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2009-07-05 16:48


We're on holidag until August.

Tot straks!

2009-07-05 10:13

One of these things is less like the others than the others are: Czechia, Bavaria, Brabant

It is Bavaria Holland Beer, and by the grace of the European Court of Justice it will remain so:

Europe's highest court yesterday ruled that a Dutch brewer should in principle be allowed to continue to use its "Bavaria" trademark despite a European Union law that affords brewers in the southern German state exclusive rights to the term Bavarian beer.

Their defence had been that they adopted the label in the 20s to indicate their allegiance to the new Bavarian (i.e., Czech) style of Pilsners, and the upshot is that they are now officially grandfathered in. (Incidentally, are there no lawyers in Pilsen? Get with the programme, Pilsen lawyer-type persons!)

All the Dutch beers worth drinking (Hertog Jan, Gulpener and a few others) are brewed in Limburg, which a cursory glance at a map shows is really part of Belgium. Bavaria is brewed in North Brabant, the next province up geographically but that turns out not to help: it is pretty grim stuff. (Their biggest export market is Italy, which speaks for itself.)

But it is the official bier of many Dutch train station brasseries, and it did introduce plastic bottles and pull-off tops, and it drives real Bavarian brewers absolutely batshit. So we have a sneaking regard for it anyway.

We noticed in Espain that there was routinely a choice between the quite decent local brew of Malou (or something) and Heineken. It is quite an achievement Heineken has achieved in persuading persons outside their home markets that their filth is actually a premium brand, and we certainly congratulate them for that.

(At home we mostly drink 20-cent supermarkt bier. It is not very good, but it is hardly worse than Heineken, and things that are actually good are pretty expensive.)

2009-07-01 18:45

Things that could profitably be stuck where the sun don't shine

It is inburgering, the most irritating Dutch export since Big Brother. The original idea was to irritate ("integrate") brown persons by sending them to compulsory classes in which they would learn not quite enough Dutch to be a threat to natives on the job market, heavily leavened with "advice" on how Dutch society works and lardened no less heavily with drivel about the glorious Dutch cultural and history.

Backed up with also-compulsory assessments, of course.

Colleagues of ours who have had the pleasure do not speak especially highly of the quality of instruction, or the usefulness of the information, but until now EU citizens have of course been exempt, as EU law after all demands.

But with socioeconomic circumstances favouring the extension of harassment of immigrants, it is the Polishes turn to get a feel of the esteem in which they are held:

Polen die zich hier definitief vestigen, moeten verplicht inburgeren. Dat vindt minister Van der Laan van Intergratie. Een meerderheid van de Tweede Kamer is het daar mee eens.

Ook andere Europeanen die hier komen werken en wonen, maar de taal niet goed spreken, moeten zo snel mogelijk een inburgeringscursus volgen. Dat moet problemen op school of het werk voorkomen.

Polishes who settle "here" permanently should have to inburger, according to integration minister Van der Laan. A majority of the lower house of parliament agrees.

Other European who come and live and work "hier" but don't speak the language well should follow an inburgering course to prevent problems at school or at work.

If it was mostly or almost-mostly a language course, there might be something to this, although hardly enough to override the principle of free movement within the EU. But it is not mostly or almost-mostly a language course.

Inwoners van de Europese Unie zijn nu nog niet verplicht een inburgeringscursus te volgen. Daarvoor is een wijziging van de Europese wet nodig. Minister Van der Laan laat onderzoeken of dat mogelijk is.

Citizens of the EU aren't yet obliged to follow an inburgering course. It would require a change in European law to make that possible. Minister Van der Laan is looking into whether that is possible.

Lik m'n reet, minister Van der Laan.

(Under current arrangements, our Dutch certificate exempts us from inburgering as a backup if EU citizenship should fail. But once they start coming for the Polishes, who knows where it may end?)

2009-06-30 19:26

Dutch courage, now with added sobriety

We're not the most outgoing of persons, and until recently we had both the heebies and the geebies whenever it seemed likely we would have to run the sort of errands that involved speaking to random Dutchpersons without a pre-rehearsed script.

But todag we successfully sourced an Olympus-flavour memory card and had an insolent sandal of the Countess's repaired, and it didn't seem to have crossed our mind to worry about it.

The humiliation of being Engleeshed is pretty much a distant memory at this point. (Frankly we never found that it happened up here, where we are a long way out of the Expat Zone, but colleagues of ours assure us it does go on even up here. Which serves them right for not having a collection of Dutch in-laws, probably.)

Which is not to say we're in any mood to try to bludgeon the cable company out of its own insolence - our preview period having expired, we now have a choice limited to Nederland Een and Nickolodeon, despite having received a letter in which they acknowledge our actual (slightly more extensive) choice of packages.

(We're figuring that they may have corrected it by the time we get back from holidag and that we can live with analogue until then.)

2009-06-30 19:18

The closest thing we hope to have of a lasting memory of Mari

There are an awful lot of white cars there, even if you neglect the taxis.

2009-06-30 18:49

Minutes of the holidag planning committee

We're on holidag as of the end of the week and about time too. And with our shiny new vouwwagon at our disposal, we can go where we like (albeit slowly) and change our mind if we feel like it. This was a great deal of the point, of course.

But with Boris van 't Blad not being the most enthusiastic of car passengers - he is fascinated for about an hour and then bored and hostile afterwards - we don't want to go too far in the first instance.

We'd thought of heading to picturesque Sauerland to start with, and heading south to the Moselle valley (the cheaper Cherman side thereof, since we are after all fairly cheap), and then down to the Alsace if the weather isn't to our taste.

But then we were zapping past the BBC and it was all "heatwave, heatwave" and if it stays like that it may get hard to suppress memories of the glorious heatwave of 2006, when we spent our first proper camping holidag on the island of Fyn in Danmark. There was nothing much there except beardies, lady-beardies, bats and excellent bread in the mornings, but we don't really ask for very much more anyway.

Which is to acknowledge or admit that we could be pretty much anywhere within a thousand kilometres from here come a week on moondag. But, we like to think, in a good way.

2009-06-30 11:27

How to buy a new digital camera

(Our old digital camera had an argument with a lake and hasn't been the same since.)

First, wait until a digitrends booklet drops out of a magazine you subscribe to.

Peruse said booklet, taking special note of the waterproof cameras in case there are more lakes anticipated in your near future. (We are in fact planning to holidag on a campsite by a lake.)

Choose more-or-less at random.

Drive with toddler to Big Electronics Chain at 9am mondag morning. Discover that Big Electronics Chain opens at 10am. Let toddler push pushchair around abandoned carpark; feed toddler biscuit and juice.

Take a stroll to IKEA and back; contemplate stealing some Zwedish books (this is by far the simplest and cheapest source). Decide against it.

Stroll back to Big Electronics Chain.

Discover that Big Electronics Chain's stock overlaps not at all with booklet's contents.

Keep toddler's sticky little hands off of demo models; keep toddler from pushing pushchair to car stereo section. Ignore toddler's wails of protest.

Pick a slightly waterproof camera at more-or-less random. Realise you've forgotten to bring old memory card to assess compatibility, but reassure yourself with box that claims compatibility with most kinds.

Pay, leave and discover that new camera is nonetheless incompatible with old memory card.

Drive home, open box (doing this while toddler is not napping will probably invalidate warranty and/or sanity) and discover that the manual is monolingual in Dutch. Boggle at instructions.

Start charging battery; curse Olympus (for it is they!) briefly for their choice of a non-standard USB connector; ignore CD's of Windows software, since your computer is a linux netbook with no CD drive (and also on general principles).

Still, the dizzying range of options does at least include a fully-automatic option that asks no further questions, and we propose to use no other option. (We get enough insolence from our many computers, frankly.)

2009-06-26 08:14

How to get dinner in Mari

Assemble at 20:30 outside the hotel. Head in the general direction of Big Touriste Plaza.

Walk past terraces until there are no more terraces; decide that you wish in fact to sit at a terrace; walk further until they turn up.

Regroup at Big Touriste Plaza around 2230, and begin the process of being turned away from the decent restaurants, since this is now peak dinner time. Find a less decent restaurant (the giveaway is that they have seats) and place your order for Random Dinner With Too Much Garlic.

2009-06-26 08:09

Moondag review of stuff, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

Packing for a trip to Mari - the closest thing to an arch-nemesis we have among Yoorpean cities - we felt an urge to pack something in our native tongue so that we could at least be free of langwidge barriers while reading. And the thing that came readiliest to hand was this book, which we picked up in papperbk at Groningen station on our last trip with the trein.

Which turned out to be not entirely the cunningest of plans: we started it on the trein and it was long finished before we touched down in Mari-Barajas airport.

The conceit of the novel is that the narrator originates in the strata of conservative Dutch society in which cricket is played, and after persuing a career in Londontown's financial sector, moves to New York and resumes playing cricket there among the invisible immigrant communities, experiences 9/11 at a safe-ish distance and experiences marital difficulties, all of which being framed as flashbacks in connectio with the later outfishing (when he is back in Londontown) of the corpse of a murdered friend from his New York cricket days.

The thing is, his various backgrounds in the Netherlands, England and cricket are used here as alienation devices in what is otherwise mostly an American novel. (The narrator's British wife attends university and then "law school", which can happen in Britain but is by no means the natural order of things and given that the author himself persued undergraduate studies in law at Oxbridge East it is an odd lapse that he presents it as such.)

And of course these such distancing devices are at their least effective when we are on the end of them: cricket is our favourite code of stickball, and stickball in turn is our favourite flavour of sport - we spent the last week greedily devouring the Twenty20 cricket world cup on Eurosport 2 - and in addition we also know the tune to Sinterklaas kapoentje and the proper way to eat nieuwe haring and we even know, as the author doesn't mention, that the appropriate term for his young self is a kakker.

And that George W Bush's foreign policy occasioned outrage and disgust approximately everywhere outside his own "heartland" will come as no surprise to more persons than us, even among America's literati.

But this remains a fine novel, given that we are an usually poor judge of it in particular as well as unusually poor judge of these things in general - even the Grantally fine writing doesn't materially detract from the pleasures it offers. Foremost among which are the musings of the at-least-twice deracinated narrator on the role that narrative coherence plays in lived experience of selfhood. Which is a novelistic sort of theme, admittedly, but then this is Literary Fiction and that is after all the sort of thing they get up to.

Oh, and contrary to what the Sundag Telegraph may have claimed, it is an exceptionally useless Krimi ("murder mystery"): the only thing we find out is that the motive and the perpetrator are beyond the sphere of the narrator's experiences with the victim. (The police acknowledge that they know who and why but lack evidence to prosecute and inclination to share those details with the narrator or us.)

Also, we recommend that the narrator - fictional though he admittedly is - take a look at some Twenty20 cricket sometime by way of acknowledging the necessity of "going deep" or hitting the ball in the air. It is not just rubbish outfields in New York cricket grounds that make this desirable, but also (in that form of the game) the need to exploit power-plays and the desire to hit spinners out of the attack (which also happens in Tests, let's face it).

It is probably between us and the fictional Hans van den Broek, but the thing we loved most deeply about Twenty20 was the decisive role that spinners and real wicket-keepers played in keeping the batsmen guessing. (That and Shaid "Boom-Boom" Afridi's combination of glorious legspin bowling and contemptuous thumping of opponent spinners, at least.)

2009-06-23 10:02

Moondag review of stuff

Featuring Stank by Hkan stlundh.

It might reasonably be supposed that someone fond enough of Scandiwegia to learn Zwedish well enough to read whole books, and whose preferred genre of trash is the Krimi would have a particular interest in Scandiwegian Krimi's.

In so far as the someone in question were us, however, this would not be the case.

'Wegian krimis have a reputation for featuring lugubrious detectives in pursuit of boring serial killers who perpetrate horrible and messy murders in obscure thrall to their obscure and boring private mythologies, with a side order of socialkritik thrown in if the author feels the need for some high-mindedness to balance out the prurience and this never struck us as something we particularly needed to expose ourself to.

But when we accompanied the Countess on a recent trip to the public library we noticed this book, and it had an icon of a magnifying glass and footprint instead of the usual contemporary krimi icon of a handgun, so we figured that maybe it would feature a bit of detection and a murderer with motives recognisable as such.

In those respects we were entirely disappointed: the last page of the book features the murderer being explicitly at a loss to account for his own actions. Not that that comes entirely as a surprise: several short chapters mixed into the narrative in Mad Italics had already brought the perpetrator's dull and deranged inner world to dull and deranged literary life.

The book as a whole may well be a perfectly good example of its genre - it certainly confirmed every prejudice we had had about it - and we might even read another by the same author if we come across one in the bieb (we liked reading about Gotland and we liked the soapier bits that weren't really part of the Krimi proper). But really the single most interesting thing about it is that it hasn't (yet) been translated into Engleesh.

2009-06-23 09:55

Stampen mit ihr Fussen und spring, spring, spring!

Some abiding memories of the weddning:

Drinking absurdly sweet Sekt from plastic glasses in the carpark of the Schloss where the civil ceremony was held (and also where we slept).

The penguin dance of one of the bride's many Fussbal teams, in which the happy couple participated wearing snorkeling flippers.

The many Chermans who apologised to us (in Cherman) for not speaking Dutch.

It was a mighty weddning for sure!

2009-06-18 20:59

We have two(2) words for you

1. Bijzonderverlof

Or "exceptional leave", which's exceptionality is specifically in that it is not deducted from your regular annual leave allowance. (With only forty-two (42) days of annual leave at our disposal, this is of course a very important detail.)

The weddings of brothers-in-law qualify as meriting bijzonderverlof, which accounts for our movements on Fridag.

2. Dienstreis

Or "business travel", which accounts for our movements from Tuesdag to Fridag next week. Sadly, we are being dispatched to Mari, a city for we have no particular enthusiasme, especially in summer.

Blogging may also be somewhat light, as well.

2009-06-14 20:55

A surfeit of circumstances

There are rather too many things happening at once, even if most of them aren't technically happening to us.

The Countess is off to an Uncle's Round-Number birthdag party tonight, leaving us with our son and heir, but the arrangements were somewhat complicated when her mother was admitted to hospital this morning. (It seems that it is a very treatable infection, thankfully.)

Next Fridag it is the wedding, in Chermany, of my younger brother-in-law, so we are certainly all hoping that his (and the Countess's) mother will be fit for the occassion.

Before the Countess left we had occasion to visit the neighbourhood hairdresser again. As luck would have it we were assigned to the scissors of the owner of the establishment, and he turns out to be the sort of hairdresser who asks or enquires about your entire life history during the process, althoug we were certainly relieved that he didn't English us even after he learned our place of origin.

He also neglected to comment on the thing about our hair that most interests us: the number thereof that are now grey. It is a source of considerable delight to us that this number has recently exceeded zero(0) and appears to be growing rapidly. Our resolve to consider this an inerrant proxy for wisdom is certainly unshakeable.

Meanwhile, the occasion of another parental solo is not one we could regret: Boris van 't Blad is now 17 months and this turns out to be a particularly engaging age. The number of words he uses hovers somewhere in single figures depending how "carefully" you listen, but he spends a great deal of time quietly amusing himself with games of his own invention (usually involving his many toy cars) and he doesn't generally require more attention than can be provided with a parent's eyes.

Oh, and our employment is set to be extended for (at least) another year, and in economic times like these this is certainly particularly welcome.

2009-06-12 19:19

The Skibbereen Eagle speaks: Devalue the Lat!

Nouriel Roubini in the Dismalbladet says so:

Of course, as in Argentina, letting the currency depreciate would lead to massive negative balance-sheet effects. The large foreign liabilities of households, companies and banks are in foreign currency; the real value in local currency of such debts would increase sharply after a devaluation. Devaluation may therefore lead to default by many private sector agents and as the countrys banks are local subsidiaries of Swedish banks, a financial meltdown in Latvia could prove damaging for its neighbours.

Nonetheless, devaluation seems unavoidable and the IMF programme which ruled it out is thus inherently flawed. The IMF or the European Union could increase financial support for Latvia but, as in Argentina, this would be throwing good money after bad. International resources are better used to mitigate the collateral damage of depreciation.

And Mats Engstrm, leader writer for Sweden's glorious Aftonbladet agrees:

Egils Baldzens, the vice-chairman of Latvia's trade-union federation, offers another perspective on these events. "We have the most unequal society in the EU", he says.

Baldzens believes that budget cuts in education and healthcare cannot be the heart of the strategy to solve the crisis. The cost of defending the currency regime is too high, he says. In the present situation, devaluation might be necessary.

When the Dismalbladet and Aftonbladet agree, it would certainly take a person other than us to differ. Devalue the Lat!

(The economic crisis in Latvia is a big story in Sweden, since Swedish banks are up to their necks in the Baltic the same way that Austrian banks are in Mitteleuropa. But we can't bring ourself to excerpt lah-di-dah DN's no doubt trenchant defences of letting the Latvian poor take yet another one for the team.)

2009-06-11 20:08

In which Danny Cohn-Bendit is a poor substitute for stickball

We've been watching a lot of stickball on the telly-box the last few dags: the ESPNAmericas have the American code, and Eurosport 2 has been showing the Imperial Code (AKA cricket).

But tonight the Countess is out to see the new Star Trek motion picture, Boris van 't Blad is sleeping like a baby, and we have a choice of ice-pucky, dead-rubber foopball interlands or a bracing article with Danny "Cohn-Bendit" the Red on the future of Yoorpean politics.

So here goes:

[W]ir mssen die Europawahl aus der nationalen Zwinge befreien, sie europisieren. Deshalb schlagen wir Grnen vor, zumindest einen Teil der Abgeordneten fr das Europische Parlament ber transnationale Listen zu whlen, mit gemeinsamen Spitzenkandidaten fr ganz Europa. Das schafft eine europische politische Diskussion. Da kann man nicht lnger seine kleinkarierten Provinzgefechte austragen und es Europawahl nennen.

We have to liberate the European elections from the national; Europeanise them. The Greens propose to choose at least a part of the Abgeordneten for the European Parliament from transnational lists, with shared list-top candidates for the whole of Europe. Then you couldn't have a fight out your klienkarierten provincial struggles and call them European.

We're pretty confident that the established national parties' klienkarierten Provinzgefechte could stand up to the challenge, as it happens, but we don't consider that much of an objection. Danny der Rote, meanwhile, promotes the idea from proposal to certainty in the very next paragraph:

[I]n fnf Jahren, da bin ich sicher, werden die Spitzenleute frs Europische Parlament europaweit auf transnationalen Listen gewhlt.

In five(5) years, I'm sure, the heads of lists for the European parliament will be chosen from transnational lists.

Also, he has some predictably harsh words for the zombie that European Social Democracy has become ever since Anthony Giddens reanimated Tony Blair and set him to eat the movement's spicy brains, and he refuses to rule out a German Black-Green coalition after the next elections there. (Black is the colour of Merkel's Christian Democrats, apparently, and the extent to which this the business of Mr le Rouge, who will be representing France in the European Parliament at the time, is not especially clear.)

What is clear is that - brushing aside the hapless bloviations of Libertas - the Greens are the closest thing Europe has to a transnational political party, and that with the Social Democrats having remodeled themselves as the continent's Loyal But Headless Chicken, the Greens also have a shot at being the de-facto opposition.

Or it could be another flash in the pan, of course - we were there an earlier one, in the British local elections of 1989.

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