Archive for the ‘Denmark’ Category

The Latest from Dr. Doom

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Never heard of him? No, I don’t mean Dr. Demento. “Dr. Doom” is the monniker borne (probably proudly) by NYU economics professor Nouriel Roubini, famous for foreseeing – among other things – the gigantic collapse in the US housing market beginning in 2007 that kicked off this worldwide Great Recession. Back then Roubini kept adding to his fame by forecasting further disastrous developments in one aspect of national or international economic performance after another; people would never believe him that things could get that bad, yet most times events proved him to be spot-on.

Now he has further comments which he contributed to the Financial Times. Unfortunately, that paper has a rather restrictive readership policy – i.e. it likes to force you to pay – but luckily we can resort to Denmark’s business newspaper Børsen instead. There it’s a brief piece, and Roubini’s message is clear, simple, and expressed in the title: The catastrophe commences on Tuesday.

Tuesday? That’s election day in the USA, of course, and according to Roubini that will unleash a new economic crisis because the Republicans are expected to make significant gains, recapturing control of the House of Representatives and maybe the US Senate as well. This will inaugurate paralysis in Congress as Democrats and Republicans block everything the other side tries to do, even as the US economic situation remains dire and in need of fiscal initiatives of one sort or another.

True, this insight is hardly blindingly original, and it has also certainly been advanced recently by other commentators, and then even rather more eloquently. (“In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness.”)

Then again, everyone knows that Paul Krugman is a liberal (Nobel Prize-bearing) attack-dog. But this is the FT, BørsenDr. Doom, no less!

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Terror Threat Today in Sweden

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

While most of the world’s media is preoccupied today with the seemingly coordinated package-bombs shipped by air-freight from Yemen to the US and the UK, Sweden’s second-largest city, Göteborg on the country’s western coast, seems just barely to have escaped its own serious terrorist attack. This is according to reports appearing in the Danish press from the press-agency Ritzau, including in the opinion newspaper Information.

It’s all still very unclear, but the essence of the plot apparently involved setting off a massive truck bomb sometime today in the center of downtown Göteborg. “Several” suspects were arrested, this (Saturday) morning, but local police are not yet ready to say how many, who they are, or what lead to their being detained – only that a tip was received in time, from a trusted source, warning of the attack. That was enough to draw the Säpo – basically, the Swedish FBI – into the case as well, although it’s the local police who hold the suspects in custody and who are now beefing up their presence in town over the weekend.

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Flood Relief Bidding War in Pakistan

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The two biggest climate catastrophes going on now – namely the floods in NW Pakistan and the drought/forest fires throughout Russia – both threaten to have serious follow-on political consequences from the perceived incompetence on the part of the governments involved when it comes to reacting to these disasters in time and with sufficient effort and resources. The main difference between them – other than their finding themselves at opposite extremes of the wet/dry spectrum – is that in Russia there is no organized opposition present to take advantage of the situation politically.

In Pakistan on the other hand, and particularly in that part of Pakistan affected by the floods which happens to border Afghanistan, you have the set of varying Muslim extremist elements loosely characterized by the label “Taliban” (and in some cases even “Al-Qaeda”). As an article in the German commentary newspaper Die Zeit now reveals, those Taliban are indeed moving to profit from the situation, offering $20 million worth of flood-relief assistance on the condition that the Pakistani government refuse all other aid coming from foreign countries, particularly America.

According to the article, US aid on offer already totals $35 million and that has also now been raised by another $20 million, with the prospect held out for even more if necessary. (And it will no doubt be necessary: Oxfam has termed these heavy floods a “mega-catastrophe,” while a UN spokesman called their collective impact worse even than the Asian tsunami of 2005 or this year’s Haiti earthquake.) Then again, there are good reasons for any impartial observer to favor the Taliban’s offer nonetheless: as the Zeit article details, the inundations make sheer access to the area very difficult, while many of the helicopters that are supposed to be available don’t work anyway. (The article does not explain why.)

For now, it’s a “donkey or on foot” situation for getting help to where it’s needed, and of course the Taliban are already there in the area and offering to assist with distribution as well – provided that authorities promise not to arrest their personnel! And then this other article on the subject from the Danish daily Politiken gives another good reason: you can be sure that much of any outside aid will ultimately go to the bank accounts of corrupt local officials rather than to the victims for whom it was intended, while that is less likely to be the case with the local Taliban.

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Is Obama Serious?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

The reviews are streaming in now of President Obama’s Oval Office address to the nation last night about BP and the catastrophic oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico – including those originating over here on the Atlantic’s East side, even though only extreme Obama-junkies or else paid political reporters stayed awake into early Wednesday morning to actually watch it live.

It was apparently a rather long speech, with a panoply of various points within it that one can choose among to emphasize – also, if desired, the sheer fact that it was delivered from the Oval Office, something that is generally supposed to denote an especially serious occasion, as Viktoria Unterreiner points out writing for the German paper Die Welt. Still, the title of her piece is “Obama declares the end of ‘cheap oil’,” and that is one aspect of the President’s address that certainly has attracted particular attention over here. Namely: Can America – the land of the Chevy Corvette and Route 66 – really wean itself from cheap oil, even while spurred on by tarred beaches and dying pelicans? Unterreiner is herself doubtful; she notes that, after Obama made that declaration, “he however became no more concrete” about how to go about it. Perhaps a start would be his CO2/climate bill – but that’s currently in “suspended animation” (im Schwebe-zustand) in the Congress. (more…)

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Blowback For Hungarian Financial Misstatements

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

You might have become aware late last week of a brief kerfluffle involving the new Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It didn’t involve Orbán directly, however, only some figures closely associated with him, such as another top figure in his FIDESZ political party, Lajos Kósa (mayor of Hungary’s second city, Debrecen), and Péter Szijjártó, his government spokesman, who together spread the word to the world at large that the Hungarian budget deficit was actually rather higher than previously reported and that their country could soon find itself in a simlar fix as Greece. This quickly led to a mini-financial panic breaking out the world over – including in Far Eastern markets, which suffered price-losses – at the thought that the EU suddenly had another fiscal basket-case member-state to deal with, one that moreover had already had a joint EU/IMF bail-out back in 2008.

“Sorry – did we say that? We weren’t really serious” was roughly the reaction from that same Hungarian government once they realized the wide-ranging storm their comments had unleashed. Clearly, the amateurs were now in charge within that government’s highest reaches, and you can get a quite informative treatment of the incident – with pictures of the major protagonists – from the realdeal.hu weblog. There writer Erik d’Amato makes a convincing case that all this was simply an attempt by the new government to position itself politically to impose some austerity measures in its upcoming budget, albeit one that went spectacularly awry.

But such incompetence cannot go unremarked upon for long, and as the Danish daily Politiken reports (Hungarians go off on top politicians’ mysterious pronouncements) feedback has now started to arrive. For one, the economics editor of one of the major national dailies, Zoltán Baka of Népszabadság, called last week’s pronouncements “completely idiotic.” The IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also told the Associated Press that, in his view, there is “no basis to be worried” about Hungary’s fiscal situation. Other European finance ministers, however, couldn’t be bothered to offer an opinion: they are busy these days trying to find a solution to the ever-weakening euro, whose recent downward course last week’s Hungarian mini-fiasco only served to accelerate.

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Rand Paul and the Pitchforks

Monday, May 24th, 2010

The Danish commentator on American affairs whose writings I have discussed numerous times before, Poul Høi, has a new column up on the Rand Paul phenomenon (Rand Paul: The Revolution begins now; note that Høi may now seem to have switched to another publication, Ugen, which means “The Week,” but in reality that’s just the new on-line weekly of his long-time newspaper employer, Berlingske Tidende).

Høi turns out to have some interesting things to say, despite the fact that he might as well be describing a space alien, so far apart are Paul’s libertarian political views and those prevailing in Høi’s native Denmark, land of 25% value-added tax and the world’s highest income tax. He sets up the Republican situation in Kentucky as a straightforward struggle between Rand Paul on one side (“pitchfork Republicanism”) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (he of the “polished floors”) on the other. That’s because Paul is not really of the Republican Party, although he did just win its nomination for Senate in Kentucky – he’s really a creature of the Tea Party, what Høi calls “a fundamentally conservative grassroots movement.” (more…)

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Copenhagen Climate Conference Failure: Post-Mortem

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

As all of us realize who care to recall, that COP15 “Hopenhagen” Climate Summit of last December was a failure, despite the personal involvement of nearly all top world leaders, including President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. No clear agreement on worldwide action to act against global warming and the emission of greenhouse gases – much less one with any binding force – was arrived at. Official commitment to such action on the part of most governments since then has mostly just dwindled away. The question naturally arises, “How could it have failed?”, but that is an inquiry that naturally invites a lot of finger-pointing. As for the host Danish government, the Prime Minister’s Office (Statsministeriet) has conducted its own classified analysis of the question – something which reporters Martin Aagaard and Mette Østergaard of the mainstream newspaper Politiken nonetheless managed to get a hold of and discuss in an article in that newspaper. (more…)

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iSobriety

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Northern Europeans are temperate and level-headed – can we accept that as a working proposition? (Except of course when they’re binge-drinking.) In the midst of all this iPad-hoopla, then, let’s just give one to a Scandinavian, say, and see the reaction.

Here at EuroSavant we have just the guy, someone whose commentary we’ve followed and commented upon many times before, namely Poul Høj, US correspondent for the excellent Danish daily Berlingske Tidende. And Høj has delivered his verdict on the latest Apple sensation, with a recent entry on his “USABlog” called iPad and machine-fanatics.

Don’t get him wrong: Høj is hardly some anti-tech reactionary. No, the introduction of the iPad certainly makes the world of technology a richer place. (Or at least the US part of it; it won’t be on sale over here in the Old Continent until 24 April.) He’s just finds much of the reaction rather disconcerting, like “Jesus!”, “gamechanger!” and (from Newsweek) “the iPad will change everything!”

Wait a second, he says: should I throw away my laptop now? Of course not. Frankly, in Høj’s eyes the iPad furore is merely something he has clearly seen before – and no, he’s not talking about the iPhone, he’s talking about Facebook, which was also supposed to be the next big thing that transformed everything, but which turns out still to have plenty of competitors (like Google Buzz).

Look, Høj writes, the iPad is ultimately just another gadget, just another machine, with its fans and detractors, its advantages and its disadvantages. The latter, by the way, are considerable and he provides his list:

  • No printer;
  • No USB ports;
  • Famously, no Adobe Flash-video;
  • No multitasking;
  • No camera;
  • No kitchen sink – sorry, that’s not Høj, I sneaked that one in;
  • And most of all, no “apps” available that would pose any threat in the least to Steve Jobs or his company, since they all have to be Apple-approved to be available for download/sale in the first place.

It’s good to have the iPad, to be sure, but in Høj’s eyes it’s just another purchase-choice. Is it enough to tempt someone to replace his/her laptop+Blackberry combination? Quite possibly not. So enough with all the hyperventilation, already!

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The Hurt Locker Slams Avatar

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

That was the take-away from last Sunday night’s broadcast of the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony from the Kodak Theatre [sic] in Hollywood, California. But what a surprise! Avatar, after all, was the film with the great special effects (blue people!) that since its release a few short months ago (December 2009) has already become the #1 highest-grossing film of all time. And then The Hurt Locker – who ever heard of that? Pre-Oscar, it had earned only $14.7 million, 50 times less than Avatar!

Nonetheless, The Hurt Locker clearly came out on top last Sunday night, in a classic David-vs.-Goliath encounter. But why? Uffe Christensen of Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten has devoted a bit of thought to this question (together with considerably more energy in tracking down scattered opinions from the Web), and presents his findings in Days afterward: Hollywood is astonished.

According to Christensen, here is why The Hurt Locker prevailed:


  1. It’s not any sort political film, just a band-of-buddies movie.
  2. It’s a film with a powerful message about the Iraq War. (I know, this conflicts directly with #1 above but, like I said, Christensen is throwing together here all the opinions he has been able to find or think up himself).
  3. It didn’t matter that the film has not earned that much at the box office (yet); in fact, Oscar juries tend to be perverse to the point of even giving such “obscure” firms a slight voting edge.
  4. The Bigelow angle: here was a chance to be very PC and award the first female film director of note with a bunch of awards in a very public forum!

Or maybe it was not so much that The Hurt Locker won as that Avatar lost. Here are some ways that movie might have been disadvantaged:

  1. The very nature of the Oscar jury might have doomed Avatar’s chances. They are described here, in an direct quote from Time Magazine, as “older, politically liberal and artistically conservative” – especially artistically conservative, as Christensen reminds us with the tale of how the iconic Citizen Kane, after all, was beaten across the board at the 1942 Awards by How Green Was My Valley.
  2. Avatar is, after all, a sci-fi film, and those never win. Plus, it’s much too grandiose anyway, and the jury doesn’t like that.
  3. Cameron is a blowhard – the jury was ready to do anything, to violate any standard of artistic judgment, just to spare itself having to witness what inevitably would have been an arrogant, ego-driven acceptance speech from him up there on that Kodak Theatre [sic] stage.

There you go: hope you find something you like. And then, for an interesting alternate analysis of why The Hurt Locker beat Avatar, in English, you can go here. And for the essay which most of you have probably already seen about why anyone with ground combat experience thinks rather little of The Hurt Locker, its many Oscars notwithstanding, you can go here.

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Can Your Genes Tell You How to Lose Weight?

Monday, March 8th, 2010

“Yes,” is the answer we get from a recent article by reporter Ron Winslow in the Wall Street Journal. Some lose weight easier and faster by following a low-fat diet, while others do so with a low-carbohydrate regime, and Winslow reports that a recent Stanford University study concluded “that a genetic test can help people choose which one works best for them.”

Still, Winslow makes sure to qualify his reporting, pointing out for example that “[t]he study . . . has just been submitted to a medical journal and thus hasn’t yet cleared rigorous peer review that precedes publication.” And it’s good that he does so, since today Line Ziegler Laursen of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten takes up the same subject.

Her headline does read “DNA decides whether diet-cures work,” yet she also goes on to discuss how Danish researchers have investigated the same question and remain a bit more skeptical. Arne Astrup, known as “one of Denmark’s slimming-experts,” is quoted here that, although results of the Danish research do come out along the same lines, the statistical relation they discovered “is relatively weak, and therefore it is unreliable for researchers to guarantee patients a large weight-loss if they know their DNA.” Rather, the Danish scientists are of the opinion that successful weight-loss is still a matter of at least three or four different factors, not just the patient’s DNA. They have put in a request to Stanford to review the data from the tests conducted there, in order to look into the question further.

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2 Out of 3 Iraqis Intend to Vote

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Don’t look now, but there is another big election coming up in Iraq soon, on Sunday, 7 March to be exact. It’s the second nationwide election for that new democracy since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and of course it will determine whether Nouri al-Maliki gets to stay in charge as premier.

Come to think of it, maybe you did have some inkling that something like that was about to happen, from the recent disputes you may have heard about involving attempts by the current government to disallow certain religious/political groups from standing as candidates. But this article from the Ritzau news agency in the Danish Christian newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad deals instead with the results of a recent poll among eligible Iraqi voters undertaken for the government by the Iraqi National Media Center. A total of 63% across the sample stated to the pollsters that they intended to vote. This compares unfavorably with the 79.6% that we do know turned out to vote at that first free-and-fair national election, back in 2005. The poll’s results broke down further to show that Kurds and Shi’ites revealed themselves to be rather more ready to make it to the polls on 7 March than did Sunnis.

Whoever wrote this brief piece’s headline – whether it was the Ritzau agency or the Kristeligt Dagblad – clearly showed displeasure at this news by making it read “Only two out of three Iraqis want to vote.” But wait: Infoplease tells us that only 56.8% of American voters turned out to the polls even back in November, 2008 to either elect or try to stop Obama as president! In that light, 63% looks pretty good! Then again, you can still understand the tenor of that Danish reporting when you keep in mind that Danish voter participation is always pretty high: this Wikipedia article puts it at usually around 87%.

UPDATE: If you want further confirmation that things are really going rather OK in Iraq, here’s a guest blog-post, in English, on the Foreign Policy site from someone who definitely knows what he’s talking about. Hey, 63% – those Iraqis are simply getting more American every day, that’s all!

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Olympians Playing Stoned

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

This post is intended as a shout-out to Jay, to Letterman, to comedy-writing staffs everywhere. Here’s the deal: I give you the straight line, culled from a real live news-piece – Women’s curling team receives psychological help, reports the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten – and you take it from there. It doesn’t have to mean sending me your women’s curling jokes (it wouldn’t have to be “Danish”) by e-mail*; I’d be satisfied just with hearing a good one – just one! – from Leno’s monologue, or simply having it come back home here to Papa through the Internets somehow.

This choice of topic is not accidental, although its further elaboration in the Danish press is serendipitous. And to a great extent I am offering my find here in gratitude for some great introductory curling material already enjoyed. I’m referring specifically to Letterman, Wednesday night, February 17, and his material could also be of help in providing some background for those of you who may have no idea what this Olympic sport of “curling” is all about.

In curling, they get a 40 lb. granite stone and send it down the ice and then they sweep the debris from in front of it. It’s all the fun of shuffleboard, plus household chores.

(more…)

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Vikings vs. Pirates

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

The pirate threat in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast is still very real, and Denmark recently was given the opportunity for the very first time to be in charge of the collection of NATO frigates (currently four) conducting anti-pirate operations in that area under the name Operation Ocean Shield. From January 25 Danish fleet admiral Christian Rune took over command, as his flagship Absalon set sail for the area after a stop in port at Muscat, the capital of Oman. He will stay in charge until March.

(Absalon – pictured here, photocredit to Uncle Buddha on Flickr – was the “fighting archbishop” of the Danish Middle Ages, who did much to build up Copenhagen towards the city it was to become by building a fort there. His statue is there in the city’s center, mounted on a magnificent rearing horse, in Højbroplads – that’s the square right by the Folketing, Denmark’s one-chamber parliament. The main sort of enemy he fought in his day, it turns out, was in fact Baltic Sea pirates.)

It’s no surprise that the Absalon has already seen some action, and the Danish press is following along to report. (more…)

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The French Cover Obama’s SOTU

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

President Obama faced a hard challenge with his State of the Union address to Congress of yesterday evening, given his recent series of political setbacks. That his speech came off well nonetheless is not just the conclusion picked by post-speech polling, but also one shared by observers from the French press, despite the discourse’s inevitable emphasis on domestic affairs. (This US-focus did not stop the French on-line papers from uniformly offering embedded videos of the entire speech, some even dubbed into French, so their readers could take a look at it themselves.)

Noteworthy reaction flowed promptly in two articles from that pillar of the French journalistic establishment, Le Monde. One of them (Obama’s words: work, economy, and Americans; no byline) literally offers at its head a “word-cloud” of the speech’s most-frequent terms (actually, their French equivalents) and then, by way of analysis, a hyper-short summary of his essential message: “Don’t panic.” Yes, it’s true that the president’s emphasis was much more on the economy and creating jobs, rather than on that health care reform legislation that still sits tantalizingly close to final passage. But what was of far more interest to Le Monde’s writer here was those foreign policy topics to which Obama gave short shrift, as he only briefly discussed Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, skimmed China, Russia, Germany, India, the Koreas, and said nothing at all about Pakistan or the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process! (Nor about France, come to think of it.)

A companion Le Monde article (Obama like in the first days; also no explicit byline) notes how surprisingly sprightly Obama appeared before the assembled Congress (“with a rediscovered insolence and combativeness”), just like in the old days, oh so long ago, when he was eating John McCain’s lunch on the campaign trail. This writer also issues a fitting, if cynical summary of the president’s economic message: focus on jobs this year (an election year); focus on reducing the deficit only the year after that.

For its part, the conservative paper Le Figaro contributes a lengthy review of Obama’s SOTU speech from its Washington correspondent, Laure Mandeville (Employment, Obama’s priority for 2010). I’m pretty sure “Laure” is a French woman’s name, for Ms. Mandeville not only mentions Barack’s feistiness (“more resolute and offensive than ever”) but also gets in a reference to Michelle’s couture (she was wearing a jupe bouffant violine – some sort of fancy skirt). At the same time, she captures well the lecturing, lightly-scolding tone prevalent especially in his speech’s second half, and directed largely at the Republican opposition, reflecting his greater theme of “we [i.e. the country] just can’t go on like this!”

Bonus: The judgment on Obama’s SOTU speech is also out from the foremost Danish expert on American affairs, Prof. Niels Bjerre-Poulsen of the Copenhagen Business School (as reported by Ritzau, so it’s pretty much the representative Danish journalistic view; actually published in this instance in the opinion newspaper Information). With this excellent speech, opines the good professor, Obama once again showed his strong side to the nation: that is, in speech-making, in this case in a tight situation and with many contradictory points to make. But the resulting goodwill will only last so long, and it takes much different political skills to translate such fancy words into concrete results. We still have to see if the president is similarly gifted with those latter.

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Whodunit?

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

I’m not that much into crime novels myself, but for a long while it has been difficult for anyone interested in literature generally to remain unaware of the name of Stieg Larsson (pictured left), the Swedish author who died a few years ago (in 2004, to be precise) but whose posthumous fictional works have been a tremendous success throughout the world, topping European fiction sales in 2009, for example. Inevitably, a movie based on one book from his so-called Millenium Trilogy will be out in the Spring, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which was actually titled Men Who Hate Women when his works were first published in Swedish back in 2005).

Ah – but were they his works? Did he really write them? Doubt about his whole literary output is now cropping up in the Scandinavian press, such as in an article by Uffe Christensen on kpn.dk (“Allegation: Larsson could not write”), the on-line culture pages of Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “Could not write”: Note well that this does not reflect some mere aesthetic judgment (as in “Really, old chap, in the final analysis James Joyce just could not write!”). Rather, these are assertions that Larsson simply did not have the minimal command of the Swedish language to have written “his” fiction himself.

The main claim comes from Anders Hellberg, now a journalist at the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, but formerly a close colleague of Larsson’s at the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå. (Larsson worked mainly as a graphic designer there, but also was editor – and, supposedly, a writer – for various other science fiction and Trotskyite journals.) Says Hellberg: “The Millenium-author Stieg Larsson was a master of research, but a poor reporter. One can suspect that his significant-other [DK: samlever] Eva Gabrielsson had an active role in his authorship.” Plus, he had poor handwriting, could not spell, and had a shaky grasp of grammar.

Hellberg is willing to state flatly that Larsson could not have written his works himself. And this judgment is seconded by one Kurdo Baksi, who is currently writing a biography of Larsson and who also tells the Dagens Nyheter, “It has always been a riddle to me how he could have written these books.” But what about Ms. Gabrielsson herself? She stands by her (deceased) man:

What is in the Millenium Trilogy Stieg wrote. I read the proofs and had discussions with Stieg. But I did not intervene to write anything myself. That would have been like taking the brush from a great painter.”

Maybe even if it turns out that she did have a rather greater role in helping him write than she is willing to admit, it won’t turn out to be that big a deal. Larsson no longer walks among us, anyway. But if somehow it does, remember: unless you regularly read Danish or Swedish, you probably heard about it here first!

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Here We Go Again . . .

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Don’t look now, but the controversy of the Danish Mohammed cartoons has sprung back to life. This time it’s in Norway, where last week the newspaper Aftenposten decided to republish the twelve controversial drawings – not out of any idle curiosity as to what would happen next, but as a sort of tribute to the Dane Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists originally involved and the lightning-rod for the entire group who you might remember was the subject of an attempted assault on his home back on New Year’s Day. (This is reported by Jens Ehlers in the Danish paper Jyllands-PostenHas Norway gotten its own Mohammed-crisis? – which, appropriately enough, was the one to originally publish the cartoons, and which still pays Westergaard for his work.)

Of course, no curiosity is needed as to what happened next: the Pakistani Foreign Ministry condemned the newspaper’s action, and demonstrators materialized in the Pakistani city Lahore, burning Norwegian flags. But this time, according to Ehlers, they numbered only a “two-figured number of persons,” i.e. in the tens. The editor-in-chief of the Norwegian paper, Hilde Haugsgjerd, was not particularly upset at seeing her country’s colors go up in smoke (then again, I think few Norwegians would be, just because they are laid-back): “They should have their freedom-of-expression in the same way that we have our freedom-of-expression. That doesn’t change anything in our judgment.”

Nor should it. Frankly, the cartoons should really published anew on a regular schedule, not just in reaction to some new event. Yes, they are supposedly insulting to some aspect of Islam, but by this point they could be a key symbol of Western-style freedom-of-expression, one of our fundamental freedoms, which holds that anything and everything should be allowed to be ridiculed, and if anyone doesn’t like that, then that’s just too bad. Remember that the reason the Jyllands-Posten editor decided to commission and print them in the first place back in late 2005 was his fear that implicit threats of violence were leading to de facto self-censorship of any writings or drawings concerning Islam, in effect a creeping, furtive denial of that freedom-of-expression. It’s to fight that sort of craven self-denial, by means of clear, repeated examples of refusing to be intimidated, that I feel these cartoons should be republished on a regular basis.

(And is there no aesthetic consciousness out there in the Muslim world – somewhere? anywhere? – that would interpret a rendering of Mohammed’s head fused with traditional Islamic half-moon-and-star iconography as a clever piece of art, as even a tribute and compliment to the Prophet and those who follow his teachings?)

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Nile Work If You Can Get It

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Maybe you’ve heard by this point that the Egyptian pyramids were not built by slaves after all. If you did, it was probably on Leno on Tuesday night: according to Jay, it seems even way back then the authorities found a way to finance the workers’ wages through some pyramid scheme.

Hyuk-hyuk. If you’re still interested, though, all of that other than the “pyramid scheme” part is true. Rasmus Dam Nielsen* of the Danish newspaper Politiken gives us the details.

The Egyptian government has always had a problem with the workers who built the pyramids being characterized as slaves, since in their view that opinion gives short shrift to the considerable construction talents that such personnel must have possessed. Just look at the results: it’s apparently difficult even to slip a knife into the cracks between the building-blocks. It was actually an Egyptian research time which recently made the key discovery of graves situated alongside the pyramids, 4,500 years old and containing the remains of workers who died while in the service of their construction. This has to mean they were not slaves: slaves would never have been allowed to be buried so close to the pharaohs’ tomb, which of course were the pyramids themselves.

The Egyptian researchers further calculate that around 10,000 workers were involved in constructing the pyramids in all (i.e. not all at the same time); they were involved in the work in shifts of three months at a time; and they consumed daily 21 cattle and 23 sheep, provided by outside ranchers who thereby discharged their tax burden to the prehistoric Egyptian state.

And how about this, also from Politiken: El Dorado did exist, namely somewhere in the Amazon jungle, and contemporary researchers believe they have found the site using Google Earth! But I’m moving on from this stuff . . . if you really want to know more, either learn yourself some Danish or e-mail me a request.

* He reminds me of one of my main complaints about the Danish press: there are too many Dam Nielsens!

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Indians! Don’t Travel to Australia!

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

That’s as in Asian Indians, although who knows? Maybe American Indians should also forget about heading “down under” for a while. This “no-travel” advice is addressed by the Indian government to its citizens, according to coverage in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten. (I know: talk about globalization!) It is prompted by a wave of ugly attacks against Indians in Melbourne, topped off by a recent incident in which a gang actually set one young Indian man on fire. His condition is still listed as “critical” at a local hospital. Indeed, although such attacks (although usually not involving fire) have occurred over the past couple years, the local Indian community in Australia is worried that they are becoming ever-more frequent.

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Danes Captured by Snow!

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Horrors! Further snowfall hit yesterday across Northern Europe, and now the Danish newspaper Politiken features the screaming headline Danes caught in airport-chaos. (Note that it’s really not accurate to describe Politiken as a sensationalist tabloid; if that’s what you’re looking for, try Ekstrabladet, among others, and you’ll be able to see the difference on the very homepage.)

The snow came down particularly heavy in England, canceling several Premier League football games (if you want an indication about just how serious it really turned out to be), so the paper’s Astrid Søndberg mainly concentrates on the travails at London’s Heathrow airport. “I spent the night in terminal 5 together with 2,000 others,” reveals on-the-spot witness Line Bjørn. Everyone needs to rebook their flights due to the weather, she says, but “that’s going to slowly since there are not enough personnel. They can’t come out to the airport because of the weather.” Naturally, both the telephone service and website of her carrier – British Airways, note bene – are also down. Similar scenes occurred in Dublin and Amsterdam, according to an SAS Airlines spokesman.

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Unsuccessful New Year’s Assault on Danish Cartoonist

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Somalia_Islamic_Courts_Flag.svgThe US had its failed terror attack on Christmas Day (occuring in the skies around Detroit, if the festive season has kept you from paying attention). Now Denmark has its own such incident, for New Year’s: a Danish-speaking man of Somali origin was shot and arrested yesterday evening as, armed with an axe and a knife, he broke into the house near the city of Aarhus of Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonists who, with their drawn interpretations of the prophet Mohammed, raised the ire of the Muslim world starting in late 2005.

Naturally, this is the subject of extensive coverage today in the Danish press. This includes the Danish news agency Ritzau so that, as is usual with a major Danish story, identical articles attributed to that agency make up the core coverage of most on-line papers, supplemented here and there by original in-house reporting. (more…)

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Tight Danish Border Controls Demanded for Climate Conference

Friday, October 30th, 2009

The Danish opinion newspaper Information is now carrying this brief piece from the Ritzau news agency. Denmark only joined the EU’s Schengen Area of visa-free state-to-state travel with the other Nordic states in March, 2001, but now calls are issuing from some Danish politicians to temporarily re-impose border controls in the run-up to that “Cop15” United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Copenhagen starting the second week of December that you might have heard about.

Who specifically is making this demand? No surprise: it’s the Danish People’s Party, the influential and powerful party (although it’s not part of the current government) best known for its strict attitude towards immigrants, asylum-seekers, and foreigners in general. In particular, it was that party’s foreign affairs spokesman, Søren Espersen, who raised this demand when being interviewed on a Danish TV news show. “We want only proper (ordentlige) people come to Denmark,” he proclaimed – presumably referring only to the period around the climate conference, although you need to be careful because, if it could, the People’s Party would clearly raise that principle to general applicability. This is no idle request, either: Espersen made clear in that same interview that the People’s Party wants to see movement towards re-imposing those border controls before it will resume cooperating with the government in pushing an important new financial law through the Danish parliament, the Folketing.

The point is of course to try to keep out those elements who might try to come to Copenhagen to make trouble in the streets while all the international bureaucrats and heads of state/government are assembled for the climate conference. The Schengen Treaty apparently does allow for the sort of temporary re-imposition of border controls that the People’s Party is requesting (not that it particularly matters to the party’s politicians whether it is allowed or not). Their demand has also won support from the Danish Conservative Party, which is important since they’re actually in the government. (It has been dismissed, on the other hand, by the Socialist People’s Party – which matters less, since they are not.)

So are you planning to head to Denmark in the near future? (In particular: Are you planning to be in Copenhagen for the big conference? Really? How on earth did you find a hotel room, or do you have friends there?) If so, better be prepared for some extra checks as you cross the border.

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Winter Games 2018: It’s Olympic Selection-Time Again!

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

So the returns are in and, as we all know very well, it’s Rio de Janeiro that has been chosen by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2018 Summer Olympic Games. But competition to bring Olympic Games to one’s own city never really takes a rest. The 2010 Winter Games are due up soon (quick: Where will they be held? Do you even know?), which also means that the time is coming up to pick the city for another future Winter Olympics, namely the 2018 Games.

Brit Therkildsen of the Danish newspaper Politiken has a brief treatment about how that 2018 competition is shaping up. The short answer: underpopulated. The stimulus for her article in the first place is the fact that the deadline for applications for the 2018 Winter Games passed yesterday, and ultimately only three “cities” succeeded in putting themselves forward. I write “cities” because one of those is Pyeongchang, which is not really a city. “Sure it is!” you might be yelling, “It’s the capital of North Korea! What on earth are those leftist pinkos on the IOC thinking?” No, no – calm down! Pyeongchang is certainly Korean, but South Korean: it’s a “county” in northeast South Korea, not really that far from the “Demarcation Line” dividing the North from the South (they are still technically at war with each other – hmmm), but with “long, cold winters” and plenty of mountains, so presumably possessing what it takes (if you add massive money for construction to the mix) to stage the Winter Games. Plus, this is the third Winter Games in a row that Pyeongchang has officially applied to host. (more…)

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Obama Nobel Peace Prize A Close Call

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Still interested in President Obama being awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize? Hope so, because I’ve got some revelations here about what went on behind-the-scenes. They come from a Ritzau report taken up in Berlingske Tidende (Nobel committee was split about Obama). “Split”? It seems that, for most of the time, three of the Peace Prize committee’s five members definitely did not think Obama should be awarded the Prize – he had only been in office as President for nine months, for Heaven’s sake!

Actually, the Ritzau/Berlingske coverage here is really at-one-remove, as they basically pass on original reporting that appeared in the Norwegian newspaper VG. That article you can find here (“Nobel-majority argued against Obama”), and even if you don’t understand Norwegian you really should click through to take a look, because it offers a great prize: there you can see in a photograph, sitting around a table, the actual group of Norwegian notables (“socialists,” “muddled-headed Europeans,” “Obama-groupies,” “Devil’s spawn,” however you want to characterize them) who were directly responsible for him receiving the prize. The three ladies with their heads circled were actually the doubters; in fact, Berlingske quotes the right-most of them (i.e. turning to her left to address the camera) as remarking later to the press “I had expected more debate, especially over the fact that I myself regard as problematic, namely the war in Afghanistan.”

By the way, the committee doesn’t have six members, but five, so that one of the gentlemen off to the right is not actually a voting-member and doesn’t belong there. I’m guessing that the bona fide guy is probably with the red necktie, and that would be the committee chairman, former Norwegian prime minister and current Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland. He’s really the one Obama can thank for his Prize (assuming that Obama is actually grateful for the Prize; there are reasons for thinking that he isn’t): despite the three nay-sayers dismissing the President’s candidacy from early in the selection-discussions, Jagland persevered as chairman (with some support from the one lady whose head is not circled, Sissel Rønbeck) and finally got his way. “The rest,” as they say, “is history” – but one can still speculate on what the outcome would have been had the three dissenters been male and the committee chairman female.

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“This Car Drives on Rock ‘N Roll!”

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

First subject for today: ringtones. Maybe you have a special one for your mobile telephone. Soon, though, you might be called upon to choose one for your new car. Well, at least Jyllands-Posten journalist Kurt Hedevang is using “ringtone” for the artificial motor-noise your future electric car may make just to let everyone else know of its presence (Get your own “ringtone” for your car). As he points out, for decades auto manufacturers have striven to come up with vehicles with ever-quieter engines – silence was good, it was the ideal to aim for. Now, however, for electrical vehicles a silent drive-train is a given, and suddenly that’s not so much of a good thing. It’s not as if there has been any wave of incidents where these vehicles caused injury; they’re still too rare for that. Nevertheless, their manufacturers now are determined to add some noise – artificial, if need be – to their vehicles to let other vehicles, near-by playing children, etc. know that they are there. Their stance is supported by a recent study from the University of California that showed that people could detect a conventional vehicle approaching at 8 km/hr from nine meters away, but an electric car only by the time it was 2 meters away.

Electric cars, it seems then, will make some noise. Hedevang quotes a New York Times article (which I could not track down) to the effect that the Japanese manufacturers Nissan and Toyota are onto this issue already: the former is seeking advice from the film industry (!) about which sounds to use, while the latter is content to consult the Japanese traffic authorities and interest-groups for the blind. But why not just let the customer choose his new car’s “ringtone”? There is also a quote from a BMW spokesperson that that should soon be possible for that company’s electric cars, but customers of the ultra-luxury “Karma” electric car from Fisker Automotive already get to do that. (So Hedevang’s article says; as for me, I could not find any reference to the choosing-your-own-engine-noise option on that Fisker Automotive website.)

Of course, you’ll always encounter contrary opinions to groundbreaking developments like this, and here those come from one Paul Scott of Santa Monica, CA, vice-president of the electric car interest-group “Plug In America.” Naturally, he owns and drives such a vehicle, a nice and quiet Toyota RAV4. For him, silence in a vehicle is next to godliness; having labored for so long to get to the silent motor, automotive engineers should not now be forced to surrender their achievement. Instead, by his reasoning it is still properly the vehicle driver’s responsibility to make sure he doesn’t hit anyone. So what does Scott do? Whenever he drives up to a (blind) corner, he opens up his Toyota’s window and turns up the radio.

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Obama’s Peace Prize: Danish Reaction

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Let’s take a quick look at what they’re saying in the Danish press about the awarding today to President Barack Obama of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize – “Danish” because that is as close as I can come linguistically to the Swedish deliberations behind its awarding (and the Norwegian arrangements for the conferring ceremony on December 10).

– From the Danish Christian newspaper, Kristeligt Dagblad (Obama gives Nobel money to a good cause): Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama intends to give the 10 million Swedish kroner prize-money to a good cause, which he has not yet had time to specifically identify, according to a White House spokesman. He will also travel to Oslo on December 10 to accept the award there; Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg has already discussed this with him. Ah, but you may also be asking: How will this sudden new Scandinavian appointment affect the US president’s involvement at the UN’s climate-change conference in Copenhagen which will be going on at the same time? According to this report, it does not necessarily increase the chances that Obama will actually decide to attend that climate change conference.

(Note: This is a report from the Ritzau news agency, so the identical text appears in several other Danish newspapers as well. But in one of those we get the added detail that the “expert” behind the above calculation that Obama’s appointment in Oslo in December won’t necessary mean he shows up for the climate conference in Copenhagen – which, by the way, I don’t believe for a second – is namely Aarhus University Professor of Contemporary History Thorsten Borring Olesen.)

– The daily Berlingske Tidende offers some commentary in one article (Obama: Both a certain and a controversial choice), but doesn’t bother to credit the journalist(s) involved. Anyway: Awarding the prize to Obama was certain (sikkert): he is popular everywhere on this Earth, the nearest thing to every man’s friend. Awarding the prize to Obama was, however, controversial: Obama has been all about promises so far, not results. Maybe the Nobel committee was impressed with the resolution calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons that he managed to have the UN Security Council pass a few weeks ago while he functioned as its Chairman – on the other hand, in reality none of the nuclear powers, including the US, has done anything to fulfill the promise they made to the rest of the world at the time of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, back in 1968, that they would work to reduce and then eliminiate their nuclear arsenals, in exchange for that rest of the world giving up any idea of developing nuclear weapons of their own. Or perhaps it’s about his efforts to counteract climate change, or to shut Guantánamo – except, again, there actually hasn’t been tangible progress in these areas, either. No, the purposes the Nobel committee had in giving this prize to the President was both to give him “a tremendous moral pat on the shoulder” and to pointedly remind other countries (the exact Danish phrase is “hint with a wagon-pole”) that the American president is going to need some help from them if what he has promised is going to come true – so that that Nobel committee doesn’t find itself embarrassed a few years down the road at what it did today.

– The preeminent Danish opinion weekly, Information hasn’t yet gotten around to providing its own judgment or study of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama. For now, it presents an analysis (again from Ritzau) from Prof. Peter Viggo Jacobsen, of the Copenhagen University Social Sciences Faculty (Obama is a highly surprising choice). Along with about a billion other people around the world, he interprets the prize as being awarded in anticipation of future achievements, not of past accomplishments since “he has not been able yet to carry out anything at all.” Further Jacobsen:

Normally there should be more then words [behind the award]. There should also be some action. And action is what we haven’t seen much of yet. This has to be in anticipation of something later, that the [Nobel] committee believes that he is capable of realizing some of the good intentions he has.

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Sister-Ship to Arctic Sea Also Star-Crossed

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Assiduous €S readers were rewarded for their diligence about a month ago when they got early word on this site about that attempt to smuggle high-performance anti-aircraft missiles to Iran aboard the Russian freighter Arctic Sea, concealed under a cargo of Finnish wood, and the unconventional measures which the Russian authorities took to call a halt to that. Now Danish newspapers are reporting some funny business in connection with the Arctic Sea’s “sister ship” – presumably another freighter (unnamed) with the same Russian ownership.

(The identical brief news-text about this appears in at least three on-line Danish papers that I’ve been able to identify; it’s a Ritzau news agency pooled report. I hate that; but OK, I’ll just close my eyes, jab my finger blindly and select to link to . . . Arctic Sea’s sister-ship runs aground, in the mainstream daily newspaper Politiken.)

What’s up? It’s pretty simple: This unnamed sister-ship has run aground off the Swedish coast, not far (northeast) from Stockholm, near the town of Norrtälje. Still, it’s mysterious: that part of the Swedish coast is pretty dangerous (check it out here, all those islands everyplace), and everyone knows that, so it is carefully marked with buoys, lighthouses, etc. instructing incoming ships “Go this way!” and “Don’t go that way!” Well, this sister-ship went a way it wasn’t supposed to go, according to Swedish Coast Guard spokesman Kenneth Neijnes, and suffered the predictable result. So the authorities got the vessel unstuck, towed it to a secure location, and took the crew off for some questioning. Who knows, maybe they’re all a bunch of Russian FSB agents again, up to no good.

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Danish Reflections on Obama Visit, Chicago’s Olympic Loss

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

In light of Chicago’s surprise last-place finish in the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) deliberations over which city would get to host the 2016 Summer Games, considering that the Committee met in Copenhagen it’s perhaps worthwhile to take a look at the Danish press to try to answer various questions. Like: What happened? How could Chicago have lost? (more…)

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Copenhagen: We Don’t Need Obama

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

We all know that President Obama would be tickled pink to have his home city of Chicago win the nod to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. He has made his engagement to that cause plain – but, clearly, there are many other important matters on his plate right now. That’s why, at a promotional event yesterday on the White House lawn for “Chicago 2016,” he nonetheless made it clear that he would not be showing up personally at the meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen next month that is supposed to decide whether the Windy City or one of its competitors (Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, or Madrid) gets that prize.

In a report from the Danish news agency Ritzau that appears in the leading daily Politiken (Copenhagen will manage without Obama) city spokespersons reacted calmly to the development. Said Morten Mølholm Hansen of the Danish Sporting Union (Idræts-Forbund) which will be the IOC’s host:

Of course we would have preferred to see Obama come to the city. But on the other hand I will say that the congress will attract such attention by itself that that is not decisive. So many big names will come to Copenhagen, and the the decision itself about who will become the host-city is so interesting for the entire world, that this will not disturb our concept.

This assessment is shared by communications consultant Henrik Byager, who points out that, after all, Barack Obama may not be coming but it seems that Michelle and Oprah Winfrey will – “the two most prominent women of all in the USA.” Besides, there is also that big United Nations climate change conference scheduled for Copenhagen for this December. Obviously it would not do to have the US president attend both, and if they had to choose one the Danes would prefer that he be at the latter, which actually has to do directly with Danish interests.

UPDATE: Ah, but it seems they’ll get Obama early anyway! Twice within three months, in fact, since he is certainly going to the December UN climate change conference as well. So much for “Obviously it would not do . . .”

FURTHER UPDATE: OK, who really knows whether Obama will actually show up again in Copenhagen in December?

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Arctic on the Rocks

Friday, September 4th, 2009

I’ve got some good news for you, and some bad news.

It has to do with global warming, and since this is my weblog, I get to decide that I’m going to give you the bad news first. You probably didn’t hear about this – I know that I didn’t – but this past week has seen the World Climate Conference – 3 take place in Geneva, Switzerland. Journalist Richard Heuzé of the French conservative newspaper Le Figaro provides coverage and, as you can well imagine, the outlook is not good. It’s so “not good” that the conference participants had a wide array of things to choose from for panicking about.

On this particular occasion they happened to concentrate their foreboding on the state of the Arctic. Put simply, it’s much too warm there already. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke to the conference just after actually conducting – as Heuzé puts it – his own “inspection tour of the North Pole,” and his tidings were dire. “The Arctic is warming up faster than the rest of the Earth. There could be no more ice there in 2030.” One rather daunting result of that could be the unleashing of a positive-feedback effect that would cause the global warming process to accelerate, whereby the warming Arctic permafrost releases massive amounts of heretofore trapped methane gas into the atmosphere, which traps heat at the Earth’s surface even more effectively. (more…)

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Good for the New Citizen, Good for the Dansker

Monday, August 17th, 2009

The issue hasn’t recently cropped up spectacularly for a while, like it did during 2005-2006’s Muhammed cartoons controversy, but the problem of integrating immigrants – particularly from non-Western cultures – has certainly never left Denmark, not to mention most other Western European countries. Now the head of one of the main Danish political parties, one that is actually part of the current ruling coalition, Det Konservative Folkeparti (the Conservative People’s Party), Lene Espersen, has put forward a solution, as reported by Anita Sørensen in Berlingske Tidende.

(Please don’t confuse Det Konservative Folkeparti with Dansk Folkeparti, or the Danish People’s Party, which made its name with its aggressively anti-immigrant stance and is not currently in the government – although it effectively is, since its support enables the current coalition to carry on without being voted down in the Parliament. Also of note: Lene Espersen, a woman, is consistently labeled in the newspapers as the Conservative People’s Party’s formand or “spokesman”; I guess they don’t get all hung up about gender- or politically-correct terminology in Denmark.) (more…)

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