Media (395)

 

The Most Important Picture


(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Tonight over a hundred million Americans and millions more around the world will watch the annual Oscars ceremony.  Of all categories ‘Best Picture’ is considered the most prestigious, and it is therefore always announced last.  This year there are eight nominees, an unusually high number.  Favorite is ‘The Revenant’ with Leonardo DiCaprio, who is also expected to win the Oscar for ‘Best Actor,’ although he’ll have strong competition from Matt Damon in ‘The Martian.’  I believe that there should also be a category ‘Most Important Picture,’ and that would narrow the field down to two of the nominated movies, ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Big Short.’  The former shows the role of the Boston Globe in uncovering the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church, and the latter shows how one individual and two separate groups of investors anticipated the collapse of the home mortgage market in the US in 2008 and ‘shorted’ it, which essentially comes down to placing bets that it would fold.  As relevant and well made as ‘Spotlight’ is, my choice for most important picture would be ‘The Big Short.’
      The financial market collapsed because big banks started selling ‘Mortgage Backed Securities,’ often bundled into ‘Collateralized Debt Obligations.’  The problem with these ‘products’ was that an increasing number of the mortgages they included had been given to people who could not possibly afford them and would sooner or later have to default, usually when the interest rate turned from fixed to variable, making the mortgages and therefore the securities they backed worthless.  Once those defaults reached a critical volume banks could no longer meet their obligations and started to fail, until the US Government bailed most of them out.  The movie illustrates convincingly how a significant part of the financial sector resembles a high stakes casino, which potentially jeopardizes the livelihood of large numbers of people.  It explains the basics of what happened in the lead-up to the crisis of 2008, but of course it can only scratch the surface, because a movie is not the best vehicle to conduct a profound historic and economic analysis.  It’s an excellent start though, and hopefully it will lead to more study and then action.
      I believe that the problems started when US corporations eliminated their pension funds in the 1990s and turned them into 401Ks.  The amount of money that flowed into the stock market as a result completely disrupted its balance of supply and demand, with the effect that stocks became disconnected from the value of the  companies they represented, and trading became a gambling operation, with buying and selling at the right time more important than what is bought and sold.
      That process was facilitated by the fact that during the previous twenty years the valuation of firms shifted from tangible assets, such as raw materials, real estate, finished products and cash, to intangible assets, such as innovativeness and success in alliances and foreign investments.  Since the latter assets are much harder to quantify, it became unclear how much companies were worth.
      The ability to make gigantic profits by placing the right bets at the right time led to the transactions that caused the crisis.  Since US banks are now back to their old tricks it makes you wonder if the controls that are in place are enough, and if Bernie is preferable over Hillary.

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Luigi


(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Today I had my monthly haircut at Luigi’s, also known as ‘Mister L.’  The barbershop is a Hoboken Italian classic, with rare pictures of Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Roselli, Hoboken’s ‘other’ singer, plastered on the walls.  Elderly Italian immigrants hang out there all day, most of them as much for a good conversation as for a trim, which gives me a chance to practice my rusty Italian.  If you have to wait, red and white wine, sambuca and grappa, and lots of sweets are available.  Luigi left his village in the Napels area to join his father in the US in the 1960s, and after opening his shop, together with his cousin Nicky, he started buying real estate, which was very affordable at the time.  He now owns three apartment buildings, one of which he had built in the 1990s, and because of the real estate boom that started in 1996, when Hoboken finally approved a plan to develop its waterfront, he is a very rich man.   Two days of the week he looks after his properties and other investments, but the other three days he still cuts hair, from 7 am to 7 pm, for twenty dollars, in my case the beard included, because after all he’s a barber.
     
When we don’t talk about soccer, Luigi’s and Nicky’s passion, we talk about politics, and my monthly conversation with Luigi is almost as enriching as my daily reading of the New York Times, albeit in a very different way.  Compared to Luigi moderate conservatives are crypto-communists, and the conspiracy theories he can come up with would make Rush Limbaugh blush.  His main sources of information are Drudge, Breitbart and the New York Post, to which he adds his own blend of crazy talk.  He calls me ‘Professor,’ because I teach at the local college, and while he is working on my crew cut he can suddenly whisper in my ear: “Professor, did you know that Hillary Clinton killed at least fifteen people?”  When I respond by saying that the last time I saw him he told me it was fifty people he says, dead seriously: “Professor, please let’s stay with the facts,” and when I ask him if he can tell me who the victims were he doesn’t get farther than Vince Foster and the cat of one of the women Bill Clinton had an affair with, but he always promises to provide me with a complete list the next time I’m around.
     
Since he is an immigrant himself of an ethnicity that at one point was heavily discriminated against in the US, you might expect Luigi to have some sympathy for Hispanic immigrants now undergoing the same fate, but he has none.  He perfectly fits the profile of immigrants who despise later waves of immigrants from different countries – or African-Americans for that matter – for fear of having their livelihood taken away, as best described by Vincent Parrillo.
      Because I know of Luigi’s sentiments towards other ethnicities and races I suspected that Trump was his guy, but it turned out to be Cruz.  He couldn’t really give me a good explanation for that choice, but I suspect that it has to do with an aversion of the privileged, waspy Manhattan culture Trump represents, which Luigi could observe for the last fifty years from across the river.
      In spite of our differences and the fact that anybody else with his opinions would scare me I love talking with Luigi and I respect him.  He founded the Hoboken Youth Soccer League, in which my son’s teams won three championships, and for that alone he deserves a small piece of heaven.

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Social Security


(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

In mid-December 2015 I applied for Social Security benefits.  Before I could do that I had to visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) office in Hoboken NJ with my social security card and US passport, to have my status changed from ‘resident’ to ‘citizen.’  I was told to wait 24 hours before completing the on-line application, which I did.   One day after submitting the application I received a voice message from the Hoboken office, telling me that I had to come into the office with my passport or naturalization certificate, to have my status changed.  A phone number that I could call was left.  Since I had just been in the office to do exactly what I was now again told to do I called that number, where a friendly recorded voice told me to leave a message and that I would be called back.  I didn’t get a call back in the next couple of days, but instead I got a letter from the Hoboken office telling me once more that I had to come in with my passport or naturalization certificate.   There was a number on that letter, which I called, but unfortunately I got the SSA office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on the phone.
      Obviously the Sioux Falls office could not help me, so the next morning at 8 am I called the number the Hoboken office had left in its voice message.  To my surprise I got someone on the phone, who told me it was all a mistake and that my benefits were safe, which I got confirmed in a letter a couple of days later.  Then, early in January, I got a letter telling me that I had to pay a surcharge on my Medicare premium because of my taxable income in 2014.  Since I retired in 2014 and my 2015 taxable income was considerably lower I made an appointment with the Hoboken office to have my reduced income recorded.  I brought copies of all my 2015 tax return documents to the office, and was told that the appropriate changes would be made.  A couple of days later I received two letters from the Hoboken office, each in a different format advising me that the surcharge had been removed.  Two days later, however, I received a letter from the SSA central office informing me that the surcharge was still in effect.   Now knowing what to expect I didn’t respond but waited until three days later, when I received a letter correcting the previous one.
      The moral of this story is that generally the SSA doesn’t get it right the first time, but that there is at least a chance they’ll get it right the second or third time.  Since the agency’s mistakes, if left uncorrected, affect your income and health care coverage, it is very frustrating to deal with them, but you have no choice but to stay on their case until you have the right decision in writing.  And even then you must make sure that premiums and payouts are processed correctly.
      The SSA is hardly to blame for its guffaws.  Like most federal agencies it is overtaxed – not in the least because of the large number of retiring baby boomers – and underfunded, because of the Republican mantra that government is the problem, not the solution.  As a result it has too few employees, who are often inadequately trained and just trying to make the best of it.
      Based on my experience the back office operation, not the front desk, is the SSA’s problem.  I received very competent service once I was in the Hoboken office and talking with a customer representative.   The way those communications were initially processed was inadequate and sloppy.

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Relevantie & populariteit

Vanaf vandaag wordt mijn weblog gearchiveerd door de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Ik schreef daar eerder iets over. (Media 149)
      Inmiddels heb ik wat meer informatie ontvangen. Alles wat ik sinds 10 februari 2007 geschreven heb, zal duurzaam opgeslagen worden. (2773 stukjes). Daarna zal ieder jaar alles opnieuw overgenomen worden om het te behoeden voor verlies door bijvoorbeeld technologische veroudering. Volgens de K.B. blijft het daarom ook beschikbaar voor toekomstige generaties.

Welke sites worden uitgekozen? Ook daar heb ik inmiddels een antwoord op.

(Voor de ouderen onder ons: Harvesten is het verzamelen en uitwisselen van metadata)

De K.B.:

‘’Er bestaan twee basisstrategieën voor webarchivering. De eerste strategie is gericht op het automatisch harvesten van een grote hoeveelheid websites (meestal een nationaal domein). De tweede strategie gaat uit van een specifiek selectiebeleid. Het automatisch harvesten is relatief goedkoop in vergelijking met de selectieve benadering, waarbij meer handmatig werk verricht moet worden. Daar staat tegenover dat bij het harvesten van een beperkt aantal sites meer aandacht besteed kan worden aan technische details en het mogelijk is om websites tot op het diepste niveau te archiveren.

De KB heeft gekozen voor een selectieve benadering, omdat die zich beter verhoudt tot de doelstellingen van de KB, de beschikbare middelen en de gekozen juridische aanpak. De KB baseert zich bij de selectie op het Collectiebeleid van de KB. Binnen dit kader maakt de KB een beredeneerde selectie die bestaat uit een dwarsdoorsnede van het Nederlandse webdomein. Primair zullen websites met wetenschappelijke en culturele inhoud geselecteerd worden, maar daarnaast ook websites met een innovatief karakter die exemplarisch zijn voor de huidige trends op het Nederlandse deel van het web. De KB kijkt bij de selectie ook naar maatschappelijke relevantie en populariteit. Sites die het meest worden geraadpleegd door Nederlandse internetgebruikers en/of sites met een hoge ranking krijgen prioriteit bij opname in het webarchief. Een volgende stap zal zijn om samenwerking te zoeken met andere kennisinstituten om op die manier de selectie te verbreden en daarbij gebruik te maken van de inhoudelijke expertise van deze organisaties’’.


Luister HIER naar Harvest van Neil Young

 

 

Socialistisch nieuws in Esperanto

In 1957 had vrijwel niemand in Nederland televisie en stond bij veel gezinnen de godganse dag de radio aan. Zo komt het dat nogal wat leeftijdgenoten van mij zich een mysterieus programma herinneren. Het heette Socialistisch Nieuws in Esperanto en werd van 1950 tot 1966 iedere woensdagavond uitgezonden van tien voor twaalf tot twaalf uur op Hilversum 1.
      Ik heb een oude VPRO-gids (Vrije Geluiden) uit 1957 gevonden en daar staat het in. Het is echt waar.

 

  

Het programma werd gepresenteerd door meneer J.Ph. Punt en werd uitgezonden door de VARA. Curieus allemaal.
     
Het Esperanto was een kunsttaal die eind negentiende eeuw werd ontwikkeld door Ludovich Zamenhof, een Pool die woonde in een gebied dat toen bij Rusland hoorde. Het moest de nieuwe wereldtaal worden.
     
Heel veel aanhangers heeft het nooit gehad, maar de taal kende een opleving na de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Vooral in West- en Zuid-Europa waren er sprekers, die elkaar met regelmaat ontmoetten op internationale Esperanto-congressen. Anno 2016 zijn er wereldwijd naar schatting tussen de 1 en 2 miljoen mensen, die deze taal nog min of meer zouden beheersen. (Maar de cijfers, die ik heb kunnen vinden spreken elkaar tegen)

Met socialisme had het allemaal niets van doen. Maar Willem Drees bijvoorbeeld was een aanhanger van de taal en dat zou een verklaring kunnen zijn dat de VARA dit allemaal uitzond. Als u wilt horen hoe dat programma klonk, ga dan HIER naar een uitzending van de VPRO-Radiovereniging, gepresenteerd door Wim Noordhoek en Arend Jan Heerma van Voss. Het onderwerp begint op 52’25’’.

Waren er nog meer van dit soort programma’s? Jawel.
Ook in Italië en Oostenrijk waren programma’s in het Esperanto. Maar die gingen niet over socialisme.
                        

 

Mijn oud VPRO-collega Wim Bloemendaal heeft meneer Punt ooit eens geinterviewd. Hij wijst mij erop dat in Friesland het muziekensemble Kajto bestaat, dat in het Esperanto zingt.
Luister HIER naar Masko en merk dat die taal voor ons niet echt moeilijk is.

 

  ©2016 Ronald van den Boogaard

 

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