One of the first stories that stood out for me was Carl Zimmer’s story on the Dutch Hunger Winter and its recurring effects on modern descendants of survivors of this period during the 2nd World War. Although this is not really a story on a recent event or relevant topic, I have always been interested in the Dutch history of this period, so I decided to read up on it.
The Dutch Hunger Winter was a period spanning the winter between 1944 and 1945, in which the German Nazi troops blocked access to the food supplies in a response to the nearing Allied forces. This affected the health of most children born during this famine. Recently, epigenetics researchers have started to look at possible affects the Hunger Winter had on the genes of these children. One discovery they did is the fact that a lot of these people had higher amounts of methyl groups on their PIM3 genes, which contributes to the body’s metabolism. It is hypothesized that these methyl groups have a quieting function on the genes, which could be the causation of the higher than average body mass indices these people usually possess.
This story was definitely an interesting read for me. Not only because I’m interested in the history, but also because it goes into some fascinating scientific details of the longer-term effects of the Dutch Hunger Winter. Just the simple fact that there are still people around that carry a figurative scar with them from this short period of time is baffling to me and definitely contributed to my view and knowledge of the atrocities that occurred during the 2nd World War.
The second header that sparked my eye was one concerning something that happened in the Netherlands about a month ago. When Peter Hoekstra, the American ambassador to the Netherlands officially started his new job in January, reporters started to dig up some of his past quotes on the sociopolitical situation in the Netherlands.
One example of Mr Hoekstra’s comments was one given in an interview in 2015 when he stated that there is “chaos in the Netherlands. There are cars being burned. Politicians are being burned … and yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.” After being confronted with these (false) statements, the ambassador went to say that these comments were “Fake news”, before denying having said even that moments later. The Dutch media didn’t let this go unnoticed, and after expansive coverage of the events, Mr Hoekstra eventually apologized and stated he “mixed up countries.”
Even though this opinion piece clearly addresses political drama in the Netherlands, the author also tries to make references to the current American political landscape. The author seems to very much agree with the Dutch way of reporting and hopes to see it more often in America as well.
“It would be good to see that more often on this side of the ocean, especially since the confrontation seemed to have had a salutary effect.”
I thought this was a very interesting read, especially because most of the reporting I received on this topic before was from Dutch news media. It is always good to see things from new perspectives, and I believe this was a very good example of such a case.
For some unapparent reason, I’m very often drawn to articles concerning the current U.S.-Russia relation whenever compared to the Cold War. This article especially seemed to contain some more lighthearted language, which I could honestly use after reading so many articles concerning serious world issues.
What this article specifically mentions is the fact that both the U.S. and Russia started naming streets where (former) embassies are located in order to provoke one another. Whereas the United States started it my renaming the address of the Russian Embassy in Washington to ‘1 Boris Nemtsov Plaza’, Russia quickly followed by changing the name of an alley near the United States Embassy to ‘1 North American Dead End.’
This is (hopefully) all meant in a more joking manner, and there probably isn’t too much political motivation behind it. Nonetheless, it did make me think of the possible danger a new Cold War could pose, especially with the Netherlands being right in the middle of it all. Let’s just hope the jokery stays lighthearted like this, and it doesn’t escalate too much further.
Last up is an article about the new German coalition, and how it’s so symbolic for the way Europe is headed according to the author. On February 7th, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats made a deal that committed them to a coalition with Martin Schultz’s Social Democrats.
Although at first glance this new coalition might seem like an achievement for the parties in the centre of the political spectrum, the author argues this is a sign of worse things to come. As these kinds of coalitions tend to be “ideologically” weird, and tend not to listen much to the more extreme ends of the spectrum, this might weird out voters. She goes on to list a number of countries where this sort of an event already resulted in “hollowing out” the centre, like the Netherlands and France. After elaborating on the ways these collaborations in the centre could polarize the voters in a country, the author goes on to conclude that politicians need to slowly build up the discipline to try to win the voters back and get a solid track record again.
I thought this article was quite interesting. While at first, it seemed like a general story on the new German coalition and its effects on Europe, it ended up being a much broader piece that’s more about politics and ideologies in general. It also at several points directly related to the Netherlands, which I found very interesting to read. The author mentioned the fact that, even though the far-right didn’t win a majority in last year’s elections, they did gain a lot of votes while the other parties encountered big losses. I really appreciated the realistic approach of this article and it was a solid read for me.