Thursday, November 29, 2007

DOOMSDAY part II - "Son of Superstorm"

(photo:cretinous hippy)
(Thanks to Laura K. for reminding me about this. And in response to offline requests, I'm going to try to update posts when relevant. Plus I really missed having this excellent photo on my frontpage).

Well, miraculously we survived the first "superstorm" predicted to devastate the Netherlands Nov. 24-28 by British crackpot little-appreciated scientific genius Piers Corbyn.


The picture above, from his website, reassures me that despite Corbyn's lack of credentials and failures to predict weather accurately in the past, he's really on to something!

Here's a screenshot of the latest disaster prediction.


Damn! And I had just taken my Wellingtons off...

This guy has got it all figured out: it doesn't matter if you're wrong all the time, just keep screaming. You'll draw attention to yourself, and some small percentage of people will pay for your scam valuable forecasts out of boredom or superstition. Kind of like horoscopes.

There's just a certain percentage of people out there who want there to be some magic, mystery, romance, soap opera in their lives.

And yes, I know, I'm just helping him out by giving him attention.

But I did want to mention that it appears formerly respectable Dutch weatherman Piet Paulusma has shifted his stance somewhat: now he doesn't appear to be endorsing Corbyn's predictions.

On the other hand, he's not exactly disowning them either:
On his blog entry from Monday, Nov. 26, titled "Piers Corbyn: Superstorm coming a little later," he includes a story from laatste Here's my translation of the first two sentences:

"The chance of a superstorm in the Netherlands is not yet over. So says British weatherman Piers Corbyn, according to whom the extremely heavy winds will now be coming a little later. He predicts, with a 72 percent probability, that the storm will be raging over the Netherlands at the end of this week or the beginning of December. Most gusts will have a speed of 110 kph."

Did you know that 28 percent of all statistics are just made up right on the spot?

Anyhow, given that Corbyn has extended his prediction, it's only fitting that I extend my wager offer: 100 euros says no winds measured at more than 100 kph in De Bilt up to and including Dec. 2.

(jon appleyard)

GeenStijl vs. Dutch Royal House


So, the Dutch Royal House is threatening to sue the website if they don't take down the above photo of crown prince Willem Alexander and his Argentine-born wife, Princess Maxima.

What in the world is so controversial here? GeenStijl says the pair were in New York buying an iPhone, which would apparently be illegal to use in the Netherlands (?? as far as I know it just wouldn't have full functionality).

The Dutch Royal House is claiming breach of privacy. I really cannot see what privacy the couple could reasonably expect in an Apple store.

Threatening letter from Royal House: Willem Alexander and Maxima "determine when someone has invaded their privacy, not you."

GeenStijl response: "You are not going to determine what's news and what's not."

People get this wrong all the time _ I was taking a photo of Darth Vader on Dam Square a few weeks ago and some passerby yelled at me that I wasn't allowed to photograph her.

As if she were royalty! No, wait. As if she were celebrity! No wait. As if she were not subject to the same rules as everybody else, no matter who she was.

Read the law, you ignorant, arrogant person.

Anybody can photograph you on the street. They just can't use your image for commercial or promotional purposes _ to advertise a product for instance _ without your permission.

For the royals, I'd say they have a good chance of forcing GeenStijl to retract their claim that the pair bought an iPhone if it's demonstrably untrue. The store should have receipts, or not, right?

So GeenStijl would need to retract that as potentially damaging to the pair's reputation, if indeed it's illegal to own an iPhone over here for some reason, and if indeed it would defame (as opposed to improving) the Royal reputation. But even so, GeenStijl should be able to keep the photo up.

If it is true the couple bought an iPhone, well. End of story. Truth is always a very strong defense against accusations of libel.

On the other hand,

I confess some confusion in my value system about the recent incident where the Dutch pedophile organization Martijn posted photos _ free, hand-out publicity photos available on the Royal House's website _ of Willem and Maxima's children.

I'm against that and so were the courts. The essence of the argument is that the Royal House should not be forced to appear to endorse pedophilia. In addition, they owned copyright of the photos and had specified that they were to be used for "educational" purposes only.

But hard to say what would have happened if those photos were taken on the street and not used to 'advertise' the pedophiles in any way, but just buried in the members section of their website. Damn, it's hard not to get emotional about that one.

An easier case was when paparazzi used long-range lenses to take photos into the royal couple's living room for one of the House of Orange fan club magazines. In their own home, the royals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and they won a case about it in the courts, rightly.

But in the GeenStijl case _ I don't see it. The owner of a store can forbid people from taking pictures on his property, but in this case obviously he/she didn't do so, or didn't enforce it.

Willem and Maxima are public figures, he the future head of state. He's doubly fair game for media scrutiny since the Dutch monarchy retains some real political power.

People may not like GeenStijl's taste or its satirical way of bringing the news, but there's simply no question it's part of legitimate public debate.

That the Royals are shopping in an Apple store is potentially the news equivalent of George Bush (Sr.) going shopping for groceries and never having seen a laser scan, or Wim Kok (previous Dutch prime minister) having never seen a computer 'mouse.'

So in short, I think justice and fairness are on GeenStijl's side. But no "Oraclar" prediction from me as to whether they will win actually win a suit if it comes to that.

The royals are truly awarded rights and privileges that others in the Netherlands aren't. For instance, it's a crime to insult the Queen.

That makes me mad, since (as a good American mutt) I don't believe some people should be 'more equal' than others just because of their pedigree.

And it's a restriction of freedom of speech.

For balance: the argument on the other side is that, under the constitution, the Queen can't stand up for herself, because that's delegated to the prime minister, who must take political responsibility for all she says and does.

I'm not buying that _ plenty of people can't stand up for themselves, but the royals are extremely wealthy and influential people who have other means at their disposal to get their way. To name just two: manipulation of media acces; and money for high class lawyers to send intimidating letters and even sue without grounds, never mind what it costs.

In short, with the privileges of royalty comes additional media scrutiny, and the Royal House should stop whining.



Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dutch government to ban pimps?

(photo: wilwheaton)

It's a dark day for feathered caps, canes and high-heeled shoes: Dutch parliament has approved a motion that would ban pimping.

Say what?

Of course, prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000, and tolerated since donkey's years, but forced prostitution has always been illegal.

So you'd think there'd be no need to add a law specifying that pimping in *that* sense is illegal.

But take the next logical step: prostitutes often work in brothels for various reasons, including increased safety and vetting of customers _ and it's a slippery slope from paying for "protection" to ending up under the control of the brothel owner.


And a recent government study found that neither the street pimp problem nor forced prostitution has been reduced by legalization.


So, the justice minister Ernst Hirch Ballin is going to research whether there's anything to be done to crack down on pimps.

(christine (bpc))

Hirsch Ballin's predecessor, Piet Hein Donner (now the Social Affairs Minister), was a very unquotable guy, but he had one great moment.

Dutch media started using the English-inspired word "loverboys" to describe a group of young men in Rotterdam who would woo teenage girls with fast cars, jewelry, etc., and later force them into prostitution.

So there was a parliamentary debate where all the MPs were going on and on about the problems posed by "loverboys." This was back in about 2004 I believe. Donner was listening patiently and finally he asked "am I missing something here, or are we just talking about pimps?"

One final word on pimps.

A city council member for Labor (think: the Democrats) in Nijmegen, Paul Depla, is in hot water right now after website GeenStijl published a story titled

"PvdA-wethouder oraal bevredigd in fietsenhok"
"Labor Councilman Orally Satisfied In Bike Cage"

I wish there was some way to do justice to the Dutch word 'fietsenhok' _ it summons up the image of a rainy parking lot for bikes, with a corrugated tin roof, with puddles and wind and graffiti and a few French fries wrappers scattered around with mayonnaise still on them.

"Now, there's a clear headline for once," GeenStijl wrote. It's a little bit inside baseball from then on, but here's just a taste.

"In Havanna on-the-Waal they would rather have kept this quiet, but we like transparency, even in politics...The incident occured recently after a council meeting. After a no-doubt heated debate Depla retired with the only female member of the VVD (Republican) faction to re-evaluate the evening in their own special way."

Depla, married with children, had been tapped as a future top leader for Labor. The woman who is said to have blown him has resigned (no reason given). Depla takes the line Bill Clinton didn't: that there is simply no need to address allegations about his sex life.

Unfortunately, in the real world, when a rumor is this widespread, a politician either has to deny it or everybody assumes it's true.

Clinton, Depla: I feel your pain _ even politicians should have some privacy. However, considering the duty you bear to the people you represent, you should also weigh the merits of keeping your dick in your pants while you hold public office.

(the actual fietsenhok, photograph by Trouw)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dutch Student Protests


Dutch high school students have been "on strike" for two days now, protesting against extra school hours. They organize via instant messaging (chat) programs and mobile phones.


Your reporter was on the scene (a little too late to see the action, unfortunately).

I keep thinking of the line from "Natural Born Killers" where Robert Downey Jr.'s character says,
"When the (bleep) hit the fan at Grenada, I saw it all go down at Grenada,"

Well, I saw the Dutch student riots of '07 and I lived to tell the tale.

Earlier, some people were throwing bottles at the cops and horses (why does throwing bottles at horses seems worse to me than throwing them at cops?! Maybe it's because the cops chose to be there, while the horses didn't, and don't understand what's going on.).

These young ladies, aged 14, 15, and 14 from left to right, didn't strike me as big trouble makers.

Run away! The "MA" is the riot police, btw.

NOS has a hilarious clip where some other girls are captured on film throwing eggs in The Hague. The reporter asks one why she's there and she says "to protest against the Education Ministry." The reporter points out that the building they're targeting is actually Parliament, and she says, "oh right. Bye!" and runs away giggling.

Lots of people are bad-mouthing the students, saying

they're a bunch of spoiled brats, etc.

I can see that. But I'm kind of glad to see the kids out demonstrating. Like: the Dutch cradle-to-grave nanny state hasn't sucked all the life spirit out of them yet.

I don't know about any of you out there, but I think an 8-hour school day is plenty. As I remember it (everybody tells me I'm wrong about this), I never learned a thing in school until I was 16 or so and actually started trying to learn. Until then, school was basically like prison.

That being said, whenever I was out of school, I was up to no good _ so I guess you can make the argument that confining students all day is better for the rest of society.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Zwarte Piet is a racist caracature part II -- Thanksgiving edition

(photo: emmaline)

(This essay is a work in progress)

To the good people of the Netherlands, who believe that they are not racist, wrongly, and believe that Zwarte Piet is a harmless, innocent tradition, wrongly, I want to say:

Thank you! I'm American, and I recognize that we owe Santa Claus, the main figure in our primary children's fantasy holiday, directly to the Dutch Sinterklaas. Santa turned Nordic in America, he got fat in America (like so many Americans), and we gave him elves as "helpers" ourselves. But credit for the basic idea goes to the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam.

In return, we have given you one of our smash-hit cultural exports to use during Sinterklaas: "blackface" and "darky iconography," a racist genre of theater and art that portrays black people as idiots, with exaggerated big lips, woolly hair, and of course, pitch black faces.

You use it on Sint's friend, "Black Pete."

Happy Thanksgiving!

No, Zwarte Piet wasn't always part of your Dec. 5 Sinterklaas tradition, which itself has changed dramatically over the years. Store that fact for later reference.

Zwarte Piet is a mishmash of ideas, but the red lips, woolly hair and blackface part of his "look" was copied directly and indirectly from artistic traditions from the U.S. in the century before World War II.

It was a time when few white people anywhere took black people's feelings very seriously, when colonialism and racial superiority were still credible ideas, and most Dutch people had never even seen a black person.

In the past 50 years, however, thanks to the civil rights movement in the United States and anti-colonial movements everywhere, blackface and darky iconography have become taboo, the visual equivalent of screaming the word "nigger." That's known from San Francisco to Tokyo. But not in poor Holland.

I say poor Holland, because in some ways, it really is too bad for you. You didn't create the problem of racism against black people (though you played your role), and now you've been left holding the bag: black racist iconography caught up right at the heart of one of your most beloved holiday traditions.

But racist it is, racist on its face and racist in its derivation.

On its face: a white man serves as overlord to a group of stupid servants with big lips, woolly hair, and black skin.
The derivation question is more complicated, and I'll return to it.

Simply put, because millions of black people were killed or enslaved by white people in the past four centuries, and millions more continue to suffer discrimination (in the United States AND the Netherlands), putting on blackface, wearing woolly wigs and red lipstick is about as funny as wearing a swastika.

Maybe you wouldn't blame a remote tribe somewhere in the Amazon forest for using the swastika unwittingly.

But the Netherlands is an industrialized, trading nation, not so isolated as to be able to plead mere ignorance.

(kyle horner)

Don't believe it that the rest of the world feels this way? Ask anybody not Dutch. Read up a bit.

It's the same as portraying Asian people as giggling with slanty eyes, or Native Americans as having buck teeth and wearing feathers.

(popular when I was young, no longer in U.S. stores)
(The Cleveland Indians baseball team is still fighting lawsuits about their racist caricature mascot "Chief Wahoo")

Actually, the reality is that you do know Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature, but you're experiencing a psychological phenomenon known as "cognitive dissonance" : the brain filters out new information (Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature) that conflicts with what one already believes (I love Zwarte Piet and I am not a racist).

In other words, even though you accept intellectually that racism is wrong, when you are confronted with evidence that Zwarte Piet is a racist tradition, your brain automatically starts looking for ways to reconcile the conflict.

Because it's socially impossible to let go of the belief that racism is wrong, the brain instead attempts to undermine or avoid the idea that Zwarte Piet is a racist tradition.

Here's some examples of how this kind of rationalizing works:

1) Zwarte Piet may be a little bit racist, but it doesn't matter much. After all, comedians make racist jokes sometimes, and that's okay.
2) I'm not racist, and I prove it in cases where it really matters. But Zwarte Piet is harmless fun.
3) Just because Zwarte Piet happens to be black, that doesn't make him a racist caricature.

That last one is correct. If Zwarte Piet were just black, he wouldn't be a racist caricature. It's that he's black, stupid, with woolly hair and big red lips _ that makes him a caricature.

The hardest rationalizations for me to answer are the first two, of the "So What?" variety, which assume that Zwarte Piet is mostly harmless. These often include a counterattack, saying "lighten up" and "stop being so politically correct."

I admit it's impossible to measure how much exposure to a negative stereotype will influence kids. Some exposure is inevitable and probably acceptable, like background radiation, I suppose. Zwarte Piet seems pretty bad, since it comes back every year and you can't avoid it. But maybe racist caricatures like Zwarte Piet are like video game violence _ kids look at them, but they're immune to the message.


Maybe. I say, why take the chance? Are we really so lazy when it comes to an ethical question like this? Are the Dutch tolerant, or just indifferent?

When in defensive mode, Dutch people often say, it's only adults who have a problem with Zwarte Piet. That always makes me laugh. That's right, it's the adults who don't want to change. The kids don't care, and would never notice the difference.

To me, the "So What?" argument is a lot weaker in the face of people who say they feel real emotional pain due to the lingering aftereffects of the slave trade. I'm not one of them, but I believe them, and it seems needlessly mean, in my opinion, to throw "So What?" in their faces, in the name of a tradition that's not so old or so strong as some people seem to believe (below). But again, I suppose that's a matter of taste.

You often hear Dutch people argue that foreigners just don't 'get' Zwarte Piet, as if there were mysterious depths to the tradition that we're missing. After nine years here, I think it's the Dutch who don't get it.

Typical foreigner question: Why would an enlightened, tolerant country like the Netherlands indulge in a ceremony that's so insulting to black people?

Typical Dutch Answer: Zwarte Piet isn't even from "black" (sub-Saharan) Africa, he's from Morocco. Or Spain.

Q: Then why is his skin so black, just like in all the "darky" figurines, rather than olive-colored?

A: Because he went down a chimney.

Q: Then why aren't there just smudges on his cheeks to show that he's been down a chimney?

(no answer)

Q: Why are his lips so big and red?

(no answer).

Q: Why is his hair so nappy?

A: Because he's black (after all) and that's how black people really look! (!!) or, Because he's a clown!

(Britain 1895)

Then the Dutch get defensive, attack the foreign questioner on his own national disgraces (Americans are an easy target) and will point out some other irrelevant detail, such as that Piet is actually rich, as evidenced by his clothes, so he can't be a slave or a servant.

What a lot of excuses there are for Zwarte Piet's racist appearance!

It's true there are a lot of traditions mixed together in Zwarte Piet _ just as there are a lot of traditions mixed together in Sinterklaas. The fact that they have changed so much over time should give us hope that Zwarte Piet will gradually be given the makeover he needs.

Sinterklaas wasn't always on Dec. 5 (see: The Reformation) nor is it wholly based on the the Greek Orthodox Άγιος Νικόλαος, but also other, less Christian tales, in which the white horse the Saint rides wasn't called "Amerigo"...

The legend of St. Nicholas (from Lycia, then-Greek, now Turkey) has merged with heathen ceremonies around Europe in countless variations.

But the general picture is: nice rich guy gives presents to kids, accompanied by one of two types of sidekicks: a poor servant (the clown), or a sinister figure (the devil).

The Dutch tradition happens to mix the good cop/bad cop elements, but the Sint either had no servant or a white servant until Jan Schenkman published a book called "Saint Nicholas and his Servant" in 1850. Schenkman dreamed up the idea that Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat (invented 1801) from Spain with a black servant (who isn't even called 'Piet' yet, the name first appears in a book in 1891).

Here are some Dutch images before and after Schenkman.



(Schenkman book illustrations circa 1885 _ see the servant walking behind him?)

(1928 _ a full fledged 'darky' Piet)

As the end of World War II, the one Zwarte Piet was multiplied to become many Piets _ I've heard varying explanations, but the basic idea appears to be that the Canadian soldiers who liberated the Netherlands wanted more manpower to give out all the gifts, and you could hardly multiply a saint.

So much for the ancient, immutable tradition of Zwarte Piet.

Now, thinking toward a resolution:

What should the Dutch do about Zwarte Piet? After all, the apologists argue, it's part of our history now. We can't whitewash "Black Pete."

I think the answer should be obvious from all that I've written above. You don't need to purge all mention of Zwarte Piet. What you need to do is, unwind the things about him that are most objectionable, the same way that Sinterklaas dropped his stick over the years as beating children became unacceptable.

Focus on his "Piet-ness" rather than his "Zwart-ness," as the NOS once put it.

No red lipstick. What does it add?
Use black smudges on the face (for the 'chimney ashes') instead of blackface "schmink."
Replace nappy black wigs with any other kind of hair you like. Dare I ask why does he even need the hair when he's got a feathered cap?

The multiplicity of Piets makes your job that much easier. Rainbow Piets? Why not. Throw in crafty Piets instead of dumb Piets. The cunning servant and jester characters have as long if not longer a tradition in Sinterklaas than that of the dumb slave.



"Teach your children well."


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In the Shadow of Anne Frank's Tree

(the actual tree)
(the actual trunk)
(two of the actual _ as the lord is my witness _ no less than 10 camera crews that were wandering around the tree and various neighbors' backyards on Monday).

Well, we've been through the Anne Frank Tree discussion on this blog before, but it dominated the Dutch news cycle last week, and looks like it's going to do the same again this week.

I don't have anything more to add to the story. My "opinion," such as it is, is repeated at the very bottom of this post after the "MORE." I would emphasize I see both sides of the "cut it down" vs. "save it at all costs" argument.

But I want to do something completely different and lift the veil on the news-gathering process. I was waiting around for several hours today for the "stress test" on the tree to begin and I started talking to one of the neighbors who wants the tree cut down.

His name is Charles Kuijpers, and he's auctioning chestnuts from the tree on Ebay. Reuters did the story; Why did AP let it slide? "No comment."

In fact he had gathered a small pile of chestnuts before I started filming, and they're laying there on the wall.

He will apparently be testifying in court tomorrow, and I had some time on my hands, so I was trying to get him to talk about the tree.

I can't decide if what happens next is hilarious, depressing, or merely human. I kept trying to steer the conversation back toward the tree, but instead got dragged into a discussion of his (and my!) comic book collection instead. Life contains both comedy and tragedy, thankfully. I was partly having fun, partly interested in what he had to say, partly bound to be polite, and partly I didn't want him to dislike me, so in short _ I kept up my end of the conversation.

From my camera viewpoint, the tree is just out of sight to the left, and the Anne Frank House is just out of sight to the right (because I'm in the house next door).

I finally got the conversation back on track.

So what do we learn from this?

The debate over the Anne Frank tree is essentially one over what constitutes cultural heritage, and how far we should go to preserve it.
Anne Frank is the best known, most human face of the Holocaust, and her memory is sacred.
On the other hand, the tree is not Anne Frank, and saving it will not bring her back, nor is cutting it down an insult to her memory. All that lives, dies.

So, the tree is threatening an incomparably more banal, but nonetheless real cultural artifact: a first edition Donald Duck comic book.

Maybe I'm the only one weird enough to find the juxtaposition interesting, bizarre, pathetic, laughable. Tragicomic.

And _ did anybody notice? _ another amusing paradox:
I wouldn't have been there in the first place if it weren't for Anne Frank's diary, but this blog is my diary. Who knows what value this entry might have someday?

Furthermore, I must sadly conclude my old comic book collection is worthless.


Meanwhile, I was standing in the living room of Sylvio Mutal, a much different sort of neighbor who deeply feels that it would be a mistake to let the tree die. That Amsterdam is showing a failure of imagination here, because of minor fears about money, liability and above all else, having to `deal with it´.

As fate would have it _ and how else can you describe this but fate? _ Mutal, the other guy who wound up owning the apartment right next door to the Anne Frank House, just happens to have had a 40 year career as a U.N. expert on monument preservation.

And in his retirement, a fight over a monumental tree erupts outside the window of his study.

I mean really. What are the chances? What are the chances?

Mutal is colorful character, the kind of personality I've only come across a few times in my life: he exudes erudition, charm and worldly wisdom. An art collector. A polyglot. A bon-vivant. And he out-talks everybody in the room.

He told me the most, really the most incredible story. He said that only yesterday, while he was hanging a picture of the tree in his doorway, he struck up a conversation with an elderly Jewish couple who were passing by.

It turned out that both had been in hiding in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation _ just as Anne Frank was _ only both were never discovered and so survived. The wife was in Venlo (near the eastern border, where they speak Dutch with a German accent) and the husband in another Amsterdam attic. (!)

And _ wait for it _ the kicker: neither had ever been to visit the Anne Frank house.(!!??!!) They asked Mutal where it was, and he's pointing with his hand at his wall, saying 'right there. it was right there, right through that wall.' And the couple is saying 'oh, I thought it was somewhere else.'

Un-be-lievable. There must be more to that story.

Mutal is going to be devastated if the ruling goes against the tree tomorrow. We'll see what happens.

So, as promised, my comment, repeating from an earlier post: a quote from 'A Wizard of Earthsea,' by Ursula LeGuin. (as long as I'm putting my inner nerd on display with the comic book thing, I might as well go all the way...)

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


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Het Fietscafe / The Bike Cafe

I'm planning on taking some shots of classic Amsterdam sights, and especially bicycles. This here is one of the more unusual bikes you'll see around town: het fietscafe, the bike cafe. Everyone pedals, everyone drinks. The matrons on the bike were definitely inebriated.

From the company's website:

"You need a sober driver and of course, the best bartender looks after the beer and drinks."

This doesn't really need translation, but just in case you English speakers are feeling lost: they get stuck at a bridge, and the tram is not sure whether it can pass. People on the bike are shouting: 'push!, push!' and then, 'what now?' Finally people start shouting 'push ladies, pedal, come on!' and then they do and the bike starts moving again (and the tram decides it can pass). One lady says to me 'nice for a photo, huh?' I couldn't think of a snappy comeback. The music (of course) was the worst kind of Dutch folk music.

Dutchies: sorry, I mean: that peerless Dutch composer, Andre Hazes, pride of the lowlands.

Incidentally, this clip also illustrates some of the bike lights I referred to in bike light controversy.

Surprise unrelated bonus clip after the 'MORE'

These horses go riding around town sometimes _ They're obviously an advertising gimmick, but I'm not really sure if they don't actually deliver some kegs sometimes. For some reason I usually bump into them while I'm on my way to work. Here they are leaving Weteringcircuit (Vijzelstraat) heading toward _ what else _ the Heineken brewery.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Zwarte Piet is a Racist Caricature and Must Be Banned

(photo: sulaco rm)
Did I stutter?

It's not complicated: the picture above tells the whole story, and all Dutch who deny it are suffering from an acute case of what we call "cognitive dissonance" where I come from.

I plan to elaborate on this in full, but for once, I want to invite any contra claims first. Bring 'em on, I'm eager to hear. Tell me all about how Sinterklaas is Turkish and Zwarte Piet is actually rich, and the only reason he has blackface on is because he went down the chimney.

And he's stupid because _ well that's just the way he is.

And this is part of Dutch culture, and I'm being politically correct; and humorless; and we should just accept it like grandpa's farting at a birthday party, because it would be very traumatic to get rid of it.

Wake up and smell the coffee, kids. It's the practical equivalent of the "Running of the Jews" in the Borat movie.

Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature and must be banned.

There will certainly be a part II to this post.


But that's all for now.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Monkeys: Misanthropic or Misunderstood?

(photo:thomas lu)

"We can deal with mad bulls but monkeys are more difficult"

-New Delhi deputy police commissioner Jaspal Singh, as quoted by AFP.

I feel it is my duty to remark upon the spate of yellow journalism that has been denigrating the noble race of monkeys in recent days.

It began with an Agence France Presse article titled "Monkeys rampage in Indian capital", which quickly scaled Yahoo's "Most Viewed" charts, prompting the other agencies to respond.

"In land of the Monkey God, a primate menaces," Reuters blared.

To the AP's credit, it has a slightly more factual story, "Monkey Injures Several People in India," avoiding the dubious claim repeated by other agencies that a single monkey had hurt more than 2 dozen people.

Today the New York Times got into the act, two days late and with 1,000 words _ the words not worth the picture. At that length, the NYT is more a magazine than a newspaper...

All the stories are basically anthropocentric, species-ist and humanist in their outlook: people are good, and monkeys bad. People are valuable, monkeys are a nuisance.

And, aiming at the lowest common denominator, all make sure to mention prominently the death of New Delhi's vice mayor last month.

Trouble boiled over in late October when the city's deputy mayor, Sawinder Singh Bajwa, 52, fell to his death driving away monkeys from his home.

He was on his balcony reading a newspaper when four monkeys appeared, his family said. As he waved a stick to scare them away, he tumbled over the edge and died in hospital from head injuries.


Tragic, surely. I pray that I don't die in some humiliating manner.
But no one dares to point out the obvious: if this guy weren't going after the monkeys with a stick, he'd be alive today.

In fact, none of the stories makes more than a passing effort to think about things from the monkeys' point of view.

(peter garnhum)

(mr. huevo)

Estimates for the city's monkey population in all four stories range from 5,000 to 25,000.

Well, I estimate New Delhi's human population at 14 million, and growing at the rate of 1/2 million per year. Who is overbreeding here?

A telling detail is included in the final sentence of the AFP story:

"Kartick Satyanarayanan, head of India's Wildlife SOS, said the invasion of natural habitats by mushrooming populations was at the root of the problem.
"Humans are taking all their space."

It's only natural for monkeys to strike back. In fact, rumor has it, the latest altercations are part of the monkey's "Take Back New Delhi" campaign, in which all the humans will ultimately be put in cages and be moved to neighboring Mumbai.

The monkeys are a nuisance, but please, don't insult my intelligence by suggesting that they can compete with say, pollution, on the list of troubles that New Delhi faces.

The other thing these stories do is mock Hinduism, the world's oldest surviving religion, in which monkeys are considered holy.

The AFP says that "along with sacred cows and buffaloes, marauding monkeys have been longstanding pests."

Efforts to drive out the animals is complicated by the fact that devout Hindus view them as an incarnation of Hanuman, the monkey god who symbolizes strength.

Devout Hindus? As opposed to lax Hindus, who cook and eat the monkeys? New Delhi is more than 80 percent Hindu.

There's a reason Hindus worship monkeys!

Monkeys are pure comedy gold. Always have been, always will be.

Praise Hanuman!

And please, keep me up to date about any important monkey news or comedy you come across...

(stephen butler)
(stephen butler)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mobile Marijuana Plantations Hidden Inside Trucks

(photo and others from website

This is the Dutch equivalent of what people in the United States would call "the can-do spirit." Over here they call it the "VOC mentaliteit" _ (meaning, Far East Indies Company entrepreneurialism. The acronym is still a household word in Holland four centuries later).

The photos show a truck that's been converted to a mobile weed plantation.

Here's the link to "Weed Forum," which has more photos, but it's Dutch language.

Credit to Dutch blog GeenStijl for finding the thread. They said that the truck used generators on its axles to power the lights, but people reacting to the post dispute that.

To be honest I can't tell exactly what's going on on the website _ it sounds like the guy that posted the photos was a cop (?) who helped bust the plantation (?). It was in the Dutch city of Heerenveen, anyway, in the north.

The post reads:

"Back to Heerenveen again last night.
At 6 a.m. I got a call for two trailers and a ready-to-go container. When I got there it appeared not only was there a container standing there that was completely converted to 'igrowbox', but also there was another one next to it set up as cutting room.
Two warehouses further there were two trailers with 1,200 plants and in that space there was another, more professional cutting room set up where we found 3 kilos plus. Photos upcoming."

And then he gives some of the specs of the lighting systems, etc.

The best line was one of the reactions: "I can't believe they're deconstructing this. It belongs in a museum."

Other posters are saying stuff like, 'Ah, the electricity systems could be better arranged' (with apparently no irony!).

Now, people who don't get the nuances of Dutch drugs policy may be wondering, why on Earth are they going to all this trouble when weed is legal in the Netherlands?

The answer of course, is that weed isn't legal here. It's illegal but not prosecutable for possession of amounts of up to 5 grams (and in practice much more).

To me, this story highlights one of the most interesting _ actually the most interesting _ part of the Dutch tolerance policy. By some incredible paradoxical logic they tolerate the sale of weed, but bust the growers.

So you have a mega industry _ "coffee shops" _ who have no way to legally source their main product.

And someone will inevitably service them, because there's money to be made. That's basic market theory. The VOC spirit leads to small plantations being built in residential neighborhoods, (causing fire hazards), greenhouses, warehouses, and, apparently, trucks and shipping containers.

A majority of the previous parliament was in favor of decriminalizing growers. That would have solved a lot of problems, notably the question of what chemicals are being used in intensive growing facilities.

But it was shot down because the government feared (rightly) that tolerating both growers and sellers would be seen by the international community as outright legalization, which would give NL problems with both Brussels and Washington.

Now things are back in limbo, with the political right dreaming of criminalization (good luck) and left dreaming of legalization (not until other countries start seeing things the same way).

(this is called 'igrow keet' by the poster. I'm not sure what that means, but those are obviously buds undergoing some kind of processing.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Total Eclipse of the Heart

I'm embarrassed to say I just realized I can embed YouTube videos on my blog, which is going to have some implications for my Dylan Project.

Anyhow, just in case there was anybody out there hasn't seen this, it's a classic, good for a little Saturday night Dada:

The band is called "Hurra Torpedo."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


(photo:cretinous hippy)
The end is nigh, says some British wacko ("Piers Corbyn") who studies sunspots and solar flares, or something like that. I won't dignify him with a link.

The basic idea is, an enormous storm will strike Northern Europe Nov. 24-28, causing devastating floods in the Netherlands.

A formerly respectable Dutch TV weather man called Piet Paulusma is buying it. I have to admit I've never heard of him before, but then, he works for SBS6 and that's not typically my 'go-to' station for news.

Paulsma's (Dutch language) blog, which I also won't dignify with a link:

By mid-month "an expanding depression will develop over the Atlantic Ocean due to tropical air. At its edges, disturbances will form, and a very active cold front. The result is a phenomenon that can be described as a superstorm; an instance that will be bigger than the storm of 1987 and that of 1703."

And then 200kph winds, Anne Frank's tree is toast, the Delta Works crumble, zombies moan and gibber in the streets, dogs and cats start living together peacefully.

All this with an 80 percent chance, which leaves Corbyn and Paulsma with what can best be termed "an easy 'out'" when it all fails to materialize.

(photo:sweejak; painting:"The Wreck")

I for one am very worried about Holland flooding. Always have been, ever since I came, even before global warming was recognized as a real big deal.

My primary issues:
a) if we're below sea level and it rains too much, how do they get all the water to drain out to the sea in time?
b) I know the dunes and dikes are strong, yadda yadda yadda, but WHAT IF there's a break? Pretty hard to plug a breach in a sea dike. And there's more water in the sea than you might think.

(no credit necessary due to annoying imprint on picture)

Now you wouldn't think this story would have ever made it off Corbyn's website, let alone Paulsma's, but in this country, the weather is always news.

Or at least, that's what the editors think, so the story's been widely distributed.

The Royal Dutch Weather Institute trotted out somebody to point out that nobody can predict weather more than 10 days in advance (see: The Butterfly Effect)

Institute expert Cees Molenaars was widely quoted as saying "This is scaring people unnecessarily, and that's dangerous."

However, Paulsma (who has gotten a generous helping of free publicity out of this already) shot back by digging up an old post from the KNMI's website in which they discuss the possibility of a "superstorm."

"Very unusual circumstances, in which two storm depressions combine, can lead to superstorms. Superstorms are characterized by unheard of wind speeds and very extreme downpours.
They've never been recorded in our region. (But) climate models show that they can now in principle occur above the North Atlantic Ocean. Due to the greenhouse effect on the upper atmosphere, the area where they happen can be shifted in the direction of Europe. The Netherlands, too, could then experience this.
The shortcomings of our current climate models also mean that we can't determine the chance of such a shift very well."


(photo:daily mail)

However, I don't need to channel the Oracle of Amsterdam to tell you it's not happening.
I'll put my money where my mouth is: I'm offering all comers 10-1 odds that there's not a single gust of wind above 100kph measured in "De Bilt" (the Dutch weather service's chief measuring station, near Utrecht) during Nov. 24-28.

(photo of new orleans

Hey! Keep your eyes on the sign!