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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is the UWV so incapable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Arthur Muller isn’t a good leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should we do with controversial statues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three different IT workspaces for the Dutch national government

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

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

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

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

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

The departure of Krikke and the role of the nomination committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The search for the ultimate pizza oven

Like many I’m a great lover of pizza. On this weblog I’ve written several times about my holidays in Italy, the land where this dish originates from and where it often tastes the best. But of course the opportunities for holidays to Italy are limited. There may be many some good pizza restaurants in the Netherlands, also in Den Haag, but not directly next door. Going to a restaurant also is often more of a hassle, for my Dutch mentality it’s also pricey. Because I want to make pizza part of my repertoire as an easy and quick dish, especially for visitors who come to eat, I decided to make the dish myself.

Making pizza yourself is of course done by more people, but I’m more demanding: my pizza should come as close as possible to those from the restaurants in the pizza heaven of Napoli. This required some more work. I followed a pizza course to learn, among other things, how to make dough and to stretch pizza by hand. I bought a bag of 25 kilo Caputo ‘Classica’ pizza flour. However, the greatest challenge was and is the baking of pizza.

The reason a brick oven is used often in Napoli is not nostalgia or tradition, but because it provides the best baking result. This is so because the walls of a brick oven provide so much radiative heat, something a metal oven won’t do. A brick oven is too expensive and too large for my garden, so I decided to investigate other options.

Initially I bought a portable Optima Napoli electric pizza oven, probably around five years ago. For € 150 it was a fantastic device in theory because it could attain 450 °C and bake pizza’s in five minutes. In practice the baking result disappointed, which was the reason I ended up selling it. What was exactly wanting I don’t remember anymore, but let’s just note that there is a good reason why there are so many videos on YouTube on modifications to let the G3 Ferrari (a slightly cheaper version of the Optima Napoli) attain higher temperatures. The question is how fast and how long it can reach 450 °C.

After the Optima Napoli I decided to buy a Pizza Steel for about € 50 to use it with my built-in electric oven in our kitchen. The idea was that this steel plate was superior to a pizza stone because steel conducts heat better. However, my AEG BS7304001M built-in oven doesn’t go higher than 230 °C. Even if the Pizza Steel reaches the maximum temperature after preheating for half an hour it will take another fifteen minutes before a pizza is done. After so much time the toppings of a pizza are often dehydrated because the browning of the dough takes too long.

Then I decided to buy an Ooni 3 for € 250. This is portable oven is used outdoors and is fueled by wood pellets. The major advantage is that it warms quickly and should be able to bake pizza’s in ninety seconds. By now I’ve become experienced with this oven and developed a love/hate relationship with it.

The last time I family visiting for dinner the first two pizza’s were reasonably okay, but the remaining three failed. The main cause was the behavior of the wind in my backyard how well the flame in the pellet feeder was burning. The wind was weak then, but it seemed to change direction constantly. Turning the oven several times so that the wind blew through the pellet feeder didn’t help. The pellets were burning, but in some way the oven barely heated up, the infrared thermometer registered a stone temperature not much higher than 200 °C. Even though my family effectively only had two reasonable pizza’s, they were still impressed. Isn’t it lovely when other people laud your culinary skills while you are frustrated because you know how much better it could have been? I meant that in the ironic sense.

On the next day I decided to take three remaining pizza dough balls from my freezer. On this near windless day a hellfire of over 400 °C was unleashed by the Ooni 3. It delivered me delicious pizza’s. Of course this had to happen on a day where I was eating alone. I ended my dinner with some light nausea as I had eaten three pizza’s.

My greatest problem with the Ooni 3 is that the process is too unpredictable. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it goes wrong if the oven doesn’t have its day because of the wind or something else. Also it is difficult that the oven has a door which you need to open constantly to monitor the progress of a pizza and to turn it. It also has a long chimney.

Another issue is that baking farinata in the Ooni 3 is practically impossible. During my holiday on Sardinia I fell in love with this pancake of chickpea flour, but I’d like to make this dish at home as well. It is more simple than pizza and faster to prepare. In the Ooni 3 the strong flame blackens the surface of the farinata before the bottom has baked properly.

For that reason I’ve recently considered the Roccbox as a replacement. This oven doesn’t have a door or chimney. Also the wood used to fuel this oven is fed differently from the Ooni 3. The burner of the Roccbox is located under the oven and can catch wind from any direction, whereas the burner of the Ooni 3 is located horizontally behind the oven and can only take in wind from the rear. This is why I suspected that the Roccbox would be less unpredictable than the Ooni 3. Because I had become skeptical and the Roccbox sells for € 570 I decided to investigate user experiences with this oven first.

It turned out that the Roccbox didn’t give much issues with the gas burner (which I don’t want because gas is not a sustainable fuel) but that there are often difficulties with using the desired high temperatures with wood. That’s why I abandoned my plan to get a Roccbox. I’m curious about the upcoming Ooni Karu, another oven which is wood fired. It is cheaper than the Roccbox and has a wood burner which might work better. For now I’ll continue using the Ooni 3 and try the advice to place a funnel on the pellet feeder and a fan behind the air intake.

There are some disadvantages though which are shared by all wood fired ovens compared to electric ovens: I can’t use them in my backyard if the weather is bad, they’re more difficult to use when it’s dark outside, there is a fire hazard, wood and wood pellets are relatively expensive, potential for smoke nuisance and preheating takes longer.

That’s why I’m now considering an electric built-in oven which can attain 300 °C, the AEG BPB351020M. This temperature is a significant difference with the 230 °C of my current built-in oven. This oven can’t compare with the theoretical maximum temperature of the Ooni 3 and other wood fired ovens, but I do expect that this oven can bake pizza and farinata which can satisfy me.

The ultimate pizza oven which isn’t a brick oven still has to be made. As is often the case the best choice is a trade off between different factors. In the case of pizza ovens those are price, size, baking speed, convenience and sustainability. But I hope the combination of the AEG BPB351020M and the Pizza Steel will offer the best compromise. Expect a detailed review and comparative measurements on my weblog when I’ve purchased the oven.

Switched to the Astra theme for WordPress

During the years I have maintained this weblog I’ve used quite a few different themes for the appearance of WordPress, the software which powers this weblog. I didn’t like the default WordPress theme, so I used K2 instead. Eventually K2 was no longer maintained, meaning that it became incompatible with newer WordPress versions. Then I found Tarski, which also became unmaintained after several years.

At that point a switched back to the default themes of WordPress, which had gotten better by then. Even with the default themes I had to switch to newer versions over time, because more recent default themes make better use of new features in WordPress. I made minor modifications to those with the child theme functionality to suit my taste. However, I eventually became dissatisfied with them as well.

The current default theme, Twenty Nineteen, was the limit for me. First of all, the WordPress developers decided against giving users the option to add a sidebar, unlike past default themes. It may be true that the sidebar widgets are moved to the footer of the page if you visit this weblog on a mobile device with a small screen, but it’s still useful to have if you’re using a larger screen. Currently the sidebar shows the search bar and categories on my weblog.

But what is far worse is the layout of Twenty Nineteen. On smaller screens there is no issue, but you will notice it when you view the theme on a large 23 inch monitor with a Full HD resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. My knowledge of CSS is still limited, but what I understand from the CSS code of the theme is that the maximum width of the content is always relative to the screen size. I believe the following code is responsible for this in the style.css file of the theme:

@media only screen and (min-width: 1168px) {
  .entry .entry-content .wp-block-image .aligncenter {
    max-width: calc(6 * (100vw / 12) - 28px);
  }
}

As you can see the entry classes have a relative width calculated from the width of the viewport for screens which are at least 1168 pixels wide. This is a bad thing because this leads to long line length on large screens, which makes text uncomfortable to read. Unless I’m missing something in the code, it would also mean the line length would be even more extreme if you would view Twenty Nineteen on a larger monitor with a 4K resolution. Another gripe I have with the theme is that it uses system fonts for the content:

.entry .entry-content .wp-block-verse {
  font-family: "NonBreakingSpaceOverride", "Hoefler Text", "Baskerville Old Face", Garamond, "Times New Roman", serif;
  font-size: 22px;
  line-height: 1.8;
}

This means that Twenty Nineteen first looks for common fonts which are shipped on Mac OS, iOS and Windows operating systems. If those are not present, it will fall back to the default serif font used on the system. On my Fedora Linux computer, that’s Liberation Serif. So in other words: the theme looks different based on what operating system is used to visit the weblog. To me, that’s undesirable. Also, note the rather large font size of 22 pixels in the CSS code, which is way to large for my taste. Do note that the px length in CSS doesn’t denote absolute pixel count, but is a relative length which depends on the pixel density of the screen. Because next to the 23 inch monitor with 1920 by 1080 pixels, you also have phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10 with a 6,4 inch screen and 3040 by 1440 pixels.

So in summary, with the Twenty Nineteen theme and a Full HD resolution on a 23 inch monitor, paragraphs of weblog entries are 932 pixels wide and use a 22 pixel font (this time in the absolute sense). Let’s compare this with the website of a popular Dutch newspaper, de Volkskrant. If I view that website with the same monitor, paragraphs have a maximum width of 590 pixels and the font CapitoliumNews at 20 pixels is used instead of system fonts. This causes the line length to be much shorter, what I consider normal and convenient. That website looks good and reads comfortably.

I could have spent a lot of time on making a child theme for Twenty Nineteen to tailor it to my needs, but I decided to switch to the Astra theme instead. This theme is quite popular, so I don’t expect it to become unmaintained any time soon. While it has some paid options, the basic functionality which you get for free is adequate for my purposes. I really like it for its sensible defaults, its sidebar option and the ease of customization. It offers many options which don’t require delving into CSS and making a child theme. Paragraphs of weblog entries appear to have a maximum width of 600 pixels by default, which I like.

I changed the following options in Astra’s customizer to change the theme to my liking:

  • Layout → Header → Site Identity = Enable “ Display Site Tagline”.
  • Layout → Blog → Blog / Archive = Set “Blog Post Content” to “Full Content” and set “Blog Meta” to “Publish Date, Category and Comments”.
  • Layout → Blog → Single Post = Set “Single Post Meta” to “Publish Date, Category and Comments”.
  • Typography → Base typography = Set “Font Family” to “Source Serif Pro” and “Font Size” to “18”.

Especially the option to select a different font is convenient. By default Astra also uses system fonts because they load faster. It also allows you to use all fonts available from Google Fonts, which gives you a massive amount of choice. Of these, I like the Source Serif Pro font. Unlike the system fonts option, this font will be used for the theme regardless of the operating system of the visitor. This guarantees a uniform appearance for my weblog.

Finally, I also added some custom CSS to modify the table layout. The default layout for tables in Twenty Nineteen is very unappealing to me, unfortunately Astra doesn’t do better in that regard. I borrowed this CSS code from the Lovecraft theme:

/* Tables */

table {
	border: 0;
	border-left: 0;
	border-right: 0;
	border-collapse: collapse;
	border-spacing: 0;
	empty-cells: show;
	font-size: 1em;
	margin: 2.5em 0;
	width: 100%;
}

th, td {
	border-left: 0;
	border-right: 0;
	padding: 2%;
	margin: 0;
	overflow: visible;
	line-height: 100%;
	border-bottom: 1px solid #DDD;
}

caption {
	color: #111;
	text-align: center;
	padding: 2%;
}

thead {
	vertical-align: bottom;
	white-space: nowrap;
}

th {
	font-weight: bold;
}

table tbody > tr:nth-child(odd) > td { background: #f9f9f9; }

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.

What is wrong with the Forum for Democracy

On 20 March this year the elections for the States-Provincial were held in the Netherlands. A new party, the Forum for Democracy (abbreviated FvD in Dutch), participated for the first time and won the most seats in this election. In the Senate the FvD won twelve seats and became the largest party, together with the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) which acquired the same number of seats. I thought it would be wise to investigate what plans this party has for my province and country.

The website of their local chapter in Zuid-Holland province, where they became the largest party, does not reveal much. The older parties like GroenLinks or the VVD tell us their plans for policies in a detailed party program of several pages. The FvD Zuid-Holland limits itself to several lines of text spread over different policy subjects. With some ideas I agree, such as an elected King’s Commissioner and municipal fusions only after approval of the inhabitants. With other ideas I completely disagree, like abandoning the transition to sustainable energy. Other ideas are simply vague, like their position that the province should only execute core tasks. Which core tasks then?

It’s not true that people are not interested in a detailed political program. I think there are enough voters in Zuid-Holland who would want to know a party’s position on the construction of the Duinpolderweg highway or the growth of Rotterdam-The Hague airport. The issues which are visible and clearly affect our daily lives, on which FvD Zuid-Holland remains silent.

Let’s consider the national party of the FvD then, which has gained much more influence thanks to their victory in the Senate elections (remember that the States-Provincial elect the Senate in the Netherlands). Again their website mentions some policy positions which I approve, like the elected mayor and binding referenda. But here the details in their ideas are missing.

What caught my eye in particular is their plan for taxation. Apparently discussing income taxes, they want a tax-free bracket of € 20.000 for everyone and just two tax brackets, with a rate of 20% and 35%. The range of these tax brackets isn’t mentioned, but the current tax rebates (what the FvD would mean with a tax-free bracket) are significantly lower and the rates for the four current brackets are significantly higher.

The FvD writes that this tax plan will lead to much lower execution costs and that less taxation leads to a smaller government. As if a smaller public sector is a goal in itself for this party, regardless of the useful services like security, health care and education it delivers. What the prognosis for those execution costs is and how much smaller the government would become is not explained either.

The lack of details in the financial plans of the FvD makes it impossible to give an accurate calculation of the consequences it would have, but with some assumptions the publication De Correspondent arrived at a deficit of € 66.7 (!) billion. This would bankrupt our country. FvD supporters would probably consider De Correspondent to belong to the lying leftist media, but if they can point me to a financial basis for the plans I would be very interested in reading that. To my amazement their economic policy is never a subject in the debates in which FvD leader Thierry Baudet participates.

With the inability of the FvD to present a solid financial basis for its plans it’s no surprise that it didn’t let the Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB in Dutch) calculate the effects of its political program. Our country is unique in the tradition that the CPB, an independent governmental organization, calculates the economic effects of political programs before the elections. Political parties participate on a voluntary basis and fortunately most do so. This means that they can’t make all kinds of promises without the financial backing to make good on those promises. Instead of working on a better financial basis the FvD resorts to cowardly excuses, like calling the CPB the greatest source of fake news and claiming that the CPB’s models are outdated. Of course they don’t explain why these are outdated, let alone that they make an effort to present an alternative ‘correct’ calculation of their economic plans.

What strikes me as well is that the FvD would like a return to normal relations with Russia. In their position on geostrategy they write that our geopolitics is still based too much on the goals of the Cold War and that we have an interest in good relations with Russia for economic reasons. Apparently they forgot what happened after the Cold War, like the Russian attack on Georgia in 2008, the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and the support to dictators in Syria and Venezuela. Closer to home Russia is suspected of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom in 2018. In the Netherlands a Russian cyberattack on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was foiled in 2018. But above all, Russia is responsible for shooting down flight MH17 above Ukraine in 2014.

It is incredible that the FvD is burying its head in the sand for a country which is so obviously hostile towards our country and a large part of the rest of the world. Even worse, Baudet signed a letter to Trump in 2016 to ask for a new investigation of the shooting down of MH17 because he didn’t trust the investigation of the Joint Investigations Team (JIT) led by the the Netherlands. In 2018 he did vote in favor of holding Russia responsible for the attack. However, in a TV debate last month he repeated that he doubts the independence of the JIT inquiry and that he still considers Ukraine as one of the possible perpetrators of the attack. Baudet invests so much effort into discrediting the JIT investigation that it raises the question if the FvD is bankrolled from Moscow.

I could go on about the human-caused climate change denial by Baudet and the dubious claim that climate policy will cost us € 1,000 billion. But I will finish with a discussion of the political style employed by the FvD and the character of Baudet. I thought the political party DENK had already reached a low point in decency with all their personal attacks and the claim that doctors stop the treatment of sick elderly with immigrant backgrounds sooner than those of sick elderly of Dutch ancestry. It appears that the FvD and Baudet can sink even deeper.

Baudet has weird ideas about women. His question to prime minister Rutte at the end of a debate last month, asking when he had cried for the last time, was insolent. He published his own nude photo, which I consider strange behavior for a people’s representative. He holds his political opponents responsible for rape committed by immigrants. The arguments presented by the FvD for setting up a contact point to investigate leftist indoctrination in education read like a bad joke and are scandalous. The FvD is often covered in the news for internal fighting. I could go on with this, but for me it’s clear that this party and Baudet himself are completely unsuitable for participating in government.

To the voters and members of the FvD I have to say the following. I understand that you’ve had enough of the traditional political parties. But is a party which makes empty promises without financial backing, which doesn’t stand behind the MH17 victims, which is rife with infighting and which is committed to fact-free politics really what you want? Fortunately the members of the FvD have the possibility to file motions and approve the political program at their party’s meetings. I don’t expect you to send Baudet home any time soon. But I do hope that you at least make sure the political position on Russia is corrected to be in favor of sanctions towards that country.