End of a Year

Hasn’t it been a strange year? It has for me. Started at a low, but ended well. Lots of ups and downs along the way. In a broader perspective I don’t know what to think! Obama is totally unpopular because he’s turned out to be only human and to constantly work for the consensus he’s always said he’d work for. This should be really strange, but isn’t, at least not in politics. Here’s a clip where he ads his five cents to the It Gets Better campaign. In the UK we got out in the nick of time – Oh me, can’t believe how Nick Clegg can sleep at night? Am told from people who move in the upper echelons of the British society that the only people NOT suffering from this deep crisis are exactly them, the VERY rich. The middle class is also feeling the pain, but it’s the working poor and the undeserving (that’s people who don’t work, no matter why) who are really feeling the axe. In Harrods, it’s business as usual.

In Denmark we have a conservative/nationalist government, which is luckily worn very thin. An election next year will bring some form of change, but I will not try to guess what it’ll be like. Hard, however, to imagine anything worse than what we’re experiencing now. The concept of “undeserving” as mentioned above is also very prominent here in Denmark. A very clever and passionate charity worker calls Denmark a “post-solidary society“. He’s right, but isn’t it sad?   I work for the Danish Refugee Council occasionally and that’s just so depressing. To get into the country is almost impossible with the Dublin regulation firmly in place and rigorously enforced, even though for instance Greece is totally incapable of receiving all these refugees and process their applications. Many countries in Europe have stopped returning refugees to Greece, but not Denmark. Obviously. Then to have your application granted is even harder. It’s like the bl**dy camel in the bible.

At my dad’s nursing home I regularly hear the old people abuse the immigrants who work there. And the management says that they can only admonish the staff, not the inhabitants. Imagine going to work every day, at the lowest possible pay, wiping people’s bottoms and then ON TOP listening to abuse for your skin colour and/or your (perceived) religion. I want to slap some of them. But you can’t, can you?

And then there are the wars. Everywhere there’s a war and in many places people who actually work actively to start one. Here, in my little segment of the privileged world it is totally and utterly incomprehensible. People get killed for no apparent reason and the dead are either totally innocent civilians or soldiers, recruited from the lower rungs of their society, more often than not without a clue what they’re getting into. That is clear from the books and stories we hear from soldiers coming home with their bodies but not their minds in one piece.

Our civil rights are threatened everywhere. And most people seem not to worry or care at all! Read here how the democracy United States of America is treating the 22 year old private Bradley Manning (allegedly behind the latest batch of  Wikileaks leaks). He has not yet been convicted of or even charged with a crime – nevertheless he’s treated like a convicted serial killer.

In many European countries you can now have your phone tapped or other measures taken against you without a court order. A great thing, however, is that the Danish court recently said NO, you cannot detain people because you THINK they are going to behave violently at a demonstration. Several hundred people were “administratively detained” before the COP15 summit in Copenhagen last year. But this is perhaps the only cheerful story among all the sad ones about how the “war against terrorism” is undermining the very society it’s supposed to protect.

In the midst of all the misery, there are still people who come up with amazing ideas and who are incredibly creative. I went to the TedXCph, which was a great event and there I heard some great speakers. The one that sat with me the longest was the most crazy and unlikely of them all. Had I been a smoker I might have missed it because the blurb was like “we want to build a mountain in Copenhagen”. You WHAT? Seriously. But I’m not a smoker and I did hear it. I suggest you hear it too. You must hang on till the second guy starts talking. He’s the kind of person who could sell sand in Sahara!

***

Christmas is the time of year where absent friends and family are most prominently on our minds. The ones I miss the most are the ones who are still alive, but who choose to not be around. On that account, I wish for a better 2011 and hope to understand my failings better.

I wish you all and our dear Earth a peaceful 2011.

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Back in the Native Land

Better known as Denmark. Denmark is the kind of country where one of the most publicised points in the new Plan to Save the Country from Economic Ruin is to cut child allowances for families with many children. As any idiot in this country knows, a Family with Many Children is a Brown or a Black family. To further alienate brown and black families, interpretation in hospitals and social services has now been cut to an absolute minimum. And, last but not least, Denmark’s development aid has also been cut.

I’m thinking that I have a copy of Dale Carnegie‘s How to Win Friends and Influence People in the original Danish translation. I could send it to the party leader of the Danish People’s Party (yes, that’s their name, directly translated. Yukk) in the hope she would understand that making friends is much better than getting enemies and alienating people. Or maybe not.

People ask me “What’s great about being back in Denmark?” and “What do you miss about the UK?”. Ah, well… I could say the weather:


But I would be lying. The weather hasn’t been better in the UK than here.

I could say the lovely people. That would be true for both coming back and leaving. I missed my friends a lot more than I’d thought I would – always imagining that we’d talk on FB, on the phone, on Skype and send lots of e-mails. This, however, hasn’t happened. Well, it has, with a few, but with the majority I’ve more or less lost contact except when I came to Copenhagen on visits. All rather strange in these modern times!

The lovely crowd of twitter-friends that I’m leaving behind will be much missed, as quite a few of them grew into so much more than “just” twitter-friends. Some of them are actually coming to visit me over the summer and I’m sooo thrilled! However, given the nature of how I met them, we’re in frequent contact – via FB, Skype and Twitter. I can’t say how much that pleases me!

I could say that I desperately miss British telly, radio and media and that would be absolutely true! If it weren’t for the brilliant phenomenon of podcasts (have I mentioned this before? Oh, I have? Really?), I think I would despair at the loss of R4, which has given me endless hours of pleasurable learning. Now I listen to DR’s (Danish public broadcaster) P1 which is not at all bad, but has recently been very severely hit by the government’s race for privatisation. You know how experience shows that privatisation leads to much better public service, entertainment, train services, hospitals, etc. You don’t know? Well, in all honestly, I can’t say I’ve noticed it either. But right wing governments seem to have this as a mantra. The small matter of missing data/research to support the claim is brushed under the ideological carpet.

On a lighter note, all the series that are my guilty pleasures, 24, Lost, The Good Wife, etc., are months behind here, so I’m not missing anything (and avoided Twitter when season finals were on). Which is good since I’ve had almost no time to watch telly in the month that I’ve been back.

Luck has had it that I’ve hit the ground running here as far as work is concerned. That has been a bit surprising, but surprising in such a nice way…

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What's for tea?

my teapot
my teapot

The first many times I heard this, I quietly wondered to myself, What do they mean? Earl Grey or Darjeeling? Slowly it dawned on me that tea (look it up, it’s a hot drink FFS) in this country often (but not always!) means the evening meal. But no, no, not as in dinner. Dinner is something grown-ups have. No, tea is for children. Something they have in the late afternoon instead of dinner. And dad is not there and mum doesn’t eat tea, erh. (Apologies to the lovely househusbands I know, but you know you’re in the minority).

There, now it’s clear isn’t it? Tea is an afternoon meal for children. This is where some of the world’s least interesting and innovative cooking takes place, molding young peoples taste buds for the future. I cannot tell you how that upsets me! I’ve been in many British homes and seen tea being cooked. What I’ve seen is pasta, mash, peas, carrots (yes, boiled), sausages, fish fingers, chips, lasagne, beans on toast and eh, what else? Rice perhaps?

I’m not saying that my darling young son eats everything I set in front of him, far from it. And he’s had plain pasta with Parmesan and butter and some cucumber slices on the side more times than I care to remember. But, he sits with us at the table, he sees and smells what I cook and he’s made to taste everything we eat, if not every time then at least once in a while.

I realise that the evening meal causes problems for some families. Dad comes home late, children need to go to bed early. But this is not the case in all families and not in weekends? And in families with bigger children, surely they can have an afternoon snack, have homework done etc., so have evening meal when dad comes home? I fear that it’s not always the time that’s the issue, but parents who give in to tradition or give up the fight to make children eat a varied and interesting diet. I mean, nobody forces mums to put a packet of crisps in a child’s lunch pack, or what?

My oldest son was as picky as the next child when he was younger, but I pushed on and pressured him to try stuff and if he didn’t eat all the stuff I cooked, he certainly saw it and smelled it. Today I can only think of a handful of foodstuffs that he doesn’t eat and he eagerly tries new stuff all the time. I know a few young persons of his age (21) in this country. Suffice to say that they are not exactly courageous when it comes to trying out different food stuffs.

Also, how does this strange habit encourage “real” family life? When do these families sit down and talk about things? Obviously, most days it’s just the usual, “What did you do in school?” “Nothing much” conversation that goes on, but without dinner time I don’t know when the three of us could discuss important political issues and moral dilemmas? It’s fine that children talk with dad in the car on the way to football and with mum in the car to school, but it’s important for children to experience the dialogue between mum and dad. Also when it’s not rosy. This way they can also experience that one day there’s disagreement, but the next day mum and dad are in unison on something very important!

OK people, rant over. Voice your disagreement, but please argue your case. I’ll sit down with a cup of tea now, you know, the fluid hot stuff off of tea leaves?

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Antagonism

View from window today. Hard to keep up the pessimism...
View from window today. Hard to keep up the pessimism...

Do you know that weird and distinctly unpleasant feeling when somebody around you actively dislikes you? There’s a mother in my son’s new school who at first seemed like a nice person. Very well groomed, pretty, nice language, etc. Engaged her in conversation (at “event”) to find out more about her. Very quickly I felt an extreme amount of condescension and wondered what I’d done to antagonise her so quickly? When I met her again a week or so later it was even worse. Such a horrible sinking feeling.

However, two things happened to put me somewhat at ease. The first thing was that at this second occasion I overheard her speak in the exact same way to several other people. The other that I was reminded of another woman I’ve met recently, also beautiful, well groomed and this one even married to a lovely man, who acts in the same way.

So I gather that I’m “a type” that this kind of women can’t be bothered with. This is very puzzling. It’s absolutely OK not to like me, there are lots of people I don’t like. But usually I get to know them before I decide whether I like them or not? (unless they say something really horrible in the first 3 sentences). A lovely friend I’ve got here in the UK says that I’m much more direct than most British and that this is very likely to put some people off. Well, that sure also put some people off back in Denmark, but I believe it could be worse here, where people never seem to say anything, even the most innocent, straight out.

I was ridiculously happy when my otherwise tolerant and super-easygoing husband, on his own accord and quite without prompting, said of the second woman: “I truly dislike her. Pity, because I like the husband.” Yeah!!! So wonderful to know that it wasn’t just me.

I always try hard, really hard, to put these things behind me, but as you can see from this post, I don’t find it easy. I think it’s to do with my background – I was seriously bullied as a child and frightfully lonely. Once I started in high school all was good, but I guess these things stick!

Another blogger and twitterer wrote about an episode of adult bullying recently. I so empathised with her! Actually, her audacious blog post brought good things with it, so read her next post as well.

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Like walking in water

is what my intellectual life has felt like lately. I’ve read a lot of very inspiring stuff but felt completely incapable of commenting on it in a way suitable for publication. But then I read how a children’s author found the courage to start writing: After decades of reading all the masters of both adult and children’s fiction, she’d built up a sizeable inferiority complex and felt incapable of writing anything of substance. But then she got the idea of approaching it the other way round. She went to the library and borrowed some really cr** children’s books and went home and read them. And then she read some more. And suddenly the writer’s block was gone  – ’cause anyone could write prose more engaging and interesting than what she’d just been reading.

So – after having read stuff by some of the world’s leading journalists and writers over the summer in Vanity Fair, Sunday Times, Wired etc., I’ve now stumbled around a bit and read some bits and bobs by more inferior writers and got my courage up :-)

I’ve been following the debate around Free. The debate started long before Chris Anderson’s book*, but it really took off after. And News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch has certainly stirred the pot with his claim that he’s very close to creating a pay-wall around his empire. What to think about all this? I’m still in doubt. I’m against downloading music without paying for it, but I happily use Grooveshark and Spotify to stream music. And I’m the first to say that the music industry has only itself to thank for its current predicament. I can still recall how my bosses in the Danish music industry laughed at me when I – in the very early 90ties – came home from a seminar in New York and told them that music was about to become digital and how that might have implications for copyright protection…

Would I pay for content? Yes, I think I would gladly pay for some content, if it were of high quality and delivered to me in a convenient and tailored format. I’m having news from BBC, Times of London, New York Times, The Guardian and Washington Post among others delivered to my computer and/or my phone on a daily basis. What if these could be tailored even more specifically to my needs and delivered in more reader friendly ways? Personally, I think micro-payment, as practised on Itunes and in the App store, is on the up and that our future credit card statements/phone bills will be full of miniature payments for all sorts of things, not only songs and apps, but news stories, TV-programmes, films, parking, bus tickets etc.

Anyway, if you haven’t followed the debate, here’s a few important articles on the subject: Anderson himself, Malcolm Gladwell’s dismissal of the idea, Murdoch’s vow to install a pay-wall, Andrew Keen‘s treatment of Pirate Bay and finally a summary on The Guardian’s tech pages (the best place to follow this debate, the Guardian’s online presence is by far the best on the web).

Another Big Story that I’ve been following over the summer is the story about the greatest swindler of them all, Bernie Madoff. Incredibly interesting and intriguing stuff! Vanity Fair is best for this story. Just go to their site and type in Madoff in the search field. The Guardian has collected everything about Madoff very neatly in one place if your time is too short for 3-4 VF articles…

Of course I’ve also been following the development in Iran – mostly via Twitter – and the situation in Afghanistan, which seems to deteriorate on a daily basis.

And then there’s the Birther movement and the “If Stephen Hawking had been English, he’d be dead” debate in the US. I absolutely love the latter – isn’t it just exceptional how the American right can get away with blatant lies. How can the people who work on Fox News and a whole host of other media spreading these insane rumours call themselves journalists? (Oh well, people who write about the latest shenanigans of 3rd rate TV stars also call themselves journalists – so much for that).

And I’ve been away on holiday – will not use the word st**cation – some of my Twitterfriends get sick when they hear the word – on the Sussex coast. We had a lovely totally holidayish time, kiting, crabbing, touring, playing Monopoly and Canasta, reading reading reading. Best book I read was Turbulence by Giles Foden. Absolutely brilliant – a must read. I’ll never badmouth the meteorologists again, promise! Above pictures are from holiday, inspired by Turbulence.

Finally, a recommendation. Youngest son Dane has been busy with scissors and glue since we came back. See the rather surprising results of his endeavours here.

* A funny aberdabei about Anderson’s book Free, is that it’s actually only free in the US. Over here we have to pay for it. So much for Free!

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Religious zeal – or what's worse

Politics:

An interview with Hanif Kureishi about what has happened to the world since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses. It’s very interesting and deserves to be read by anyone who takes an interest in these matters. Here’s a quote:

The Rushdie affair, Kureishi believes, transformed not just his own work, but also “the very notion of writing.” The fatwa “created a climate of terror and fear. Writers had to think about what they were writing in a way they never had to before. Free speech became an issue as it had not been before. Liberals had to take a stand, to defend an ideology they had not really had to think about before.” How have they borne up to the task? “The attacks on Rushdie showed that words can be dangerous. They also showed why critical thought is more important than ever, why blasphemy and immorality and insult need protection. But most people, most writers, want to keep their heads down, live a quiet life. They don’t want a bomb in the letterbox. They have succumbed to the fear.”

They also touch on the Danish cartoon controversy. I thought then and I still think that it was perfectly all right to publish those drawings, if they had been in some sort of context. The most controversial one, the one with the mullah with the bomb in the turban would probably had gone by quite unnoticed had it accompanied an article about one of those insane Islamic fanatics who we always see on videos thundering about the imminent demise of the Western World. But the context of the drawings, if anyone should have forgotten, was a purposeful attempt to insult Muslims. Plain and simple. Nothing else. And I find that despicable.

I’ve read several of Kureishi’s books and of course also seen the lovely My Beautiful Launderette, but bow my head and admit that I’ve never gotten around to read the Satanic Verses or any of Rushdie’s other books. I don’t like Rushdie much and, although I’m always preaching to others about not letting the artist overshadow the work, I guess that’s what’s influenced me so I haven’t read any of his books. I even have one or two on the shelf… It was the clever twitterer @howardsends who alerted me to the interview.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Here’s a video from a congressional hearing on climate change. You will have to see it to believe that so much nonsense can come out of the mouth of a grown up and totally sane looking suit-clad congressman. (notice how the girl behind him tries not to smile). Pointer (again) from Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic.

Here’s a good, reflective piece from Time Magazine about the Earth Hour.

IQ:

Thorough and well written review of important book about IQ as being hereditary or environmental. As with almost everything else, it’s not either or, it’s AND. Of course intelligence can be cultivated. And of course black people don’t have lower IQs than whites because of their race. And of course women don’t have lower IQs than men. As with any other gift you inherit from your ancestors you can either do something with it or not!

Tech:

If the management on NYT and International Herald Tribune are this dumb, there’s very little hope for the world!

Food:

How to use chopsticks. Instructional video. 90 secs. It works. Found on this interesting looking blog via Sheamus who never fails to twitter about interesting stuff.

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Musings before Mother's Day

Feminism:

It being Mother’s Day tomorrow, the Times has asked six women, mainly writers, to write a letter to their children at 21 (they all have young children) or to share the advice of their own mothers. Some of these letters are so, so beautiful. I didn’t just well up, I had to go and get a clean hanky out of the drawer. I like Sarah Vine’s and Justine Picardie‘s the best. Found on Tania Kindersley’s brand new blog.

The Times has also compiled a list of the most powerful Muslim women in Britain. An interesting read!

So, at 49, I’ve finally found a word that defines me: Geek Mum

Olivia James writes a very poignant piece about Mother’s Day. Read it if you have a troubled relationship with your own mother!

Food:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a weekly food column in the Guardian. If it wasn’t online I’d feel compelled to buy the paper every Saturday. Actually, I might do that anyway, the Weekend Guardian is a very good paper, lots of sustenance! Today it’s about flour. Also one of my pet causes. I buy almost all my flour freshly milled at the Farmers Market, not least the lovely spelt. It’s a totally different experience from the supermarket stuff. Hugh forgets to mention cornmeal – not the dreary stuff that you buy to thicken your gravy, but the real stuff. I use it in muffins, which then look beautiful and yellowish and as one of three types of flour in my sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.
Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.

I’ve promised Tania Kindersley to publish my recipe for Panzanella. It’s from The Blue River Café Cook Book. I hope they won’t sue me for copyright infringement…

Panzanella – serves 6:

  • 3 stale ciabatta loaves
  • 1 kg fresh, plum tomatoes, chopped, seeds removed, save juices (key to recipe is the tomatoes actually tasting of something)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed (I always dump them in boiling water for a bit to take the top of the “sting”)
  • Maldon sea salt (or similar) & freshly ground pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 red peppers – grilled until black & skinned, then chopped
  • 2 fresh chillies – not necessary
  • 100 gr salted, large capers
  • 100 gr salted anchovies (these can be ground to a paste and mixed with the dressing)
  • 150 gr black, pitted olives
  • 1 large bunch of basil

Cut the bread (preferably stale) into bite-sized chunks. Mix all “wet” ingredients and toss the bread chunks in this. Mix all ingredients. Don’t serve cold.

Science:

Also in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre again crucifies a number of journalists for their faulty and misleading interpretations of a scientific paper about prostate cancer.

I’ll never stop recommending TED. Probably the best source of ideas on the web. It never, never fails to inspire and to lift my spirits. Here’s about how to grow your own fresh air… What to do when you DO NOT have green fingers?

Tech:

A lot of people are – as usual – angry with the new design of Facebook. Maybe I’m easy, but I’m fine with it… Here’s one who doesn’t like it, but makes a good joke of it.

Here are some very useful tips about how to customise the new Facebook. I’ve already done it – I have some FB friends whose updates are rather boring, to be frank. But I still want to keep them as friends. Done!

I don’t find any reason whatsoever to doubt this story about the GRU and the FSB in Russia using cyber “weapons” against Georgia in the war. But then I’m not a great fan of the Russian Leadership.

Oh yes, and as an Iphone owner I’m thrilled to bits by this. Can’t believe I forgot to write about it earlier!

Politics:

An American soldier tells the moving story of when he accompanied a fallen soldier to his final resting place. Very touching and also enlightning. The Americans are good at honouring their fallen. Would be nice if they were as good – or even better – at honouring the wounded and crippled.

Here’s about the methods of torture applied by the CIA. You know, the ones sanctioned by John Yoo, as mentioned yesterday.

This sounds like a good plan. Geithner reveals how the US will deal with its toxic assets.

See, here’s what sets a respectable Republican apart from one you can’t respect. Please Sarah Palin, can’t you just go elk hunting forever?

How can this and this take place in the same country at the same time? It’s about the right to life on the one hand and the right to a dignified death on the other.

With a few exceptions, which are from my RSS reader, all of the above were harvested over 24 hours on Twitter. So don’t tell me twittering is a waste of time.

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Incentives for children & something about books

This discussion is probably eternal and will never be solved. I was deadset against that kind of thing – until I got my own children… I just don’t have the necessary parental skills to motivate my youngest to make an extra effort with his homework without using incentives. I see the point many people make, that once the job is done and the incentive is received, the child might slump into a stupor and the end result will be even worse. But I’m not quite sure that fits all age groups – I believe that incentives when they are young and learning all the basic stuff they’ll need to proceed successfully in the educational system can be good. Then comes the teen years, where the wiring is awry anyway. And – at a certain age, which I believe varies greatly from child to child, they will begin to understand the value of learning without incentives provided by us, the parents. Check out this story about a young Pakistani student.

The inspiration for this came out of this article in the New York Times. Not unusually, the pointer came from Marginal Revolution.

Here in the UK, incentives for children – also the very little ones – are all over the place. Gold stars and stickers are in every learning book for younger children – my young one loved and to a degree still loves it! In his school they get stickers for everything, which are put on their clothes so that everybody else can see. It’s for good behaviour, good spelling, strong effort, etc. etc. And there’s a weekly ceremony where the deserving children get a Certificate in front of the whole of the rest of the school. I don’t know that this works for all children – because the teachers try hard to give an equal number of certificates to all children. So some children, who don’t achieve very highly, will typically get a certificate for an effort or for good behaviour, while the high achievers get certificates for multiplication, reading, writing or whatever. But it most certainly works for mine!

Not exactly related, but I just stumbled over this on the School Gate blog on Times Online. It’s a Top Ten over books people lie about having read. Ha, that’s funny! I highlighted the three I’ve read. Cross my heart & hope to die. I HAVE read them!

If you also think that’s funny why don’t you make it into a meme and do the same thing on your blog and refer back to me. That would be interesting!

1. 1984 by George Orwell (42 percent) <Wonder what it would be like to re-read it now>

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (31 percent) <so far I’ve downloaded it to my Iphone…>

3. Ulysses by James Joyce (25 percent) <tried several times and gave up>

4. The Bible (it doesn’t say which testament! 24 percent) >read a chapter a day for a couple of years>

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (16 percent) <it’s good!>

6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (15 percent) <haven’t even considered reading this>

7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (14 percent) <it’s on the bookshelf…>

8. In Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (9 percent) <never got into Proust somehow?>

9. Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama (6 percent) <a neighbour has promised to lend it to me>

10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (6 percent) <haven’t considered reading this either, don’t like Dawkins>

I wonder why people lie about the Orwell book (more or less understand the rest). It’s so short and so easily read?!? And yes, I actually read it before 1984.

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How social networking must be corrupting our children…

because it’s not our fault, is it?

The British papers are all running after Baroness & neuroscientist Susan Greenfield today. She has a message that we can all use – it’s the Internet’s fault. Almost everything. Including Autism. Here’s in the Daily Mail. And – thank God – a less hysterical one in the Guardian.

The most interesting thing about this is that all of it is her opinion. In spite of being a highly respected scientist she apparently doesn’t need any kind of evidence for her claims.

As readers of this blog will know, I don’t really believe in this. I do, however, believe that we ARE changed by the web. Of course we are! It has totally changed the way we go about things, so in its turn, we are changed. But so did Gutenberg’s lovely invention, the industrial revolution and radio.

One of her claims is that after some years of exposure to the web, we can’t read longer passages any more and we can’t hold focus. I read more and longer articles than I ever have before, on line as well as off line – that’s a fact. I watch much less TV than I ever did. I e-mail with my friends and speak with them on the phone on the same level as I always have – maybe a bit more e-mail and a bit less telephone, but that’s more due to my friends being in Denmark than a change in behaviour. For me, nothing beats a café morning with good friends. And I know many young people who are the same – as much as they love staying in contact with their friends via Facebook, WOW, text messaging etc., they still gather IRL several times a week!

It might be true that our attention span has shortened. But I’m afraid my own attention span has always been short, so I really can’t judge that!

She also attributes Attention Deficit Disorders and the need for Instant Gratification to the web. I just don’t buy that! I find the need for Instant Gratification among the younger generations very disturbing and I constantly battle with my own children on this account. But my 7-year old has yet to take any interest in social networking or anything other than Googling answers to his eternal stream of questions. And he certainly suffers from a much too great need for instant gratification. But so do all his peers, including those whose conscientious parents keep them away from computer games and restrict their TV time!

I’m afraid that we – the parents – are to blame again. The last many, many years of total focus on material things has left us almost incapable of rewarding our children with none-tangible stuff. We reward them with chocolate, junk dinners, trinkets, toys, a trip to PLAYland etc etc. And I’d like to emphasize that I’m as guilty as anyone here! The trouble is, of course, that once you’ve started down that path, it’s so, so hard to reverse!

I would LOVE to discuss this on an informed level – with other parents, with anybody with a qualified opinion.

How do we teach our children the joy of anticipation?

As a little aside, here’s a story about how the Daily Mail and papers like it distort reality, so it fits in beautifully with the Public Opinion – or what it perceives it to be. It’s on the subject of poor little Christian children being bullied by Muslims at school.

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Procrastination

is another word I like a lot. My dear old Dad, bless him, has often said that the word procrastination defines him. I think that’s rather unfair, really. Except for the Mr. & Mrs. Perfect out there, we all do it! So there goes, Dad, I never bought it!

Although I in fact have been really efficient today I started the day procrastinating. While David took Dane to school, I browsed through the news over coffee and stumbled over a couple of odd pieces. I managed to control myself and NOT start blogging about them first thing, but to DO WHAT I HAD TO DO first. Which was homework for my last course of this my last semester of my BA in library- and information science. The course is about building large websites (=corporate portals) and is quite techie, which suits me just fine. But because academia is academia (can’t think of a better explanation, sorry!) most of the texts are 7-8 years old. Which is perfectly OK if your subject is ancient runes or hieroglyphs or even if it’s WWII. But I just find it very, very hard to believe that the best stuff available about the building of portals and content management was written 7-8 years ago!

However, it’s done and my conscience is clear! So now, off to the odd pieces. There was this good one about how to tackle a project and get it over with, quickly. I needed that one! And this sad article from Washington Post about how Bush has rewarded his cronies:

Less than two weeks before leaving office, Bush made sure the senior aides shared a new assignment, naming them to an obscure World Bank agency called the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

One of the Guardian blogs has a very thought provoking post about what to do with that Afghan fellow, who’s clearly guilty of something, but who’s been tortured so badly that he’s been reduced to a head-case? The post is by seasoned Guardian journalist Michael White.

Those of you who know me personally will probably know that I was always a fierce advocate of the MMR vaccine. A “scientist” published a paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism. It was just the one paper, but it had all the ingredients of A STORY in the press. And it became huge. Suddenly everybody knew a child with autism who’d had the MMR vaccine. The fact that ALL children back then had the vaccine, also children with autism didn’t get in the way of this scaremongering story. When it was revealed that the “scientist’s” data were falsified and that there is NO link WHATSOEVER between the MMR and autism, this wasn’t at all A STORY. So there was nothing, or almost nothing, about this in the media that people actually read or watch. Which led to a huge drop in children who’d had the MMR. And now we see the result. A veritable measles epidemic. Try reading about measles and think that if it hadn’t been for that “scientist”, but primarily if it hadn’t been for the media who never seem to take responsibility for anything, all these children and teens wouldn’t have to suffer the dreadful complications to measles. The illness would most likely have been extinct! Here’s the story from the Sunday Times.

Sunday morning I read an article (no, not an article, an excerpt from this book) that truly scared me. The writer James Lovelock states that we’re too late to save the planet, so all we can do – as Brits – is to save ourselves from the hungry hordes, fleeing their over-heated or flooded homes! It came much too close to the article about the honey-bee I read only a week previously. Have we really come to the brink of our own extinction? And why are we all sitting back doing next to nothing? Probably because it’s just too much for our brains to handle! What I found even more scary than the prospect of living on a diet of strictly local produce and not enough of it in 2030, was his suggestion that we need a “strong leader” like Churchill to guide us out of this mess – democracy is no good in such dire straits. I shiver to even write it!

On a less dire note, here are some recent tech news. Amazon has launched a new version of the Kindle. I still want one and I still can’t have one. There’s no news about when this lovely gadget will be available in Europe. It’s something to do with the difficulty of finding an agreement with our multiple phone companies. Hmfff. I want it soon, and so, I think, does my husband. Look here how many books I’ve bought inside the last 3-4 weeks. Admittedly some of them are for course work, but as you can see, not all of them!

Which one should I start reading first? Dont say Jakob Nielsen, please!
Which one should I start reading first? Don't say Jakob Nielsen, please!

Here’s a funny one – I bet my oldest son will like it. It’s about bragging of your World of Warcraft skills in your resumé… I would say it depends on the job, really, if it’s a good idea or not!

Speaking of games, here’s an odd piece. I don’t play myself, so the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. But of course – in games that are so life-like there would have to be pregnancies. And it’s fun to read how they go about the deliveries etc. Thanks to Torill for the pointer.

Oh me, dinner is served, says husband. That’s so nice, I have to go! Sorry for this messy, messy post…

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Serendipity

I just love that word, don’t you? Always looking for a chance to use it and tonight, while the boys were watching football, it presented itself. We’d just been watching episode five (on the wonderful BBC IPlayer) of a marvellous TV-series called Victorian Farm. Once the football started I looked around on my Iphone to find BBC’s page for the programme with some info about the three people who “star” in the programme. And huge was my disappointment when I couldn’t find any such page. What I did find – hence the serendipity – was a blog. As previously mentioned I’ve been looking for British blogs of interest, but have only found very few. This one, however, looks SO promising. The woman has a sense of humour, she can write and she has something to write about. AND – she’s a geek! And why did I find it – well of course because she’s written a lovely post, describing the Victorian Farm programme in detail. I’m thankful, because then I don’t have to – it’s a bit cold and I’d much rather be in bed! If you haven’t seen this programme – hurry up and do so. It’s SO good. It can still be seen for a short while on the Iplayer. And there are many other great programmes to be watched there – if you’re Danish or another kind of non-Brit, you can watch it on your computer or even on your Iphone, in astonishingly good quality. Public Service at its best! Victorian Farm has also been made into a book. It looks good.

About serendipity – my friend Gabs sent me a great link the other day, to a Wiki-type dictionary. One of the more unusual features in this dictionary is “The 100 most beautiful words in English” and Serendipity is on it. check it out – I’ll try to memorise some of the words in the list I didn’t already know. Quite a few – English is a rich, rich language!

As a non-Brit I often meet words that I’d really like to start using myself, but then hesitate because I don’t have a clue how to pronounce it. But there’s help, did you know? On Dictionary.com (and other online dictionaries) you can click the little speaker-icon and have a nice man or lady say the word out loud for you. As many times as you like. That’s nice.

Finally, we’ve been to the British Museum today. Dane has a thing a bout Egypt, pyramids and mummies, so we journeyed through the Egyptian section of the museum. I haven’t been there for a very long time, but have visited their absolutely fabulous website a number of times. Have a look and see what a museum website should REALLY look like. Here’s about the Egyptians. Read about the visionary director Neil MacGregor and his plans for the museum here.

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Culture clash

Looking out of our living room window Monday morning.
Looking out of our living room window Monday morning.

OK, so it was a lot of snow. It really was. And I was fully sympathetic with the schools for closing on the Monday – many children couldn’t have come anyway or would have spent endless hours in their fretting parents’ cars before finally getting there. Tuesday – when it hadn’t snowed in our area for 18 hours, I thought OK – it’s still a bit of a hassle to get out and about and for us personally, it wasn’t a problem since we work from home. But when I read on the school website Tuesday evening that the school was STILL closed on the Wednesday I just couldn’t believe my own eyes! True, most smaller roads and parking lots and driveways are still icy and slippery, but it’s not like we don’t know that by now! And salt and/or gravel could be spread to ease the situation. But no. A lot of the parents who are not as fortunate as we are must have been desperate! I do realise that a school is not there to mind our children, but most of us depend on our jobs and we should be able to rely on the school to be open and to school our children, when it’s supposed to.

A tired Dane with his snowman.
A tired Dane with his snowman.

I’m told that this has to do with the extremely rigid Health & Safety Regulations in this country. It’s getting to me – I’ve written about this before, the ubiquitous worry-sickness. Children can’t walk to school, they can’t use a computer un-monitored, they can’t climb a tree. And adults have to be told that hot food is hot (!!), that roads are slippery after 15 cm of snow…. It’s like we just can’t handle any disruptions to our ordered little lives anymore. AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH! Can I PLEASE have the responsibility for my own life back! Anne Applebaum writes about it in the Washington Post. And there are loads of opinions on the Alpha Mummy blog.

Igloo lamps - Swedish style.
Igloo lamps - Swedish style.
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Money for nothing

is a song I hate. It’s so playing up to the little man’s envy or whatever you call it. But that was what I thought of when I read this article in the Washington Post.

18 billion $ have been paid out to Wall Street financiers over the last few months. In Merrill Lynch, the article tells us, where bonuses are usually paid out in January, they hurried to pay out 3-4 mill. $ in bonuses in December, before they were taken over with billions in debts. That’s 9 zeros. 000000000. Or 000.000.000. In sterling that’s around 5.6 billion. Let’s split that up in brand new cars. Brand new envy-inspiring cars.

Audi Q7
Audi Q7

Are you ready? App. 307,000 of these lovely cars. I don’t even think Audi produces that many Q7s! (They are around 41,000£ each). Hm. That’s still too big a number to really sink in! Let’s try with houses.

5 bedroom house in Richmond - a very attractive neighbourhood just outside London
5 bedroom house in Richmond - a very attractive neighbourhood just outside London

OK. The above house sells at £2,1 million. Let’s say we get it at the bargain price of £2 million. So the Wall Street guys – don’t know exactly how many people split the 18 billion, but a safe bet is that it’s definitely more than one Audi per head – can get 6,300 houses like this.

I’m actually not at all against bonuses and rewards for high performances. What I’m deadset against though is when bonuses are paid for doing an appallingly bad job or for serving the share-holders’ short term interests (which are sometimes not at all beneficial to the company) rather than the company’s AND the shareholders’ long term interests.

Added 4/2: Capac alerted me to a wrong link to the above mentioned Washington Post article. It is now mended. The wrong link was actually to a pretty funny article – it’s here and it’s not about money but about Iphone apps…

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So so sad and so so frightening

I used to grow these in my garden (echinacea) and they attracted scores of bees and butterflies.
I used to grow these in my garden (echinacea) and they attracted scores of bees and butterflies.

Just read in yesterday’s Times about the plight of the (bumble)bee. I’ve read about the trouble of the bee population diminishing rapidly before, but this article, in such a conservative paper, really spells it out so there’s no misunderstanding it: If nothing is done – and maybe even if something IS done – the bee and the bumble bee will be extinct in Britain 8 years from now. Eight years! In evolutionary terms that in the blink of an eye!

If there was ever a really good and totally tangible reason to buy organic products, this is one. For more reasons than one: To reduce pollution with fertilizers etc. To encourage the exchange of crops from one year to the next. To encourage the re-entry of clover, which is apparently the most important crop to attract honey bees.

So come on now, all you out there. Buy organic! Not just baby food, but everything you can lay your hands on.  It’s not always easy and I myself could do much better. I also realise that for some people it’s not an option for economic reasons. But I know that a lot of my readers could easily afford it if they so chose! Quite a lot of the foodstuffs that we can’t get in the organic versions in the supermarkets, we could buy online if we could be bothered. And here in England we can buy lots of lovely organic stuff at the farmers’ markets. But if we at least start by buying the food basics organically, it’s a start. So organic fruit, veg, bread and flour. And organic chickens, veal, beef and lamb.

And you garden lovers out there! You’ll be first to suffer, because a certain species of bees, specialising in fertilization of so-called deep-throated flowers like foxgloves, irises, red clover etc. are almost already extinct and their southern European brothers, which are being imported to take their place, don’t have long tongues and thus can’t fertilize the above mentioned flowers. So throw your fertilizers in the bin and get out there and do your bit for the bee!

Take out the time and read the article if you think I’m exaggerating!

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Protectionism shows its ugly face

I hate protectionism! It never seems to do any good to anyone, but the unions love it and the voters seem to love it too. I find it incredibly short-sighted to “buy British” to keep British workers going in industries that are clearly not competitive. Why not teach these people new skills instead or revamp the businesses so they can get on by themselves in the world. In Denmark protectionism has always been favoured to help the farmers and the ship yards. In the end they had to give up protecting the ship yards because it became ridiculous to keep pouring money into it when ships were built much cheaper in other parts of the world and giving people there jobs, who did not have access to any kinds of benefits or to learning new skills. Unfortunately the same thing cannot be said about the farmers, who are still being massively subsidised by EU.

I Buy British when it’s fruit, meat and vegetables of good quality, because I believe that the shorter distance these foodstuffs have covered on their way from the good earth and onto my dinner table, the better for the planet. It’s certainly not to protect British farmers. If they can’t produce something of quality at a fair price I’m not going to buy it, not if he’s my neighbour!

Anyway, that’s what all the talk has been about in Davos today – read this summary of the protectionism discussions in Washington Post.

From the homepage Buy British
From the homepage Buy British

On an entirely different and quite silly (but cute) note, here’s something a friend sent me today. Be patient while the page loads, it takes a little while. And then move your mouse around. And, not least, try holding it still. I’m glad that yet another mystery of “how things work” has now revealed itself!

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