Saturday, November 27, 2004

Geen Hand

One of the big talking points here regards the visit of a minister with several Islamic church leaders in order to help ease the divisions between Moslims and other citizens. During the visit, one Iman refused to shake hands with the minister because she was a woman. Talk about not helping yourself. In a land where shaking hands is a normal greeting, it just adds to the not-integrating argument. It's seems quite a crazy thing to do in one of the most emancipated countries in the world. But people with prejudices, even those with prejudices backed up by religious and/or cultural norms, seem odd to those of us who think there is no harm in shaking a woman's hand.

But this does not seem typical of Muslims in the Netherlands. It is the actions of an old man whose life is completely defined by his religion. For most other people it is a layer that has the society in which they live laid over the top. In fact most people's bottom layer is informed by their religion, but this is also modified by what they really believe in, which does not always correspond to the written words of their chosen religion.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Apology Accepted

For those of you (outside the US) who were surprised (and upset) at the result of the recent US election, there is It's quite amusing, but serious in its intent.

And as on the web for every action there is an equal but not always apposite reaction, there is... This isn't a spoof but a reaction and is not so amusing. But it's a great site for finding pictures of people with guns.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Twin Evils

According to the Metro (free paper on the trains and metros) yesterday, the top three searches on Dutch search engines this month are: Theo van Gogh, Terrorism and Georgina Verbaan. Theo van Gogh was the guy shot a couple of weeks ago by a religious nut. Terrorism is the current world threat since the last strongholds of Communism collapsed and giant asteroids failed to appear. Georgina Verbaan has just appeared in Playboy with her recently enlarged breasts. She claims it happened due to the pill. Certainly since their growth and their subsequent appearance in Playboy, the newspapers have been full of stories about her. If only every career had a pill that could help it. The pill will also prevent Georgina from breeding for a while, so there is a benefit for us as well.
The Metro today announces that 174 Million Chinese are unemployed. Now as a percentage, this is something like 6 or 7 percent - not so many, but it serves as a reminder that in China statistics are less interesting than real figures. For example if you have a product that only 1% of the population likes, that's still 12 million people. Not bad for being statistically unpopular.

Georgina - Theo - Typical Terrorists

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Probably the best-known of all of Sherlock Holme's adventures, it's the tale of an old legend which begins to have deadly consequences for inheritors of an estate. Not very original, and probably not even so 100 years ago, whenn it was written. But of course, there is no dark magic, only a master criminal at work. Even this has been done to death since, most notably by Messrs Hanna and Barbarra, creators of Scooby Doo.

I'm glad Sir Arthur resisted the urge to bring in a younger, (supposedly) hipper assistant unlike Messrs Hanna and Barbarra. The exciting adventures of Scraplock Holmes never made it to press.

But it's always good to check in with the world's most popular detective. he's not as clever as the myth surrounding him suggests. But maybe he is more cautious in his later stories. In some of the early ones, he can tell all sorts of things from a coupld of scratches on a piece of wood. Things modern forensics would have trouble telling you.

Sherlock also lays off the drugs for the duration of this story. Something Scooby Doo could never manage.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

8/10/04, Cabrillo and San Diego Park + Museum

If Florida is America’s Wang (According to the Homer Simpson - they prefer the “Sunshine State”, apparently) then Cabrillo is America’s Coccyx. Anatomically speaking. But in this case, there is no additional metaphor involved. Cabrillo is a nature reserve, military cemetery and celebrates the first European to set foot on Western American soil.
On a clear day, unlike what we had, you get a good view of the airbase and of the spiky downtown area.

At the heart of San Diego is Balbao park. It’s America's largest urban cultural park. Or so it ways on the web site. It has dozens of museums, historical buildings, friendship gardens, zoos, IMAX cinema, theatres and an organ pavillion.

In the Museum of San Diego History there was a special exhibit celebrating San Diego in the movies. San Diego has a long history of being in the movies because it’s close to LA and has landscape and beaches and an airbase perfect for war films. Pretty much every major beach landing seems to have been recreated for the cinema on San Diego’s beaches. It was the home of the Top Gun academy at the time of the movie that made Tom Cruise what he is today (whatever that is). The exhibit also pointed out that hotel Del Coronado was used as the backdrop in Con Faldas Yo La Loco, better known as Some Like It Hot (see elsewhere) and the buildings in San Diego Park were used as the exteriors of Xanadu, the home of Citizen Kane. But most famous of all, it seems is the location for the whole of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes series.

I say “attack of the killer tomatoes,” you say “attack of the killer tomatoes.”

A Typical Organ pavillion

Typical San Diego Street Scene

14/10/04, Los Angeles

The drive up to LA from, er, SD, takes a couple of hours. The road is wide and full of cars. Americans follow the Chinese road policy of, ‘once you are in a lane, stick to it, no matter what your speed. If you have to overtake, pick whichever side is clearest.’ Where Americans stray from the Chinese way is that the (hard) shoulder is not to be driven in, even in times of congestion.

In LA, there is 1 car for every 1.4 people. On the roads approaching it, it is more like 1.1. Nearly every car has just one occupant. You can see this by the fact that we were one of the few cars in the car-pooling lane. We had two people in ours.
It used to be that the car-pooling lane was for cars with 3 or more people, but it was under used. So they lowered the number to 2. Still it was underused. Now there is an electronic toll system, which means people who are alone in their car, can use the car-pool lane, but pay a fee every time they do. It’s still under used.
Well, maybe an oil crisis will sort that one out.

LA is a big sprawling mass. It has districts the size of towns. We started off at the famous Santa Monica Pier. Like piers everywhere, it’s heyday was many summers ago, and it is now faded and a little seedy. Some things, are universal.

We drove around the more prestigious areas, where the houses are big and hidden behind big walls. Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Et Cetera. It’s where the stars and their lawyers live.

In the shops you can buy maps showing the houses of the famous. Stalking is too easy here - not to mention the sheer number of stalkable people. There are even tours which take you to see the places of the rich and famous. Just the outside, of course. It’s all a little disturbing. But, armed with one of these maps and a subscription to a movie magazine - so that you know which films are being shot abroad and with which stars - it is easy to pick the best houses to squat.

Obviously we saw a few of the must-see items, including Mann’s Chinese Theater - the premiere premiere movie theatre. We also saw a few of the star paving-slabs, which feature the names of movie people both famous and sometimes obscure or forgotten. There isn’t a panel that chooses people, rather it’s done by petition. The road is long and you only have to see a few to get the gist. I didn’t see it except in the newspaper, but apparently on the Christopher Reeve one someone had left some flowers, which I think is just an accident waiting to happen.

Dinner was in a Cuban restaurant with awesome Mojitos. I have a feeling enjoying Cuban cocktails constitutes moral turpitude, so I better not say any more about it.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Hij Komt.

This Sunday the streets were clogged with children and their guardians. They were lining the streets to greet a gang of unconvincing black men and their leader, a man in a dress. These guys are from Spain, and if children have not been good, they go back to Spain with them in a bag. This is Sinterklaas, the Spanish priest who was repackaged and sold to the world at large as Santa Claus. The blacked-up white guys represent Piet, full name Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), his ‘helper.’

Anyone who comes from anywhere else in the world is always either perturbed or shocked at the Piet character. Or rather the fact that to represent him, otherwise liberal-minded men smear boot polish on their faces and dance around crazily. But it is all done in naïve innocence rather than with any malice. But still, there is offence to be taken and I know of at least one international school which tries to steer the practice in less murky waters by having Bonte Piet (Coloured Piet) where all of the faces are painted in all the different colours). But whatever colour he is, he is the one the kids prefer. Sinterklaas is the dignified cleric, whereas Piet is the one who doles out the sweets.

That's quite enough pictures like that. Strange country.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Netherlands: Theo van Gogh

Things are a little crazy here right now. Not Côte d’Ivoire crazy (civil war) but America crazy (frightened, irrational public). The trigger for this (if you will excuse the expression) is the shooting (and stabbing) of columnist, documentary filmmaker and champion smoker, Theo van Gogh. It was a horrible and shocking murder on the streets where he lived.

The fall-out has almost been as shocking as the murder - including bombs and arson in Islamic schools, presumed to be the work of racist groups. The arrested suspect was a Moroccan member of a fundamentalist Islamic group and it has heightened the tensions surrounding the growing Islamic population here. Muslims were a common target of Theo.

Theo was often provocative, even sometimes just downright racist and insulting, but his murder is shocking in a country where people really do believe in freedom of speech. The Dutch attitude is let everyone speak and people will make their own minds up and ignore anything that’s stupid.

Exactly like Pim Fortuyn before him, upon his death, Theo van Gogh has changed from being someone who was charismatic yet provocative to sometimes uncomfortable levels, to being an heroic martyr. And far from being silenced, there is now nothing but talk of him and his work. His films - in particular Submission, about the lack of voice for traditional Muslim women - are being shown again. Similarly, Pim Fortuyn’s party won more seats in the election just after his murder than it probably would have had he lived.

After over a week, things have calmed down, but there are still tensions. And it has been a week where the ugly sides of life have been seen. Of people turned evil by an inability to reconcile the values around them with that of their over-consuming devotion to their own system of belief and of people turned evil through anger and pre-formed hatred.

More comedy soon. Please.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Brass Monkeys

This morning the climate suddenly turned a corner and became as bitterly cold as a day can get without being a day somewhere in central Canada. It was so cold, my planned trip to ikea was called off in favour of a nice evening in hugging the radiator. No one in my family has ever been a polar explorer, as you can probably guess.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

The heroine of this book, Fanny Price, does nothing. Basically she just sits and hopes her cousin falls in love with her. Stuff happens in the book, don’t get me wrong, but Fanny is not proactive, not active, and not even reactive, except on an emotional level. It’s a very psychological book - Austen’s most Virginia Woolfish work.

And even when stuff does finally happen in the book - illness, elopement, adultery - Fanny is miles away and receives all the information in letters. But in the end, the heroine who does nothing wins through, marries the family member of her choice and sees off all those not pure of heart. Sounds terrible the way I described it, but it’s a damn good read if you like Austen’s gentle, satirical style.

This is not to be confused with Austen Park by Jane Mansfield in which the heavily endowed heroine is much more active and more prone to bikini-wearing. She too gets the man she wants. And his brother.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Great Movies In German

Part 185 of a continuing series of unexpected films watched (or part watched) in German:

South Park Der Film

"Fick dich und halts maul Onkel Ficker"

Christopher Reeve

The last time I was in the US was some nine years ago. I was approaching a town called Charlottesville in Virginia when the radio news announced that Christopher Reeve had been involved in a horse-related accident in the town of Charlottesville, Virginia. It was quite disconcerting. I always somehow felt somehow responsible. Slowly, over the years, I put those thoughts from my mind.

Not long into my arrival back into the US for the first time since then, the TV announces that Christopher Reeve has died. Now tell me I am not to blame! The first thing I resolved to do when I get back is have my blood tested for high levels of Kryptonite.

12/10/04, San Diego and Tijuana

Running through some of the poorer areas of San Diego is a train line. It’s called a trolley and is more like a metro train or a tram than a train. One line goes all the way down to the border with Mexico. It is this line we took. Partly for the experience and partly because the border to Mexico is not the place to park your car. And driving over there isn’t the thing to do, either.

But as it happens Tijuana is so much on then border, that you can calk over there into the centre of town. The walkway over the border is a horrible ugly concrete affair in the style of 1960s shopping centres. It takes you zig-zaggingly up and over the border and then down again in the same style. No photography is allowed in the walkway, which is a pity as it is an area of outstanding national ugliness.

Tijuana has two sides. There is the sleazy tourist-trap area where every shop sells souvenirs from classy sculptures by local artists (rare) to tacky sombrero ash trays (very common). There are so many of these shops all selling pretty much the same thing, that after a while it becomes impossible to know what to by.
The other side of town is the sleazy part where drink and prostitutes are cheap. It’s a popular Batchelor party destination for Californian men, the same way Amsterdam is for British men.

We only went to the tourist part of town. Walked past and into the shops selling various grades of objects emblazoned with Tijuana. Sometimes people tried to entice us in with everything from lies (“Everything today one Dollar”) to humour (“Please come in and let me rip you off”). Maybe as much as a fistful of dollars changed hands to get a few little gifts and to have lunch serenaded by a junior mariachi band, but that was it. There really isn’t so much to see in Tijuana itself. It’s a place to go to say I’ve been to Mexico and to buy the sombrero ashtrays to back it up. You don’t go there to get a taste of Mexican life - this is a border town, it ain’t typical.

Getting back was quite straight forward. There was a worry about my status. But my password was already stamped; it’s not uncommon for tourists to pop into Mexico for the day, or even a few hours as in our case.

That evening we dined at Ruby’s Diner. It’s an old-style diner set in the 50’s or 60’s (I’m a bit vague because they are). It’s the kind of place you don’t get cutlery because everything comes in a bun. But it’s better quality than stuff that usually comes in a bun. Ruby was represented by a 20ft waitress suspended over the bar. The so-called ‘Skirt of Damocles.’

To appear useful, I went along to mein hostesses acting workshop in the evening. As it happened they were short of one actor and I helped by reading his role. Fortunately the role was of a tough, American, action-film hero, so it was a clear case of type-casting.