As ‘the troubles’ seem to be restarting (which anyone could have foreseen), I am thinking about my visit to Northern Ireland in 2015. I didn’t write (much) about it, but it did leave a deep impression on me.
In 2015, the company I worked for was acquired by an American software company, and I was asked to become the product manager for our product. The first order of business was to design (and build) an integration with another product from the portfolio, which was built by another acquired company, located in Derry, Northern Ireland. We went there with a few people to discuss how it would work — I think this was in my second week as product manager, and I didn’t know at all what I was supposed to be doing…

The week was fine and the people were nice. But several things impressed on me how close to the surface, and how deep, the dividing lines were. In normal conversation, it was glossed over, but here and there were hints of some severe collective trauma.
One afternoon I was in the pantry of the office to get a glass of water. It was already quite late, and most people had gone home, but we were still discussing things with the local architectural team. Two ladies, who took care of the cleaning of the office, were at work at the pantry. They didn’t know my face (obviously) so I introduced myself to them (and shook their hand, that was a thing we still did back then) and we chatted a bit about what I was here for. It took maybe half a minute for them to bring up the subject of the Troubles themselves, and that they felt much better and safer these days — nobody wanted to go back to that. Why, there were even trash bins installed along the river, because there was no more fear of bombs being put in them!
Imagine the trauma being so deep that you bring it up in casual conversation, seventeen years after it ended.

One evening we were taken along a walk in Derry. There is a city wall running around the inner part of it, and it was explained to us that one side was protestant, the other side was catholic — still was. We ended up in a pub and, while it wasn’t that prominent, it was decorated with plaques mirroring those political murals on blind walls that were so prevalent during the Troubles. It was no secret that this was a Catholic pub, and that the proprietors certainly remembered what had happened before the Good Friday agreement.

One afternoon, we were loaded in a few cars for a drive around the countryside, and we were taken to an old fort on the Irish side of the border as a touristy thing to do. I was in the car with an older colleague, who pointed out that we had crossed over into Ireland, but that the only trace of the border was that the speed limits were now in km/h instead of m/h. He told us that, as a schoolboy, he lived in Ireland but went to school in Derry, and that this was the border crossing he used to get to school and back. He had to walk along barbed wire, and every morning and every afternoon, heavily armed soldiers looked through his book bag to make sure he wasn’t transporting any bombs in there. He told about it in a light-hearted manner, but imagine for a moment that happening to you as a fifteen year old boy.

A month later was the return visit from a team from Derry to Nijmegen, to finish up the details. Their visit would be one week before the ‘Vierdaagse’, the International Four Days Marches — the biggest party of the year. So I joked that they should arrange to stay for another week to enjoy the festivities. Immediately the mood changed and it seemed that the temperature dropped several degrees. I can still see the very concerned face of one of my colleagues when she asked in a low, serious voice: “But what are they marching for?”
It honestly took me half a minute to parse what she meant and where that question came from. I had to spend some time explaining the background. I don’t think they were convinced, especially when I mentioned that a lot of military from all over the world participated too.

When Brexit was announced, I had to think about these things a lot, but I never brought it up with them. I just hope it doesn’t escalate into full-scale civil war again — which it very well could do. The lines are still there, people still remember who is on ‘their’ side and who not.

The SGP, the christian fundamentalist political party in the Netherlands, has a stature that women can’t be elected in office — because of something in the bible. But in our constitution, it says that people can’t be discriminated against based on sex. A legal battle ensued, and the highest court in the Netherlands ruled that their rules are indeed unconstitutional.
The SGP appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. And lost.

I find it very interesting that all the courts (and the ECHR is the highest court that could rule on this case — there is no possibility to appeal this decision) ruled that yes, you have freedom of religion, but that does not mean you can discriminate against others based on their sex (or anything, really). It is also interesting that the court specifies that equality is so fundamental to the European principles that it trumps other freedoms and rights.

I am proud to be a European.

(Also, what this means for the SGP is that they will be forced to allow women to try for a position on the list for the general elections. However, the members of the party vote on the list, so there’s actually zero chance that a woman will ever be on the list for the SGP. And that’s OK with me, actually — because the membershave the right to assemble the list they want, just like all the other political parties. But the discriminatory stature will have to go.)

Some people don’t like foreigners. There are a few political movements who made a big point out of it — one party even has only anti-islam standpoints. It’s been a hot topic for quite a few years.

One of the issues is the possibility to bring a spouse to the Netherlands. Young men and women from Turkish or Morrocan descent, who were born here in the Netherlands, bring a spouse from their parents’ homeland to the Netherlands. The case against this is twofold:
– We get more foreigners into the country; and
– It reinforces the ‘closed group’ of foreigners within the country, thereby diminishing they assimilation into Dutch society.

A news article today caught my eye: Importbruid slecht voor relatie (sorry, Dutch only). The gist of the article is that young men of Turkish descent actually don’t want a bride from Turkey anymore, because of the difference in culture. Apparently the openness of the Dutch culture has its draws to them, and a bride that can not appreciate or adapt to that culture will put a strain on the relationship.

I think that certain ethnic in-crowds can not be assimilated, no matter what you do. But there are several important advantages to the open Dutch culture — and if you live here long enough, you don’t want to go back to the closed culture of your parents’ homeland. The generation that is ready to get married and have kids is only the second or third generation to live here. I predict that it will take only a few generations more to completely break up the largest blocks of these ethnic in-crowds, making them even more penetrable for the Dutch culture.

Create LED advertisements, get charged with ‘hoax terrorism’.

Now, I understand that boxes with wires sticking out of ’em, placed in unorthodox places might give someone pause. What I do not understand is that bomb squads, who got called out, did not recognize the devices for what they were — LED signs. Besides, why would terrorists go through all the trouble to produce such damn fine PCB work for a one-off device?

Merriam-Webster defines “terror” as “violent or destructive acts (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands”. Maybe Al-Qaida’s demands (come to think of it, what are their demands of the US?) haven’t been granted, but the US surely is intimidated if this prank causes such a widespread panic.

These people aren’t the first to be charged with “hoax terrorism” because of an art installation. Here’s the story of Jason Sprinkle, who was charged because a bit of graffiti on his car contained the word “bomb” (in a way that anyone with half a brain would recognise as non-threatening).

Think about that for a moment.

This simply means that you are responsible for the interpretations of your actions by total strangers — strangers who might not be interested in your message or your methods, but who simply see a box with some wires sticking out. And in a so-called “post 9-11 world”, that means that you can be charged with terrorism if someone does not understand your actions or something you made. If you do something that is “suspicious” by anyones definition, you can be arrested and charged with terrorism.
And because the US has all but suspended habeas corpus, you can be sent to Guantanamo Bay to be held indefinately, or even shipped to Syria to be tortured, without anyone knowing where you are.

All because some people mistook some blinken LEDs for a bomb.

For a society that prides itself on its freedom, and for the endless possibilities it offers for individual choice, the US is certainly getting a lot of fascist tendencies.

A hospital in Amsterdam has come under management of an investor, making it the first hospital in the Netherlands in private hands. The new management has decided to diversify its offerings, by giving more luxury to ‘customers’ who pay more: single-bed rooms, choice of food, internet, etcetera.
In the article I linked to, the author uses the word ‘klassenzorg’. “Class healthcare”, analogous to “class justice” — a term with a very negative tone.

Henk van Gerven, a member of parliament for the (ex-)Maoist Socialistische Partij, proves himself to be an idiot by loudly proclaiming that first class healthcare also means there is second class healthcare — something our egalitarian revolutionist brothers can’t tolerate!

One of the ideas behind nationalised healthcare is that the broadest shoulders carry the heaviest load. This means that people with a higher salary actually pay more healthcare premiums than people with lower/no salaries. Premiums for health insurance are coupled to your income, not to how much healthcare you actually need/use. In 2004, about 12.3% of the GNP was used for healthcare — it is a substantial part of our economy, and most of it is financed via taxes and (nationalised) health insurance premiums. In the last few years, the costs of healthcare have not risen as fast as the GNP, so the percentage these days will be a bit lower than in 2004, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything to sneeze at.

What could be better than to get people with more resources to pay more, so that healthcare becomes less dependant from the premiums? Offering patients access to internet or a choice of food does not cost much and does not interfere with the quality of the healthcare for other patients. But it does generate funds that can be used to improve the hospital — something all patients will benefit from.
Sure, “first class” means there is “second class”. But if “second class” is actually the level of healthcare we can expect today, “first class” means an improvement. Surely we should applaud advances in healthcare, especially if these are paid for by the richest people?

Also, if you allow hospitals to make money, it means there is an incentive to be more efficient with resources. If, for instance, a hospital can find a way to do more operations per year in the same operating rooms, that means an overall improvement of healthcare — shorter waiting lists, more people being helped with less money. Or suppose the hospital offers non-essential healthcare for people who pay for it on their own dime — people who want that healthcare and can pay for it, can get it, where they previously could not. Their money gets fed back into the system, meaning an increase in funds available for healthcare in total.

Someone has to earn a living streamlining these processes, to give them an incentive to do so. Enterpreneurs have a keen sense of how to do that. Civil servants do not. Right now most hospitals are run by a bureaucratic organisation, with the accompanying costs. Change is slow and costly as well — all those costs could be used to improve healthcare with some improved efficiency.

When carefully executed, “first class healthcare” may actually be a blessing for our nationalised healthcare system. With more and more people growing more and more older and needing more and more healthcare (in 2003, more than half of the costs of healthcare were used to care for people older than 65), and with less and less young people to pay the premiums, we need to do something to revitalise the healthcare system.

However, I strongly suspect our revolutionary friends from the SP won’t be happy until all wealth is taxed away, and we all live on a modal income, being ‘served’ by one monolithical bureaucracy consisting of dis-interested drones. Russia experimented with that for some seventy-odd years, and they didn’t like it in the end.

I never quite get used to the fact that my fellow citizens elect idiots like that into parliament.

(As a curious side note: it turns out that the manager of the hospital in question still has to perform a substatial amount of community service because of an earlier conviction for fraud.)

Exit strategy…?

So now the Democrats rule the political arena in the US. I’m guessing most people voted for them because they want the US out of Iraq.

I’m not up to speed on the latest development, but do the Democrats have an exit strategy that makes more sense than the Republican one?

I’m not so sure the Democrats will be able to wave their magic wand and repair the social and political climate in Iraq just like that. Talk is cheap, whiskey costs money.