Picture: Autumn in Stockholm

Autumn in Stockholm, originally uploaded by micpohling.

Weekly Highlight: 28-10-2008


Danes used crappy spying tactics on Khrushchev
28.10.2008 Print article (IE & NS 4+)
Danish Defence Intelligence Service sifted through Khrushchev’s toilet contents for signs of illness, claims new book.
The Danish Defence Intelligence Service (FE) had some crappy assignments back in the 1960s according to a new book, detailing events of Danish spying during the Cold War.
 In ‘Spionerne Krig’ (The Spies’ War’), Hans Davidsen-Nielsen describes the bizarre surveillance operation that FE undertook during Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to Copenhagen in 1964. Intelligence operatives gathered the waste and urine from Khrushchev’s hotel toilet to investigate claims that he was seriously ill.
The Soviet leader’s visit came just six months after the assassination of President Kennedy and following a tip from American intelligence agents about the health of Khrushchev, the Danes decided to put their operation into effect.
Khrushchev was staying in a luxury suite at the SAS Royal Hotel during his June visit. With the help of some ingenious plumbing, FE managed to ensure that the contents of his toilet would be stored for later inspection by the intelligence services.
Shortly after his return to the USSR, the Soviet leader was ousted from his position by his eventual successor Leonid Brezhnev, among others. The Kremlin cited his poor health at the time as one of the reasons for his forced resignation.
However, thanks to the unusual investigation by the Danes, Peter Ilsøe of FE was able to tell international intelligence colleagues at a Paris conference in November 1964 that this was not the case.
‘With reference to Khrushchev’s illness, as you might know, we made a special effort during his visit to clarify the state of his health….We reached the conclusion in June, taking his 70 years age into account, that he was in no way displaying signs of advanced hardening of the arteries,’ Ilsøe said at the time. (kr)


Electronic Voting Receives Big Brother Anti-Award
Published 26.10.2008, 16.22 (updated 26.10.2008, 19.30)

Electronic Frontier Finland has awarded its “Big Brother” prize (Isoveli) to the Justice Ministry for its pilots of electronic voting in the 2008 municipal elections. Electronic Frontier Finland is an interest group established to ensure openness on the Internet and to protect the electronic rights of Finnish citizens.
The Big Brother award is granted to individuals or organisations that are seen to promote the watchdog society in Finland. In granting the dubious distinction the organisation criticised the electronic voting pilots because they weakened national information security.
IT services company Tieto-Enator also received the award for its role in developing the electronic voting system.
Voters in the 2008 municipal elections were able to cast electronic ballots in three pilot areas: Vihti, Karkkila and Kauniainen.
Officials report that electronic voting proceeded without any problems in the test districts on election day.
In Kauniainen, where voter turnout is traditionally high, a majority of voters opted for electronic voting. 


Savings guarantee is being abused
Tuesday 28 October 2008

The cabinet is taking undue risks by guaranteeing savings at the foreign branches of Dutch banks for up to €100,000, according to MPs, reports Tuesday’s Trouw.
If a bank goes bankrupt, savers can claim up to €100,000 from the Dutch state. The limit was increased earlier this month from €38,000 and applies not only to ING and Rabobank, but to all banks based in the Netherlands.
‘There are a lot of Turkish banks which are active in other countries but have their headquarters here,’ MP Pieter Omtzigt, of the ruling Christian Democrats is quoted as saying by the Trouw.
‘And lots of Russian banks fall under the Dutch ruling as well. Are they well supervised by the central bank?’ he asks.

Advertising in Italy and France

On Monday, the Parool reported that ING is advertising in Italy and France offering an interest rate of 6% and drawing attention to the government’s guarantee.
Turkey’s Garantibank International advertises 6.5% interest rate in Germany and also alerts savers to the increased limit.
‘We want to know how much foreign savings the Netherlands is guaranteeing,’ CDA MP Ellie Blanksma is quoted as saying in the Parool.
Last week Bos said banks are not supposed to draw attention to the guarantee in their advertising.
At the weekend, economist Willem Buiter of the London School of Economics warned that the guarantee is a danger to the Dutch economy and is being abused by banks to attract foreign savers.


Optimists abound in Norway
First published: 23 Oct 2008, 12:35

The poll, conducted for newspaper Aftenposten last week, showed that fully 73 percent of those questioned retain full confidence in their banks. Nearly 60 percent indicated that they don’t think their jobs are in danger.
Only 5 percent were considering converting their mortgages to fixed-rate loans, suggesting that they predict interest rates will decline instead of rise.
Less than half think they will make significant cuts in their own consumption, and eight out of 10 questioned think their own personal financial situation will be at least as good or better 12 months from now.
The Norwegians, it seems, aren’t letting the international financial crisis scare them. Even though several companies (including local media firms, real estate brokerages and industrial concerns) are already cutting back, a majority of those questioned don’t fear rising unemployment.
“I of course am thinking about what’s happening, that things can go wrong,” Kari Lovise Flood told newspaper Aftenposten. “But you have to stay positive.” She just opened her own, new flower shop in Oslo and has no regrets.
Flood, age 27, even thinks the current financial drama is “healthy” for the Norwegian society. “We have had such an incredibly strong period lately,” she said. “People have been buying new furniture and throwing it out again after just a year. It’s good if people think twice before spending so much.”
Even 55-year-old John Ek, who sells equipment for construction workers, is remaining optimistic. With construction projects already grinding to a halt, or being taken off the drawing board, doesn’t he worry about demand for his goods? “Not really,” he told Aftenposten. “We’re pretty strong, and we’re used to the cycles in this branch.”
Public sector workers also feel secure. “Both my wife and I work for the state, and that gives a degree of security,” said Rune Bergsvendsen, age 49. “But we are postponing some things we had thought about doing, like some home remodelling. We’ll wait and see what happens with interest rates.”
Only 1 percent of those questioned by research firm Respons for Aftenposten said they were seriously worried about their jobs, while 58 percent said they weren’t worried at all. The survey was conducted October 13-15, when stock markets briefly rallied but economists came with predictions of lower growth and higher unemployment in Norway next year.


Swedish breast cancer survival rate nears 90 percent
Published: 28 Oct 08 06:58 CET

Nearly nine out of ten women in Sweden suffering from breast cancer are likely to beat the disease, according to a new report.
The trend is positive, but the Swedish Cancer Society (Cancerfonden) believes even more women can survive if county councils devote more resources to mammography.
Twenty years ago, an average of 87 percent of women with breast cancer survived. Today the figure is up to 87.4 percent, according to the Cancer Society’s breast barometer, which is based on statistics from the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).
“When viewed in an international perspective, we have great numbers. But we’re not giving up until we’ve reached the maximum. Over 10 percent still don’t survive,” said Cancer Society secretary general Ursula Tengelin.
Several factors have contributed to the increase in Sweden’s breast cancer survival rate, according to Tengelin.
For starters, Sweden was early in implementing universal mammograms, which allows more tumors to be discovered at an early stage.
Swedish hospitals have also had access to modern treatment methods, while at the same time research conducted in Sweden has led to increased knowledge about breast cancer and its mechanisms.
“Swedish research is important for Swedish patients. Doctors don’t have second-hand information and new knowledge gets out to the healthcare system much quicker,” said Tengelin.
But the probability of a patient surviving breast cancer isn’t the same in every Swedish county. The variance is reflected in the differences in survival rates around the country.
Stockholm shows the highest chance of survival at 89.2 percent, followed by Dalarna and Uppsala in central Sweden.
Ranking last on the list of how many woman are still alive five years after having been diagnosed is Blekinge in southern Sweden, with 85 percent.

OECD: Voter Turn-Out

World Rank# Country (no. of elections) vote/VAP%
1 Italy (14) 92.5
4 Iceland (16) 89.5
5 New Zealand (18) 86.2
12 Austria (16) 85.1
13 Belgium (17)* 84.9
15 Netherlands (15) 84.8
16 Australia (21) 84.4
17 Denmark (22) 83.6
18 Sweden (17) 83.3
20 Czech Republic (4) 82.8
23 Portugal (9) 82.4
29 Germany (13) 80.6
30 Slovenia (1) 80.6
33 Greece (17)* 80.3
35 Israel (14) 80.0
37 Norway (14) 79.5
40 Finland (15) 79.0
43 Bulgaria (3) 77.5
45 Romania (2) 77.2
46 Spain (7) 77.0
48 Slovakia (1) 75.9
54 Ireland (16) 74.9
55 United Kingdom (15) 74.9
56 Republic of Korea (9) 74.8
58 Croatia (2) 73.5
59 Turkey (9) 73.5
74 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (14) 69.1
75 Japan (21) 69.0
77 Canada (17) 68.4
81 France (15) 67.3
82 Liechtenstein (16)* 67.3
85 Ukraine (3) 66.1
91 Hungary (3) 64.1
92 Luxembourg (12) 64.1
97 Latvia (3) 63.1
98 Belarus (1) 63.0
102 Singapore (8) 62.0
106 Georgia (2) 60.6
110 Lithuania (2) 60.1
116 Malaysia (7) 59.0
124 Estonia (3) 56.0
127 Russia (2) 55.0
131 Poland (4) 52.3
138 Switzerland (13)* 49.3
139 USA (26) 48.3
140 Mexico (18) 48.1

Source: International IDEA

Weekly Highlight: 24.10.2008


Southern Denmark seeking to recruit German and Austrian doctors 

German-speaking physicians are in demand in the southernmost region of the country
Region Southern Denmark has begun a programme to actively recruit physicians and nurses from Germany and Austria for its hospitals.
The programme is a cooperation between the region, the Danish Embassies in Germany and Austria, and the Austrian health ministry. Job fairs are already planned for Vienna, Hannover and Dresden in the coming weeks, and the region hopes to land 100 doctors and 200 nurses through the effort.
Annette Lunde Stougaard, head of the region’s HR recruiting department, said that although the region has a large number of German-speakers, it is not the main reason it is looking to Germany and Austria.
‘First of all, Austria currently has a surplus of physicians,’ she told The Copenhagen Post. ‘But experience has also shown that German-speakers with an advanced education are quick to learn Danish and have a fairly easy time integrating into Danish society.’
Stougaard acknowledged, however, that the many German-speakers in the region likely make it easier to market German-speaking doctors there.
German has official status as a minority language in Denmark, but Region Southern Denmark has no figures on how many people in the region speak the language. (rc) 


New HIV Infections Frequently Occur Abroad
Published 24.10.2008, 17.46

The number of persons infected with HIV during visits abroad has grown in Finland. According to the National Public Health Institute (KTL), last year about one-third of new HIV patients were infected in foreign countries – mainly in popular holiday destinations like south-east Asia.
“Last year, the number of persons infected during sexual intercourse was particularly high in foreign countries. Time will tell if this is a long-term trend,” says Mika Salminen, the head of the HIV Unit at KTL.
Around 160 new cases of HIV are diagnosed in Finland each year. The majority of the infections were obtained during sexual intercourse. Ten years ago, only around half of HIV cases were spread during sex.
“Finns’ use of condoms as a birth control option is relatively rare,” says Salminen.
Meanwhile the number of infections from sharing contaminated drug syringes is down.
The Finnish Aids Council has launched a campaign on safety while travelling. Information pamphlets on HIV are being distributed in trains stations in cities including Helsinki, Tampere, Jyväskylä, Kuopio and Joensuu, as well as at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport and at passenger ship terminals in Helsinki and Turku.  


Private forestry is profitable
Friday 24 October 2008

Private forest owners made an average of €47 profit on every hectare of trees last year, according to calculations by the LEI agricultural institute.
Between 2001 and 2005 forest owners lost an average of €63 on each hectare. The turnaround is due to rising timber prices and subsidies, LEI said. 


Norway won’t cut oil production
First published: 22 Oct 2008, 11:41

Støre, who’s been hosting his Algerian counterpart in Oslo this week, said Norway has no plans to cut production.
“Norway makes its own evaluations on an independent basis,” Støre said. He said Norwegian officials “of course” consult others, “but it’s Norway alone that makes these kinds of decisions.”
OPEC is due to meet Friday to discuss ways to boost prices, with production cuts high on the agenda as a means of cutting supply and thereby boosting demand. Algeria chairs OPEC, of which Norway is not a member.
Algerian Oil Minister Chakib Khelil has urged Norway, Russia and Mexico to reduce production in line with OPEC. Algeria’s foreign minister Mourad Medelci said Tuesday that he doubted Norway would let itself be instructed by OPEC.
From a high of nearly USD 150 a barrel last summer, oil prices fell by more than USD 3 on Wednesday, to near their lowest level in 16 months. Prices below USD 70 were tied to mounting worries that production cuts by OPEC itself will not be enough to offset lower energy demand.
Some North Sea crude fell to USD 67.44. “People are just scared that the economy is going down the tube,” Tony Nunan, assistant manager of risk management at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo, told Reuters. “There is a feeling that we are now going to see problems in the real economy; employment, real estate prices will continue to fall and the big concern now is how much economic growth is going suffer.”
A stronger US dollar means Norway stands to collect higher kroner revenues on every barrel sold, which may offset some of the price decline. There’s no question, though, that high oil prices in recent years fueled the strong economy Norway enjoyed until the international financial crisis erupted. Lower prices will mean far less money flowing into state coffers.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that oil prices were well below USD 20, and the huge jump to well over USD 100 drove up costs for industry and most consumers. The high prices thus were a source of huge concern and complaints, making it almost ironic that the recent decline to a level that’s still over three times as high as prices once were, is now sparking concern and complaints as well.

New discovery
Meanwhile, Norwegian oil and gas group StatoilHydro announced a new oil and gas discovery near its Visund field in the North Sea on Wednesday. StatoilHydro said the find in the Pan Pandora prospect was its 20th discovery so far in 2008.
“The area south of Visund has considerable remaining resource potential,” StatoilHydro said. StatoilHydro opeartes the field with partners Total of France, ConocoPhillips of the US and Norway’s state-owned Petoro. 


Swedes cool towards ethnic diversity
Published: 24 Oct 08 12:19 CET

Greater numbers of Swedes are expressing hostility towards ethnic diversity, according to a new study.
According to the annual diversity barometer carried out by researchers at Uppsala University, the percentage of the Swedish population with extremely negative attitudes toward ethnic diversity has increased by 50 percent since 2005.
“The extremely negative attitudes are increasing, and we believe it’s in line with what’s happening in Europe. It’s not only older, but also younger who are negative,” said Orlando Mella, a sociology professor from Uppsala University, to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
However, Mella added that in comparison to the rest of Europe, Sweden is generally quite positive toward diversity.
Overall, 5.7 percent of the population in Sweden indicated they have extremely negative attitudes toward diversity, up from 3.8 percent in 2005.
Among men, the instance of negative attitudes has increased from 5.3 to 7.5 percent since 2005.
Unexpectedly, however, the prevalence of negative attitudes toward ethnic diversity among Swedish women has nearly doubled from 2.3 percent to 4.1 percent.
“It’s surprising for us that there are more women in the group [expressing negative attitudes]; that’s not something we expected. Swedish women tend to be quite positive toward diversity,” said Mella.
Despite the growth of unfavourable views towards diversity in Sweden, Mella believes the country is better equipped to integrate immigrant groups than other European countries and that public perceptions of social exclusion among immigrants in Sweden is exaggerated.
“The large number of immigrants are on the way to or currently are being integrated,” she said.
Nevertheless, Mella said that continued growth in the number of Swedes expressing hostility toward ethnic diversity has the potential to affect Swedes’ attitudes more widely, noting that rising unemployment presents a challenge for politicians.
“But we should remember that there aren’t deep ethnic conflicts in Sweden like there are in France or Great Britain,” she said.

Picture: Autumn in Stockholm

Autumn in Stockholm, originally uploaded by micpohling.

OECD: Gini/Income Inequality in Mid-2000s

Country: Gini in mid-200s

Denmark: 0.232
Sweden: 0.234
Luxembourg: 0.258
Austria: 0.265
Czech Republic:  0.268
Slovakia: 0.268
Finland: 0.269
Belgium: 0.271
Netherlands:  0.271
Switzerland: 0.276
Norway:  0.276
Iceland: 0.280
France: 0.281
Hungary: 0.291
Germany: 0.298
Australia: 0.301
OECD-30 0.311
Korea: 0.312
Canada: 0.317
Spain: 0.319
Japan:  0.321
Greece: 0.321
Ireland: 0.328
New Zealand: 0.335
UK: 0.335
Italy: 0.352
Poland: 0.372
USA 0.381
Portugal: 0.385
Turkey: 0.430
Mexico:  0.474

*One thing i notice is that the number as above is not quite tally with the number I got from national statistics bureau. For example in Sweden: the gini listed above is only 0.234 but the number i have gotten earlier for year between 2000 to 2006 is ranged between 0.27 to 0.31. So, why there is a discrepancy?

Source: OECD

Sweden: Median Income 1980 – 2006


MeThink: 190 000 Hits!!!


10-06-2007: 10 000 hits.
04-09-2007: 20 000 hits.
21-10-2007: 30 000 hits.
25-11-2007: 40 000 hits.
25-12-2007: 50 000 hits.
27-01-2008: 60 000 hits.
21-02-2008: 70 000 hits.
11-03-2008: 80 000 hits.
28-03-2008: 90 000 hits.
14-04-2008: 100 000 hits.
30-04-2008: 110 000 hits.
18-05-2008: 120 000 hits.
03-06-2008: 130 000 hits.
25-06-2008: 140 000 hits.
18-07-2008: 150 000 hits.
13-08-2008: 160 000 hits.
08-09-2008: 170 000 hits.
27-09-2008: 180 000 hits.
15-10-2008: 190 000 hits!!! 🙂

Picture: Maple Tree in Autumn

Life in Akalla, Stockholm, originally uploaded by micpohling.

Weekly Highlight: 15.10.2008


Child abuse a national problem

Eight children die as a result of abuse or neglect in Denmark each year, according to the Social Services Board.
Recent statistics released by the National Board of Social Services show that between 600 and 1000 cases of child abuse are registered with the agency each year.
Susanne Dal Gravesen, project leader in the agency’s youth and children’s division, says the figure is at the most conservative end of the scale.
‘The statistics show only the tip of the iceberg. Child abuse typically takes place behind closed doors and is a very taboo issue,’ she said.
Police receive up to 4000 reports of alleged child abuse or neglect nationwide each year, only a fraction of which end up as concrete cases for the Social Services Board.
A recent Rambøll/Jyllands-Posten survey also showed that 8 percent of parents support corporal punishment for children when they misbehave.
Lola Jensen, a family counsellor, said the frustrations of many otherwise reasonable parents simply boil over as children become more and more difficult.
‘Children today generally have less respect for adults, authority, the police and the law,’ said Jensen. ‘I deal with many parents who swore they would never hit their child, but have done so because they felt powerless over the poor upbringing of their child, for which they themselves are responsible.’
The government has recognised the problem and set up the ‘Children from battered families’ programme, which was launched in August and includes a 51 million kroner allocation. But Jensen admits taming the problem is an uphill battle.
‘It will be a long time before our population consists exclusively of children who were never beaten by those that love them the most.’ (rc)


Smoking Shaves a Decade off Men’s Lives
Published 13.10.2008, 17.21

Middle-aged men who don’t smoke live about ten years longer on average than their heavy-smoking peers.
According to research carried out by the University of Helsinki, University of Oulu and the National Public Health Institute, non-smoking men also enjoy a somewhat higher quality of life in their later years.
Some 1,600 men born between the years 1919 and 1934 were included in the study. Their smoking patterns and health risks during the 1970s were analysed.


Dutch want to be in the dark
Tuesday 14 October 2008

A majority of the population would like it to be darker at night as long as this does not affect security, according to research by the environmental organisation Natuur en Milieu.
Some 75% say too much light disturbs nocturnal animals and 82% think it is a waste of energy, reports the Telegraaf.
Nearly half of those questioned complain that artificial light means they cannot see the stars.
According to survey, the Netherlands is one of the most lit up countries in the world, and it gets 3% lighter each year.


‘Lower growth, higher unemployment’
First published: 13 Oct 2008, 11:50

“The international finance crisis will yield clearly weaker growth impulses from abroad than earlier thought,” wrote SSB in its prognosis released at a seminar Monday morning.
SSB researcher Torbjørn Eika said it’s difficult to make predictions, though, given the market volatility unleashed by the financial crisis. He made the following anyway, saying Norway can expect:

a longterm international economic downturn
a decline in the price of raw materials
a decline in investment
weak growth of GNP
rising unemployment
lower wage growth

The downturn is likely to continue until 2011, before there may be what Eika called a “moderate” upturn.
He also thinks interest rates will fall again, down to 3.5 percent by the spring of 2010 from 8 percent in 2009. “We assume that the authorities will do what’s needed to gain control over interest rates,” Eika said.


Sweden contemplates alcohol locks for drunk drivers
Published: 10 Oct 08 08:52 CET

A new form of punishment for drunk drivers under consideration in Sweden would allow some offenders to keep their driver’s licences provided they installed an alcohol lock on their vehicles.
A report issued on Thursday by a government commission studying the use of alcohol locks did not propose implementing a general requirement that all new cars be outfitted with an alcohol lock.
The device prevents someone from starting a vehicle if it detects traces of alcohol on the driver’s breath.
The commission explained that a general requirement for alcohol locks could be considered to impede competition, and would thus require approval by European Union authorities in Brussels.
According to the commission’s findings however, a person who has been convicted of drunk driving could then be required to drive using an alcohol lock for one or two years, depending on the severity of the offence.
Other mitigating factors relating to the drunken driving transgression, as well as any diagnoses of alcohol dependence or abuse would also affect the required length of time for using the lock. In order to once again drive a car without the alcohol lock, the offender would have to avoid receiving any traffic citations during the probationary period and pass a test.
People who have their licences revoked after having driven while intoxicated must then request permission to instead drive with an alcohol lock.
The application, which would need to be accompanied by a doctor’s certificate, would be approved if the personal and medical conditions are accepted.
The government is expected to put forward a formal legislative proposal regarding alcohol locks sometime next year.

Sweden: Average Income 1980 – 2006


Sweden: Gini 1980 – 2006


Denmark: Absenteeism 1995 – 2004


Germany: Absenteeism 1995 – 2005


Picture: Autumn in Stockholm

Life in Akalla, Stockholm, originally uploaded by micpohling.