December 31, 2010

Happy New Year


Lets hope 2011 will be a better year, intellectually and spiritually wise.

Sketchzoid #23

December 29, 2010

Dude, Where's My Car? VII


A Belgian driver steered his expensive Alfa Romeo down the stairs of a bicycle garage and then got stuck. Tow truck got the car out. The driver blamed his navigation system for giving false directions. ;)

December 26, 2010

Lefty

I made some comments on YouTube last week concerning a video Michael Moore uploaded and where he supports Julian Assange (from WikiLeaks) even going so far as donating money. Most comments on that video were positive but there were also a number of Moore detractors making themselves known. I decided to reply to some comments and rather quickly rubbed someone the wrong way. When I criticized the Bush administration for plunging the U.S. into an unjust war in Iraq I was branded a leftist (and a number of other things which I wont mention here).

Not an unfair accusation since I've often voted for the Dutch Labour Party, but if you have some degree of knowledge of Western European socialist parties you would know that these organizations aren't exactly communist or unsupportive of American policy. In fact, the Dutch and British Labour Parties supported the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, even sending the troops. Labour Parties in the aforementioned countries are still capitalists. Maybe that is something some Americans forget. While they have the workers rights high on the agenda - they wont interfere with business mechanics (that much).

What's more interesting to note is that blame is put on leftist politics like that is the cause of all the problems. I've seen this many times in my own country where left wing politicians are often blamed for failed policies. That's an outright falsehood since in the last 40 years in Holland there was always a right wing party who also sat in the government. That argument, blame the left, is blatantly false. In the U.S. the conservative Republican Party often ruled the country and from 2000 till 2008. How you can blame 'the left' for that era is beyond me.

Of course American politics differs from European. It might interest the reader to know that the Democrats in the U.S. are more right wing than the right wing party VVD here in Holland, but have you seen us in Holland dressing up in red and yell 'comrade?' With politics and parties you need a thorough understanding of what they actually stand for. The Nazis weren't socialists. Communist China aren't exactly communists, they are doing fine as an economy with their capitalistic approach. Even Cuba is taking China's approach. It's in the details and by their actions they show their true colors.

Which brings me back to the argument I had with an American who defended the Bush administration and was offended since by criticizing that administration I had also hurt the people that voted for it. Here's an excerpt of what he wrote to me;

The American people elected Bush twice so we must have liked him. Our Give is elected so when you slam Bush and the American Gov then it is perceived as slamming us as well. Plus it is well known that Americans are treated badly is some parts of Europe. One of our problems is that the newss you see coming from America has been decidedly partisan mostly to the left...but only 20% of Americans are far left types...which is most of what shows up on U Tube running off at the mouth. The vast majority of Americans don't think like them at all. On Iraq...the real reason for that war was to create a Democracy as an example in the Middle East and to drive a wedge between Iran and it's prozy armies in Lebanon.

There are a number of issues I could go into but I wont do that right now. The one I will address now is the (false) perception that 'left wing ideology' is somehow at fault here. Even news organizations are branded as partisan. Quite strange since from what I've seen real journalism and objective reporting has gone largely missing in American media. If I can be a bit straightforward and rude, I think the person I had a discussion with doesn't realize how fascist his thoughts have become. I think that person doesn't want his motives to be questioned nor does he wants to examine them and instead acts defensively.

Maybe we need to be careful where we put the blame and give it much more thought. Nowadays I'm not even a 'lefty' anymore. I've come to the realization that left and right wing policies actually don't differ that much in a democracy because it's all about the money and GDP's anyway. Money rules, not some political party. Lightbulb! See beyond superficial politics will you?

December 24, 2010

Winter Photographs


Winter is a great time to take pictures. Oddly enough over here in Holland the last 2 winters have been severe after a decade or so of mild ones. (Some folks are already talking about a mini ice age.) The shot above was taken in the early morning. After a week of cloudy weather the skies suddenly burst open. The sky turned blue and the air was vibrant. I hope the shot captured that essence.


Last week we had one or two days where the temperatures were just around freezing. If it's 1C or 0.5C snow melts but very slowly and can freeze up again quickly depending on conditions. Maybe the lightbulb in the lamp generated some heat as well. In any case conditions were perfect for creating 'ice stalactites.'


Thought this was an interesting shot. Although not clearly visible in the shot there's a rain pipe attached to the wall. What (I think) happens is that snow on the rooftop melts (maybe because of heat generated within the apartments) and trickles down the rain pipe which is probably also clogged up. Next the water travels down the branches of plants before freezing up again. Nature's art if you ask me.

December 23, 2010

Bank Run Stop - Politicians Make Me Pop

Some startling piece of legislation is in the works over here in Holland. Dutch ministers of the Finance and Justice departments, Opstelten and de Jager, are working on a new law that prohibits people from publicly calling for a 'bank run,' should they do so they can be fined (to a maximum of €19.000) or imprisoned (up to 4 years). The ministers argue that calling for a bank run can lead to situations that can't be controlled. The legislation is also aimed at public figures who have authority in the financial world. The main aim, according to the ministers, is to provide stability and a climate of trust for the banks.

Not strange in itself of course since a bank run equals bankruptcy, yet what is so woefully missing and what politicians conveniently leave out is why a bank is so vulnerable in the first place when a lot of people withdraw their cash. And the answer is very simple; they basically don't have that money. Banks are required to have 8% of their total amount of money in house, the rest is lend out. That means that when that amount of 8% is exceeded they are basically broke.

Most people know what the fallout of a bank run is. The money somehow simply evaporates, unless of course when the government steps in rescuing the bank with taxpayer money like we've seen a number of times during the credit crisis of 2008. What's even more startling is this; the banks didn't have the money to begin with because most of the banks credit is created out of thin air because of fractional reserve banking. Banks can create money out of nothing, they do lend money from central banks (at interest) but are free to create additional money should the need arise.

This is what really ticks me off. Banks have an enormous advantage, they create a great deal money from nothing, loan that money to costumers. The customer is hold fully accountable, no payments (on time) means loss of property. Here's a fair question in my opinion; does it work the other way around?
I don't think it does. Bank runs show that even the rumor of a financial institution failing will actually cause it to fail. How stable are banks really to begin with? What recent history has shown is that when banks fail the taxpayer gets the bill. Even in my own country, Holland, banks were bailed out with €35 billion in taxpayer money. Today it was abundantly clear once more that even our own politicians rather work with a bandaid and forbid people to use the word bank run in public instead of addressing the root causes of a bank's inherent instability, but seeing how many former politicians wind up as CEO's of banks I'm not that surprised.

December 17, 2010

Snow, Again


Unbelievable amount of snow fell today, especially for these parts. At least 10 centimeters fell but in some places it was double that. Public transport basically ceased to exist. Trains and busses stopped and the airports have massive delays. It does make a pretty sight and from the looks of it we'll have a white Christmas.

Fogger



December 16, 2010

Free At Last


Julian Assange was finally released today. He's not off the hook but on bail, depending on an inquiry by the British justice department concerning his extradition to Sweden. That process could take months. In the meantime Assange is under house arrest although he doesn't have to stay indoors all the time. He's residing in a mansion made available by a sympathizer of WikiLeaks, a former officer of the British Army named Vaughan Smith.
Interesting to note is that Assange's bail was set at 240.000 pounds (€283.000). (Funny how the justice system can be paid off, but I digress.) One big contributor to this cause was none other than Michael Moore, the American filmmaker who donated $20.000 if I'm not mistaken. With the help of many supporters the bail was met, and touching upon another fine financial peculiarity, 200.000 pounds had to be paid in cash. (Bit reminiscent of the Dick Cheney/Halliburton Nigerian scandal where they were accused of bribing officials and settled paying a fine of a few hundred million dollars. Funny how money opens doors, but I digress again.) Good thing that Assange is out of prison.

Upper #2


Meet Aishwarya Rai, former Miss Universe and Queen of Bollywood. For some reason I keep staring at her picture that's on my desktop, so, thought it would be best to put her on my blog and let her slip into the database because I lose too much time.

Sketchzoid #22

December 14, 2010

Restrepo


Couple of days ago I watched the documentary film Restrepo on the National Geographic Channel, and it's quite an intense film. A platoon of soldiers from the U.S. Army are followed (with a camera) for a year in a remote part of Afghanistan called the Korengal Valley. They are basically surrounded by Taliban forces and firefights occur practically every day. Subsequently you find out that a number of the soldiers, who had previously been on camera, have died in combat.
That creates a shocking but true to life atmosphere within the film. From a human and psychological aspect it's also highly realistic to see how different people deal with the situations they find themselves in. Some are 'jarheads' and deal with it by cursing constantly while others show remarkable depths of character by handling the bad situations with maturity and compassion - way beyond what you would expect of guys of that age and who are trained to kill. All of them are hurting nonetheless. It shows in their eyes when they are interviewed after they return home from their deployment. A highly realistic film about the War in Afghanistan.

December 12, 2010

The Rat


Forgot something regarding WikiLeaks in my previous blog. There was an interesting leak regarding to what some of our (Dutch) politicians had been up to. On the left here is Maxime Verhagen, former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Cabinet Balkenende IV. On 14 July 2009 Verhagen and then Prime Minister Balkenende (both belonging to the conservative Christian political party CDA) met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In the leaked the document the following is revealed;

Mr Verhagen alluded to comments made by Jan Peter Balkenende – the Dutch Prime Minister at the time – to President Barack Obama. Mr Balkenende apparently told Mr Obama that, while there was disagreement in the cabinet on the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan, he was convinced that the Netherlands would continue to have a presence there to carry on the ‘3-D’ approach – defence, diplomacy and development.

What's so strange about this you might ask? Well, the Dutch mission in Afghanistan was extended twice and the last time with the explicit condition that the troops would be withdrawn by 2010. The document reveals that Verhagen and Balkenende alluded to extending the mission even though there was a lot of opposition, including from the coalition partner PvdA (Dutch Labour Party) who was strongly opposed. It gets worse. The Dutch government fell over this issue. The Labour Party gave the cabinet a deadline to confirm it would withdraw all 1,600 Dutch soldiers no later than December 2010 and the CDA and the CU refused.

Let me put it in more simpler terms. Verhagen and Balkenende went back on their promise of taking the troops home and (vaguely) promised to extent the mission (in some capacity), also knowing that their coalition partner would be against such action. This clearly is a violation of previous agreements. When the government fell the CDA and especially Verhagen vehemently blamed the Labour Party. The document however, reveals that Verhagen was engaged in some backdoor diplomacy. When this news came out this week I discovered that Verhagen already had a nickname that was used by many people to describe him. "The Rat." To top it off, Verhagen is again a minister in the current Dutch cabinet. You can't make this stuff up.

December 11, 2010

Green Sonja


Take a look at this beauty. The pin up of the banking world from Austria, miss Sonja Kohn. Besides from being a banking pin up Ms. Kohn is sought for damages of $19.6 billion in a civil lawsuit regarding the Madoff Ponzi scheme. (It's tough these days being a banker.) Although she portrayed herself as being one of Madoff's biggest victims she's also accused of conspiring with Bernie for 23 years and funneling more than $9 billion. Uh oh. What is the world coming to when a banker can't do his or her business and raise a few bucks? You can read more about our worlds finest here. I'm sure she also did her bit for charity, mostly herself, of course.

Wikiwitchhunt 3

Well, it has been a fruitful WikiWeek. I rather enjoy the revelations that keep popping up from the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables. It has also become more clear what Assange himself is accused off and I must say that it enters a 'grey area.' He had sexual relationships with 2 women last summer and the bottom line is that both of them don't press rape charges against Assange but do insist he takes a HIV test. Swedish authorities are the ones who take it to another level. You can question Assange's morals about this matter of course. Dating two women at the same time is frowned upon by most. From what I've read is that with one partner a condom ruptured and the other claims that while asleep Assange tried to have unprotected sex with her. The latter is of course more serious. When the 2 ladies found out about each other, that was the moment they stepped to the police and insisted Assange do a STD test.

On a more lighter note, some revelations were revealing this week. Turns out the Vatican obstructed an investigation into child abuse by Catholic priests last year. Imagine that cesspool opening up, right? What I also found fascinating was a report on Saudi Arabia and the Royal House. One diplomat commented that behind the walls of private compounds and security forces, members of the Arabian royal family throw quite the parties. Liquor, cocaine and prostitutes can be found in abundance at such parties, according to the diplomatic messages. For the ordinary citizens of that country it's forbidden to even consume alcohol and punishments are severe. A bottle of vodka, which you can't buy in the shops, costs $300 on the black market. I always find it utterly amusing when people who make the rules - don't follow them themselves. It's the age old axiom, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I just love seeing hypocrites go down.

Lots of cyber attacks have gone down this week and some people are already speaking about a cyber war. Anonymous reared its head by attacking various websites who had cut off WikiLeaks. In my own country, Holland, a teenager was arrested in the Hague for such an offensive. It caused quite a stir since a lot people commented that the police should catch and arrest real criminals instead of teenagers behind a computer. (The low opinion of police in my country is also fueled by the notion that they are more preoccupied with writing tickets and generating money for the state then catching hardcore criminals.) What happened next is that state websites came under cyber attack in my country and were effectively shut down for a considerable time. It's fascinating to say the least. Assange has been taken to another, tighter prison facility, 'for his own safety' - of course.

December 7, 2010

Snowwoman


It was snowing heavily last weekend so I decided to make a snowman, but then changed my mind a bit - seeing how the world has become so emancipated, so I decided to make a snowwoman. Sadly, Boobra, the name I gave for the snowdoll, didn't make it to the next day. A (temporary) thaw set in accompanied by strong winds. She was laying flat on her face when I opened the curtains. So sad.

December 4, 2010

Wikiwitchhunt 2

Several things have happened since my last blog on WikiLeaks and classified information being released to the general public. Julian Assange, director of WikiLeaks, upped the ante by stating that if he was arrested he would release the rest of the (diplomatic) information without any editing whatsoever. He supported this move by making a (large) encrypted file downloadable with all the raw data. A decryption key will be made available to the public if Assange were to be arrested. Quite the power play I might say. The file in question has been downloaded thousands of times already so I reckon Assange isn't bluffing here.

Amazon, host to the WikiLeaks main website, has decided to no longer keep them on their servers. Basically what they did is kick them out, maybe because of (political) pressure or corporate policy. This didn't stop the owners of WikiLeaks and they quickly established a website on a Swiss domain. The website on Amazon was also under continuous cyber attack. Paypal, a daughter company of Ebay, canceled the bank account of WikiLeaks because of "violation of policy", meaning that they are of the opinion that their former client was engaged in illegal activity. It just so happens that WikiLeaks is highly dependent on donations and needs around 200.000 dollars every year to keep the organization going. (Since the release of U.S. diplomatic cables last week they received about 15.000 euros in donations.)

It's pretty obvious the witch hunt is well underway and personally I think it's going to end in a shit storm. Professor Tom Flanagan, a political advisor to the Canadian prime minister, flat out said on television that Assange should be assassinated. Australian authorities are looking into revoking Assange's passport - if they proceed on this matter that would mean Assange can't travel borders without setting off alarm bells. All of this is of course beside the international arrest warrant that is already out. U.K. police stated that they are aware of Assange's whereabouts and are looking into the legality of Sweden's request.

It's painfully clear that an immense amount of pressure is put on Assange to give up and that WikiLeaks is obstructed in many ways. Secrecy is apparently paramount. Democracy, freedom and transparency? My ass. My guess is that pretty soon a decryption key will be released and that the whole world can see how politicians "serve" the interests of the people.

December 3, 2010

Cold Enough For Ya?


Check out this guy. He's a neighbor who lives down the street although I haven't really talked to him. A couple of days ago he stripped down to his swimming trunks and slippers and happily walked on the sidewalk. It was -5C with wind force 6, that means there was a windchill factor of -14C yet this guy endured it. First shot (above) he was walking his dog and the second shot (below) was taken some 20 minutes later when he decided to go shopping. Gotta give him credit for being a tough guy. I had my ski jacket on that day.

December 2, 2010

Hutspot


Here's an easy dish to make and it's sort of a traditional Dutch meal. It's called Hutspot (hotchpotch would be an approximation in the English language). You take 500 grams of potatoes, 250 grams of carrots and 250 grams of onions. (Enough for 2 people.) You boil the potatoes for 20-25 minutes, the carrots and onions for 15 minutes. I basically put it al together in a big pan because you're going to mash it together anyway. Spice it with salt, pepper and nutmeg and you're done. It's a hearty meal for in the winter time so with the meat you can use bacon or beef with gravy. I usually have sausage with this dish. One last thing, all the onions make it somewhat spicy so if a person has problems digesting that you can put less in the meal.

December 1, 2010

Is He Serious?


Take a load of this guy. Professor Tom Flanagan from the University of Calgary and conservative political activist, political advisor of the prime minister of Canada - Stephen Harper, calls for the assassination of WikiLeaks director Julian Assange. I'm not that convinced that Flanagan is kidding here and if he doesn't retract his statements I personally think a criminal case can be brought against him on the grounds of incitement to murder.

Wikiwitchhunt

The recent release of U.S. (diplomatic) information on WikiLeaks caused quite a stir. The U.S. immediately went on the diplomatic offensive, warning friends (and sometimes foes) that classified information was about to be released and that some things weren't that pretty. The information contained mostly diplomatic email traffic and assessments of foreign leaders but I don't know if many people have realized this, the information itself is not top secret. It is rated below that. Most of the information is rated confidential and a small portion is labeled secret. Basically what this means is that the real juicy stuff hasn't been released yet.

The assessments of foreign leaders are quite hilarious actually, especially since embassy staff made those comments. Putin and Medvedev are described as Batman and Robin, Berlusconi is said to be vain and ineffective and "Teflon" Merkel is said to be risk avoiding and uncreative. Not very flattering such comments. What's more troublesome are other tidbits of information. King Abdullah suggested the U.S. should attack Iran and that Guantanamo detainees about to be released should be electronically chipped and put on surveillance. Then there's the directive by the U.S. State Department ordering diplomats to spy on UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

Now, I know that the act of releasing classified information itself is fiercely debated. Lots of government officials say that by releasing sensitive information people's lives are put at risk. This is not however an introspective way of looking at matters. Spying on foreign leaders and collecting classified information is already part of an 'action - reaction' situation. In other words, you make a move and you can bet the other party will make a move as well. Secrecy is an invitation for trouble. That's partly how I see it. While I don't want to see anyone getting killed, playing the spy game will already make that a possibility. I'm for releasing classified information. The primary reason for that is that it shows the truth. It shows how corrupt and calculating governments really are.

It's painfully obvious that patience with WikiLeaks has run out and that they have been targeted in many ways. An hour prior to the planned release of the initial documents there was a massive distributed denial-of-service attack on the websites servers, but that didn't stop the information already leaked out to newspapers. You can wonder who instigated the cyber attack in the first place. Julian Assange, the spokesperson and editor-in-chief for WikiLeaks, has an arrest warrant out in Sweden for suspicion of rape and sexual harassment. Interpol issued a 'red notice' against Assange, meaning they are looking for him and can arrest and extradite him. Which in itself is strange since Assange is formally wanted as a witness and for questioning, he's not officially charged yet.

I presume most people can see the witch hunt underway right now. Governments are going to clamp down on websites like WikiLeaks because it exposes them. They'll do it anyway possible depending on the severity of the leaks. This is the democracy you live in. As a citizen, when you're pulled over by the cops, you'll often get the request to show your bags and open the trunk - because you got nothing to hide, right? The same thing doesn't seem to work for those in power. Realizations such as this one will hopefully make a person aware that there is still much to be improved in our world.