Sunday, July 30, 2006


It's been a while, mostly because I was away. But here are some things I read in the past month or so that are worthy of note.

  • Freke Vuijst, ‘Bloggen tegen Bush’ [Blogging against Bush], p19-21, 1 July 2006, Vrij Nederland

Once again, the power of (left-wing) bloggers have been proven.

“What Bush does has nothing to do with a conservative ideology. It is fed by extreme theories about the unlimited power of the president, which has radically changed our political system and the core of our society, the Constitution. All the scandals of the past five yeaers confirm that this administration believes that it is above the law. And the checks and balances which were built in by our Founding Fathers, have unfortunately failed because Congress has neglected its supervisory function, the media, with some exceptions, are silent, and the judges are afraid to shout back at the government if they remove the ghost of national security from the closet. America’s last chance are the citizens themselves.” Glenn Greenwald

In what ways has Bush exceeded his powers to gain more power?

“In January the Boston Globe published a shocking article. The newspaper revealed how Bush at the signing of a legislation had for more than seven hundred times also signed a declaration in which it says that the president, should he deem it necessary, would not need to abide by the law. Similar singing statements were also declared by other presidents before as well. But they were exceptions and they were meant as a presidential instruction of the legislation. The declarations of Bush were of a completely other kind, they made it explicit that the president was above the law.” Glenn Greenwald.

“We are often painted as young immature radicals in their pajamas who are fulminating against Bush behind the computer. That image is not correct.


[I blog] following all journalistic guidelines. That surprised […] journalists. They had not idea that political bloggers were highly educated professionals.” Bob Geiger

Of course there are critics:

“It is fascism with a Mircrosoft-face” Culture editor of The New Republic

  • Beautification of death

We’re all dead. Shocking, perhaps, to hear, but not surprising to realise that “in the long run, we’re all dead” (Keynes). People try to avoid talking about death, and avoid it like the plague, because it’s simply…’unnatural’. It’s taboo, it’s bad omen to talk about death.

But death t’s as natural as birth, only the opposite end of life. And we make it into such an elaborate ceremony and imagine that we’d like to death a dignified and beautiful death. Which is often not the case:

“[…] discussions about death are […] useful and good, even if it is just to over a counter balance to the myth of the ‘peaceful deathbed’. It may happen, just as well as the problem-free birth, but in practice it is often the screaming, uncontrollable panic, the complete chaos in which things run their course, with the added exasperating feeling that [this is not according to the norm]. Because the norm should be: father, mother, tired but content, well in bed at home, a heartening word for everyone, and then eyes closed. Renate Rubinstein talked about ‘the conspiracy of the normal’, and that is indeed it mostly appears to be: a conspiracy of the propagandists of ‘good nature’, who want to smoothly iron out everything that is in reality brutal and cruel. The death bed as a tea party, the death bed as refined circle of discussion.”

Stephan Sanders, ‘Samenzwering’ [Conspiracy], p96, 1 July 2006, Vrij Nederland

When you’re dead, you’re dead.

  • Max van Weezel, ‘Koningin op kousenvoeten’ [Queen on stockings], 17 June 2006, p 23, Vrij Nederland

It’s happened before, so it’s not big news. That prominent people visiting mosques are refused handshakes should not make news. For Muslims, a man is forbidden to touch another woman, unless it’s his wife; it’s part of their culture and tradition. So when Queen Beatrix visited the Mobarak Mosque in Den Haag and did not shake hands with anyone out of respect, it should be accepted like in other countries. But parliamentarian Geert Wilders made a big fuss about it. And along with Rita Verdonk who also made a big fuss about it on a couple of occasions, people like them tarnish the image of the Netherlands as a multicultural safe haven.

“George W. Bush declared the war on terror but hastened to say that he had nothing against Muslims. Recently the American president publicly apologized for the word crusade that he had used in the Spring of 2002 in ‘the heat of the moment’. When last summer the underground of London was attacked, Tony Blair immediately said that he remained a proponent of the multicultural society.

I would know of no other country where primary and secondary issues are so confused as in the Netherlands. Where instead of terrorism, the religious conviction of people are fought against. Where the guaranteed freedom of religion in the Constitution for a great minority apparent no longer applies. In the rest of Europe no minister would [make a big fuss] because an imam refused to shake her hand. Rita Verdonk did just that.”


“The Dutch government can fare better not putting its energy in forcing imams to shake the hand of a woman against their belief. Rabbis after all do not do that either.”

  • Carel Peeters, ‘Verlichters moeten romans gaan lezen!’ [Enlightened people must read novels!], 17 June 2006, p 84-89, Vrij Nederland

(Re)Assessing the meaning of enlightenment is essential to anyone interested in understanding the complexities of the modern world and society. Depending on your perception of what the enlightenment meant, and what it brought to humanity, the way you perceive society and its progress (or regress) will dramatically different.

“The core of the Enlightened Mind is the conviction that the use of reason, the ratio or the rationality will heal humanity and forever free it from the clutches of ignorance and dependence. Directly tied to this is the conviction that every person possesses an inalienable own value, and that he expresses it with his independence and maturity.”

How do different people perceive the Enlightenment?

“The neo-conservatives (and the conservative-liberals, the fundamentalists, and a part of the postmodernists) […] perceive the Enlightenment as the source of the shameful state in which our civilisation has landed in. the Enlightenment [had] provided for a fragmented society, shot-up freedom, godlessness, nihilism, a pornographic world, egoism and materialism.

For the large group of relativists and conciliators (where the postmodernists, multiculturalists and anit-globalists belong) […] the Enlightenment is associated with the conquering of the world, and thus with the current unimpeded rationalisation and globalisation. For relativists […] the Enlightenment is ‘a complex whole’ that has in the past two centuries brought us blessings (human rights, pluralism, welfare), a lot of calamity (communism, fascism) and a whole lot of dubious developments (chilling rationalism, capitalism, consumerism).

And then there are of course Enlightenment-fundamentalists [who] defend in a radical and simplistic manner the core ideas of Enlightenment philosophies (separation of Church and State, equality of man and woman, autonomy of the individual) against the absolute core ideas of (Muslim-) fundamentalism (unity of State and Religion, man has dominance, Allah has the final say).”

And it is these Enlightenment fundamentalists we should be aware of:

“Typical of the Enlightenment fundamentalists [especially against Islam is that their] whole approach of political and social problems is characterised by a lack of subtlety and [a] simplification of the heritage of the Enlightenment. They themselves see it as necessary radicalism, called upon by the extremism of political Islam […].”

  • Willem Offenberg, ‘Kleine Draak pest Grote Broer’ [Little dragon bullies Big Brother], p74-81, 24 June 2006, Vrij Nederland

An article in Vrij Nederland about the Taiwan-China issue. There’s not much new, nothing that I’ve not already written about, but it’s interesting to see a long piece dedicated to the background and insights surrounding the situation.

On the importance of (peace in) the Taiwan Straits:

“Dozens of ships make use of this strategically important sea route which for the great exporters Japan, China and Taiwan is just as essential as the [English] Channel for West-Europe. Eventual reunification would also affect surrounding countries. China would then control the [busiest sea] route of entire Asia.”

On Taiwan’s (untenable and ridiculous) pariah status:

For most Taiwanese is union with the motherland not as unpreventable as it was for Hong Kong or Macau. Taiwan stands on its own feet and has a high, western standard of living. The island state can continuously be assured of American military support, such as is stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act. Even so, Taiwan remains a pariah. In 1971 it had to relinquish its seat in the United Nations to the People’s Republic of China. At the beginning of this year, at the outbreak of the bird flu in the region, Taiwan remained isolated from medical assistance of the World Health Organisation and other UN organizations.”

On how most Chinese see the issue of Taiwan:

“ ‘Militarily the Taiwanese [are no match]. If we want, we can wipe them off of the map…’

Most Chinese I speak to react just as militantly. Chinese saber-rattling can count on support from many, it appears. Often a polite discussion about reunification ends suddenly with a sharp: ‘They must reign themselves in, those Taiwanese, otherwise we [will obliterate them].’ Possibly the strong reaction is a result of a feeling of inferiority after years of [trailing behind Taiwan]. […] ‘Taiwan is Chinese territory as much as Tibet is,’ you often hear them say.”

On the intellectual and cultural differences between the two sides:

“[Taiwan’s reconciliation with its authoritarian past is] a sign of Taiwan’s maturity. China is not yet ready for this […] As long as China continues to suppress the dark pages in history, such as the whitewashing of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the bloodbath on [Tiananmen] Square of Heavenly Peace, there can be no reunification.”

On the West and the rest of the world’s double standards:

“In the meantime, the West still dances willingly to the pipes of the Great Dragon. The Chinese fever has also reached the Netherlands. Highly espoused principles about democracy and ‘evenhandedness’ go overboard as China approaches the status of superpower even closer.

The answer to the question which side the West shall choose in the even of an armed conflict, that of the Great or Little Dragon, dictatorship or democracy, is [according to Taiwanese professor Samuel Ku] also predictable. The West will remain pragmatic, he has no illusions about this. In contradiction to our ‘moral high ground’, a morally superior coupling of democracy and human rights, economic interests shall prevail.”

Here is an insight into the China’s murky workings and dealings of the ‘World’ Health Organisation.

  • Oussama Cherribi and Pieter van Os, ‘Houd toch op Nederland vol te noemen’ [Please stop calling the Netherlands full], 15 & 16 July 2006, Opinion, p7, NRC Handelsblad

Recently an artificial lake was created in the north of the Netherlands for recreational purposes. The ‘Blauwestad’ (Blue City) is around 800 hectares. And an area twice that size (the size of Amsterdam) is planned for new housing. The creation of the lake involved flooding of vast treks of land that for many years stood idle, and was a project which attracted great attention. If the Netherlands has the spare land and money to create lakes for recreation, why do the majority of people believe that the country is “full”? Why do people here believe that there is not enough room for immigrants or asylum seekers? A great contradiction.

“[You] do not have to google for more than a minute to learn that […] Puerto Rico is significantly more densely populated, as are South Korea, Taiwan, and the state of New Jersey. Not to mention city-states like Singapore, and urban agglomerates like Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York. In the latter, ten million people live in a region that is one fortieth [of] Dutch land area.

Of course the border between densely populated and over populated is relative. It is but what you call a country and what a province. We know this better than anyone else, because for centuries we governed Java, that as a country with more than 114 million inhabitants would today be the most densely populated in the world. ”

Problems of the Netherlands being ‘over populated’ were in the past politically incorrect, but today seems to have become the norm in public opinion. It is not just a wrong reflection of reality, but also greatly damaging, for the economy and the country’s international reputation. Where does the opinion that the country is ‘full’ come from? From problems of integration and from problems within the allochtonous population who have been socially and economically left behind.

“[…] problems exist with the integration of big groups [of the population], often unemployed guestworkers who came to the Netherlands since the sixties. Especially through the side effects of the welfare-state and the difficulty that allochtones encounter on the job market, in a certain way they have passed employment onto a young generation, together with all the criminality and other difficulties thereof. But they are problems that require thorough solutions from the Minister of Social Affairs in particular. They call for a sensible reform of a stagnated welfare-state, [and] not for a Minister for Integration with little plans like a ban on speaking a foreign language in public space […], neither [does it call for] futile civic examinations or for refusing to talk to an imam who does not give you his hand [to shake].”

And it’s pointless to point everything that’s wrong with the country to the immigrants. In times of economic stagnation, people have a tendency to do this.

“Of the participants in the current football world championship, to name but one embarrassing example, coincidentally only the Ivory Coast achieved less economic growth in the past year than the Netherlands. And the Ivory Coast is torn apart by a civil war.

As long as politicians continue to behave like agents of patronage and do not have the spine to force xenophobia back, there is no escaping from the vicious circle downwards, economically, socially, and in international relations.”

  • ‘Stellingen’ [Statements], 15 & 16 July 2006, Opinion, p7, NRC Handelsblad

“The way in which humanitarian law, as is laid down in international conventions and treaties, is being ignored by the international community in humanitarian crises in developing countries, stands in stark contrast with the strictness with which the Dutch government enforces its asylum policy.”
Jan Geer van Uffelen, Wageningen University

“Nationalism exists with the grace in lacking knowledge about [one’s] own culture.”
R.C.E. Teszelszky, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

“It would be beneficial to the quality of media reporting if now and then the eagerness for news of journalists yields place to eagerness to learn.”
Barbra van Gestel, Universiteit Leiden

“The basis is that for as long as in Third World countries, the sexual interests of North American and European men are a perfect match for the feeding (economic) interests of local women, the business of matchmakers will thrive.”

  • A cabinet in crisis

Marcel ten Hooven, ‘Om het behoud van de macht’ [About the maintenance of power], p14-20, 8 July 2006, Vrij Nederland

The coalition government between the CDA (Christian Democrats), VVD (Liberal Party) and D66 (Democrats-66) fell due to a number of issues that were already simmering beneath. The Ayaan Hirsi Ali affair simply sparked the fire waiting to ignite. And though Minister Verdonk’s unprofessional behaviour underlined the misplaced priorities of the current government. It seems that government would rather save one minister than earning trust and credibility in the eyes of the public.

“The biggest problem with Minister Rita Verdonk is that she does not know [how] to separate herself in the egomaniac [she is] from her [government] function. Such a separation is not a matter of abstract administrative law, but desirable to prevent arbitrariness in the relationship between the state and the citizens.”

Worse, there seems to be no room for compromise or any other way other than the chosen way:

“In the policy of Verdonk [the] averseness to compromise manifests itself in […] impatience and in the ambition to solve the problems with the integration of Muslims and other allochtones within one generation, in a ‘shortcut to enlightenment’.”

And I wrote before already, the way the AHA affair played out exposed the ex-parliamentarian Hirsi Ali to disproportionate pressure from the government. Here it is described again, but on a more general note:

“Due to the unequal power relation with the state, citizens must be able to blindly trust that their interest are in safe hands with the government. That demands a sense of responsibility with politicians and appeals to their ability to act with integrity, care and transparency. The ‘all’s well, ends well’ extenuation of a minister who shifts the responsibility of her own failing to her victim is then misplaced.”

The governing coalition seems to have lost its original self-proclaimed mission to bring trust and unity back into society:

“According to [Prime Minister Balkenende restoring the lack of confidence] required an ideologically outstanding leadership, with far reaching reforms of the welfare state as the objective. The goal was not only [reforming the welfare] benefits system […] but expanding the say of citizens over their own lives, at the expense of the bureaucracy.”

What does this new ideology (or great moral calling of the CDA) entail? According to Piet Hein Donner, the CDA Minister of Justice:

“The basis for communal involvement of people with the government and society should be sought in the understanding that fundamentally different views of life living together [as a community] is not a self-evident, but requires continuous prudence, empathy and self-restraint.”

Instead, the AHA affair, among others, has illustrated how it governs on the basis of political capital and pragmatism. Gone are the aforementioned traits of ‘prudence, empathy and self-restraint’. That Verdonk pulled in votes for the VVD was not a secret, but why should the CDA and the prime minister be concerned for Verdonk’s political wellbeing and sacrifice political stability to shelter her from criticism? Just shows how hypocritical and stubborn the current administration really is.

  • On gated communities

The conflict in Lebanon did not just expose the cruelty of terrorists and a state which reacted disproportionately, as well as the incompetence (or perhaps compliance?) of the international community to prevent a man-made humanitarian crisis. It also underlined the phenomenon of ‘gated communities’: that some people’s lives are worth more than others because they are of a different nationality. Once more, we human beings have managed to create that sense of belonging—or not—based on trivial criteria like identity and race. A global apartheid, in a community of men and women:

“[…] but the whole idea that the world more and more appears to be like a global village is pertinently wrong: gated community, that is the word. There, behind the gate, stand the wrong passport holders, here the right ones. We are all brothers, till the customs do us part.”
Stephan Sanders, ‘Vuist’ [Fist], p82, 29 July 2006, Vrij Nederland

  • Joschka Fischer, ‘Van oorlog tot vrede’ [From war to peace], p80-81, 29 July 2006, Vrij Nederland

The former German Foreign Minister argues that the current crisis in the Middle East is an opportunity for peace. Behind the exchange of fire on two sides, neither is wholly guilty, but neither is wholly innocent either.

“The current war in Lebanon is not a war of Arabs against Israel, but much more a war of radicals which reject every reproach toward Israel. In fact, it is about Hamas and the Islamic Jihad on the Palestinian side, Hezbollah in Lebanon and further [about] Syria and Iran. This ‘rejection-front’ has sought escalation for three reasons. First of all, in order to go against the pressure from the Palestinian people on Hamas to recognise Israel. Second of all, to ground the democratisation process in Lebanon. And in the third instance, to force the continually escalating conflict about the Iranian nuclear programme to the background, and to show the West what they are capable of.”


“[the rejection-front] has proved the return to a status quo in Lebanon impossible. The rejecters have made their hegemonial claims to power, by Tehran especially, visible to the whole world.”

So more a desperate attempt for attention and to achieve selfish political ends (with all means necessary) than a self-justified end to struggle for the sake of the Palestinian people. Israel is not helping in its staunch (read murderous) retaliation campaigns:

Israel has a key function […]. The country has twice already pulled back to internationally recognised borders, namely from Lebanon and Gaza, and twice the answer from over the border was the answer. Land for war, and not land for peace was the anwer. Israel’s right to exist is being threatened after all those years of peace talks, which were conducted on the basis of the pricinple of the two state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace with its Arabic neighbours appears further away than ever. The country is falling back to a strategy of military superiority.”


“On the other side of the destruction and misery, has the recognition of a new strategic threat [against Israel] not led to renewed reflection?”

One side should bite their pride and stop this ‘ey

e for an eye’ skirmish before it descends into regional chaos. And Israel, being the militarily superior power, as well as the ‘odd one out’ should take that bold step.

“Israel, at the moment, has only engaged itself in massive [a] deterrence [campaign], but it would be good to use the political possibilities of this war as well, and take the initiative from the position of power [it possesses]: with a comprehensive peace offer to all parties who are prepared to recognise Israel, not only in words, but also in deed, and who is sincerely prepared to refrain from violence.”

  • Janneke Donkerlo, ‘De ingeburgerde illegaal’ [The integrated illegal], p26-33, 29 July 2006, Vrij Nederland

In the current climate (read: trend) of expelling illegal immigrants, VN takes a look at a number of illegal immigrants who have built up a good life here, and are no less Dutch than the average Netherlander.

“Thomas [has been] illegal in the Netherlands [for] twenty years, Dimitri seven years, Anna six. Illegal, so what? Anna has never been arrested. Just like Dimitri and Thomas they behave very decently, more decently than some Netherlanders perhaps. If you behave well—lights on your bike, [stamping ticket] in the metro—the police leave you alone. Only if you make a mistake, do you attract attention.”

  • Just came across a fascinating fact that escaped me. It appears some years ago scientists in Japan managed to breed an embryo using just two egg cells. Bryan Sykes wrote at the time that this development may one day make men redundant in reproduction.
  • TV and Internet on the train!

As soon as December this year, people travelling on the train here in the Netherlands may be able to enjoy the comforts of home: wireless internet and TV screens!

  • Man receives €2.144.607,90 energy bill

A man came back from holiday to find that in the two months he was away he ‘used’ 20.000.000 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 102.284 cubic metre of gas. When he called the energy company Eneco to protest, a telephonist said that he must first pay the bill, and then they can look into the matter. Of course, the company later admitted there must have been a mistake, and that he didn’t have to pay after all.

I use Eneco too, and really their billing and customer services are just poor. Hope I don’t get a €3million bill because of that…

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