Green politicians have an exemplary role

This is a subject which kept me busy years ago, but which I’d still like to discuss now. Several years ago the party leader of the local GroenLinks party (the green party of the Netherlands) in The Hague wrote on his weblog that he had been on holiday to Japan. This was and is contrary to the environmentalist political positions espoused by GroenLinks, which include reducing air traffic at Schiphol Airport and not opening Lelystad Airport. No one agrees with every political position of their party, but it’s disturbing when leading GroenLinks politicians make choices which go against the party line regarding this issue. Environmentalism is one of the founding principles of GroenLinks and air traffic contributes disproportionately to climate change. GroenLinks politicians (should) know this.

When I asked this party leader during a meeting how he dealt with this inconsistency, he bluntly replied that he considered this a personal choice. Shortly after a leadership election had been held by GroenLinks The Hague I asked the new party leader what her stance on this issue was in January 2022. Ideally I had asked this question during the debates of the leadership election, but I could not attend these due to my agenda.

This new party leader also thought it was a personal choice and argued that we shouldn’t judge others for using holiday flights. She didn’t say whether she used holiday flights herself. I ascertained that we disagreed on this matter, but that I would still vote for her in the municipal elections. There was more which connected us than what separated us, after all. However, if I had been able to ask the question during the leadership election debate and I didnn’t like the answer, I might have voted for a different candidate than the one who won the election.

I object to the opinion that this is a ‘personal choice’. It may be one in name, but not in substance. It is not personal because the choice will disadvantage others. The kerosene burnt by aircraft engines ends up the air which we all breathe. We all suffer from the dangerous climate change caused by the combustion of kerosene. The local residents around Schiphol Airport live suffer from noise pollution and health risks due to higher concentrations of particulate matter there. If you choose a flight, you choose for others as well.

In a different sense the choice is not personal because it will have electoral effects for GroenLinks. What would happen if the party leader of the orthodox Protestant SGP turned out to be Catholic? Or if the party leader of the Islam-oriented party DENK would not adhere to the rules of the Ramadan? Or if the party leader of the Party for the Animals would eat meat? Outrage would follow and those party leader would probably have to step down or would not be reelected.

Boarding a holiday flight is apparently not considered such a grave error by environmentalist political parties. Even so, when even the national GroenLinks party leader Jesse Klaver uses a flight, this news is picked up by a Dutch right-wing populist weblog like GeenStijl. Klaver is reported to have taken a flight to Barcelona, particularly a journey which could have been done by train within one day from the Netherlands. It is no surprise that Klaver is accused of hypocrisy and that this is electorally damaging to GroenLinks. Potential voters could be discouraged from voting for GroenLinks after reading such reporting. This is how the party’s interest can be damaged from a ‘personal choice’ by a GroenLinks politician.

Likewise the D66 party leader Rob Jetten, who took pride in being considered a ‘klimaatdrammer’ (climate nagger) by his opponents, was criticized in the House of Representatives over his use of flights by the right-wing PVV party leader Geert Wilders. Jetten acknowledges that he uses flights because he sometimes has no alternatives, plays down his frequency of use and then says that higher taxes on flights could solve the problem. Wilders unsurprisingly counters that Jetten can easily pay the extra taxes while this is harder for the ordinary Dutch citizen. Here many will identify with Wilders’ argument that Jetten is a hypocrite. I’m not convinced at all that Jetten sometimes doesn’t have alternatives: many of his flights were for holidays far away and not for business. Holidays can easily be enjoyed closer to home with the train. And those business flights can easily be replaced by phone or video calls.

I’m not perfect myself. In 2015 I took a holiday flight for the last time, to Turkey. Since then it became clear to me that I could not justify flights any longer due to climate change. Because of this I resolved to never set foor in an aircraft again. This may mean that a holiday to India or Indonesia is practically impossible, but that is something I have to live with. Other holiday destinations in Europe are fine too and can be reached easily by train. We have to learn to be satisfied with less.

I usually don’t criticize others when they tell me they used flight to get to their holiday destination. If they ask me about my choice for holidays with the train I explain them my position, without judging. I don’t think you should expect activism from the average person because flying has become so normal and the government facilitates this by not levying taxes over kerosene.

I hold GroenLinks politicians to higher standards. Especially they should realize they have an exemplary role. Why should the average person fly less when they see that even Jesse Klaver flies? When you have this exemplary role you have to be willing to make sacrifices. You have to able to let the interests of the climate and your party prevail over your personal preferences.

In the future I will continue scrutinizing GroenLinks politicians over this subject in internal elections. I will weigh their position on this issue in my voting behavior. If more GroenLinks members care about this it will possibly bring about change.

The Dutch response to the Russian gas cutoff is too late and too weak

On Monday 20 June the Dutch cabinet decided to turn op the coal power plants because we might face gas shortages in the winter now that Russia stopped its gas deliveries. While this may have been partially inevitable on the short term, the cabinet made the wrong choices and has been very naive.

First a short timeline. On 24 February the Russian invasion of Ukraine started. On 1 April the director of Gasunie Transport Service said that the Russian threats to halt gas deliveries were taken seriously. If Russia would stop deliveries there would be no escape from cutting off Dutch industry from gas, he said. On 8 april research agency Kalavasta revealed that The Netherlands pays approximately € 30 million for Russian gas on a daily basis. Meanwhile all kinds of sanctions had been imposed on Russia by the EU (with Dutch approval), but gas was still excluded. On 27 April Poland and Bulgaria were cut off from Russian gas. The Netherlands followed on 31 May.

Instead of making the choice to stop buying Russian gas ourselves, Russia made it easy and made that choice for us. It’s embarassing that the Russians were one step ahead of us and we didn’t make a conscious choice to do so ourselves. We should have made that choice already when Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014, or at least in the first days after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Everyone with some common sense should have seen it coming that Russia would start blackmailing us with our dependency on their gas if we would support Ukraine. It’s also clear that by buying Russian gas we financed the Russian invasion of Ukraine indirectly. But the cabinet did nothing.

Instead of firing up coal power plants the cabinet could have decided to implement painful measures to strongly reduce gas consumption directly after the invasion. Then our gas storages would have been filled at higher levels and increasing supply from coal power plants may not have been necessary. On 19 April a motion was filed by the Dutch political party GroenLinks which requested the government to ban the use of gas in greenhouses for floriculture. With the war and climate crisis the use of valuable gas for floriculture couldn’t be justified, according to the motion. Unfortunately the motion was rejected by the House of Representatives.

The answer of the lobby was predictable. Glastuinbouw Nederland gave arguments which are hard to follow, such as that the green transition is impossible without floriculture and that floriculture is necessary for innovation in the greenhouse sector. How do you advance the green transition by consuming gas and why can’t you innovate in the greenhouse sector with just vegetables and fruits? One of these floriculture lobbyists doesn’t shy from exaggerating, arguing that flowers and plants supplied by floriculture are essential to our mental health. There’s no doubt that our ancestors who had no floriculture must have all been severely depressed during the winters, when they couldn’t buy flowers at all.

This is illustrative for the actions of this cabinet and a large part of the Dutch population. Total unwillingness to deal with even the slightest of painful measures. ‘Painful’ is actually a misnomer, it’s more appropriate to speak of reducing our self-indulgence. Next to giving up on floriculture there are many other easy measures to devise for quickly reducing gas consumption.

We should stop with floriculture and use those greenhouses to cultivate vegetables or fruits without fossil fuels. Ban patio heaters and ban heated shops with permanently opened doors. Ban artificial ice rinks and let those who want to go ice skating take train to colder places in Europe where they can do so outdoors. Rebuild heated swimming pools to outdoor swimming pools where water will warm up naturally for five months of the year. If you insist on swimming in the winter, just use a wetsuit. While such choices are hard and will face resistance, they would deliver. An obligation to replace domestic gas boilers with (hybrid) heat pumps from 2026 onwards is not going to help us right now.

There are of course many people who have difficulties with paying their energy bill. We have to support this group financially of course. But on the matters I’ve discussed above it is possible to give up on. Because while we here are worrying about our floriculture, the Ukrainian people are being robbed of their land and butchered.

The search for new bikes

In my last post I described why we bought an electric cargo bike, the Gazelle Makki. For those who are looking for an electric cargo bike and have a budget of around € 5,000 I can certainly recommend this bike. Compared to an Urban Arrow Family the Gazelle Makki uses a belt instead of chain (less maintenance and lasts longer), the rear carrier is standard and the suspension is better. The chassis is slightly wider which gives the children slightly more space and the children can climb into the bike themselves. In its pricing the Makki has a slight edge over the Family. Another consideration is that the Makki was judged to be the winner in the cargo bikes category of the 2021 bike test published by the Algemeen Dagblad (AD), a Dutch newspaper.

I wrote that next to the cargo bike, I was also looking for an electric city bike for Stephanie. By now she has doubts and she decided to continue using her car for commuting for now. Yet I would still like to reflect on the selection criteria I used in my search for this bike. The design has to look good, but the bike has to be practical as well. This means the battery has to be integrated into the frame, the headlight has to be integrated into the frame (a non-integrated headlight is more easily damaged in a bike stand and doesn’t look as attractive), it has to use a belt rather than a chain and finally it has to have a luggage carrier at the back of the bike.

Many electric bikes fail to meet these criteria because they have their battery mounted on the rear luggage carrier. In general I think many designs are just ugly. If I allow myself to be guided by the winners of the AD Bike Test my options are narrowed down to two bikes: the Decatt Zoom for € 2,650 and the Gazelle Ultimate C8+ HMB Belt for € 3,700. Both Decatt and Gazelle are Dutch.

The Decatt meets all criteria perfectly and still manages to be relatively affordable for an electric bike. The sole complication is that there are just three physical dealers in The Netherlands. Inconvenient if you want to have a test drive, potentially difficult if you have warranty issues or need larger maintenance. The Gazelle could therefore be a safer choice because our local bike mechanic sells it. Our bike mechanic would have more possibilities to fix issues with that bike. The design of the Gazelle looks good, but it’s noticeable that the headlight is mounted on the stem. While this is an unconventional choice, it still looks nice. But compared to the Decatt the extreme difference in price for the Gazelle seems hard to justify. I don’t see so much difference between the two when comparing functionality and quality.

I’ve also investigated the bikes of VanMoof. I’ve read reviews of the S3 which were less laudable. This makes us wonder if VanMoof managed to fix the shortcoming with their latest bike, the S5. I do think this bike is the most beautiful, with it’s minimalistic design. At a price point of € 2,500 I would expect a belt drive however. I can live without the belt drive, but the rear luggage carrier not being standard is making the case for this bike even harder. Imagine the amount of sweat being secreted from your back on a hot day if you can’t put your backpack on the luggage carrier. The rear luggage carrier is available as an accessory for € 60, but you can’t use it to mount a child seat. The greatest problem of this bike may be that the battery can’t be removed. This can be a major inconvenience if you can’t park your bike next to a power socket. Finally, maintenance can apparently only be performed by a limited number of VanMoof dealers.

For myself I’d like to replace my ordinary city bike, a Gazelle Paris C7 from 2016, with a newer non-electric city bike. That will be the Union Lite, which can be purchased for € 1,000. It’s striking that the price difference with electric bikes is still so large. The Union Lite has a belt drive just like the bikes mentioned before, while my current bike has a chain. I’m attracted by the minimalistic design of this bike, which has a headlight which is nicely integrated into the frame. The fact that both the front and rear light are both powered by the dynamo is one of the most important reasons to buy this bike. I’m tired of replacing batteries for the rear light, especially in the winter months. I get surprised too often by batteries which run out sooner than I expected. This is detrimental to my safety in the traffic.

I have some limited criticism of the design choices of this bike. The rear luggage carrier can’t take a child seat and the maximum weight of the rear luggage carrier is merely 15 kilos (similar to the VanMoof S3). A much cheaper Gazelle Espirit offers a rear luggage carrier which can handle 25 kilos and a child seat for just € 550. Curiously the Espirit is slightly lighter than the Lite, 16.9 kilos versus 18.4 kilos. I had expected that the more expensive Lite would be lighter because it is marketed as a minimalistic city bike. The Espirit also has a headlight integrated into the frame and a rear light which is powered by the dynamo. The only remaining reason to get the Lite is the belt drive.

I concluded that I want to buy the Lite in early June. I have the benefit that my employer, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, contributes € 500 for a bike if it’s used for commuting. The other € 500 can be substracted from my gross income. This means I save € 235 in income taxes. If I can sell my old Gazelle Paris C7 for more than € 265, I can even make money on my new bike!

The necessity of electric bikes

Lately I’ve noticed that I see much more electric bikes riding around. We’re participating in it as well. We have bought an electric cargo bike, the Gazelle Makki, to transport our two children. We used an ordinary (non-electric) city bike to transport them before, with our oldest daughter in the child seat mounted on the back and our youngest daughter mounted on the front of the bike. Our youngest daughter became too tall for the child seat at the front however. Because of this a cargo bike was our only option if we wanted to transport two children with one adult.

Stephanie has to travel eleven kilometers to her work and is now considering to buy an electric city bike so that she doesn’t have to use the car. This would be healthier, more sustainable and cheaper because of the high petrol prices. She doesn’t cycle fast and is afraid to arrive at work all sweaty with an ordinary bike. I have to travel eight kilometers to get to work and will keep doing so on an ordinary bike.

Except for the transport of small children and commuting which previously done with the car, there of course a large group of elderly people who benefit from the electric bike as well. About twenty five years ago my grandma of over seventy years of age regularly rode her ordinary bike for several kilometers. In that time electric bikes weren’t popular. Not every senior needs an electric bike. Yet a large part of the elderly is able to travel now thanks to electric bikes. They weren’t able to do so before because an ordinary bike would have been to exhausting for them. This also applies to a group of people with handicaps, such as bad knees.

Even so, I think the trend of electric bikes has gone too far. Children who travel to school generally don’t travel long distances and are sufficiently fit, they certainly don’t need electric bikes. I also see people in their twenties and thirties on electric bikes, which make me wonder if they really travel the long distances which make an electric bike desirable. For that group an electric bike seems more like a replacement for an ordinary bike than for a car.

This is bad because we are in the middle of an climate change crisis and a health crisis. Electric bikes may use far less electricity than an average household does per day and certainly less than an electric car, but every Watt hour which is consumed without necessity is one too many. Next to that electric bikes reduce safety in traffic because of their higher speeds. Let’s be critical and consider if we really need an electric bike. My daughters certainly won’t get an electric bike to travel to school later.

New lows in the Russo-Ukrainian War

It never occurred to me that I could be shot randomly on the street. While I’m riding my bicycle to work, or after buying a bag of potatoes at my supermarket. The dead men on the photos of the Bucha massacre apparently couldn’t imagine this either. I saw those photos of Ukrainians lying dead next to their bicycles and their groceries. They are just some of the victims of the Russian military which didn’t have the luxury of ending up in a mass grave. This enraged me.

It doesn’t really come a surprise, after all the news that the Russians are regularly shelling hospitals and childcare centers. After the news of looting and the rape of Ukrainian minors. The Russians aren’t liberators, but a pillaging band of savages. They are far from liberating the Ukrainians from a Nazi regime, they are behaving like the Nazis themselves.

While the Russian war crimes anger me, so does the Western reluctance to come to the aid of Ukraine. It’s astounding that there still isn’t a ban on buying Russian gas, oil and coal. Yes, especially Germany could be hit hard by a ban on Russian gas. There might be discussion on how hard, whether it’s manageable or crushing, but I’m sure it’s incomparable to the devastation Ukraine has suffered. Ukraine sustained $100 billion in damages just to infrastructure in less than a month after the Russian invasion. That’s more than half of Ukraine’s GDP. We have to be willing to share in the economic pain in this war. That ban should have already been in place weeks ago because the dependence on Russian gas is holding us back from serious aid to Ukraine. With serious aid I don’t mean sanctions and supplying arms to Ukraine while we stand by and look on.

We supposedly live in a world order in which we solve conflicts peacefully and denounce wars of aggression. The first article of the Charter of the United Nations reads as follows:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

The UN has failed terribly in this regard. Russia was able to invade Ukraine under international protest, but only the Western UN members have enacted serious sanctions against Russia. If the UN doesn’t enforce its Charter, if it does nothing to stop this blatant war of aggression and the war crimes, it’s obvious that aggressors can just ignore the UN.

The UN should be reformed to be more effective. Obviously the UN Security Council with its veto powers needs to be abolished. If we take the UN Charter seriously any war of aggression should result in an automatic declaration of war by all UN members on the aggressor. Somewhat similar to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which is the basis of NATO. I know this is problematic because there have been precedents. The USA ignored the UN as well when it started the Iraq War, for example. Of course the non-aggression principle should apply to everyone, including the West. Perhaps only the UN should be able to authorize invasions in special cases such as genocide, as it happened in Rwanda or Yugoslavia for example.

The UN doesn’t do its job and NATO isn’t able to intervene because Ukraine is not a NATO member. The individual states of the West and the USA in particular is our last hope. If a world order based on non-aggression isn’t worth defending, then what is? We shouldn’t be waiting for more destruction in Ukraine before we intervene. The fact that Russia invaded Ukraine without any provocation is sufficient reason for Western military intervention on behalf of Ukraine. Anything else is cowardice and selfishness. Russian threats of using nuclear weapons should not be an excuse for non-intervention; we are lost if Russia can get away with everything under threats of deploying them. We have nuclear weapons too. We should not rest until we have routed all of those filthy Russian child murderers from Ukrainian soil and the country is restored to its pre-2014 borders.

Now that we are discussing arms shipments to Ukraine, can we also send them some cruise missiles? I’d love to see them used against the 19 kilometers long Crimean Bridge, which was built by the Russians after their annexation of the Crimea. It cost the Russians $3.7 billion to construct, so it would settle the score somewhat regarding the damages to infrastructure and would be a blow to Russian prestige. Just give some advance warning so no one gets hurt when they pass over the bridge.

To stop Russia, the West needs to raise the stakes

Two days ago Russia sent troops to the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics on Ukraine’s eastern border. Russia has threatened Ukraine with military conflict for months already. It accused the West of fearmongering when Western leaders said a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent. Meanwhile it assured us that it didn’t seek a military conflict with Ukraine and that it was pulling back its troops. Unsurprisingly, the Russian leadership was full of lies again.

I’ve written about how the West dealt with Russia before, around April last year. Back then Russia intimidated Ukraine with a massive build-up of troops on Ukraine’s border for several weeks, but ultimately decided to pull back. Back then I already wrote that the West was being too soft on Russia. This time West is responding more severely and stated that sanctions will be tougher. Canceling the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and cutting Russia off from the SWIFT financial transaction system for banks is no joke. Arms were shipped to Ukraine as well to make an invasion more costly for Russia. However, the message of the West was still that if Ukraine was invaded, it’s on its own.

That refusal to aid Ukraine militarily is cowardice. Russia’s dictator Putin isn’t impressed by the sanctions I just mentioned, even if they are more harsh than before. His calculation is that he can deal with them and that it will blow over, just like it did after the invasion of Crimea. Even if Russia gets cut off from SWIFT and Nord Stream 2 gets canceled, Europe will still want to buy Russian gas. Putin has never been seriously opposed by the West and he can escalate tensions as much as he wants. If de-escalation doesn’t work on him, the West must start escalating itself. Any action taken by the West must threaten Putin with significant negative outcomes. If the West wants peace, it needs to prepare for war; si vis pacem, para bellum.

Here’s what I would do. First of all, the West should station military forces on Ukraine’s territory. Just tell the Russians that it’s for a military exercise and that they don’t need to worry. It’s the same as the Russians have been telling us all the time when they were building up forces near the Ukrainian border. The goal is not to start a military conflict, but to deter Russia from invading Ukraine any further. If Russia would do so, it would risk a big war with the West. That’s not something Putin would be willing to risk. I’m tired of hearing this excuse that direct military support can’t be given because Ukraine is not a NATO-member; nothing is holding back Western states from offering direct military support to Ukraine on an individual basis instead of via NATO.

Next, the West should abandon its reluctance to offer NATO-membership to Ukraine in spite of the Russian occupation of parts of its territory. Threaten Russia that Ukraine will be invited to join if Russia doesn’t back down. Ukrainian NATO membership is exactly what Russia wants to avoid.

Then, threaten Russia with two absolutely crushing sanctions: closing off the Bosporus and the Danish straits for all shipping to and from Russia. Because Russia’s largest ports and naval bases are all situated in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, it would be devastating for its economy and navy. These measures are feasible because even the Øresund between Denmark and Sweden is no wider than four kilometers at its narrowest point. Sure, it would require shelving the Montreux Convention and the Copenhagen Convention which made these straits international waterways open to all. But both Turkey and Denmark are NATO-members which are not on good terms with Russia. Only Sweden isn’t, but perhaps they could be persuaded.

Of course the West should entice Russia to back down by proposing an attractive compromise so Russia can save face. This compromise would require Russia to abandon the lands it occupies in Ukraine and Georgia. In return, Russia is promised that Ukraine and Georgia will not become NATO-members. Russia also gets a free lease of its naval base in Sevastopol (in the Crimea) for something like fifty years. It already leased the Sevastopol naval base before the pro-Western revolution in Ukraine. Of course more detailed agreements about arms control and troop deployments on the borders of NATO members and Russia should be included as well. The aforementioned threats to compel Russia to accept this compromise should be discussed behind closed doors so that Russia is not humiliated publicly. Russia could then present its gains from the compromise with its head held high.

Population exchange and trading territory as a solution for Bosnia and Herzogovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is close to falling apart because the Serbian part of the country is moving towards secession. The Serbs have already withdrawn from the federal parliament and now threaten to withdrawn their troops from the federal army as well, in order to form their own army. They want complete autonomy in their part of the country.

When the Bosnian War was ended with the Dayton Treaty in 1992 the country was transformed into a federal state. It was divided in two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Islamic Bosniaks and Catholic Croats and the Republika Srpska for the Orthodox Serbs. I don’t get why they thought back then that this would work out. A federal state like Belgium already has difficulty in functioning properly while its two populations are still able to work together. It was easy to predict that a federal state with three population groups which hate each other is especially disfunctional. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that the fires of nationalism burn too hot and that we can’t impose a multi-ethnic state.

That’s why it would be best if both entities became independent and would exchange some populations and trade some territories. This has been done before in the past, such as between Greece and Turkey in 1923 after the Greco-Turkish War. Turkey and Greece agreed on a forced population exchange, which moved Christians from Turkey to Greece and Muslims from Greece to Turkey. In modern eyes this was a violation of human rights, but it was effective in preventing ethnic conflict.

To respect human rights this could be done with referenda today. First, both entities should agree on organizing a referendum on independence. This would only be possible if the sovereignty over the Brčko District, which is currently shared by both entities, would be transferred to the Republic. Otherwise that state would be split in two and wouldn’t have a continuous landmass. North of the Brčko District lies the Posavina Canton, which is part of the Federation. We should prevent this Canton from becoming an exclave of the Federation after the independence of the Republic. To do so, the inhabitants should be allowed to vote in a referendum on whether they want to be part of Croatia or the Republic. The majority of inhabitants of this Canton are Croats after all.

To reach agreement on referenda the Republic could make a concession to the Federation to trade the districts south of Banja Luka for the aforementioned territories. These districts currently form a large salient in the territory of the Federation. Trading these territories would smoothen the borders. These districts have Serb majorities, but are sparsely populated with just a few ten thousands of inhabitants. The Serb inhabitants can decide voluntarily to move to the Republic and receive financial compensation if they do so. Vice versa the same counts for Bosniaks and Croats, even if they don’t live in territories to be traded.

The Bosniaks and Croats seem to be able to get along with each other better. Still it would be a good idea to organize referenda in the municipalities in the south and southwest of the Federation and allow the inhabitants to decide on joining Croatia or remaining in the Federation. These municipalities have Croatian majorities. Note that the southern border of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia is quite suboptimal. Currently the Croatian shoreline is interrupted by the municipality of Neum, which is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This municipality has a large majority of Croats however.

At the same time there is also unrest in Kosovo on Serbs which want secession. There are Serb majorities in a few municipalities in the north of Kosovo. Give them the option to vote in a referendum on joining Serbia as well. In exchange, Kosovo can demand that Serbia will finally recognize its statehood, which Serbia is still refusing.

In the magazine Politico they write that we should send a NATO-force to prevent further escalation by the Republic and Serbia, but I don’t see how this can be a structural solution. We have to acknowledge that the Dayton Treaty was a mistake and that we can’t simply smother nationalist desires for independence. You can’t impose a multi-ethnic state on peoples who don’t want to work together. The Republic and Serbia may be irresponsible and escalating the matter, but the nationalist desire for a nation state (one state for one people) isn’t unreasonable. Ethnic conflict in multi-ethnic state has always been the red thread in history. Nationalism and the formation of nation states has often been a good solution for that. See for example the Italian Unification, the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the Soviet Union. We don’t judge these events negatively. In the first three cases it was accomplished with war, so let’s strive to realize it by democratic means. Just let me sit at the negotiation table as a diplomat!

Do reasonable vaccine refusers exist?

Last Friday there was a Dutch news item reporting that the amount of hospital beds occupied with COVID19-patients is rising rapidly. Of this group, about 80 percent is not vaccinated. We read that this leads to frustration with hospital personnel. After all, if those patients did have vaccinations their chance of ending up in a hospital would have been much smaller. If they would have gotten a vaccination, the hospital personnel wouldn’t have been so exhausted. Nor would it have been necessary to postpone so many surgical procedures because of the COVID19-patients which keep the Intensive Care beds occupied.

In the same news item is a video report on two vaccine refusers. They present themselves as reasonable people with principal objections, not anti-vaxxers with conspiracy theories. But are there arguments so reasonable? Let’s evaluate them:

  1. I don’t trust the long-term side effects because they are unknown.
  2. Vaccines have been tested on healthy people, while I have heart- and lung issues. That’s why I want more about the side effects first.

Even more arguments from another news item:

  1. I see COVID19 as comparable with the Mexican flu and I survived that disease. I don’t take an ordinary flu vaccine either and I’m afraid to combine the vaccine with my rheumatism medication.
  2. I’ve had bad experiences with medication in the past, side effects of vaccines are unclear and after a vaccination I’m still vulnerable for COVID19.
  3. I’m 44 years old and healthy. I think that there’s a minimal risk of COVID19 being dangerous for me. After all, I step into my car each day as well with the minimal risk of a deadly car accident.
  4. I’ve already had COVID19 and was okay again after a week without entering a hospital. I think vaccines have been developed to quickly and that there still is too much uncertainty over the side effects.

The unknown side effects on the long term are minimal. The vaccine was also tested on and judged to be safe for those with underlying medical conditions, including those with heart- and lung diseases. Especially that group of people is at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID19, so they have much more to gain from a vaccine. Same for the person with the rheumatism medication. While the vaccine doesn’t protect from infection completely, it does slow the spread of COVID19. Those who have already lived through an infection still benefit from a vaccine because it’s unclear how much resistance they’ve built up after a first infection.

Let’s take a look at the 44 years old man who compared COVID19 with a car accident. In 2020 there were 60 men in the age group of 40 to 50 years who died of COVID19. The amount of male traffic deaths in 2020 in the same age group was 38 however. If we consider that merely a third of all people who died in traffic that year was inside a car, you end up with 12 deaths in that age group as a consequence of a car accident. Probably the 60 male COVID19 victims would have already been in bad health as opposed to the healthy 44 year old, but on the whole COVID19 is a factor four more lethal for these man than driving in a car. While it was interesting to investigate the statistics, it’s irrelevant. My objection to this argument is that it’s a bad comparison. Dying of COVID19 is mostly preventable by taking a vaccine, which gives almost no side effects. Using a car is unavoidable for many people who need to get to work.

The arguments of vaccine refusers seem to originate from a lack of information on the one hand. If have doubts on medical care I consult my general practitioner and don’t make all kinds of wild assumptions myself. On the other hand they seem arrogant to me. How do they know for certain that there hasn’t been enough research on side effects of vaccines? They didn’t have any relevant education like medicine, epidemiology or virology and have no expert knowledge on the subject. If you do not have that, you trust on the knowledge and ability of a specialist.

Then there’s a special category of vaccine refusers with strong religious convictions. Especially in the municipality of Staphorst the vaccination coverage is, except for Urk, the lowest in The Netherlands with just 48%. Not surprisingly the infections in this municipality are rising the fastest and the neighboring hospital in Zwolle has to deal with a huge influx of COVID19 patients. What are their arguments?

The deeply religious Protestants from Staphorst which were interviewed by RTV Oost explain this. It all comes down to trust in God according to the vaccine refusers. He decides whether we get ill or not. Taking a vaccine to prevent us from getting ill is therefore a violation of that trust in God. For the same reason they don’t like insurance in Staphorst. But medical treatment and taking medication is okay, because treating an illness is different from preventing an illness.

I think this strict interpretation of God’s will goes very far. There’s nothing in the Bible about vaccines being undesirable. In some way I can understand their reasoning, but I still think it’s a weak argument. It doesn’t make clear why medical treatment doesn’t violate trust in God, while a vaccine would be in violation. But none of this is relevant because the Bible demands the faithful to love their neighbors. Love for the health care heroes which become ever more exhausted by the influx of vaccine refusers at the Intensive Care unit. Love for other patients who see their surgeries postponed again and again. The question for those living in Staphorst is what comes first: trust in God or love for thy neighbor, or the other way around?

The vaccine refusers already receive a lot of criticism from people who think they’re antisocial. Sometimes others are simply right about the consequences of your stubborn and antisocial behavior. It’s great that vaccine refusers can be so principled in this country. The pulmonary physicians are on the losing end however, with mountains of unpaid overtime in the evening and on their days off.

If vaccine refusers want to be so pricipled and refuse a vaccine, they should also be consequential and refuse health care for COVID19. But when push comes to shove these people are cowards and don’t have the backbone. Let’s help them to remain loyal to their principles by no longer admitting anyone who refused a vaccine to the Intensive Care unit for COVID19. No more life-saving treatment for them, just palliative care to sedate them when they bite the dust in the terminal phase of COVID19. I think the group of vaccine refusers would disappear like snow before the sun with such a prospect.

The Effeuno P134H is my ultimate pizza oven

In 2019 I wrote about my search for the ultimate pizza oven for the last time. I concluded then that I would buy an ordinary electric built-in oven, the AEG BPB351020M, which could reach 300 °C. This would be an improvement over my current built-in oven, which has a maximum temperature of 230 °C. Some time ago I discovered the Effeuno P134H however, a freestanding electric oven which can reach 450 °C. This is the oven that I ultimately bought and which I’m very satisfied with.

The AEG BPB351020M would certainly have been an improvement over my current built-in oven, but not as good as the P134H. A difference of 150 °C is a lot and 450 °C is the temperature which is reached by the wood-fired brick ovens of good pizzeria’s. Just like in a brick oven, the P134H can bake pizza’s in 90 seconds, which is ideal for good quality Neapolitan pizza. It also allows you to feed larger groups of people quickly.

In comparison with the wood- and gas-fired ovens which I wrote about in 2019, the P134H has important advantages. The oven is well isolated and it’s enclosure doesn’t get too hot. So it’s safe if one of my smaller daughters would touch the oven. The oven is electrical, so it can be used inside. Despite it’s considerable power of 2,8 kW the oven can be connected to a normal plug in my kitchen. You’re not dependent on fuel like gas, wood or wood pellets. The electricity which powers the oven can be produced sustainably, while gas usually isn’t sustainable and wood often needs to be shipped from far away. With electricity the result is very consistent, while the wind outside often made the behavior of my Ooni 3 unpredictable.

Two stones are delivered with the oven: a thick one for baking pizza and a thin one for baking other dishes. The thin stone is unsuitable for baking pizza at high temperature, because the bottom of the pizza will burn. Why this is I don’t understand, because the Ooni 3 also used a thin stone. The thin stone does heat up more quickly than the thick stone, which takes around 45 minutes to reach 450 °C. I know this because I measure the temparature with an infrared thermometer.

Even though it’s not mentioned in the manual of the P134H, it’s important to evaporate the moisture from the stone before you start using it. This prevents cracking of the stone. This is done by heating the stone in the oven in phases, gradually from lower to higher temperatures.

The P134H has two heating elements, one on the ceiling and one on the floor, on which the stone is placed. Both heating elements can be controlled independently. I’ve noticed that I get good results with 350 °C in the ceiling and 450 °C in the floor. With both elements at 450 °C I notice that the bottom of the pizza didn’t bake long enough, while the top already needs to be taken out of the oven to prevent burning.

The P134H bakes good pizza’s which are nearly a match for what you get from the brick ovens of the better pizzeria’s. While you need to turn a pizza in a brick oven because the burning wood lies in the back of the oven, this isn’t necessary in the P134 H. The heating elements spread the heat quite evenly.

What’s also well possible in the P134H is preparing other dishes in it, like farinata. Past attempts to do this in my Ooni 3 failed miserably, the fierce flame in that oven burnt my farinata then. In the P134H farinata can be prepared perfectly in the traditional round teglia pan which I use specifically for this dish. Baking bread is also an interesting possibility, but the P134HA would be the better choice for that. This variant has a higher oven chamber. In the P134H bread, with the exception of flatbread, would be too close to the heating element in the ceiling.

The sole disadvantage of the P134H is its weight. The dimensions of the oven are reasonably compact, but the weight of 23 kilos is hefty. I stored my Ooni 3 in my attic and I could easily walk it up and down the stairs, but the P134H is stored in the pantry on the ground floor. From there I have to lift it just a few meters to the countertop in the kitchen. I don’t have issues with this, but for others it may be too heavy.

For my P134H I paid € 500 plus € 130 for shipping to the Netherlands. I had to arrange the purchase via e-mail with Effeuno, because they only shipped to Italy, France, Austria and Germany via their webshop in December 2020. Because it’s a heavy oven it was delivered on a small pallet by a courier service with a truck.

Even though the P134H approaches perfection closely, Effeuno is quite far from it. The English manual of the P134H is badly translated from Italian. Their website is still not completely translated to English. Shipping to other countries than the four mentioned above still can’t be done through the automatic ordering process in their webshop. Their customer service can be slow with answering e-mails and seems to use an old-fashioned mailbox rather than customer service software with case numbers. Most annoying however was that my thick oven stone arrived broken in two pieces.

Effeuno made an effort to send me a replacement stone. The second one arrived broken as well. At that point I told them that the packaging material of cardboard and expanded polystyrene didn’t offer adequate protection to the stone. This material to protect the stone from shock and impact apparently couldn’t stand the handling of the box during the shipping process. This message didn’t land with them and the third stone arrived broken in the same package as well. At that point I told Effeuno that I preferred to leave it at that and would use the first stone in my oven. This one had a relatively clean break which isn’t very visible if the two halves are close to each other in the oven.

I suspect that Effeuno didn’t make a profit on my order due to the stone debacle. Since I use the broken stone I didn’t have any issues with it, especially because I never remove it from the oven. Should this change in the future, I’ll find another stone elsewhere.

In spite of these problems I’m still impressed by the P134H. With the other pizza ovens I used I quickly experienced limitations, but not with this oven. The oven could be improved further with an integrated thermometer (which Effeuno has done in the meantime with the P134H Evo) and lighter weight, but I’m already very satisfied. I don’t have any desire anymore to look for a better oven because this is a top product.

High-speed rail in France should be faster

In my previous post I wrote about my holiday in Biarritz, but I would like to reflect on the high-speed train I used to travel there separately.

First I used the tram and metro to travel from The Hague to Rotterdam. In Rotterdam I used the Thalys high-speed train to travel through Antwerp and Brussels to Paris, stopping at Gare du Nord. Not surprisingly, this station lies north of the center of Paris. Then it was necessary to travel with metro line 4 from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse, which lies southwest of the center of Paris. There I used the TGV high-speed train to travel through Bordeaux, Dax and Bayonne before exiting the train at Biarritz.

Travel times are as follows:

  1. The leg between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord took 2:37 hours on the outward journey and 3:05 on the return journey.
  2. The transfer and waiting in Paris required 1:12 hours on the outward journey and 2:14 on the return journey.
  3. The leg between Gare Montparnasse and Biarritz took 4:16 hours on the outward journey and 4:13 on the return journey.

I noticed several things. The journey time between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord varies quite a bit. For some reason Google Maps suggests a trip which combines a different metro line with a bus, rather than just using metro line 4. The transfer with metro line 4 actually requires no more than 20 minutes for the metro itself and 20 minutes to get from the metro to the train stations. Especially on the return journey, a lot of time was wasted on the transfer. Unlike the TGV Euroduplex, the Thalys is not a double-deck train, so boarding is less efficient. Because the train is so long the passengers need more time to walk to their wagon on the platforms.

According to The Train Line, the distance between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord is 370 kilometers and the distance from Gare Montparnasse to Biarritz is 668 kilometers. The maximum speed of the TGV Euroduplex (on normal commercial routes) is 320 kilometers per hour, which the train did actually reach (it’s shown on the monitors in the train) between Paris and Bordeaux. The distance between Paris and Bordeaux is 499 kilometers and it takes the TGV Euroduplex on average 2:20 hours to cross this distance.

So with this information we can do some calculations on the average speed:

  1. Rotterdam to Paris: 141 km/h (assuming 2:37 travel time)
  2. Paris to Bordeaux: 214 km/h
  3. Bordeaux to Biarritz: 90 km/h (assuming 1:53 travel time)

It makes sense that Rotterdam to Paris is slower than Paris to Bordeaux because the former route has stops in Antwerp and Brussels, while the latter has none. But it doesn’t explain the entire difference. On the route, I noticed that the Thalys slows down significantly at certain parts in Belgium, not just the part of the route where it drives through Antwerp and Brussels where it might cause noise disturbance. The part between Bordeaux and Biarritz is pitifully slow, but that’s because the TGV is driving over ordinary rail there, not dedicated high speed rail.

The journey from Paris to Bordeaux is fast, but the entire journey is way too slow. If we want to reach our climate goals and convince the airline passengers to take the train, things have to be improved.

My improvement plan would look like this:

  1. Dump the Thalys and have a TGV Euroduplex (by the time this hypothetical plan is implemented more likely its successor, the Avelia Horizon) drive all the way from Amsterdam to destinations in France and further.
  2. Build a new TGV station for all TGV trains heading to Paris, so that a transfer to a different train station in Paris will no longer be necessary. This is already the case in Madrid, where a tunnel was constructed to connect the Chamartin and Atocha railway stations for high-speed trains. Such a dedicated TGV station should obviously be located on the outskirts of Paris and would necessarily require more time for passengers to transfer to the center of Paris in favor of faster TGV traffic around the city.
  3. Start with building high speed rail track from Bordeaux to the Spanish border sooner. Spain is already much closer to completing their high speed rail track to the French border (2023 compared to 2032). Progress on the the LGV Montpellier–Perpignan is even slower. That is the last gap of 150 kilometers on the Mediterranean side of France’s network to the Spanish border. It will be operational by 2040, which is downright shameful.
  4. Reduce the amount of stops after Bordeaux by removing the stop at Dax, which is just a small village with a population of little more than 20,000. Remove the stop at Biarritz as well, because Bayonne is larger and is very close to Biarritz anyway. These extra stops at small towns slow down the journey too much for little gain.

Let’s assume that all these measures are realized and that it’s possible to maintain an average speed of 200 km/h with the stops included. Assuming the distance between Amsterdam to Madrid on the rail network roughly equals their distance of 1.800 kilometers on the road network, travel by high-speed train could take just nine hours. It will surely be expensive, but it’s a matter of political will. Spain has already shown that it’s feasible because its high-speed rail network is much more extensive. Spain’s network is still being expanded significantly and swiftly, while France is lagging behind. If we want to be serious about excellent high-speed rail in France which can compete with air travel, it’s essential that these improvements are implemented.