Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Joma Sison: He Did It Mao's Way

Jose Maria Sison.

For decades, when "communist" was the worst thing the United States could say about someone, he was a communist. Now that "terrorist" is the worst thing the U.S. can say about someone, he's a terrorist.

Without labels, and indisputably: he's an intellectual ally and source of inspiration for the 9,000 soldiers still fighting for a communist revolution in the Philippines, a country of 90 million people.

He suffered for his cause, class struggle, while many others have suffered worse be-cause of it. Who but the impoverished people of the Philippines can say whether Sison represents (some of) them? Or whether they see "revolutionary taxes" as mere extortion?

The Philippines has a bloody history, thanks in part to its best and worst friend, the United States. I wonder whether Sison's conscience ever troubles him about his role in it all.

At any rate, I think he still has a part to play on the world's stage, and I felt it was my duty to interview him.

I could write 5,000 words about the contradictions and ironies of an American reporter interviewing Sison in the Netherlands.

But in summary, life's strange mutations brought two people of radically different world views to the same spot, far from our respective homes, to play our respective roles.

Superficially, he probably sees me as a numbskull, or ignorant; and I told him I see him in part as an anachronism.

The truth is more complicated.

Anyhow, I filmed a brief fragment of the interview, and here it is.

He's saying that since his (most recent) release from prison, he's "been up to good things."

And here, a special treat for anyone who kept reading past the "jump."

This is a sound clip from Sison's website, nestled among the protest songs, of him singing "I Did It My Way." With a lyric or two tweaked.

Sinatra he's not; but you certainly can't accuse him of not having a sense of humor.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Hufterproof ("jerk-proof") bus stop destroyed. Jerks suspected.

(photo:algemeen dagblad)
"Hufters" have destroyed one of the Netherlands' new "Hufter proof" bus stops.
"Hufter" means something like jerk, or anti-social. In this case, it really means, juvenile delinquents.

The bus stops were installed to great fanfare on Oct. 12 in the town of Maasdam. That's part of Binnenmaas. That's part of Holland.

Saturday night, the destroyers stacked some kind of kindling in one, soaked it in gasoline, and burnt it to the ground.


If I read the website of manufacturer "Havadi" correctly, the bus stops were made of styrofoam, and covered with some kind of special fiberglass resin to repel graffiti. The side doors were of plexiglass.

It could only be burned by a fire of 500 degrees centigrade. The paper said.

"We never said that they couldn't be broken," spokesman Erik Franc told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. "When you say something like that, you just provoke the youth."

Actually, the company's website pretty clearly claims to have developed "hufterproof" bus stops.

"The first "hufterproof" bus stops were placed in Binnenmaas on Oct. 12. The police of this municipality went crazy on the bus stop with rocks and baseball bats and it withstood the trial with great success!"

So, to their credit, they did use "smart" quotation marks around the word "hufterproof."
On the other hand, company employees also appeared saying the bus stops were invincible on youth television program "BNN."

According to the paper, now Havadi is going to try adding a fireproof material.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Back to School: Omnia Vanitas or Omnis Vanitas?


Your Asterix and Obelix comic was right of course, the quote from the Vulgate bible (Ecclesiastes) is: "Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas," famously translated in the King James Bible as "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

Lots of people don't like that translation anymore because the Elizabethan (okay, Jamesean) era language has drifted away from modern usage.


The word translated senseless, הבל (hevel), literally means vapor, breath. Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) uses it metaphorically, and its precise meaning is extensively debated. Older English translations often render it 'vanity'. Because in modern usage this word has often come to mean "self-pride," losing its Latinate connotation of emptiness, some translators have abandoned it. Other translations include empty, futile, meaningless, absurd, fleeting or senseless. Some translations use the literal rendering 'vapor of vapors' and so claim to leave the interpretation to the reader.

I actually like the King James version.
But leave it to a pretentious punk like me to challenge the vulgate Latin!

*Flashback to school*

(Monty Python: Romani ite domum!)

I learned a little Latin (little Latin, less Greek) in college, and as the saying goes, 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.'

Latin is leaving out the verbs, which should be "Vanitas vanitatum (est), omnia vanitas (sunt)."

I've got no quarrel with the first part, 'Vanity is made up of vanities.'

But focus in on the second phrase, "Omnia vanitas (sunt)."

For "omnia" _ "all things" _ to be the subject, it has to be neuter plural (see table at the very bottom of the post if you're interested). But if that's true, and it's the subject, shouldn't the last word ("vanitas") also be neuter plural? Because it ain't.

Here's some Latin grammar page I pulled up:

The verb “to be” (“sum”) is such a verb. It merely couples the subject with some other noun, or an adjective. For example, “Catherine is the queen (noun)” or, “Catherine is old (adjective).” Hence “sum” is called a COPULATIVE VERB. The nouns and adjectives that are coupled to the subject are called PREDICATE NOMINATIVES, to distinguish them from the typical nominative, the subject of the sentence. When you translate, make sure that the adjective on one side of the copulative verb “sum” is the same gender, number, and case as the noun on the other side. For instance, “Femina est antiqua”; “vir est antiquus; “feminae sunt antiquae.”

So if Omnia is the subject it should "agree" in number and gender with the form of "vanity" that you use.

If it were Omnis Vanitas, as I put it, no problem: "All is Vanity."

But Omnia Vanitas seems to say "All things (plural) IS Vanity (singular)."

Where I come from, you have to say "All thing ARE Vanity."

To make them both plural, it would need to be "Omnia Vanitatia"
or at least "Omnes Vanitates"??

In sum, I don't get it.

This is why I was never that good in Latin.

Latinists out there? Have I discovered a huge error in the Vulgate bible that millions of people have overlooked all these years?

I have the sneaking suspicion the answer is: no.

Maybe "all things" can be considered to be some kind of group single. Like: The United States IS big.

Or maybe it's some "Church Latin" thing. I hate church Latin.

At any rate, I'm damn well not going to change it on my web page until somebody explains to me why I'm wrong.

I will be once again amazed at the power of the Internet if that actually happens.


As a footnote, I came across a nice Disraeli quote while trying to figure this out.

"There is a great mistake in the Vulgate. . .the Latin
translation of the Holy Scriptures, and that is that instead
of saying “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” – Vanitas
vanitatum, omnia vanitas, the wise and witty king (Solomon)
really said, Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas. Gentlemen,
it is impossible to overrate the importance of the
subject. After all, the first consideration of a
Minister should be the health of the people."

-Benjamin Disraeli, 1872.

(Here are the tables, sorry if they're not displaying correctly. I tried)

Declension of omnis, omnis, omne

masculine feminine neuter


nominative omnis omnis omne
genitive omnis omnis omnis
dative omni omni omni
accusative omnem omnem omne
ablative omni omni omni


nominative omnes omnes omnia
genitive omnium omnium omnium
dative omnibus omnibus omnibus
accusative omnes omnes omnia
ablative omnibus omnibus omnibus

Unfortunately, I had to do the declension of Vanitas (-atis 3f., a regular noun). myself, since I can't find it on the web. The masculine/feminine nominative plural is Vanitates, and the neuter is Vanitatia.

Masculine/Feminine Neuter

Nominative: Vanitas Vanitas
Genitive: Vanitatis Vanitatis
Dative: Vanitati Vanitati
Accusative: Vanitatem Vanitatem
Ablative: Vanitati Vanitati
Nominative: Vanitates Vanitatia
Genitive: Vanitatium Vanitatium
Dative: Vanitatibus Vanitatibus
Accusative: Vanitates Vanitatia
Ablative: Vanitatibus Vanitatibus


Friday, October 26, 2007

Vanity prompts Journalists to Blog

An interesting article in The Observer, saying that basically the reason journalists are keeping or launching blogs is to promote themselves as a brand apart from their organizations.

True of me? I have several reasons for doing this:
First, to be able to talk a little bit about things other than stuff I can write about professionally. But I don't think it would work if a lot of people were looking here (it averages about 20 hits a day, about half Dutch and half U.S. or British visitors). So a little bit of a creative outlet.
Second, to communicate with people other than my friends and family about what I'm doing, and maybe reap some criticism or suggestions. In other words, looking for some feedback, but I'm not getting much of that either. (I'm thankful, though, for what I do get!).
Third, as a partial "record" _ links _ to some of what I'm doing professionally, so that it's collected in one place and doesn't totally disappear into the ether.
Fourth, self-education, especially about the technology. Tinkering with the HTML, editing clips, learning to take photos, etc.

All of those reasons are vain at some level. But then, Omnis Vanitas.

But as far as "personal branding" _ not so much. I intentionally avoid mentioning my employer here, in order to make it clear this is something separate. I'm pretty sure I'd be nowhere as a journalist without a big organization behind me, and my value to my employer is as an 'anonymous' hard worker; and I can't imagine an inherently self-limiting (see: Dylan posts) blog would make a difference in that regard.

Anyway, I think I'll always be employable *somewhere* after 9 years working for "the wires."

(photo: meredith_farmer)

In more vanity news,
I'm the new secretary of the BPV, de Buitenlandse Persvereiniging, also known as the Netherlands' Foreign Press Association.


Alleen voor de nederlanders:

hier te lezen op: "Villa Media" De Journalist. Tien woorden, en ze hebben een typefoutje gemaakt in mijn naam.

De Buitenlandse Persvereniging (BPV) in Nederland heeft een nieuw bestuur. Tijdens de algemene ledenvergadering werd verkozen tot voorzitter de Duitse correspondente Kerstin Schweighöfer (werkzaam voor FOCUS, DEUTSCHLANDFUNK en ARD-radio’s). Vice-voorzitter is de Zwitserse Elsbeth Gugger (Zwitserse Publieke Omroep Radio DRS, Tages-Anzeiger). De Amerikaan Toby Sperling (AP) is de nieuwe BPV-secretaris. Zijn landgenoot Douglas Heingartner (New York Times, The Economist) blijft penningmeester. En de Roemeense Claudia Marcu (Roemeense Publieke Radio) zorgt ook in 2008 voor de ledenadministratie. Verder zitten in het bestuur de Russische journalist Andrei Poskakukhin (RIA Novosti) en zijn Spaanse collega Isabel Ferrer (El País).

Hahahahaha ten minste niet "Toby Sperming."

Trouwens, ik ben ook nu een keer in de maand te hooren op "Desmet Live," 747AM of www.desmetlive.nl. Een segment over buitenlandse correspondenten in Nederland. Omgeveer 6uur, eerstevolgende zijn 13 november en 4 december.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tangled Up in Blue - Dylan Project

Time for an fat update to my Bob Dylan Project that will have people running for the door like crazed jackalopes.

Tangled Up in Blue is among the most accessible of Dylan songs, and combines all the great things about his music that I state in painful detail on My Back Pages (the FAQ for this thingamabob) : poetry, storytelling, great music and great timing.

If I had to recommend one song as an intro to Dylan, this would be it. Why? In short, it has it all, and it was the song that got me hooked.

I still get chills every time I hear the opening low note - high note - strumming pattern that opens the song and repeats throughout.
So now let's circle back and have another look.

"Blood on the Tracks" is an outlier as an album, made in 1974, fairly long after Dylan's prime, but to me, emotionally his most powerful and honest work. His "King Lear." I hear he had to be talked into releasing "Idiot Wind," because it was so personal.

Blood on the Tracks has a unified theme, into which all the songs are in-folded: you could call it "the breakup," since that's what it centers around, but it also ends up telling the story of a whole relationship in condensed form. Like Homer's Illliad is just two weeks of a 10-year war, but the whole story gets crammed in.

The bloody heart of the album, the song "Idiot Wind," will absolutely be the topic of another post. But
-Simple Twist of Fate
-You're a Big Girl Now
-You're Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go
-If You See Her, Say Hello
-Shelter From the Storm
-Buckets of Tears

are all great, great songs.

Blood on the Tracks is about Dylan and his wife, Sarah Lownds, apparently at a point in their marriage where it was all but over, but Dylan was still thinking about giving things one more try.
However in this case _ and this is highly unusual for me _ authorial intent isn't that important.


There comes a certain moment with music you love where you begin to adopt it as part of your self, which is I guess what people mean when they say they "identify with" a character in a story.

For me, the moment I began to absorb Dylan's music into my DNA came in 1996-7 when I heard Blood on the Tracks after I: broke up with a girl, looked her up a year later, and ended up the *loser* in a brief but spectacular love triangle.

The album tells a similar, but different story.

It begins with "Tangled Up in Blue," which again tells the whole story of the relationship, but in slices, like a Picasso or a fractured mirror. The other songs go into some element of the story in greater depth. Call it a "concept" album if you will. "Tangled Up In Blue" is the overture.

the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The lyrics begin with the storyteller reflecting about the girl, after the end of "part two" of the relationship:

"Early one mornin' the sun was shinin'
I was layin in bed, wonderin if she'd changed at all,
if her hair was still red."


(footnote: my wife, my Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, has red hair).

The teller begins reminiscing about "part two" of their relationship, before they got married.
"Her folks they said our lives together, sure was going to be rough" & etc. Basically he was a poor boy, had it hard.
"Lord knows I've paid my dues getting through _ tangled up in blue."

One of the other great things about this song to pay attention to is how long Dylan pauses before heading into the refrain, 'tangled up in blue' _ varying exquisitely, with each verse, for maximum effect.

So then the teller launches into the full story, from the beginning of "part one":

"She was married when we first met _ soon to be divorced"
(CLASSIC line!)


"Helped her out of a jam I guess, but I used a little too much force.
We drove that car as far as we could, abandoned it out west,
split up on a dark sad night both agreeing it was best
She turned around and looked at me, as I was walking away
I hear her say over my shoulder we'll meet again someday...on the avenue...
tangled up in blue."

So that's the first meeting and breakup.

Then there's a verse describing his travels without her. I think this would stand alone as poetry, no? You have to speak it with a drawl for the rhyme scheme to work...maybe you have to be American to appreciate how well Dylan captures Southern expressions. I alter the spellings from 'proper' English to give the flavor.


"I had a job in tha Great Nawth Woods, workin as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it awl that much and one day the axe jus' fell.
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I'z lucky 'nuff to be employed
Workin' for a while on a fishin' boat
Right outside of Delacroix.
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind,
I seen a lot of women
But she never 'scaped my mind and I jus' grew
tangled up in blue."


Then the story moves to their second meeting, with her working in a topless bar.

Sarah Lownds was a Playboy bunny _ that part of the story doesn't fit my biography obviously, but I understand the jealousy it implies about other men looking at her...


"Later on, when the crowd thinned out,
I was just about to do the same,
She was standing there, in back of my chair
Said to me (Jimmy?) don't I know your name
I muttered something underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit, I felt a little uneasy when she bent down...to tie the laces...of my shoes...
Tangled up in blues"

I laughed out loud the first time I heard that line. Now I just love the timing of the delivery.

They go back to her place, and he relates what anybody who has ever fallen in love will recognize as the experience of two minds meeting.


"She lit a burner on the stove, and offered me a pipe. 'I thought you'd never say hello,' she said, 'you look like the silent type.'
Then she opened up a book of poems and handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet, from the 13th century."

(I'm guessing Petrarch? Dylan had apparently never read it.)
"And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burnin' coal
pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul
from me to you,
Tangled up in blue."

That also gives me chills.

And now, jump shift to the most confusing verse.

"I lived with them on Montague street in a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air"

The easiest explanation is, it's back to phase one, when he helped her out of a jam.
But my gut tells me he's talking about himself in both in the first and third person.

I guess everybody gets the "Romeo and Juliet" reference _ a doomed relationship.

"Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died.
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside.
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn,
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew,
Tangled up in blue."

It paints a brief picture of the breakup, anyhow. "When finally the bottom fell out" _ Just wait for Idiot Wind.

And finally, the semi-optimistic ending, which picks back up from the opening line of him lying in bed.


"So now I'm goin' back again,
I got to get to her somehow.
All the people we used to know
They're an illusion to me now.
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenter's wives.
Don't know how it all got started,
I don't know what they're doin' with their lives.
But me, I'm still on the road
Headin' for another joint
We always did feel the same,
We just saw it from a different point of view,
Tangled up in blue."

I can't get the line
"all the people I used to know, they're an illusion to me now
some are mathmeticians, some are carpenters' wives."

Out of my head.

All the people I used to know, including the girl that broke my heart at about the time I got hooked on Dylan, they're an illusion to me now.

And I'm with the right one, the mother of my children.

But the music; ah, it was wallowing in sweet misery for me then, and it's stayed with me until now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mexx love me some Dunglish also

"Black is more than a Colour."

But less than a number?

(from the Mexx website. No such thing as bad publicity, right guys?).

Okay, maybe it's a little mean to pick on poor Mexx, but it is a subsidiary of Liz Claiborne, and you'd think either they or their ad agency would have thought twice about this slogan.

Or worse, maybe they did think about it.

Apologies for the poor photo quality. Taken at night in front of the Rijksmuseum.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Contribution to the Public _ not Pubic _ Domain

This diagram is a contribution to the public domain (provenance details after the "More").

A crabby ending:

The crabs story ran Friday, any concerns about tastelessness to the contrary.

Reader Mrtn (would that be Marten, Maarten, or Martin?):

Kees Moeliker sent me an email afterward to let me know that after the publicity, he has had a phone call from a public health regional office in Haarlem, offering him a sample crab louse.

All's well that ends well, I suppose.

Diagram from:

Grobben, Karl - Lehrbuch der Zoologie – N.G. Elwertsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Marburg, 1917, p. 617 And courtesy of the Rotterdam Natural History Museum.

Dutch Will Remain In Afghanistan, Come On Germany!


Newspaper De Telegraaf got hold of a scandalous leak on Saturday: the top secret advice of the country's highest military official, Gen. Dick Berlijn, urging the Cabinet to remain in Afghanistan.

How on earth could this sensitive document (or was it just a briefing that the Telegraaf heard about by word-of-mouth?) have leaked?

The answer: who cares?

The Oracle of Amsterdam says the Cabinet's decision to extend the mission in Afghanistan was made ages ago.

Just as the Bush administration decided it was going to war in Iraq and still made a charade out of promising not to attack if Saddam would step down. These things are always decided in advance.

What remains is the theatrical performance of Balkenende et. al pretending that cancelation is still possible.

The Dutch government wants _ secondarily _ to appear to be a tough negotiator, pressuring other Nato allies to cough up more troops. Back to that in a moment.

Primarily, it needs to make sure the decision appears to have been carefully made through a consensus-building process, in case everything goes wrong and there are a lot of Dutch deaths the government has to pay a political price for.

We call this "ass covering."

And for it to be truly Dutch, there always has to be some stupid nuance, like staying with 1,200 instead of 1,800 (and pretending the difference would bankrupt the country's Defense department, budget EUR8 billion in 2008). Or supporting the Iraq war "politically but not militarily". It won't surprise me if the Cabinet makes another compromise, and stays with 1,400 in the end, instead of 1,200 as reported by De Telegraaf.

So with a little "conspiracy" theory feeling, I'd say this leak may even have been planned. Or not. It doesn't matter: the fix is in. Just as a casual example, here's what LABOR party leader Wouter Bos said about the mission a few weeks ago when he increased it by 80 troops:

"Strictly speaking, this will have no influence on the possible decision to extend," the mission, Bos said.
"But, it is the case that our ... decision ... will be based in part on a safety analysis, and the question of what actual difference the presence of Dutch troops can make in Uruzgan, including for the safety of the local population," he said.


I don't know how others interpret this, but I read it so:

If the region is unstable, then Dutch troops will be needed to protect the citizens of Uruzgan and make sure the place doesn't disintegrate into chaos.

If the region is stable, there's no reason for them not to stay and do good reconstruction work.

So, the Dutch will reduce their presence slightly and if other recent reports are to be believed, Slovenes and Georgians will fill whatever gap that creates.

Which leads me to my real question:

Where the @!#^#$% is Germany?
(photo:don dees/pingnews)

Now, nobody has forgotten WWII _ or the Turkey's Genocide/Massacre of Armenians, or the U.S. slaughter of native Americans, or go backward through the dirty wars of history ad infinitum.

The point is, this is here and now. I distinctly recall a celebratory mood in Germany after the World Cup, when it was basically proclaimed that WWII was behind it now.

Prove it. Devote the funds and have 10,000 troops trained up and ready to deploy to Kandahar in six months time.

After all, this is not the "bad" Iraq war we're talking about: this is the "good" Afghanistan war, which all of NATO signed on for after 9/11 _ an attack against one is an attack against all. And the Taliban gave al-Qaida their launching pad.

The British and Americans are obviously in as deep as they can be.

France has its special love/hate relationship with NATO, but can convincingly argue it has other commitments in the Middle East right now. Same goes for Turkey.

I know we could talk about the Spanish, Italians, or Polish, but I want to focus on Germany, a wealthy nation, the largest in Europe, and the most able to bear a heavy share of the fighting if it had the political will to do so.

The countries apart from the U.S. and Britain currently in Taliban-heavy areas of Afghanistan:

Canada, population 30 million, have 2,500 troops and have lost 70.
Netherlands, population 16 million, have 1,800 troops and have lost 11.

Of lesser note, Australia, 20 million, is in the hotzone (as usual) with a handful, as are the Danes (population 5 million, 7 dead).

Gemany, with population 80 million, has 3,500 troops stationed in the north.

I understand Germany has 28 casualties, despite the relatively "light" assignment they're on. The Spanish lost 68 in a single plane crash. The U.S. and Britain, bleeding far worse in Iraq, have lost 380+ and 80+ in Afghanistan alone.

Time to step up to the plate, Germany. It's the 21st Century now. The world needs you.

Say your troops are unwilling to take part in the destruction of poppy fields, if that's what it takes to win this thing and bring stability to Afghanistan.

Show a little leadership.

Give Europe a backbone, assume your natural role as its anchor (by participation NOT domination), and become a force for good in the world, rather than limply obsessing about your past and how many percent your economy may grow this year.

That's my $0.02. Now tell me why I'm wrong.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Satur Ocampo / U.S. fighting Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines / and Communists

Philippine congressman Satur Ocampo visited the Netherlands and spoke to around 50 expatriate Filipinos in Amsterdam Wednesday. Plus two Dutch and one American, if I counted correctly.

I begin by pleading a lot of ignorance about the Philippines.

This man's resume has to be read to be believed. Suffice it to say he's a leftist leader who was tortured under the Marcos regime and arrested as recently this year on rebellion charges. He's never been found guilty and was re-elected to the opposition in May.

Here are two clips of his talk.

In the first he says the U.S. has taken the opportunity of Sept. 11 to re-establish a permanent military presence in the Philippines, using the threat from Muslim separatist (terrorist) groups like Abu Sayyaf and the communist (terrorist) groups (linked to Ocampo) as justification.
Though U.S. troops were expelled from the country in 1992, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wants U.S. assistance, and her government is dependent on the support of the Philippines' military for survival. So the expansion of defense budgets is a political necessity, and with all that funding, the military must be seen to do something. They've been carrying on military "exercises" in cooperation with U.S. troops continually for five years now, most recently this month.
But victory over either 8,000 communists (?) or the 200-member (?) Abu Sayyaf has remained elusive.

From an outsider's perspective, I'd say Abu Sayyaf (tiny), the Communists (small) and the Army (huge) are all involved in struggles to exert power where they can; all are trying to extract "taxes" by various means in their spheres of influence; and none always follows the rules of war.

Only Iraq has been a more dangerous place for journalists to work since 2003.

The whole reason we hate Al-Qaida is that they kill innocent civilians. Who shall we hate in the Philippines?

The economy is performing well under Arroyo; but bribery is rampant and the human rights record of the country is terrible, according to Amnesty International and others: leftists suspected of links with communists _ and members of the opposition _ are targeted by (para)military forces for summary executions.

To contrast with Ocampo, here's an Agence France Press report on Arroyo from Wednesday:

Speaking to local officials ... Arroyo said the 39-year-old Maoist rebellion "impedes the progress and development of a number of rural areas" where the majority of the poorest Filipinos live.

"So if we are to become a first world country, we'll have to put a stop to this ideological nonsense and criminal acts once and for all and we want to defeat them by 2010."

In the second clip, Ocampo says the military push doesn't jibe well with a general amnesty Arroyo offered to communists in September. He questions whether the economic development that's meant to be paired with the offensive will work in practice.

As a very last remark, I'd say that the intractable problem is trying to get all sides to disarm. Focusing on the army: they must have an enemy and be fighting him in order to justify their existence. Having a large standing army causes all kinds of problems. The Romans knew this, as did U.S. president Eisenhower.

So until the region in demilitarized, including a reduction in the size of the army _ which is not currently on the cards _ I can't imagine that the Philippines will know true peace & stability.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Crabs, a.k.a. Pubic Lice, dying out due to "Brazilian" bikini shaving?


Are crabs going extinct? No, the other kind...

Don't worry, I won't be stuck on weird sex and drugs stories forever. But there's a lovely one brewing right now in the Netherlands.

Rotterdam's Natural History Museum has put out a call for anybody with crabs, aka pubic lice, to come forward and donate a louse for their collection before they die out.

Anonymity guaranteed, obviously.

Why would lice be dying out? Apparently, because due to the influence of pornographic films on popular culture, most young people are shaving their nether-regions these days.

"It's actually no different than with the Panda bear," curator Kees Moelijker told newspaper Dag. "Chopping down bamboo forests has gotten rid of their natural environment, and brought them to the edge of extinction."

The ultimate source of the story is a couple of British researchers, who issued a paper in last year's journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections called "Did the Brazilian Kill the Pubic Louse?"

Despite rises in the prevalence of chlamydia and gonorrhoea, there has been a significant drop in pubic lice over recent years. Sexual behaviour changes cannot account for this discordance in trends of STIs so there must be another explanation. The drop in pubic lice in women appears to be most dramatic around 2000 and coincided with the introduction of extensive waxing techniques, such as the "Brazilian," in women in the United Kingdom.

The "Brazilian" is essentially a normal bikini wax leaving a little "landing strip" of hair or nothing at all. Its origins lie in Brazil where waxing has long been part of the culture. Initially the "Brazilian" was only available at selected London salons but by 2000–1 it had become a widely available and increasingly popular waxing technique across the United Kingdom.

I'm having trouble getting any reputable source to confirm there's a declining trend (or even any data available of any kind on pubic lice.)



Urban legend or law of unintended consequences in action? You be the judge. MORE

Dutch Researcher: Marijuana Doesn't Hurt Young Brains

(photo: retinafunk)
A not-very-well-researched story on television program EenVandaag (Dutch language). Doctor Gerry Jager of the University Medical Center of Utrecht says that smoking marijuana does no long-term damage to the developing brains of young people. Not many details of the research are presented, but it appears to have involved MRI scans and puzzle solving tests.

My objection is that the conclusions were based on just 40 subjects, who were followed for two years (!!).

Methinks there are better data out there. The results are being presented at an unnamed conference today in Vienna.

Leaving the science _ including the evidence in the British Medical Journal that depression and mental illness may be caused (not correlated or associated but caused) by heavy weed use _ Jager is a little bit better when she's just talking common sense.

She warns of socialization & financial problems that could be caused by too much weed, and says that time spent stoned isn't exactly helping young people learn what they need to to prepare for their future.

And mentally ill people shouldn't smoke. "That's the reality," she says.

However, "There's a large group of youth that smokes a joint now and again, and who stop smoking at a certain moment. After 10 years they're all good citizens with a job and a family. That's also the reality."

Amen say I to that fair prayer.


I admit I'm curious about Jager's biases and personal history. Her other publications have also basically found that Ecstasy is harmless...

Also on the basis of 40 subjects.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Sex With Robots - David Levy - University of Maastricht

(photo: V 2)
Isn't it already sex with a robot when a woman uses a vibrator?

Anyhow, at first I was hoping for a good hoax, but the story looks legitimate.

That is, there does appear to be a person called David Levy who has earned a Ph.D from the University of Maastricht with his thesis, "Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners."

"Levy’s thesis
(not he?)
argues that trends in robotics and other areas of artificial intelligence will, within a few decades, result in robots that are so humanlike in their appearance and functionality, in their personality, and in their expression of emotions, that many people will be falling in love with them, having sex with them, and even marrying them."

(photo: simon pais-thomas)

The university also quotes Levy (but misspells his surname) saying,
"The question is not if this will happen, but when. I am convinced that the answer is: much earlier than you think,” says Levi."

It may even be true that anatomically realistic robots will be around in 50 years_ after all that's the same timeframe futurists are predicting nanotechnology will make it possible to build anything, and teleportation will be coming down the pipe shortly after that.

On the other hand, I haven't seen much progress made on the artificial heart (a simple pump, right?) in a while. And methinks human ethics may lag behind what's technically possible. See: the debate on cloning.

I mean, there are questions of shame and disgust here, not to mention sanitation; societies don't throw off deeply held taboos overnight. And there are evolutionary reasons they don't.

But to my main and most cynical thought:

I reckon it's not exactly rocket science to notice that robots are "hot" right now, and sex always sells, so why not try to link the two concepts in a book? All you need is an author with a light veneer of credibility and *hey presto* you have a potential best seller.

Lo and behold, there's a book due out this month from Harper Collins called "Love and Sex with Robots," by an author called David Levy.

And I see he was _ for lack of a better verb _ pimping similar ideas in his 2006 book "Robots Unlimited."

At the time there was a full-blown interview with him on the "Chessbase" website. Excerpt:

(photo: chessbase)

"ChessBase: Are you really so sure of your predictions about love, marriage, sex and reproduction with robots? Isn’t this all rather science fiction?

Levy: No... I think that my book provides ample explanation as to the concepts of love, sex and reproduction with robots. And as for marriage, I accept that the concept of marriage to a robot is outside most people’s frame of reference, but it is certainly not fiction. If someone had said, one hundred years ago, that within a century same-sex marriages would become legally and socially acceptable unions, how many people would have believed them? Social mores change, and along with so many other aspects of modern life their rate of change is much faster nowadays than a century ago, so I think it is quite reasonable to predict that people will be marrying robots fifty years from now. By then robots will be just like people in so many ways, just different on the inside."

Plus ça change...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Magic Mushrooms Banned in Netherlands

Friday the Dutch government unveiled a ban on hallinogenic mushrooms.

I want to recycle some good photos I have lying around from earlier stories I did on this.


Secondarily, I wanted to remark on the following: here is a list of the top stories in the Netherlands Friday (just after midnight Dutch time).

For those of you who don't read Dutch, they are:
1) Record oil price
2) 300 French Arrested for Child Pornography
3) Dead gangster's girlfriend remains in jail
4) Free Internet for soldiers
5) More traffic jam information on highway signboards
6) Bulgarians stymie "euro" spelling
7) Student wounds two in Rotterdam
8) Schiphol Airport won't be privatized
9) Al Gore wins Nobel Prize.

While the mushroom ban got a fair amount of attention internationally, it wasn't considered significant enough to make the list of top stories in the Netherlands.

Not quite sure why that is.

The city of Amsterdam is protesting, but the Oracle predicts they will find it difficult to resist a well-reasoned decision taken at the national level.

(sorry for the blur but this was taken with a cell phone!)

The Cabinet also plans to introduce a ban on smoking next year; marijuana smokers will be forced to sit in a ventilated compartment separated from the rest of the coffee shop.

I've very curious to see how that will work in practice.

The main mushroom growing company, Procare, says they plan to throw a party with the last mushrooms they grow legally.

If I can swing an invite I'll go and take pictures.
(ready for packaging)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

NRC: De Pers inspired by NYT _ or, is plagiarism ethical?

Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad has an entertaining story today.

Their reporters noticed that another Dutch newspaper, "De Pers," has been drawing heavily on the New York Times's column, "The Ethicist" for its own weekly column, "Questions of Conscience."

So last Saturday, the Dutch writer, Alexander von Schmid, answered a question about a hypothetical (?) man who cheated on his wife because she had refused to have sex with him.

It was more or less a direct translation of a question that the NYT's Randy Cohen answered for a reader back in May 2007.

"Recently my wife found out and went ballistic. If she can casually renounce sex, can’t I seek it elsewhere?”
"Toen mijn vrouw erachter kwam, werd ze woedend. Als zij zomaar stopt met seks, waarom mag ik dan niet bij iemand anders seks hebben?”

NRC found that 7 out of 8 of Von Schmid's columns so far have addressed topics identical to those raised earlier by Cohen.

Confronted, De Pers decided to brazen it out.

"I don't think this is plagiarism," editor in chief Jan-Jaap Heij told the NRC. "We're going to keep doing it."

Cohen: "This is plagiarism, absolutely. (Von Schmid) is deceiving his readers. They should know where the questions are coming from."

Cohen's questioners are named, or made anonymous if necessary, but then he gives a general description of who they are and where they come from. So the sex question came from a man who had been married 30 years, and lived in Massechusetts.

Von Schmid: "I only address general ethical questions. You don't need to say your source for that. I don't try to pretend my questions of conscience are being sent in by readers."

Cohen: "The cheating ethicist. This is really fantastic."


Of course, it goes without saying that I'm taking the idea for this post squarely over from NRC. I give them full credit.

Von Schmid does answer his questions differently than Cohen does.

For instance, they both answer the workplace question of whether a male colleague using a camera beneath the table during a meeting to take pictures up the skirt of a female employee should be reported to the boss.

Cohen says yes, that's sexual harassment.

Von Schmid says no, because there's no way the photo could be linked to the female employee and thereby cause her embarrassment.

Hmmm. Either Dutch values really are quite different from American ones, or I'm not sure that Von Schmid is the best person to be writing an ethics column.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Princess Maxima: Dutch? No such thing

(Photo: deVos)

Poor Princess Maxima.

First she was named for a Nissan, then she married Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander and had a smile surgically implanted on her face.

Now she's gone and said "de nederlandse identiteit bestaat niet," or, "the Dutch identity doesn't exist," _ a remark that's got the country in an uproar.

Well, let's not overblow things. A very few people, mostly Royal House fans, have their panties in a bunch. A slightly wider group think it was a strange or stupid thing to say, and the media have been milking the story for a week now.

Most Dutch people I know have the same initial reaction: 'who does she think she is? telling us there's no such thing as Dutch identity'

Well, Maxima is, of course, a foreigner: she was born in Argentina.

What she probably meant is that this is a multicultural society, with recent immigrants from many places mixing together with 'native' Dutch (native as in Germanic/Scandinavian/Frisian/Spanish/Celt/Pict/Gaullic/Roman) _ who themselves are divided into many categories (Rich/Poor _ Catholic/Protestant/Secular _ Homosexual/Heterosexual _ Randstand/Countryside _ politically right or left: SGP/PVV/VVD/CDA/D66/PvdA/SP/GL/PvdD _ etc., etc.).

So it's impossible to pin down 'identity.' Actually, most universities these days have entire courses devoted to this kind of stuff. A lot of philosophers, especially French ones, are much-talked about. Derrida, Foucault and the ilk.

The trouble is, if you start talking that way, then people quickly point out what an intellectual, privileged, and generally elite viewpoint that is.

Getting back to basics, it's as easy to say what's Dutch as it is to say what's French.

(photo:eMotionBlogster. Maxima with some hoity-toity Dutch nobel who has less work dying her hair).

(bad hair day)

According to newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, the Dutch personality is:
"Thifty; with the famed trader's mentality; a tendency to be pedantic, lecturing with one finger in the air; a lack of respect for authority; and speaking plainly and directly." That's summed up by Thomas von der Dunk, 'culture historian and publicist.'

I like Von der Dunk (the rest of his argument is more subtle) but I disagree with him about the Dutch not respecting authority _ I think hoi polloi in the Netherlands obey institutional power very easily. In my opinion, the Dutch love rules, and trust their government way too much.

But of course, those are generalizations, just like all of Von der Dunks' generalizations. They are true of some Dutch, maybe of many, but certainly not of half, let alone all of them.

If we're going to call this "the Dutch identity," why don't we just throw in all the rest of the cliches, including cheese, clogs, bikes, dikes and windmills, as long as we're at it?

The reality is that, on reflection, Maxima was totally right.

Take Von der Dunk, for instance. I assume that he's 'white,' but he's certainly not immune to multicultural influences: Not many Dutch named their kids 'Thomas' before WWII; Von is German ("van Duytschen bloet," he); and 'der Dunk' _ well, my Dutch friends could probably explain it to me, but I think it points at some dialect, since 'Donk' is far more common.

Maybe he comes from a wealthy family, but I bet he's voting left, given the rest of his arguments made in Algemeen Dagblad, and non-religious.

He can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. But what I'm getting at is that everybody comes from *somewhere*.

All Maxima really demonstrated is that this country is a little high strung about its identity right now; and she walked right into the tripwire.

If she had said _ "all Dutch should share the ethos that made this country one of the richest and most powerful in the world in the 1600s. Long live the VOC (Far East Indies Company) spirit!" _ a lot of people would have jumped down her throat too.

Namely, a lot of people with ancestors who were colonized by the Dutch, or exploited by the slave trade. Not to mention more than a few anti-capitalist, anti-globalist types.

How do I know? It happened to Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende a few months ago.

You can think of Dutch society as a "melting pot" or a "salad bowl," but either way the idea that it's some Aryan civilization is untenable. People resist it, but that's because they're dreaming of good old days that never existed, or chasing an illusion.


Non sua culpa Maxima est!


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Naming the Dog Statue behind Amsterdam Centraal

(photo: me; statue: Tom Claassen).

They made a new statue of a dog behind central station. The reason why is very complicated, but more interestingly, they're looking for a name for the statue.

Any suggestions?

I'm thinking "Stoney."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Vredeskerk / ABN Amro / Ahold

(ABN Amro CEO Rijkman Groenink, a man almost certain to lose his job before Thanksgiving).

Well, I'm not sure why that little glitch with Google occurred, but it seems to have blown over now.

Another busy week. If I never have to write about ABN Amro _ or Ahold for that matter _ again it will be too soon. Unfortunately, I'm sure that ABN Amro will be right back in the spotlight on Monday.

(credit: ap)

I did manage to slip away on Thursday to see the blessing of the animals at Vredeskerk, in Amsterdam.

The goldfish went first and appeared very much in its element as Valkering sprinkled it with holy water.

Amadeus, a Cocker Spaniel, attempted to drink it. His owner, Luba Fedossova, an immigrant from Russia, said later, "They wouldn't allow animals into churches back home."


Harmless, no?

(credit: suzero) MORE

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Only A Test

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3. (Trying to figure out why recent posts aren't being indexed by Google)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Anne Frank, TomTom and Tele Atlas

(photo: victor svensson.)

It was an honest days' work.
TomTom's falling stock gave me a reason to look up an old friend: David Niederman, who's now a bigshot financial analyst at Pacific Crest, in Oregon.

Navteq and Tele Atlas are the only two providers of well-regarded mapping data measured at the street level around the world.

"They are unique assets," Pacific Crest Securities analyst David Niederman said of Tele Atlas and Navteq, though he cautioned against reading too much into this week's movement in share prices.


It reminds me of the nursery rhyme:
Tom, Tom, the piper's son. Stole a pig. And away did run. The pig was eat. And Tom was beat. Till he ran crying. Down the street.
(photo: killrbeez, who used to have a TomTom...)

And, it turns out that Anne Frank's tree will be preserved, at least for a while.

My comment: a quote from 'A Wizard of Earthsea,' by Ursula LeGuin. (any Fantasy nerds out there?)

"Heal the wound and cure the illness, but let the dying spirit go."


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Return of Ayaan Hirsi Ali (?)

The Dutch political establishment is freaking out about the (unconfirmed) return of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, of "Infidel" and "Submission" fame, the woman that the Netherlands was too small to hold.

As the story is being told by Dutch media, she's returned because the Dutch Cabinet refused to foot her security bill in the United States any longer.

It's impossible to know whether there's any scandal or ineptitude on the part of the Dutch government _ this time _ until we know the actual facts of the case, which so far have been noticeably lacking. No one in a credible position to know _ such as herself, her publicist, or the American Enterprise Institute _ has even publicly confirmed that she's back. That's kind of ridiculous, with Parliament demanding answers as to the circumstances of her return.

However, the Dutch government has certainly blundered in the past because of the institutional inexperience here at dealing with people whose life is under threat, and I take the confusion itself as evidence that it is doing so again.

After all,
after the murder of 'Submission' filmmaker Theo van Gogh, they had to put lawmakers Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders in unused prison cells to guarantee their safety. If that's not the world turned upside down _ politicians in prison, while the people threatening them are running free _ I don't know what is!

Everyone remembers the episode where Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk attempted to yank Hirsi Ali's passport (and I know how she feels) as the reason why she left the country.

But in fact, the real, immediate reason for her departure in 2006 was that her "Not In My Backyard" neighbors in the Hague had successfully sued to have her booted.
They argued that it wasn't fair that they had to put up with black limousines and bouncers coming and going at all hours of the day and night. If you put yourself in their shoes, that's actually not that hard to sympathize with.

So, the government should have a) seen it coming, b) arranged alternate accommodations and c) figured out ways to protect her while being less obtrusive in the meanwhile.

Other rookie mistakes: the Dutch OM (=Public Prosecutors=District Attorney) started to pull prosecutor Koos Plooy _ whose life was being threatened _ off a high profile case because it was getting to be too much trouble to protect him and his family.
In a similar vein, the OM floated the idea of NOT RELEASING THE NAMES OF JUDGES AND PROSECUTORS in criminal cases, to prevent them from becoming targets.

I trust no explanation of why these "solutions" would only have invited worse problems is needed.

In the U.S., prosecutors almost never need protection because criminals understand, the prosecutors are like interchangeable cogs in a machine, and there is no way to intimidate them into backing off a case. Trying to so only increases your chance of getting caught. That was a fight won the Feds won in the 1930s.

So, while in a better world Dutch politicians would be able to bike to work with no protection, that's not the planet Earth we live on.

(from www.HollandCourier.com)

Returning to the current situation: if it turns out the government has merely said it doesn't want to pay for Hirsi Ali's protection abroad any more, and given her fair warning that she has to choose between safety in Holland or whatever deal she can strike with American authorities, fair enough. As defenders of the (unconfirmed) governement decision point out, it's impossible for the Dutch government to know the threat level of all of its citizens living in foreign countries and or pay private firms to protect them indefinitely.

On the other hand, if Hirsi Ali is planning to immigrate to the U.S. anyway _ as her Green Card application implies _ the Dutch government could have just paid another $1 million (or $5 million! whatever. How much could it be?) to protect her until the U.S. takes over or she arranges for private security. Why take *another* black eye to the national reputation over Hirsi Ali, when a tiny bit of grea$e would solve the problem?
And, with due respect, there are not thousands of other Dutch Hirsi Ali's out there breaking the bank with their lavish security costs.

Of course, Hirsi Ali isn't above screwing the Dutch government around a little _ especially given that her political party is in the opposition _ in order to swing a better deal for herself. I don't think she's gotten *that* rich off being an author. Or maybe she's just here visiting friends!

We need to hear the full story, and know what her long term intentions are, in order to form an opinion.

But if it does turn out to be a short-sighted blunder on the part of the CDA Cabinet, I sincerely hope that Hirsi Ali decides to stay in the Netherlands. If her career so far is any indication, the political establishment will sorely regret it ever gave her a reason to return.