Clutching at a straw

When I was eighteen years or so I once read The Limits of Growth. That’s depressing stuff, most notably if you’re young and expect to live for another sixty years or so. Doom seemed imminent and I would probably live to see it happen. That was the moment when my views about the future turned grim. Before that I hardly had any views about the future at all. A few years later I became an environmentalist and a member of Friends of the Earth in Groningen. Friends of the Earth does research and tries to convince people that they should change their lifestyles. Friends of the Earth also lobbies with politicians and pressures corporations. And sometimes we protested.

One day we blocked the entrance of Groningen Airport to protest against the government subsidies for the airport. The city council felt that Groningen needed an airport but Groningen wasn’t big enough to make it profitable. When we were sitting there, the police came to remove us, and it suddenly became clear to me that activism didn’t help. Politicians will be voted out of office when they are serious about solutions. Businesses will go bankrupt if they take appropriate action unless all other businesses do the same. The required measures are extremely costly and will affect our lifestyles so profoundly that it would never happen in the current political and economic system.

Desperate times require desperate measures. Once being over a cliff, a cartoon character can only clutch at a straw. And only in cartoons the straw might hold. Friends of the Earth in Groningen worked together with the Strohalm Foundation. The meaning of the Dutch word strohalm is straw. According to Strohalm, the economy must grow because of interest, and that’s destroying the planet. It is ‘grow-or-die’ because interest rates need to be positive. Any solution begins with ending interest, they believed, and interest causes a lot of other problems too, like poverty and financial instability. Strohalm’s idea was banning interest and charging a fee on money as Silvio Gesell had proposed, so that it would be attractive to lend out money without interest.

Economists didn’t take interest-free money seriously. If you can receive interest then why lend out money without interest? And if you can borrow money at an interest rate of zero, you would borrow as much as you can and put it in a bank account at interest. Therefore, interest-free money with a holding tax would never work, at least so it seemed, and it didn’t take long before I realised that too. Only, that wasn’t satisfactory. Accepting doom is not much unlike committing suicide. If interest is the root of so many social and environmental problems, and may destroy human civilisation, you can’t ignore that. And perhaps it could work. During the Great Depression it had been tried in a small Austrian village and it was a stunning success.

For years I didn’t own a car and used public transport as much as possible. At some point I realised that it was all rather pointless. My efforts were thwarted by other people. For instance, more and more people started driving SUV’s. These people didn’t care. What’s the point in making such a sacrifice if other people don’t. A car makes your life a lot easier. People tend to chose comfort and I am not different or better than most people.

A few years later, in 1998, I became a freelance IT specialist. I made a lot of money so I had some money to invest. My first investments were small and not very successful. That was because I believed that the profits of corporations matter. But investments in loss-making internet startups did very well while profitable corporations did poorly. And so I came to believe that I had to stay informed about the developments in the financial markets. In 2000 I joined the investment message board Iex.nl.

On the message board was a day trader who shared all kinds of conspiracy theories with us. For instance, if the markets were about to collapse, a secret group called Plunge Protection Team would come to the rescue. He was ridiculed, but after the internet bubble popped, the markets often miraculously recovered when they were about to crash. And gold often crashed because of some mysterious overnight selling. The day trader believed this happened because central banks wanted to keep confidence in their currencies and gold was an alternative to central bank currencies. As long as the gold price didn’t rise, he claimed, people would trust central bank currencies. I had no idea about what happened in the financial markets so this was new to me but I already had bought some gold because I didn’t trust financial markets and the people operating them.

In 2001, after the Internet bubble had popped, I felt it was time to pitch the idea of interest-free money on the message board. My lack of knowledge was eclipsed by my zeal so lengthy discussions followed. On the Internet people from different backgrounds and different knowledge can be in one virtual room and participate in the discussion. I was rebutted time after time, but as these discussions went on, my knowledge of the financial system gradually increased, and I became aware of many of the issues that had to be resolved in order to make interest-free money work.

As a gold investor I became familiar with the Austrian School of Economics, which was a group that questioned money creation by banks and the use of central banks. They pointed at the inflation caused by money creation and central banks. At some point all the debt banks created would eventually collapse the financial system and money would be worthless, they believed. They didn’t think that negative interest rates are possible.

And so two opposing fringe ideas, interest-free money with a holding tax and Austrian School, were challenging each other in my mind, which may be how Hegelian dialectic is supposed to work. In 2008 that became the start of the theory on Natural Money as it is both negative interest rates and ending debt expansion. The initial discovery was that the economy can do better without interest so that returns for investors can be higher. As positive interest rates are not allowed, the money may rise in value faster than interest accrues on interest-bearing currencies, so that interest-free money can give better returns. Hence, interest-free money was possible or even inevitable. In the decade that followed I have integrated modern main stream economics into the theory of Natural Money. This research can be found on the website Naturalmoney.org.

Featured image: Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Warner Bros. [copyright info]

Jokers on Files.

Joking jokers

After working for Cap Gemini I became a freelance IT specialist. After a few years there weren’t any freelance jobs available so I started as a database administrator at a government agency near home. Most people in the Netherlands know about the agency because it processes traffic fines for the police. It didn’t take long before I was seriously tested. Already on the second day one of the main systems crashed, leaving a corrupt database. After two days of research I realised that the exact cause might never be found so I advised to upgrade the database software to see if it solved the issue.

Instead management decided to turn it into a crisis and to set up a multi disciplinary task force to deal with it. They decided that the cause of the crash should be found. Every day at 10 AM there was a meeting of the task force to discuss the state of affairs. There was no progress so every day I proposed to upgrade the database software. And every day my proposal was brushed aside. After two weeks of investigating the cause had yet to be found and managers were getting desperate so finally they were willing to consider my suggestion. Upgrading the database software ended the crisis. This turned out to be a harbinger of things to come.

There were serious issues with access rights in the main systems. Nobody could track what access rights were granted. In 2004 I built an account administration system named DBB that automated granting and revoking access rights for all the main systems based on job roles. Nobody ordered me to do it but I expected that it would be appreciated. Instead DBB faced stiff opposition and red tape. In 2005 I introduced it in a sneaky way with the help of the people who wanted to use it. After DBB had been installed, there was no way back because DBB solved a pressing business problem.

The logo of DBB was a drawing made by my wife Ingrid. It features jokers grinning at a set of file folders, in my mind symbolising bureaucracy. Bureaucrats considered it a rogue system. For more than ten years they were busy scheming and devising plans to replace DBB. Two projects were started to this aim. The first one was halted prematurely because the complexity of the matter had been underestimated. In 2016 a new project team realised that it was pointless to replace DBB. After eleven years the main systems of 2005 had become of age and it was expected that they would be decommissioned within a few years, so that DBB could retired together with those systems. Indeed DBB made a joke out of bureaucracy so the logo became a bit prophetic.

But DBB was also joking me in a rather peculiar way. In June 2010 someone requested me to drop a user. This was an unusual request as normally DBB took care of that. In fact, this hadn’t happened for several years. The username I had to drop was ELVELVEN. If you read that aloud, you say eleven elevens in Dutch, a reference to the 11:11 time-prompt phenomenon. Usernames were made up of the first one or two characters of the employee’s first name followed by the last name in full. To me 11:11 signals a combination of two related unlikely events that are related. And indeed, the joke had a part two, and it was even more peculiar.

In 2014, when I was testing an improvement to DBB, a test signalled that an illegal account had sneaked into our systems. The username was the first character of the first name followed by the last name of A*******, the lady who appeared to interfere with my life by making peculiar coincidences happen. If she had been employed with us, this would have been her username. And her name isn’t common like Jane Doe so this is peculiar, even more so because it was the only username that popped up. A guy with the same last name as hers had been employed with us. His first name began with an A too. The account wasn’t illegal but I had mixed data from two different dates for the test, which made it appear that way.

In 2005 my manager promised me a promotion. He believed there should be a senior rank for experienced database administrators. He also noticed that I had managed to introduce the account administration system DBB. “You have vision and you make things happen despite all the opposition,” he said and noted that he believed that I was the best database administrator. Only, he didn’t take a lot of action so I tried to make him put his promise into writing. Just before he left, he wrote it down, only he gave me just a minor wage increase, not the promotion he promised earlier. A few weeks later I was summoned to the human resources department. A bureaucrat had come up with a technicality so I couldn’t even keep the minor wage increase. Having it in writing didn’t help either. My manager had left and his temporary replacement didn’t care.

When I arrived at home that evening Ingrid told me that a freelance agency offered me a job. This was the first time in a long time. And I was angry. I had worked very hard to get the promise in writing. I made a rash decision and resigned. But it didn’t take long before I started to have second thoughts. There weren’t many jobs for database administrators near home. There were issues with my son and my condition didn’t allow for long travels so working far from home wasn’t a good idea. There was a new manager and he accepted my change of mind. He promised me that he would do his best to restore confidence in my employer. He seemed a nice guy. After a few years of bureaucratic wrangling, the senior rank was established and I was promoted.

Master of my own destiny?

Early 1993 I started to look for a job. My first application was for an IT traineeship at Cap Gemini. They had sixteen vacancies. Some 2,000 people applied and 200 of them were selected for a series of tests. At the tests other applicants were telling stories about assessments, tests and job interviews. The economy fared poorly so there weren’t a lot of jobs and many graduates were already searching for a long time. It was discouraging to hear their stories and I expected to remain unemployed for quite a while.

That wasn’t meant to be. The tests went well and I was invited for an interview and some more psychological tests. When I was in the train on my way to the interview, a guy who had lived with me in a dormitory, came sitting on the seat in front of me . He asked me why I was wearing a suit. I told him about the interview. Then he started to laugh loudly. “Your tie is a mess,” he said. “Let me put in order for you.” He arranged the tie correctly.

If this event, which appeared mere chance at the time, hadn’t happened, I may not have been hired. The interview and the tests went well. The misfortune during my student years because of not fitting in groups had made me investigating culture and cultural differences, so it wasn’t hard for me to translate the expectations of Cap Gemini with regard to its employees into test answers. The tests made it appear as if I fitted perfectly into the corporate culture of Cap Gemini. And so I was sent to a junior programming class to prepare for my first assignment.

I was afraid to turn up as I felt unfit for the job. My self-confidence was low and I had manipulated the test results to make it appear that I fitted in. During the class we learned about programming. I was often joking about a programme I was planning to write. It was named DoEverything as it was meant to do everything. It is a remarkable coincidence that such a programme may already exist.

My classmates were discussing what type of car they were going to drive once they were on the job. I was the only one planning to use public transport. I was not a model employee. One classmate, who was a cheerful guy coming from the Eindhoven area, expressed his amazement about me having passed all the tests. His name refers to the initials of the lady who appeared to interfere with my life by making strange coincidences happen. She later moved to the Eindhoven area.

The first assignment was a project at the Groningen office of Cap Gemini. For months we had nothing to do. I often went out late but I also did some additional training. Our project manager was ambitious. He organised project meetings and demanded progress reports he could present to the senior management even though there was nothing to do. After a few months, the computers and the work came in, and the project manager was busy managing our work. He constantly demanded progress updates.

It soon became clear that we were going miss our deadline at the end of July, so before he went on a three-week holiday, the project manager arranged a new deadline date at the end of August. Once he was gone, he didn’t bother us any more. Things suddenly went smoothly so we were able to meet the original deadline date in July with ease. When the project manager returned, all our programmes were already installed, so he was praised by his superiors for delivering a month ahead of schedule.

My next job was a database job at a telecommunications company. The company had difficulty tracking what their database administrator was doing. I was hired to reorganise one of their databases. This important task was taken out of his hands and was given to me, a novice without experience. For that reason he didn’t like me from the start. To make matters worse, I wasn’t following his advice because he was a bungler. That was the reason I was hired in the first place.

There was a fuss because of my disturbed relationship with the database administrator. Cap Gemini sent me to a training called Professional Skills. I was not politically sensitive. I didn’t let political expedience stand in the way of doing what’s right or saying what needs to be said. But framing things positively can contribute to a better atmosphere, they learned me. This is what political correctness is about. Cap Gemini stressed that I was the master of my own destiny. It was one of their company slogans. And I believed it.

Featured image: Cap Gemini logo

parking licence

Events in my life related to 11 September

 

All these accidents
That happen
Follow the dot
Coincidence
Makes sense
Only with you

State of emergency
How beautiful to be
State of emergency
Is where I want to be

– Björk, Joga

Accidents, emergency, coincidence and connecting the dots. Behind it all could be some kind of love affair. Emergency and 11 September are closely linked to each other, not only because of the number 911 being the emergency services telephone number in the United States. Was someone destined to make sense of these coincidences? If there are messages hidden in pop-music then this could be true. In any case, there have been a few peculiar coincidences related to 11 September in my life.

Marcel is my brother in law and 11 September is his birthday. On 11 September 2001 he turned 33 years old. My sister Anne Marie had booked a trip to New York for them both as a birthday present. In the morning she told him that they were going to New York the next weekend. That afternoon the terrorist attacks took place. They had to cancel the trip. They went to a holiday park in the Netherlands instead.

On 11 September 2010, just after midnight, I turned around in my bed. Suddenly the bed collapsed, leaving me wondering on the ground. After standing up I saw that the time was 0:33. A few moments later I realised that it was 11 September and that Marcel had turned 33 on 11 September 2001. That was nine years before while nine is three times three. On the same day two plane incidents occurred at Eindhoven Airport.1 There have been several intriguing coincidences in my life referring to a peculiar lady who appeared to be God. And she lives in a suburb of Eindhoven, a peculiar coincidence.

On 11 November 2009 (11/11/11 as 2 + 0 + 0 + 9 = 11) I went to the town hall to pick up my new parking licence. The number of the parking licence turned out to be 009011. It was valid until 27 November 2011. If you compress the numbers as numerlogists often do, then 27 November refers to 9/11 as 2 + 7 = 9 and November is the 11th month of the year. The years (20)09 and (20)11 also refer to 9/11. The remaining digits are 20 and 20 = 9 + 11.

The initials of my last name are KI. When translated into digits (A=1, B=2), you get: 11/9 or 11 September in European notation. My first name starts with B, which can be translated into 2. Hence, my initials consist of the numbers making up the emergency services number 911 and 112. Perhaps that is not impressive but the following will make you wonder. I was born on the Iepenstraat, which means Elm Street in English. The horror picture A Nightmare on Elm Street was released on 9 November 1984 (11/9 American notation) in the United States and on 11 September 1986 (9/11 American notation) in the Netherlands. Now that is spooky.
Aaahhh!!
In the spring of 2011 I saw a German car with licence plate KLE-KI-911 in Leeuwarden while biking to my work. This car passed by a few times around the same time near the same spot. The first time I only noticed the number 911 so seeing the car multiple times made me notice the extent of the coincidence. KLE are the first three letters of my last name, while KI are the initials of my last name. Dutch licence plates linking my name to 9/11 in this way do not exist. The car appeared in the Netherlands where I was going to my work some 200 kilometres from the home town of its owner.

In the spring of 2013 I put the apartment on the ground floor of our house up for rent. A young woman applied for it. She was born on 11 September 1990 it turned out, and so she had turned 11 years old when the attacks of 11 September 2001 took place. A few days later I called her to inform her that she could rent the apartment. When I called her, her father had just been hospitalised. He died a few days later.

Featured image: Plumes of smoke billow from the World Trade Center after the September 11 attacks. Michael Foran (11 September 2001). Public Domain.

1. Vliegtuig in problemen landt op vliegveld Eindhoven. Nu.nl (2010). [link]

The curse of The Omen

Rumours go that some films have been cursed, for example The Poltergeist, Superman and Rosemary’s Baby. Numerous accidents have been put forward to support claims that these films are jinxed,1 not all of them are equally convincing. Accidents happen all the time so it is questionable to relate accidents to a film, even when several actors of the same film had bad luck. Still, the curse of The Omen stands out. This story includes some personal experiences. So, what about this curse?

A guy named Danny Harkins noted on Cracked.com: “No film in history has had worse luck than The Omen. Hell, nothing in history has had worse luck than The Omen.”2 The Omen was advertised on bill boards with a 666-logo inside the film’s title and uplifting slogans like “You have been warned, if something frightening happens to you today, think about it. It may be The Omen,” as well as the cheery notice “Good morning, you are one day closer to the end of the world,” and a conclusion stating “Remember, you have been warned.”

You have been warned. In The Omen the wife of the American ambassador to Italy gave birth to a son, who died almost immediately. A priest then convinced the ambassador to replace his son with an orphan without telling his wife. Mysterious events soon started to haunt them. The child turned out to be the Antichrist. The Omen was first released on 6 June 1976 (6/6) in order to make it refer to the number 666 as the last digit of 1976 is also a 6. The length of the film is a peculiar 111 minutes.

This made The Omen a good candidate for a hefty curse. Two months before the filming started the son of lead actor Gregory Peck committed suicide. When Peck went to the film set of The Omen his plane was hit by lightning. A few weeks later executive producer Mace Neufeld’s flight was also hit by lightning. Producer Harvey Bernhard was just missed by a lightning bolt in Rome. Later, the hotel Neufeld was staying in was bombed by the IRA.1

An airplane hired by the studio to take aerial shots was switched at the last moment by the airline. The people who took the original airplane were all killed when it crashed on take off. An animal handler who worked on the film set died two weeks after working on the film when he was eaten alive by a large feline. Accounts differ on whether it was a lion or a tiger.1

Stuntman Alf Joint was badly injured and hospitalised when a stunt went wrong on the set on A Bridge Too Far in Arnhem in the Netherlands, less than a year after The Omen was finished. He was almost killed when he jumped off a building and missed the inflatable safety-bags that were meant to cushion his fall. Joint told that he felt that he had been pushed even though there was nobody near him at the time.1 Perhaps most of these accidents weren’t exceptional and perhaps they could be attributed to chance.

But the following should make you notice. On Friday 13 August 1976 special effects consultant John Richardson was driving through the Netherlands with Liz Moore. Both were working on A Bridge Too Far. They became involved in a car accident that killed Liz Moore. She was decapitated in a scene that is said to have been eerily similar to one of the most gruesome scenes Richardson had designed for The Omen. The story goes that the accident happened near a road sign stating a distance of 66.6 kilometres to the town of Ommen, a name very similar to omen. And it happened on a Friday the thirteenth.1

This caught my attention. There are no road signs in the Netherlands giving distances in fractions of kilometres. Only kilometre markers use fractions. Near Raalte is a junction where route N348 to Ommen joins route N35 to Nijverdal. This location currently corresponds with kilometre marker 66.6 on route N348. A road sign stating the direction towards Ommen are near this wacky kilometre marker. I am familiar with the location because I lived in Nijverdal as a child. It appeared that this junction could have been the crash location. And so I came to investigate the curse.

Route N348 from Arnhem to Ommen
Route N348 from Arnhem to Ommen

In April 2015 I made an inquiry. A journalist from the local newspaper De Stentor helped me. He did some research and he emailed me on 14 April. He had managed to find a former police officer from the area. According to the police officer, the accident indeed took place near Raalte on route N348, but between Raalte and Deventer. The location he mentioned corresponds with the 60.0 kilometre marker rather exactly. The police officer told the journalist that he still remembered the car crash very well.3

According to the police officer, the accident happened when he was on service. A man and a woman had parked their car on a parking lot alongside route N348. When they drove away in the direction of Deventer, they entered the wrong lane and collided head-on into an oncoming vehicle driven by a resident of Nijverdal. The view there was somewhat limited because of two gentle curves in the road. The police officer noted that there was no road sign mentioning Ommen near the crash site.3

The woman was killed on the spot. The car was completely destroyed and disposed to a fire station. It turned out that the couple were foreigners involved in the production of A Bridge Too Far, the police officer told the newspaper. He suspected that Richardson, who was used to driving on the left side of the road, wasn’t paying attention. The police officer also mentioned that the accident happened during a weekend.3

In a British television programme Richardson said the following: “It was certainly very odd because it happened on Friday the thirteenth,” and “right opposite the point where the accident happened, was an old mile-post with nothing but sixes on it,” and finally “what spooked me even more was when I discovered it was on a road to a place called Ommen.”3 It appears that Richardson has misread the 60.0 kilometre marker and has taken the zeroes for sixes. The numbers may have been worn out if it was an old post.

Kilometre marker 96.1 of route A28 in the Netherlands
Kilometre marker 96.1 of route A28 in the Netherlands

Based on the current location of the marker and the details given by the police officer, another possible scenario is that Richardson was brought to Raalte or a hospital in Zwolle, and crossed the junction of the N348 with the N35. He may have noticed the 66.6 kilometre marker there and a road sign stating the direction towards Ommen close to it. This may have freaked him out to the point that it became part of the legend of the curse. Recollections of an event that happened decades ago are often not accurate, and this applies to the memories of the police officer as well as Richardson.

Alan Tyler, who made a documentary about the curse of The Omen noticed that odd things happened when he was working on it. The strangest thing was that he had two different camera crews filming on separate locations but that all the footage showed the same fault. It did not seem satanic to him, but it made him wonder. It is at least remarkable that the 66.6 kilometre marker is near a road sign stating the direction to Ommen on the same road that was the scene of the car crash, so that I came to investigate the curse, most notably because of what subsequently happened to me.

When I was compiling my findings after receiving the email from De Stentor, a few curious things happened. Just after reading the email I took a glance at my stock portfolio. Apart from a few mutual funds I owned stocks of three corporations. One of them was Heymans, a constructor. It had a quote of € 13.13. Another position was Macintosh, a retail company. I owned 500 of these and the quote was € 2.626. Hence, the total value was € 1,313. This was strange because the car crash happened on a Friday the thirteenth. Meanwhile Macintosh is bankrupt while Heymans stock went down 60% after the company ran into trouble.

This may seem a bit of a curse already and it suggests poor stock picking skills from my part. But there was more to come. That evening I had an appointment with a contractor who was coming to make a tender for renovating my bathroom. He cancelled the appointment because his van had broken down earlier that day. That’s a bit peculiar because that doesn’t happen quite often. He came from Almelo while I live in Sneek. There are two routes from Almelo to Sneek. The first one is via Nijverdal passing the junction of route N348 with route N35 and the 66.6 kilometre marker. The alternative route is via Ommen.

Another curious finding was that my search for “Ommen 666” in Google produced a link to a website called www.hondentrainingsneek.nl. At first glance this appeared to be a site for dog training in Sneek, but it was a bit fishy. Somehow “Ommen 666” had been inserted into topic titles such as “Dog Training Terry Ommen 66.6km”. The texts on the website were incoherent with a few references to Ommen 66.6 in it. This is noteworthy as I currently live in Sneek and previously lived in Nijverdal while my enquiry uncovered that Richardson crashed into the car of a resident of Nijverdal.

Featured image: Film poster for The Omen. © 2002 20th Century Fox. [copyright info]

Other image: Route N348 from Arnhem to Ommen. User Michiel1972 (2007). Wikimedia Commons.

1. Curse of The Omen and other Hollywood hexes. Barry Didcock (2012). Scotland Herald. [link]
2. The Insane True Stories Behind 6 Cursed Movies. Danny Harkins (2008). Cracked.com. [link]
2. Email exchange with De Stentor. Bart klein Ikink (2015). Naturalmoney.org. [link]
3. Curse or coincidence?… ‘Conspiro Media’ re-examines the grisly chain of events connected to those involved in the ’70s horror-flick, ‘The Omen’… Matt Sergiou (2014).
conspiromedia.wordpress.com. [link]