Friday, May 25, 2012

Those Daffy Delightful Danes

Like many people I know, I fantasize from time to time leaving this country and going someplace else.  Someplace where the murder rate isn’t so high, where religious nuts don’t get taken seriously, where democracy works better.  It’s not a radical idea for me to leave the United States for another home.  I’ve done it twice.  When I left Japan after living there for more than two decades, I hung onto my permanent visa despite a number of complications - just so I could go back there if things didn’t work out here.  Germany, too, holds a great attraction for me in and I still hold onto some nostalgia over the innocent time fifty years ago when I began plans to emigrate there.

To actually pull up stakes and emigrate to another country, you need serious cause.  It’s no casual matter.  A very great pull, like the love of your life, maybe.  Or a very great push, like the desire to get away from political enemies or religious persecution.  Or a combination of push and pull factors.

Each time something goes awry, this talk starts up of emigrating to greener pastures.  I have acquaintances who left for the Netherlands when it became the first country to recognize same-sex marriages.  Others left for Germany, Norway and France for similar reasons.  A friend talked seriously of emigrating to Spain when Bush II was re-elected.

My latest fantasy land is Denmark.  My partner and I had a wonderful trip to Scandinavia last year and it left a strong positive impression.  All things being equal, I’d probably choose Stockholm over other places.  Taku would choose Bergen.  But all three countries turned our heads.  When the Danish series Borgen came to my attention I watched the entire first two seasons’ worth in just four or five marathon sittings.   I even decided - no small concession, this - it was even better than West Wing.

There are so many positive things to say about Denmark.  Danish women receive equal pay for equal work.  Day care centers are available for most children when they are a year old.  People get married for their own reasons and nobody worries about such things as “wedlock” when having children.  “Illegitimate children” is not a Danish concept.  You get AIDS?  Don’t know how you’re going to pay for the $900 a month cocktail?  In Denmark, treatment in a public hospital is free of charge if you are involved in an accident, suffer a sudden illness, give birth, or suffer a sudden aggravation of a chronic disease.    You can focus on getting better.

There are lots of reasons to be proud of Denmark.  During the time of the Nazis, Danes might have ridden the zeitgeist of Nordic superiority.  Instead, while Jews were being murdered all over Europe, Danes got it together to save 9 out of 10 Danish Jews from Nazi clutches.

If you’ve never heard about “Blue Zones,” have a look.  It was an idea fostered by Dan Buettner, the founder of Quest Network.  Trekking around the world, he came upon the notion that people who lived the longest had five things in common.  They ate vegetables; they especially ate legumes; they put family ahead of all else; they engaged in moderate physical activity; and they were socially active members of their community.  From there he went on to social science studies to establish where people saw themselves as the happiest.  The United States came out at #23.   And #1?   Denmark, of course.  The fact that everybody seems to ride a bicycle there is probably not coincidental.

And then, while pondering these Danish curiosities, my Danish friend Jason brings to my attention the fact that in 2009 Copenhageners decided that by 2015 they would cut their carbon emissions back to 20% of what they were in 2005.   An ambitious project, when you look at what the rest of the world is about.  They reached their goal, never mind 2015, in 2011 - four years early.   Even more impressive is the fact the city’s population grew in that time by ten percent.

OK,  now what,  they say. 

I know.  We’ll make sure that 75% of all travel in the city by 2025 will be by bicycle or public transportation, and that 20 to 40% of all vehicles will be running on alternative fuels.  That includes all city vehicles.  Public transportation will be completely  'carbon neutral', electricity will be generated by wind or biomass to exceed the entire requirement of Copenhagen so we can sell the excess to somebody else, and over 300,000 square feet of solar panels will be installed on our public buildings to provide energy for heating and electricity. 

That’s the plan.  Never mind that it costs a lot more to make energy with non-fossil fuel resources, they say.  We plan to cut the average family's power bill by $1,000 a year through better building and better use of the energy that is generated.

As Jason describes his former countrymen and women, “Talking to your friends and neighbors must be something like ‘I cleaned my bicycle and all the windows in the house with old lettuce and left-over envelopes.’”

“Delicious excess.”  If the concept wasn’t invented by the Danes, they’ve certainly made it their own.  An excess of social consciousness.  One could do so much worse.

I know if you go digging for dirt in Denmark you’ll find it.  Political corruption, corporate greed, crime.  It’s got to be there.  But I’m not bothered by reality here.  I’m indulging in fantasy.

Even though I’m not really going to give up my homeland, where I have a house and a network of friends, where the sun shines 300 days of every year, and where little cable cars go halfway to the stars, it does bother me a great deal of the time that my country is now run by plutocrats and their congressional servants - which servants represent only 11% of the population, by the way - and I live in a land where we torture prisoners, and we have two million more people in the criminal justice system than Denmark has Danes.  I live in a country where the Republicans are in control of government and think rich people earned their money and shouldn’t have to pay taxes on their earnings.  And that means Governor Brown is making more and more cuts to education all the time,  and is even talking about shortening the school year by as much as a month. 

I live next to a city, Oakland, where 4 in 10 black high school kids drop out before graduation, and  half of my fellow countrymen, according to current polls, seem to want to put the same guys back in office that ran the country under George W. Bush.  And it’s largely the same half who want gays to continue to view themselves as loathsome (or at least “disordered”), because the Bible tells them it is so.

I know, I know.  It’s only fantasy.  I’m going to stay and fight, like the rest of you.

But give me a break.  Allow me to fantasize from time to time I might fly across the sea and settle my aching bones in a land called Denmark.