Thursday 23 December 2004

To lose a loss of life

To lose a loss of life

The deluge of Malapropisms that flow off the lips of that graduate of Harvard University does make one wonder if his graduation thesis was written in a dialect of English that makes everyone prick up their ears at the commencement of each utterance.

This time, having just visited wounded soldiers in hospital he walked out into the glare of the usual media circus to express a few thoughts about the carnage that resulted in the loss of twenty-something lives of soldiers and civilians having lunch under a tent in the confines of an American base in Iraq. [1]

Having stuttered over a few words expressing condolences, regret and anguish, one turn of phrase came out as "... to lose a loss of life ..."

The peace in Saddam's time

It is without doubt that the seemingly peaceful Iraq under Saddam Hussien in which a few people were terrorised and abused to death by a handful of despotic psychopaths has turned into a terrorist insurgency where live and property in every town is constantly threatened.

The rape of Fallujah in which many of the self-same terrorists were holed lead to a dispersal of these insurgents to relatively peaceful areas of Iraq which included Mosul in the North.

As governor of Texas, he presided a record number of death penalty executions, it appears there is a numbness to the realities and emotion of death, both criminal and young American alike are expendable in the quest to appear tough. [2] The numbness that informs the mechanical signing of letters of condolence from the Secretary of Defense, though he has now offered to personally sign each letter [3]

Whilst, it might be argued in the president’s defence that he is protecting the American people the land of Iraq has probably seen on average more blood spilt in the 21 months of visitation than when Saddam Hussein ruled with terror.

Derailing history from the tracks of reason

One version of history might suggest that the Butcher of Crawford who lead a "free and fair" America in the debunking of the spirit of the Geneva Convention, had in conjunction with being caught napping at the crest of events of September the Eleventh expended the lives of over 1,000 youths and probably 100,000 Iraqis to pre-empt the re-occurrence of 9-11.

Then he balanced that on the principle of offering freedom, justice and democracy at a cost that is becoming the most expensive purchase of freedom in civilisation.

Death for many is FINAL

Being a committed Christian who might believe in the existence of life after death, as well as the realities of heaven and hell does not confer on anyone the right to despatch so many to the great beyond. This earth might for him be transitory, but for the grieving relations and family of the departed, there is finality, a vacuum and an absence for those left widowed, orphaned, fatherless or motherless.

Without doubt, the lure to join the forces on the premise that they would provide opportunities for a career and secure future is as much a loaded mouse-trap where many get trapped before they've had a whiff of the cheese bait. Dead, maimed or completely traumatised. There ought to be better ways of getting out of the ghetto to becoming successful apart from joining the forces and definitely not just by being a musician.

A cult of bizarre people

The draft would eventually be re-introduced because America being the country that it is, has all the hallmarks of extreme conservatism whilst trying hard to display liberal values.

Most are at ease with the death penalty and the choice of abortion is based on a public morality rather than a personal, conviction or medical need; stem-cell research is not a cause for scientific advancement and the choice of partnership is not the reserve of the few to decide on what alternative relationship they are inclined to have; little wonder that personal liberties would be further curtailed as the gullible rally round the flag and the American people would be deservedly governed as they have chosen.

Oceans of blood

This Iraqi quest has been so blood-thirsty that the demon that so feasts on the blood of the innocent and guilty alike would hardly be sated regardless of the developments. Time and again, we have been assured that for every step-change in offering sovereignty to the Iraqis the insurgency would subside; that is still a pipe-dream. [3]

Finally, to quote directly from The Economist - Christmas Edition 2004 a comment by an Englishman with regards to the Potemkin Steps in Odessa, Ukraine [4] "an ill-conceived design if intended for ornament; its utility is more than doubtful, and its execution is so defective that its fall is already anticipated" - So can be said of the Iraqi quagmire, I pause, reflect and sigh!

[1] BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Eyewitness: Carnage in the canteen

[2] George Bush: death penalty,capital punishment,George W. Bush,Texas,political polls

[3] - Signature on death letters fuels Rumsfeld criticism - Dec 19, 2004

[4] Casualties in Iraq - 2004

[5] - E-Diogo's Odessa Travel Page

The Potemkin Steps - 192 Steps with 10 landings; if viewed from above, one sees just the landings and when viewed from below, one sees just the steps.

Tuesday 21 December 2004

39 Steps

Steps as years
The unlikely story of an ordinary man being thrust into a situation he had no control over and then fighting in everyway to prove his innocence, is the stuff of one of the greatest films called The Thirty-Nine Steps [1], directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock [2] and released in 1939.
The making of this film was what took Alfred Hitchcock to the notice of the Americans, the rest is purely history.
My 39 steps started on the selfsame day in 1965 on a cold winter's morning where eventually I was to be found not in a manger but in an incubator where I was for 2 months. That story was told last year. [3]
Having been through a very eventful year that started with grim uncertainties about my career and future, through an acrimonious resignation to a new job and starting a Master's course in Information Technology and then almost being kicked to death by some rotten misfits only 16 days ago, I do have everything to be thankful for.
The process of learning, recognition, appreciation, acknowledgement and communication continues to stimulate me, that above that niggling thought of one's supposed frailty, the will to live life to the full and enthuse everyone around me with that exhilarating experience is so profound to me.
The joy of living
Sometimes, I miss myself if I am not just ready to make a situation better by any means at my disposal and I have disposed a lot, the life of a spendthrift could be quite nerve-racking, but beyond just surviving I am constructed to overcome and create that purpose in every situation I am in.
I have a full calendar ahead of me to completing a majority of the modules of my Master's degree and start preparing for my dissertation and sounding out universities in which to do a research degree. The quest to remain relevant in the Information Technology industry continues apace.
Gosh! He has taken religion
Regaining the power of spirituality which shapes my outlook and put me on a Turbo-charge for ever-increasing attainment and development is a unique purpose and ensuring that my health is buttressed against its enemies is paramount.
Each year I have been given to celebrate is a gift of grace and favour, as it leads to 40, one can lift ones eyes to the hills from  whence cometh my help [4], because of my own, I am nothing without the life that God gives me.
By God's great mercy and grace, I am a lot more than where I started and still a lot short of where I am going, but this journey would be as exciting as it can ever be and you can join me anytime, anywhere even here and now.
My belief systems are formed from my religious meditation and values, nothing I have said a foretime has been devoid of that foundational thought. You might yet read more on that matter.
Thank you for another memorable day!
[1] The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935)
[2] Alfred Hitchcock
[3] Birthdays - A lot more people were involved
[4] HOLY BIBLE, KJV. Text of PSALMS, Chapter 121

Sunday 19 December 2004

Rewarding Malevolence

The Top 40
I had just about had it this afternoon when channel hopping I inadvertently switched to "The Music Factory" a music channel subsidiary of MTV to find out that De Tokkies [1] were at number 11 of the Top 40 charts with their tuneless and toneless contribution to the Christmas chart melee.
You may ask who the Tokkies are. [2] But before we get to that, it appears there is a degenerative development in society that I might have missed and when I found out, I was already a beaten up victim experiencing the norms of our times.
Wherefore Society?
My concern is the tolerance of everything to the exclusion of nothing, the inertia of law enforcement and the indifference leading on to the numbness of society to act where hardly decades ago this would not have been the case.
The Dutch as a people are globally viewed as tolerant friendly people; that, one cannot dispute, but the acceptance of the freedoms that allow for the tolerance of every expression even where it encroaches or obliterates another person's freedom is becoming a cause for serious concern.
I have already highlighted a number of those situations in earlier blogs about queues and queue-jumping, customer service, the electorate's enlightenment, the victim status of proponents of intolerance and the choosing of national figures.
The Tokkies
The Tokkies, yes, back to these chart-toppers, this is a family of at least 3 generations who had by the beginning of 2004 become the most anti-social family in the Netherlands. Their infamy was publicised on our screens a number of times, having been evicted from so many neighbourhoods for every unspeakable asocial activity imaginable. At one time they were hopeless, homeless and hapless and some motivational speaker of allegedly dubious means did at one time attempt to purchase a home for them.
However, a number of bright sparks have tapped on the enterprising and entrepreneurial flair of the Dutch {Remember they first started slavery, made their money and moved on before others caught on}[3] to promote this unwanted societal black spot as celebrity and before we knew it they were raking in money for all sorts of contracts, deals and now the Christmas song. They also have an Internet search page. [4]
Really, wherefore society?
Anyway, the issue here is how society is more accepting of asocial and anti-social behaviour to the extent that the more extreme this behaviour is, it begins to confer notoriety and celebrity, by the time we know what is going on, the self-same people who have refused to be positive contributory members of our civil existence are then rewarded handsomely because notoriety and popularity have become so synonymous they have both lost the measurable parameter of values and morals.
For now, I would reserve invective towards the people who have engineered the transformation of these misfits into rich but unrepentant people; it is both shameful and shameless taken in context.
However, the bigger picture is that society accepts its members; which it should, but it is failing in defining the norms of civility and the taking of liberties. It is promulgating flimsy laws that attempt to address lawlessness but failing to enforce those laws. The presence of laws, rules and regulations not enforced allow for the fabric of stable and normal society to be shredded with impunity. Even now, not many believe the police would rise to the job of crime fighting until it becomes public property seized on by vested interests with nefarious agendas.
Where is the lid?
I will still maintain that the Dutch are a friendly, interesting, tolerant people, however, what is happening as the evolution of society here and elsewhere needs to be arrested well before it gets out of hand. Unfortunately, the lid to this Pandora's Box is lost.
For translations, you might find The Altavista Babel Fish Translator useful
[2] De Tokkies - Wikipedia NL - In Dutch
[3] Chronology on the History of Slavery 1619 to 1789
[4] Tokkies Pagina - In Dutch

Saturday 18 December 2004

Bottling Anger

Cents and pennies calling on thousands
Two weeks have past since I was the victim of utterly senseless and unprovoked violence at the hands of drug-fed demented animals masquerading as humans on the streets of Amsterdam.
Whilst, one can say most of what happened has been put behind and one looks forth, the memories of the unfortunate incident transcended the effects of the physical pain and humiliation when I mentally tallied up the cost of this event in basic monetary terms.
My bicycle was damaged whch means I have to replace the bell, the gear assembly and have it serviced, that could be 50 Euros or there abouts.
I ordered a replacement pair of glasses which is taking about 2 weeks to pass through the system, meanwhile I am using last year's spectacles - cost 200 Euros.
Two days off sick recuperating from the event - cost around 1,000 Euros.
The bitterest pill of all was the 4 hours I spent in the Accident & Emergency section of the hospital out of which I was attended to for less than 30 minutes and the treatment just involved gluing up the cut to my eye-brow and ascertaining that my jaw was not broken by having 2 X-rays taken, since the first was considered too light.
Anyway, that bill came to just under 200 Euros.
A mental calculation puts the total cost at 1,450 Euros - for an event that lasted less than 5 minutes, effected by 3 unknown persons who have wreaked havoc and walked away with no consequences for their actions.
To that, add the possible damage that was done to the bicycle thrown at me, the unfortunate owner of that bicycle inadvertently intertwined with my episode by the coincidence of fate and not any wiser of the bigger picture.
This represents basis quantifiable costs of being inflicted with actual bodily harm, however, this is never accounted for in any of the crime statistics that get bandied around by politicians.
Manifesto unmanifest
Ones pique is rather more inflamed with the misguided idea that the introduction of compulsory identity cards would prevent crime, how that logic works out escapes me, though it is becoming the accepted view in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Crime and punishment is such a political football, however, it is time for the electoral to see through the intentions and perceptions created to the realities and facts on the ground.
The police are just not interested in fighting real crime when it is easier to place them on the Metro to catch fare dodgers and on bicycle paths to fine night-riders without light.
Gosh! I am beginning to sound cynical.
It then becomes utterly laughable when the new initiative "Towards a Secure Society" [1] tries to inform of how to protect oneself from crime and violence.
The accompanying English Summary [2] suggests a number of strategies which offer a good grammatical construction full of intent but lacking in activity.
One such is under the title Safety strategy
Priorities in the criminal approach
This means that incidents occurring in public spaces, such as assault, mugging, acts of vandalism, anti-social behaviour on public transport and offences committed by young offenders will be tackled by the police and the judiciary.
Then the use of certain unorthodox methods to achieve the objective of a secure environment which includes
Less administrative work for the police, so that they can spend more time out on the streets and can start more investigations;
And the coup de grace is delivered with these intended results
Intended results
The government has high ambitions. The aim of its policy is to buck the trend. Current trends in criminality and disorder, particularly in the categories of behaviour that have a direct impact on the individual, must be reversed.
It is the firm belief of this government that concentrated targeting of these categories will be more beneficial to society, which will actually be made safer by the end of 2006 as a result, not only from an objective viewpoint in terms of figures, but especially from a subjective viewpoint, i.e. as perceived by individual persons.
For the record, this certainly does not mean that criminality and disorder will be banished for good.
What it does mean is that by the end of 2006, according to current opinion, the conditions will be in place to enable the individual to enjoy a considerably higher degree of safety in (semi-)public spaces.
A reduction in criminality and disorder in public spaces by (for example) around 20% or 25% from 2006 onwards must be the target figure.
Lacking opportunity
I am probably one of the many who have been frustrated by the police in the quest to lodge a report about a crime and have been fobbed off with some unspeakable bureaucratic measure that just beggars belief.
For instance, the fact that having just walked into a police station straight from the hospital opposite the road to report a crime that happened in Amsterdam and being told it had to be reported to the station in the precinct of the crime was just too incredible for words.
I was at that hospital because it was the only Accident & Emergency ward for the whole of central Amsterdam, the insensitive of the police to my situation cannot bear scrutiny.
Basically, I gave up on reporting the crime knowing that I would probably spend another 4 hours sat there waiting to be attended to, and I could not for the life of me remember who attacked me or what they looked like.
Typically, reporting a robbery could take a few days, since one has to book an appointment to see the police and arrange to offer a statement, the police station is hardly what you might call customer-friendly.
Placed in the future to arrive a lot later
2006 is the golden year, a reduction of criminality - I beg to differ; there were over 10 witnesses to the event when 3 people beat me up on a well lit street. At least 5 of them were onlookers rather than just passing by.
It is the intolerable face of tolerance, that society cannot act together to prevent an injustice. The whole concept of individual space and freedom now includes a quiet indifference to societal ills as long as one is not the involved party.
Times have past when the first person to speak up was the leader, now you speak up to your own peril together with being branded a maverick.
Things have changed so much so, it appears the only appearance of society that works as we should know it is in Africa, what we now see in the West is neither civil nor civilisation, it is a weak society propped up on drugs and given to lasciviousness, savagery and attitudes not even becoming of animals.
Hence, it is a mindset of values that needs to come upon this society, not another set of formulas, laws and attention grabbing statutes.
When it comes to crime, the future is just not good enough, people do not want to wait 2 years to be sure they would not be beaten up in public places - they would rather not get beaten up, today, tomorrow, yesterday or ever.
[1] Nederlandveilig - Safety in the Netherlands
[2] Towards a more secure society

Monday 13 December 2004

A short misery of projects

Having just concluded a module on my MSc course pertaining to Project Management, I was given the opportunity to discuss one project that suffered seriously from the interference of politics.
I rose to the occasion with this tome.
The Facts
My ex-boss - Arthus Gratedane - pseudonym - was a rabid political dog, the day was not made if someone somewhere in the organisation had not received the political equivalent of a body slam.
Anyway, in this case we had at the head-quarters of a mainly European company constituted the Infrastructure Programme Management team at just one level below the CIO office and we had opportunities for innovation and improvement of services in the organisation.
We had only recently notched up a success with the implementation of a secure remote access solution which allowed users access to their data and standard applications from any internet connection if they had their secure token.
This created a launch pad to take on many more daring projects.
Then we started with Strauss which was a new desktop environment based on Windows XP, a new domain structure based on Windows 2000 Active Directory Services and Microsoft Exchange 2000 for email.
One particular trait Mr Gratedane had was a complete unwillingness for different teams to interact, especially if they were not teams he himself built. This for us was a kind of advantage, but in general made our work ever more difficult.
This meant our well-intentioned plans met with resistance with the local support teams around the Netherlands. Mr Gratedane solved that problem by advocating the centralisation of administrative services, thus making the core expertise of the regional teams redundant and retaining only box shifters.
We were to conduct an aggressive take-over of all that disparate infrastructure then recruit new staff and handover that infrastructure to the new staff within three weeks; which we did.
Then that gave us the opportunity to railroad the Strauss solution throughout the Netherlands without subjecting the solution to a decent pilot.
What should have been a resounding success was panned and criticised not because of the quality but because of how it was implemented through management aggression and the lack of consideration.
Managers in other departments just resisted anything that was in the interest of the company that came from any team managed by Mr Gratedane, but he had the ear of the executives in everything he did so people left rather than engage him.
When it came to rolling out Strauss to other European countries with Austria being the first, we encountered the fact that we could not sell Strauss to Austria, so the project was changed to the Hydra PC project.
The people in Austria were primed to act, any minor issue was a complete showstopper, it was so frustrating and nerve-racking.
Austria already had an advanced implementation that pre-existed Strauss by at least 6 months and the company could have used that solution quite easily all around Europe, but not on Mr Gratedane's watch.
We ended up implementing a parallel system in Austria with people logging into two environments for services and data, sometimes on two PCs.
Our implementation was a very poor alternative and received even less accolades, however, we, the team had to find ways of interacting with other teams without the knowledge of the boss to help facilitate issues and make things work.
The unfortunate political atmosphere in the company, which thrived on empire building, finger-pointing and atrocious escalations lead to unnecessary waste of resources, ideas, goodwill and productivity.
As an observer it looked like company had more competition between the departments than with their competitors. If that energy had been directed to more positive things, it could have yielded probably 10% to 20% company growth year on year.
The Figures
One must say that Mr Gratedane always got sponsorship for all his projects and all were fully implemented with varying degrees of success.
We probably had more project managers than project executors at one time.
The document churn rivalled that of a newspaper house with presentations about every little detail. [1]
The Failings
What created failing projects even though they were delivered as described and intended were the following
  • The stakeholder, sponsor and senior project manager were the same person
  • Project Managers were pen-pushing administrators [2] who were not allowed to model or method processes despite the fact that they were PRINCE 2 educated or at times certified – things were done on the whim of the sponsor – Mr Gratedane
  • Responsibility and opportunity was taken for everything that went right, no matter how trivial but blame was quickly averted for problems - A typical, its my baby isn't it beautiful? Its our baby smiling, but its your baby crying - syndrome.
  • The perception of risk was minimal except for where there were competing interests within the company, then the quest to excel and deliver at breakneck speed was tempered with a bit of reasoning
  • The executors were hardly part of the assessment, decision or specification process, they were talked down to never communicated with
  • The Human Resource element thrived on motivating staff by threatening their jobs and irrelevance, never by encouraging them to do their best
  • Solutions were always delivered but the expense of goodwill and acceptance
More so, I really felt for the project managers caught in the middle of the megalomania and the chaos. Since I left in July, Mr Gratedane has become the ex-boss of 7 other senior infrastructure personnel.
This is the least palatable face of company politics and I have only reviewed on of the many.
Project Victim Support archives – mine.
[1] Alexis' PowerPoints were her shoulder pads...
[2] The Pen Pushers Posse Pogrom

Sunday 5 December 2004

Couscous from a Bicycle

The flying bike
Anyone who has visited Amsterdam is aware that bicycles could almost out-number the inhabitants. Everyone has a bicycle, though not everyone rides their bicycles and some are so ramshackle they would be rejected as scrap inIndia, but there is a mentality of if it moves it can ride.
Everyone once in a while I go out on Saturday night, which I did last night, I came across 3 utterly abusive Moroccans who probably were as inebriated as drowned fish and I said go your way and I go mine.
Apparently, they must have heard something different, by the time I knew what was happening, one had picked up a bicycle and thrown at me with effortless abandon.
Damage; my bike, my lights, my bell, the gear assembly and a few other things.
As it transpired, that was not enough, on a street which was quite well lit and ironically called "Mirror Street" and a bit crowded with onlookers, 2 of them that I could see, probably all three, then rounded on me, kicked and punched and left me for dead. Thankfully, the though of death never crossed my mind, I did get up at which time they all ran away - Cowards!
Help, just after you need it
The onlookers then came over apologising for not intervening. But hey! We are in the Netherlands; everyone minds their own business regardless of the fact that they could stop an injustice from happening. Maybe we can call that, the freedom not to be involved and the freedom to be a voyeur.
After the fracas, four young guys came over, helped pick up my things strewn all around the road, bicycle locks, bag, hat and lest I forget my glasses, split down the middle and unusable.
They formed a dispatch around me and helped me get to the hospital for emergency treatment.
At the hospital you could see that the sight of blood did not make any difference to the urgency of receiving treatment, I finally was attended to after an hour, then treated by gluing together the cut on my eye brow an hour after and finally had an X-ray of my jaw which was intact, even more thankfully, then some super-strong pain-killers to kill the pain.
Across the road, I walked into the Police Station to file a report of the mugging, well because it did not happen in that police district, they could not help, rather I had to file it somewhere else, closer to the site of the crime.
Walked away
You can draw your conclusions, but I suppose I have had my dose of the societal malaise that allows disaffected drunken or fundamentalist and un-integrated foreigners to turn this town into a crime hotspot. One consolation and gratitude in all of this, I got up and walked away just 16 days to my birthday. Thank God!

Thursday 18 November 2004

Here lies ...

Greatest person competitions
It was with interesting amusement that we all witnessed the climax of the mockery of history shows that tries to extract from popular opinion the greatest personality of a nation.
When the BBC conducted this event in 2002, Winston Churchill [1] was voted the first, and then in 2003, Sir Isaac Newton [2] who was sixth in the previous year was voted the first.
What a difference a year makes, or some people have really done a biographical study of the contenders and begun thinking rather than following the media hype.
Mind you, the English seem to have a knack for inventing new shows that get copied by other institutions like the Weakest Link, Who wants to be a Millionaire and now this charade of greatest countrymen.
So the circus came to the Netherlands amidst a lot of noise, a murder, tensions between communities and the reminders of a very recent political event.
Striding past a villa in a village in the Veneto region of Italy, a slightly weathered tombstone bears a newly engraved message - Here lies the greatest Dutchman of them all. [3]
You would be forgiven for thinking it was Vincent van Gogh, the painter, who came tenth in the list, but he was buried in French; nor was it Anne Frank, the refugee Jewish diarist from the Nazi times whose nationality was contested during this event, she died in a concentration camp.
Nor was it Rembrandt van Rijn, another popular Dutch painter and engraver; William of Orange who at one time was King of England and considered the founder of the Dutch nation came second. Erasmus is someone you might have heard of and for football fans Johan Cruyff who came sixth.
All these people represent a very positive and recognisable image of the enterprising, tolerant, intelligent and innovative Dutch, just like Philips and the invention of compact discs.
More so, there are no populist politicians, but people who painstakingly went about their business and in the process were recognised for what they did, what they represented and who they are.
Pim who?
So, it was with utterly bewilderment that we received the information that Pim Fortuyn was voted the greatest Dutchman ever.
It is likely, that you do not know this man, but he has the unfortunate record of being the first political murder in the Netherlands in over 300 years. He was gunned down by an animal rights activist in May 2002 in the media park of the assembly of radio and television stations in a distant Amsterdam suburb.
In my previous blog, I made mention of him in relation to a more recent murder of a descendant to Vincent van Gogh and how his rise to prominence was as a result of challenging the unfriendly commentary of minority group Muslim clerics in Rotterdam.
However, in all that can be said about Pim Fortuyn [4], he was vocally on the political scene for less than a year, he had quite a number of personal achievements, he was quite eccentric and was not affected by his alternative lifestyle related to his sexual orientation.
However, he represented a seemingly popular view that no one would express regarding immigration, integration and Islam; however, those views earned him lots of votes.
The media in general compared his banter to that of fascists and extreme right-wing propaganda. His animosity to Europe was quite evident, and though he displayed a flair for exercising free speech, he was not an espousing of the Dutch values of tolerance and friendliness.
After his death, his party which was a tribute to egomania in that it was simply "Pim Fortuyn's List" came second in the elections, but fell into terminal decay that within 6 months they caused the government to fall and then lost most of their seats in the election that came there after.
However, the vote occurred in the light of the recent killing of Theo van Gogh who is mistakenly given the accolade of a champion of free speech. He was NOT.
In a twist of irony; Mr Pim Fortuyn who so spoke of Dutch values and expression, defending the history, culture and political soul of the Dutch to the very end, died in the Netherlands but was buried far away from what he was martyred in protecting - in a little village in the region of Veneto in Italy.
Just as the highest point in the Netherlands is the platform from which you view the "highest" natural point in the Netherlands [5], be not surprised if whilst on holiday next summer in Italy you wonder how you can across a piece of Holland, where the greatest Dutchman is laid to rest.
[3] Fortuyn buried after Dutch bid farewell
[5] Drielandenpunt - the highest point in the Netherlands

Thursday 11 November 2004

A Shocking Culture of Culture Shock

The Queue starts with Q
By happenstance one was found in a queue exiting a health club which was about to close for the day. The queue was about 30 deep and one was positioned around the 22nd.
Suddenly, someone determined to jump the queue through came along but I refused point blank that he pass by me, stating the fact that we were not all idiots destined to spend the whole day there and that each person had to take his turn in a civilised society.
For which I got a tirade of unspeakable abuse that was completely unwarranted, anyway, I did not budge one bit.
Unbeknownst to me, this was causing quite a lot of discomfort for some further along in the queue and I was advised to let the queue-jumper through since I had made my point.
I retorted and upbraided the speaker for condoning such anti-social attitudes and solicited support to condemn outright the queue-jumper's behaviour, thereby sending him back to the tail of the queue; to which a few nodded but none acted.
The culprit finally paid up after me and then went on to threaten me on the street for my effrontery, I deigned to call the police, but after a while the culprit walked away.
Gaining Understanding
For weeks I marvelled at the experience and the fact that no one felt it right to properly speak up against a wrong-doing and take action to enforce civility and social manners.
One relation of this experience then gave insight; in this society, it might be fine for people to speak up about an anti-social attitude but it is not customary to do so. When one does, just the mention of it should suffice, but no action should be taken to enforce the good. If the offender takes offence, you withdraw your challenge and let the misdemeanour through.
However, if you do still intend to enforce the good, you are labelled the trouble-maker for speaking up for civilised behaviour and then trying to enforce civilised behaviour.
This society believes in freedoms, freewill without let or hindrance and the freedom to exercise your rights which might impact on others, but they can bear the situation as long as they suffer with others.
Another area where this is exemplified is on the very narrow Amsterdam city roads where drivers can park their cars and unload their vehicles in the middle of the road regardless of the tail of traffic that builds up behind them.
In that setting, to hoot with the intention of hurrying up the driver who might be acting oblivious of others is considered uncivilised.
Then again, shoppers fall into all sorts of categories. In my case, I do all my research and get all my information before I leave home, armed with the details of what I want. If the shop allows self-service, I pick up the required goods and go straight to the counter.
Only that at the counter, I have someone completely opposite to me; they know nothing of what they want and use the tiller as their research, knowledge and detailing agent for their requirements.
Nothing wrong with that, but in the queue are "ready-to-pay" customers who have made up their minds and are already fed-up of the scenery. Just then, the tiller leaves the till to devote their whole time to the whims of a customer who might eventually not even purchase anything.
Dare I complain? Everyone seems to be happy with the fact that they are not being served.
This informs the sociology of the next point I am about to make.
What is the real defence of free speech?
Early last week a well known but unpopular and utterly virulent commentator and film maker was murdered on a main street in Amsterdam. That was bad enough, but the savagery of the attack which involved multiple shots and stabbings reminiscence of a type of sacrifice made it even more shocking.
Apparently, this man was killed by a mixed-race minority with extremist Islamic values. One of the stabbings which left the knife in place held a message decipherable as Arabic and a host of other expressions threatening the lives of other similarly expressive and very controversial personalities, whilst declaring an Islamic Jihad on the Netherlands.
I must get one thing straight right here - I DO NOT CONDONE VIOLENCE - against the person, against property, against a people or an ideology.
However, actions like these do not occur for that sake of a whim, there are genealogies, histories, circumstances and situations that bear witness to the manifestations that make front-page news. Unfortunately, that is lost in the sensationalism of the tabloidic approach to the coverage of news.
Pim Fortuyn
When Pim Fortuyn was murdered by an animal rights activist in the quest for protecting the vulnerable, many did not agree with some of his views, but the making of Pim Fortuyn was the unconscionable pulpit messages of a certain Imam in his home town of Rotterdam that condemned unequivocally the liberal Dutch culture, gays and a host of Dutch values.
Pim Fortuyn reacted and developed his message on the simple theme that evokes the right of a host to expect and demand courtesy of his guests; being able to lord it in his house without hindrance.
The Imam questioned that common sense view of host and guest where the Dutch were the hosts and the immigrants were the guests – that was enough to inflame any host. Pim Fortuyn embodied those host values.
However, to broaden his appeal the policies he adopted about Europe and his at times egotistical manner did not play down well with many who reported his views, but tacitly, the general populace warmed to those views.
Nine days before the elections, Pim Fortuyn was gunned down and a pall fell on the country, voters went out and gave a sympathy vote to a leaderless party with no ideology other than 'we are the hosts' and plunged the country into political turmoil that did not get resolved for over a year.
Another van Gogh
Now, Mr Theo van Gogh was cremated yesterday, but not until the whole saga behind his death had spun off some confusing thoughts about what really happened.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said "It is unacceptable if expressing your opinion would be the cause of this brutal murder". "On a day like this we are reminded of the murder of Fortuyn. We cannot resign ourselves to such a climate" he added.
Then another colleague says "He was a controversial figure and a champion of free speech"
This is my beef; Mr van Gogh who happens to be a relative of Vincent van Gogh, the famous painter was a very expressive and controversial figure who rubbed people up the very wrong way. He had already been sued by the Jewish community and was to appear in court soon for some of his intemperate views.
I do support the inalienable right to right speech and freedom of expression, but to use it as an instrument of reckless controversial propaganda that divides, alienates, castigates, berates, denigrates and condemns people and their views is gross irresponsibility and incites responses which might include violence.
Why is it that in a world of free speech and freedom of expression we have laws of libel, sedition, slander, defamation and probable incitation to violence?
All those are expressions of the rights that include free speech, but sanctions are imposed where that right is abused.
Mr Theo van Gogh might have unashamedly exercised his right to free speech, but he was no champion of the responsible use of the freedom of expression, rather he used the tool to unsympathetically attack minorities and their cultures with the view to de-culturalising them for wholesale assimilation in the Dutch society.
The fact is, if people belong to many cultures they represent all those cultures, portraying the good and bad of that whole setting.
The death of Mr van Gogh is both a result of the complacence of a society that allows people to offend with impunity on the basis of free speech and the hardening of society which is polarised on the cultural divide of value systems of the Dutch and their immigrant population.
Both ends of the spectrum are bad for this society and until people condemn rather than condone the psyche that allows people to ignore civility in the pursuit of self-interest, 2 political deaths in 2 years would represent the tip of a continental iceberg.
Meanwhile for now, one wonders who will rest in peace, the murdered or the Dutch - till another controversial firebrand snuffs away thier lives on the sacrificial altar of free speech. Even I am also caught on the horns of this dilemma.