On the Verge of War

I initially thought that perhaps the Trump experiment wasn’t doomed to fail. Many said it would be a bad idea to let him be in charge, especially as the previous couple of presidents had created some rather unfortunate presedence (acting without Congress). I agreed with them that it was a very dark potential there, but maybe not less than it would have been with Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, I felt that if he was sincere about being what the establishment has not been, he could become the president most people needeed.

If he hadn’t proven the critics right before he certainly did last week, because his latest blunder wasn’t just embarrassing or amusing. It was dangerous. President Trump told Fox Business on April 12:

We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. We have the best military people on Earth. And I will say this: He is doing the wrong thing.

He was talking about North Korea, and in an interview a few days earlier he had stated that the USA would deal with North Korea with or without China’s help. This was supported by Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who warned that military action was on the table, and Vice President Pence said that the era of strategic patience was over. It was starting to look like war was very much a possibility. It probably wasn’t the most likely scenario, but if the leadership in North-Korea believed it was, they could have felt provoked to attack first. After all, they do seem to have a diplomatic language that is anything but diplomatic.

Maybe we’ll never know just how close we came to a devastating war in Asia, but this is the danger with cold war and so-called balance of terror. There is always a risk of someone making a hasty decision. There have been some close calls in the past. The early 1960’s must have been a scary time with the Cuban missile crisis as the climax. While that took place the pilot of a U-2 spy plane also violated Soviet airspace, but John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev solved the crisis. The next big one happened in 1979 when a computer glitch at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) had the Americans believing that the Soviet Union had launched a missile attack. Something similar happened on the other end in 1983 when a Soviet satellite misinterpreted a glint of sunlight as a missile launch.

The Able Archer was an annual American exercise in Europe, but 1983 was different. There were several new elements that year and to the Russians it didn’t look like a drill. Read more about on Wikipedia. The last incident I know about was the Norwegian rocket incident in 1995. There is a research station on the island of Andøya where Norwegian and American scientists study the aurora borealis. In this case they launched a rocket that would carry equipment to study the phenomenon over Svalbard. To the Russians it looked like a Trident missile being launched from a submarine. I vaguely remember this from the news, and if I am not mistaken President Boris Yeltsin later told reporters that he was carrying “the nuclear briefcase”. It’s really not good when we allow old men with a failing health to make these kinds of decisions alone.

Misunderstandings sometimes happens, which is why no one should welcome a new cold war, but I have one question after Trump’s bizarre game: Why? We know that neither Iraq or Libya was a threat. We know enough to be suspicious of the claims regarding Syria, China, Russia and possibly North Korea. So what is the urgency? Are there some questions we are not supposed to ask?

The biggest one could be the economy. Some say that the economy never recovered and in a way they are correct. According to Emmanuel Sanchez from University of California, Berkeley, the top 1 percent captured 93 percent of the income gains the first year of the recovery (2010). Read his Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States. The problem is that rich people don’t put much money back, while people with low to moderate income are more likely to spend money locally. Trump prides himself in being a business man that can negotiate any deal, and get a better deal than anyone else. I am not sure that his latest actions have strengthened his position.

War has been good for business in the past. That’s the theory at least. WW II probably didn’t hurt America as it was other countries and other people that were destroyed, but that theory may not be very convincing today. After all, considering how many resources NATO have spent in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen we shouldn’t have had a recession in the first place. Some people clearly made a lot of money, but it didn’t help most people. So how healthy is the economy really? Is it possible for the economy to recover without a middle class?

War is also seen as positive because it distracts the rest of the population. It doesn’t matter much to many people that they are being cheated because as long as the military kicks butt, they feel good. To some people that’s the only reason they need to go to war. That’s the dark side of patriotism, but maybe it should move us to simply ask why? Why are we doing this to other countries if it’s not helping them?

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Truth vs propaganda

Photo of Vladimir Putin. Many see Vladimir Putin as a threat, while others think he is a good leader. What is truth and what is propaganda? Photo: Kremlin.ru
Many see Vladimir Putin as a threat, while others think he is a good leader. What is truth and what is propaganda? Photo: Kremlin.ru

It’s hard for us in a small country like Norway to fully appreciate how hard it is to govern really big countries or federations like the USA, Russia and China. It requires a strong central leadership that may need to do things that seems alien or even undemocratic to us. Authorities sometimes cross multiple lines, but I don’t know that Russia is particularly bad about that. We regard everything the USA do as a positive thing. It doesn’t matter what it is. If it came from America it’s automatically a good thing. It’s the opposite about Russia. Everything they say and do is bad. I always aim to be objective, but that kind of thinking is more than a little thickheaded. Do you really think the truth is that simple?

Who is Vladimir Putin really and what does he want? No one knows the answer because we only know him through his enemies, but I am quite convinced that we cannot rely on the image we have been presented with in the West. Most people may not see that narration as counterproductive as it is exactly what media and authorities seem to want, but I don’t see how this helps the citizens they are supposed to help. Norwegian media trusts American media, and Norwegian journalists frequently translate stories from US newspapers without bothering to question whether or not the article is biased. An article from Business Insider five years ago revealed that only 6 companies own 90 percent of US media. How much diversity and independence do you think that will produce?

It is impossible to know whether or not Putin is a Christian, and it’s not necessary to speculate on it as this is a matter between him and God. What we do know is that he has made a number of statements about how important Christianity is for Russia. He acknowledges that Russia is a Christian country and has spoken candidly about being baptized as a baby. His mother had to keep it a secret from her husband, who was a loyal member of the Communist Party, and we know how they felt about religion. It doesn’t matter whether he really is a believer or just uses religion as propaganda or a glue to keep the country united, but the fact that he finds it natural to speak about his own experiences at the very least suggest that he isn’t like any other Russian leader. He sees the value in a pre-communist Russian culture and Christianity is an important part of that. It is a tradition that has the power to unite Russians. Just to illustrate how vast and diverse Russia is, Norway and North Korea both border Russia.

I have watched some excerpts of speeches by Putin on You Tube and he seems to be doing a good job publicly. It’s an open question whether he is the greatest leader we have today or whether he is a tyrant, but we must realize that we are surrounded by propaganda. No one is interested in just reporting the truth or giving us the correct image of Vladimir Putin. I have no illusions about Russia being a utopian society, but I have a hard time believing that the world has become a more dangerous place because of what Russia, and Russia alone has done. It’s interesting that the Putin I watch on TV is calm, knowledgeable and has intelligent analyses of the USA and NATO. He doesn’t appear to be the madman he is often described as. Some would argue that this is just an act, but I am not convinced.

There is something deeply unsettling about this uncompromising, absolute attitude we see from NATO. Russian presidents have only evil intentions and US presidents have only the best intentions. There  is a lot of fundamentalist ideology behind this kind of propaganda, but the truth is probably that there are evil and good people on both sides. These are the nuances we don’t read and hear about in MSM. I wish I could say I had the answer, but when future historians debate the leaders of the 21st century Putin may not be seen as the only source of the problems we are seeing today. We may be just as much the source.

There are certainly a lot we can criticize Putin for, and many believe his mistakes are so obvious that proof is unnecessary. Nothing has changed really. It has been an established truth at least since WW II that America is good and Russia is evil, and as the leader of the free world America is always right. Don’t get me wrong, I support the USA, but I get a little skeptical when there is so much effort to discourage any debate on the matter. I have no doubt that Putin is guilty of some of the charges against him, but the truth is never as simple as some want us to believe.

Ask yourself where the information about Putin and Russia comes from. Is it from people and agencies that are inclined to be fair, or that don’t really care whether we like or dislike Russia? In other words, is the source independent? We are being told that Russia is behind almost everything that has gone wrong in the world today. There has, according to this view, been no development between Stalin and Putin. They are just as bad to the world. It is suspicious in itself when we have such a great need to believe that Putin is evil, while we are innocent. If something goes wrong we are nothing more than victims.

It’s interesting that someone is willing to entertain the idea that NATO isn’t always correct. It is naive to believe that journalism, history and politics don’t contain a certain amount of propaganda. I believe they do on both sides, but it’s not certain that Russia is more guilty than we are. I have expressed these views before, but this particular post was inspired by the Norwegian pundit Hanne Nabintu Herland. Check out her blog, The Herland Report (a mixture of English and Norwegian articles).

The question doesn’t just apply to Putin. What do we really know about Assad, what did we really know about Gadaffi, and where did this information come from?

While I am touching the subject of our righteous indignation, the UN Refugee Agency reported on April 11 that there is already a growing displacement, but now 20 million people risk starvation in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia,and Yemen. They reported on the conflict in South Sudan the next day, and there are now 380 000 South Sudanese refugees in Sudan. I assume we can’t blame Russia for creating this situation or for preventing us from helping.

Live Indie

There are lots of things I don’t understand. I especially don’t understand anything that involves numbers, so when my daughter brought home sudoku as a part of her homework a few weeks ago, I was trying my best tell her that of course I could help her, but she didn’t look like I sounded very convincing.

I don’t understand economics, but I also understand it very well. I haven’t had a regular cable subscription for several years. I didn’t have anything for a long time, and didn’t miss it as the cable company only offered a whole lot of crap. I have Netflix now, which is also a sizable collection of crap, but there is also enough quality that I am enjoying TV again. I really like Noam Chomsky and I highly recommend the documentary Requiem for the American Dream. I also like Inequality for All where former U.S. Labour Secretary Robert Reich talks about how America could be great again. It’s a very simple recipe, but no one in power listens to him.

There are also documentaries I really don’t agree with. Cowspiracy talks about how environmentalists are ignoring the fact, as this film claims it is, that farming is killing the planet. This has to do with how much water agriculture use. Eating fish is bad too. There is no sustainable farming or fishing according to this very slanted documentary, and in my opinion it’s not a documentary if it’s one-sided. Several of the people interviewed in the film suggested that the only way we can save our planet was by stop eating animals, even fish. It was pretty clear that this wasn’t an objective film. It was almost fundamentalist and authoritarian in its anti-meat message.

 

Traditional farming has zero carbon footprint. The problem is the
The problem isn’t traditional farming; it’s the industrial production. Photo: Anand S via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t agree with everything in Zeitgeist: Moving Forward and Zeitgeist Addendum either, but these two films have some good points concerning the corrupt society we live in, and what we need to change. The solutions they offer have a certain la la land-quality, but I like some of them. I agree that we don’t need to support the biggest, greediest banks and we don’t need to watch or read mainstream media (they refer to this as pre-filtered news).

I could sum up their actions for social transformation with one word, independence, or as I said on my Norwegian blog yesterday, I want an indie life.

Forbidden words and thoughts

Noam Chomsky is sometimes asked why he is anti-American. The implication is that anyone who criticizes the government is a traitor. He makes the point that the term anti is not used in a democratic country. In fact, it was used in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Dissidents were labeled anti-Soviet or anti-German, which just meant that they wanted democracy. So when someone in a seemingly democratic country accuse a nonconformist of being anti-American or anti-any other country, aren’t they really saying that they are living in an authoritarian state?

I have criticized my own government for its policies on immigration, low income families, housing, the Middle East, environment, education and the child protective services just to mention a few issues. Does that make me anti-Norwegian? I think it makes me democratic because my agenda isn’t a regime change, but to change the regime in my own country to become more democratic.

I have a tendency to obsess about the same topic for a while, and it’s been the USA/Trump lately. Someone wrote a comment on Facebook a few days ago asking why I was so occupied with Trump when Putin must be a much bigger concern. I think it’s worthwhile discussing international issues that can and will impact life in Norway as well. There is no doubt that the USA has been the biggest power during my lifetime if you look at politics, economics and culture. No one has had the same ability to influence the rest of the world. I think it’s worth considering what is happening in the world right now.

One of many Russian battleships that sail close to the Norwegian coast reminding us of their presence. Photo: The Norwegian Armed Forces
One of many Russian battleships that sail close to the Norwegian coast reminding us of their presence. Photo: The Norwegian Armed Forces

We are constantly being told that both Russia and China are a threat. They may very well be. I think they could be if we leave them unchecked, and that’s not what I am suggesting, but I am not convinced that these two countries are planning world domination. I have no doubt that Putin’s biggest goal is to bring back the old Soviet Union, but he is not stupid. He knows what will happen if he tries to invade a country. I believe the Chinese leadership feel the same way about their region, but what some call aggression and a buildup of military power could just as well be a defensive response to the United States.

There is no doubt that USA and NATO have increased the tension by moving troops and hardware close to Russia and China. The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in 2012 that they would move 60 percent of the navy fleet to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. This might be a natural shift after they have focused on the Middle East and Western Asia for a long time, but I think it’s ridiculous, like some do to talk about China as the big aggressor.

Talking about this is democracy. The preface to George Orwell’s Animal Farm is just as interesting as the book. The author addressed the people of free England and said that they shouldn’t feel self-satisfied about their democracy. It’s frankly shocking reading this more than 70 years later:

The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long enough in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news-things which of their own merit would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that “it wouldn’t do” to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.

He goes on to say that the same censorship applies to books, periodicals, plays, films and radio. Today we can add MSM and TV. I believe in education, but not in any education. One without free and critical thinking is pointless, and I think George Orwell had a point when he claimed that an education was one way of oppressing unpopular ideas without the use of force. Schools can be used to teach us that there are things we don’t say or think. The first step if you break this unwritten law is that you become anti-whatever country you live in.

This sounds like the same debate we have today. Clearly democracy wasn’t won once and for all when Orwell published the book in 1945.

Hollywood honours terrorists

It’s time for the annual freak show aka Academy Awards and this year a propaganda film supporting NATO’s violation of international law is one of the favourites to win with the short documentary about the White Helmets (WH).

I have written extensively about the ongoing information war. It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but you don’t have to do much research before you realize that most of mainstream media (MSM) rely on the same draft, at least when it comes to the major issues. That makes it look like MSM just spread propaganda from the power elite, whether it’s true or not. There is also a campaign to have bloggers and independent journalists labeled as fanatics and liars, while people pretending to be alternative media are being hailed as heroes because they say what many want to hear. The result is that critical minds and voices disappear, and every time we allow this to happen a small part of democracy dies. This applies particularly to Syria.

The documentary The White Helmets shows how corrupt journalism can be. Documentary films are generally meant to document and prove. They are the modern version of the photograph, and there used to be a time when it was probably true that photographs didn’t lie. They do today, as do documentary films. There is nothing objective about this film.

The White Helmets is available on Netflix and I have watched it with critical eyes. The first 16 minutes of this 40 minute long film is partly interviews with so-called WH-volunteers and partly live footage showing WH-employees working in Aleppo. Khaleb Khateb, press officer for the White Helmets, filmed in Aleppo, while the people making this documentary filmed in Turkey. The actual film makers didn’t go to Syria. I guess they didn’t have to as this was never about investigating real events. The White Helmets is a very controversial organization with ties to NATO and suspected ties to Al Qaida. You would think that a journalist had some critical questions.

There is every reason to be wary of Khaleb Khateb, and his first video for WH could give us some clues. He posted this to Twitter. It shows a girl being pulled out from a hole in the ground. This could be a genuine rescue operation, but I think she looks remarkably clean and unharmed. There is a similar situation in the Netflix film where two men run into the remains of a house, carrying a strectcher, and come out with a girl that looks very calm and focused. Again this could be real, but there is something about past behaviour and the future. This organization has admitted to manipulating situations and photos in the past, so when I see something from the same man that looks simulated, I am naturally skeptical.

The footage from Aleppo showed a lot of running and movement, and most of the shots were closeups of people. It was hard to make anything out of it because the video didn’t show what happened outside this small circle. Maybe this is inevitable when you film in a war-zone, but the technique reminded me of The Blair Witch Project or films trying to prove that UFO’s and Bigfoot are real. That means a lot of movement, shouting and nothing stays in focus for very long. This creates an impression of drama or urgency. Throughout this films we were given the same message NATO has been trying to feed us since the beginning of this invasion, which is that the rebels are very moderate Muslims that are fighting for the same cause. That is a misunderstanding at best, but I suspect that NATO is well aware of the situation. There are other sources available saying that the regime has a fair amount of support in the population, which is not at all what MSM is reporting. Syrian White Helmets is supposed to be an independent organization, but it has received funding from big NATO countries like the USA, UK and Germany, so it’s suspicious when they appear to be very friendly with Al Qaida and hold the same opinion as the governments that fund them. I am not sure where journalism comes into this picture. It doesn’t exactly look like it has.

After the first 16 minutes the rest of the film is from Turkey, where the White Helmets have a training camp for their “volunteers.” The sequence contains a little glimpse into the training, some interviews where they more or less talk about how honourable it will be to suffer and even die with the helmet on, and it also shows these “volunteers” talking on their mobile phones to their families in Syria. The message throughout the film is that the regime is the enemy, which makes me sceptical. It’s very unusual for people to agree on anything, so why would they agree on everything? It’s the lack of consensus that has caused so much violence in this region. I am not going to focus on the criticism of Syrian White Helmets, but there is a lot of it. This video explains some of the issues. This video is very alternative, but the informations seems accurate enough.

It’s interesting that WH has a website with the same address as the Nobel Committee in Oslo, with their own name as an addition between the domain name and the top level domain. They had a campaign last year too, and with this petition they are trying to manipulate politicians into nominating them. This page at the real nobelprize.org explains who has the right to nominate a candidate. I guess the idea is that at least one of the members on that list will suggest them as a candidate after public pressure.

If only a fraction of what independent journalists have reported is true, we are probably talking about serious violations of international law by NATO. There is at the very least reason to question the official version, but this film has failed miserably. I allow myself to ask whether this is a documentary or advertisement. It certainly isn’t journalism. Joanna Natasegara, founder of Violet Films/Ultra Violet Consultancy, has produced the film. According to borderlinemedia.com her company has specialised in “bespoke outreach and campaigns maximizing the social change potential for film and media projects, at any stage or size.” That’s what this film looks like. It’s a strategy and  everyone involved appear to be sticking to a script, but then the Oscars has never been about quality.

Political narrations

I remember watching a news broadcast on TV while I was living in Little Rock (2001-2002), and they were talking about an imminent visit by the Saudi Arabian king. The headline was Friend or Foe?

It should be clear to everyone that Saudi Arabia is not a friend, and I don’t know why someone would see them as a one, but they are still an ally as long as they serve a purpose. This reminds me of another pair of opposing words, useful and expendable. In all fairness, this is not about the USA. It involves the USA of course, but NATO, EU and especially Britain have a lot to answer for as well. They are all responsible for a lot of the fear and turmoil around the world in modern times..

Another way of expressing this would be either you are with us or you are against us, or if you are not a part of the solution, you must be a part of the problem. Countries like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Somalia wouldn’t exactly be paradise if they had been left alone, but there is a good chance they’d be better off without our help. The problem is that all governments see democracy as a threat, and they aim to reduce it to various degree. A population that talks and thinks independently is bad news for the oligarchy. News is a narration and one of the oldest narrations is back, China as an aggressor.

I follow Popular Science and they’ve had many headlines the last couple of years about China upgrading their military. They are building new airstrips as well very modern ships, planes and other high tech hardware, and this supports the idea that China is acting aggressively. That’s what we are meant to believe. In other words, they are our main enemy at the moment. Why?

The most obvious answer is that China and the USA are on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, but an article in The Washington Post gives more details. A deal between the USA and the Philippines, named Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, will allow Pentagon to use parts of five existing military bases. There are also US bases in South Kora, Japan and then there is Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Sea that Britain stole from Mauritius in the 1960’s. There is a claim that China is militarizing the South China Sea, but why shouldn’t they be allowed to defend themselves? I have no doubt that the Chinese leadership wish they could invade most of Asia, but they haven’t. In fact, it looks to me that their main interest is to protect what they have, and not expand.

B-1 used the base on Diego Garcia during Operation Enduring Freedom. Photo: Defenselink via Wikimedia Commons
B-1 used the base on Diego Garcia during Operation Enduring Freedom. Photo: Defenselink via Wikimedia Commons

We were told during the cold war that our governments had to spend a lot of money on weapons because the Soviet Union was about to annihilate us any moment. The truth was that the population on both sides had to pay a high price for the costly arms race. It’s pretty obvious that a country that spends a lot of money on the military has less to spend on its own citizens, so when there is a domestic crisis that needs to be dealt with, the money may not be available. There will also be less money to help other countries, such as the crisis NATO has created in Libya, Syria and Iraq. An arms race makes arms manufacturers wealthy, but it also increases insecurity, and few people feel that they are back to a pre-9/11 world. I have said this before and I’ll say it again. I don’t care how many times the two sides can wipe mankind out. One time is quite enough. The Boston Globe published an article a year ago where they warned against Obama’s proposal to modernise the nuclear arsenal, and it’s going to cost $ 1 trillion over the next 30 years.

There also seems to be a willingness to provoke Russia with a build up of NATO troops on the eastern flank. According to the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security Between NATO and the Russian Federation the two parties would “seek to strengthen stability by further developing measures to prevent any potentially threatening build-up of conventional forces in agreed regions of Europe, to include central and Eastern Europe.” There is also a small force of 285 US marines in Northern Norway. I assume they are there  because we have a border to Russia. I am not entirely sure that we are benefiting from this. It seems to be a childish game where grown men and women argue about who started it.

I didn’t catch it myself, but someone told me recently about a comment on Facebook. I assume it was about one of my political posts, which is the topic I have focused on so far this year. Whoever this was couldn’t understand why I bothered as there are more important things to worry about. This is democracy, which is not entirely irrelevant to me. Democracy means discussing the choices our leaders make, and I am not sure that spending insane amounts of money to defend ourselves against a country that doesn’t appear to be a threat is a good idea..

This is politics. Something interesting happened in March 1952. Josef Stalin delivered the so-called Stalin Note to the representatives of the Western allied powers (UK, France and USA). Stalin proposed to reunite Germany with guarantees of basic freedoms. It wasn’t taken seriously, and it is possible that the allied powers were right in suspecting Stalin of bluffing, but it’s an intriguing thought. This is one decision that could have changed everything. I sometimes wonder whether the real threat and the perceived threat, the one we are told to feel, is the same. In that case, history is literally being written.

Stalin Note

Mainstream terrorism

Many people see American politics as a circus at the moment, which I think is the intention, but this is far more serious. This is war! The weapons are not missiles and bombs, but information. It’s lies disguised as truth. The winner gets to decide what is true.

I have been skeptical to Norwegian media for a long time, but their shortcomings became especially evident with the war in Libya. It continued with the Syrian refugees and there were many embarrassing stories where some journalists seemed more intent on using refugees to expose she Syrian regime as evil, and criticising the Norwegian policy on immigration, than asking themselves whether the story made sense. There is one story that comes to mind. A young man, I think he was barely 18 years old, originally from Afghanistan, had lived with his family in Syria for several years. He had spent part of that time as a soldier in Assad’s army, and that’s what he was supposedly running from. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but the journalist could have tried to verify the information. I haven’t heard anyone accusing Syria of using child soldiers or even forcing foreigners to serve in the military, so this was extraordinary information that left me puzzled.

I noticed how one-sided the coverage of the US election was. Norwegian media would probably argue that they gave Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the same amount of exposure. That doesn’t prove anything because the angle means more. Everything on Hillary Clinton was positive and everything on Donald Trump was negative.They also failed to report on the fact that Hillary Clinton wasn’t exactly the America’s sweetheart media portrayed her to be, which added to the shock when she lost. I don’t think we are getting a realistic coverage when absolutely everything goes against one person and his family.

The latest I heard about was Trump’s youngest daughter, Tiffany. She was at a fashion show and the people sitting next to her had to change seat to make room for Philipp Rein’s family, which was one of the designers. These seats were empty for a short period while they sorted this out. This was enough time for the fashion columnist Christina Brinkley to take a photo and share it on Twitter saying that nobody wanted to sit next to Tiffany Trump. The story was elaborated on and shared by New York Daily News, which according to an article on Wikipedia is the fourth-most widely circulated daily newspaper in the USA. Does that sound like mainstream media sharing genuine news?

The Norwegian Minister of Education and Research, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen commented fake news on the government web site a month ago. He had noticed a disturbing trend, and even though the story about him was harmless and amusing, it illustrates the point. A story about him was widely shared on Facebook before Christmas. It said that he would send marzipan badgers to all schools to replace the traditional marzipan pig that Norwegians can’t get enough of for Christmas. This was to avoid offending members of other religions, specifically Muslims. It was nonsense of course, but the minister noticed that a few of the people commenting the story believed it.

He encouraged, and I assume he was referring to teachers and parents, to help children get the knowledge and judgment needed to separate lies and facts online. I support that idea because critical thinking has been a theme on this blog, but we should also realise that fake news is most effective when the source is reliable. The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) have a press conference every year where they inform about threats against Norway. They talked about 2017 a couple of weeks ago and not surprisingly the focus was on Russia. They are probably correct when they claim that Russia use fake news, propaganda and cyberattacks, but again I notice the sudden one-way traffic.

Torbjørn Røe Isaksen is correct, the world is confusing, and governments are not making it less so. When everyone is working so hard to get my attention away from real news I start thinking, what is it they don’t want me to see or think about? Donald Trump had his first solo press conference a few days ago an one of the most famous political commentators compared it to a Monthy Python sketch. The truth is that Trump is sticking to his game plan. He promised the people that voted for him that he would fight mainstream media and the elite/establishment, and that’s what he’s doing. I wish he could win that fight, but it’ll be hard if he has to fight alone.

A newsstand in Lisboa suggest that they sellto tourists from Britain and Germany.The problem is that they most likely use the same draft when they write. So they are all wrong.
A newsstand in Lisboa suggests that they sell to tourists from Britain and Germany.The problem is that they most likely use the same draft when they write. So they are all wrong. Photo: Harshil Shah via Wikimedia Commons

It’s interesting that the latest update from the world’s favourite whistle-blowers showed that the USA had spied on France in connexion with the French election in 2012. They were also caught spying on the German government in 2014. Most governments do this, as well as against its own population, so it’s pretty clear that we are all a bunch of paranoid lunatics with nukes. That makes me feel so much better!

It is evident to everyone that Russia has made a big comeback in the Middle East, which is probably why Pentagon wants to send more troops to Syria. There are more people than before thinking that perhaps the political leaders in Russia, Syria and Iran are not out to annihilate us after all. Perhaps there’s more to this story? After all, I am not sure it sounds convincing when leaders within NATO and EU insist that the world is much safer and much more stable now as a direct result of their leadership in Western Asia and Northern Africa.

It’s sometimes hard to understand what’s going on. I don’t know whether Donald Trump is a part of the distraction or not, which means he’s just playing a part, or whether media is aiding people with an anti-democracy agenda. It certainly looks like media is going far beyond just reporting. There seems to be a strong desire to influence, create enough disturbance that nothing will be accomplished, and finally get the president impeached. In that case I would suggest that parts of media are within the definition of terrorism.  That may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, but maybe not if the result is enough momentum to bring down a democratically elected government. That’s why media needs to report the relevant truth and nothing more.

President Obama was on the opposite side of a different fight. There were seven whistle-blowers that were prosecuted during his presidency. They were not recognized as whistle-blowers, because if they had, they would have been within the freedom of a democracy. They have been referred to as leakers or traitors, but if someone can offer information that will harm Donald Trump, leaking has suddenly become patriotic and honourable. The sad thing is that if secrecy wins, we don’t have the democracy we thought we had and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that we don’t.

The documentary film Silenced follows three National Security whistle-blowers. I believe they are all good Americans that wanted to make America a better place, but that’s not how media and the authorities portrayed them. The film is available on Netflix.One of the whistle-blowers summed it up nicely: I’m fighting to have my September 10th country back.

I wonder sometimes if we need to look at the bigger picture. Donald Trump makes me uneasy, but on the other hand he is trying to do things that no one else has before, and it’s not all bad. I feel uneasy about the Labour Party in Norway as well. They are as establishment as you can get in Norway, and we seem to be moving towards a Labour government after the election in September. That means some seriously creepy people in office, and they are not going to bring democracy back.

Let’s put it this way. Many intelligence agencies lied about weapons of mass destruction, Libya, torture and secret prisons. It’s their job to lie. Now we trust them because we don’t like the truth.

Fading democracy

Why wouldn’t everyone love America and Americans? I happen to be one that do, but it’s not hard to see why some struggle. It could be because there is sometimes the expectation that loving what many see as the epicenter of freedom and democracy is the only logical response. The City Upon a Hill-attitude works very well if you are an American, but sometimes it seems like the rest of the world doesn’t have a choice. America is the parent that has the right to make decisions the children neither understands or likes. President-elect Kennedy used the phrase in 1961, Ronald Reagan opened and ended his time in the White House with this reference to John Winthrop, and George Bush said this in 2004:

Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom. This is the everlasting dream of America.

Many seem to think that democracy died the day Donald Trump won the election, as if the previous administrations have been perfect. American entertainment has conquered the world, but this isn’t just entertainment. A lot of it supports the idea that America is the beacon of hope, our last best hope for peace. It’s the one place on this planet where we are guaranteed complete personal freedom. This is the American dream, but is that really an option today? Democracy is about more than celebrities’ right to rant louder and uglier than the president, the freedom to redefine your gender multiple times, or the right to have Christian symbols like a cross or a nativity scene removed from public land. Some people would argue that our own societies are major renovation objects too, and that this is where we need to start.

One of the most controversial policies has been the determination to spread democracy. An article by Sean Lynn-Jones from Harvard Kennedy School, written in 1998, supports this idea and he concludes that the USA ought to spread a liberal democracy. Liberalism aims to guarantee individuals rights such as the right to choose religion, gender, sexual orientation as well as equal opportunities in health care, education and employment. It may sound like a good idea, but this quote from from the article is problematic:

Policies to promote democracy should attempt to increase the number of regimes that respect the individual liberties that lie in the heart of liberalism and elect their leaders. The United States therefore should attempt to build support for liberal principles-many of which are enshrined in international human rights treatises-as well as encouraging states to hold free and fair elections.

First of all, where do we stand ourselves? Most people in my country think they live in a democracy. That is the official story, and we may deserve the number one spot in a report The Economist Intelligence Unit published in 2010. The report listed 167 countries from the most to the least democratic, with Norway as number one with 9,8 out of 10 points and North Korea at the other end with 1,08 points. The USA and Britain were 17 and 19, which was mainly because civil liberties had been sacrificed in the war against terror. The same countries occupied 1st and 167th place six years later, while the USA shared the 21st position together with Italy, which put them in the flawed democracy category. Shouldn’t the city upon a hill be a little higher? Incidentally, our friends in Saudi Arabia are tied for 159 together with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Are we trying to encourage liberalism in our allied countries? Read about it on Wikpedia.

The main issues in Norway is that we have a political elite that no longer needs the people, and that many decisions are taken in the EU, where we are not even a member. The UN has pointed out on several occasions that Norway is breaking human rights. We also have a press that has given up its independence.

Map showing the democracy index.
Dark blue is good and brown is as bad as it gets on the democracy index. Photo: Kamalthebest via Wikimedia Commons

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It’s interesting that the report points to reduced freedom for the press and the eagerness to spread democracy, while we support authoritarian regimes like Egypt (under Mubarak) and Saudi Arabia. Countries like Ukraine and Turkey, and the EU are not exactly moving in the right direction either. This is the hypocrisy that makes it hard for foreigners to love America.

The author of the article assumes that it’s democracy if you force it on people. Sovereignty, the right to govern yourself without interference from outside bodies, is an important part of international law. It’s irrelevant what you thought about Gadaffi in Libya, and what you think about Assad in Syria. The fact is that both leaders had support in their own country, and although it was obvious that there were serious problems, they also enacted much needed reforms. I wonder how much more we can expect. No matter what religion we are talking about it’s a bad idea to mix it with politics. It’s not because they are Muslims, but because this has been a deeply religious region since long before Islam was invented. You can’t change that over night and we shouldn’t expect them to give people rights we can’t even agree on in our own societies. I think we should do more to encourage change in countries we see as allies, but we should start with ourselves.

Why the United States Should Spread Democracy

Unplugged: Entertainment off the grid

When I started blogging in 2012 lists were popular. Most of these were about as interesting as the average hamster running the social media wheel with their photos of food, cats, babies or desperate requests to share something you don’t agree with. I’m sure it felt like they had something fascinating to share, and I suppose that is a flaw many of us have. We assume that our interests are so fascinating that people feel bereft if we don’t help them spread the information. It is true that I continue writing even though I don’t have any measurable progress. I write because I like it, but I wouldn’t be honest if I claimed that I didn’t care whether people read my texts or not. I would still argue that I don’t choose topics based on what I think will be popular.

Blogging preceded social media and the pioneers posted every day, sometimes several times a day. That meant they had to produce something fast, preferably without thinking. Writing without thinking sounds like a winner in today’s world. I published some lists too, but I tried to make them relevant. I wanted to transmit some ideas and values, or to tell people about life in this corner of the world.

A list of my favourite songs probably wouldn’t mean anything to other people if I didn’t include some background information. Sounds of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel would be on the list because it was the first album I owned myself, and music was my escape from a reality I didn’t much care for. This particular song has a lot of fascinating background information and it’s worth a post of its own. The song is about an inability, or perhaps an unwillingness to communicate, which makes it just as relevant today as in the 1960’s.

My list would also include Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen because I think they, together with Paul Simon, are the best poets in music. Michael Jackson was a part of my childhood and I liked some of his later songs as well, such as Earth Song and Man in the Mirror. These seem to show a maturity that came with age, compared to his earlier songs that were more about being cool.

Cover of the book Elvenbane. This very well written book was a lifeline when I had no distractions.
This very well written book was a lifeline when I had no distractions.

I was thinking of the lists again a few days ago because I had been without internet for a while. When you don’t have internet or a TV subscription, and radio is crap, you will soon find yourself climbing the walls if you literally can’t imagine life without. I can manage without,  but because I depend on it there is a transition where I am bored. It doesn’t happen often, but I have had some experience. I moved with my family from Nordland to Rogaland county three years ago. We had to leave almost everything behind because even the cheapest alternative, renting a truck and driving the 2 000 km myself, cost more money than I had. When we came to Haugesund we had to spend all the money on a deposit and first month’s rent, and TV and internet would have to wait. I have lived in nine apartments since 2003, so there’s been a few transitions.

What do you do when you are sitting on the floor in your new apartment, because you had to leave all the furniture behind, and you know it’ll take a couple of weeks before that situation is likely to change? You read. I am in a similar situation now, which leads me to this question: What is your favourite low tech (or no tech) entertainment?

I have been exploring an independent, out of the box lifestyle in my recent posts. I wouldn’t go completely off the grid or prepper style, but a more sustainable life would be a good idea for most of us. This post is in that spirit because if something happened it would be important to find ways to entertain yourself. In case of a black out no one is going to offer something to help you keep sane. It’s all up to you. I like collecting books, but if I had to manage with just a handful of books I have a pretty good idea about which authors I’d prefer:

Arthur Conan Doyle
Jack London
Charles Dickens
Jane Austen
Agatha Christie
Douglas Adams
John Tolkien

There are of course lots of other books I would miss, but if I had this core I could manage very well. There is so much excellent science fiction, and it would be hard to choose, but there are a few authors I  really like. The best thing you could possibly give someone is a book, and one of last year’s Christmas gifts made me very content when I lost the connection to the world. Elvenbane is the first of four books in The Halfblood Chronicles and I thoroughly enjoyed all the 560 pages in the first one. You know the expression absolute power corrupts absolutely. The elves in the book came to a human world through a portal, and they used their magic to enslave people. They can only be described as pure evil, which is not at all how we are used to thinking of elves.

Playing board games is a very social activity, and I am out of practice. Monopoly, chess, backgammon, cards, Chinese checkers and diamond hunt were some of the popular games when I was growing up, but they were not a part of my childhood. I have recently been introduced to games like Munchkin, Ender Game, Arkham Horror and Betrayal at House on the Hill. These are fascinating and it would have been totally my thing when I was a teenager, but it still requires social skills. I play them with my family, but it’s more challenging with outsiders. These science fiction/fantasy boardgames would still be on my preppers gaming list.

When I am alone there is nothing like a jigsaw puzzle. Surviving in a black out kind of scenario isn’t just about food and safety. A life without entertainment would be a very hard one, and it’s not something anyone would choose.

The evolution of communication

cup of coffee. I may be nonverbal a lot of the time, but as long words like coffee, java, mocca, joe or brew are understood I'll be alright.
I may be nonverbal a lot of the time, but as long as words like coffee, java, mocca, joe or brew are understood I’ll be alright.

Merriam Webster is one of the most entertaining websites. It is to me, but perhaps it would be more correct to call it fascinating and educational? I enjoy reading both the articles and the definitions. In fact, I especially like old dictionaries, and when I get more space than I have at the moment I want to collect them. The English language is incredibly simple and incredibly complicated at the same time. I know enough to have almost all types of conversations, but you can study this language systematically your entire life without being able to master it.

I read somewhere that there are one million words in the English language, while you could manage well with a third of that in most other languages. We are all influenced by what we hear and read, but if the vocabulary on TV is limited we are not likely to learn as much as we did when we read classic literature. I find the many synonyms especially fascinating, but they aren’t just different words for the same thing. There are differences. People that don’t know anything about Inuits like to say that they have a hundred words for snow. I don’t know if the number is that high, but it is probably high because snow can have different qualities.

I used to live in Western Telemark, a really cold place with snow from October to April, and I could see that snow was a lot of things. It was for example frequently too dry to make a snow man, and I am sure there is a word for that. It didn’t snow often in Telemark, but we had what Merriam Webster refers to as ondings.That’s a heavy snowfall that doesn’t meet the criteria for a blizzard. We had two meters of snow during most of the winter, but it had a tendency to come all at once. The rest of the time I was mostly freezing my butt off, and I am sure there are at least a dozen words for how my buttocks felt. Incidentally, the first snowfall in early October is always a skift, just barely enough to cover the ground.

I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or not, but the English language also has multiple words for being drunk: bombed, smashed, stiff, stewed, wasted, wiped out, blasted, hammered, stoned, impaired. That doesn’t sound like a condition I’d like to be in multiple days every week. I thought the whole idea was to have a good time.

Vocabulary is relevant this week because Merriam Webster has added more than a thousand new words to their dictionary. Any language that doesn’t evolve will be the next Latin, and very dead. I’m surprised it took this long, but now you can use the word seussian without running into trouble with the grammar police. It could refer to Doctor Seuss or someone with a playful, imaginative language. Geeks didn’t used to be very popular, but people want to take advantage of the trend, so they can geek out, which means that they get excited about a particular subject. I wish this meant that being different or outside the box suddenly was accepted, but it’s not that simple. I think people just want to geek out while it’s trendy. Speaking of people desperately seeking attention and approval, photobomb is also a new word in the dictionary.

We just added more than 1000 new words to the dictionary