How to completely miss the point

The Danish government party, Socialdemokratiet/The Social Democrats, have made a video which is supposed to show that they support all children.

You don’t have to be able to speak English to get the gist of what the video is about. It is based on the Privilege walk exercise, which is based on Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and has is meant to illustrate how privilege will affect people.

Now, look at the video from the Social Democrats, and you’ll probably notice straight away that they have completely missed the point of the exercise. The group of children in the video is extremely homogeneous, and there are none with different ethnical backgrounds or with visible handicaps.

Yes, the video ends up with great differences between the children, but the big distance this is only possible because they have changed the questions in order to remove any referring to white and able bodied privileges, and instead focusing on only those that can affect this particular group of children. It is understandable why they have done this, but it goes against the whole concept for the exercise.

I cannot even begin to understand why anyone would do this particular exercise without any representations for the groups that faces systematic discrimination in the Danish society. I can only think that this was done deliberately to not draw attention to the plight of those groups, and instead focuses on more traditionally social democratic priorities – e.g. class and education. This is, unfortunately, not surprising, given how the Danish Social Democrats has become more and more anti-immigrant, in order to win voters back from the xenophobic Danish Peoples’ Party.

The Danish election

June 5 is the Danish Constitution Day, and this year it was also the Danish election.

The Danish election was basically a choice between an environment-focused center-left coalition or a right-libertarian coalition, and there was a lot at stake.

Happily the center-left coalition won.

Nearly as important, the center-left coalition won in a way, which probably will force the major party, the Social Democrats, to tone down their xenophobic tendencies, and help make the country better for immigrants and refugees.

Also nearly as important, a fascist party that had entered the election, didn’t get anyone elected. Unfortunately a far-right, xenophobic party, Ny Borgerlige, got in with 4 mandates. Happily, the existing far-right, xenophobic party, Danish Peoples’ Party, got slaughtered, and is down 21 mandates to 16 mandates.

The Guardian has a good commentary on the election results from Denmark: Europe, take note: in Denmark, the humanitarian left is on the rise

On a more personal note. As I have written before, I supported a specific candidate, Samira Nawa (link in Danish), and I am happy to report that she got elected to the Danish parliament.

Remembering the past – skudsmaalsbog

I was looking through some personal papers recently, and came across these two small books

Skudsmaalsbog

The skudsmaalsbog of my great-grandparents

They belonged to my Danish great-grandparents, and each is a skudsmaalsbog, which contained information about their employment history.

Title page of skudsmaalbog

Title page of the skudsmaalsbog

Until 1921, servants and other workers had to have a skudsmaalsbog, which had to be signed by employers when they left the job. Without such a signature, you couldn’t get a new job. You also had to present it to officials if you moved from one parish to another. If someone lost their skudsmaalsbog, they had to report it to the police immediately, or face a fine. After it was reported lost, an investigation would take place, and if it was found to be lost intentionally, they would get fined.

§3. Forkommer en Skudsmaalsbog, skal Tyendet under Bøder af indtil 5 Rdl. Ufortøvet anmelde det for Politiet, som derpaa bar et undersøge, hvorledes Bogen er forkommen. Er dette skeet forsætligen af Tyendet bør det bøde fra 5 til 20 Rdl. Derhos bør Tyendet anskaffe sig en ny Skudsmaalbog, hvilken i dette Tilfælde saavel paa Landet som i Kjøbstæderne udleveres af Politiøvrigheden. Den nye Skudsmaalsbog bør paa Landet inden 4 Dage forevises Sognepræsten under Bøder af indtil 10 Rdl.

Above is the lawtext (in Danish) explaining how much you’d get fined if you loose the book intentionally or without reporting it.

Until 1867, the employer was supposed to write the dates of employment and the wage, and could write an evaluation of the employee If an employer lied about the employee, either by praising them or criticizing them falsely, they faced a fine.

§5. Enhver Huusbond skal, forinden et Tyende forlader hans Tjeneste, indføre i dets Skudsmaalsbog, fra og til hvilken Tid Tyendet har tjent ham, samt i hvilken Egenskab.

Det beroer paa huusbonden, om han vil tilføie noget Vidnesbyrd om Tyendets Forhold i Tjenestetiden.

Den Huusbond, som mod bedre Vidende giver Tyendet et fordeelagtigt Skudsmaal, hvorved tredje Mand kan skuffes, skal ifølge Lovgigningens almindelige Grundsætninger staae den Skadelidende til Ansvar, og kan efter Omstændighederne dømmes i Bøder indtil 20 Rdl.

Giver Huusbonden i Skudsmaalsbogen Tyendet et ufordeelagtigt Vidnesbyrd, som kan være det hinderligt i at faae nye Tjenester, og han ikke kan tilveiebringe saadanne Oplysninger, som give antagelig Formodning for, at han har haft tilstrækkelig Grund dertil, skal han erstatte Tyendet den foraarsagede Skade og ansees med Straf, der bestemmes, hvis fornærmelige Beskyldninger ere fremførte, efter Lovene om Fornærmelser i Ord, og ellers til Bøder af Beløb indtil 20 Rdl.

After 1867, the employer was only allowed to write the dates of employment, the type of employment and the wage. 1867 was also the year where employers were no longer allowed to beat their servants and other employees. Employers were required to write the dates of employment, and would be punished with a fine if they didn’t. Since it wasn’t possible to get a new job without documentation of having ended the last one, this was not a trifling matter.

When a person moved between cities or parishes, they had to present it either to the police (in cities) or to the priest (in parishes), in the place they left, and in the place they move to. The police/priest would then update the rolls of the place, either removing or adding the person. They would also note in the book that they had been informed. When moving between cities and parishes, you only a short while to inform about the move – either 24 hours (in the cities) or 4 days (countyside) after arrival.

Tearing out pages, or making the entries unreadable in other ways, was punished by heavy fines and jail time.

Page in skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog, showing the entries, including the city stamp, when moving between cities.

Open skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog showing entires

The practice of people having to have a skudsmaalsbog continued until 1921, six years after the Danish constitution was changed, allowing women and people without a household to vote.

The last entry of my great-grandfather’s book was in 1901, and the last entry of my great-grandmother’s book was in 1903. This is probably when he got his own business, and when they got married – since my grandfather was born in 1904, the timing would be right.

Peter Madsen sentenced to life

On Wednesday at 13:00 Danish time, Peter Madsen was found guilty of the murder of Kim Wall, and sentenced to life in prison.

By Danish standards, that is an unusually harsh sentence, as he had no prior convictions of any kind, but this was an unusual case in many ways, as the trial has shown.

I have written about the Peter Madsen trial before (here and here), and don’t really feel that I can add more to the story.

Peter Madsen has said that he will appeal the conviction and sentence.

When someone has been sentenced a lifetime sentence in Denmark, they rarely serve the full time, and are eligible to get freed on parole after 12 years. This is not likely to happen in the case of Peter Madsen though, since you have to be considered to no longer being an danger to society – something which it is unlikely anyone will say about Peter Madsen for a very long time.

More on the Peter Madsen case

Content notice: violence, death, mutilation

In a recent post I wrote about the bizzare case of the death of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, who was last seen on the submarine belonging to amateur rocket builder Peter Madsen.

As I wrote in that post, Peter Madsen claims that she died onboard the submarine in an accident, but that there are many signs that something more sinister had happened – a major reason why many believe so, is that only the torso of Kim Wall has been found, and that it contained stab wounds.

Since my last post, the Danish police gained access to Peter Madsen’s computer, which was found to contain deeply troubling videos of women getting tortured and killed.

And in the newest development, yesterday the Danish police managed to find the head and legs of Kim Wall, allowing them to examine those. The police has already said that there is no fracture in Kim Wall’s skull, making Peter Madsen’s story, about her getting killed by getting hit in the head with a heavy hatch, even more unlikely.

Honoring Inge Lehmann

On May 15th, the University of Copenhagen will hold a symposium celebrating Inge Lehmann. As part of the celebration, a monument honoring her and her discovery will be unveiled on Frue Plads. Frue Plads is a square located just in front of the historical buildings of the University, and the square contains busts of prominent alumni of the university, including several prominent scientists (like Niels Bohr), but not, to my knowledge, any honoring a woman.

So, who is Inge Lehmann, and why is she honored by the University of Copenhagen?

To answer that, let’s go to wikipedia’s entry on her:

Inge Lehmann ForMemRS (13 May 1888 – 21 February 1993) was a Danish seismologist and geophysicist. In 1936, she discovered that the Earth has a solid inner core inside a molten outer core. Before that, seismologists believed Earth’s core to be a single molten sphere, being unable, however, to explain careful measurements of seismic waves from earthquakes, which were inconsistent with the Earth having a single molten core. Lehmann analysed the seismic wave measurements and concluded that Earth must have a solid inner core and a molten outer core to produce seismic waves that matched the measurements. Other seismologists tested and then accepted Lehmann’s explanation. Lehmann was also the longest-lived woman scientist, having lived for over 104 years.

The discovery of the solid inner core was done through the analysis of P-waves, and was published by her in her 1936 paper P’. What she observed was basically that P-waves didn’t get deflected by the (outer) core, as might be expected, but that it deflected on something else, further in, leading her to believe that there was an inner core inside the core. We now talk of the outer core (which is liquid) and the inner core (which is solid).

Her ideas were widely accepted within a few years, but it wasn’t until computers came around, that they could be demonstrated to be true through computer calculations. This happened in 1971.

Inge Lehmann is largely unknown in Denmark outside seismology and geophysics circles, but she is probably one of the most important scientists to ever come out of the country, which can be witnessed through the fact that the American Geophycical Union (AGU) has named a medal after her, awarded for “outstanding contributions to the understanding of the structure, composition, and dynamics of the Earth’s mantle and core.”

As a side note. When reading up on Lehmann, who I had heard about, but didn’t know too many details about, I noticed that she didn’t finish her study until she was 32, having taken a break for several years, working in an insurance company. I can’t help think about how the current policy of pushing people through their study would have led her to drop out, and thus she would never have had the chance to make her discovery.

The Year 2016 – a review

In just over 5 hours, it is midnight here in Denmark, and the year 2016 will be at an end.

With the end of 2016 comes the end of a great year on the personal level, but a horrible year on the broader scale.

It was a great year for me personally, as I bought a new apartment in a part of Copenhagen that I really wanted to live in. I have lived in the apartment for half a year, and even though it still needs some renovations (a bathroom where I can move around in the shower), it has been great living here.

On top of that, it has been a good year for traveling – I started the year in Australia, and have since then been to:

  • Berlin, Germany (twice)
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Ghent, Belgium (first time there)
  • Venice, Italy
  • Tokyo, Japan (first time there)
  • Malaga/Marbella, Spain (work conference)
  • Chicago, USA
  • Springfield, Mo (for Skepticon)
  • Orlando, Florida (work conference)
  • Florence, Italy (first visit in 30 years)

As someone who loves traveling, experiencing new food, and looking at great art, this has obviously been very enjoyable.

Work-wise, there have been some disappointments, but I still love what I do and love the people I work together with, so there is no real reasons to complain.

On the down side, moving apartments combined with all the traveling, means I have had less time to do stuff in Denmark as I’d have liked. It means I haven’t seen my friends as much as I’d have liked, and that I have had to miss out on some of the Copenhagen Skeptics in the Pub sessions.

But on balance, my year has been a pretty good one on the personal level.

On a more general level, however, the year has been horrible – and here I am not talking about the list of great people who have died this year. Rather, I am talking about the political climate in Denmark and in the rest of the world.

In Denmark, a right-winged single-party government has been in power from mid-2015. This government was dependent on the support of libertarian and far-right, xenophobic parties in the Danish parliament, and thus were busy pandering to those parties (reducing taxes and trying to block refugees and immigrants). A few months ago, the government changed, and included two more parties, including the libertarian party (also a conservative party), making the agenda of the libertarians a part of the government platform.

At the same time, the Danish Social-democratic party seems to try to win votes from the far-right, xenophobic party, by becoming more and more anti-immigrant and xenophobic, which means that even if there is a change in government, it is highly unlikely that the current policies will be rolled back.

Looking more broadly, there is of course Brexit, in which an anti-EU xenophobic block managed to convince enough voters in the UK to vote to leave the EU for the referendum to result in a leave vote. This was done through lying and fear-mongering, and should have had no place in a referendum in a modern democracy, but apparently it did, with disastrous results, in my opinion. My opinion seems to be shared by many people in the UK, including many of those who voted for leaving, so one could hope that a better solution is found in the end.

If the UK (perhaps minus Scotland) leaves the EU, I think the EU has no choice to treat them fairly harshly in the upcoming negotiations, showing that leaving the EU has consequences.

And then there is the US election. What a clusterfuck that was. There were two candidates, one of which was eminently qualified and the other who was unqualified on every level one could think off. Yet, a large portion of the voters took a look at those candidates, and decided to vote for the unqualified one. Due to the setup of the US voting system, this portion was large enough to ensure that that candidate won.

So, Trump is the upcoming US President.

In the time since the election, he has done nothing but create one international crisis after the other, often by the simple act of using Twitter. Well, when I say “nothing”, I obviously don’t mean that – he has also been busy appointing the most unqualified cabinet one could possible imagine; if you can think of someone who would be completely unqualified for a cabinet position, it is highly likely that Trump wants to appoint that person for that position!

Given the fact that the GOP is in complete control of the houses, it also means that the GOP can more or less implement all their policies at will.

The policies that both Trump, and many of the GOP members went to election on, includes things like getting rid of Obamacare, deporting undocumented immigrants, rolling back LGBT rights, reducing taxes for the rich, and creating a register of all Muslims in the US.

In other words, the Trump presidency is going to be horrible for marginalized people of all types.

And here I haven’t even gotten into Trump’s fascist tendencies and the mutual support between him and Putin, which might cause serious problems in Ukraine, the Baltic countries and other former Soviet countries.

So, all in all, 2016 has been a pretty bad year, and will spill over into the years to come.

NPR reports on suicides in Greenland

As some of you might know, the Kingdom of Denmark (or the Danish Realm) is formed by three autonomous countries – the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Denmark.

This has not always been the case – the Faroe Islands and Greenland was considered part of Denmark since the forming of the Kalmar Union in 1397, and didn’t become autonomous until 2005 and 2009 respectively. As a step towards becoming autonomous, both the Faroe Islands and Greenland received home rule – though in Greenland’s case, it didn’t have until 1979.

Before 1979, Greenland had been a colony of Denmark-Norway for centuries until 1953, where it was turned into a county in Denmark.

At the same time as Greenland was turned into a county, a lot of well-meaning Danes attempted to modernize the Greenlandic Inuits, making them less dependent upon seal hunting and fishing.

Some of the measures done in these attempts have since become known to the general public – most notable the story of the 22 kids that were taken from their parents in Greenland and put into foster care in Denmark, resulting in them loosing their language and culture. This is similar to things that has happened to indigenous people in Australia and Canada.

Such a forced modernization always have a negative effect on the local population – a negative effect that goes on for generations.

This receives very little coverage in Denmark.

Now, however I see that NPR has an article in Danish about the suicide rate in Greenland – a suicide rate that, at least partly, can be traced back to the policies of Denmark in Greenland.

Selvmord i Grønland: Det er ikke mørket, som dræber dig

There is also a version in English: The Arctic Suicides: It’s Not The Dark That Kills You

It is depressing that it takes a foreign newsmedia to cover a serious problem in a country that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but unfortunately, the Danish media doesn’t seem to cover such subjects.

A stunning lack of fact-checking in Denmark

Perhaps surprising to people who consider Denmark either a decadent socialist hell-hole or an enlightened welfare state, there is a robust debate about the welfare state in Denmark, its role, its size, and its effectiveness.

The current government, and most of the parties supporting it, is of the opinion that the welfare state in Denmark is too large and expensive, and that the tax rate is too high, especially for the people with the highest incomes – i.e. those paying the top level tax rate.

I profoundly disagree, even though I am one of those who would benefit from the tax rate being reduced. But that is a subject for another post.

Among the parties supporting the government on this issue, is Liberal Alliance, which is a Libertarian party (or ultra-liberal in the European sense).

One of the members of parliament for that party is also the founder of 180 grader (180 degrees) which is a blogging side for libertarians. 180 grader obviously have a lot of blog posts pushing the party line, and demonizing the welfare state.

One of the people writing at 180 grader is Karina Pedersen, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in a fairly small Danish town (population approximately 50,000 people). Karina Pedersen claimed that the welfare state kept people in poverty and unemployment, drawing on her experiences and referring to her family and old class mates as examples.

Given that Karina Pedersen is a rare case of someone from a poor background criticizing the welfare state, she has been given a lot of space in the public debate though numerous interviews and even a book Helt ude i hampen – mails fra underklassen (hard to translate, but approximately Completely far out – mails from the lower class). The book was published a couple of weeks ago.

The book is supposedly based on some mails that Karina Pedersen has sent to a friend, telling about her experiences, claiming that the “lower class” is lazy and cheating, and shouldn’t be helped by the state. She claimed that there were teen mothers living all over her old neighborhood as a result of the welfare state.

The publications of the book has of course given Karina Pedersen and her views more space in the newspapers, which uncritically published her claims about her experiences from her youth.

Then something interesting happened. A journalist decided to do some fact-checking (link in Danish).

As you might have guessed, it turned out that just about everything that Karina Pedersen had said about her childhood was either impossible to document or outright lies. Her claims about her family and classmates being unemployed were completely wrong, and so where the claims about young teenage mothers (something easily refuted by looking at the birth statistics).

In other words, her book and her claims in numerous interviews, were based upon lies, which a minimum of fact-checking would have uncovered.

Most of the many newspapers that have given Karina Pedersen space have admitted that they haven’t done their work properly, and that they should have done fact-checking and not just trust her claims, even if they had been published in a book.

The publisher of her book, Gyldendal, on the other hand, claims that they haven’t done anything wrong in not fact-checking her book, as it is her impression of her childhood and later life, and not meant to be accurate. This is of course bullshit, as the book contains factual claims about other people, all of which have turned out to be lies. This is not acceptable in a non-fiction book. If Gyldendal thinks this is the case, it is clear that it is not possible to trust the content of any of their non-fiction books.

In other words, one should avoid non-fiction by Gyldendal if you want books that are actually verifiable non-fiction.

Denmark overhauls its tax department

Outside the country, Denmark is known for its high tax rates. This would probably lead people outside Denmark to believe that the Danish taxation system is a well-oiled machine. If you live in Denmark, you know this is hardly the case however, as the Tax Department has been riddled with scandals.

These scandals have mostly related to IT projects, but in recent times, they have also related to bad controls, which have led to foreign swindlers getting tax returns that they should not have had in the region of $2 billion. On top of that, are problems with collecting back taxes and other money owned the state.

The scandals, and especially the loss of such a huge amount, has led to a major reform of the tax department.

Bloomsberg writes about it in this article: Billions in Losses Trigger Danish Overhaul of Taxation Model

Of course, the headline of the Bloomsberg article is nonsense – the Danish taxation model is going to stay the same. Rather it is the processes for paying out tax returns and collecting past taxes is getting overhauled, with more controls and better IT systems. As part of the overhaul, the department system of the Ministry of Taxation with get overhauled, splitting the Tax Department (which is one of the departments under the Ministry) into several departments. This is done to strengthening the expertise in the problem areas.

As someone who works with IT projects, I am curious of how the new structure and focus will change their way of doing IT. Many of the projects have in the past been huge projects, largely based on the waterfall model,  but in the last couple of years, both the Ministry of Taxation and the Taxation Department have tried to change this. The Ministry of Taxation has tried to change it by doing the development themselves, while the Taxation Department has tried to break projects into smaller bits, and using Agile.

All in all, it seems like a great idea to overhaul the department and ministry, but it comes down to the actual implementation.