Tonight is Halloween in the Catholic countries and the United States. And everywhere else where supermarkets have seen the opportunity to sell large numbers of pumpkins and vast amounts of candy. 😉
For this reason many people in Denmark think Halloween is an “American” holiday. But it originated right here in Europe!
Halloween means All Hallows’ Eve and is the evening before All Saints’ Day. In the olden days, the date didn’t change at midnight but at sunset so November 1st – All Hallows Day – started when the sun went down on October 31st. This is also the reason why Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, the evening of December 24th, in mainland Europe. And why All Hallows Day is celebrated October 31st just about everywhere.
If you are celebrating Halloween, remember to go easy on the booze!
And on the candy, and pumpkin pie:
Happy Halloween! 🙂
In my next life, I have decided I want to be a supermarket!
As a human being I only have one birthday each year. My local supermarket is currently celebrating its birthday, and has been doing so all throughout October. That makes for no less than 31 birthdays, corresponding to more than one-twelfth of the year!
On my birthday, if I start singing, people will very likely ask me to cease that infernal noise! Or throw tomatoes at me. My supermarket has been celebrating its birthday(s) with a specially composed, incredibly annoying song which they play at regular, short, intervals in the shop. The song tells us that they have a huge amount of special birthday offers, most likely for items that were to be sold at a reduced price anyway.
So I want to be reborn as a supermarket. That way, I can offer “special” discounts, sing out of tune about it, and keep doing that for a full month – and if I am reborn as a branch of a larger chain of shops, I can celebrate my birthday at least twice a year; on the chain’s birthday and on the branch’s birthday.
Now I only need to start believing in reincarnation. 😉
We often hear about the brave people who, during World War 2, risked their own lives in order to transport the Danish Jews and members of the resistance movement to safety in neutral Sweden.
But we rarely hear their names. This memorial stands in Snekkersten south of Elsinore, Denmark.
The text on the stone reads:
Brave aide of refugees
H. C. THOMSEN
* 18-9 1906 in Thisted
+ 4-12 1944 in Neuengamme
The land you can see in the background is Sweden, only a few miles away – so near and yet so far.
During the first three years of the occupation, the Danish authorities collaborated with the German occupying forces. In return, Danes had it relatively easy despite the war and even the Jews were left alone. But by the summer of 1943, it was becoming impossible to keep up the pretense. Sabotage against the German forces was becoming more and more common and the government found it harder and harder to comply with German demands.
On August 29, 2943, the German authorities officially took control with Denmark and shortly after they tried to arrest the Jews. But German attache Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz warned the Jews, and most of them managed to flee to Sweden. This also established many of the routes by which members of the Danish resistance later fled the country.
But sadly, not all got out in time. Even some of those who had helped others escape, failed to escape themselves.
The memorial reminds us that the heroes of World War 2 were not just “heroes” – that they were people who had names and lives and families.
You can read more about the Great Danish Escape and the “Thomson route” here.
This week’s doping verdict against Lance Armstrong, former world champion and seven times winner of the Tour de France, might well turn out to be a death sentence to the bicycling sport as well.
A bit of background: Lance Armstrong became a professional bicycle rider in 1992 and won the world championship in Norway in 1993. In 1996 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer but managed to overcome the disease and return to professional bike racing. He had become slimmer and, if anything, more fit and from 1999 to 2005 he won the Tour de France seven times in a row before announcing his retirement from the sport. He returned briefly to the sport in 2009-11.
Which brings me to my first point: Lance Armstrong’s active career spanned some fifteen years. During those years he must have been tested for doping hundreds, if not thousands, of times. He has never tested positive. If he has used doping – which by now seems almost certain – he must have been very lucky, very clever in disguising his use of prohibited substances, or the doping authorities must have “mislaid” any positive tests Mr. Armstrong has given. Either way, the anti-doping campaign is a complete failure. He has systematically doped himself for almost a decade and gotten away with it, winning the world’s most prestigious race seven times in a row during those years.
Now for something a little different: I remember the Tour de France in 1993 for one particular moment: When Bjarne Riis of Denmark took the fifth place on one of the hardest mountain stages. Riis, who until then had only been known as a solid “water carrier”, also ended fifth in the overall classification, until then the best result any Danish rider had ever achieved. But it was his climb to Isola 2000 along with some of the greatest stars of his time that signaled his breakthrough.
(Ironically, some of the stage winners in 1993 are: Lance Armstrong(!), Armstrong’s later team manager Johan Bruynell, Bjarne Riis, and Danish rider Jesper Skibby – today all known for their doping use.)
Riis would go on to end third in 1995 before winning the Tour in 1996; generally regarded as one of the greatest achievements in Danish sports history, before moving on to found his own team, the Team CSC (now Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
But by 2007 the pressure was mounting on Riis. Several of his own teammates had admitted to using doping, also fingering Riis in their accusations. It was generally recognized that doping had been rampant in bicycling in the 1990’s, and nobody really believed that Riis had been the only “clean” rider during the bad old days. Shortly before the start of that year’s Tour de France, Riis went on direct TV and admitted that, “I have used doping. I have used EPO.”
I think nobody was very surprised. Riis sensed that he would be extremely “Persona Non Grata” in that year’s Tour de
Farce France and left to his second-in-command, Kim Andersen, to manage his team in the Tour.
That year’s tour also almost ended up becoming a new Danish success, with Michael Rasmussen leading the race after the first 16 stages. But by then pressure was mounting on Rasmussen as well. Like Riis he had never tested positive but he had also on two occasions not been present where he had told the doping authorities he would be, training for the Tour in his home in Mexico. It turned out that he had been training in Italy, some 6,000 miles from Mexico. 😉
Rasmussen was immediately pulled from the race and suspended by his team Rabobank, and the later winner, Alberto Contador of Spain, lamented the “rotten culture” amongst the old riders from the 1990s, indicating that younger riders were better behaved.
It is understandable that the Tour authorities didn’t want a cheater to win the Tour that year. The year before, in 2006, Floyd Landis had won the Tour, only to test positive for Testosterone and be stripped of his title. And the ASO, the organization that arranges the Tour, certainly didn’t want a cheating Dane to win one month after Bjarne Riis had admitted to using EPO the year he won!
Alberto Contador went on to win the Tour in 2007 and again in 2009 (with his Astana teammate, the returned Lance Armstrong, finishing fourth). In 2009, the Tour arrangers managed to play the Danish instead of the Spanish national anthem at the victory ceremony in Paris, to the great confusion of Contador. 😉
Well, he does look a bit surprised. But on to my second major point: Alberto Contador had complained about the “rotten culture” of the 1990s. But in 2010 he himself gave a positive sample containing the prohibited substance Clenbuterol. He won that year’s Tour but was later stripped of his title and given a two-year suspension. And other riders complained that the older riders were cheating…
Which reminds me of my post on the old Soviet Union and its apologists in the West: Things were always bad some five or ten years ago but NOW the authorities are in control, and just wait and see…
Five or ten years ago, bicycling was a mess and everybody was doped! But NOW we have things under control, young riders know better than to dope themselves, and those few who do are certain to be caught. See, we just caught another one! This proves the system works! Five more years, and doping will be a thing of the past.
Sorry guys, but I think in five or ten years you will be saying the exact same thing. If the sport manages to survive that long. 😦
When defending the latest war, and in particular the so-called “collateral damage” (meaning innocent lives lost or ruined), politicians will often cite the old saw that “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs!”
The same is also often said in connection with “Eminent Domain”, which means that the government (local, regional, or federal) confiscates private property “for the common good” and pays the owners what the government claims is a “fair price”. (See for example the case of Kelo vs. the City of New London.)
When I hear this particular bromide, I am always reminded of the words of Harry Browne: “It is always somebody else’s eggs that get broken, and the omelet never seems to materialize!” This holds true in Afghanistan and Iraq a decade after the invasions of these two countries. It holds true in New London, Connecticut, where the government-aided theft of a number of private homes (not just “houses”; to the people who lived there they were HOMES!) never led to the development which the developer promised.
Leave other people’s eggs alone!
This suggestion was originally made by Science-Fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein in his novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – the same book where he introduces the wonderfully ungrammatical expression TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch).
In the novel, the Moon has been turned into a penal colony. The prisoners rebel against the Earth authorities and form an independent colony. Now one of their challenges is to write a new constitution – for example, figuring out how to organize their legislative assembly. From the old democracies they have learned that parliaments end up enacting more and more laws, often with the thinnest of majorities.
The Loonies’ solution is to create a two-chamber system. One chamber is tasked with creating new laws, which can only happen with a two-thirds majority. The argument is that any law that doesn’t have a two-thirds backing can’t be said to have “wide” backing and shouldn’t be enforced on the people. The other chamber is tasked with eliminating old laws that are no longer needed or are deemed to have been passed in error. To eliminate a law takes one third of the votes. Again, the argument is that if more than one third would want to get rid of a law, it does not have a wide backing and an oh-so-practical majority of 50% + 1 doesn’t have the right to force their will upon the minority.
Seeing how for example the Danish parliament often passes laws with a minimal majority, and then repeatedly tries to “repair” those laws that turn out to do more wrong than good instead of simply abolishing them, I would fully back Mr. Heinlein’s suggestion.
I was past Copenhagen Central Station this evening. I came from North Zealand (direction towards Elsinore) and had to travel onwards on the western line. Except, there seemed to be few or no trains available – apparently there is track work tonight for the zillionth time – so I ended up taking the suburban train (the “S-toget”) towards Høje Taastrup.
However I noticed that you were handing out free coffee in the station’s main hall. Nice touch. But I passed it by. I rarely drink coffee in the evening.
Also, I didn’t come to the station for coffee. If I want coffee, I go to a cafe; not to a train station. When I go to a train station, chances are I am looking for transportation. All too often, I don’t find it. Instead I get to hear a set of standard excuses about delays due to “signal problems”, “technical problems”, “work on the tracks”, or “personnel shortage” (the last one is a good one. Did one of your train drivers die? Or did they just forget to go to work? Or maybe they couldn’t get there on time because their train was delayed??).
I have also been held “on the line” for long times with repeated assurances that “Your train will arrive at the platform in a few minutes” or “This train will depart soon”. Before you know it, you have spent half an hour waiting for your train, and you don’t dare go find another mode of transportation because the train might actually arrive soon. And of course I have tried waiting for repeated “Approximately five minutes”, only to be told that the train has now been cancelled.
Quite frankly I am on the verge of sacking you forever. Owning a car is more expensive but I can’t keep risking arriving late for personal appointments on your willingness and ability to offer the transportation you are paid for offering.
Please keep your coffee, and provide me with transportation instead.