The dividend tax stays

On 5 October Unilever announced that it would not move its headquarters from London to Rotterdam because its stockholders opposed the move. Later that day the Dutch government, the Rutte III cabinet, stated that it would reconsider the abolition of the dividend tax. According to prime minister Mark Rutte it did not mean the dividend tax would be preserved definitively. He stated the plan to abolish it wasn’t launched for a single company, but that Unilever’s decision was relevant in the reassessment of the plan.

The words of Rutte don’t connect with reality. The announcement to reconsider the plan came directly after Unilever’s announcement. And the action of just Unilever, one company, was the motivation for the reassessment after all. The statement of Rutte doesn’t have any credibility. Once again it’s a smoke screen, because I think Rutte had been searching for an exit of the despised plan to abolish the tax. Unilever’s action is right up his alley because it enables him to cancel the abolition without much loss of face. That the reappraisal wouldn’t directly lead to preservation of the tax is unbelievable, because otherwise they wouldn’t be sowing doubt with such an announcement. I know for sure now that the dividend tax will stay.

Also consider that Unilever’s plan to abandon the move is a pitifully bad excuse for the reconsideration. The move of the headquarters to Rotterdam would have brought several dozen jobs to the Netherlands. Even if you add some indirect employment, such a small number is meaningless. Are we supposed to believe that this meager amount of jobs is influencing a decision on € 1,9 billion of potentially lost tax revenue? That is the amount lost if the dividend tax would be abolished.

In other news, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands thinks the dividend tax is legally sustainable and doesn’t discriminate against foreign investors. The news isn’t very clear about the arguments of the Supreme Court, but it does give a link to the detailed ruling. I don’t have knowledge about tax law, but after reading the summary I think I understand. Denmark was discriminating because it didn’t offer foreign investment funds the choice to be taxed on the exit instead of the entrance, just like Danish investment funds.

The tax on the entrance is apparently the tax which is paid to the state where the investment fund is located. The tax on the exit is paid to the state where the recipient of the dividend is located, as far as I understand. In practice the choice doesn’t offer any advantage, because exemption from the tax at the entrance is only granted if the tax is paid at the exit. The latter requires so much complex administration that in practice not a single investment fund would want this. If the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration would allow foreign investment funds to choose to pay tax on the exit and then offer them exemption on the tax at the entrance, they’ve got nothing on the Dutch state.

The summary is reasonably readable in this case which is so complex for laypeople. Yet, the unnecessary use of English directly caught my eye in the language used by advocate general P. J. Wattel. For example “zowel de lokale, if any, als de Deense bronbelasting” and “zal het niet-ingezeten fonds moeten tracen welke ontvangen dividenden hij dooruitdeelt”. Naar correct Nederlands vertaald “indien van toepassing” en “traceren”. These words were not English legal jargon without Dutch counterparts. Dutch people have a hand in polluting their own language with unnecessary English. It’s a pity to see that even the Supreme Court is affected by this disease.

Lili, Howick, Harbers and discretionary authority

Earlier this month Mark Harbers, State Secretary for Justice and Security, decided to use his discretionary authority to grant Lili and Howick permanent residency in the Netherlands. I had hoped that the Secretary would be just as uncompromising in this matter as the cabinet is with its plan to abolish the dividend tax. I’m disappointed that Harbers doesn’t have a spine.

Some facts first: Lili (12) and Howick (13) live in the Netherlands since 2008 but are Armenian nationals. Their case was heard eight times by the courts and eight times the judgment was that they did not have a right to asylum in the Netherlands. Armenia is a safe country after all. Their mother had been deported to Armenia in 2017. Because she did not tell were her children were in hiding she was deported without them.

Of course, if you grew up in the Netherlands like Lili and Howick it will be difficult to integrate in Armenia. But difficult is not impossible: if the refugees who come to the Netherlands are able to integrate here, Lili and Howick should be able to integrate in Armenia, right? On their return to Armenia Lili and Howick would have to live in an orphanage for six months because their mother couldn’t care for them. If comfort in the country of return becomes a criterion, we might as well grant every asylum seeker from Africa or the Middle East a permanent residence permit. A quick look at the statistics of forced departures shows that plenty of people are deported to nasty countries where the level of welfare is far lower than in Armenia.

In the Netherlands it is possible to prolong deportation forever by appealing rulings time and time again. But does that make it our fault that Lili and Howick have become accustomed to life here? No! Their mother didn’t have to appeal every decision for years, that was a choice. She accepted the risk that it would lead to denial of residency in the end and should live with the consequences.

The decision of Lili and Howick to go into hiding was effectively a form of blackmail. The concern for their safety is what drove Mark Harbers to grant them a permanent residency permit. In their desperation Lili and Howick probably probably didn’t intend it so, but it’s still wrong. By giving in, Mark Harbers shows other asylum seekers that going into hiding will be rewarded.

What troubles me the most in this case is the very existence of the discretionary authority of the State Secretary. There are no rules for the use of that authority. The State Secretary can decide to grant permanent residency permits to those who have been denied one by the courts as he sees fit and without explanation. This introduces arbitrary decision making in the process. Asylum seekers like Lili and Howick, who are able to play the media and public opinion, do get a permit, while those who are not well-publicized are deported. The very reason we have judges is to prevent arbitrariness and decide objectively if the law was applied correctly. There should not be any discretionary authority with the executive branch to sweep aside rulings made by the legislative branch.

My sentiments about arbitrariness and the stimulation of going underground are apparently shared by the public servants of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service. Meanwhile a committee has been appointed to investigate how these sort of situations can be prevented. Apparently stacking legal procedures and appeals for years is hard to prevent because of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. If so, that treaty should be changed.

The abolition of the dividend tax

The plan of the Rutte III cabinet to abolish the dividend tax is continuously receiving negative attention in the media. The cabinet couldn’t deliver convincing evidence that the plan would have a positive effect on job creation. The plan also tears a hole of 2 billion in the budget.

Recently there was news that abolition of the dividend tax seemed to be necessary for legal reasons. Currently the Dutch dividend tax only affects foreign investors because Dutch investors can deduct the dividend tax from their tax return. Denmark had the same rule, but was sued by foreign investors. The European Court of Justice found in favor of the foreign investors because it considered the policy discriminatory. If the Dutch state would lose in a similar court case it would mean that foreign investors would be allowed submit a request for a tax refund as well. Because the Netherlands Tax and Customs Administration would not be able to deal with such a change, it would de facto necessitate abolishment of the the dividend tax. I don’t understand however why plan B – no tax refund for Dutch and foreign investors – is not possible.

I suspect the politicians of the VVD (the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, which is the largest party in the Rutte III) launched the plan because the lobby of the multinationals whispered it in their ears. According to the news item the legal argument may have been the real reason for Rutte III. It wouldn’t have been communicated openly because public servants had advised not to mention the legal aspect. It would have weakened the legal position of the Dutch state. Did Rutte III really create a smoke screen? Often the simple explanation is the better one: the VVD politicians are not political masterminds but the pawns of the multinationals. The lobby for this plan goes back for years and the legal dimension only entered the spotlight very recently.

Whatever the true reason may be, in principle no one likes discrimination? Certainly not if we are discriminated, as with the German road toll plan. This plan entails that foreigners pay tolls for the use of German highways, while Germans get a refund on their road tax for the tolls they pay. At the end of last year the Dutch state decided to join other EU member states in a legal case against Germany at the European Court of Justice. Is it not consistent then to deal with the dividend tax as well?

In the end, what really matters for me is if the abolition of the dividend tax is honestly compensated by higher taxes on capital and profit (specifically including corporate tax on the profits of companies). We will have to wait for the upcoming government budget later this month, but it does seem to go that way. The plan would be to cancel the intended reduction of the highest corporate tax to 21%. Instead, it would be reduced to 22% to compensate for the loss of the dividend tax.

The problem is that the highest tariff of the corporate tax currently is 25% and used to be 46%. The Netherlands allows itself to be dragged into a race to the bottom for tax competition along with other states. The idea is that corporate taxes should constantly be reduced because companies might relocate to other states where taxes are lower. Consider some statistics. The tax burden (total revenue of taxes as a percentage of the gross domestic product) has risen from 37,2% in 1995 to 38,5% in 2017. The revenue of the corporate tax as percentage of the gross domestic product rose from 2,87% in 1995 to 2,90% in 2017.

The tax burden evidently rose while the share of the corporate tax remained virtually unchanged. This small change is more grave in reality. The Netherlands Bureau of Policy Analysis (CPB) can partially explain the leveled revenues of the corporate tax with two causes. On the one hand the lowered tariffs were compensated by a broader tax base, caused by less room for tax deductions, depreciation and such. On the other hand there is a shift in the legal entity used by companies, for example from sole proprietorship to the private limited company (plc). A business using the sole proprietorship entity pays income tax and a plc pays corporate tax. Because corporate tax is lower, it is attractive to convert the sole proprietorship legal entity to a plc. The consequence is that revenues from the income tax take a hit.

The above is of course only a part of the answer because we only discussed corporate tax. Unfortunately I can’t find any good historical statistics on the division of the tax burden between companies and households. I have a strong suspicion that these would show that the share contributed by companies has decreased while the share contributed by households has increased. Lowering the corporate tax tariffs slightly less sharply is not going to solve the problem.

The tobacco smoking ban at street-level

On 3 August it was announced that the municipality of Rotterdam has plans to impose a ban on tobacco smoking for several streets. The Erasmus Medical Center, the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the Erasmiaans Gymnasium launched this initiative to protect public health. To guarantee that there will be no smoking in front of their entrances, there would effectively be a smoking ban on three streets near their buildings. Apparently other municipalities are also eager to designate non-smoking zones in their Algemene Plaatselijke Verordening (APV, a local ordinance in Dutch law).

Actually I’m surprised that smoking in public is still allowed. I suspect electoral motives are playing a role here. Because there are so many smokers, a ban on smoking could cost votes for the political parties who enact such a ban. Perhaps the fact that smoking is on a slow decline in the Netherlands is the reason that we are seeing more action on this issue today.

It’s strange that smoking is dealt with so weakly in comparison with other drugs. Take cannabis, a drug which poses a health risk roughly equal to or lower than tobacco. Smoking cannabis in public is already banned in most municipalities, who also use the APV for this. Or psilocybin mushrooms, mushrooms with a psychedelic effect. Even though these are not addictive and are barely harmful for public health, they were banned completely in 2008. By comparison tobacco is a mass murderer which faces almost no constraints.

We should distinguish between how damaging a drug can be for public space in theory and in practice. In an ideal situation we aren’t troubled by tobacco smokers who smoke at a good distance from other people. In practice however I see that many smokers on the bus stations and platforms of Utrecht Centraal don’t keep that distance. They smoke close to other groups of people waiting for the train or bus, who still receive second-hand smoke.

Many smokers also throw their cigarette butts on the street because cleaning up is too much work for them. The excuse is probably that they can’t throw a cigarette which isn’t extinguished in the litter bin. When I recently seated myself on a bench in a park in The Hague during my lunch break, I noticed the ground around the bench was littered with cigarette butts. It looked like they had accumulated there over some days or weeks. Apart from that smoking in public always gives a bad example to children.

This ambition to ban smoking in public comes late, but is very welcome. I do hope that we can institute a nationwide ban on smoking in public instead of having to wait for every individual municipality in our country to take action. There is no reason why smoking should be banned in some streets in Rotterdam while it would still be allowed on the Grote Marktstraat in The Hague.

Because a complete smoking ban might play into the hands of illegal production and criminals, I don’t wouldn’t advocate a complete smoking ban. I would treat tobacco roughly equal to cannabis, assuming that cannabis production will probably be legalized in the near future. So only legal sale in coffee shops (so no tobacco sale in super markets and such!) and use banned in public.

How to talk to a colleague about strained collaboration?

A month ago I wrote that I had found a new job with ID Ware and had difficulties in collaborating with a specific colleague there. I planned to have a conversation with him about it to solve the problem, but I kept postponing it because I dreaded the idea. This continued until a workday at the end of July, when the colleague in question was giving serious criticism. His complaints he addressed at me about the timely processing of customer support requests where the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. To my own frustration I didn’t have enough time for customer support due to other tasks.

I was about to explode, but remained calm and asked the colleague if he had time for a private conversation about our collaboration in a few hours. Those extra hours proved useful to me to calm down. Because the conversation could easily degrade the relationship further if I handled it poorly, I considered the conversation tactics I would follow.

First the most important one: don’t assume bad intentions. Even though you might experience the interactions of a colleague as structurally negative and disdainful, it doesn’t mean the collegue intended it so. Many people, myself included, often don’t understand what kind of impression they leave with others. This means it’s better to ask a question like “are you dissatisfied with our collaboration?” instead of more closed questions which make assumptions. Such as for example the question “why can’t you work together with me?”, which presupposes that colleague can’t stand you. I was surprised to hear that my colleague didn’t have an issue with me.

With this knowledge you can continue to talk about the impression the communication of your colleague leaves with you. Do this without making any claims, for example don’t say “you are constantly complaining about me” which comes across as accusative. Focus on the fact that it’s about your impression or interpretation and leave out the intent of your colleague. If you say “I get the impression that you are always dissatisfied with my work” it’s easier for the colleague to say that this isn’t correct. The colleague will likely understand that he should tone down his criticism and convey it better.

Try to give examples of recent interactions with the colleague which you considered uncomfortable. This makes the issues easier to understand. On one issue, my colleague’s tendency to micromanage me and others, I couldn’t mention clear and recent examples. We saved it for later discussion if necessary, but because I mentioned it I did get the idea that the message landed.

Some smaller problems are quickly solved. My colleague promised to use my complete first name instead of “Alex” and to avoid the “what do you think yourself?” question if I discussed a problem with him.

To conclude, it is important to remember that not only the colleague should change, but you as well. I promised that I would bundle my questions more so that I would ask him for help only once or twice during the day. I sometimes have the tendency to ask questions too often, which interrupts my colleagues in their work too frequently.  I would perform a more comprehensive investigation before I presented a problem to him. Though he didn’t ask for it, I said I would write more documentation to explain complex procedures. If the documentation is good, the assistance of the colleague is needed less often.

Do we still dare to speak out against anti-social behavior?

In July I enjoyed a weekend of holiday in the Dutch province of Zeeland with my family. At one moment I was riding a bicycle with my brother, his wife, their baby and Stephanie in northern direction over the Oosterscheldekering and we arrived at a sluice called the Roompotsluis. Both bridges over this sluice are not wide enough to allow simultaneous passage of two cars, yet traffic from both directions is allowed. So drivers have to allow other drivers to pass if they arrive at the bridge at the same time.

At the moment we arrived at the eastern bridge over this sluice two drivers wanted to pass over the bridge. From the norther direction came a car with an older couple, around sixty years of age. From the southern half a Mercedes Benz SUV drove on, with a couple approximately fifty years old. Both drivers obviously wanted to pass the bridge first and didn’t want to let the other pass first. Both stopped on the bridge itself, with the noses of their cars facing each other.

While we drove on the bridge the driver of the Mercedes Benz stepped out to do something about the impasse that had arisen. I could have thought of many ways to solve the situation with good deliberation. Throw a coin, be the first to guess a number under ten. Or just simply giving the other driver some room and letting them pass first. But Mercedes man had other ideas. He stepped out, walked over to the other driver’s opened window and said approximately “I was first and if you don’t make way now I’ll do something to you”. I didn’t follow exactly what happened next, but it looked like the other driver didn’t say anything in response. In any case, the Mercedes man walked back to his car and the other driver drove backwards.

While he was walking back to his car we passed him at the center of the bridge. For some reason it always takes some time before these kinds of stressful situations with anti-social behavior register with me. A few seconds later we had passed the bridge and I said we should have told the Mercedes man that his behavior was unacceptable. My brother and his wife responded that they had ignored the event because my brother was vulnerable with their baby in the cargo bicycle. And because the Mercedes man could later use his car to ram us off the road.

I’m ashamed of myself for doing nothing, because I don’t consider my ‘freezing’ to be an excuse. In my rich fantasy the event keeps replaying, with alternative endings based on how I respond. In one version I have such a commanding presence that I convince the Mercedes man to apologize to the other driver for his threat. In another version I seethe with anger as soon as I hear the threat being uttered. I grab the Mercedes man by the collar and shake him up while I, screaming, make him clear how far he has crossed the line. Then the Mercedes man feels for himself what it is like to be on the receiving end of intimidation.

It is reasonable to consider whether intervention in this kind of situation is wise or not. If a group of drunk people passes me at night in a deserted street and exhibits aggressive behavior I would also avoid them and call the police at a safe distance. However, I get the idea that we make to choice against intervention too easily. The Mercedes man wasn’t drunk and was accompanied by his wife in his car. In the unlikely event of a fight I or my brother would have easily gotten the better of him. It didn‘t seem likely that he would damage his expensive car to ram us off the road a moment later. He behaved sufficiently rational to realize that his license plate would have been remembered. If every one of us in our group would have spoken out against his threat he most likely would have been scared off.

All of this is of course reasoning in hindsight, but the question is what kind of society we want to live. A risk averse society in which everyone has to fend for themselves, or a society in which we dare to stand up for strangers? De other driver who was intimidated by the Mercedes man must have seen us abandoning him. We can always think of some reason why we shouldn’t address others if their behavior is out of line. But what if you were that other driver? Would you have had sympathy for a group of cyclists who pass you and act as if they hear no threatening language?

I remember an event from about fifteen years ago quite well. When I was walking through the center of Culemborg a man on a moped was driving aggressively through the traffic. He snapped at a woman on a bicycle that she had to move out of the way. Almost directly he was called out on his behavior by another man on a bike, who told him resolutely that his behavior was detestable. The man on the moped, obviously surprised, drove along calm and quiet. There were more people around, but the man on the bicycle was the only one who intervened. My memory of this event is so clear because I look up to this man. Someone who, given an acceptable risk, stands up for others and reprimands bad behavior without freezing.

Why an apology for slavery should not be made

On 30 June the mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, called on the Dutch government to make a formal apology for the Dutch slave trade. De Dutch state had expressed its regret for the slave trade before, but it never came to an apology out of fear for possible legal responsibility. There are several reason why I think a formal apology is not a good idea.

At the very least I think it is ironic that just Aboutaleb with his Berber origin calls for an apology. The Barbary pirates from North Africa undertook slave raids to Europe from the 16th to 19th century to enslave Europeans. Where is his call to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to formally apologize to the European countries for their slave trade? Of course Europeans have traded far more slaves than the Berbers, but that is not the point. It’s just an interesting question, not an appeal to hypocrisy towards Aboutaleb.

Europeans nowadays don’t demand an apology from North African countries for their slave trade from the past. Indigenous Dutch people nowadays don’t demand an apology from Spain because their distant ancestors were killed during the Eighty Years’ War due to the actions of the Spanish Empire. The Spanish Empire never compensated the United Provinces for the damage. Apparently these people do realise that you shouldn’t keep pulling on the distant past.

There are of course other situations possible were an apology is appropriate. The most important criterium should be if the people who demand the apology actually suffered from the acts for which an apology is asked. The killings perpetrated by Dutch soldiers in the Indonesian village Rawagede and in South Sulawesi in 1946 and 1947 are a good example. The widows of the men who were killed at that time were compensated for the damage and received an official apology.

It should be noted that the Dutch politicians who were responsible for the violent suppression of the Indonesian War of Independence are no longer alive. An apology loses value if it is not made by those who were responsible for the misdeeds. In this case the responsibility is more abstract because the apology is made on behalf of the Dutch state as a legal entity. This does not affect the necessity of the apology however.

Compare this with the situation of the slave trade by the Dutch. Among the people who demand an apology from the Dutch state, there is no one who has suffered from slavery and they did not have parents who have been slaves. In which way were they damaged by the slavery? How will an apology make them sleep easier at night? I can’t help but think that these people want an apology so that they can hold the Dutch government responsible in the court of law and then demand financial compensation through lawsuits.

Visited Sardinia in June 2018

For our summer holiday of 2018 we wanted to go to a place with a lot of good beaches. One reason was that we had to go in warm month of June, another was that Stephanie is pregnant. This meant frequent long walks through cities or nature were not an option. The destination also had to be relatively close by, so that we didn’t need to drive more than one day with our car. This made Sardinia an attractive option. The schedule was as follows:

  • Fri 08 Car from The Hague (5:00) to Toulon (18:00), ferry from Toulon (20:00) to Porto Torres.
  • Sat 09 Arrival at Porto Torres (8:00), Alghero, Grotta di Nettuno, Spiaggia di Porto Ferro, Sassari.
  • Sun 10 Sassari, Spiaggia di Platamona.
  • Mon 11 Asinara, Spiaggia della Pelosa, Sassari.
  • Tue 12 Castelsardo, Spiaggia di Rena Bianca, Arzachena.
  • Wed 13 Tempio Pausania, Nuraghe Maiori, Arzachena.
  • Thu 14 Porto Pollo (wind surfing), Arzachena.
  • Fri 15 Palau (boat tour), Arzachena.
  • Sat 16 Olbia, Cala Brandinchi, San Teodoro.
  • Sun 17 Spiaggia La Cinta, Nuoro.
  • Mon 18 Serra Orrios, Grotta di Ispinigoli, Dorgali, Nuoro.
  • Tue 19 Spiaggia di Sos Dorroles, Nuoro.
  • Wed 20 Cala Gonone (boat tour), Nuoro.
  • Thu 21 Nuraghe Santu Antine, Monte d’Accoddi, Porto Torres, Spiaggia della Pelosa, Porto Torres.
  • Fri 22 Ferry from Porto Torres (7:15) to Barcelona (19:00), car to Salou.
  • Wed 27 Car from Salou to The Hague.

We chose to use the car this time because it meant we didn’t need to rent one on Sardinia. Our own car was also nicer to drive because we had bought a good second-hand Toyota Prius in January. It also allowed us to take along more luggage because we didn’t have carry everything with us in a train. The car is a lot cheaper than the train, it cost us around € 110 for petrol and € 65 for road tolls to get from The Hague to Toulon. The train is much faster (7 hours and 41 minutes from Den Haag HS to Gare de Toulon) but would have cost us around € 350 for two people. Boarding the ferry with or without a car makes a difference of about € 20. And then I haven’t considered the costs of car rental yet.

Of course it didn’t feel good to use a car from an environmental perspective, but it was my compromise with Stephanie. But even if we did use the train, we still would have faced the huge black fumes coming from the exhaust pipe of the ferry. In theory we could have used the train and then a sailboat to travel to Sardinia, but the options I’ve seen for sailboats were very expensive.

Sardinia doesn’t offer as much with regards to culture as other regions of Italy. Alghero and Olbia have two good archeological museums (the one in Sassari lacked good presentation). The city centers of Alghero and Sassari are certainly worth visiting, especially Sassari because it is less popular with tourists (don’t visit Sassari on Sunday like us though, because most sights will be closed). Apart from cities, you will find many interesting prehistoric Nuragic sites scattered through the countryside. Some of these sites such as Nuraghe Santu Antine can be quite elaborate. The relatively smaller offer of culture didn’t bother us because we expected this and the abundance of beautiful beaches compensated for that.

Piazza Regina Margherita in Olbia

As for beaches, Sardinia made good on all expectations. I’ve visited great beaches in Puglia and Calabria, but in Sardinia they are more frequent and have a more consistent quality. The photos I’ve uploaded don’t do them justice, in reality they are even more georgeous. I loved swimming in the crystal clear waters, with such beauty I did not see any need to visit the best beaches in the tropics. What I enjoyed most was learning the basics of wind surfing in a day at Porto Pollo, with the company MB Pro Center. It was too bad I had planned just one day for this. I’d like to visit Sardinia again in the future. I intend to reserve more time then for snorkeling, kiteboarding and sailing, for which there was no space in the plan. I’d love to sail in the Maddalena archipelago with more freedom. This holiday we chose one of the motorized boats departing from Palau, but it catered to a large group of tourists and only went down the trodden paths.

Cala Brandinchi

As for other outdoor activities, there is a fair share of interesting caves to visit. We had to skip visits to Tiscali and Gola Su Gorropu, Europe’s ‘Grand Canyon’, due to the long hikes in the hot weather. I hope to visit these in the future. On the other hand I would have scrapped Castelsardo from the schedule. It has a castle on a tall hill, but its interior and the view from the top weren’t very interesting. I thought Tempio Pausania and Dorgali would be worthwhile because they lie in the interior, far away from the tourists, but there wasn’t much worth seeing there. You can buy some good wine though at Cantina Gallura and Cantina Dorgali respectively. In the interior, Nuoro is a larger city with more substantial sights.

Of course you can‘t have it all. For me Sardinia’s main disadvantage was the food. It wasn’t bad, but I consider the food of the other regions of Southern Italy to be clearly superior. The cuisine is rather carnivorous and vegetarian or vegan options are limited. Order a dish with fava beans and there’s a change it might include lard. I haven’t eaten a single satisfying fish dish during my whole holiday. Maybe it was just a matter of bad luck and I had to look better. I do recommend Agriturismo Candela near Arzachena and Agriturismo Li Mori in San Teodoro for offering tasty food for a good price in a nice decor, these places are most memorable for me.

At the end of our stay in Sardinia we took a ferry to Barcelona and then went to a camping in Salou were Stephanie’s parents were staying. The company was good, but I don’t like camping for long. That camping was far too massive for my taste as well. Salou is only good for mass tourism and lacks any authenticity. I would like to see more of other parts of Spain though. I’m not sure were we will go for our holiday next year, but I’m leaning towards Hossegor in southwestern France for some good surfing.

Cala Luna, looking north

The Histories

With my bachelor in History I’ve desired for a long time to read the work of Herodotus, who is often called the father of History. He wasn’t covered in detail during my bachelor’s program, but he is described as the first who used a critical investigative method to write history rather than destiny or the will of the gods. His work covers the expansion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire and how it was halted by the Greeks. During my holiday I finally got around to finish reading it (and the extensive footnotes with scientific commentary on his work).

As you read The Histories, you often see passages where Herodotus analyzes different accounts of specific events. If he reports stories which he considers dubious, he argues why these are unlikely to be true or should be be dismissed. If he can’t decide which version is true, he leaves the judgment to the reader.

The Achaemenid Empire and the Greeks are the red thread in the work, but Herodotus often deviates from this red thread. Often because he provides long geographical, ethnographical, historical and zoological descriptions on the regions which make up or are invaded by the Achaemenid Empire. Some of these are rather long-winded and boring.

At several points it becomes clear that Herodotus hasn’t traveled to all those regions himself, such as when he describes the hippopotamus in Egypt. You’ll understand why people call him unreliable as he reports on the bizarre cultural practices of some exotic tribes, Arabian flying snakes and Scythian werewolves. While some of his stories are fantastical, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss all of it. The giant Indian gold-digging ants have actually been identified with marmots, for example.

Herodotus doesn’t just write history, he writes to entertain his audience with a good story as well. This is obvious in his impossibly detailed descriptions of dialogues. Sometimes this entertainment seems to be detrimental to historical accuracy. For example when an ophthalmologist sent by the Egyptian pharaoh to the Persian king is (indirectly) the cause for the Persian invasion of Egypt. Herodotus doesn’t mention anything about the strategic reasons for the invasion. It’s like believing the abduction of Helen was the real or sole reason for the Trojan War. Even so, there is always a core of truth in his work.

In the second half of The Histories the pace is picked up as it focuses more on the war between the Persians and the Greeks. The Persian king Darius and his successor Xerxes have many ambitious and manipulative subordinates who work more to further their own goals instead of what benefits the empire. They do have a fair share of good advisers to which they listen. To the amusement of the reader the kings more often follow the bad advice of their underlings who seek career advancement!

The amusement of Persian bad judgment is varied with Greek fortitude. You become inspired when the Greeks settle their internal conflicts and form a unified front against the Persian threat. You are deeply impressed by the Greek self-sacrifice in their last stand at Thermopylae. You feel glorious when the Greeks win a heroic victory at Salamis in spite of the low odds, as if your favorite just won sports a championship. You rejoice as the Persians are punished for their overconfidence! Like the ancient Greek audience of Herodotus, you will love the hubris and the inevitable punishment it calls for. If you’re from Iran though you’d probably say the Athenians started it when they pillaged Sardis.

The irony of history is that eventually Athens itself would fall victim to hubris, when it started to oppress the other Greek cities through its foundation of the Delian League. Athens got its just deserts with the disaster of its Sicilian Expedition and its defeat in the Peloponnesian War.

Herodotus may be the father of history, but he is also rooted in his own time and culture. He obviously believes that humans have agency and can steer history without divine intervention. But that does not mean the gods play no part. In The Histories divine vengeance or tisis for the sacrilegious acts of some Persians (and occasionally Greeks) is a common theme. An example are the storms which batter the Persian fleet.

Speaking of Greek religion, Herodotus reports extensively on revelations and predictions of the future given by oracles. Like his contemporaries, he believes in the ability of oracles. His report that an oracle was bribed by the Spartan king Cleomenes for a favorable prediction doesn’t damage that belief. However, as modern readers we know that predicting the future isn’t possible and all oracular predictions must have been made up after the predicted events happened. Herodotus isn’t alone in this, as many Greek and Roman historians have used the same literary device. But how did they reconcile their genuine belief in oracles with this reality of ex eventu oracular predictions? Google Scholar doesn’t provide me answers.

Switched from Samsung Galaxy S7 to the iPhone 6

My previous employer FRISS provided me with a mobile phone I could use privately as well. This was needed for their work from home policy and the occassional standby shift. My new employer ID Ware doesn’t do those things, so it was not unreasonable that they didn’t provide me with a phone. Because it was expensive to take over the Samsung Galaxy S7 which I used while working for FRISS, I decided to look for a new phone.

The subscription FRISS had with T-Mobile allowed some choice in different phones. Among the phones with Google Android, the Samsung Galaxy S7 phones stood out as the best choice. The iPhones required an hefty extra payment, so I chose the Galaxy S7.

While the Galaxy S7 was a great phone from a hardware point of view, I didn’t like the software. Apart from the obvious spying on your personal data by Google, the phone came crammed full of bloatware by Samsung. Some of which you couldn’t uninstall. Samsung has a annoying habit of supplying their phones with their own alternative apps for the standard Android software (such as the web browser and calendar) which add nothing. They also have a bad reputation for ending regular security updates for their phones quite soon. There are of course other manufacturers which sell phones which do run stock Android and do receive security updates for a reasonable amount of years after the phone was released. But you haven’t solved the spying problem then.

Installing a custom ROM on your Android phone, like LineageOS, doesn’t solve the problem either. I’m not aware of all the details, but the fact that you will have to deal with lower photo quality of the Galaxy S7 is a deal breaker for me. And you will still need to install Google software which spies on you if you want to use the Android app store. It’s too much uncertainty and work. I wanted something which is (relatively) privacy friendly, bloatware free and easy to use.

My choice was a refurbished iPhone 6 from Forza, included in a Tele2 contract with unlimited calling/SMS’ing and 2 GB of data per month for € 22. Paying € 1.000 for the new iPhone X, even though it has that nice OLED screem (and that silly notch!) is madness. But € 22 a month is barely more than I paid for a SIM-only subscription in the past, which excluded a phone.

A brief remark about Tele2: avoid them. I found my number was published in the phone directory, online and on paper, without my permission. Their helpdesk doesn’t have a clue how this could happen and they didn’t compensate me in any way. I submitted a complaint for this with the Dutch Data Protection Agency.

Not too long ago there was a critical investigation by the Dutch Consumer’s Association which slammed refurbished phones. They found that these phones can be badly repaired with second-rate components and aren necessarily much cheaper than new phones. Forza got a bad review too. In my case I have nothing to complain, my refurbished iPhone 6 works fine.

I expected that I would miss the great OLED screen of the Galaxy S7 on the iPhone 6, but this didn’t happen. In the majority of my use cases the screen doesn’t have to display a lot of black color and it isn’t used in dark environments, so I don’t notice the lack of an OLED screen much. On the software side iOS is much more pleasant than Android, no spying and bloatware. The sporadic app you can’t remove such as Apple Health doesn’t really get in the way or take up a lot of storage. No problem if you want to set DuckDuckGo as the default search provider in the Safari web browser (it’s not possible in Google Chrome on Android).

However, Apple wouldn’t be Apple if it wouldn’t combine it’s superior product design with its fair share of dick moves. For example their negligence in keeping their web browser engine WebKit up to date with the latest web standards. Usually this is no issue because you could install a different web browser with a different engine, but Apple is actively blocking anything else from WebKit being used on iOS. This reached the news after the French software company Nexedi sued Apple for this. This was in 2016 and while WebKit is still the only option on iOS, I’m not up to date on the current web standards compliance of WebKit.

Another one is that Apple refuses to implement support for the open and cross-plaform Vulkan graphics API on iOS, in favor of their own closed Metal graphics API. Metal was released in 2014 while Vulkan was not finished yet (it was in 2016), Apple might have legitimately thought that Vulkan was taking too long. But for some time now Vulkan has been accepted as the open standard for graphics and is frequently used on Linux and Android. While it’s not visible to the consumer, Apple is effectively screwing all those developers who have to convert their software from Vulkan to Metal if they want to release it for iOS. If the life of developers is unnecessarily made more difficult the consumer is disadvantaged indirectly.

Then there is the inability to use another app store than the Apple App Store (not the case on Android). Apple says it wants to protect its users, but that doesn’t justify restriction of freedom. They could easily give a warning that there are no safety guarantees once users add other app stores. The real reason is of course that they want a monopoly on paid iOS apps so they can reap more profits. Just like Google they take a share of app store transactions. My solution for this is simply refusing to buy anything from the Apple App Store. I don’t need any paid apps anyway.

I could mention the fact that iOS is not open source, meaning there is no opportunity to create custom ROM’s for iOS. The more complex reality is that while Android is open source, many Android apps are not. They are now close source as part of a deliberate strategy by Google to make the open source Android unattractive. Presented with this choice, I value privacy more than software freedom, hence my choice for Apple. I think I’ve made it clear now that I merely consider Apple the best choice out of two bad choices.