Press Review - Friday 8 January 2010
Today's Dutch papers examine the latest body-scanning developments and wonder how winter-proof the Netherlands is these days. There's also room for a bizarre sperm-donor mix-up and a biscuit ban that has caused a kafuffle.
Will we all be scanned in future?
Ever since the foiled Christmas Day bombing on a Northwest Delta Airlines flight to Detroit, the Netherlands seems to have gone scanner mad - the idea being that the bomber could have been stopped before boarding the plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport if he had been put through a full body scan. But now it seems the authorities plan to take things further still.
Today's nrc.next reports that "the wet dream of every policeman" could soon become reality: looking through people's clothes in search of weapons. The paper reports that the technology to produce a portable weapons scanner already exists. The police are clearly interested and the Dutch Interior Ministry has already agreed to pump money into its development. The scanning is already possible: all that's lacking is the portability and speed to make mass scanning in public places feasible.
The paper quotes some startling statistics that seem to confirm the need for such technology. "On average 20 percent of young people carry a weapon when they go out for a night on the town. And one in ten youngsters carry a weapon to school." But a professor of privacy law at Tilburg University describes the new technology as extremely worrying. "It's a violation of our physical integrity. Citizens do not have to accept being frisked or screened by a machine from a distance. If this kind of secret observation becomes reality, our society will be in a lamentable situation."
Winter: can the Netherlands cope?
With the current cold snap set to continue into next week, the Dutch papers continue to focus on the problems that the wintry conditions bring. Both Trouw and de Volkskrant feature dramatic photos of an icebreaker keeping shipping lanes open on the ice-choked waters of the IJsselmeer, while De Telegraaf snaps a bemused student surrounded by hundreds of seemingly identical snow-covered bicycles with the caption "Uhh ... which one is mine?"
All the papers wonder whether the country could be coping better but as Trouw points out "we haven't seen a winter with this much snow and freezing rain in 30 years". In its editorial, de Volkskrant asks whether "the Netherlands has forgotten what a real winter is". The paper is not surprised that a little bit of snow has brought the country's transport grinding to a halt when "both the road and rail networks are bursting at the seams in any case". It concludes "the fact that we can't control the weather doesn't let the government off the hook. It's unacceptable at a time when it's dangerous to take to the roads that our railways respond by shrugging their shoulders and cancelling services."
The lighter side of winter
The papers are also treating us to all kinds of winter trivia. Ever the consumer's friend, De Telegraaf tuts about the ground frost sending the price of winter veg like leeks and sprouts soaring. Ironically, the supply of that traditional Dutch staple kale or boerenkool remains unaffected, since most of it is imported from Spain these days. The paper also reports on some unlikely sufferers from the winter cold: the penguins at Amsterdam's Artis Zoo. Forget your notions of hardy Arctic survivors: the Artis variety come from South Africa and are currently tucking themselves out of sight to keep warm.
De Volkskrant reports that the Mayor of Almere has been clearing snow off the pavement outside one of the city's old folks' home in an attempt to encourage other citizens to do the same. So far, her good deed doesn't seem to have inspired much enthusiasm. One blogger argues "The pavement is public property. Let the council take care of it." While another contributor admits candidly "I don't do anything. I know it's not much effort but I just can't be bothered."
Last but not least, AD reports that "salt is the new gold" now that supplies of salt to grit the roads are running out. But the shortage also offers an unexpected perk for road workers: in desperation the local authorities are turning to bath salts which apparently work just as well. One council worker announces - with tongue no doubt firmly in cheek - that he just can't wait to get out there and start working with the new product, complete with "fetching colours and a selection of romantic fragrances".
Sperm donor mix-up
"White woman gives birth to black son, father unknown" is the headline in AD, above a bizarre tale of a white lesbian couple, one of whom went to the local hospital to be inseminated with the sperm of a good friend - also white - only to give birth to a black child. While in this case the error couldn't be clearer, experts say the administration at the hospital's sperm bank was so disorganised that many more mix-ups may have occurred: donor details were not recorded, donors were not given medical check-ups and the vials in which donor sperm was stored were not coded.
The lesbian couple in this case have now gone to court to make the hospital divulge the identity of the likely father. "Our son has a right to know who his father is. And he needs to know that we have done everything possible to obtain that information," was their emotional plea. But the gynaecologist in question is refusing to give the information on the grounds of medical confidentiality. The women's lawyer emphasises the extent of the impact: not only the mothers and their son are affected but also the friend who donated his sperm and may be the father of other children as a result of a similar mix-up. It's now up to the judge to decide whether confidentiality wins out over disclosure.
That's the way the cookie crumbles...
All hell has broken loose at an old people's home in Roermond, following a proposal to do away with the biscuits served with the residents' cup of coffee or tea. AD's crack reporting team reports that those responsible feel they have the residents' best interests at heart: "We want our customers to lead a healthier lifestyle. In life you have to make choices: it's either biscuits with the coffee or snacks at the scrabble evening."
But the biscuit ban has sent shockwaves through the home. The proposal comes from the organisation that runs the home, not the bosses within the home, who are every bit as perplexed as their residents: "We never skimp on food or drinks. That biscuit is one of the highlights of our residents' day."
With their world crumbling around them, the home's administrators now concede that they may have underestimated "the sensitivity of the issue" and have decided that "after all the kafuffle it might be a good idea to hold an internal discussion on the biscuit issue". Let's hope it's a case of all's well that ends well.