblog over digitale zaken bij NRC/Handelsblad: “Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat de afgelopen 3 maanden minder dan 5 procent van de internetgebruikers in de Europese Unie betaald heeft voor digitale content. Slechts 20 procent van de internetgebruikers zouden willen betalen voor content als alle gratis opties verdwijnen.”

Dat deed mij denken aan de gratis papieren-informatie-opties die nu stilzwijgend aan het verdwijnen zijn:

Veel wetenschappelijke literatuur die vroeger voor een ieder die niet lui was te vinden was in publiek toegankelijke bibliothen met name die van de universiteiten, zijn nu enkel nog in digitale vorm – on-line – beschikbaar voor studenten en academici, die daarvoor een aparte inlogprocedure moeten doorlopen. De universiteiten hebben strenge contracten om deze exclusiviteit te bewaken. Vrije toegankelijkheid tot informatie (ooit vastgelegd in het culturele deel van de accoorden van Helsinki) als burgrerecht sijpelt zo met de dag weg. Sommige universiteiten hebben een sluiproute opengelaten voor buiten universitaire gebruikers in de vorm van het ter plekke on-line raadplegen met de mogelijkheid om via een USB stick de gewenste informatie over te nemen.

Academic resources, especially periodicals, are more and more published and subscribed to in digital format. This diminishes non-academic public access to these resources as such data sources tend to be closed to non-members of universities and the like. Freedom of information is thus declining in our area of ubiquitous electronic communication. One needs to a privileged member of the academic class to have access. This situation demands a reestablishment of the right to information for all citizens. Now commercial interests ban many people from scientific information sources.

Academic resources, especially periodicals, are more and more published and subscribed to in digital format. This diminishes non-academic public access to these resources as such data sources tend to be closed to non-members of universities and the like. Freedom of information is thus declining in our area of ubiquitous electronic communication. One needs to be a privileged member of the academic class to have access. This situation demands a reestablishment of the right to information for all citizens. Now commercial interests ban many people from scientific information sources. Some Dutch University Libraries have left open a backdoor for the knowledgeable general public, who can put their USB stick in some computers within the university to thus realize the traditional notion of freedom of access to the sciences for all.

Ook is er een tendens bij universiteiten om via pasjes de toegankelijkheid van hun instellingen voor buitenstaanders te beperken. Het ideaal van vrije toegankelijkheid van informatie ter stimulering en verheffing van de natie wordt hiermee verkwanseld.

Het oude idee van de openbare bibliotheken en universiteits bibliotheken als tempels van kennis waar een ieder die dat wenst van de bron kan drinken zou een nieuwe vorm dienen te krijgen in deze tijd van toenemende exploitatie van kennis. Het is ergerlijk dat de voorbeelden van de amusements-industrie en degenen die de producten daarvan gratis proberen te bemachtigen ook gebruikt wordt voor alle andere vormen van informatie. Overheidsarchieven hebben zich al sinds enige jaren geprofileerd als plaatjes uitmelkbedrijven, terwijl het materiaal dat zij brengen eigenlijk in het publiek domein geplaats zou moeten worden. Is het de historische Hollandse vrekkigheid die dit teweeg brengt? Wie weet wat er in de Verenigde Staten – op basis van de Jefferson traditie – aan archief materiaal vrij te vinden is, zal mijn afkeer van de Hollandse culturele zuinigheid beter kunnen begrijpen.

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In NRC/Handelsblad van 14 augustus staat een bericht met de volgende aanhef:
Privémail doorsturen, foto’s van vrienden uploaden, andermans sms-jes lezen. Waar ligt de grens?

“De burger wordt steeds transparanter voor de overheid.” Dat zei Maurice Wessling, oprichter van Bits of Freedom (BOF), drie jaar geleden in een interview met NRC-journalist Marie-José Klaver. “Eigenlijk is een digitale burgerrechtenbeweging nu harder nodig dan ooit.” Na zes jaar trok Wessling de stekker uit BOF wegens geldgebrek. Maar gisteren was daar opeens een verrassend persbericht: ‘Waakhond digitale burgerrechten Bits of Freedom is terug.’

Stichting Internet4All gaat de activiteiten financieren. De organisatie zal geleid worden door ex-advocaat Ot van Daalen. “Bits of Freedom zal in haar eerste campagnes de veiligheid van privacygevoelige databanken aan de kaak stellen en zich inzetten voor een open en vrij internet.”

Dit is de link naar het volledige artikel van Steven de Jong, waarop ook een aantal reacties kwamen waaronder die van F. Markestein: “De vragen die in dit artikel worden gesteld over het bekijken van andermans sms-jes en fotoalbum (op de computer), en bekijken welke websites iemand bezoekt, is te beantwoorden met een tegenvraag. Is het geoorloofd om andermans post te openen? Dat is het niet, en nooit geweest ook, dus kijk je ook niet op andermans elektronische post”

Het artikel handelt ook over videobewakingscamera’s en privé webcams die gericht worden op ramen en deuren van buren. Terwijl ik deze reacties op de dag van vandaag las, kwamen meer historische associaties bij mij op:

Formeel gesproken heeft respondent Markestein gelijk door het aloude en vertrouwde briefgeheim als overdraagbare norm voor electronisch berichtenverkeer te gebruiken. Wel moet dan meegenomen worden dat de geschiedenis van de posterijen en boodschappers ons leert dat het geheim enkel bestaat bij het feit dat het geschonden kan worden. Van mythologie en opera tot roman en biografie, talloos zijn de voorbeelden van slinks, half en helemaal “per ongeluk” geopende brieven en de tramelant die dat dan weer geeft. Dit alles buiten het historische gegeven dat macht en geïnformeerd zijn onlosmakelijk verbonden zijn. Van de ‘agentes in rebus’ die met hun boodschappendienst de ruggegraat van het Romeinse Rijk vormden en de aparte positie van onderscheppers van belangrijk geacht nieuws, de ‘curiosi’, tot het adelijke familie bedrijf Thurn & Taxis die van de 16e tot en met de 18e eeuw de postdienst van West Europa ontwikkelden en beheersten en daarmee een mooie mix van spionage en diplomatie wisten aan te bieden. Geen gesloten couvert of er was wel een stoomapparaaat dat het onzichtbaar wist te openen. Het is deze traditie die de staatsposterijen overnamen en nu wellicht weer doorgeven aan de geprivatiseerde sector.

Intermezzo:

Depictions of the the story of Argus, a giant with eyes all over his body (the yees are depicted in Greek pottery but mostly not anymore in later European renderings in paintings). Argus is to watch over a lady desired by Zeus that (in one oif the versions of the story) has been changed into a cow by the jealous wife of Zeus Hera. Mercurius the messenger god, also known for his invention of the lute and beging the patron of theives, is send in by Zeus to get rid of Argus. Mercurius starts to play his flute (in other versions his lute) with endless repeating themes and thus lures to sleep Argus (in some versions Mercurrius beats popey seeds [opium] over the head of Argus). It ends with Mercurius cutting off Argus his head and Zeus having his pleasure with the disguised, metamorphosed beauty Io.

Depictions of the the story of Argus, a giant with eyes all over his body (the eyes are depicted in Greek pottery but not anymore in later European rendering of the myth in paintings). Argus is to watch over a lady called Io, she is desired by Zeus, and (in one of the versions of the story) has been changed into a cow by the jealous wife of Zeus Hera. Mercurius the messenger god, also known for his invention of the lute and as the patron of thieves, is send in by Zeus to get rid of Argus. Mercurius starts to play his flute (in other versions his lute) with endless repeating themes and thus lures to sleep Argus (in some versions Mercurius also beats poppy seeds - opium - over the head of Argus). It ends with Mercurius cutting off the head of the sleeping Argus and Zeus having his pleasure with the disguised, metamorphosed beauty Io. Is there any relevance of this Argus myth for our 'modern times' with its electronic panopticism? I think there is. Vigilance, watchfulness will never be constant and fatal distraction awaits any guard ... tj. click picture for full size version

Cryptografie is dan ook even oud als het instituut van de boodschapper en posterijen, waarmee de kunst van ontcijfering gelijke tred probeert te houden. Dit alles ter relativering van het traditionele briefgeheim als handelingsnorm voor het moderne electronische verkeer. Wat betreft camera’s… van Argus Panoptes, de reus met zijn vele ogen tot het 18e eeuwse ‘panopticum’ werkhuis en gevangenis van de Engelsman Bentham, ook de zucht tot bespieden en controleren is ouder dan het electronisch data tijdperk. Nieuwe technologie mag de aantasting van privacy in de hand werken, maar in wezen functioneert de technologie allereerst als een versterker van al aanwezige menselijke verhoudingen en niet andersom.

Of er enige relevantie van de Argus mythe voor deze moderne tijd van panopticisme bestaat?  Waakzaamheid is nooit voortdurend en iedere bewaker wacht de fatale afleiding …

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How to do a poll on the level of appreciation of animals of human loud music festivals in public parks and if needed to take appropriate measures? As policy change can be slow, I just designed a set of earmuffs for the rabbits of the Amsterdam Oosterpark (as they have an extreme sensitive hearing apparatus)

When human city culture gets in the red level the park rabbits will be handed out specially adapted earmuffs.

When human city culture gets in the red decibel-zone the park rabbits will be handed out specially adapted earmuffs.

The ‘partying nation’ Holland will not fail to use any occasion to throw a public manifestation of leisurely fun which, since  ubiquitous cheap electronic sound amplifying devices have become available, means lots of noise enhanced by  lots of drinks. One of the favorite venues for these undertakings is the Amsterdam Oosterpark which recently hosted a festival called ‘Appelsap‘ (apple juice) organized by a bunch of  friends, all hip hop aficionados, which was certainly not non-alcoholic, with Heineken as one of the main sponsors. “THE best) Dutch hiphop-events. In the beautiful Oosterpark we take hiphop back to its roots”, reads their web site. Lots of fun for sure: out, proud & loud … but what about  … the roots of the park and what makes up its  innate beauty?


This a one of the many Youtube renderings of the recent Appelsap hiphop event in the Oosterpark, the sound must have been so loud and/or the recording equipment may have had no special dimming switch, because the sound track  is totally overmodulated, so rejoice the noise….

A triptiche of chance in original intend and actual usage of the musique kiosk/dome at the Amsterdam Oosterpark.

Change of original design intend and actual usage of the musique kiosk/dome at the Amsterdam Oosterpark; both options could coexist but when one takes in account the frequency of such loud events the question can be raised if animals and vegetation of our city parks can cope with the crowd and its noise. I also found some web-traces of a Christian evangelic organization that used the same music temple for their 2009 Pentecost praise-the-lord meeting... so who knows what paradisal scenes could have been observed at that other instant of park life.

This spring a local city councilman Martin Verbeet (of the social-democrat party/PvdA) made an attempt at restoring the park to its “historic function” by banning all alcohol usage within the park confines. This measure was aimed primary at full-time  alcoholics, a species that traditionally congregrates in public parks (can be seen all over the world). In fact the alcohol-habit people disturb not too much and even give a certain security by their daylong presence on the park benches  withholding  more badly inclined park visitors from trespassing upon non-assertive park dwellers. Side effect of this zealous municipal policy was that local inhabitants who like to have a nice drink with their picnic  would also fall under the new alcohol ban. Apart from the feared diaspora of debased alcoholics onto the doorsteps of the neighboring streets, the new regulation had a surprising exception paragraph for major events like Queens-day (the 30th of April, a Dionysian national bacchanal in the Netherlands). Who knows if  beer-multinational Heineken has been lobbying, or it could have been the feared loss of votes from the partying minded masses,  within a few weeks the zero-alcohol-in-the-park campaign was withdrawn by the local council. Some park visitors regret this sudden retreat and signal that the group of drinkers can get so big that certain people feel menaced and do not dare to pass the drinkers benches….

The official Amsterdam city sign that makes many people, not just tourists, wonder what this could mean and next to it a make shift bar during the Appelsap (apple juice) festival which had more than just soft drinks.

The official Amsterdam city sign that makes many people, not just tourists, wonder what this could mean and next to it a make shift bar during the Appelsap (apple juice) festival which had more than just soft drinks.

Fellow councillors of other parties have been mocking the zero-alcohol measures of their colleague Verbeet (chairman of the local council), some (D66 party members) even have held an illegal demonstrative drinking party, the local daily newspaper Het Parool wrote negatively about the alcohol ban, and members of  Verbeet his own party choose  not to support him on this topic. A personal démasqué for Martin Verbeet, but maybe some of the good intentions of the councillor may have been overlooked.  In november last year the local party fraction of the social democrats made a research on the functioning of the Oosterpark (102 respondents, 81 on-line inquiry, 21 written reactions/ street interviews) and it must have been upon the outcome of this small research that the zero-alcohol measures have been decided.

-Alcoholics -Drug addicts -Children -Adolescents -Sporters -Picnicers -Other
-Alcoholics -Drug addicts -Children -Adolescents -Sporters -Picnickers -Other issues

There is a lot of moaning in the bare 13 pages of this report from gays that frequent the bushes for back to nature outdoor sex, to the obligatory complaints about dog shit, befouling humans, public toilets, unleashed dogs and dog fights, mopeds and bicycles on pedestrian ways … Surprising is that – apart from dogs – animals are hardly mentioned in the report, or it must be the escaped or freed green parakeets that some  people hold to be a nuisance and of course the arch enemies of any human: the rats who criss cross the park at will. Geese, moor-hens, swans and herons are taken for granted, rabbits remain unnoticed and I am sure that a tiny corner of the arch of Noah should be reserved for other more discrete park inhabitants that have managed to escape our attention.

Noise nuisance, sound pollution if you want, is mentioned by several interviewees, especially late night drumming, screaming and  other forms of  rambunctious behavior. There is also a positive approach to the park, an attempt to formulate what it can or should be, as shown in the following statistic.

-Green lung for the town -Play=area for children -Sporting area - Oasis of tranquility -Hang-out spot for youngsters -Art stage -Other

-Green lung for the town -Play area for children -Sporting area - Oasis of tranquility -Hang-out spot for youngsters -Art stage -Other functions: tai chi spot; picnic and party; garden architecture; café, terrace environment (...)

Again animals are only implicitly represented in the report as part of the “green lung of the town” or the “oasis of tranquility”, though tranquility may for some people exclude even the communication of birds. There are known instances of deportations – organized by a team of city-biologists – of whole troops of geese whose claxoning was found to be unbearable by human city dwellers. Which tempts me to deviate to the somewhat reversed subject of birds dialoguing with the city sounds of ambulances and car alarms (I do have at times whistling conversations with birds that reside in the tree across my kitchen window). This to emphasis that an insight in the animal experience of human sound production and its cornucopia of amplifying devices is very much needed. What are they doing when there is an influx of a rock, hiphop or jembee drums? Are they fleeing? Hiding? Creeping deep in a hole safely below the roots of a tree? Do they leave the park forever after yet another blast-out?  Just play the Appelsap Youtube video once again and let your imagination work. When the hiphoppers speak about roots, let me do so so as well:

What then,was the idea of having a city park? Bringing nature -in an organized human format – into the city? Giving the experience of a garden to those who did not have one? Breathing fresh air? A practicing ground for civic behavior? A place to show yourself and  your family if you were wealthy enough? A way to get some understanding of nature – for alienated city dwellers? Or is all that totally out of fashion and should we better think about  a dropping-ground for children, a jogging parcours,  a skaters circuit, a music esplanade, a juvenile hang-out, a cruising area,  a chill-out spot? Is there any possibility to fuse modern city culture with its apparent need for loud sounds and mass audiences with an ecological attitude that can be branded ‘modern’ as well?  Can these two practices  be reconciled at all? Might it be an idea to get as aware of people’s “noise habits” as we are of  people’s “drinking habits?”

ForbiddenSigns

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