Saturday, March 27, 2004

Marlboro Dividend 

A pack of Marlboros costs 30 crowns in Denmark—about five bucks. When I was smoking hell-for-leather, without any pretense of cutting down, I was probably averaging close to a pack a day. That's 210 crowns a week.

For the same price, the DMG and I can each have a bathing cure once a week.

We could get a pair of great reserved seats for a blockbuster film at Copenhagen's fantastic Imperial cinema—and have enough leftover for the requisite popcorn or slik.

We could order pizza or shwarmas and enjoy them over a couple of rented new releases on DVD.

I could have a nice bottle of wine or a couple of Carlsbergs with every dinner.

We could buy an extra season ticket to Tivoli to keep on hand for friends.

I could do any of these things every fricking week for the same price as making my teeth yellow, my facial skin peely, my lungs polluted, my clothing stink, and my odds of cancer climb.

I like to think of myself as a fairly reasonable person, but when you weigh the options like that it's staggering to think I could have thought of myself as anything but a blithering idiot for the last twenty years. (Not that I didn't think of myself as a blithering idiot, this just wasn't one of the reasons.)

Yes, you have indeed sniffed a certain sense of self-justifying desperation here, but that's okay. Better I should rant and rave a little here than actually light up.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving 

This magnificent story comes courtesy of Across the Atlantic, where I haven't been spending enough time lately. (A lazy Saturday with the gestating DMG napping nearby while I listen to my favorite jazz and classical CDs is about as perfect an opportunity as I'll get for blogosphere catch-up.)

Modern medicine is constantly trying to do the same thing through far more complicated methods, people who pick their nose and eat it get a natural boost to their immune system for free.

What about people who pick their noses, marinate the pickings, saute them with a little garlic and rosemary in butter, and serve them over roasted potatoes?

Not that I know anyone who does, but, you know, what if I did?

Everybody Must Get Stoned 

Last night the DMG was watching the local news and caught a lengthy segment on some demonstrations that had gone down in Copenhagen earlier in the day. The pro-hash lobby had apparently come out in full force to demonstrate against the passage of legislation designed to sharpen Denmark's anti-hash laws.

Specifically (according to Politiken), the law would increase the punishment for first-time offenses: first-time convictions for possession would increase from a warning to a fine, and those for distribution would increase from a fine to mandatory jail time. Additionally, prison officials would be permitted to demand urine tests for hashish (and anabolic steroids).

The demonstrators reportedly gathered in the square before Christiansborg, the Danish Parliament, and held a massive smoke-in. Passers-by were urged by organizer Rasmus Folehave Hansen, of "People Against Mistrust & Control," to smoke a free joint to demonstrate their contempt for the bill—according to Politiken, the smell wafting over Christiansborg Square suggested Mr. Hansen had found found plenty of takers. (Tokers?)

(Here's a video of the event, which may be more helpful to non-Danish speakers than the link to the article.)

"This is such a stupid law, they're probably just passing it because our Parliament has been taken over by right-wing Christian fascists from America," one angry girl said on television last night. (Good thing she's against mistrust!)

I've always supported the decriminilization, if not the legalization, of marijuana and hashish, but after hearing the DMG's translation of this girl's remarks, I fear I may have underestimated the debilitating effects of hashish on the intellect.

Another Dane with whom I shared these thoughts offered an observation of his own via email:

I am not sure when or from where this terrible degradation of language came from, but it is deeply distressing, not so much to hear someone who obviously has not one iota of a clue as to the historical meaning of the words she is spewing, but to realize that I am getting used and resigned to hearing these idiots getting away with saying them, without anyone challenging them.

(The Danish parliament, I'm happy to report, remains reasonably within the control of Danish nationals.)

The magnificent thing about Danish culture is this: while Parliament was passing the strong, new anti-hash bill ("without altering so much as a comma"), the square outside was full of people smoking free hash from "People Against Mistrust & Control"—in turn surrounded by little clusters of police who looked on quietly, "with no intention of going against such a big group firing up their blunts." (Translation courtesty DMG.)

Moronic Science (Oops) 

A regular correspondent, an American scientist and mathematician, has offered the following perfectly accurate criticism of my Bad Science post from a couple of days ago (see below):

I have to take exception to this: "I don't know how many micrograms are in a tenth of litre, but I'm guessing it's enough that ten of them probably can't be expressed as a percentage without at least half-a-dozen zeroes."

The answer depends upon the relative densities of the lead vs. the blood, as grams and litres are different methods of measurement (mass vs. volume, as you know; people tend to use litres as a measure of mass because a liter of water weighs a thousand newtons, which here on earth, with our gravitational pull, corresponds to a mass of one kilogram). However there are plenty of things of which concentrations much lower than that can be almost instantly deadly (ricin, plutonium, etc). I don't know the answer for lead, and you're right, the article doesn't say. But don't knock it just because the number seems really small.

As the Romans used to say, "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!" (Which translates roughly as "Man, I really screwed the pooch on that one.")

Being the curious moron I am, however, I wanted to know just how much lead was required to damage the human intellect. How did lead compare to another debilitating agents, such as television, rap music, and Zima? (Digression: please enjoy these illustrations of the molecular structures of various malt beverages.)

With my usual aversion to research, I glommed onto the first appropriate link I found on Google, which you can see for yourself right here. Here's what they have to say (and they're litigators, so you know you can trust them!):

One hundred seventy–two children took part in the NIEHS study. Their blood lead concentrations were measured at 6, 12, 18, 24, 36, and 48 months of age. The children took IQ tests when they were three and five years old. In measuring the relationship between IQ and blood lead concentration, the researchers adjusted for factors such as birth weight, the mother’s intelligence, income, and education. They found that IQ declined by 7.4 points as estimated lifetime average blood lead concentrations increased from 1 to 10 micrograms per deciliter. They also found that an increase in blood lead from 10 to 30 micrograms per deciliter was associated with only a small additional decline in IQ.

“In this sample of children we find that most of the damage to intellectual functioning occurs at blood lead concentrations that are below 10 micrograms per deciliter,” commented Richard Canfield, a main author of the NIEHS study (Press Release, April 16, 2003, NIEHS ).

“Our study suggests that there is no discernable threshold for the adverse effects of lead exposure and that many more children than previously estimated are affected by this toxin,” said Bruce Lanphear, another NIEHS study author. Mr. Lanphear has also conducted a prior analysis of 4,854 children aged 6–16 years linking decreases in thinking ability and academic skills with blood lead concentrations lower than 5 micrograms per deciliter. (Public Health Rep 2000 Nov–Dec; 115(6): 521–9 ). The data was based on their scores on arithmetic, reading, and short–term memory tests.

So it turns out that, indeed, less than 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood can have a serious impact on intelligence. In fact, less than 10 micrograms per deciliter actually has a greater impact than more than 10 micrograms per deciliter, which invites the kind of scientific scrutiny I am wholly unable to provide.

Here's the quote from the WHO press release that originally caught my attention: "In 2001, the estimated percentage of European children in urban areas with elevated blood levels (above 10 micrograms per decilitre) ranged from 0.1% to 30.2%."

Human beings are stupid enough as it is. A penalization of 7.4 IQ points may not sound like much if you're a genius, but for the average human being that's a 7.4% reduction in their intelligence. For the average moron it's—well, it's time to find someone to help tie your shoes.

When all is said and done, however, I think the WHO would still be best advised to put down their studies and get back into the recording studio.

Just Kill Them 

I don't know what else to say when I read about this humiliating debacle in the "Tribal Areas" of Pakistan. What sickens me is that this outcome was so predictable from the outset: by the time we'd reached day two or three of the "standoff," I remember chatting with the DMG about how it seemed like Tora Bora all over again.

"Quick, quick! We've got them surrounded! Hurry up and stall for time so they can slip through our fingers!"

Meanwhile, as reported in the article cited above, the "Tribal insurgents," or whatever the hell you want to call them, are executing their hostages.

Whatever happened to not negotiating with terrorists? When you've got 400-500 Taliban and Al Qaeda dead-enders surrounded, is that really the time to begin calling for Loya Jirgas? Next time this happens, I suggest we offer a Loya Jirga of our own. "We're sending in our most persuasive American negotiator," we could warn the Pakistanis. That would be their signal to step back, because our only persuasive negotiator, when it comes to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is Miss Daisy Cutter.

But how would we know if we got Zawahiri? Mullah Omar? Bin Laden? We probably wouldn't, since even their DNA would be just about vaporized. But we would have taken out 400-500 enemies—men who have dedicated their lives to making 9/11 look like a minor incident. What's the downside? What am I missing?

See, here I go getting all political again. I realize there's a lot going on that's much too complicated for my moronic little intellect to grasp, but still... In 1943, say, if we had surrounded a German position in which we thought Goebbels or Goering or someone might have been hunkered down along with a few hundred stormtroopers—but which position couldn't be seized by infantry due to considerations of terrain, enemy firepower, weather, or astrological conditions, does anyone really doubt we would have blasted them all straight to hell? They're our enemies. They want to kill us. And they're not especially useful as informants when we catch them alive anyway.

This is war, not laser tag. If the enemy doesn't want to surrender, kill them. It's your freaking job.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Questionable Science 

On the Questionable Science front, here's an article from the Beeb that sets forth the proposition that "The brains of children in many parts of Europe are suffering greater damage from environmental risks than previously recognised, scientists say."

This is according to a World Health Organization report being prepared for a Children's Health conference later this spring in Budapest.

Here's the finding they've amped up into hysteria: "In 2001, the estimated percentage of European children in urban areas with elevated [lead content] blood levels (above 10 micrograms per decilitre) ranged from 0.1% to 30.2%."

Is that even science? 0.1% to 30.2% isn't a range, it's a continent. In a nation with, say, 10 million children, this "range" would be somewhere between 10,000 and a little over 3 million kids. Furthermore, no mention is made of when an "elevated" blood level becomes an "at-risk" blood level. I don't know how many micrograms are in a tenth of litre, but I'm guessing it's enough that ten of them probably can't be expressed as a percentage without at least half-a-dozen zeroes. How can anyone make an informed policy decision with such a statistic?

The WHO doctors and spokespeople sound the trumpets of horror and apocalypse without ever really explaining the problem except to say that, "Evidence shows that reducing exposure to lead protects a child's intellectual potential. We should take action to make sure that our children are all protected from this and other environmental hazards."

Well, to quote my favorite philosopher, fuck yeah. I don't want the Bean's intellectual potential to be unprotected! But before you go grabbing all my money and jacking up the prices of things that make my life more convenient, could you please explain why this particular threat to the Bean's intellectual potential is more significant than any of the other threats to the Bean's well-being that require massive funding?

Dr. Bertollini of WHO, you'd like to respond? "I believe that what we do know now must guide us in our review and approval processes, and should become the basis of a bold new precautionary approach that puts the burden of evidence on safety first."

But wouldn't such a bold new precautionary measure render the automobile, the cocktail, and the bathtub obsolete? Because I'm guessing we're losing more citizens to the car, the drink, and the tub than we are to unprotected intellects. (Er... at least in the sense used in your study.)

But then, I'm no scientist.

Fiddling in the Flames, or Exercising Democracy? 

Speaking of bickering, I thought Peggy Noonan had some great things to say about the (mostly) amiable 9/11 hearings this week. I'll excerpt her closer:

As government officials last week rehearsed their testimony the enemy was planning new horrors for Americans to endure. Right now we should be preparing—taking protective action in our ports and around our nuclear facilities, at our borders, etc. American officials should not be busy testifying; they should be busy making sure every citizen has a CBN suit, a regulation gas mask and data on how to recognize and respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear incident.

The most pressing thing at the moment is making America safer. Instead, our officials are otherwise engaged. As they were before 9/11.

It does seem a little strange to see all our leaders trotting around at these hearings while our enemies continue to work against us—even broadcasting their intention, for example, to overthrow the government of Pakistan.

I sometimes like to delude myself with the comforting illusion that our leaders have more information than we do, and therefore know what's best, but my capacity for cognitive dissonance seems to be diminishing a little more each year.

That much said, though, and as much as I appreciate Ms. Noonan's concerns, isn't this sort of pain-in-the-ass, dog-and-pony show just a symptom of the beautifully flawed democracy we're fighting so hard to preserve from these barbarians? Aren't we better than the Taliban and the Mad Mullahs and their theo-totalitarian brethren precisely because we burden ourselves with this sort of stuff and nonsense?

This Week in Denmark 

A couple of interesting articles in the Copenhagen Post this week that I haven't mentioned here yet.

First, good news from the foreign office:

Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller urged Spain's newly elected government not to make good on its post-March 11 pledge to withdraw the country's troops from Iraq.

"I don't think now is the time to run away. It would be a very bad signal to send to terrorists, that if they just bomb enough people, we'll run off," Møller said on Wednesday, after talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.


If coalition countries begin to withdraw soldiers, Møller said, it would be a concession of victory to extremist and fundamentalist elements in the country.

Hoshyar Zebari was apparently in town to participate in Danish hearings on the decision to participate in the Iraq war. "We were not misled by the Americans," he said. "They liberated us from an evil dictator."

Next, good news on Denmark's ticking demographic timebomb. After several years of decline, the Danish birth rate picked up in 2003—to the tune of 600 more babies than had been born in 2002. The money quote comes from Klaus Wilmann, Chairman of the National Children's Council, who says:

This is a positive development. We need children to create new life in this country, so we don't end up a wasteland of old people sitting around staring at eachother. And besides, we need (a new generation) to support us.

If that's not Denmark in a nutshell, I don't know what is—and you can read that any way you like.

Lastly, a discordant note in the midst of all the good news:

Liberal Party councilman Wallait Khan has assembled a majority behind a Copenhagen city council proposal to help area Muslims find an appropriate site for a tenant-paid cemetery.

"Copenhagen hasn't met the needs of its Muslim residents. Authorities cannot guarantee that the current, available burial plots for Muslims will be left in peace for all eternity, as commanded in the Koran," said Wallait Khan.

I don't think it's asking a lot for "area Muslims" to seek government help in finding an appropriate site for a cemetery, but the guarantee that burial plots "be left in peace for all eternity" strikes me as a little strained.

My man Klaus Bondam, a Radical Liberal, sounded the voice of reason by noting that such a guarantee might not be within the jurisdiction of the Copenhagen City Council:

"Copenhagen is a city in constant development. We must therefore hope that our Muslim citizens are open to the possibility that this land may have to be used for other purposes at some point," said Bondam.

I'd like to nominate that line for Most Exquisite Political Understatement of the Year. (Bondam is a gifted comic actor, so I doubt it was said without at least half a wink. And as long as I'm in these parenthesis, I should mention that I call Klaus Bondam "my man" because he performed our wedding ceremony in his role as city councilman. I'm told his homily—or whatever you call the civil equivalent thereof—was outstanding. So I can claim a kind of personal connection to him, which is something I can't with any other Danish politician.)

The Danish People's Party wasn't in a joking mood, alas:

"If the Muslims want a cemetery, they can find it themselves. The same premises apply to Muslims as other (non-Lutheran) denominations. We're not giving any special concessions to them," said Danish People's Party councilwoman Karin Storgaard.

Friday Reading 

It's Friday, which means I need to get all the shortcuts wiped off my desktop so I don't feel like I'm behind the eightball all weekend. I want to cover a lot of ground, but it seems like a bit much to squeeze into one long post. Plus if anyone wants to link to one particular subject, they'd have to link to the whole roaring mess. So I'm going to segregate them into a series of smaller, individual posts, starting right... now.

Moron TNG 

Today's Almanac is up... Moronic nomenclature, obstetric onomatopeia, the "smooth protect quality" of vernix, inappropriate neonatal music, and more.

Lots more later today right here, but I've got a lot to take care of first.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Aznar's "Truth About 3/11" 

Outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar speaks eloquently about the Spanish election results. Sour grapes or setting the record straight? Judge for yourself.... if you've expressed any opinion on the matter, you certainly owe him the courtesy of hearing his side of the story.

Rough Justice 

A few days ago I wrote a lukewarm rant about an article that had appeared in the Copenhagen Post.

After venting myself on these electric pages, I sent a friendly note to the Post. Here's the whole note:


My name is Greg Nagan and I’m an American humorist that’s been living in Denmark for a year, now. My Danish is still a little rough, so I depend heavily on the Post for my Danish news. I’m very disappointed to see reporting such as that in today’s story about private justice, which makes extremely inaccurate, even fanciful representations about the American criminal justice system.

I know it’s frustrating to Danes when Americans inform you they don’t speak Dutch, or ask you, when you’re abroad, if you’re from Amsterdam, but you can’t imagine the crazy kinds of questions I have to cope with when you publish absurdities like those found in the article mentioned above.

I’ve posted my own response to the article here: [link]

I would ask you to try to be more even-handed and factual in your reporting in the future, but what the hell. It’s more fun when you’re barking mad.


Greg Nagan

It didn't take long to get a response. In fact, I got two.

The first was a friendly note thanking me for my input, noting that my thoughts had been passed on to the editorial team, and that any editorial submissions I'd care to make would surely be welcome.

The second came from an editor who explained to me that:

The views expressed in the articles appearing on our homepage are not the official view of the Copenhagen Post, but are English-language rewrites of stories that appear in the Danish media.

That's important to know, at least insofar as I ought to have known better than to quibble over something as trivial as the use of "insure" instead of "ensure" in an English-language paper in a Scandinavian country. My bad.

Here's where I get confused:

The story to which you referred is based on a Jyllands-Posten interview with law professor and criminologist Flemming Balvig, and his opinions on the state of crime investigation in the United States are exactly that—opinions. As much as anyone may beg to differ with the Danish criminologist's take on effective crime investigation in the US, the views he expresses clearly reflect some very deep- seated concerns in Danish society. And that's what we report here at the Post.

I mentioned yesterday, in a teaser to this post, that I'd "like to delve a little further into my concerns about the state of modern Danish criminology, modern Danish education, and modern Danish journalism, at least one of which must be in dire, dire health."

I say that because I stand by my conviction that Criminology Professor Flemming Balvig's opinions are barking mad. Although I've decided I'd like to submit something to the Post eventually, it will not be a response to Prof. Balvig's notions of criminal justice in the United States, because he doesn't seem to have any. I'm sure he knows the Danish system inside out, but he's either deliberately overstating conditions in America—in which case he's fanning the flames of Denmark's intellectual anti-Americanism—or he's simply misinformed, which ain't much better for a widely respected criminologist. Here's the first money quote:

Criminologist Flemming Balvig says Danish crime investigation could devolve into an American-style system, in which victims of crime are forced to pay cash to private P.I.'s in order to insure effective investigations.

This is the English translator's interpretation of the author of the original article's interpretation of the thrust of Prof. Balvig's remarks. How on earth can I debate such a potpourri of opinion? Obviously I can respond only to direct quotes. Here they come:

"The trend has been developing for years. Danes are buying more security through private detectives, alarms, and high-end security systems. Ultimately, it's going to be only the wealthiest that can take advantage of the justice system. In the long term, it's going to widen the gap of social inequality," said Balvig.

Prof. Balvig is using the celebrated "if present trends continue" rhetorical device, the usefulness of which is best exemplified by anxious New Yorkers' fears in about 1900 that by 1920 all of lower Manhattan would lie under eighteen feet of horse manure. It never seemed to dawn on anyone that after the first few inches of solid horseshit, people probably wouldn't hang around to see whether or not things improved.

Similarly, before Denmark actually reaches the point where "only the wealthiest can take advantage" of the criminal justice system, those of her citizens who are not among the wealthiest will obviously take one of two actions: they will fix things or they will leave. The fact that Prof. Balvig is already sounding the alarm only underscores this point—democratic societies tend to be self-correcting.

The criminologist said the development might also exacerbate crime rates in this country, as police have been used more and more as first-response units, only involved actively once an actual crime takes place. Instead, Balvig said, police should use more resources to address the roots of crime.

"If developments in this country follow in step with the United States, we might see citizens also having to pay for the investigation of random attacks on the streets. And that's worrisome," said the criminologist.

I already dealt with the abundant flaws in logic here, but I deliberately avoided the lack of evidence. What American developments is Prof. Balvig worried about following in step with? And, indeed, which "police" is he talking about? Boston cops? Chicago cops? Suburban cops in the midwest? Rural cops in the south? Where, exactly, are American citizens being assaulted on the streets—and having to pay for the investigation of the crime?

I am sure Prof. Balvig is very much in touch with "very deep-seated concerns in Danish society," as one of the Post people wrote me. But if he's going to fall into the European cliché of talking about my country as if it were still the wild, wild west, he ought to have some statistical evidence to back him up.

There has been a movement toward privatization of some police functions in the United States, but having lived at least five years in each of our three largest cities (New York, L.A., and Chicago), I never once met or heard of anyone who "had to pay" for the investigation of a violent crime perpetrated against them. I don't deny that sometimes statistics can fly in the face of personal observation—but when statistics are that radically opposed to the apparent reality, it's probably a good idea to cite them.


Which gets me back to my original point: I can't waste this much time parsing something that doesn't even make sense. I'm sure Prof. Balvig's views have been misstated, misrepresented, or mistranslated, but without knowing which there's not much I can do. (I tried to find the original Jyllands Posten article online, but it requires a paid subscription.) I can't write a coherent response to the Post because I don't know if I'm arguing Prof. Balvig's bad research, Jyllands Posten's bad journalism, or the Post's bad translation—or some combination of the three.

Much better, I think, to bitch and moan a little on these electric pages and move on.

I am, therefore, movin' on...


Our Bean

Boy? Girl? Today's very bloggish Alamanac is up...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

One Quick Thing 

I did want to mention, very briefly, that I wrote to the Copenhagen Post about the article on "private" justice that I discussed the other day (see below). I received two responses, both friendly. I fully intend to share some of that correspondence with you, but I'd also like to delve a little further into my concerns about the state of modern Danish criminology, modern Danish education, and modern Danish journalism, at least one of which must be in dire, dire health.

But I'm busy this afternoon, so it'll have to wait.

(If anyone was actually reading this blog, that would be called a "teaser." Instead, it's what I like to call a "reminder.")

Almanacs Are Up 

Yesterday's and today's Almanacs have both been posted—the former here and the latter here. Yesterday's lead image is especially interesting, because it's the external view of what I hope will be tomorrow's lead image—that is, the mighty mighty Bean.

The Danish Moronic Habitat

I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about anything right now. Also I'm hungry.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Justice, American Style 

Europeans know a lot about America. They like to think they know more about it than we do ourselves, and I've learned not to waste my time trying to relieve them of their misconceptions. First of all, Europeans are just like anyone else in that they don't enjoy being relieved of their ignorance, and second of all their misunderstandings about America help explain a lot of their curious opinions about America.

I mention all this because of an article that appears in today's Copenhagen Post. It is an article I intend to deconstruct completely, so please bear with me.

Danes Turning to Private Investigators

Danes are increasingly turning to private investigators to investigate thefts or cases of fraud. Experts say this country is on the verge of a slippery slope into "American-style" justice, in which only the wealthy can afford protection.

That's our topic sentence. You can tell because the Post has put it in boldface type. Two sentences into the story, and already we're informed that in America, only the wealthy can afford "protection." (You have to wonder if the author is a student of American jurisprudence, or just a big Raymond Chandler fan.)

Criminologist Flemming Balvig says Danish crime investigation could devolve into an American-style system, in which victims of crime are forced to pay cash to private P.I.'s in order to insure effective investigations.

Okay, you can stop wondering. The author is a Raymond Chandler fan.

Observe the cool and casual use of "P.I.," rendered ridiculous by the redundant modifier "private." Yes, Mr. Balvig, American crime victims are always forced to pay private private investigators to insure effective investigations. Except I think you mean ensure, rather than insure, and I believe some private private investigators have actually started accepting credit cards and traveler's checks.

Daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported this weekend that Danes are increasingly turning to private investigators to crack theft cases or expose fraudsters. Flemming Balvig, a law professor and criminologist at Copenhagen University, says the trend is a dangerous slippery slope.

"The trend has been developing for years. Danes are buying more security through private detectives, alarms, and high-end security systems. Ultimately, it's going to be only the wealthiest that can take advantage of the justice system. In the long term, it's going to widen the gap of social inequality," said Balvig.

Try to follow this logic: more and more Danes are turning to the private sector to investigate fraud and theft. It seems to me this trend would be taking pressure off the criminal justice system, meaning ordinary "public" justice would be less burdened and therefore more available to the non-wealthy. What any of this has to do with social inequality is beyond me, but I'm an American and accustomed to buying my social philosophy by the pound.

(And don't get me started on "dangerous slippery slopes.")

The criminologist said the development might also exacerbate crime rates in this country, as police have been used more and more as first-response units, only involved actively once an actual crime takes place. Instead, Balvig said, police should use more resources to address the roots of crime.

In America, the police are there "to serve and protect." Or "protect and enforce." Or "eat donuts and visit strip clubs." They're not there to make horticultural social experiments. Are they? And even if they are, isn't it disturbing that the police are being used "more and more" as first-response units in Denmark? Who used to be first on the scene at a Danish hold-up—haberdashers?

"If developments in this country follow in step with the United States, we might see citizens also having to pay for the investigation of random attacks on the streets. And that's worrisome," said the criminologist.

This is one of the ugliest notions Americans encounter here in Europe. Everyone's convinced there's random violence on every corner in America, as though Messrs. Coppola, Scorcese, and Tarantino had been filming documentaries all these years. First of all, there are very few "random attacks" on American streets: most attacks are quite deliberate. Second of all, the notion that the only way to get someone to investigate an attack on the street, random or otherwise, is to hire a private investigator, be he ever so private... that's just crazy talk. It doesn't even warrant light-hearted dismissal. It warrants only simple, strenuous, emphatic rejection.

Klaus Æ. Mogensen, an expert at the Institute for Future Research, told Jyllands-Posten that he was distressed by the trend toward private investigation. Mogensen agreed that the prospect of "bought" crime investigation was becoming a more and more likely scenario.

"You can't prevent people from protecting and insuring themselves through paid services, but it should be unnecessary. Turning the trend around is going to take political intervention, to get police to allocate their resources differently," said Mogensen.

The chairman of Parliament's Justice Committee, Socialist People's Party MP Anne Baastrup, agreed.

"We shouldn't concentrate on the number of officers, but rather, how they're using their time. Street patrols aren't such a great idea, because they aggravate fears of crime among ordinary citizens."

Sorry to interrupt her in mid-soundbite, but I ask my fellow Americans to drink that one in: Street patrols aren't such a great idea, because they aggravate fears of crime among ordinary citizens. That's right: I'm in a country where they want to prevent crime by keeping cops off the street—but wonder why more and more Danes are going to private investigators!

"Instead, we ought to discuss whether police should reallocate their resources and use more time on investigation. This would give people a greater sense of security," said Baastrup.

Less prevention, more paperwork. This is the European solution to everything.

Baastrup flatly denied that Danes would ever be forced to pay for proper crime investigation from private investigators.

"Things aren't going to go that far. Politicians will take action before it ever comes to that," said the MP.

Knowing what I do about the way Danes feel about their politicians—more or less the way we feel about ours, and then some—I can't help thinking they're not going to take much comfort in that last remark.

Spinal Tap in Gaza? 

Sheik Ahmed Yassin is dead, killed by an IDF missile strike. Good idea, bad idea? I don't know, but it's hard to get real worked up about a guy who's said that, "Israel, as the Jewish state, must disappear from the map." My guess is the world is better off without this terrible hatemonger, but my other guess is that the political cost of the hit may outweigh its benefits.

The strange thing about all this, to me, is the response from the usual gang of idiots.

"Sharon has opened the gates of hell and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head," leaders of the radical Islamic group vowed.


"Words cannot describe the emotion of anger and hate inside our hearts," said Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh, a close associate of Yassin in Gaza. He said that "the enemy should expect a response that will turn the ground under his feet to hell ... All of Palestine will turn into a volcano that will burn up the enemies."

It goes on and on, but we've heard it all before. Over and over. The emotions of anger and hate inside their hearts are hardly new. From what I've seen, it's one of the leading Palestinian exports. And you may remember that talks of a ceasefire this winter collapsed when Hamas (among others) said they would not, under any circumstances, agree to lay down their arms, even briefly, even if someone said pretty please with ice-cream on top.

So what choice has Hamas given Israel? Their "spiritual leader" wants to see Israel wiped off the face of the earth, and their members aren't even willing to take a time-out from blowing up kids and old ladies. Once someone vows to destroy you, how can they "step up" their rhetoric? After all, you can only be destroyed once.

The only possible answer: Hamas is planning to borrow from Spinal Tap technology and turn the Intifadah up to 11.

Bathing Cure 

Today's Almanac is up—my first kurbad.

Haven't had a cigarette since Friday night, but I've gained five pounds, so you'll excuse me while I head out to the gym for the next six hours...

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Rainy Sunday of Withdrawal 

It's the first Sunday of spring. It's raining. It's cold. The DMG has dared to leave me alone with my withdrawal agonies because she "needed air" and thought a walk through the drenching atmosphere would help provide the longed-for oxygen. I would have liked some air myself, but I like mine dry. (Also, I don't own "rain pants" or waterproof boots.)

I have eaten several hundred gummi bears this weekend, and am also working my way through a couple of kilos of sunflower seeds. I had pizza for dinner last night, and snacked on bread and cheese all afternoon. I haven't stopped eating sunflower seeds and candy since I finished my breakfast this morning. I have even chewed through several licorice sticks. (I mean that literally: you can buy actual licorice-plant sticks here, and they make for good chewing.)

We rented a couple of movies yesterday—"Master and Commander" and "Levity." I hadn't heard anything at all about Levity, but it had an intriguing cast and one of the reviews on the back of its case called it "a fantastic thriller!" We enjoyed the movie, but were a little disappointed in that we kept waiting for the thriller to start. It's hard to enjoy something, however good, when it refuses to meet your expectations. Good movie, lousy thriller.

What I wanted to do this morning—whoops, afternoon—was write something funny and non-political and maybe even vaguely intelligent. My thoughts are still racing, though, and I can't concentrate on anything long enough to—

Look! A bird!

What was I saying? Something about going cold turkey? Something about gummi bears or licorice sticks? I really have no idea. This has suddenly become the most pointless post in my five years of blogging and almanacking. Let me at least take a final stab at relevance by reporting on the current Danish vibe.

The current vibe in Denmark is nervous. Our troops are in Iraq, the nation seems to be reflecting, and we have lots of trains! The vibe was strong in the media toward the end of the week. I'm not sure if it's still here—maybe all this goddam rain is washing it away. But the mood is not one of appeasement or surrender. The DMG assures me that even the socialists, who strenuously opposed the Danish involvement in Iraq, have vowed the Danish troops will not be yanked out of Iraq until the Danes are good and goddam ready to yank them out—murderous, genocidal terrorists be damned. Just one more reason to love this place.

Excuse me, now, I've got to go pace...

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