Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Michael Moynihan is back, and looks at Sweden's ambivalent relationship with American culture.

The landed gentry of Swedenlike their counterparts in France, Germany and Englandare disdainful of American low culture, in all of its globalist/imperialist permutations. While not shocking, I had always found Swedes to be universally agreeable, unlike the English, French or Germans. During my brief Stockholm junket, the locals I spoke with were kind, helpful and devoid of the de rigueur Euro-condescension the American traveler comes to expect. So could it be true that beneath the soft exterior, Swedenthat vaunted paragon of Nordic virtue, that subzero utopia of childcare and generous welfare benefitssecretly despised us?

Not really. Perhaps it's different in the larger countries, but at least Scandinavian anti-Americanism is cultural and political, not personal. At most an American traveller will be met with uninformed questions. I think most Scandinavians are too proud of the fact that foreigners want to visit their little countries for them to be rude to tourists. The best way for a foreign artist to get good press in Norway is still the magic word Norgesvenn, "friend of Norway". (Anything is forgiven of a Norgesvenn, even failing careers, and becoming one can actually be a good retirement plan.)

But a quick scan of Amazons best-sellers in Sweden, Bokus.se (an online bokhandel, similar to Amazon), and the daily tabloid Aftonbladet told a vastly different story. The polyglot public of Sweden reads English language books like Learning to Fly, by former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, the Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, and Geri Halliwell, by (you guessed it) former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. Todays Aftonbladet culture section featured a story on Bruce Springsteen and one of former Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. On Amazon, we are told that books most often shipped to Sweden include Eric Schlossers indictment of American consumerism Fast Food Nation, Naomi Kleins absurd anti-globalization tract No Logo and eight books on programming from the web and wireless devices. It is, an interesting study in contrasts where, on one hand, Swedes reject the perceived hyper-Americanization of Europe by purchasing truckloads of trendy anti-American leftism* written by American academics while, at the same time, desperately studying advances in American technology, like Microsofts Visual Studio .NET in an effort at social advancement.

Yes, it's an interesting paradox. Sweden is more anti-American than Norway, (possibly because of their neutrality in ww2 and the Cold War), but you see the same thing that Moynihan describes here, and in every other western European country: Europeans who consider themselve intellectuals typically look down on American culture and/or politics, but at the same time they and everyone else are so submerged into the same culture that I'm not sure you can talk about separate cultures anymore. For the urban younger generations there is only culture and anti-culture - you don't choose European culture, you choose anti-American culture, which is just a dull subsection of American culture.

The same people who look down on American culture find ways to admire it by thinking of what they like as anti-American, and defining only the parts they don't like (for instance Hollywood blockbusters) as American. A true alternative to American culture, however, would not rely on American culture and Americans to define it, it would have something of its own to offer that would survive without state subsidies, and could conquer American culture on its own terms. That alternative does not exist in Europe today.

And a good thing that is, in my opinion, because American culture is a pretty good one. If someone were to count all the many houndreds of books, movies and music albums I've got around me as I write this, they would find a vast amount of it to be of American origin, (less than half of the books, but almost all the movies). [*] And that's not because I've made an effort to look into American culture, but because that's where most of the good stuff have been made, at least for the last 50 years. So if the European response to American culture is a culture free of Americans, then I want no part of it.

There is, however, a European response that I would be enough of a patriot to fall for, and that would be to become an active part of American culture, thereby shifting its center eastwards. Only by doing that can Europe again be a driving force in its own culture. I feel I am doing something like that here, in my own small way, and I think the Internet will do it in a larger way. The Internet is the key here because it circumvents European linguistic conservatism. The language barrier is not, as many Europeans believe, the last barrier protecting us from American culture, but the first barrier protecting American culture from Europe. Tear it down, or wait for it to fall on its own, and those who can overcome their revulsion of American culture may begin to contribute to it on a larger scale. Britain is a good example.

([*] Case in point: Currently playing, the catchy synth-prog-rock bootleg score from the 1985 Transformers movie. Soon playing, last friday's episode of Firefly.)
Gunnar Hansen 2002-10-31 But there is more to culture than popular entertainment. Deep in the american psyche are virtues which aren't --always-- found elsewhere. Virtues such as Enterprise, Independence, Religious freedom, [more>>>]
Bjrn Strk 2002-10-31 Yeah - I was actually talking about the artistic aspects of culture. There is still a distinctly Norwegian culture, which consists of a political outlook and a common history, and certain social qual [more>>>]

Saturday, October 26, 2002

The Norwegian government will finally propose language requirements for immigrants. 300 hours of language classes will be required for residential status, and a language exam for citizenship.

This is Progress Party politics, says the leader of Center for Anti-Racism, Nadeem Butt.

Yes. Yes, it is.
vaara 2002-11-01 Further thoughts: If the goal is to reduce or eliminate immigration, why does it make sense to require immigrants to acquire the skills to become productive, active members of society? And besides, [more>>>]
Bjrn Strk 2002-11-02 Vaara: My goal isn't to reduce or eliminate immigration. I think immigration is a great idea. All I want is for those who arrive here to be nice to other people, live well, and prosper. And obvious [more>>>]

The hostage situation in Moscow turned out about as well as could be expeted, with 67 hostages and 50 terrorists dead, 750 hostages saved, out of which some 300 were wounded. The anti-terror unit used sleeping gas, and some of the hostages may have died from this. A Russian soldier tells what happened:

We think everything was done professionally, as it is fixed in the operative instructions. It is really very important that we were a success in the psychological war. There was leakage of information saying that the storm would start at 3:00 a.m. The terrorists pricked up the ears, but no storm followed. Then they started firing. It is quite natural that as a consequence of it, the terrorists relaxed. We started the storm at 5:00 a.m. Sleeping gas was let into the theatre hall through the ventilation, several grenades were fired right in the hall. We managed to liquidate the female kamikaze: soldiers penetrated into the hall through special crawlways and shot the sleeping terrorists point-blank. Right at the temple. I agree that its cruel, but when you see a man with two kilograms of plastid strapped to the body, there is no other way to neutralize him. Besides, panic spread immediately. Here, we once again suffered from our constant mistake: lack of coordination between the actions of subdivisions. Several terrorists in the corridor started firing, those people who were not asleep after the gas penetrated into the theatre, rushed out of the hall. They ran against the special forces troops that blocked the exits.

As a result, soldiers remaining in the hall opened fire against the balconies, luckily none was wounded at that. In the mess several terrorists managed to escape. By the way, there were several people outside the theatre building, not two as was reported earlier, who communicated with the terrorists over cell phones and told them what was going on outside the building. By the way, they were not of Caucasian appearance at all. We noticed these people at once and closely watched them all the time. I should say that on the whole we are satisfied with the course of the operation. Our soldiers are elated by the success, especially that it was the first successful operation over several past years.

Note the last paragraph - people on the outside who weren't Chechens, (sympathizers? hostage relatives?), were keeping the terrorists informed of what was going on. And yesterday I saw an interview with a group of mothers who had been asked by their hostaged children over cell phones to protest against the Chechen war on the Red Square, and they did. Very odd.

(Update 28/10: Hostage casualties have now risen to 117, and almost all of them apparently died of the gas the anti-terror unit used, whatever it was. So the operation was less of a success than it appeared, but still I think not a failure - none of the bombs were set off. I wonder how much of it was a calculated risk, though, and how much was just misuse or accident.)

From the department of ww2 anecdotes: Reader John Gill tells this story, about an old friend who worked as a reporter in London in 1940.

At the time of the invasion, there were many Norwegian ships at sea including three carrying Linje Akvavit. According to my friend, all of the ships were important, but the Norwegian Government in exile felt that it was absolutely vital that the Royal Navy find these three ships, and escort them to British ports.

In due course this was accomplished, the three ships docked at Southampton, and my friend received a phone call from Trygve Lie's secretary, an old friend, inviting him to a small celebration of the fact that there was now sufficient fuel to see the Norwegian Government through the war.

Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe chose that night to stage a raid on the Southampton docks, and the casks of Akvavit were turned into a raging inferno. He received a mournful call, canceling the party.

A couple of days later, however, he received an ecstatic phone call, announcing that the party was back on again, that only the outer casks had been burned, and that the surviving elixir was of such extraordinary character that there were now three grades of Akvavit: Regular, Linje, and Bomba, the finest of them all.

He had a bottle of "Bomba Akvavit" in his cellar, but I was never able to convince him that the time had come to drink it.

Gill wonders if I can confirm this, and I can't, but I've heard it before, and it's worth telling again.
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Norway, Finland, Iceland and the Netherlands have the highest level of press freedom in the world, according to Reporters Without Frontiers. More accurately, they are considered the most press friendly by legal experts, researchers and journalists who work there. I think it's a useful survey, but it's probably not very accurate, and the ranking is very open for abuse. For instance, a Michael Moore-reading colleague of mine gleefully announced today that the US had ranked 17th on a press freedom index, "worse than Costa Rica". But rank is a meaningless way to measure press freedom - freedom of speech is not a competition. What the survey actually measures is the amount of press limitation, measured on a scale from 0 to 100, where the US scores 4.75 and Norway 0.50. In other words, the countries have practically the same level of press freedom.

And then there's this:

The political weakening of the Palestinian Authority (82nd) means it has made few assaults on press freedom. However, Islamic fundamentalist opposition media have been closed, several attempts made to intimidate and attack local and foreign journalists and many subjects remain taboo. The aim is to convey a united image of the Palestinian people and to conceal aspects such a demonstrations of support for attacks on Israel.

The attitude of Israel (92nd) towards press freedom is ambivalent. Despite strong pressure on state-owned TV and radio, the government respects the local media's freedom of expression. However, in the West Bank and Gaza, Reporters Without Borders has recorded a large number of violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees press freedom and which Israel has signed. Since the start of the Israeli army's incursions into Palestinian towns and cities in March 2002, very many journalists have been roughed up, threatened, arrested, banned from moving around, targeted by gunfire, wounded or injured, had their press cards withdrawn or been deported.

Again, ignore the ranking: The Palestinian Authority scores 27, and Israel 30 out of 100, and again that's practically the same level of press freedom. But how meaningful is it to measure the press freedom of Israel-controlled Palestine, which is a war zone, and Israel, in the same value? And why is the West Bank and Gaza measured twice, first in Israel and then in the PA? It doesn't make sense.
Markku Nordstrom 2002-10-26 Journalists are quick to measure and trumpet scales like this, because it adds prestige to their chosen professions. What would be more useful today is a scale whereby news services are measured as [more>>>]
Bjrn Strk 2002-10-26 I don't agree. Everyone is biased, and the only alternative to biased reporting is reporting so stripped of potentially subjective opinions that it becomes meaningless and dull. I don't want to read [more>>>]

Friday, October 25, 2002

Here's the scariest thing I've read for weeks. Japanese kids - over a million of them - have apparently dropped out of society, and spend years of complete solitude in their rooms. They don't go to school, they don't talk to their parents, they just play games, surf the web, watch TV, and sneak out for food when the house is empty. Their parents - for some reason I can't possibly begin to understand - go along with this. Some haven't seen their children for years.

When I read this a few days ago I had a suspicion that perhaps qsi was pulling my leg. This sounds more like a Japanese cartoon [*] than reality. It could be a good one too, - (imagine, "in the year 2012 millions of teenagers began to connect to the internet through tentacles into their brains, and merged their minds into a huge megalomaniac cyber consciousness, known as megacybcon. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the authorities, a giant lizard is about to--" oh never mind.) Today I dug up and watched the BBC documentary he's referring to, (you'd be surprised by the kind of things one finds in alt.binaries), and the situation is really as bad as he says. Despite my sympathy for these deeply disturbed teenagers, what I felt most strongly while watching this was: "These kids need a real hard kick in the behind."

They're not going to get it from the Japanes experts on this phenomenon, though, who believe in a strategy of .. non-confrontation. Well, they're the experts. Me, I'd go for the real hard kick.

([*] Yeah yeah, anime - but I can't stand people who correct others on that.)

(Update: Here's a very interesting post on teenage hermits and Japanese society by Ron Campbell, who lives in Japan.)
John Nowak 2002-10-26 Some day, some clever anthropologist is going to write an altogether fascinating book about culture-specific mental illnesses, or rather, how various mental illnesses interphase with cultures to produ [more>>>]

Maybe I'm just weak for references to nerdy cult shows, but Vegard Valbergs frequent MiSTings crack me up.
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So what is the right way to deal with a hostage situation like the one in Moscow now? The largest fear in the Norwegian media is that Putin will send in the anti-terror units too early, and cause a bloodbath. What is needed, according to diplomatic orthodoxy, is more talk - weapons will only make things worse.

There's something to that, of course. Hostage takers are often acting simply out of panic or temporary affection. What they want most is to get out alive, and the job of the police is to get them talking, calm them down, and make them come to their senses. Ordinarily, this makes more sense than confrontation. It works because hostage takers value their lives. But the men and women who went into that Moscow theatre the other day with explosives tied to their waists don't care about survival. We don't know if al-Qaeda is directly involved in this, probably not, but we know that the terrorist poison has long ago spread to the (otherwise understandable) Chechen rebellion, and we know that they consider suicide an acceptable option.

Russia won't give in, and the terrorists must know that. My unqualified guess is that they intend to hold out a couple of days, possibly increasing the terror gradually in order to maximize media exposure, occasionally releasing some non-Russian hostages to encourage hope of a peaceful solution - and then blow everything up. In that case the only hope of saving at least some hostages is to attack at once.

Luckily I don't have to make that decision, but I suspect that, just like we have been forced to accept that the right way for a passenger to deal with an airplane hijacking is not to sit still, but to attack without hesitation, the right way to deal with a hostage situation - at least those involving Muslim terrorists - is not for the police to begin talks, and drag out the inevitable, but to attack without hesitation. If we already know that many hostages will die, an early attack policy gives terrorists less time to prepare, (in this case by mining the entire theater), and also less media exposure. Norwegian media has already begun to focus on the horrors of the Chechen war, and much as it probably is important news, and a bad war, it is unacceptable that the terrorists should accomplish anything whatsoever with these acts. If they do, it will happen more often, and the only way to reduce media exposure is to solve the situation quickly, one way or another.

Btw: I saw a strange clip on TV just now. A Russian TV crew had been allowed to enter the theater, where they interviewed three female hostages, masked and armed terrorists standing behind them. The women were smiling, and explained that the media had gotten the situation all wrong. Things weren't nearly as bad as they had been made out as. The hostages had probably been told beforehand to make a good impression, but there was something about the way they said it that made me think they meant it, at least in part. It was not at all like one of those clips of hostages who are forced to read a statement or confession at gunpoint, eyes shifting and fear all over their face. It was unlike anything I've seen. How long does the Stockholm syndrome take to develop?
John Nowak 2002-10-25 According to one book I read, the usual procedure in American hostage rescue situations is to have a tactical commander who monitors the tactical situation and is authorized to order an attack, and a [more>>>]

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Some TV moments from a changing Norway:

A few weeks ago, Carl I Hagen, leader of the Progress Party, on Først & Sist, a popular talk show on NRK. He's beaming with the latest poll results, chats about non-political issues with ease and charm, (a surprise to viewers who, like me, have never seen the man outside a political context), and appears as someone who knows that he is exactly where he is supposed to be in life.

A week later, Holmgang, a popular debate program on TV2, pits Hagen, Siv Jensen and Torgeir Hien, all three from the Progress Party, against some of their critics in media, academia and political parties. There's Arne Strand from Dagsavisen, the insufferable mouthpiece of orthodox social democracy, Steinar Holden, a professor of economics and advisor of the central bank, environmental loonie Steinar Lem from The Future in Our Hands, who argues for economic decline, Marie Simonsen from the tabloid VG who suggests that people are too dumb to see through Hagen's lies, and Jens Stoltberg, deputy leader of Labor, who looks discomforted in the presence of the man whose party is now where Labor were until he became prime minister. Hagen responds by praising the intelligence of regular people, Siv Jensen talks about reducing taxes to increase growth as the only solution to the coming welfare crisis.

One week ago, Jens Stoltenberg on Nytt på nytt, a news quiz / talk show on NRK. He appears to feel at home in the ironic and glib atmosphere of the show, and yet seems oddly pathetic as he makes self-deprecating jokes about his failure as a politician. The audience and the other guests are laughing as much off him as with him.

On the news program Tabloid on TV2, several ministers complain about the endless polls in the media. "It's like every time I step off the plane on Gardermoen, there's been another election". Program host Pål T. Jørgensen asks if these complaints may have something to do with the disastrous results the coalition parties get. A few days later another poll is released, giving the centre-right coalition an approval rating of 6%, against 49% disapproval.

Wednesday this week, a chuckling Gerhard Helskog introduces a documentary on TV2 about the ridiculous effects of high alcohol taxes: Norwegian alcohol producers now make good money exporting alcohol just across the Swedish border, where it is bought and smuggled back again by Norwegians, at half the price. We must go where the market is, the brewers point out. A government official explains that with alcohol prices at Danish levels, 1000 more people would die of alcohol-related causes every year. The report she bases this on has a 90% margin of error.

(And today, Carl I Hagen is sued by Mullah Krekar for libel, after he called Krekar a terrorist who should not have been allowed to enter the country on the TV2 news yesterday.)
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A reader points to this Weekly Standard article which suggests, perhaps as a joke, that Norway gave the Peace Prize to Jimmy Carter and is opposed to a war on Iraq because a democratic Iraq would reduce the price of oil.

We note that Norway--surprise!--is the world's third largest oil exporter. We note that Norway's non-oil economy slipped into recession in the second quarter of this year. We note that the Norwegian government forecasts rising unemployment and only modest total GDP growth from now through the end of 2004. We note that even these not- especially-cheerful forecasts depend for their fulfillment on world oil prices remaining at current levels.

We further note that an American-led "regime change" and subsequent reconstruction of Iraq would inevitably and significantly transform the current global petroleum market: In a post-Saddam Iraq, the United States (and our genuine allies) would surely help modernize that country's oil fields and exploration capabilities. We note, in other words, that President George W. Bush's "belligerent" foreign policy promises sharply to boost future Iraqi oil production, which will depress world oil prices, which will leave the Norwegian economy . . . well, totally screwed.

And we note, finally, that the director general of his government's policy-making Norwegian Petroleum Directorate is none other than Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman, and Bush critic, Gunnar Berge.

Neat - but it's almost complete nonsense. As readers of this blog knows, Norway make much more money on oil than we feel it is wise (and perhaps moral) to spend. Nobody will complain if an oil crisis adds another umpteen billion NOK's to the national budget surplus, (except car drivers, who are fiendishly taxed), but increased oil earnings are not a top priority of the Norwegian government. Some political parties have even proposed ethical guidelines for the petroleum fund, which would forbid investments in weapons companies, polluters, tobacco companies, etc., and consequently reduce the profit.

Norwegian foreign policy is mostly idealistic - it can afford to be - and to suggest a Norwegian oil conspiracy at the expense of the Iraqi people is pure ignorance. To make this argument work, the Weekly Standard must assume that Norwegians actually believe that a war on Iraq will have the intended effect of making Iraq a stable and democrat oil producer. If, like many Norwegians believe, such a war will only serve to set the Middle East [even more] on fire - wouldn't that lead to an increase in oil prices? (It probably will, too, in the short term.) Following this logic, Norway should be standing third in line for a chance to punch Saddams face. Chaos is our friend!

You can only understand Norway's attitude towards diplomacy and war if you understand where we come from, or at least where we think we come from. As many historians tell it, Norway did not actually exist between the 14th century and 1905, so we weren't to blame for the many wars the Danes fought while we were a province in their mini-empire. The period under Danish rule (up to 1814 - the '400 year night') is largely ignored in school books - there may be references to this or that important event, but unless it directly concerns Norway as such they are not our events, not our wars, not our kings. We have only fought two wars, one of independence from Sweden in 1814, which we lost, and another short one against the Germans.

This legacy of peace is an important part of the Norwegian self-image, and was also one reason why Alfred Nobel decided to have Norway award the Peace Prize, instead of Sweden, which awards all the others. Sweden was a an old empire, Norway had clean hands. And this again is a reason why the Nobel Peace Prize is so highly regarded in Norway. We believe in it, and what it stands for - a peaceful alternative to war. It is our one annual opportunity to make a statement on global issues that will be listened to. Equally important to understand Norwegian foreign policy is the Middle East peace process and the Oslo accords, which in our mind is an example of how diplomacy - don't laugh - can bring about world peace. It would have worked too, if it hadn't been for those pesky Israelis and Palestinians, who had to go mess up our beautiful plan.

Maybe I take the Standard too seriously here. The Secret Norwegian Oil Conspiracy may be a neat counter-argument against people who believe in the Secret American Oil Conspiracy. You might make them realize how ridiculous they sound. Then again, they might instead 1) expose your poor logic and think you're an idiot, or 2) believe you, and become even more paranoid and uninformed.

Either way, the truth works better, as always. The truth, and it's actually less comforting than the evil oil conspiracy theory, which at least credits us with some intelligence, is that Norway says the stupid things we say because we actually believe in them.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Another great historical article by Paul Fallon at Dean Esmay's blog, this time about America's first war on terrorism. Don't miss this.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Qsi has the story about the fall of the Dutch government:

What surprises me most is that the people in the LPF did not seem to have any instinct for self-preservation. Forget national interest. Forget responsibility. The LPF did not even seem to have an urge to prolong its own existence. Everybody could see the crash coming if they continued like this, and the opinion polls were looking ever more bleak. Precipitating the fall of the government meant for all LPFers the loss of their seats in parliament. It's amazing that this simple threat of political extinction did not impose more discipline on them. Instead, the egos of the parliamentarians asserted themselves, and if that meant sinking the party or the government, so be it.
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Tuesday, October 15, 2002

I haven't written about "chickenhawks" and "chickenbloggers", (slurs for people who support war without enlisting), but between Dr Weevil's Shropshire challenge and this fascinating letter from a Vietnam veteran and friend of Dean Esmay, there's not much to say.

If you want to argue against war with Iraq, then argue against war with Iraq. To argue that anyone who supports the war is a coward because they don't have to go is an argument with no merit, and exposes the weakness of your reasoning skills. There are plenty of good reasons to oppose war with Iraq. Our military does not need some lameass blogger to protect them from the rabid Republicans. They are quite capable of taking care of themselves.

One thing, though: I'm a Norwegian citizen, and I actually do feel that it would be wrong of me to cheer loudly for another country to go to war. So I won't. I support the goals the US are trying to achieve, and I agree with their reasons for going there - I'm not afraid of taking a stand that may be held against me later - but there is one important question I don't have the right to answer: Is the price worth paying? The Americans seem to think it is, and I'm glad for that, but if they didn't I wouldn't be in a place to complain about it.

And just to make things clear: I do think, and have a right to think, that Norway should provide military help to bring down Hussein. He's evil, dangerous, and he has terrorized his people to a point where, in front of Western TV cameras, it seems they become near hysterical with fear that they won't appear supportive enough. You can practically see the torture chambers in their eyes. We should end this. I'm sorry to say that we won't, that we're more interested in peace and stability than in safety and freedom - but best of luck to those who are going there.

Oh no - Vegard Valberg lends his newfound poetry skills to the dark side! Look, it rhymes:

Impotent America howls!
Daring sheikhs at us scowls!
Infidels are all that prowls
Oil is the blood of howls
Time hath made Europe Wise
Stop now, let not America rise!

I don't know much about poetry, but I think I detect a hidden message here. And while we're on the subject of high art, I would like to share with you all a favourite of mine, Queenie Elizabeth's poem from Blackadder, (which incidentally doesn't rhyme all the way, and has no hidden meanings - that's two points for Vegard!):

When the night is dark
And the dogs go 'bark'
When the clouds are black
And the ducks go 'quack'
When the sky is blue
And the cows go 'mooo'
Think of lovely Queenie
She'll be thinking of you
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Monday, October 14, 2002

Dear God. I just saw a story on EuroNews about tomorrows presidential "referendum" in Iraq, which, in case you haven't heard about it, is a country where to criticize the government is grounds for execution and torture. The reporter, no doubt scarred by a career in brain-crushing media institutions, seemed unaware of this, and to scenes of cheering Iraqis and Hussein statues he claimed that demonstrations in favor of Hussein shows how "he remains, to some Iraqis, their beloved leader", that outsiders should not underestimate his support, and that, (to quote from memory), "although there's obviously quite a bit of propaganda involved, such staggering results reflect at least some of the reality in Iraq."

He was referring to the last mock referendum, seven years ago, when beloved leader and romantic novelist Saddam Hussein got some 99.96% support. (The results will no doubt be higher this time - the 0.04% who voted against Hussein in 1995 are probably dead.)

If anyone needs me I'll be hiding under the sofa, sucking my thumb for a while. Terrorists, nuclear madmen, even intergalactic evil overlords, should we encounter some - that I can handle. This is too much.

(Update: Dean Esmay coins a new term for this sort of thing: A Duranty report.)

Dale Price responds on Norway & ww2:

First, his historical challenges. The point about the Norwegian Navy is well-taken, but this is a distinctly different issue than the volunteer question. If there's a problem with the volunteer figures, that's the Nuav website's calculations, not mine. It seems like a reasonably well-done website without an axe to grind. However, if anyone shows me that the figures are inaccurate, I'll be happy to remove the reference and the link.

I didn't say the figures were inaccurate. You just used them wrong. Here's from the NUAV website:

About 15 000 Norwegians volunteered to the Wehrmacht or SS during the years 1940-1945, and an estimate of 7000 reached the front lines in some way. .. Quisling, however saw this as a rather disappointing number, as he had visions of about 50,000 proud Norwegian soldiers, but one should bear in mind that "only" 11,000 volunteered to serve with the Allies, mainly the British. The Norwegian Police formations in Sweden, or the Merchant Navy sailors are not included in this number.

My emphasis. So if you do count the 33000 sailors there were actually three times as many who fought for the allies as fought for the Germans. And the Germans had three million Norwegians to recruit from, with a full propaganda apparatus at their disposal. The Allies could only get those who managed to escape. I don't know how many there were in total, but I'm sure that most of the emigrants joined the Allied effort in one way or another.

And I'm not just including the sailors to inflate the number. Being on a transport ship in the Atlantic in the early years of the war was a pretty horrible experience, and these people sacrificed and achieved just as much as any front line soldier. They also spent several decades trying to get official recognition in Norway for their efforts. For a long time, the warsailors were considered to be (and to some extent were) outcasts, bums and drunks, perhaps not unlike the Vietnam veterans. So I'd say the omission is pretty important.

With respect to Norway's struggle in the north, it should be noted that the British began landing troops in central and northern Norway within a week of the German invasion. With all due respect, that, plus the commitment of major Allied naval and air assets, was the reason for the prolonging of the fight there.

Of course. I'm not claiming we had a significant military force. All I'm saying is that we fought, and that we didn't give up until we had to - and then we went underground. The only major tactical achievement of the Norwegian underground movement that I know of was the destruction of the heavy water plant at Rjukan, which may or may not have delayed the German nuclear bomb. But the underground movement, and the knowledge that the King and government had joined the Allies in Britan, was a major boost for public morale.

Norway did not give in to the Nazis. The vast majority of the nation stood united against the many attempts to nazify Norway, (we were, after all, considered cousins of the Aryan race.) Norway didn't play a major role in the overall war, but we preserved our honor at the one time when it mattered the most.

The Nobel committee is appointed by the Norwegian government, frequently former ministers and parliamentarians. Like Mr. Berge. Consequently, it is not an unreasonable supposition that the Nobel Committee represents mainstream government views. You don't get prestige posts by rocking the boat with your colleagues.

So, when faced with the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize, what do Norway's best and brightest do? Why, they trash the ideals behind the Prize and make a puerile political statement. They attempt to kick America in the shins by giving the award to the most inept, flatfooted moralizer ever to occupy the White House--a man often star-struck by totalitarian regimes. No wonder they like Carter. They share the same interests.

This decision is a perfect example of elite Western European views on the war: at once feckless, relativistic, moralizing and inane. America is again in a death-struggle against totalitarianism and rogue regimes, and the appeasers--epitomized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee--are in full opposition, sniggering at their own cleverness.

Absolutely. I have no quarrel with this. I'm just saying that you chose, as an example of Norwegian appeasement and cowardice, that one period in the 20th century we have the most reason to be proud of. That one time where we actually got it right, despite the pre-war naivety, and despite the centuries of sheltered peace.

If you want a better example to illustrates the folly of the Norwegian worldview, I suggest the Oslo Accords. That was Norwegian diplomacy at its best - the culmination of our entire post-war diplomatic tradition, the beta release of everything we believe in. It failed, and proved our worldview wrong. We haven't realized this, and consequently haven't learned from our mistakes. Hence Carter, Annan, etc.

(Update: Matthew Wagner makes some similar points in Dale's blog.)
Michael Lonie 2002-10-15 You are quite correct. The Norwegian merchant fleet was an important asset to the Allies during WWII, especially during the period when the Germans were sinking merchant ships faster than they could [more>>>]

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Is this guy serious? (Via Instapundit.)

As you may know, the prize originates in the insignificant Kingdom of Norway (don't feel bad if you can't find it on a map--it truly does not matter). Norway is a country best-known for whale-killing and giving the English language the noun "quisling." In World War II, like all parts of Western Europe not entirely surrounded by water, this country folded up like a cheap suit once a platoon full of Germans got within firing range. They even provided willing help to Hitler and his jack-booted legions after the occupation. In fact, more Norwegians volunteered to fight for the Axis than for the Allies.

He's got us confused with somebody else. Norway made several mistakes leading up to the war - we didn't see Hitler coming, should have been better prepared, should have joined the Brits, etc. - but when he did come we fought back, about as well as we could do under the circumstances. The north held out longer than Poland, France, Belgium and Holland, which at least disproves the accusation of cowardice. The NS and the Quisling/Terboven administrations were also extremely unpopular, and it is a marvel that anyone volunteered for the eastern front at all. (Another shameful chapter was that we didn't do more to save the 1400 Jews. Only half of them got out and survived.) Norway was occupied, but not conquered, and certainly not "providing willing help".

And any figure of volunteers that doesn't include the 30000 sailors who took part in the battle of the Atlantic, (and his doesn't), isn't worth the bytes it's stored in.

Always sad to see a good, but a bit obvious, point (Nobel Peace Prize + Jimmy Carter = Silly Norwegians) made on bogus history.

If the massive car bomb in Bali that killed 182 people yesterday, mostly Australians, is the price a country pays for taking a clear stand in the American war on terrorism, then that's all the better reason for others to emulate it.

The terrorists failed against the US, so perhaps now they're going after its allies, hoping that they're cowards, and that they'll blame and turn against the US for bringing this on them. "Our quarrel is with the Americans, not you. Go away, and we won't bother you any more." I think - I hope - this is a tactical mistake, that the more Australians and Europeans who die of terrorism, the more these countries will sympathize and stand together with the US. There obviously are a lot of Westerners [*] who are receptible to these kinds of arguments, who won't see why they should suffer for American imperialism, and we already know that al-Qaeda is paying attention to and exploiting Western anti-war arguments. (Remember when they suddenly began to care about the Palestinians?)

But I also think that, if there is a terrorist campaign against US allies, the terrorist sympathizers, defeatists and pacifists will be exposed there as they have been in the US. You're messing with the wrong culture, buddies.

([*] Update: Case in point.)
Gregory Sager 2002-10-14 Bad enough to get the Americans so pissed off at you that they send out the Marines, Delta Force, and the 82nd Airborne to chase you from here to hell and back, but to get the Aussies riled up, too? I [more>>>]

Saturday, October 12, 2002

The bomb that killed seven people in Helsinki yesterday was apparently made by a 20-year old native student, who died with it.

In other words, he was more likely a lone nut than an organized terrorist - unless they've got a Walker Lindh on their hands.

(See also Teemu Lehtonen's blog.)
Markku Nordstrom 2002-10-12 Last year, I was in Manhattan on 9/11, and lived through that whole episode with all its conflicting emotions and thoughts. On the suggestion of my Finnish relatives, I came to live in Helsinki this [more>>>]
Markku Nordstrom 2002-10-13 Update: On Saturday night the Interior Minister was interviewed on TV, and the following facts came out: the age of the student was 19. He lived with his family, and the police are now searching hi [more>>>]
Teemu Lehtonen 2002-10-14 On the identity of the bomber: the name was published in the finnish language version of Helsingin Sanomat. One Petri Gerd [more>>>]
Markku Nordstrom 2002-10-14 Update: So the authorities have now identified the suicide bomber, and are now piecing together a psychological profile. Young Petri Gerdt seems to have similar attributes to the Columbine killers [more>>>]

Friday, October 11, 2002

Jimmy Carter is kind of the "president we wish they had", judging from todays coverage in Norwegian media of his Nobel Peace Prize, and I think this is also the main reason he got it.

Bill Clinton, who, it shall be remembered, was received in Norway as a president five months after he had stopped being one, should take note of this.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

I looked up my salary and taxes for 2001 on the web today. Yup, that's me allright. Want to know how much your colleagues make? Look them up! We're all a big, happy family in here. Nothing to hide. Oh my, is he a greedy one or what? And look at this: Scumbag! Capitalist! Bloodsucker!

This guy and this guy wants the practice of online tax records to stop. No wonder they're afraid of the searchlight - they make more than I do!

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

I've explained before how Norway is usually ruled by minority governments, traditionally Labor or a centre-right coalition, (with or without the Conservatives), and how, to rule effectively, they must make long or short-term alliances in Stortinget. The current government can form majorities with either Labor or the Progress Party, which in theory gives them flexibility, because they don't have to depend on one partner, but can jump from left to right to left on a case by case basis.

It's a good idea - but in the proposed national budget for 2003 the coalition appears to have jumped straight between, and fallen flat on their stomach. It's the ultimate bland, dead-center coalition budget, and it has not been received well. There are some minor tax cuts, which makes it unacceptable to the Socialist Left and Labor, and yet taxes aren't by far cut enough for the Progress Party, who also feel that several pet causes of theirs are blatantly stepped on.

Personally, I'm most offended by the 2.2% increase in alcohol taxes. It's not a big deal, of course - there are more important things in life than cheap beer - but it is an annoyance, and it is symbolic of the general attitude of the government towards taxes, and towards the Norwegian people. The trade leak to and smuggling through relative consumer paradise Sweden is increasing, with economic and even lethal consequences. Seven Norwegians have died over the last couple of weeks from smuggled alcohol containing methanol. (Thank you, Bondevik, was one smugglers reaction to the budget.)

Budget debates are always noisy, and Bondeviks coalition may survive again - there are no alternatives - but Carl I Hagen and the Progress Party is the big winner, whether the budget passes or not. The Progress Party is up several points to 29.5% in a poll taken after the recent budget debacle, way ahead of both the centre coalition and of Labor. What's more, I've never seen the Progress Party taken as seriously by the media as they have been the last week. It's Hagen and Siv Jensen all the time, on all (both) channels. They are allowed to present their views, and when confronted by obviously partisan journalists (as on the NRK news this evening) they come out making a good impression after all to those who matter - the viewers - a skill no doubt perfected through decades as political and media outcasts.

For instance, follow that link in the previous paragraph, to an article in the english section of Aftenposten. It has a mild but noticable pro-Progress Party bias. The writer has American background, and I don't think an article like that would be written in any of the major newspapers - yet - but I perceive the level of media vitriol to be considerable lower than only two years ago. There are no more accusations of racism, for instance, only of demagoguery and cruelty, which is as you would expect for a right-wing populist party in a social democracy.

I'm now convinced that Carl I Hagen has a good chance of becoming prime minister, if not in this period, then in 2005. I'm also beginning to think that this will be a good thing.

I'm not sure how to describe Progress Party politics - welfare libertarianism, perhaps, although that sounds more contradictory than it is. The source of the confusion is oil, which Norway makes a hell of a lot of money on, almost none of which is actually spent. The budget deficit of 2002 would only be $5.7 billion without oil, (or about 2.3% of GDP - good enough for the EU).

Government sits tight on these money, out of the - certainly justified - fear that careless spending will be bad for the economy. The Progress Party wants to spend at least another $billion of it - but abroad, (for instance, by buying expensive medical equipment), to avoid affecting the local economy. Now, I'm no expert on economic issues, and I'm aware that government can't usually even blow it's nose without unintended consequences, but I can't see the logical flaw here. I can see why spending abroad would be bad if we were saving the money for something very important, unlike, say, maintaining the welfare system beyond expiration date, or that it would be bad if it drove norwegian producers of expensive medical equipment out of business, and I can even see why such careless spending would violate some kind of protestant work ethic, etc., but I can't see the logical flaw. Well, either I'm dumb or our politicians are stubborn, because the very idea is ridiculed by the other parties.

Spending abroad to increase welfare is not a cause I care about - I think the bloated Scandinavian welfare state is a bad idea - but the Norwegian people is not ready to dismantle social democracy, and until we are, all I can hope for is a party that will at least dismantle parts of it. And this I think Progress Party will attempt. They will, I believe, look with fresh and critical eyes on our many silly taxes and subsidies, and perhaps get started some long overdue privatization reform. I won't like half of their actions, but the other half might be important enough to outweigh the bad ones.

In addition to economic reform, a powerful Progress Party might speed up the process of making Norwegian politics in general more populistic, which would be a good thing for democracy.

A Norwegian social democrat reading that previous sentence would spill ecological coffee all over his keyboard in shock and outrage. Allow me to explain. There is a democracy deficit in Norway. Exhibit A: 85% of voters would like to reduce alcohol taxes, (including 48% of Christian People's Party voters, hardly practicioners of wild, Scandinavian bacchanalias.) And yet - only one party on Stortinget wants to do something about it. Actually, one and a half, if you count the Conservatives, but they obviously don't consider the matter important, although in principle they agree. Why? It can't be lack of information. Norwegians have been whining about their beer prices for ages. They whine at home, and they rejoice abroad. The only possible explanation is that Stortinget on this issue of visible public discontent does not by far represent the will of the people.

In a larger sense, of course, alcohol taxes don't really matter, and our politicians may feel justified in attending problems they believe are more important. But that is for the people to decide, not the politicians, and just as these taxes are symbolic of a dangerous attitude towards taxes, they're also symptomatic of a democracy deficit. What other issues do politicians decide upon without consulting me?

Recently I wrote about tabloid news and populism, and how the introduction of tabloid TV news in Norway was followed by the rise of right-wing populism. I think there's a connection, and it all has to do with two incompatible worldviews. In Norway, serious politicians live up in the skies. They make Big Decisions about the Big Issues, taking the Big Factors into account. In their view, government makes the world go around, and that makes them pretty important people. They see further than their countrymen, and have grave responsibilities that can't be shared with their lessers. Serious journalists agree with them, and confirm their self-image by writing at length about the Big Issues, the Big Factors, and the Big Decisions, and by taking part in that grave responsibility of seeing so much further than their countrymen.

The populist and the tabloid journalist may live up in the skies, but they have their eyes and cameras pointed at the ground. When tabloid newspapers report crimes in grisly details and big headlines, serious journalists scoff. "Who cares about some brutal murder? The important issues are settled up here - we should know, we cover them every day." In a larger sense, perhaps they're right. And when the populist complains about silly taxes, the serious politicians scoff. "Who cares about cheap beer? There are far more important problems to solve, and it's really all very complicated, we don't have time for this." And again, in a larger sense, perhaps they're right.

But then again, maybe they're just full of shit, and we don't get to hear about it because the journalists won't tell us, and we don't get to do anything about it because nobody represents us. And that's where we need the sensationalists and the demagogues, to maintain that link between street and Parliament. Norway is lucky to have populists. This is their hour.
Taco 2002-10-10 Me too would like to see Carl I. Hagen become president for about the same reasons as you mentioned, but there is a BIG BUT: the logical flaw. Water will always flow to the lowest point. It doesn't [more>>>]

Monday, October 07, 2002

Qsi at the Dilacerator blog [*] has a good post about European vs American democracy.

European political parties can enforce discipline within their own ranks much more thoroughly, because they can punish dissent by ending troublemakers' carreers. But by moving the incentive for politicians away from pleasing the voters to pleasing the party hierarchy, there is a disconnect between the people they are supposed to represent and the politicians themselves. Since politicians are elected on a party list system, there is also little to bind voters to politicians. The concept of "my Senator" or "my Congressman" simply does not exist in a system of proportional respresentation.

I also agree that the who's most democratic angle to my previous post was a sidetrack - what I was really interested in was looking at the different ways democracy can be implemented, and their pros and cons. More about that later, perhaps. I have an image of society as a gigantic neural network, where forms of government are represented by algorithms and topology, but it's too late in the evening to flesh it out.

([*] Now there's a phrase I never expected to write.)
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Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Sweden is becoming a safe haven for terrorists, according to American intelligence.

Whatever Kerim Chatty was up to it seems there are serious flaws in Sweden's ability to handle terrorism. It's long been viewed as perhaps the safest place in Europe in which to hide. Now intelligence sources in America and France have told Newsnight that they believe attempts are being made from Sweden to co-ordinate terrorist cells across the rest of Europe and North Africa. In short, Sweden has become a base. .. Stockholm's suburbs are a refuge for those in exile from Eastern Europe, Asia and North Africa. Many still pursue the politics of their homelands, a few will plan vengeance against regimes they've fled. But as one terrorist advisor to the Government told me, the Swedes believe any such plots will be directed outside, away from Sweden. The lessons of 9/ 11 have yet to be learned.

Kerim Chatty is the 29 year old convert to radical Islam who has been to Saudi Arabia, has shared a prison cell with a suspected al-Qaeda member, has taken flying lessons in Florida, was caught trying to get a gun aboard a plane from Stockholm to London, and who has now been released by Swedish police on grounds of lack of evidence that he intended to hijack it. The investigation continues, but the police says their suspicion has weakened, and the courts didn't feel they had reason to hold him.

Minister of Justice Thomas Bodstrm defends himself:

- It is obviously not true that we don't take these questions seriously. We are one of the governments in Europe which has done most to push through routines for exchange of information, says Thomas Bodstrm. The Minister of Justice even counterattacks the US by comparing the release of the suspected hijacker whom the prosecution haven't found any evidence against, and the Swedish 23 year old who is being held prisoner on Cuba without the United States informing him what he is being suspected of. - We're not going to, as certain other countries, just lock up people indeterminately. .. Even the slightest suspicion of crimes of this sort is grounds for the police to act. Preparation for a terrorist attack, for instance, is punishable by life sentence. We couldn't possibly have a stricter law.

Which kind of misses the point. Swedish law is not really the issue here, and neither is the intentions of the Swedish government. What is being questioned is their awareness of the problem, their attention on it, and their resource allocation. The war on terrorism requires not so much new laws as increased attention on what we know now for certain is a large, credible, but elusive threat against all Western countries. It's also a threat that won't protest if you pretend it doesn't exist. My impression is that Sweden doesn't take it seriously, and if the al-Qaeda have gotten the same impression, well, then Sweden has a problem.

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