Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Facebook contacts to LinkedIn

Facebook doesn't want to let you bring your FB friends to LinkedIn, the bastards.

Because obviously LinkedIn and Facebook are mortal enemies.

But there's a fairly easy workaround if you have a Yahoo! email account (or just make one).

Okay it's not that easy, but it does work.

First, let Yahoo mail import your Facebook contacts. That's automatic.

You would think that you could then just go to LinkedIn and import Yahoo mail contacts (which is also *supposed* to be automatic).

But LinkedIn won't "see" any Yahoo contacts that originate from Facebook unless they have been changed in some way. So what I'm saying is that, Facebook some 'cripples' the contacts in some way when sending them to Yahoo! Mail, in order to make sure they can't be "reused." By people using LinkedIn, for instance. Yeah. The Bastards.

The Workaround (s).

0) Export your Yahoo contacts list to a .csv file. Hey, wait, this doesn't work? Why? Because Yahoo has also struck a deal with Facebook to cripple the export function for any Facebook-derived contacts. So your export file will come up empty of any Facebook-originated contacts. Just in case you might be planning to bring them over to LinkedIn. Bastards.

1) Hard solution. You could just change every contact in Yahoo Email that cames from Facebook. Any small change will do. Then LinkedIn *can* see them and import them. But of course, that involves a little work.

2) Easier solution. Go to "Print" your Yahoo contacts. Use that "Print" table without actually printing it. Once it's in print form, you can get it to something usable in various ways, like converting to a PDF or table, or even just copy-pasting to Excel or a spreadsheet. Whatever.

3) Easiest, but requires a teeny bit of tech fearlessness. This dude has built a workaround.
You save the Yahoo contacts as a .html webpage.
Then download (from sourceforge) a program he made that will convert the webpage to a good old .csv file. (and then just upload it to LinkedIn, instructions below).
That worked for me.
I guess I should caution that you need to follow his directions closely. The idea of dragging and dropping a saved .html page onto an .exe is a little weird (to me) but it works, and you also have a real .csv file for *all* your Yahoo contacts, including the Facebook crippled ones.
Then you go to LinkedIn's "Add Connections" --> "Any Email" and you'll see the additional options "Upload Contacts File" and you can upload your new .csv file and just get a big list. Clink on any FB friends you want to also LinkIn with.

This sounds complicated, I know, but it worked in less than 5 mins for me. Actually the hardest part was once I had the list in front of me in LinkedIn, clicking on which FB friends I wanted to Link with anyhow, since only about half of my FB friends had LinkedIn accounts (and about half of those cared enough about LinkedIn to actually have uploaded a photo or resume).

Anyhow. This was one satisfiying way to circumvent the shitheadedness of The FaceBook.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dell Latitutde e6410 battery doesn't charge

So that 'future' me (or 'right now' you) do not have reverse-engineer the Manhattan Project to fix this.

1) Pull the battery out and put it back in, and double check that Windows recognizes it (with zero charge, 'not charging,' but on AC power).

2) Hold the little blue FN button down and then press F2. 

3) Or hold it down and press F3, then repeat step 2).

4) Or restart the computer and return to step 1).

That is all. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Er is sprake van / er is geen sprake van

An easy way to translate these correctly is "it's a matter of" and "it's not a matter of."

Er is spraken van een vergissing = "One could call it a mistake." In other words, somebody blew it but I want to use passive language that avoids saying exactly who.

Er is geen spraken van een vergissing = "It was definitely not a mistake." In other words, it looks like a mistake to many observers, but the speaker wants to deny it.

It's a lot like the French "question," which can also be found in English, and is used in the sense of 'issue.' As in: "it's a question of right and wrong." and "there can be no question of him being temporarily insane."

As an editorial remark, I find the idiom strangely annoying in Dutch. Its use is confined mostly to politicians.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Klaas Knot interview with Het Financieele Dagblad

Below follows a quick and dirty translation of statements made by Klaas Knot in an interview with Het Financieele Dagblad published Saturday.

Before the interview, the newspaper rehashed recent history. Knot had said in early July that the ECB's government bond buying program was in the "deep freezer, and it will stay there" _ only to see the crisis intensify and Draghi say he would save the euro _ by any means necessary _ later the same month. In September, Draghi unveiled the new, as-yet untapped OMT program to buy government bonds. Knot, somewhat surprisingly, broke from the Netherlands' traditional support for German monetary policy, and supported the measure, leaving Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann isolated as sole opponent of the plan on the ECB's governing council.

For ease, I pulled the single best quote up to the top, and then translated most of the rest of the interview.

Q: Draghi says the instrument [OMT] is not intended to help individual countries, but to make sure that monetary policy continues to pass through to the real economy. Is that Kosher?
A: "If we were doing this to lower financing costs for individual countries, this would be at odds with the ban on monetary financing [under the Maastricht treaty which established the euro]. The only goal must be the restoration of the monetary transmission process. That this leads to lower financing costs is a side-effect."


Q: Weren't politicians supposed to sort out the euro mess?
A: "Even if politicians take all sensible measures to find a lasting solution to the euro crisis, there are moments when financial markets act irrationally and there is a collective loss of confidence.
Then the speed at which interest rates [on Spanish and Italian debt] were rising caused a disorderliness which also threatened to undermine the political process. In that kind of situation there is only one entity that has both the balance and the decision making speed to act to stem that very destructive dynamic." [: ie, the ECB.]
Q: What would have happened otherwise?
A: "Then the interest rates of Italy and Spain would have kept rising by thirty, forty basis points per day. And then serious problems with debt sustainability would have emerged.
Q: [ECB action was an] Easy way out for the politicians, no?
A: "At a moment like that, speed is essential, because you don't want to let the genie out of the bottle. We wanted to nip that development in the bud, because once the rates get above 8, 9, 10 percent, then you'll have a lot of trouble getting them back again. We couldn't have waited, not even if all the government leaders had come from vacation. They would have also felt obliged to consult with their national parliaments over possible action. You don't have that kind of time at that moment."
Q: Otherwise saving [bailing out] Spain and Italy would have been unavoidable?
A: "The costs of a rescue operation, if we had delayed, would no doubt have been many times greater than the costs of any rescue operation now will be."
Q: Did you know Draghi was going to announce this new plan in July?
A: "I didn't know exactly what he was going to say, but I knew that the technical work in the ECB was already taking place. We had discussed within the ECB that it was unacceptable for us that investors should start pricing in that the eurozone could fall apart; and that combating such a development in interest rates falls completely within the mandate of the ECB."
Q: Well, there was certainly no way back for [national] central banks once he made the statement, no?
A: "I've said from the very beginning what my conditions were for any new program. If those conditions hadn't been met, I would have distanced myself immediately."
Q: So what were your conditions?
A: "I wanted that the countries in question would have strict conditions put upon them and that the IMF be involved. The IMF can, as a party outside the eurozone, credibly check those conditions are met. In addition, I wanted guarantees for an ECB exit as automatically as possible if a country failed to keep to the conditions. A third condition was that we would not set any exact target for interest rates [of government bonds in Spain or Italy]. The ECB must not think that it knows better than the market what the correct interest rates are. The intervention is only aimed at investors who are taking into account a eurozone disintegration."
Q: It's not that irrational that investors take into account the chance the euro could fail, is it?
A: The euro is irreversible. We've all said that together many times. Combating these extreme scenarios falls within the mandate of the ECB and that's also the goal of the new instrument [the OMT].
That's why we're not imposing any interest ceiling on the market, but we are rather reacting to disorderly market movements."
Q: Draghi says the instrument is not intended to help individual countries, but to make sure that monetary policy continues to pass through to the real economy. Is that Kosher?
A: "If we were doing this to lower financing costs for individual countries, this would be at odds with the ban on monetary financing [under the Maastricht treaty which established the euro]. The only goal must be the restoration of the monetary transmission process. That this leads to lower financing costs is a side-effect."
Q: Why would there be conditions imposed on the Spanish government if the instrument is only intended for the real economy?
A: "That has everything to do with the ability of a country to pay back its debt. That improves significantly because of such an imposed adjustment program of spending cuts and reforms. In this way, we as ECB reduce our risks. In addition, we are not alone in influencing the transmission of monetary policy in the economy: the behavior of the governments is at least an equally great influence on the long-term interest rates as our own behavior is."
[long passage of BS]
Q: [Jens] Weidmann of the Bundesbank is isolated [on the ECB governing council in opposing bond-buying], how bad is that?
A: "It's extremely distressing that we weren't able to reach a consensus. In my opinion, I am pursuing exactly the same goals as Weidmann. But I think I can be more effective within the governing council than outside it. Weidmann has chosen a different strategy."
Q: What does it mean that the Netherlands and Germany have been driven apart?
A: "This [the OMT] is a measure that I do not take lightly. It would have been my great preference that governments hadn't put us in this position. I have the same revulsion at monetary financing as Weidmann. I think that the guarantees that are built in ensure that this does not lead to monetary financing. We can, in the short term, create a little breathing room and buy time for the governments so that they can work on long term solutions for this crisis. The previous bond buying program proved to undermine the policy changes that are needed in the long term. The essential difference is that the new program is conditional and that is precisely what supports the long-term solutions."
Q: Is it credible to say the ECB will halt acting if Spain fails to satisfy the conditions?
A: "We will stop with our interventions once the inspection [sic] arrives in the capital. A positive judgment is a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition, to resume the program.'
Q: Suppose Spain doesn't keep to the agreements, and the interest rates start rising again, won't there be a moment when the ECB has to intervene again anyway?
A: No, because in that case a country [ie. Spain] apparently wouldn't be giving its all to reach a sustainable solution for the euro crisis. Then there's no more role for the ECB to play."
Q: Even if that means the end of the euro?
A: "All we can do is contribute what we can if the governments continue giving it their maximal effort toward a sustainable solution. If that condition is not met, everything we can do won't be effective anymore. This is a major step forward to do all that we can do. But we are dependent on politicians to do the same.
Q: The ECB has kept bending in recent years. Are their situations in which it would go still further?
A: "I can't respond to that. It's completely clear that if our governments don't choose a constructive attitude, we can't keep on doing our part. I would point out that we stopped buying Greek state bonds when we saw that Greece wasn't sticking to the agreements."
Q: You won't say that this plan [OMT] is the last and utmost?
A: "Take it from me that we are very close to it, but I can't see the future."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Manhole covers for cash

From NOS: "In Velp, Gelderland [East of Amsterdam], sixty manhole covers were stolen last night. The city has marked off the holes with cones and ordered replacements. No one has been reported injured. Manhole covers are much-loved by thieves. They think the metal is worth a lot."

 And sure enough, there's a whole (no pun intended) Wikipedia entry on the phenomenon.

 A little back of the envelope math.

The price of iron has been *falling* for most of this year. Very generously, it looks like the thieves might get $100-$200 per metric ton for this scrap (assuming of course they have a buyer willing to take 'hot' manhole covers, no questions asked,and pay the full price). Assume the covers were made of pure iron (and not with concrete filling), and weighed 50 kg each. By my calculations, the thieves got away with 60*50 = 3000kg, or 3 tons worth of iron, so a maximum of about $600, or EUR460.

Some doubt about how many thieves would be involved: a minimum of two, I'd say, and a maximum of five.

 I hope it was worth it, in terms of their muscle power, time spent planning, risk of arrest, and the gas they used transporting it to wherever they plan to unload it.                     

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dutch court rules giant phallus is insulting

(Photo by Omroep Brabant, translation of story by NOS below:)
"Wooden penis insulting to Agent A wooden penis in the garden of an artist in Steenbergen is insulting to a police officer. That is the ruling of a court in Breda. Artist Peter Koning put the big wooden penis this spring in his garden and put a sign on it referring to the agent. Koning thinks that the police officer went too far while frisking his daughter. The judge said that the reference is insulting to the agent and levied a conditional fine of 1000 euros."
My comment: the freedom of speech includes the freedom to insult, as many court cases have shown (see: Geert Wilders). The Dutch law making an exemption for police is a mistake. So is the law making it a crime to insult the queen. Showing respect for a police officer (and everybody) should be common sense; not insulting people should also be common sense. People do dumb things when they're angry including saying mean things. But the law should only get involved when verbal anger turns to physical attack or other harassment. IMO.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Press Any Key

If by chance you ever get stuck on the page just save yourself the bother. The point is to get you to type a bunch of keystrokes so that you'll see how big a number 100,000 is _ and that that's supposedly the number of civilians who have died because of the war in Iraq. So now you know, save yourself a sermon.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi speaks

As a public service, these are the remarks made by Seif al-Islam to his defense lawyers in Zintan, Libya, on June 7, 2012, as recorded by defense lawyers in a filing to the International Criminal Court submitted July 31, 2012.July 31page3 July 31page4

Thursday, July 26, 2012

But doesn't cold tea kind of miss the point?

This fell into my inbox this afternoon. They want to sell cold tea for 8 euros. What would Arthur Dent say?

Making real tea with cold water

Usables GmbH in Düsseldorf has come up with a real tea that does without hot water.
Dusseldorf, Germany, 26 July, 2012 – Anyone looking for a fruity and refreshing thirst-quencher on hot summer days need look no further.
Making this tea couldn't be simpler. You just pour cold water onto the teabag. The water can flow straight out of the tap onto the bag. The tea draws in cold water and develops its full flavour nonetheless. A refreshing drink is ready in about 8 minutes, so your tea is ready for drinking in next to no time without time-consuming and awkward preparation.
The flavours – Cherry-Cranberry and Apple & Vitamin C – taste natural and distinctly refreshing, says the tea figures' originator. But Usables does not stop here, for the product's main attraction is its "cool tea figures". Fastened to the lip of the cup, these figures are likeable and amusing and are certain to put a smile on the tea imbiber's face as well. If, say, the tea figure is used as an advertising giveaway, the giver will make a lasting and fun impression on the customer, says Usables CEO Oliver Plantenberg.
The teas have a lot going for them in terms of health benefits. For how quickly do we reach for an ice tea or sickly lemonade without thinking of the sugar content? All the teas therefore come with an unsweetened fruit flavour. A 200 ml cup of Cherry-Cranberry has only 5 Kcal, and is also free of artificial sweeteners. 2 cups of tea cover half the daily recommended intake of vitamin C. These teas not only taste different, but are also far better for you than conventional thirst-quenching alternatives.
The tea is now available online for 7.95€ at 



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I think we should make sure this story is not purged from (digital) memory

Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert

A Rose in the Desert        A Rose in the Desert
Photographed by James Nachtwey
Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.
Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark. Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary. The country’s alliances are murky. How close are they to Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah? There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case. The United States has just posted its first ambassador there since 2005, Robert Ford.
Iraq is next door, Iran not far away. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is 90 minutes by car from Damascus. Jordan is south, and next to it the region that Syrian maps label Palestine. There are nearly one million refugees from Iraq in Syria, and another half-million displaced Palestinians.
“It’s a tough neighborhood,” admits Asma al-Assad.
It’s also a neighborhood intoxicatingly close to the dawn of civilization, where agriculture began some 10,000 years ago, where the wheel, writing, and musical notation were invented. Out in the desert are the magical remains of Palmyra, Apamea, and Ebla. In the National Museum you see small 4,000-year-old panels inlaid with mother-of-pearl that is echoed in the new mother-of-pearl furniture for sale in the souk. Christian Louboutin comes to buy the damask silk brocade they’ve been making here since the Middle Ages for his shoes and bags, and has incidentally purchased a small palace in Aleppo, which, like Damascus, has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years.
The first lady works out of a small white building in a hilly, modern residential neighborhood called Muhajireen, where houses and apartments are crammed together and neighbors peer and wave from balconies. The first impression of Asma al-Assad is movement—a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles. Dark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace. No watch, no jewelry apart from Chanel agates around her neck, not even a wedding ring, but fingernails lacquered a dark blue-green. She’s breezy, conspiratorial, and fun. Her accent is English but not plummy. Despite what must be a killer IQ, she sometimes uses urban shorthand: “I was, like. . . .”
Asma Akhras was born in London in 1975, the eldest child and only daughter of a Syrian Harley Street cardiologist and his diplomat wife, both Sunni Muslims. They spoke Arabic at home. She grew up in Ealing, went to Queen’s College, and spent holidays with family in Syria. “I’ve dealt with the sense that people don’t expect Syria to be normal. I’d show my London friends my holiday snaps and they’d be—‘Where did you say you went?’ ”
She studied computer science at university, then went into banking. “It wasn’t a typical path for women,” she says, “but I had it all mapped out.” By the spring of 2000, she was closing a big biotech deal at JP Morgan in London and about to take up an MBA at Harvard. She started dating a family friend: the second son of president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar, who’d cut short his ophthalmology studies in London in 1994 and returned to Syria after his older brother, Basil, heir apparent to power, died in a car crash. They had known each other forever, but a ten-year age difference meant that nothing registered—until it did.
“I was always very serious at work, and suddenly I started to take weekends, or disappear, and people just couldn’t figure it out,” explains the first lady. “What do you say—‘I’m dating the son of a president’? You just don’t say that. Then he became president, so I tried to keep it low-key. Suddenly I was turning up in Syria every month, saying, ‘Granny, I miss you so much!’ I quit in October because by then we knew that we were going to get married at some stage. I couldn’t say why I was leaving. My boss thought I was having a nervous breakdown because nobody quits two months before bonus after closing a really big deal. He wouldn’t accept my resignation. I was, like, ‘Please, really, I just want to get out, I’ve had enough,’ and he was ‘Don’t worry, take time off, it happens to the best of us.’ ” She left without her bonus in November and married Bashar al-Assad in December.
“What I’ve been able to take away from banking was the transferable skills—the analytical thinking, understanding the business side of running a company—to run an NGO or to try and oversee a project.” She runs her office like a business, chairs meeting after meeting, starts work many days at six, never breaks for lunch, and runs home to her children at four. “It’s my time with them, and I get them fresh, unedited—I love that. I really do.” Her staff are used to eating when they can. “I have a rechargeable battery,” she says.
The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls “active citizenship.” “It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.”
In 2005 she founded Massar, built around a series of discovery centers where children and young adults from five to 21 engage in creative, informal approaches to civic responsibility. Massar’s mobile Green Team has touched 200,000 kids across Syria since 2005. The organization is privately funded through donations. The Syria Trust for Development, formed in 2007, oversees Massar as well as her first NGO, the rural micro-credit association FIRDOS, and SHABAB, which exists to give young people business skills they need for the future.
And then there’s her cultural mission: “People tend to see Syria as artifacts and history,” she says. “For us it’s about the accumulation of cultures, traditions, values, customs. It’s the difference between hardware and software: the artifacts are the hardware, but the software makes all the difference—the customs and the spirit of openness. We have to make sure that we don’t lose that. . . . ” Here she gives an apologetic grin. “You have to excuse me, but I’m a banker—that brand essence.”
That brand essence includes the distant past. There are 500,000 important ancient works of art hidden in storage; Asma al-Assad has brought in the Louvre to create a network of museums and cultural attractions across Syria, and asked Italian experts to help create a database of the 5,000 archaeological sites in the desert. “Culture,” she says, “is like a financial asset. We have an abundance of it, thousands of years of history, but we can’t afford to be complacent.”
In December, Asma al-Assad was in Paris to discuss her alliance with the Louvre. She dazzled a tough French audience at the International Diplomatic Institute, speaking without notes. “I’m not trying to disguise culture as anything more than it is,” she said, “and if I sound like I’m talking politics, it’s because we live in a politicized region, a politicized time, and we are affected by that.”
The French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, was there: “She managed to get people to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region. ”

Damascus evokes a dusty version of a Mediterranean hill town in an Eastern-bloc country. The courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque at night looks exactly like St. Mark’s square in Venice. When I first arrive, I’m met on the tarmac by a minder, who gives me a bouquet of white roses and lends me a Syrian cell phone; the head minder, a high-profile American PR, joins us the next day. The first lady’s office has provided drivers, so I shop and see sights in a bubble of comfort and hospitality. On the rare occasions I am out alone, a random series of men in leather jackets seems to be keeping close tabs on what I am doing and where I am headed.
“I like things I can touch. I like to get out and meet people and do things,” the first lady says as we set off for a meeting in a museum and a visit to an orphanage. “As a banker, you have to be so focused on the job at hand that you lose the experience of the world around you. My husband gave me back something I had lost.”
She slips behind the wheel of a plain SUV, a walkie-talkie and her cell thrown between the front seats and a Syrian-silk Louboutin tote on top. She does what the locals do—swerves to avoid crazy men who run across busy freeways, misses her turn, checks your seat belt, points out sights, and then can’t find a parking space. When a traffic cop pulls her over at a roundabout, she lowers the tinted window and dips her head with a playful smile. The cop’s eyes go from slits to saucers.
Her younger brother Feras, a surgeon who moved to Syria to start a private health-care group, says, “Her intelligence is both intellectual and emotional, and she’s a master at harmonizing when, and how much, to use of each one.”
A Rose in the Desert       A Rose in the Desert
Photographed by James Nachtwey
In the Saint Paul orphanage, maintained by the Melkite–Greek Catholic patriarchate and run by the Basilian sisters of Aleppo, Asma sits at a long table with the children. Two little boys in new glasses and thick sweaters are called Yussuf. She asks them what kind of music they like. “Sad music,” says one. In the room where she’s had some twelve computers installed, the first lady tells a nun, “I hope you’re letting the younger children in here go crazy on the computers.” The nun winces: “The children are afraid to learn in case they don’t have access to computers when they leave here,” she says.
In the courtyard by the wall down which Saint Paul escaped in a basket 2,000 years ago, an old tree bears gigantic yellow fruit I have never seen before. Citrons. Cédrats in French.
Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”
“Does that include the Jews?” I ask.
“And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”
The Jewish quarter of Damascus spans a few abandoned blocks in the old city that emptied out in 1992, when most of the Syrian Jews left. Their houses are sealed up and have not been touched, because, as people like to tell you, Syrians don’t touch the property of others. The broken glass and sagging upper floors tell a story you don’t understand—are the owners coming back to claim them one day?

The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment in Malki. On Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asma al-Assad opens the door herself in jeans and old suede stiletto boots, hair in a ponytail, the word happiness spelled out across the back of her T-shirt. At the bottom of the stairs stands the off-duty president in jeans—tall, long-necked, blue-eyed. A precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer, he says he was attracted to studying eye surgery “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.”
The old al-Assad family apartment was remade into a child-friendly triple-decker playroom loft surrounded by immense windows on three sides. With neither shades nor curtains, it’s a fishbowl. Asma al-Assad likes to say, “You’re safe because you are surrounded by people who will keep you safe.” Neighbors peer in, drop by, visit, comment on the furniture. The president doesn’t mind: “This curiosity is good: They come to see you, they learn more about you. You don’t isolate yourself.”
There’s a decorated Christmas tree. Seven-year-old Zein watches Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on the president’s iMac; her brother Karim, six, builds a shark out of Legos; and nine-year-old Hafez tries out his new electric violin. All three go to a Montessori school.
Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says. The chandelier over the dining table is made of cut-up comic books. “They outvoted us three to two on that.”
A grid is drawn on a blackboard, with ticks for each member of the family. “We were having trouble with politeness, so we made a chart: ticks for when they spoke as they should, and a cross if they didn’t.” There’s a cross next to Asma’s name. “I shouted,” she confesses. “I can’t talk about empowering young people, encouraging them to be creative and take responsibility, if I’m not like that with my own children.”
“The first challenge for us was, Who’s going to define our lives, us or the position?” says the president. “We wanted to live our identity honestly.”
They announced their marriage in January 2001, after the ceremony, which they kept private. There was deliberately no photograph of Asma. “The British media picked that up as: Now she’s moved into the presidential palace, never to be seen again!” says Asma, laughing.
They had a reason: “She spent three months incognito,” says the president. “Before I had any official engagement,” says the first lady, “I went to 300 villages, every governorate, hospitals, farms, schools, factories, you name it—I saw everything to find out where I could be effective. A lot of the time I was somebody’s ‘assistant’ carrying the bag, doing this and that, taking notes. Nobody asked me if I was the first lady; they had no idea.”
“That way,” adds the president, “she started her NGO before she was ever seen in public as my wife. Then she started to teach people that an NGO is not a charity.”
Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”
When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.
“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”
“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.
“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road?
That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.
The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”

After lunch, Asma al-Assad drives to the airport, where a Falcon 900 is waiting to take her to Massar in Latakia, on the coast. When she lands, she jumps behind the wheel of another SUV waiting on the tarmac. This is the kind of surprise visit she specializes in, but she has no idea how many kids will turn up at the community center on a rainy Friday.
As it turns out, it’s full. Since the first musical notation was discovered nearby, at Ugarit, the immaculate Massar center in Latakia is built around music. Local kids are jamming in a sound booth; a group of refugee Palestinian girls is playing instruments. Others play chess on wall-mounted computers. These kids have started online blood banks, run marathons to raise money for dialysis machines, and are working on ways to rid Latakia of plastic bags. Apart from a few girls in scarves, you can’t tell Muslims from Christians.
Asma al-Assad stands to watch a laborious debate about how—and whether—to standardize the Arabic spelling of the word Syria. Then she throws out a curve ball. “I’ve been advised that we have to close down this center so as to open another one somewhere else,” she says. Kids’ mouths drop open. Some repress tears. Others are furious. One boy chooses altruism: “That’s OK. We know how to do it now; we’ll help them.”
Then the first lady announces, “That wasn’t true. I just wanted to see how much you care about Massar.”
As the pilot expertly avoids sheet lightning above the snow-flecked desert on the way back, she explains, “There was a little bit of formality in what they were saying to me; it wasn’t real. Tricks like this help—they became alive, they became passionate. We need to get past formalities if we are going to get anything done.”
Two nights later it’s the annual Christmas concert by the children of Al-Farah Choir, run by the Syrian Catholic Father Elias Zahlawi. Just before it begins, Bashar and Asma al-Assad slip down the aisle and take the two empty seats in the front row. People clap, and some call out his nickname:
“Docteur! Docteur!”
Two hundred children dressed variously as elves, reindeers, or candy canes share the stage with members of the national orchestra, who are done up as elves. The show becomes a full-on songfest, with the elves and reindeer and candy canes giving their all to “Hallelujah” and “Joy to the World.” The carols slide into a more serpentine rhythm, an Arabic rap group takes over, and then it’s back to Broadway mode. The president whispers, “All of these styles belong to our culture. This is how you fight extremism—through art.”
 Brass bells are handed out. Now we’re all singing “Jingle Bell Rock,” 1,331 audience members shaking their bells, singing, crying, and laughing.
“This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East,” says the president, ringing his bell. “This is how you can have peace!”
February 25, 2011 9:03 a.m.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

NOS / Serbian 'dike threatener' arrested

Quick and dirty translation from an NOS story.

Added: Thursday, May 10, 2012, 21:26

In Serbia, a man was filmed in a YouTube video threatening to blow the Dutch dikes.According to Serbian media in Belgrade, he was arrested at the request of the Dutch judiciary.

The man, Miroljub Petrovic, made the movie on the boulevard in Zandvoort. In a calm tone, he says that he will blow up the Dutch sea defenses if the ICTY (UN Yugoslav) Serbian war suspects Karadzic, Mladic and Seselj are not set free.


Although Petrovic in Serbian media quickly claimed it was a joke, the Dutch authorities demand an investigation. That led to his arrest today. The court decided in Belgrade this week what will happen with Petrovic.

Miroljub Petrovic in Serbia is often in the news with controversial actions. In 2010 he opened clinics where homosexuals could be "cured," of their homosexuality,  as he put it.

In the same year he stood in front of the building of the ICTY in an Internet video in which he announced that the building would be razed.


I use this space as a brain dump, almost a note pad.
Lots of English translations of Dutch information, especially if I think something could also be useful for others. For speed I start with Google translate and then put on finishing touches myself.
*Use at your own risk.*