Horror Flight 4U9525 On-Board Video

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

That story of that doomed Germanwings flight just will not die, and here is the latest revelation:

Mobilvideo
“Mobile video shows the last seconds before flight 4U9525 crashed.” Yes, while it is overwhelmingly likely that that Airbus 320 slammed into the side of a mountain at a typical airline-in-flight speed, it was still possible at least for a mobile phone’s removable memory-card (if not likely the mobile phone itself) to survive the impact and the resulting kerosene-fueled inferno (although the latter probably only by being thrown clear).

And so there has been a mobile-filmed video discovered of Flight 4U9525’s very last moments, filmed by somebody – whether crew or passenger – in a back row. It confirms much of what the French prosecutor’s office has been able to reconstruct by means of other evidence, for example that the airplane’s captain spent some time desperately trying to get back in the cockpit, including by hitting it with an axe. And that all on board were aware of their impending fate fairly early on; the video records all manner of anguished cries, of “My God!” and variations thereof in a number of languages. There is a new bit, though: apparently the airplane first hit the mountain with one of the wings, so that it was violently jerked to the side, or maybe swung around at high speed, before ultimate impact.

One quite curious thing here is the sheer phenomenon of someone whipping out their mobile in such a dire situation in order to film it. One could just say “Isn’t that just 2015 developed-country civilization for you?” although in my opinion the incident would only have truly reflected contemporary mores if what had been produced was rather a selfie-video, turned back on the phone’s owner to capture for posterity’s sake the facial expressions of his/her last moments on this Earth. We must offer heartfelt, if posthumous, thanks to that protagonist for resisting the temptation, turning the phone’s camera forward and thereby helping to fill in facts for the record.

Even more interesting, though, is the prospect of what happens next with this fortuitous video back in this world upon which the rest of us are left behind. Word slipped out about it in the first place after journalists from both France’s Paris Match and Germany’s Bild Zeitung were allowed to view it. The choice of the latter was particularly unfortunate, as the Bild has been an icon of (West) German culture for decades as the premier tabloid newspaper, by which I am not referring to physical form but rather to the rather older definition of “tabloid,” i.e. catering to a sensation-minded readership, featuring nude women upon its inner pages – that sort of thing.

Clearly, we “all” want to view that video, just as no one in the end turns out to be self-disciplined enough to avoid at least sneaking a peek while slowly driving past the site of a particularly gruesome highway accident. Yet “decency,” “responsibility” and, I suppose, respect for those who died militate against it ever being made more public than it already has been.

Early indications are not good: here is Paris Match’s “exclusive” account from that mobile-phone video, and here is Bild’s – both in English, as both publications have made sure that they have German, French and English versions on-line.

Again I ask: How long before the video itself is accessible to all on-line, somewhere? Probably not long.

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Switzerland = Star Climate Pupil

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Now about that Paris climate summit that is still scheduled to happen starting next 30 November . . .

Wait now, don’t nod off! I realize that coverage of such UN climate summits is supposed to intrude into our consciousness only when they are actually going on, and even then to confine themselves to newspapers’ back-pages, to some link way down at the bottom of the homepage.

But not in Denmark, at least. (Maybe that is due to some sense of guilt over the signal failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (“COP15”) at the end of 2009 – as if that were their fault. Or maybe it is due to the Danes actually being quite a bit more serious about renewable energy than most other lands.)

Schweiz
It’s a Danish article, from Politiken, but it’s not about Denmark: it’s about Switzerland, which “is first with a climate-plan” for that Paris summit at the end of this year. In the accompanying article by Politiken’s Ellen Ø. Andersen we learn some interesting things about how that summit will be structured that I did not know before. As she writes:

The idea to let countries themselves tell how much they will do [i.e. towards acting againt climate change] was thought up to prevent the same sort of fiasco as that which afflicted the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

When all the world’s leaders gather in Paris in December, in this way they will not argue about the amount of CO2 reduction – instead they can concentrate on other difficult questions such as financing and control mechanisms.

Sounds like a smart idea, although already the widely varying commitment among countries to this new set of rules has to be a little disheartening.

All countries in principle have to send in such a [national] plan before 1 April. In practice it is expected that only a smaller number of lands, mostly from among the world’s richest, will live up to that deadline. The other countries’ plans will be sent later, some even around the final deadline of 30 September.

But let’s shift our focus here back to the good news – Switzerland! Not only have the Swiss already sent in their plan – the first country to do so – but it seems mighty impressive: the Swiss want to halve their CO2 emissions from what was their 1990 level by 2030. This is even more than what it is anticipated will be proposed in a collective plan that the EU will draw up and submit on behalf of all its 28 member-states.

Then again: Switzerland is in a particularly favorable position to be able to set such a goal. It is a very mountainous country, of course, which means quite a lot of clean hydroelectric power is available. It also generates 36% of its power via nuclear plants, and apparently even boasts a culture in which storing long-term nuclear waste is considered a privilege which many local jurisdictions are willing to compete for.

As a result, as Ms. Andersen notes here, Switzerland already emits somewhat less CO2 than it did in 1990. So perhaps cutting that down to half 1990’s level within fifteen years is not so ambitious after all – indeed, that has been the gist of some criticism of its plan. Nonetheless, it’s the first hand-in of an assignment that every one of the world’s countries (or the EU collectively) has due, and so a handy reminder of both that task and the Paris summit’s greater task, which is nothing less than “to achieve . . . a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.”

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ISIL Child-Soldier Recruitment

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Check out this happy playground picture: that smiling boy in the foreground, the other ones playing on a balance-beam behind.

Rekruttering
Of course, it is not that at all. This picture was taken in Raqqa, the Syrian desert town now functioning as headquarters for the outlaw organization known as the Islamic State. The Danish there reads “IS steps up recruiting of children in Syria,” and what we see here is no less than military training, which for the young lad up front in particular involves crawling through that child-sized tunnel whose circular exit we see there.

The recruitment and use of child-soldiers in Syria is a growing problem, actually not isolated to IS but to almost all warring parties there, including groups such as the Free Syrian Army supported by the West. (I write “almost” because it’s possible that the forces of the Syrian government do not have to resort to recruiting children; they merely have a well-documented record of torturing and executing them.) But the IS forces take this beyond what has seen before, according to a child-protection advisor to UNICEF, Laurent Chapuis, who was interviewed for this Politiken article. Says Chapuis:

ISIS’ recruiting of children is possibly the clearest current example of of a new pattern of aggressive recruitment through ISIS’ use of social media. Social media are used to promote the group’s ideology, agenda and political vision, including the mobilization and use of children.

One obvious question, though: how do we really know about what the IS is allegedly doing with children at its own Syrian headquarters? After all, the deadly conditions for Western reporters wherever this Islamic group holds sway has been lamented for the “blindness” it results in, which both Western governments and publics have to deal with when trying to figure out what is really going on there.

It turns out, however, that there do exist certain information sources. That picture at the head of the Politiken article, and in the tweet, itself comes from a recently-formed group called “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” consisting of daring local residents there who gather photos and other information and then get that out to the wider world (yes, mainly via social media). This organization is headed by a certain Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi; here is his Twitter-feed (click on the image to go there):

Raqqawi
(“Raqqawi,” by the way, is Arabic for “from Raqqa,” just in case you had any doubts that this is an alias.)

Lea Wind-Friis, the Politiken reporter who wrote the article, mentions trying to contact Mr. Raqqawi to gain information for it but failing, which is understandable. However, a writer for the respected American journal Foreign Policy did manage to speak with him earlier on, and his accounts of what is going on there form a substantial part of her article entitled Children of the Caliphate – in English, free, and published only last week, which recounts IS child recruitment and mobilization in detail – including teaching very young boys to behead people and to operate as suicide-bombers.

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Putin: Banish Smurfs into Exile!

Monday, May 5th, 2014

It’s the military clashes in eastern Ukraine that are deservedly getting all the media attention now, those between the Ukrainian “neo-fascist nazi’s” on the one hand and those pro-Russian “terrorists” on the other. But there is at the same time an undercurrent of reports about how Russian society itself has recently changed, and how it is changing as Vladimir Putin whips up war-fever to rally his citizens around his authoritarian rule.

It’s often very ugly, such as with the website that has been set up to list publicly the Russian Federations greatest “traitors” – check it out, the very URL (http://predatel.net) is the transliteration of the Russian word for “traitor” (предател). No surprise, at the top of the list you’ll find the anti-corruption blogger and Moscow mayor also-ran (but barely) Alexei Navalny, currently under house arrest and prohibited from communicating with anyone (including via Internet) other than his family.

But this can take a turn to the ludicrous as well:

Putin_noSmurfs
From the Czech Television website: “In the service of ideology. Putin wants to forbid the Smurfs.” (Šmouly – that’s “Smurfs” in Czech. I don’t know what their name is in Russian – reader tips are welcome! UPDATE: And they have arrived! It’s Смурфики.)

Of course, it’s not actually Putin himself. It’s rather the Russian Education Ministry which has proposed banning the Smurfs from Russian TV as “damaging to youth,” but Putin has given this his blessing. And that’s not all: other series such as South Park and the Simpsons are likely to be under similar review soon. (more…)

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Florida Forbids Sex

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

It’s been a warm Spring over here in Europe – global warming you know, April set some sort of record – which at least means early traffic on the beaches of the local coastlines and lakes. That’s something many areas of the United States enjoy almost year-round, like Florida, say – but it seems people there now have to keep their baser beach instincts in check now that the state legislature, in effect, has outlawed sex. And it has not gone unnoticed on Twitter how this could be ill-advised, in view of the state’s popularity as a honeymoon destination.

This rather startling news comes from David Tarp of the mainstream Danish daily Berlingske Tidende. No worries, though, if you’re rubbing your head and wondering “What the . . .” for he admits to having taken the news from this article in the Huffington Post that will explain everything. What the legislature thought it was doing was outlawing bestiality, but depending on how you want to interpret the word “animal” it might very well be that they outlawed all sexual intercourse, even between human animals.

That Huffington Post piece now carries an update making the case that judges will surely interpret “animal” in such a way that excludes humans. But for David Tarp’s Danish audience that’s almost irrelevant. The real point, of course, is to poke fun at what is seen as priggish American moral attitudes. He underlines his point with his choice as the piece’s illustration of a photo of the Florida governor on a beach checking out a couple young women – an image rated PG, I suppose, in that the rear of their bikini bottoms, shall we say, are in the Brazilian style. (Too bad that’s Charlie Crist, whom Tarp doesn’t bother to identify as the state’s ex-governor.) He also mentions at the end that, after all, laws banning oral or anal sex were in effect “in many American states” {i.e. not necessarily in Florida) until a Supreme Court decision of 2003 finally abolished them

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Danish View: Chaos Ahead for US

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

“The American people this evening flunked President Obama’s first two years as president,” runs the first paragraph of an analysis of the US midterm election results by the US-based correspondents for the Danish daily Politiken, Thomas Berndt and Jesper Vangkilde. Their headline even speaks of the president’s “big spanking.”

They summarize for Danish readers the fundamental numerical results: House lost for the Democrats, Senate retained (as Majority Leader Harry Reid “saves his political career”), and a Republican wave also taking over most state governors and legislatures. What this means for the future: “Over the slightly longer-term political chaos [awaits] in Washington, unless the parties can find a way to work together.” The authors also make mention of the “especially offensive” defiance directed at the president by “one of the election campaign’s absolute key figures,” Sarah Palin: (Translated back from the Danish) “We’re sending representatives to Washington to stop your fundamental transformation of America. Enough is enough.”

Over at the opinion newspaper Information, their long-time American affairs commentator Martin Burcharth takes a more philosophical tone (Varied outlook for cross-political cooperation). All things will pass, he assures the reader; sudden shifts in American political fortunes are really “quite common,” citing history back to Jimmy Carter (hero in 1976; goat in 1980) to prove his point. This latest heavy midterms defeat for the Democrats and President Obama need not be regarded as any real sort of tragedy.

Rather, anything is still possible for the 2012 elections, and Burcharth offers the president two possible strategies for success. He can tack to the political center (as former Clinton political advisor Paul Begala recommends) and push a new program of extensive public works, pushed as a “jobs plan,” which Republicans would not dare to oppose. Or he can stay on the left (the advice of Robert Reich, Clinton’s Secretary of Labor) and launch a crusade against the Big Industry and Big Finance that got America into the economic mess it is in. That will also mean cutting taxes on the poor and middle-class, but not for the rich: the latter should be required to pay for their misdeeds!

Whichever he chooses, Burcharth recognizes that prospects for real cooperation between the president and the Republicans in Congress will probably last only until around the end of next year, when politicking for the 2012 elections begins in earnest. In fact, he offers the rather cynical recommendation that Democrats make full use of the “lame duck” period still open to them – i.e. when they still have majorities in both Houses, before the newly-elected representatives and Senators come to take their seats – to enact major legislation such as immigration reform and even new climate/energy legislation (always a leading Danish concern). No cooperation with political opponents even required!

It’s ingenious, in a way – except that Burcharth forgets that, even today, the Democrats’ Senate majority is only 59, which causes certain complications of its own in passing legislation, and in any event exploiting the “lame duck” session that way somewhat contravenes American ideas of political legitimacy.

UPDATE: What do you know, the Rude Pundit also sees great merit in that “use the lame duck session to pass some serious legislation” argument of Martin Burcharth’s, and develops it further. But beware: he’s rude! (Sample language: “No, you need to blow us, Boehner and McConnell.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Fighting Christiania Hash Trade “A Waste of Time”

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Maybe it’s Euro-giddiness from the recent warm and sunny spring weather: this weblog seems to be building up a thread on the subject of soft-drug use and its combating by local authorities. A few days ago I discussed here the new pot-sniffing mini-chopper the Dutch authorities had come up with to locate and destroy marijuana farms. Now I’ve run across an interesting article in the Danish press about Copenhagen’s famous drug-peddling “Christiania” quarter.

For those not in the know, “Freetown Christiania” is a small section of the Danish capital, a former military-barracks area, which was occupied by squatters beginning in 1971, who soon declared themselves to be self-governing there. Naturally, the local and national authorities have never conceded any sort of full independence; rather, a set of extraordinary agreements has been worked out over the years that divides the functions this neighborhood can undertake for itself (including paying taxes for public utilities and trash-removal) and those which the Danish authorities are still responsible for. Still, it is commonly assumed that those authorities would much prefer to shut the “Freetown” down at some point and return it completely to local and national Danish law, just like any other neighborhood in the country, if only some way could be found that would not bring with it massive, messy civil resistance from the residents.

One particular bone of contention between “Christianites” and the authorities has precisely been recreational drugs. (more…)

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Denmark’s Rasmussen To Head NATO

Monday, April 6th, 2009

You likely missed it in the thick series of happenings and photo-ops that have flooded the world’s front pages since Barack Obama first took flight last Tuesday for London, but there was a bit of a mini-crisis brewing at the NATO summit (his next stop after the G20 meeting in London) even as he addressed all those German and French students in Strasbourg at that “town hall” meeting on Friday. It wasn’t very complicated: the current Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was lined up to succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO Secretary-General at the summit, but there was a serious monkey-wrench in the works: the top Turkish leaders did not want Rasmussen in that post, and they were ready to insist that he not get it and so exercise the effective veto they and every other one of NATO’s 28 members have on such a top position. (The Turkish complaints against him related to the late 2005/early 2006 Danish cartoons affair, plus a Kurdish-language TV station – “Roj TV” – that broadcasts in Denmark.) Things even reached the point that – horrors! – the news conference scheduled for 1:00 PM on Saturday afternoon did not happen until a good two-and-a-half hours later, which is when De Hoop Scheffer could finally appear on the stage shaking hands with his Danish successor.

As befitting its status as one of Denmark’s best-regarded daily newspapers, Berlingske Tidende has some good coverage of this affair (NATO’s declaration-of-confidence in Denmark), written by Ole Bang Nielsen. First off, Nielsen makes it clear just what this appointment means to the Danes themselves, namely a recognition that Denmark is no longer just a “footnote-nation and hesitant member of NATO,” as well as a personal vote of support to Rasmussen himself. To get there past the Turkish opposition, though, truly took a tremendous diplomatic full-court press – “the large European NATO lands finally threw in all their political ballast against Turkey,” as Nielsen writes. Breaking up that NATO meeting without having Rasmussen in place as the Secretary-General would have been a humiliation – especially for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who basically had announced the day before that Rasmussen would be named – so those European countries did indeed throw in everything, including Turkey’s prospective EU membership. Yes, EU matters generally do not belong being linked to NATO issues (the memberships of the two organizations don’t match very exactly, anyway), but Nielsen writes that certain threats were made nonetheless against Turkey’s EU membership process should it continue to hold out against the Dane. It seems even that the EU enlargement commissioner (Olli Rehn, a Finn) was on-hand personally to utter authoritative remarks toward the Turks such as “This does not look good from a European perspective, if Turkey does not give way.” There you have it: ordinarily Rehn did not even belong there at the NATO meeting at all, since he is an EU official, and because Finland is not a member of NATO anyway. (more…)

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Aaaaaaaapril Foooooool!

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

It has been a particular challenge going through the Danish press today: they seem especially gripped by (to coin a new term) “April-Fool-itis,” that is, celebrating this April 1 by planting remarkable “news” stories that turn out just to be a joke. Even if one is inclined to look favorably on the practice (e.g. as an amusing change-of-pace from the pedestrian nature of most news during the other 364 days of the year), Danish newspaper practice unfortunately waters it down substantially through the practice of frequently running the same articles from the Danish news-agency Ritzau in several of the papers at the same time. This naturally reduces substantially the amount of truly-original (as opposed to “echoed from Ritzau”) material. (Dutch papers also have this problem, i.e. of too many papers too often publishing the same article, by the way.)

Still, there are a handful of original joke-articles out there. But then the next problem arises, i.e. that the humor is too tied-in to the Danish cultural and/or political context to raise any laughs outside of the country. Anyway, let’s go looking for these jokes-articles and you can decide this for yourself. This exercise will also be valuable as a means to “innoculate” you against these tongue-in-cheek news-tales in case you later run across them within a context elsewhere that presents them to you as real. (more…)

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Flattered That Anyone Is Listening

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

It was inevitable: ex-president George W. Bush was never going to do the decent thing and just stay home and keep quiet, you have to know that he would eventually start looking around to see if anyone was willing to offer a healthy chunk of change to hear him speak. As Denmark’s Politiken now reports (Bush makes an appearance to pay for a new house), the first venue to do so turned out to be in Calgary, Canada. Let me give you journalist Flemming Ytzen’s lede:

A jocular American ex-president gives a talk for the first time since the transition-of-power in January: his new house needs to be paid for.

Note that this “gotta pay for the house” schtick is not Ytzen trying to be snarky; rather, Bush himself brought up that particular meme at the event, trying to be jolly for the audience, and added “I just bought a house in the fall. I might be the only American who dared to buy a house in the fall of 2008.” Hyuk-hyuk.

He also let slip that “I am flattered that there are people at all who want to listen to me,” and whether or not this was another attempt at humor, it rather hits the Truth nail straight on the head. But as Ytzen notes in his piece, it’s probably not so surprising that the Canadian state of Alberta would offer the venue for Bush’s first public-speaking engagement: it’s supposedly known as the “Northern Texas” for its oil industry and is Canada’s most conservative state. But that did not stop a group of protestors from gathering outside the event itself anyway, holding banners with slogans such as “Canada is no Bush-land!” and “Throw a shoe at him, make him go away!”

The event’s organizers did not care to disclose how much the ex-president was paid for the appearance, although admission for what was billed as “Conversation with George W. Bush” did cost a cool C$3,100 (= $2,441 or €1,857) per person. For anyone who cares, it seems Bush’s inevitable book will be shaped around his “12 hardest decisions.” Despite what people were paying, he declined while in Calgary to go into any further detail about which decisions those were.

UPDATE: And what would any George W. Bush public appearance be without at least one accompanying malapropism? Scott Horton from Harpers has the details here. The Politiken article did not mention this (the English vocabulary at issue was maybe too advanced); I had read of Bush’s “authoritarian” comment elsewhere, but not from the European press.

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The Secret of Happiness – Revealed!

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Well! That takes care of that! Chalk one off your list of “deep questions I’d like to have answered”: the leading Danish daily Politiken recently came out with an article, from reporter Vinni Yang Søgaard*, called How to buy yourself to happiness. The lede:

You can buy yourself a happier life – it’s merely a matter of using your money right, new research shows.

So what’s the secret? Well, let’s get one thing straight first: this article is not about Ms. Søgaard’s ruminations on this subject, but rather her reporting on the research of psychology Professor Ryan Howell from San Francisco State University. Actually, let’s get two things straight: that old saw that money per se does not bring happiness is actually true, that is, you can be perfectly happy with less money.

Right, right – so what’s the secret? Well, the key is “experiences, not possessions.” It’s not things that will make you happy; it’s experiences – like going to a play, eating at a restaurant, and travel, especially travel – that will do that, particularly when undertaken as a social activity together with family and/or friends. “Life-experiences namely provide a feeling of solidarity and of being alive,” Søgaard writes. They fulfill a person’s higher needs beyond the basics of food, shelter, and security – shades here of Maslow, although his name is nowhere explicitly mentioned – higher needs, however, which must be met for a person to count him/herself as truly happy.

The point is stockpiling happy memories, which will stay with you for a long time (you “store” them, according to Prof. Howell), certainly for a longer time than the pleasure you derive from merely gaining possession of some new thing, no matter what it is (even your very own “McMansion,” I suppose). As for money, it is useful only as a means to gain these sorts of long-to-be-remembered experiences; any mistaken reverence money per se has gained for itself is a misunderstanding, as it is only good for that (and, of course, for handling those “lower” needs).

So there you have it! Now that we have all seen the light, I look forward to running into you in short order somewhere in the Swiss Alps, joining me in some BASE jumping (that’s hurtling off of high cliffs with only a parachute).

* By the way, I intend to inform Ms. Søgaard about this blog-post (as I usually do when the reporter’s e-mail address is made available; Danish papers are particularly good in this regard), and will add the recommendation that she officially change her name very, very slightly to “Yinni Yang Søgaard.” Besides being much cooler, that also seems to me the sort of name she should really carry if she intends to go around writing articles on deep questions of philosophy.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan is a tad late, but offers here his own commentary on this study.

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US Nuclear Weapon Abandoned in Greenland

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Don’t get too alarmed: it happened back in January, 1968, when a US B-52 bomber with four nuclear bombs on board crashed a few miles from an airbase near Thule, Greenland – then, as now, a self-governing province of Denmark. The first real problem was that there weren’t supposed to be nuclear weapons there in the first place, as the Danish had only approved the base for use in monitoring for a possible Soviet ICBM attack on the US over the North Pole, not as having anything to do with nuclear weapons themselves. And secondly, only three of those bombs were recovered from the crash site, but US authorities kept quiet about that, instead maintaining that all the weapons had been destroyed in the crash. In reality, three months later they sent a submarine to the area to look some more for the weapon, but with instructions for the officers in charge to lie about their mission to the Danish authorities, stating instead that they were there simply to survey the sea-bottom. (more…)

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Outside, Looking In, Amid a Financial Storm

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

It was heartening to read, from this European vantage-point, the article about Suddenly, Europe Looks Pretty Smart in the New York Times last Saturday, mainly describing the European “bailout plan that has now set the pace for Washington, not the other way around, as had been customary for decades.” At the same time, so far the poster-child victim of the financial crisis has been poor Iceland, a country that is rapidly running out of foreign exchange with which to pay for any imports and so is in contact with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue. But Iceland has gotten some company in the IMF petitioners’ ante-room recently from (among others, but just to name a European country) Hungary. The three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – are likely soon to join them there, although of course the European Union is also offering its own assistance.

So Europe may look “pretty smart,” but still European countries can suddenly find themselves in a deep financial hole in the present dire international conditions – yes, even EU member-states like Hungary and the Baltics. The one common denominator that seems to remove a European state from vulnerability, though, is membership of the Euro-zone, i.e. those 15 states out of the 27 member-states of the EU who use the euro as their common currency. Hannes Gamillscheg of the Frankfurter Rundschau recently picked up on this phenomenon (The guardians of the crown – alone) but from the point-of-view of a couple of those countries now outside the Euro-zone who in the past have explicitly rejected opportunities to come inside, namely Denmark and Sweden. (So the “crown” in the article’s title refers to the two different “crowns” that are those countries’ currencies.) (more…)

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The Speech: From Berlin to Denver

Friday, August 29th, 2008

He came out to the podium, he gazed out upon the 80,000 upturned faces aglow – and then last night Senator Barack Obama laid out his vision for his presidential campaign and for the presidency presumably to follow.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying here to push any Republican-inspired “Messiah” or “Moses-parting-the-seas” irony to cast last evening’s events in a disparaging light. Indeed, it was an impressive spectacle – complete with letter-perfect weather! – that itself rightly dominated the news-cycle and to which reactions still dominate that news-cycle this morning.

The same is not quite true in Europe, which has plenty else to talk about today, but Barack Obama’s speech has still gotten plenty of attention even now (i.e. as your EuroSavant writes this), less than 12 hours after it was delivered. Let’s again start with reactions from those who were vouchsafed their own up-close look at the Senator’s speechifying, last July in Berlin, namely the Germans. (more…)

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Top Pharma

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Congratulations to Carlos Sastre, who yesterday won the 95th Tour de France, but let’s also issue a shout-out to his doctors, who managed the difficult feat of doping him up over a grueling 23-day tour well enough so that he could win the thing, but not too well, so that anything untoward would show up on any test (but was any sort of sample ever taken from Sastre? – the article does not say) and/or any particular day’s achievement would appear so out-of-the-ordinary as to raise the usual suspicions.

Still, if you look at that article (it’s the coverage from the NYT, which I am wont to link to when it’s just a matter of giving you a source for the simple facts, ma’am, about some event that has happened; it seems like English is the best language to go with in that situation), there is mention of a “surprisingly strong ride in the final time trial.” Hmm – “surprisingly strong,” and the article also notes that Sastre knew very well that it was specifically the time trials that he would have to do better in during the Tour, in order to finally win the thing after coming up short so many times before. Floyd Landis, you might recall, also had a “surprisingly strong” stage two years ago when it looked like he was falling behind and would lose his overall Tour lead; that was when he flunked the doping test he was administered immediately after. I ask again: was Sastre tested after that “surprisingly strong” time trial stage? (more…)

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The Tour and “Second Generation” Epo

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Some things in life are entirely predictable. The sun comes up in the morning to the East; bears carry out their excretive functions in the woods; the Pope admits to being a practicing Catholic; and, one after the other, riders in the Tour de France are caught and banned from the race for doping offenses. The latest two-wheeled transgressor, Riccardo Ricco – not to be confused with Cuban band leader and husband-of-redhead Ricky Ricardo – had actually already won two of the Tour’s stages; his ejection from the competition led his entire team, Saunier Duval-Scott, to voluntary withdraw from the Tour as well. (Oh, and I’m reminded of yet another entirely predictable thing by the line in that New York Times article linked to above that reads “On Sunday, after Ricco’s second stage victory, he angrily denied allegations that he had suspect blood levels or that there was any reason for him to be targeted by French antidoping officials.”) (more…)

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Presidential Divorce?

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Maybe we can turn this resuscitated weblog into an international scandal-sheet! You heard it here first!

What did you hear? That the marriage between the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife Cécilia is on the rocks. Interestingly, it’s the foreign press, not the French, that is reporting that all that is lacking in the presidential couple’s break-up is the formal announcement. First of all, it was apparently American journalists (which ones or who they write for, however, are not specified) who picked up on remarks Nicolas Sarkozy made on 30 September to Georgian President Saakashvili – they were attending the France-Georgia match of the rugby world cup tournament – to the effect that he could easily see himself as a bachelor again in the near future. And the Nouvel Observateur reports that the Tribune de Genève maintains that the Sarkozys are essentially already separated. For one thing, the Sarkozy’s had been discussing all summer for the benefit of the press their detailed plans of finally moving into the presidential (Elysée) palace come September – yet September has come and gone, and nothing has happened. Then there was the recent state visit to Bulgaria, also noteworthy for Cécilia’s absence – and under normal circumstances she would have been very glad to go to Bulgaria, where authorities wanted to fête her there in grand style in thanks for the very personal role she played earlier this year in securing the release of five Bulgarian nurses, accused of infecting children in their care with AIDS, from their Libyan jail. (more…)

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High-Tech Poker Conquers Denmark

Sunday, April 17th, 2005

Ludomani – there’s your Danish word for the day, meaning “compulsive gambling.” Plagues to society are one of my fascinations, and so will often be encountered on these pages, but make that plagues to rich societies. Europe is after all my self-appointed beat. So don’t expect to come to EuroSavant and find anything about the mysterious Marburg virus stalking Angola, for example. Instead, take a situation where national payment systems evolve to the point where you can send money almost anywhere, almost instantly; and where you can receive anywhere, on your mobile telephone, attractive, easy-to-look-at data. Two “goods,” right?, which must characterize a nation riding modern technology’s leading edge. Unfortunately, as the Danes are now finding out, what all this must also mean, sooner or later, is an explosion of high-tech gambling – and ludomani. (more…)

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Monopoly for Danish in Denmark?

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

OK, OK, we’re back to serious again, although we remain in Denmark. The main serious thing that is happening there currently is that there’s an election campaign going on, heading for a vote scheduled for February 8. Here is CNN’s coverage if you want a little background; basically the incumbent premier, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is currently doing well in the polls, is required to hold a general election sometime this year, and so would to prefer to do so now.

But I don’t expect you to care. Shoot, I don’t care myself. If you send your web-browser to EuroSavant expecting at all to read Danish election coverage on any sort of regular basis, well, then you clearly misunderstand the wildly-scattershot quality that is central to this weblog’s self-conception. (Look, I’ve got eight languages to cover – don’t forget to include English! – and a focus that, if it even merits that name, shifts abruptly and unpredictably with my very whim.)

No, we don’t care about the upcoming election to the Danish Folketing (that’s their unicameral parliament) per se; what we might care about is the remarkable or even silly things that the pressures of such an election campaign might move Danish political parties and/or politicians to utter. And we have a prize specimen here today, from Politiken: Danish People’s Party Wants to Forbid Other Languages. (more…)

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Munch’s “The Scream” Stolen

Sunday, August 22nd, 2004

Danish newspapers (take for example Politiken) are reporting on-line today that there was a robbery by several armed men of the Edvard Munch museum in Oslo. (None of the accounts state when this happened.) Among the paintings stolen was Munch’s world-famous work “The Scream.”

I’ll let other commentators, once they come on-line with this themselves, expand upon the truism that that particular painting provides an unparalleled representation of the modern condition, especially in these terrorist-filled times. What I’d just like to know now is how these criminals think they will be able to earn any money from their theft by selling such a famous work. Maybe to a “Dr. No”-type unscrupulous millionaire for his private collection? Or perhaps they simply intend to hold it for a ransom from the Norwegian (or European, or the world’s) people?

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