Obsessed with Cabriolet’s

As an Irishman, I’ve never really understood the cabriolet (convertible for my American cousins reading this). Afterall, our climate and the average annual rainfall are not exactly conducive to the benefits of owning one. With the return of Spring, and with it that Golden Orb we have been longing to revisit us, Herself and Myself took to the beach to walk the dog. On our way there we couldn’t help notice the abundance of people driving with the top down. And it sparked a conversation between us about this complete mystery as why cabrio’s are in such large demand in a country like the Netherlands.

When you look at it logically, there are probably only 15-20 days a year here that you can drive with the top-down. This hardly seems like a useful use of ones money. There’s also those pesky winters that one has to contend with here. The last two years, as a simple example, were so cold and ice-ridden that your soft-top would get damaged quite quickly and easily. Yet the poor weather and risk of damage doesn’t seem to deter the average Cloggie cabrio driver.

So we theorised a little and came up with this. We reckon that because most Dutch men wear their hair quite long, and have been doing so from the days of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) all the way through to the days of Johan Cruijff (1947- ) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (1976- ) that using a cabrio let’s them feel the air flowing through their locks. The clear benefit for other drivers is that given the amount of wax they use in their hair, it inevitably finds its way onto my bonnet, which helps protect the sheen and shine of my own car’s paintwork.

For their sake, I hope we have a decent Summer this year, so they can make the most of their white elephant.

Have Himmler-esc strategies found their way in Dutch policing?

The press today ran with an article where the Rotterdam chief of police, Frank Pauw, was quoted as saying that ‘Every Dutch national should hand over a sample of their DNA for inclusion in a national data bank to help solve crime’. It is his belief that ‘If you want to make the world safer, [this is the] price to pay’.

So it seems that Gestapo style policing has returned to the Netherlands. Afterall, big brother tactics are nothing new to the Dutch. During WWII, the Nazi’s had quite an easy job of it finding and rounding up all the Dutch Jews. So easy in fact, that all they had to do was march on down to the Town Hall, and simply open up the registry documentation and get the names and addresses of every Jew in the city. Amazingly this attention to detail is still prevalent to this very day. Although, whilst they do not ask for your religion anymore, the government does in fact still continue sending out (mandatory) surveys to companies to have their employees fill in, specifying details on where one was born and what nationality and race their parents are. You can imagine the response HR got from me when they told me I had to fill it in. It’s still on my desk, not a drop of ink on the paper.

That being said, the government have tried coming up with all sorts of “Big Brother” ways to spy on it’s citizens that would make Himmler so proud. The latest one, which on the face of it seems to have failed, but will very likely return like a bad dose of the clap, was the “Tax via GPS Tracking” idea. On the face of it, the government tried selling the idea as a “Pay as you go” style tax (yes, tax, tax and more tax is the Cloggie’s favourite household expenditure item) whereby they would track how many kilometres you drove by way of using the GPS they would have installed in your car, and then they would download the data and send you a bill.

‘Sounds very efficient’, I hear some of you say. Perhaps, but now look at it another way. Imagine that they pass the data onto the police who then use it to find out every instant you broke the speed limit and then levy all the speeding tickets against you, or who keep the information in their database to build up a profile of you, where you visited, WHOM you visited and when. The vocal civil liberties groups here had a field day, and the government dropped the idea, but not after they wasted €200 million on it. Most of that money went to fat cat government consultants and ad agencies hired to scope out the idea and then sell it to the general public.

In my humblest opinion, if Chief of Police Frank Pauw got his way, then the next step would be to implant everyone with some sort of chip that tracks everyone to within 100m so he could police the city via laptop from the beach in Benidorm. Besides, what would the Dutch intend to do with the millions of foreigners either living here or visiting. For a start it’s an infringement of my human rights as an EU citizen who has the freedom of movement and travel across the EU. Maybe this is the first true signal that Holland wants to close its borders to all foreigners. Afterall, they’ve been complaining about us for the last five years.

Is Göbbels working as a Dutch spin doctor?

This is a thought that has recently come to me, in light of the fact that for some unexplained reason, we have become bombarded and inundated with various articles in the Dutch press lately, highlighting various findings from various studies, all of which have made conscientious efforts to extol the virtues of either being Dutch or living in the Netherlands.

The latest one to have hit the headlines and hot off the press was recently reported in De Telegraaf (which should set off alarms bells in its own right, given the fact that De Telegraaf goes around masquerading itself as a respected broadsheet, but whose journalistic style and content is more akin to a UK Page 3 tabloid) which spoke about how “More people are satisfied with life”. In the article, it went on the state how “Fewer Dutch people were unhappy about the state of society in 2009 than they were in 2004, according to new research from the government’s socio-cultural advisory body SGP.”

According to the SGP in 2004 “around one third of the population was pessimistic about society, but by 2009, that had gone down to 26%. In the 1990s, the figure was around 17%.”

Prior to that was an article written about the wonders of the Dutch Healthcare system and where it lay in the EU league table. When I read the article and say how HIGH in the table the Netherlands was I almost choked on my coffee. To understand why, read my other article here.

The cynic in me finds myself wondering why the government feels the need to try and flood the media with feel good rubbish, in a vain effort to try and pull the wool over the nations eyes. It’s an exercise in futility for two main reasons;

1. The Dutch are not a nation who have a strong history of aggressive unions who actively encourage or facilitate strong arm tactics or take to the streets in large, vociferous demonstrations. No, instead the Dutch unions are a bunch of lazy fat cats who cow tow to the demands of the government and make piecemeal efforts at representing their members during wage negotiations or during the annual budget preparations.

2. The Dutch have never voted with their feet, nor do I get the impression that they actually understand the concept of democracy, least not in same the terms an Irishman does, whereby you kick out a government who has screwed you over, and you try to replace them with someone better (having said that, we’ve not done a good job of that ourselves this time around) and they have never liked the idea of voicing their opinions. Instead, they sit like little automatons, happily paying their taxes and living a middle of the road middle-class existence with no real aspirations and no desire to change the status quo.

So given that the government is governing a herd of sheep, why do they feel the need to use spin on a nation who behaves like my dog lying on his back looking for his tummy to be rubbed? Maybe they understand the reality of the situation themselves, and are trying to make themselves feel better, or worse, that they’re trying to justify everything that they’re doing in the name of Government Policy.

It’s hard to believe that ANYONE could be happy when living in a nation with a such HUGE level of taxes or an even bigger Social Welfare burden. The cost of living is astronomically high, partly because the Dutch demand some of the longest paid vacations in all of Europe, and partly because they have the highest number of part-time workers in the EU (topping the European Part Time Labour league table). The price of petrol is the second highest in the EU (second only to the UK) of which 70% is made up of taxes. They have amongst the shortest school holidays in the EU. This not only serves to aggravate the school children, but also their parents who are then forced to take the family holiday along with every other family in the nation, thus resulting in astronomic prices for vacations abroad. Not only that, but if you decided to take your children out of school early, just for the sake of getting a cheap deal, you are then FINED by the Department of Education!!! Imagine that! And of course, house prices falling (1.1% in January), the hellish traffic congestion which seems to manifest itself all the livelong day, rocketing health care costs (the highest rise across Europe in 2011) and the fact that the way the government’s spending habits are going, it’ll be highly unlikely if anyone will ever get to retire and earn an pension, all seem like the ingredients for a survey that would come out with the exact opposite result.

Or maybe the people conducting the survey didn’t actually survey any normal working Henk or Rita. One can only assume that they must have carried out their survey and questioned a bunch of those unemployed Dutch/Moroccans  who are getting thousands of euros in welfare payouts, hence the “happy” result.

All I know is, they never came and asked me!!

Christian Taliban alive and well in Holland

For years, we normal civilised Westerners living in the Netherlands have been subject to one of the most useless and insane bans ever perceived…..what ban is this I hear you cry? It is the “Sunday Shopping Ban”. Yes indeed, Ladies and Gentlemen, those of use who hail from a country that is used to 24/7 shopping and convenience stores, it seems that moving to the Netherlands means moving back into the dark ages.

To my mind though, this is a both an annoying and perplexing situation for a government to enforce. Firstly, The Netherlands was as a country that spawned worldwide commerce in the Middle Ages. They were the first country to come up with the idea of issuing share certificates to finance commercial endeavours, resulting in the infamous Dutch East Indies Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch).

They were also instrumental in both creating and developing many of the modern worlds capitalistic practices. The “bear market” for example came about in 1609, when investors led by one Isaac Le Maire formed history’s first bear syndicate, whose coordinated trading had an impact in driving down share prices, which tended to be robust throughout the 17th century. By the 1620s, the company was expanding its securities issuance with the first use of corporate bonds.

And then of course there was the worlds first “Market Crash”, also invented in the Netherlands during the tulip mania of the 1630s, in which contracts for the delivery of flower bulbs soared wildly and then crashed. New techniques and instruments proliferated for securities as well as commodities, including options, repo’s and margin trading.

So in a nation that practically developed modern Capitalism, why or how is it that a bunch of religious zealots feel the need to prevent the working man from shopping on a Sunday. If you strip out all that religious rubbish about not working on the Sabbath and having a day of rest, and you factor in the fact that the Netherlands is one of the few nations in the EU whose National Budget is exorbitantly overweighted by the obligations of maintaining its expensive and inefficient welfare state, you would agree that it’s economic suicide for the government to take such a nefarious stance and prevent it’s citizens from either earning, or spending their hard earned bucks in the stores and markets.

The most recent statistics put Dutch spending on it’s welfare program at 28% of GDP….almost a third of the nations wealth goes towards paying for the unemployed and benefits. None of it mind, is spent on the health service, which if you read my article about the state of Dutch healthcare, you’ll have read that it’s all funded by mandatory health insurance premiums. You’d think that someone in the Government would have put one and one together by now and figured out that changing the laws would create more jobs, enabling more people to work and reducing the unemployment numbers. More people working would mean more economic growth and more tax revenues, which in turn would boost government spending in areas OTHER than paying for the Welfare State, and everyone would be happy because we could shop whenever we liked.

But sadly this isn’t to be. Recent efforts by local councils to change the rules and allow the local populace experience that same joy as the rest of civilised Europe have come up against strong pressure from the Christian Taliban Naysayers in Government. The Government have effectively vetoed and taken various local councils to court up and down the country, fighting for the Governments right to dictate to the average Dutch citizen what they should, or in this case, SHOULDN’T be doing on the Sabbath….i.e. shopping. Nevermind the fact that because the country also doesn’t allow for late night opening hours (with the exception of one late night shopping day (to be chosen by the local council) per week) this thus means that those of us who hold down nine-to-five jobs are left with only two choices in life….shop on the only two chances available, and therefore fight for the last loaf of bread in the store (because they never bake enough to begin with) or stand in a long queue to try on those trousers you so desperately need to buy.

I sometimes liken shopping in the Netherlands to something reminiscent of the old Soviet era queues. Amazingly, all the ex-Soviet countries have shops, stores, even pharmacies open all hours. Little wonder that the GDP growth of Russia, Ukraine and Latvia, to name but a few, is far higher than the Netherlands. And you’d be amazed, but you get served with a smile there too…..something else that’s missing from the Dutch shopping experience. Even in good old Catholic Ireland the government chose to change the licensing laws to allow us to drink longer and party later into the night. My goodness, there’s even a 24 hours Tesco up the road from where I used to live….talk about CIVILISATION