Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Carel Kraayenhof on bandoneón

I just came home from the Concertgebouw where we listened to Carel Kraayenhof and the Metropole Orchestra playing Cuban music. Carel plays the bandoneón and is famous in this country because he performed at the wedding of Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his Argentine bride Princess Maxima. Even if you don't like this music, watch the video from the 2:50 mark to see pure emotions and love.

Joint statement by Senators Obama and McCain

Ladies and Gentlemen. Our fellow Americans.
We live in challenging times. Financial markets in this country and around the world are significantly down, many people have lost money in bank failures, and people are forced to leave their homes because they can no longer afford their mortgage payments.
We have decided that, for once, we will be honest with you. Yeah, we are politicians but in these difficult times even politicians need to tell you the truth. And the truth is that we, all together and as a country, have been living beyond our means. For the last couple of decades, we have spent more than we were making. Too many people were taking the American Dream too literally. What were they thinking when they dreamt that they could afford a 400,000 dollar home with a 15,000 dollar salary? What were they thinking when they paid off their Mastercard with their Visa? What were they dreaming when they bought a car for every member of their household?
The problem was exacerbated by unscrupulous people in the banking industry. They initiated, organized, facilitated and managed the greatest transfer of wealth from the pockets of investors to the pockets of borrowers, and made sure they got a huge chunk of the pie. How, you may ask, did they do this?
The answer is marketing. There is one area in which even our foreign friends will admit that America is the best in the world: marketing. We Americans can sell the greatest crap. It doesn’t matter who we sell to: individuals, businesses, in the USA or abroad. We are the best in marketing. You want proof? Two words: McDonalds and Starbucks.
So the big marketing machine was used to tell investors, people who saved some money for a rainy day, that they shouldn’t be happy with a 3% return on a savings account or a certificate of deposit. You know, there is a bit of greed in every human being so if you are told you can make 10% or even 20% it is only human to accept the offer. The financial industry mafia, from the big guys in Wall Street all the way to the financial planners in Main Street, managed to convince ordinary investors to put their money in instruments that they didn’t understand. These investment vehicles were made complicated on purpose. It was basically one big scam.
The government made matters worse. Mr Greenspan kept interest rates too low, making it easier for people to borrow too much, making it easier for the financial mafia to sell fancy products. And then we lowered your taxes at the time we should have increased them. You know what, running two wars is not cheap.
For a long time the system worked like a pyramid scheme. It is called the “bigger fool theory”. As long as there are “bigger fools” who are willing to pay inflated prices for investment vehicles, all’s well. The financial industry found a lot of big fools. Ordinary investors here in the USA, pension funds at home and abroad, the Chinese government, Arab oil sheiks, German regional banks: we never knew there were so many fools.
However, it seems we can not find bigger fools anymore. The investment balloons are rapidly deflating.
Our fellow Americans: these are difficult times. We will need to increase your taxes. Your loans will get a lot more expensive, if you still can get a loan. Your pension fund may not be able to honor its obligations. In short, it is time to tighten our belts.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

RO's birthday party

I just came home from RO's 40th birthday party. It was an excellent party. RO being RO, the theme of the party was "AsiaVaganza" and we were all supposed to dress in an Asian style. WI, MA, FR, BV, HE and I decided to go as Thai monks. The dress was quite inconvenient on the bicycle but we managed to get to the venue safely. RO being the King of the Amsterdam rice queens meant that the party was at least 50% Asians. I am not so sure that RO's family and his straight friends were having a good time, but for the gays it was just a perfect party. It felt strange to cycle home in the cool night dressed in an orange dress - maybe I should do it more often.

Friday, 26 September 2008

A spam e-mail

Dear Friend:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had a crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January under President McCain. You may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account and other fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully,

Minister of Treasury Paulson

(thanks Talking Cock)

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Socialism, capitalism and greed

My grandfather was an old-fashioned socialist and an active member of the Social Democratic Workers' Party for most of his life. After he died in 1976, the family found a note "I wish my grandchildren will live in a peaceful world where wealth will be distributed more evenly". He was cremated so he can't turn in his grave but I am quite sure he would have if he would have known about the current financial market meltdown.
The most ridiculous action so far is the current US government's US$ 700 billion bailout plan. The Treasury's plan, the most sweeping federal intervention in the financial markets since the Great Depression, calls for the government to buy from firms up to $700 billion in troubled assets - mainly mortgage-backed securities - whose values have declined as the housing market imploded. The goal is to stabilize the companies and prompt them to lend again.
This is basically paying out a bonus to failed companies and managers. It is rewarding the greed, mis-management, thievery and extreme capitalism of the Wall Street bankers. These people should be in prison and not in their villa in the Bahamas.It is a shame that the US government even dares to present such a plan. As always, the little people will be suffering: higher inflation, higher taxes, they will still be kicked out of their homes when they can't afford a mortgage - while the top earners will be getting their fat bonus checks.
If the US government wants to save the economy, they'd better subsidize the little people who can no longer afford their mortgage payments.
In the mean time, we all better fasten our seat belts as the crisis is far from over, the levels of public and private debt in the US are unsustainable, the credit card crisis hasn't even begun yet and there are rumours that the Chinese will soon say "enough is enough" and dump massive amounts of US paper on the market.

Monday, 22 September 2008


Yesterday I watched "Wanted" which I quite liked, despite it being a very violent film. A young nerdy man named Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) works at a dead-end job with an overbearing boss. He takes depressant when he feels stressed out. His girlfriend is sleeping with his best friend. One night at a pharmacy, Gibson meets a mysterious woman who tells him his father was an elite assassin who had been killed the day before. The woman brings Gibson to the headquarters of The Fraternity, a thousand-year-old secret society of assassins. The group's leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), formally introduces Gibson to Fox (Angelina Jolie), the woman from the night before, and invites him to follow in his father's footsteps as an assassin.
We see Wesley being trained in many violent (and sometimes funny) scenes, until he is ready to kill.
An action-packed movie that didn't bore me. And James is rather attractive when he takes his shirt of.
After the movie the entire gang was in Soho and I stayed way too long and had way too many beers. Maybe I'll change my schedule at work to have Monday mornings off!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Alles is liefde

Last night I watched "Alles is liefde" ("Everything is love"), one of the most successful Dutch movies ever. Set in Amsterdam the week before Sinterklaas, the movie is about finding, losing, experiencing, enjoying, looking forward to, forgetting and regretting love. A sweet and funny movie which also features young actor Valerio Zeno who I personally know.
"Can I give you a ride home?
No. I'm actually waiting for my true love.
Who isn't? Now the question is. What do we do in the mean time?

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Of dirty and clean bars

It had been a long time since I had visited Cuckoo's Nest - in fact now that I think about it the last time must have been when GZ forced me to go there in March. Anyway, the same guys as always were there and the place doesn't seem to get any cleaner. I met PH who told me he quit his job and decided to live from social security. He realized that he would get only 100 euro less per month and now doesn't have to wake up at 7am every working day. This country is very good at turning otherwise hard-working people into profiteers.
After 30 minutes I had seen enough and went to Soho. The gang was there to celebrate CC's graduation from University to which I contributed a little by offering him a traineeship at our company. GR introduced his friend JM to us - a Malaysian-Chinese living in Sydney who is on holiday in Europe. We clicked immediately and it turns out we both used to work for the same company. JM was quite touchy-feely but I could see GR was paying close attention so I decided to be a gentleman. At 3am I biked home a happy man, helped by the very nice clear, crisp weather that we have enjoyed the last week or so.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A letter to the future

Today was the final day of the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. It is a shame that the attention paid to the Paralympics is so much less than the attention that the "normal" Olympics get, as the athletes in the Paralympics have more challenges to overcome. Two friends told me about the closing ceremony "A letter to the Future" which they said was extraordinary. The full ceremony is available on Youtube and is worth watching. Thank you, Beijing!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

All's well here

Every year on the third Tuesday in September the Queen reads the so-called "Troonrede" ("Talk from the throne") in which the government presents the plans and the budget for the year ahead.
This year, they decided to ignore the financial sector bankruptcies in the US and the high inflation everywhere, to present a budget that makes everybody happy: lower taxes, higher spending on medical care, education and other stuff that makes us smile, and a lower government debt as icing on the cake. All made possible by creative bookkeeping and spending the additional income from our natural gas reserves.
In the mean time, the meeting that I had in The Hague this afternoon started late because people were stuck in the Queen's carriage's traffic jam.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Flamenco and mojito

I just came home from the bars after a very international day: Spanish Flamenco, Cuban mojitos, Chinese food and Dutch beers. We watched Carmen by Compañia Antonio Gades which was great. I love these macho Spanish dancers and those very powerful Spanish women: a fantastic show. After the show all of us went to Prik where they have cheap cocktails on Sundays - we had a couple of mojitos. The weather was nice so we all sat on the terrace. After the bar Chinese food at New King followed by old fashioned beer in Soho with the entire gang. There should be more Sundays in the week.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Why McCain will be the next president of the USA

Here are the reasons why I think that John McCain and his lipstick wearing toy-girl will be the next presidents of the US of A:
1. The US is fundamentally a very conservative country. There are some relatively liberal spots on the East and West coasts, but the majority of Americans are god-fearing, conservative, and narrow minded rednecks. See this excellent write-up.
2. Money rules the world. Big money interests are influencing politics all over the place, and certainly in the USA. Big businesses like McCain more than they like Obama, and they will make sure he will get elected.
3. There is some truth in the Republicans' claim that Obama is all show and no content. Furthermore, in his quest for votes Obama is moving to the right which makes him a less attractive candidate for truly liberal people who will stay home.
4. Karl Rove is still alive, and the Republicans will use his dirty tactics to make Obama a little blacker than he already is. With 99.99% certainty we will see Obama's reverend Wright ("God damn America") a few days before the elections in a TV commercial. Easy points for the Republicans. Or big business and the Pentagon are also capable of staging a small terrorist attack to make sure the hard line candidate wins.
Iran and Russia better start building those bomb shelters.........

Calls from the past

As a Cancerian, I am known to hold on to the past. According to this page, "Cancerians are remarkably good at accumulating things; indeed, you can be unwilling to throw anything out, even relationships that have passed their use-by date."
But I am not the only one: the last few weeks I have been getting a couple of messages from guys who I used to know but didn't really keep in touch with:
First, there was an e-mail from JA from Taipei. We met twice (if I remember correctly) in 2002 and 2003 and from what I remember he is a nice and friendly guy. We had sex, but I can't remember if it was any good so most likely not....So suddenly I get this e-mail asking if I still travel to Taipei.
Then, a few days later an e-mail from AT from Canada. We have known each other for 10 years or so and have visited each other's cities. Recently, we haven't been keeping in touch so it was good to hear from him.
And lastly, an e-mail from TT from Singapore informing me he is in Rotterdam this weekend and can we meet there? It would have been nice, but today I need to stay home waiting for the cooking plate repair man, and tomorrow I have other plans.

Friday, 12 September 2008

A New York travelogue

As promised, here is a short summary of our trip to New York. It was the first visit to the Big Apple for WI, GO and OS, so we did quite a few of the tourist-must-sees including a boat trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, a visit to Ground Zero, an extensive tour of the Metropolitan Museum, a trip up the Empire State Building to enjoy the views, a walk around the Times Square/Broadway area, a quick walk through Central Park....
The weather was excellent except for Saturday when we had planned to see the exhibitions in the Metropolitan Museum anyway. That evening we watched Xanadu which turned out to be a simple but very fun show. (think Mamma Mia mixed with Saturday Night Fever)
In terms of gay bars, we were mostly disappointed. The ones we liked were Therapy and Hiro. Still, for some strange reason the gay scene in NY is not very happening and quite old-fashioned. One bar was actually quite hostile, and The Web which was recommended to us as admirers of Asian men was a 100% whore-house.......
MA wanted to eat real American food but after one lunch and one dinner of too much, too fat, too bad we changed to French and Thai. The Thai food was way too bland, but the French food (in 3 different restaurants) was excellent. For some reason, the French restaurants in big cities in the USA are always very good. I think the best French chefs and waiters are all in America!! In general, every other person in New York is a European - the place is packed with tourists from the old continent.
I bought some jeans and shirts at Macy's - jeans are a lot cheaper than in Europe. So at least I got one good deal money-wise, as everything else was so expensive.
All in all an excellent trip - this is a good group to travel with (all of us easy-going) and we are already planning our next trip, most likely to Barcelona / Sitges.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

No pictures from New York

We arrived back in Amsterdam an hour ago. I discovered they have pickpockets in New York, too - my camera gone. The flight was extremely fast: 6 hours 11 minutes so after the American style meal (too much) there was hardly any time to sleep. I'll go to work now jet-lagged and will report about the NY adventures soon.

Friday, 5 September 2008

McCain unfit as leader

Someone who says, and I quote, "I'm going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him, that I'm an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth", is totally unfit to be a leader of a country. Maybe Madonna was right when she put McCain and Hitler in one video clip: "Deutschland über alles" (Germany above all) doesn't sound very different from "the greatest country on Earth". Yuck.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

New York first impressions

Well, not really first impressions as I have been here before in 1999 and 2003. It is now Thursday morning 715am and I just woke up in the Big Apple. The flight over on Delta Airlines was smooth - I decided to cash come SkyTeam miles as you never know if they will keep their value, and we were in business class. In the old days Asian airlines were the best, followed by European airlines and then in the far distance came the Americans. Asian and European airlines have slowly deteriorated and it seems that the Americans (at least Delta) have improved. Great service, good food and very comfortable seats.
JFK Airport is still a dump: one hour wait for immigration in a hot holding area with people shouting at poor travellers many of whom didn't speak English. Another 45minutes before the van we hired was out of the parking area. And the ride to Manhattan took 70 minutes and was more like a rollercoaster ride due to the poor quality of the roads. America definitely needs some investments in public facilities.
We are right at the center of Manhattan at 5th Ave and 40th Street. Walked around last night and had some drinks in a nice bar. Also went to Macy's to look at the clothes and prices. Even at current exchange rates, New York is still extremely expensive. Easily twice as expensive as Amsterdam!! Well, I'll forget about money for this trip and am going to enjoy this city.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Going to New York

In a few hours I will be on plane to New York. Six members of our gang will help the US economy by spending (too) much money on the hotel, sightseeing, partying and shopping. Our hotel is next to Times Square and we also hope to catch a Broadway show or two. If the weather is nice (currently 30C and sunny in NY) we will also visit Fire Island on Sunday.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Madonna - una fiesta de colores y musica

So tonight Madonna was in the Amsterdam Arena for her "sticky and sweet" performance. There were some 15 of us and it was a real party. MA had arranged for us to be very close to the stage - he has worked in the entertainment industry and still has some friends who can do him a favour. We were some 15 meters from the stage and it was great to see Madonna and her dancers from up-close. I particularly liked the colourful lightshow which was spectacular. It was a good mix of old and new songs including Borderline, Express Yourself, La Isla Bonita and Time stood still. However, her political statements are a bit over the top: a video with "evil" people such as Hitler, Mugabe, Hu Jintao and McCain followed by "holy" people such as Mother Theresa, John F. Kennedy, Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama?????? For the rest, it was a very professional show and she managed to make us all dance and sing.