The West should no longer allow itself to be intimidated by Russia

On 22 April Russia announced that it would pull back a large part of its troops near the eastern border of Ukraine. Earlier this year Russia had built up a military force of 100,000 there, apparently with the goal to intimidate Ukraine. The self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are located on the eastern border of Ukraine, which rebelled against Ukraine several years ago. We know that Russia provided military support to these rebels (which Russia continues to deny) and enthusiastically provided the inhabitants there with Russian passports. Now Russia’s argument is that it wants to protect its citizens in these rebellious provinces of Ukraine. Russia threatens Ukraine with war if Ukraine would attempt to bring these provinces back under control or if the West gets involved in the situation.

When Russia provided military support to its ally Syria during the Syrian Civil War in 2015, things were different. The West complained that Russia was aiding an authoritarian regime which was violating human rights on a large scale, but implicitly recognized that Russia had a right to help her ally. The West didn’t issue threats that Russian aid to Syria would lead to war between the West and Russia. And now the West does allow itself to be intimidated by Russia if it wants to aid her ally Ukraine? And it doesn’t respond to Russia’s closure of the Strait of Kerch for foreign navy vessels, so that Ukraine’s navy is denied access to its own territorial waters in the Sea of Azov?

Russia can’t have it both ways. If Russia thought it could help Syria, there should be no problem if the West would send military aid to Ukraine to put down the revolt in Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia closes the Strait of Kerch for ships of foreign navies? Then NATO-member Turkey can close the Bosporus for the Russian navy. The West could have done so sooner, as part of more serious sanctions to force Russia to end its occupation of the Crimea. Let Germany stop with building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, for example. We seem to have forgotten that Russia simply conquered the Crimea from Ukraine and that there was never any strong response with sanctions from the West. The sanctions that were implemented did not impress Russia.

An invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk can be justified because Russia continues to claim that it was not involved with those uprisings, but the Crimea was occupied by Russia itself. Because military action against the Crimea can lead to a large military conflict with Russia it seems better to choose the route of sanctions there. Even if that military conflict would come, Russia would be at a disadvantage against the combined military forces of the EU-member states, if we are to believe Binkov’s Battlegrounds. And that doesn’t even include the USA yet, which would of course come to the aid of the EU in such a conflict. Hopefully such a war would remain a conventional conflict without nuclear weapons, but the bottom line is that the West is the one which should be intimidating Russia rather than the other way around.

The depravity of the Chinese Communist Party

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) never had a good human rights record. But in the last decade, it reached a new and very deep low point. During these years the extent of the suppression of the Muslim Uyghur people in Xinjiang (the most northwestern region of China) was revealed step by step. What was most memorable for me was the publication of leaked Chinese government documents by the New York Times in 2019. These documents revealed that China had started a systematic campaign to crack down on the Uyghur people after an Islamist terrorist attack in Xinjiang in 2014. By 2019, China had already locked up nearly a million Uyghurs in prisons, where they are brainwashed into abandoning their religion. The documents make it clear that China’s head of state, Xi Jinping, had ordered the clampdown. After this more disturbing news trickled in gradually. Even small ‘slights’ such as wearing a veil or a beard are sufficient reason for detainment. Furthermore, there have been reports that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are abused as forced labor on cotton fields, that Uyghur women are forcibly sterilized and that there is systematic torture and rape in the detention camps.

In response to the news about the prosecution of the Uyghurs, the USA (both the Trump and Biden administrations) declared it to be genocide. Soon afterwards Canada became the second country to do so. My own country, The Netherlands, was the third. Just like in Canada however, it was only the parliament which recognized it as genocide, not the government. The Dutch government was more careful because the United Nations or an international court have not declared it to be genocide yet. Until then it prefers to speak of human rights violations. While the bar may be high for genocide, there is a British legal opinion which argues that the case for genocide is strong.

Remember that Muslims worldwide have been angered by relatively minor mistreatment in the past. The publication of Muhammad cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 were sufficient for massive protests in the Islamic world and a boycott. The publication of the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims was widely denounced in the Islamic world and sparked large protests. Another case is Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian women who was accused of blasphemy against Islam and who was ultimately acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2018. Again hordes of radical Muslims were foaming in the mouth, called for her death and started rioting. I could give many more examples, of course.

What amazes me perhaps even more than the cruelty of the Uyghur persecution is that China can get away with it. If the West would suppress Muslims like China did, it would face complete outrage of the Islamic world. Fatwas and terror attacks would justifiably rain down on our heads. With China as the perpetrator, the Islamic world stays silent. Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE don’t want to offend China and don’t allow their state media to report on the matter. Pakistan’s government and even its Islamist groups stay silent. Turkey is still seriously considering the ratification of an extradition treaty with China.

It turns out that there is no solidarity in the Islamic world. Muslim-majority states just allow themselves to be seduced by China’s economic power. It’s extreme irony that the West is more invested in standing up for the human rights of the Uyghurs than the Islamic world. Let’s hope that the USA, Canada and the Netherlands gather allies among other democratic states, and eventually Muslim countries as well, to form a front against China. There should be sanctions and we should work on reducing our dependence on Chinese supply chains. We can take action ourselves by avoiding products which are made in China. This is difficult, but for example Samsung doesn’t produce phones anymore in China. Avoiding the Chinese cars which are sold more often in Europe these days is comparatively more simple.

The future is hard to predict. If there will ever rise a more democratic tide in China, I hope those responsible for the prosecution of the Uyghurs won’t be able to escape Lady Justice. Maybe her balance and sword will be unexpectedly strict and sharp for Xi Jinping then. Xi Jinping is a scoundrel who should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court here in The Hague, along with his band of degenerate cronies in the CCP.

Apple’s annoying insistence on Lightning

Three years ago I bought my refurbished iPhone 6 for € 168. I thought that was a great deal for a phone which doesn’t spy on me, unlike Google Android phones. However, when iOS version 13 was released in 2019 the iPhone 6 was no longer supported. This is unfortunate but not unreasonable given that it was released in 2014. I’ve also seen white spots appear on the screen. I still use it daily, but given these factors and advancements in more recent phones I’m considering to buy a new phone.

The iPhone 6 still used a LCD screen rather than an OLED screen, even though OLED screens were already used for years in phones from other manufacturers such as Samsung. Because Apple was so late to adopt OLED screens I wasn’t tempted to buy a newer iPhone. They finally did adopt OLED with the iPhone X, which was released in 2017. A refurbished iPhone X can now be bought for € 300 up to € 400, or at half that price from second hand trading websites. Much more expensive than my iPhone 6, but still acceptable.

What is not acceptable to me is that Apple still hasn’t switched from its proprietary Lightning connector to the open USB-C standard used by pretty much every other Android phone. I’m sick of having to deal with separate cables for USB-C and Lightning. It makes no sense because Apple did switch to USB-C on its Macs, Macbooks and iPads. It seems like they are trying to make more money with selling accessories which are compatible with Lightning.

The latest rumors on the iPhone 13 suggest that the Lightning port will be dropped entirely in favor of a portless phone with wireless charging. Apple would use their MagSafe standard for this, which is already implemented in the iPhone 12. MagSafe is both a terrible name and a terrible idea.

It’s a terrible name because its confusing. After all, MagSafe was also the name for the magnetically attached power connector for MacBook laptops. It was discontinued between 2016 and 2019 in favor of the USB-C port. Because that’s still quite recent many will wonder which of the two products is meant. Ford has also done this with their Mustang Mach-E. When I heard about that car I first thought it was a new generation of their well-known sports car, but it turned out to be an electric crossover SUV. The marketeers at Apple and Ford who came up with these names should be fired for their idiocy.

It’s a terrible idea because wireless charging is both more expensive, slower and more inefficient than corded charging. Testing revealed that wireless charging consumes about 47% more power on average than a cable. If everyone would start charging their phones wirelessly it would require significantly more electricity to be generated. When Apple decided to exclude the charger from the iPhone 12 box is was blathering about how environmentally friendly they were because it reduced e-waste and allowed them to fit more iPhones in a shipping container. However, if they decide to force wireless charging on us it’s actually a big middle finger to sustainability. And for what benefit? A MagSafe charger, which still needs to be connected to an AC power socket with a cable.

Fortunately the European Commission (EC) agrees with me. According to a news article it seems like a draft law will be published later this year to force phone makers to adopt a single charging standard. Hopefully this would effectively mean that Apple would be forced to adopt USB-C. The same article also mentions that the EC is also critical of the low efficiency of wireless charging. I like the activism of the EC in this. Given that they also banned inefficient vacuum cleaners some years ago, I hope they will also ban the silly wireless charging options in phones.

As for my new phone, I’m seriously considering to buy a Samsung Galaxy A51. At € 240 new, it comes with OLED and USB-C. I guess I’ll have to resort to the tricks documented on the Internet to remove all the compulsory bloatware and keep the spying to a minimum.

Review of the Ducky One keyboard

Back in 2014 I posted a review of the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate mechanical keyboard. I really liked this keyboard, but it has two disadvantages for me: it was a full size keyboard with a numpad and had appearance which was aimed at gamers. Because I never use the numpad and preferred a more formal look I decided to sell it and buy the Ducky One DKON1687. It’s mechanical keyboard as well, but it’s tenkeyless (TKL, or 80% of the width of a full size keyboard) so it doesn’t have the numpad.

The Ducky One DKON1687 uses the same Cherry MX brown switches for the keys as the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate. It is said that it depends on personal preference which types of switches are most desirable. Except for the Romer-G switches of the Logitech G613 keyboard I’ve never tried any other switches, so I can’t compare them well with other choices. All I can say is that I like the Cherry MX brown switches more than the Romer-G switches. Both are tactile switches, but I prefer the Cherry MX brown switches because they offer more resistance before they register a key press. I take complaints that the Cherry MX brown switches are relatively noisy for granted.

The fact that the Ducky One DKON1687 is a TKL keyboard is its key advantage for me. With the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate I occasionally bumped into the keyboard with my right hand on the mouse, which is uncomfortable. I don’t have a small desk, but it comes more natural that I don’t have to extend my right arm so far to the right as I used to. The Ducky One DKON1687 doesn’t have backlighting like the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate, but I’m not missing it at all. Backlighting is no more than a gimmick without added value. I can just turn on a light in my computer room or touch type if it’s too dark to distinguish the keys.

Unfortunately the Ducky One DKON1687 still isn’t the ultimate keyboard for me because it’s corded. I like the aesthetic of not having any wires running to the back of my desk. The Logitech G613 keyboard I mentioned is used by Stephanie and is wireless. It uses Logitech’s Lightspeed technology, which is very impressive. It has a delay of just 1 millisecond according to Logitech. This is practically indistinguishable or equivalent to a corded keyboard. Equally impressive is that the G613 can last for eighteen months on two AA batteries according to Logitech. It also uses a small wireless USB receiver, barely larger than the USB port itself, to connect the keyboard to a computer. Its appearance also matches well with the Logitech G603 wireless mouse, which is also used by Stephanie and uses Lightspeed too.

We can’t have it all though. The deal breaker for me is that the Logitech G603 is even larger than a full size keyboard because it contains a column of macro keys on the far left side. And then I haven’t even mentioned its unnecessarily large palm rest. The Logitech G613 is not ideal either because it contains a rough groove near the mouse wheel, which irritates the skin of my finger. The old Logitech G5 corded mouse which I currently use has a nicely finished edge near the mouse wheel which doesn’t do that, so I don’t understand the design choice.

Ducky One DKON1687 versus Logitech G613

More recently Logitech released the G915 TKL mechanical keyboard during the summer of 2020. This keyboard had a lot going for it because it is TKL with Lightspeed, backlighting and low profile switches. But once again I’m disappointed: it contains an internal battery which lasts for forty hours with the backlight at 100%. While we can assume that the battery will last longer if the backlight is disabled, my problem here is that the internal battery. Eventually the battery will degrade as it ages and become unusable. I assume it can’t be replaced, unlike the G603’s AA batteries. But my main gripe is with the price: at least € 220 for the black version with US QWERTY layout and tacticle switches. Total madness, considering that I paid € 90 for the Ducky One DKON1687 and € 100 for the Logitech G603.

I wish Logitech would just produce a TKL version of the G603, without the macro keys on the left and without the palm rest. They should also fix the rough edge near the G613’s mouse wheel as well. Alternatively, I hope Ducky would implement wireless technology in their TKL keyboards which could vie with Logitech’s Lightspeed technology.

As a job seeker I’m fed up with the Dutch government

After I was laid off by Neomax last year in April I was unemployed for some months. After some time I got a new job when the IT secondment company Tergos found me on LinkedIn. Through them I could start in July as an application manager with Viterra. I have much appreciation for how Tergos treated me, because they matched the salary that I earned at ID Ware International and offered an education budget of € 1.500 a year. The only thing which I don’t like is a condition in my contract which states that the contract ends if the customer (Viterra) decides to end my placement there. This condition is supposed to be removed if my contract is renewed in July.

In some way it is frustrating, that I applied for jobs so intensively during those three months without success and was then found by recruiters who could easily land me in a new job. It was no different with my last three jobs.

During those three months of unemployment I still thought that I would prefer a job as a policy advisor with an organization of the national government the most. It was my dream job which I wanted since I had graduated for my master’s degree in Public Administration in 2012. I was also looking for a job as an IT Service Manager, which was my second best option.

Since 2012 I have applied so many times for policy advisor jobs. Since that year I used a spreadsheet to keep track of the job applications I submitted. This was crucial to maintain an overview of the progress and response on my job applications. This spreadsheet contains 192 job applications, of which 70 or up to 90 were probably for policy advisor jobs.

A part of them led to job interviews. Sometimes I had the idea that I was doing well in an interview, but I never got past the first round of interviews. The fact that I had an excellent master’s thesis and a scientific publication on my resume didn’t appear to matter much. I don’t consider my skill in dealing with job interviews to be above average, I’d probably score slightly below average. When I asked the HR-departments of the Dutch government for feedback, one of the most important factors appeared to be that the amount of competition on the vacancies for policy advisors was ridiculous. Often several dozens of job applications for one vacancy.

For a long time I thought I would just continue on with applying for these jobs, if you persevere you win, right? By now I’m fed up with it and I think it was a mistake to study public administration. Because I held open the door to a job as a policy advisor for so long I started to lag behind in my IT career in terms of certifications and career development. Even though I currently earn a salary that is comparable to that of experienced university-educated policy advisors without any technical certifications in IT (just ITIL Practitioner, PRINCE2 Foundation and Professional Scrum Master I) I still consider this deficit to be damaging.

The point is that application managers have application specific knowledge which is not easily reused in other jobs and which adds little to a resume. That’s why I consider it so important to acquire more widely usable knowledge through the well-known technical certifications, such as those of Microsoft. If I put serious effort in getting certified I will become suitable for jobs which are substantively more interesting and which offer an even better salary. That’s why I’ve decided to target a job as Cloud Engineer with a specialization in Microsoft Azure, which is in high demand in the market now. By now I have so much experience in the IT sector on my resume that it would be a waste if I wouldn’t develop it further.

I might never be one of the 9% of Dutch employees who feel engaged with their job. For a long time it was my dream to be able to contribute to the common good, whether it was government policy to fight climate change, promoting the use of open standards or creating a budget. Unfortunately it is not to be for me, with a job in IT. I will probably remain part of the largest group of 80% of employees who function adequately, but who don’t have true passion for their job. This is not a bad thing, I would still be a capable Cloud Engineer even without intrinsic motivation for it.

About twenty years ago my father said that those who don’t have luck in the game, do have luck in love. He said this while he played a board game with us and was losing. Though he meant it more as a joke than being serious, it is true in my case. I have Stephanie as my loving wife and two daughters. All of us are healthy, we have sufficient financial resources, live in a nice house, in a good neighborhood, with a fun allotment garden near a beautiful beach.

I might not be able to get the satisfaction out of my work that I had hoped, but it didn’t stop me from finding other life goals. Like executing a ‘tube ride’ on my surfboard. Learning kiteboarding. Writing a ‘featured article’ for the English Wikipedia. Starting a YouTube channel with cooking video’s on Dutch and Indo cuisine. I have accepted that I’ll probably never get that dream job and have moved on.

Why is the UWV so incapable?

In my last message I wrote how my contract with Neomax was anulled before the trial period even started and how I became unemployed. I mention the refusal of unemployment benefits by the UWV (the Dutch governmental organization responsible for unemployment benefits) and how appealing their decision made them approve my benefits after all. Because I’m so dissatisfied with the way the UWV treated my request I will elaborate on what happened.

When Neomax brought me the bad news they asked me to agree with moving the start date to 1 May, a month later. Otherwise they would annul the contract based on the trial period. I doubted whether this was a good idea. Because Neomax called me after 17:00 on the last workday before the start of the contract I didn’t have much time to figure this out. I quickly read the website of the UWV and read something about culpable unemployment. I thought the UWV could interpret my agreement with moving the start date as culpable unemployment and this could mean I would lose my rights to unemployment benefits. That’s why I declined the offer to move the start date. Neomax annulled the contract and then signed a new contract with 1 May as the start date a few days later.

I quickly started applying for jobs elsewhere and requested employment benefits on 7 April. On 8 April the UWV requested more information, such as the employment contracts with Neomax and my last employer, which I submitted to them soon. On 22 April I was informed of their decision: my benefits were refused because I had quit my last job and they considered that unnecessary. They considered it to be my fault, according to case officer P. of the UWV. The letter was signed with the full name of P., but I’m not so full of rancor that I want to publish that here to have her digitally pilloried on this weblog.

The case officer meant that I should not have quit my job at ID Ware International. I questioned whether this was relevant – I had signed a contract for seven months with Neomax after all – and called the UWV over the phone to explain the situation. In the conversation I told them that Neomax offered better working conditions, like more possibilities for education and career development, even though the salary was lower. I also mentioned the fact that I had signed a new contract with Neomax for 1 May and had thus done what was possible to avert unemployment. The employee I spoke with said that the new contract could change the situation and that I would be called back the same day. Directly after that conversation I sent the new contract to the UWV as evidence.

When I had not been called back on Friday 24 April I decided to call them again. I was promised that I would be called back the same day and this time the UWV made true on its promise. The employee who called me back told me that my request could not be granted though, because the salary offered by Neomax was lower than for my last job at ID Ware International. That other employment conditions than the salary were better at Neomax didn’t matter for them. If it were up to the UWV there would effectively be no mobility in the labor market for those who don’t want to loose their rights to unemployment benefits.

During my bachelor’s and master’s programs in Public Administration I learned a few things about law, but not labor law. Knowledge about labor law was not present in my network and I didn’t have insurance for legal assistance. Fortunately, there’s a lot of free legal advice and analysis to be found on the Internet. After a search I found this article (in Dutch) at Intermediair. It states that only the prospect of an employment contract of at least 26 weeks is sufficient to retain ones’ rights to unemployment benefits. Prospect in the sense that it doesn’t matter if the employment contract does not last for 26 weeks, for example if the employee is laid off in the trial period.

Elsewhere on the Internet there are comparable analyses and there are references to jurisprudence from 2009. For those who are not familiar with law, jurisprudence (or case law) is the body of existing rulings of judges which often create a precedent for future rulings. The ruling from 2009 shows many parallels with my case: the UWV blames a tailor for losing her right to unemployment benefits because she accepted a new job with a flexible contract and a salary which was not higher than at her previous job with a permanent contract. This employee was laid off shortly after her contract started. The Administrative High Court (‘Centrale Raad van Beroep’ in Dutch) dismissed the arguments of the UWV and ruled that only the 26 weeks criterium is relevant.

Armed with these legal analyses and jurisprudence I wrote an appeal to the UWV and submitted it on 28 April. On 18 May I was called by an UWV employee from the appeals department who agreed with my appeal. On 25 May I received a confirmation that my unemployment benefits were granted after all. On 11 June I received a letter with the message that my appeal was denied because it was already decided on 25 May to grant me unemployment benefits. Because the decision of 25 May was correct, my appeal was refused. My jaw dropped when I read this display of logic. The reasoning was ridiculous because I had filed an appeal against the decision of 22 April, not the one of 25 May. At first I interpreted this letter as childish mockery from an organization which didn’t want to admit its wrongdoing. Now I think it may have been an attempt to disguise the numbers on granted appeals, because the UWV might be using it as a performance indicator. Maybe those responsible within the UWV might want to avoid the negative consequences for them if it became clear that too many of their decisions would be appealed successfully.

In summary, the UWV knew about the 26 weeks criterium in 2009. Yet I still got three (!) UWV employees who used several different arguments that were not relevant for the question if I was entitled to unemployment benefits. The first employee mentioned my voluntary resignation from ID Ware, the second thought a new contract with Neomax might change things and then the third employee started about the lower salary of my new job. I don’t know about the other two, but I saw on LinkedIn that case officer P. had studied Communication at the University of Tilburg. I question why someone with a university degree would work at the UWV as a case officer for unemployment benefits, but she wouldn’t be lacking in intellectual capabilities.

My conclusion is that something is very wrong with the training and education of the employees of the UWV. Why was it relatively easy for me to find the jurisprudence that meant that I would be entitled to unemployment benefits while the UWV employees were not aware of it? What worries me most is that I’m highly educated, possess legal knowledge and have plenty of savings to weather a temporary lack of income, while many others who have to deal with the UWV don’t have that luxury. How many people would have been denied employment benefits on unfair grounds and didn’t have the knowledge to appeal the decision? My suspicion is that this number is way too high. It’s absolutely unacceptable that the UWV is so dysfunctional.

Why Arthur Muller isn’t a good leader

Hello Arthur. We never met, but your signature was written on the employment contract I signed on 25 February last year with Neomax. You are after all the director of this secondment agency in the IT-sector.

My last job as Support Engineer with ID-ware International in Den Haag offered a very good salary. I was less satisfied with the substance of the job however. Because it was a small organization I had to deal with matters like shipments, the warehouse, facility management and catering next to the main task in IT support. I noticed this job did not have enough focus on IT and these secundary activities didn’t bring added value to my CV. There were no career or training opportunities.

When I changed my LinkedIn profile to show interest in new job opportunities, one of your recruiters found me. After some good conversations I decided to sign the contract. I quit my job with a permanent contract and a very good salary for a contract of seven months and much less salary. I thought it was worth it because your company offered good training opportunities and a job in IT Service Management, which I considered valuable for the advancement of my career.

On 25 February almost no one saw the COVID-19 crisis coming to the Netherlands. As the start date of 1 April drew near, ominous news seeped in slowly. I was reassured by your recruiter and account manager that it would be all right. Until 31 March. It seemed like an early April Fools joke, but at this very short term you decided to annul the contracts with your new employees who would start with your company on 1 April. You couldn’t place these employees at your customers due to lack of work. Legally, the one month trial period in your employment contracts enabled you to annul the contracts before the trial period even started. Fortunately, we could sign a new contract with 1 May as the starting date.

I wasn’t surprised when I heard at the end of April that this contract would be anulled as well. After this there was no new contract, only the promise that one would be signed when I could be placed at one of your customers. This never happened, because after many job applications and arguing with the Dutch UWV over my unemployment benefits (which were only granted after appealing their decision), I found a new job in July. I never had concerns for my financial situation during my unemployment, but I wouldn’t wish it even on you to be unemployed for some months and live with such uncertainty.

Arthur, the impression I’ve gotten of you is that money is all that matters to you. You threw your employees under the bus without blinking because it was to your benefit. You made maximum use of the legal space you had to annul contracts before the trial period even started. In doing so, you broke the moral contract of trust that an employer and an employee should have in each other. I don’t know whether my impression is correct; you’ve never made any effort to contact me directly to explain your decision. You hid behind your employees, who you ordered to bring the bad news.

Watch this video video. And read this for more information on Barry-Wehmiller, the company mentioned in that video. Then reflect on your actions.

Had I been in your position I would have considered the options to prevent annulling contracts. As director I could have cut my own salary. I could have considered not to pay dividends to the shareholders. I could have asked existing employees to take voluntary unpaid leave. I don’t think you gave other options any consideration at all.

Suppose the other options were genuinely impossible. Then I could have helped the employees for who I no longer had work to find a job elsewhere. At the very least I could have called them in person to explain why I had to take this decision. Neomax isn’t a large company, the monthly influx of new employees may have been five or ten people at maximum. You could easily call those in one or two hours. Was it impossible to apply for the COVID-19 support measures for businesses which had been set up by the state? I don’t know because your employees were not informed about this. Even a minimal amount of effort was not worth your time.

In the best case you can get away with this as a company. The employees whose contracts have been annulled move on to other jobs elsewhere and it didn’t cost you one cent in salaries. In the worst case it will sicken your culture because your other employees see how indifferent you are to their fate. The least I could is leaving a review of your company on Glassdoor to warn potential new employees of Neomax about you.

What should we do with controversial statues?

In recent years controversy over historical persons which had statues erected for them or streets named after them reached the media occasionally. After the death of George Floyd on 25 May anti racism protests gained critical mass and the battle against controversial statues and street names intensified. In Bristol the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown in the harbor by protestors. In Belgium several statues of king Leopold II, responsible for a colonial reign of terror in Congo Free State (currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo), were defaced. A statue of Leopold II in Ekeren which was damaged has now been removed and is unlikely to return. I consider it justified that people with migration backgrounds had enough of it and are taking action.

In the two news articles on the statues of Leopold II two opponents of the removal of statues give their opinion as well. Mayor Tommelein of Oostende states that racism doesn’t disappear immediately after the removal of the statues. This argument is a straw man, because nobody is so naive to think that racism would end then. Another argument he gives is that Leopold II was important for Oostende (the king had a villa in this city). He also thinks that the commentary near the statue which describes his role in Congo Free State is sufficient. Another opponent argues that everyone makes mistakes, not just Leopold II. Noah, a proponent of removal with a Congolese background, says it would be unimaginable if Hitler had a statue in Berlin.

In the Netherlands the statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen in Hoorn was defaced several times in the past. Coen was responsible for the death of thousands of inhabitants of the Banda Islands (currently part of Indonesia) because they did not respect the monopoly the Dutch East Indies Company had enforced on the nutmeg which was cultivated there. He has the illustrative nickname “the butcher of Banda”. Yet his statue still stands there, albeit with a commentary at its pedestal which mentions the massacre on the Banda islands. Already in 2012 the West Frisian Museum in Hoorn held an exhibition about Coen, which gave exposure to the proponents and opponents of the statue. At the exhibition 63 percent of the 2,466 visitors voted in favor of letting the statue remain, with the addition of a critical text about Coen. Museum director Ad Geerdink told that the proponents in the exhibition argued that the statue serves to remind us of the dark side of the Dutch Golden Age.

In another news article from 2018 several scientists give their opinion in response to the debate about the Dutch slave trade. Some of them don’t want to erase the black pages of history because statues and street names offer opportunities to make the past visible. Another scientist points at the fact that most ‘colonial heroes’ received a statue or street name only hundreds of years after their death. Coen for example died in 1629 and received his statue in 1893. Especially in the nineteenth century blind nationalism and the search for national heroes would have been a motivation to erect a statue for someone like Coen and choose him as prominent part of our history. Now that we in our own time have been liberated from nationalistic tunnel vision, it makes sense that we come to a different insight.

In the end it comes down to the purpose we want to achieve with statues and street names of historical persons. In my view they serve to show respect to those persons and provide us with inspiration. We consider them to be good examples. In my neighborhood streets are named after resistance members from World War II. Elsewhere streets are named after William of Orange and Nelson Mandela. Coen received a statue because he was considered a hero who made us rich, but with his massacres he doesn’t fit in at all with the respectable persons mentioned above. You can place commentaries at statues, but that does not undo the fact that a statue represents respect for the person who is depicted. And who would want to sit on the square de Roode Steen in Hoorn with a good view of the statue of Coen, in the knowledge that you are looking at a mass murderer? I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that! Mass murderers only belong in one place: a prison cell. That’s why both Coen and Leopold II don’t deserve a statue, if you ask me their statues should be removed as soon as possible.

As for those who don’t want to see history erased, we could simply move the statue of Coen to the West Frisian Museum and teach about him in History class. That way nothing is erased. As for street names, I’m more pragmatic. The inhabitants of the street and other parties will face much administrative difficulties if they have to change their address everywhere. I would opt for a commentary at street name signs, only changing the name if the majority of the street’s inhabitants agree with it.

But now the most difficult question: how far do we want to take this? Yes, every person has made mistakes. To answer Noah’s rhetorical question, we all agree Hitler should never have a statue. He is guilty of the greatest sin of all: genocide. Leopold II and Coen are accused of it as well, but their crimes don’t conform to the strict definition of genocide. Opinions are divided on both persons, but possibly their statues will actually be removed in the coming years if the controversy proves too great. How will we continue then? Let’s evaluate two statues which are not controversial now, but which do have the potential for it. For example, the statue of Charlemagne in Luik and the statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki.

Charlemagne ordered the execution of 4,500 Saxons who had surrendered in Verden. Alexander the Great was responsible for the destruction of Thebes (some of the inhabitants, including women and children, were put to the sword, others sold into slavery); the killing of Greek mercenaries who desired to surrender at the end of the Battle of the Granicus (only according to Plutarch); a bloodbath (and only according to Quintus Curtius Rufus a mass crucifixion) after the Siege of Tyre; the mass murder of the Greek Branchidae who welcomed him in Central Asia on friendly terms.

Alexander the Great was not much more cruel than his contemporaries. It was accepted in that time that a cities’ inhabitants were subject to the whims of the victor if the city refused terms, resisted a siege and lost. The killing of those who had surrendered went further, but was not uncommon in history. Even so, if we agree that such acts were atrocious even then, the conclusion that follows is inevitable to me. If we think that Coen and Leopold II don’t deserve a statue because of their mass murdering, neither do Charlemagne and Alexander the Great. Yes, this could mean that many more statues would need to be removed. But there are plenty of other historical persons whose conscience isn’t burdened with murder or execution and are good moral examples.

Three different IT workspaces for the Dutch national government

Recently I discovered that the Dutch national government uses no less than three different IT workspaces. With IT workspace I mean the software environment (operating system and applications) where public servants can log in through their computers to do their work. It appears that most ministries, namely Domestic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Infrastructure and Water Management, Social Affairs and Employment, Justice and Security and Health, Welfare and Sport use the workspace provided by SSC-ICT. SSC-ICT stands for Shared Service Center ICT and the largest IT service provider within the Dutch government. Two other ministries, Economic Affairs and Climate (abbreviated EZK in Dutch) and Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (abbreviated LNV in Dutch), use a different IT workspace provided by DICTU, another IT service provider for the national government which is probably second to SSC-ICT in size. Finally the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences (abbreviated OCW in Dutch) uses its own IT workspace.

The situation with OCW won’t last long because it started a temporary migration to the IT workspace of one of its executive organizations, DUO. When complete, it will start a migration to the workspace provided by SSC-ICT. Apparently OCW was very slow to migrate to SSC-ICT’s workspace because all the other ministeries already migrated in 2009. The cause of this delay is not clear to me. This is not the case for DICTU however. Initially EZK and LNV did intend to join the SSC-ICT workspace, but in 2014 SSC-ICT didn’t have to capacity to provide it to those ministries. As a consequence EZK decided to develop its own workspace.

This situation reminded me of the ideas of the economist William A. Niskanen, which I became familiar with during my master in Public Administration. Niskanen thought that bureaucracies would function more efficiently if they would have to compete with each other. I never had much confidence in this theory. Maybe it could work for some governmental organizations, like the Korps Commandotroepen and Korps Mariniers, respectively the special forces of the Dutch army and navy, competing with each other. It’s hard to image that competition would be favorable in this case of SSC-ICT and DICTU though. An IT workspace requires high startup costs for software development, infrastructure and end user support after all. It only becomes efficient when a sufficient scale is reached.

What seems to be the case here is that there was no vision or leadership from the level above the ministries to force them to collaborate on one IT workspace. The lack of commitment and unilateral decision making of a few ministries has led to the inefficient situation. It is unclear to me what the right of existence is of the DICTU workspace and why EZK and LNV can’t use the SSC-ICT workspace.

The interesting question is how it came to be this way. I spoke with a manager who had been working for some time with DICTU already about the issue. When I asked him why the capacity of SSC-ICT wasn’t expanded to serve EZK and LNV as well, he didn’t know. It would be interesting if a journalist or investigative committee could delve into this.

The departure of Krikke and the role of the nomination committee

“Hurrah!” was my response when I heard the news that Pauline Krikke would step down as the mayor of The Hague. In my previous post about the elected mayor I had already voiced my dissatisfaction with Krikke, especially for her failure to prevent the 1 January 2019 bonfires from getting out of hand.

Now the Dutch Safety Board released a report which made it clear again that Krikke had the opportunity to prevent to prevent the large damage caused by the bonfires, but failed to do so. When it became clear that the municipal council would no longer support her, Krikke decided to cut her losses and announce her resignation. It’s a pity we had to wait more than half a year for this report to come to this conclusion, because it was already clear in January that Krikke was the one to blame. Others who point the finger at the reckless behavior of the organizers of the bonfires may be right, but that fact is irrelevant. Krikke was paid to keep them in check and maintain the safety and public order.

Cutting your losses instead of waiting for a forced resignation has the advantage of limiting your loss of face and being able to show your sense of responsibility. The latter doesn’t apply here though; if Krikke had felt genuinely responsible, she would have left in January already. Her video in which she announced her resignation doesn’t show responsibility either, she leaves because she is “under fire” and the “debate over her future stands in the way of the debate over The Hague’s future”. Not because she acknowledges her negligence regarding the bonfires; she doesn’t say “sorry”.

Wat surprised me most however is how Krikke was appointed as the mayor in first place. If you investigate her career, you’ll find that she did a bad job as mayor of Arnhem and as director of the National Maritime Museum. According to the newspaper Trouw a leaked report from the municipality of Arnhem stated that she bullied personnel. Her style of leadership was experienced as soloistic, intimidating and rude by the personnel of the museum, where she left amid a row. She served as director for little more than a year.

Of course this is not new information. An article in the newspaper NRC from 2017, right after Krikke’s appointment as mayor in The Hague, emphasizes how gobsmacked the employees of the museum were when they heard this. The appointment of Krikke was received with agreement by every party in the municipal council. When the NRC finally asked D66 party leader Robert van Asten for the criticism Krikke had received from Arnhem and the museum, his reply was that he hadn’t looked into her CV and that he assumed the nomination committee had investigated this. For me it is even more embarrassing that the newspaper Volkskrant wrote that Arjen Kapteijns, councilor for my party GroenLinks, also praised Krikke’s experience at that time.

The complete council was asleep, especially the nomination committee. On the basis of anonymous sources, Omroep West claims that the nomination committee primarily chose her because she was a woman and wasn’t a member of the social democratic Labor Party, which two important parties in the council hated. If we’re talking about something important as the appointment of a mayor, it’s a weak excuse for a councilor to say that they simply trust the nomination committee. I expect more from you! For other jobs which are far less important references are checked seriously.

For me this illustrates how important it is that we introduce the elected mayor in the Netherlands. If Krikke actually had to campaign for her election, she would have been asked constantly to explain her bad performance with Arnhem and the museum. Her campaign wouldn’t have stood a chance! The ways of shrouded procedures for the appointment of unelected administrators are mysterious indeed, but let’s hope that Krikke won’t get another appointment in public administration elsewhere.