Neil Oliver heads for Scandinavia to reveal the truth behind the legend of the Vikings. In the first programme, Neil begins by discovering the mysterious world of the Vikings’ prehistoric ancestors. The remains of weapon-filled war boats, long-haired Bronze Age farmers, and a Swedish site of a royal palace and gruesome pagan ritual conjure up an ancient past from which the Viking Age was to suddenly erupt.
October 17, 2013
July 28, 2013
Procol Harum performing A Whiter Shade of Pale with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and choir at Ledreborg Castle, Denmark in August 2006
H/T to American Digest for the link.
May 2, 2013
Canada’s Arctic patrol ship design program just a job creation scheme that doesn’t actually create jobs in Canada
The CBC’s Terry Milewski on the Harper government’s much-heralded shipbuilding program which is far more expensive than it needs to be — because of the demand that the work be done in Canada — and yet somehow doesn’t even manage to create Canadian jobs:
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose and Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced March 7 in Halifax that Ottawa will pay Irving Shipbuilding $288 million just to design — not build — a fleet of new Arctic offshore patrol ships.
Irving will then build the ships under a separate contract.
However, a survey of similar patrol ships bought by other countries shows they paid a fraction of that $288 million to actually build the ships — and paid less than a tenth as much for the design.
In addition, the design of Canada’s new ships is based upon a Norwegian vessel whose design Ottawa has already bought for just $5 million.
The Norwegian ship, the Svalbard, was designed and built for less than $100 million in 2002.
Experts say the design price is normally 10-20 per cent of the total cost of the ships.
But don’t worry … jobs are being created or saved by this major Canadian government project … in Denmark and in the United States:
Another criticism of the project is that much of the design work — in a project meant to create Canadian jobs — is actually going overseas.
Although Irving will manage the design project in Nova Scotia, it has subcontracted the actual production of final blueprints to a Danish firm, OMT. Seventy Danish ship architects will work on those.
The job of designing the systems integration is going to Lockheed Martin and the propulsion system will be designed by General Electric, both U.S. companies.
This is only to be expected, say supporters of the project.
“We’ve been dormant here for better than two decades now. We don’t have the skill sets inside the industry,” said Ken Hansen, editor of the Canadian Naval Review in Dartmouth, N.S.
April 28, 2013
March 9, 2013
Naharnet on the unfortunate experiences of diners at a top restaurant in Denmark:
Diners who forked out for a top-notch meal in a Danish restaurant dubbed the world’s best eatery got more than they bargained for when dozens came down with a nasty case of food poisoning.
The two-Michelin-star Noma restaurant in Copenhagen prides itself on dishes like pike perch and cabbages or wild duck and pear but in February its delights left 63 punters and some staff members vomiting or suffering from diarrhea, health officials said Friday.
The diners at Noma, which grabbed the number one spot in Restaurant magazine’s prestigious annual ranking in 2010, 2011 and 2012, fell sick over a five-day period and the outbreak may have come from a sick kitchen staff worker, inspectors said in a report which can be seen on the eatery’s website.
February 2, 2013
“The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways. We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.”
Based on this report in The Economist, we really should strive to be more like Sweden, and not for the reasons most Canadians would expect:
Sweden has reduced public spending as a proportion of GDP from 67% in 1993 to 49% today. It could soon have a smaller state than Britain. It has also cut the top marginal tax rate by 27 percentage points since 1983, to 57%, and scrapped a mare’s nest of taxes on property, gifts, wealth and inheritance. This year it is cutting the corporate-tax rate from 26.3% to 22%.
Sweden has also donned the golden straitjacket of fiscal orthodoxy with its pledge to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Its public debt fell from 70% of GDP in 1993 to 37% in 2010, and its budget moved from an 11% deficit to a surplus of 0.3% over the same period. This allowed a country with a small, open economy to recover quickly from the financial storm of 2007-08. Sweden has also put its pension system on a sound foundation, replacing a defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution one and making automatic adjustments for longer life expectancy.
Most daringly, it has introduced a universal system of school vouchers and invited private schools to compete with public ones. Private companies also vie with each other to provide state-funded health services and care for the elderly. Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist who lives in America, hopes that Sweden is pioneering “a new conservative model”; Brian Palmer, an American anthropologist who lives in Sweden, worries that it is turning into “the United States of Swedeamerica”.
[. . .]
This is not to say that the Nordics are shredding their old model. They continue to pride themselves on the generosity of their welfare states. About 30% of their labour force works in the public sector, twice the average in the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation, a rich-country think-tank. They continue to believe in combining open economies with public investment in human capital. But the new Nordic model begins with the individual rather than the state. It begins with fiscal responsibility rather than pump-priming: all four Nordic countries have AAA ratings and debt loads significantly below the euro-zone average. It begins with choice and competition rather than paternalism and planning. The economic-freedom index of the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, shows Sweden and Finland catching up with the United States (see chart). The leftward lurch has been reversed: rather than extending the state into the market, the Nordics are extending the market into the state.
Why are the Nordic countries doing this? The obvious answer is that they have reached the limits of big government. “The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways,” says Gunnar Viby Mogensen, a Danish historian. “We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.” The economic storms that shook all the Nordic countries in the early 1990s provided a foretaste of what would happen if they failed to get their affairs in order.
November 30, 2012
The BBC has a retrospective on Christine Jorgensen, who started life as George Jorgensen, switching gender 60 years ago:
News of a pioneering sex change operation, one of the first involving both surgery and hormone therapy, was announced in 1952 — exactly 60 years ago this weekend.
“Ex-GI becomes blonde beauty!” screamed one headline as newspapers in the United States broke the news.
George Jorgensen, a quiet New Yorker, shocked a nation by returning from a trip to Denmark transformed into the glamorous Christine.
[. . .]
On her return to the US, Jorgensen was greeted with curiosity, fascination and respect by both the media and the public. There was relatively little hostility.
Hollywood embraced her. Theatre and film contracts began to roll in, she was invited to all the most glamorous parties and even crowned Woman of the Year by the Scandinavian Society in New York.
“I guess they all want to take a peek,” Jorgensen once said.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s she made a comfortable living, touring the country singing and doing impressions in her own show.
She was less successful in her personal life. Her first serious relationship broke down soon after their engagement. The next went as far as the register office, only for Jorgensen to be refused a marriage licence when she pulled out a man’s birth certificate.
November 28, 2012
ESR on some recent linguistic speculation:
Here’s the most interesting adventure in linguistics I’ve run across in a while. Two professors in Norway assert that English is a Scandinavian language, a North Germanic rather than a West Germanic one. More specifically, they claim that Anglo-Saxon (“Old English”) is not the direct ancestor of modern English; rather, our language is more closely related to the dialect of Old Norse spoken in the Danelaw (the Viking-occupied part of England) after about 865.
[. . .]
Previously on this blog my commenters and I have kicked around the idea that English is best understood as the result of a double creolization process — that it evolved from a contact pidgin formed between Anglo-Saxon and Danelaw Norse. The creole from that contact then collided, a century later, with Norman French. Wham, bam, a second contact pidgin forms; English is the creole descended from the language of (as the SF writer H. Beam Piper famously put it) “Norman soldiers attempting to pick up Anglo-Saxon barmaids”.
This is not so different from the professors’ account, actually. They win if the first creole, the barmaids’ milk language, was SVO with largely Norse grammar and some Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. The conventional history of English would have the girls speaking an SOV/V2 language with largely Anglo-Saxon grammar and some Norse vocabulary.
November 13, 2012
Denmark is getting rid of its “fat tax” imposed last year, as it has failed to solve the problem it was intended to address:
Gone, by popular demand: Denmark’s fat tax. ‘The fat tax is one of the most maligned we [have] had in a long time’, said Mette Gjerskov, the Danish food and agriculture minister, in a press conference on Saturday announcing the decision to ditch the policy. ‘Now we have to try improving the public health by other means.’
[. . .]
It turns out, unsurprisingly, that slapping taxes on things doesn’t necessarily persuade people to consume less of them. So Danes either went downmarket in their buying habits by buying cheaper products, or popped across the border to Sweden or Germany to buy their fatty foods there instead. The only real effect was to hit the profits of Danish companies. Chastened by the experience, the Danish government has also scrapped plans for a sugar tax, too.
As the OECD notes: ‘The impact of imposing taxes on the consumption of certain foods is determined by the responsiveness of consumers to price changes, ie, price elasticity. However, it is difficult to predict how consumers will react to price changes caused by taxation. Some may respond by reducing their consumption of healthy goods in order to pay for the more expensive unhealthy goods, thus defeating the purpose of the tax. Others may seek substitutes for the taxed products, which might be as unhealthy as those originally consumed. Depending on the elasticity of the demand for the taxed products, consumers will either end up bearing an extra financial burden, or changing the mix of products they consume in ways that can be difficult to identify.’
So, simply from a practical point of view, food taxes — indeed, any sin tax, including extra duty on tobacco or minimum prices for alcohol — can have some unwanted negative consequences while largely failing to achieve their intended aim.
August 27, 2012
In The Register, Brid-Aine Parnell on the 80th birthday of one of the iconic toys of the 20th century:
Way back in 1932, Ole Kirk Kristiansen, a Danish joiner and carpenter, found he wasn’t making enough money from carpentry anymore and decided to try making and selling wooden toys instead. Although he didn’t know it yet, he was on his way to building the Lego company, which would eventually have some of the most recognisable and long-lasting toys in the world: bricks and yellow minifigurines.
[. . .]
According to that research, girls aren’t into Lego. Poul Schou, senior vice president of product group 2, told The Register that Lego was for boys, not girls, because although both sexes loved the larger preschool bricks of Duplo once the girls hit five, they weren’t interested in construction anymore.
“We have seen that girls seem to be less interested in continuing with our products when they get to four or five years old so we don’t really get them into the Lego system,” he said.
Here at Vulture Central, that seemed really odd. Not only did everyone in the office, regardless of gender, remember playing with and loving Lego throughout their childhood, for the most part, their kids, both boys and girls, love it as well.
[. . .]
Schou said that the company got “a lot of feedback from boys and girls”. The kids are encouraged to go online to talk about the products they buy and what age they are, and the boxes often include incentives to answer Lego survey questions as well.
Of course if girls aren’t buying Lego stuff, they won’t be answering any questions, which would be a kind of answer in itself (although whether the answer would be “Girls don’t like Lego” or “Girls don’t like surveys” would be hard to figure out).
June 21, 2012
Despite the familiar surgeon general’s warning advising women to abstain completely from alcoholic beverages during pregnancy “because of the risk of birth defects,” there has never been any solid evidence that light to moderate consumption harms the fetus (as Stanton Peele pointed out in Reason more than two decades ago). New research from Denmark, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates once again that heavy drinking is the real hazard. In a study of more than 1,600 women (“nearly a third of all Danish women who were pregnant between 1997 and 2003,” Maia Szalavitz notes in Time), children of women who consumed nine or more drinks per week during pregnancy had shorter attention spans and were five times as likely to have low IQs at age 5 than children of abstainers. But no such effects were apparent in the children of women whose alcohol consumption during pregnancy was light (one to four drinks per week) or moderate (five to eight drinks per week). “Our findings show that low to moderate drinking is not associated with adverse effects on the children aged 5,” the researchers said.
Szalavitz cautions that a “drink” as defined in this study contained 12 grams of pure ethanol, compared to the American standard of 14 grams, one-sixth more. Given the relatively wide consumption ranges, that difference probably does not matter much. Szalavitz also notes that, unlike earlier studies, this one asked women about their drinking while they were still pregnant, so the responses are less likely to be skewed by inaccurate recall. Still, self-reported drinking, especially by pregnant women, probably underestimates actual consumption, meaning that the amounts associated with no neurological impairment are apt to be bigger than those indicated by the study.
One of the issues with studies of this sort is the very need for self-reporting: most people, after a lifetime of public health warnings, will under-report their drinking (whether consciously or not). In this case, that’s a useful thing to provide some level of comfort in the findings: if most women in the study under-reported their actual intake of alcohol while pregnant, yet the children show no negative effects developmentally, we can concentrate on those few who really do over-indulge and whose children do suffer as a result.
June 14, 2012
In Wired, Dave Mosher has a profile of a fascinating little group with a sky-high goal:
Co-founders von Bengtson, an aerospace scientist and former NASA contractor, and Madsen, an entrepreneur and aerospace engineer, have a lot to be proud of since they founded their non-profit space program four years ago. In June 2011, for example, Copenhagen Suborbital’s army of volunteers successfully built, launched and recovered a 31-foot-tall rocket — the largest “amateur” launcher ever built — with a crash-test dummy tucked inside.
That first prototype ended its flight two miles up, and the organization has yet to check off their ultimate goal: sending a person more than 60 miles above the Earth, a height widely considered the boundary of outer space. But now they are creating a bigger, better and badder space vehicle to get there.
“We have gone from having a crazy idea on a submarine to a smoothly run organization that builds rockets and spacecraft, and has experience with big launches,” said von Bengtson, who also blogs about the project for Wired at Rocket Shop. “It feels like we have become a part of a new era in space. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Not for millions of dollars.”
May 29, 2011
Colby Cosh rounds up the details on the Marmite affair:
Nothing stirs the blood of the British like a nice slapfight over European regulation, and this goes double when food is involved. The UK press has found its latest excuse for tut-tutting and finger-waggling in the unlikeliest of places: at the bottom of the squat, distinctive little jar in which the vile breakfast spread Marmite is sold. This week, English-language journals in Denmark reported that the Scandinavian kingdom’s food regulator was having the dark brown yeast extract cleared from the shelves of shops which serve Brit expatriates.
The British reared up as one, displaying a spirit of indignant unity. “What have the Danes ever done for global cuisine?” thundered the Belfast Telegraph, breaking Godwin’s Law into splinters over its knurled Ultonian knee. (Unfortunately, a good answer might be “Not given it Marmite, at any rate.”) Fans of the quasi-foodstuff gathered on Facebook to form a “Marmite army”. Social campaigners used the ban to call attention to dubious patches in Denmark’s record on human rights and environmentalism.
As he points out, nobody at the Danish food nanny office suddenly issued a ban: technically Marmite had never been cleared for import at all. So it’s just a matter of filling in a form or two and Bob’s your uncle? Not quite:
Marmite’s status as a “fortified food” has apparently only just been noticed, and the DVFA says that “it has not received an application for marketing in Denmark of Marmite or similar products with added vitamins or minerals.” A glance at the DVFA’s procedure for obtaining approval to market these foods reveals why brand owner Unilever might not be in such a hurry to file. (And it also reveals that free-trade fanatics like me should probably rein in their admiration for the EU’s trade barriers just a little.) The agency not only requires compliance with EU-wide regulations, but insists that each product pass an “individual risk assessment” performed using a made-in-Denmark scientific procedure.
May 26, 2011
Lester Haines has the latest on the plight of ex-pat Brits suffering under a dictatorial food regime in Denmark:
According to this official statement, neither Marmite nor its Oz rival Vegemite are banned in Denmark, because they’ve never actually been approved for sale.
A 2004 law controls the distribution of products with “added vitamins, minerals or other substances”, and in order to punt such foodstuffs, they “need to be approved by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration before the product can be marketed”.
[. . .]
In effect, then, those shops selling Marmite are dealing in unauthorised enhanced substances.
We and the Daily Mail have no doubt that any attempt to legalise Marmite would be met with a swift rejection, in defiance of EU directives on free trade. As Copenhagen-based expat Lyndsay Jensen put it: “They don’t like it because it’s foreign. But if they want to take my Marmite off me, they’ll have to wrench it from my cold dead hands.”
It’s been said that Marmite is an “acquired taste”, but Denmark’s health regulators are moving quickly to ensure that Danes never have the opportunity to develop that taste. Of course, like most other forms of prohibition, it might actually increase the attractiveness of the “forbidden fruit”.
Denmark has a long coastline, so smuggling in the little black jars across the North Sea would be quite possible . . .
May 25, 2011
Danish diners will no longer be subject to the horrors of Marmite, thanks to swift and decisive action by the country’s Veterinary and Food Administration:
According to the advert, you either love it or hate it. As far as Marmite goes, the Danish government hates the stuff. That at least is the conclusion that many foreigners have drawn following a ban on the sticky brown yeast extract.
The sales ban enforces a law restricting products fortified with added vitamins. Food giant Kellogg’s withdrew some brands of breakfast cereal from Denmark when the legislation passed in 2004, but until now Marmite had escaped the attention of Danish authorities.
“What am I supposed to put on my toast now?” asked British advertising executive Colin Smith, who has lived in the country for six years. “I still have a bit left in the cupboard, but it’s not going to last long.”
I celebrated the decision by having some Marmite on crackers for lunch yesterday. More for me!
“Spread the word, but most importantly spread the Marmite,” wrote Kelly. “On every street in good old Denmark, show ‘em what they’re missing after they’ve banned this iconic product from our supermarket shelves! Make it a Marmite day everyday folks! Let the rise of the Marmite army begin!”
But even on the page, opinion remained divided. A perplexed Ray Weaver wrote: “but… it’s horrible…”
On the page calling for a boycott of Danish goods, fan Joe Figg feared the ban could have far-reaching consequences. “This dastardly move could bring about global warming of toast,” he wrote. While Mark Salisbury wrote: “Down with spread fascism!”