Friday, February 29, 2008


Adjective (or plural noun 'allochtonen') meaning "Muslim" Also: "foreign, inferior, criminal."

The word is fabricated from Greek ἀλλος (other) and χθον (ground), and was designed to sound polite, correct and scientific.

Pronunciation: allah-(quickly clear throat as if about to spit)-TOEN; plural allahg-TOE-nin.

See Also: Dutch Royal House

(Princess Maxima)

The Greeks never used this word. Athenians called immigrants 'metics' and granted them rights. Foreigners were βαρβαροi, that is, like Conan. Or ξενοι, which had a positive connotation. Xenophobic is essentially a pejorative.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How To Foster Class Division in Three Easy Steps


Step One:

Lower Taxes on Rich


Step Two:

Sell Unethical Mortages to Inflate the Real Estate Bubble

Step Three:

When Bubble Bursts, Bail-out for Banks

(nemos great uncle)

The climactic third step. Bankers get to keep all the money they made off of selling mortgages, thanks to the bailout; middle class people are screwed because their property, their main asset, is worth less; and working people too poor to own their own homes are *really* screwed because they still have to help pay for the bailout.

And the rich share less of the burden _ see step one.

Genius, I say, pure genius.

Food for thought.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Burka bans, "Burkini" bans

Every several weeks for the past three years or so, the Dutch goverment or a right wing politician has proclaimed the need to ban burkas in the Netherlands.

An estimated 150 women wear them in this country of 16 million.

Anyhow, a side-plot to all this is the debate over the "burkini," which is basically a full body swimsuit.

"Muslim woman Liselotte Buitelaar was evicted from the 'Hanzebad' swimming pool in Zwolle Thursday. She had been swimming for five minutes with her 2 year old son Ilias when the 'bathmasters' came to tell her that there were complaints about her burkini."

-De Stentor

Aside number one: Ilias is an awesome name.

Aside number two: this is EXACTLY what used to be worn by 'western' women to beaches about 100 years ago.

Anyhow, I don't care if people wear gorilla suits in the pool, and it stuns me that people in Zwolle would feel any different. What if this were just a wetsuit? A lot of my friends in California used to wear them when practicing crazy dives into the swimming pool, because apparently it took away some of the sting of belly flopping.

More recently, top competitive swimmers like the Netherlands' own Pieter van den Hoogenband are wearing suits that are not that different.

(VDH nemesis Thorpe)

"Our regular customers found it objectionable," said pool director Hans Meijer. "We have to hold reckoning with that."

Aside one: Should I capitalize "Pool Director?"
Aside two: Is it legal to discriminate on this basis?

Similar cases where restaurant owners tried to ban women with headscarves were blown out of the water.

At least opponents of the burka have rational arguments against it; without going into the merits, those opposed said that it was a risk to public safety to have people whose faces could not be seen riding on public transport.

And the burka was a "symbmol of oppression." But one suspects the opponents really aren't that worried about the plight of Muslim women.

In any case, the burkini was an opportunity for religious Muslims to engage in a part of everyday Dutch life.

But no, management stepped in to block it.

Why? Customers found it "Objectionable" (Dutch: aanstootgevend).

Give me a break.

Meanwhile, 1 million Dutch _ that's out of 16 million men, women and children in the country _ watched Deep Throat, the movie, on Saturday.
Beaches are topless by default, and nude beaches are almost as common.

Whose morals are more funky here, Muslims who want to cover up or Dutch who want to take it off?

And more importantly, what ever happened to the good old Dutch attitude of 'don't bother me and I won't bother you."?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Amsterdam Police Use "Drone" Craft Against Squatters

(Photos: Karen Eliot)

Amsterdam cops used an unmanned "drone" aircraft while evicting squatters from a building yesterday. It's equipped with a little camera that feeds live images back to a laptop on the ground.

They say it was the first time they've done this. Usually they would use a helicopter, but that was impossible because of low-hanging clouds.

(Right, like that's never happened in Holland before!)

Unfortunately none of the Dutch stories say exactly what they were using the thing for! I would presume for the police to check out what awaits them in the upper floors of the building.

Squatters sometimes resist evictions with some violence; and there was a big controversy after police accused squatters of "booby trapping" a roof to collapse during an eviction several months ago.

(Executive summary: the squatters denied it, and photo evidence to me appeared to back them up).

According to some of the websites writing about this, they tried to introduce these things in the U.S. but were blocked by the FAA. Anybody know more? In England apparently they've put them into use in the town of "Merseyside," but they have to follow rules laid down for toy planes, keeping the grounded person piloting them within a certain distance of the craft.

I just keep thinking of that scene at the start of The Empire Strikes Back, on "Ice Planet Hoth" when the little drone scoots along doing reconnaissance.

The company that makes these things, "Microdrones" of Germany.

Here's a BBC item on the product, which costs around $2,000. You could probably build it yourself for less, but you need a little know-how...

And if anyone was wondering, the squatters at Steven Biko square left peacefully; in fact they 'booby trapped' the door of the building with a heap of balloons as a joke.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

RIP Michael Litfin

(Michael Litfin, this photo and others by Andrew Hayes).

The Palo Alto Children's Theatre played a huge part in my life when I was young. In fact, I would say that many of the best memories of my childhood are from performing in shows and (later, during college) working backstage, building sets.

Several of my coworkers continue to be among my very closest friends.

About two months ago I heard the theater was the target of a financial investigation.
Having had first-hand experience with Palo Alto's "Nothing Better To Do So Let's Go Harass Teenage Skateboarders" Police Department when I was a delinquent, I have my doubts about the merits of this investigation. But of course as a reporter, I know one can never be too cynical.

Even more sadly, Michael Litfin, one of the theater's two directors, died of cancer while the investigation was still going on.

Michael was a great person, and today they're celebrating his life at a ceremony at the theater's Secret Garden.

That's the same place where I had my first kiss, and the place where my mother's memorial was held when she died, many years ago.

It pains me deeply to miss Michael's ceremony. Rest in peace, Michael and thank you for everything you did for me _ and thousands of other kids.

(The shop, which houses a little bit of my soul amid that blessed mess).

(outdoor stage)

Here's the text I contributed to Michael's memorial program, or tried to contribute. I hope they printed it:

Michael picked a hell of a time to quit smoking.

I can joke, because I know that our sadness at his death and the confusion of the moment are of no matter, weighed against what he accomplished in life. That will become more clear in time. Everything does.

To a delinquent teenager's eyes, more than 20 years ago, Michael cut a fearsome figure.

I remember rehearsals grinding to a halt and being summoned onto center stage to face a stern-voiced man seated in the center of the auditorium. It was hard to see him, what with the lights in my eyes and all.

"Was it you who threw the rubber chicken onto the set?"

Dead silence of anywhere from 15-45 actual seconds. Time enough to wonder how much it would hurt to fling myself into the orchestra pit.

"Did you have permission to take it from the prop table?"

Another silence of up to a minute. Fantasies of sprinting through the emergency exit door and never looking back.

Finally, offering apologies and receiving Michael's dispensation to slink back into the wings. Those uncomfortable silences were effective _ in retrospect, you couldn't ask for a better illustration of how to put dramatic tension to use. I shall torture my own children with the technique someday.

Now that time has been getting on, I see Michael rather differently. I was 12 years old the summer my mother died of cancer, and Michael and Pat cast my little sisters and I as extras in a Wingspread production of "The Music Man." There were 15 or so surrogate mothers in the cast and crew. I see that now. Probably it wasn't pure talent that got us into the show. I see that now.

I returned to the theater as a young adult with more appreciation for Michael's arch character. Anybody who witnessed him leap onto the stage during a rehearsal and physically demonstrate how to do a bit, knows such moments were as magical as they were rare. And his pre-show pep talks: "Ladies and gentlemen, you've got a *hot* show!" _ he outperformed us all.

There are a lot of things I wish I knew about Michael. Gallows humor we shared, but I never found direct conversation with him easy, even after I hung up my black show slippers. Did he favor the presentational or representational school of acting? Did he even think in those terms? It came as a shock to me to learn that he grew up in Minnesota. I would have thought he just hardened sometime in the Precambrian.

One thing I'm quite certain of is that I loved him, and am forever indebted to him and the rest of the theater staff.

Reluctantly, I want to mention the police investigation that's ongoing as I write this. Because from far away, rightly or wrongly, I get the feeling that there's some political element to it. Or at any rate that there are people out there who think that maybe the theater that Michael did so much to build up is something like an undeserving 'special interest.'

No. The importance of the theater to Palo Alto (and beyond) runs both broad and deep.

Broad, as in the outreach program and the many kids who just pass through the theater once. The experience of having a real director and real set can't be compared _ with all respect _ to that offered by the typical elementary or high school production put on by an English teacher with a good heart. Just a thought in passing: how many kids in Palo Alto had their first crushes or kisses during a Children's Theater show?

Deep for those kids _ many of them 'outsiders' at school _ whose lives are changed forever by discovering that they have an unexpected talent for theater or stagecraft. And also deep for those like me, who just plain loved it.

So, Michael is irreplaceable, but he absolutely must be replaced; we will mourn and miss him badly, and the shows must go on.

I understand he was really looking forward to his 25th birthday. Let this be the celebration.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Naked PETA protest against Spanish bullfighting _ in Amsterdam?

A trio of protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals stripped down to their underwear on Amsterdam's central square on Tuesday to protest bullfighting in Spain and Portugal.

Protester Lauren Bowey said PETA plans similar protests in capital cities around Europe in the coming year, because tourists attending bullfights help keep them in operation.

"The arenas are a quarter full, but it's appealing to tourists," she said. The protest drew several hundred gawkers in the course of a half hour.

Asked whether she wasn't cold with just a sign board covering her breasts, Bowey told one tourist "it's nothing compared to what the bulls go through."

Funny how almost everything a topless woman says starts to make sense...

It was quite a nice day in Amsterdam today, though perhaps still a bit too nippy to want to stand naked on a public square.

A few photos of 'faces from the crowd.'

*The End*


Monday, February 11, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

(unfortunately, all photos on this post are not mine, so plain-jane copyrighted for the time being).

Somebody else's vacation.

I promised myself long ago I would never apologize for not updating this blog frequently enough. Now I feel guilty anyhow. Basically I've got a lot of things going on right now. And in that spirit, I bring you this.

A good friend of mine _ I'll call him "Jan" _ recently went to Australia "to find out about a girl," as they say. I'll call her "Sheila."


(note the red hair: he never had a chance...)

I feel somewhat responsible for all of this because I was dressed up as Steve Irwin with a sting ray barb through my chest for Halloween in Amsterdam. That prompted her to introduce herself _ and proved the icebreaker that ultimately led to their (stormy) relationship.

Basically, he's a great guy and she's a cool chick, but you know, it's got to work.
I'm not the type to show you the photos of wallabies and kangaroos. Instead, here are a few glimpses from the road.

(couldn't this be california in 1977?)

(watch out for these!)

(Apparently on the other side was "the Male brain," divided between just sex, beer and football.)

(a pub in Melbourne. Nice mix of people).

(nightfall. Anybody else love the mood of this time of day?)

(Sheila at a car show)

(Australia Day).

(The erstwhile couple).

The upshot of the vacation was, she's there and he's back here. They want to be together, but neither has a work visa for the other's country. To be continued...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Peter R. De Vries


By now, people interested in such things are aware a Dutch crime reporter is saying he has "solved" the mystery of the Natalee Holloway disappearance. Peter R. de Vries will air his show Sunday night.

To me, "solved" would mean finding a body, living or dead, and, if dead, evidence demonstrating how she died.

Or, as I posted earlier, a credible confession as to how she died.

Dutch websites are buzzing with rumors that what PRDV has is some kind of confession. It's unclear whether it's of any value in a court case.

I won't repeat the libel that's on that website, but there it is.

On Dutch television show "Pauw & Witteman," Friday, Joran van der Sloot said he was innocent, but admitted confessing to a friend that she died while they were having sex and that he and a friend dumped her body in the ocean afterward. But he said this, too, was a lie.

Strange lie.

I will observe several things about Peter R. De Vries, known here as a real-life "Tintin."

1) Judging by his TV appearances, he's very confident he has something big.
2) He has broken major stories in the past ("Mabelgate"), and solved cold cases, including murders.
3) Like Tintin, PRDV has his own moral code. In the U.S., it's a crime to videotape somebody in a private place without their knowledge and permission. However, he said on TV yesterday his evidence is admissible in court. (How would he know?)
4) PRDV is fallible. Not only in the way that everybody is fallible, but as in, he has wrongly accused people of crimes in the past. To his credit, he's admitted it when he's wrong.

More on Sunday