31 January 2007

Good places in Rotterdam

Dear readers,

Some friend of mine asked me for advice about the places to visit in Rotterdam. As I didn't really know for sure what she meant, I answered broadly about places I liked. I guess I can share this personal knowledge (ha ha) with you, in case you don't live in the city of Erasmus and you want to come for a visit.

So here it is...
For restaurants, I would recommand:
- Fugu is good Japanese restaurant, not to pricey and with good decoration
- Met de Franse Slag is a good French cuisine with a Dutch chef
- Zinc is small French place in a lovely area along the Maas river
- Dyonisos is a good Greek restaurant in the centre
- Hotel New York is the really nice place on the river, in a restaured Hotel
For bars and pubs:
- Paddy Murphy's is the typical Irish pub with live music
- Consul is an alternative Dutch bar with really good sound tracks... ;-)
- Locus Publicus is the best place in town for beers of any kind
For clubs, unfortunately, I haven't been able to test many lately as my favorite place (Calypso) was closed… :-( But these have a decent reputation:
- I-max (near the Maritime Museum)
- Off Corso (in the centre)
If you are more in the cultural things, I would recommand a couple of very interesting museums:
- Architecture Institute
- Historical Museum
- Maritime Museum
- Nature Museum
- Kunsthal (modern Art Museum)
- Booijmans Museum (fine art museum)

Last but not least, visiting the port by boat (the famous Pancake Cruise or the more classic Spido) is a must.

Well, as we say in French, voilà... I hope you will enjoy my adoptive home town as much as I do.

30 January 2007

Scaramella or not?

Dear readers,

If you remember, I previously had a quick shot at researching Mario Scaramella's activities in relation to the Litvinenko's case. It appears that the International Herald Tribune did a much better and complete job in an article published the 9th January 2007. I have to confess that I did not find it myself, but the link was indicated by copydude.

But anyway, the point is that the whole Scaramella case is, as I suspected, a big scam. Scaramella is obviously a crook and a pathological but interested liar. It also casts a new light on Silvio Berlusconi's methods in Italy, as well as on the CIA and more generally US involvement in Italian politics. Not that the CIA was apparently ever involved directly with the Napoletan so-called scientist, but some of his associates had links with CIA agents indicted in the abduction of an Islamic cleric in Italy. If you add this kind of link to what happened in the Niger yellowcake-Plame-CIA-Iraq story, you have I believe an interesting idea of how US intelligence services work...

28 January 2007

Crossing the Dust

Dear readers,

I had the chance today of watching the movie Crossing the Dust, at the Rotterdam Film Festival. I strongly recommand it. The movie is borrowing subtly to both the war movie as well as the road movie genres. The Kurd producer and author, Shawkat Amin Korki, made a sensitive picture of the day of the fall of Saddam Hussein, through the eyes of two Peshmerga soldiers, on a food supplying mission, who meet a small crying Arabic boy on their road. One, remembering his own brother, pities the boy and tries to help him, while the other first refuses to intervene. Unfortunately, the boy's name is Saddam...

The movie is full of tenderness, humour and melancholy, but action and events maintain a very good rythm. The most awful aspects of war and of the (falling) regime of Saddam Hussein are of course present, but the tone remains quite light, to a certain point. There is a great poetry in the images as well as the dialogues. Unfortunately, the subtitles in English were of poor quality, but this does not break the atmosphere the least, so it remains acceptable. All actors play extremely well, and one should notice the excellent performance of the boy, played by Abdola Awayd. Everything basically sounds right, from the "blindness" of the American soldiers to the hypocrisy of the local imam. The film also avoids any propagandist effects and concentrates happily on the human story.

All in all, I enjoyed an excellent movie, and a compelling and very moving story. Both things I hadn't watch in a rather long time.

25 January 2007


Dear readers,

It is becoming a bit of a sad habit, unfortunately, but I have to report the death of another person I liked. As stated by many news sources and for instance this one, Jean-François Deniau died from cancer on Wednesday, aged 78. He was a politician in the noble meaning of this word, I believe, and France will miss guys of his stature and qualities. A diplomat and later member of the French National Assembly, affiliated to the UDF centrist party, he actually wrote most of the Rome treaty preamble, founding the European Community. He was also a man of actions as well as words, a great sailor and a courageous and honorable man. I remember with pleasure reading one of his books, Deux heures après minuit (Two Hours after Midnight), where he told about his discrete missions for the French diplomacy with many resistance movements around the world, fighting dictatures or simply for their rights.

On another rather sombre note (for myself), I have also to tell that I am unfortunately leaving my job. So for those who know me personaly, I will be looking for a good job, preferably in the Netherlands or in... Greece. All ideas and tips are welcome in any case.

22 January 2007

About freedom 2

Dear readers,

Hrant Dink, a Turkish author and journalist of Armenian descent, was assassinated on Friday in Istanbul. Turkish police, obviously under heavy pressure both internally from the government and externally from Western countries, quickly caught the murderer, a young nationalist, with the murder weapon. He immediately confessed (if one can call confession its totally remorseless admission of it) and is still in custody. Everyone suspects he wasn't alone and got at least some support from Turkish extreme-right or nationalist groups. Let's hope that he will be punished like he deserved and that those who actually organised the murder go to jail for a very long time too.

But posting about what has been in the news for days is not really my point. I just wanted to remind German and French "ayatollahs" of History that Hrant Dink was the same guy who both openly accused Turkey of genocide against the Armenians in 1915 and vehemently opposed any criminalisation of negating this genocide. I wanted to praise again such an intellectual honesty, such a courage and eventually such a strong mind. A mind which is powerful enough not only to defend an idea publicly but also to actively support the fact that someone has the right to defend a completely contradictory idea, as despicable to us as this idea might be. Hrant Dink was killed by a kid because he was speaking his mind. Our German and French legislators are killing his spirit again and again... Shame on them.

19 January 2007

Stormy times

Dear readers,

As some of you may have noticed, there was yesterday a massive storm over North-West Europe. This caused many trouble, deaths and accidents. It was the worse storm in the last 17 years, according to some, though some argue that the 92 one was bigger. I am not going to argue this, but I will only say that this one has annoyed me much more than the 92 one. In 92, I stayed safely home and nothing bad happened. This year, I was stranded in the cold in a Dutch station for 5 hours and a half (though I took two hours to get some dinner in town). There was simply no train to go back home, only 20 kilometers away. All train traffic was stopped in the whole Netherlands, and I had a nice time communicating with the locals to get some piece of information on what was going on. Needless to say, there was also no alternative mean of transport, as everyone had been advised by the government to stay inside until the worse was gone (that is around 9h30 PM). Of course, the government had just forgotten to inform me...

This said, I wasn't the worse off. Look for instance at what happened to these poor sods on the MSC Napoli (the ex CGM Normandie). They had quite a bad time abandoning ship in the Channel, in gales of strength 9 to 10 and waves of 6 meters and higher, which basically broke their hull near the engine room. However, you wonder who the hell left their ship go sail in such a weather if their hull was that weak... Especially with toxic cargo onboard. But, well, I am not working for a class society, so what do I know about these things?

Otherwise, this other event has got my attention today: China blasted off one of its old weather satellite, to test an anti-sat missile. Let's say that many people are quite pissed off, as this breaks years of tacit demilitarization of space (apart from the usual spy sats used by most advanced countries). But another reason for many (including you and me) to be unhappy about it is that it left about 8000 extra debris in lower orbite, which could be very dangerous, especially for other satellites and space missions. Basically, non content to pollute the rest of the world with carbon emmissions to fuel its gargatuesque growth, China is also polluting the space above our heads just for the thrill of being able to say: "we can do it!"

And to go back to pollution and weather, here is another article, from the BBC, on future climate forecast. This one is based on PC use, like the good old SETI program. As the results are flowing in, it does not look too good for us, but way worse for our kids: more floods, more storms (yes), more heatwaves, desertification and the like... Welcome in a hell that we did create ourselves! I am sure our children will thank us for it.

18 January 2007

About freedom

Dear readers,

I had a couple of very pertinent messages from Mohamed about freedom. They were about the Nichane magazine issue in Morocco and the question of freedom of press and freedom of expression in general. But for some reason, the same issue is now being debated in the EU, due to the current German attempt at imposing a general European ban on all public display of extreme right symbols, negationist opinions and neo-nazis ideas. As was to be expected, the main opponents to this new directive proposal are Hindus. They are affraid (and rightfully so) that any display of swastikas would be banned, while this religious symbol of peace, they claim, was actually highjacked by the nazis. They make the point that the symbol is much older than its use by Hitler's party.

This brings me back to my messages about freedom and one of the purposes of this blog: I was trying to collect ideas on what should constitute a "right" political system and a just set of laws. In fact, freedom is much more than a simple right, a kind of item you put in a declaration and then that the State can more or less ignore in the name of other "more pressant" issues. Freedom, and especially freedom of expression, is what makes us different from animals. There is a main opposition on this topic between utilitarist philosophers like Bentham and humanists like Kant. But no one can really make a strong case anymore that humans are purely determined by their nature and social environment. Rousseau and Sartre have proven, once and for all, that both nature and culture shape humans and that they also have the possibility to make free choices, even purely "gratuitous acts". A gratuitous act is the absolute proof that freedom is what makes us humans.

This means that freedom should be the first thing that any kind of government should be protecting. This goes beyond the limits of religion or culture, social or mental setups. It also shows, in my opinion, that Churchill was wrong when he was saying that "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time". Democracy is actually the political true expression of the humanist ideal. It is not just one regime amongst others, it is (in its perfect form) the ultimate philosophically and ethically just regime. Any tenants of political and cultural relativism should think about this a great deal before defending the idea that democracy is not right for other cultures than the Western one.

11 January 2007

Thalyscope scoop

Dear readers,

I had the opportunity to take the Thalys a couple of times recently, from Rotterdam to Paris and back. For those readers unfamiliar with Northern France and the Benelux area, Thalys is the high speed train linking Paris to Amsterdam and Köln. Thalys is relatively fast and confortable, but that's not really my point today. Thalys (a joint venture between French SNCF, Belgian SNCB and Dutch NS train companies) has the pretention to offer to its customers a cultural grasp of the countries crossed by its red carriages. This comes under the form of a magazine, in four languages, covering different aspects such as hotels, gastronomy, museums, art exhibitions, fashion or travel advices, called the Thalyscope.

Well, unfortunately, if Thalyscope is a nice attempt at reaching a mulicultural public, here is the scoop: the quality of the content is, to say the least, limited. Here is an exemple drawn from last issue I read. Thalyscope was having an article on Rotterdam. I happen to know the city pretty well, as most of you may know. And here came my surprise: according to Thalyscope, Delftshaven is the only area of Rotterdam which was undamaged in the heavy bombing of the town during Second World War. And you can find there the Ooievaar, the only "bruin cafe" of Rotterdam... Despite issuing this shattering scoop, Thalyscope failed to mention the presence in the very same area of Pilgrim, the house where the Pilgrim Fathers gathered before embarking the Mayflower and a very nice cafe too.

So please, to the numerous inhabitants of Noord, Oude Noord, Kralingen, Hillegesberg, Noordeiland, Entrepots, Endrachtsplein or Scheepwartsquartier, your area has been either bombed to the ground by German or US warplanes or you have lost your status of Rotterdam "burgers"! No? Well, at least that's what Thalyscope implies... And it is a "cultural" publication. And of course, regular customers of Melief Bender, Cafe Timmer, Concordia, Big Ben Cafe or 't Fust, please remember that you are not enjoying the particular atmosphere of Dutch traditional brown cafes but of vulgar lame bars. Here are my illusions going...

10 January 2007

EUobserver - US lobby vs. EU emissions law

Dear readers,

I will never stop being amazed, I guess, by the arrogance of some US administrations (and this regardless of who is seating at the White House or having the majority in the Congres). Yesterday again, another example was reported by the EU observer. The US administration is again trying to tweak things its own protectionist way in the field of air transport. Contrarily to what many people might think, the USA are not at all a free trade country (except for others... of course). There are many protectionist tarifs and laws, in many sectors, from steel production to shipping, including infamous regulations on air transport not only in US skies but also to and from them.

These laws are mainly consisting in a scheme to collect all kinds of personal data on passengers (even ones transiting through the US airports but not stopping there), in complete violation of basic civil rights. This was forcedly imposed on European Union companies, under the threat to simply ban them from Transatlantic flights. The EU, under heavy pressure, first balked, before agreeing to the scheme. It is not the decision it should be the proudest of. The Council had to force it upon the European Parliament and, understandably, there was a nasty row in the European Court of Justice. Another set of unfair laws concerning the American airspace is that companies who want to have internal flights in the US must have at least 75% of their shares into US hands, as well as a majority of their board controlled by US citizens. For this reason, the EU has tried for years to negotiate an open skies agreement. This has never worked, simply because the US administrations have blocked all proposals, without ever making any opening.

Now, the EU is willing to reduce gas emissions by airlines and plane traffic. This will concern flights inside the EU but also (logically) flights from and to the EU. The system will be an emission rights stock exchange, just like the one for CO2 already existing under the Kyoto treaty. Nothing extremely constraining, but already a major positive step for the environment and against global warming. Air traffic is indeed (like auto traffic) one of the top three polluters in the world. Well, as was to be expected (the US already blocked a similar noise reduction scheme), the US administration is using all kind of pressure means, including threats, to block such a legislation to be passed in the EU. One of these threats would be to block completely the already failing negotiation on the Open Skies Treaty.

In one word, non content of polluting their own country and gassing the planet, not happy enough in ignoring global warming issues, the USA also want to allow their weakened airline companies to gas our skies, while EU companies would still be fobidden to fly US internal airspace. Speak about fair trade?

09 January 2007

Al Jazeera - Lebanon opposition protests tax

Dear readers,

I noticed a piece of news on Lebanon on Al Jazeera in English (no, I still can't speak or read Arabic, sorry). Unfortunately, as too often, it wasn't mentionned in most Western media. The Lebanese opposition (composed of mostly Hezbollah, Amal and some smaller pro-Syrian parties) has decided to support the union protests against the government's tax plan. They have staged new demonstrations and marches, on top of the permanent sit in they have in front of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's offices. The government has of course denounced it as an attitude aimed at breaking its efforts to save the Lebanese economy and its fight against corruption, ultimately weakening the country to benefit Syria. The opposition claims the government is overtaxing the people. Fair fight, I'd say, and I would even add that these are pretty mild accusation in a Lebanon more used to exchanges of bullets than of political debates. So, no news here?

Well, maybe not. Isn't there some bit of hope here? After all, and unless I am terribly mistaken, nobody has been killed in this process yet. Would it be that both the government and the opposition have begun to behave as in a normal democratic country? That is probably too much wishfull thinking from my part. But, fair enough, since the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon is living a kind of political stand off. And this may have forced some of the parties opposed in this conflict to consider that the blood spilled in the process is not after all worth the results. And maybe they are beginning to consider the value of democracy. Which is after all nothing else than a transfer of the physical fight in a more civilized way...

05 January 2007

BBC - OECD warns about lack of structural changes

Dear readers,

According to the BBC and Le Monde the OECD has warned the member states of the Eurozone about their economic policies. Despite timid attempts, such as the recent changes in Germany, the countries which adopted the euro as a common currency are relying too much on economic integration and external factors for their economies. Practically none of them took the political risk of strong structural reforms in the fields where the unbalance with the USA and the other developped countries is the biggest: the job markets and innovation policies. Europe as a monetary union has succeeded in fighting inflation, despite odds such as the tremendous increase of commodity as well as energy prices. This was thanks to the orthodoxy of its Central Bank. But it has been poorly accepted by member states and even worse by some of the populations, especially in France, a key member of the Eurozone.

Most French people, even with a relatively higher social standing, have a very poor understanding of basic economic issues (even worse, I'd say, than in most other countries). This is due to educational problems, but also to the media which are not really doing a good job in explaining these topics to the public opinions. And unfortunately, politicians are not doing any better. Just after the OECD comments, Jacques Chirac made a speech in which he detailed what the economic problems in France where caused by. And the "song" was the same as usual: it is not the French government's mistake (with its heavy and unadequate social and economic policies), nor the weakness of French research and development (with its totally unefficient national research centre, the CNRS), it is the Euopean Central Bank ! This amazes me. Chirac is not a great economist, but he did study a bit, and even him should know what the ECB did to support the Eurozone. But no, rather than taking his responsibilities (something he has only been able to do once so far, during the Iraqi crisis), he preferred to blame the "too strict ECB monetary policy". Basically, he is saying: "who cares about inflation, let's people have jobs even if their salaries can't support them in any way..."

Like the first years of socialist government and massive inflation, between 1981 and 1986, haven't taught the French anything...