Thursday, May 29, 2008

Correction: Dutch cops wiretap about 2.5 times as much as U.S.

(flickr: scruffy dan and breanne)

Data on Dutch wiretaps has been released for the first time. National police tapped roughly 25,000 phones in 2007. Those are taps authorized by a judge, not counting intelligence agency taps.

Because we have so little information from the Justice Ministry*, it's very hard to say how the Netherlands _ reputedly the "most tappingest" country on Earth _ stacks up.

There were 2,119 such tapping orders granted in the United States in 2007.

However, each U.S. tap requests led to ON AVERAGE 94 individual phones being tapped. That's presumably because they are often going after gangs and/or tapping everybody even tangentially related to a case.

So the equivalent number of U.S. phones tapped by cops would be (whips out pocket calculator) 94*2,119 =200,000.

Considering that the U.S. population is roughly 20 times bigger than the Dutch population, Dutch cops are, in proportion, tapping about 2.5 as often as U.S. cops.

I got it wildly wrong on my previous post because, of course, I didn't have the actual data from Dutch justice yet, and relied on ANP.
Most Dutch papers are still running the story today comparing apples to oranges, as I did in my previous post.

Still, it's interesting that the Dutch tap more than twice as much as Americans, and I'm very curious to know if there will ever be data released on what their conviction rate is.

(full text of Justice Ministry statement translated after the "More" below)

(vaguely artistic)

In my letter of 13 November 2007 I promised to send you tapping statistics about the second half of 2007.
With this letter I would like to fulfill that promise.

The National Interception Unit of the Corps of National Police Services (KLPD) carries out interceptions for all police corps, the Special Investigation services and the Royal Marechaussee (border police) and has functioned since mid-2007 as the only center for interception of telecommunications for use in investigations.

In the second half of 2007 there were orders given by the Public Prosecutor's Office for tapping 12,491 telephone numbers.
These were 84 percent on mobile phones and 16 percent on fixed lines.

In the period concerned there were a daily average of 1,681 taps running.

The full year figures will be named in the budgeting cycle and in that way will be made knowable to you.


Ernie (Ernst Hirsch Ballin)


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dutch wiretapping bonanza - more than 200x the U.S. rate

(flickr: scruffy dan and breanne)

UPDATE: This post, from Wednesday, was so wrong and needed such a major correction that I'm leaving the original below for historical purposes. The corrected version, Thursday, is above.

Freaking holy crap!

Data on Dutch wiretaps has been released for the first time. National police tapped roughly 25,000 phones in 2007*. Those are taps authorized by a judge, not counting intelligence agency taps.

By comparison, there were 2,119 such taps in the United States in 2007.

But considering that the U.S. population is roughly 20 times bigger than the Dutch population, Dutch cops are, like, (whips out pocket calculator) 235 times more tap-happy here than U.S. cops are.

Am I missing something here?

*The figures are according to a letter the Justice minister reportedly sent to parliament today. I'm deeply aggravated that I can't find the document myself, so have to rely on reports by ANP...grrrr...

(vaguely artistic)

U.S. law enforcement also gives a breakdown of how many arrests per wiretap they average. Somewhat surprisingly, if I read the table right, that figure is about 2 arrests per wiretap.

This may be somewhat misleading, since U.S. wiretaps involve 94 people on average (!), which I guess means that they are often going after gangs and/or tapping everybody even tangentially related.

Anyhow. I really hope that when the Dutch data is published we can compare their success rate.

The Oracle of Amsterdam predicts: it's going to turn out to be much lower here, because with no public scrutiny, the Dutch cops have been going on fishing expeditions, in lieu of actual investigative work.

That's my instinct. We'll see.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The journalist's ode to a ship hijacked by Somali pirates

A journalist's ode to a freight ship hijacked by Somali pirates somewhere in the Gulf of Aden on a sunny Sunday in May:

The Lady Amiya Scan
is a ship in a jam
and could use some help on the double.

She's a freighter you know,
with an oil rig cargo,
in deep multicultural trouble.

Owned by the Dutch but chartered by Danes,
she was pinching the pennies but risking the flames,
crewed by four Russians and five Filipinos.

She set sail from Kenya last week,
her flag Panamanian (not Greek),
due in Romania today, mas o menos

But somewhere in the Gulf of Aden,
Somali pirates struck yet again,
outmanning her crew oh so greatly.

Said Cap. Pottengal Mukundan,
an (Indian) expert based in London,
"It's been happening quite often lately."

What do you think, do I make a chance at getting into Versal?


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dutch Culture Wars II - KLM the 'appeasers'

(flickr: darkpatator)

De Telegraaf reports that on a KLM flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam recently, a Muslim woman asked if the (Dutch) non-Muslim man sitting next to her could be moved to another seat.

There was another (better) seat open, so they moved him.

That's the story.

You might think: why is it news when an airline does a small courtesy to a woman traveling alone? You'd be missing the nuance. This is pure appeasement, proof that creeping Islamism is on the brink of destroying Dutch society!

De Telegraaf's headline reads "KLM Bows To Muslim Sex[ist] Demand"

The story drew more than 900 comments on De Telegraaf's website _ about a third of them so venomous that they had to be removed. The first comment that wasn't censored, the fifth, reads:

"Yeah, just wait a little longer and we will only be able to do what our Muslim brothers and sisters say we can. We just have to adjust in our own country."

That sets the tone. Comment after comment rails about the impending Islamic state in the Netherlands, the outrageousness of the woman's request, religion is stupid, this is the world upside down, etc., etc.

But just look at the story closely and it falls apart.


The only way we even know it happened at all is that the guy who changed seats, Lex van Drooge, happens to be a politician for the Christian Democrat party in Amsterdam.

More on that in a moment.

Funny enough, it's not clear whether he is sure it happened at all. He says he didn't speak a word to the woman he was next to and at first didn't know why the flight attendant asked him to move. "Later it emerged that this was at the request of my original neighbor with a headscarf," the paper quoted him saying. (A headscarf, the horror! We know what *that* means. What kind of backward people would wear a headscarf?)

-He doesn't actually say her objection was religious _ he just suggests it.
-No other passengers noticed the incident.
-KLM staff say they don't know about it either.

A KLM spokesperson quoted in the story says their seating change policy is that if someone wants a change, flight attendants accommodate them when possible, and otherwise not. (sure sounds true to my experience). No special Muslims policy.

Lex van Drooge is also quoted saying he 'telephoned around' and no one else has heard of this kind of thing happening on other airlines, not even Turkish ones.

I believe the incident did happen in some form, so I'm not questioning Van Drooge's word per se.

But as a critical person you have to look at the situation:

1) Van Drooge is an opposition politician in left-leaning Amsterdam. He has something to gain by playing up this story. It didn't make its way into the paper without his help. (THINK, people!).

(CDA Amsterdam website)

2) Is it not possible that the woman didn't want to sit next to Drooge for some other reason? One person can take a dislike to another without exchanging a word _ it happens all the time.


So maybe she used religion as an excuse for having him moved; or maybe Drooge just assumed it was a question of religion.


My main interest in this story is really the double whammy of the incendiary way De Telegraaf cast it, and the nastiness of the reactions by the paper's readers.

On the readers: so many of them are concerned with Muslim intolerance and saying that Muslims should conform to 'Dutch' ways or not travel here.

But this didn't happen on the cheese train in Gouda. It happened on a flight between Istanbul and Amsterdam.

Turn the plane around, look in the mirror, and ask, why is this such a big deal?

Substitute "Catholic nun asks not to sit next to man on flight" for "Muslim woman," and I don't think anyone would have raised an eyebrow.

The defensiveness and over-reaction to a small perceived affront to Dutch culture is a sign of insecurity.

How DARE she tell us what to do! Why do WE have to be considerate to a foreigner in OUR country! Not fair!

Where's the sense of perspective here?

At one Dutch company I know of, they don't serve karnemelk (buttermilk) for lunch when Japanese guests are attending. Accommodating foreigners in this way is not a sign Dutch culture is about to collapse in the face of a Japanese onslaught.

On the contrary, making a small sacrifice for foreign visitors is usually considered 'nice,' or 'being polite'. I wish De Telegraaf's readers would try that thought out for a change.

On De Telegraaf: the use of the words "Bow" and "Demand" in the headline are unfair and indefensible, as far as I can see.

As in the previous two stories, the reporting is one-sided in the most basic sense of the word: no Muslim is quoted, let alone the "complainers."

One final thought on De Telegraaf. You'd think that a paper that was "wrong" in WWII would be a little more careful about slinging around accusations of "appeasement."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dutch Culture Wars

(Ellen Vroegh's banished painting)

There's a breed of stories coming out in the Dutch press lately with the theme "man, can you believe how backward those Muslims are?!"

Personally, I have my doubts about how accurate these stories are: they are suspiciously well-suited to a readership eager to be outraged by anything un-Dutch done by Muslims.

The most recent is the story (Telegraaf, Dutch) of how the city hall of Huizen removed the painting above because of complaints from "Muslim men."

A week ago, when there was a heat wave, there was a similar story (Telegraaf, Dutch) that said _ or so the story goes _ several Muslim men asked (white) Dutch construction workers not to wear t-shirts and shorts to work. Too revealing.

The foreman "said there was a complaint from Islamic neighbors. They thought our clothes were too naked and too short." The well-muscled men registered the remark (i.e. and didn't act on it).

-Construction worker Robin Willemsen, as quoted by De Telegraaf.

I guess somewhat surprising if true.

The Telegraaf's wording ("well-muscled men") ensured that the basic tone of responses (23 pages worth on the paper's website) would focus on the sexual undertone here: how Muslim immigrant men must feel worried that their women will be led into temptation by the sight of white male flesh.

Yeah, right.

Here are the two basic types of Dutch construction workers:

(flickr: malingering)

(flickr:geoff coupe)

Neither one of them is likely to pull a lot of Muslim chicks.

What if _ and I'm just speculating here _ one of the workers were taking a leak on the site, and that bothered the locals?

What I'm saying is, as surprising as it seems that Muslims were complaining about men in shorts on a hot day, I sure wish I could hear their side of the story, rather than reading a version derived 100% from the perspective of the construction workers.

More deconstruction:

On the removed painting:
Reading other reports fills out the picture a bit.

NOS writes that actually "several female employees also didn't feel comfortable" with the paintings either. But it doesn't mention what religion they were.

De Volkskrant (via ANP?) says there were actually two paintings, and they were moved from the main lobby. More interestingly, a city spokeswoman is quoted as saying complaints came from "a couple of Muslims, as well as people of other spiritual convictons."

I would add that Huizen is a small, politically conservative town where the Dutch Reform Church (Calvinists) is by far the largest.
I wish I could put a number on how many Muslims live there, but I can summarize it thusly: not many.

If this were just a plain old "some people are prude" story, would we even be reading it?


Zeurpiet, Zeuren and Zeiken

(Balki Bartokomous)

Zeurpiet, Noun, meaning "Dutch person."
Compare English: "Sourpuss."

Zeuren and Zeiken: Verbs meaning "Be Dutch, act in a Dutch manner."
Compare English: "bitch and moan."

Pronunciations: ZUHR-peat; ZUHR-en; ZIKE-n

The prime minister is taking some heat for saying Dutch people complain too much. This is a little like a U.S. president telling Americans that they are too fat.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Indiana Jones

(all photos on this post stolen...we'll see what happens to me).

I'm glad to hear the new Indiana Jones film is being described as "solid" after its debut in Cannes.

But I don't know if I'll go see it or not. For most kids of my generation Star Wars was the ultimate film trilogy.
For me there was no other film than the original "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Just the one. No sequels, though "Last Crusade" was the best of them.

I was nine years old, and I remember vividly sitting in the front row at Palo Alto Square (I was with a friend, and no parents, but I can't remember who. Sidart? Brian? Lee?). The theme music is obviously one of the greatest of all time, and you could feel something big was coming right from the start.

It was at the moment that Indiana began letting some of the sand slip through his fingers, eying the idol, trying to guesstimate how much a solid gold statue of that size would weigh; and me realizing he must have thought of this ahead of time; at that moment, I knew I was in for a good film.

With my Mike & Ikes, coke and popcorn with extra butter.

It was also the first "Indy moment" when things go wrong one second after he makes the switch ... the characteristic that makes him such a classic hero. Ups and downs, and a sense of humor about it.

I knew it was going to be a great film when the pilot told him to "show a little backbone" and all the adults in the audience started laughing, and it took me a minute to realize why.

And although by the time they got to Marion's bar (in Nepal?) I was lost completely in the story, in retrospect I could have known it was going to be the best film I had seen after the whole drunken brawl and fire.
Great lines from just that one scene:
"Indiana Jones, I always knew you'd come walking through my door."
"Jones, at least you haven't forgotten how to show a lady a good time."
"I'm your goddamn partner!"

I wonder how the feminists feel about it, but for me Marion was one of the great heroines.

In fact, Karen Allen's being left out of the second film was one of my first moments of realizing that there's a back-end to the film-making business that has shitty elements to it, just like the rest of the real world.

So I'm glad she's finally returning for the new one, but she and Harrison Ford have gotten on (regardless of any plastic surgery) so much that they may not be credible heroes anymore. But more importantly, no movie could ever stand up to the power of one of my absolute greatest childhood memories, I'm afraid.

Kids get cynical quick and for me the critical apparatus that turned on certainly by age 18 can't be shut off anymore.
These days I have a bad habit of un-suspending my disbelief while the action is happening and entering a fugue where I picture the screenwriters/lawyers/producers debating a particular love-interest or scene.

Especially in big-budget films (and commercials).

(the hat and the bullwhip; whoever thought up the bullwhip?!)

My all-time favorite line "It's not the years honey, it's the mileage."

How awesome is it after they figure out that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place that Sallah sings "I am the monarch of the seas" _ anybody get the reference?

By the way, one more thing about Indiana Jones: I've been looking my entire life for a copy of a world map that looks like the simple brown one they use to chart his progress (with red lines) as the action moves to a different part of the globe.

I have a 3 meter long, 2 meter high National Geographic map with subdued colors on one wall right now, the best substitute I've found, but I'm still looking for the real thing.

If anybody out there knows where to find one, please tip me off.

And though it added to the allure of Indiana Jones as a hero that he was knowledgeable about ancient history, he was certainly NOT the reason I studied classical languages and archeology at school, by the way.
That's a story for another time.

For trivia collectors and faux Nigerian princes: I have actual Jones (Welsch) blood from a near relative.

One more thing about the original film. Unlike so many good movies and books, the ending was deeply satisfying.

-We have top men working on it right now.
-Top. Men."

And the Ark is seen in a brown box being loaded onto a shelf, and the camera pulls back to show hundreds, thousands, millions of boxes in a warehouse, somewhere...

Even more appropriate now that it's lost in the smoke-rings of my mind.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Founder of the famed Febo Automat / Automatiek dies


GeenStijl alerts me to the real news of the day:

Johan Izaak de Borst, founder of the FEBO chain of restaurants, died "in all peacefulness" on May 8, aged 88.

FEBO, for the uninitiated, is famous for its coin-operated food vending machines. You call such a contraption an 'automat' in English, 'automatiek' in Dutch.

In the U.S. they summon up images of Coney Island in the 1950s.

But even today you can run out just about any time of the day or night in Amsterdam and get a croquette or burger _ make that "burger," with meat of indeterminate origin _ for just 2 euros.

Well, maybe it's safer just to say "inspired by" meat.

I think that for most of us, it's safe to say FEBO's slogan "De Lekkerste," or "The Tastiest" is always read with a touch of irony. Even when it crops up in everyday speech.


No one gave a damn about food automats until they opened one back up in NYC last year, and suddenly the world realized that Holland has held on to this awesome relic.

At the same time, the Febo has a certain majesty and tradtion to it. Who can honestly say that he's never scarfed down a few FEBO snacks at 3 in the morning while absolutely plastered?

Maybe I haven't done so lately, but still.

A little insider trivia: the name FEBO is taken from "FErdinand BOl" the famed street market that forms the beating heart of my neighborhood. The first maison FEBO was opened here in 1941. Germans or no Germans.

GeenStijl has called for a moment of silence tomorrow at 1 p.m., which I'll try to observe.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Burn Baby Burn - Delft University Architecture Building in Ashes


"La vie est une tragédie pour celui qui sent, et une comédie pour celui qui pense"
-Horace Walpole, Jean de La Bruyère or ?

Conflicting reports on the cause of a fire today that burned down the Architectural Studies Building at the Technical University in Delft.

Some say it was due to a leaking water pipe (?do they mean non-functioning sprinklers?) or a short circuit in a coffee pot. The irony of the architectural studies building burning due to a construction flaw is not lost on commentators like GeenStijl.

"Class, we're going to have a new assignment for this semester, starting today..."

Apparently there was also asbestos released when the building burned and partially collapsed. Asbestos: cancer-causing, but apparently ineffective when put to the test.

I might add that the building didn't exactly appear to be an innovative structure itself. I'm thinking that it might have come from what Bill Bryson termed the "fuck you school of architecture" _ but that's irrelevant.

On the tragic side, there are also reports that the building housed (one of) Europe's largest architectural libraries, not to mention furnishings designed by Gerrit Rietveld.
(creative commons, from wikipedia)

NOS had some pretty sad images of a woman who apparently lost her life's work sobbing outside the building.

De Telegraaf has footage of the building burning, for those who like to watch things burn.

I used to joke with a co-worker that "Grote Brand" is one of the most ridiculous headlines imaginable. All fires look big when you're up close, and the fact that a the fire itself is being reported, not the body count, tells you that it's probably a non-story.

But a fire always makes for good pictures.

In fact there was another "Grote Brand" today in the Eastern city of Enschede (on the anniversary of a fireworks disaster that killed 22 people on May 13, 2000 _ a weird coincidence).


"I call architecture frozen music"


Monday, May 12, 2008

Rocks' Rocks!

My son is shocked by this "punctuation."

(end of post)
Easter egg:

Monday, May 5, 2008

If I could put just one question to Shell (and Greenpeace)

(flickr:james at 42)

Having recently seen Shell's first quarter earnings, I have a question: why does the company not disclose how much money it invests in renewable energy?

Don't get me wrong (and if you're hoping for a good big oil-bashing article stop reading now). But when the CFO starts talking about how the company is investing heavily in oil capacity in the Artic Circle (subtext: which is opening up to exploitation due to global warming) you to have to wonder about what they think of the future.

(zorzimo croquezz)

Actually on second thought they break it down pretty clearly that they see fossil fuel use growing massively in the future.

"We are increasing our investment, ploughing most of our profits into finding, producing and refining oil and natural gas. Our investment levels have more than doubled since 2000, to $25 billion in 2006."

"Affordability has been the main problem for new alternatives like biofuels, wind and solar. Even at recent high oil and natural gas prices, they cannot yet compete on price on a large scale."

-Shell website

So it doesn't bother me that Shell won an award from Transparency International last week about disclosing revenue streams: it's the equivalent of saying "at least they're honest in that regard."


But returning to the question of how much $$ investment they're putting into alternatives: it's a really basic one for me. I think it would help people judge *how seriously* a huge energy company _ for better or worse _ takes renewables as a business as time goes by.

It doesn't help that Shell has stopped disclosing numbers on alternative electricity generation, which they used to do. The reasoning, if I recall correctly, was that it's become such a significant amount that it's now considered a normal business and folded into their "power generation" numbers. And/or that it's commerically sensitive.

Yet, they began reporting on profits from oil sands separately this very quarter (US$250M). Why one "new" energy source and not others?

I notice their ''external ' review panel' was complaining about the lack of disclosure of investment in renewables last year so maybe we'll get more when they release their sustainability report this year.

For balance in this post, I have an open question for Greenpeace as well.


Why is the organization so monolithic in its viewpoints? I'm not saying that they're right or wrong, I'm just surprised that members appear to move in such lockstep / groupthink.
I'll just throw out two examples:

Everybody at Greenpeace opposes nuclear energy.
Everybody at Greenpeace opposes genetically modified organisms.

Yet these are complicated ethical questions.

And Greenpeace is such a large organization _ wouldn't you expect there to be some dissenting views among the ranks? I've never encountered any.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Faunafonds - Diplomatic Immunity for Animals

(flickr: marco raaphorst)

I can't decide whether this is lunacy or genius:

There's an agency called `The Faunafonds´ in the Netherlands, whose sole purpose is to compensate people for any damage they say they have been caused by animals on the country's protected species list.

So that makes the animals double-untouchable: it's illegal to kill them, and the government covers the costs of any damages they are responsible for.

There's a fascinatingly specific table of damage caused by each species in each of the past 5 years _ for instance the "Water Vole" (Dutch: woelrat), which caused EUR700,000 in damages last year, but less than EUR20,000 this year.

(photo: wikipedia).

The Dutch press didn't exactly jump on the story, but what they did write was mostly wrong. I don't like to point fingers because _ well, I live in a glass house _ but it looks like a lot of papers picked up this copy from ANP:

"The financial damage done to fruit growers by song birds grew explosively last year ... Especially "Conference" pears, which have been planted in a wider area in recent years, have suffered from birds."

"The damage caused by songbirds remained pretty much the same"

-Faunafonds annual report.

It turns out there was a hanging bill (if you can forgive the pun) of EUR200,000 left over from the year before, hence the increase in costs.

(photo: dimomar)

ANP, correctly, pointed out that the agency paid out EUR6 million in claims, but missed the total taxpayers' bill: EUR10 million (US$16 million).

Now, that's peanuts for most government agencies, and the Faunafonds does provide work for 12 people, according to its annual report (Dutch).

But the main story wasn't songbirds.

It's those wacky GEESE!

Yup. They caused nearly EUR3,600,000 in damage all by themselves _ more than half the agency's payouts. Up EUR600,000 from a year earlier.

One explanation:

"The reason that the damage done by migrating geese and other waterfowl rose is the increase in market prices of cattle feed (grains?), due to worse weather conditions, which led to seedlings being less able to grow, and geese were able to do some damage there."


Another explanation comes from the Agrarische Dagblad, which appears to have done some actual reporting:

"Investigator Bart Ebbinge attributes the increase in damages to an increase in the number of geese. In addition, according to him, farmers chose to register damage claims, since that was more profitable than the management subsidy."

Uh huh, so now we learn there's a 'management' subsidy farmers can opt for instead. Why am I not surprised? What a country...


Damage from wild swine tripled to EUR49,000. There's going to be a big stink later this year if the government goes ahead with plans to allow hunters a one-time mass cull.


After the `more´, the key table from the Faunafonds report.

You have to click on it to see individual species. If it's still too fuzzy, it's on page 15 of the annual report.

It looks like the damage from wild hares quadrupled last year, but my personal favorite is the entry on "Hawk": EUR944, a one time claim only, in 2006.

I bet there's a good story there...


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Queens' Day 2008 Amsterdam / Guest Post / Bearing It All

Here is a series of late breaking photos from some friends of mine who witnessed an amusing incident near the Nieuwmarkt: a guy in a teddy bear outfit with an enormous foam-spraying penis got arrested by the cops.

WARNING: this is not exactly safe for work.
On the other hand, it took place about 100 yards from the Red Light District, so I don't think the locals would have been offended.

No more than two beers per person, no fake penises, what's next, no insulting the royal family?