Freedom of the Press

These two videos really sum it up for me. In the UK, politicians are just as fucking incompetent, mendacious and power mad as the ones in Denmark. The difference is, the media try to hold them to account. Heads roll occasionally, which keeps the rest on their toes.

First video: The Government of the UK has made several unpopular decisions, only to make U-turns (which makes them look incompetent). The man in charge of the money, George Osborne, sent a junior minister to be interviewed and the journalist rips her to shreds. She is gracious and calm under extreme questioning. And why? Because the Government are SCARED of the Press and the Press have freedom.
I must admit I cringe at how Paxman talks to Smith but if the fear of this sort of roasting keeps my government honest, then long may it continue.

Second video: It’s an oldie. Sorry it’s in Danish and I cannot be bothered to make subtitles. The tone of voice and body language is very instructive.
Basically, what you are watching is what happens after a journalist asked essentially the same question about the details of a plan involving private hospitals. The minister does not know the answers. He is keen to go home because it is Christmas and he loses his patience.

He swears at the journalist, he makes threats (‘don’t think you will get to interview ME again’ style), he throws insults, he shouts and the main thrust of his “argument” is that the journalist should have checked the questions with the spin doctor so he would have had more time to prepare. The journalist looks worried and tries to calm the politician down.

Nothing happened to the politician, there were a few Hitler Downfall memes and a couple of remixes of his rant but he did not have to step down and indeed a lot of people supported his unprofessional outburst.

Danish Hype

Denmark is very “in” right now. It often tops (or almost tops), lists of the Happiest Countries. Foreign journalists have been invited on lots of wonderful trips to Copenhagen after the hype from excellent Danish drama series; and they report back breathlessly about their experiences.

Something curious happens as soon as I blog about something that is not so good in Denmark, even if all I do is translate the news:

Danes think I am picking on Denmark. And they get the hump with me.

When I make the point that Denmark is no better than a lot of countries; they read that as Denmark is worse than other countries. And they tell me that Denmark is no better than a lot of countries.

They dismiss my concerns about privacy, fairness and rule of law as hopeless idealism. As if no other country in the world managed to give depressed people sickness benefits without threatening them with a treatment that their doctor has recommended against. As if no other country in the world managed to balance the different needs of a child in a custody case so that they did not end up full time with an abuser.

If I go too far with them, for example saying that I am afraid of starting a family in this country; they scream at me to go back where I came from.

If you are serious about moving to Denmark, you need to read those comments carefully. Because these attitudes are quite uniform and Denmark is never going to change. You will have to find a way to live with it until you can arrange the shipping container back to where you came from.

Translating the News: Parental Competence Cases

This took a long time to translate. I wanted to get it out there because I think a lot of people who go around praising Denmark to the heavens have no idea how anything works here because it is hidden behind layers of the Danish language. Sure you can google translate but how would you know which articles and what can you make of sentences like “Neither is self-evident in the municipalities,” if you do not have a smattering of Danish. I would also like to point you in the direction of Only in Denmark for a selection of news stories about Denmark in English.

I understand that you WANT Denmark to be a wonderful shining example of how to do things but it does have major weaknesses. As you will see in this article, some people are working hard to make things right but they face incredible resistance and are not always successful.

The cultural expectation is that professionals are trustworthy and know what they are doing. In the cases where only one or neither of those things are true, there are no safety nets. Everything is left up to interpretation and then set it stone, never to be interpreted again.

Denmark is also crippled by a belief that there is nothing to learn from “experts”. Everyone invents their own wheel here or else does What Has Always Been Done. Practically, that means studies of effectiveness or quality are rarely conducted. If they are, they are waved away by those wish to try something similar with such reasoning as “our town is smaller than the town in the study, we will be different.”

I get a lot of “Well, it’s like anywhere then! You’d get this in <insert country>!”
Denmark is not some Shangri La. There is a lot of serious incompetence which result in horrifying decisions being made. You have taken exactly my point.

Translated from: Methodological freedom does not involve due process in custody cases


When borough councils have to identify parents who are harming their own children, they have a free hand in methodology, time frame and professionals consulted. There are no exact rules for how the sensitive parental competence investigations have to be conducted, even though they are often key in the cases where children are removed from the home.

The result is that there is an enormous variation of how thorough investigations that judge the ability to take care of children are. Even though the investigations have become commonplace in forced removal cases, there are no minimum requirements in the investigations which are not even mentioned in our laws.

Therefore there are, for example, no requirements that a registered psychologist should be consulted or that the parents and the child should be observed together. Neither are a matter of course in the municipal boroughs. (As shown by a survey by P1)

In the survey, 61 boroughs gave widely different descriptions of what a parental investigation is. While some boroughs use up to half a million on observing the whole family in a family institution for several months, in some places manage to conduct parental competence investigations for a few thousand kroner, by one social worker reading the files from local government workers and daycare workers.

Lawyers with great experience in the area experience also a sharp variability in quality of the investigations.

“It can be very superficial, what happens. Perhaps, they are not with the parents for a long time or they don’t see the parents interact with the child. It is very inadequate in practice,” said lawyer Bjarne Overmark.

He has represented a normally functioning Asian woman, who was written up in a parental investigation as “retarded” because the answers she gave the psychologist were childlike and primitive – simply because she did not speak particularly good Danish.

No quality control

The president of the boroughs’ social service leaders Ole Pass admits that no one has ever investigated the extent or quality of parental competence investigations and that the boroughs have not compiled the best practice of which methods work  or even give the greatest assurance that the parents who are harmful to their own children are identified.

“I’m not denying that there might be a need for a countrywide investigation and a compilation of what is best in different situations. I just wouldn’t want any  standardisation because there are a lot of diverse factors in play,” said Ole Pass who is also against a definition of exactly what a parental competence investigation is. “It would definitely limit the borough’s necessary freedom of methodology,” he said to P1.

The President for Parliament’s Social Affairs Özlem Cezik (SF) has difficulty seeing why there should be a difference in how parents are investigated on Lolland or in Ringsted. She wants clear, uniform guidelines for boroughs, if necessary through legislation.

“I don’t think it is sensible that there are no professional guidelines for such an investigation. It’s a bit like when an organ is being removed, you make sure it is a doctor who operates on you and that someone takes your blood pressure and so on,” she said.

She points out that parental competence investigations can directly cause forced removals and that they must sharpen requirements for transparency and due process around the investigations.

“This has got to be set out in law, so that everyone knows there is a professional basis for these investigations and at the same time parents get the due process of a second opinion or a complaints procedure.”

Özlem Cekic thinks that the investigations should be undertaken by a multidisciplinary team under an experienced psychologist. In this way, this also ensures that all cases are assessed by several individuals.

Ample due process for the parents

As the system works today, the Appeals Board refuses to consider the quality of parental competence investigations because the law does not give quality requirements for the boroughs to meet.

But the boroughs cannot see any problem that parents can neither make demands nor complain about the content of parental competence investigations. “There are indeed ample opportunities to complain about the decision as the borough acts on the basis of the study,” points out the President of many years of social worker leaders, Ole Pass.

“The lawyers who represent parents in these cases ought to know how to shoot down the reasons the boroughs gives. That’s usually what happens in these cases, that the lawyer drags the evidence documents into doubt to shoot the borough’s arguments down. It looks almost like a court,” said Ole Pass.

He thinks that lawyers all too often are occupied with the parents’ – and not the children’s – due process.

Branded for ever

Lawyers experience, however, that they are appealing to deaf ears when they attempt to correct mistakes or misunderstandings in parental competence investigations.

“Unfortunately, I experience it far too often. Typically what happens is that what were hearsay or guesswork a long time ago in the case suddenly appear as truths in the finished parental competence investigations,” says Mona Melberg who is a lawyer with specialising in parental cases.

“As soon as the first mistake sneaks its way into a parental competence survey, it is virtually impossible to get the investigations content or conclusion changed,” said Mona Melberg.

“It’s incredibly hard. You can make a couple of comments but it is seldom taken particularly seriously.”

That’s what the parents of seven year old Maja experienced, Camilla Christensen and her husband Henrik Andersen, who told P1 how their daughter was removed when she was 18 months old.

“I have never felt so powerless. Never. It was horrific. They took our child completely away from us,” remembers Maja’s mother.”

Maja did find it quite difficult to maintain eye contact and had trouble bonding with her parents. She was born with autism. But the psychologist who conducted the parental competence investigation mistook Maja’s autism as some sort of developmental disorder due to her parents inability to bond with their child. The result was a forced removal, which took Maja’s parents nearly six years to reverse.

“The whole process hinged on the psychologist’s incorrect assessment. So it was done on a mistaken basis. The mistake happened, and now we and our daughter have to live with the consequences,” said Maja’s father Henrik Andersen.

No knowledge about methodology

Maja’s story is not the only example of a borough investigation overlooking a child’s disability. Some of these could maybe be avoided if psychologists got some clear guidelines for how they should investigate children and their parents.

Even when boroughs choose to use registered psychologists, they can be on shaky ground. No one has ever investigated what works best or even if investigations identify those parents who are actually harming their children. Therefore it is entirely up to the particular psychologist themselves to use trial and error with the methods they know, explains psychologist Søren Friis Smith, who conducts investigations himself.

“We psychologists are asked to go where angels fear to tread when we carry out these investigations. We actually don’t know anything about what the upshot of changing the design of the investigations would be. It could be important and very interesting to work out,” said Søren Friis Smith to P1.

Last summer the Social Ministry formulated for the first time guidance for parental competence investigations. But the guidelines are not binding and it is underlined in the text that it is optional for the boroughs to follow the because the guidelines are not connected to any actual legislation. Out of the 61 borough councils that took part in P1’s investigation, one borough revealed that they have changed the procedures after the new guidance.

Social Minister Karen Hækkerup (S) did not wish to comment on the administration’s opinions on the unregulated parental competence investigations because she was busy last week and on holiday this week.

Related articles

International Journalism

Before I ramp up and get started on this post, I need to make something totally clear. So it does not get lost in the noise.

North Korea is worse than Denmark

Pyongyang Metro, DPRK, Puhŭng (부흥) station Fra...
Copenhagen's metro

Very little in my life amuses me more than when someone attempts to wave away any and all criticism of Denmark with a favourable comparison with the last Stalinist state in which many of the population are starving.

I feel like patting Denmark on the head,


This is not an opportunity to make any comparison between the two countries, they are obviously not alike. (Except that their children are taught to believe they live in the Best Country in the World from the crib. But that’s it. The only similarity. Oh and that their  media are heavily biased to keep the illusion going. That’s all though. No other similarities. All differences. And in every measurable way, Denmark is indeed “better”)

The reason I compare them at all is that the British media have covered both countries recently and the way that the correspondents go about reporting the country widely diverges.

Okay, so the BBC correspondent to N Korea knows something is up before he gets there. Occasionally people escape North Korea and explain what goes on. The authorities might seek to control what is seen and thought but it proves impossible with accounts of prison camps and starvation coming out all the time. It would be irresponsible of a journalist to come to North Korea and NOT look below the surface. He peeks and notices that factories are for show and the plans do not match reality. It is a good piece of journalism.

There have been a couple of reports by British journalists about Denmark. There was one in the Guardian by an expat about life in Copenhagen. There was a report by the BBC about “green Copenhagen“. In which, both journalists repeat what they have been told which I think is a bit of a missed opportunity.

No digging under the surface, no peeking under the curtain, no critical thought at all.

The BBC state “an estimated 35,000 bicycle commuters stream across this bridge every day” although it is a  disputed statistic on some biking blogs. (This blog also points out that cycling is declining in popularity in Denmark.)

The BBC then goes on to praise how green Copenhagen is, in terms of shopping, dining and hoteling. It does not point out that the pig farming industry‘s carbon footprint cancels out all the good work done by sustainable Copenhageners (and indeed by all those pretty windmills too). It does not point out that all rubbish is burned (Even plastic. Even recycling), and this results in massive carbon emissions.

Sure, Copenhagen does have some hippy-dippy areas which allow you to live more sustainably but the whole city isn’t “green” as such and the country is definitely not. There are major areas that need improvement but I do not see them doing so without encouragement.

Wouldn’t it be a massive loss of face if Copenhagen tried to reverse the decline of cycling? We thought you were the best country for cycling, Denmark! Wouldn’t it be confusing if “green Copenhagen” were to admit that the way waste and water are managed are environmentally unfriendly? So, improvements are stalled. All that can improve is window dressing because there is no loss of face in coming up with a plan to make … shoe shopping … more sustainable where honestly improving recycling might be embarrassing.

The report in the Guardian is similarly hobbled by the author’s faith in the Danish hype.

She states that there are no stay-at-home mothers thanks to the fantastic childcare arrangements. As in, if a woman (or indeed a man), had the choice to be a full time carer OR put their child in daycare; they would always choose daycare as long as it was “fantastic”. I am not sure that is true. A little digging might reveal that some families are pressured into putting their child in daycare even if they have no paid work, even if they are financially supported by one parent, even if, you know, it is none of the state’s business where the infant is being cared for.

She talks up her experiences in maternity hospital and her daughter’s daycare. These are her experiences and I am not disputing them. But to make claims such as “that Denmark can provide such great healthcare and childcare is mainly due to astronomically high taxes” surely a journalist would dig around and see if her experience was the norm? To compare accident/death rates in Danish daycare where “health and safety has escaped British extremes” would be informative (I have no idea, I expect they are similar but I would love someone to check.) Is healthcare great? Consistently? What about survival rates and life expectancies? What about the news that came out a few years ago about how daycare can be emotionally neglectful because there are not enough adults to provide needed intimacy?

She claims:

“The Danes are gradually opening up their borders, but there’s an unspoken fear among many that this perfect society, which functions so efficiently because of universal high taxes, might shatter under the strain of an influx of immigrants.”

I know she cannot understand Danish but really! Unspoken? The idea that Denmark is a “perfect society”? The idea that immigrants won’t/can’t pay universal high taxes?

All of these statements deserve digging and peeking and checking. But she just repeats what she heard without thinking.

The British press do know how to look beyond the surface, they do know how to check facts, they do know how to dig into a story and yet they do not in the case of Denmark.

Denmark (along with the rest of Scandinavia), is exalted as The Place where Everything Just Works. It’s the holy land for a certain type of Briton (I should know, I was one<sadface>). The need for Denmark to work explains some of the credulity.

There is also the hype around the high quality drama coming out of Denmark. I really like both Borgen and Forbrydelsen. But. Let’s not get it twisted.

In Forbrydelsen (SPOILER ALERT): En pige er slået ihjel ved sin fars bedste ven og politiet anholder hver anden mand i København inden ham. En politimand er skudt ihjel. Og gerningsmand er slået ihjel ved pigens far. Det er næppe en betryggende reklame, ikke også?

In Borgen, the drama centres around the State Minister making difficult decision (selling out), in order to lead Denmark (cling to power). Some of her decisions are very dodgy and corrupt but she is so adorable she gets away with it.

The mystery of why British journalists are so complimentary of Copenhagen couldn’t have something to do with being invited to jollies to find out about The Danish Journalism Way, could it?

Or the payment of $123,400 US to a travel magazine BY THE STATE. Whiskey tango foxtrot.

Another way Denmark differs from North Korea (apart from every other respect), is that British journalists are happy to present the state’s propaganda without inspection or introspection. Maybe North Korea should start bribing correspondents.

Raise your game, lazy journalists!

Top Five Best Things about Denmark

The UN has run the regular “Stoicism Survey”, where they ask people in different countries “Is your life basically ok?” and people in war-torn famine-ridden failed states answer “What drugs are you smoking currently? No, really!” while people from developed countries say “Well, I’d be more ok if I replaced my 30″ tv with a 32″ tv, why do you ask?” and people from Scandinavian socialist paradises answer “Mustn’t grumble. Things are alright I suppose. I’m more satisfied than Jens next door, whatever he says. What did he say?”

Denmark 2011
Jeg sagde, at jeg var tilfreds. Hvad sagde du?

In response, the Guardian has published yet another puff piece praising Denmark as a place you should definitely move to immediately. Bless the author. Denmark really suits her and it will definitely suit YOU too. *

Her Top Five Things about Denmark:-

  1. Childcare: Subsidised heavily.
  2. Health service: She really likes same-day doctor appointments. (I had those in London and Cardiff too, so wtf?)
  3. A compact capital: Copenhagen is small, so you can cycle around it.
  4. Architecture and design: Fair enough.
  5. Public spaces: Clean beaches and parks.

My Danish Boyfriend’s Top Five Things about Denmark:

(He rebelled at first and said “Low corruption” and “Good weather” and then laughed)

  1. Free education from primary to university: there is a way for really poor people to get a university degree
  2. Health care coverage and quality: he acknowledges I might have a different view because I use it a lot more than he does. He would improve it by giving more comprehensive dental coverage.
  3. Not as many homeless people/destitute people as in other countries: the way the State will help you out if you are in the shit.
  4. And then he dried up and said he’d need to see how other countries were run in order to compare.

My Top Five Things about Denmark

  1. The people I have met here. Sure, not many of them are Danish but it is quality not quantity right?
  2. The libraries. OMG, I love my library, it’s so awesome. And you can get any book from any library in Denmark. ANY BOOK! (I have heard a story about a British guy getting refused a card because “Foreigners steal books” but my experiences have always been tip-top.)
  3. The work-life balance (even as a teacher). Sure, it’s changing now but my guess is it’ll take a few decades before it is anywhere near as fucked as back home.
  4. The way that even children from shitty backgrounds have an ambition to better themselves (and are able to): Their counterparts in the UK dream of being “famous”, Danish children with shocking backgrounds have ambitions like “become a politician”, “get a respected qualification and have a profession” and they take steps to make it happen. CAVEAT: the Muslim children I know have the same dreams but they say they will have to move countries to make it happen because “No one in a hijab goes to university!” “What about in Indonesia? Isn’t it wall-to-wall hijab there!” “In Indonesia(!) Not here.”
  5. The innocence: They trust the authorities. They trust people around them. They trust everyone to have good intentions. They have not realised that approximately 10% of people are most likely psychopaths (there are no figures on how many of the population are fuckwits). They dismiss as anomaly: corruption, favouritism, poor decision making and brutality. This means that when something is good, you do not have a group of Danes trying to find the downside, they just appreciate it. It’s cute, (most of the time).
*Unless you understand what is being said about you, “look” foreign, are poor, like to question things, have uneven/poor health, want to stay-at-home with your kids,  move from non-EU country to be with a Dane, do things a bit differently, sincerely miss the absence of diversity, have to promise to integrate or want to have a job other than “freelance journalist” (*cough*blogging on tumblr*cough*).

On Cognitive Bias

We all have them. If there is one thing that makes me reach for the sick bag, it is when someone implies that I am “not objective” and either say outright or leave the thought hanging that they are. No, you aren’t. You pompous fool.

There are loads of things everyone gets wrong about the world all the time. I just read a mo-fo-ing book about it, which I am going to go ahead and pimp to y’all. It’s by Cordelia Fine (who I LOVE), and it’s called A Mind of its Own (not to be confused with the book about the penis by David Friedman). Our brains are lying scumbags, yo! They protect us from so much mental distress by refusing to display the world as it is. We look on the bright side, hide our true motives from ourselves, dismiss opposing points of view and go overboard for beliefs we already believed in.

People are pompous fools. We can’t help ourselves. Do not act like you are not one because that makes you sound way way worse. Believe.

Anyway. Going through the integration process in Denmark has been fascinating from a self-knowledge perspective. How much can you really know about yourself if you have never transplanted yourself into another culture? I am so grateful for this blog. I kept all the archives, they are safe. (They are also very likely still on google cache, right?) I can look back on my journey and see how I processed everything and when. Not many others have that. Many others come through the process and forget how raw and visceral everything was in the beginning. “Have you tried… accepting Denmark as it is?” they ask. Forgetting everything they were going through in those days.

I have felt myself in confirmation bias’ grip. I have been part of group think. I even remember thinking “It won’t be like that for me” before I moved to Denmark. How textbook can one person be?

Now I am a pure and holy objective thinker and due to my enlightenment I am able to see things as they TRULY are. Just kidding. I am still subject to my brain’s vagaries and distortions. Obviously. (But that is not a stick to beat me with, and it never was. You see, you forgive your own peccadilloes and judge mine more harshly. That is also a cognitive bias.)

The temptation, with a blog like this, is to write about the things Denmark does right… you know, to “balance” when I have written about Denmark doing wrong. I do recognise that Denmark has good points. I do recognise that that Danish state occasionally makes good decisions. I do recognise that many Danish people are pretty awesome. But.

Denmark already has a major industry writing on its behalf. Even people not on the payroll look to Denmark to be somewhere special. Journalists might not be totally clear on which language Danes speak but they know it is a socialist paradise, whatever they speak. Bloggers might not be entirely sure what the difference between Sweden and Denmark is but they know it is free and tolerant, whichever one it is. Denmark has a huge sector of the state working to attract “luksus” immigrants to work here for a few years, pay into the system and then BOG OFF before they can cash out. They highlight the good stories and are not above fabricating them if they are thin on the ground. If you poke around biking blogs, there are many running battles about which city has the busiest cycling lanes: Amsterdam or Copenhagen. (This is because Denmark claims Copenhagen does and because some bloggers have looked into it and the figures are fishy. I am not taking sides on this one because I don’t know)

When the highly educated luksus immigrants make it here, they typically love it to start. If they are lucky, they will remain happy. They post lovely little craft blogs about their new hobbies (this is usually the spouses, who are often unable to find work). They don’t blog the bad days because they don’t want to worry the folks back home. If the bad days become a bad patch, they stop blogging entirely. Sometimes (becoming more and more often), they ask to leave early.

Some people come here to be with a Danish partner. They have a similar trajectory of being very happy and then being just ok and then having bad days. Some will have bad patches. Some will want to leave due to those bad experiences.

Unfortunately for them, there is a well-rehearsed response to their concerns. The two-step of “If you don’t like it, then move”/”It would be the same anywhere else”.

New immigrants (whatever brings them here), know they want to have a good time in their new country. They know they don’t want to have bad days. They certainly do not want to have bad patches. So, they read as much as they can about the good stuff and try to avoid reading about the bad stuff altogether. I believe first-time pregnant women do the same when reading about childbirth and child rearing. It is normal to romanticise the future. Though, the difference is when a new mother has cracked, oozing nipples and is delirious from a lack of sleep; her mother might say “I fucking told you.”

Still, there must be a benefit in knowing on some level that mothering will be gross, exhausting and painful even if you do not believe it until it is happening.

For those who are considering a move to Denmark; there is hardly anything about the bad stuff out there to try to avoid. Not in English. There is me and “this Indonesian“. Everyone else is trying to see the good or maintaining a more neutral tone or staying out of the political discussions. (That is totally fine, vive la difference).

But what readers need to understand  is: they are my balance. Their positive and negative experiences are MY positive and negative experiences. They have the same joy and the same despair. For the most part. They choose to blog one aspect of living here, I choose to blog another.

My fear is, if I blog about how great work-life balance is here; people fresh from watching  Borgen will use that statement to justify moving here. I wouldn’t feel right about that. People need to come here with their eyes open. There are good things and bad things. You typically only get to read about the good things and by the time you find out about the bad things; it’s too late because you live here now and people are going to tell you to be grateful that it isn’t North Korea you live in. TO YOUR FACE.

Denmark is okay, I really believe that. Being a foreigner is freaking hard though and especially so in a country like this. (Fun fact: There are other countries in which being a foreigner is problematic.)

Denmark is not the Holy Land. It’s not what you think. The hype you keep wanting to be true? It really really isn’t. It’s probably about as good as any developed nation, depending on how you measure it. But it’s nothing special. Sometimes the authorities make great whopping mistakes. Sometimes horrible things happen and no one gets in trouble. Sometimes you get treated like shit because of where you are from and not what you are like. They are flailing around in the financial crisis as much as anywhere else. The taxes are high. The services are crap. The selection in the shops is poor.

Denmark is okay. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad. I will probably just blog the bad stuff, if that is okay with you? No offense, Denmark. But you have SOOOOO many blogs singing your praises, I know one or two like mine won’t hurt.