Quoted for Truth: Nicolas Freeling, Criminal Conversation

Nicolas Freeling’s hero, inspector Van der Valk of the Amsterdam recherche, meets up with a woman who might have been blackmailed and gives a short description:

She was a solid, well-constructed woman, not fat at all but all curves, with the very fine-textured, pearly skin that goes so well with dark chestnut hair. Small good teeth, quite rare in Holland, where the women have excellent teeth looking like a well-polished row of marble gravestones.

From 1965, but as Sandra often noticed, Dutch women, especially young Dutch women, do tend to have huge perfect white teeth, though her comparison was more to do with horses than marble gravestones. A very Dutch mouth that.

I love Nicolas Freeling’s mysteries, another writer Sandra turned me on to, as he has a knack for getting Dutch people right: his Holland is one that’s still a ways behind the modern world, though getting there, a Holland gone some time I was born, but one I still recognised if only from period fiction.

Dutch Pirate Party does well in the polls

Dutch election poll results 24-06-2012

You may have missed it, but Holland is slowly but surely being gripped by election fever as election night creeps closer. It’s still a while away though, as they’re being held on 12 September. Yet the electioneering battle has already started, still low key, as the various parties position themselves. The mainstream parties (social-democrat PvdA, Christan Democrat CDA, right-liberal VVD, and for now, the xenophobic PVV of Geert Wilders) are not doing well for the moment, with the last three of course hindered by their involvement in the current, disastrous government, while the PvdA still hasn’t learned to meaningfully oppose. Instead, as you can see the voters have polarised, with the echt-socialist SP winning big, while the centrist-liberal D66 also profiting; they always do if they haven’t been in government for a while, only to lose again once in office.

But the biggest news is hidden under the heading “Overige partijen” — “other parties: the Dutch branch of the Pirate Party would’ve been elected to parliament with one seat had elections been held today! That’s quite impressive for an internet only (so far) party with very little name recognition so far. It’s also a sign of health for our democracy if they do manage to get a seat in parliament; even better if they get a couple more, as they themselves are hoping.

The Dutch political system is one that naturally drives parties to the centre, as no party is ever capable of securing a majority in parliament on its own. This leads to periods of bland conformity as the rightwing parties get a little more leftist and the leftwing parties get a lot more rightwing; the nineties were like that, when VVD, D66 and PvdA outmanoeuvred the CDA to rule for most of the decade. For every action there’s a reaction and that gets you periods of greater polarisation as well as the rise of new parties. D66 got its start as the first of them, wanting to break open the cozy relationships between the old parties, but has long since been captured by the system; various other parties didn’t last long or became “confessional”, splinter parties you voted for to be ideologically pure but with no real hope of ever winning power.

Lately of course, with the near-simultaneous rise of the SP from small leftwing to largest leftwing opposition party and the xenophobic and populist movements of first Pim Fortuyn, then Geert Wilders polarisation has come back with a vengeance. This in turn naturally offers changes for new parties that deliberately refuse to place themselves on the old left-righ axis: the Partij voor de Dieren, the animal rights party managed this during the last elections, might the Piratenpartij follow them during this one? I hope so, because the system needs new blood and ideas.

Net Neutrality enacted in Holland

Some good news from the Netherlands for a change:

On 8 May 2012 The Netherlands adopted crucial legislation to safeguard an open and secure internet in The Netherlands. It is the first country in Europe to implement net neutrality in the law. In addition, it adopted provisions protecting users against disconnection and wiretapping by providers. Digital rights movement Bits of Freedom calls upon other countries to follow the Dutch example.


In addition, the law includes an anti-wiretapping provision, restricting internetproviders from using invasive wiretapping technologies, such as deep packet inspection (DPI). They may only do so under limited circumstances, or with explicit consent of the user, which the user may withdraw at any time. The use of DPI gained much attention when KPN admitted that it analysed the traffic of its users to gather information on the use of certain apps. The law allows for wiretapping with a warrant.

Moreover, the law includes a provision ensuring that internet providers can only disconnect their users in a very limited set of circumstances. Internet access is very important for functioning in an information society, and providers currently could on the basis of their terms and conditions disconnect their users for numerous reasons. The provision allows for the disconnection in the case of fraud or when a user doesn’t pay his bills.

There are some specific Dutch clauses to the bill. The bill prohibits filtering of internet all together, providers cannot block any website or service whatsoever, no more blocking of Skype or Youtube on mobile phones just because it costs the providers money. But what it does allow is belief based filtering: there are a few providers who provide internet connections for e.g. Christians who’d rather not be confronted with the wicked outside and those are still legal. Which is as it should be.

The important thing is that no provider is now able to block services or websites they don’t like.

The end of the wietpas?

One advantage of the collapse of the Dutch government is that the socalled wietpas might just be scrapped, at least nationally. Tomorrow it will be rolled out in the southern provinces, which means foreign socalled drugs tourists will no longer be able to buy dope in a coffee shop in Maastricht or any other southern city. Next year it was supposed to be put in force nation wide, but this still has to be confirmed by parliament and might just be declared “controversial” now that the government has lost its mandate. Which means that it can’t be treated in parliament until after the elections, scheduled for the 12th of September and who knows what will happen after them.

The whole wietpas legislation has been driven by drugs warriors in the CDA and the VVD, though to a somewhat lesser extent there; it’s far from a given that these two parties will return to power, while other parties are less than interested in this subject. If the wietpas quietly disappears into the dustbin of history this will be very good for Amsterdam, as some twentyfive percent of tourists come here especially for the dope…

It still leaves the southern border provinces with it, but I suspect that it will die a quiet death there too if it’s never put into law nationally.

You leave the country for one weekend…

And the government falls again. You’d think the old rightwing parties, VVD and CDA had learned from their experiences with the LPF, but once again an extreme rightwing populist party has brought down a neoliberal government. This at the end of seven weeks of very serious negotiations about the 16 billion euros of spending cuts the three parties were engaged in, spending cuts that are now off the table.

Though unlikely to remain so for long, at least this will give the opportunity for the leftwing parties in parliament to minimise these cuts and steer them in the right direction, e.g. by ending the Dutch participation in the JSF. The collapse of the PVV support for the minority government will also mean the likely end of already agreed upon cuts, e.g. in the social workplaces, as well and just as important, the end of support from the other two parties for the PVV’s idee fixes, like the burqa ban.

Even more importantly, though Wilders and co will still be around after the next elections, this will probably be their high water mark, their moment of greatest power. As I’ve written about time and again, Wilders had to walk the tightrope between populism and power. He knew that if he had gone into a proper coalition government, he ran the risk of ending up like the LPF, splintered between the two old dirty fighters of Dutch politics, while if he had gone into opposition, his base would’ve deserted him because he couldn’t achieved anything that way, as had happened to the SP before. So he ended up with what looked like the best of both worlds, supporting a minority government while not having any governmental responsibility himself, yet he and his party still got into trouble anyway. And the voters have started to leave already, even before this happened.

The final result of this fall is the end to the myth that we need to make tough, harsh decisions right now, as no earlier date than 12 September for elections seems likely to be decided upon, while any drastic measures before that seem unlikely as well. And with that, the idea that we do need to conform to the EU demands for a budget deficit no larger than three percent of GDP seems less likely too.

A win all around than.


Because the MeFi thread about the Dutch writer Nescio reminded me of the song de Nits did about him and because it is now going through my head, I thought it would be nice to subject everybody else with it as well.

Nescio has just recieved his first English translation, roughly a century after he wrote the first of his most famous stories, the Uitvreter/Titaantjes/Dichtertje trilogy.

De Nits were a Dutch pop/art rock band, who had a couple of hits with Nescio, In The Dutch Mountains and J.O.S. Days and who share some of the same melancholy that Nescio specialised in in his stories.

Sadie Hawkins Day lives

the first appearance of Sadie Hawkins Day

L’il Abner, All Capp’s hillbilly humour/adventure comic strip was of course hugely popular for decades and hugely influencial on American popular culture. One of the things it popularised was Sadiw Hawkins Day, an annual day on which women of l’il Abner’s hillbilly town of Dogpatch got to propose to their men; the rest of the year they had to sit around and wait for their lazy and marriage afearing beaus to propose to them. Even on Sadie Hawkins day they still had to ketch them to actually be able to propose and All Capp managed to milk the pursuit of L’il Abner by his girlfriend Daisy Mae for decades before he eventually married them off.

Sadie Hawkins Day meanwhile had become popular outside the L’il Abner strip as well, merging with an older tradition of February 29th being the only day in the year that women could ask men out to dance, or marriage. That sort of topsy turvy craziness was hilarious back when gender roles were somewhat more strict than in modern times, but Sadie Hawkins day still is celebrated.

As my foster brother found out this morning. He has been living together with his partner for years now, they have two children together and while she would like to get married, he was in no hurry to do so. Which is why a few weeks back she took the matters into her own hands and asked my father for his hand, then surprised him this morning with a true old fashioned marriage proposal, having first collected several witnesses including his daughters and my mother, going down on one knee and popping the big question. He said yes of course; he’d better if he knew what was good for him.

So congratulations to the happy couple and I hope to get the wedding invitation soon.

Cats in pubs

Cats in bars or restaurants are fairly common in Holland. Not so much in the US apparantly, where even the Algonquin Hotel in New York has to break with an eighty year old tradition and leash its latest lobby cat in order not to get into trouble with health and safety:

For nearly 80 years, a cat has roamed free in the lobby of New York City’s famed Algonquin hotel, but now, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has made finding the friendly feline into a bit of a scavenger hunt.

The Algonquin has confined Matilda III, the latest in a line of lobby cats dating back to 1932, primarily to the arrival area and behind the reception desk thanks to a pre-emptive move to prevent crossing the DOH.

Restaurants have been getting tagged with hefty fine and reduced health ratings for minor violations, so the Algonquin made the move to avoid running afoul of the New York City Health Code. In a statement to TODAY.com, a rep for the DOH said: “According to the New York City Health Code, live animals are not allowed in food service establishments (except for edible fish, shellfish, or crustacean) unless a patron needs a service dog.”

I always find it a bit ironic that both the UK and the US, the two most doctrinaire free market countries in the world, also have the worst kind of rigid jobsworth government bureaucracies.

You wouldn’t steal the music for your anti-piracy ad

Dutch copyright advocacy group BREIN asks composer Melchior Rietveldt to create the music for an anti-piracy ad to be shown at a local film festival. That’s in 2006. A year later Rietveldt notices that his music is used in another piracy ad, one put on dozens of dvd titles in the Netherlands:

The composer now claims that his work has been used on tens of millions of Dutch DVDs, without him receiving any compensation for it. According to Rietveldt’s financial advisor, the total sum in missed revenue amounts to at least a million euros ($1,300,000).

The existence of excellent copyright laws and royalty collecting agencies in the Netherlands should mean that the composer received help and support with this problems, but this couldn’t be further from what actually happened.

Soon after he discovered the unauthorized distribution of his music Rietveldt alerted the local music royalty collecting agency Buma/Stemra. The composer demanded compensation, but to his frustration he heard very little from Buma/Stemra and he certainly didn’t receive any royalties.

It gets better:

Earlier this year, however, a breakthrough seemed to loom on the horizon when Buma/Stemra board member Jochem Gerrits contacted the composer with an interesting proposal. Gerrits offered to help out the composer in his efforts to get paid for his hard work, but the music boss had a few demands of his own.

In order for the deal to work out the composer had to assign the track in question to the music publishing catalogue of the Gerrits, who owns High Fashion Music. In addition to this, the music boss demanded 33% of all the money set to be recouped as a result of his efforts.

So an anti-piracy group doesn’t ask permission or pay a composer to use his music and the group that should be protecting his rights actually has its boardmembers attempt to extort him…

Dutch Total Football leads American Samoa to first victory

Did you know American Samoa has a national football team? If, like me, you didn’t, you won’t be surprised to learn that it ranks absolutely last on FIFA’s world rankings and regularly does things like lose 31-0 to Australia. Or did, as with the arrival of new Dutch coach Thomas Rongen, they managed to book their first victory ever, against Tonga:

In October they agreed to loan Thomas Rongen, an Ajax-trained disciple of Total Football who had managed four Major League Soccer teams as well as the US Under-20 side for almost 10 years, for the duration of the tournament. The transformation after Rongen’s arrival was, says Brodie, profound. Within a week of the arrival of the “Palagi” – the Samoan word for white off-islanders which translates literally as “cloud-burster” – the improvements in organisation and discipline were extraordinary. Most significantly, though, was the change in mentality his coaching had brought, so much so that when they defeated Tonga 2-1 on Tuesday and drew 1-1 with Cook Islands on Friday there was no complacency – the players were frustrated at not keeping clean sheets.

Rongen has been with the team for less than a month and found the tactical reorganisation easier than the psychological one. “I am steeped in the Dutch football tradition,” he says. “The teachings of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff and a technical brand of football is my motivation but what I encountered here was the exact opposite. So I had to adapt. I went from an old-style 4-4-2 to a more modern 4-2-3-1 because since it’s obvious that they give away too many goals, I thought four defenders and two holders would help. It’s easier to teach inexperienced players how to defend than to attack but we’ve made great strides in organisation and communication.

Thomas Rongen is not very well known here, having spent most of his playing career after having been trained at Ajax in the various US/American league. He later became a coach, working e.g. at DC United (did you know Washington DC has a professional soccer team?) and the US national U-21 team. Dutch football coaches in general are very popular for ailing national teams — Guus Hiddink has build his career doing this — and it’s nice to see Rongen do his bit for a national team of a country with a population barely enough for a small town.

Rongen and his coaching is not the only interesting thing about the team though: it must be the only national teams which has an openly transgender person playing:

The other breaker of barriers in the squad is Johnny “Jayiah” Saelua, a fa’afafine, biologically male but identified as a third sex widely accepted in Polynesian culture. She – and she prefers she – is the first transgender player to compete in a World Cup match and has formed a centre-half partnership with the Arizona-based Rawlston Masaniai, who along with other team-mates, calls her “sister”. “There is no discrimination,” she says. “I put aside whether I’m a girl or a boy and just concentrate on playing. I think I add a third dimension to the team, collect my energies and keep the team together, that’s my responsibility as the fa’afafine, the feminine.”

Sepp Blatter has reassured us that racism in football is non-existent, but homophobia is still rampant, with few openly gay players and fewer openly gay players still actively playing, even in supposedly enlightened countries like the Netherlands. And homosexuality is much more accepted (or so it seems) than transgender/genderqueer people still are, so it’s nice to see how matter of fact the American Samoan team is about their team mate’s gender.