Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cafe de Klos - Google Maps

Cafe de Klos, Kerkstraat 41 Amsterdam - 020 6253730

I've just added the Google Map App at the bottom of the screen. Hopefully I'll be able to tweak it eventually and add some favorite spots.

Actually it could have a *sweet* journalistic purpose: if I can figure out how to tag all the places where gangland killings have happened, it might work as a multimedia addition to a story.

Note: TeleAtlas, recently bid for by TomTom, is the supplier of Google's Amsterdam maps. Google's also doing a cool 3-D imaging thing with Amsterdam's buildings that I'll post about if I can ever figure out how exactly it works.

Anyhow, my first use for the Map App will be for a restaurant recommendation for anybody who's coming to Amsterdam and not afraid of a little meat (pork).

Check out Cafe de Klos for the most kick-ass ribs in the city. In fact, they are an official purveyor to the House of Orange as well. But that's not the point.

The point is, just go there and order the ribs (just plain old ribs, not smoked). The cost is around 15 euros, and you're in heaven. Plus a couple more for the beers obviously.

Yuppies: check out 'Klokspijs' MORE

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dylan Project - Forever Young

The song "Forever Young," is not a typical Dylan song _ what is? _ but it's a masterpiece.

It was released on "Planet Waves" in 1974, after he was past his prime. That version, although widely played, is not very good.

It's the demo version that I love, and I have no idea when it was recorded. Much earlier, by the sounds of it.

It's obviously one of his most melodic songs.

But the lyrics are the best thing about "Forever Young." It's 'right on target, so direct.' Simple and profound. Nothing weird, abstract or tangential here, I think you'll agree.

In all, the closest comparison with this song in spirit and style would probably be "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."

It's addressed to a young person, implying an older narrator.

I'm going to post the whole song, and see if it gets me in trouble; my reasoning is, it's hard to get your hands on this version anyway, and anybody reading this will know it's good publicity for Dylan. So listen here.

It's like your grandpa has put his hands on your cheeks, is looking you in the eye, and is giving you all his good will and advice.

"May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true."


"May you always do for others
And let others do for you."

The idea is a riff on 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' But in this case, it's a challenge to help make this world a better place. In the end, what more important lesson can a parent teach a child?

"Let others do for you." Accept that 'no man is an island,' and everybody has to ask for help sometimes. Don't be proud.

Next, the song leaps in pitch, paralleling the leap into the poetic sky the words themselves take. John Donne would have prolly would have understood and approved:

"May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung, and
May you stay forever young."

Achieve your dreams, but keep the outlook you had as a child.

The next verse begins with the two wishes,
"May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,"

These are unsettling because we live in a cynical age. We'd be embarrassed to ask somebody to be brave, strong, and true. And 'righteous' _ it has religious overtones. But to a child, these idealistic requests can be made without sarcasm or cynicism. A young person can really be these things, before the world spoils him. I vividly remember Ross McCall standing up to a bully back in Jr. High. Man, it was something to behold.

"May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young."

The final verse has two more pearls:

"May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift."

Indeed. Life is short. Be doing.

"May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung, and
May you stay forever young."

As if a human being, like a chord, could vibrate with joy his entire life. I get chills every time I hear this. And that was before I had any children.

May your song always be sung...

For the full background to this project, click here

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Crime and Punishment

Hundreds of Moroccans march in Amsterdam, Jan. 21, 2005, to mourn the death of a young man.

Amsterdam's district attorney has decided to prosecute the woman who, in 2005 _ when the country was turned upside down because of the Van Gogh murder _ chased down a 19-year-old Moroccan guy who stole her purse, and crushed him to death with her car.

The question of whether this was an accident is now for a court to decide.

There's a sad logic to how it all happened: can't we just imagine her seeing red over having some punk grab her purse? What was her day like up until then? What crimes had she been victim of in the past?

And who doesn't sympathize even more with the young man and his family _ he was in the bloom of his youth, probably at a turning point between whether he would get through his delinquent phase and become a productive member of society _ or a career criminal _ and he paid for a petty crime with his life.

They say there's no more traumatic experience a human can have than for a parent to lose a child of that age.

The Guardian version.

I wasn't out snatching purses when I was 19, but I was certainly no angel at age 17. Who knows how this guy would have turned out?

I don't understand the spinelessness of the prosecutors, who have basically said "we're going to charge her with everything from murder on down to reckless driving, and let the judge decide what the penalty is."

They are prosecutors. After two years of investigating, it's insane to just come out with this kind of blanket accusation. Either they think she's done something seriously wrong, or they don't and leave her alone. Choose.

What's unforgettable is the politicians who took advantage of the opportunity to yell from the rooftops that that this was Ali el Bejjati's "Eigen Schuld" _ meaning, his own fault. There were votes to be had that way, no doubt.

I tried contacting her lawyer for a comment, without success. I saw him quoted elsewhere saying that Germaine just wanted to rewind her life to the day before this all happened. I can imagine.

The 'kicker' to this story, by the way, is that after the incident, Germaine C. reportedly went to school to become a driving instructor.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dylan Project FAQ - My Back Pages


I've been meaning to get this personal project off the ground. And when I say personal, I mean: sharing something that has brought me deep private pleasure with others who might not otherwise experience it.

To wit: Bob Dylan's music. I want to inspire others to appreciate how profoundly good it is.

You might think this is a silly idea. Everybody knows Bob Dylan, and what a great artist he is. Praising him is like saying Shakespeare was a good playwright.

Actually, that's not a bad comparison in some ways, and I'll come back to it.
"The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good - in spite of all the people who say he is very good." -Robert Graves.
Dylan is different, in that everybody knows who he is, but there's also an unusually large group of people that think he's terrible and can't stand him. A few people might tell you Shakespeare is boring, or they can't be bothered to watch the plays because the language is too hard to understand. And there's some truth to that, of course. But not many people think he's worthless, since his place at the "white hot center" of the literary canon is undisputed.

Dylan, not so.

I'm not being defensive about liking Dylan's music when I know lots of people don't. The saying "there's no disputing tastes" has an equivalent in every language.
But I suspect many of the people who don't like him have been too quick to judge, perhaps on the basis of his voice, or having heard a couple of the most overplayed songs too often. Given a little push in the right direction, they might turn around and derive the mountains of enjoyment from him that I have.

Moreover, a few of my friends who like some of Dylan's songs don't 'get it,' about why I'm so deeply moved by him, and have asked me to explain or recommend a few good numbers, so that maybe they'll see what I'm talking about.

Well, okay. But just naming a list of my favorite songs isn't going to work.

I 'don't get it' about religion, yoga, psychology, shopping or watching sports. I've tried to appreciate these things a bit on my own, but so far, nothing has stuck.

However, I accept that I'm probably wrong about yoga, on the basis of one of my axioms: anything that lots of people expend lots of energy, thought and time on, must have value.

So what's needed with Dylan is a more thorough introduction, and a guide. Once you get into it, then you start to see the value.

I also used to think business and economics were pretty boring subjects. Then I became a financial reporter, and after I started to see how all the pieces of the clockwork fit together, my viewpoint changed utterly. Now the more I know about the way capitalism works, the more fascinating it becomes. For better or for worse, corporations shape almost everything about the world we live in, and I can no longer imagine my mental landscape without an appreciation and understanding of them.

So I take it that the reason I don't understand religion or appreciate sports is that I simply don't have the right preparation.

Dylan, like some other great musicians, has a high barrier to entry. I don't think this is intentional on his part, incidentally, I think it's just bound up with his character.
I acquired my taste for him the long way around: by rejecting him. I've had similar reactions to other musicians that struck me kind of funny at first but who I eventually came to love: Stephen Sondheim (atonal), the Beastie Boys (nasal) and Mozart (too many notes).

But Dylan came to me in the right moment _ a very specific moment in my life, when I was in deep pain from a bad break up. I started listening to Blood on the Tracks, I suddenly got the hook, and there was no un-hooking.

Dylan's voice can be grating. His lyrics can appear nonsensical, or be nonsensical, or wost of all, lazy and self-indulgent. Certainly not all of his music is very good. Some is bad. Some is very bad. I mostly like his early 60's stuff, with important exceptions.

They said of Shakespeare that he never had to re-write a line. "'Would he had blotted a thousand.'" said Ben Jonson, his rival and friend. But Jonson also called Shakespeare "a monument without a tomb," because despite having "small Latin, and less Greek," he playing a completely different game to some of his competitors, trying to, kick free of the ground. "He was not of an age, but for all time."

"My conceit of his person was never increased ... by his place or honours; but I have and do reverence him ... in that he seemed to me ever by his work one of the greatest men, and most worthy of admiration, that had been in many ages. In his adversity I ever prayed that God would give him strength; for greatness he could not want." -Ben Jonson.

So, too with Dylan. You have to ignore the 1,000 lines he should have blotted ("the pumps don't work because the vandals took the handles") and his other failings. Actually you may even learn to love his idiosyncrasies.

Shakespeare, too, had weird artistic habits. To name one of many, he would state the most ambiguous things in the plainest monosyllabic English, I guess as a way of laying the contradiction bare. So in Othello, I-ago says "I am not what I am." (NOT: "I am not what I seem").

Dylan has his artistic habits, the weak voice (especially on the high notes) masked by speak-singing, the fading/flattening after each emphasized word "I wAnt yOu...sOh bAd."
The whole "You'll find out when you reach the top, you are on the bottom" idea isn't that clever and it's repeated about a hundred times in different songs..

This just reminds me that Dylan, like Shakespeare, Mozart, or whatever great artist you choose, is only human.

The flaws and failings of people with great talent are so outshone, so dwarfed by the epic, stunning, absolute brilliance of what they do when they're at their best, that it makes us feel magnified in their presence, impotent in their shadow, proud of our race and aware of its limits, all at once.

"Music," says Ben Levine, "is emotion." Shakespeare says music is the highest of the arts because it "it alone is high fantastical," i.e., purely abstract.

That may be true of music, but not so of song, and certainly not so of Dylan. Along with the music, he delivers story, poetry and character, with timing, nuance and subtle variation. Like Shakespeare, he can "sing both high and low." His music is emotion, but not raw emotion. Well-cured emotion.

"I'll know my song well, before I start singing."

-Dylan ("A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall").

My very favorite Shakespearean sonnet ends with the couplet:
"This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong /
to love that well which thou must leave ere long."

It's about an old couple who will die soon, and know they have to love each other as much as they can now. I've never been in that particular situation, but the poem makes me feel what that's like. Compassion. Metempsychosis. We are all that old couple too, no? Mutatis Mutandis?

So, too with Dylan at his best. He speaks to parts of my life that I've lived, and others that I still have to go through, and quite a few that I probably never will, but though him, I experience nonetheless.

So much for the preface.

The specifics of the project are, I'll post about some of the Dylan songs that I love, and try to explain exactly why, in essays much briefer than this one.

If I can figure out the technical side of things, I'll include as much of the clips or lyrics as I can without infringing copyright.

And I'll hyperlink around from song to song to create a web of Dylan's work _ it's the totality of what's he's done, as much as any one song, that makes me, for lack of better words, respect and admire him.

I called this backgrounder "My Back Pages" for several reasons: first, because the title fits.

It suggests how subjective and bound up with biography this project is. There are so many people out there who know so much more about Dylan, and music, than I do. I'm a "self-ordained professor's tongue," really, just a casual listener. All I have to contribute is my ears, mind, and heart.

As far as the song goes, it's typical of the "good" Dylan, but not great. The lyrics are too recondite. The music shows off some of the jazz-like variation he throws into an otherwise repetitive line (get a copy of the full song and listen to how differently he sings the word that rhymes with "how" each time it occurs).

It appears to be a song of regret over both his youthful certainty about the world, and the loss of it, something that I can definitely identify with.

But I have to admit I'm not sure, which is also why it's an appropriate song to begin with.

Maybe I just need to study the song better in order to get the point. Dylan can be more exact in what he's doing than you're expecting sometimes. "Tambourine Man", (unfortunately way overplayed), is one example of a song whose meaning is absolutely crystal clear, and non-psychedelic. But you have to think about it a little bit to get the message.

Anyhow, once I knew everything. Now that I've unfigured it all out, I reckon there are probably a lot of other people out there who either think they know it all and don't _ or don't realize that what they do know is all there is.

In other words, I'm ready to open up my back pages and make a fool of myself.

The music clip:

"But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."


Floating Phallus (no Phileas Fogg)

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's an enormous penis! Kids, look the other way.

Good fun and sex ed at the Zwarte Cross festival today.

The International Herald Tribune knows a quality story when it sees one...

Apparently the workers of Virgin Balloons Benelux had a little trouble getting the thing inflated, and for a while it looked like it was going to lie there, flaccid, in a field. But once it was erect, it stabilized and floated away without trouble. MORE

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rotten Cops - II

Here Amsterdam's finest are just doing their job, that doesn't worry me.
What does worry me: an announcement from the National Public Prosecutor's office today (my translation):

"Amsterdam Police arrested three translators yesterday and interrogated them on suspicion of perjury. This concerns falsifying information from wiretaps."
"They were translators for various Amsterdam police investigations."
The release doesn't say, but Dutch media are widely reporting, this is part of the investigation into the gangland killings that have been going on here for some time.

The bodies have been hitting the pavement thick and fast in recent years. It's gotten so bloody that entrepreneurs have started offering guided tours of the crime scenes.

But what's scary is this issue of police corruption. The real estate magnate Willem Endstra was executed in 2004 shortly after he agreed to talk with investigators.

Later, the tapes of that interview _ recorded in the back of a patrol car _ were leaked, and were so widely distributed that they were eventually transcribed into a book that's become a best-seller.

If the police are rotten _ and I'm not saying they are, but if they are, or if even some are _ where can you turn when you get in trouble?

Click on "More" for a little list of recent officer dismissals I've worked up, and tell me if you think Amsterdam has a problem...

"Butenfuctiestelling" is a fancy pants way of saying "Fired for misconduct"...
Apologies I can't translate the whole thing, but I'll put the cause after each.

Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam-Amstelland (21/06/2007)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft op woensdag 20 juni een 37-jarige medewerker buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om een hoofdagent werkzaam bij de dienst Regionale Recherche. Hij wordt verdacht van ernstig plichtsverzuim.

"Serious dereliction of duty"

Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam-Amstelland (21/02/2007)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft dinsdag 20 februari jl. een 23-jarige politiemedewerker in opleiding buiten functie gesteld. Haar wordt verweten, ongewenste criminele contacten te onderhouden.

"Keeping undesireable criminal contacts"

Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam-Amstelland (19/02/2007)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft vrijdag 16 februari een medewerker buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om een administratief medewerker werkzaam aan het derde district die verdacht wordt van het onderhouden van ongewenste contacten.

"Undesireable contacts"

Buitenfunctiestellingen / Amsterdam (15/11/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft gisteren twee medewerkers in opleiding buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om twee politieassistenten in opleiding (19 en 20 jaar) die verdacht worden van ernstig plichtsverzuim en ongewenste omgangsvormen. Tegen de twee medewerkers is een strafrechtelijk onderzoek gestart.

"Serious dereliction of duty and undesired behavior" (2x)

Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam (25/10/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft een medewerkster buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om een 24-jarige generaliste in opleiding. Zij wordt verdacht van schending van het ambtsgeheim.

"Revealing secrets"

Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam - Amstelland (06/10/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft vandaag een medewerker buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om 46-jarige inspecteur werkzaam bij de dienst Centrale Recherche. Hij wordt verdacht van valsheid in geschrifte.


De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft donderdag 28 september een 24-jarige surveillant in opleiding buiten functie gesteld. De man wordt verdacht van mishandeling (buiten diensttijd).

"Assault (while off-duty)"

Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam-Amstelland (06/09/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft maandag 4 september een 55-jarige medewerker buiten functie gesteld. De man wordt verdacht van diefstal c.q. verduistering in dienstbetrekking. Hij is werkzaam in district 4 (Zuid).

"Theft, namely embezzlement. "

Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam-Amstelland (29/08/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft maandag 28 augustus een 51-jarige medewerker buiten functie gesteld. De man wordt verdacht van verduistering in dienstbetrekking. Hij is werkzaam in district 4 (Zuid).


De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft dinsdag 1 augustus een medewerker buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om een 45-jarige medewerker werkzaam bij de dienst Materielë Ondersteuning. Hij wordt verdacht van diefstal.


Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam (26/07/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft een medewerkster buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om een 25-jarige operationeel assistent bij de dienst Executieve Ondersteuning. Zij wordt verdacht van schending van het ambtsgeheim.

"Revealing secrets"

Buitenfunctiestelling/Amsterdam (25/07/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft een medewerkster buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om 55-jarige administratiev...

Whoops, that one got cut off. There were a bunch of drug use / confiscation violations I didn't bother saving, because: it's Amsterdam, right?

Buitenfunctiestelling / Amsterdam (19/07/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft een medewerker buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om 23-jarige surveillant in opleiding. Zij wordt verdacht van schending van het ambtsgeheim.

"Revealing secrets"

Buitenfunctiestellingen / Amsterdam-Amstelland (06/07/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft gisteren twee medewerkers buiten functie gesteld. Het gaat om een 53-jarige brigadier werkzaam bij Bureau Ondersteuning in district 1 (centrum) Hij wordt verdacht van schending van het ambtsgeheim. Een 48-jarige inspecteur werkzaam op een wijkteambureau in district 1 (centrum) wordt verdacht van mishandeling.

"Revealing secrets (1) and assault (1)"

Medewerker geschorst / Amsterdam-Amstelland (04/07/2006)
De korpsleiding van de regiopolitie Amsterdam-Amstelland heeft gisteren een 36-jarige hoofdinspecteur geschorst. Hij wordt verdacht van ongewenste omgangsvormen.

"Undesirable behavior."

Those were just the ones I happened to see floating past in the daily blotter.

National police message, 28-06-2007 •

"In 2006 there were 113 police officers fired nationwide for violations of integrity. In addition, there were 64 agents provisionally suspended and 42 quit voluntarily during an investigation. In 2006 there were in total 1,393 investigations, in which 1,495 police were involved. In 699 cases the suspicions were unfounded or unproven. In 180 cases there were criminal acts, and in 507 there were derelictions of duty."

Food for thought?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


interesting group of Dutch artists called "Mediamatic" said last week they wanted to create an art project whereby they would do a mockup of "Hema," _ the Dutch equivalent of Macy's _ in Arabic style.
So, in typical corporate fashion, especially Dutch corporate fashion, Hema first freaked out, then started threatening lawsuits, drew a lot of attention to the project, and then (predictably) backed down.

"It is unmistakable that Mediamatic is unjustly trying to hook into the concepts developed by the Hema. This can confuse the public, and is completely unacceptable"
I have a dream, and it's that someday, press relations 'professionals' will be forced to attend a class where they will be drilled on such damage control concepts as:

  • 'Threatening Lawsuits Will Draw Attention You May Not Want'
  • 'When Issuing A Press Release, Include A Contact Person and Phone Number'
  • 'Make Sure The Contact Person Is Available Shortly After Your Release is Issued'
  • 'Make Sure Your Spokesperson Has Been Prepped on the Topic of the Day'
  • 'A Press Relations Officer's Primary Function Is To Communicate With, Not Hinder, The Press'
  • 'When a Crisis Strikes, Hiding And Being Unavailable Doesn't Improve The Situation'
  • Lying Is Not A Good Option'
  • oh yeah and
  • 'Worst Out First'

Not that the above applies to Hema, but their reversal on this was highly predictable. The subtext of their initial panic was a desire to prevent their company being brought into connection with Islam in any way. Not out of prejudice, mind you, just out of mindless corporate fear of anything controversial.

After about three seconds of consideration, Hema might have realized that artists making an exhibit of what a store would look like after being Islamicized clearly falls under freedom of speech rules. If nothing else, it could be considered satire.

But in this case it seems like good old fashioned social criticism...

Another way Hema could have looked at the situation: FREE, HARMLESS PUBLICITY.

Another: Endorsing the project, and engaging in the public dialogue over integration and cultural exchange between different parts of the Dutch populace would not only be the right thing to do, but it might actually enhance the store's reputation.

Mediamatic has some more on the situation here. Their English is a little funky but they do great work...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Subterranean Amsterdam Blues

Amsterdam's getting a new metro line, which is pretty cool. It's screwing up traffic all around the city for TEN YEARS, which is less so.

"Archaeologists can't wait for the tunneling to begin at the Damrak, which was once the harbor where the Amstel River met the Ij, leading out to the North Sea. In the 1600s, countless ships returning from the East Indies docked there, making Amsterdam _ the dam on the Amstel _ one of the world's wealthiest cities."

-Associated Press

Washington Post article

Here's a link to a pretty awesome English language film about the construction.

If you go to Centraal Station, they have a display on some of the stuff they've already found. Bottles of booze, lots of knives (guess Amsterdam was once a place with lots of sailor brawling), an old pewter brooch from someone who was a member of a riflemen's guild _ sorry, that's 'ye olde riflemen's guilde' _ of St. Joris and the Dragon, dated to 1450. Who knew they even had rifles in the 15th century?

They also have some more recent stuff on display, including some German dude's Diner's Club card, dated to Feb., 1973.

So if Mr. Harald Schtuperr of Hamburg, Germany is still looking for that card _ it's on display at Amsterdam CS.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sour Grapes

This bottle of antacids is yours for a mere EUR6.25 in Amsterdam. That's US$8.63 for purposes of comparison.

Now, knowing that it could be had for, let's say, a third of that price in the U.S. is somewhat galling. On the other hand, a single Tum (plural is Tums, right?) can mean the difference between a night of no sleep and a night of good sleep for me, so at US$0.08 per visit from Morpheus, you'd have to say it's quite reasonable.

Apart from pointing out that there's an opportunity for a clever importer to strike it rich here, the larger issue I want to raise is the double standard you find in the Netherlands about drugs.

Many's the time I've been walking down the street at any time of the day or night and heard the words "Psst! Coke, Speed, Ecstasy?" murmured at me from a shady character.
And who among us can honestly say they haven't been out there on the corner themselves hustling crack when money was tight?

But try to extract even Tylenol (or paracetamol, as it's known here) from anywhere but a drugstore here and you are out of luck. If the store is open, you can pick up 10 pills for EUR2.50 (US$3.45), and you can't buy more than that in one go. Wouldn't want a lot of Tylenol addicts on our hands, would we?

Would you perhaps care to have the option of employing painkillers while giving birth? If you haven't arranged it ahead of time, nothing short of a C-section while pry them from a doctor's fingers in the heat of the moment.

As a final anecdote, I recently went to the dentist for the first time in six years (it's a real pain in the beautocks trying to figure out the health system here as a furriner) and I had to have two fillings.
The dentist asks me whether I want Novocaine.

"What's the alternative," says I.
"Not having Novocaine." says he.
Ah. That would be a "yes," then.


Groenink strikes back

A fascinating interview with ABN Amro CEO Rijkman Groenink (see earlier post "hero or goat") in today's NRC Handelsblad, and a good scoop for the paper.

Unfortunately it's all in Dutch _ somebody would do the banking world a favor if they would translate it into English, but I couldn't do that here without violating fair use rules, I don't think.

Suffice it to say, he continues to prefer Barclays as a merger partner, despite the financially much better offer from the RBS consortium, which he views as hostile.

"The Consortium doesn't need to be concerned with us (management) at all, and it hasn't, right up to this moment. Even the discussion with the employees was done (over our heads) directly with the unions. I wouldn't call these negotiations, because they aren't: there's a un-asked-for and complete offer on the table, and we have nothing to say about it _ at most, we can say that we find some things unacceptable and that we'll make that public soon if we don't like it."


Here's a link to the AP writeup in the Herald Tribune
He also says in the interview that:

-the talks were "businesslike" and he wasn't directly involved (no surprise there; the board committee is handling talks from here on out).

-ABN 'has performed fine with respect to comparable European banks.'

(there's truth in that _ in terms of financial returns, but not share price, I think, and that's what turned the company into prey. One wonders: would Groenink not be trying to acquire Fortis if it were on the ropes?).

-the Supreme Court decision "completely supported us"

(again, there's obviously truth in that: the decision said they had the legal right to sell LaSalle. But he doesn't mention the advice of the Attorney General, which declined to comment on whether the sale was a good or fair decision from a shareholders' perspective).

-He makes a good point that there hasn't been nearly the protectionist outcry in the Netherlands about 'losing' the country's largest retail bank that you might hear in France or even the U.S.

Imagine in the U.S. if Bank of America Corp. were bought by a Japanese bank.

For some people, the lack of worry by even the country's Socialist Party should be a compliment to the Dutch capitalist trading nation spirit. In any event it's probably a bit disingenuous of Groenink to suggest that ABN will be destroyed in the Netherlands by an acquisition _ whether it's Barclays-ABN or Fortis-ABN, the core business in Holland (and each region) will survive largely intact.

-Finally, one thing that came as a surprise to me was an NRC assertion that many Dutch ABN employees actually prefer Fortis to Barclays as a partner. Groenink seems to agree, saying "of course in a merger some divisions aren't so thrilled with the new partner," and that it boils down to who's likely to lose jobs, which vary in each scenario.

For me, the 1+1=2 logic has always been that the Fortis merger will lead to layoffs in the Netherlands as they combine retail branch offices, but I've never seen an analyst report breaking it down, and Fortis says otherwise. And it's true that having the Barclays headquarters in Amsterdam would boost the city's standing as a financial center.

Well, we'll see if Barclays doesn't have a last ace up its sleeve before the game is over.

In all, good fun on a Saturday.


Friday, July 20, 2007

John Bolton vs. Ad Melkert

Politics bore everybody, but I think this falls more into the category of gossip. Anyway it's unreportable so far from a professional perspective.

Former U.S. Ambsassador to the U.N. John Bolton told Dutch NOVA news last night that Ad Melkert should be fired from the UNDP for being "undiplomatic."

Paradoxically, that's the accusation you used to hear leveled at Bolton before he retired to spend more time with his family.

The UNDP may or may not have given money improperly to North Korea in recent years, depending on who you listen to.

Melkert is a name few non-Dutch will know. So here are a few piquant facts:

1) before moving over to the UNDP, he was chairman of the World Bank's Ethics committee and played a not insignificant role in the ouster of Paul Wolfowitz. If I recall the chain of events correctly, when Wolfowitz asked Melkert for advice on what to do about his girlfriend, Melkert told him that was his problem. Wolfowitz then decided to give her a big raise and a new job. When poop and fan collided, Wolfowitz said Melkert had approved of this, which Melkert roundly denied.

In summary, while Wolfowitz and Bolton share a friendship, Wolfowitz and Melkert do not.

2) Secondarily, Melkert was the Labor (read: Democrat) politican whose career in the Netherlands was ended by the abrupt rise of populist Pim Fortuyn. Melkert's party got creamed in the 2002 elections after Fortuyn's murder, and there were some who said _ rightly or wrongly _ that Melkert's dismissive attitude toward Fortuyn contributed to Fortuyn's appeal and tacitly encouraged leftists, multiculturalists, and animal rights activists to despise him.


Thursday, July 19, 2007


"After one goose lunges at a passing jogger, attempting to bite his legs, Hof approaches the troublemaker for a little chat. To show he's a friend, he squats to goose level and cups his hand to look like a goose head, forefingers extended like a beak. He raises his arm up and down, mimicking a bobbing goose head; the goose follows it with her own head."
-Associated Press

Quite an experience working with this extraordinary individual, not to mention photos and a tv crew. Bracing for my multimedia future _ I also have a few good action shots of Hof in action, if I can figure out how to get them off my mobile phone...

Spiked 1

Tiptoe through the tulips, the old song advises, but in the Netherlands, watch out for the narcotics.

Police in the city of Aalsmeer _ on the outskirts of Amsterdam, where the world's largest daily auction of cut flowers takes place _ said Wednesday they had recently seized a major drugs stash "on a number of pallets of flowers that were intended for export."

In all, they destroyed 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of cocaine and amphetamines, and another 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of marijuana and hashish with a street value of more than €5 million (US$6.9 million).

Three suspects were arrested.
The drugs were discovered July 10 when a delivery service noticed there was a large discrepancy between the expected and actual weight of the pallets.

Don't click because there is no MORE

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Feeling Cheap

Just sent out invitations to a bunch of people I know, or used to know, or kind of know, or who are my best friends, asking them to join my "Linked In" network.

Anybody else feel pressured to do this? It's a rotten world, but I'm already participating a little bit, so as James Joyce put it,

"all or not at all."

Only as I recall, Joyce chose 'not at all.'

Don't click because there is no MORE

Sunday, July 15, 2007

ABN CEO Rijkman Groenink, Genius or Goat?

This story has been dragging on for months now, but an end is in sight:

"The ruling clears away legal uncertainties and any bidder wishing to purchase ABN Amro's remaining operations -- plus the $21 billion in cash it is getting for LaSalle -- can step forward.

British bank Barclays PLC has the inside track. It already has agreed with ABN's management to buy the bank in an all-share deal worth 63.7 billion euros ($87.6 billion).

But a rival consortium led by Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, which had hoped to acquire LaSalle as well, said Friday it will bid before a July 23 deadline."

-Associated Press

So, there are few who will care to know the intricacies of this case, but the bottom line is, ABN Amro CEO Rijkman Groenink agreed to sell his bank's U.S. arm LaSalle for $21 billion in four days time.

Was that a stroke of genius, or mismanagement?

RBS will now probably bid EUR1 per share less for ABN ex-LaSalle (a number that is buried deep in their preparatory bidding documents) than otherwise. If that turns out to be true, Groenink will have lost around 3 percent for shareholders by favoring what he knew was very likely to be a worse deal.

His reasons have never been fully explained; he said he believes the worse deal will be better for ABN in the long run, but pretty much everybody else (analysts, employees, customers) disagrees or is neutral. He personally stands to LOSE money as a result, so you can't accuse him of financial self-interest. One possibility is that this was an ego-driven patriotic self-interest in preserving some kind of 'legacy' of ABN.

If so, that's weak for any number of reasons. Not least: in my experience, nobody is going to feel much nostalgia if ABN disappears completely.

On the other hand, at least Groenink made sure ABN got a reasonable price for LaSalle. At the shareholders meeting, he was challenged that only a fool would sell something worth $21 billion after four days of negotiations.

Groenink's response: (paraphrased) 'I wouldn't be prepared to buy something valuable that I don't own after four days of due diligence. But I would be prepared to sell something I do own and know the true value of.'

I think he can make a fair argument he knew _ or thought he knew _ what he was doing, even if later events prove(d) him wrong. At least he got a sane price for LaSalle, even if it enraged shareholders and brought a legal hell down around the company.

It's noteworthy that the CFO jumped ship very, very soon after this decision was made, and the board stepped in to handle future negotiations _ essentially putting Groenink on the sidelines.

After Friday's court ruling, the shareholders rights group VEB complained bitterly that the law allowing management to make major strategic decisions without shareholder consent ought to be changed.
Under the current system, management is expected to inform shareholders about its general intentions, but in the end it can generally do what it likes. Shareholders' only recourse is to throw the bums (well, the bums supervising the bums) out if they disagree.

I've heard impassioned arguments on either side of the argument as to whether that structure should be changed.

Et Tu?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Red Light Crackdown

"With its scantily clad prostitutes posing in brothel windows and coffee shops oozing the pungent aroma of marijuana smoke, the area's seediness has always been part of its attraction."

-Associated Press

Link to full story after the jump, if you're feeling like you want

Washington Post

The Goose Whisperer Cometh

What these geese lack is leadership.

For now, I can say no more...


Monday, July 9, 2007

I want to ride my bicycle

Obviously, I need a little work on my camera skills.

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down, especially when both come at once.

However, this is the kind of story that's extremely easy to write.

This is also one of the things that I love about Dutch culture, without reservation, and about my job: my commute is 10 minutes by bike through scenic Amsterdam.

"Bakfietsen have been around for decades, used mostly by left-wing Amsterdam residents and squatters. Since the turn of the century however, they have become mainstream.
In the wealthier neighborhoods, having a high-quality model has become something of a status symbol among young urban professionals, who deck them out with chrome finishes and various accessories. Rain covers are a must.
``I see more of them all the time,'' said florist Samira Sindaba, a bakfiets owner who runs the ``Happy Flower,'' a stand on a busy corner in the east of Amsterdam. ``My daughter - she's 6 - she thinks it's fantastic.''
Her bakfiets, a top model, cost $2,700 new, and it's insured like a car. "
-Associated Press

Guardian story

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Yellow Journalism, Blue World

"Police in the Dutch city of Eindhoven have arrested a man suspected of attempting to defraud the parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann.
The 39-year-old man, whose name was not released, allegedly pretended to know that Madeleine had been kidnapped and to know the whereabouts of her and her abductors. He demanded a payment of US$2.7 million in return for the information, a prosecution statement said.
After his arrest on Wednesday, the man confessed to making the whole story up, and there is no evidence he was involved in her abduction or has any actual information about her whereabouts, prosecutors said."

-Associated Press

This is one of the less pleasant parts of my job.

We the media have a role to play in helping get the word out when, say, a dangerous criminal is on the loose, or, as in this case, when a little girl has been kidnapped.

And no one would say that the McCann family doesn't have the right to attempt to do everything they can to keep their daughter's case in the public eye.

But in the absence of any news in the case, there's an amazing amount of pressure for us to write up any kind of incremental development, even when it doesn't add anything to 'what we know' that might help locate the girl.

This helps paint a more complete, if dreary picture of our world: an unemployed guy in Eindhoven is willing to try to defraud desperate parents. Are we surprised? Disappointed? You (I) wonder how that guy can look at himself in the mirror _ but of course, you (I) have no idea what his story is, so we're not sitting in judgment. Or are we?


On a lighter note, I was contacted by a British tabloid (NOT the one in the story link) that was trying to find a freelance gumshoe willing to go out and find out the scammer's name and story. You know, go fishing around the unemployment office to find out more about him, maybe knock on his parents' door to ask for a picture.

That's the kind of bottom feeding attitude that I love (no sarcasm here) about the British press.

Did anybody hear the story about how they set up the country's national soccer coach to believe he was being offered $billions$ to coach a Saudi soccer team? Flew him in a private jet, champagne and caviar, etc. _ all just to get him to divulge any little gossip about his players?

*That's* dedication...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

>Red Herring

"The newspaper Algemeen Dagblad said Wednesday it has received anonymous threats
against several of its journalists, threatening to kill them if the paper
publishes its 26th annual herring stand review."
-Associated Press

So the first question about this story, is this threat for real, or could it possibly have been fabricated to sell papers.
Secondarily, I'm a little disappointed that this story doesn't prominently moot the theory that a disgruntled fish seller might have been behind the threat. Who else would have motive?

Nonetheless not a bad yarn, as my quality colleague M--- put it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Burning Indonesian forests for biofuel

This story isn't really worth reading, but feel free.

What was interesting was, that, in my estimation, all players mean well. The NGO is trying to call attention to a problem, the company is trying to make a profit from an environmentally friendly product _ and responds to criticism _ and the Dutch government is trying to make sure this market works the way it was intended. MORE