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~ Short notes ~

* Why expats complain so much
2008/09 - There is a simple explanation why expats complain so often. They tend to compare the life they knew in their country of origin with their new life as an immigrant.
The life you had in your country of origin is always easier, as you know it instinctively, grew up with it, have accepted it as the norm, often not realizing any more that other ways of life are possible. (Generally speaking of course.) All the things that are different for expats: bureaucracy (for an immigrant in any country a hassle generally unknown to the ‘natives’), language, social habits, driving habits, different shops, different food, different culture in general, etc. etc., weigh heavily if you compare them all the time with everything you were accustomed to, the life that you led almost on automatic pilot as far as the general context / culture is concerned. Add the fact that your friends and family stayed behind, and I guess there always is something to complain about.
That said, it should never be an excuse to loose sight of the fact that there are pros and cons in any country. Don't start bashing your adopted country, even if the adaptation is difficult. Actually, since I (being Dutch) have lived in Portugal and Brazil, I cannot help comparing all the time, seeing pros and cons of all the countries I happen to be in. A bit tiring, always doing that, I find. Can’t shake it. Article in Dutch on this subject.

Aerial picture of museum of art in S&atildeo Paulo * São Paulo tourist city?
2006/01 - Is São Paulo worth a visit as a tourist? Most people go to Brazil because of the beaches and the carnival of Rio de Janeiro, the beaches of the Northeast (Bahía, Recife, Fortaleza, Natal), the rainforest of the Amazon, the wetlands of the Pantanal, the waterfalls of Iguaçu.
Is São Paulo worth a visit after that? Maybe not. At first glance São Paulo looks at like any big Western city. A very big city indeed. Very, very busy. White immigration is predominant. Many large modern buildings and shops, which you can find in any city. Relatively few parks.
But São Paulo is a big city with a very charming Brazilian character, a result of a mix of many cultures: Jewish, Arab, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese, etc. At second glance not so Western at all. Few people know that São Paulo is really a world city with international standing. See New York Times 12 March 2006. Sure, it is different from Paris with its Champs Elysées, but São Paulo does have museums of international standing, like p.e. São Paulo’s museum of art. The building is architectonically very interesting and offers a fantastic collection of art.
For music lovers São Paulo also has a lot to offer. That goes of course for Brazilian music but also for classical music and opera. More tourist attractions in São Paulo.
São Paulo is really worth a visit, I think. But it took me quite a while to see through the hustle and bustle of this big city. But then, I am Dutch. Amsterdam has less than one million people. Greater São Paulo 17 million ...

* London: the death of an innocent man
2005/07 - London security forces shot an innocent man in London, thinking that he might be a suicide bomber. Apparently without any real evidence. On the BBC web site some people blame the terrorists for the killing. That is silly and in a way condoning the brutal police killing. All respect for the difficult task of the police. But, if we condone in any way the killing by mistake by the police, the terrorists have already partially won. We should always defend our state of law and human rights, even more so under pressure of terrorists.
2005/11 - According to the Sunday Times the policemen who shot an innocent Brazilian in London, thinking that he was a terrorist, will escape prosecution. According to the newspaper they have convinced the investigating authority that they “honestly believed” that the man shot was a terrorist.
I am quite willing to believe that. I do not think for a moment that the policemen were out to shoot just somebody. But let us hope that the final report will explain in full how they could believe that the Brazilian electrician was a terrorist. Because that is where the crux of the matter lies. On what basis this terrible mistake was made?
It looks as if the British authorities are steering towards a whitewash. I can’t help thinking that the news that the policemen will escape prosecution was leaked to the press in order to let us gradually get used to the idea that they will not be prosecuted. Ofcourse this suspicion comes about also, as shortly after the shooting the police chief lied about the matter.
It is extremely important that we defend our state of law and protect human rights against the terrorists. If we fail to do so, by condoning unlawful shootings, imprisonment without charge and without access to defense counsel, torture etc., the terrorists have already won. Strong measures against terrorists, yes, but within the rule of law with due process.
I sincerely hope that my suspicion will be proven wrong and that we will know the full truth by the end of this year.

* Love of humanity
2005/04 - To be a lover of humanity en mass requires a sedentary life at a great distance and an exclusive devotion to abstract ideas.
Jacques Barzun, ‘From dawn to decadence. 1500 to the present. 500 years of western cultural life’, Perennial, p. 324.

* Jazz on a summer evening
2004/09 - Holidays. On the terrace of the cottage in the Algarve countryside it is very quiet. A lone dog barks. We stare into the greenery around us and have forgotten all about work and day to day preoccupations. A piano starts to play, drums and bass follow. A singer sings very agreeable jazz. In the house at the next hilltop there is a party. What a beautiful present, good jazz on a silent summer night. Luckily it wasn’t a punkrock party or something.

* 150 million less people in poverty - will it happen?
2004/09 - For at least 30 years now, a debate has been going on about US and European Union subsidies tot its farmers, which make it impossible for poor countries to compete with US and EU agricultural products. The World Bank estimates that an end to trade distorting farm subsidies and tariffs could expand global wealth by as much a half trillion dollars and lift 150 million people out of poverty by 2015. (The New York Times, quoted in The New York Review of Books, March 25, 2004)
Why the hell haven’t we given poor countries a decent chance during all those years? Will we ever? The pressure is mounting, but the resistance of the rich countries is still very strong.

* Remembering selectively
2004/09 - Over the last few days the hostage crisis in a school in Ossetia, has come to a bloody end. Television showed remembrance services being held all over the world. This reminded me of the two minutes silence that were held at the local government in Holland, where I worked at the time, to remember the victims of the terrorist attack at a train in Madrid, earlier this year.
At first it feels rather good to to show solidarity with the suffering of others. But when one realises that we did not have this kind of remembrance services when in 1994 in Rwanda Hutus murdered huge numbers of Tutsis (half a million dead!), or when in Bangla Desh a ferry boat capsises leaving hundreds of people dead, these services suddenly seem very selective.
Or would racist (even if unintentional) be the operative word here?

* The world has not changed very much
2004/09 - During a meal in a french Chambres d’Hôtes the conversation went to the subject of ‘nine-eleven’, the eleventh of September three years ago, when terrorists flew their hijacked planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. “The world has changed”, the comments went during my french dinner. President Bush likes to say the same thing and uses the argument for dismantling civil rights, for instance of the prisoners from Afghanistan in Guantánamo at Cuba.
But has the world really changed? Yes, there is more terrorism than before. No, in the sense that media attention and politician’s populism exaggerate the issue enormously. My dinner companions seemed scared. There no reason for that anxiety. The risk of being killed in a road accident is hugely bigger than the chance to get involved in a terrorist attack. (Worldwide traffic kills 1.2 million people every year, that is over 3.200 deaths a day!.)
There is more terrorism nowadays and there are reasons to be more vigilant at major events. But we should not be so frightened. The risk to die prematurely has hardly increased. The fear is between our ears, stimulated by huge media attention for terrorism and politicians trying to exploit those fears.

* Escape?
2004/07 - Those who stayed at home sometimes said that it was fleeing, withdrawing yourself from the real and important life and go somewhere else to sit in the sun in a cheap place, without responsibilities or cares. They said the same things of monks and hermits. Those who said this, overlooked something. When you are not any more daily involved in the business of the world and when you no longer press for a place in the front rows, then you don’t have anything to hide behind from the company of yourself. When you start loving the sea and the trees, the animals, the stars more than political involvement and economic ups and downs, then you will not be able to hide from the great wonderment. When you start seeing the time and hearing the silence , you cannot escape from the reason of existence; and that is such a great and frightening responsibility that may want to flee, back to what they call the real and important life.
Jan Gerhard Toonder in: ‘De spin in de badkuip’, quoted in Marten Toonder ‘Autobiografie’.

* Keep thinking for yourself, also aloud!
Plaatje uit boek Toonder2004/07 - We like to think that we are individuals, but let us be honest, most of us are actually very conformistic. Most of the time we go along with the boss, with the prevailing wind, with the people talking loudest, with the majority. Who has never felt him/herself betrayed during a meeting, when a colleague kept his/her mouth shut, when you tried to make a point, knowing that that colleague agreed with you earlier? How often were you that colleague?
Marten Toonder wrote about it:
‘The majority knows nothing,’ said professor Prlwytzkofsky. He was sitting not far from there on the bench with Smoris Trot and tried to encourage the little guy. ‘Nothing at all!’, he underlined his point. ‘So don’t be sad, little Trot. One individual always knows more than a crowd.’
‘Really?’ Smoris asked hopefully. ‘I have thought that sometimes; but the majority was always against it.’

From: Marten Toonder, ‘Het Monster Trotteldom’ on the dangers of blindly following the majority.

* Do not trust the pharmaceutical industry!
2004/07 - Radio Netherlands International reports that the pharmaceutical industry’s code of conduct in the Netherlands is not working, according to a report by the regulatory body of the sector. The Socialist Party presses for legal measures.
Thirty three (yes 33!) years ago, we had the same discussion in Holland. I was doing my military service at the time and we learned that medical recruits, who were being trained to be military doctors, would see their field exercises end in a restaurant, where they were dined and wined by a pharmaceutical company. Even then this was considered to be a rather seedy marketing practice. There were an outcry, reports in the press and calls for a code of conduct.
Thirty three years later the inspectors conclude that the code of conduct of the phamaceutical industry still does not work. Western pharmaceutical companies, who like to present themselves as decent, obviously have no intention of abiding by their own code of conduct. The worst of it is, of course, that we kept believing in the code of conduct during 33 years. That means a government with extremely weak knees, and/or a disproportionatly strong pharmaceutical lobby. See also the story of La Roche & the whistle blower and other 'cases’.