Friday, July 25, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17: Different Reactions

The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 upset me a lot since I come from Holland, and 192 of the 298 dead were Dutch. I have been e-mailing with people who knew several of the victims. The Netherlands is a small country. Proportionally, this death toll exceeds the 3000 Americans who died on 9/11. What a tragedy! Holland deserves our tears and our support. It is one of the most wonderful, progressive, talented, cultured, generous, tolerant and peace-loving countries on earth. I have often said that if the world were more like the Netherlands, it would be a much better place.

On this side of the Atlantic, there seems to be agreement as to who the bad guys are. They are the Russian-supported rebels who want to separate from Ukraine, along with Russia itself and Vladimir Putin. It seems that way, from most of what one reads in the MSM (mainstream media). It’s not just the Fox News warmongers, always salivating at the prospect of renewing the Cold War. I tend to trust most of what is written in the New York Times, so when I read about the circumstantial but pretty convincing evidence that the plane was shot down by the rebels using a Russian SAM (a “Buk”), assisted by Russians, I tend to accept this. Read more...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do NO longer give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses

The recent flow of unaccompanied children entering the United States illegally has caused a strong reaction, in particular amongst conservatives. The fact that many of these children are fleeing some of the most violent countries on earth, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries where gang members infiltrate public schools and threaten kids to either join their ranks or be killed or raped, doesn't seem to rank high in the discussion.

Many of these children have family here, but they can not come legally, since those family members are undocumented themselves. About 60,000 children are now crossing the border, waiting to be sent to their relatives, or worse, waiting to be deported back to their country of origin.

There are two factors that people forget when they talk about this issue, the first being that children are not adults and they should not fall under the same legal rules. Unlike the United States, EU Member States, have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes the best interests of the child as governing all major policies regarding the treatment of minors. Although the best-interests principle is part of US domestic family law, the concept is absent from U.S. immigration and refugee law. Read more...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The 2014 Janitors' Awards

This is a parody on The Crunchies, an industry award given out since 2008 to the Silicon Valley companies and their investors. Why and industry that already has everything, would want to lavish itself with such a ceremony, prompted me to write this spoof.

I just returned from the 2014 Janitors' Awards ceremony, held at the modest looking local 87 on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco. With record attendance, the event started off with a request for a one minute silence in memory of the late Thomas Crapper, leading manufacturer of flush toilets, which greatly contributed to the growth of the profession.

Representatives of the major janitorial categories were present, including Ms. Maria Gonzalez Ramirez, last year's winner of 'best kept restrooms' category.

The highlight of the evening was a video demonstration by Mr. Sanchez Rodrigo, whose video 'self-cleaning toilet defeat' has gone viral and has saved thousands of janitorial jobs, showing that the Swedish made self-cleaning toilet does not live up to its marketed standards. Mr. Sanchez did not make it to the finalists but received a $10,000 gift certificate as appreciation for his job saving efforts. You can watch the video here. Read more...

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why We Should Boycott Hobby Lobby, Eden Foods and many other 'closely held companies'

In her novel The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood describes a fundamentalist Christian society where women are reduced to the sole purpose of reproducing. Science fiction, you say? Not so.

The Supreme Court's 5 to 4 decision to grant the for-profit company Hobby Lobby the right to deny their employees coverage for contraceptives on religious grounds is bringing us one step closer to such a future. A future, where corporations' religious rights weigh more than a woman's right to birth control and to control her own destiny.

Obama already made a huge concession by exempting churches and religious hospitals from offering health insurance that would cover contraceptives. But that wasn't going far enough for the religious right. It is now the law of the land that a secular, for-profit company can deny their employees access to birth control citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in their defense, an act that was meant to protect individuals, not corporations.

80 other employers have sued to challenge the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage mandate and will point to the Hobby Lobby precedent to argue their case. The one that I will boycott is Eden Foods, the giant health food distributor whose products cram the shelves at my local Whole Foods market. You can go here to take action.

Here is John Oliver's hilarious spoof on the logical consequences of coporations being considered as people. If GM is truly a person, it should get the electric chair for all the people it killed, rather than a fine.

In all fairness, the Supreme Court is very divided on the issue of contraceptive coverage. The three female justices signed a dissent in a separate contraceptive case involving Wheaton College, who already has an exemption. All they needed to do is sign a form stating their objection and the insurer would provide the coverage directly. Read more...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Wonderful Chaos of International Travel

Traveling overseas can be chaotic and frustrating. Flying has become much more complicated and annoying. While much of this is due to post-9/11 security measures (and paranoia), it is also the result of increasing automatization. Just as we finally get used to printing our boarding passes at home, we must learn a new trick: how to check our bags without human assistance. Soon there will be NO humans left at airport counters. Soon it will be impossible to talk to anyone at an airline office. Everything will have to be done online.

Once you get overseas, you experience the byzantine rules for shopping and sightseeing. In Rome, Paris, Amsterdam and most other European tourist Meccas, you can buy a pass that will let you visit many attractions for a fixed price. For example, the “Roma Pass” costs about 35 euros and it is valid for three days for an unlimited number of sights and museums, plus free transportation. Read more...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Italian Traffic Ticket

A few months after my wife and I returned from Italy a couple of years ago, we got an annoying letter from the Rome police department: a traffic citation telling us that we owed 306 Euros just for the ticket notification, plus the fine itself in an amount yet to be determined. Shit! The total bill could end up costing us over $700.

Worse yet: We had not driven a car in Rome! It was a bum rap. They had the wrong guy!

I couldn’t ignore the letter. The arms of European law have gotten a lot longer in recent years. Long gone are the days when you could rent a car anywhere in Europe and commit all sorts of traffic violations with impunity. In the digital age, nothing escapes the authorities anymore. Whether in the Netherlands or in Italy, in France or in Spain, if there is an outstanding fine you forgot to pay on your last trip, they know about it. The next time you land in Amsterdam, Rome, Paris or Madrid and you go through passport control, they WILL arrest you.

It happened to my brother-in-law when he flew to Holland a few years ago. No sooner had he landed than he was handcuffed by two huge Teutonic policemen, because he had forgotten to pay a speeding ticket incurred on his previous visit to that country. He offered to pay on the spot by credit card, but cash was required. The two giant albinos accompanied him to the nearest ATM. After he paid the stiff fine (grown large due to accumulated interest and administrative costs), they uncuffed him and wished him a hearty welcome to the Netherlands. Read more...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

You Reap what You Sow

It’s easy to blame “Washington”, “Congress”, "Corrupt Corporations'. But with our actions and our vote, we have gotten what we wished for. Pogo said it long ago: 'we have met the enemy, and he is US.'

Complain, complain, complain
That is the name of the game.

We want things quick, easy and cheap
But as you sow, so shall you reap

Now we complain, complain, complain
About our world going down the drain

We want to have a finger in the pie
Of everything made under the sky

From additives to seatbelt safety
Expecting mistrust and dishonesty