Peace Police

I was rolling on the floor laughing, literally in tears, last night upon hearing the explanation why the police in Iceland are not armed: They have made an agreement with the local criminals that if they won’t carry arms, the police won’t either.

Is there such a place in the known universe?

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Bag In The EUSSR

Have you noticed how shopping bags are quickly becoming an endangered species? Retailer after retailer is doing away with plasticd bags for your groceries, which used to be free in many supermarkets and made excellent dustbin inserts as well. Nowadays, you either have to buy deliberately pricey but reusable bags, or use boxes.

An attempt to reduce the waste mountains, the abolishing is quickly spreading even to non-food markets. The other day I didn’t even get a plastic bag for my new swimshorts at the local sports gear store, as we were going swimming.

However, being chronically cynical, I can’t help but suspect that there may be other underlying reasons as well. Giving away bags is a loss-making activity; people using them as dustbin linings mean that sales of dustbin bags won’t take off and, ergo, another loss. Having people paying for the reusable bags means they’ll be too stingy to put them in the bin, and thus will have to buy proper waste bags.

It also brings back some memories of the Soviet Union in the 1970s. One of the things I remember most from visiting what was then Leningrad (now St Petersburg) as a child in 1977 was how the grown-ups had to dig out a few sports bags before going to the supermarket in order to get the food items home at all.

The Soviet stores didn’t even offer packaging for any food item that could be sold without one. I remember how nauseating I found the idea of bread loaves and plucked chickens lying around in the open, for anyone to dig around among with their hands, before selecting one that could go into the disused Adidas. I was just about to write something sarcastically vitriolic here in this blog post about that being the next logical step for Western supermarkets as well, when I realised that unpackaged bread loaves and grilled, but unpackaged chickens are as abundant at my local Carrefour as ever in the old Communist state.

Fancy that. 30 years on, the West has caught up. Or however you wish to call it. Who would have thought?

Garlicked

Oh dear, I just overdosed on garlic. It’s so nice I had to take some fresh garlic on my lunch pasta… and now everything tastes garlic. My coffee, the little chocky I had with it… blah.

I suppose tomorrow’s lunch will be, ehrm, cold turkey.

Water Of Love

(Now there’s another blog post title I’ve nicked from a song title from the Jurassic age, when I was still young and beautiful. Go figure.)

Yesterday was one of those where you find yourself searching for the Reset button. When you start closing all the windows thinking that you might be able to pull the old Microsoft trick and restart the whole day.

On the plate: Hard disk change on my stationary computer, which is about as much of an IT heart transplant as it sounds, a task which turned out to include trying to find the power supply adapter cable that I hadn’t thought of. (I now know that SATA disks, which I am testing for the first time, require another power cable than ATAs. And that there are adaptors from the standard Molex. I wish I had known that when I bough the disk, though.)

And then our new car unexpectedly had to be hospitalised, leaving me on foot far from home. I’d taken it in to investigate a strange creaking noise which had been there since one of my family’s members (I have promised her not to divulge who) had a close encounter with a block of concrete, and the repairmen started talking about possible faults of a dimension that sent the cash tills ringing in the back of my head. Not to mention that I need the car to get to the computer shop to get the cable to be able to start working on the endless task of installing, connecting and bleeding water cooling pipes, formatting, partitioning, installing programmes and drivers and moving a three-figure Gigabyte amount of files.

In other words: Stuck.

However, things did change all of a sudden, in one of those ways where you thing that Someone up there is actually looking after me after all. Walking a long distance to the bus stop going home, I suddenly remembered that there was a computer shop right behind me. I went in and explained my ordeal in my pidgin Flemish.

“Oh dear”, said the computer shop guy, doubtfully shaking his head and diving into the cellar. From whence he emerged aome time later with a tiny plastic bag in his hand.

“It’s the last one!”

Back in business! Suddenly I was able to get things running. Collecting the kids from school turned out to be much easier than I thought; they didn’t mind the walk to the garage, and my Mrs came with me to help out. My understanding boss sent me some encouraging words. And the car turned out to have only minor damages which were nicely fixed at a fraction of what we had started fearing.

This general relief was probably why I let myself be dragged without the expected kicking and screaming to the local sports complex to go swimming. My wife used to be a semi-professional; I can’t swim. Hence a source of marital tension. But my six-year-old has been going there for a year with his school, and my four-year-old has recently shown interest, so I had grudgingly agreed to pay the place my first visit.

I must confess, was expecting to spend the next few hours shivering in something run-down and shoddy. After all, I’ve seen so many awful public areas in Belgium to learn not to expect very much, or maybe to have becom prejudiced, sorry to say. Not to mention that the water in every public bath I have been to – in Sweden at least – is usually kept at a temperature suitable for Greenland whales.

But it turned out to be the most brilliant, clean, neat, modern, well-kept and pleasant set of indoor pools I have visited; with some nice features I haven’t seen anywhere else. Refurbished only four years ago! Large windows! Tastefully designed! Hot showers! And warm water in the pools!

My six-year-old was very happy to show Daddy around for the first time, my four-year-old didn’t want to go home, my wife was happily trawling around in the pro pool, and life was suddenly very pleasant again indeed.

I suppose that’s where I got the strength to start wrestling with the computer again, which I did until about 04.30 this morning.

Who Would You Like To Pay To Not Work?

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mean “who would you like to bribe so you don’t have to work”. Rather, who would you like to pay to make them stop working?

That’s an interesting dimension of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (one which is due to be done away with today by the way), which BBC correspondent Mark Mardell happily explores in a great blog post which you can read by clicking here. Since it’s already posible to pay farmers for not cultivating parts of their lands, he argues, why stop there? Why not pay other professionals for not doing their jobs?

For instance, I could think of quite a number of politicians, whom I would be quite happy to pay for them not to do any more work.

Oh wait a minute… I already do.

Oh, bother.

Dr. Phil, Our Country Is Breaking Up

With Belgium balancing on the edge of divorce, maybe it’s time to call in relations expert Dr. Phil – a fun fictional account of which can be read here (warning: satire).

Baaa-d

I was going to write w few short lines for Foodwire today about the troubles Greek farmers are currently having to find new goats to use to produce Feta cheese, which under new EU rules can only be produced in Greece. They need to get new animals, because many of the old ones burned in the widespread forest fires there this summer.

As I said, I was going to write something intelligent about this but I couldn’t get my head around it – all I could think of was that grilled Feta sounds rather tasty, especially with some decent roasted meat. I’ve never knowingly tasted grilled goat, but maybe it’s as good as lamb.

But then I felt very ashamed of myself, because the fires claimed a number of human lives. Under the most dreadful of conditions, that is. My colleague Patrik had the hardly enviable assignment some time ago of going there and reporting on it all on TV, an experience from which he returned both shaken and stirred. TV images can never convey the full horror, he told me.

It’s all too easy to forget that there are real people on the often ghastly news images we see every day. Real lives are being ruined, real people lose loved ones. Many of us in the media subconsciously turn their feelings off, distantiating themselves from the truth behind the lines – with a devastating effect on their ability to report in a way that brings the reailty over, I believe.

Others let it affect them to the point when they cannot take it anymore. Only yesterday, I heard an interview with a journalist whose task it was to sort and edit TV footage from various horrorful evets around the world every morning.

“I often cried at the news desk”, she admitted, and eventually decided to quit and spend the rest of her life trying to do things that would make people happy instead. She felt that the news simply could not do that.

I have the deepest sympathy or that. But, then again, if the world never hears of those things, will anyone ever decide to help? However – with too much horror stories, we all choke, turn off, and descend into aid fatigue. Where do you draw the line?

That is just one of the many delicate decisions we journalists face every day. In my case, it contributed to skipping the goats story: forgive me, but I did not want to take the focus away from the people.

But maybe I was wrong – maybe that would have helped to convey the extent of the disaster.