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.

#iamwhiteandiamdumb

Satire: trenchant wit, irony or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly. Merriam Webster.

Satire is very useful as social commentary (except that if mainstream media loves you, you are probably not anti-establishment), but it’s also tricky because people tend to misunderstand. The Borowitz Report in The New Yorker is one of the most famous examples at the moment. There are some in Norway too and I have noticed that the newspapers have to add the word satire to the column. Some people would take it seriously if they didn’t.

Nothing has the ability to make us go collectively crazy like racism, or the fear of racism. Netflix recently released a 35 second trailer for the new series Dear White People. The trailer shows an African American woman that works as the host of a campus radio show, and she is giving her listeners a list of acceptable Halloween costumes: Pirates, slutty nurse, any of our first 43 presidents. Top of the list of unacceptable costumes: Me.

This is the trailer:

The series is based on the film by the same name, and the film is about five black students at an Ivy League college. There is a popular black-face party at the school where white students paint their faces black. Watch a trailer from the film on IMDb. Films like The Secret Lives of Bees, Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave were shown in theaters here in Norway, but I don’t think Dear White People was. That is a shame because those other films show a part of US history, which is also important, but they don’t show the present situation. I think a film or TV series like Dear White People is more relevant to college students in Norway today. I hope the series is well made because this is something we need to be exposed to.

After watching the trailer Netflix-viewers made hashtags like #cancelnetflix and #notnetflix. How about #itssatirestupid or #iamwhiteandiamdumb or #michaelmoorewasright:stupidwhitemen. Get a grip! This is not that serous.

Imagine if children dressed up as George Washington on Halloween, and had a slave doll attached to the costume. There is nothing wrong with dressing your child as a political figure. I think George Washington with a slave would be historically correct, but you don’t have to provoke people on purpose. By all means, teach your children that the founding fathers owned slaves. That’s teaching true history, but provoking is unnecessary. It would be the same with Nat Turner. You don’t have to paint your face and attach dolls with a knife in the chest.

Cultural sensitivity and a criticism of stereotypes seems to be the message in both the film and TV-series. It may seem like a good idea to have a coded party, but I wouldn’t advice anyone to participate. If you do you could still show some common sense. The director of the film, Justin Simien, said in an interview with npr that during his time in college he saw “pimps and hoes”-parties, Cinco de Mayo parties, and white trash parties. The costumes and behaviour in these parties revealed a lot of stereotypes. If you didn’t complain about racism the first time it happened you don’t have no right to complain about reversed racism.

Lighten up, people! There is a need to be cultural sensitive, but now you are being too sensitive.

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

The liberal dilemma

Haugesund photographed from the hospital. According to the biggest of three population forecasts for Norway there will be 15 300 more people in my little hometown in 2040. That could create tension.
Haugesund photographed from the hospital. According to the biggest of three population forecasts there will be 15 300 more people in my little hometown in 2040. That could create tension.

We are very liberal in Norway and I think most people see that as a good thing. Many applaud the freedoms we have, such as women’s liberation, abortion, gay rights, and as of this week homosexuals can also get married in the Lutheran Church. Many also feel that we should have increased Muslim immigration, which seems strange because more and more Norwegians are aversed to religion in general, and especially our own religion, and because this involves several contradictions that are hard to reconcile with the society we want.

It is likely that the religious demographics will change in Norway with a gradually decreasing interest in our own Lutheran-humanist tradition, while Islam will probably remain the biggest of the other religions. It depends on which branch of Islam we are getting, but I share the skepticism many have when I see how Islam works in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan. One of the biggest hurdles in creating a society where Christians and Muslims can coexist seems to be sharia laws. Many believe that these laws are incompatible with democracy and human rights.

Some people associate sharia law with medieval punishment like amputating limbs, flogging and death by stoning, and this undoubtedly happens in Muslim countries, including in some of our allied countries. Muslims think differently about this because they don’t distinguish between law and religion. I don’t know the details, but it appears that Islam has a view of for example infidelity, sex as a marital duty (which can lead to rape), and sexual orientation that most of us don’t support. There are also complicated rules for banking, and there is an increasing number of international banks that aim to follow the Quran even though this clearly hasn’t been historically important to the Muslims themselves. Why would we accept it for minorities if we find it unacceptable?

Muslim immigration has been a challenge in many Western countries because they have been afraid to offend the Muslims, and integration has actually been seen as an intolerant attitude towards the minorities. The result was that it took much too long before governments even tried to integrate minorities. We allowed a sort of parallel societies to develop. It is possible that Islam will change in the West, that it will become less patriarchal the next century. Nevertheless, I think we may find that it won’t develop as smoothly as we want. The problem isn’t immigration, but the fact that we are not willing to plan ahead could make the size of the immigration an issue.

Economy is one reason why the euphoria from the “open immigration for Syrians campaign” won’t last. There are some major variables that may or may not change everything rapidly. Times are changing even without the immigrants, and many agree that we have to pay a lot more tax in the future just to keep the services we have today. The problem is the aging population (and low birth rate) and without immigration the cost of paying pensions would soon be higher than the income from taxes and the dividend from the state oil fund. The oil market is unstable and last year may have been a warning that we could find ourselves in trouble long before we run out of oil. The government’s income from oil dropped by $ 2 billion the first 6 months of 2016 despite the production increasing 3,5 percent.

I think the motivation for accepting more people than we may be able to handle is the work force we are going to need in the future. It’s a risky project because it’s starting to look like we are just storing labour for the future. According to Statistics Norway there were 380 000 employed immigrants in Norway in the 4th quarter of 2015. This doesn’t sound bad because the immigrants make out 15 percent of the population and of the work force. A closer look at the statistics show that employment among immigrants from Europe and North-America is high, but much lower among immigrants from Asia, Africa and South-America. The statistics also show that immigrants from outside EU/EFTA, Australia and New Zealand have to live here for at least 4 years before they can get an employment rate of more than 50 percent, and the highest this group will ever reach is just under 57 percent after 15 years in Norway, which is significantly lower than the rest of the population.

Many compare the Norwegian minister of immigration with Donald Trump because she wants to have a controlled immigration, but if things don’t develop the way we want them to, she won’t be our biggest problem. Would you be happy in a country that supported you financially, but wouldn’t let you work? No one would!

The war on infrastructure: Our new civil war

Facebook was recently accused of helping the Trump administration because some people got less stories from the Women’s March than others. This was not censorship, though. Yes, of course it was, but not the way most people thought. This was a part of Facebook’s war on fake news. They have changed how they collect stories for the trending topic. It used to be that it was based on how popular these stories were among Facebook users, but now it will be based on publishers headlines. That means it doesn’t matter how many millions of Facebook accounts have mentioned a specific story. What matters is that mainstream media has shared a story.

I feel very confident that outlets liked Fox News, Newsweek, The New York Times and CNBC are more than capable of giving us nothing but the truth. Of course I am. I have a feeling many see Bernie Sanders as a pretty good candidate right now. He wrote How Corporate Media Threatens Democracy, which mainstream naturally didn’t like. He explains the situation in the United States, and I am sorry to say that the rest of the world isn’t any better. I like the the independent Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett and her blog In Gaza. She speaks Arabic and is one of the few to report real news from Syria. She is telling a very different story from what we read and hear in mainstream media, but because she is considered to be fake news she is in danger of disappearing from social media.

The infrastructure that allowed free flow of information recently allowed me to discover Tulsi Gabbard, who represents the Democrats and Hawaii in US Congress. She confirmed Eva Bartlett’s version when she recently visited Syria. Media focused on what a shameful act this was:

Mainstream media claim to know a lot about Syria, but they rely on mostly two sources that are supposed to give us objective news from the ground. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is a one man operation run by an anti-Assad refugee in Coventry, England. The other one, White Helmets, was founded by a British security consultant, and according to an article on Wikipedia the organization has bee funded by government programs in Canada, USA, Denmark, New Zealand and Japan. It’s a controversial organization to say the least, and even if we disregard the videos where members are seen staging injuries of people they supposedly have saved and celebrating with members of Jabhat-al Nusra (Al Qaida in Syria), one wonders how they can operate inside rebel territory, have ties to the governments that want to bring the regime down, and still report the unbiased truth. What makes them more credible than Christians and Muslims in Syria, and the outsiders giving them a voice in Europe and the USA?

I am neutral, but there is something not right about the news from Syria. There seems to be a strong focus on getting rid of Bashar al-Assad. The goal doesn’t appear to be democracy or stability. It is to bring in a new regime, and I get the impression that it doesn’t matter what the Syrian people think about the matter. It’s actually irrelevant whether Assad is as democratic as we’d like him to be if it’s true that most Syrians want him. I have written about possible financial motives in earlier posts. One argument could be a pipeline that is planned from Qatar to Turkey, which could make Europe independent from Russian natural gas, but Assad didn’t want it to go through his country. Another point is that Russia, China, Syria, Japan and Iran have either stopped oil trade in USD or plan to. The Guardian reported on this in 2009, but I am not sure what happened. It is however what Saddam Hussein did and Muammar Gadaffi of Libya was planning to do as well.

There is a reason why activists and independent journalists use social media and blogs to spread their stories. That’s because mainstream media doesn’t. Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and Eva Bartlett may be seen as propaganda at best, and consequently these stories may vanish. This is nothing less than an attack on the infrastructure that made some of the biggest whistle-blowers of our times possible. What we get instead is a version of reality. Kellyanne Conway, special adviser to President Trump, was ridiculed for her statement about alternative truth, but she had a point.What we get without activists and whistle-blowers isn’t necessary the absolute truth because that is a fluid term to many people.

In short, we need to make an effort to find the news. Everything is available to us.

Another approach to the future: Thinking outside the box

I have focused on basic income and housing on my Norwegian blog lately. I thought basic income sounded like a good idea at first, but it also has some potential to be negative.

Basic income sounds wonderful. It’s small enough that you are still encouraged to work because you couldn’t manage on this income alone. It would also make sure you didn’t end up on the street if you lost your job or never got one. The problem is the dependency this creates. The leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre, said in an interview with the union magazine recently that he feared a development of an underclass in Norway. That would be in line with the development other European countries. There is an increasing number of people that need social benefits and food banks, even though they have a job. The union newspaper also had an interview with Simone and Sebastian Stolz , a “working poor” couple from Lübeck in Germany. They have had to ask for social benefits and food from the food bank for the last 12 years even though they have been working the whole time. There is an increasing number of people in Britain as well that get less, and according to an article in the Guardian 40 percent of British families are too poor to play part in society. More and more Europeans discover that the old belief that work will get you out of poverty, and that work will give you a stable life is no longer valid. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Norway will follow the same trend. We are after all just as much a part of the global market as everyone else, and there is a limit to how long our income from oil can insulate us.

When the Syrian refugees started coming here (although only 40 percent were Syrians), I tried pointing out that it might be too soon for the euphoria many Norwegians expressed. It was like we were supposed to hold each others hand, sing Kumbaya, give the immigrants the jobs we didn’t have and live happily ever after. Did I mention that this society also includes a fair amount of very visible religious activity in a majority culture that really doesn’t like that? Don’t get me wrong, I am in favour of immigration, both because we need it and because it’s the right thing to do, but I believe we need a correct proportion between the Norwegians that need help, regular immigrants, and people that come here specifically to work (Germans, Polish, Swedes and Americans are some of the major groups). It’s very commendable that we want to help the entire Syrian population, but it won’t help anyone if we discover later that the cost has been too high. It is our status during the most difficult financial period that determines how many people we can help, and that’s where we are now. Many seem to think that we should open the borders to everyone and worry about the costs later, but that could easily lead to violence.

I like independence and housing is an important part of an independent life. Here are some examples of tiny houses from the USA, and recycled ship containers in London. These could be a game changer because many could buy them without involving a bank:

I don’t like a society where everybody has an opinion about what I should and shouldn’t do, and there is a strong tendency to do just that in Norway. It’s not enough to do what people expect of us, but we must also do it the way people expect. Authorities have expectations as well. We are expected to accept any decision politicians make, and they tend to make decisions based on what they read in the newspapers, or on weak science. Imagine you wanting to protest something you believed strongly in. There are strong indications, and some might call them more than indications, that ADHD medicines and some vaccines could be a danger to some children. It is a well known fact that certain underlying conditions could result in a deterioration of the child’s health. I can imagine a situation where the parents are pressured into accepting medicines for a child with ADHD or a vaccine before a thorough examination has been done. Epilepsy is an underlying condition we need to consider before making a decision, and many have concluded too late that it wasn’t worth the risk. It can sometimes be difficult to detect epilepsy, so you really need to take the examination seriously.

If you rely on basic income or any other benefits, this could be used against you. What would you do if you were told that the authorities would contact the Child Protective Services or withdraw your benefits if you didn’t cooperate? Incidentally, the pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche Holding are on the list of the Norwegian Oil fund’s six biggest investment at the moment. At the same time the Norwegian CDC keep insisting that the enormous Tamiflu purchase in connection with the so-called swine flu pandemic was wise, even though this is not supported by scientists.

This may sound like too much of conspiracy theory, and I admit it doesn’t sound likely right now, but it can be problematic if the government has too much influence over our lives. It could also become a democratic problem. This is already a challenge in other countries where there are too close ties between the government and businesses.

Isaac Asimov published a pretty dystopic science fiction book in 1954.  The plot of The Caves of Steel is set to 3000 years from now, and the Earth is overpopulated. People are forced to live under metal domes in big cities with tens of millions of people in each city. They survive on artificially produced food (yeast) and oxygen. When people went to a restaurant they didn’t have any options to choose from and they had to leave as soon as they had finished eating. Space was a luxury and the size of your apartment reflected your status in society. This society with extreme control was contrasted with the spacers, which were people on the 50 planets that had been colonised in the past. They lived in an equally strange society where robots did all the work, and having any form of physical contact with other people seemed disgusting to them. These planets were underpopulated, and small space was never the problem. Both societies were moving towards collapse, and the solution seemed to be a new planet where the earthlings gave up their strong skepticism to artificial intelligence. I also recommend Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge, Friday by Robert Heinlein and The Forever War by Joe Haldeman as a literary vision of where we might be in a distant and not so distant future. The distant part is mostly space travel, while we are not that far away from the societies these books describe.

Where do you start if you want to change your life? Independence may very well start with less debt and not depend on money from the government. I like on the one hand a guaranteed income that is not affected by a lack of success in the job market, but I also dislike the strong ties it gives you to people that can wreck you life. I have lived in small places where you have to relate to the same people in different positions. The person deciding whether or not you get a loan, or benfits, or medical treatment could also be in charge of your children’s after school activities, or a friend of someone that can make important decisions concerning your family. Being the new family in a place like this isn’t always a pleasant experience. I am therefore not convinced that basic income is the best possible future.

If you are interested in learning more about microhuses Tiny House design and Rich’s Portable Cabins might be a good place to start, while Occupy Madison could give you some ideas about helping people and building a community. I read a story on RT today that also seems relevant. Hamsters in France are changing behaviour after a diet of mostly corn. I wonder if that’s our future if we don’t get the diversity we need. That sounds like The Caves of Steel, which is a good reason to avoid dependency. We need to work for a future where we make decisions ourselves, and where no one could pressure us to follow the official standard of what a life should be.