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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Willow




Willow (1977) by Joan Armatrading - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

I may not be your best
You know good ones don't come by the score
You've got something missing
I'll help you look you can be sure
And if you want to be alone
Or someone to share a laugh
Whatever you want me to
All you gotta do is ask

Thunder
Don't go under the sheets
Lightning under a tree
In the rain and snow
I'll be your fire side
Come running to me
When things get out of hand
Running to me
When it's more than you can stand

I said I'm strong
Straight
Willing
To be a 
Shelter
In a storm
Your willow
Oh willow
When the sun is out

A fight with your best girl
Prettiest thing you ever saw
You know I'll listen
Try to get a message to her
And if it's money you want
Or trouble halved
Whatever you want me to
All you gotta do is ask

I said I'm strong
Straight
Willing
To be a
Shelter
In a storm
Your willow
Oh willow
When the sun is out

Shelter in a storm
Your willow
Oh willow 
When the sun is out


For my Queen Joan, 30 April 1962 - 27 June 2016. Rest In Peace.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Everybody is looking for something

The title of this blog came up in a conversation with a friend and felt like a potential blog topic. That something does not necessarily have to be a meaning or a purpose in life. It could just be something on the way thereto. Obviously, that something is not as mundane as your grocery shopping list or your car keys.

The something, which we are all looking for, appears to relate to the 7 Belief systems: Love (eg, soulmate), Money (eg, job), Philosophy (eg, meaning of life), Politics (eg, power), Religion (eg, God), Science (eg, dark matter) or the Truth (eg, UFO's). Perhaps, I should amend the title of this blog to Everybody is looking for something to believe in.

My 1st thought is that this search for something relates to my 2nd concept "Needs, Wants & Beliefs". The Eurythmics song below supports that view: "Everybody's looking for something. Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to get used by you. Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused".

The Needs stage in our life is in our childhood. We need caring (eg, drinking, eating, parental love) as we cannot take care of ourselves. As (young) adults we want to experience the many pleasures of life (hedonism) and also material items (consumerism). Our pursuit of happiness (blog 1, blog 2, blog 3) may bring instant satisfaction but usually only briefly. Emptiness is what remains. In this (spiritual) vacuum, (extreme) beliefs may emerge.

Satisfaction and happiness can go well together but usually only in the Needs and Beliefs phase. In the Wants phase, we typically want more because More = Better. Unfortunately, expectations and happiness have a negative causal relationship because of disappointments.

Essentially, the more you expect, the more likely you will be disappointed, and the more likely you will feel unhappy. The opposite is also true: the less you expect, the less likely you will be disappointed, and the more likely you will feel happy. Also see my 14 August 2015 blog on Expectations.

I'm not sure whether I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (lyricsvideo). I think, feel and believe that I have found Happiness (lyricsvideo). I have achieved everything that I once wanted. There are No Regrets (lyrics, video). If there is anything left then it's probably Love: "I Still Believe that I can win your love" (lyrics, video).

To some extent, I'm still looking for the meaning of life and how to live a meaningful life. My "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish" blog was - and still is - the answer to that search. Perhaps I am now looking to live my dreams. Writing my travel blogs brought back some Sweet Dreams that I had forgotten about.

Sweet Dreams (1983) by Eurythmics - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Everybody's looking for something
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused


Friday, 28 April 2017

White privilege

Last week, I read the words white privilege again in a Dutch newspaper. Being white myself, it’s hard to have a non-biased opinion on this topic. The 1st time ever that I felt my whiteness was in Atlanta, Georgia, back in 1996. I felt less white in Kenya than in southern USA.

I do recognise the concept of white privilege, although I think I've been in denial most of my life. Even in my 29 March 2016 blog, I expressed surprise of using skin colour in assuming an identity. Our skin colour is a mere technical consequence of genetics and location.

Some 5,000 years ago, white skin colour suddenly emerged in Europe following a highly successful DNA mutation. A black skin protects against abundant African sunlight but blocks the low levels of European sunlight. Sunlight is important for our physical and mental health as it regulates the production of hormones in the human brain (eg, NYTstudy).

The disadvantage of my white skin appeared after two short visits to Kenya in 2012/2013. Within some months after my return, I developed skin cancer (a melanoma). I have a scar on my back as a reminder. I was lucky as it was "innocent" but clearly "every advantage has its disadvantage". Latter is the opposite of Johan Cruyff's famous saying.

The enormous success of this DNA mutation is one of the reasons for an extreme belief like White Supremacy. White privilege is another belief which is restricted, both in Time and Space (location). As long as people believe that whites are privileged then it is true. The moment when beliefs change then this perception will change too. 

I do recognise this concept of white privilege. In my my 9 August 2016 blog I wrote: "I am lucky. In fact, I have always been lucky, ever since my childhood. I was born under a privileged Zodiac, in a privileged country and with privileged parents". I have no idea how it must feel to be a "Black Man in a White World" (see below).

I do also recognise that with "great privilege comes great responsibility" (eg, link 1, link 2, link 3). The origin of this quote may be rooted in Romans 3:1-8 (source). Quote Investigator was unable to find the definitive source of a related quote: "With great power comes great responsibility".

I use the 3 ethics principles from my audit profession for exercising this responsibility: impartiality, independence, and professionality. In my blog these 3 translate to unbiased, open-minded, and sound opinions, rooted in my beliefs. Nevertheless, the Disclaimer section of my blog states: "However, please realise that I express my beliefs, not the Truth."

My denial of white privilege has ended. I am accepting my white skin as my cultural identity. I am proud of my white skin. Still, I prefer its light brown summer tainting. One summer evening, Joan and I compared our skin colour. We were identical in colour and we laughed.

Black Man in a White World (2016) by Michael Kiwanuka

I'm a black man in a white world
(I don't mind who I am)
I'm a black man in a white world
(I don't mind who you are)
I'm a black man in a white world
(I'm not wrong, I'm not wrong)
I'm a black man in a white world
(Oh it's alright, it's alright)
I'm a black man in a white world
(Oh it's alright)


Thursday, 27 April 2017

Ants vs Humans (3)

In part 2 of my ants vs humans blog, I mentioned that ant colonies may have a maximum size. A friend then told me that ant colonies sometimes occupy an area of 2 kilometers. However, that information is outdated. Wiki: "In 2009, it was demonstrated that the largest Japanese, Californian and European Argentine ant supercolonies were in fact part of a single global 'megacolony'."

Ants seem to mirror below the ground what humans do above the ground. The global ant population (10 billion) is also within a similar range as humans (7 billion). Only bacteria are far, far ahead of both while cattle is far below (c. 1.4 billion). Source: NPR

Until 21 April 2017, there was one exception though: urbanisation. In 2014, the UN published a report on World Urbanisation Prospects (PDF). Key fact: "Globally, more people live in urban areas than in rural areas, with 54 per cent of the world’s population residing in urban areas in 2014. In 1950, 30 per cent of the world’s population was urban, and by 2050, 66 per cent of the world’s population is projected to be urban." Also see FT 26 May 2015.

On 21 April 2017, news media report that Beijing will cap its population at 23m “long-term residents” by 2020 “and keep it at that level” in order to combat “urban diseases” (eg, CGTNFT). The FT claims that "instead it is likely to wreak havoc on small businesses and target migrants". It's the 1st time I notice that a megacity is considering the risks of urbanisation.

From a risk management perspective, the Chinese decision makes perfect sense. Large populations on a small area have always run into health risks: Black Death in Europe (1346-1353), great plague of London (1665)great fire of London (1666). Today's health risks in big cities are less visible: see my 23 May 2016 blog on the mental health risks of urbanisation.

During my research, I stumbled on an unexpected related topic: ant colony optimisation (ACO) and ACO algorithms (eg, 2005 study, 2009 Artificial Intelligence seminar, publicationsWiki, Wolfram). This field only exists since the 1992 PhD thesis by Marco Dorigo. It seems that organisation skills by ants arevahead of humans and that we are finally catching up.

Human behaviour is primarily driven by efficiency and effectiveness: how to achieve a goal by using minimum efforts (ie, money, space, time). From a business perspective, this makes sense as it boosts (short term) profits. From an auditor's perspective, such decisions often conflict with the minimum requirements for an effective administrative organisation and internal control.

In more general terms, this is an eternal conflict between the main dimensions of human actions: cost, quality and speed (eg, devil's triangleproject management). It's highly unlikely that ants apply IFRS accounting or have any political beliefs, like capitalism or communism. Hence, quality and speed must be their guiding principles and resources (eg, food) their main constraint.

 Stand and Deliver (1981) by Adam & The Ants - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Nationalism vs Internationalism: France and UK

Mainstream media are finally confirming the new political trend of Nationalism vs Internationalism following the outcome of the 1st round of the French Presidential election. FT, 24 April 2017: "In country after country, the most important political division is no longer between left and right — but between nationalist and internationalist."

The situation in France will be bizarre anyhow as both French Presidential candidates hardly have any seats in Parliament. Mr Macron does not even have a political party yet, just his En Marche! movement. It's really hard to imagine that the June 2017 French parliamentary elections will suddenly bring a majority to one of these current Presidential candidates.

The most interesting aspect of the 1st round is that the cordon sanitaire around Ms Le Pen's National Front has finally broken. For the 1st time, she and her party will join the 2nd round despite only having 2 out of the 577 seats in the French National Assembly. This is a major break-through that should not be underestimated.

Mainstream media claim that Mr Macron will easily win the 2nd round. I'm less sure. Mr Fillon does support Mr Macron which should bring him close to 45%. However, the (anti) views of the successful extreme left candidate Mr Mélenchon are much closer to the views of Ms Le Pen than Mr Macron (Quartz 25 April). Mr Mélenchon even refuses to endorse Mr Macron (TAZ 25 April). That could bring Ms Le Pen close to 40%. The 2nd round could thus be spectacular.

In the great Left-Right Divide of the 19th and 20th century, there was a clear distinction in support for Left and Right. The new divide between Nationalism vs Internationalism seems to be around 50/50 which makes predictions difficult. Karl remarks on FB: "Is every country in the world split along 51/49% lines on major issues now?"

The only exception to this 50/50 phenomenon is in the UK where both the main political parties (ie, Conservatives and Labour) have identified themselves as Nationalist. The Scottish National Party (SNP) might be pro-EU but its name suggests that this is opportunistic (anti-UK). 

Weirdly, no mainstream UK political party leverages on the 48.1% anti-Brexit sentiment, apart from the small Liberal Democrats. Perhaps Ms May may be in for a big and nasty surprise in her (snap8 June 2017 general election. Quite likely, UK Labour will follow the 2017 electoral results of Dutch and French Labour (both around 6%).

The only thing that may save France from humiliation, similarly as The Netherlands on 15 March 2017, is that voters may still disapprove of extreme political views (eg, Le Pen, Wilders). That does not imply that Nationalism has lost, not at all. Nationalism is winning everywhere. Internationalism is still looking for an answer and voters may just allow them a grace period.

“There are two sides to every story—and then there’s the truth”. A saying from Barry Popik's The Big Apple, an etymological dictionary.

Don't Know What Came Over Me (2017) by Mike + the Mechanics


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Italy

In my 11 April blog, I wrote about one of my favourite destinations: Sicily. I have been wondering since if I should write a travel blog on mainland Italy. I have been many times to the northern part of Italy and I have always liked it. I still hope to visit the southern part of Italy. This blog will avoid the famous tourist spots, like Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Rome and Siena.

Without the book "Under the Tuscan sun" (book, IMDb, movie trailer, Wiki) by Frances Mayes, I would probably never have visited the city of Cortona. Ever since that book & movie, it's one of my favourite Italian cities, although I have never found the villa Bramasole.

Cortona is a beautiful and rather compact city, located on a small mountain, at an elevation of nearly 500 meters. Unless you're a local, you must park your car outside the city on the sloped road towards the city gate. The hotel San Luca, located partly inside and partly outside the city walls, offers a beautiful view over the valley. Don't expect much more though.

From Cortona you have a beautiful view on Lake Trasimeno and the nearby province of Umbria. Source: "The only Italian region without access to either the sea or international borders, Umbria is a solitary and soulful world apart." I fully agree. Especially, its capital Perugia is a must-see. Don't forget to visit Assisi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site associated with St. Francis of Assisi, or towns like Spoleto, Orvieto, and Castiglione del Lago.

My other favourite places include the Italian-Swiss lakes (eg, Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore) and the Italian lakes (eg, Lake Como and Lake Garda). I was impressed by the beauty of surrounding towns, like Sirmione (Garda) and Stresa (Maggiore). The Swiss city of Lugano may bring the best of both worlds: Swiss efficiency and an Italian lifestyle.

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is Cinque Terre. These must-see "five villages" on the Italian Riviera (ie, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) are packed with tourists. Remember that you must park your car well before entering and walk a lot.

Many people claim that Milan is beautiful. I recommend skipping it unless you are really interested in its rather small and indeed nice city centre (eg, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall, Milan Cathedral).

I do recommend an auto tour in the Chianti wine area, situated in the geographical triangle between ArezzoFlorence and Siena. The Chianti wine trail will bring you to small Chianti villages which will bring your perfect Tuscany feeling. 

Italy reminds me of the best things in life: Prosecco (aperitivo), bruschetta and/or vitello tonnato (antipasto), lasagne (primo), fish or meat (secondo), caprese (insalata), panna cotta (dolce), espresso (caffè), and my favourite limoncello (digestivo).

Se Stiamo Insieme (1991) by Riccardo Cocciante


Note: In 1991, Riccardo Cocciante won the Sanremo Festival with this song

Monday, 24 April 2017

Ants vs Humans (2)

To my big surprise, part 1 of this blog is #5 of my most-read blogs, with 668 views. Some days ago, I got new inspiration, following articles on human suffering and on wounded ants. The study on injured ants got a lot of media attention (eg, GuardianNYT, VK). The Dutch interview on human suffering with Belgian psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter probably did not.

De Wachter claims that today's society has created the illusion that the inevitable human suffering is no longer around. "That's why psychiatrists are so busy. People no longer bear life's inconveniences. They call it a disease while it is society that is problematic. They visit the doctor and tell under medical confidentiality: "I am smiling on Facebook but feel terrible, give me a pill."

De Wachter's main thesis in his books is that people must dare to be unhappy. It's impossible to be happy all the time and the inevitable human suffering will knock on your door (eg, ageing, broken heart, children act against our wishes, sickness). The egocentrism in today's society made matters worse as it's difficult to find meaning / purpose in life when you're alone. De Wachter: "The purpose of life appears in the asking eyes of a fellow human."

I think, feel and believe that the issues highlighted by Dirk de Wachter result from urbanisation. This is also where the ants-humans comparison kicks in: newborn ants fly out in the summer. I have witnessed this phenomenon several times in my garden. On a warm day, hundreds of ants leave the colony to establish a new colony. Ant colonies seem restricted in size.

As noticed in my earlier blogs on urbanisation, human colonies have only expanded in time and in size: from tribes, villages, towns, cities to megacities with populations over 10 million people. FT, 2015: "by 2050, 6.5bn people, two-thirds of all humanity, will live and work in cities. In 1950 fewer than one billion did so." Also see the 2014 UN urbanisation report.

The Dutch article on ants taking care of injured ants, mentions some other bizarre ant behaviour: ants biting off the wings of lice and then herding and milking these lice (Science Daily), ants building a living raft to survive floods (Georgia Tech), ants hunting for ants from different ant colonies to use them as slaves (BBC, 2009 studyWiki). Bizarre is not my 1st thought.

Ant behaviour mirrors human behaviour except for something crucial like maximum colony size. Through urbanisation, a vital human quality in these ever-increasing human "colonies" gets lost: caring for others. Egocentrism and human suffering (e.g., rejection) fill its vacuum.

Crowded human colonies also invoke anger and fear, both individually and in aggregate. Nationalism may thus also be an inevitable human response, similar to suffering.

As mentioned in earlier blogs, I think, feel and believe that "helping other people" is our main human purpose. Until this article on wounded ants, it never occurred to me that this is what ants also do: helping other ants.

This town ain't big enough for both of us (1974) by Sparks
artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

This town ain't big enough for both of us
And it ain't me who's gonna leave


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Yah Mo B There




Yah Mo Be There (1983) by James Ingram & Michael McDonald - lyrics, video, Wiki

Heavenly Father watching us fall
We take from each other and give nothing at all
Well it's a dog-gone shame
But never too late for change
So if your luck runs low
Just reach out and call His name, His name

Yah mo be there (up and over)
Yah mo be there (up and over)
Yah mo be there (up and over)
Yah mo be there (up and over)
Whenever you call

Never be lonely lost in the night
Just run from the darkness
Looking for the light
'Cause it's a long hard road
That leads to a brighter day, hey
Don't let your heart grow cold
Just reach out and call His name, His name

Yah mo be there (up and over)
Yah mo be there (up and over)
Yah mo be there (up and over)
Yah mo be there (up and over)
Whenever you call

(Yah mo be there)
You can count on it, brother
'Cause we're all just finding our way
Traveling through time
People got to keep pushing on
No matter how many dreams slip away
Yah will be there

Well it's a dog-gone shame
But never too late for change
So when your luck runs low
Just reach out and call His name
Just call His name

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Belgium

I have mixed feelings about Belgium. I like it as a tourist. Living there is something else. I did both. As a tourist, Belgium is famous for its beers, food, and its picturesque cities. Forget about becoming a local as you will always be the foreigner. This may even apply to Belgians from other cities as each city has its own unique dialect which is often hard to understand.

Belgium is a forced marriage between a Dutch speaking north, a French speaking south, and a German speaking east. The 1st Belgian King, who initially refused, was forced to accept its throne. It also doesn’t help that the Belgian north is nationalistic and right-wing while its south is federalist and left-wing. From 1810 to at least 1910, this situation was the opposite of today. To some extent, this explains the underlying Belgian tensions.

I lived close to the city of Mechelen, which used to be the capital of the Netherlands well before the Belgian Revolution of 1830. The first 6 months I lived in a hotel which made me aware of the differences between 2 nations that appear to speak the same language. The hotel owner became a friend which is more remarkable than it appears. We still share some common dreams.

At the day of my departure, my neighbours finally talked to me. Contrary to what you might think, they expressed their regret to see me leave. This shows the level of difficulty in getting acquainted in Belgium. In the late afternoon, the Belgian window lockers come down and every home is disconnected from street life. In the Netherlands, nearly all street facing windows provide almost 24/7 access to what's going on inside.

One of my greatest Belgian compliments was at work: why do your Belgian colleagues accept you (being Dutch!) while they do not accept one of your fellow Belgian managers?? I was surprised by his surprise. It had never occurred to me how special I was, being Dutch. I considered myself part of the management team. The many bilateral meetings indeed told a different tale. Group meetings were no platform for discussion, unlike home.

Belgium hardly has any building instructions compared to Holland. They build anything anywhere and preferably close to highways. From a Dutch perspective, you will find beautiful villas in the worst areas. Their habit of using the 1st floor as a city car parking still bothers me.

Belgians prefer living in the same village where they were born and do not relocate for work. They will just drive more hours, on their badly maintained roads, and in their expensive new cars which are often paid in cash. Belgium is usually in the top of highest global taxes and also in the top of black economies. The Dutch are their exact opposite.

Belgium is a country of contradictions and in almost every way you can (not) imagine. Each day you will be surprised finding another anomaly compared to home. On the one hand, it’s a country of “laissez-faire, laissez-passer”. On the other hand, there's no country with more rules than Belgium. When you expect rules, they're absent. When you don't expect them, you'll be hit.

Fantastig toch (2007) by Eva de Roovere - artist, FBlyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


Note: the song title may relate to fantastic and trouble (NL: lastig)

Friday, 21 April 2017

Our little voice inside

One evening, some 35 years ago, I asked my landlady with whom her other renter was talking. I had not noticed any visitors to her house. She told me that her other renter was often talking to himself - out loud. Never again have I heard anyone like him, having entire conversations with himself. It's one of these everlasting memories.

We all talk to ourselves, usually in silence and within the sanctuary of our mind. Despite being alone most of the time, I rarely talk to myself out loud. Given the introduction of voice service gadgets like Amazon's Alexa / Echo, Apple's SiriGoogle Home, Microsoft Cortana, it might also be better to remain silent (eg, CNBCWP).

Guardian: "This is the phenomenon that psychologists call “inner speech”, and they’ve been trying to study it pretty much since the dawn of psychology as a scientific discipline. In the 1930s, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky argued that inner speech developed through the internalisation of “external”, out-loud speech." My co-renter might indeed confirm this view.

In my 19 April 2017 blog, I already mentioned my "inner voice": "I've always trusted my “inner voice”, whatever you call it: awareness, beliefs, conscience, consciousness, mind, subconscious, or just thoughts." This topic kept resonating since.

So far I recognise 3 types of "inner voices": (i) my conscious thoughts, (ii) my subconscious and inner trusted advisor, and sometimes also (iii) outer and ill-advising intruders. The 3rd intrusion must be common as it's used in movies, like Constantine (IMDb) and Harry Potter.

Some years ago, I experienced a special 3rd kind of intrusion. It felt like a cyber hack or perhaps like voodoo. I nearly panicked. The #2 inner voice recommended using Harry Potter's Patronus charm. I went to my most serene memory and was able to shield off the intrusion. A few days later, it came back but I was prepared by then. It has never returned since.

This blog, once again, reminds me of Zoroastrianism which recognizes 2 fundamental forces in life, a good and bad one, and both defined by deeds, words and thoughts. It also reminds me of the Sumerian distinction between the earthly body and the divine soul.

From a time and from a location perspective, Zoroastrianism (Iran/Persia, 2000 BC) is in between Sumerian religion (Mesopotamia, 4000 BC) and the 3 Abrahamic religions: modern Judaism (515 BC), Christianity (50 AD), and Islam (600 AD). My "inner voice" thinks, feels and believes that all 5 are connected. I'm still looking for a connection between the first two.

I'm still puzzling to integrate their concepts: Body, Mind & Soul, go(o)d vs (d)evil, and also deeds, words & thoughts. With hindsight, I do believe that my out-of-balance Body, Mind & Soul allowed these bad thoughts to enter like Voices In My Head.

Voices Inside My Head (1980) by The Police - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Voices inside my head
Echoes of things that you said


Thursday, 20 April 2017

North America

Most of my vacations have been in the USA. I'm impressed by its beaches, canyons, distances, highways, magnitude, mountains, national parks, prairies, giant sequoia trees, and wildlife. At times, it's just too overwhelming and then you need to escape to a city. Or the other way around, depending on your preferences. The omission of the word people is for a reason.

One of my favourite movies about living in the USA is a 1991 romantic comedy, Doc Hollywood (IMDb). It features the opposites so well: Life in the Fast Lane (lyrics, video) versus Take me Home, Country Roads (lyricsvideo). Only 1 city ever offered a "combination" of both: Salt Lake City.  If my memory serves me well, teenagers were still cruising Main Street in convertibles on the weekend. It's also one of the few places where I had an actual conversation.

Approaching Las Vegas in the evening, and seeing that sea of light in the valley is unforgettable. At daytime, Las Vegas is boring and watching the many addicted people at the slot machines is pitiful. Nevertheless, I experienced rainfall on both my visits. Watching a raindrop fall on a hot Las Vegas pavement is weird. Within seconds, it disappears into steam and was never there at all.

One of my other lasting memories is sleeping in a motel at the Gulf Coast, at 10 meters distance from the ocean. I got awake by a peculiar sound. After an inspection, it appeared to be the sound of many crabs, emerging from the sand, and heading for the ocean.

The distances can sometimes be huge. Once I had to stop in the middle of the Wyoming prairies for a break. After exiting the car, I realised that I heard no sound(s). Yet there was "something" in the air that appeared to be colliding layers of hot air. Another lasting audiovisual memory.

While standing at the Grand Canyon and realising its length (446 km), width (< 29 km), and height (< 2 km), I had an epiphany. The Colorado river must once have been much bigger and higher given the canyon's erosion marks. That was the 1st time I started wondering about the impact of climate change, millions of years ago. Flying over the Grand Canyon was one of my worst decisions ever. The sound and smell of vomit, emerging from the front rows, is awful.

A visit to Yellowstone Park is a must. I didn't expect I would prefer the geysers and hydrothermal system over its animals (eg, bear, bison). The colours of the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces are beyond imagination. The sulfur smell of rotting eggs is sometimes overwhelming.

One of my favourite memories is visiting Redwood National Park and seeing a special kind of the giant sequoia trees: the California redwood trees which "are the tallest and one of the most massive tree species on Earth". It is worth the long drive to (almost) Oregon State.

The Dutch have a saying about France: it's a beautiful country apart from the French. Mark Twain once said: "France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country." The same applies to North America, excluding Canada.

What A Wonderful World (1967) by Louis Armstrong - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

I see trees of green, 
red roses too. 
I see them bloom, 
for me and you. 
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Where there's a will, there's a way

The proverbwhere there's a will, there's a way” has been bugging me lately. I agree that having a will is necessary. I also agree that there are several ways (i.e., options) in life. Nevertheless, I miss something vital in this equation. Based upon my earlier blogs, this perceived omission must relate to Faith and the triangle Faith, Beliefs and Willpower.

I am about to reach a greenfield in my life. Essentially, this means that all options (ways) are open. Abundant choice has a distinct disadvantage, like restaurants with a 20 page menu. I prefer a menu of one page. The more choice we have, the more we need to apply selection criteria (e.g., no fish). The less choice we have, the more likely we opt to be surprised. Ratio versus emotion.

I still believe that I will know my preferred way once I “see” it. I just haven't seen it despite the many options that do present itself each day. Again, emotion versus ratio. Probably all my decisions have been based on a “gut feeling”, apart from grocery shopping. Even then I sometimes suddenly buy an item that was not on my list (e.g., liquorice candy or “drop” in Dutch).

The many options that are on my path, could suggest that my will is lacking. Being strong-minded, I doubt that. When I read the details of such options then my mind asks: Why me? I'll be bored within a year and neither the employer, intermediary or I will benefit from that. Worst of all, I would have no convincing answer when someone would ask: Why should we hire you? Latter is usually my reason for passing the buck.

Sometimes I see an opportunity and feel that my passion for work is returning. With hindsight, I'm often glad that these opportunities do not materialize. I don't need or want a full time job that allows me a luxurious lifestyle again but that prevents me from living. More and more, I'm inclined to accept the situation that I'm in since mid 2013.

My acceptance is also transpiring from my choice of words: from “in between jobs” to “unemployed” and later from “sabbatical” to “considering early retirement”. My recent discussion with the tax authorities felt like a reality check. The compromise I reached, supports my view. Nevertheless, I do miss a part of my former life but certainly not the stress.

I am not eager to burn my bridges and I'm moving with caution on this path/way that I'm taking. I'm still not fully convinced that this is my way. So, there's a will and there's also a way but I'm still lacking belief in that way. The main reason is that my “inner voice” tells me that something suitable will come along. I've always trusted my “inner voice”, whatever you call it: awareness, beliefs, conscience, consciousness, mind, subconscious, or just thoughts.

I think, feel and believe that your deeds, words and thoughts (Zoroastrianism), or body, mind and soul need to be in balance before making important decisions. I call this concept Faith, Beliefs and Willpower. Willpower is about decisions and their execution. Beliefs drive choices and decisions. Faith makes your beliefs and your willpower long-lasting.

Faith (1987) by George Michael - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

‘Cause I gotta have faith
I gotta have faith
‘Cause I gotta have faith, faith,
‘Cause I gotta have faith, faith, faith


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The 2017 Turkish constitutional referendum

The remarkably swift outcome of the Turkish referendum showed a surprisingly narrow “Yes” to its President. This puts the result in the same category as Brexit and the 2016 US Presidential election: a nation torn apart by a disputed outcome with no clear and overwhelming majority.

A lower or higher voter turnout could easily have flipped the result. It's weird that such far-reaching referenda usually do not have conditions like a minimum voter turnout or a minimum difference between “Yes” and “No” to reflect a margin of error. Absolute numbers rule.

The OSCE statement of Monday 17 April 2017 was kind of "blue": “The 16 April constitutional referendum took place on an unlevel playing field and the two sides of the campaign did not have equal opportunities. Voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform, and civil society organizations were not able to participate.”

The amendments to the Turkish Constitution will deteriorate the power of the legislative (Parliament) and the judicial (courts) branches of government. Obviously, it will significantly increase the power of the executive branch (President). However, any Constitution "lives" longer than its President.

The President’s opponents will feel supported as the President barely won, despite using ample and public resources to boost his “Yes”. The official outcome will be legally contested for many years and in various Turkish and European courtrooms. More important is that the President’s opposition is still vast and even slightly bigger than before the 2017 referendum.

The upcoming changes to the Turkish Constitution are dangerous. Perhaps even more dangerous when someone would succeed the current President. Before the constitutional changes, the AK Party would still rule after an early demise of its leader. After the changes, his early demise could spell trouble for the AK Party.

There's a certain link with the political situation in Egypt. Both the AK Party and the Muslim Brotherhood were once banned. When roles reversed, the military was succumbed in both countries. The return of the Egyptian military could still happen in Turkey. Their return is more likely after the upcoming constitutional changes. The referendum outcome makes the future succession of the Turkish President more rewarding.

Hence, it's unlikely that Turkey will become more stable. An early demise of the Turkish President even becomes an attractive option. He may thus have signed his own death warrant by this outcome, either by his own AK Party, his opponent Gülen, foreign nations, or the Turkish military.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.” Quote by Lord Acton (1887).

Blue Monday (1983) by New Order - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


Monday, 17 April 2017

The 45th President - Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!

On 13 December 2003, America's chief administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, proudly reported to the press: "Ladies and gentlemen, We Got Him!" Back then it referred to the capture of Saddam Hussein. This time, it's less likely that the US will report that the 45th President is "in the pocket".

A friend and former co-worker sent me the 13 April 2017 Palmer Report: "Intel sources: first big arrests in Donald Trump’s Russia scandal could come next week". This report claims that "Reliable sources, who have proven themselves correct in the past, are now pointing to U.S. intel agencies working with the Attorney General of New York to begin imminently dismantling Trump’s inner circle. In fact the big major arrests may come as soon as next week."

On 7 April 2017, the head of Russia's upper house of parliament defence committee "said on social media that the prospective US-Russian anti-terror coalition has been "put to rest without even being born." Mr Kosachev added that "it's a pity," suggesting that Trump had been pressured to act by the Pentagon." (eg, Telegraph)

Several media are wondering "what's really behind Trump's recent flip flops (WP)". These flip flops really started with Steve Bannon's sudden and unexpected removal from the National Security Council on April 5. Some two months earlier, on 28 January 2017, Steve Bannon had been appointed to the NSC. Subsequently, Bannon ousted "the country's most senior intelligence and military officials as regular members of the Principals Committee". They have now returned.

On 9 April 2017, Kathleen McFarland, an appointment of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, was suddenly ousted as deputy national security advisor. Then, within several days other key flips flops happened, like NATO is no longer obsolete, China is no longer a currency manipulator, and the federal hiring freeze was lifted. Sources: CNN, NYT, Politico, WP.

The 13 April 2017 Palmer Report could indeed explain the above. The 45th President is no longer in the driving seat, as was already suggested by Russia. In that case, Trump has few options left: resign, be impeached, or play along. The timing of the 18 April 2017 release of Allan Lichtman's book "The Case for Impeachment" is remarkable (eg, Amazon, CNN, HC, Politico, TIME, WP).

TIME: "His new book, The Case for Impeachment, outlines eight possible reasons to impeach Trump, including his business-related conflicts of interest, his team's connections to Russia and his involvement in previous legal disputes, such as lawsuits against Trump University."

Lichtman: "I think the Russian connection would be the most likely source of impeachment. There sure is a lot of smoke. And my own suspicion is there’s some kind of fire that’s producing this smoke. Whether it’s serious enough to warrant impeachment, we don’t know yet."

When the "big major arrests" within the Trump inner circle would happen in the next week(s), then Trump's flip flops - and Allan Lichtman's prediction - would finally make sense.

Gotcha (2012) by Jessica Mauboy - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


One of Us




One of Us (1995) by Joan Osborne - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

So one of these nights and about twelve o'clock
This old world's going to reel and rock
Saints will tremble and cry for pain
For the Lord's gonna come in his heavenly airplane

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to his face,
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question?

And yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

If God had a face, what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the saints
And all the prophets? And...

Yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

(Just?) tryin' to make His way home
Back up to Heaven all alone
Nobody callin' on the phone
'Cept for the Pope, maybe, in Rome

Yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

Just tryin' to make His way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to Heaven all alone
Just tryin' to make His way home
Nobody callin' on the phone
'Cept for the Pope, maybe, in Rome

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter




Easter (1989) by Marillion - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

A ghost of a mist was on the field
The grey and the green together
The noise of a distant farm machine
Out of the first light came
A tattered necklace of hedge end trees
On the southern side of the hill
Betrays where the border runs between
Where Mary Dunoon's boy fell

Easter here again, a time for the blind to see
Easter, surely now can all of your hearts be free

Out of the port of Liverpool
Bound for the North of Ireland
The wash of the spray and horsetail waves
The roll of the sea below

And Easter here again, a time for the blind to see
Easter, surely now can all of your hearts be free

What will you do?
Make a stone of your heart?
Will you set things right?
When you tear them apart?
Will you sleep at night?
With the plough and the stars alight?

What will you do?
With the wire and the gun?
That'll set things right
When it's said and done?
Will you sleep at night?
Is there so much love to hide?

Forgive, Forget
Sing "Never again."

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Morocco and Tunisia

Today's blog is on two visits to North Africa, being Marrakesh (Morocco) and Sousse (Tunisia), of which one was good and one was disappointing. I've combined both in this blog.

My early 1990s visit to Tunisia included a hotel stay in Sousse, a city trip to Tunis by train, and a short visit to a modern harbour called Port El Kantaoui. It's hard to say anything positive about this trip. I shall explain why. During my stay, I suddenly noticed a human face in the hedges surrounding the hotel. Actually, several male faces were watching the women at the hotel pool. I have never experienced this Peeping Tom behaviour anywhere else.

The all-inclusive hotel food wasn't great and I visited a local restaurant instead. It was my first ever experience with white female sex tourism. I noticed a European woman with her Tunisian boyfriend and his many male friends, celebrating life at her expense. Today this female behaviour is more common in Africa although these women typically claim it's about love. Also see the 2012 movie / documentary “Paradise: Love” (IMDb) on this phenomenon.

The city trip from Sousse to Tunis took several hours by train. Tunis was hot, dusty, almost deserted, and without shadow as it lacked trees. European tourists appeared to be an anomaly and I felt being watched. After suddenly passing the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), I decided it was time for a quick departure.

My October 2012 visit to Marrakesh is a fond memory. I opted for a stay in the medina of Marrakesh, which is part of UN World Heritage. Old town Marrakesh provides an authentic Arab feeling with distinct smells (e.g., herbs, meat, soap, spices). Streets in the medina are usually not named. Some houses will be numbered, like your riad, a.k.a. boutique hotel. You will quickly adjust to the prayer calls from the nearby mosque.

The medina of Marrakesh features many beautiful riads, often hidden behind rather anonymous ancient wooden gates. Some of these riads will feel like royal palaces and probably they once were, centuries ago. Some riads will allow (paid) use of their exotic swimming pool. Drinking coffee/tea or sipping cocktails in these surroundings, gives a kind of colonial feeling.

Marrakesh is famous for its big central square. I preferred visiting the Majorelle botanical garden at the Yves Saint Laurent estate which was one of my personal delights. The garden was beautiful but the use of colours in adjacent buildings was superb. The blue, green, orange and yellow of YSL have no match. Obviously, the abundant sunlight helps them to excel.

Marrakesh is a perfect place for dining & wining and art & history. I recommend visiting the Bahia Palace. Transport outside the medina is easy as there are many (French) taxis. Once you are outside the medina then you will be impressed by the beauty of the city walls and the very many orange trees. Until then I had never realised how supermarket oranges actually grow.

Marrakesh Express (1969) by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2