Tuesday, 22 December 2020

A high-quality country

“Health providers nationwide began to vaccinate citizens over 60 against the coronavirus Monday, as Israel’s immunization effort reaches the general public for the first time…."
Monday 21 December, 2020, Times of Israel.

I live in the Netherlands which will be the last country in West Europe to start vaccinations. I think the over 60s will be vaccinated here at the earliest over 2 months.

All Western European countries will vaccinate old, vulnerable people with the first batches of the Pfizer vaccine, except for the Dutch.
According to the Dutch government, it is logistically impossible to distribute the Pfizer vaccine around the country in a high-quality way.
Therefore, vulnerable old people in the Netherlands will instead receive the later Moderna vaccine, which is some 10% less effective for older people than the Pfizer.

Other countries were ready to distribute the Pfizer vaccine once it was approved.
The Netherlands was ready to start the deliberations with the sectional interest organizations involved with the vaccination process, in order to ensure a careful strategy for the high-quality distribution of the vaccine and high-quality eventual vaccination of some of the Dutch population.

The tardiness of the vaccinations does not worry the government or the sectional interest organizations. They say that careful planning and high-quality are more important than speed. Some have also said that a week here or there is not important.
It will make no difference to them, but it will have a negative effect on the death statistics.
However, for the Dutch government and sectional interest organizations, these excess deaths are an inevitable consequence of a careful and high-quality process intended to stop excess deaths.

There are a few who have had the audacity to question current policy. They point to mediocre leadership, no accountability and a culture of unnecessary constant deliberations as the reasons why the Dutch are so late with the vaccinations.

They were answered succinctly by the director of the Dutch area health authorities.
He said, people who think it could be done faster in a careful and high-quality way do not understand vaccinations.

A damning indictment of the rest of the Western world or an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Joe Biden, echoes of Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump

The United States is imploding.
This is the result of "psychic epidemics" (Carl Jung). No, not comparable to the benign flower power of the1960s but comparable to the malignant, tribalist hate of the interbellum years.

The major psychic epidemics in the US started before Trump, but the present manifestation centers around his person.
On the one hand, the zealots who worship Trump, adoring him as if he is a Messiah-light.
On the other hand, the zealots who think Trump is the incarnation of the devil.
Both are destroying the country with their tribal fanaticism.

Biden says he wants to "heal"America. 
Yes, he can isolate the Trumpist zealots with an outreach to more moderate Republicans. His expertise in wheeling and dealing makes him very suitable for this purpose.

However, it is his own zealots who are the biggest problem for him.
A “Squad” who want a McCarthy-type purge of Trump supporters from “polite society”; the thuggery of Antifa and BLM on the streets; the thuggery of a mob media that cancels those who do not toe the politically correct line; the thuggery of campus mobs who want to expel anybody with a dissident meaning and want to ban every dissident speaker from universities.

I doubt Biden is willing to take on his own zealots. I do not think he will “heal” America. 
He failed the first test: when Antifa recently attacked Trump supporters, he refused to specifically condemn their violence. Instead he condemned “all attacks of violence”. 
Echoes of Jeremy Corbyn condemning "all prejudice" and Donald Trump's "there are good people on both sides". 

Sunday, 15 November 2020

The Trials and Tribulations of a Hitchhiker

1969.
My girlfriend’s mother gave me a lift in her Citroen Dyane to Hook of Holland. From there I was going to take the ferry to England.
I had not seen my parents in 6 years.

She dropped me off at the entrance to the port. I walked the rest of the way to where the ferries left for Harwich. Unfortunately, I had missed the day ferry and would have to wait all day for the evening ferry.
I decided to hitchhike down to Ostend in Belgium.
It was a shorter, cheaper crossing, there were more ferries leaving from there, it was not that far and it was better than just waiting around for 10 hours.

It took me all day, and I ended up in Zeebrugge, not in Ostend. Townsend had a morning and evening ferry service between Zeebrugge and Dover.

There was a kiosk for tickets. I asked the ticket seller when the next ferry was leaving.
He pointed to a ship in the distance and said, “You just missed the evening ferry. The next one is tomorrow morning”.

That was somewhat upsetting.
I walked around for a bit thinking about what I should do next. There was a bench in a bus shelter that I designated as my sleeping quarters.
Then I went into a bar that was just opening for a cup of coffee. 

The proprietor came over for a chat and I told him about the situation.
He said not to worry about food and drink, as pretty soon the bar would fill up with English lorry drivers who were going to take the morning ferry.
They had day money for expenses which they spent on drinks in his bar. He would add a meal and drinks for me onto one of their bills.
They would not care and anyway they would be too drunk to notice.

The bar did fill up quite quickly and I did get a meal and drinks.
Later in the evening the ticket seller came in. When he saw me he waved and went over to talk to the proprietor.
They both came over to my table.

The ticket seller said, “This is a new ship and they are offering perks. Co-drivers can travel for free. If one of these lorry drivers who has no co-driver is willing to take you with him, I will write out an extra ticket for you.”
The proprietor stood up, looked around his cafe and walked over to an inebriated lorry driver who agreed to take me as his co-driver.

Things were looking up. I thought that I had also found a good place to sleep: international lorries have beds.
Unfortunately he had found me a Yorkshire driver who not only looked like an extra from Steptoe and Son, his lorry was also more a rag and bone man’s truck. It had no beds and I had to sleep in the passenger’s seat. 
Still, it was better than the bus shelter.

Early the next morning someone came round to the lorry with the new tickets. Everything went quite smoothly after that. 
We drove onto the ship and there was a man in uniform there checking the incoming vehicles.
“Driver and co-driver” he said in a posh voice. 
“Yes, sir” we both replied. If I had been wearing a hat, I would have tipped it.

Then it was time for breakfast.
One of the perks Townsend offered was a free British breakfast. 
I appreciated that.
Another perk was allowing the drivers to buy duty free cigarettes and alcohol at a reduced rate (the rate for the crew).

My Yorkshire chauffeur gave me money to buy an extra round of duty free goods for him under my name, which I was pleased to do.
When we reached Dover, I gave him his cigarettes and booze and bid him farewell. 
His lorry had to go through customs and there was a long queue.

I was lucky and almost immediately got a lift up to London from a foreign student who was driving a Citroen Dyane.


Monday, 9 November 2020

The man who threatened to shoot Velvella

We had not seen Gidon and Franca in more than 30 years.
You know how time flies. We went up to see them in Nahariya.

Gidon took me round to visit his eldest daughter and family. He introduced me to his son-in-law with the words, “This is the guy who threatened to shoot Velvella.”
I thought, so that piece of shit has become a legend and replied, “No it was not me. That was Kalman Wishingrad.”

Velvella was a short, stocky staff sergeant in the paratroopers. He was also an unarmed combat instructor.
Besides that, he was a sadist and a bully.

Part of our basic gear was a poncho. Two ponchos threaded together were a tent.
Kalman was the other half of my tent.
He was a bit weird and not very sociable but we got on well enough.

When Kalman was doing his basic training, Velvella was a sergeant at the base.
They only met once.

Kalman was coming back from guard duty. He was tired and a bit dishevelled.
Velvella saw him and thought he would have a bit of “fun”. He called Kalman over and bawled him out for being dishevelled.
Then he ordered him to run about holding his rifle above his head with both hands.

As Velvella was enjoying himself so much, he upped the ante.
He ordered Kalman to start walking “like a whore”. This is a punishment where you have to squat, raise your rifle above your head and start walking. It can be pretty tiring after a bit.

Kalman snapped.
During basic training you do not have any live ammunition except when you are doing guard duty. As Kalman was coming back from guard duty he still had a magazine in his FN.

He cocked the rifle, aimed it at Velvella and said, “If you say another word I will blow your head off.”
They stared at each other for a bit, and then Velvella turned around and walked off.

I know the story because Kalman told it to me. Perhaps he embellished it a bit, but the confrontation had been verified by others who witnessed the incident.

Why did Gidon think it was me?
There is another story about my confrontation with Velvella. I was also instrumental in getting him kicked out of the paratroopers.
I think both stories had been rolled into one and I was now the person who had threatened him.

With hindsight I should have kept my mouth shut when Gidon introduced me to his son-in-law.
I do not mind being known as the man who threatened to shoot Velvella.
It has a certain Liberty Valance ring to it.


Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Let's Talk

It was the winter of 1966/1967. I was on a parachute training course. It was like a holiday, no marching or running for a few weeks.

One paratrooper company in the country had to be on alert every Shabbat. That meant keeping your boots on even when sleeping, keeping near to your sleeping quarters at all times, no showers and being ready to travel in full gear in 20 minutes.
That Shabbat was our turn.
We were lounging about on our beds. Someone came in, started banging on the wall and shouted alert, alert.
At that moment you switch to automatic pilot. You do not talk or think, you just start getting your gear ready the way you have been taught. Check your weapon, check your ammunition and move.
Even though there were no hitches, I doubt we were in the waiting trucks within 20 minutes. Anyway, we had to wait for the heavy weapons.
The trucks set off towards the Lebanese border. Someone had planted a mine on a football field on our side. Our company had been given orders to carry out a retaliatory raid.
At first, nobody was talking. We sat there in silence trying to get our minds back to normal.
I lit up a cigarette, a kibbutz cigarette called Nadiv that was more straw than tobacco.
I could take as many packs as I wanted from the kibbutz shop.
There were two religious Yemenite soldiers sitting to my left. The one next to me asked me to stop smoking.
He said it was bad enough for them they were riding on Shabbat. My smoking made things worse.
I said sorry, and explained I was smoking to calm my nerves.
He replied he could understand that and it was okay by him if I continued smoking.
I said no, I would stop because I realized how important it was for him.
And our discussion went on for a few minutes like that.
I cannot remember if I stopped or continued smoking, but that is not important.

Monday, 1 June 2020

The personal responsibility of the mayor

Social distancing is the holy grail of the Dutch coronavirus policy. Everywhere you are reminded to keep 1.5 meters distance.
Nice nurses tell me in adverts that just clapping for healthcare workers is not enough. They tell me I have to follow the rules of social distancing as well.

On June 1 the "intelligent lockdown" in the Netherlands was lifted. It was time to get the country back on its feet, but, the government told us, do not forget the "new normal".
What is that you ask?
Surely you have guessed what it is: social distancing.

Shops, pubs, restaurants, museums, cinemas, you name it, they have spent small or large fortunes on preparing their premises for the new normal.
For them it is not only social distancing, they are also only allowed a maximum number of customers or visitors at the same time.
If organizations do not comply with the rules they face steep fines.

How are they going to survive with more outlay to comply with the new normal and less income from customers and visitors?
Museums are projecting a 90% reduction in visitors this year.
How are they going to make ends meet? There will be layoffs but who will be fired and when?
Yes, unsure times for a lot of people I know.

Still most people accept the situation as necessary and there are no exceptions. Even the prime minister did not visit his dying mother who was in lockdown.

But then, the prime minister is not from a left-wing political party.
The mayor of Amsterdam is and she makes exceptions.
On June 1 some 5,000 people demonstrated on Dam Square against police violence in the US. Supporters from her Green-Left party and other similar parties.
It is not a big square and there was no social distancing. Demonstrations of that size are forbidden.
But she allowed it to take place because it was "too important" to stop. She also said it was the personal responsibility of the demonstrators.

The demonstration with all the chants and no social distancing was a conducive environment for spreading the coronavirus.
After the demonstration the demonstrators went on their way. There is no tracking and tracing in the Netherlands.

Infected demonstrators will infect other people who had nothing to do with the demonstration. Some will become ill and some will die. No, that is not the personal responsibility of the victims.
That is the personal responsibility of the mayor.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Insulting people to their face

On May 5, 1945 the German occupational forces in the Netherlands surrendered. Since then May 5 has been celebrated by the Dutch as Liberation Day.

May 4 is Remembrance Day.
On this day the Dutch victims of the Second World War (more than half were Jews) are remembered with commemorations. In the evening a remembrance ceremony is held on Dam Square in Amsterdam with the king and queen and other Dutch dignitaries in attendance.
They stand or sit in a cordoned off area in the middle, surrounded by some 20,000 spectators who have come to either show their respects or see the dignitaries.

At 20:00 a two-minute silence is observed to honour the fallen.
In 2010 a man started to scream during the two-minute silence. This resulted in a general panic; the spectators thought it was a terrorist attack. People tried to flee in all directions and 63 were wounded.

The man who had caused all the commotion was arrested. He became known as the “Dam shouter”.
He was a nonentity, an intellectually and emotionally challenged hater who used to spend his days roaming the streets of Amsterdam provoking and insulting people. His idea of humour was a sneer.
This was the only way he could get attention.

He enjoyed his notoriety and even published an autobiography in 2016. Eventually he became yesterday’s news.
Why did he not take to social media?
After all, social media is full of nonentities who crave attention by provoking, insulting and sneering.
I think because keyboard hating did not give him any kicks.
He was old-fashioned, he liked to insult people to their face.

Monday, 23 March 2020

The economy über alles virus

Local and national authorities in the Netherlands collaborated in the persecution and deportation of Dutch Jews during the Second World War.
The local police rounded the Jews up and the national railways transported them to a transit camp and later to the German border. 
There was not one case of sabotage.
Eichmann praised the Dutch effusively for the efficiency of the operation. He is reported to have said: "The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see."

The Germans paid for the collaboration. If they did not pay on time they were sent a reminder.
This is not as strange as it sounds. The deportations took place early in the war when the Germans were still trying to lure the Dutch into becoming junior partners in their new empire.

In 1941 the German occupiers established a Dutch bank known as the Limor bank. The purpose of this bank was to systematically register and then rob Jewish property (money, securities and valuables).
Money from the Limor Bank was used, among other things, to pay Dutch authorities for their collaboration in the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands.

After the end of the war, on 17 September 1945, the new Dutch Minister of Transport, Steef van Schaik, addressed a group of railway workers in Utrecht.
He praised them for their collaboration in the deportation of the Jews. He said the income was essential for the economy and more important than the lives of the Jews ("the unfortunate victims").
The sacrifice was necessary to save the economy.

We are now in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
I was reading a Dutch article about the negative economic consequences of restrictions that had been imposed to save lives.
The writer called for the removal of these restrictions. He realized that this would lead to many more deaths.
However, the sacrifice was necessary to save the economy.