Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen



Today I joined a gym. Yes, I know. I haven’t set foot in one for 15 years but the time had come to do so again. I apologise to regular readers who might be expecting something along the lines of some subject matter that is at least tangential to peak oil, global hegemony or environmental meltdown – that will all have to wait until next week. I should probably say now that if you’re of a sensitive disposition you might not want to read certain parts of this post, because today’s post is about … (drumroll) … violence!

But first, let me explain a little something. When I say I haven’t set foot inside a gym for 15 years, that’s not because I am some kind of couch potato who can’t walk up a flight of stairs. In fact, I run around 20km a week, bike about 100km and I’m even training for a half-marathon. Don’t forget, part of preparing for a future of limited medical care and inaccessible or ineffective drugs is the ability to keep fit and try and heal your own body. And just like sex, poetry and friendship, exercise is one of those things that you shouldn’t have to pay for. In any case, I have to exercise because if I don’t then the chronic pain I live with gets worse.

I’m not sure how it happened or what it is, but I live with an endless pain in my chest. It could have been when I had a snowboarding accident, or maybe it was the time I was infested with a tropical parasite that gnawed away at my insides unchecked for two years, but it’s been with me for this past decade, and sometimes it is debilitating, but usually it is just a low level ache in the upper left side of my chest. I’ve been to doctors and hospitals aplenty and they’ve run numerous tests on me and the conclusion is always the same: there’s nothing detectably wrong with me. Except there is. At times the pain spreads right up through my neck into my head and leaves me finding it painful to breathe and sleep. It isn’t fun.

I don’t know how it started or how to fix it. People have suggested acupuncture, visiting a chiropractor or various homeopathic treatments. Alcohol and coffee make it worse, whereas rubbing a pressure point under my left eye makes it go away temporarily, as if by magic. Very intense exercise also makes it go away for a few hours, as do strong pain killers. It’s a pain, but apparently not a fatal one.

So that’s why I go running. The only thing is that it seems to be getting more and more dangerous to go running where I live. Some people might think that it doesn’t get much safer and cleaner than Copenhagen – that is how the city likes to present itself to an international audience. That’s probably what the unfortunate American tourist thought last week who met a grisly end after an automated street cleaning machine suddenly developed artificial intelligence and went amok, sucking him up and ramming his head against the wall of a bank, thus killing him in a most unexpectedly unpleasant way. But anyone who has ever lived here or watched the superb TV series Forbrydelsen (renamed ‘The Killing’ in English) won’t be entirely surprised by what I am about to say. This has been my experiences in the past ten days or so:

-         A man was murdered with a single shot to the head outside the office I work in. The attack was thought to be a revenge attack for a hit on some people walking out of a mosque a year ago (also next to my office) which I heard. At the time I had thought somebody was throwing heavy things into a skip – that’s what it sounded like.

-         A couple of days later I went running at night. On a particularly dark street near the beach a car pulled up next to me and a man yelled something obscene at me. I ignored him and he drove off. Ten minutes later the whole place was full of police cars and it was on the news later that a man on that street had been randomly cruising around and stabbing passers-by. One victim was stabbed in the chest but managed to walk to hospital.

-         I also went running the next night and surprised two men doing something suspicious at a deserted building site – they didn’t take it well and I had to put a sprint on.

-        Three nights later I encountered a gang of youths, one wielding a metal pole outside a grim local shopping precinct. They were dressed in the American ‘gangster’ style of pants hanging down and covered in bling. They were also smashing the place up and again I had to sprint to get away from them as they shouted after me.

-         Then last night – the final night I went out. Half the police force of Copenhagen descended on the island of Amager where I live after violence flared up between the two main Hells Angels gangs who are Denmark’s de facto mafia. One man was thrown out of a moving car, and another was found kneecapped in the back seat of another. Just another night in Copenhagen.

Sporadic random cases? Maybe.  But I used to regularly attend crime scenes in my capacity as a reporter here a couple of years ago, so I know very well that there’s a very dark underbelly in this city. Here are a few of the scenes I attended during that time:

  •          A cold blooded murder of a Somali man who was leaving his flat for work and was gunned down from a passing car in front of his children.
  •           A local bar (very close to my flat) invaded at night by a machine gun wielding gang hunting for junior members of a Hells Angels club. After shooting up the bar they dragged one unfortunate punter outside, pulled his trousers down and put the gun up where the sun don’t shine. I photographed the blood spattered plants pots and gore covered latex gloves of the paramedics.
  •          The assassination of a powerful Chinese businessman in a restaurant outside the office.
  •          The aftermath of a drugs turf war related grenade attack on some people enjoying a quiet beer in the alternative commune of Christiania. The grenade landed on the table and blew a young man’s jaw off.
  •          The attempted assassination of a biker leader as he sat in a Joe and the Juice café drinking a milkshake. The bullet went through the window into his back, where he was sitting, although he didn't die.


Apart from those there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds of others. Just across the water from where I live, in the Swedish city of Malmø, they also had to contend with a serial killer who was shooting dark skinned people at random. Luckily he was caught, but the fact remains that these kinds of people just seem to pop up over here with unnerving regularity. How long before we get Denmark’s answer to Anders Breivik?

But now the police fear a new biker war. Forget Islamic terrorists, Scandinavia is plagued with home grown ones with blonde hair and blue eyes.  It brings me back to the happy days on the mid-nineties, when I first visited Denmark. In those days the various biker gangs, who ride around on shiny $80,000 Harley Davidsons and control the lucrative drug trade in these parts, were taking part in some pretty spectacular public battles. Who could forget the machine gun battle at Copenhagen Airport, for instance, or the RPG attack in central Copenhagen which launched a victim through a plate glass window as shoppers stood by gawking?

I should probably say that the leader of the Hells Angels, convicted killer Jørn Jønker Nielsen, is particularly web-savvy and on occasion phoned the office I used to work in to politely point out factual errors in our stories. So, if you’re reading Jørn, er, hello.

This is all very puzzling. The statistics don't bear out my observations - Denmark has, on average, 0.9 homicides for every 100,000 people, making it the 21st safest country in the world (the US rate is about five times higher). It could be that victims are treated well in state of the art hospitals and usually recover, combined with the observation that most attacks tend to leave people half-dead rather than fully. And, of course, most violent crime tends to occur in the capital city, and most of them are premeditated attempts on the lives of various gang members and religious minorities.

So I have no particular desire to get caught up in all that again – hence my decision to join a gym in an international hotel near where I live. It’s a peculiar place to be. Everyone is so focussed on themselves and whatever is playing on their headphones, and they hardly seem to notice one another. It’s a kind of anti-community, where the lycra clad denizens drink only from plastic water bottles and nobody says a word but instead focuses on the numerous flat screen TVs affixed to the walls spewing out their 24 hour news and MTV feeds. Paper towel dispensers are much in use as every drop of sweat is quickly dealt with, and occasionally one of the gym employees will come round and empty the bins which quickly fill up with these and the plastic bottles. Various tattooed meatheads lift the free weights and flex their muscles in the mirrors, and afterwards there is a pool to cool off in, or a sauna to heat up in if you prefer. I quite like it.

It’s all very artificial and contrived, but for the time being it’s where I’ll be spending several evenings a week. What exactly am I doing as I run my standard 10km like a rat on a treadmill, dripping sweat onto the iPhone docking station? I’m writing my new sci-fi novel in my head, if you must know.  And not getting shot up the backside or stabbed or having my jaw blown off by a grenade.

Normal service will resume next week. 

23 comments:

  1. I have never paid to exercise, unless you call buying gasoline for the power lawn mower I pushed around the yard, "paying"? I have kept reasonably fit for my 68 years with physical work, a healthy diet, a limited amount of alcohol and no smoking. I would never dare run on the streets of Philadelphia after dark. Or even drive through some neighborhoods. With an average of 1.5 murders per day, it is not a safe place to be.

    As for writing SF, I too have taken up that life long interest but have not been successful in finding a publisher ... yet. Thanks for your articles. I check in everyday for your views.

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    1. It's hard as hell to find a publisher for SF. I tried once and still have 200 or so rejection letters somewhere. Still, if you have some good ideas they just have to come out somehow.

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  2. That's it. Write that book. Play with your kid. Make your wife and friends laugh. I recommend dancing like a wild man. Singing might open up that space too. I think you might be blocking something from the right side of your brain, that wants to flow out through your heart.

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    1. Cheers William. I hadn't thought of singing ... I'll give it a try. Sounds like good advice!

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  3. Although it's probably not feasible for you to do so, I'd suggest a move to a smaller city (town?) as far away from any high-density population centers as you can get. My wife and I did so awhile back. We're now located in a small city (around 80,000 souls) about halfway between Portland and San Francisco. Although the place is a bit lacking culturally and there is some Hispanic gang activity, life is much more pleasant here than it was in Portland - which, like Copenhagen, has a rep for being a great place to live.

    Also, I know what you mean about the denizens of the fitness club. Prior to our relocation I serviced indoor plants in a variety of establishments, including a large fitness club located in a posh district of one of Portland's suburbs. For the most part the people I encountered appeared to be narcissistic zombies and I was invisible to them to the point they'd blithely stroll right in front of the highly unmaneuverable 200lb. water cart when I was moving from one part of the club to another. Never hit anyone, but the temptation....

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    1. Martin - it's definitely feasible and it'll definitely happen when the time is right. We are only here in Copenhagen for work - it was never the plan to settle here.

      In any case, I'm not sure I buy the idea that cities are cultural centres any more. Centres of business, shopping and entertainment - and the place where you can switch jobs easily - yes, but I get my cultural overdose through other means these days. Jonathan Franzen wrote quite a good essay on this, I recall.

      Fitness zombies ... I like that!

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  4. I was thinking about blogging about this earlier. The idea that every person is different. We all have our own story. Not right or wrong, just...

    So work out man, what the fuck, be whoever you are. You don't have to prove shit to anybody. We all know that you know that we know that you know ;o)

    So whatever...and fuck those guys in the mirror...as in they suck

    Lucid

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  5. Hi from Arizona, Jason!
    Very much enjoy your blog- and also wish you well on your writing venture. It was always a dream of mine to write something-fiction-poetry -something to leave some beauty (no matter how tiny a contribution) before I die.
    I also wanted to add that judging from your post and so many other tidbits in the news, it seems the thin veneer of 'civilization' is getting more thin every day now. So very sad and I don't think most folks have a clue what is coming at them.
    all the best to you!
    Devin

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    1. Hi Devin and welcome.

      Amazing to hear I have readers as far away as Arizona!

      There's nothing to stop anyone from writing anything these days. If nothing else, it makes you stop and think about things in more detail - I'd highly recommend it!

      As for civilization - remember what Gandhi said when a reporter asked him what he thought of Western civilization on a visit to London?

      "That would be a good idea," was his reply.

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  7. Hi Jason,

    Sorry to hear about that pain. It surely never comes through in your writing. I hope that somehow you are freed from it. I wonder if swimming, stretching or yoga would help. You've probably already tried all three, I know.

    As for what you write about Copenhagen, I'm truly shocked. I imagined the place as some social democratic paradise where everyone was living some clean, healthful and rational life, with none of the problems they have in, say, most American cities. I mean, if Copenhagen is that messed up, then other parts of Europe, and North America and even Australia must be truly f*cked up.

    I have one question for you: I don't know what the English countryside is like these days, but aren't you concerned that things will be even worse in England? I mean, surely if Denmark is like that, then England has to be equally troubled. Sorry, don't mean to get all negative.

    I guess it's worth emphasizing something you already know: A small distance can make a huge difference. A small part of Denmark might be crime ridden, while the rest is probably fine. I guess that goes for England as well. I guess that even holds true for the States. The sad fact, though, is that as peak oil plays out, more and more people will become desperate and fewer and fewer places will remain safe to live in. I guess it's important to try to look into the future to find those places that are most likely to remain safe and healthy places to live. As much as I hate to say it, I think that having people of the same cultural and, yes, ethnic background is one sign that things will stay fairly calm as oil runs out. The problem is, if you're not a member of that culture or race...

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    1. Hi and welcome. Nah, I don't mention the pain much, it's kind of boring.

      Sorry to have shocked you about Copenhagen. It's a complex situation, and most of those being killed and doing the killing are gang members. Occasionally someone will be in the wrong place at the wrong time ...

      Copenhagen is not a bad city to live in. I'm not a city person myself, but if I had to pick somewhere to live and it had to be a city then it might be somewhere like Copenhagen, Stockholm or Oslo. The problems we have over here are on a whole smaller scale than in the US. For a start, the cities are designed for humans rather than cars. This makes people want to live in the centres rather than way out in the suburbs.

      Regarding England, no I'm not overly concerned. England is thriving with under-the-radar skilled crafts people and local community initiatives. I'd say that we might see a -50% adjustment in the population level in the next 30 years or so, and it won't be pretty, but as long as you stay away from the big urban centres (which will revert quickly into Dickensian times again) then your chances of survival will increase. At least that's what I'm hoping...

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  8. I just got through reading Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test. Sort of a travelogue through the industry that deals with psychopaths. One of the things I learned is that psychopaths comprise about one per cent of the population and are not created by bad upbringing , that is, by social forces but rather by biological forces, by the inability to feel empathy as a result of a malfunctioning amygdala. What this means for the rest of us is that no matter what country we are in and no matter how well adjusted our society is, there are bound to be a number of psychopaths among us. And oh yes, psychopaths are easily bored and so they tend to seek out the big cities like say, Stockholm. The best prescription for avoiding psychopaths is probably to move someplace boring in your country of choice. Unfortunately, Copenhagen is probably the place most likely to draw psychopaths in Denmark. And so it goes. Good luck to all of us.

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    1. That sounds like an interesting book. I read a condensed version of it once - I seem to recall that not all psychos are the ultra violent type and that many of these end up becoming CEOs and politicians. If that's so then we have basically devised a system that ensures the most psychotic members of our species are the ones in charge of us.

      Don't worry though, I'm planning to move somewhere that no psychopath in their right mind would want to live, when the time is right.

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  9. Hi there!

    I read your post on Doomstead Diner, and I thought of suggesting a few things:
    Have you considered that the chronic pains are because of the high volume of aerobic exercise? Also, are you eating grains? They are usually associated with the conventional wisdom of how to be healthy, along with chronic cardio, although all evidence point to them causing the myriad chronic problems today.

    Extremely intense anaerobic exercise (weight lifting, body-weight exercises) combined with total avoidance of grains will certainly help. There are 2 good books out there: "Convict Conditioning" and "You Are Your Own Gym" if you insist, as I do, that exercise should be free. Grain avoidance should be a no-brainer for any Nordic person.

    Great post, BTW!

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    1. Thanks and welcome.

      I don't think the pain can be caused by too much aerobic exercise as I don't consider what I do to be 'too much' compared to a lot of people I know.

      I hadn't considered grains but I'll have a think about it. Grains are a staple here, with most people (including me) eating rye bread. I'll check out those books, they sound interesting!

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    2. The book "Wheat Belly" discusses at length the relationship between the scourge of humanity (wheat is the primary focus, but other toxic grass seeds and lectin-filled legumes which block mineral absorption thus de-mineralize the bones apply as well) and inflammation, arthritis, calcium deposits in the brain and joints, and other not so fun stuff)

      Give it a shot, it worked for me and for a lot of people who are deliriously reporting all over the net becoming pain-free simply after giving up the grains. Intense strength training really puts the cherry on top.

      Best wishes!

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    3. Thanks - I am taking your advice and avoiding all wheat for a trial period. I have to say, the more I read about it, the more I want to avoid it. I'm certain that it's an inflammation of some sort - and it gets worse after eating bread.

      I already feel better!

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  10. Maybe you have AFib. It comes and goes and isn't detectable by a doctor when it's off.

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  11. Afib, or atrial fibrillation, does not cause pain and most people can tell what it is (it feels like - and is - a heart palpitation). Jason, if you feel your pulse during one of your pain attacks, is it regular or irregular? If it's irregular, it could be aFib. However, as I say, the presence of pain seems to argue against this hypothesis.

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    1. Thanks for the advice. I don't get pain attacks as such, just prolonged bouts of throbbing discomfort that lasts for a about a week at a time.

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I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.