Epic epidemic breakage

In the past three weeks four relatively new devices I own with a combined worth of well over 500 euro broke down, and there’s nothing I am going to do about it.

The IKEA alarm clock is probably still under warranty, but it will cost me the price of the damn thing alone to even get to IKEA to make use of the warranty, so I’ll skip that. This will teach me for not buying HEMA, I guess.

The Philips DVD-player cost me about 50 euro. Taking half a day off to turn it in and then another half day to pick it up may cost me more in lost turnover (depends on whether I can fit the pick-up moments into a quiet time). I guess I’ll just buy a new one.

The Samsung 19″-monitor has developed a nasty, vertical, 1-pixel wide, green line that is only visible in dark images (against white it disappears). I don’t know what I am going to do about this yet. Getting it fixed is worth my time: I don’t want the rare visiting client to see me working on broken equipment. That means reduced productivity while the monitor is in repair though. Getting a new one was on my agenda anyway, but that means spending time finding good 19″-screens for businesses. (Regular computer shops are aimed at consumers, and consumers seem not to buy 19″-screens anymore.)

Finally, the 3.5 year old Canon Powershot A620 camera that has led to many a photo on this website developed a fault in its shutter, which now refuses to open. The warranty has run out, but I am pretty sure I can have the store fix it for me, simply because a camera should not break down after only 3 years. That probably does mean that I will have to start a fight with a shop assistant during a humid Saturday afteroon, and I am not sure I want to waste my time that way. Since I needed a new pocket camera anyway (I wanted decent video, which the old one doesn’t provide), I bought a Canon Ixus 300 HS to replace the Powershot.

I know some readers are interested in buying a new camera, so I include a photo of some pigeons (taken at about a distance of 4 metres) with this post. Click on the photo for a 100% crop. The 300 HS has a zoom factor 4 starting from a 35-millimetre equivalent 28-mm focal length. In layman’s terms: it don’t zoom much.


I have seen the future, and it’s bloody confusing.

The photo shows a (my) traditional wallet to the right, and three additional ones I acquired in the past 12 months or so.

The top two are transport cards. I had to buy the first one because it was the only one way at the time to pay for the Rotterdam tram. It is the infamous OV Chipkaart, and it cost 10 euro (that is excluding the actual credit), even though making the card can hardly have cost more than 10 cents. You need to keep it topped up with at least four euros or else it becomes worthless, and you cannot sell it back to the issuer.

The middle card is exactly the same thing, except that it is the only card that will give me a discount on (some) train trips. It completely obviates the top card. The train company expects you to have 10 euro on it before they let you pay for a trip.

The bottom card is a regular bank card, but it also has a built in electronic wallet that provides for the only way to pay for lunch at my current customer.

The upshot is that I walk around with four wallets containing about 100 euros in total where I used to walk around with about 20 in cash. The chances of me losing money by losing a wallet has grown fourfold, and I now need to know of at least three different ways of paying for products and services, where one used to be enough.

Perhaps I am just a grumpy old luddite. My brother loves his electronic wallets, and has foregone cash completely. He keeps his cards in a little holder built for the purpose, and likes the elegance of living in the future.

(Should any non-Dutch people read this, I should point out that we also pay with cards that are not wallets. The bank card pictured at the bottom can be used for this purpose at most stores in the Netherlands; it directly transfers money from your bank account to the seller’s.)

Euro-skeptic message still drew pro-European voter

Dutch voters who voted against the European constitution, voted for Europe. It’s really not rocket science, but at the time the media seemed to have great difficulty grasping the concept.

Here’s how daily Dutch newspaper NRC explains it:

It looks like the voter turnout for the elections for the European Parliament will reach an all time low this year. The polling agency of the European Commission predicts that only 34 % of the eligible voters will show up. But for the Netherlands the turnout is predicted to be higher than five years ago, going from 39.3 to 47 percent. We phoned Peter Kanne, pollster of TNS-NIPO.

Q: How do you explain the high turnout in the Netherlands?

A: “I believe we’ll get a circus similar to the one for the referendum about the European Constitution. Euro-skeptic parties like the Socialist Party and the [extreme right] PVV will try to mobilize voters with a simple, anti-European message. This may very well act as a catalyst for both pro- and anti-European voters. With the referendum for the constitution we saw a similar pattern, with a turnout of 63 percent, which is extremely high for a European vote.”

Q: During the referendum 62 % voted against the constitution. Can we expect another Dutch vote against Europe on June 4?

A: “The vote against the constitution was probably not a vote against Europe. On the whole the Dutch are very positive about the Union. 52 % is for, 34 % is neutral and only 14 % is really against. The Achilles heal for the EU in the Netherlands is the perception of Europe as a meddling bureaucracy. But a majority of the Dutch is for a European approach to contintental problems such as climate change, the economic crisis and terrorism.”

As you can see, NRC still doesn’t get it, and the interviewee has to correct the interviewer. How can you work for a so-called quality newspaper and remain so dense for four years?

You’ll find the full article, date April 15, 2009, here, in Dutch.

Dutch press systematically under-reports Palestinian woes, still

In 2002 Jacqueline de Bruijn, a political scientist from Amsterdam, studied the way news from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was reported in the Dutch press, and found out that the MSM tend to exaggerate the evil of the Palestinians’ violence, and play down the Israelis’ violence. I remember from that time that the press had a field day with her report, in that they attacked her and her methodology. Not a word about their own responsibility though.

This year De Bruijn repeated her study, and came up with the same results: the MSM paint the Palestinians as evil ogres and the Israelis as innocent victims, even though it is the Israelis that are the aggressors in the conflict and the ones that are turning the occupied country into an Apartheid state. Again, De Bruijn was attacked for her findings and her person, and the MSM whined that they did nothing wrong.

Some of the criticisms given by De Bruijn are:

  • the press under-reports Israeli attacks on Palestinians, even when there are dozens of victims, but it reports on every Palestinian attack on Israelis, even when there are no victims;
  • as a result, the few times Israeli aggression is reported on, this makes it seem that the supposedly rare Israeli attack is a response to a continuous stream of Palestinian aggression

As one person cynically noted: dead Palestinians are not news, simply because there are so many of them. Israel’s state propaganda makes handy use of this fact by continuously stressing that its attacks are merely responses to Palestinian aggression (a tactic Israel also uses with the PR for its attacks on Lebanon). What makes the whole matter worse is that Israel’s heavy handed violence against the occupied population is actually beneficial for this PR strategy. There’s no reason for Israel to tone down the murderousness of its regime.

There is a popular (but iditiotic) notion among some leftists that the MSM are mere puppets of “the man” (whoever that is)—the cynical observation that dead Palestinians are simply no longer news is probably more of an indicator why violence against Palestinians is underreported. Palestinians have become faceless, and are therefore not as interesting to report about.

For the press to combat this bias, it first has to recognize that it does have a problem. Everybody can see that De Bruijn’s qualitative statements are correct simply by opening the newspaper and observing the loaded language, regardless of the merits of De Bruijn’s methodology and quantitative statements. Next, the press has to figure out how to attack this problem.

De Bruijn presented her findings during a meeting in which the press were present. Also there was essayist Mohammed Benzakour who came with an equally interesting observation: several of the major Dutch newspapers have correspondents in Israel who are allied with the Zionist cause. The correspondent for Algemeen Dagblad and broadcaster EO (evangelists) is former chairman of the Nederlandse Zionisten Bond and has a daughter who works as press spokes person for the Israeli army, and the correspondent of the Volkskrant organizes trips to Jerusalem for Cidi. That does not necessarily invalidate their reporting (for all I know they take great care to remain as objective as possible), but it does signal a clear conflict of interest, which should in turn alert news consumers. Then again, why should I consume news from a suspect source?

The solution, it seems, is simple. Media bias is not going to go away, but the media could at least try and recognize their bias, and from time to time publish “the other story.” With regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if the Dutch MSM don’t just want to write what Israel is happy to have them write, it will have to have correspondents in the dangerous Palestinian slums, rather than just the four star hotels of a relatively safe Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. And if the Palestians want to stimulate such a process, they will have to do something very counter-intuitive: no more stringers. No more Palestinian reporters who will take the risk of being shot at in exchange for delivering news that won’t be published anyway. Let the West duck bullets to come and get the news themselves. I am sure that way reporters won’t have any difficulty at all to tell an interesting story.

Getting a little bit back from Elsevier

The British-Dutch mega-publisher Reed Elsevier spent more than 3 million dollars in bribes lobbying fees in the US last year. What the publisher hopes to get back for this money? It probably won’t be a more balanced and more honest form of copyright. The US politicians that were bolstered by this “support” have been bullying most of the rest of the world into accepting always stronger and more bizarre forms of copyright. Those countries unwilling to participate are threatened with economic sanctions.

On January 1 of this year ‘t was more than 70 years ago that son of Elsevier founder Jacob G. Robbers died. In our current climate copyrights last insanely long, but not for ever. To be precise, in the Netherlands copyrights last until 70 full calendar years after the death of the author. On January 1 of this year I uploaded Herman Robbers’ De Vreemde Plant (The Strange Plant) to The Internet Archive. Please consider that a tiny remuneration from Elsevier for whatever copyright hell it’s going to loose on Dutch citizens.

(Lobbying story via Teleread.)

My first plagiarism

I’ve been plagiarized! Yes, I know. What happened is that Expactica, a website for expats…

Wait, I first have to explain to you what expats are, in case you need to have this explained to you. Expats are people that move to another country. But they are not emigrants. As the name implies, they frame their new position in terms of the original country; the name they give themselves is openly hostile to the new culture. Why would the Dutch put up with such people? Well, I don’t know. “Emigrants” are from all walks of life, and continuously get heaps of shit poured down their collars for not “integrating” fast enough. “Expats” on the other hand are actually hostile to the Netherlands, get nothing but praise, and are usually white Anglo-Saxon butt-corkers.

Oops! I almost suggested that racism comes into play here, though of course as everybody knows there is no racism in the Netherlands. Look at Geert Wilders — not directly, you’ll go blind. As once Andrew Rilstone so eloquently put in between his regular bouts of nut-job Christianism, where I can no longer find it, condemning religions is just a way of being a racist without going to jail for it. Muslims are brown people. You want to slag off brown people? Slag off Islam. But racism is a form of extremism, and if you claim that Dutch politician Wilders, the most vocal critic of Islam in the Netherlands, is an extremist, you go to jail. Ipso facto, there is no racism in the Netherlands.

So where were we? Ah yes, plagiarism. I co-blog at 24 Oranges, a site that provides news about the Netherlands in English. So does the excellent Dutchnews.nl, and so does Expatica.com. A moderator at the Expatica forums copied one of my articles wholesale (link to original, link to copy). That’s copyright infringement, that is. But I don’t care so much about that. Obviously the person who copied it liked my article enough to copy it, and to copy it verbatim at that. And it’s only free publicity for me, right? Wrong.

For some reason, my name did not appear in the copy. If you look closely though, you’ll see what appears to be an honest mistake. There is a source statement, but it accidentally links to a third party that has nothing to do with publishing the story. The Expatica moderator obviously wasn’t trying to get credit for something she had not written. She merely misattributed the story.

A friend said about plagiarism: “Why worry about this instance? You could be plagiarized a thousand times without ever finding out about it.” But I did find out about it, and this is my worry: that people who discover both stories (which is not hard, as accidentally Googling for a phrase unique to my story will show you both) may think that I am the plagiarist. It’s not so much that I must be known as the original author, but rather that I could do without a bad reputation. People don’t look further than the web; what evidence can I present that I am the original author? What happens if further websites plagiarize me: would that be only further evidence that I am a plagiarist? (“Look, he stole from more than one website.”)

So I wrote to Expactica, and asked them to put things right. Guys, I sort of wrote, please correct the source statement. And now we’re more than a week further, and no response. Not even a nyeh nyeh, we’re not going to do it. I know they got my message, because I used their online form (the only way to get into contact with them).

The next step would be to take legal action. First, an official DMCA like complaint, either to Expatica themselves or to their upstream host. Then, a lawsuit. And you know what? That’s just too much work, and a little bit in just too expensive. The courts in this country will only give you real damages, and not even that. So, a couple of hundreds euros and lots of lost time in, and all I would have gotten was lousy justice. So I won’t take further action, and just hope my reputation will remain unscathed. (I rather guess it will.)

What have we learned here:

  • Expatica.com may not be the most reliable of parties. Don’t buy their stuff! Boo! Hiss!
  • I can easily go off the main track for rants that have little to do with the matter at hand.
  • I have too much time on my hands.
  • Any or none of the above.

Donna Wentworth had an interesting opinion about plagiarism that may be more robust in these networked times than just “it’s bad.”

Stupidest headline of the year

The Guardian came up with this headline last week: Bethlehem residents vandalize Banksy graffiti. That’s a very interesting use of the word “vandalize.” Is it too soon to play the race card? What if the graffiti “artist” had been some unknown teenager, and the wall in question the side of the Guardian’s offices? Somehow I doubt the people footing the cleaning bill then would have been branded “vandals”.

Go read the story though, because it gets richer. Banksy (who by the way is definitely an artist—not just a vandal—and well worth checking out) had decided to portray the plight of the Palestinians by spray painting walls in the occupied Palestine state. For this he used symbols that turned out to be insulting to Palestinians. Well, these things happen. But how does the Guardian frame this? Stupid Palestinian not understanding Western irony:

But the irony behind the depiction of an Israeli soldier checking a donkey’s identity papers was lost on some residents, who found it offensive.

“We’re humans here, not donkeys,” said Nasri Canavati, a restaurateur. “This is insulting. I’m glad it was painted over.”

Interestingly, the Guardian’s palpable disdain is not actually present in the article, it just seems that way. Yes, one restaurateur misunderstands an easy to misunderstand joke considering the very real tensions between the Palestinians and their occupiers — the joke being that Israelis even mistrust donkeys at checkpoints. Others understand the joke though, and even think it’s funny. But the upside-down-world headline primes the reader for only one possible reading of the article. I am beginning to feel sorry for the reporter, who probably did not even write the headline.

Buffer states are just anvil states

“Buffer States are just anvil States.”

H.G. Wells in his essay “Holland’s Future”, in Current History, A Monthly Magazine: The European War, March 1915.

Zembla: WTC 7 was a controlled demolition

With the increasing attention being paid to conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks, the Studium Generale at the University of Delft decided to have students research some of the claims made by the makers of the Loose Change documentary, which is the flagship of the conspiracy theorists. This drew the attention of the makers of a Dutch “behind the news” tv show called Zembla (get it? Nova Zembla, behind the news), who decided to report on the findings and to hold their own investigation.

Their findings in short:

  • Almost none of the major claims of Loose Change hold up.
  • WTC 7 crashed because of a controlled demolition.
  • There were almost certainly Americans who knew the exact details of at least the WTC attacks beforehand.

Specifics below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Library of Forbidden Books

Photo: Het Parool, 2005.

A while ago the Parool newspaper published a series of books that used to be censored at some point in time. Their list (Dutch): Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, “Les liaisons dangereuses”, Brecht’s “Dreigroschenroman”, Alberto Moravia’s “Gli Indifferenti”, Marquis de Sade’s “Les Cent-Vingt journées de Sodome”, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five”, Anaïs Nin’s “Henry and June”, Edith Templeton’s “Gordon”, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, and Pauline Réage’s “L’histoire d’O”.

I was going to blog about this earlier, but wanted to find some info about newspapers publishing books, which has become quite fashionable recently. Unfortunately, my Google skills wax and wane with the moon, and I couldn’t find anything. From what I remember, the trend of newspapers publishing books started in Italy (?) and became a quite profitable side-line (?) for newspapers who were otherwise experiencing declining sales (?) in an era in which shopping for printed news has become so much easier (?). If you know more, please help me out here.

The pause gave me some time to think. The ultimate act of censorship, as you know, is called copyright. Copyright allows its owners, typically publishers, but sometimes authors (and in the case of Mein Kampf: governments) to stop distribution of a book. Is that bad for the book? In some cases it is. But more explicit censorship, as in the case of the ten books listed before, also makes publication an attractive proposal; who wouldn’t want to own forbidden fruit?

Where copyright may succeed in burying unpopular ideas is with ideas that would have been unpopular anyway; boring ideas, for example. But I don’t think anyone would want to ban boring ideas, because they tend to ban themselves.

Still, now and again explicit censorship escapes the radar even in somewhat interesting cases. For Project Gutenberg I helped salvage an early edition of “De Zoon van Dik Trom” (Dick Drum’s Son), which was censored by the Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands, and which according to a website called Verboden Boeken (forbidden books) has not been restored since. I’ll have to check and see one of these days if that is still true.

Dik Trom is (the hero of) a series of children’s books that has remained popular for well over a century. The stories are about the adventures of a village boy with a stubborn slant. Slightly picaresque, but not as much as Tom Sawyer or Pippi LÃ¥ngstrump, it is nowadays considered harmless fun. The second book of the series was censored by the Nazis because Dik’s son Jan and his friends had a snowball fight in which they divided up into two camps: the “Dutch” and the “Germans”. The reasons for that choice were simple: the Germans were considered an acceptable alternative (remember: this was before the two Great Wars in which the Dutch perception of their friendly neighbours changed considerably), and because a German black-white-red flag could easily be mimicked by the turning the Dutch red-white-blue upside down.

And of course, in the heat of the battle kids yell things like: “Away with the Germans! Long live the queen!

A more infamous example of a censored work that is no longer being reprinted is of course Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is actively being censored in Europe using copyright law. Apparently our glorious leaders believe that undesirable ideas easily infect the mind of a simple minded person. I guess it takes one to know one.