Archive for December, 2011

新的一年大爆炸的奢侈品是傳統的中國火藥的發明 (luxury of new year big bangs is the legacy of the invention of Chinese gunpowder)

The Netherlands is part of what can be called ‘the European war-exempted-zone’. Firework is a popular craze here from 10 in the morning December 31 to 2 at night January 1, to drive out the old year. 60 to 70 million Euro value of explosives goes up in the air, 200 to 300 eye operation as a result, 20 to 30 blind, hardly any dead. Many youngsters do test their ammunition before hand, especially near my house next top a night outgoing district. Most of the Dutch have no direct war or terrorism connotation when they here a big bang nearby in these last days of the year, though the Party for the Animals and Green Left have called for a total ban on private/personal firework use.

Firework sales for New Years Eve in the Netherlands in 1959 as I remember it as a boy counting all the pocket money I have saved and scanning the window of the only shop or so in town for my acquisitions. My parents knew the sound of real big bangs and my mother told me how she stand on the balcony of her house in The Hague and patting my back to make me not afraid of the bangs and billowing smoke at the horizon: the big mistake of a RAF bombardment hitting a civilian quarter (Bezuiden Hout) of The Hague right opposite the home of my grand mother. I was just a baby so can not remember it. I did play in the ruins - left for a decade or so - as a kid when staying with my grand mother... she did not appreciate much my rejoicing of "the ban bangs"...

Enjoying explosives is a real LUXURY as can be learned from the United Nations bulletin ‘ExplosiveWeapons.info’ published by the United Nations Disarmament Research Institute in Geneva. The “End of Year Explosive Violence Review” is summing it up: “Sadly, in over 70 countries, explosive weapons have caused severe harm to individuals and communities and furthered suffering by damaging vital infrastructure. But recognition is growing that the use of explosive weapons in places where civilians live, work or gather constitutes a serious humanitarian problem that needs to be addressed.”

See http://explosiveweapons.info/2011/12/29/end-of-year-explosive-violence-review/

Not only in the Netherlands, there are initiatives to come to a ban on firework as a citizen’s demand,  in all parts of the world similar initiatives have been taken, Philippines, New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa, Italy, the United States, which can be read about in detail on the web site of  stop-fireworks.org, Some initiatives propose alternative forms of New Year celebration like in the USA to bang drums instead of firing explosives…

Fireworks in the Binnen Bantammerstraat part of the then still tiny Chinese Quarter of Amsterdam in the winter of 1971-72, a photograph by Koen Wessing (1942-2011).

When living in Amsterdam in the early seventies next to the small Chinese quarter, still growing at that time around the Binnen Bantammerstraat, there was always a big display of Chinese fireworks by the restaurant holders in that street on Western calendar New Years Eve. The Chinese had these long rolls of big firecrackers, one after another, we called them ‘pakora’s’, sometimes hung from the top of the house fronts or all along the street, twelve and more meter long. There was also the swaying around of firework on ropes within a dense circle in a crowd of people, the first ranks shrieking back each time a mass of glowing and sputtering ‘saltpeter’ passed their faces. The next morning the whole Chinese area looked like covered with a deep soft red carpet, with eager youngsters rummaging around to fire the ones that failed to explode during midnight. We had a squatted neighbourhood action centre straight next to this scene and always did throw new year midnight parties there. The photographer of this picture Koen Wessing was one of the supporters of our action group and it was only today I discovered this photograph by him, while doing a little research for this article.

The first part of this year I lived and worked for half a year in Hong Kong and on the first day of Chinese New year I was waiting for a massive popular display of fire work in my neighbourhood close to the popular district of Shek Kip Mei in Kowloon. To my surprise nothing happened at all, the only fireworks visible were the ones on the television set. The city panorama below my apartment – situated on a rock with a wide view – remained completely empty. It was only later I learned that all firework in the then Crown Colony of Hong Kong of the Brits had been forbidden in 1967, a year that almost saw a Cultural Revolution Rising in Hong Kong by local Maoists. Gunpowder of firework had been used in that turbulent year to make street bombs that would be exploded to raise the level of unrest in the city. That firework ban has remained in force ever since, with only some exceptions for the inhabitants of Hong Kong’s New territories villages during their special traditional spring and summer festivals.

A labour dispute at a factory making artificial plastic flowers in San Po Kong, Kowloon was the event triggering the 1967 Hong Kong rising; production output levels being raised for the same wage; breakdown hours of machines as non paid work time and so on...The picture taken May 11 1967 shows police forces firing tear gas grenades and wooden bullets at demonstrators assembling in front of the high rise factory building. Objects had been dropped on some police men before from the rooftops. A young boy later was beaten up and died.

When studying more of the history of the conflict in 1967 (“Hong Kong’s watershed: the 1967 riots” by Gary Ka-wai Cheung; 2009) I learned that some of those street bombs had warning signs on them (like “compatriots do not come close”) when planted, but the message was written in Chinese characters only. Most of these bombs were primitive home-made contraptions on the basis of gunpowder taken from firework stock (others used gunpowder used by fishermen). Firework bombs were most often thrown directly at colonial targets, mostly police stations and of the ones planted in the street many were fake bomb, just to “fire” social unrest. During almost a year 8352 suspected bombs had been planted of which only 1420 proved to be “genuine”, 1167 targeted the colonial police force, 253 were detonated in an uncontrolled way. The bombs hailed by the underground Maoist Communist Party of Hong Kong as a form of “People’s Warfare” could not fail to also hit ‘the people’ themselves and when in August 1967 a street bomb killed an eight year girl and a two year old boy, the public reaction backfired at the anti-colonial insurgents. An existing relative sympathy under broad layers of the population for the cause of these left wing revolutionaries fighting the colonial power, was progressively lost. The disruption of the  daily life in the colony by the firework bombs -which were in a military sense minor weapons – had been significant. Hindering traffic and most of all having a psychological impact. At a certain moment during that year the British governor even worked secretly on a new emergency evacuation plan,  for the non Chinese population, just in case. In the end it proved that the local underground Communist Party had for a great deal acted on their own and failed to generated the needed support from party authorities in Bejing. Mainland China was – at that time –  too much in a political turmoil with lots of fractional infighting, to allow itself to take the small Colony of Hong Kong by force. Neo-colonial Hong Kong, “the goose with the golden eggs” was of more importance to the Mainland China than a banking, manufacturing and trading centre, which would certainly collapse after a forceful take-over.

Till this very day, the firework bombs remain a legacy associated with the Communist Party of Hong Kong, that, though not formally part of the restraint political landscape of Hong Kong (see “Underground front: the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong” by Christine Loh; 2010), is the central force of power in what is now The ‘Special Administrative Region of China Hong Kong’ (SAR Hong Kong). The highest governmental functions in SAR Hong Kong are reserved for (secret) Communist Party members only. As the history of this central core of Hong Kong power remains covered in secretive haze, debatable events in its history remain a subject which is mostly  avoided. Who –  for instance – visits the Hong Kong Historical Museum will find just one or two photographs of the 1967 struggle with a superficial caption. In popular memory though, the firework bombs and the effects of some indiscriminate targeting of the primitive firework bombs from 1967, lingers on.

A painted silk flag from the 10th century in China showing gunpowder used as a weapon on the end of a sort of spear gun.

Saltpeter  (potassium nitrate) is a substance that forms through the decomposition of organic materials, a whitish salt like material since long known for its quality of burning fiercely even in non favourite circumstances for  fire. We know that Taoist alchemists in China were experimenting with it already in the 8th century in their quest for life prolonging elixirs. While trying out all kind of combinations of substances and materials, they discovered the explosive properties of mixing  saltpeter with sulphur and charcoal. The mix we call now in English ‘gunpowder’ (‘buskruit’ in Dutch *). Aside from try-outs  to swallow small quantities as a medicine, the aesthetic and ceremonial qualities of the substance were discovered and all kind of ways to fire it for spectacular display were developed. Spring, Autumn and New Year festivals with their staged dances of mythical animals like dragons and lions, were amplified with display of fireworks. Bamboo tubes were used at first, which lead also to experiments to use the explosive mix for war purposes. First devices were spears with at the end bamboo tubes filled with gunpowder that were directed at an enemy during a battle. Soon more elaborate war use was found by finding out the propulsive qualities of certain mixes that could drive out one or more arrows from wooden containers. Closing up such bamboo containers would give yet another effect of bursting wood fibre and so also what we call now a grenade, has been invented over one thousand years ago.

Healing, celebration and warfare all used the same substance: gunpowder. Moments of celebration punctuated by explosions, but also new powerful bangs of explosions on the battlefield, which before was less loud with just clanging of lances, swords, shields and the shouts of warriors. Up to this very day the awe of a big bang may be just a carrier of celebration, but once someone has witnessed an explosion as a part of an act of terrorism or war, the aesthetic appreciation of a firework spectacle may be lost – for her or him – forever.

* Etymology of the Dutch word for ‘gunpowder’:
buskruit zn. ‘explosief poeder’
Mnl. bussen cruyt ‘buskruit’ [1441; Van der Meulen 1942a], busskruit ‘id.’ [1481-83; MNW bussecloot], met daarnaast vormen als donderbuspoeder [ca. 1400-50; MNW stampen], donderbuscruut, dondercruut [MNHW].
Het eerste lid is mnl. busse ‘(kamer in een) vuurwapen, vuurroer’, zie → bus 1; het tweede lid is mnl. cruyt ‘(tover)kruid’, zie → kruid, → kruit.
Buskruit werd in Europa vanaf de 14e eeuw gebruikt.

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The day after Christmas is called ‘Boxing Day’ which was traditionally the day that the better off classes in England would give a box with some gift to their underpaid servants to soothe their class-guilt. Since long this has been diverted into a big shopping sales day for the masses. This year the London subway servants choose to strike on this popular outing day, but as double decker busses remained in service the eager crowds could storm the shops nevertheless. One wonders if not most of the goods with a lowered price have a ‘Made in China’ stamp on it, and when a new kind of ‘Boxer Rising’ will occur to put an end to the exploitive working conditions in China and other low wage countries that are flocking our discount stores and stalls with their products.

The text is taken ‘out of context’ from Deuteronomy 7:16—– It is the shift of the word ‘consume’ over time this tableau is about: “And thou shalt consume all the people which the LORD thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them: neither shalt thou serve their gods; for that [will be] a snare unto thee. – 1769 Oxford King James Bible ‘Authorized Version” …

…or in the Basic English Bible translation made better understandable for us now: “And you are to send destruction on all the peoples which the Lord your God gives into your hands; have no pity on them, and do not give worship to their gods; for that will be a cause of sin to you.”

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Summary Execution 2012 – 1968.. long distance versus close range killing on the spot without any trial… are we as shocked by the killing drones of today as back in time during the Vietnam War, with the Chief of the South Vietnam Police General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a handcuffed Vietcong prisoner, Nguyen Van Lem in the street in Saigon in front of an NBC camera man and an Associated Press photographer?

Is high tech killing of a whole area, building or car with “precise” rockets experienced as somewhat more acceptable than a close range shot in the head?

Tableau made after reading in The Guardian yet another story of the use of drones to kill adversaries without any form of trial: “William Hague questioned over British role in drone strikes” (Lawyers for Noor Khan, whose father died in Pakistan strike, want clarification of British intelligence’s role in CIA campaign).

There has been much debate in its time about the picture – I know –  Eddie Adams (the photographer in 1968) later wrote in Time:

“ The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?

… such discussions we still have today, think about the execution of Bin Laden without trial, or do we believe he felt in combat?

(See my article “NATO’s collateral tyrannicide” 7 May 2011 in OpenDemocracy.)

Human Right Watch has a recent report and statement on drones dated December 19th. 2011.

Members of the Abida tribe point to a drone aircraft flying over Wadi Abida, Yemen on October 13, 2010. (click on picture to go to Human Right Watch drone page)


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recent 'détournment' of TNT advertisement campaign

Modern times: the last remaining real post office in the town centre of Amsterdam, based in the combined building of Municipal Hall and Opera (Stopera in the local Amsterdams-language) has been closed down without warning a month or two ago. The state postal firm has had many name and organisation changes in the previous years and is called TNT now.

What we did get in the place of a full post office with 10 counters, was 1 M2 of shop desk space in the big super-market shop of Albert Heijn in the same area. This shop is open each day from 10 to 22 hours, not so their Postal Office desk. Last saturday we needed to buy stamps to send an enveloppe with a signed document. Postal Desk closed. On monday (today) we tried again. Postal Desk closed!! The scale to weight letters did not work so the “whole post office” was closed down. This comes in the same week that the government changed the Postal Law, allowing for less than each day of the week delivery of letters. So NO postal delivery on mondays. Now, in practice in our part of the Inner town there was NO delivery on monday mostly anyhow, anymore for years….

I hate AH blog, click image for link

It is in this process I discovered a web blog “I hate Albert Heijn” protesting against the monopoly of that foodshop chain in the Netherlands which is a killing machine for any small local shopkeeper. I just see that there also is a campaign I hate TNT the name multinational that is specialised in killing off postal systems in EEC countries… formerly PTT (Post Telegraaf  Telefoon, Royal of course), then it has been chopped up into so many names and firms that most of us Dutch have no idea anymore how the service is called: PTT, KPN, TPG, TNT, POST.NL … the royal crown on the logo remained the only constant.

Three decades of splitting up the state postal company as expressed in logos...

That is what Royal means today in the Netherlands: more expensive, less jobs and less service.

Koninklijke Ahold = Royal Ahold, the international holding company of Albert Heijn.

Albert Heijn the food super-market company – shortened as AH in Dutch – also has a Royal status, for decades already … so it comes as no surprise that a simple job like weighting a letter and selling the correct postal stamps is a service they fail to supply on a daily basis.

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For those running into the same problem…

The script is:

tell application “FileMaker Pro Advanced”
delay 3
end tell
tell application “FileMaker Pro Advanced”
open “IMP43:IMP32:AMS:AMStabl:AMSrota.fp7”
end tell

This is a simple work-around for a problem not completely solved at the Filemaker help page with the title:

Mac OS X: Error message when launching a FileMaker file via drag and drop or double clicking a database


It answers the question:

“Why do I get the error message “The document “<file name>” could not be opened. FileMaker Pro cannot open files in the “FileMaker Document” format” when launching FileMaker Pro? ”

Filemaker must be opened first as an application… the delay of so many seconds is needed because when the next command to open a specific file is executed directly an error occurs… why is explained in the link I give here

In all it certainly is a bug in Filemaker Pro 11 (Advanced).

I made the Applescript into an application which I put in my Dock and now I can start up Filemaker with the proper database and the needed scripts at start up included in that database (giving my serial number for a plug-in I use for instance).

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