Categories
world

Faced with the victim statements, the robbers apologize

“Pure panic”, that is what the agent experienced on the country road in Broek in Waterland. She saw the robbers get out of their Porsche and Audi and “start immediately” with transferring the loot. When one of the men saw her police car, “he pointed his long weapon at my head and my buddy’s.”

The officer, a woman in her twenties with a blond ponytail, was one of ten police officers who spoke on Tuesday in the trial against the suspects of the robbery of a valuables transport in Amsterdam-Noord in May last year. The other nine had their stories read by their lawyer or by one of the judges, but ‘agente 188129’, as she was called, spoke herself in the courtroom.

What became clear, in her story and that of the others: the events of May 19, 2021 had a huge impact on the dozens of police officers involved in the operation. After a Wild West chase – in which shots were fired with automatic weapons – the suspects were arrested in a meadow near Broek in Waterland, a village north of Amsterdam. The only deceased was robber Osiris Diarawa, no one else was injured. But the extreme violence that accompanied the robbery made the officers fear for their lives.

Read more about the robbery: Clever robbery ended with shots in a meadow

Panic attacks

To this day, they told the courtroom, they struggle with panic attacks, insomnia, flashbacks and feelings of powerlessness. Some have been diagnosed with ptsd, others suffered from skin disease or relationship problems. Loud, unexpected sounds – for example fireworks – cause stress and anxiety.

Other police officers avoided the news for months, fearing that they would be confronted with images of the robbery and chase (“it was not possible to watch the news for the first few months”). A police officer who hid behind the dashboard during the chase on the A10 ring road when her police car was shot at, said in her statement: “The grip on my life has been disrupted and I sometimes wonder if there is any prospect of recovery. ”

Secure shelter

Also insistent were the statements read out by the staff of Schöne Edelmetaal, the company that was robbed. They fled to a secured room, from where they could see on the security cameras how the robbers emptied the money truck. “To get into the other room,” said a Schöne employee, “I had to type in an eight-digit code and then wait 15 seconds. Those seconds lasted an eternity.”

Faced with the victim statements, the suspects apologized. It was never their intention, they said, to bring such traumatic experiences to officers and associates. But they also reiterated what they have been saying from the beginning of the trial: they never aimed the police at the police. As suspect Sidy S. (39) put it: “We are thieves but not murderers.”

Extremely painful, several police officers mentioned that denial in their statement. They haven’t collectively imagined that they have looked down the barrel of a Kalashnikov, have they? Agent 188129: “It hurts when your perceptions are questioned after such an incident.”

Belgium and France

Tuesday also became more clear about the robbers, who have so far said little about themselves in court. The eight suspects, mostly middle-aged men with families, often have a long history of criminal offences. All but two of them appear to have previously been convicted in Belgium or France, often for drug trafficking and robbery.

Manuel T. (43) had just finished a three-year prison sentence in France when he was arrested in Broek in Waterland. Hamza B., who ran a money exchange office until his arrest, was convicted five times between 2008 and 2020, including for theft, receiving stolen goods and evading a traffic control.

An extradition request from France is pending against El Hachmi A. (45), as it turned out on Wednesday: the court of Nanterre sentenced him in absentia to more than three years in prison in June 2021 for an armed robbery of a delivery van. A. could not be present at that court case in France because he was now detained in the Netherlands because of the robbery on the valuable transport. In court, he denied being guilty of the previous offense in France.

The sentence against the suspects will follow on Wednesday.

Categories
world

From meme to international pop star: the five guises of Lil Nas X

In 2018, 19-year-old Montero Lamar Hill was still sleeping on the floor at his sister’s home after giving up computer science.

A year later, as Lil Nas X, he broke the music record for most weeks at number one on the US Billboard chart. His 2019 breakthrough single ‘Old Town Road’ was a mix of hip-hop and country. The success was unique, because, like Time Magazine that year wrote in a cover story about the American rapper: „There are not many black stars in country and not many queer stars in hip-hop.”

Next Tuesday, Lil Nas X will perform in a sold-out AFAS Live in Amsterdam, the first overseas stop on his first world tour, with which he also visits Brussels a week later.

Who is this man who, after his big hit, managed to avoid a one-hit wonder, won important Grammys and can count on 42 million listeners a month on Spotify? About the five guises of Lil Nas X.

1. Meme Curator

Montero Hill was born in 1999 in Lithia Springs, a small town in the southern state of Georgia. His parents divorced when he was six, after which he lived with his mother and grandmother for three years in an Atlanta neighborhood of social housing surrounded by department stores and industrial estates. When he was nine he moved in with his father, a gospel singer by profession. That new environment was completely different: Hill ended up in a quiet suburb. He learned to play the trumpet and got good grades in school. As a teenager, he was “just on the internet all the time,” he told Rolling Stone. “I think I was figuring out who I am.”

On Twitter, he was anything but alone: ​​Hill gained hundreds of thousands of followers by sharing funny pictures, videos and witty commentary, mostly about pop culture.

During the summer holidays after the first year of his studies, he made his first song, actually out of boredom. He had always been a fan of hip-hop artists such as Drake and Kid Cudi, and he loved to write, but didn’t necessarily dream of a career as a musician. The lyrics and melody of his first song actually came naturally. He put it on the internet, it was called ‘Shame’, and to his surprise the reactions were positive. Hill decided to use his knowledge of the internet to promote his music and drop out of college. Lil Nas X was born.

Still tweet Nas on it – he has eight million followers. They are often ironic jokes, remarks with which he makes fun of himself, or he responds to current events. In response to the climate activists throwing soup on paintings, he posted a photo of him tossing Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ at Andy Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’, captioned “I will avenge you, Mr. Van Gogh”. The tweet received more than 980,000 likes.

2. hitmaker

His sensitive internet instinct gave him the idea of ​​’Old Town Road’ – the song with which he broke through. It occurred to him that “country trap‘ videos, which merged hip-hop beats and country stereotypes, became more popular. He found a beat with a banjo sound online and bought it from the producer for $30. Lil Nas X wrote a dryly comic text full of country clichés: “My life is a movie, bullriding and boobies/cowboy hat from Gucci, Wrangler on my booty.”

He shared the song endlessly on Twitter with cowboy and horse memes, and it became increasingly popular on TikTok as well. ‘Old Town Road’ got more and more streams, and even started to enter the charts.

Then came a setback, which turned out to be a blessing in retrospect: Billboard removed the song from the country chart, because it would have too few elements of the genre. That sparked a wider discussion of racism and exclusion in country, a genre dominated by straight white performers—not black gay performers like Nas.

Amid the uproar, Nas came on country superstar Billy Ray Cyrus’s radar. The singer, known for his 1992 hit ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, heard that Lil Nas X wanted to work with him and recorded a new verse for a remix of ‘Old Town Road’. That version shot straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, the chart of the most successful songs in all genres.

It was number one for nineteen weeks. In doing so, Nas beat previous record holders, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men with ‘One Sweet Day’ (1995) and Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber with ‘Despacito’ (2017) – both 16 weeks. In 2022, no one has broken Lil Nas X’s record yet.

Also read: How hip-hop beats from Purmerend became the basis for a world hit

3. provocateur

A funny hit is usually not a key to long-term success: who knows how the ladies of Las Ketchup are doing? How many number 1 hits did Höllenboer have after ‘The van is coming soon’? Lil Nas X knew he had to stay relevant, and a combination of humor and fuss turned out to be the right recipe. He announced his debut album with a photo shoot for People Magazine: dressed in angelic white, with flowers in her hair and a hand on his large ‘pregnant’ belly. This album was his “baby,” he joked. Attention-seeking, his opponents said. And they were right, attention was exactly what Lil Nas X was after.

The criticism grew when he released the single ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’. The song is about no longer wanting to hide a homosexual relationship. The release was accompanied by a note to his 14-year-old self, in which Nas explained that it’s important to be open about your sexuality despite the criticism. In the accompanying video clip, Nas slides down a meter-long pole to hell, where he treats the devil (played by himself) to a lap dance. A direct reference to the conservative Christian idea that LGBT people all go to hell. Those conservatives weren’t happy at all when Lil Nas X announced his “promotion of the song.”Satan shoes‘ announced, an exclusive Nike shoe with a pentagram on it and a drop of human blood in the sole. In the end, no one wore the shoes: Nike put a stop to it through a lawsuit for trademark infringement. The fuss was no less. The Republican governor of South Dakota spoke on Twitter of a “fight for the soul of our country”. Forbes called it a “culture war.” “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” became Nas’ second number 1 hit.

4. album artist

That he is more than just a meme, Lil Nas X had to prove with his first album. Montero was released in September 2021. ‘Old Town Road’ is not on it; actually not a single song you could call a joke. The successful mix of hip-hop and country can’t be found on the album anyway. With his debut album, Lil Nas X set aside the formula of his breakthrough and opted for catchy pop songs and candid ballads. The album was well received by the international music press; NRC gave four balls.

Because an international tour in 2021 was still difficult due to corona, Nas once again came up with an innovative way to promote his music: in Paradiso in Amsterdam, fans could participate in a Lil Nas Xperience. The pop hall was decorated in his style, a combination of sugary sweet and challenging: pink glitter clouds, but also pole dancers. Dollar bills with Nas’s face on them flew across the room. He wasn’t there himself, but it felt like a little glimpse into his world of extravagant attire.

5. world star

Next Tuesday, November 8, Lil Nas X will start his first overseas tour in Amsterdam. His Long Live Montero Tour has already visited major cities in America in the fall, and will now visit major European cities. In January he plays in Sydney.

What can Dutch fans expect from his show? In the program booklet that visitors receive upon arrival, Lil Nas X calls his concert a “play”. It is a kind of musical in three acts, starting with his youth, through the search for his identity, to the present, in which he embraces who he is. The American media reported a great show with big sets, multiple costume changes and bins full of confetti. Over the top so, like basically everything Lil Nas X does.

Also read: Lil Nas X gets the dance floor and the tissues moving (●●●●)

Categories
world

All small entrepreneurs in Feijenoord feel the inflation: ‘Do I have to wash my customers’ hair cold?

Hairdresser Vedat Nazli stops cutting, grabs his phone and opens his banking app. He shows it: an amount of 1,745 euros has been written off in energy costs. He looks at it as if he is seeing it for the first time. “Before this I paid around 250 euros.” He scrolls down with his thumb. “Yes, here, look! 232 euros.”

His hair salon ‘New Class’ is located on the Beijerlandselaan in Rotterdam, sandwiched between ‘Emirdag Köftecisi’, where you can eat Turkish lamb meatballs on Turkish bread, and ‘Tandoori/Rotishop Kashmir Sweets’. Vedat Nazli has been there for eighteen years. “It is difficult to save on energy,” he says. “You can’t ask customers to come in a thick sweater. You can’t wash their hair with cold water or say, ‘Blow-dry at home’.”

At the same time, he sees that customers come less. “Gentlemen normally come every two or three weeks, now they sometimes wait five weeks. Ladies are going to dye their hair at home.”

How further?

He tries to pay the bills while he can. With a sigh he closes the banking app, puts his phone in his pocket and picks up the scissors again.

Hairdresser Vedat Nazili.

New Class is located in the Rotterdam-Feijenoord district, near Hillesluis (average gross annual income: 17,800 euros). In the surrounding neighborhoods of Bloemhof, Afrikaanderwijk and Vreewijk, the annual income is not much higher.


Feijenoord is a different part of the city. Rotterdammers like to show it to their visitors from outside the city. At least, the edge of Feijenoord, close to the Nieuwe Maas. Coming from the north, from Central Station for example, take the Erasmus Bridge or a water taxi. Then cycle, drive or sail into an impressive skyline of skyscrapers and a cruise terminal. Tourists visit the photo museum, the ‘food halls’, or have a drink in the New York hotel. Some walk on to Katendrecht, once a rough working-class neighbourhood, now ‘hip-up’ and full of restaurants, bars and shops. Or they look at the innovative new residential area of ​​Kop van Zuid (gross annual income 52,600 euros).

Visitors usually don’t go any further. But Feijenoord (76,595 inhabitants, slightly less than Lelystad) is much larger. More to the south, the environment changes. There are also new blocks there, for sure. But also many old, sometimes poorly maintained houses. There are hardly any stores of large chains, but there are a lot of small entrepreneurs and shopkeepers, such as hair salon New Class.

In those poorer neighborhoods of Feijenoord, the conversations on the street and in the shops are not only about the increased energy prices. They are about money. Or better: about a lack of money. Because not only gas and light are becoming more expensive, everything is becoming more expensive.

“A kilo of garter costs between 13 and 17 euros per kilo,” says Mukseh Ramautar, owner of snack bar / eatery Pretoria in the Afrikaanderwijk. “That was 6 euros,” he says, as he drives the delivery scooters outside. “Ten liters of frying oil went from 19 euros to 38 euros. Ex VAT!”

Because he doesn’t like to gamble, he fixed his energy rate until 2025. For that he thanks God on his bare knees, because he already pays almost 1,500 euros a month. “You have to bake a lot of chips for that.” Cutting back is difficult, he can’t lower his ovens and deep-fat fryer. His business, he’s been there for 28 years, is going well, but he has to be very careful. Ramautar tries to purchase as cheaply as possible from various wholesalers. Because he doesn’t want to raise his prices – he can’t do that to his customers, in his opinion. By the way, many can no longer afford even a simple cod or pom sandwich.

Miriam Johri, owner of Haman Cleopatra, also faces this problem. She leads the way to a room with humming boilers and a jumble of pipes. Heat is her business model and it is generated there. Her whole building has underfloor heating, the Turkish steam bath is constantly 50 degrees. In the bathroom where the masseuses walk around in slippers and in T-shirts, a foaming soap bag in hand, it is 35 degrees. Women bathe in warm water on the shiny, warm tiles.

She does not yet know how high her energy tariff will turn out, but she is holding her breath with her consumption. Perhaps Johri will increase the entrance fee by 2 euros. She thinks she can’t go any higher, she wants to remain accessible. “I’m not in Hilversum or Wassenaar.” When paid parking in the neighborhood was expanded from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., she immediately noticed that the evenings became quieter. Insha’allah it’s going to be okay, she says. “Otherwise I’ll just have to pay the benefit.” She laughs loudly.

Invisible poverty

All those small entrepreneurs in Feijenoord, often with a migration background, all feel the energy crisis and inflation. Saving money is difficult because they simply need all that gas and electricity to run their business. However, small entrepreneurs with high energy costs will increase the increase above a certain threshold from this month get half compensatedalthough the payment may take a while due to European rules.

Social workers are even more concerned about the invisible poverty among the customers of all those businesses. They see that people turn off the lights earlier, they hear that people are out in the cold because they don’t dare to turn on the stove. You notice it in the people, says Rozanne Boelijn of welfare organization SOL. “There is more gloom. So many problems don’t make you happy.” Welfare workers assume that about a third of the residents of Hillesluis, Bloemhof, Afrikaanderwijk and Vreewijk live around the subsistence level. A setback such as a higher energy bill immediately leads to problems.

Take Sue-Ellen (37), without a last name for privacy reasons NRC, who lives in Bloemhof with her two daughters aged fourteen and six. In their cozy living room with pink walls, the girls have settled on the couch, in front of the television. Sue-Ellen says she only showers twice a day. “For the Dutch, that is still a lot, but on Curaçao everyone showers three times a day. At least.”

She has adopted more of the Dutch culture, she says. Namely “the house suit”. Dressing warmly when you are at home with a sweater and, for example, jogging pants is typically Dutch, she thinks. “I was used to dressing comfortably at home. But then the heating has to be turned up when it’s cold. Most Antilleans and Surinamese enjoy tropical temperatures, but I am now used to grabbing a blanket.”

She finds it difficult to leave baking cakes and bread. “That’s my hobby and it makes me zen.” Fortunately, cooking is not the biggest energy guzzler, she understands. That’s still the heating. The big problem is the insulation of her house. She opens the door to her bedroom: the outer wall is almost entirely made of glass. It’s chilly and drafty.

Benefits scandal

Debts are no stranger to Sue-Ellen. The benefits scandal also affected her. She received a compensation amount of 30,000 euros, with which she first paid off all creditors. With the money she had left, she bought her mother’s jewelry back from the pawn shop and booked a weekend getaway. After that, the money was more or less gone.

Sue-Ellen stopped working as a maternity nurse two years ago after a burnout. She and her daughters now live on benefits. That’s not big, but a year ago they just came out if they didn’t do crazy things. But now that everything is getting more expensive, she finds herself filling one hole with another. And that’s a bad sign. Half of the 1,200 euros that comes in every month is spent on rent. Energy costs are now 142 euros per month, but she fears an increase. She opens the Essent app. “I watch it very often.” She pays more and more attention to what she buys in the supermarket – “not just A-brands, although the house-brand cornflakes are just not tasty”.

food parcels

The number of residents in Feijenoord who are unable to make ends meet is growing. That used to be the case, but the queue at the food bank that distributes food packages once every two weeks next to the Afrikaanderplein has recently been longer. The community centers in Feijenoord have set up walk-in consultation hours where residents can go with questions about the energy bill and receive help with applying for the energy allowance – because not everyone speaks enough Dutch, others do not have DigiD.

In the community center of the Afrikaanderwijk, the waiting room is already full on Monday morning. Hammadi Ajmidar of welfare organization SOL, who commutes between different community centers, sees this everywhere. “Forty or fifty people pass by in a morning. People used to come in with questions about language lessons or courses. Now it’s all about money problems.”

It’s not just people on social assistance benefits, he says. More and more often, workers come by who see their energy tariffs flipped four times – from 150 to 600 euros, for example. Ajmidar: “Sometimes the energy bill is higher than the rent.”

According to Ajmidar, it is important that residents receive help as early as possible. “People are ashamed and start borrowing from family and friends first. Only when that is no longer possible and the debts are really substantial, do they seek help.”

Mr. and Mrs. Pols from Bloemhof still consider themselves lucky that years ago they refused a renovation of their house by the housing association, they say. As a result, they now only pay 300 euros in rent, while the others in the block pay 600 to 700 euros. It does mean that they have no central heating and have to heat the entire house (living room and two bedrooms) with one gas heater. That is not a problem, says Jannie Pols (82). “Daan can’t stand a warm bedroom.”

They’re frugal, but they’ve always been frugal. That’s how you are when you grow up just after the war, they say. “And we just eat what we feel like,” says Jannie Pols (82). “You used to have the dining room for poor people. There you could get a prakkie if there was not enough money at home for food.”

Daan Pols (84): “And you went to the market, for the apples with a spot.”

Mrs Pols: „We did homework. Just at the living room table. Select brown beans. Peasing. Put advertising brochures in a bag. Then you had some extras.”

Mr Pols: “People have also become spoiled. They have a lot of wishes. I was happy with a hoop and a top, don’t come with the youth of today.”

Jannie and Daan Pols.

Back to the Afrikaanderwijk where Mukseh Ramautar, owner of eatery Pretoria, notices a deeper problem. The money in the Netherlands is not distributed fairly, he says. “The poor must make all the sacrifices. Rich people put solar panels on their roofs to lower their energy bills. Poor people have no money for that. Moreover, they are in a rented house. That’s how they stay poor.”

Categories
world

Pakistan wants more than emergency aid after the floods: ‘It’s not our fault’

How do you express the damage of a natural disaster? In Pakistan’s provinces of Sindh and Balutjistan, there is almost no place for the dead after this summer’s floods. In September, cemeteries, such as the town of Dadu in the delta of the Indus River, were flooded. The mosque was also flooded: “We found one small piece of land, a kind of sandbank, or actually it was the verge, in front of the mosque. That is the place where we can now come to pray,” villagers left behind said at the time NRC. Local Pakistani media recently reported that bereaved families are not yet able to bury their dead — the more than 1,700 people who drowned, or those who have since died of waterborne diseases. The land is still not dry.

Read also Pakistanis due to flooding in tents or on the roadside: ‘I was afraid that the water would overtake us’

The fields have not recovered for the next harvest either – just as the farmers in the important agricultural area feared. Because of the broken bridges, dikes and dams, the transport of goods and other economic activities are still not getting off to a good start. The homes of thirty million people need to be refurbished or completely rebuilt.

To put it in money: the damage caused by the water is estimated to be 40 billion euros, the Pakistan Climate Council, the federal government agency that now communicates about government plans in the wake of the floods, announced in October. That is a quarter more than an estimate a month earlier.

Pakistan cannot afford that amount itself. Meanwhile, the fund set up by the United Nations for direct aid — from healthcare to clean drinking water — now holds only 90 million of the $816 million requested, according to Reuters news agency.

Pakistan is strongly turning to the international community for the recovery. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for emergency aid – but the most urgent call in recent weeks came from federal climate minister Sherry Rehman. She doesn’t just want help getting back on track after the flood, but reparations. After all, the floods were probably partly caused by climate change – a problem to which the country barely contributed. That one-liner regularly told the minister: “Pakistan is responsible for less than one percent of the emissions, but we are the country that is now experiencing the worst effects.”

The rice plantation in Pakistan’s Sandh province has been severely damaged by the flooding.
Photo Asif Hassan/AFP

Financial ‘repairs’

“All our priorities have changed as a result,” Rehman said when she announced the Pakistani agenda for COP27, the global climate summit now underway in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The realization that the effects of climate change do not affect countries equally, and even more vulnerable countries such as Pakistan, is an important theme. The Pakistani delegation is well represented at the summit and has become an outspoken champion of financial ‘repairs’ with the recent flood.

Read also The debate about the costs of climate damage is inevitable

Prime Minister Sharif acted as Vice-President at the opening meeting at the invitation of organizer Egypt to reiterate the impact of the climate crisis already having. Pakistan is also currently the chair of the G77+China, a partnership of developing countries that more often represent interests together at international climate meetings.

Sherry Rehman has a clear goal: she wants a financing instrument for what is in the climate negotiations ‘loss and damage’ has come to be called: richer countries, which bear more responsibility for emissions, must not only assist vulnerable poorer countries in disasters or in financing climate adaptation, they must also pay compensation.

“It’s not about ‘help’. The West must take responsibility.” say Zareen Qureshi on the phone, an activist who in recent weeks in the northern province of Baluchistan has been taking stock of what the floods were doing there. “It should be a given that the people now affected by the floods are helped to survive – food, medicine. But those whose behavior has caused the problem need to do more. They can no longer reverse their actions, we are now noticing the consequences of the accumulated emissions.”

From thirty million Pakistanis the house needs to be refurbished or completely rebuilt.
Photo Zahid Hussain/AP

Decolonization

Like other Pakistani activists, Qureshi links the demand for climate compensation to decolonization: the Western countries started emitting when they had an economic and political advantage, and now the former colonies are also hampered in their development when they commit to emission reductions from the global economy. climate goals.

Read also Africa is done with Western hypocrisy about climate

As early as 2009, Western countries promised a fund of 100 billion euros that could be used from 2020 for climate adaptation – adaptations to combat damage caused by climate change. That amount has not yet been reached. According to Maarten van Aalst, director of the Climate Center of the International Red Cross, developing countries are very suspicious because western countries have not fulfilled their promises so far. They are still emitting too much greenhouse gas, even when the most vulnerable countries are already being hit hard, and they have not met agreements on financial support for adaptation. This means that fast-growing developing countries themselves are also unwilling to reduce their emissions.

Activist Qureshi, who praises Pakistani climate minister Rehman for her public appearances that have also raised awareness about climate change in the country, thinks empathy between countries will contribute to climate justice.

“If citizens in Europe do not yet realize how far the climate crisis has progressed, they lack empathy,” Qureshi says. “This problem will also affect them – but they will feel the effects less, because their countries are already better able to resist.” Pakistan, on the other hand, will have to prepare for another disaster while the country recovers from the previous one.

In addition to knowledge, this reconstruction also involves a lot of emotion: “However great the disaster may have been, the residents still feel connected to the dangerous area. They have lived in the flood plain for generations. Their ancestors are buried there.”

Categories
world

Thanks to a bacterium, there is still life in a deadly Romanian cave

Probably everything that enters this cave will die. An owl is lying on the floor, further on is also a bat, both suffocated. Volcanic vapors leak into the cave through cracks in the ground, with all its consequences. Nothing survives at the bottom of the Sulfur Cave in Romania’s Puturosu Mountain – nickname Stinky Mountain. Life also retreats just outside the cave: plants only start growing further on.

The conditions are extreme due to the volcanic fumes. Sulfur gas precipitates on the rock face, making it exceptionally acidic: its pH value is 1. It’s as acidic as human stomach acid, made to break down everything that enters it. Most life can no longer handle a pH of 5, but here it is ten thousand times more acidic. With a protective suit you can go inside, but not for too long: otherwise your boots will dissolve.

Sunlight or running water would make it easier for life to settle in the cave, but that too is lacking. Because there is no sunlight, there is no energy source from which bacteria or plants can grow. And no hydrocarbons such as sugars flow in, from which organisms can derive energy.

A researcher takes samples in the cave.
Photo Jean-François Flot/Serban A. Sarbu

Snotty substance

But in 2015, researchers made an unexpected find. A horizontal strip of about five centimeters wide runs over the cave wall, where all kinds of micro-organisms appear to be in a snotty substance. Together they form a small ecosystem. An international group of scientists is now investigating this: how can the ecosystem exist there? And, zooming out further, where is the limit of life?

Life in the Sulfur Cave sits right on the wall where volcanic gases come into contact with ‘normal’ air. The volcanic gas is heavier, so it sinks to the bottom, there is oxygen-rich air at the top of the cave. It’s easy to see where the viable strip is, which is on the boundary between the volcanic gas and the air: the bottom of the cave is a poisonous yellow from the precipitated sulfur.

The ecosystem can exist right at the interface because it uses methane from the volcanic gases at the bottom and oxygen from the air at the top, it turns out. That is thanks to one special bacterium that is the center of the small ecosystem, an international group of scientists wrote last week Nature Microbiology.

The bacteria is special for many reasons. If only because it is a so-called mycobacterium. Many mycobacteria are pathogens – the best known are the tuberculosis bacteria and the leprosy bacteria – that do not grow without a host. “But this boy lives free,” says Wilbert Bitter, professor of molecular and medical microbiology at Amsterdam UMC and VU University. “It was known that mycobacteria grow in the environment, but that there is one that occurs so dominantly in a cave, that is special.”

Few bacteria have mastered that

Wilbert Bitter professor

Moreover, the cave bacterium appears to be quite closely related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Bitter investigates many mycobacteria, and tuberculosis in particular. “As a result, this bacterium teaches us more about the tuberculosis bacterium.”

But what’s even more special is that this mycobacterium is ‘methanotrophic’: it can break down the gas methane, using oxygen to do so. The bacterium can live on the energy that is released. “It’s not that easy,” says Bitter. “There are very few bacteria that have mastered that.”

The hypothesis that the bacterium lives like this came from Rob van Spanning, who was looking for the energy source of the ecosystem. He is a researcher in molecular cell biology at the Free University in Amsterdam and first author of the study. “I already knew about the different proteins involved in the breakdown, from methane to carbon dioxide,” he says. “So I quickly came to the thought, surely this bacteria can’t do that too?”

Individual steps in the process

The breakdown of methane to carbon dioxide in nature is gradual, and each step requires a different protein. With each reaction, an oxygen atom is added, or hydrogen is lost. A protein is responsible for the reaction of methane (CH4) to methanol (CH4O); another that from methanol to formaldehyde (CH2O); a third takes care of the production of formate (CHO2); a fourth the last reaction step, to CO2.

Some known mycobacteria can perform individual steps in this process. But the mycobacterium in the Sulfur Cave produces all four proteins, according to a DNA analysis. Never before has a mycobacterium been found that can do this. The researchers propose a logical name: Mycobacterium methanotrophicum.

“We see the bacteria as the basis of the food pyramid,” says Spanning. “When these microorganisms die, the contents are released for other members of the community. At the very top of the food pyramid there is always a predator – that is probably a fungus in the cave.” The bacterium probably also benefits from other bacteria, which produce nitrogenous nutrients.

“The cave shows that microorganisms have found many different solutions to live in such environments,” says Mike Jetten, professor of ecological microbiology at Radboud University in Nijmegen and not associated with the research. A “nice molecular study,” says Jetten, who provides deeper insight: “The cave is almost completely closed off from the outside world. Such systems are good analogs for understanding life on the old Earth or possibly other planets.”

Categories
world

Kiev between hope and fear in crucial weeks of war

Kiev holds its breath. The Ukrainians hope that political shifts in the US Congressional elections will not lead to reduced US support for Ukraine, or more pressure to engage in talks with Putin. And at the front, the attack on the strategically crucial city of Kherson is getting closer and closer. That too will influence the course of the war.

“We hope that we do not become victims of the partisan political struggle that is now unfolding in the US,” Ukrainian parliamentarian Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze told Politico. Ukraine is “highly dependent not only on US support, but also on US leadership to sustain the concerted efforts of other countries.”

Read also What’s at stake in the US Congressional elections?

Polls predict Republicans will gain a majority in the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. While Democrats have rallied squarely behind Ukraine, some Republicans cast doubt on US support during the election campaign. US support for Ukraine has been high for months, but more and more Americans are wondering how much longer Washington can hold.

Last weekend reported The Washington Post based on anonymous sources that the US would have urged Kiev not to completely block the road to negotiations. The US government would not want to push Kiev to the negotiating table, but would like to prevent Ukraine from wasting goodwill among the Western coalition through an alleged rigid stance. As the war drags on and the energy crisis reaches Western living rooms, fears grow among politicians that Ukraine fatigue will undermine the Western alliance.

‘No coercion’

President Zelensky reiterated Ukraine’s demands for peace on Monday night. “Once again: restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the UN Charter, compensation for all damage caused by the war, punishment of every war criminal and guarantees that this will not happen again. Those are very understandable conditions.” He called on world leaders to force Russia into genuine negotiations.

Ukraine was prepared to renounce NATO membership in the early weeks of the war and wanted to talk to the Putin regime about contentious areas. As Kiev managed to frustrate the Russian invasion, the demands became tougher. Zelensky said he no longer wanted to talk to Putin. He did not mention Putin on Monday.

Zelensky’s advisor Mikhailo Podoljak denied told Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian branch that the US has pushed for negotiations. “First, it is impossible to force Ukraine into negotiations that are not there. Because – and this is very important to understand – Russia is not offering negotiations and has never offered.” Russia only sets ultimatums, according to Podoljak. “Second: […] We have the operational initiative, we are pushing the Russian army from our territory. Against this background, it is nonsense to force us into a negotiation process, and in fact into the recognition of the ultimatum of the Russian Federation! No one will do that.” Moreover, said Podoljak, Ukraine and the US speak on an equal footing. “There is no coercion, there is no shadow component, everything is very transparent.”

There is talk between Washington and Moscow about nuclear threats from Russia, according to Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan. According to The Wall Street Journal Sullivan has been in frequent contact with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev and Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov in recent months. Sullivan had previously said that the US had made it clear to Moscow at the highest level that the use of a nuclear weapon would have catastrophic consequences for Russia’s armed forces.

Heavy Russian losses

Meanwhile, criticism of the military leadership is mounting in Russia. After reports of heavy losses at the front in Donetsk province, the Russian Defense Ministry was forced to respond publicly for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine. Last Sunday, Russian military bloggers published a letter from members of the 155th Brigade who complained about ‘an incomprehensible offensive’ near the village of Pavlivka, about 40 kilometers south-east of the city of Donetsk. “As a result of the ‘carefully’ planned offensive by the ‘great generals’, we lost about 300 people – dead, wounded or missing – and half our equipment in four days,” the letter said.

tank ammunition at the front near Siversk in Donetsk province.
Photo Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters

Russia’s defense ministry dismissed the criticism, saying in a statement that losses due to “competent action by the commanders” amounted to less than 1 percent of the deployed troops. According to the ministry, the percentage of injured would be only 7 and “a large part of them are already being deployed again”.

Reports are also coming out of the Luhansk province of enormous Russian losses, here among newly mobilized reservists. Hundreds of Russian reservists who were mobilized in the town of Voronezh in mid-October are said to have died around the town of Makiivka. In Luhansk, after the successful counter-offensive east of Kharkov in September, Ukrainian forces are still fighting for control of the Svatove-Kreminna road, a key north-south route still under Russian control. That’s exactly where the Russian army sent reservists last month — barely prepared for war, according to eyewitness accounts that trickle out.

Possibly 500 dead

A survivor of the massacre, reservist Aleksey Agafonov, told media outlet Russian investigative reporters Verstka that possibly five hundred of his colleagues had died. In Voronezh, in southwestern Russia, according to The Guardian, who also spoke with Agafonov, mobilized 570 men. Agafonov told Verstka that he had seen “dozens of corpses.” “On TV they show that everything is beautiful, but in fact here in the Luhansk region it is the mobilized who are thrown forward.”

Russia’s military debacles are increasingly having repercussions in society

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank that provides daily updates on the war, suggested Tuesday that the many military debacles of the Russian army are no longer only receiving critical reviews from military bloggers, but are increasingly having an impact on society as a whole. This is partly due to “wives and mothers of soldiers who stand up for their relatives” by reaching out to local administrators and prominent Russian military bloggers.

Meanwhile, Russia is busy strengthening the defense line in the occupied parts of Ukraine, reports the British Ministry of Defence. In particular, around the strategically important port city of Mariupol, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya, pyramid-shaped concrete anti-tank structures called dragon’s teeth are being set up. That seems to indicate that the Russians are doing everything they can to protect the line south of those cities against Ukrainian counter-offensives. With that, the Russians hope to keep most of southern Ukraine in their hands, not only to protect the previously annexed Crimea, but also the strategically important access roads to the peninsula.

Categories
world

Not the right diploma, but handy enough for a mechanic

Before the demand for mechanics became so pressing, he hadn’t really thought about it, Erik Koning admits. “Of course they were always allowed to apply to us. But now I know: status holders don’t just find us, and we don’t find them.”

Koning is a manager at the NS train modernization business unit in Haarlem. With his team, he ensures that old trains become like new again. At least, if he has enough mechanics for that.

Like the rest of NS and countless other employers in the Netherlands, Koning has difficulty filling vacancies. Last year, Randstad, the temporary employment group with which he works, also announced that it no longer had any staff for him. Not illogical, both companies are looking for their people in the same tight labor market. To prevent work in Haarlem from coming to a standstill, Koning and Randstad decided to go fishing in another pond: that of status holders.

And it worked: the first seven of them entered a work-study program at the beginning of this year. One day a week they now receive mechatronics lessons at a ROC, four days a week they work at the NS workshop in Haarlem under the guidance of more experienced colleagues. They also receive Dutch lessons. This summer, another eight status holders were added. They are seconded via Randstad for the first six months, after which they are employed by NS itself.

King calls it a success. “Sometimes they need a little more guidance, but they do their very best. I like it.”

Status holder at work in the cable street of the NS workshop.
Photo Remko de WAAL / ANP

However, status holders are not high on the list of employers looking for staff. Of the people who arrived in the Netherlands since 2014 and subsequently received a residence permit, only 42 percent have a job after five years, not least because of practical barriers. For example, refugees are not allowed to work for the first six months after arrival in the Netherlands, and after that they are allowed to work for a maximum of 24 weeks per year as long as they do not have a residence permit. Moreover, not everyone masters Dutch equally well. This automatically creates a distance from the labor market.

more inclusive

Wendel Röntgen set up the work-study program at NS at the temporary employment company Randstad and, among other things, visited community centers to recruit status holders for the program. He is also involved as a facilitator. Röntgen has seen an increase in employers’ interest in recruiting people with a distance to the labor market “for about five years now”. These organizations often want to become more inclusive. “The staff shortage has accelerated that.”

This is also apparent from the ‘technology attack plan’ that employers’ organization VNO-NCW presented last week to tackle the personnel shortage in technology, construction and energy. Estimated by VNO-NCW There are 60,000 vacancies for technicians. Partly because of the energy transition, many technically skilled workers will be needed in the coming years. One of the action points in the plan? Train and hire more status holders.

This has never been a quick win for us, it takes time, investment, training

Wouter van Loo alliander

Network company Alliander, which is still looking for 2,500 technicians for the next four years, has been working with status holders for some time. In recent years, it has formed a class four times with about ten status holders who already have ‘affinity with or a background’ in technology. They are trained to become ‘first installer low and medium voltage distribution’. They also receive language lessons and, if necessary, driving lessons.

Wouter van de Loo, labor market, training and retention manager at Alliander: „This is never a problem for us quick win been. It takes time, investment, training. Electrical engineering is the same all over the world, but the electricity grid is not. So they have to learn that, just like the language, because the work has to be done safely. For that you have to be able to communicate well.”

It is precisely this extra effort that prevents employers from hiring status holders or other people who need more guidance. “There are plenty of people who want to work,” says Röntgen. “But as an employer you have to do something extra for it, you have to be willing to invest.”

Old-fashioned wish list

Labor market experts have been disturbed for some time by the unwillingness of employers to draw on the ‘untapped labor potential’. That is a group of more than a million people who would like to work (more). These include part-timers who want to work more hours, people with disabilities, students and status holders.

According to labor sociologist Fabian Dekker, associated with the Rotterdam research agency SEOR, employers overlook this group because they have an old-fashioned “wish list” when recruiting and hiring: “Work experience, education and age.” Then you quickly miss status holders: “Because even if they have diplomas, they are often not valid here.” According to the labor sociologist, employers would do better to look at the ‘potential’ of people: what can they do and what can they learn?

Koning also experienced this at the start of the NS work-study program for beneficiaries. “We couldn’t fall back on diplomas. Then you have to find out for yourself whether people are suitable.” The people who have now been hired at NS Train Modernization were therefore first tested on various skills that come in handy as mechanics.

Another barrier for employers, Dekker sees, is that they are afraid of ‘losing’ their investment in people. “They fear that they will leave after a few years.”

Van de Loo of Alliander tries to think in the interests of the sector, he says. “If they end up with contractors in our chain, that’s fine too. We work closely with that.”

At the same time, he notes that most status holders that Alliander has trained are still working for the company. And that is a relief: “There are not nearly enough technicians from the regular schools to fill all our vacancies.”

Categories
world

RIVM: decrease in corona figures continues, autumn wave has come to an end

The number of people who have tested positive for the corona virus in the past week has fallen sharply. According to the latest figures from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), 7,719 infections were registered. Since May this year, the number of registered infections has not been so low.

A week earlier, 12,311 people were diagnosed with the corona virus. Last week’s 7,719 reports represent a 37 percent drop in registered cases. According to the RIVM, the autumn wave has come to an end, now that the infections have decreased over a longer period.

The actual number of corona infections is probably higher, because RIVM does not count self-tests. Research in the sewage water shows that there are also fewer virus particles in it, which confirms the decrease.

Hospital admissions are also falling: last week 341 people with a corona infection were in hospital, 35 percent less than a week earlier. 23 of them were in intensive care, where 36 corona patients were in an IC a week before. 29 people died of the coronavirus last week, compared to 38 corona-related deaths a week before.

Also read: RIVM: an estimated 88,000 hospitalizations prevented by corona vaccinations

Unchanged thermometer

Nevertheless, nothing changes on the ‘thermometer’ that the government uses to indicate the risk of a corona outbreak in society. The alarm level is currently set to ‘raised’. RIVM does not want to lower the level because a new sub-variant of the omikron variant of the coronavirus is emerging, of which it is uncertain what the effect will be on the corona figures.

Fewer and fewer people are getting vaccinated. Last week, 363,000 people in the Netherlands missed a repeat shot. Since the end of September, when the current vaccination campaign was launched, the number of vaccinations has not been this low. For example, a week earlier, 550,000 people were pricked with an adapted corona vaccine.

3.4 million people have now been vaccinated with a repeat shot, approximately a quarter of all eligible people. The willingness to vaccinate has so far been highest within the age group of people over sixty: more than half of the people in this group have now had a repeat shot.

Categories
world

Speechless from major to minor

Just when you think that the flow of Indies books has meanwhile come to an end, that all aspects of violence, exploitation and atrocities committed by the Dutch in the former colony have been sufficiently elucidated, a historical study of 800 pages appears again.

In it I read a sentence like this: “Without Java and Sumatra, no peanut butter, no coffee or speculaas, but also no Rijksmuseum, Concertgebouw, Paleis voor Volksvlijt, no world exhibition 1883 or covered Passage in The Hague…”

The author is Thom Hoffman (65), photographer, film and stage actor and more recently especially historiographer. India, enchantment and disillusionment is the name of his book, with the subtitle A personal quest for a hidden history.

Also read this interview: Thom Hoffman about his personal quest for the colonial East Indies: “The Netherlands has an incorrect self-image.”

Hoffman writes about his “Indies madness” which he calls “a vicarious love” for his grandmother, who was strongly shaped by the Dutch East Indies of the 1930s. Everything about her was different, there was an atmosphere of oriental magic and mystery around her, she and her husband – working in the oil – lived in their Indian time as in The Great Gatsby. She wore silk dresses with exotic floral designs.

But isn’t the Indies also the genocide on Banda by Jan Pieterszoon Coen in 1621? India, that is also violent exploitation and slavery of the Indonesian population so that the Netherlands could decorate the Concertgebouw, the Rijksmuseum with millions in credit balance? Didn’t the Dutch authorities behave like a “destruction machine” during the independence struggle?

When a dream comes true for Hoffman in 1983 and he arrives at the equator, the first thing he perceives is “the sweet smell of Indonesia”. That euphoria doesn’t last long. Hoffman quickly realizes that big-city life in Jakarta is “hell”. Children on the streets in clouds of exhaust fumes and thousands of people who live off the Bantar Gebang garbage dump, the largest in the country.

‘A Ronggeng or dancing Girl’ in History of Java (1817) by Raffles
Photo illustration from discussed book

Another example: like millions of television viewers, the then young Hoffman saw the series The silent force (1974) based on Couperus’ novel of the same name. A shudder went through the country: the Indies was an erotic playground and a frightening, enigmatic world in one. A country where the Dutch had no business, yes, “what were we actually doing there?” Via Couperus, Hoffman ends up at Multatuli. He returns to the earliest beginnings, going through the centuries and ending through the Japanese camps and the burning kampongs of the ‘police actions’ at the present, in the most recent decolonization investigation. Books, photos, documents, personal experiences and film images form his material.

The “enchantment and disillusionment” of the title determines the form: the pages move from major to minor, from beauty to horror, from sweet to bitter, from Eastern elegance to Western barbarism. Time and again Hoffman asks himself the question: ‘What keeps me so occupied with the Indies? Feelings of right and wrong play a part, good and evil.” The romantic view in which the country is ‘soft and mystical’ is no longer possible, has never actually been possible. Not for nothing is the last word of the book “speechless”. Colonial historiography has found a new form.

Thom Hoffman: India, Enchantment and Disillusionment. ed. Meulenhoff, 752 pages. Price € 29.99

Categories
world

‘Many governments use spyware, European rules necessary’

The use of spy software by governments is widespread in Europe and poses a significant threat to democracy. And although these have long since ceased to be isolated cases, there has been no joint European response – let alone an approach. With that message, a special European Parliament inquiry into ‘spyware’ in Europe came on Tuesday. The report’s preliminary conclusions come at a sensitive time as an espionage scandal in Greece continues to spread and also shakes Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Read also Greece refuses openness about wiretapping journalists and politicians

A group of international media exposed the use of spy software by governments last summer. The revelations made it clear how government services secretly install the Pegasus software program from the Israeli company NSO on smartphones to track a target. Thousands of journalists, opposition politicians and activists were found to have been followed in this way – not only in authoritarian regimes such as Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia, but also in EU member states such as Poland and Hungary.

The commotion about the revelations was great and prompted the European Parliament to set up its own committee of inquiry. On Tuesday, committee rapporteur and D66 MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld presented the preliminary conclusions. It is a detailed enumeration of, for example, how the PiS government in Poland followed an opposition politician, lawyer and judge, or how the Fidesz government in Hungary targeted independent journalists.

The report does not contain many new facts: because no EU government was willing to cooperate, MEPs had to rely on journalistic research and public facts. It is part of the problem, emphasized In ‘t Veld in a press conference on Tuesday. Because governments rely on confidentiality and national security, it is impossible to thoroughly investigate the scale of spyware use, or the precise targets.

Nevertheless, according to In ‘t Veld, by listing all the facts in detail, it can be proved that this is a widespread, EU-wide phenomenon. The D66 member spoke of a “omerta” of EU governments who have an interest in not holding each other accountable and hindering investigations into the spyware. In ‘t Veld assumes that the software is used by all member states. Revealed this summer De Volkskrant Which Dutch investigative services had used Pegasus to hack into Ridoun Taghi’s phone.

No smoking gun

The report comes as the scandal surrounding the use of spy software in Greece deepens. This summer it became clear that spyware was used there, the Greek newspaper published this weekend Documento a list of 33 sometimes prominent Greeks who are said to have been spied on. In an interview, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis denied any involvement on Monday, but it is clear that his position is coming under increasing pressure.

When asked, In ‘t Veld acknowledged that he had found “no smoking gun” in Greece that links the spyware directly to the Greek government. But, she emphasized: from all the information collected, the image of close political involvement does emerge.

The inquiry committee wants to complete its final investigation next spring and then come up with clear recommendations. But according to committee chairman and CDA MEP Jeroen Lenaers, it is already clear that European legislation is necessary for the use of spyware by member states. “In addition, import and export rules must be introduced for the purchase of spy software. It is also important that we establish the right to transparency for victims of wiretapping operations.”

In ‘t Veld also emphasizes that a clearer definition of ‘national security’ is needed to prevent member states from being able to evade every critical question by relying on it.

Whether this legislation will be passed is highly questionable – the reluctance of EU governments to cooperate in the investigation shows that Member States are not in the least interested in meddling.