Monday, 10 December 2007

Overthink your Bali sins on top of Mount Bromo

Ever been to Club Med? Welcome to its cheaper sibling: Bali. Arriving at this middle sized island in central Indonesia is experiencing how neo-colonialism works. Why show interest in their culture if we just want to lie on the beach the whole day? Trying local dishes or drinks? No way, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Coca-Cola is what we want! And what is that weird local language? I bet they gossip about us all the time. Hello, speak English please! Be happy we still find our way to your little island after the 2002 and 2005 bombings: the Balinese should be happy we still want to spend our well earned pounds here. They should be honoured if they can serve us, drive us around, massage us, guide us. Oh please, we don’t wanna visit that 300 years old temple anyway, crush it and replace it by a Holiday Inn or a Burger King!

At the Indonesian island of Bali, the differences in wealth, spending and lifestyles couldn’t be bigger. Since many tour operators in Europe and especially Australia offer cheap ‘relax and do nothing but eating, drinking and swimming holidays’ most tourists are not interested in the local temples, rich culture, diverse kitchen or wonderful scenery the island has to offer. I was shocked by the way many (older) tourists handle locals: with suspicion, arrogance and screaming English, German, Dutch or Italian at them (like they do understand what you see if you speak louder), not to mention the unhealthy sex industry. Bali villages such as Seminyak and Legian are known for older visitors, mainly from Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the UK, looking for a young summer love. I still feel a bit ashamed of being a European if I see a huge, white, old, hairy creature grapping the hand of a thirty years younger, tented, skinny, smaller local boy, mainly interested in the expensive hotel room, some hard cash or a meal at McDonalds. Because that is what it is: many young, poor, Hindu Balinese (so not welcome in the rest of Indonesia, which is mainly Muslim) idealise and romanticise the lifestyle of the tourists. The younger generation of visitors does not differ to much either: although they obviously not come to mingle with locals, for many it is just another party resort. The idea that it is in Asia (not in Thailand, for a change) and an old hippie resort dating back to the 1960´s give it some extra special. Many backpackers make Bali their first or second stop on a trip or during a gap year, mostly when travelling between the ‘safe zones’ Australia, Thailand or Europe.

The druggies days of the sixties are over
The Balinese parties are infamous and not to miss, especially the ‘full moon fiestas’: on the beach, with your feet in the sand, strong cocktails and a crowd with a vibe. Surfing, swimming, watching and be watched, crashing and sleeping are the main activities in the city of Kuta, on the south side of the island, where as good as good as all backpackers occupy the cheap hostels (2-10 pounds per night), many restaurants (50p-4 pounds for a large main course) and the funky clubs (no entrance fees, drinks from 80p for a beer to 3 pounds for a long island ice tea). Most backpackers or older hippie’s who decide to stay for a while rent a motorbike, and why shouldn’t you, for less than 4-8 pounds a day? It is a great way to explore the island and after all, Kuta seems a place you do not want to leave: once you have accepted the way Bali and Kuta work, it is very tempting to mingle in the party scene and be part of what it is all about: sun, beach, sex, booze and rock and roll. No drugs though, trying to get them is not worth the risk, since the Indonesian government has adopted the policies on drugs as for example practiced in Thailand and Singapore. Although in general bribing is the first door on your way out in Indonesia, this does definitely not count for drugs. Only some old hippies, most of them arrived in the late 60´s, who own dive centres or a bar, are secretly allowed to keep gardening, although their position is not longer safe either. In recent years, several tourists, mainly Australian, were locked up for ten to fifteen years because they were in the possession of weed, LSD or Ecstasy. Most notoriously, the case of Australian model Schapelle Corby who is still fighting in appeal to her 15 years verdict for 4.1 gram of marihuana. Just remember some basic rules: only carry cash with you (rent a small safe in your ho(s)tel for your passport, ticket, credit card), don’t accept drinks from strangers, especially from locals (drugging does occur) and if you like someone more than just a friend, do not even think of unprotected sex, since HIV is on the rise in Bali. Done partying and don’t want to drink away your hangover again? Perhaps the time has come to explore the rest of Bali. Bali is so picturesque that you could be fooled into thinking it was a painted backdrop: rice paddies trip down hillsides like giant steps, volcanoes soar through the clouds, the forests are lush and tropical, and the beaches are lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Recent tragic events have scared away many of those who simply saw Bali as a place for cheap beer. Travellers are advised to check with their local embassy or travel advisory for up-to-date information regarding travel to Bali. A terrorist attack, by a group called Jemaah Islamiyah, took place in 2002 killing 202 people (including 164 foreigners, 88 Australians). A smaller scene was repeated in 2005. Although it is normally safe, the island could be a target in the future. Nevertheless, the beautiful beaches with the warm ocean waves crashing up on to the white sand and the friendly locals with their unique smile make this an island many return to. Bali is one of the 13,000 islands making up the Republic of Indonesia and is located 8-9 degrees south of the equator between Java to the west, and Lombok to the East. The volcanoes which dominate the island are surrounded by the vast variety of tropical plants and terraces of rice crops, making a picturesque setting that takes your breath away. The variety and number of temples seem endless demonstrating the depth of Bali's history. But if you want to visit a really impressive volcano, travel to Java by bus and boat (20-30 hours). Do not fall asleep though, some fellow travellers would not mind to help you get rid of some extra luggage). A diverse, intense and interesting journey. Right through central Indonesia’s rural countryside, straight to the biggest island of Indonesia: welcome to Java.

Once saddled with a reputation as a poverty-ridden hell hole, Java mutated into an Asian boom island in not much more than a decade. It is one the most densely populated parts of the planet and the cities are incredibly crowded (128 million people on the size of England), but there are vast stretches of open country in between. An island of smoking volcanoes and incredible fertility, an island of exceptional history, culture and contrasts. No one fails to be impressed by this remarkable island. However, an earthquake struck Java on 27 May 2006, causing widespread destruction and thousands of fatalities in and south of Yogyakarta city, in central Java. Another natural disaster happened two months later: on 17 July 2006 a tsunami hit the southern coast of Java. The town of Pangandaran was devastated, causing many fatalities and leaving several thousand more people missing or displaced. Relief and aid work are ongoing and there are many volunteering options for travellers who want to stay for a while. And only last month, in February, the Jakarta region was hit with devastating floods causing extensive damage and displacement.

Breathtaking views from Mount Bromo
Probolinggo, on the north coast of Java, is a small, poor, forgotten town where you end up if you arrive by boat and a bus trip from Bali. Not many English speaking people can be found here: the tourists are only found high in the sky, preferring the airwaves when going to the capital Jakarta or the 2nd largest city Surabaya. It's about two hours to Ngadisari, and here I decided to go to the active volcano Broom, which entailed all night travel: first by vehicle, then by horseback until we eventually reached the crater area before dawn. It's a fairly easy 4-mile hike to the foot of Mount Bromo. Alternatively, you can hire a pony to do the drudge work for you. Private cars are not allowed inside the caldera. You can join the pony package at R50.000 per person (3 pounds) but, of course like in any third world country, prices are negotiable. Bromo is set amidst a large caldera. To see the crater itself you must ascend numerous hewn steps until you finally make it up to the level where you can view inside. At the time I was there (June 2006), a red lava glow could be seen in several places near the bottom. Hiking around a volcano is often very slow going. At one point I noticed what appeared to be a distant smoke column. Every few minutes, a new burst of dark smoke would appear in the distant horizon. It was an eruption from the nearby volcano Semeru. Indonesia is loaded with volcanoes! Mount Bromo really is a live volcano that erupts with disturbing regularity: in 2004, two tourists were killed and five injured when the mountain spit out molten rock as far as 300 feet from the crater. And eruptions are not uncommon, the volcano woke up in 2000, 1995, 1984, 1983 and 1980, as well.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Yeah, it is Pakjesavond! ('Pakjes-what?!')

Today, it is the 5th of December, which means it is ‘Pakjesavond’ in my home country Holland! Sinterklaas (also called Sint-Nicolaas in Dutch and Saint Nicolas in French) is a holiday tradition in the Netherlands and Belgium, celebrated every year on Saint Nicholas' eve (December 5).

Traditionally, in The Netherlands adults started to give each other presents on the evening of the 5th; then older children were included and today in my country sometimes even the youngest get presents on the evening of December 5 (Saint Nicholas' eve), known as Sinterklaasavond or Pakjesavond (present evening). After the singing of traditional Sinterklaas songs, there will be a loud knock on the door, and a sack full of presents is found on the doorstep. Alternatively - some improvisation is often called for - the parents 'hear a sound coming from the attic' and then the bag with presents is "found" there. Some parents manage to "convince" Sinterklaas to come to their home personally.

Sinterklaas traditionally arrives each year in November by steamboat from Spain, and is then paraded through the streets, welcomed by cheering and singing children. Invariably, this event is broadcast live on national television in the Netherlands and Belgium. His 'Zwarte piet'
helpers throw candy and small, round ginger bread-like cookies, 'kruidnoten' or 'pepernoten', into the crowd. The children welcome him by singing traditional Sinterklaas songs. Sinterklaas also visits schools, hospitals and shopping centres. After this arrival all towns with a dock have their own intocht van Sinterklaas (arrival of Sinterklaas)
Another aspect of "pakjesavond" are the small poems people make. When children become too old to believe in Sinterklaas, they will be introduced to a different form of entertainment during this night. People will write small personal poems for friends and family usually accompanied by a small gift or candy. This way it is also entertaining for parents and other adults. Students usually write teasing and embarrassing stories for each other. But this is expected and is received in good spirit, so it is usually good fun!

Sinterklaas is the basis for the North American figure of Santa
who later was 're-designed' to match a cola company's needs in the 20th Century. It was during the American War of Independence, that the Roman-Catholic inhabitants of New York, a former Dutch colonial town (‘New ) which had been swapped by the Dutch for other territories, reinvented their Sinterklaas tradition, who was regarded as an alternative for the "Irish Catholic" Saint Patrikc. The name Santa Claus is derived from older Dutch Sinte Klaas.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

India calling

Last week I started a new chapter in my life, I have moved to the Indian city of Mumbai (the former Bombay) and started working at CNN IBN, a 24/7 English news channel with (inter)national news, current affairs, sports, politics, and lots of investigative pieces. My first impressions? Big, noisy and busy. I discovered it is not too easy to describe the financial heart of India, the country’s biggest city (and one of the fastest growing in the world) and the home of the famous Gateway of India (left). I think Lonely Planet’s recipe for the Mumbai main course is one of the best I ever read:

‘Measure out: one part Hollywood; six parts traffic; a bunch of rich power-moguls; stir in half a dozen colonial relics (use big ones); pour in six heaped cups of poverty; add a smattering of swish bars and restaurants (don’t skimp on quality here for best results); equal parts of mayhem and order; as many ancient bazaars as you have lying around; a handful of Hinduism; a dash of Islam; fold in your mixture with equal parts of India; throw it all in a blender on high (adding generous helpings of pollution to taste) and presto: Mumbai.’

CNN IBN's Mumbai newsroom and Marine Drive Beach (r)

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Dolce & Gabbana’s controversial advertising: follow up

In one of my earlier pieces I discussed whether fashion institute Dolce and Gabbana’s pictures are too radical and controversial to be used for an advertising campaign. A picture published earlier this year could suggest ‘gang rape’. A further investigation into D&G history of advertising and PR pictures tells us they produce wonderful quality pictures with great poses, fantastic models, impressive choice of color, clothes (!) and themes, but once again it is hard to look at these pictures and wonder ‘crossing a line, is this (too) shocking’? Due to copyright laws I can not publish them here, but did you get curious? Take a look for yourself and visit

A medieval sport - in the modern world

The contenders lower their visors, square their shoulders inside their armour and charge down the field. With a shattering impact they clash, as spectators roar. One man is down, lying motionless in the mud. He might be unconscious – even dead – but his opponent doesn’t care, racing to the other end of the field. Victory is sweet, never mind a broken rib or wrist. Tonight he’ll get roaring drunk, relive each moment of blood, sweat and tears with his friends, and claim his reward between the legs of a girl who cheered him on that day… American Football? No – think again!

Jousting is a medieval sport that’s alive in the modern world. Freestyle Fighting (combining kickboxing and other martial arts) may be a more dangerous contact sport, but it doesn’t pit men and horses against each other, nor have such rich historical associations. In medieval Europe, jousting was as popular and prestigious as football is today. It began in the ninth entury
as a way of training armoured cavalry – the equivalent of tanks in medieval warfare. The first recorded tournament was in 1066, supposedly devised by a French knight, Geoffory de Pruelli.
From France it spread to the German principalities, England, and finally southern and eastern Europe by the mid-thirteenth century. For over three hundred years, European nobles and
knights competed using a variety of weapons, charging each other on horseback.

The archetypal weapon was the lance, used to knock an opponent off his horse, a form of combat known as “tilting”. Two or three metres long, it could be lethal if a knight’s shield or armour didn’t deflect the blow: Henry II of France was killed when a lance penetrated his visor in
1559. Battleaxes, swords, daggers or spiked balls on chains were also used, particularly when both riders were “unhorsed” and continued fighting on foot. Huge sums were wagered on tournaments; poor or unknown knights dreamt of winning fame and fortune, while even the ighest-born might lose their money or their lives. The arena for tournaments was called a list or list field, and consisted of a long rectagular enclosure, sometimes purpose-built within a castle or palace. Knights had their own tents and squires, to care for their horses and help them don their armour. To distinguish one knight from another, their shields bore heraldic signs, as did the flowing cloths or ‘caparisons’ worn by the horses, whose heads were protected by an armoured ‘chanfron’. Jousting gradually became less of a life-and-death struggle and more regulated by rules and codes of honour. Romantics credit this to King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, promoting the ideal of chivalry, but it was a much later English king, James I, who prohibited certain weapons, prompted by the death of Henry II and the spread of firearms in European warfare. James I also introduced ‘running at the Rings’, whereby knights charged at a metal-and-leather ring hanging from a miniature gallows and tried to carry it off on their lance – which was far less risky than ‘tilting’ and lent itself to practice sessions. During the seventeenth century jousting gradually declined in Europe – becoming irrelevant to warfare in the following century – even as it established itself in North America.

There, Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, introduced jousting to the colony of Maryland that he founded in 1634, where it flourished until and long after the Declaration of Independence. In 1950 supporters founded the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, which codified rules for the sport. In 1962 a bill was passed, making jousting the official sport of Maryland and establishing an annual Jousting Day, preceded by a parade of costumed Knights and Ladies. However, the only form of jousting recognized by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports is ‘tent pegging’, where contestants use a lance to strike and carry away a small wooden target set in the ground.

'In medieval Europe, jousting was as popular and prestigious as football is today. It began in the ninth century as a way of training armoured cavalry – the equivalent of tanks in medieval warfare.'

While jousting is popular at ‘Renaissance fairs’ where people wear medieval dress and ride horses, there’s also a version involving bicycles, whose riders try to unseat each other with padded PVC lances resembling giant Q-Tips – which is hardly macho. Lessons are available from the American Jousting Alliance at Frazier Park, California; contact James Zoppe at

Published in Avantoure Magazine,, October-November issue 2007

Friday, 28 September 2007

Myanmar’s D-Day has finally come?

For years you do not hear a thing about the country. A page 6 comment from time to time, about the cruelties of the military regime, the extension of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest, the continuation of suppression or the brutal violation of human rights. And then suddenly, last week, the Day is there!

Finally a revolt has broken out; the people stand up, speak with one voice and show the world, but especially themselves, the guts they have to openly challenge their military rulers. Under the leadership of some organized monks, thousands of protesters are hitting the streets for over a week now. Perhaps last week is the beginning of the end. Will this be Myanmar’s D-Day?

Their timing could not be better, the annual meeting of world leaders at the UN headquarters in New York started on Mon and the Security council has demanded the military regime to ‘respond mild’. The world press is watching and the people from Myanmar (aka Burma) feel encouraged by the ‘unofficial’ officials from the US, British and French embassies who strongly support this coup attempt. But, how unexpected, it is not more than a handful of advice and recommendations coming from New York. It is now up to the Burmese people: if they will be able to destabilize the country in such a way and for a decent amount of time, then they can just hope for enlightening within the country’s elite or a military response which must be so unreasonable and internationally seen as ‘disproportionate’ will they get established regional superpower China withdraws its support and will make the long awaited changes possible.
If that is not going to happen, and the current leaders of Myanmar will continue to feel strengthened by the backing of Beijing, then the events of last and this week will go down in history as courageous, intense and important, but also nothing more than another (like in 1988) failed attempt to oust this regime and a confirmation that this government is unstoppable unless (military) aid comes from the outside world. If that is how the Burmese people will start be feeling in a few weeks, they better prepare for a disappointment, since it is crystal clear not any of the mayor superpowers which support the protesters is waiting, or capable, to sent their ‘boys’ to Myanmar.
(pic: New York Times)

Monday, 24 September 2007

Die hard media pro's

Swedish hostess Eva Nazemson accidentally vomiting in the middle of the live-tv game show 'Nattliv' on national television.

She throws up and comes back seconds later, cheering the whole situation and Eva tells the guy and the viewers that she is in her period right now: 'It's live television so anything can happen'.
This is what I call a professional!

Tehran's PR machine

President Bush visiting Tehran anytime soon? Unthinkable. But apparently it is possible the other way around: this morning the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in New York City, the financial heart of the states, to attend the annual meeting of the United Nations. The Iranian head of state made sure his visit stayed not unnoticed: he gave an interview to CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ and managed to impress the viewer with moderate comments, mild language and socially wanted answers. To the question ‘why do you want to visit the WTC site?’ he replied: ‘I want to show respect to the American nation’ Excuse me? Did I miss something? Do miracles really exist? The whole interview is one hour and 22 minutes, but this was without any doubt the most remarkable thing he said:

I think this interview and his presence at the annual meeting of the United Nations in Manhattan are two perfect examples how to practice a sublime public relations policy, not to mention the fact he will hold a speech early this week at the prestigious Columbia University. And don't forget, last August the father of three gave filmmaker Oliver Stone permission to make a biopic film on him

Although the US had no other choice than to grant him a visa (refusing the head of a state which is a full member of the UN was hard to explain), they did prevent him from visiting the WTC site, due to ‘logistical and security matters’, as the official explanation stated. The real reason is thought to be the fear of the Americans Ahmadinejad would create a forum on a place where (Muslim) terrorist killed thousands of (innocent) Americans.

Nevertheless, millions of Americans will see Ahmadinejad on the evening news tonight and they will hear what he has to say: he does not want to make a nuclear bomb, he wants to pay respect to the American nation, etc.etc. Whether his motives are genuine or sinister, nobody seems to know, but for sure his PR is perfect and without any doubt he has some of the best advisers in that field. Do you think we will ever see President Bush granting an interview to an Iranian channel (or even Al-Jazeera), pictured with Iranian students and ‘paying respect to the great Iranian nation’? Or giving approval to an Iranian director to make a documentary about his life? I do not think so. In that sense, it is 1-0 for the Ahmadinejad administration, even before the UN annual meeting has started. And it is just the beginning of the week…

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Oops I did it again!

Some fans can be carried away a bit too much, I guess: not everyone can be 'a star named lucky'. What the ..., get a life!

Remember where you were?

Six years ago the world was shocked and horrified by television images which showed some buildings on fire in New York. Not the fact two skyscrapers were destroyed and the Pentagon was partly damaged: it was the symbolic value of the event which sent out shock waves through the world. How could this happen in the free world? In the economic heart of America? In the land of the brave and the free?

Everything focused on one man: Osama bin Laden. ‘We will smoke them out of their holes and bring them to justice’ seemed to be America’s first political top priority.

Who could have thought six years ago the Taliban was going to be destroyed, Saddam brought to Justice, Ali Chemical-I the death penalty, Iraq would get a multi-party government for the first time in its history with Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites united, Iran’s position was going to be stronger than ever and bomb attacks in London and Madrid would follow.

I did not, that is for sure. But what I am amazed about is that although the political landscape in the world has changed, governments were brought down and UN resolutions ignored, Osama is still on the run. Today, on September 11, Al Qaida realised a video with a statement of Osama bin Laden, who last appeared on TV in the summer of 2003, just before the US presidential elections. How is it possible that the most powerful nation in the world has still not captured him? Dead or alive. How come the CIA, MI5 or the Mossad really have no idea where he might be? And if they do, why do they not do everything they can so they will be able to show the American people - sooner than later - that they ‘got him’? Perhaps because Osama does not have any oil… That sounds too easy for me, but it raises questions, and makes you wonder, might there be an agreement, a ‘plan’? If you like conspiracy theories do not hesitate and watch an impressively edited documentary: ‘Loose Change’, which was very controversial in the States and was banned by several US, British and European television stations. Forget Michael Moore: this is real propaganda.

If you believe in the theory, it probably will not ever happen again. After all, the ‘Pearl Harbour’ effect has already been created, so could this never happen again? Perhaps Osama will not be able to cause such a disaster again personally, but here is a remarkable detail of a recent political summit, to illustrate security is never a thing which can be fully controlled by big armies or well trained bodyguards.

It took just a few minutes for a satirical skit by comedians to pierce the $250 million Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting security cocoon in Sydney last week. With three black cars, a couple of motorbikes and men in black running alongside, the motorcade breezed through two police security checkpoints arriving outside the Intercontinental Hotel where US President George Bush is staying.

The security faux pas was only detected when the motorcade turned around and an Osama Bin Laden look-a-like figure climbed out of the limousine, drawing immediate police attention. Eleven people - the comedians and their support crew - were frisked, arrested, detained and charged (The Star, Malaysia)

Did you know...

The former British Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Blair was in 2003 in Melbourne, Australia, with her children when she visited the designer store Globe International, where as a courtesy she was invited to help herself to a ‘few items’ as a gesture of ‘hospitality to the wife of the second most powerful man in the world’.

She responded by helping herself to 80 pieces or more. According to one witness: ‘It was an invitation to pick out a few items and they walked out with hundred’. Downing Street later stated that Mrs Blair had repaid in full the US$ 4000 value of the goods taken.

Monday, 3 September 2007

‘Come down and drown yourself’

A day or two ago I was distracted to this woman on the ITV evening news who was returning to her home in Greece after fires destroyed most of her village, a few hours north of Delphi, and her son went missing a few days earlier in the same region. Overwhelmed by emotions she screamed something which translates as ‘Six months ago we were cheering for our Mayor and now the whole place burns down, he should drown himself in the river!’ At first I thought it was an outcry of an old fool, the laughing stock of the village. But soon the rest of the people present seemed to agree and soon they made an appeal for the Mayor ‘to stop hiding, be a man and drown himself in the river’.

A few hours later BBC24 brought the news thousands of protestors in Athens, the capital, were chanting anti-government rhetoric in front of the office of the Prime Minister. Then I realized there are still third world countries in the EU. Where else in a civilized country can you see citizens chasing down the local Mayor for a natural disaster? To demand him present in the village, maybe even request for his arrest, fine. But make a (serious) appeal ‘to drown him in the river’, or even better; he should ‘come down and drown himself’?

Although the question ‘should that water not be used for something else right now’ popped up right away, I imagined the situation ‘what if there was more than enough water’.
When the flooding took place in England five weeks ago, I did not see any protestors outside Downing Street or any mayor in the Oxford area asking for a protection program. Natural disasters, whether that is a flooding, fire, earthquake or hurricane, are out of human control and can not be blamed on some politicians or local heroes. That is what happens in parts of the area we horribly call ‘the third world’; where people believe in local medicine men, voodoo and higher powers within mortal human beings. The power of the nature is sometimes too much for some us, we need to blame someone in charge to compensate our loss and sadness.

However, if Greece was showing me pictures normally shot in Africa or South-America, what to think of New Orleans after Katrina? I guess philosopher Locke would have loved it: an organized country with a (relatively) developed society is suddenly (partly) thrown back into disorder; into complete chaos. Perhaps in such a situation the ‘basic instinct’ of people appears, the ‘survivor’ within all of us. Nevertheless, how we respond to it differs from person to person, from tribe to village, from community to society: does someone really believe drowning the mayor will bring back her son or her house? How much we love to play the blame game, it is unrealistic and simplistic to blame a local policymaker (or as good as any individual) for fires and events started by others. Those are the ones who have to be blamed, who have to be brought to justice, if you want to play that game. At the end of the day there are still elements like climate change and natural powers; and I suppose that can sometimes be in conflict with common sense. At least there can be said it takes courage to run for Mayor in certain parts of Greece. Although it might be tempting to solve problems with ancient, classic methods, I do not see Ken Livingston (if not Boris Johnson) being drowned in the Thames if the whole congestion charge scheme turns out to be a massive failure or when the first teenage killing takes place in the West End.
Pic 1: Pic 2:

Friday, 31 August 2007

Village idiot

Tory leader David Cameron declares that ‘social responsibility means understanding and acting on that age-old maxim that it takes a village to raise a child’. This embarrassingly glib sound bite was popularised by US Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Some of her critics now sport t-shirts saying ‘it takes a village idiot to for Hillary’ (Daily Mail)

Casanova still got the moves

Former Italian PM Berlusconi
is showing his 'basic instinct'

How the right thing can expose your wrong doing

This week’s news was overshadowed by wild speculations whether Camilla, the much despised wife of Prince Charles, would – or should – go to the memorial service marking the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. More than 65% of the British people shared the opinion she should not attend; it would be ‘inappropriate’. Eventually she seems to have decided not to be at tomorrow’s happening, the CNN and BBC websites report this morning.

In a short statement she explained: ,,I am touched to have been invited by Prince William and Prince Harry to attend the thanksgiving service for their mother Diana, princess of Wales. I accepted and wanted to support them, however, on reflection I believe my attendance could divert attention from the purpose of the occasion which is to focus on the life and service of Diana.’’ ( website)

By not showing up at tomorrow’s service, which will be attended by the Queen and her husband, Prince William and Prince Harry as well as Prince Charles, there can be suggested Camilla pleads guilty of being ‘the third person in my marriage with Prince Charles’, as Diana described it 13 years earlier. Initially Camilla planned to go and by not going she gives in to all the polls which suggested a majority of British people did not want her to attend, so in fact: she gives in to the people and the public pressure. The Daily Mail, the Sun, the Mirror; even The Guardian and the (Financial) Times printed articles for weeks and weeks in which the polls were explained and old memories were brought alive. There was that so hated picture of her and the Crown Prince having a laugh back in the summer of ’88. Camilla has probably made the right decision; probably she would attract too much attention by going.
But is it not weak to agree and give in? By not showing up she – for ones and for all – indirectly signs her guilt verdict to the British people and – maybe even more importantly – to the press. It would not be surprising if the strategy of Clarence House could be the hope that if Camilla does not show up this time, she makes a sacrifice, an (in)direct public apology for the pain and suffer she caused the so depressive Diana. ‘That woman stole the married man’ and who was for years and years seen as the evil stepmother by thousands of British and American housewives. The hope is on the paparazzi and the tabloids: after the memorial service we can continue to normal life and won’t be reminded too much of the past, Charles aides will hope without any doubt. It probably won’t affect C’s position within the Royal Family, but in the press and therefore in the public (the two biggest and by far most important tools for the Royal family to continue the justification of their existence and continuation).
Camilla has put herself, once again and probably for once and for all, in the negative spotlight she is so used to. By doing the right thing she confirmed to have done wrong. Her chances of ever becoming Queen of England have become a little bit smaller today.
(Pic: CNBC)

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Dolce & Gabbana: gang rape?

The fashion world is shocked. This is the new campaign of Dolce & Gabbana. It pretty much looks like gang rape, some believe. It seems he is forcing her down and the rest of the group is watching.If they were smiling at each other, if she would look him in the eyes or if she would hold him, could have given it a different effect.The picture in this form can be experienced as rough and violent, typical for a gangrape. The sunglasses could also presume some sort of unpersonal atmosphere and anonimity. Is this a picture D&G should or would like to be identified with?
see for yourself

Dirty Britons and mental Dutch

Woman 'shocked by flashing judge'

A woman has told a court of her "embarrassment" when one of England's most senior judges exposed himself to her on a rush-hour train.Lord Justice Richards faces two counts of exposure on trains in south-west London on 16 and 24 October 2006.

On the first occasion, she thought the "presentable" and "very kind" man was accidentally exposed, the court heard. Recalling the first incident the woman said he had "boxed" her into a corner against the glass panels in the first carriage on the trip from Raynes Park, south-west London to Waterloo."Because I was embarrassed and nothing like this had happened to me before, I assumed this was an accident... so I carried on reading my paper," she said."Sometimes the gentleman would adjust himself slightly, sometimes his genitals would be exposed and sometimes not as much." She said the incident lasted about 15 minutes.A week later she spotted the judge on the train again, "My gut instinct then led me to believe that this was not an accident."When she realised he was exposing himself, she took out her mobile phone to unnerve him, the court heard. She then reported the incident following her boyfriend's advice. In January she boarded the train with a police officer and identified him.During his police interview Sir Stephen insisted it was a case of mistaken identity.During the trial David Fisher QC, defending, accepted it was possible the victim had seen Sir Stephen on two occasions but stressed he was not the same man.

Recalling his police interview, arresting officer Pc Adrian Watts told the court Sir Stephen had said: "It would be a very extraordinary thing to do, to have walked on to a crowded commuter rail service with one's penis hanging out."Sir Stephen has overseen several high-profile hearings, including the case brought by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, seeking action against police officers over the killing of the Brazilian at Stockwell Tube station in south London.Lord Justice Richards was educated at King's College School, Wimbledon, and St John's College, Oxford. He was called to the bar in 1975. For five years in the 1990s, he served as First Junior Treasury Counsel - the so-called "Treasury Devil". Regarded as one of the most demanding jobs in the legal world, the Devil represents the government in the civil courts.

Dutch TV plans kidney donor show

Dutch broadcaster BNN plans to air a television show next week where a terminally ill woman will decide who out of three young patients will get her kidney, Dutch media said on Saturday. Viewers will be able to advise the 37-year-old woman, known as Lisa, via text messages which of the candidates to pick, the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper said.

The show is scheduled for next Friday in a prime time spot.BNN, whose former director died from kidney failure and spent years on a waiting list for a kidney transplant, told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper that the show is meant to highlight the acute shortage of donors in the Netherlands.Dutch TV show seeks sperm donor A new reality television show in the Netherlands which sees a woman search for a sperm donor is in the running to be made into a full series.I Want Your Child And Nothing Else is among five programmes vying for a run on Dutch cable channel Talpa.

Viewers will decide on Saturday night which show they want to see more of. Other contenders include the efforts of five prostitutes to set up a business, while another features two people who have never met before becoming engaged. The so-called "Sperm Show", if made into a full series, will conclude with the contestant's artificial insemination after she has chosen her donor. The station will also broadcast the Dutch version of Big Brother. For this year's show it is reported that a pregnant contestant who is willing to give birth on air will be recruited.

The South-African '5'

Many things can be said about South Africa, but undoubtedly it is a complex, spectacular place in the world. With a strong post-apartheid vibe sensible in the whole country, there is an enormous energy and sense of progress taking place, which can hardly be found somewhere else in Africa.With the number of tourists rising every year and prices (relatively) dropping, South-Africa is a popular destination because of its kind climate and with many good places to see Africa’s wildlife. Although poverty, the AIDS pandemic and violence remain a problem, there is enough reason to smile when visiting this country. Whatever reason brings you to South-Africa, make sure you don’t miss these five highlights!

Capetown: in the shadow of the huge Table Mountain, this beautiful city with its glorious beaches and many vineyards is the trendy capital of South-Africa, if not the whole continent. Its mix of trendy restaurants and late night bars attracts many people every year, young and old. It is the most open-minded city in Africa with a lively gay, cultural and music scene.

Kruger Park: One of the most famous wildlife parks in the world is also one of he biggest and the oldest. It celebrated its 100th birthday in 1998. The big ‘five’ can be spotted here: lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos. But don’t be surprised if you see cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, all sorts of antelope species and smaller animals. It is the perfect place if you are a ‘first timer’ in the safari: it is not quite a wilderness experience, but highly developed, organised, accessible and popular. So don’t expect to be alone, then perhaps Tanzania (the Serengeti) is a better option for you, although that is much more expensive, so this is probably the best place for students and young travellers to start a affordable safari experience.

Johannesburg: Just an hour drive south of capital Pretoria, Jo’burg, Jozi, eGoli or ‘the city of gold’ (never Johannesburg) is by far the largest and if you want to get a glimpse of the real South-Africa, Jo’burg must be on your list. A huge metropolis where shameless wealth and desperate poverty live side by side, but not go hand in hand: it is by far the most dangerous city in the country. Nevertheless, If you take reasonable precautions and listen to the locals, you can enjoy it in safety.

Sowetho: South of Jo’burg one can find the South Western Townships (Sowetho). During you visit you are introduced to the vibrancy of township life and shown historic sites such as Nelson Mandela's home prior to his imprisonment in 1964 and the memorial of Hector Peterson, the first young victim of the 1976 Sowetho riots.

Arniston Bay: Arniston, also called Waenhuiskrans, is the only town in South Africa with two official names. It is called Arniston, after the British troopship that was wrecked in 1815 on the needle-sharp rocks of the Arniston Reef, with the tragic loss of 372 lives. Arniston / Waenhuiskrans is best known for the 200-year old restored fishing village of Kassiesbaai. A national monument in its entirety, this historical village with its inhabitants has stolen the hearts of numerous artists and photographers. Only fifteen minutes drive from Arniston Bay, one can find the most southern point of the continent of Africa, which is not Cape of Good Hope as many people belief, but a place called Cape Agulhas. As the locals say it in their language (Afrikaans): “U is nou op die mees suidelike punt van die vasteland van afrika”

If you want to send a message, make a movie?

Purely entertainment, or is there a message in this film? That’s a question I often find myself asking during the title sequence at the start of a film। A film often gets you thinking, releases emotions, reminds one of familiar situations or tells us a little bit of history. Most films, though, particularly those emanating from Hollywood, are undoubtedly made with only one aim in mind and that is to provide commercial entertainment. They are billed purely as a leisure pursuit for the viewer; we are lured into the cinema by the promise of an exciting storyline, amazing special effects, that feeling of magic, extravagant costumes, the chance tosee one or more big-name stars in action, the prize which the film has won or – best of all – a combination of all of those things. We watch, enjoy and then return home. But is that always the sole purpose of the filmmakers?

Some directors, producers and actors believe so and make no bones about it, the notable Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn among them, who said ‘If you want to send a message, use Western Union’. I don’t share that sentiment, however. In my view, it is certainly possible to convey a message to the viewer via the silver screen, and that happens more often than we think. The best and perhaps oldest example is the religious message. Spiritual themes are regularly woven into films. You only have to think of the fuss surrounding the launch of Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of Christ’, a controversial film which stirred up a heated debate in quite a few homes. In the United States and Israel in particular, there were all kinds of theories about the ‘real’ intentions of the film’s maker. Large parts of the Jewish community, for instance, believed that Mel Gibson was trying to put across the message that it was mainly the Jews who had been responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion (and hence for condemning the Son of God to death). Admittedly, films like ‘The Passion’ are the exception and don’t come out on a weekly basis but you don’t have to look far to find films involving a religious theme, aspect or figure. Think, for example, of ‘Barton Fink’ (a vision of hell if ever there was one), ‘Groundhog Day’ (redemption), ‘Cool Hand Luck’ (self-sacrifice) or the book ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (with its numerous religious themes and moral codes). Precisely what the message is, the viewer often has to guess, but the fact remains that filmmakers have a growing desire to weave religious symbols or stories into their films. Myths, sagas, legends and historical figures are brought to life in this way. Films like Ben Hur, Cleopatra and Spartacus (and in my view the recent BBC series Rome as well) opened our eyes. By creating a certain atmosphere they aim to allow viewers to forget their ordinary standards and values, making certain situations and social relationships seem acceptable and understandable despite the fact that, in this day and age, such attitudes and behaviour are totally unknown or objectionable. It tells us that there was nothing strange about making offerings, about beating your slaves, about infidelity or about having sex with young boys. There was no such thing as perversity. Possibly that was not what the makers of those films had intended at all, but it was what they had achieved.

Does the message in a film necessarily have to be intentional? Or is there sometimes an ‘unintentional message’? Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’, released in 1993, is a good example of this, as is the book ‘If This Is a Man’ by Primo Levi. In both cases, the creators wanted to paint as realistic a picture as possible of the conditions in the concentration camps during the Second World War without explicitly expressing an opinion or moral message, though few people, having seen the film or read the book, will be able to avoid the feeling that ‘this must never be allowed to happen again’. Were there perhaps unintentional messages in these works? The message cannot have been totally unintentional, because filmmakers and authors are, of course, not exactly dim. They know full well what effect the product of their efforts is going to have on their audience and what response it can be expected to provoke.

It is therefore tempting for filmmakers not to adopt any particular standpoint in public and to declare at press conferences that they ‘were only trying to present the facts and that it is up to the public to make of them what they will.’ This was the line taken by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch member of parliament, and Theo van Gogh after the release of their film ‘Submission’ in 2004. Featured in ‘Submission’ are four abused women dressed in translucent clothing through which their breasts are clearly visible and written on their bodies are various contentious fragments of Arabic text of a misogynistic nature. Hirsi Ali has stated in several television programmes that the aim was not to be provocative but to be thought-provoking. The fact that the film provoked a violent response is undeniable; less than three months later, Theo van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam. The perpetrator, the young Muhammad B., stated in court that Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali had insulted the Prophet Muhammad with their film. Claiming that Islam was a religion that mistreated and denigrated women was false, according to him, and apostates ‘should not be allowed to go unpunished’. Hirsi Ali, championing freedom of speech, immediately announced that there would be a ‘Submission 2’. Back to the previously mentioned ‘Groundhog Day’, released in 1993. It was no accident that this film was recently included in the exhibition ‘The Hidden God: Film and Faith’ at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Though God is not explicitly mentioned, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians will be able to recognise elements of their systems of belief in the jokes, one-liners and storylines. Briefly, the story is that of a man for whom life is meaningless, who is unable to get on in life until – that is – he finds love. You can only live life if you have love is the message which the filmmaker wanted to convey. But again, to what extent the message was intentional remains a mystery.

Filmmakers are sometimes every bit as mysterious as the works they produce. Sometimes puppets are used to put across a particular message. Perhaps the best example of this genre is ‘Team America: World Police’. ‘Team America’ is both a critical and a defensive film about American foreign policy. Although filmmaker Parker said that the project should only be seen as ‘one silly puppet movie’, I wondered whether the filmmakers in this case (just as with ‘Submission’, for example) had used the tactic of producing a politically highly charged film while at the same time leaving the interpretation of it to the public and the media. Film companies and producers generally have no other mission than to make a pile of money. Two new film companies, however, Participant Productions and North Country have deliberately chosen to weave social themes and moral standards into their films. Participant Productions announces on its website that it intends to bring out dozens of new ‘thought-provoking’ films over the next few years. Nothing wrong with that, it seems to me, and freedom of speech combined with the creativity and originality of filmmakers can produce some exceptional results. There is nothing wrong with a politically motivated, subjective film carrying a clearly formulated message as long as people are aware that it is just one person’s opinion. But it becomes dangerous when film and television are used for propaganda and for deliberately misleading the public: when opinions and views are presented as facts and truths.

There are already signs of such a trend (in the free world), such as in certain media in the United States and Italy, and even in the United Kingdom, France or my native country the Netherlands, there are filmmakers and producers who are not averse to presenting their opinions, beliefs, convictions or views as ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. Oh so help us god.

(pic 1: pic 2:

Forget Thailand or Peru

Destination Africa: Mozambique

Clearblue seas, an easy to approach local population, a place where tradition is still ahead of modernization and a lot safer than neighboring countries South-Africa and Zimbabwe: Mozambique might be ‘the’ African tourist destination within the next five years. And why shouldn’t it? Prices are ridiculously low compared to the UK (3 gbp for a hotel room or 25p for a meal) and there is plenty to do and see: different local cultures, colorful markets and small villages, breathtaking beaches and hundreds of small islands.

Or what do you think of impressive colonial architecture? (Vasco de Gama arrived in 1498 and the Portuguese did not leave until the country became independent in 1975). With a population of just 17 mln people (on an area roughly six times the size of England) you will not be surprised one can drive around for hours without seeing a soul. Zebra’s, giraffes and elephants are hard to miss and are – unlike in South-Africa – not restricted by gates or fences. One thing which can be said about Mozambique is that it is not commercial. Unlike its neighbors, especially South-Africa, Zimbabwe (up to a couple of years ago), Namibia or even Zambia, just a few tourists found their way into Mozambique, yet. There is no developed tourist industry, no huge hotel network and do not expect a well organized rail system or reliable cash machines. Traveling through Mozambique means going back to basic. Take enough cash with you in advance: outside the capital Maputo there are hardly any ATM’s.

Also a thing to take into account: mosquito’s, beggars and (the risk of) certain diseases travel with you all the time. Schistosomiasis (bilharzia), hepatitis, typhoid, diphtheria, tetanus, meningococcal meningitis and malaria are still common, especially in rural areas. But let this not stop you of planning to go here: it just takes a bit of preparation. Another virus which is a huge problem in Mozambique (like the whole of Africa below the Sahara) is HIV (Aids): Mozambique's official HIV/AIDS infection rate is 16%, though it's well above 20% in some areas. But these problems fade away if you visit Mozambique these days: the Portuguese pulled out virtually overnight in 1975, leaving Mozambique in a state of chaos with few educated professionals and as good as no infrastructure. Ties were established with the former USSR and East Germany and private ownership, especially for land, was replaced with state farms and cooperatives. Therefore, do not be surprised if your hotel is on Avenue de Karl Marx or your car rental company is at Stalin Square. After the country went completely bankrupt in the early 80’s a decade of civil war and destruction followed.

In 1992, peace accords finally brought a halt to this, but it took the country another five to eight years before western countries lifted their negative travel advice. Since then, people in Mozambique dare to smile again and are happy to see foreigners: their arrival proves to them the country is safe. Progress has been interrupted by natural calamities, including severe flooding in 2000 and 2001. Nevertheless, tourism is taking off, the economy is slowly but surely growing, and most observers count the country as one of Africa's rising stars. If you love diving, walking, the beach, nature, safari, culture and Africa, Mozambique is worth a visit. Do keep in mind traveling through Mozambique will cost you time, lots of time. Not just to get around, but also to get there. Except to the former ruler Portugal, there are no direct flights to the west. The easiest, cheapest and most common way is to go via Johannesburg. From there, you can take a flight to Maputo, but probably the most adventurous and exciting way is to rent a car or take a bus and let your journey of surprises and discovery begin.