When you are Swedish

FIFA 2006 Swedish Invasion in Munich (Worldcup...
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On Swedish quirks, which include:

  • Early morning birthday gift-giving rituals: I think there’s something quirky about birthdays in all these northern European mini-states.  The Dutch bake their own cake and serve everyone but themselves on their birthdays, not to mention the circle party where everyone congratulates you and your family, presumably, for making it through another round of intolerably insufferable family gatherings.
  • Shitty customer service: Again, much to be desired in much of the Continent. Yes, you need to pay yourself (often at exorbitant rates, of 20-30 cents per minute) to reach customer service.  No, there’s no guarantee you’ll reach anyone within a reasonable amount of time. Yes of course the lines are closed on nights and weekends. And yes, to have someone tell you something is simply “impossible” is the most likely outcome of your concerted efforts.
  • Odd breakfast spread combos like apple sauce on cereals: The Dutch has its own mind-boggling combination of breakfast specialties that include chocolate bits on top of butter and spread on biscuits.
  • And wordsthatsticktogetherthatmakesyounauseous: Although English seems to be the exception in this case, in its refusal to jive with the rest of its ancestral Germanic cousins in putting words together with no breathing space in between.
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A politically-correct elite against a fed-up public

IMG_9945-Thilo Sarrazin
Image by oparazzi photos via Flickr

This is how the likes of Geert Wilders hijacks meaningful conversations on immigration and integration.  When a chasm the size of New Zealand’s newly torn fault line exists between what politically-correct politicians and media say, and what the Joe Schmo thinks, then these populist telling-it-as-it-is ideas begin to take hold.

What I’m getting from this Newsweek take on the Sarrazin non-sense sweeping Germany, is that one, Germany refuses to acknowledge its long-term negligence and mistakes made on immigration and integration policies.  As a result, Germany’s post-war repentance took on a wildly ignorant and politically correct tone which confused racial equality and tolerance with recognizing disadvantaged and left-behind communities for what they are, disadvantaged and increasingly left behind.

And two, politicians and media cannot effectively deal with this underclass of mostly immigrant citizens, and refuses to acknowledge what is in plain sight – that is, their low economic and social status.  I understand the nuances required in separating the underlying social problems from their attached communities, but that’s what politicians are paid to do.

So far, it looks to me as though they are only capable of doing one of two things.  One, blaming poor development in the Turkish/Arab communities in Germany (and Turkish/Moroccan communities in the Netherlands) on Islam.  Or two, pointing the finger on politicians on the other side of the table and calling them Hitler, and thereby exempting themselves from meaningful discussions on the wider social problems and policy mistakes made in the past, possibility by their own parties.

Many people have said that this is all but a distraction from the real economic and demographic challenges that Europe faces.  No doubt, Europe could very well harvest this “crisis” into an opportunity and benefit from the younger demographic profiles of their immigrant communities.

But I would say that when you have 10-20% percent of your population in a politically provoked, socially isolated, and economically unfulfilled state, those countries are out of balance.  In Brussels, Moroccan youths are (from reliable friends that live there) wreaking havoc in Arabic neighbourhoods – everything from petty theft and property vandalism to rioting against the police.

On the other hand, Belgium is also a country where most white-collar work places have no (not a little, but none whatsoever) people of colour, despite a good 15-20% of their compatriots being non-white.  It says something about the society when most native Belgians have never encountered a non-European co-worker, instead only interacting with the immigrant underclass through their jobs as office cleaners, grocers, and other lowly menial jobs.

But back to Sarrazin, is it then any surprise that most Germans support him and his views?

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On home births

A woman giving birth on a birth chair, from a ...
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Home births has been getting more attention in the last little while in the English-speaking world, as the idea of purer and less interventionist births seem to coincide with the naturalist trend.

But are home births actually better and safer?  Some claim the rate of post-natal depression is lower in women that do give births at home, others see the practice as primitive and risky.

In the Netherlands, as many as a quarter of births take place in the home – which seems high, but still much lower than what it was 30 years ago. The midwifery role is well-integrated into the health-care system – who replaces doctors in their roles of monitoring pregnancies, birthing, and post-natal care.

The affinity for expectant mothers to turn to midwives instead of doctors has perhaps more historical and cultural bearings than what’s been given credit to.  The Dutch shuns painkillers and sees medication as the last resort, perhaps owning to its somewhat agrarian past where healthcare is not concentrated and widespread, and its Calvinist staunchness.

The government and the medical profession likes to keep the population think their stoic approach against pain and illness, is more sensible against what they view as the cry-baby paranoia of the Americans.  In fact, when a relatively famous Dutch TV host gave birth with the help of epidurals and later praised it as “invention of the century” (blasphemy!), she was quickly condemned by both the health ministries and physician associations for giving women the wrong idea.

As a result, it still remains that in the 21st century and a somewhat post-feminist world, when the majority of developed-world’s women have made peace with the role pain-relief plays during the birthing process, the average Dutch woman is still guilt-tripped into viewing a drug-free birth as the ultimate testament to their womanhood.

Visits to the doctors usually end with the patients empty-handed, with doctors doing little except telling patients to wait-and-see, and let-it-blow-over.  The entire healthcare profession also has little penchant for preventative care, which is to say, yearly check ups (no pap smears before the age of 40, and only every 2-5 years thereafter) and preventative dental care is almost unheard of.

But back to home births, is it better and just as safe as hospital births?  This report doesn’t seem to think so.  Although it’ll probably take another generation before the Dutch assertion that “home birth is the best option for a large number of women” goes challenged.

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Cairo Times

I heard about this movie last year, and just got around to watching it.

Here’s what the movie got right:

– The film was made in Egypt, you can tell because the whole deal with traffic is pretty much spot on. There’s no real concept of traffic lanes in Egypt, nor does the concept of traffic lights exist – there are none.  Taxis are from the 60s, some release toxic fume from the inside.  But most of the time you are poisoned from the pollution from out the window.  Keeping the taxi drivers awake is also important.

– Patricia Clarkson’s character’s surprise in having men follow her everywhere when she goes out in blouses and skirts.  Women get this pretty quickly: you either cover up, or you are “asking for it”.  Unwanted sexual attention that is.  And it goes without saying that every Arabic men that approaches you on the street will have no trouble telling you how beautiful you are. Without fail.

– There are too many camels and not enough donkeys in the film. There are more donkeys in Egypt.

– Yes, you will be offered hot hibiscus tea all the time, even when it’s 40 degrees outside and you are trying to cool down. Tea is usually served with spoonfuls of sugar.

– The gushing new foreigner, and the cynical long-term expat.

– When Clarkson says, I’ll write something about street children, and Tareq says, you don’t live here, it’s complicated.  Right on.

– Everyone you meet seems to be studying some combination of language and tourism. Becoming a tour guide and one day running their own travel agency seems to be the best prospects for a lot of young people.  I have heard every major language spoken while I was there, including impeccable Chinese while inside the Egyptian Museum.

– “Tomorrow I will take the day off.”  Many Egyptian men that endlessly wander the street seem to have this luxury. Under-employment and outright unemployment seems to be a chronic malaise.

Where it’s not one hundred percent:

– It’s not that hot in November. During the days, you can get by with a sleeveless shirt, but it’s no sweltering heat.  At night, it gets chilly fast.

– Venturing out to the oasis doesn’t really count as going out in Cairo.  The white desert is a few hours away, and you need a 4×4 jeep to get out there.  These trips are done overnight, usually with Bedouin tour guides.

– Sailing on the Nile: it’s almost pointless to sail on the Niles during smoggy days, you can’t see three meters from the boat.  Most people sail at night, while eating on one of those boat restaurants.  Much cooler, plus the pollution would’ve been more settled by then.

Emerging adulthood and other Wednesday links

I’m not completely sold on this: women’s success in finding a male partner don’t pay off in the labor market.

Ambiguity over just exactly what “blood diamond” means.

When the EU Parliament “cuts” its budget.

Call centres are coming back onshore?

How can Sweden come up on top, when the majority of working women there work for the public sector and get paid less?  Or is it merely a study of gender pay based on the same job, not accounting for the difference in how socio-economic factors sway career choices?

On the ascent of Serge Gainsbourg’s as a historical reflection on the ongoing battle for French identity.

Finland, the best country in the world?  More like Jekyll-and-Hyde?

Emerging adulthood, except we never come out on the other side.

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The new silk road and Monday morning links

Detroit’s decline reflected in its specific breed of strip bars.

Two sides of history on Churchill.

A divided India.

Power and ethical lapses.

Europe in 1914.

Helping girls in conflict resolution and confidence building early on.

Everyone has an opinion on if and how the Internet might be changing the way we think.

Caucasus, pipelines, and the new silk road.

China takes over Japan, officially second largest economy.

Russia’s “legal nihilism” and the exile generation.

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