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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Observing Sweden - 27 January 2015

Saw this on Facebook today and can’t resist posting a part of it.

Topics: Books, What to Read, Nonfiction, Scandinavia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, social democracy, Travel, Entertainment News
(Shown Above)
Emmet Brickowoski in “The Lego Movie”, ABBA, Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Credit: AP/Carlos Osorio/Salon)

“I think it is fairly safe to say,” writes British author Michael Booth in his outrageously entertaining new book, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia,” “that in the rest of the world the Scandinavian countries are broadly perceived as democratic, meritocratic, egalitarian and classless, populated by vaguely outdoorsy, blond, liberal, bicycle-riding folks who live in tastefully lit middle-class homes with Bang & Olufsen TVs in their living rooms, mid-range German estate cars in their driveways, who vacation in Spain and slip a couple of notes in a Red Cross envelope every month.”

Pardon the long quote in the opening sentence here, but it gives such a good sense of the ironic, exasperated and admiring tone of Booth’s book that I couldn’t resist.
Booth is married to a Danish woman, and has been for a while. His earliest experiences living in his wife’s homeland, however, were far from zestful, and so the oft-repeated and -replicated surveys indicating that Denmark is “the happiest place in the world” stuck in his craw. “The happiest? This dark, wet, dull, flat little country … with its handful of stoic, sensible people and the highest taxes in the world?” To judge from this book, Booth is one of those slightly grouchy Brits who enjoys a good battle of wits for its own sake; what’s society without a bit of verbal rough-and-tumble, after all? He bridled at not just the brutal taxes in Denmark but also its social conformity, “the predictable monoculture, the stifling insistence on lowest-common-denominator consensus, the fear of anything or anyone different from the norm, the appalling public manners and the remorseless diet of fatty pork, salted licorice, cheap beer and marzipan.”

Like members of a family, each of these five nations, despite a strong shared resemblance, has its own character, and Booth really is the guy you want to explain the differences to you. “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” offers up the ideal mixture of intriguing and revealing facts (the Danes carry “gargantuan” levels of personal debt; Finland has possibly the best primary and secondary educational system in the Western world) and big, vivid and often very funny splashes of local color. Like any travel journalist worth his salt, Booth has a nose for the best details, such as noticing, of the many national museums he visited during his Scandinavian tour, “the eerie, whistling-wind sound effects with which they augmented all their prehistory sections.”

He’s also not afraid to play the fool, by, say, taking his chronically embarrassed English ass into a Finnish sauna to see if the naked men are as a silent inside it as they are everywhere else. (They are.) He spends a day in Stockholm trying to tweak the Swedes’ famously orderly and law-abiding norms by crossing a traffic-free street against the light (someone tuts), eating potato chips in an art museum (no one chides him) and shaming a crowd of commuters into letting departing passengers get off a bus before they storm the doors to get on. The Swedes’ habit of obliviously “barging” is one of Booth’s particular peeves, and primarily what he’s talking about when he deplores the region’s “appalling” manners.

Some stereotypes are deflated. For example, the Swedes are not especially sexually free; the world just got that impression after observing the decriminalization of its pornography industry in the 1960s and the “relaxed” and unerotic attitude toward nudity common to the region as a whole. The Finns don’t drink more alcohol than everyone else — in fact, they consume less, per person, than the Danes or the British. But when they do drink, they tend to binge, so the Friday night Booth investigates in Helsinki, while not the “Armageddon” some of his Danish friends warned him about, gets pretty rowdy. Still, he deems it “certainly less scary than a Friday night in my hometown,” which, given the drunken carousing you see these days on many British city streets, is not saying much.

Among this bunch, the Danes are regarded as indolent, fun-loving hedonists — maybe not compared to the Italians, but definitely within the family circle. “They go out, they drink a lot of beer and they eat dead pigs [the Danes are “the world’s leading pork butchers,” in case you didn’t know], and then they go home and have sex with strangers afterwards,” one Norwegian tells Booth. The Norwegians are viewed as crafty rustics made rich by immense oil reserves discovered in the North Sea and now so decadent that they hire Swedes to peel bananas for them in factories. (This is actually true. The bananas are an ingredient in a sandwich spread.) Perhaps it’s because, from a distance, the Scandinavians seem indistinguishable that these stereotypes are so hilarious to eavesdrop on. Booth enters into the spirit himself by using the lyrics to the theme song of “The Beverly Hillbillies” as the epigraph to his chapter on Norway’s petroleum industry.
This is not to say that “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” doesn’t wrangle with more serious topics, such as the sustainability of the Nordic welfare states and the status of immigrants in both Sweden, where the foreign-born and their offspring now make up a third of the population, and Denmark, where an anti-immigrant political party promotes ludicrous racial stereotypes in the media.

He believes that the extraordinary social cohesion of the Scandinavian nations gives them their strength. Cavils about boring Danish dinner conversation and nanny-state measures aside, Booth really does believe that these are the best societies humanity has created so far, and most conventional measures of quality of life back him up on that. Far from viewing immigration as a threat to the stability of the region, he thinks fresh blood is just what it needs, that the newcomers can and are making the culture in Denmark and Sweden more vibrant and interesting while at the same time absorbing, slowly but surely, Nordic social liberalism.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Massawa, Eritrea - 1962

I found an box of 120 mm film negatives from 1962 last week. They were taken when I was in the Army, stationed in Eritrea, East Africa, and on travels in Jerusalem, Paris, and Germany. I’ve been going nuts trying to digitized them. 120 film was obsolete even before 35 mm became obsolete. I am having to cut the negatives apart, digitize sections and then splice them back together again. Results are not so hot most of the time, but there will be a few I cannot resist posting. This first is from Massawa, Eritrea, on the red sea.

Massawa Ship- Name

Friday, January 16, 2015

Vine Leaves - Issue 13

New issue of Vine Leaves #13 (On Line) came out today.
See my collage “Life on Earth” page 47.


Issue 13: A fresh outlook
Vine Leaves rings in 2015 with fresh perspective, fresh opportunities, and fresh talent
The New Year is always a special time for the Vine Leaves staff. Not only the birth month of our Journal three years ago, but also an annual opportunity to start fresh.
Fresh perspective.
Fresh opportunity.
Fresh talent.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Amber & Ellie - 1

Am & El-Fixed 

I had a short conversation with Ellie today – not easy. She has the attention span of a gerbil on crack, but this was one of her rare lucid moments. She seems doggedly determined to be a show dog. I told her, “Forget about it.” Most of you followers have read my thoughts about cat shows.

It’s probably even worse for dogs. “They’ll make you take baths,” I said. “And promenade in a circle while holding your tail up.”

“I don’t care,” she barked. “It’s in my blood. My dad is a famous show dog. It runs in the family. And what about you?” she asked.  “Bucks told me you posed for the centerfold in the December issue of Parisian Pussy.”

“True,” I told her. “But I didn’t have to train for it, and I've never had to have my ears glued. There were no baths involved, and I didn’t take my coat off. I guess you could say I’m a natural.”

“Whatever,” she growled.

She’s not a bad dog, but she’s not the brightest pup in the pack, if you ask me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The News

The News on CNN

Mind numbing prattle of the talking heads
two days behind the terrorists who fled
no other news compares.

We wait
as the authorities negotiate
in French
attempting to connect
the most important thing
remain politically correct.

The president now comes on the air
“In case of future acts
we should prepare,” he says.
Such sound advice, these words
hard to sound wise
so little time to think
no time to write a speech
he could have used one
these words so mundane.

What could be said
a time like this?
Not really all that much to talk about
it’s all been said
time and again
condemning terrorism
"We want world peace!"
The beauty pageant mantra.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cost of Combat

 One Single 50 Caliber Bullet $6.00
50 Cal
*        *        *
One Hellfire Missile $100,000
Sold by Raytheon
*        *        *
One Tomahawk Cruise Missile $1,200,000
47 of these in launched one single night in Syria last September.
*        *        *
High Flight
Cost to keep planes in the air:
F-15E Fighter   $39,000 an hour
*        *        *
B-1B Bomber $58,000 an hour.
B-1 Bomber 
*        *        *
F-22 Raptor $68,000 an hour.

F-22 Raptor 
Cost – One Each:  $350,000,000
Sold by Lockheed Martin

Statistics taken from Google and New Yorker Magazine