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2009-04-25 15:41


We're just now back from a few dags on the smallish island of Terschelling, which would be little more than a sandbank in a country less pressed for space than the Netherlands. In a country as pressed for space as the Netherlands, however, it is basically a sandbank with a highly developed touriste industry.

According to the Dutch Wikipedia the island is noted for its linguistic diversity, with assorted dialects of Frisian and one of Hollands of all things. According to our own ears, the languages audible to touristes are standard Dutch, Cherman, and (on the ferry) occasional outbreaks of French.

The bladet shop had a corresponding selection of Cherman, Dutch and Belgian bladets (although none in French), with the quirk that the localest papers came in on the lunchtime boat, so that we never actually got around to reading them.

Instead we read the Belgian Standaard, which turns out to be actually not very good, the Sddeutsche Zeitung, which is of course pretty darn fine, Zeit, which is enjoyably extensive, and the sonntag edition of the FAZ, which takes extensiveness to frankly poignant levels.

We stayed, Boris, the Countess, the Countesses immediate ancestors and us, in one of row of remodelled World War II cabins. (We're not sure who built them or why; given the Dutch record of military success last time out we decided against asking.)

Particularly exciting for Boris, the access to the cabins was up a moderately steep hill. Particularly exciting for everyone else, Boris greeted the hill as an old friend and spent his copious free time trying to escape from the assembled company and hurl himself down it.

More soothingly for the rest of us, but ultimately a bit trying for Boris, we spent much of our copious adult free time in the many eating and watering holes the island is largely (other than sand) made of, watching the fiets- en wandelbejaarden going through their paces. (Our own plan to hire a tandem and tour around a bit fell through, although not especially for want of hireable tandems.)

And now we're back, and the weather is still glorious. There'll be plagues of locusts and/or frogs before May is out, mark our words.

2009-04-19 10:25

Speak Agorian, please!

The NRC Handelsblad's Europablog has - count em - three successive posts on the question of pan-European political debate.

It is possible, however, that our Varied Reader cannot read them (since they are in Dutch), and that is in some ways central to their point.

The EU institutions themselves are of course committed to multilingualisme on an endearingly epic scale, and we do not begrudge them a eurocent of their translation budget, but outside of the EU institutions no one has the funds to do the same.

The result is that tone-giving krants, bladets and broadcasters operate predominantly on a national scale, with the consequence that that is also the scale of public debate.

An example we swiped from the above blogs: Mad Cherman Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk apparently has opinions about genetic engineeering that are very contentious in Chermany, but not so much outside, even though Chermans are in fact (genetically) as human as the rest of us.

The exceptions to the rule of strictly national media are mostly the Doshbladet ("Financial Times"), the Intergalactic Herald-Tribune, the Dismalbladet ("Economiste") and the New York Review of Books, and these have in common that they are in the silly Engleesh.

Which is to say that whether the EU's institutions like it or not, Engleesh is the de facto language of European shared political discourse.

And while our Varied Reader may or may not share our regret at such a state of affairs, the NRC Handelsblad, Chermany's Das Spiegelblatt, and Danmark's Politikenbladet have decided that joining them is the better part of beating them, and are joining the forces of their various Anglophone web presences.

And we find ourself, somewhat reluctantly, wishing them well.

2009-04-16 19:18


It is after all Spring, and very gloriously so here right now, and while young men's thoughts are no doubt elsewhere, those of middle-aged Englishmen of a certain class will turn inexorably to the game of Stickball.

When your meetings have taken to being held in Dutch and your Polish collaborator is in extended, if temporary, residence it is all very exhilaratingly cosmopolitan, but it is also reassuring to occasionally put your headphones on and tune your magic internet radios to the soothing tones of BBC local radio's coverage of Gloucestershire County Cricket club.

(Tradition, to say nothing of other demands on our cognitive processes, dictates that we never know what the score is, but that is of course hardly the point.)

Failing that, we have also plonked down our US$15 for Major League Baseball's "Gameday Audio" so that we can follow the Red Sox of Boston. (This would work better if we finally got around to writing a script to delay the RSS feed we have on them, which is otherwise full of spoilers.)

There are persons who have a strong preference for one or other code of Stickball, or so we have heard, but we are by no means one of them. (We draw the line at golf, though. Hitting a stationary ball is hardly sporting, is it?)

2009-04-16 18:36

April is the philosophicalest month

It is April, which in the Netherlands is also the Month of Filosofie, which is a bit like philosophie. And in Big Paper Krant, Menno Lievers of the university of Utrecht clothes himself in the irritation circa 2004 of his colleague Herman Philipse, who he quotes thus:

In the history of philosophy they just analysed texts, so that it really amounted to philology. In theoretical philosophy they only studied mathematical logic. In applied philosophy the main business of the ethicists was writing conceptual studies for the ministry of health.

(We doubt it's on the Webs and we doubt our Varied Reader would really miss the Dutch we have neglected to transcribe.)

Surprisingly, except in so far as it isn't, his opinion of popular accounts of philosophy in the newspapers and especially Filosofie magazine is just as sour. (He picks on the latter's vox pop style panel column, which is admittedly not its strongest suit. But there is rather more in it than that, in our experience as an occasional reader.)

Persons wishing to decide for themselves, and with a reasonable grasp of Dutch, can read Rob Wijnberg's columns for (the krant to which we subscribe) at his blog.

Personally, we'd like to see more reference to the Mad Cherman School in these debates, but that may be just us.

2009-04-09 19:14

Cosmopolitanisme, thy name is us

We now have both a Lidl and an Aldi within walking distance.

We're still not sure which is which, though.

2009-04-07 15:07

Lambda, the ultimate timesink

Anyone who programs in Lisp - as we sometimes do - or Scheme thinks they know their way around the lambda calculus - as we thought we did.

It turns out that we don't, really, and this is a little bit discouraging. (We somewhat blame the authors of the paper we're trying to read, but that approach only gets you so far, and that is not quite far enough for the purposes we have.)

Still, there is said to be pedagogical value in being stuck so long as you subsequently become unstuck.

2009-04-07 14:37

The Calvinist idea of fun

It is nearly Easter, and the bakers are marking the occasion with the traditional paashaantjes ("Easter roosters").

These are buns of ordinary unsweetened white bread in the shape of chickens, but with - w00t! - a currant for the eye.

What, as they say, larks!

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