Archive for the ‘Netherlands’ Category

Sochi Anti-Dissent Façade Cracking

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

“I can’t hold myself back” said the lesbian. Now hold on, this is no commonplace tale of lust run rampant, but rather what may turn out to be the first crack in Vladimir Putin’s Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics façade.

LesbSchaatsster
For it wasn’t just any ol’ lesbian but, as you can see there, a Lesbische schaatsster, or “lesbian skating star,” from Team Canada and by the name of Anastasia Bucsis, who found that she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut once in Sochi – and all this before the opening ceremonies (scheduled for tomorrow), even before the start of competition (scheduled for today)!

What she did Tuesday was talk at a Team Canada press conference about her “coming-out” last year, all within the context of both endorsing and revealing her participation in the AthleteAlly/Principle 6 Movement that is challenging the International Olympic Committee to do more at these Sochi Games to protest and counteract Russia’s notorious law against “homosexual propaganda.”

Those very same statements from Ms. Bucsis would seem to fit pretty neatly into the rather broad definition of “homosexual propaganda” which that law proscribes. So there you are, Russian authorities: you know her name, nationality, and location, and the ball is now in your court. There can be little doubt that this defiant declaration will be but the first of many of its sort at these Games – unless the local authorities do actually intervene in an intimidating manner to cut this off at the bud.

Meanwhile, there’s not much more doubt that the IOC has done just about all that it intends to do when it comes to actually insisting on the upholding of Olympic principles (e.g. against discrimination of any kind) at these Games – there’s simply too much money involved to rock the boat like that. As James Surowiecki puts it in the New Yorker, “one thing is certain: this Winter Olympics is the greatest financial boondoggle in the history of the Games.” Go and check out his piece, I recommend it – as I certainly also do the Twitter account that has sprung up out of nowhere to record how little that record $51 billion sum has actually brought, @SochiProblems.

SochiProbsI

SochiProbsII

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Cold Sochi Comfort

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are almost upon us, and it’s safe to say that the overwhelming feeling for outsiders is one of trepidation. That the Winter Games will take place in an area usually designated geographically as “sub-tropical” is but humorous; that they will be located within a region where Russia has been struggling since the fall of the Soviet Union with violent local independence movements is a much more serious proposition. And the violent groups that will want to disrupt the Olympics were clever in sowing such fear by their twin attacks around Christmas in the near-by (by Russian standards) city of Volgograd, which killed a combined total of 34 people.

The Dutch are no slouches when it comes to winter sports, so there will be a sizeable contingent from the Netherlands at the Sochi games, together with an official visit by King Willem Alexander and Queen Máxima, Premier Mark Rutte and other high officials. Will those representatives be safe there? The newspaper Trouw tries to set its readers’ fears at ease today with an article entitled The Netherlands will keep a close eye on Sochi security.

The author (uncredited; from the Dutch press agency ANP) hardly aids his/her own cause with a column-heading that reads “Possible attacks.” Still, what’s notable here is not what the Netherlands is doing, but the listing of some of the security provisions some other nations will be taking.

  • The Americans: They have posted two Navy ships just offshore in the Black Sea – the better to start evacuating American citizens should things start to go haywire onshore.
  • The French: They are actually sending special anti-terror police along to guard their athletes. And not just one variety, but two: the GIGN, “specialized in ending hostage situations” (OK, that’s a relief), and the RAID*, “an elite corps of the national police.”

Sadly, once you read about those steps the Americans and French are taking, the corresponding Dutch measures cannot help but strike you as rather inadequate. They include an official warning from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that everyone needs to be careful:

. . . it turns out that possible attacks in Russia, above all in city centers and South Russia, must be taken into account. You are advised when traveling in Russia to be extra-vigilant, above all at locations such as bus- and train stations, airfields or when traveling with public transport.

Oh, and if you do get into trouble, the Dutch Embassy will be open 24/7! Of course, that is way off in Moscow; but there will also be a “consular window” available at the Holland Heineken House there in Sochi.

Don’t worry, it goes on, “[c]alamity plans have been coordinated and scenarios worked out.” So if there is violence at the Winter Olympics, the Dutch government will at least be able rather easily to imagine what is happening!

The point? Is it that the Netherlands – and every other country sending substantial numbers of its athletes to the Games, for that matter – should emulate French or American practice and send along, in effect, para-military bodyguards? No, it’s that things have reached the point – resulting from the ill-considered (and almost certainly corrupt) decision to put the 2014 Winter Games here in the first place – that such worries are arising at all.

* A brilliant acronym, you’ll surely agree! It actually stands for Recherche, d’Assistance, d’Intervention et de Dissuasion – Investigation, Assistance, Intervention and Dissuasion.

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Friendly Breaking-and-Entering

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

I stand corrected – for this:

Marzooqah
Yes, for a while there it seemed like we would be able to look forward once again to following the madcap exploits of that ragged but plucky band of ex-Somali coastal fishermen who one day – with a little help from the flood of small arms of every conceivable description to be found in that war-torn land – came up with rather bigger and more lucrative prey to go after on the high seas. Maybe we would even get to see Tom Hanks in action once again, in crusty old sailor mode, in a sequel to last year’s American-ship-gets-hijacked movie. (Or maybe Hollywood would not particularly let mere facts get in the way of such a sequel, if the original turned out to be enough of a financial success.)

That was not true though: the Marzooqah was not captured by Somali pirates – or by any pirates – a week ago. I only discovered this by putzing around a bit on my Twitter-feed and clicking once again on the underlying article from the Volkskrant that had originally announced the news.

That article has been revised – drastically. Yes, a bunch of men were seen rushing onto the Marzooqah that evening, but those were not pirates, those were Eritrean soldiers! It took an announcement to that effect the next day by a spokesman from the European anti-pirate mission to clear up the confusion.

Just why it was that those soldiers were rushing onto the Marzooqah was not explained by that spokesman. I guess some people were rather worried that the ship had been or was about to be hijacked. Getting jumpy! – when in reality, as this revised piece now points out, in 2013 there were only 7 pirate attacks on shipping in that general area, and none of those was successful. The 2014 counter has likewise been reset back to zero.

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Enforcement Creature of Habit

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Things looked bleak for Patrick Van den Kieboom of Edegem, in the Antwerp suburbs. He had imbibed around three glasses of his region’s renowned beers – and who could resist that, on a Saturday night? The problem was that he had then taken the wheel to drive himself and his wife home, and was stopped on the road at a drunk-driver checkpoint.

Bijrijder
The key to what happened then is in that word “bijrijder” – yes, “by-rider” or passenger: the officer came up and asked not Mr. Van den Kieboom but rather his wife whether she had been drinking – No – and then had her breathe into the little device. She passed easily, and they were soon on their way again.

The explanation is simple. Van den Kieboom’s car he had bought from a South African who had shipped it to Belgium – it was to Commonwealth standard, whereby the driver sits with the wheel on the right side! But as usual, the Belgian highway officer had come up on the left side as the car was stopped on the right-hand side of the road!

To make the incident even more surreal, his wife even got a BOB keychain for her good behavior! (As pictured; BOB = Bewust Onbeschonken Bestuurder, basically “designated driver,” and the catchy leitmotif for anti-drunk driving campaigns in both the Netherlands and Dutch-speaking Belgium.) Let’s hope they saw sense and switched around soon afterwards to let the wife actually drive – and that no one with authority within the Belgian police reads De Telegraaf (and note, it’s a Dutch, not Belgian, paper)!

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Of Illusionists and Hostage-Takers

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Remember when beer was just beer? (No? OK, maybe you’re not old enough.)

DeGroeneReclame
Jesse Frederik of De Groene Amsterdammer does, though, although from the mini-vignette of him that we see at the top of the column to which the above tweet links he doesn’t seem to be that old himself.

Beer was not always a branded article. From surveys among retailers just after the Second World War [remember, this is written within a Dutch context], it was apparent that only ten percent of customers ever asked for a specific brand. Beer was beer, and nothing more!

Ah, but things eventually changed. “Brand consciousness arrived only when brewers realized that marketing, the selling of illusions, could show consumers differences where there weren’t any.” Beer from Heineken – the company which turned out to be most successful at this new game by far – became perceived as the social tipple, Amstel (a brand later purchased by Heineken) as the “people’s beer,” Hertog Jan as “chic.” Physically, though, they had only minor differences if any.

So what did we get? Lots more marketing expenses among brewers, and of course an explosion in Dutch beer consumption over the years – from ten liters per year in 1950 to 86 in 1980. “The glass of beer, once a brand-less product, comparable to sugar, became a great vehicle for solving all your problems.”

Except that we know it only sometimes seems to solve our problems, and then only for limited times, before the hangover sets in. (more…)

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Call It A First-World Problem

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

All those of you not feeling quite right in your skin, torn by that compulsion to “cross the road” – well, at least if you’re in the Netherlands you’re going to have to find some other medical institution to be your conduit and crossing-guard, according to a recent report.
Transgender
Yes, those looking for a sex-change operation will not be able to avail themself for a quite a while of the Free University Medical Center (VUmc; if they have not already made such arrangements, of course), located in South Amsterdam. That’s simply because the place is swamped: 400 adults and 200 children approach it yearly for that sort of procedure, but it can’t handle that traffic and has put a stop to any new admissions. Unfortunately, it has been conducting 85% of such operations nationally.

Actually, the problem is money: the VUmc would need €10 million annually even to handle that usual 600, but gets only €3 million from insurance companies. (Heaven forfend that any of these people pay for such an operation themselves! Actually, it’s rather eyebrow-raising that such procedures are in fact covered by the private health insurance that makes up the Dutch health care system.)

This has created another oppressed minority: the “transgenders” who now can’t get the change made (or have to look elsewhere to get it done; and/or – *gasp* – who have to pay for it out of their own stylishly metrosexual pockets). Naturally, there’s an advocacy group for these people, called Transgender Netwerk Nederland. (Go ahead, click and check it out: I’ve linked to their English site.) As TNN director Elleke Alink points out, “If they had announced a cessation of treatment for some other patient group, everyone in the Netherlands would surely have protested. What’s at issue here is a relatively small group, but consisting of patients who are in some cases having a hard time of it.”

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A Remarkable Land Indeed

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

As I get settled back into a more normal routine, meaning that I should be able to provide more frequent actual blogpost contributions on this forum, there are first a number of strange things popping up in my own environs that I would like to bring to your attention.

To start off, the following image has lately been omnipresent in billboards placed on the station-platforms of the light rail line I use to get into the center of Amsterdam:

Yarden

The Dutch text reads “A good parting/leave-taking helps you further.” There’s the face, the text, and also the company name (Yarden) below, but then that’s all you’ve got. What on earth could this be about?

If you’re Dutch (or have lived here long enough to be acquainted with the sort of advertising brochures you routinely receive in your mailbox) it’s pretty obvious. Let me give you a hint: There’s a normal-light half on the right, and then a darkened half to the left, correct? If Yarden wanted to be fully consistent with their advertising message, they would make of that darkened half a half-skull.

But they don’t, because that would shock too much, hurt sales. That’s right, Yarden sells uitvaartverzekering, or funeral insurance whereby one pays regular premiums while still living and earning in order to pay for a proper plot, coffin and funeral ceremony for when the time comes to leave this earthly existence.

The fact that advertisement for such a product – oblique though it may be – can be so publicly displayed in the Amsterdam metro system highlights the strange Dutch attitude towards death – oddly depersonalized, even amounting to a sort of lifestyle event (like a bar mitzvah, say). You can see this in the language as well: uitvaart in literal terms has the bloodless meaning of “exit.” Indeed, the German cognate, Ausfahrt, together with thick arrows pointing outwards, is what you will repeatedly see while driving along the Autobahn. (On Dutch highways it’s rather afrit.)

Or take a look at Yarden’s homepage. There’s our half-and-half smiling (but, sadly, all-too-mortal) lady up top. But look towards the bottom-left: Uitvaartideeën – “Exit ideas,” i.e. ideas about how to arrange your funeral so that . . . I don’t know, I guess so that it uniquely fits your dearly departed personality. Underneath that, if you’re still at a loss, are further links for “Inspiring exits” and “Themes for your exit.” Then one column over to the right the bottom link offers “Readings about death.” Creepy! (more…)

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Behind the Taksim Square Protests

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

One surprising thing that you may not know about the recent anti-regime protests that rocked Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past week (and which show every sign of continuing) is that the premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the main target of the demonstrators’ wrath, was not even in the country as they erupted, but rather off on a state-visit tour. But he’s back now, as of Thursday evening.

Erdogan keert strijdbaar terug in roerig Turkijehttp://t.co/vhRT2T1wqJ

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


Roerig: “In turmoil.” Yep, that’s the scene to which he returned. But he was strijdbaar as he did so, “combative,” boosted in his self-belief by thousands who turned out to the airport to welcome him back. He showed no indication of taking anything other than a hard line on the demonstrations, terming them mere “vandalism.”

It’s all sort of strange when you think about it, all this “vandalism” – isn’t this supposed to be about whether they tear up a park in order to make a shopping mall? In other words, isn’t this at bottom just a municipal Istanbul dispute? Why is the prime minister getting involved?

Writing in the Volkskrant, the linguist and editor-in-chief of the Dutch political magazine De Republikein Rik Smits brings up some other, more significant things you also might not be aware of concerning these Turkish troubles. The title of his piece (quotes in the original): “On Taksim Square a giga-mosque will be erected.”

Taksim Square is of course the ground-zero of the dispute, the location of Gezi Park that is in danger of being razed. The general point here is that it’s not really the supposed new shopping center that is at issue, the authorities have more far-reaching ambitions for that location – ambitions which, by the way, even if the Turkish press were aware of, it would not mention given the notorious heavy hand that the State holds above it.

Smits has not come up with anything particularly new here, it’s just a matter of going back to the historical record – in particular, back to the mid-1990s when Erdogan served as Istanbul’s mayor. Then he also had plans to have a gigantic mosque built on Taksim Square. But Turkey has always had to maintain an uneasy balance between the secular and the religious, and he did not then get his way. Indeed: the military regarded him as rather a bit too religious, and jailed him for six months. But now, of course, he is rather more powerful as Prime Minister (having already taken his revenge on the military – sorry, that’s a blog-post’s worth of material by itself).

There’s even more to it than that, though: Why this spot, why must this particular park die? Is Erdogan perchance the ultimate anti-Green? No, Smits rather shows us how Taksim Square holds a special significance, to those Turkish citizens of a secular persuasion. You have there a big monument from 1928 commemorating Turkish “independence” – in reality, its conversion from the Ottoman Empire, the work of Atatürk. Right next door is the Atatürk Cultural Center. Presumably, according to Smits’ argument, these would have to make way as well for the new mosque – the perfect symbolism of the displacement of the secular by the religious that Erdogan has allegedly been searching for since his mayoral days.

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Misled Micturation

Monday, May 27th, 2013

It’s a tough, cynical world out there, and we all know to be a bit suspicious when someone claims to be taking up a collection for a good cause, even when what’s being collected is . . . um, urine:

Farmaceutisch bedrijf misleidde zwangere vrouwen jarenlang: http://t.co/8vHmvaUbzz

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


Wait, what sort of pervert would be interested in other people’s urine? Turns out, when it comes from pregnant ladies its hormone content is quite valuable, and so the pharmaceutical company MSD (= Merck Sharp & Dohme, better known in the US simply as Merck*) started a “Mothers for Mothers” program in Brazil, way back in 1986, to convince expectant ladies there to contribute their precious bodily fluids on a regular basis towards a campaign to manufacture drugs designed to ease pregnancy complications.

Reasonable, right? But it has finally emerged that all these contributions (from 6,000 women at the program’s peak) were instead being diverted to produce a drug called “PG600” used – controversially – to speed up piglet production in sows, i.e. to accelerate pork production.

The funny thing is that this “Mothers for Mothers” program was started in Brazil right after a similar campaign in the Netherlands had to be canceled in the mid-1980s, precisely because Dutch women stopped cooperating when similar misuse of their contributions came to light there. Time then to head for the Third World, to somewhere that doesn’t get news from Holland, eh? The word from this Volkskrant piece is that, according to a company spokesperson, “MSD is busy now developing a program in which women will be informed that human hormones are needed for the production of PG600.” Good luck with that.

* Company slogan (from website) = “Be well!” Perhaps something rather along the lines of “Pee well!” is in order.

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A French Fry First – With Herb!

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Here’s something new that any of you who might be headed to Amsterdam will want to know about! It comes originally from the website of the local radio station AmsterdamFM.nl. The news is that, as of TODAY, one of the premier French fry (friets) stands in Amsterdam, Manneken Pis, has a new sauce flavor available – in the words of owner Albert van Beek, a “new tasty sauce with the unmistakable taste of marijuana” – wiet in Dutch (one way to say it).

More good news: it’s hard to miss Manneken Pis in Amsterdam, as it is right on the Damrak (which is that big street that all the trams run down, initially with the water off to the left side, as you leave Central Station), really the very first French fry stand you will encounter as you head into town towards the Dam. Just look for the “Teasers Cafe,” with the shapely waitresses in their skimpy costumes – it’s right past that. Something to keep in mind upon your arrival, if you’re eager to try this stuff out (I’m still referring here to the wietsaus, not Teasers).

Oh, and Manneken Pis also has three stands in Utrecht – yes, they also offer this special sauce, check their webpage in the unlikely event that you’ll be in Utrecht before you find yourself in Amsterdam. (That’s not the way to proceed, folks.)

But what is it like? I now yield the floor to the 24 Oranges blog, which is where I first found out about this: “. . . it is not the easiest thing to cook with or digest for that matter. Yes, it can provide a very decent, slow buzz, thanks for asking.”

If you’re curious, EuroSavant has never smoked the stuff, does not intend to – doesn’t care whether you believe him or not! – and doesn’t even intend to try out this new wiet-sauce, but mainly because he excised French fries from his diet long ago, one gets to an age where they’re just not very healthy anymore. Then again, he often patronized Manneken Pis back when he did indulge, and understands that they regularly win national awards for the quality of their fries.

UPDATE: A confession: In the back of my mind there was always the niggling question, “Is this some kind of fraud, a set-up?” And I admit that I published first, then asked questions later, but would plead that little more can be expected in the 21st century on-line media environment.

But OK, I had the chance today (FRI. 12 APR) to go by Manneken Pis. It’s right there at the bottom of their sauces-list, in big letters: “WEEDSAUCE.” In a spirit of truth-in-advertising they add right underneath that: “Zonder THC/Without THC,” which we are all aware is marijuana’s active narcotic ingredient, and that can make you wonder whether it really can have the effect that 24 Oranges claims that it has.

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Dutch Party-Pooper!

Monday, April 8th, 2013

We’re now into April, the weather is finally going to start to warm up in the next few days (so they promise us – but with much rain initially), and it’s a fine April indeed to be in the Netherlands! We’ve got a big party scheduled for just next Saturday when, after a ten-year renovation, the Rijksmuseum will be reopened and will be free for everyone (for that initial day). Then there is another special party due at the end of the month. Yes, April 30 has officially been Queen’s Day for a long, long time, held to celebrate the birthday of Queen Beatrix, but this time Queen’s Day will officially and permanently turn into Kings Day as our new King, Willem-Alexander, is crowned that day in the Nieuwe Kerk on the Dam.

So what’s this discordant note that I see emanating from one of the country’s main papers?

‘Het is 2013. Hoog tijd om eens op te houden met de #monarchie#vkopinie http://t.co/nibO1bH2jN

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


“It is 2013 – high time to stop with the monarchy”! Can it be that the Dutch royal house enjoys less support among its native populace than is supposed?

Probably not – but that does not mean that there is not a good case for abolition nonetheless. The tweet links to the Volkskrant article laying out the republican case by Max Westerman, a former reporter for Dutch TV, but this time all my dear readers are in luck, as that is just a translation back into Dutch of the original English piece that was published in the Wall Street Journal.

I do recomment that you take a look at the latter, if you have any interest at all in Dutch affairs. For it is certainly true that the history of the Netherlands is by far that of republicanism, i.e. of operating without a king, and it was only the European Great Powers after Napoleon’s defeat who foisted a king on the nation, and at a relatively late point in the history of kingship (1813) at that.

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Old Man Sun: Just Foolin’!

Friday, January 4th, 2013

sunwink
See the face there, the wink? This is a NASA photograph, but it was recently brought forward to top an article in the Dutch Volkskrant*. And when was this particular sun-shot taken? Yes: on 22 December, just after the day when many claimed the Mayans had calculated that the world would end!

* Oh, and also in the Daily Mail, in case you’d like to read about it in English.

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What Is Romney’s Next Act?

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Maybe it’s a question you haven’t devoted much thought about. But the journalists at the Dutch paper De Volkskrant are on it:


“What does Romney do now?

Indeed: What do you do with yourself when you’ve basically spent the last six years running for president, but came up short at the finish line? “Spend more time with my family” – OK, of course, but once that starts to wear thin there aren’t really many firm answers about what comes next. Apparently wife Ann doesn’t want any more presidential campaigning, yet according to this piece “In the US there is a general consensus that the 65-year-old ex-governor will not disappear from the public eye.” There may nonetheless well be another attempt at the presidency; in any case, some future active role in the Republican Party seems likely.

BTW the Volkskrant web-editors have not been kind to Romney with their choice of picture to head this piece. Check it out: it’s Mitt smooching with Ann on-stage after he delivered his concession speech, but considering her expression it’s probably better described as an oscular assault!

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Romney’s Money Goes Dutch

Monday, November 5th, 2012

You can now add the Netherlands to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland in the Mitt Romney tax-avoidance Hall of Fame:

#Romney ontwijkt belasting door sluipweg via Nederland http://t.co/S1w4WKy2

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


“[S]luipweg via nederland” – you can translate that as “Dutch dodge,” through which Bain Capital managed to avoid €80 million in taxation on dividends in 2004 by channeling an investment in the Irish pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott through a Dutch holding company that held the shares. He also avoided that way a substantial sum in Irish wealth tax.

Note that this is in the period after 1999 when Romney claimed to have cut connections with Bain. This tax-trick was uncovered through cooperative research undertaken by Gawker and a Dutch independent financial investigation website called Follow the Money, using public SEC filings, once-confidential documents made public by Bain, and data from the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. Note that it was apparently perfectly legal.

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Gay Marriage: Ho Hum . . .

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

So President Obama last night put a halt to the “evolution” of his thoughts about same-sex marriage and finally came out in favor! Many Americans hailed his announcement as historic; many others, you can be sure (specifically, Christian evangelicals and African-Americans), were horrified.

In the Netherlands, on the other hand, we say “What took you so long?” This country was the first to recognize same-sex marriage, more than 10 years ago on 1 April 2001. So Obama’s move is not going to dazzle many observers over here. Rather, some cool-headed analysis of just exactly what he did, why, and why he did it now is in order.

Waarom #Obama nu zo voor het homohuwelijk is http://t.co/OBIlneXh

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


As you can see if you want to click through to the Volkskrant article, journalist Pieter Sabel addresses three main considerations:

  1. Joe Biden: The Vice-President let the cat out of the bag by expressing his own support for same-sex marriage last Sunday on a TV talk-show. Attention then naturally shifted to the chief executive himself who, according to Sam Stein at the Huffington Post, had planned to announce his own support just before the Democratic National Convention in early September. But Biden forced him to accelerate that schedule.
  2. Voters: Here Sabel takes his eye off the ball somewhat. He cannot assert that US voters are by-and-large behind the President’s move, because that is not true. Rather, perhaps half are for, but then half are against, so that Obama could be taking a considerable political risk here to his re-election.
  3. Politics: How is this different from “Voters”? Beats me. But the point here is mainly about Romney who, predictably, has seized on the President’s new position to try to paint him as a “flip-flopper.” He needs to be careful, though; remember that he first made his name politically as governor of Massachusetts, as well as candidate for Senator from there (in 1994, against Ted Kennedy), so that it appears that there are materials from back in those times showing him much more supportive of “full equality for all homosexual Americans” than he claims to be today.

By the way, Sabel notes that Obama took care to say that this was his “personal” standpoint, which theoretically still leaves him with the rhetorical room to act against it in the future as “President Obama,” as opposed to “Barack.” More concretely, he also made clear that he views the issue as something for the individual states to decide.

In contrast, today’s NYT editorial, drawing the analogy with mixed-race marriage which was finally declared “one of the ‘basic civil rights of man'” by the Supreme Court in 1967, opines that same-sex marriage is something that should be instituted at the national level – probably by means of another Supreme Court decision, for which “President Obama” should instruct his Justice Department to argue in favor.

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No “European Spring”

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Politically, this has been a most eventful week in the Netherlands. As we head massively onto the streets today in our orange apparel to celebrate the QueensDay holiday, many of us will drink and dance in the sunny weather in part simply to forget the experience of the government falling, followed by the cobbling-together by a hastily-formed temporary coalition of a budget-cut package to meet EU demands.

So yes, it has been a remarkable past couple of days. This, however, just goes too far:

Paul Brill: ‘Begint in Den Haag de Europese lente?’ http://t.co/LgHpwSBb #vkopinie

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


“Has the European Spring begun in The Hague?” asks commentator Paul Brill – as in “Europe’s Arab Spring,” you understand.

Thank God for that question-mark, for actually going through his piece makes it clear that Brill is hardly sure himself that the answer is “yes.” (What we also might have here is a rogue third-party headline-writer; I understand that column-writers for periodicals – as opposed to bloggers – usually don’t write their own headlines.) What makes Brill (or his headline-writer) think of the Arab Spring is the series of “No!” gestures to the EU austerity regime – mostly being pushed by Germany – now in the cards. You have the French presidential election run-off next Sunday, which according to most polls will elevate François Hollande to that position, who will then reject the EU’s new Austerity Pact. On the same day there will be national elections in Greece, and polls there forecast a defeat for the PASOK and New Democracy parties – now ruling in a grand coalition, but for decades the two main competing parties representing (respectively) the Left and the Right on the Greek political scene. As of next week they will likely be superseded by brand-new parties, all of them promoting resistance to the terms of Greece’s bail-out from the IMF, EU and ECB.

And then the Netherlands: Once seen as reliably in Germany’s austerity camp – indeed, Finance Minister De Jager has made quite a name for himself as scourge and hector of those irresponsible, debt-ridden Southern Europeans – this country effectively made its first substantial anti-austerity gesture with the collapse of the government, brought about when the right-wing, populist PVV party would not go along with the budget cuts being proposed. Yes, as stated, enough budget cuts to satisfy the EU were ultimately approved anyway via a one-time reshuffling of the political deck, but the fact that the PVV was effectively part of the governing coalition (it “tolerated” it, i.e. promised not to vote against it on important matters) meant that there would have to be new elections (in early September), to form a new government.

Notably, a couple of important parties held themselves aloof from those budget cuts, namely over on the Left in the forms of the Labor Party (PvdA) and the Socialist Party. The strategy here was clear: they won’t be tainted by those budget cuts in that election, so that a vote for the Left offers a means for the Dutch electorate to vote against budget cuts and austerity, and basically to join the likely French and Greeks “No!” against the EU austerity regime.

So that is what is really going on here. The Greeks and the French seem unlikely to accede to German demands for EU member-state austerity as the best way out of the financial and sovereign-debt crises. But the Dutch – the Dutch! those traditional lap-dogs of the Germans! – now seem quite likely to do the same. If they do that, however, they’ll do it in September, so forget about any “European Spring.”

For that matter, let’s give the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc. some proper respect for what they have accomplished/are accomplishing and simply drop any further hyperbolic talk about a “European Spring,” “Autumn,” or anything else. The Europeans have their own notable Days of Revolt to their credit in history, but they were back in 1789, 1848 and (to the East) 1989, and certainly not today.

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. . . And That’s Not All, Folks!

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Sure, it’s the cheap, easy, cynical view to adopt that the bail-out/splintering of the French/Belgian/Luxembourgish bank Dexia, worked out over the weekend, is just going to be the first of many such episodes. Then again, it’s also the de rigueur statement for any finance minister involved to make under such circumstances – “No, I don’t think so, certainly not French banks” – such as that which French finance minister François Baroin uttered when asked by reporters if there would be any others.

Of course there will be others. For heaven’s sake, there were already two others (i.e. European bank nationalizations) happening even as Dexia hogged the headlines the past few days. (Details here, in English: namely a Greek bank – surprise! – that was nationalized after getting in trouble over money-laundering, and a Danish bank that made foolish real estate loans.) And now we have further explicit confirmation of this from Kleis Jager at the Dutch newspaper Trouw: French prepare in secret for more misery.

Topped by an unfortunate photo of current (unelected) Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme and France’s PM François Fillon with sly, conspiratorial smiles on their faces, Jager’s piece tells of how, even before Dexia, the French government realized that it needed to get ready to save at least “two or three” big banks – preferably by forcing them to sell themselves to outsiders with big money.

(Just as Luxembourg did with its part of Dexia, selling it to the Qataris, for example. You’ve got to admire the Luxemburgers, though – on the very Sunday (9 October) that Dexia was collapsing, finance ministers were feverishly meeting, and Qataris were presumably being wined-and-dined, they were also holding their national elections!)

Wait, you want names? No problem: according to Trouw, the French had in mind specifically BNP Paribas, Société Générale and Crédit Agricole as the banks where they would need to intervene. No Dexia on that list! But all of these have done good business through the years – “good” so far – providing loaned money to not only Greece, but also Spain and Italy.

To be fair, this is not Jager’s scoop, but rather one he credits to the French paper Journal du Dimanche. BNP Paribas and Société Générale immediately issued denials once the latter had published its report. But I refer you again to Finance Minister François Baroin’s comments cited above.

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From Russia With Freight

Monday, August 29th, 2011

This is something that one is rather surprised has not received more notice – other than a mention in The Times (behind paywall), and of course my tweet a little while ago, inspired by a piece in the Polish paper Rzeczpospolita. Sarah Palin, rejoice! Not only can you see Russia from Alaska, in a few years’ time you’ll also be able to ship stuff there directly, as there’s going to be a 100km-long railroad tunnel built across/under the Bering Strait. This is from a recent piece in the Dutch paper De Volkskrant.

That’s the result of a conference that took place last week in Yakutsk, the middle-of-nowhere capital of the biggest chunk of Siberia, one that was attended by representatives of the US and Russian governments, but also the Chinese and the British. The total cost is calculated at €68 billion, of which the US and Russian governments will each cover 25% and investors and international financial institutions the rest. It will take between 10 and 15 years to build.

This is in line with the Russian plans to substantially broaden railroad coverage within Siberia, with a view towards further developing that region’s economic potential (and perhaps thus not leave it so devoid of people, and so such a temptation to Chinese encroachment). This mega-project will also (eventually) enable someone to travel from, say, London to Washington exclusively overland, by train – taking the long way eastward through much of the EurAsian continent!

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Dancing (PM) Fool

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Another chance here to hit on the theme of the Netherlands leading the way to the Moral Apocalypse.

Saturday was quite a day for carousing, probably the year’s peak, at least for Amsterdam, for while the yearly Gay Pride Canal Parade which I treated in my previous post was proceeding, something called Dance Valley was going on as well – also yearly, consisting of tens of thousands congregating in an area of farmland called Spaarnewoude, just west of Amsterdam, to spend the day gyrating to electronic music coming out of huge speakers.

“Nothing really wrong with that,” you might say – and some of you might even add “. . . especially if that diverted some impressionable youth from otherwise spending their Saturday watching the homosexuals do their thing on Amsterdam’s canals!” True enough, were it not for one particular “impressionable youth” so diverted: our very own Prime Minister, Mark Rutte! The Algemeen Dagblad has the story: Mark Rutte dances along at Dance Valley, complete with pictures and even a brief video of the PM swaying along with the crowd. (I would embed it here, but it’s not all that interesting.) He’s the dude with the shades and the open-necked white shirt, who apparently likes to pose with chicks (with shades). Well, he is only 44, but he heads the VVD, the right-wing businessman’s party, so you’d think he would at least wear a tie!

For the sake of any of you who might gain satisfaction anew from the fact, let me repeat here my observation from that earlier post that the Canal Parade (and therefore Dance Valley, only about 15km to the west) had to deal with repeated interruptions of heavy rains and thunder/lightning. Also, from the AD article, Rutte has attended Dance Valley before, as recently as 2008, when he lost his telephone and so had his friends treated to rude SMS messages from same. But he wasn’t Netherlands head-of-government then.

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Wet Decadence

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Today is once again the climax of the Amsterdam Gay Pride festival, namely the infamous Canal Parade. And now it has a dedicated YouTube channel, so anyone from elsewhere who was not already aware can gauge the depths to which our Western Civilization has fallen. Or maybe it’s just a bunch of people having some flamboyant fun:

Yes, those guys there in uniform on one of the floats towards the end waving to the crowds were police officers – you noticed them?

Keep in mind, though, that this short clip was the teaser – so to speak – for the live broadcast of this year’s/today’s Canal Parade planned by the Dutch media organization AVRO, i.e. it shows a parade from some past year. For this year, some of you out there might be pleased to hear that festivities have been repeatedly interrupted by heavy downpours, accompanied occasionally by thunder and lightning! Make of that what you will.

Prague takes its turn at this sort of thing next weekend – meaning a Gay Pride festival, and actually for the very first time. Should be interesting! I mean, how will society there react to events like this? No canals there though – just a river, and it’s too wide for any such aquatic parade.

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Dysfunctional Power Couple

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

De ongemakkelijke kussen van Merkel en Sarkozy http://bit.ly/oL54CI #merkozy

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


One little-known roadblock to the EU’s ability to come up with a collective solutions to Greece and any number of other problems is the sheer antipathy said to prevail between the heads of the two most-powerful member-states, i.e. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. Indeed, the dominating primacy of this “Franco-German axis” long ago reached cliché status among analysts of the European Union (though it’s no longer quite so true, naturally), meaning that the personal chemistry between the inhabitants of L’Élysée and the Reich Chancellery assumed a outsized importance to the two nations’ fortunes.

Unfortunately so, because Merkel and Sarkozy have apparently not been on speaking terms – at the personal level; their offices communicate just fine, thank you – for quite some time. Or maybe you don’t believe me and would like to see for yourself – well, the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant now enables you to do that by presenting this fantastically-awesome photo-series compilation of thirty-six (yes! count ’em!) kisses, embraces and similar close encounters – all fully-clothed: s’il vous plaît, je vous en prie! – between the two, entitled “The uneasy kisses of Merkel and Sarkozy” (and soon to be a major motion picture!). (more…)

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Bin Laden Retrospectives

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

“U-S-A! U-S-A!” Europeans woke up to the news, while cheering Americans put off bedtime for a while to go congregate and rejoice. The killing of Osama Bin Laden dominates world news today, while analyses of the consequences and of Bin Laden’s extraordinary life are likely to occupy much print and many pixels in the days to come.

Naturally, such pieces are already forthcoming. One of the best I’ve seen so far comes from an expected source, Prof. Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment, although it does veer at the end to the realm of personal reminiscences. (The September 11, 2001 attacks were after all the inspiration for setting up that blog, as they were for so many other things e.g. US Army/Marines enlistments.)

Plus, as always Prof. Cole’s treatment is in English, which is not really within the remit of the blog you’re reading now. Let’s turn to Der Spiegel instead:

That link leads to an article entitled The Prince of Terror, by Yassin Musharbash. (Despite the name, a born-and-bred German journalist.) The photo-series you’ll find starting at the article’s head – basically a series of Osama TV-stills – is nothing to write home about, but what Musharbash writes about his historical background is quite interesting. For the world’s premier terrorist could very well have become its leading playboy instead; he was born into quite a wealthy Saudi family, which had made its money in the construction business. But no, he chose religion over worldly things, and became known over his lifetime for his qualities of patience, modest living, and friendliness – “friendliness” to a select few, at least, since he never was so enthusiastic about Westerners and his strict religious convictions kept him from shaking any female’s hand from an early age, as well from any music, photography, or television (except for the news).

Nonetheless, from a position as an outsider he soon became one of the leading heroes within the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation. Of course, it was from the (mostly Arab) fighting elements he assembled there for that original purpose that he would go on to build his “Al-Qaeda” network. (The name in Arabic literally means “network,” as well as a number of other things.) But Musharbash helpfully reminds us of another, later instance when the West’s and Bin Laden’s military interests coincided, namely in Bosnia during the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s: A nascent Al-Qaeda then supplied fighters to defend that break-away republic from Serb depredations long before Europe or the US had made up their mind what to do themselves.

The Dutch paper De Volkskrant is also quick off the blocks with its own Profile: This is how Bin Laden became the most-wanted terrorist on Earth. No photo-series this time – but really, by now haven’t we all had to gaze on his face more times than we have really wanted? – just a Bin Laden background, with a couple new and interesting facts. Supposedly he originally started working in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion there just to try to recruit for and supply the resistance, not take up arms himself, but he changed his mind one day when he happened to be attacked by some Russian helicopters. Also, although after his success there he returned to his native Saudi Arabia as a famous hero, he soon fell afoul of the authorities there by shooting his mouth off against them too often, to the point that they confiscated both his passport and much of his property. (Of course, that didn’t stop him from moving to Sudan, by way of Yemen, and thence back to Afghanistan.)

There’s just one strange thing here: the (unnamed) Volkskrant reporter writes about how, even after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Bin Laden still managed to run Al-Qaeda – in a loose way – “with his satellite and computer.” I can easily imagine Bin Laden weilding a laptop (although the power-supply could have been problematic), but not a “satellite” as the world’s authorities keep careful tabs on what’s allowed up into space. Perhaps the author meant “satellite-telephone.”

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Don’t Worry, We’ll Get Ours

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Just after Christmas (“Boxing Day”) in 2004 it was “Surf’s up!” throughout South Asia as a tremendous tsunami hit lands as widely-separated as Indonesia and Tanzania. Then only a bit less than three weeks ago another tsunami washed over most of northeast Japan, devastating many coastal habitations and setting off certain nuclear problems.

Here in the Netherlands we can only sympathize and send assistance, financial and otherwise (which I understand we’ve done to a great degree). However, something similar might very well be in store for us soon, according to today’s article in the Algemeen Dagblad with the pleasing title Tsunami wipes out Netherlands population in 2012. That at least is the message of doom being put forward by the “Watchers of the Night,” a religious group out in the provinces who are already preparing for catastrophe by making themselves economically self-sufficient, laying in substantial stores of food and water.

What is their reasoning? you may very well ask. Well, it seems to involve some combination of Revelations, Nostradamus, and that Mayan thing you might have heard of that predicted doom for the planet in 2012, and they are by no means the only ones thinking along these lines. Many of this ilk see Japan’s earthquake/tsunami together with the widespread Middle East unrest as a sure sign that the prophecies are correct and there will be even worse to come next year. Even for the Netherlands.

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OPW – Other People’s WiFi

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Nicholas Jackson of the Atlantic has a quite interesting blogpost up entitled “What’s Yours Is Mine: Using a Wireless Network You Don’t Own.” Is that theft? Or is it simply OK, no big deal?

The immediate impetus to his post is a recent ruling in the Netherlands, to the effect that that is in fact just no big deal, even if the wireless network you’re using happens to be secured, so that you have succeeded in breaking that security to use it! A controversial point-of-view, to be sure, which has also set off a mini-firestorm of discussion over on Slashdot.

Many of the legal issues here are somewhat subtle, meaning that reliance on machine-translation of the original Dutch report on the judge’s ruling is likely to be misleading. But that is where EuroSavant can step in; what follows is my own human-translated version of that piece, as a contribution to the discussion.
(more…)

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Tempest in a DNA-Cup

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Undoubtedly one of the major advances of the past decades in the field of criminal investigation has been the use of DNA samples for exact, individual perpetrator identification. The sheer scale of the difference such a tool has made from the way serious crimes were solved previously can be seen – shockingly – in the many US capital cases where these techniques have managed to prove the innocence of those already convicted and on death row. These in turn were an important factor in recently convincing Illinois governor Pat Quinn to do away with the death penalty in his state entirely.

Fine, then: DNA is good stuff. Except that it can’t work every time unless everyone has his/her DNA on file – you never can quite be sure who will turn out to be the next crazed murderer! That at least was the idea of Rotterdam police chief Frank Pauw (= “Frank the Peacock”), as reported in today’s Telegraaf. For freedom is not free, and similarly according to Frank “If you want the make the world safer, you’ve got to pay a price.”

Wait a second.

Whatever happened to privacy? To “innocent until proven guilty,” as opposed to seeing in every citizen a potential cutthroat? The crazy thing is, you would think the Dutch would be particularly sensitive on this point, as they had an excellent system of citizen records – complete with ID cards that were practically unforgeable – going into German occupation starting in 1940. The Nazis were quite pleased and grateful for the considerable assistance such a system afforded the various sociological projects they then undertook in the country, like keeping tabs on the entire population bar that segment they explicitly set out to segregate, ship away, and murder.

Have no fear, though, for Frank the Peacock’s proposal has been shot down within the same business day, as we can see in this dispatch from Joost Schellevis* at the Dutch site tweakers.net (h/t to Erwin Boogert). The official word comes from no less than the official spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, Wim van der Weegen: “We reject the proposal. . . . There are only few people who commit this sort of serious crimes, and the current system of [DNA] registration takes care of those.” The current system is namely that only suspects of crimes for which the punishment can be four or more years of prison have to submit DNA samples for permanent storage.

The alacrity with which Pauw’s suggestion was rejected is nice to see. On the other hand, it would also have been interesting had there been no governmental reaction, just as a sort of experiment to gauge Dutch society’s readiness to spring to the defense of its civil freedoms. In the long run, many (including this author) might consider such general DNA registration to be inevitable, probably to be instituted during the hysteria following some terrorist outrage. For now, though, you’d like to think Pauw’s proposal, left officially unchecked, would have attracted the attention of organizations like Bits of Freedom (though, admittedly, they concentrate on digital civil rights) who might even have crowned it with one of their famed annual Big Brother awards.

* No, not “Joost the Shellfish”; if you must know, it’s more like “Joost the Haddock”!

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Fox Among the Nuclear Chickens

Monday, September 27th, 2010

The alert came today in a brief article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant: Pakistan has been picked as chairman of the Board of Governors of the IAEA, the Vienna-based international agency charged as the watchdog against any use of nuclear energy for military purposes, even as at the same time it is supposed to promote it for peaceful uses.

For anyone reasonably informed about recent nuclear weapons history, the name “Pakistan” does call forth many associations – but all of them related precisely to the sort of nuclear misuse that the IAEA is supposed to stop. Admittedly, the Volkskrant piece does devote a full three-quarters of its exiguous length to listing some of these doubts: Pakistan has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; Pakistan has been locked in a dangerous nuclear stand-off with arch-rival India ever since first conducting nuclear explosions in 1998; the Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was primarily responsible not only for his own country gaining a nuclear weapons capability, but also (for a price) North Korea, Libya (since dismantled) and potentially Iran.

Still, the irony of another Pakistani being chosen to chair the IAEA’s governors was better captured by the lead paragraph in this report from the AFP (and not just because it’s in English):

VIENNA, Austria — Pakistan, which refuses to sign the nuclear [sic] Non-Proliferation Treaty and was home to a notorious nuclear smuggling ring, was named head of the UN nuclear watchdog’s governing board here Monday.

The AFP also judiciously supplements the previous reasons to doubt Pakistan’s anti-nuclear credentials with the additional fact that that country’s atomic weapons stockpiles are now the focus of widespread worry that they will somehow fall into Taliban and/or Al-Qaeda hands.

Yet, strangely, the tail-end of this AFP piece describes how many at the top levels of international nuclear policy find this new situation not to be at all unusual. “They are a member” of the IAEA after all, notes one diplomat, quoted anonymously. And the US ambassador to the IAEA declares that “The United States of America looks forward very much to working with the Pakistani governor as chairman of the board of governors.” In this light, appointing a Greenlander, say, to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization would be positively a breath of fresh air; at least no Greenlander has been known to go around burning grain warehouses to the ground.

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Coot Report

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

A brief mention here of an article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw that just might represent something quintessentially Dutch. It’s actually in the paper’s Groen! (“Green!”) section, which makes a lot of sense since it’s mainly a report – on the website of a major national newspaper, mind you – about the fortunes of a pair of common waterfowl, specifically two coots. Reporter Koos Dijksterhuis’ lede:

The coots had already been busy for weeks with the defense of their nest. Every presumed enemy was driven away with elan by a fierce flapping of wings. Finally the family swam around, but with seven chicks.

And so on, continuing to the depiction of an idyllic family meal. But it’s hardly all sweetness and light. There’s mention of parent coots even pecking their young to death if they find them too much trouble, but in this case things don’t come to that. Instead, Dijksterhuis notes that none of the seven chicks are to be seen after only five days, victims of one predator or another. Especially suspicious as culprits are the sea gulls (specifically, black-backed gulls), which have even been known to hunt young coot chicks in pairs: the first swoops over, prompting the chick to dive in panic, but then the second is there to snatch it when it resurfaces.

Dijksterhuis goes on to note that he sees many more such gulls than he can recall in the past. Is it because of the prey of this sort that they can find inland, or something else? Anyway, note well that this piece – labeled natuurdagboek or “nature diary,” so that it seems to be part of a series – appeared the very same day as nationalwide elections were happening here in the Netherlands. The “printing” capacity of the Internet is truly without limit.

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Dutch Ready to Legalize All Drugs?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Who knows? It’s seems more possible than it has been before – even in the Netherlands, with its softer-than-usual policy towards such things as marijuana – after an opinion piece (Save the country, allow drugs), co-written by some local political notables, appeared yesterday in the leading quality newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad. Among the article’s nine co-signatories, the ones that stand out above the rest are probably Dr. Els Borst-Eilers and Ms. Hedy d’Ancona, both former national Ministers of Health, and most definitely Prof. Frits Bolkestein, former Dutch Eurocommissioner, former Minister of Defense, and one of the most influential politicians on the national scene in the last twenty years.

Even here, such a policy suggestion is highly controversial and, in view of the high-profile names attached to it, it immediately provoked comment within the Dutch press – from within the NRC itself, of course, but also in the form of a press-agency treatment available in other newspapers, among which Trouw (Bolkestein wants to legalize all drugs). (more…)

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To Wilders Or Not To Wilders

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

A quick mention here of the interesting recent article from the Amsterdam weekly De Groene Amsterdammer about the evolution and impact on Danish politics of the Dansk Folkeparti, or Danish People’s Party. That’s the main anti-immigrant party there, which nonetheless in the mere 15 years since its founding has attained a powerful and even respected position within the edifice of Danish politics, as the article describes very clearly.

But just don’t take my word for this, even if you can’t read Dutch. In fact, I first became aware myself of this piece from an English translation posted on the Presseurop site. There’s just one main discrepancy that I can see, though. That Danish People’s Party: why would De Groene Amsterdammer happen to be writing about them just now? Silly – there’s a general election about to occur here in the Netherlands on June 9, and one of its biggest sub-plots is how favorable the results will turn out to be for the PVV or Party for Freedom, which, yes, is the main anti-immigrant party in this country. Indeed, the lede to De Groene Amsterdammer’s piece cites the Dansk Folkeparti as “a beautiful source of inspiration” for Geert Wilders, the PVV’s leader.

On the other hand, the Presseurop piece makes no mention at all of the PVV! I must ask: why? Because English-language-only readers should not have their intellects burdened further with an additional consideration such as this? Because it would just not be “politically correct,” due to the PVV’s shady reputation in many circles, to mention what is – after all – the really sole motivation for why this particular article appeared in De Groene Amsterdammer at this particular time? I hate to break it to the Presseurop editors but, although the Dutch and the Danish feel quite a bit of common cultural make-up between them, the Dutch (at least) are not terribly interested in the details of the Danish political system or its workings for most of the time!

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Give Us Less WWII – But Also More

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

It’s now early May, the time of year when many West European countries celebrate their liberation at the end of World War II. Today is in fact Liberation Day in the Netherlands, a public holiday, while yesterday was Dodenherdenkingdag – Day for the Remembrance of the Dead. And at a ceremony in The Hague a certain Eberhard van der Laan, a former government minister for the Dutch Labor Party, gave an interesting, even provocative speech (covered here in the Algemeen Dagblad) calling for a line of a certain sort to be drawn under the WWII experience so that society can finally move on.

The “hook” to Van der Laan’s speech, as it were, was the fact that it has now been 65 years since the end of the war – that’s the standard retirement age, at least within Europe, so why don’t we finally put WWII out to retirement as well? With this, the ex-politician was giving voice to what many in Europe surely have always thought in secret about the War (especially those too young to have lived through it): for how long will we have to keep paying respect, keep letting it influence our lives? It’s a very pertinent question, especially when applied to Germany and the issue of when, if ever, the guilt for what that nation perpetrated will finally be washed away and made irrelevant through the eroding effect of all the passing years. (more…)

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