Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stubbings House gardens

DSC00487 (1300x867)In 1940, Dutch Queen Wilhelmina fled the Netherlands ahead of the advancing German army, landing in the United Kingdom to maintain an independent Dutch government.  She broadcast messages back to the Netherlands as Radio Oranje, actually air time granted on BBC transmitters.  Loyal, outspoken and sometimes controversial in her criticism of the Dutch political leadership, Churchill once commented that she the only real man among the governments-in-exile in the UK.

Koeningdag will be celebrated on Monday in the Netherlands, a date set aside since Juliana’s ascension to the Dutch throne following the end of the War.  In Wilhelmina’s day, it was held on August 31, popular as the final day of school summer vacation.

Wilhelmina 1942 Wilhelmina and Elizabeth

Among the places she lived while in the UK was Stubbings House, pictured above, now a private residence and garden center in Berkshire.  The gardens were open for charity this weekend, and so ‘off to see the 18th century Georgian building and the surrounding rare trees and woodland flowers.

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The fields beyond the Ha-ha (a novelty trench designed to keep cows out of the crops) were yellow with blooming rapeseed, and the woodlands were sprinkled with primrose and buttercups amidst the remaining bluebells and daffodils.  The signage could have been better the Iron Age ruins and Ice Pit were impossible to find.

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The rain held off long enough for a good walk through the estate, cake and tea in the greenhouse, and browsing for a few plants among the flowering trees to take back home.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

The World’s ‘State of Happiness’

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Gorse and heather are blooming along East Cliffs, luminous against the sea.  Beyond, the Isle of Wight shines at the mouth of the Solent.  It’s a warm, windy evening near Bournemouth, perfect for a walk, a coffee, and a bit of scribbling.

The UN ranking of the world’s happiest countries is out – the Dutch have fallen to seventh from fourth, overtaken by Norway, Canada and Finland.  The US is 15th; the UK is 21st.  There are lots of interesting sub-statistics: In general, younger people are angrier, middle-aged worry more, and older folks are sadder (all to a slightly greater extent in women than in men).  Stress and income drop with age; generosity and pain increase.

DSC00449 (1300x844) The report concludes that there is a growing body of evidence on the importance of building social capital to build national happiness (well-being and economic success).  They speculate on the policy implications: how virtues  might be nurtured among citizens to achieve better outcomes for society as a whole.  Their (somewhat scary) list is:

  1. Life- and social- skills training in schools
  2. Universal access to education
  3. Specialized training in compassion
  4. Professional codes of ethics that are socially constructive
  5. Effective state regulation of dangerous anti-social behaviors
  6. Focused efforts to reducer public-sector corruption
  7. Public policies to narrow income and wealth inequalities
  8. Adoption of strong social safety nets and universal social benefits, without means-testing
  9. Recovering ethical voices who lead moral discourse in society
  10. Strengthen deliberative democracy
  11. Accurate reporting of pro-social behaviors and correcting falsely pessimistic views

DSC00451 (1300x857)I like 2,4,6,7,8,10, and have significant doubts about 1,3,5,11 – the latter seem ripe for creative division if people disagree about basic moral principals or manipulate the system.

and the value of sunset walks along windy ridges should not be underestimated…

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Outward migration

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‘Back in Dorset for the week: the cardiologist has departed to finish her dissertation prep and the Kids are moving to cook for a ‘gastropub nearby in Ashley Cross.  Their mother arrives for an extended visit on Friday, which should change the dynamic of the house in interesting ways.

Everyone took good care of my garden whilst I was away, and the or hid, violet, fuscia, fern, creeper, and chili are all thriving in the spring sunshine.

My miserable cold is also thriving; preventing meetings and phone calls for the week.  It’s so far immune to anything Boots can throw at it, so I’ve squirreled myself away to peck at DSC00444 (1039x1300)fundraising, end of quarter financials, and shareholder letters.

It’s a good chance to live a quiet life for the week, catching up on Coursera lectures (Algorithms and EU Law), Masterchef and House of Cards.  Back in the US, it’s tax time, and the WSJ Expat had a very good, very sobering article on the tax traps that can catch US citizens working overseas.  Once again, it’s worth hiring experienced help when you set up and when you operate transnationally in order to avoid expensive omissions. 

The UK government also started nosing around whether I needed to start participating in the National Insurance program now that I have my Indefinite Leave.  Most of my income redirects to the Netherlands (where I pay health insurance and pension tax premiums monthly there), so I didn’t meet the £8060 threshold for needing to sign up locally.

Lyman Stone posted a wonderful bit of research over on Medium, asking how many Americans are actually leaving the country to work or live abroad, and where they are going.  The US government doesn’t track these movements well, being much more focused on immigration, and the net outward migration is around 1%  of  the US population.


No surprisingly, most emigrate to Mexico, the UK, Europe and Canada.  In many countries with smaller populations, US-born residents end up being a significant minority within the population (a greater impact in Norway, for example).

He notes that migrants form cohesive communities of fellow nationals, and their home countries develop policies  to encourage philanthropy, money transfers, investment, travel, and political advocacy in developed-nation capitols...France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal all actively engage with their diaspora populations, maintaining official counts and often trying to bring them “home.” 

This is not the case in the United States, unfortunately.  Its left to groups like the ACA and the ABC.  On the plus side, we don’t lose voting rights after prolonged expatriation like the British do.

Furthermore, given that the US-born diaspora is one of the most widely dispersed diaspora in the world, the United States will face growing pressures to maintain a global diplomatic and security presence.The United States is in a position of managing a diaspora spread through over 100 countries. Commonly enough, Americans view the rest of the world as the rest of the world’s problem. Unfortunately, in an increasingly globalized world, that attitude will lead to disastrously bad policy for Americans abroad.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Showing our age

map3A nifty bit of Dutch data visualization has been posted by the Waag Society: an interactive map with the age of every building in the Netherlands.  Almost 10 million of them, color coded from oldest (dark red) to newest (bright blue).  Amsterdam is depicted to the left, the oldest structures seen as glowing embers along the black rings of the canals. 

If I pan and zoom into Maastricht (counting my DSC00378 (1300x830)building as the brown fa├žade, third from the alley, right), the database shows  that it was constructed in 1863, one of the younger buildings on Kesselskade.   The Cle, left of mine, was built in 1800; the white building, right, in 1742.


The screen capture, above, has the Maas River to the right, Markt Square is top center (Stadhuis built in 1666), and the Vrijthof is left with the blue underground parking garage (1996) alongside the old red churches (1666 and 1734).

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Modernity at the ‘Modern

DSC00427 (1300x837)Challenging artworks by two women are exhibited along Southbank this month; a frigid day along the Thames made good excuse to study their perspectives.  Both artists deal with the modernity: what does it mean to be a person living in modern times?

The Sinca podcast explored the theme from the standpoint of non-western culture, and the social disorientation and economic dislocations that struck middle- and far-eastern empires when confronted with western colonial powers.  Their analysis describes the conflict between retaining traditions and assimilating benefits of modern society.  For example, does accepting the Internet, as a practical tool, also force adoption of non-traditional ideals such as free speech and critical thought?

For me, the Tate Modern show reflected the more organic question of how those within a society change as modernity arrives and different perspectives on community and identity are needed.  How do traditional ideas of self and society change when confronted with rapid technical and economic change, and how do artists capture that spirit?


DSC00429 (1300x1096)Sonia Delaunay takes the more benign approach, embracing the ways that urbanity, technology, and travel changed Paris in the early 20th century.  From experiments with figurative painting and abstraction, she moved on to a synthesis based on color and contrast, attempting to capture an interplay of people, lights, and motion (simultanism).  Below, Le Bal Bullier depicts tango dancers amidst ballroom lights, Electric Prism the streetlights reflected from rainy pavements, Portuguese Market the fruits and vendors.

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Delaunay = RhythmIt’s a neat synthesis of concrete figure and abstract mosaic.  Unlike Kandinsky, she doesn’t attach symbolic meaning to the works, but remains practical, exploring contrasts of color and shape even as she ventured into fashion and advertising.  Ultimately, her vision of modernity is warm, vibrant, and playful.


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Marlene Dumas is the more challenging: her works depict haunted faces and disturbed torsos.  Rejects are not pictures of injured bodies…although the rough and careless handling they have taken gives them an ‘abused’ touch.  Black inks and runny watercolour create grotesque and frightened people, confrontational and direct.

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Dumas - hiroshima mon amourOn viewing, I feel like am encountering those excluded by society, their unacceptable acts, hidden shames and suffering.  Recent works veer towards victims of war and terrorism, not overtly political but viscerally intense.  Her vision of the modern is bleak and alienated, of people living at the edges of society and compromised by it.

PS: The list of ‘d’ words describing the Dumas inks and paintings, so far suggested by readers, includes: 

  • depraved, decadent, dissipated, devastated, degenerated, debased, degraded, dissolute, debauched, defiled, demeaned, devalued, decayed, degenerate…..

…and many thanks to my w.wezen for the new Tate pass!