politics

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.

Why we should stop the Chinese lust for territory

China has been busy during the recent years with occupying the land of its neighbors. In May this year there was news that China secretly built three villages in a remote valley in Bhutan. This fits in a pattern, because last year China also made a claim out of nowhere on the Sakteng nature reserve in Bhutan. In the past this land was even shown on a Chinese map from 2014 to belong to Bhutan. Apparently this is all part of China’s plan to obstruct India, which has border disputes with China for a long time already. Bhutan is located between China and India and is an ally of the latter.

But China doesn’t limit itself to that border. The South China Sea isn’t safe for China’s unfounded territorial claims either. China is repeatedly violating the Exclusive Economic Zone (where only the state owner has rights for fishing and other economic activities) of the Philippines. Even though an international court declined the Chinese claims, China continues its behavior. The Filipino president Duterte at first tried to compromise with China and didn’t enforce the court ruling, but he seems to have lost patience with China now. Next to the Philippines, Malaysia complained about Chinese violation of its airspace in the South China Sea. The United States stated that it would come to the aid of the Philippines as its ally in case of Chinese aggression.

More alarming is the threat of war that China made to Taiwan in case it would declare its independence. China considers Taiwan to be part of China, but that’s twisting history. The Chinese Communist Party came to power only after it had driven out the Republic of China to Taiwan. It’s actually China which was part of Taiwan. The USA responded calmly, with a message that tensions over Taiwan do not need to lead to a confrontation.

Even though the USA push back, this still reminds me too much of the ‘appeasement’ of Nazi Germany in the prelude to the Second World War. To appease Nazi Germany it received a part of Czechoslovakia in the Treaty of Munich. This time nothing is given away formally, but in fact we do allow it to happen: China occupies foreign territory and doesn’t go away. It ignores the complaints of its neighbors and continues on its current footing. China already went too far with its genocide of the Uyghur people, but occupying the territory of other states should be a red line. It’s scandalous that Russia could get away with the annexation of the Crimea, but if the even more powerful China is allowed to go on with this we’re doomed.

The only way to deal with is more assertiveness. We want to avoid an armed conflict, but there’s much more we can do with sanctions. Serious sanctions which hurt Chinese exports severely are seemingly the only thing to make China listen. And that will only work if everyone joins: next to the USA also the neighboring countries of China and the EU. If China occupies land, we could target foreign Chinese property for confiscation, like the harbor of Piraeus near Athens for example. On Taiwan the USA, at the request of Taiwan of course, could build a military base. This is no different from what the USA has done in South Korea and Japan in order to protect its allies. The relation with China would drop to a new low, but it would deter China from a possible invasion of Taiwan.

Too much misinformation in Seaspiracy

Several weeks ago I watched Seaspiracy on Netflix. The documentary manages to engage its viewers well, shocking them with its portrayal of fishing industry. But by the end of the documentary, which concludes that eating fish is unsustainable and advises us to stop doing so, I was already having doubts. What about the mussels we produce in The Netherlands for example? I know mussels are molluscs and not fish, but the documentary also covered shrimp, which are crustaceans. I just want to take care to avoid the word seafood, because that would also include seaweed, which is not under discussion here.

It turns out that mussels feed on plankton already present in seawater, so their production requires no feed and is very sustainable. I went on to read several responses to the film, such as those on the Wageningen University blog, the Sustainable Fisheries website of the University of Washington, Otter Strategies and one published on Inverse. I suggest you read those for yourself because it’s a lot of information to summarize here, but I’ll highlight some of the most important criticisms here.

It turns out that the seas won’t be empty by 2048 and many fisheries are sustainable. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) uses third-party assessors to certify fisheries rather than doing so itself. I still think it’s unfortunate that the MSC didn’t have an interview with the makers of the documentary though. Seaspiracy criticizes aquaculture for it’s use of fish meal as feed for the farmed fish. It turns out that the proportion of fish meal in the diet of farmed fish has already been strongly reduced over the years. Also, it can and likely will be replaced entirely by other more sustainable feed sources, such as insects. In some places in Southeast Asia, freshwater fish are already farmed sustainably without fish meal.

Perhaps the most unnerving image of the whole documentary was a salmon slowly being flayed and eaten alive by sea lice. It appears sea lice are indeed a problem, but they also affect wild salmon. Since a sea lice infection makes salmon unmarketable, fish farmers have a clear incentive to prevent that from happening. I felt Seaspiracy was weak at this point, because all it did was shock the viewer. There was no discussion on statistics or scientific studies on sea lice infections at all.

While the responses to Seaspiracy often point out errors in the ratio of discarded plastic fishing nets and plastic straws claimed in the documentary, they seem to ignore the core of the problem. Why is plastic being used in fishing nets in the first place, I wonder? Fishing nets have been made for thousands of years before the invention of plastic. Since it’s impossible for law enforcement to monitor the deliberate discarding or accidental loss of those fishing nets far out at sea, it seems easier to to make legislation for the production of fishing nets. I hope legislation will be made banning the use of any material which is not biodegradable in fishing nets, such as plastics.

Elsewhere on the Sustainable Fisheries website, there is an interesting comparison based on scientific literature which compares greenhouse gas emissions for several different foods. Beef and aquaculture catfish turn out to be the worst offenders, but the Impossible Burger 2.0 and aquaculture salmon create far less emissions. The winners in terms of emissions however, are captured small pelagic fish, captured whitefish and aquaculture mollusks. They also point out that fish are more nutritious than the Impossible Burger, which contains a large amount of saturated fat.

Small pelagic fish are apparently fish such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel and herring, exactly the kind of fish I like to eat. I also use tuna (with MSC certification), primarily on pizza. I only eat a small amount of fish once or twice a week and considering that these fish species can or could be caught or farmed sustainably, I see no reason to change my behavior.

I do think we should all consult the guides on which fish is sustainable, such as the VISwijzer for those in the Netherlands (also available in English). For example, what surprises me is that the capture critically endangered species like the European eel is still allowed. I know governments have taken some preservation for the eel already, but it looks like they’re not doing enough. This shows that not only our government has a responsibility, but that consumers should also educate themselves on what kind of fish they are buying as long as the government doesn’t get this right.

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.

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.

Abolish the ‘snorfiets’

Alderman Sharon Dijksma of the municipality of Amsterdam is one of my new favorite politicians. She is responsible for legislation which forbids drivers of snorfietsen, a category of light motorcycle in Dutch law, from using most bicycle lanes in Amsterdam since 28 April.

This was made possible by an Algemene Maatregel van Bestuur (AMvB) issued by the government on 21 June 2018. An AMvB is delegated legislation. The Wegenverkeerswet 1994 (Road Traffic Act) contains the general rules and leaves the details to be defined in AMvB’s, which can be changed by the government without approval from the States General. The AMvB in question enables the municipality as road administrator to decide through its traffic order where snorfietsen can drive.

In the explanation given in the AMvB it becomes clear that it was written especially at the request of the municipality of Amsterdam. Amsterdam had a problem with the accessibility of its center because of the increasing numbers of bicycles and snorfietsen. Because snorfietsen often caused dangerous situations on bicycle lanes due to their wide size and speed difference with bicycles the municipality asked for the law to be changed. The House of Representatives supported that request and asked the government to change the rules.

To understand this policy I will first explain the Dutch legislation regarding snorfietsen. In the Netherlands we have three legal categories for motorized vehicles on two wheels (excluding ordinary electric bicycles):

  1. The snorfiets is a motorcycle with a maximum speed of 25 km/h. Requires an AM driver’s license and has a blue license plate. Must drive on bicycle lanes doesn’t require a helmet.
  2. The bromfiets is a motorcycle with a maximum speed of 45 km/h. Requires an AM driver’s license and has a yellow license plate. Must generally drive on the road in built-up area and on bicycle lanes outside built-up area. The reason for this is that it isn’t allowed to drive on roads and highways with higher speed limits. Requires a helmet.
  3. The ‘normal’ motorcycle with the same speed limit as a car. Requires an A driver’s license and has a yellow license plate. Never drives on bicycle lanes, just like a car. Requires a helmet.

In the new traffic order of the municipality of Amsterdam which bans the snorfiets from the bicycle lanes it is obvious that a lot of effort went into justifying the change. According to national legislation which made the change possible the special reasons for banning snorfietsen must relate to ‘great hustle’. What that entails is not defined and up to the interpretation of the municipality, but it is clear that it has employed much research and calculations methods to define it.

If you ask me this is a waste of time because snorfietsen are by definition an unnecessary danger to bicyclists on the bicycle lane, even if it’s not busy. The speed difference, format and weight of a snorfiets mean that a bicyclist will always draw the shortest straw in case of a collision. Another issue not addressed by this legislation is the foul stench and pollution created on bicycle lanes by snorfietsen running on gasoline. An investigation by the GGD Gelderland Midden from 2017 shows that snorfietsen contribute significantly to ultrafine particle emissions on bicycle lanes. This is a health risk to bicyclists. The GGD Midden Gelderland advises to phase out non-electric snorfietsen on the long term and to ban them from the bicycle lane on the short term.

Since I’ve been riding my bicycle to work in The Hague to the center in half an hour I’m confronted daily with fast driving snorfietsen (many are illegally modified to exceed 25 km/h) and their filthy exhaust gases. But what truly worries me is that my daughter Rosalinde will be riding a bicycle in a few years and would have to share the bicycle lane with snorfietsen which are easily able to flatten her. Fortunately, salvation is on the horizon if it is up to our alderman Robert van Asten. He expects to follow Amsterdam in 2020 with a ban of the snorfiets on the bicycle lane. I encourage him to interpret ‘great hustle’ very broadly.

The end goal has to be the complete abolition of the snorfiets as a category, however. De facto that might happen with the upcoming general helmet requirement for snorfietsen. It is expected that a legal change will be introduced for that at the end of this year or next year. If one of the advantages of the snorfiets is taken away it might persuade their users to switch to electric bicycles, bromfietsen or motorcycles. In addition the proposed Klimaatakkoord (the Climate Act) would prohibit the sale of snorfietsen and bromfietsen on gasoline starting in respectively 2025 and 2030. If accepted this will solve the pollution problem on bicycle lanes. But the official maximum speed of 25 km/h for snorfietsen remains a problem then. On the road they will slow down cars which are allowed to drive 50 km/h. That is why abolishing the entire category is the best solution. It is unnecessarily convoluted, complicated and inconsistent if every municipality has to make their own choice in their traffic order.

Then there is also the matter of support for such a policy with snorfiets owners themselves. They can modify their snorfiets towards a bromfiets, but then they would also have to change their registration with the RDW (Netherlands Vehicle Authority). This requires an inspection by the RDW which costs several hundred euro’s and which can only be performed in Lelystad (!). If we make this inspection easier and cheaper I think the policy would meet less resistance. Give all motorcycle businesses which are licensed to test vehicles for road safety the authority to perform this inspection and instate that sales ban on snorfietsen and bromfietsen on gasoline, then we would have a nice compromise.