Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Lazy Sunbathers

Amager Strand beach in Copenhagen today

I’m not sure why but every summer, as soon as the sun comes out, I seem to get struck down by the flu. This year was no different and I spent the last few days sweating it out on the sofa rolling around and groaning and generally being a burden. Today I at least felt well enough to go on a stroll to the nearby beach in the afternoon. The weather, by Danish standards, was a scorching 26C (about 80 Fahrenheit) and the beach was busy with people. It occurred to me as I walked that Denmark has practically the perfect climate. Sure, people like to moan about it during the long dark winters, but spring, summer and autumn tend to offer all the seasonal joy that winter lacks. What’s more, summers are increasingly hot and and sunny peppered with bursts of rain, meaning that things grow remarkably well.

As I strolled along I was pondering Jim Kunstler’s latest post which concerned the financial crisis in Europe. I like reading his blog and books, and I recently finished World Made by Hand, which I thought was pretty good. He knows how to play to the gallery though and his blog posts are well-written tub thumpers. In the latest one he was praising the good things about Europe but generally making the point that we are about to be wiped off the map (‘we’ being some half a billion individuals from about 50 different and wildly diverse countries). 

He further made the point that nobody in Europe really seems to care about this fact – and on this point I’d have to agree. I have little idea about how people feel in most European countries about the looming crisis, but I do have a fair idea about how they feel in this little backwater and the fact is this: people don’t care one bit. I’ve lived here since 2008 (and I also lived here once before) i.e. when the crisis first broke, and I’m still waiting to meet the person who actually brings it up in conversation. It’s as if nothing is happening – this is the land of the anti crisis. Along the street where I live I can see that nearly every family has bought a new car within the last year, they still take holidays in far-flung destinations and are taking out new loans like there is no tomorrow.

I would even venture to say that people here say they’ve never had it so good. The newspapers, as ever, are full of ‘Denmark/Copenhagen is the best  in the world for X’ (X being gourmet restaurants, life satisfaction, standard of living, designer furniture, foxy chicks or any other measure of upper middle consumer class penis envy) and people lap it up and believe it and gush about it endlessly over their mojitos in swanky bars with silly names. Still, I’m not going to go down the road of talking about why all this gets my goat (I’ll be writing all night) but I am beginning to wonder whether anyone here actually realises there is an ill wind blowing out there beyond the horizon that will have a similar effect on people’s standard of living to that of a tornado on a Midwestern town made of rickety wooden buildings.

Let’s take a look at the country’s leading ‘serious’ broadsheet newspaper Politiken. Going by their website from top to bottom, and working on the assumption that more important news should be at the top, this is how the headlines currently stack up.

1.       (Celebrity) restaurateur in conflict with union over staff conditions
2.       Cultural inheritance of Syria under threat
3.       ‘The Sleepwalking Cannibal’ movie is a flop
4.       Harald Bluetooth caught up in political spin at Jelling Stones
5.       Boy fishes human skull out of lake
6.       Mother and daughter found living as hoarders
7.       ‘Short life’ dating can have you in handcuffs within an hour
8.       See the world’s best airport (not Copenhagen, for a change)
9.       Dreamteam boys open new cocktail bar
10.   Coalition politics story
11.   Cameron’s spin doctor in trouble
12.   Mourinho (football manager) could earn superstar wages
13.   Hackers target union website
14.   Debate: Danish men losing out in relationships
15.   Another football story
16.   New iPhone 5 could be the best yet
17.   Turn your GPS off to improve your memory
18.   The best plants to put in the garden at your summer home
19.   Is nail polish dangerous?
20.   Swede convicted of murders
21.   Danes head to Olympics
22.   USA’s first female astronaut dies
23.   Danish badminton players hope for medal
24.   Film reveals ‘bedroom coders’
25.   Readers: Denmark’s loveliest gardens
26.   Priests stress during Sunday sermons
27.   Boring Tour de France saw viewers turn off TVs (translation: Denmark didn’t win it)
28.   Another football story, this time about Milan
29.   Picture’s from Norway’s massacre memorial day
30.   Eurozone talks terms with Moody’s
31.   USA sends a man to save Europe (no I’m not making it up, here’s the link)
32.   Tourists not willing to stay in unfamiliar beds
33.   Perfume, booze and sweets are put in tax free bags
34.   Fried chocolate bars are a cult hit in the land of the kilt
35.   Danish coffee mogul surveys his kingdom

So there you have it. Of the top 35 news stories only two of them relate to the fact that the continent is bankrupt, and they don’t even get a mention until number 30. I don't think I'm being too unfair here - it usually pans out more or less the same way. It’s hardly surprising that people here don’t know what is going on ‘out there’. Or maybe they just don’t care? Denmark has a pretty healthy independent media and there is nothing even remotely like Fox News here. So why the lack of interest? Answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, such were my thoughts as I sat on a hill overlooking the beach and the narrow passage between here and Sweden this afternoon. Are we seeing the same kind of psychology which marked the Phoney War? This was the period following the declaration of war between Britain and Germany in 1939. Those who knew that war was coming had been shouting it from the rooftops for years while the everyday peoples of Britain and France simply yawned and carried on as normal. Nobody could seriously believe that anything was happening that would  effect them in any big way.

Over on this side of the North Sea (or the German Ocean depending on whose side you were on) a few months later the Germans invaded Denmark, much to everyone in Denmark’s surprise (Hitler was a popular figure here, as he was elsewhere, but he seemed to have overstepped the mark in this instance). Perhaps that’s how big events play out: the warning signs are there as clear as daylight but most people ignore them. Let’s face it, most people don’t have too much interest in complicated geopolitical events, especially ones that involve finance.  It then takes something big to crack and the sight of soldiers on the streets and empty shelves before people realise something’s up. By then it’s too late to do anything about it and it just becomes a case of letting the massive forces unleashed by the tectonic plates of empire and economics (and now, environment - corn harvest anyone?) to do their work.

But for now, people are just sizzling on the beach, talking about TV shows and dreaming about where their next holiday might be. Financial meltdown? Yawn - pass me another Carlsberg, Bent.

(And on that note I’m off into the Collapsolopolis of Athens and will report back in a couple of weeks. This time I really am going.)


Peak n’Oil Number #4


Okay, okay, how could I possibly bring Morrissey into this? He's more likely to wailing about his own angst and writing quirky Wildesque numbers about how vicious life can be in a hum-drum northern town than targeting the general human condition (although it's fair to say that I'm in the 'genius' camp when it comes to his song-writing ability). It’s a fair point but his one stand-out song that should be played as you read the above post is the Lazy Sunbathers.

A world war
Was announced
Days ago
But they didn't know
The lazy sunbathers
The lazy sunbathers
The sun burns through
To the planet's core
And it isn't enough
They want more

To be
Between the ears of
The lazy sunbathers
Too jaded
To question stagnation
The sun burns through
To the planet's core
And it isn't enough
They want more

Religions fall
Children shelled
(... children shelled? that's all very well,
but would you please keep the noise down low?
Because you're waking
the lazy sunbathers...)

Alright, seeing as we are on Morrissey and The Smiths I may as well include The Queen is Dead. This could be the soundtrack for any scene depicting urban decay and deindustrialisation.


  1. Is Denmark in a bubble? The description is uncannily like parts of the US in the late 1990s and mid 1980s.

    1. Denmark is definitely in some kind of bubble. It's not really like other countries in some ways, most notably that it is a kind of benign version of communism with elements of capitalism. People might take issue with this but this country does have the largest public sector of any nation (i.e. any 'modern' nation).

      How this translates is as a kind of social contract. People elect the government primarily to do the job of worrying for them. Danes don't want to be bothered with the kind of issues that face most other nations and will do anything to ensure that 'the system' keeps ticking over. The system, btw, is one that allows the 6 million people to live very comfortable lives from the cradle to the grave.

      It should also be noted that Denmark has the highest private debt ratio in the world. People might feel rich, but they don't really own what they think they own. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-22/denmark-s-record-private-debt-load-triggers-central-bank-warning

  2. The liquor stores, bars and restaurants around here, in the heartland of America, are booming. After TSHTF, one of the most lucrative occupations is going to be the making of booze, and it's practitioners the most cherished.

    Geithner to save Europe? More likely he's just laying the groundwork for his transfer to Goldman Sachs after the next election (assuming there is one.) Enjoy the vacation. I'm trying to enjoy this summer as much as I can, 'cause I have the sense it just might be about the last "normal" one for awhile.

    1. "After TSHTF, one of the most lucrative occupations is going to be the making of booze, and it's practitioners the most cherished."

      Which is why I kept hold of my father's extensive collection of home brewing equipment ...

  3. Please allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment: I read Kunstler's post. In it, he wrote: "And over in Italy, of course, a squirrel could make the journey from Monterotondo to Lago Maggiore by leaping from one outdoor luncheon table to the next with its knobby little knuckles never touching the ground." Ignoring the fact that squirrels don't have knobby knuckles (last time I checked), I found this line telling. And, it's an interesting parallel to your observations about everyone in Denmark living the life of Riley. One question that leapt into my mind when reading Kunstler's post and yours: If the tables are groaning with food, the driveways are occupied by new cars and everyone's getting set to head to Thailand this winter, then maybe all the shit you read in the paper is just that: shit. Maybe all this talk of Europe being bankrupt is just smoke and mirrors. I'm not trying to say that loans and debts don't exist. They do. But perhaps they aren't as crucial to the functioning of the day-to-day economy as certain elements of the media would have you believe. Debts are important to bankers, and bankers seem to own the political system these days (and the media, to some extent), so perhaps that's why we have to hear so much about debts, interest rates, LIBOR etc. But sometimes I wonder what would happen if they just cancelled all those debts and started from scratch. Would the salami vanish from the tables? Would it make any difference to the amount of oil being pumped? Would the car factories stop? Would Thailand declare its beaches off limits to pasty Europeans? I wonder. And, to push this a bit further: Do you not find it interesting how the Anglo-American press is all over the financial crisis while continental Europe seems blissfully unaware? As we all know: the so-called "European welfare state" is an anathema to the Anglo-American economies (especially the latter). Perhaps this whole crisis in Europe is an underhanded way of trying to dismantle the socialized aspects of the Europe. Let's face it: the elites in America and England (and other parts of the world) would love to see Europe's remarkably successful (from the people's perspective) socialized economies crash and burn. And, I don't think they're beyond giving them a hard shove and using some accelerant.

    1. Some interesting points. I've recently come around to suspecting that the US may indeed be doing its best to crash the euro. Well, at least exerting some pressure.

      After all, one of the biggest threats to the US is losing the dollar's value as a reserve currency. Given that the euro is/was the only realistic alternative, and that many countries are beginning to trade commodities in it, the US has everything to gain from watching it perish.

      On the other hand, the euro has a structural weakness built in to it because without full fiscal union the periphery members (i.e. those that aren't Germany and France) are permanently held to ransom.

      So, if the euro is like a toddler learning to walk, then yes, the US may well be sticking out a leg to trip it up.

  4. If your young ladies go to work riding bicycles and wearing thong bikinis (per your link) than obviously they are taking global warming seriously.

    It would seem kind of cold to sunbath in 80 degrees.


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