New Day, New Country, Same Place   September 23rd, 2010

In about two and a half weeks, on the symbolic day of “10-10-10”, I will be participating in a little bit of real history. That’s the day that Bonaire, the island I live on in the Caribbean, switches countries.

Spirit of Bonaire by Jake Richter

Spirit of Bonaire by Jake Richter

Presently, Bonaire is part of the country of the Netherlands Antilles, which presently consists of four-and-a-half Caribbean islands: Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St. Eustatius (also known as Statia), and Dutch St. Maarten (which shares a geographic island mass with French St. Martin). Up until the mid-1980s Aruba was part of the Netherlands Antilles as well, but then split off to become its own country.

While the Netherlands Antilles (and Aruba) have always been part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, they have their own parliament and government infrastructure, based in Curacao (Aruba has its own, of course).

Some years ago, referendums were held on the five islands of the Netherlands Antilles about future status, and the result of those referendums as well as various political processes, is that on 10-10-10 the Netherlands Antilles fade into history as a country that has ceased to exist.

Taking its place will be two new countries – Curacao and St. Maarten, with the same status as Aruba – countries under the Dutch kingdom. ┬áThe three smaller islands, referred to locally as the BES islands (Bonaire, Eustatius, and Saba) will become municipalities of The Netherlands. What is a municipality of The Netherlands? It’s not particularly clear because Holland has never really reabsorbed past colonies, and as a result, many things are still in flux and being decided. And other than mostly vague policies, the details of the rules, laws, and procedures that will be in place after 10-10-10 have not been communicated to the people of the BES islands yet. In fact, it’s looking likely that many of these things, two and a half weeks before the changeover, still aren’t decided or determined.

And I don’t think everything will get figured out until later in 2011 because there are just so very many things involved in running remote islands from afar – from telecommunications and labor issues to governmental structure and the environment.

One thing is clear, though, and that is that the BES will not be treated the same as a province in Holland. Dutch citizens will still need a residence permit to live on Bonaire, for example (although these cannot be unjustly denied).

Also, on a monetary basis, we will be switching over to the use of the U.S. Dollar on January 1, 2011. Switching to the Euro would have been terrible for the local economy since most of our trade is with North America and in dollars, but it requires complete reeducation of locals who have no idea what a penny, nickel, dime, or quarter are. There will be quite a bit of chaos when the mandatory switch to the dollar happens.

We also end up with interesting logistical issues, such as how to properly address mail being sent to our island. Currently, people either put “Netherlands Antilles” or “Dutch Caribbean” as part of the address when they mail things here, but after 10-10-10 the former will no longer be correct, while the latter has never been a country per se, just a geographic identifier. Technically we should be “Bonaire, The Netherlands”, but that would mean our mail would get routed to Europe first before getting here – who knows how many weeks or months that would add to current mail delivery (which is already horrifically slow). The Dutch Kingdom office on Bonaire recommends we continue to have such mail addressed with “Dutch Caribbean” for the foreseeable future, incidentally.

In any event, even with all the planning that has gone into the process, there will be countless adjustments we will all have to make in dealing with a country dissolution and transfer, especially in rather untested waters, as no modern western nation has reabsorbed previously semi-independent locales in recent times (outside of the result of warfare, of course). It will be very interesting to be part of the process as well, instead of merely observing from afar.

A note about the image that appears in this blog post: Spirit of Bonaire is an original digital painting I created a few months ago to commemorate the transition of Bonaire back into the unknown of direct Dutch rule. More specifically, with the bright colors of the flag, which reaches out into the infinite, I meant to show that the spirit of Bonaire and its people is up to the challenge of transition, and strong enough to survive anything, even in the face of change and uncertainty.


Broadly Focused   August 22nd, 2010

One of the most difficult questions I am often asked as part of normal social discourse is “what do you do for a living?”. For many people this would not be a difficult thing to answer – they might be an accountant, a lawyer, a computer programmer, a Starbucks barista, or a rocket scientist (I know several).

But in my case a more appropriate answer might be something along the lines of “what don’t I do for a living?”. That answer, however has really never satisfied the person asking the question.

That’s because we have been raised in a culture that needs to pigeon hole people so that they fit some sort of societal mold.

Think about it. When you fill out a form of any sort these days, whether it be some sort of application, a survey, or whatever, and there’s a question about your title or career or profession, you’ll find it’s not multiple choice. But I believe it should be, because I am not alone in having multiple, diverse jobs that are concurrent.

Let me provide an overview of my current career status, in no particular order:

  • Registered U.S. Patent Agent
  • Professional photographer and artist
  • Technical consultant and expert witness in various patent litigation matters
  • President of a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable corporation
  • President of a licensing company of copyrighted works
  • Co-Director of an Internet web and e-mail hosting company which also provides Internet marketing services
  • Co-manager of a company which develops and sells tourism WebCam solutions as well as maintains over a dozen live cameras on the Caribbean island of Bonaire (where I happen to live)
  • Computer programmer
  • Blogger
  • Journalist and analyst in the digital media technology field
  • Inventor
  • Scuba diving instructor
  • Graduate student
  • Director of an art gallery
  • World traveler and explorer
  • Linux server systems operator
  • Operator of several on-line stores
  • Developer and operator of a patent document procurement service
  • Father of home-schooled children
  • Food scientist and researcher
  • Book author

And that list is by far not complete – it only covers the things I’m doing at present, and then only some of those. So imagine my frustration when I’m asked to narrow things down to just one title and profession. If the questionnaire is on paper I just scribble outside the designated boxes. If it’s online, I randomly pick something from my repertoire which seems appropriate at the moment. Neither is a great solution however.

I have certainly been told many times that I need to focus. My response is that I am broadly focused, and plan on continuing to be for the rest of my life. Call me a “Jake of All Trades and Master of Many”.

More on this subject and many others later.