Sunday, November 29, 2009

Het Zuigende Land

Usually, a chapter title is easy. As I closed in on the end of Chapter 5, this one started to drive me crazy. It all hinged on the middle word. The dictionary defines it as, "Sucking." I knew it wasn't, "The land that sucks." In some contexts, however, it means exactly what an English speaker would think it means.

I had to look further and further. The word also yields ads for paints and adhesives. Finally, I figured out that it means muddy or sticky. This would be sticky as in humid. I finally settled on, "The Muggy Land."

Near the end of Chapter 5, Mak describes the mutiny on the Zeven Provinciƫn. The event has no American counterpart, but it is similar to The Potemkin, even though it didn't help trigger a revolution.

The Netherlands did not sway to the extreme left or right as much of Europe did at the time. It took a middle course, and stuck with Colijn, who is even more like Herbert Hoover as he is described further. Like Hoover, he had an impressive resume. Again, in spite of this, neither was very ept at confronting The Great Depression. Basically, it was good that the Netherlands stuck to a middle course, but the middle course chosen was more suited to the past than the task at hand.

The rise of Hitler was met with some admiration in many quarters of Dutch society. To his credit, Geert Mak is willing to quote editorials written at the time that approved of the new order in Germany.

Finally, the chapter closes with a look at his family dealing with the death of baby Koosje. He talks about how his parents dealt with it, and how family members visited his grave for years afterwards.

Friday, November 27, 2009

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Frequent Guest Returns

At the end of this blog, I'm going to post advice for the translator. I am now on p. 156. Vocabulary started getting harder. I went from almost going line by line to researching every word with multiple sources.

Finally, the man who is always preceded by wild vocabulary exercises showed up: Abraham Kuyper. Big Mak mentions that Colijn was in his shadow.

I was in too deep. I had to read some background in English. First, I found that Kuyper was a minister, journalist and politician. In the US you usually don't see all three in one person. Then, I found out that Kuyper was PM from 1901-5.

I wondered how Colijn could have been in Kuyper's shadow. I still do. Kuyper wasn't the first PM from the Anti-Revolutionary Party. Also, Colijn wasn't the end of a long drought for them. Theo de Meester succeeded Kuyper. The next Anti-Revolutionary PM was Colijn himself, from 1925-26.

Putting it into context for Americans, Hendrikus Colijn appears to have been like Grover Cleveland, an unremarkable president who was elected for two non-consecutive terms. During his longer term in the 1930s, he appears to have been as clueless as Herbert Hoover.

Anyway, I urge the translator to add an introduction and an appendix. Maps and a timeline would also be helpful.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Finally, I'm reading the book again. The Maks went back to the Netherlands for a visit in the early 30s. There was lots of new technology being showcased, including television.

Of course, the Depression was on. The title of this post refers to (Prime Minister?) Colijn, who was in charge at the time. Like President Hoover, he had no idea of the depth of what confronted him. Like Roosevelt, he did radio chats. One of them included handy tips on how to get by with less and make fish head soup.

Mak points out that the Church opposed measures such as shorter workdays and early retirements, but so far, he isn't dwelling on it. This, along with some prior knowledge about the Depression makes for easier reading.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Understanding the Language

Why am I surprised by what's happened before? This is something I used to tell my ESL students about: Often, you can understand a new language better if you don't pay attention. Also, exposure builds ability, whether you pay attention or not.

I was just listening to Kinderen Geen Bezwaar excerpts that are posted here and there. I played a couple of them with no regard for order or episode. I understood a lot of the back and forth dialog, which is basic sitcom stuff. I understood more than when I watched and paid attention. This time, I was on IM and reading in English about other things. It was pretty exhilerating.

My next post will be about the book. I haven't read it in about a week. I have been busy with problems at work, looking for work and fighting with my car insurance company. The only Dutch reading I have done is of a few news articles and Fr. Roderick's posts.

Maybe a breakthrough is imminent. I can hear Dutch more clearly. Although reading remains as slow as ever, it seems that there are more sentences I can read without the dictionaries.

Friday, November 13, 2009


People from other countries sometimes ask me why soccer isn't as popular in the US as it is internationally. Here's why.

1. 0-0. Too often, nothing happens. When the cup came to the US, the big match between Belgium and the Netherlands was hyped to death. Americans tuned in. Nothing happened.

2. Poor production values. Watch an NFL game. Cameras are everywhere. They put you right in the action, up close at almost all times. Angles constantly change. By contrast, soccer games are filmed like American sporting events in 1955. One camera high up in the stands tilts back and forth. The viewer sees a bunch of dots running around. Recently, some soccer leagues made it to the 1960s, with one or two cameras on the sidelines.

3. The game is already too corporate to succeed here. Consumers have limited room in their heads for brand names. The space for corporate sports is already full.

The way ahead:

Dump the offsides rule. Are goalies really necessary? The American indoor game, which had no out of bounds and balls bounced off the wall, was great. Soccer needs something like the NBA shot clock. Not moving forward should be penalized.

Also, the men's game should look to the women's game. Female soccer is wide open and aggressive. Sportsmanship reigns supreme. Women's games don't feature the lazy, lawyerly play of sleazy teams like Italy and Argentina, flopping to maximize the rules to their benefit. Unlike Scandinavian male teams, the women can find the goal without a map.

American soccer could also point the way ahead in terms of marketing. Corporate sports are riding for a fall all over the world. The masses lost interest long ago. More money is being made, because the core audience will pay any price. If American soccer could connect with the masses, that would be a major coup.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nederlands Lite

TV is a stunted art form. You can understand everything by watching it on mute or by just listening to the soundtrack.

What makes TV so bad is what makes it ideal for language learning. When I taught ESL, most of the advanced students got to the higher levels by watching TV.

Today, I've been watching Dutch sitcoms. When I started learning, I couldn't find any. Today, I found two. It helps to watch obvious situations in which people talk to each other.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Other Dutch Links

Thanks to Chris for adding this page to pages at It's great to be plugged in to other Dutch learners.

Also, I heard from Jan's colleague, Bianca, who blogs for the Dutch East Indies Heritage Project. Together with Mike, they're telling the politically incorrect story of decolonization. There were problems, and things could have been done a lot differently. One major problem is that Sukarno wasn't just an admirer of Japan, but Imperial Japan. So far, they're the only ones I know of telling this vital story in English and in-depth.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

At the Dutch festival

Today was the first time I heard a lot of Dutch spoken. It was a lot different than hearing news programs, because people were talking to each other, as opposed to just reading. It was a great time with good food and long lines.

While there, I met Jan Krancher, author of The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies 1942-1949 ISBN 978-0-7864-1707. He's working on bringing the story of the terror that happened to the English speaking world. He is also an environmental consultant. You can see more of him at

I also met some of the Van Gaales, whose family puts on the festival. The event was held at an old family property. The Dutch buildings were put in during the 70s. Plans to make a Dutch theme park never really got off the ground.

It seems that there are two kinds of Dutch people: Those who like haring and those who don't. The line for Broodje Krokets was over an hour long. The line for haring only took about five minutes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some improvement.

Learning Dutch is extremely frustrating. Breakthroughs are few and far between. In reading Geert Mak's prose, I not only look up words, but research them. If something is not in the NL/E dictionary, I check the Van Dale. If it's not there, I go on to Google. Usually, I find something, which means going back through dictionaries to look up synonyms. In the densest sections, which are about religion and church politics, I have to do that with every word.

This has been so difficult that even when looking at looking at Google Nieuws Nederland I have often been unable to decipher anything.

Yesterday, I googled the term "dagblad," and looked at some random Dutch papers. I understood a lot more than the last time I did anything similar. For example, I could tell that GM wouldn't be selling Opel, but I couldn't tell why.

I also listened to Harold Biervliet on Canta America, and was able to understand a lot of what he said.

Knowing some context makes a huge difference. For example, the news surrounds us. I already am fairly familiar with Latin American music. By contrast, I started DE EEUW VAN MIJN VADER with very little prior knowledge of the Netherlands. Now, I'm in a section about the Dutch East Indies, a place about which I knew even less. Getting through background going back to the late 1800s was very difficult.

It was great having a minor breakthrough, which felt major. Understanding more of the written news along with Canta America was great.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nazi Merchandise

Why would anyone go to Oktoberfest on November 1st? In my case, there were several reasons. Because my parents couldn't afford to take us far away, we went to ethnic festivals instead of traveling. My girlfriend had good memories of Oktoberfest with the San Diego German American Society in El Cajon. We thought it would be a fun place to take two of her sons to teach them about other parts of the world. We have taken them to other festivals, including a Dutch one earlier in the year. Also, having studied and listened to Dutch, I wanted to see what I could understand in German. I have understood some when it has come up in movies. Finally, I wanted to do a video slideshow and post it directly on this blog. That way, I could work out the bugs before posting the Dutch festival. As you can see, there is no video.

Even at this late date, Germans are often linked with Nazism. The GF went to Oktoberfest in El Cajon some years back with Czechs, who were in search of a Central European vibe. After too much beer, they started saying the hosts were, "A bunch of Nazis," and got thrown out. She remembers having a nice time, in spite of her friends' mouthing off.

We went to Old World in Huntington Beach, a tacky 1950s stucco development designed to look vaguely like Europe. It's run down now. Think of Solvang without maintenance.

Anyway, there was a German market with all sorts of products for homesick expats and immigrants. People spoke the language. As we walked around waiting for 2:00, when our free admission would be good, we went to other shops.

The other shops stopped me in my tracks. At one of them, I saw a CD with a bunch of old German World War II songs about bombing England, among other things. There were also t-shirts with Luftwaffe aircraft. One shop had a black shirt with an eagle, an iron cross, and a circle with a 90 degree cross hatch over it that didn't quite make a swastika that said, "It's about loyalty."

After that, I felt like a deer in the headlights, walking around aimlessly. I couldn't go inside, but I didn't leave right away either. Everyone looked so nice. Many people had Dachshunds they brought with them for sausage dog races later in the day. I didn't see any tattooed dimwits in gang regalia.

But still, it was their place. They couldn't have been unaware of what was in their stores. These items were on display, not hidden.

There was also a German American Community Church. While we walked around, I saw the pastor, an older German man, whose name was on the door. Later, the congregation started filing in. Most of them reflected the neighborhood demographics. They were mainly Mexican and Asian.

I doubt I'll ever go back, but if I do, I'll ask the pastor what's going on. Why do the shops sell Nazi stuff? How did he get a multi-racial congregation in a complex with shops selling what would be illegal in Germany?

Many Germans were born after the Nazi period, and most don't want to hear about such things. The stereotypes can be painful. I'm still shocked to have seen it being celebrated so openly.

We never went inside. After about 15 minutes of walking around, we left.