Since August, 2001. Surely it can’t last…
Friday, December 12, 2003 ↓
Tomorrow is Lucia Day, which marks the real beginning of the Christmas celebrations in Sweden. Tomorrow being a Saturday, many businesses have brought forward some of the things they would typically do on Lucia Day, so this afternoon we all piled into the canteen for Lussekatter, ginger biscuits and glögg. The main “feast day” in Sweden is Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day, and presents are traditionally exchanged after dinner. The Swedish analogue of Santa Claus is a gnome or elf-like character called Jultomte, but the influence of Coca Cola’s 1930s branding of Santa Claus as a red-clad, fur-trimmed jolly old gent has been having an effect on depictions of Sweden’s Jultomte as much as it has affected Yuletide traditions the world over.
Of course, the Christmas decorations have been up throughout town since the last week of November, driven as everywhere by commercial pressures. And as Francis Strand observes:
It’s so terribly Swedish to want to have a real live tree but to have it perfectly shaped at the same time, then to make the effort to do something so elaborate that ends up with such simple, yet satisfying results.
Christmas goes on until January 13, Twelve Days of Christmas not being enough for the Swedes. It was King Canut — “Canut the Holy”, the 11th Century Danish King who lorded it over parts of England and Sweden — who ruled that Christmas should last for twenty days, and centuries later, the tradition holds. January 13 is known to many as Canut’s Day.
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Less charming than their Christmas customs is the Swedish predilection for snus. Translating literally as “snuff”, snus isn’t the kind of snort-it-up-your-nose-then-sneeze-like-buggery sort of ground tobacco that was common in many European countries in bygone centuries and has all but died out today. It’s intended for oral use; you shove it under your upper lip, and drool on it for a while. Although loose snus is available, most users these days seem to prefer the portion-packed varieties, where the snus is wrapped in what looks rather like a small tea-bag. So if you ever visit Sweden and see lying on the street or in bins horrible, brown little objects that look like tea-bags but aren’t really big enough, you’ll know now what they are. And where they’ve been.
Snus is actually banned in the European Union, but consumption is so high here (about one fifth of the male population, and a surprising number of women, are reckoned to use it) that when Sweden joined the EU it was granted a dispensation to continue legal sales. Now, according to a BBC report the EU may be in for a re-think of its policies on smokeless tobacco products, since there appears to be evidence that some, like snus, are less harmful than smoking and may help people to give up (or avoid in the first place) the demon cigarettes. However, since most “evidence” for the beneficial (or at least, non-harmful) effects of tobacco products seems to come from the tobacco industry, you’ll forgive me if I remain sceptical. While the particular research paper to which the BBC refers is published in Tobacco Control, the cover essay in the same edition is titled Beware the rooster: smokeless tobacco companies who claim they want to help, and the essay abstract states: “It should not be assumed that smokeless tobacco manufacturers share our public health goals.”
Wednesday, December 10, 2003 ↓
I was looking over Carlo Cipolla’s Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, which, if you don’t have the time to take in the whole beautifully-argued comic thesis, asserts that:
- Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
- The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
- A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
- Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
- A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
The second basic law is an expression of the notion that “stupidity is an indiscriminate privilege of all human groups and is uniformly distributed according to a constant proportion”. This idea that the proportion of stupid people in the world is a constant is at odds with a theory expounded by my friend Kenny, which we might call the Numpty Theorem. He summarises this as:
The numpties are taking over the Earth.
This assertion is based on my friend’s empirical observations that:
- Numpties are attracted to, fornicate with, and thus beget other numpties.
- Numpties, whose very stupidity prevents them comprehending the term “population explosion” and its significance for mankind (not to mention rendering them incapable of dealing with the complexities of contraception), tend to have larger families than normal people.
When the second premise is added to the first, the conclusion is inescapable: world domination.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003 ↓
Every man and his dog seems to have their own favicon these days, so for no better reason than that, I’ve installed one too. (Actually, they’re quite helpful in identifying an elusive site when scanning down bookmark lists or along browser tabs.)
My favicon looks like this: . If you see anything different, try flushing your browser cache and reloading (I tried a few options before settling on this design). If you want one of your own, I’ve written up an article on making a favicon.
Recently (2003-11-25) I mentioned Mikael Niemi’s Popular Music from Vittula, a book that is now reckoned to be owned by one in every eight people in Sweden. While I was taking a stroll through Gothenburg on Sunday, I went by Feskekörkan and stumbled on The Corner Bookshop, which carries a lot of English titles — and where I found a copy of the UK hardback edition of the book in question. For the British market, the title seems to have been shortened to Popular Music. This particular edition is one of those books that is a joy to hold and read, by virtue of its size, design, binding, and the typesetting by the Scottish company Palimpsest Book Production Limited. I’ve only made a quick scan of the opening chapter, because I have a couple of other books on the go that I want to finish first — but it looks very promising. Fancy a copy? Choose from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Older material is stashed away under Replays.