What will Obama do? (and something about parenting)

Andrew Sullivan does some deliberation and a bit of wishful thinking in The Sunday Times. It hasn’t been published online, but probably will be tomorrow or some time next week. Here’s a couple of quotes to wet your appetite:

On Israel, perhaps, we will see the biggest shift. Obama has so far been preternaturally silent on the Gaza bombardment, in deference to the “one president at a time” mantra and because he knows full well that if he were not about to become president, the Israelis would not have launched their attack.

(…)

Obama almost certainly believes, for example, that no one is enjoying the Gaza disaster more than Iran’s government, and that Tehran’s more radical mullahs fear nothing more than fighting an election at home while Obama appeals to the Iranian people over their heads. It is perfectly reasonable to be confident that Obama threatens President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in ways that Bush never managed. I hope at least.

I hope that too!!!

Make a search for this article on The Times webiste some time tomorrow (try “Andrew Sullivan Obama”) or enjoy his sharp and immensely popular blog on The Atlantic.

On an entirely different subject I enjoyed and agreed with (would I have enjoyed it if I didn’t agree?) another article, this one by Rachel Johnson. Actually, she quite often annoys me, but in a way that makes me read her columns anyway. She blogs too. The article is about a certain kind of British middle class parents, of whom I’ve already met quite a few. They are a bit scary!!! She writes:

We’ve all become grimly used by now to the excesses of hyper-parenting – it’s been richly documented over the past decade as more and more university-educated parents, often former career girls turned full-time mothers, have diverted energy and ambition from the boardroom to the playroom. Even so, this now constant, almost compulsory, blurring of boundaries between parent and child takes the horror to the next level.

(…)

Moreover, according to the clinical psychologist Oliver James, parents who bathe in the glory of a child’s performance can be hugely damaging. “It’s disastrous if children’s achievements are used as vehicles for the parents’ prestige,” he says. “Then the withdrawal of love is only a tiny mistake away.”

(…)

If you subsume your identity into that of your child, you are, according to the psychologists, enmeshed. That’s shrink-speak for “disturbed” and it means you can’t get your kicks in your own right but only through your offspring and their achievements, and are flagging up a desperate form of displaced narcissism. And yes, you probably need urgent help.

I’m sure my Danish readers are all going: “You must be kidding!” But no, I’m not – this is British reality. I’m hoping that my Danish voice of reason will always be there to kick me in the behind should I start acting like this. But I believe that I could never live my life through my children. I have ambitions for my own life, which are not yet fulfilled!

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Tools for a better understanding of conflicts

I’m trying my hand with some new podcasts now that I’m exercising three times a week. You can hear a lot of podcasts in 4-5 hours! One I listened to today was BBC’s technology podcast called Digital Planet. It was surprisingly good and this episode focused almost exclusively on the Gaza conflict. Some of these wonderful Open Source people have developed a debate wiki called DebateGraph, which encompasses all the stand points and all the arguments in the Gaza conflict and shows them in a graphic way. I’ve been trying to embed it here on my blog, but I just can’t get WordPress to do it. What kind of media is a wiki exactly, anyway? But click here and have a good look at it. The British newspaper The Independent has been more successful than me, it’s embedded on their website and they are presently using it to show “What Obama should do next”. Really marvellous tool!

Digital Planet also mentioned another tool called Ushahidi, originally developed for the conflict in the Democratic Replublic of Congo, which monitors all sources to find out the correct number of casualties. This one is adopted by Al-Jazeera.

A couple of other news tit-bits from around the world: Obama has, in yet another show of supreme insight in how the media works, released a letter he’s written to his two little girls here only a few days away from his inauguration. Read it in its entirety here. There’s also an interesting letter going in the other direction, namely the star of the blogosphere Arianna Huffington‘s letter titled “Moving forward doesn’t mean you can’t look back”. It’s about America not closing its eyes to the crimes committed by the Bush/Cheney administration. She quotes George W.

As for the economy, Bush insisted, “I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted growth.” Which is kind of like saying the flight of the Hindenburg was fabulous up until the landing.

Which reminded me that I still haven’t seen Bush’ farewell address. It’s a must-see, I think. With remarks like that!

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Dutiful parents…

… as we are, we tried to do something meaningful with Dane over the holidays. Possibly the best bit was finally getting up in the London Eye, which we’ve been talking about and meaning to do ever since we came over here. It was David’s birthday, so we wanted to combine something enjoyable for him with something enjoyable for Dane. They have a pretty good queuing system for the London Eye – first you queue for less than 1/2 hour to get your tickets. Then it says on the tickets, when you have to report back to another queue. After that it’s only another 1/2 hour. For us it was perfect – there was just time for a nice lunch a bit further down the river. Here are a couple of pictures – luckily it was sunny, but with ominous clouds, which lend quite some drama to the pictures.

London skyline with some bad weather coming
While we were still waiting
While we were still waiting

Later on we wondered around London for a few hours. I wonder if I’m quite normal. The two shops in London, which I feel I soon know inside out are the Apple Store and Hamley’s. Shouldn’t it be Harrods and Selfridges? Or Waterstone’s?

But since inside photographs from those two shops would probably be rather dull, here’s a picture from an encounter Dane had with two nice, elderly gentlemen in New Bond Street.

Its Roosevelt and Churchill in case you were wondering...
It's Roosevelt and Churchill in case you were wondering...

More pictures, also from Halloween and bonfire night here.

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Close to home

Ripley bonfire 2008
Ripley bonfire 2008

Yesterday was Ripley Bonfire Night – one of the year’s biggest events in our neighbouring village where Dane goes to school. The entertainment starts with a procession of floats through the town. It’s not a very big town, so this year’s five floats were a record, I heard. Dane’s class at school were in charge of the school float. The chosen theme this year was to celebrate that the school has become a Primary School, so it was something with launch and rockets… The parents – some more than others (find me in the latter category) – worked hard on creating a spectacular float. Unfortunately we didn’t win the float competition. The girl scouts (called Brownies in this country) won with a float on the theme of the Narnia Chronicles.

The floats just finished - five hours before the procession.
The float's just finished - five hours before the procession.

There were around 10.000 people in Ripley, so there were a lot of spectators along the way. After the procession the bonfire was lit and then there was an impressive fireworks display. After that we were tired and went home for some tea and cheese sandwiches – with sore feat after hours of standing.

Dane with sweet teacher Mrs. G.

Today the weather has been really, really awful – although it’s cleared now and there’s the most spectacular sunset – so we’ve stayed in all day. First it was the usual – a couple of hours of Sunday Times. Dane has worked out the Catch up TV, so he spent the morning catching up on his favourite programmes on CBBC. Then we played Star Wars monopoly for I don’t know how many hours. Dane won – without cheating on anybody’s part. Now it’s time for me to get out of my chair and into my kitchen. The menu says Vietnamese prawn and cauliflower coconut curry. Hope it’ll turn out as nice as it sounds. Then it’ll be time for some serious TV watching – all the programmes we’ve recorded in the past week. First and foremost Merlin, a wonderful series for the whole family on BBC. We enjoy every minute of it!

The central cast in the tv series Merlin
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There’s still hope!

Here’s a very happy story from the real world:

When we were on our holiday on the south coast we spent a day in Portsmouth at the Historic Dock Yard. Unfortunately Dane forgot his purse with (too much) money in it, in one of the museum shops there. As we were deliberating our options at home, the phone rang. It was a nice lady from the Surrey Wildlife Trust. She had had a call from a police station in Portsmouth that a purse had been found with a membership card to the Surrey Wildlife Trust in it. On it was Dane’s name, so the lady went on to the membership register, found us and called. She had a name and a number for the PC at the police station. I called the number several times but couldn’t get through. In the meantime we were back home, so I sent an e-mail to the main police station in Portsmouth. I got a reply from another nice lady with the name and phone number for an other PC at the local police station. It turned out that this particular police station is under the MOD (ministry of defence) and thus can’t be found on the Internet or in the phone book. There I spoke to another lady who could confirm that the purse had been found with all contents still in it, but alas, there was no way she could send it by post – not even using some of the money in it. It would have to be picked up by us in person. Portsmouth is quite a distance from here, so I asked if it would still be there around Christmas time, when we were planning to be back. She confirmed that and I resigned myself to being happy that the purse was found at all. It means a lot to Dane – it was bought in the Blue Mountains in Australia and it had a picture of himself and his best friend from Denmark in it.

A few days later the nice lady from the Portsmouth central police station sent me another e-mail to ask if the problem had been solved. I told her yes, but that we’d have to go there and pick it up in person. She thought that was rather annoying and asked if I would mind if she went down there and picked it up herself and then sent it off to me? If I’d mind??? You gotta be kiddin’, I could not believe anybody would be that kind. As it turned out, she could not pick it up, because she wasn’t a PC. So what did this lovely woman do? She got one of the police officers at her station to go and pick it up for her! And then she sent it – registered mail – to us.

Dane was thrilled to bits! And so was I. Isn’t it lovely that there are still people who will go out of their way to do a little something for others?

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Music

When I was a child and a teenager I was seriously teased at school. It was a pain to go there and I can still recall the sense of relief every afternoon when I got off the bus and was finally away from my tormentors. Music was my relief. Since I was around 10-11 I played (first the violin, later the viola) in a youth symphony orchestra every week and often in the weekends as well. We also went on tours in Europe. Nobody teased me there and the fantastic feeling of creating the music together gave me a feeling I cannot put into words. But I’m certain that “music saved my life”.

Picture of Julian Lloyd Webber as a child – from DLWP.com

I was reminded of that when I read about a new initiative taken by Julian Lloyd Webber, the cellist (not the musical composer, that’s his brother). Read about it here. More here. It’s about taking music to deprived children in a project named In Harmony. It has been done with incredible success in Venezuela and other places in a project called El Sistema.

I wish the project best of luck – I’m sure it will help in getting some children off the streets and give them joy and maybe even a purpose in life.

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School buses

On our trip through America we often marvelled over the school bus system. Wherever we were, we saw school buses everywhere and we noticed how they enjoyed very special privileges over any other vehicles on the road. All traffic stops, when the school bus does. It is just so not done to overtake a school bus, no matter what the road conditions are like.

Picture taken in Mississippi, if I remember correctly. It’s a tired old bus this one.

Since coming here I’ve often wondered why they don’t use them. Except for very urban areas, the public transportation here isn’t that fantastic and even if there were a bus, you can’t send your primary school child on a public bus to school unless it stops in the actual school grounds or there are traffic wardens in place where they get off the bus. Where we live, there’s not a bus Dane can safely take to school. So like all the other parents at his school I dutifully drive him to and from school every day. Don’t get me wrong – I actually cherish the moments alone with him in the car. There are few places or occasions where you get a more free conversation with your child than in the car.

But I still think it would be wonderful with a school bus. For several reasons: The parents – it’s stressful to do the school run, there’s loads of traffic and you’re constantly worried about either being late for work in the morning or being late for pick-up in the afternoon. And there’s the cost of petrol and the wear and tear of the car – by now we’ve all learned that it’s the short trips that wear the car out and which are most expensive in petrol. Then there’s the general congestion. I don’t recall the number, but it’s an astonishing amount of cars that would not fill the roads, if school buses became generally used in this country. And not least, there’s the environment. There’s a lot of CO2 emissions saved on that account. And – for the children, there’s the not so small matter of security – it’s a lot safer to drive in a dedicated school bus with a certified school bus driver than to drive with stressed-out mum or dad. And it’s more fun too – you get to travel with all your mates.

So, as David Blunkett, the chairman of the Yellow school bus committee, said: It should be a no-brainer. But apparently the unions have complained that the children should much rather go by public transport. ‘Scuse me, but that’s the no-brainer here. If sufficient, safe and on-time public transportation was to be found, would everybody drive their kids to school? And besides, what about all the nice new members the union would get?

I’m writing about it today because it’s on the news. The above mentioned committee published their report yesterday.

Anyway, now it’s up to the politicians to figure out if we’re going to have school buses in this country. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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A little Obama and a lot of other stuff

Slate, New York Times, The American Prospect, Megan McArdle and a lot of sites that they’re linking to discuss the Obama speech. They seem to agree that it was a good speech, but not fantastic. He is an oratory master and has made so many good speeches during his brief career, that he’s made it difficult for himself. But see for yourself! While looking around all the politics sites, interesting news popped up – John McCain’s most unusual choice of veep candidate – the completely inexperienced, but young and female Sarah Palin. Check Wikipedia as the article is probably developing as we speak (or whatever it is we’re doing). Oh, how I love Wikipedia!

After one of my neighbours told me that I was not alone in experiencing faulty Internet here in our convent (thick, thick walls) and also was kind enough to tell me what he’d done to remedy it, I’ve become the very happy owner of three HomePlugs. OK, not exactly another step towards the wireless home – but oh, my Internet just works wonderfully – at full speed now. It’s like a big plug –  into the mains, one connects to the router with an ethernet cable and the others connect from the mains to my computer wherever I want to work. No installation whatsoever, just plug’n’play! Lovely, lovely, lovely!

So naturally I’ve been surfing around all day long and found lots of lovely stuff out there:

On happiness I’ve found a couple of good posts. They are both lists of things to do to be happier and not exactly groundbreaking science. But I still think they’re good and absolutely worth reading and maybe even memorizing. It’s Gretchen from The Happiness Project, but writing on another blog. And it’s from Pick the Brain about happy people’s habits. Btw Gretchen has a post on how to spot when you’re boring people…

On the TED blog I had to pick a few or the rest of the day would go with watching all these incredible people tell about their dreams and achievements. So this Indian guy with his hole-in-the-wall project took pride of place – he has put computers (with Internet) in holes-in-walls in remote places in India and discovered that any child between 5 – 14 can teach him- or herself and loads of other kids to use a computer in a few months. They even teach themselves basic English to do so. He quotes someone for saying “if a teacher can be replaced by a computer – replace him”. True! If the teacher can’t be better and more emphatic and inspiring than a computer, why have one?

When I started my origami craze I had no idea that it had somehow become “modern“. But clearly it has and I find that quite funny. Here’s a math professor who’s taken origami to a whole new sphere – using his math skills to do so. It’s downright incredible!

On the Long Now blog there’s a post by Brian Eno, who’s new album with David Byrne is on my to-buy list. It’s got absolutely raving reviews in the papers here and I am looking forward to hearing it. The post is about what happens to a society when it’s united in and committed to a very long-term project.

Jeff Jarvis writes about Paulo Coelho’s online presence. I must admit, I didn’t know about it and I’ve never read a book of his, although it’s probably about time that I read The Alchemist, which has apparently inspired many people. I’ve certainly noticed his books in prominent places in the bookshops. His website is very professional and informative and – where he differs from most other authors – there’s lots to read and download for free.

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A family holiday in pictures

We only had weather like this one whole day. Trust me that we enjoyed it from breakfast on the terrace till stargazing on the beach at night. This picture is taken from the front door of the family summer house, just to give you an idea. We’re in Pagham, Sussex.

 

David caught a mackerel and ate it!

Linda is showing off her wellies! Low tide and high winds.

 

Notice the “door steps”. When the tide is high, it really is. The road along the harbour is flooded on a daily basis! This is Bosham, Sussex.

Hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows is just the cure for a rainy day!

We went to Portsmouth and toured the Victory, Admiral Nelson’s ship at the battle of Trafalgar.

 

The plaque commemorating that Nelson fell here on this exact spot and a view heavenward, where you can get an idea of the weather conditions!  We can really recommend Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for a day or two out – also when the weather is good! We had a great time!

And here’s what we did when it just poured with rain (there wasn’t room for anything as prosaic as playing cards in this picture, but we did play a lot of Canasta and Estimation Whist):

(don’t bother burgling us – we always sleep with our Iphones and most of the gear isn’t ours anyway…)

 

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Will the sight of a boy in a tree become a rarity?

It’s Dane up there in the trees!

The Times and quite a few other media have the story today about a study made by GE Money Bank. The study shows how we spend much more money on boys than on girls. The boys’ sports gear and electronics cost a lot more than the odd bangle, pink mobile phone or black-black eye-liner. A reader comments quite sensibly that we’re still treating boys and girls differently in ways that we shouldn’t (will come back to the ways that we should): Namely for instance by choosing to call a girl’s tennis lessons or music lessons “luxury” while a boy’s football lessons are “necessary”.

The Times then links to an article that so much speaks my heart. How boys just can’t handle sitting down for hours on end and how we’ve become scared of our own shadows and won’t let children out to climb trees and play with the neighbours the way children used to. I agree, traffic is a lot worse than it used to be. But it seems to me that many parents fear the big media beast “the male abductor” even more. Although he’s less prevalent now than he ever was. Also, I so often hear how just about everything is dangerous, the children could fall and hurt themselves. Yes, that’s true. But if we overprotect them throughout their childhoods and never let them experience the consequences of  this and that in relatively safe surroundings, then how will they get along when they grow older and have to?

When I was a little girl – and my parents were very protective of me – I was still allowed to take the bus on my own to school every day. Jaws would have dropped if any of the children had been driven by their daddies to school. Today I think the jaw dropping has reversed. If you don’t drive your child to school in your big gas-guzzling “safe” 4WD, you’re just not doing right by him or her. I walked on my own to violin lessons once a week, right through the neighbourhood where another little girl had just been gruesomely killed. But my mother reasoned that as long as I didn’t stray and didn’t go with strangers – and I had to solemnly promise this many, many times – I would be fine! And I was.

In my child’s preschool (in Denmark) we several times experienced what I found to be weird and very irrational uproars from parents. Once was when a boy fell off the climbing structure and broke his leg. A cry for the instant demolition of the climbing structure. Luckily the school didn’t fall for it. Picture a playground without a climbing structure! YAWN!!! Another time was when my son fell and hit his head on the edge of one of the milk crates they played with endlessly. He had TWO stitches and was perfectly OK the next day. But instantly a cry from some parent to have the milk crates removed. Playground with no climbing structure and no stacking of milk crates. Double YAWN!!! And in a fluke accident with another preschool, a little boy was killed when a tourbus he was a passenger on collided with a tractor. A terrible accident. My heart goes out to everyone involved. But it was the type of accident you can only avoid if you stay in bed for the rest of your life. But some parents instantly said that they would never let their child be transported by bus ever again. Despite the fact that all statistics show that the most dangerous means of transportation on the Globe is daddy’s car…

Oh well, those articles really got me going. Time to cook some supper!

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Days in and days out

My oldest son Emil and his girlfriend Ida are spending some time with us this week. Where we’ve hardly been up to London since we got here, obviously the two youngsters didn’t want to miss out on the big city. And they wanted me and Dane to come along (David was away on business). So we all took the train from Woking to Waterloo. It only takes 20 minutes, so it’s really not such a big deal.

Also our friends Lotte and David were in town with their son, Dane’s best friend, Adam.

We trotted around a bit without any particular aim, but then Ida wanted SHOPPING and Dane wanted HAMLEY’S… So Emil let himself be dragged round crowded clothes shops (sale’s on!) and I let myself be dragged round Hamley’s – five floors of toys. Only the the girlie-floor can be avoided… Anyway, Dane was quite good about it and I got off lightly…

We met up with our friends and spent the afternoon together. We had dinner in an Iraqi restaurant on Edgware road. After dinner we tried to find a place to have a cup of coffee, that wasn’t completely crowded and also would accommodate our two little boys. All the Neros, the Starbucks and the Costas were either crowded or with only inside seating, so we just trotted on and on. In the end we were rewarded – we found a little French Café, the French Bakery, in James Street (off Oxford Street) where we had lovely coffee, good sweets and great service. From Waterloo we made it home in exactly 34 minutes (including taxi from Woking – Dane was too tired to walk – it was after all 11 pm).

We tried to make the most of Emil’s and Ida’s stay, so the next day we did a barbecue with David’s cousin Karen and her two boys Robert and Max. We sat out all evening and enjoyed the rare balmy night.

 

In the weekend we took a longer trip to the CLA Game Fair in Oxfordshire at Blenheim Palace. Emil just absolutely had to visit the app. 50 suppliers of fishing equipment all present in one spot. His hands were practically shaking… (maybe I haven’t told you, but he’s an avid fisherman and has recently started fly-fishing). David is also rather mad about fishing, so Ida and I just tagged along, knowing that there would be lots of other things to look at. Although an extremely hot day, it was still nice and even Dane had a good time.

  

With two new fly-fishing rods aquired the obvious next step was of course going fishing.

No way that Ida, Dane and I wanted to stare at those two throwing their lines all day, so we spent the hot, hot day at Hampton Court Palace. We enjoyed it very much – Ida is a real castle & museum kind of girl, bless her! And Dane was at his very best behaviour, curiously interested in furniture, four poster beds and tapestries. He’s rather fascinated with Henry VIII. But then, he is a most fascinating character, isn’t he?

Now we’ve sent Ida and Emil home and are by ourselves again. David has spent three days doing our tax returns for both Denmark and England. An absolutely horrifying enterprise! All three of us are very happy that it’s done now!

What’s left now is to plan our holiday. You may laugh at this – planning your holiday after August 1st, but it was only in March we came back from six months of fantastic holiday and we’ve decided to go very low key and local this summer. We’ll spend some time with David’s sister and her family at the summer house on the coast in Sussex and then we’ll go and visit David’s older brother in North Wales. Dane has another five weeks left of his summer holidays, so we’ll also make some day trips to get to know this bit of England better.

More pictures with captions (see Emil’s three beautiful salmon trouts) on Flickr.

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No Europeans/Americans seem to be suffering…

… so I keep my money in my pocket; or what else is the reason for the missing donations towards the disaster in Burma???

I can see that the excuse is that the regime isn’t letting the help through. And of course that’s horrible. But some of the international aid organisations like Save the Children are already inside Burma and they are litterally pleading for more donations. So why don’t you donate some of your surplus right now!

I was thinking about the not-exactly-necessary things I’ve bought within the last couple of weeks. I won’t tell you all of it, because, frankly, it’s pretty embarrassing, but I’ve bought some handkies for my husband, a wall calendar to keep up with school holidays etc., white tea to satisfy my spoilt tastebuds, a cute shirt for Dane, Vanity Fair and eh, probably a lot more. So donating a few pounds towards people in real need hasn’t exactly bankrupted me! Nor will it bankrupt you, I suspect…

The next issue of course is what to do about that awful regime down there?!? Handing Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi the Nobel peace prize didn’t exactly do the trick, did it? And the international pressure seems to be making no impression on the generals whatsoever. Small wonder, when the bulk of “international pressure” seems to be directed towards the “evil regimes” in the middle east (and then there’s North Korea). China, who is the Burmese regime’s primary protector, is probably at the core of the problem here. Because the world leaders seem to be more than reluctant to put any kind of pressure on the Chinese, no matter if it’s about their oppressive regime at home or the protection of others’. Did you know that a good deal of the war in Iraq is actually financed by China? Well, it is, because China is lending money to the US on an scale hitherto unheard of. Read here and here. And now China has to deal with it’s own catastrophe, the earthquake. The timing couldn’t be worse!

On a favourite American news site of mine, Slate, they argue for a REAL “coalition of the willing”. Namely countries who are willing to intervene on behalf of the Burmese people against their leaders. France & Germany – have another go, please! And Britain – join a coalition that’ll do the world some good for a change. That goes for you too, Denmark…

Pictures from the New York Times

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