Opinion pieces, columns and insights into Dutch news and current affairs from key commentators


Housing corporations, keep your house in order

Housing corporations, keep your house in order

A large percentage of the Netherlands' housing stock is in the hands of housing corporations, which are supposed to focus on people with the lowest incomes. Entrepreneur Annemarie van Gaal thinks housing benefits shouldn’t be handed over to the tenants and housing corporations should be punished for bad management. Housing corporations in the Netherlands are still clocking up some 7,000 evictions a year. That means almost 30 families and their belongings are turned out into the streets every day of the week. Desperate people who have no idea where to turn to or where their children are going to sleep that night. It’s a terrible plight. Of course they have had reasonable rents of about €500 to €600 and have received a housing benefit of a couple of hundred euros. That should make the rent affordable but in their stress they have used that money for more urgent matters. Benefits are never consistently used for the things they were meant for. After a number of months of non-payment the only possible outcome is eviction. I have been asking myself for years why the government leaves it up to people to spend benefits as they see fit. Housing benefits are meant to pay the rent and health benefits are meant to pay the health care premiums. So why not subtract housing benefits from the rent at source? Why not let the tax office and the housing corporation sort it out between them? The monthly rent of €200 or €300 will then be easier to pay than a €500 bill. I like simple solutions but if politicians insist on maintaining the benefits circus they might want to look into another idea. It is well-known that some housing corporations, like their tenants, make mistakes. They appoint incompetent, narcissistic managers, invest in huge vanity projects and dabble in derivatives. Staggering amounts of money are poured down the drain. Tenants are then faced with maximum rent increases. Society as a whole suffers because the corporations will be exempt from paying tax for years thanks to the problems they themselves have caused. Sometimes the solution lies in combining the problems. Suppose the housing corporations get 90% of the housing benefits while the remaining 10% is subject to the tax to be paid for the year? Making a profit is at the basis of every company and housing corporations are no different. If a housing corporation is involved in loss-making cock ups it won’t get its hands on the 10%. A question of only having yourself to blame. Perhaps it will encourage them to implement honest, efficient and sustainable policies. It wouldn’t be a bad way of stimulating their ability to keep their own house in order. Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Bird flu: chickens are coming home to roost

Bird flu: chickens are coming home to roost

The Dutch poultry industry has been hit by an outbreak of avian flu, which has been identified on several farms. But don’t blame migratory birds for the failures of the livestock industry, writes biologist and animal welfare campaigner Sjourd van de Wouw. In the last couple of days the government’s extermination service had its work cut out. Hundreds of thousands of chickens on contaminated chicken farms were gassed. The Dutch culling policy is a world-wide standard. As far afield as China delegations from the Dutch livestock industry are trying to flog this particular expertise. It’s a cynical by-product of the many diseases - bird flu, swine fever, Q fever and foot and mouth disease among them - which have plagued the Dutch livestock industry in the last decades. Apart from clinging to this efficient culling process, the livestock industry also abides by dangerous and antiquated principles. It seems it has learned very little from earlier outbreaks. This is bad for the animals and, ultimately, bad for the industry itself. Almost every farmer or farmers’ representative is singing from the same hymn sheet these days: it’s those dangerous migrating birds that are visiting the disease on a helpless industry. Chickens shouldn’t roam free, they say, although outbreaks occurred at six chicken farms in north west Europe where the animals were kept indoors. Scientists from the Royal Dutch Academy of Science (KNAW) are exasperated at the industry’s making scapegoats of migrating birds as there is no evidence whatsoever to support their claim. Time bomb And even if the evidence were there it would not exonerate the industry. Contamination and culls are a choice, not an inevitability. The sector and the government are consistently going for the wrong option. The sector is sitting on a time bomb. There are some hundred million chickens in the Netherlands. No other country has so many chickens caged up on such a small surface. They are also concentrated in two neighbouring regions: the Peel and the Gelderse Vallei. In the words of an epidemiologist from Wageningen university: ‘The proximity between the farms and the number of chickens means an outbreak in one single farm would be the end of the whole valley. That is the problem.’ What we should do then is scale down the livestock industry. Cows, chicken and pigs are vaccinated against a number of diseases but bird flu is not one of them. Vaccinations cost money. Some buyers don’t want meat from vaccinated animals and that, too, is money lost to the sector. On the other hand, the financial hardships caused by outbreaks are largely compensated by the government. All in all, it’s cheaper not to vaccinate the animals. Health risks aside, culling on this scale is unacceptable to society. Pointing the finger at migrating birds, as the livestock industry and some politicians are doing, is ridiculous. It’s time the industry was organised in such a way as to make sure that a single virus doesn’t spell the end of thousands of animals, farms and possibly the entire sector. Sjoerd van de Wouw is a biologist and campaigner at animal welfare organisation Wakker Dier This opinion piece appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


This week: Dutch teachers and English, chickens and blood

This week: Dutch teachers and English, chickens and blood

From bird flu to multiplying political parties, and why a Dutch student is learning to be a Dutch language teacher. These are some of the topics was tackled in this week's newspaper and magazine columns. A round up: Teaching Dutch in English In the Volkskrant, journalist and cultural scientist Sven Poels added his voice to protests at the amount of English used at Dutch universities. Poels discovered that many of the classes for his master's course to teach Dutch - such as linguistics and syntax - were actually given in the English language. More than that, he had to submit his papers in English as well. Not only are lectures given in stomach-churningly bad English, but academic Dutch is on the verge of dying out, he says. But more than that. 'Dutch students at a Dutch university attend lessons in English with the aim of teaching them how to teach Dutch at a Dutch school'. 'You're kidding me, right?' he concludes. (Volkskrant, 22/11/2014) Too many factions? The expulsion of the two Turkish Dutch dissident MPs from the Labour party rumbled on this week. Both are remaining in parliament as independents... meaning parliament currently has 15 different political factions when only 11 actually won votes in the 2012 general election. Volkskrant political commentator Raoul du Pre asked if home affairs minister Plasterk’s suggestion to abolish the practice would be a helpful one. ‘Sometimes both the party and the voters are clearly duped. SP MP Ali Lazrak formed an independent faction in 2004 and all but disappeared.’ But Du Pre rejected a ban because ‘MPs should be able to work without undue influence.(..). Taking away the right to form an independent faction gives parties too much power to ignore dissident opinions and stifle discussion on the pretext of internal discipline. This leaves MPs with no recourse.’ (Volkskrant, 24/11/2014) Headless chickens Elsevier editor Arendo Joustra took a swipe at ‘political parties and environmentalists who want happy, free roaming chickens’. Misguided demands concerning chicken welfare is the reason why bird flu is once again upon us but nobody is acknowledging this, said Joustra. These demands have trickled down to supermarkets and poultry farms but it is very dangerous for chickens to venture outside where exposure to wild birds which carry the virus awaits, he maintained. ‘What seemed like a good and healthy proposition to environmentalists is far from good or healthy. (..). Perhaps it’s better to keep the chickens indoors after all.’ (Elsevier, 24/11/2014) Zwarte Piet A final (?) contribution to the Zwarte Piet discussion came from the NRC’s political commentator in chief René Moerland who questioned the lack of political discussion on the issue. Attempts by the PVV to put the subject up for debate were resisted by Labour and VVD, he points out.  This is hardly the attitude of political parties who say they want to ‘translate what happens in the street to parliament’, he wrote. Wilders, meanwhile, is hijacking the debate and prevaricating politicians ignore this at their peril, Moerland warned. Will there be blood? Blood bank Sanquin, the only blood products provider in the Netherlands, wants to develop commercial activities in the United States. Z24 writer Gijs van Loef does not think such activities are compatible with a company supported by voluntary blood donations whose main concern is providing blood to Dutch hospitals. However, a new production facility has been built and a deal has already been struck between Sanquin and US company Baxter. But a potentially very big earner went pear-shaped because of the very costly FDA approval process, possibly to the detriment of Sanquin’s core activity in the Netherlands, Van Loef says. ‘There’s nothing else for it but to stop the commercial activities completely and regulate public blood provision in the Netherlands’, concluded Van der Loef. (Z24, 26/11/2014)  More >


Rotterdam is bursting at the seams with unused talent

Rotterdam is bursting at the seams with unused talent

Rotterdam is bursting with ambition and well deserves its growing international reputation, says trendwatcher Farid Tabarki. But the port city, where a teenage Tabarki used to go dancing, could do even better if it made use of its talents, he says. 2014 isn’t quite over yet, but there already is a clear winner: Rotterdam. This became clear in January when the city was included in the annual New York Times list of 52 places to visit. It was also placed high on the Rough Guide Travel Hotlist. In the past month the city's first covered market hall was opened, just like in Barcelona, Istanbul and other world cities. It has one hundred stalls, eight restaurants, a supermarket, city apartments and a triumphal arch. All rather splendid. No wonder then that The Academy of Urbanism in London named Rotterdam the European capital for 2015. Add to this the eight Michelin-star restaurants and the success story is complete. Clubs I’ve been a fan of Rotterdam for a long time. It started when I was 16 as I got to know the basement of the Nighttown nightclub on the West-Kruiskade where DJs like Michel de Hey spun their tunes. Later, there was Now&Wow, a most multi-cultural place; it makes you a little melancholic when you think back on it, especially in light of the current ‘Black Pete’ discussions. Mutual understanding and humour went hand-in-hand. It was an exciting place as well because the best DJ’s played there and you'd pass through a beautiful area where it was always windy to reach it. And last but certainly not least, Rotterdam offers the most efficient way to travel the world including all continents: The International Film Festival Rotterdam. And yet there are still a lot of people with something against Rotterdam. Why? True, the city does not appear often on the lists that are important to appear on in the eyes of many people. I am often amazed by the cities that do make it onto those lists. Copenhagen topped the Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey in 2014 and Melbourne is the last winner of the Economist Intelligence Unit liveability-index. Boring Munich, Auckland and Vancouver always score in the top of such lists. In general these cities are well kept, tidy and civilised, but surely that can’t be the criteria by which you become a winning city? They are, perhaps, just a tad boring? René Descartes already said it when he described 17th century Amsterdam by saying a real city has to be an inventory of the possible. Such a city is not a place to rest but a place full of ambition. My vote goes to Medellín, Belgrado, Beirut and Taipei. These are places with a problematic past of conflict and crime. Medellín survived a drug war; Belgrado a dictatorship of the proletariat, only just; Beirut a civil war that still, 15 years later, makes it mark on the city; and Taipei, as the capital of an island state, is de facto at war with an immense country that feels it owns it. In short, these are places more than worth visiting. Within their regions, these cities are the places to be. They are places where entrepreneurs work, be they the venture capitalists, the traders in shady local goods or the night owls that populate the clubs. Their motto is ‘the only way is up’. They understand this in Rotterdam as well, literally as well as figuratively speaking. However, if Rotterdam is to reach Taipei and Medellín’s growth figures, a few things still need to happen. First of all its growth potential has to be realised. The labour rate is much too low. In the words of journalist Joel Garreau: ‘40% of Rotterdam is raw, unused talent.’ Imagine how successful Rotterdam would be if all that unused talent was utilised! Farid Tabarki is trendwatcher and founder of Studio Zeitgeist. This column was first published in the Financieele Dagblad.  More >


Dealing with debt, Part 3

Dealing with debt, Part 3

Families in debt lose sight of what they owe. A special bank would at least make that problem go away, writes Annemarie van Gaal, in her third article about getting your finances back on track.   In my last two columns I wrote about families in debt who, according to family finance institute Nibud, are costing society some €11bn a year. I’ve met some of these families. They are so behind with their payments they are completely overwhelmed. They don’t know which bill should be paid first, or what action to take. Meanwhile the fines from the central debt recovery unit CJIB are mounting up, the mail-order firms are adding 15% interest to the outstanding amounts, and letters announcing yet more debt recovery fees are falling on the mat on a weekly basis. Things go from bad to worse. Our solution is to offer debt relief to such families. We know this is not a viable solution. Surrounded by sympathetic social workers, the families submit to a three-year financial regime which only confirms their victim status. Some 172,000 families are currently on debt relief and the number is growing. A sustainable solution is necessary. We need to make people take responsibility for their debts. Only then will they change their behaviour. Suppose the government abolishes debt relief and starts a National Debtors Bank. This bank adds up all the outstanding debts a family has and pays them. The amount is lent to the family at a low interest rate by the government. This means the family only has to contend with one fixed amount of money to be paid back each month. The families will be registered with the bank and as long as they are paying off their debt companies are not allowed to lend them money or sell them goods on credit. If they do, they will be hit with an enormous fine. It is imperative these families don’t take on new debt otherwise the problem simply continues. The advantage of such a bank is it makes people take on responsibility for their debt. They can keep track of it because the multitude of debts and fines is brought back to a single amount. This will simplify their finances and make them easier to handle. A National Debtors Bank would save the nation €11bn in debt recovery costs, evictions and write-offs. Why not give it a go? It’s better than simply writing off the debt. It seems worth a try to me. Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor. This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad    More >


Health insurers’ concern for the patient is skin deep

Dutch health insurers are busy trying to convince us all to switch to their bigger and better policies, now we've reached the end-of-year changeover period. However, says DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe, it all boils down to money, not the interests of the patient. This week I ended up visiting a dermatologist and was confronted by the effect of government efforts to rein in healthcare spending. I was told, bluntly, that I was not covered via my health insurance because the clinic had run out of cash to treat ZilverenKruis Achmea patients. I opted to pay the bill from my own pocket – after all, I have an €860 own risk to still use up this year. But the message was clear. If you are insured with any of the big health insurance companies, this clinic cannot treat you because the money insurance companies agreed to pay on your behalf has run out. The timing is opportune. You have probably noticed the flurry of health insurance advertising around at the moment. They are all out there publicising their wares, and pledging to offer you the best possible care - until the money runs out of course. Basic treatment It is easy to forget as you peruse the shiny websites full of smiling folk in white coats that every health insurance company is required by law to offer you the same basic health treatments. So when a health insurer heralds the fact that under-18s get free medical care you should realise every basic health insurance policy has to provide this. The same applies to claims that coverage includes GPs, hospitals, medical specialists and hospital stays. The difference between the policies depends on how much choice you want to have about where you are treated: in general, the cheaper the policy, the less choice you have. After all, health insurance companies are, in the main, in it to make money. Outside the few cooperatives, they are not altruistic organisations. They are businesses with shareholders and executive boards with bonus packages. Cost cutting They’re also basically blackmailing small healthcare providers into cutting their fees. Those that don’t agree to lower their charges, won’t get any patients. This, the insurers say, is good for patients because the costs are coming down. It is not so great, however, if you are a physiotherapist whose income is being squeezed - or if your dermatologist says he can't treat you because there is no money. So who is actually looking out for the patient in all this? Perhaps the Dutch healthcare authority NZa. The NZa is not only responsible for deciding which drugs and treatment should be covered by the mandatory health insurance, but for supervising the advance of the private sector into the system. This June, the two-man management board resigned after a string of revelations about their expenses and hospitality agreements with insurance companies and drugs companies. Perhaps not the best organisation to ensure patients don’t get ripped off then. Hospital profits What about health minister Edith Schippers? She has, for example, said hospitals – funded by the taxpayer – should be allowed to pay out profits to private sector shareholders… sorry investors. Hospitals with a profit motive? Even less reason for them to make sure they bill health insurance companies properly on your behalf. Nevertheless, you now have until mid-January to decide whether or not to change health insurance company for a cheaper or better deal. Research shows 60% of us don’t do any research into different health insurance policies, because we are happy with what we have, can’t be bothered or can’t get to grips with the differences. Given there are no differences in the basic policies, that health insurance companies are trying to bamboozle us all with claims and offers and that the government and regulators seem unable to put patients first, it is hardly surprising most people stay put. In the meantime, I have to pay out of my own pocket for treatment my doctor says I need because my insurance company won’t pay for it, even though it is supposed to cover me for this by law? Good way of cutting healthcare costs, Mrs Schippers. Robin Pascoe is the editor of DutchNews.nl  More >


Labour’s integration policy backfires

Labour’s integration policy backfires

The Dutch Labour party has just expelled two MPs of Turkish origin for not agreeing with the party line. But having antiquated ideas is a prerogative of living in a democracy, says former Amstedam University professor Meindert Fennema.   The Labour party wants to change tack completely. Today’s slogan is ‘bottom-up instead of top-down’. Labour administrators, councillors and MPs should spend at least a quarter of their time ‘among the people’ according to a report from a party  committee on November 13. The next day the Volkskrant reported that Labour had expelled two MPs from the parliamentary party who had been practicing what the Hamming committee preached for years. Tunahan Kuzu and Selcuk Özturk hadn’t been the most vocal MPs until then. What they were doing was formulating policies, and they were doing it by listening to people, their people, the people who had voted them in with 23,000 and 10,000 preferential votes respectively. They felt that social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher’s integration policy was side-lining people instead of including them. They are not alone. Other Labour members feel the same. Earlier, in the party periodical Socialism & Democracy, professor Kees Groenendijk wrote an article headlined ‘Labour is hindering integration’. In it Groenendijk mentioned a number of policies which in his opinion make integration more difficult to achieve. The thing that bothered Kuzu and Özturk most was Asscher’s intention to monitor certain Turkish organisations in order to see to it that they validate Dutch norms and values. Antiquated ideas I think many Turks harbour some pretty antiquated ideas, but then I know plenty of Dutch people who are stuck in the dark ages as well. I’m surprised the two MPs were Labour members at all – they look extremely conservative – however, I do think they have a point. Why would an organisation that is in accordance with Dutch law also have to prove it abides by Dutch norms and values? And what exactly are those values? And talking of antiquated ideas: what about the oldest student association in the country, the Utrecht Studenten Corps, which has a male-only membership, or Trou moet Blijcken in Haarlem, the oldest club in the Netherlands which is equally staunchly opposed to female membership? And what to think of the synagogues which oblige women to sit separately from the men hidden behind a curtain. I hope Asscher is keeping an eye on those organisations as well. The great advantage of living in a liberal democracy is that you are allowed to your antiquated opinion. Research carried out by Jean Tillie and myself some 15 years ago showed that Turks had more faith in the Amsterdam city council and the Amsterdam political parties, and that they voted more often than the members of the Moroccan, Surinam and Antillean populations. The reason for this is that the Turkish community is a close-knit one, more so than any of the other ethnic groups. We concluded that the Turks in the Netherlands were politically integrated. Support Shortly after that researcher Floris Vermeulen found that Turks in Berlin were much more focused on their country of origin than Turks in Amsterdam. The explanation, he said, was down to the Amsterdam integration policy. It liberally supported ethnic organisations, without any ideological controls. Asscher’s new integration policy has ‘German’ traits: organisations facilitated and financed by the authorities should not only be monitored financially but ideologically as well, he feels. Are they not too focused on Turkey? Are they female-friendly enough? Are they onder Erdogan’s thumb? I’m afraid he will only succeed in bringing about the opposite of that he wanted to achieve. Democracy is attractive exactly because there is freedom, including for those who don’t believe the equality between men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals is a matter of course. Turkish party In an article in the Volkskrant of November 15 journalist Janny Groen intimated that many Turks are still taking their cue from Turkey. She refers to the commotion that ensued last year when a Turkish child was fostered by a lesbian couple. Even Erdogan waded in! The two Turks who have now been expelled from the Labour party were very clear about what happened: it was child abduction. They were voicing the feelings of their Turkish voters. It is understandable that such views don’t sit well with the other Labour MPs. So how did two conservative Turks end up in the Labour parliamentary party? I would love to hear from the committee who selected the candidates what its motivation was. I bet it was their Turkish background rather than their socialist convictions that got them in. Now that Labour no longer wishes to be the party for ethnic minorities – or only wishes to be the party for the socialist members of ethnic minorities – room has been created for a Turkish party. And that is not a positive development, for Labour or for the Turkish community in the Netherlands. Meindert Fennema is an academic and former professor of political theory at the University of Amsterdam.  More >


Stress at work should be employers’ headache

Stress at work should be employers’ headache

Why should workers come up with solutions for workplace stress-related problems? It’s up to the employers to act, and a time management course won’t do the trick, say psychology professors Michiel Kompier and Sabine Geurts Last week, home affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher proclaimed a workplace stress week, and not for nothing: stress at work is a wide-spread and growing phenomenon bringing a range of psychological and physical problems in its wake. More people need to take time off work because of illness. Some of the causes of workplace stress have to do with the changing nature and context of what we do. Because of ICT and automation, modern jobs are highly intensive and primarily done behind a computer. Relatively simple production work has been moved to low wage countries and the economy has become focused on knowledge and services. What we are left with are jobs that can be complex and emotionally draining. It could mean dealing with aggressive customers, patients or prisoners, for instance. Modern jobs are often time and place independent. 30% of Dutch workers structurally work overtime and many have difficulty distinguishing between work time and private time. Production norms have been increased significantly too: ten years ago the window cleaners of the Radboud university had 240 hours to clean the windows. Now they have to do the same job in half the time. Taboo But why is Asscher putting the responsibility for tackling workplace stress on the shoulders of the workers? In interviews he explained that work stress should no longer be a taboo and that workers should not wait to tell their superiors about any problems they are experiencing. Why not put the onus on employers? Aren’t they the ones responsible for decent working conditions? They have an obligation to deal with stress factors at work. ‘Psychosocial factors’ and workplace stress are even mentioned explicitly in the legislation governing health and safety in the workplace. Asscher is effectively protecting employers who have for years chosen the easy way out when it comes to combating work-related stress. People are offered relaxation training or a time management course which may deal with some of the symptoms but won’t tackle the cause. Take, for instance, the case of a junior doctor working at a teaching hospital. He or she works extremely long hours for weeks on end causing tiredness and stress-related problems. A mindfulness course is not going to do the trick. An employer worth his salt will take a good look at the work/rest ratio and adjust them where necessary. A government stimulated project in a large regional hospital showed that adjusting schedules, paying attention to workplace ergonomics and improving communication all helped to reduce workplace stress and illness-related absence. Why is this knowledge not used elsewhere? Danish dialogue The Dutch government has earmarked €1m for this campaign. The money will be used to raise awareness among employers and employees about the problems of workplace stress and find ways of dealing with it. In 2005, scientific research institute TNO put the cost of workplace stress at around €4bn a year; it will now be significantly higher. Compared to that a million euros is a drop in the ocean. It would be better to take a leaf out of the Danish government’s book. The Danes have just launched a plan to stimulate employers to improve work organisation and make the work itself less stressful. The plan includes a better dialogue with companies but also more frequent inspections and higher fines for bad employment practices. Good employment practice in Danish terms means that it is completely normal for business to make sure the work can be done without causing mental of physical problems. That is what we need to achieve here too: jobs that won’t endanger health and are productive and pleasurable at the same time! Michiel Kompier is professor of work and organisational psychology at Radboud University Nijmegen. Sabine Geurts is professor of work and organisational psychology at Radboud University Nijmegen. This article appeared earlier in Trouw        More >


Shoppers: Pushy cashiers are a pain

Stop badgering shoppers at the till with sweets and biscuits and put some healthy treats on display, say behavioural scientists. Research shows that 6 out of 10 people don’t like the ‘pushy cashier’ phenomenon. Pushy cashiers try to sell you something as you are paying for your groceries and it’s usually something not particularly healthy, like a chocolate bar, or rather two chocolate bars for the price of one. Even if the cashier is not trying to lure you into buying something extra, the supermarket cash desk is usually surrounded by an artfully displayed array of snacks. One in five people say they regret having succumbed to temptation at one time or another. We, a number of behavioural scientists and the centre for nutrition Voedingscentrum, are urging shops and other food outlets to make it easier for consumers to make a healthy choice. Liquorice while you read More and more non-food shops now have an ample display of snacks, sweets and chocolate at the till. Petrol stations, DIY stores, pharmacists all sell snacks and sweets and even book shops are offering ‘liquorice to eat while you read’. Shoppers are constantly targeted by marketing strategies. Not only are they exposed to unhealthy snacks in the supermarket itself, they are also asked if they would be interested in buying the cheap snack of the week at the till. Research carried out by the government's food advisory unit Voedingscentrum showed that six out of 10 shoppers find this extremely annoying. Calorific food is easy to come by and portion size is increasing. Not only is unhealthy food being flogged at the cash desks of the supermarket, the number of outlets for unhealthy food is growing too. Travellers can pick up a snack wherever they go. It’s an open invitation to over-eating. The Netherlands is fast becoming an obesogenic environment in which people are stimulated to eat too much and move too little. Self-control In order to withstand temptation you need self-control. That requires a strength of character we can’t always muster, for instance when we are tired or in a hurry. The environment propels us towards impulse buying and with an environment stocked mostly with unhealthy choices that usually equals eating unhealthy food. People may think they can control their impulses but research shows every one of us will, at one time or another, give in to temptation. We think this trend can be reversed and a good way to start is to enlist the help of shop managers. Not only do they play a role in creating the present obesogenic environment, they also hold the key to a healthier environment in which consumers are stimulated to choose healthy products. We propose that shops replace the snacks at the cash desk with healthy alternatives such as fruit or gingerbread. The unhealthy snacks won’t disappear from the shelves but at least some healthier options would become more clearly available. Gerda Feunekes, director Voedingscentrum. Bob Fennis, professor of consumer behaviour, Groningen University. Rob Holland, professor of Social Psychology, University of Amsterdam. Stef Kremers, Professor of Obesity prevention, Maastricht University. Reint Jan Renes, lecturer Hogeschool Utrecht and senior lecturer at Wageningen UR. Denise de Ridder, pofessor of health psychology, Utrecht university. Bas van den Putte, professor of health communication, University of Amsterdam. Ingrid Steenhuis,professor of health promotion, Free University Amsterdam This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


TU Delft sells science with sexist stereotypes

TU Delft sells science with sexist stereotypes

Is a sexist flash mob video the best way to encourage links between industry and universities? Delft University of Technology chemistry Phd researcher Aldo Brinkman doesn’t think so. Delft University of Technology has an official Facebook page and earlier this month it endorsed a video aimed at technical studies students. Not only was the video shot on campus but it was 'powered by the TU Delft'. Screaming blondes, a biker girl in lingerie and a fake Arab with a camel. Is this really the way we should be promoting ourselves? The two-minute video at first appears to be an amateur video of a flash mob. But in fact it is a small-minded white guy approach to humour promoted by a university that is struggling to get more women to attend. Sure, the acting is so-so and flash mobs are outdated and were popular years ago. That's okay. The real issues start with the questionable choice of a male hero. This is a university of technology we're talking about. It is a very real problem that so few girls choose a scientific or technical career and loads of money is being spent on turning this around. Female scientists There are tons of awesome initiatives like ‘Girls in IT Day’ being organised, pushed by my favourite European politician Neelie Kroes, to try and get more girls to study technology. I understand that students directed this video and it is not on their political agenda to promote female scientists. But the fact that the powers-that-be have endorsed it: that is a real issue. So we have our hero, and then there are his fans. All girls. Blonde girls. They shriek and shout. Mindless blonde girls that are attracted to a successful guy. And then we have a female biker who crosses the set — a sexy chick in very revealing lingerie. A see-through corset and a string bikini. It is hard to see what her role is, unless this is how the producers think they can make this video go viral? In fact, what we have is a 1970s hetero advertisement — the video equivalent of the calendar on the garage wall. They are selling a product — TU Delft, rather than an electric drill — using girls and lingerie at a university where, of course, no one is gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans/queer/etc. Besides the sexism, there's also racism. It starts with a predominantly all-white cast and it continues with a (fake) Arabic woman leading a camel. The people in the video can laugh about it, but I'm not sure whether I'm more confused about the presence of the camel or the stereotype. Have the directors of this video forgotten one in five students at TU Delft come from a foreign country? I believe that success is measured by the amount of people one can make happy. Or maybe the number of patients you cure or animals saved from extinction.  Or anything along that line. But money, hot girls and expensive cars do not distinguish a successful person. Moral agenda Here we are with a university that has trouble attracting girls, in a country that has Black Pete on the moral agenda, in a world dominated by sexism, racism, apartheid, suppression of non-heterosexuals and more. And my university is promoting the notion that white, heterosexual men are the archetype of success, whereas women and people of colour only serve to underline his accomplishments. I don't get it and I really would like someone important from the university to explain it to me. He (!) must take a good look at himself. Any comment such as ‘This innocent video was produced by students and does not reflect the world view of our university’ just won’t do. Next time I'm at maths camp, the few girls that do show up will wonder why the boy-girl ratio is all messed up. And if they ask me why that is, I don't want to give them some political nonsense answer. I'll give them a real answer. This promotional video is participating in a world view in which women are inferior, and the rulers are all blond, hetero and sexy. My university should know better than to support that view. Aldo Brinkman is a Phd researcher at Delft University of Technology and science writer.  More >