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Economy

Why More Countries Are Banning Foreigners From Buying Real Estate

Canada has become the most recent country to impose restrictions on non-residents buying real estate, arguing that wealthy investors from other countries are pricing out would-be local homeowners. But is singling out foreigners the best way to face a troubled housing market?

PARIS — It’s easy to forget that soon after the outbreak of COVID-19, many real estate experts were forecasting that housing prices could face a once-in-generation drop. The logic was that a shrinking pandemic economy would combine with people moving out of cities to push costs down in a lasting way.

Ultimately, in most places, the opposite has happened. Home prices in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, Australia and New Zealand rose between 25% and 50% since the outbreak of COVID-19.

This explosion was driven by a number of factors, including low interest rates, supply chain issues in construction and shortages in available properties caused in part by investors buying up large swathes of housing stock.

Yet some see another culprit deserving of particular attention: foreign buyers.

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In Denmark, Beloved Christmas TV Special Cancelled For Blackface Scenes

The director of the 1997 episode complained that TV executives are being "too sensitive."

If there’s one thing Scandinavians take seriously, it’s Christmas. And over the past half-century, in addition to all the family and religious traditions, most Nordic countries share a passion for what's known as the "TV Christmas calendar": 24 nightly television episodes that air between Dec. 1 and Christmas Eve.

Originally, the programs were strictly aimed at children; but over the years, the stories evolved more towards family entertainment, with some Christmas calendars becoming classics that generations of Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and others have watched each year as national and family traditions in their own right.

But this year in Denmark, one vintage episode has been pulled from the air because of a blackface scene.

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Nord Stream Sabotage: Why Underwater Pipelines Are So Vulnerable

Whatever caused the damage to the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, it appears to be the first major attack on critical “subsea” (underwater) infrastructure in Europe. It’s now widely thoughtnot least by Nato – that the explosions that led to major leaks in the two pipelines were not caused by accidents.

The alliance says they were a deliberate act of sabotage.

The attacks occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Denmark and Sweden and demonstrate the risks that Europe’s subsea infrastructures are facing. This raises the question of the vulnerabilities of European pipelines, electricity and internet cables, and other maritime infrastructure. Europe will have to revisit its policies for protecting them.

But it is still unclear how the attacks were carried out. The investigations will probably take months to complete. Still, there are two likely scenarios.

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Lysychansk Falls, Copenhagen Mall Shooting, Formula One Scare

👋 Olá!*

Welcome to Monday, where most of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region is now under Russian control, three die in a Copenhagen mall shooting, and botanists make a big surprise discovery. Meanwhile, we focus on John Lee, who embodies the change afoot in Hong Kong as it marks 25 years since the UK handover.

[*Portuguese]

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Economy
Carl Johan-Karlsson

Will COVID's Boost For Labor Unions Last? Check The Swedish Model

The pandemic has spurred a resurgence in labor unions around the world. But their return to prominence also raises the question of whether they’re the best way to protect workers in a globalized world.

Unions around the world have been on a steady decline over the last half-century: crippled by globalized economics and confounded by the accelerating changes in our work culture, average trade union membership in OECD countries has fallen from 30% in 1985 to 16% today. In the U.S., one-third of workers belonged to a labor union in the 1950s — a far cry from today’s 10.7%, including a meager 6.4% of private-sector workers.

A pandemic was bound to shake the status quo for the world of labor: from a newfound appreciation for what we’ve come to call “essential” workers to a series of layoffs in other sectors to the Great Resignation, which saw individuals reassess what they really want from their career.

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Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

We’re All Sweden Now: How COVID Fatigue Brought Us Back To Herd Immunity

Early in the pandemic, Swedish authorities were roundly criticized for the lack of COVID-19 restrictions and for arguing for a different cost-benefit calculation in trying to eliminate the virus at all costs. Now, more and more countries are dropping all restrictions even as Omicron continues to spread. But is this really about herd immunity?

Since Denmark became the first European nation to drop all COVID restrictions in late January, a slew of countries around the world have followed suit — including Norway, Poland,Sweden, Switzerland, the Dominican Republic and, most recently, the UK. After almost two years of curfews and mask mandates, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared Monday it was time to “live with the coronavirus.”

And the list of others taking the same path is set to grow: Italy and Spain recently lifted masking mandates for outdoor spaces, while French authorities have announced indoor masking will no longer be mandated starting next week. Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer harkens “a dignified spring awakening” with most restrictions to be lifted by March 5 — while German Chancellor Olof Scholz hailed last Wednesday “a very special day of the pandemic” after agreeing with 16 state governors on a schedule to drop most restrictions in the coming months.

But all of this rosy talk and rescinded restrictions also begs the question of why this is a special time. Why, as the Omicron variant is spreading far faster than previous versions, and when it’s clear that no nation on Earth has come close to conquering COVID, is it time to abandon containment efforts?

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Geopolitics
Carl-Johan Karlsson

From Snowden To Pegasus: What Is Espionage In The Digital Age?

It was Jane Austen, back in 1816, who wrote that "every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies." That neighborhood is getting quite a bit bigger these days as our digitized lives and economies extract ever-deepening rivers of private data from the daily lives of citizens.

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Future
Yann Rousseau

Masahiro Hara Takes Aim: The QR Code Inventor Builds Post-Pandemic Applications

Conceived in the early 1990s, the QR Code has spread exponentially during the pandemic. Its creator, Masahiro Hara, is one of the many continuing to innovate his most famous invention, which has changed everything from medicine to how we dine.

There's a small red sign at the foot of the steps leading to the Haiden pavilion of Futarasan-jinja, a Shinto shrine founded in 782 by a Buddhist monk. We are in the heart of a cedar forest in the sacred mountains of Nikko. Before going up to pray to the kami, the spirits of the temple, pilgrims and tourists crowd in front of the sign installed just two years ago.

Smartphones in hand, they scan a QR Code, under a few lines explaining — in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean — that it is good manners to make a "small donation" when visiting a shrine.

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Geopolitics

Norwegian Salmon v. Danish Trout: Lessons On Ecology And Economics

The Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. A marine biologist says it is a misguided policy for both economic and ecological reasons.

-Analysis-

“They’ve got the oil in the North Sea, but don’t let Norway get all the pink gold too…”

That was a headline of a recent OpEd in Danish daily Politiken, arguing that misguided environmental concerns are giving neighboring Norway a monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry.

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Society
Carl Karlsson

When Countries “Export” Inmates To Foreign Prisons

A recent report revealed that Denmark plans to rent prison cells abroad, raising troubling questions about the expanding global trade in penitentiary services.

In January 1788, 11 British ships carrying convicts arrived at the shores of the colony of New South Wales, effectively founding Australia. In the 80 years that followed, with British cities filling up and petty crime proliferating, more than 160,000 prisoners would arrive down under from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Fast forward to 2021, and punishment by exile has mostly been abolished, with colonial powers like France and Britain closing their last overseas penal institutions around the time of World War II. But while these outposts are associated with oppression and atrocity today, the export of prisoners has nonetheless survived, and is now experiencing something of a revival.

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Green
Carl Karlsson

Six Massive Clean Energy Projects That Offer A Shot Of Climate Hope

Last fall's COP26 climate summit showed the way to, not, move forward on tackling the climate crisis. But all's not lost. From the biggest solar farm in the world to a huge storage plant for C02, here are some of the largest renewable energy projects in the pipeline around the globe.

Following a decade-long fanfare of private and government pledges to combat the warming of the planet, last month’s United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow painted a grim picture of the world’s climate progress. The takeaway: the world is on course to overshoot the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Accords in all but the most optimistic scenario, which would require all announced targets to be fully implemented.

That scenario, however, seems distant today as the pivot to a sustainable energy market is unevenly distributed across the globe, with many fossil-fuel-dependent countries still struggling to close the energy gap as demand for power increases. What is worse, while some countries have improved their ambitions, others slipped backward at COP26 by retracting set climate targets.

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THE CONVERSATION
Morten H. Christiansen

In Denmark, A Hard Language For Kids To Learn Shapes Society

The process machinery to master vowel-heavy Danish explains that way adults tend to interact.

Denmark is a rich country with an extensive welfare system and strong education. Yet surprisingly, Danish children have trouble learning their mother tongue. Compared to Norwegian children, who are learning a very similar language, Danish kids on average know 30% fewer words at 15 months and take nearly two years longer to learn the past tense. In "Hamlet," William Shakespeare famously wrote that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark," but he might as well have been talking about the Danish language.

We are a cognitive scientist and language scientist from the Puzzle of Danish group at Aarhus University and Cornell. Through our research, we have found that the uniquely peculiar way that Danes speak seems to make it difficult for Danish children to learn their native language – and this challenges some central tenets of the science of language.

Why is Danish so hard?

There are three main reasons why Danish is so complicated. First, with about 40 different vowel sounds – compared to between 13 and 15 vowels in English depending on dialect – Danish has one of the largest vowel inventories in the world. On top of that, Danes often turn consonants into vowel-like sounds when they speak. And finally, Danes also like to "swallow" the ends of words and omit, on average, about a quarter of all syllables. They do this not only in casual speech but also when reading aloud from written text.

The difficulty of Danish is no secret in Scandinavia, as seen in this clip from a Norwegian comedy TV show.

Other languages might incorporate one of these factors, but it seems that Danish may be unique in combining all three. The result is that Danish ends up with an abundance of sound sequences with few consonants. Because consonants play an important role in helping listeners figure out where words begin and end, the preponderance of vowel-like sounds in Danish appears to make it difficult to understand and learn. It isn't clear why or how Danish ended up with these strange quirks, but the upshot seems to be, as the German author Kurt Tucholsky quipped, that "the Danish language is not suitable for speaking … everything sounds like a single word."

Kids learn later, adults process differently

Before we could study the way Danish children learn their native language, we needed to figure out whether the peculiarities of Danish speech affected their ability to understand it.

To do this, our team sat Danish two-year-olds in front of a screen showing two objects, such as a car and a monkey. We then used an eye tracker to trace where the kids were looking while listening to Danish sentences.

Children playing in front of a wall — Photo: Teresa Grau Ros/Flickr

When the children heard the consonant-rich "Find bilen!" – which sounds like "Fin beelen!" when spoken and means "Find the car!" – the toddlers would look at the car quite quickly.

However, when they heard the vowel-rich "Her er aben!" – which sounds like "heer-ahben!" and means "Here's the monkey!" – it took the kids nearly half a second longer to look at the monkey. In this vowel-laden sentence, the boundaries between words become blurry and make it harder for the toddlers to understand what is being said. Half a second may not seem like much, but in the world of speech it is a very long time.

But does the abundance of vowels in Danish also make it more difficult for children to learn their native language? It turns out that it does. In another study, we found that toddlers struggle to learn new words when these words are sandwiched between a lot of vowels.

Danish children do, of course, eventually learn their native tongue. However, our group has found that the effects of the opaque Danish sound structure don't go away when children grow up: Instead, they seem to shape the way adult Danes process their language. Denmark and Norway are closely related historically, culturally, economically and educationally. The two languages also have similar grammars, past tense systems and vocabulary. Unlike Danes, though, Norwegians actually pronounce their consonants.

In several experiments, we asked Danes and Norwegians to listen to sentences in which either a word was deliberately created to sound ambiguous (like a word halfway between "tent" and "dent") or the meaning of the whole sentence was unusual (such as "The goldfish bought a boy for his sister"). We found that because Danish speech is so ambiguous, Danes rely much more on context – including what was said in the conversation before, what people know about each other and general background knowledge – to figure out what somebody is saying compared to adult Norwegians.

Together, these results indicate that the way people interpret language is not static, but dynamically adapts to the challenges posed by the specific language or languages they speak.

Not all languages are the same

There has been a longstanding debate within the language sciences about whether all languages are similarly complex and whether this might affect how people's brains learn and process language. Our discovery about Danish challenges the idea that all native languages are equally easy to learn and use. Indeed, learning different languages from birth may lead to distinct and separate ways of processing those languages.

Our results also have important practical implications for people who are struggling with language – whether because of a single traumatic event like a stroke or due to genetic and other long-term factors. Many current interventions meant to support language recovery are based on studies in one language, usually English. Researchers assume that these interventions would apply in the same way to individuals speaking other languages. However, if languages vary substantially in the way they're learned and processed, an intervention that might work for one language might not work as well for another.

Linguists have looked at differences between languages before, but few have been concerned with the possible impact that such differences may have on the kind of processing machinery that develops during language learning. Instead, much of the focus has been on searching for universal linguistic patterns that hold across all or most languages. However, our research suggest that linguistic diversity may result in variation in the way we learn and process language. And if a garden-variety language like Danish has such hidden depths, who knows what we'll find when we look more closely at the rest of the world's approximately 7,000 languages?

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