Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Cowards Way

Yesterday, July 22nd 2011, is a day which writes itself into Norwegian history in bright red blood. A day we will never forget, and never forgive.
At 15:26 a bomb rocked the government quarter in Oslo. This bomb left seven dead and many injured, and turned central Oslo into a warzone.
A few hours later a person dressed as a police officer opens fire on a crowd of children and youths at the Workers Youth League convention at Utøya outside Oslo. This is the most heinous attack and has left 84 people so far dead, many of them children.

Earlier most people, myself included, assumed that these attacks would fit into the same category as the attacks in London of 2005 or Madrid 2004. Many thought that Norway’s commitment of troops to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan or our participation in the air campaign over Libya, or the Mohammed caricature thing had brought down the wrath of the jihadists upon us. Perhaps it had been better if that was the case…

This attack came from within. The Utøya shooter has been arrested. He is also linked to the bombing of the government quarter. He is a white Norwegian, with extremist right wing views.
In his online activities he speaks out against the social democratic government. He blames them for being too inclusive and open to other cultures, particularly the Norwegian muslim community. He speaks of nationalism, cultural unity and dangerous cultural influences. He clearly paints a picture of himself as a racist, anti immigration, neo Nazi sympathizing bastard (my words, not his).

With more than a hundred people dead or wounded, this is the worst attack on the people of Norway since World War Two. That time Nazis attacked the country with the full might of one of the most powerful military powers of the time. This time they attacked with a cowardly act of terrorism.

This attack will not accomplish what he wanted. This cowardly attack on our nation, on our people and our children will not break us.
He will not divide the people of Norway.
He will not change the way we live our lives.
And he will not change the values our society is built upon.
We are stronger than that. We are braver than that. We are more honorable than that.

Let this man be forever remembered as a coward, a lowly murderer, and a traitor to the ideals of this nation he claims to defend. And let any who share his views be frightened by our resolve and commitment to those ideals.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Thoughts on Royalty

Last weeks royal wedding in Stockholm brought attention from all over the world to the Swedish capitol, and was a success without equal for the PR staff of the Swedish court. The intensity and size of the celebration shows clearly that the royal family has wide support in the hearts of it's people, more so then many might have believed possible in 2010.
The wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and ,now, Prince Daniel is also a blow against those who wish to see a parting from the traditions in Scandinavia of having royal households.

In many circles it is considered modern to persieve monarchy as an anachronism, a relic of the past, out of date in our modern society.
It is easy, on paper, to see how people inheriting their titles might seem at odds with our society's focus on equality and due democratic process. It does on some level collide with the notion that national leaders and heads-of-state are supposed to be elected by the people for fixed periods of time.
In reality the picture is far more complex. And in countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark you have to be pretty focused on principles and retoric to suggest that these countries would have been better served with a president as national leader.

To understand the position of the king one must understand some basics of political theory. Political theory defines a nation as a people who share a language and cultural heritage. A state is a political entity that does not necessarily follow those same lines. If the members of one nation band together into a state we call that a nation-state. Norway is one such nation-state.
The Basque people in northern Spain are also definable as a nation, but since they live inside the state of Spain, they do not have a state of their own.

In Norway the position of head of state and national leader are separated. The elected Prime Minister is the head of state. He leads the government in the kings name and is elected by the people through parliament. The king is the national leader. He is a leader by example, and a symbol of unity for the people of Norway, having little real power. This is a role he, and his father and grand-father, have played very well.

During trying times the role of the eurpoean kings has been even more important, rising up as examples and symbols for their peoples to rally around. The most famous and obvious example of such from Norway is King Haakon VII's defiance and continued resistance in the face of Nazi invasion and occupation.

The majority of people in Norway see an advantage in having a national leader who doesn't represent a particular political direction. Standing above the petty bickering of the political parties, the King remains a symbol of our unity, national identity and sovereignty. This has great importance for a small and still young nation like Norway.
For Norway's part, this would have been quite different if the king and his family had not been so aware of their position in society and managed their role so well. But they do that spectacularly.

When I was in the military I swore an oath: "For King, People and Fatherland". I am proud to stand by that oath.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Modern Nuclear Warfare for Dummies

As I am writing this, the conservatives in the US, led by the ludicrous members of the Tea Party Movement, are in an uproar. This is not unusual, as they tend to fire up over any change for a more modern, enlightened America.
But this time, the subject is not something small and inconsequential, like sex ed, gay rights or black guys in the oval office. The subject of their most recent rants is the fact that President B. Obama has created new rules and regulations regarding the US nuclear weapons arsenal. His changes are to put restrictions on the US military's license to let those bad boys off the leash and the number of nuclear warheads the US is to have ready.

It seem they believe that with any fewer nukes ready to pound their supposed enemies, the US will be under major attack; nuclear or otherwise, in the very near future. This, of course, is quite insane.
First off, the US has more than enough nuclear weapons to secure its safety from attack by another large nation. There is enough nuclear ordinance in the US arsenals hit every major city in Europe, including Russia. Never mind that most countries in Europe are part of a formal alliance with the US (NATO).
The enemies that might have hit the US with a major nuclear attack are also a thing of the past. The nuclear defense policy that the US has been toting since the 1950s has been based on the thought that a large nation with a radically different system of government (the Soviet Union, in case you were wondering) was going to launch an unprovoked attack. Thus the need for the ability to counter that with a nuclear bombardment of their own. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, the threat of a major nuclear attack has fallen away, and with that much of the need for a large strategic nuclear arsenal. I know that being conservative means wanting to live in the past, but the boogeyman is no longer old men sitting in the Kremlin plotting the rise of world communism. Therefore, maintaining a large complement of strategic ICBMs is just a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money, unless you are planning to start something yourselves.

I won't mention the dangers posed by having a lot of nukes sitting around large quantities of rocket fuel around your country.

It is a fact, however that the likelihood of the world experiencing a nuclear attack is greater than it has been for a long time. This threat is not coming from a government, but rather from extra-governmental fighter, rebels and fundamentalists. The fact that such large nuclear arsenals were existing or existed poses one of the greatest threats to the safety of many nations, the US in particular.
Nuclear material, weapons grade or otherwise is available to anyone with the balls and resources to grab them. The greatest threat here I believe comes from extremists operating in the former USSR. There are great deposits of irradiated material, and a level of corruption that makes it easier to steal such materials, for their own use or for resale. But of course, this could also be stolen from the US arsenals by operatives with the right preparations.
Even if you don't have weapons grade material and a nuclear technician you can still cause thousands of deaths and injuries in an urban area with a dirty bomb. For those of you who don't know, a dirty bomb is a conventional bomb that scatters irradiated materials over an area. Radiation poisoning would kill more people than the detonation itself, and the area that was hit would have to be closed off for a long time for decontamination. The recent attacks in Russia, horrible as they were, would have been a hundred times worse if the bombs used there were dirty.

I applaud Barack Obama for his work to reduce the number of operational nuclear weapons, and his willingness to bury past paranoia in cooperating with his counterpart in Russia on disarmament plans. That is the kind of thing he got the Nobel Prize for.
The conflicts of the future are not the kind that can be won with the use of strategic nuclear weapons. Those conflicts never existed, and it is time that the people who insist on living in the past realize this, before it's too late.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thoughts on the health care circus...

The debate arising from Barack Obama’s attempts to initiate a health care reform in the US, to prevent 45 million people from falling between two chairs in the health care system, is one that doesn’t seize to amaze me.
45 million people have no health care coverage what so ever in the US, causing deaths and disabilities at a rate that would make any other country in the western world outraged that it was allowed to happen.
According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the United States is the "only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage".

One of the things that disturb me in this debate is the fact that Obama is accused, actually accused, by oppositionists of being a socialist and communist. I myself studied Political Sciences in college and therefore know a thing or ten about the above mentioned social models. Most Americans seem to think that socialism and communism is the same thing, and hasn’t evolved since the 1920s. These people I would very much encourage to read about it. You might learn what you are talking about. When you speak of socialism in the modern western society you are not talking about a Soviet style system of total government hegemony. Simplified, modern social democracy recognizes that some parts of society are simply too important to the people living in it to leave in the hands of private or commercial interests.

What Obama is trying to push through IS in a sense socialistic, but to a very small degree. The attempt to control a vital part of US health care, the insurance companies, is interference with free market forces, but one that seems necessary. If people can’t afford a non- vital service that is ok. No one would question that, if it was a matter of luxury, but this is not the case. This is peoples’ lives and health we are talking about. Poverty should not be the deciding factor in whether you are able to recover from sickness or injury. To deny people lifesaving or life altering treatment just because they are less wealthy then the people who created this system is cruel beyond imagining.
Another argument for health care is that the US is the country that spends most on health care system per capita already, and still has the worst health care coverage in the west.

I live in Norway, one of the first countries in Western Europe that adopted a welfare system for its inhabitants after the Second World War. This state has a universal health care system that has functioned rather well. You pay a portion of your own medical expenses if you go to a doctor, but only up to an annual amount of approx. 1600NOK (260 $) including prescripted medication. This prevents people from coming to the doctor with every stubbed toe or sniffle, but allows everyone to afford health care if they need it. And did I mention that this includes if you need surgery? Doctors bill the state for your treatment and are paid in accordance with policies set to regulate the prices of medical treatments. Only elective treatments are excluded from this system. And you are of course free to choose who you want treating you.
And for those who think doctors in this system are dirt poor government employees, I can guarantee that medical doctors are well represented in the higher income tax categories. Lots of fancy cars and big apartments there.

I have had use of this system myself. When I was in college in 2007, I had a rather bad fall on a patch of ice. I fell in such a way that my full weight came down on my left ankle at an interesting angle and there was a rather sickening crunchy sound. I went to the emergency room and was checked out. It was believed that the ankle was sprained; I was patched up, given a prescription and a voucher for the taxi ride home. I was told to come in for a checkup next week, which I did. This is when things get interesting.
The follow-up x-rays showed that the fall and twist had torn off critical ligaments in the ankle, specifically the one that holds the tibia and fibula, the bones in the calf together if I understand the medical science correctly. This is pretty serious, if not treated properly as the bones would be likely to shift and not heal together properly. I was told I needed surgery sooner rather than later, and was scheduled for cutting the same evening. I left the hospital around midday the next day, with a new prescription and orders to come back in ten days so they could remove the stitches, and then three months later so they could operate again and take the screws out of my leg!

For all this: four checkups, two operations involving a fully equipped ward, surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurses and medicines I payed out of my own pocket roughly 260$. Of course I also had paid sick leave the three months I spent on crutches and couldn’t do my part time job.
When I came back with a sprained finger in the fall of the same year, I did not pay a thing.

Universal health care is not a concern of the wealthy or egotistical. That’s why they fight it. The system would be there to help save the lives and well being of the ones who have the least and need the most.
Those who support the efforts to shoot down the health care reforms need to wake up and smell the bullshit being shoveled by conservative leaders over this matter.
I was injured as a college student. If I had lived in the U.S., I would likely be walking with a cane or crutches today.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Taking religion too seriously...

This last week there has been a debate raging in the media here in Norway, accompanied by repeated demonstrations in the capitol. The demonstrators feel that their identity as a people has been attacked, that their honor and religion has been trampled on by the media and that they are being persecuted for their beliefs.
The source of this controversy: A caricature of an arab man portrayed as a pig on the headline of norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. The subtext claimed that the picture was of the prophet Mohammed.

This is not the first time that caricatures of the prophet Mohammed have sparked controversy and unrest in the muslim communities around the world. In 2006 a danish and a norwegian newspaper published a collection of caricatures of Mohammed, inciting riots and violence against Scandinavians around the world, culminating in the burning of the Norwegian Embassy in Damascus and repeated death threats and assassination attempts against the artist and editors of said papers. Just last month the artist was attacked with an axe in his home by a muslim man.

I can understand why many Muslims feel that this is extremely offensive and worthy of critique. Pigs are considered unclean according to Islam, and Mohammed is their most important religious figure short of God. But the responses these caricatures are causing astound me.

First, to the protestors in the streets and media who demand that the government take a stand on this matter. The Norwegian government has already taken a stand on this matter. In fact it has had a standpoint matters such as this since May 17th 1814. It is called the Norwegian Constitution. In it there are listed a series of rights the people of Norway have. Among these is freedom of assembly, speech and press. Norwegian newspapers are free to print these things if they feel it has news value. In this case finding a racist drawing on a link to a police web site, which is what the story in the paper was about.
Whether they should have is a different matter.
This means that the government can’t stop the printing of these drawings, even if they wanted to. So don’t go saying that the government condones and supports discriminating views. They have no choice. We are a free western democracy where you are entitled to your own opinions, even if other people find them wrong or disgusting. These are the same rights the more extreme conservative muslims are using to fire up these debates for their own political purposes. Is it not a strange irony that the same rights and freedoms the muslim radicals are attacking here are the same rights they are using to attack it?
Living in Norway is, in most cases, a choice you have made. When you made that choice, you chose to live in the norwegian society, enjoying the same liberties and restrictions that ethnic Norwegians live by. If you are not a native of Norway this must at some point have appealed to you or you would not have come here to begin with.
If you do not like the Norwegian culture, press or values, you are just as free to return to a country founded on Islamic values or whatever other values you prefer. But if you make a choice to live in the west, don’t expect us to alter our society and its standards to suit you. We would not expect such treatment if we moved to, say, Iran.

Then to something I saw on TV from one of these protests: A muslim man making a speech in front of the protestors. In this speech he warns the people and government of Norway to stop these kinds of publishings before we have a new “9/11-style” incident in Norway. This man needs a reality check. Although I will always defend the freedom of speech, and agree that the publishing of these drawings may be crossing some ethical line somewhere, he is definitely WAY past the line of what is morally acceptable. Threatening to kill a lot of people, for any reason, is never acceptable in any society. This man needs to hear that he is not helping Islam’s outward image by making these kinds of statements. In fact, when an angry arab man with a beard gets up in front of a crowd with a blow horn and threatens a nation with violence, he is propagating the very stereotype he claims to be against. Don’t threaten a people. You will only rally people, who might have listened to a rational argument, against you.

I hold to the theory that if the situation had been reversed, that if the caricatures had been of Jesus or the Christian God, this would not have gotten so big. This is not because I believe one religion is better or more tolerant than another, but simply because the western religious leaders don’t seem to have the same influence on their congregations that the more radical Islamic leaders still seem to enjoy. Why this is the case I can’t speculate on at this time. But I have read comic books portraying God as a Liverpool FC fan and Jesus as a beer drinking couch potato, but no protests of angry Christian mobs in the streets. The difference seems obvious.

My belief system is very simple. I follow the Church of “I don’t know”. I don’t practice religion or take matters of faith as fact. But I have nothing against those who do, as long as they leave me alone. When I see people who get all fired up and fuming at the ears because of some perceived threat or insult against their faith, I find it somewhat bizarre and tragically funny. There is much evidence that such people, of every religious denomination, take their faiths way, way too seriously. I’m not saying that you should not keep to your faiths, but cool it.
In my opinion faith is a personal issue, and should remain such. Keep religion out of politics and public forums. It belongs in people’s private lives, nowhere else. What you believe is between you and your God. Don’t go mucking up the waters by bringing other people into that relationship.

And if you feel that you must take up arms to defend your faith, you really need to take yourself less seriously!

Some people are going to criticize me for publishing this under a pseudonym, but as events have shown that a lot of people do take themselves too seriously, I choose to remain anonymous to protect the members of my family.
If you do feel like offering a dissenting view, please do so in a polite tone. I am used to being threatened in my line of work and will ignore any such.