Sweden <--> Ohio: Student

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Typical Swedish homecooking?

They use more creme here. A lot. They put creme in places I've never heard of.

For example: whitefish fillet floated in a lake of creme mixed with a little flour to thicken and salt, pepper, and maybe a herb mixture for flavor... baked, and served over sticky rice (I think potatoes are traditional).

Also, Semlar, homemade Swedish sweet cardamom-flavored pastries filled with two types of whipped creme. The first filling is whipped with shredded marzipan, creme, and shredded bread from the middle of the pastry. The second filling is spooned on top and is simply creme and sugar, whipped.

Also dinner of mushrooms fried in butter until golden brown and soft, mixed with a liter of sour creme (they don't make it low-fat here) and a jar of pesto, mixed and heated through, served over pasta. It's damn good, but I felt like I should be able to feel my arteries closing as I ate.

Breakfast? Amazing!

Sliced nutty fresh bakery bread, knuckelbrod (here for sale), Finnish split dark bread, sliced ham with a little fork, butter, a huge wedge of mild white cheese and a cheese slicer, a pot of tea, milk, and something else I think I'm forgetting. The spread took up half the table and I was the only person eating - insane.

Also, no post about Swedish food would be complete without mentioning the Swedish contribution to addictive crack-like substances: the Chokladboll. Or skip to the recipe and make your own (unstated is the need to put everything in a blender or food processor - oats are not used as-is - also, I prefer the kind rolled in coconut rather than pearl sugar).

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Friday, March 23, 2007

I've visited the most controversial primary school in Vaxjo, Sweden and had a great time. Since I spent most of my time with 6yo kids in 1st grade and their time was similar to what I remember doing in first grade, it wasn't too exciting for me.

In contrast, I watched slightly older kids learning multiplication tables... in a music class.

Music? Multiplication? How?

They sang little songs composed by their music teacher that were catchy lists of numbers (they didn't even *realize* that they were learning math!) - I didn't hear any students asking why, as they were enjoying the singing and not concerned with the reason they were singing 'the threes' or 'the twos'!

The class ended with a spontaneous dance with a handful of boys doing the robot, the teacher doing a modified 'walk like an egyption', several girls marching in place, another girl taking large steps back and forth to the rhythm of the music, some kids clapping their hands, etc.

I also watched fight between two six-year-olds. I was shocked by their maturity, self-control, and calm. One boy teased another boy (I forgot the insult), the boy retaliated by drawing a green marker line on the other boy's hand, and the first boy hit the second boy (lightly). The second boy ran to tell the teacher (calmly, without yelling). She said OK, called the second boy, asked for his version of events (standing next to each other), told them they were both wrong, and that they should go back and behave.

They walked away calmly, the event apparently forgotten, to the other room where they painted and drew with other students without incident. The teacher continued to sit on a couch in an adjacent room, speaking quietly and casually with the few students left in the room. She was utterly unconcerned with the room full of students painting, drawing, writing, and reading going on in the room behind her.

This is not to suggest that she was lazy (for sitting down or for not observing the kids visually at all times), but that Swedish kids, even at a very young age, are expected to be independent. And they are.

In addition, while I expected this unsupervised activity to gradually increase in noise-level, chaos, and off-topic activity... I was quite wrong. The noise level remained steady (quiet!), the kids put on and took off painting shirts, hanging them up *and cleaning up after themselves* all without reminder, direction, or observation by the teacher.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Public health is about choices. It's about making some choices easier than other choices. It's about making those bad choices more expensive in some way, less desirable, and the 'better', healthier choices more attractive, easier, and less expensive.

It's about making value judgments about what's good and what's bad. It's judging bad choices from good choices and trying to make those bad choices harder, make the good choice more likely. It's about controlling behavior through limitation of choice, application of rewards and increasing punishments.

It's patriarchal, authoritarian, and puts those who 'know better' in powerful positions over those with less power, less knowledge, less authority, and less empowerment.

Through the application of knowledge, power, and money over those who are poor, needy, uneducated, and with different goals... we attempt to make those lives better. Unwillingly. We don't ask the permission of the patient for treatment.

We treat, and in our arrogance we hope that we're right.

Because being wrong would be much more than just a mistake - if authority is used without consent, and is wrong - what separates that action from abuse, neglect, or even torture?

We make choices for other people on the aggregate level - and for most of those people we make the right choice. Their lives are healthier, longer, and of greater quality than if we'd not taken action. But for the minority few who aren't helped, whose lives are harder, who are hindered by our bureaucratic actions - what responsibility have we to them?

Do we have any? Or because the numbers are small, are they insignificant? Is it a balance? Do the numbers of good deeds outweigh the deeds of increasing pain? When is something wrong with the system? 80/20? 70/30? 50/50?

We need cultural answers to these questions before we can ask the larger questions about 'quality of life' of our doctors, or have conversations about assisted suicide with our family members.

We need these same answers if we're to address larger issues of public health (ignoring completely the concept of "health care") - adequate, inexpensive, and healthy food, comfortable, convenient, safe housing, reliable, affordable and easy to use transportation, education, and the existence of a variety of jobs and welfare systems for those who are unable to work.

I don't have answers as to how to create that cultural change, or how to answer the dilemma of public health with democracy, or even the answer to my ethical problem of desiring removal of the TV despite objections of my partner (my goal is greater health but my method is authoritarian - what's the solution?).

Thoughts on these questions are actively solicited. Anyone who has figured out a moderate 'third way' to these dilemmas, please speak up.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Present-day children see films, listen to the radio, watch television, read serial strips - this can all be quite pleasant, but it has very little to do with imagination. A child, alone with his book, creates for himself, somewhere in the secret recesses of the soul, his own pictures which surpass all else. Such pictures are necessary for humanity. On that day that the children's imagination no longer has the strength to create them, on that day humanity will be the poorer. All great things that have happened in the world, happened first of all in someone's imagination, and the aspect of the world of tomorrow depends largely on the extent of the power of imagination in those who are just now learning to read. This is why children must have books, and why there must be people... who really care what kind of books are put into the children's hands."

(Something, 130) Astrid Lindgren; 1958

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