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Daylight saving time a good deal or not?

March 29, 2010

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This weekend most of Europe turned it’s clocks an hour ahead, following the US that switched to daylight saving time two weeks ago and will fall back the first Sunday of November.

Since 2007 – as an outcome of the Bush administration’s 2005 energy policy act – daylight saving time lasts one month longer in the US than in Europe. The explanation behind the extension was the supposed reduction of energy use – because it stays light longer, fewer lights will be turned on. However, studies have shown that intensified air conditioner use as well as more people going out at night using their cars, evens out the energy use decrease and may even slightly increase it.

It seems like either Bush did not do his math or there were other stakes at hand. Proponents of the daylight saving time extension include retailers, golf course operators, outdoor cooking vendors, and theme parks. These industries, among others, apparently lobbied hard for the extended dates because when people stay out later it means hundreds of millions of dollars additional revenue from sales of golf clubs, grills, admission fees and more.

In all fairness, perhaps the energy bill that proposed the extension of daylight saving time should have been called ‘the grill, golf and shop-till-you-drop’ act. I think most people would have understood because who doesn’t enjoy those long evenings. Except maybe livestock farmers, whose cattle cannot adjust to the time switch. Or parents of young children that are loosing an extra hour of precious sleep and may need a week or more to get back on schedule…

I do have one small suggestion for the US – Why not rename daylight saving time ‘summer time’, as we call it in Holland. Doesn’t that at least make it sound like a good deal?


Dutch Armin van Buuren wins best global DJ award in Miami

March 26, 2010

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Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren won best global DJ award at the International Dance Music Awards (IDMA) in Miami last night. The IDMA’s – the most important awards in the dance music industry – are presented each year at the Winter Music Conference, an annual week-long electronic dance music event for professionals such as DJ’s, representatives of record labels and producers. In addition to best global DJ award, Van Buuren also landed a prize for best record label and one for best podcast.

Van Buuren (1976) started his career when he was still in school and DJ-ing at a local club called Nexus. Soon after he started law school, his musical career took off and he decided to put his degree on hold and focus on music full time.

Not a bad decision, because since then Van Buuren released close to 20 albums, played in over 25 countries and co-founded Armada Music, one of the most important record labels in the dance music industry with 24 sub labels under its umbrella. Van Buuren also hosts A state of Trance, a weekly radio show featuring a 2 hour mix of new trance music. The show attracts 23 million listeners in over 40 countries.

Armin van Buuren is not the only Dutch DJ that has made a name for himself internationally. Other globally successful DJ’s from the Netherlands include Tiesto, Junkie XL and Sander Kleinenberg. Whereas in the US dance music still revolves around a scene that is mainly underground, in Europe it has since long been a popular mainstream genre.

Robots, bones and fireflies: Dutch designer Joris Laarman in Chelsea gallery

March 25, 2010

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Heat Wave Radiator

This month Dutch Designer Joris Laarman unveils his latest work in Friedman Benda, a design gallery in my old neighborhood of Chelsea, Manhattan. The exhibit titled Joris Laarman Lab shows some of Laarman’s cutting edge experiments in which design and science meet.

Joris Laarman was born in the Dutch countryside in 1979 and graduated cum laude from the Eindhoven Design Academy in 2003. He soon made a name for himself when his graduation project Heat Wave was picked up by Droog, the internationally renowned conceptual Dutch design company. Heat Wave is a radiator made from rococo swirls of concrete. The product combines style and aesthetics with the functionality of the material – concrete conducts heat more efficiently than metal.

Bone Chair

In 2004 Laarman started Amsterdam based Joris Laarman Lab, an ‘experimental playground’ in which the designer collaborates with scientists, engineers and craftsmen on projects at the intersection of design and science. Laarman’s Bone Chairs – made with 3D optimization software that simulates bone growth – were featured at the 2008 blockbuster MoMa show Design and the Elastic mind.

The current Joris Laarman Lab show in Chelsea includes a baby robot that is programmed to fold a slender sheet of steel into complex shapes, applying precisely the right amount of pressure to make a piece of furniture.

On exhibit as well is a bio-luminescent lamp for which Laarman collaborated with tissue generating specialists from the Technical University of Twente in the Netherlands. Infusing cells of a hamster with a firefly’s luciferase gene should make the lamp glow.

Laarman’s idea behind these and other scientific experiments is that the small-scale pieces it generates will eventually translate into industrial design production. Along those lines Laarman has developed Unbridaled, a crystal garland for Swarovski. Currently he is adapting his 3D bone growth simulating software for a mass manufactured chair for Vitra and a light for Flos. Both projects are scheduled for completion in 2011.

Joris Laarman Lab in Chelsea’s Friedman Benda Gallery opened on March 4th and will run until April 10th.

Sicko no more – Yea for Obama!

March 23, 2010

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After a yearlong push, president Obama succeeded where many  before him have attempted but failed. In an historical victory on Sunday night, the House of Representatives approved of a comprehensive health care bill – with 219 to 212 votes and not a single republican voting for –, thereby clearing the way for far reaching health care reforms.

The call for an overhaul of the US health care system began as a way to come to the aid of the uninsured. It gained momentum however when middle-class families flooded congress with complaints about their insurance companies, including sky high premiums, denial based on pre-existing conditions and even cancellations when they became ill.

President Obama made the passing of the health care bill – which will provide medical coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans and affect almost everyone who is already covered – the centerpiece of his agenda. The heated political battle that preceded the bill’s approval will likely divide parties for many years to come and be used by republicans as a weapon in this year’s midterm elections.

One American that will likely have celebrated Sunday night is liberal filmmaker and author Michael Moore. His 2007 documentary Sicko investigates the US health care system, focusing on insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.

According to Sicko, close to 50 million Americans are uninsured and even those who are covered often become victims of insurance company fraud. In the documentary, former employees reveal initiatives aimed at cutting costs and increasing company profits, including giving out bonuses to physicians who can find reasons to deny necessary treatment for policyholders.

In the new health care bill, insurance companies are barred from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, canceling coverage for sick people, as well as charging higher premiums based on a person’s gender or medical history.

Cartoon by John Cole

Individuals at the same time are required to purchase coverage for which new subsidies will be provided to families of four with an annual income of up to $88,000 – four times the poverty standard in the US. Tax for Medicare (the US social insurance program for retirees) will be imposed on investment income for individuals making over $200,000 and couples making over $250,000. The plan is projected to cost $940 billion in the first 10 years and to reduce the deficit by $130 billion during that period.

The US health care reform plan is in part modeled after the way universal health care is organized in European countries, including the Netherlands. Interestingly enough, in recent years the Netherlands has looked at the US health care system when it searched for ways to increase patient quality as well as productivity and efficiency in health care.

In 2006 a new system based on regulated competition was introduced. The Dutch model includes a mandatory basic coverage – for which low-income citizens are subsidized – and optional supplemental coverage that can be purchased at an additional premium.

So far, surveys about public satisfaction in the Netherlands provide conflicting findings. However, a 2009 study by Sweden and Brussels based Health Consumer Powerhouse – a private research company co-funded by the European Commission – ranked the Netherlands number 3 of countries where people get ‘the most bang for their buck’ on its Euro Consumer Health Index.

The US health care overhaul will stretch out over the next years, with some legislation – such as access to high-risk pools for people with no insurance because of pre-existing conditions – taking effect almost immediately. Most reforms however will not take place until 2014 so we will have to wait to fully see and feel ‘what change looks like’.

For the moment, I celebrate Obama’s victory and that of the 219 democrats that supported the bill and helped move America in the right direction for all, republicans included.

Laura Jansen: a Dutch star rises on the American horizon

March 17, 2010

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I heard her cover of Use Somebody, originally sung by Nashville based rock band Kings of Leon, numerous times on the radio before finding out her name is Laura Jansen and she is Dutch. Well, half Dutch with an American mother and a father from the Netherlands – hence her name Jansen, which is the most common Dutch last name. On March 18th, Laura Jansen plays the first of three concerts in SXSW in Austin, Texas, before touring Europe in April and May.

Jansen’s style can best be described as piano driven – she accompanies herself on the piano – alternative, indie pop. Her clear and mature voice reveals classical training without being overly stylized and her self-written songs are easy to the ear without being simplistic. She reminds me of a a slightly less dramatic version of Tori Amos.

Jansen, 32, was raised in the Netherlands where she was trained at the Rotterdam Conservatory. Nine years ago she moved to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music before heading south to Nashville. After an unsuccessful attempt to write and sing country – “I am not a cowgirl”-, Jansen eventually found her musical home In Los Angeles. She established herself as a regular at the Hotel Cafe, a small music venue in Hollywood that helped launch the careers of artists like John Mayor and Joshua Radin, to name a few. With Radin, Jansen sang a duet in Ellen De Generes‘ living room, at her wedding to Portia de Rossi in 2008.

Jansen’s songs were featured in MTV’s reality TV shows Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County and The real world: Cancun as well as in a Dove commercial. Laura Jansen is a true artist of her generation and spends almost 8 hours online every day updating her profile and staying in touch with fans through social media tools such as Facebook, Hyves – the Dutch equivalent of Facebook –, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube.

In the Netherlands we only got to know Laura Jansen after she was discovered by Dutch/British songwriter and producer John Ewbank, who helped her land a record deal with Universal. Her first album Bells – number 3 of most downloaded albums from iTunes Holland – was released last fall and came in at number 16 in the Dutch Album Top 100 Chart. I have a feeling we will be hearing more from this rising Dutch star; both in the US and the Netherlands.

If Obama can do it then why can’t Wouter Bos?

March 16, 2010

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Wouter Bos/Photo by Edwin Smulders

If a US politician would resign to spend more time with his family, one would suspect either a serious illness or a sexual scandal. Not so in the Netherlands. Last week, both deputy prime minister Wouter Bos and Camiel Eurlings, Dutch minister of transport, public works and water management, left the political arena because they want to see more of their families.

Bos is a father of three young children and Eurlings and his girlfriend are planning to start a family soon. The initial shock over their successive resignations soon made place for a mostly positive response. Despite the recent government collapse over the withdrawal of Dutch troops in Afghanistan, few doubted the politicians’ motives. Moreover, the two were widely applauded by colleagues and the public alike for setting an example that men, like women, have the option to put their careers on hold and their families first.

Now let’s take a look at the world’s most powerful family man, president Barack Obama. Like most first families, Barack and Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia and Sasha live their lives in the public eye. However, Obama is the first US president who actually claims private time with his family as well. Obama is known to plan his meetings around his daughters’ sports games and recitals and whenever he is not traveling, the Obama’s eat dinner together around 6.30 pm. By the time the girls are in bed, work continues.

Somehow, Obama does not feel the need to sacrifice either his political career or his family. In fact, his dedication to serving the greater good seems to be inspired by his very fatherhood. In an open letter to his daughters, published in Parade shortly after his presidential inauguration, Obama wrote:

“(…)These are the things I want for you – to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.”

Undoubtedly so, strategic considerations played a role in the writing and publishing of Obama’s letter. Nonetheless, I am confident that he meant every word of it and reading his letter you can feel his heartfelt dedication.

The First Family/Photo Getty Images

It may well be the lack of precisely that dedication that has led Wouter Bos and Camiel Eurlings to leave politics. They did not feel capable of combining their work for the common good of a nation with their involvement in raising their (unborn) children. Interesting side note is that both politicians will continue to receive 80 percent of their salary for a year and 70 percent for up to five years thereafter – at the expense of the Dutch taxpayers, who won’t get anything in return. This may have made their decision to quit a little easier.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a mum myself, I put great value on family time and I wholeheartedly agree that ideally both parents play an important role in their children’s upbringing. But I also believe that truly impassioned people can move mountains and may not have to choose between pursuing their family ideals and those of the world around them. Because let’s be real, if the president of the United States still finds the time to tuck his daughters in at night, then surely Bos and Eurlings should.

Too big to bail out? Iceland’s payback put on ice

March 12, 2010

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Normally you wouldn’t expect a national referendum in Iceland to make international headlines. Last Saturday, however, Icelandic voters rejected a plan by their government to repay a 5,3 billion loan to the Netherlands and the UK. And the world paid close attention.

In 2008 Icelandic Internet savings bank Icesave attracted billions in deposits from Dutch and British citizens by promising them sky-high interest rates. Later that year Icesave filed for bankruptcy as a result of its bankers’ bad, complicated and leveraged investments, mostly on real estate.

By then Iceland’s economy was already hit hard by the nationalizing of three banks and the fall of the Króna, the national currency. The Icelandic government – that collapsed over the financial crisis in January of 2009 – did not have the money to bail out Icesave. So the Dutch and British did, thereby securing reimbursement for their citizens. But now that the Netherlands and the UK want their money back, the vast majority of the Icelandic population voted against their government’s payback plan.

Basically, the plan would require each Icelandic household to put in the equivalent of $135 a month for eight years, totaling a quarter of an average year salary. Icelandic people argue it is unfair to make them pay for their own government’s failure to restrain the recklessness – may I add greed – of a handful of bank executives. And for the ignorance – may I add lack of judgment – of the people they mislead.

The unfolding of events in Iceland is not that much different from what we have seen happening in the US – be it on a considerably different scale. As a comparison, the numbers Iceland faces would equal the US government taking on a debt of 5 trillion. And though that may sound astronomical, in reality the US bailout tab is already close to 2 trillion as calculated by the New York Times. Moreover, the US government has obligated itself to pay out $12.5 trillion more if things get worse.

Back to Iceland now. With unemployment rates rising, a crashed Króna and public services decreasing, the Dutch and the British are expected to soften their payment terms. Sooner or later though, the bill will come due. And one way or another the 300.000 Icelandic taxpayers will be paying ‘their’ share of it, as will the roughly 200 million taxpayers in the United States.

And those in many other countries for that matter, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the UK where banks too big to fail were bailed out by their governments – without much public consultation at all. Now the question that remains is “have we learned?” Let’s pay close attention.