Women treated badly

On Donald Trump, women’s ordination, and basic human dignity.

Last week was not a good week for women.

Even as Poland’s government listened to the massive public outcry and backed down on their demeaning anti-abortion law, the good news did not continue.

It began with the surfacing of Donald Trump’s degrading remarks which amount to nothing short of sexual abuse. Understandably, the old radio clip caused outrage among Republicans and Democrats alike, while the nominee himself not only didn’t back down, but fanned the flame with further outbursts.

Then Nigerian President Buhari said, during a visit to Germany, that his wife belongs in the kitchen. She had had the nerve to criticise him in public.

And finally, back in Washington, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which I am (still) a member of, held its ‘annual council’, a synod of sorts. On the agenda was perceived dissent among several local constituencies, the issue being women in church leadership. The world church officially rejects the ordination of women; however churches in Northern Europe and elsewhere have tried to circumvent the decision to allow for equal rights. The end-game has yet to conclude, but there is a real fear that last week’s decision is essentially a power-grab by the elected few, which brings this movement many steps closer to the papacy they claim to reject.

It defies logic that something as random as your gender should have such a big impact on your destiny. For millennia – with varying excuses – men have felt justified in treating women as inferior, one way or another. In some countries we have come some way in rectifying the issue, but the global challenge remains in applying basic dignity to half of our fellow humans.

Last Tuesday marked the International Day of the Girl. And as the father of two, the fight is now also personal. We all want to create a society for our children that is better than the one we inherited ourselves. Let us do just that – and once and for all break away with the glaring inequalities that remain.

When Jesus said, “the last will be first, and the first will be last,” he was referring to anyone wrongly deprived of their place in society. Obviously, this should also apply to gender.

It seems fitting to quote newly honored Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan: “As the present now will later be past; The order is rapidly fadin’; And the first one now will later be last: For the times they are a-changin’.”

Let’s hope so. At least Michelle Obama got it right in her speech:  “It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong. And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any – not for another minute, and let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.”

Why do laborers always show up early or late?

My friend Mads recently complained about publicly contracted tree cutters starting work close to his bedroom window one morning at 4:30 am.

The same day, a story ran in the news which could have a tragic ending: following a festival in Jutland, renovation workers lowered a heavy garbage container on top of a tent in which two girls were sleeping. They fortunately made it out in time. The Campgrounds were open until 12 noon, however for some reason the contractor had decided to start work at 8 am instead of the agreed time.

These are not isolated incidents.

We have been living across from a construction site for the past year, and it has been a source of constant bewilderment that delivery trucks would show up in the middle of the night, and workers would enter the site before 6 am, only to have it deserted by 4 pm.

I think most of us have experienced booking a service or delivery and being told a day but no time – or a window of, say, 12-4, only for them to arrive at 4:30. Or even worse, a window of 8-12, and then they arrive at 7. Not fun if you have small children that sleep in, or not unlikely you would be in the shower at that time.

Now I get the value of beating traffic and start work at 7. Fine, if everyone agrees. What I don’t get is the justification of just doing your job whenever you feel like it. This may work for freelancers who have no interaction with others, and work without disturbing people.

But if you book a meeting at work, you show up at the agreed time. Not an hour later, not an hour earlier. And I don’t think anyone would appreciate a train driver running his route 30 minutes ahead of schedule so he could get off earlier in the afternoon.

So why doesn’t this seemingly basic level of timeliness and concern for your stakeholders carry into other professions? If there is a good explanation, I’d love to hear it.

What’s in a name?

Our second daughter now has a name. I had been looking forward to the selection process; my wife had not. I’m starting to get her point: we had known her for less than a month but had to make a huge decision which will impact her identity forever.

It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. And we certainly did not. In the end we came to accept that some randomness is unavoidable. Where you come across a name doesn’t matter if you happen to like it. My father, for instance, was named after the first player to score in a local football match. We wanted a different approach, however.

We started with a long list, which became shorter, only to become longer again as the list of finalists didn’t quite give us a clear winner. For each name we considered ad nauseam criteria such as:

  • Sound of the name, in Danish and English and potentially others
  • Meaning of the name
  • Popularity: not too popular, not from the ‘wrong’ generation: preferably a not-yet-discovered rising star (all of this in Denmark as well as other countries)
  • How it matches the name Lily (her sister) – in sound, style, and meaning
  • People we have known bearing the name
  • Risk of bullying

We didn’t want a name that was too normal, nor too weird. It shouldn’t be a ‘statement’, although of course to a degree it will be. We didn’t want a ‘concept’, so it shouldn’t be too close to Lily by being another flower name or another name beginning with L.

I think it is with names as with finding a partner: there is no destined one and only, but once you have made your choice it will come alive. We have now found a name which matches our criteria, is pretty and versatile,  and works well with the rest of the family. It also turns out to have been the name of her great-great-grandmother, a fact we only discovered after making our decision. So much for thorough research.

Then there was the question of a second (middle) name. As the only person in Denmark Lily bears the name Mayrah: an Aboriginal name meaning the wind that brings spring, chosen to mark our connection to Australia. Choosing an Aussie name againg would be another ‘concept’, but we also didn’t want her sister to miss out. So instead we found a second name which sounds nice, may be used as an alternative if she wants, and signifies not a geographical connection, but one of interest: as the name of the patroness of musicians.

So, finally, let me introduce: Edith Cecilia Mollerup Birch.

I hope she will bear it well.

Remembering the secret neighbor

I’m not a boxing fan; in fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever watched a match. But Muhammad Ali, who passed away last Friday, was a household name when I grew up. Not only was he a famous world champion, who had somewhat obscurely changed his name after converting to Islam, he also lived next-door.

Yes, of all the places in the world, Muhammad Ali had chosen to settle after retirement in Berrien Springs, Michigan, a small town of 2,000 people. He moved there in 1986, the same year my father’s academic pursuits brought our family to the very same town.

I never saw or met him myself, and according to media he mostly kept to himself. But just knowing the fact that a world-famous sports champion was living in the neighborhood brought a sense of excitement and awe to us. And as was later been revealed, he provided anonymous support to many local causes.

We moved away, and so did he, leaving Michigan in 2006 for Arizona for health reasons due to his battle with Parkinson’s. But his estate is still there – in fact, it’s just half a mile from my parent’s current home, and we regularly walk past the gates when taking an afternoon stroll. This is a picture I took of his main gate back in 2012.

Muhammad Ali Berrien Springs home

Muhammad Ali Google

Although he made a career hitting people, it is perhaps Ali’s legacy of peace that stands out the most. His resistance to the draft for Vietnam earned him fame, and a lawsuit. Troubled by xenophobic America, he found solace in religion, standing up for Islam as a religion of peace especially in the tensions following 9/11.

Muhammad Ali will be buried tomorrow in Louisville, Kentucky. May he rest in peace.

Do you remember 1998?

It’s not a traditionally round-number one, but my birthday today still stands out for its number: double 18 (you do the math). I have now been officially of age for exactly half of my life. Which, given my penchant for nostalgia and numbers, made my mind wander back to that wonderful year of 1998.

1998 was the year of the Monica Lewinsky affair and the peace agreement in Northern Ireland. It was the year the Great Belt Fixed Link opened in Denmark. We would learn the significance only later, but it was also the year Google was founded, and the first Harry Potter book published.

It was the year of the FIFA World Cup in France. I still remember the quarter-final between Denmark and Brazil (2-3), watching the match along with a huge crowd in Copenhagen’s Town Hall Square.

Back then, we were listening to Celine Dion, Aqua, Aerosmith, Shania Twain, and Backstreet Boys. We were treated to films such as Titanic, Armageddon, There’s Something About Mary, The Truman Show and The Big Lebowski. On TV (all broadcast, mind you), we enjoyed Friends and Frasier, and for some reason also X-Files and Jerry Springer.

50-17aIn my life, coming of age meant that I could finally vote (which I did for the first time the following day) and get a credit card. Within a month of my birthday I would graduate high school AND get my driver’s licence. Oh, the freedom! Having finished school, borrowing my parents’ car to drive around the country and visit friends in a wonderful Danish summer.

1998 was the year in which I chose baptism and church membership, a decision which has shaped the course of my life, although perhaps less so in recent years.

1998 for me was also the beginning of a still-enduring passion for East Asia. Visiting Beijing on a class trip had a profound impact on me, leading me to later study a full term of Chinese Studies. Since then I have been fortunate to visit several other countries in the region, and every time it is with a joy of reunion.

Although I remember the year 1998 vividly and fondly, thinking back now it is also safe to say that a lot has happened since then. In the world, and in my life.

I no longer count as ‘young’, but I am satisfied with what I have achieved. My world has expanded – geographically, intellectually, spiritually and gastronomically. In 1998, for example, I still didn’t know how to cook, now a major interest and pastime. I had never had a girlfriend. In 2016 I am still myself, but arguably a wiser and more experienced version of me. I have a growing family of my own, own a house, and have a good job.

18 years is a long time, but I take comfort in the fact that 18 years from now I will still not yet be ‘old’, regardless of what my children will tell you. And if I get to experience as much in the next 18 years as in the last, I will count myself a lucky man indeed.

Easter Island may be the remains of Númenor


With their latest breakthrough, pharmaceutical giant Novartis is not just making medical advances, but may be on path to mythological proof.

Over the weekend, the Swiss drug-maker announced the latest promising results of the bacterial agent rapamycin in combating age. Rapamycin is primarily used to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs. It is now being tested for its effects on prolonging life, but its origins may be as interesting as its potential.

Rapamycin is named after Easter Island (native name Rapa Nui), where the compound was originally discovered in 1972. Easter Island, of course, is famous for its Moai statues and the mystery surrounding the island’s inhabitants. What caused this industrious island civilisation to perish at its zenith?

Common theory has it they killed each other off in tribal warfare or succumbed to epidemics. But rapamycin may provide the biological foundation for another explanation. Perhaps this was a people blessed with unusual long life, but for some reason the source of their longevity suddenly dwindled, eventually to cease entirely and seal the fate of this once proud people?

This theory is eerily reminiscent of Tolkien’s description of Númenor, the island west of Middle-earth, the greatest realm of Men.

According to legend, Númenoreans became jealous of the home of the immortal elves to the west, where Men were forbidden to travel. The Moai statues of Easter Island reflect this longing, always gazing out to sea. Eventually their lust became their downfall; seduced by Sauron, the King of Númenor sailed west to fight the elves – unsuccessfully. According to Tolkien, Sauron fled east to Middle-earth, but the large island of Númenor was removed from the world forever. But what if a small part remains, in what we call Easter Island?

Númenoreans were famous for their life-spans. Aragorn, as the last of the Númenoreans, lived three times as long as other Men of Middle-earth. Rapamycin could be the explanation for this. The White Tree Nimloth stood in Númenor, tied to the fate of its people. A fruit of this tree became the White Tree of Gondor, which also gave the citizens of Gondor unusual long life. Could it be that what modern science calls rapamycin is in fact a descendant of the very same tree?

Obviously, Novartis will never admit to this connection. But the marketing opportunities would be tremendous.

Photo credit: Jerrye & Roy Klotz

‘Shitstorms’ – blowing bad behaviour out of proportions

Two recent examples which went viral in Denmark show how mass hysteria has replaced actually talking to people.

Once upon a time good behaviour was the norm, and if your fellow citizens did something unacceptable it was perfectly fine – expected, even – to let them know when they were out of line. Older generations will still do this, whereas the rest of us have come to fear the consequences of rebuking strangers. A friend of mine, for instance was beat up and robbed a few years ago for having the nerve to ask a fellow train passenger to put out his cigarette. This increasingly publicized raw behaviour has led us to mostly shut up when we see something.

But staying silent is not the same as not caring, as should be obvious to anyone following viral Facebook posts the last few weeks.

Case 1: Parcel delivery service GLS were exposed in this incident on 26 January for rough handling of parcels. Instead of intervening, the bystander chose to film the incident on his mobile and post it on Facebook. Perhaps a wise choice, as one of the employees seems to threaten him once he is discovered.

Case 2: A professional childminder apparently left five children standing unobserved outside a store. Once again a bystander didn’t have the guts to approach her, but posted a photo to Facebook.


Both stories quickly went viral. In the first case GLS suspended and fired one of the involved parties; in the second the childminder was temporarily suspended, but reinstated after a thorough investigation of the incident.

So it’s not that we don’t care about the behaviour of our fellow citizens; rather it seems we don’t have the guts – for whatever reason – to confront them directly but choose instead to publicly mock them without even giving them the benefit of the doubt. And with our almost morbid fascination with real or perceived injustice, social media fuel collective hysteria in a seemingly endless spiral.

FullSizeRenderI’ll end with my own example from today’s train ride: I could have asked my fellow passengers to take their shoes off the seats. I didn’t bother – instead I took a candid photo to accompany this post and prove the point.