Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Einstein and How Society is Going Crazy

Einstein, Vienna 1921./Albert-Einstein-Archiv,
If you, like me, have been bumped into by people on the streets not watching where they are walking, or entering an elevator in a residential building where no one greets anymore, but everyone is glued to their cell phone as if they are either the most important person in the world and reviewing their urgent messages or are the most inane individuals who need to keep playing their games wherever and whenever, or worse have been a traffic victim, because the other driver was texting, then the following from the blog, The Burning Platform, may resonate with you: "The day that Albert Einstein feared may finally have arrived"

Although it's doubtful that Einstein actually made this statement,

 "...I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots....",

whoever did say this, I fully sympathize with the meaning and how it applies to so many of us who seem unable to "live" without their smartphones.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Holland or the Netherlands?

The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn (1650)/Wikimedia
While the Dutch football team is prominently part of the 2014 World  Cup, I am continuously being asked : What is the difference between Holland and the Netherlands? What is Holland? Or how do your fellow Dutchmen call their own country?

I have to admit it may be a bit confusing, because both the Dutch and others use the name Holland, L'Hollande, L'Ollanda, but also Nederland, the Netherlands, Les Pays Bas, and Pajais Bass intermittently. 

A brief history lesson for those history buffs among you: the official name of the Netherlands is Kingdom of the Netherlands (in Dutch: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) or in short the Netherlands (in Dutch: Nederland.) The state of the Netherlands exists in its current form only since 1830, when the current state of Belgium seceded from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which in turn then became the Kingdom of the Netherlands. To make things a bit more complicated, in 2013 the Netherlands celebrated its 200th anniversary as Kingdom of the Netherlands, because it was in 1813 that the Dutch Prince of Orange returned to what was then the Kingdom of Holland, at the end of the reign of King Louis Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, and a country which was essentially part of the French empire. Prince of Orange took first over as "sovereign prince", while in 1815 becoming the first (Dutch) King of the Netherlands, King William I.

So what is then Holland? It is actually

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The American Dream: Just a Dream?

American Dreams at Little Duck Key/US National Archives
The American writer and historian John Truslow Adams coined the term "The American Dream" in his 1931 book The Epic of America and called it "the greatest contribution we have made to the thought and welfare of the world." His American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. ... It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

Well, it has become increasingly clear that this American Dream is harder to attain for most in the U.S. A recent Harvard study found that "contrary to popular perception, economic mobility has not changed significantly over the last fifty years" - so it is not as bad as many people believed, but not as good as it could after fifty years of economic progress. In addition, the famed mobility of the U.S. is consistently lower than in most developed countries.

Also, we've seen several studies on increasing inequality around the world. For example, an OECD study shows how income gains between 1975 and 2007 were divvied up in 18 OECD countries: in the U.S., its top 1 percent of earners accounted for 47 percent of all pre-tax income growth over that time period, while for example in Denmark, the vast majority of gains during the same period of time went to the "bottom" 90 percent.

In addition, the French economist Thomas Piketty's bestselling book Capital in the 21st Century, has drawn attention this year to the growing inequality in wealth like no other economics book before.   Piketty's  research is based on reviewing tax returns in over twenty countries since the 18th century, and more directed at the effects of capitalism in general, than the situation in one single country. Still, Piketty said the following about the situation in the U.S. in an interview with CBS:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Disappointments, Drama, and Surprises in the World Cup Quarter Finals

Brazil 2014 World Cup Flags/VectorOpenStock
Four World Cup Quarter Final games were played in Brazil over the last two days, which means eight of the world's best football teams and each winners of their respective groups during the first round would compete to reach the semi-finals. Let's first look at some forecasts: first, there is the investment bank Goldman Sachs, which always combines its economic forecasts with World cup forecasts: this time it had forecasted Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain to be the four semi-finalists.Then there is BBC Sport Football expert Mark Lawrenson who has been predicting the outcomes correctly of 50% of the 48 games in the group phase and picked the correct winner in each of the eight last-16 ties. What did he forecast for the quarter-finals? France-Germany 0-2; Brazil-Colombia 2-0; Argentina-Belgium 0-2; The Netherlands - Costa Rica 2-0.

So what were the actual results, and were these matches worthwhile to watch?

France- Germany 0-1
Germany, three-time World Cup winner, ranked 2nd on FIFA World Ranking and with a population of nearly 81 million the largest European country, was slightly favored over France (one-time World Cup winner, ranked 17  and a population of 67 million). However, the French had shown much promise and progress since their disastrous 2010 South African World Cup.  How did this match go? The Germans beat the French matter-of-factually by scoring in the 13th minute and never looking back. The French were clearly disappointing as was this game. Surprising fact: Germany seems to be playing like it used in the 1980s and 1990s: cool, organized and effective even if not playing well.

Brazil-Colombia 2-1
Brazil, five-time World Cup winner, ranked 3rd on FIFA World Ranking, a population of 201 million and host of this World cup, is the tournament's favorite. Still, Colombia, (first-time quarter-finalist, ranked 8th, with a population of 47 million) was considered by many to have played some great football during this tournament with one of its new stars, James Rodriguez.) Brazil won this match after a first half in which it played quite well, almost Brazilian-like, for the first time during this competition. The second half was quite disappointing from both sides. Only the second Brazilian goal, a free kick from 35 yards by defender David Luiz, was a highlight. This was a tense game for the fans of both teams, but for the objective viewer it was not a pretty game and lacked the quality one would expect from

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why the US Should Support the Netherlands for the Rest of the World Cup 2014

Dutch soccer jerseys/Vogler
As the World Cup Soccer (or football as it's called around the world) in Brazil is reaching its final stages, there are still six countries left competing: Brazil that beat fellow South American contender Colombia, and Germany that beat France in today's quarter finales. Then still matching up in tomorrow's quarter finals, Argentina and Belgium, and the Netherlands and Costa Rica.

In the meanwhile, last Tuesday, Team USA was eliminated by Belgium in extra time in a hard fought game.  Now that the US is out, The Wall Street Journal executive editor, Almar Latour, who is from Dutch origins, calls upon US soccer fans not to stop watching the World Cup, but instead to start cheering for the Dutch team because of the many historical ties and similarities between the US and the Netherlands.


Latour states:

" For starters, our flags have the same colors, which means you don't necessarily have to switch fan gear if you switch your support to the Netherlands............

....... Like you, the Netherlands has had fights with Belgians and lost. Granted, ours was in the 1830s while yours was just Tuesday. But we both had great defenders who ultimately could not save us from losing. Yours of course is the mighty Tim Howard, blocker of countless shots at his goal. Ours is Jan van Speijk, a Dutch naval officer who when confronted with hostile Belgians decided to blow up his own gunboat in front of the Belgian city of Antwerp.....

......... Like the Netherlands or not, I think you can legally claim victory in any case if we win. Your grandparents freed our grandparents 70 years ago, so without you guys there would be no Dutch team. We won't forget that......

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Amazon-Hachette Saga

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the unfolding of the Amazon-Hachette saga, but do these opinions bring us any closer to a healthier economic environment to write, publish and sell or buy books? As usual time will tell, but let's first explain briefly what seems to be going on. The French publihser Hachette, with its imprint Little, Brown among the top five trade publishers in the U.S., has been in negotiations with Amazon about new terms selling eBooks. As these negotiations continued, disagreements have reached a level that Amazon started delaying shipments of Hachette's books including by some of its leading authors such as James Patterson, JK Rowling, and Malcolm Gladwell.  Let's have a look at the 'official" statements by both protagonists:

Amazon made this statement:

"We are currently buying less (print) inventory and "safety stock" on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future. Instead, customers can order new titles when their publication date arrives. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Hachette -- availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Hachette to fill the orders we place. Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to the customer promptly. These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon.

At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms. Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives. Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution. Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon......."

Hachette in turn said the following:

"It is good to see Amazon acknowledge that its business decisions significantly affect authors’ lives. For reasons of their own, Amazon has limited its customers’ ability to buy more than 5,000 Hachette titles. Authors, with whom we at Hachette have been partners for nearly two centuries, engage in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers. In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment, and connection. By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors’ books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not.

We will spare no effort to resume normal business relations with Amazon—which has been a great partner for years—but under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them, at the same time that it recognizes Amazon’s importance as a retailer and innovator. Once we have reached such an agreement, we will be happy to discuss with Amazon its ideas about compensating authors for the damage its demand for improved terms may have done them, and to pass along any payments it considers appropriate.In the meantime, we are extremely grateful for the spontaneous outpouring of support we have received both privately and publicly from authors and agents. We will continue to communicate with them promptly as this situation develops."

In the meanwhile, many pundits, newspapers, magazines, social media started commenting. Following is just a small sample of those opinions.

The New York Times of May 23, As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Disappear, said:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BookExpo America: Book Sales, Amazon and John Grisham

Over the last week, I attended BookExpo America,  America's annual book trade show, held at New York's Jacob Javits Center, where everyone who does anything with books gathers. Even though the book business has been under pressure in recent years: people read less or seem to buy fewer books, the rise of eBooks has put more pressure on bookstores, book chains disappear, such as Border's, or face difficult times, such as Barnes & Noble, the atmosphere this year seemed optimistic. Still, some of the numbers presented in the daily BEA publication are not indicative of a healthy industry. The Codex research found that:

- Amazon's share of new book unit purchases in March was 41%, dominating 65% of all online new book units, print and digital;
- Amazon is the largest channel for eBooks, with a 67% market share in March;
- Amazon has a commanding slice of the sale of print books online, with a 64% share in March.

Nielsen Market Research found that online outlets accounted for 41% of book purchases in 2013, while bookstore chains accounted for 22%. In other words, the only two booklets with a meaningful share of eBook and print markets are Amazon (by far) and Barnes & Noble. (with a faltering eBook operation.)  If that's reason to be optimistic, then probably only if the book business would be dead that would be a worse outcome. Against this backdrop, people in the corridors were discussing the
pricing dispute between Amazon and Hachette, one of the big five trade publishers in the U.S. (although Hachette itself is a French company.) This dispute about new terms for selling Hachette's eBooks between these two giants has now become front page news, as apparently the negotiations are not going well and Amazon seems to delay shipments and prevent pre-orders of certain Hachette books.  This is not just about Hachette,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Global Chaos and the Freedom of the Toltecs

Toltec-style vessel/Wikimedia
These are chaotic times we live in: Russian Ukrainians want to be free from the Ukrainian government and other Ukrainians want to be free from their former President and his crony oligarchs. In Syria, the Sunni-Muslim majority wants to be free from the minority Alawite regime of Bashar al Assad. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to be free from the secular Mubarak regime, but also from the obligations of a democratic society. In the U.S. and elsewhere where income and wealth disparity has been growing strongly, the 1% wants to be free from taxes, government, and "restrictive" regulations while the 99% wants to be free from want and poverty. In the European Union, the established voices want to be free from a real debate with opponents of further European integration, while those same opponents and populists want to be free from European rules and regulations. This list can go on and on from our communities in our own neighborhoods to places in South America, Africa and Asia.  

While thinking of this unbridled quest for freedom, this reminded me of the popular book The Four Agreements, a Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz, based on traditional Toltec wisdom beliefs. I'm paraphrasing here some parts of that book:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dutch Bookstore Polare's Lesson: A Call for a New Renaissance

In my previous post,  I wrote about the demise of the Dutch bookstore chain, Polare. Following is the English translation as released on DutchNews.nl, a leading provider of quality Dutch news in English.

In this article, I state that Polare is the quintessential canary in the coal mine, which signals again and again that this is not just about the collapse of a leading bookstore chain. This is about the future of Dutch city centers, about a knowledge economy and about the quality of Dutch culture. Although the focus is on the Netherlands, bookstores are under threat in other countries, including the U.S. I believe that this is a bad development not just for the book industry, but for culture as expressed in these stores. Below follows my complete article:

During my recent visit to Holland, where I met fellow publishers and bookstore owners to discuss developments in the book trade, naturally the situation at Polare came up. Now back in my home town New York, I keep following a steady stream of Dutch commentaries about Polare, like by author Kluun, who doesn’t consider the apparent disappearance of old-fashioned  “reading books for hours and hours” a problem, or by journalist Max Pam, who says he just needs small but knowledgeable bookstores, or others who blame Polare’s management for its demise, and then the news about the Dutch publishers’ initiative  to set up a streaming subscription service for e-Books. All contain some truth and value, but miss a bigger picture. Polare is the quintessential canary in the coal mine, which signals again and again that this is not just about the collapse of a leading bookstore chain. This is about the future of Dutch city centers, about a knowledge economy and about the quality of Dutch culture.

Before I continue, let me say something about my own background. I’ve been involved as founder-publisher of a specialized book publisher in New York that since its inception has been using digital technology, both on-demand printing and e-Books. Although I am a great proponent of technological innovation, I don’t believe that technology alone can solve every problem.

Let’s now return to the perfect storm Polare got into.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

President Obama's Historic Visit to Amsterdam

President Barack Obama and Dutch Primeminister Mark Rutte
press conference in front of The Nightwatch
U.S. President Barack Obama,  starting a week of international travel, yesterday visited Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, when he became the first U.S. President in office to visit this city. 

He gave a joint press conference with Dutch Prime minister Mark Rutte, in front of the historic 1642 painting The Night Watch ("de Nachtwacht" in Dutch), one of the most famous paintings by Rembrandt at exhibit at the recently renovated Rijksmuseum. The above photo speaks for itself: if speaking in front of such a historic piece of art inspires both speakers, one should consider doing this more often - and even if it doesn't, it's a nice backdrop for the audience.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

De Les van Polare: Oproep tot Innovatieve Renaissance

This is a first post on this blog in my native Dutch.  I will post an English translation shortly.

Afgelopen week schreef ik een bijdrage voor de Volkskrant opinie pagina, dat daar werd gepubliceerd onder de kop: 

"Het gaat niet enkel om Polare maar om de stad als bruisende kern":

Tijdens mijn afgelopen bezoek aan Nederland, waar ik gesprekken voerde met uitgevers en boekhandelaars over het boekenvak, kwam vanzelfsprekend Polare ter sprake. Inmiddels terug in mijn woonplaats New York volg ik een gestage stroom van commentaren zoals van schrijver Kluun die het “niet meer uren achtereen lezen” geen probleem vindt, of van Max Pam die roept om kleine boekhandels met kennisvan zaken, of anderen die Polare’s management de schuld geven, en dan het nieuws dat Nederlandse uitgevers werken aan een streaming dienst voor e-boeken. 

Allen met een kern van waarheid, maar er valt een grotere les te leren. Polare is de spreekwoordelijke kanarie in de kolenmijn, die een zoveelste signaal geeft dat er meer aan de hand is dan het omvallen van een prestigieuze boekhandelketen. Het gaat om de toekomst van de Nederlandse binnensteden, de kenniseconomie en de kwaliteit van de Nederlandse cultuur.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Olympics Are Over with Dutch Best Result Ever

The Winter Olympics at Sochi are over with many winners: the host country Russia not only by having hosted a successful and secure Olympic Games, but also by winning the medal count: number one with 33 medals in total, of which 13 gold; closely followed by the U.S. with 28 medals, of which 9 gold, and little Norway - but it is a Nordic country - is third with 26 medals, of which 11 gold. The Netherlands has achieved its best result ever by being fifth in the overall ranking with 24 medals, 8 of which gold. 

The Dutch have achieved an amazing result no matter what some critics may say about them having won only in speed skating events. If one compares the Dutch results with other countries who could have done better due to their size (for example Germany and China) or due to their tradition in a broader range of winter sports (for example Austria, Sweden, Switzerland) then the Dutch have truly achieved an outstanding performance. 

Also by comparing the Dutch results in Sochi with the previous Olympic Games in Vancouver, where the Dutch won 8 medals (of which 4 gold,) then the improvement is staggering. Bear in mind........ 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

US - Dutch Skating Saga Continues

The US - Dutch skating saga continues with the appearance of Dutch skating coach Jillert Anema on the morning show Squawk Box of business network CNBC, as described on their website:

" The Netherlands' speed skating coach scoffed at the controversy surrounding the American speed skating team's weak performance and their Under Armour skating suits, telling CNBC that the overall American sports system is to blame for the U.S. skaters' dismal performance.

Anema cited a lack of domestic competition and support for American speed skaters for the team's disastrous showing, and contrasted it with the popularity of speed skating in the Netherlands, which hosts many leagues and lots of competition....

Anema drew a contrast between a lack of American support for speed skating and the huge support shown for sports like basketball...............Anema singled out American football for criticism. The sport isn't played anywhere else in the world and is one that he clearly doesn't care for.............He's convinced that the Americans won't be able to threaten the Dutch in Olympic speedskating anytime soon, no matter how much the U.S. may be favored going into the Winter Games."

Have a look at this hilarious exchange, where Squaw Box host Joe Kernen is taking the bait offered by coach Anema, known in Holland for his eccentricities.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wall Street Journal Apology to the Dutch

Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters (H. Avercamp/Wikimedia)
The Wall Street Journal writer Matthew Futterman apologizes in an open letter to the Dutch for "trivializing your work in Sochi":
"Dear Dutch: Please Forgive Me."

As I mentioned  in my post "The Dutch Olympic Skating Success & Misconceptions in the Media", I found his earlier comments a bit denigrating to speed skating and unfair to the Dutch wins in Sochi. Apparently mr. Futterman received many more less friendly responses from Dutch readers, and felt compelled to respond:

"Sunday night, after the Netherlands won yet another speedskating medal and swept the podium in the women's 1,500-meter race, I wrote a column for this newspaper in which I suggested that all those medals from one country in one sport were making things kind of boring for "anyone not wearing orange underwear." (The Netherlands has 20 total medals, tied with the U.S. for most overall, but 19 of them have come in long-track speedskating.)
Since then I have been bombarded with hate mail from the Netherlands, like this:

"Hello crying baby…Come to Holland/Netherlands then I will give you my 50-year-old Dutch fists on your ugly face."

 I seem to have created the mistaken impression that I dislike all things Dutch and that the U.S. speedskating debacle has made me bitter and jealous. I promise neither is true. I really love all things Dutch."

Mr. Futterman then continues his apology by listing things he loves about Holland, such as

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dutch Skiing in the New York Times

Ski slope in Rastkogel/ Petr Novák, Wikipedia
While the Olympic Games continue, and I already mentioned in a previous post the international media attention for the Dutch speed skating success, now a  quite an unlikely op-ed article was published in The New York Times,  "Why the Dutch Hit the Slopes" by Eric Weinberger.

Unlikely, because it refers to the Dutch increased love for skiing, in a country which is known for its flatness, and also for its successes in speed skating not downhill skiing:

"...Still, nothing stops Dutch people from skiing. In 2012, while the country was still struggling through recession, nearly one million (out of a population of almost 17 million) traveled to the Alps. They descend en masse on Alpine resorts, most of them Austrian; some fly or travel by train, but most drive. The beginning of the February week that the Dutch schools are off is known for some of the longest traffic jams in Europe........

......And yet in the 2014 Olympics, for the first time, a Dutch person — Nicolien Sauerbreij, from the town of De Hoef, a few feet below sea level — will be defending her title as champion in a downhill event, having won gold in the parallel giant slalom snowboarding event in 2010."

Weinberger then ends his article by stating that globalization and improved travel will enable athletes from different countries to excel in sports which they traditionally would never have been able to participate in, let alone win:

The Dutch Olympic Skating Success & Misconceptions in the Media

Hans Brinker, The Silver Skates
The Dutch Olympic team is on its way to achieving one of its best Winter Olympics. Sofar, the Dutch have won seventeen medailles: five gold, five silver and seven bronze. What  is going on? The international media have started to notice.

The Wall Street Journal states in its article "In Sochi, the Dutch Are Dominating the Overall Olympic Medal Count":

" The Netherlands winning  the overall medal race.This is absurd. The Netherlands has about 15 million people. They are competitive in a single Winter Olympic sport. Sunday brought more domination, as the Dutch swept the podium in speedskating's women's 1,500 meters. The Netherlands had 17 medals at day's end on Sunday, one more than the U.S. and Russia; 16 of those 17 have come in long-track speedskating. (The other? Short-track speedskating.)...........

 The Dutch have chosen one of the few sports that a country of the Netherlands' size could dominate, since only about five nations are even competitive in speedskating. The U.S.—which was very competitive in speedskating until this year, when it became obsessed with its wardrobe—only has a couple thousand competitive skaters of any age. If the Winter Games are about being opportunistic, then the Dutch deserve the gold medal for opportunism. The Netherlands should enjoy this moment of Olympic supremacy, even if it doesn't last another 24 hours."

The International Business Times tries to explain the Dutch success in its article "Winter Olympics 2014: Speed Skating Continues To Be Dominated By The Netherlands, But Why?":

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Finland, Holland and Norway At Top, US Plunges in World Press Freedom Index

The Netherlands
Finland, Holland and Norway again at top. The U.S. plunges....
I'm referring here to this year's the World Press Freedom Index which has been released again by Reporters Without Borders. According to Wikipedia, "this is an annual ranking of countries based upon the organization's assessment of the countries' press freedom. It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations, and netizens enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom."

Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by the Netherlands and Norway, like in 2013.  The U.S. is 46th out of 180 countries, a 13-place drop from last year due to NSA leaks and attacks on whistle-blowers in 2013. The US had occupied a lower position, 47th, in 2012 after "arrests of high-profile journalists during the Occupy Wall Street protests.", according to RT News.  Let's see what next year's World Press Freedom Index will bring as the Netherlands is just experiencing its own intelligence controversy about the role of its domestic intelligence agency in collecting the metadata of 1.8 million domestic telephone records. 

In case you consider traveling to some of the lowest ranked countries, these are the four lowest in this year's index: Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and lastly 180th Eritrea.