Jacob Christensen http://jacobchristensen.name Now on jacobchristensen.eu Wed, 03 Aug 2016 14:16:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.3 2936300 Changing Places http://jacobchristensen.name/2016/08/03/changing-places/ Wed, 03 Aug 2016 14:16:20 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7416 I have decided to make jacobchristensen.eu my main address on the internet. Any new blog posts and updates will be published there. Additionally, I will post notes in Danish on my Medium profile. The main action is on Twitter where I am jacobchr.

Notes in Danish http://jacobchristensen.name/2016/05/24/notes-in-danish/ Tue, 24 May 2016 10:30:33 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7395 I’ve used Medium to post some notes about Danish politics. The following posts are all in Danish:

Danish politics after the 2015 election (1) – from October

Danish politics after the 2015 election (2) – from May

New Public Management and the welfare professions

Henrik Sass Larsen and (anti-)humanism

The Final 10 Albums that Stayed with Me http://jacobchristensen.name/2016/03/12/the-final-10-albums-that-stayed-with-me/ Sat, 12 Mar 2016 09:00:47 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7359 [Read more...]]]> Taking the count up to thirty, the last ten also-rans, again in an alphabetical order:

C.V. Jørgensen – Lediggang agogo
Following the massive success of 1980’s Tidens Tern, Lediggang agogo was considered a commercial failure. It lacked the obvious hit potential of a song like Tidens Tern’s “Costa del Sol” (a caustic attack on Danish ex-pats in Spain complaining about high taxes), the lyrics were rather opaque but mostly about lost souls waiting for something, it had complex guitar-driven textures – and it had “Elisabeth”, arguably the most beautiful Danish song of the 1980s. Intriguingly, C.V. Jørgensen’s mother was called Elisabeth. And the album was released in the late spring of 1983, the year I passed my student exam. That short period in your life when school’s out forever and you don’t really know what is waiting for you in your adult life. If I had edited my original ten, Lediggang agogo would have taken one of the slots.

W.A. Mozart – Symphonies nos. 38 & 39 (Karl Böhm – Berliner Philharmoniker)
I remember buying this and the Tchaikovsky mentioned below at a mid-winter sale in Bånd & Plade Centeret’s original shop in Grønnegade. Actually, I didn’t know at the time that Böhm was considered a specialist in Mozart and Richard Strauss. The recordings were fairly early stereo and not quite up to speed in terms of sound quality. Later editions have been remastered with better sound. Bånd & Plade Centeret was a curious shop meandering through something like two or three 18th century buildings, the premises filled with all sorts of classical LPs. It lost some of its oddball charm when it moved to Vognmagerstræde. Mozart has kept his charm.

Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory
To me, Morning Glory is forever linked with the autumn of 1998 (yes, I was a couple of years behind the curve when it came to Brit pop). A semester where I taught political science at the University of Linköping and where, strangely, I couldn’t set a foot wrong. It was a change of air which really did me good. Fond memories which may not have anything to do with the actual songs.

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I can’t say why Phoenix’s 2009 album has made such an impression on me. It just has.

Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
Another album which I borrowed at Gladsaxe Music Library way back in the early 1980s and copied to a crappy cassette tape. Maybe this is one of those album which should be played on lousy equipment to bring out the true rugged nature of the music. It sounds much too good in digital.

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Water
Another one from my parents’ collection. I have always preferred “So Long, Frank Llyod Wright” and “The Only Living Boy in New York” to the block-buster hits “Bridge over Troubled Water” and “The Boxer”. My favourite Simon and Garfunkel song, though, always was and still is “America”.

Steely Dan – Two Against Nature
Not the Dan’s greatest record, but a more than respectable comeback. Fagen and Becker are older but just as caustic and disillusioned as they were in the 1970s. Just like the Costello-Bacharach album forever linked with my time in Östersund. Åhlen’s wasn’t a bad place to look for CDs.

Peter Tchaikovski – Symphony no. 5 (Karl Böhm – LSO)
Böhm probably wasn’t the ideal Tchaikovsky conductor but it was a cheap deal. I suspect that I have a special affinity for Tchaikovsky’s 5th because we analyzed it in music classes in the Gymnasium and it was my first classical concert. Mstislav Rostopovich’s recording with the London Philharmonic is the one in my current iTunes library. Somebody once noted that the recurrent theme has a curious similarity to the March of the Red Guards (in Danish known as Brødre, Lad Våbnene Lyne). In any event, Tchaikovsky is the closest you get to accepted bad taste in classical music. The music snobs’ frowning is their loss.

TV-2 – De unge år
As C.V. Jørgensen gave up commenting the state of Danish society, TV-2 entered the stage. It is very strange to realise that these classics are 25-30 years old by now. Steffen Brandt didn’t even have grey hair back then. As a compilation album it collects songs that I already knew, but it is still in regular rotation – or whatever mp3-files are.

Weather Report – Tale Spinnin’
Weather Report was one of my gateways to contemporary jazz. (The first album is free, but THEN you will have to pay…). For whatever reason I began with Mr. Gone and worked my way backwards and forwards. Following that, Messrs Zawinul and Shorter led to Miles Davis and the rest is history. Tale Spinnin’ was the last album Zawinul and Shorter made before Jaco Pastorius entered the stage, and it has some wonderful tunes and a sound which is still fresh forty (aaaarrrghhh) years on.

Even breaking the rules and including thirty albums in no way exhausts my list of albums which have stayed with me but I’ll leave it here. Making this list did bring back memories and I now have a list of record shops of times past in my Google Drive. It may form the basis of a blog post.

Another 10 Albums that Stayed with Me http://jacobchristensen.name/2016/03/11/another-10-albums-that-stayed-with-me/ Fri, 11 Mar 2016 07:00:54 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7353 [Read more...]]]> I took a second look at the 25 album list in the previous post and decided that there were still a number of albums missing. So I added five to bring the total up to thirty. Here are the first ten also-rans, presented in a purely alphabetical order:

J.S. Bach – Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould, 1981)
I’m sure connoisseurs still discuss whether Gould’s original 1955 recording or the 1981 recording is the best. They are as different as day and night. The 1981 version was the one I encountered first and my gateway to the heavier parts of J.S. Bach’s work. Gould’s Bach also works magic when I have a writing assignment.

The Beatles – A Selection of Beatles Oldies
An odd 1966 greatest hits album which covered 1963-1966, the peak years of Beatlemania, and which has been out of print for ages. Still, that was the Beatles album my parents owned when I was a boy. I could perhaps have chosen Beatles 1967-1970 which we bought in London in 1977, instead. (Think about it: How cool was having an album bought in London back in the late 1970s?). In case anybody is interested, I’d rate Rubber Soul, Revolver and Abbey Road (I remember the silly Maxwell’s Silver Hammer being played on Danish radio) as the best Beatles albums – but then again: Do you really want to choose?

David Bowie – The Buddha of Suburbia
I’ll readily admit that this is an odd choice. The Buddha of Suburbia is not really a sound-track to the BBC series based on Hanif Kureshi’s novel but grew out of Bowie’s title song for the series. It is somehow related to Low and possibly “Heroes” with its mix of sketch-like songs and instrumental pieces. I guess the album’s attraction lies in Bowie’s revisiting of suburban London and recollections of the urge to get out and into the city and out in world. The 1960s and early 1970s seen from the 1990s. Also, Bowie doesn’t overdo things here and you don’t have to meet the album with the expectation that this is Very Important Art. Otherwise my Bowie album pick would be the paranoid, cocaine-fuelled masterpiece Station to Station.

Chopin – 14 Waltzes (Krystian Zimerman)
An early recording by Krystian Zimerman and long out of print as Zimerman felt it didn’t live up to his artistic standards. Still, it had its place in my parents’ collection. I have a recording by Vladimir Ashkenazy in my current library.

The Clash – London Calling
How could I forget London Calling? I mean, I first heard the album back in 1980 and it has been a part of my record collection ever since. Maybe it was so obvious a choice that it failed to enter the original list. In a curious way, London Calling is to punk rock what Clube da Esquina 2 is to MPB. Obviously Milton Nascimento was a much better vocalist than Joe Strummer but we cannot imagine punk rock without Joe Strummer – everything and the kitchen (not to mention the entire plumbing) sink comes together here and it works brilliantly.

Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – Painted from Memory
I’m not a huge fan of Elvis Costello but he does have his very bright moments. Like King of America and Painted from Memory. On a theoretical level, Costello and Bacharach shouldn’t work at all, in practice, it’s a wonderful record. Also, memories of the time I lived in Östersund – I bought my copy in Åhlen’s music department.

Brian Eno – Before and after Science
Just as Buddha of Suburbia, so is Before and after Science related to David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”. Brian Eno recorded this album at about the same time as Low was recorded. Eno really, really, really can’t sing, the lyrics are complete and utter nonsense and even after thirty years I continue to find new sounds every time I listen to the album. I think I discovered Brian Eno in the early 1980s through Roxy Music. At the risk of repeating myself: Hooray for the music department of Gladsaxe Public Library.

Bill Evans Trio – At The Village Vanguard
Bought this one in Paris of all places. A sampler of Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard.

Lars Hug – City Slang
This must be one of the weirdest and most ambitious Danish rock records ever. Copenhagen set to music. Period. Heard it for the first time in 1985. Has stuck with me ever since. The strange thing is that Hug’s intense techno-soul is miles away from Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s classicism. Just like, say, Costello and Bacharach it shouldn’t have worked, but it did and on a massive scale.

Jan Johansson – Jazz på svenska
I’ve forgotten the exact year but my cousin bought the LP for me as I birthday present. Cool jazz meets Swedish folk. Every note counts, plus Johansson had a wicked sense of humour. If you want to hear Johansson in a more conventional jazz setting, try Jan Johansson in Hamburg.

10 Albums Which Stayed with Me – and then 15 more http://jacobchristensen.name/2016/03/08/10-albums-which-stayed-with-me-and-then-15-more/ Tue, 08 Mar 2016 21:40:32 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7343 [Read more...]]]> So my friend Anne-Sofie dragged me into one of those Facebook challenges – in this case “10 Albums which stayed with me” (actually, the original version has 12). That turned out to be both simple – coming up with ten albums wasn’t that hard – and complicated – once I had a list, I discovered that a lot of music which means a lot to me was still missing. So I came up with ten more. And then five more.

What to do? I have decided to let my original list stay – not because I think any of the remaining fifteen are less worthy but because we shouldn’t take this kind of lists more seriously than necessary. I think any selection from this list would give you hours of aural pleasure.

The original ten

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
Pretentious? Okay. Ersatz Philip Glass? Granted. Once you start digging into contemporary music, Mike Oldfield isn’t original: It is fairly easy to interpret Tubular Bells and Oldfield’s other works as rock adaptations of the minimalist school. Still, to me his 1970s works are closely associated with some people I held and still hold very dear. And in Tubular Bells, Oldfield is wicked enough to throw in the odd musical prank here and there to keep things from getting too serious. I rest my case, you honour.

Jethro Tull – Benefit
Anybody remember Jethro Tull? Back in the early and mid-1970s they were the odd cousins of acts like Yes and Genesis. Prog rock with a mad hatter twist, so to speak. Aqualung and Thick as a Brick are still considered their best albums, but even after 35 years I find the weird mix of blues, folk rock, progressive rock and what not on Benefit intriguing. And again, there are some personal relations which keep Tull in the picture. (For an alternative: Songs from the Wood)

Focus – Focus 3
Still more early 1970s stuff. Focus is best known for the bizarre novelty single Hocus Pocus but IMHO the double album (remember those?) Focus 3 was the zenith of the Netherlands’ largest rock act. Here we have just about everything from hard rock (Sylvia) over jazz-rock (Questions? Answers! Answers? Questions!) to faux-renaissance ballads (Elspeth of Nottingham). Later, master guitarist Jan Akkerman lost interest in being a rock star and Thijs van Leer turned his interest to new-age music. But Focus 3 lived in my library from the late 1970s onward, first as a low quality cassette copy (hooray for public music libraries), then as one of the first albums I bought when iTunes was made available in Sweden.

Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding
I discovered Bob Dylan through the triple-album set Biograph. Back in the mid-1980s, his output was too sprawling for me to find a door where to enter. Biograph, obviously, is a bit of a mess which is neither chronologically nor thematically ordered. This is probably a good thing. Also, when I encountered Dylan, I was old enough not to care about the hidden meanings and interpretations which had kept dylanouges busy since 1962, and instead followed the music. If I could choose two Dylan albums, they would be Blood on the Tracks and John Wesley Harding. Now that I have to choose between them, I’ll take John Wesley Harding which is a completely stripped-down affair (singer, guitar, bass, drums) with songs about characters from the New Testament stranded in the Wild West. Or whatever. My advice is: Don’t waste time analysing the lyrics, just let the words create images in your inner cinema.

Pet Shop Boys – Very
My favourite Pet Shop Boys song was and is Being Boring – a wistful electronic ballad about growing up and remembering lost friends. Was I 25 when that one came out? Ouch! The album I keep coming back to, though, is Very which has an almost perfect mix of aggression, remorse, a sense of wonder and playfulness. And silly hats in the videos. I’m sure the young offender of 1994 is annoyed by his/her offspring spending too much time playing games on iPads in 2016.

Milton Nascimento – Clube da Esquina 2
Back ten years to the early 1980s. I never heard Milton Nascimento’s legendary concerts in Montmartre but the stories about the Brazilian singer and guitarist made me seek out his records. Again: Hooray for public music libraries. Clube de Esquina 2 from 1978 (There is a Clube da Esquina from 1972) sees Nascimento in his prime – again it’s a double album and it has everything and the kitchen sink. You will find just about every style of Brazilian music on it, held together by Nascimento’s magic voice. I did get to hear him at later concertos in Copenhagen in the late 1980s.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Now for the heavier stuff. To non-jazz types, Miles Davis can be described as a sort of David Bowie of jazz. Except Davis was there before Bowie and where Bowie’s golden years lasted from 1972 to 1980, Davis was at the forefront of jazz from the late 1940s until the mid-1970s. When you read about Kind of Blue, stuff like “here Davis introduces modal improvisation” comes up. That is completely beside the point: Davis was a master of musical drama. On Kind of Blue, Davis is the cool guy. Cool guys are enigmatic and never reveal their true feelings. The rest of the band is anything but cool. That is, they were the coolest jazzmen around, but they weren’t cool in the stricter sense: Bill Evans is introspective and introverted, Cannonball Adderley is the extrovert blues player, John Coltrane is all fire and Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb provide the hard-swinging base. Kind of Blue wasn’t the first jazz album I bought (that honour goes to Weather Report’s Mr. Gone) but it contains everything I would look – or listen – for in improvisation music. And even if he wasn’t in his prime by then, I did get to hear Miles Davis in Copenhagen in 1985.

Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony no. 6
If I had to choose between the Beethoven symphonies, I would go for either the 3rd of the 6th. The 9th has always left me cold and the 5th has been played to death. The 3rd is human energy on a massive scale, the 6th pastoral charm. Beethoven’s 6th wasn’t the first classical album I heard, but Herbert von Karajan’s 1984 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic was the first classical album I bought and thus it gets the place in the collection – even if there may be better recordings around. After all, it opened the gates to the world of classical music. (For the 5th, go for Carlos Kleiber).

Gustav Mahler – Symphony no. 9
The Adagietto from the 5th Symphony has been played to death – and is in no way representative of that symphony and Mahler. Again, Mahler is a composer which has been over-analysed as a representative of modern angst with the 9th seen as a vision of his impending death. Yes, it begins with a staggering march and ends with what must be the longest diminuendo in classical music – in something like 30 minutes a full symphony orchestra is reduced to a string quartet – but it also includes a couple of devilish scherzos and grotesques, all with Mahler using the sonoric palette of the modern orchestra in a masterly way. My LP version was with Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The version in my iTunes is with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic

Dmitri Shostakovich – Piano Quintet
When I attended the Online Educa Conference last December, one of the workshop leaders asked the participants to consider a situation where the “analogue” meeting with an artist had made a lasting impression on them. My choice was hearing Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the speaker in Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warshaw, but here I want to present another composer: Dmitri Shostakovich. The odd thing is that I have forgotten who the musicians were but I do remember a strange and fascinating concert at the (sadly discontinued) Umeå Chamber Music Festival a lovely June evening after the end of the academic year. The year must have been 2004 (I mean, seriously: I remember the month and the music but not the artists or the year) and the concert began with an experimental piece of electronic music, continued with the Shostakovich Quintet and ended with the audience changing locations for a performance of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto by the Norrland Symphony Orchestra. Anyway: Shostakovich is less extreme but just as masterly in the smaller formats compared to the fifteen symphonies. I could have picked the 4th or the 13th symphony but the Piano Quintet has a story connected to it. My copy is a budget Naxos recording with the Vermeer Quartet and Boris Berman.

The Next Fifteen

There are a number of strong contenders in the list of albums left out from the top ten. In fact, I might be able to make the case for substituting any one of the above albums with one of the following fifteen. Instead, I’ll let my original ten stand and maybe write a second (or even a third) post about these masterpieces of music.

The Beatles – A Selection of Beatles Oldies

David Bowie – The Buddha of Suburbia

Frédéric Chopin – 14 Waltzes (Krystian Zimerman)

The Clash – London Calling

Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – Painted from Memory

Brian Eno – Before and after Science

Bill Evans Trio – At The Village Vanguard

Lars Hug – City Slang

Jan Johansson – Jazz på svenska

C.V. Jørgensen – Lediggang agogo

W.A. Mozart – Symphonies nos. 38 (Prague) and 39 (Karl Böhm – Berliner Philharmoniker)

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Steely Dan – Two Against Nature

Tchaikovsky – Symphony no. 5 (Karl Böhm – London Symphony Orchestra)

Weather Report – Tale Spinnin’

The Nitrogen Crisis and the Calling of Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s Bluff http://jacobchristensen.name/2016/02/28/the-nitrogen-crisis-and-the-calling-of-lars-lokke-rasmussens-bluff/ Sun, 28 Feb 2016 18:30:38 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7337 [Read more...]]]> The process which led to the announced resignation of the Danish Food and Environment Minister Eva Kjer Hansen was a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Along the way, the process revealed some of the vulnerabilities of the incumbent Liberal government and prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s way of handling controversial issues and political partners.

An executive summary of the affair would read something like this: The Food and Environment Minister proposed changes to the regulation of fertilization of cultivated areas which would allow for an increased level of nitrogen emissions. It was revealed that the proposal had been prepared in close cooperation with the agrarian splinter group “Bæredygtigt Landbrug” (“Sustainable Agriculture”), rather than the official interest organisation “Landbrug og Fødevarer” (The Danish Agriculture and Food Council) and that some of the calculations behind the proposal had been made in such a way as to conceal the short-term effects of increased emissions on the environment.

When news of the doctored calculations were published, the Conservatives on Tuesday declared that while they would support the proposed changes in the Folketing, they had lost confidence in the minister. Normally, a statement of this kind would lead to the resignation of the minister in question. Prime minister Løkke Rasmussen, however, decided to raise the stakes considerably Tuesday evening by calling all leaders of the three other centre-right parties to a meeting, hinting that the minister would only resign after a vote of no confidence in the Folketing and that a vote could result in a snap election. Following several rounds of negotiations, especially between Løkke Rasmussen and Søren Pape Poulsen, the leader of the Conservatives, Food and Environment Minister Kjer Hansen on Saturday announced her resignation while a possible amendment to the original proposal, aimed at limiting the short-term impact of the increase in fertilization levels and nitrogen emissions, has been left hanging in the balance.

Several aspects make the affair noteworthy.

First, even if the first Fogh government had an anti-environmentalist agenda – which was later reversed – the present Liberal government stands as the most aggressively agrarian Danish government since the luckless Madsen-Mygdal government of the late 1920s. This created the potential for a conflict with the ailing Conservative Party which has tried to occupy a moderate environmentalist position since the mid-1980. The Liberals’ calculation may have been that the Conservatives following the party’s latest electoral defeat would be too weak and scared of the prospect of an early election to press demands on these issues.

Second, the Liberal agricultural policies have been formulated in close cooperation with “Bæredygtigt Landbrug”, an aggressively anti-environmentalist splinter group mobilising some 4000 Danish farmers, rather than the established interest organisation, the Agriculture and Food Council. Politiken editor Bo Lidegaard in a column published last Sunday suggested that this was a result of another set of strategic calculations by the Liberal leadership. In Lidegaard’s interpretation, the Liberals found themselves competing with the anti-regulation and anti-environmentalist Liberal Alliance for not only votes but also economic contributions from the farming community and as “Bæredygtigt Landbrug” effectively organizes the larger farmers, economic considerations would lead the Liberals to follow “Bæredygtigt Landbrug’s” agenda. If Lidegaard is right, this would mean that the traditional corporative system of governance in agricultural policy with the Agriculture and Food Council playing a central part is being replaced by a competitive system where control of parties’ sources of income is the central power resource.

Third, rather than following the usual path of de-escalating the conflict following the Conservative declaration of no confidence – which was backed by the five opposition parties – Løkke Rasmussen reacted by escalating the conflict. Here, the question is if – or rather to which degree – Løkke Rasmussen was playing a short or a long game. In the short game, Løkke Rasmussen’s aim would be to force the Conservatives to back down from the declaration of no confidence. This would be an unprecedented move and would destroy any leverage the Conservatives might have in the present Folketing. In Løkke Rasmussen’s calculations this would remove one source of conflict during the electoral term – especially with regard to tax policy – as any threat the Conservatives might present would already be discounted as not credible. Ideally, this would also lead to the final demise of the historically weak Conservatives at the next election.

Here, the outcome suggests a major miscalculation by Løkke Rasmussen as the Conservatives upheld their position, even at the threat of an early election in March or April. What Løkke Rasmussen and the Liberals can aim for now is the withdrawal of the proposed amendments to the original changes in fertilization legislation. At the same time, the Conservative leader has demonstrated his stamina in negotiations with the notoriously shrewd prime minister, not only in the electoral arena but just as importantly in the parliamentary arena.

The long game would be aimed not at the Conservatives but at the other two parties which form the parliamentary basis of the government, the Danish People’s Party and Liberal Alliance. Liberal Alliance, in particular, has demanded significant cuts in income taxes since the 2015 election and toyed with the prospect of forcing an election on tax policy during 2016 if the government does not accommodate the party’s demands. Løkke Rasmussen’s brinkmanship on the fertilizer issue could have been a way of warning Liberal Alliance leader Anders Samuelsen that there will be a very limited room for negotiations when the government presents its tax reform proposals some time during 2016. Here, the outcome of last week’s stand-off may have been to expose the Løkke Rasmussen’s fragile parliamentary base on environmental and – politically more important – economic policy.

Project 52 – 2015: Weeks 50 – 51 – 52 http://jacobchristensen.name/2016/01/13/project-52-2015-weeks-50-51-52/ Wed, 13 Jan 2016 15:00:14 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7325 [Read more...]]]> Signing off from Project 52 – 2015 (I was talked into doing a Project 52 – 2016 anyway, but I’m not sure that I will document it here) with three photos and the entire gallery:

Week 50: We begin with a pair of nicely bound (or rather tied) butterflies. An essential part of the teddy bear dress-code


Weeks 51 and 52 both had open themes (as everybody were busy preparing for Christmas). Week 51 yielded a Danish Christmas tree

Christmas Tree 2015

Week 52: Out in the open – Vandledningsstien in Gladsaxe was originally planned as a motorway but recommissioned as a walking and cycle path. Some of the area near Høje Gladsaxe is used as an overflow reservoir – essential in the age of climate change


All of my efforts for 2015 can be seen here:

Project 52 - 2015

Paupers and Refugees: On Putting Støjberg in a Historical Perspective http://jacobchristensen.name/2015/12/28/paupers-and-refugees-on-putting-stojberg-in-a-historical-perspective/ Mon, 28 Dec 2015 10:00:10 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7315 [Read more...]]]> Denmark hit the pages of the international press before Christmas when Integration Minister Inger Støjberg’s proposal to have asylum seekers searched and stripped of any valuables (the corresponding bill is due to be passed by the Folketing by a broad majority in January 2016) was compared to the German government’s confiscation of Jewish property, including stripping Jews of jewelry, before eventually deporting them to extermination camps, before and during World War II. Given that Danish politicians since 1945 have made the most of the rescue of Danish jews in 1943 – while at the same time conveniently forgetting the, mostly succesful, attempts by Danish governments to block the migration of German jews and other political refugees in the run-up to the war – this was obviously a story which had the potential to tarnish the reputation of Denmark in general and the Danish government in particular.

It should be no surprise to observers of Danish politics that Danish public opinion has been dominated by anti-immigrant sentiments since the 1990s and that an anti-refugee and islamophobic stance these days is a winning formula in national elections – not just for the Danish People’s Party: The Liberals, the Conservatives and the Social Democrats have all wanted a piece of the action. Even if xenophobia and islamophobia are dominant phenomena in contemporary politics in most of Europe, the crudeness of the Danish debate now makes it noteworthy internationally.

Still, I would argue that comparing the Danish bill and the policies of the Nazi government is leading us down the wrong track. If anything, Denmark of 2015 should be compared with Denmark and other countries of 1938 which refused to receive German Jewish refugees, rather than the government which persecuted the Jews. On the other hand, the Støjberg proposal does have some interesting historical parallels and examining them may yield some insights into how governments handle new social problems.

If we go back to the 19th Century, this was a period characterized by massive social changes – most notably industrialization which again led to an unprecedented growth in population in Europe and North America, urbanization and the emergence of an urban working class. Even if industrialization led to an overall increase in living standards, it was followed by massive and especially visible poverty while large groups of the population at the same time enjoyed a new degree of geographic mobility.

All of this had effects on the political system and legislation as economic and political elites began to fear the destructive effects of poverty and mobility on society. The solution was not the introduction of measures to alleviate poverty or encourage mobility, rather “the pauper” emerged as the major threat to society in academic and political discourse.

Paupers not only were mobile but also unwilling to work – in this era poverty was seen as a result of individual failure and relief seekers were by definition undeserving poor – and the political solution to the pauperism problem consisted in excluding the poor from society by denying them political and economic rights and in introducing draconian measures designed to deter people from seeking public assistance. Poor houses as we know them were a creation of the 19th Century, not of traditional poor relief systems, and the mid- and late-19th Century saw a wave of poor houses (or rather: work houses) being erected throughout the country.

Even if a pauper wasn’t detained in a poor house, he or she was still at the mercy of local authorities. The first action was – you’ve guessed it – to search a relief applicant’s body and home for any valuable objects which could be used to pay for food, clothes and housing. As a pauper, you basically lost all rights to your entire property. You also lost the right to live with your family as authorities could separate spouses.

The 1891 Poor Law eased the regime somewhat as the political understanding of the causes and effects of poverty had begun to change and politicians began to distinguish between deserving and undeserving poor but it was only in 1961 that the last remnants of the strict 19th Century regime ware removed from the Danish social legislation and we may argue that the image of the undeserving poor has made a comeback in the social policy of the 21st Century.

The parallel between paupers and asylum seekers (note that the term “migrant” is used by a large section of Danish media and politics, implying that asylum seekers in general do not seek so escape political persecution) is by no means perfects but the proposals of 2015 have an uncanny similarity with the policies of the 19th Century:

First, social change (globalization) have created new groups of people who do not fit the categories of the existing social order – in Europe religion (Islam) has been the major factor of stigmatization. Refugees are generally described as uncontrollable in numbers, unwilling and unable to fit into the fabric of the existing social order (an individual failure) and as putting an unreasonable economic and administrative burden on society.

Second, the solution is to restrict political and economic rights of asylum seekers in an attempt to deter them from seeking support. If a person despite these attempts manages to pass the gates of the asylum system, he or she is then systematically stripped of rights, including access to his or her property and family, in the hope that asylum seekers will return to their homelands.

Research into the creation of modern social policy has shown that it wasn’t the socio-economic factors like the level of poverty or the degree of urbanization or industrialization which led governments to adopt more liberal policies. Rather it was a political factor – authoritarian governments’ fear of political rebellion by the emerging working class – which caused governments in countries like Germany and Denmark to be frontrunners in the introduction of reformist social policies.

Unfortunately, as the European countries of 2015 are fully democratized, this historical parallel suggests that the chances of governments opting for more liberal policies in the face of increasing numbers of refugees are slim.

McCorydon http://jacobchristensen.name/2015/12/27/mccorydon/ Sun, 27 Dec 2015 10:00:59 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7311 [Read more...]]]> As a commentator put it, Bjarne Corydon’s transfer from the Social Democrats to McKinsey was an unsurprising surprise. Many Danish politicians have moved from the world of party politics to that of interest organisation politics or semi-public boardrooms while shifts to private business has been more unusual, even if some politicians have made second careers (and large fortunes) in the corporate world. Moving from politics to an international business advisor like McKinsey, on the other hand, is virtually unheard of in Nordic politics.

On the other hand, Corydon and McKinsey in many ways appear like a perfect fit. First of all, it may be argued that Corydon’s main role was that of a policy advisor rather than politician. In fact, when Corydon attempted to present himself as a Social Democratic ideologue, the results were rarely less than cringeworthy. Notable examples were his defense of the neo-liberal post-welfare state, calls for higher levels of economic and social inequality and the claim that the Social Democrats had never been a party of the left. That the same Corydon also happened to be the man responsible for the formulation of the pre-2011 platforms “Fair Change” and “Fair Solution” only exposed the complete lack of any clear ideological base – even if we may argue that this was a major problem for the entire Danish Social Democratic party for the past decade.

Both formally and in real terms, Corydon’s role was always that of assistant to the party leader. As leader of the political staff of the Social Democratic parliamentary group,he was slated for a government portfolio in the Thorning Schmidt government, but everybody expected him in a position as direct aide to the prime minister with Henrik Sass Larsen taking on the difficult but politically central portfolio as Finance Minister. Events – to use Harold MacMillan’s phrase – put Corydon in charge of the Finance Ministry and forced him to develop a close political teamwork with the Social Liberal leader, Margrethe Vestager. And so Bjarne Corydon post-2011 emerged as a staunch defender of austerity in economic policies (thus following the ECB lead) and the continued expansion of New Public Management in public administration.

When it came to the application of NPM, it could be argued that Corydon in government was only following a tradition which had been established in the 1980s and grown evermore dominant after the turn of the century. As Finance Minister, Corydon’s lasting legacy turned out to be the school reform which was based on the abolition of any kind of self-governance in primary (and secondary) education in favour of a system of performance indicator-driven micro-management of teachers with school principals as the central agents in the implementation of national education policies.

In fact, management (meaning the implementation and monitoring of centrally defined performance indicators) was Corydon’s solution to any problem faced by the public sector. As such, the school reform and McKinsey was a match made in heaven and the implementation of the reform outsourced from the civil service to the international consulting business. And one of Corydon’s last major initiatives turned out to be the wholesale outsourcing of the development of a system of micro-management for the entire public sector from the Ministry of Finance to McKinsey.

With a bit of luck, Danish government ministries (and all other public agencies) will be reduced to agents of McKinsey in the years to come and what could be more obvious for the man who made these policies operational to change from the side implementing the policies to the side controlling them? Corydon’s reputation as a Very Serious Person on the political stage may also be of great help to McKinsey, despite – or because of – the lack of any normative core. The means have become the goal itself.

Project 52 – 2015: Weeks 43 – 44 – 46 – 47 – 48 – 49 http://jacobchristensen.name/2015/12/20/project-52-2015-weeks-43-44-46-47-48-49/ Sun, 20 Dec 2015 11:00:25 +0000 http://jacobchristensen.name/?p=7308 [Read more...]]]> It’s been a while since I last posted by contributions to the project. For lack of imagination I had to skip two weeks. I should also say that I will not be doing a Project 2016.

Week 43: Leaves. This one is in the meaning of departing or departed. My paternal great-grandparents’ grave in Vejle photographed after I attended the funeral of my aunt.

Family gravesite

Week 44: Open. Copenhagen Central Station in black and white.

Copenhagen Central Station

Week 46: Overwhelming. The Christmas Market at Nytorv in Copenhagen

Christmas Market on Nytorv, Copenhagen

Week 47: Open. Odense Station early in the morning while I’m waiting for the train to Vejle.

Odense Station, Early morning

Week 48: Technology. Laptop, microphone, PowerPoint, projector. Everything a contemporary presenter needs.

Speakers' technology

Week 49: Open. The lid of a cardboard box with the text “jubelidioterne” (complete morons) written on it. From our Christmas party at work.