Sunday, January 1, 2017

Spending New Years Eve in a war zone

I've had the luxury to spend New Years Eve in some amazing places over the last years. The first one that springs to mind was that lovely Mexican beach with it's friendly and joyful atmosphere, closely followed by several amazing places in Australia like tropical Queensland or high in the mountains of Tasmania and along the Great Ocean Road. In New Zealand I've experienced it on both Islands and in Laos I found myself surrounded by some 80 million unexploded cluster bombs dropped there by the US military more than 30 years ago, which had still not been cleaned up. They've all had their own attraction in some form or other, except for the one that has just passed...

This year the experience couldn't have been farther removed from the tranquil and beautiful experience on that small beach in Mexico, where I witnessed 100s of colourful lanterns slowly and gracefully glide away into the black and star-filled sky. In contrast I seemingly found myself in the middle of a War Zone this year... For the past 5 days, yes five full days!, there have been continuous explosions all around me, ranging in size from hand grenades to full scale bombs, and they've been going off continuously. Lots of home made and even more dangerous explosives too, like skippy balls filled with acetylene gas, or 20 litre milk cans filled with carbide... In the small western and so called civilised country where I am now, and which only takes up 0.08% of the surface of the Earth, there are 5 million people who think it's perfectly acceptable to spend 65 million euros... every year... on something called fireworks and then terrorise the nation with it. 5 Million people think it's acceptable to blow up 65 million euros on something as useless as fireworks while people are starving to death in other parts of the world. In case you're wondering where I am, I'm in The Netherlands. Without a shadow of a doubt the worst country I've been in around this time of year. 

The noise is a deafening mix of hundreds of Gatling guns and anti air missiles being fired. In reality the costs are probably much more than 65 million euros as the illegal fireworks, which make up a big part of what you can hear here every year, are not even included. Some 25,000 kg of illegal fireworks has been confiscated by the local police while another 40,000 kg has been intercepted at the border between Germany and The Netherlands. In total that's 65,000 kg of illegal fireworks... or 65 tonnes of explosives being driven around the country in cars and minivans, and we worry about the safety of self driving Teslas... Just yesterday someone was caught with another 1300 kg of explosives in his car, bought illegally in Belgium. Just try to imagine what happens when that goes off... The Police was alarmed to find fireworks in there which have the same explosive power as a fully blown hand grenade. To make matters worse these are unstable and poorly made Chinese and eastern European copies of Italian fireworks so powerful that it should not be for sale to the public. They even copied the Italian labels on it... I'm not going to publish the gruesome results here in pictures (type gevolgen vuurwerk, which is Dutch for consequences of fireworks, in Google if you really need to see it)

Every year people loose fingers, hands, eyes, ears or other parts of their face. All sorts of vandalism around New Years eve contributes to another 13 million euro in damages to houses, cars, schools etc. Medical costs aren't even included in this. Meanwhile a small army of the anti riot police is employed to fight fierce battles with drunken idiots who bombard them with illegal fireworks in return, among other things. And yet this happens every year, in a very small country in Europe which prides itself on being civilised... Just try to imagine being a doctor, nurse, ambulance worker or policeman and having to 'clean up' the grim remains. Try to imagine what it's like for the animals...

And if that's not enough, there is a much darker side to this as well. Some 5 million people buy this stuff, the other 12 million inhabitants hate it and want it banned. As this tiny country prides itself on being a democracy, you would think this to be a no-brainer. In reality though, we don't have a democracy and haven't had one for decades (if not more). Politicians are corrupt through and through, money talks and 65 million euros is a lot of money. Who cares about 13 million euros in damages? It's good for the economy and that's all that matters. The economy has to grow. Stuff the animals, stuff the ambulance workers, nurses and doctors, stuff the 12 million people who want it banned, the economy comes first.

Having just travelled around the world and seen first hand how the majority on this planet have to live, I just can't get my head around this. How can anyone justify spending money on this while there are people dying from starvation, disease and incomprehensible living conditions? How can anyone think it's more important to blow money in the sky while they known others can't even feed their children? They do it under the misnomer of 'tradition'. Perhaps we should reconsider our traditions.
Mind you we're already spending absurd amounts of money in this small country on things which can hardly be described as beneficial to anyone. The 8 million cars on the road here for instance (yes eight million!) have covered an estimated 147 billion kilometres over the past year. In a country which is just 200 km wide and 300 km tall we have 400 km of traffic jams every day!
Try, for a moment, to imagine what kind of madness that creates... We burned up some 1100 million litres of fuel doing so... added another 18 billion kilos of CO2 to the atmosphere and paid a whopping 69 billion euro out of our own pocket to do it... All in a small country covering just 0.08% of the planet. Are we stupid or what?

Happy New Year!