Monday, March 25, 2013

Norwegian Mountain Rules

Norwegians are out in force this year over Easter break, pounding and skiing the mountain trails, and so, as usual, the media are warning everyone to be careful on their hikes and trips and come home safely.

Norway has rules for how to do that. The Norwegian Touring Association, DNT (Det Norsk Turistforening) publishes the ‘Mountain Rules’ you should know at their website, in Norwegian at: .

I don’t know the origin of these rules, but they are grilled into Norwegians at a young age, as well as into most immigrants’ brains. They are common knowledge, a part of Norwegian culture, and can be recited from memory by many, with ready recall.

Let’s call them, in English, the Norwegian Rules for Hiking in the Mountains, although they are equally useful for most nature hikes. Frankly, since perhaps 99% of Norway is pure Nature, they are pretty useful most anywhere.

Here’s an English version I’ve created - for your enjoyment and education, based on the DNT’s ‘real McCoy’:

1. Do not set out on a long hike without training.
This applies to both physical, psychological and intellectual readiness, as well as to equipment. By extension, it is also suggested that ‘practice makes perfect.’ If you have any opportunity to conduct a thorough analysis of your plan, you should do it – and exercise your planning skills by identifying solutions to situations that are both similar and dissimilar to those you have encountered in the past. It is also suggested that if you are going to be out for over a week, you take at least one day’s rest from travelling.

2. Tell somebody where you are going.
The extension here is that at least one other person who is not with you knows where you plan to be when and can and will track you, has your contact information and you carry theirs, and in a way that suggests you plan to be contactable at a specific time and place and way (ex: phone that works). When travelling to places where you can register, such as mountain cabins, then do so.

3. Show respect for the weather.
This means not just carrying your umbrella, but knowing what the entire pattern is that is expected, as well as the chances of changes in the weather, given the season, and conditions such as wind-strength, wind-chill, avalanche-chance, mudslide chance, etc.

4. Be prepared against bad weather and cold, even on short tours.
This has to do with preparing yourself by carrying the proper equipment and selecting that on a conservative basis. People suggest you should always take a backpack of some sort and proper mountain gear, even if you are on what you think will be a short trip, due to the fact that things can develop in ways you did not plan. Getting lost, twisting an ankle, falling unexpectedly – all of these suggest that you foresee the possibility and carry a bit more than you would otherwise think was needed.

5. Listen to experienced mountain experts.
Those who have gone where you are going before you should be a resource you use. This has to do with being instructable and instructed by those who have gone to where you are going – before you went there. Look it up! Find it out! Know the specific risks and the challenges.

6. Use a map and compass.
A map and a compass (and knowing how to use both) are of course essential. Always use the latest editions of maps. Be familiar with how to use the map with a compass. Trust the compass. Nowadays, tools are available to improve your chances of keeping track of your location, with GPS available in hand-carries with good trail maps to boot.

7. Do not go alone.
Besides the fact that it’s generally a happier result when two go instead of one, it’s also giving you an edge if either of you need assistance. It’s not that you don’t think well enough to go alone; it’s just that it is much easier for two people to think smartly about an unexpected situation they find themselves in than, yes, one person.

8. Turn back in time: there is no disgrace in turning around. (Ingen skam å snu!)
As the Norwegians say, “Forsøk ikke å trosse været.” This means, to be direct: Attempt NOT to DEFY the weather. We know – you’re bold, you’re brave, and maybe you’re even very masculine and, of course, you are able to go forward. But are you strong enough to turn around and go back? That’s the question that kills too many would-be mountain-conquerors.

9. Conserve your energy and dig yourself down into the snow if necessary.
This is the ‘igloo’ approach to saving your life – where you create an insulated place to hold up if you get caught out in a snowstorm – or look for that type of shelter where you can survive while things are going bad and before you are rescued. They key here is to do the right thing in time to be prepared for difficult conditions.

Well, I hope these fjellvetreglene, that is ‘mountain rules you should know,’ are enjoyed by many. Perhaps they will even save you, dear Reader.  Save you?  From who? From - yourself, of course! That is, when you are out in the wild mountains of beautiful nature, wherever you are in the world.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Define Sequestration. I'm glad you asked.

In Norway, the old snow is starting to lay on the hills like wrinkles in a white sheet. My husband and I are sitting at our kitchen table, reading news and, well, we’re sequestered. We’re sick. The kids can’t visit and we can’t visit. It’s a little like sequestration, actually. It feels like a punishment, for what, maybe living the good life, which we also do.
As everyone who knows English knows, sequestration is what happens when you put something or someone in a room by themselves or with others that also don’t want to be there, a place where they can’t get out or do anything interesting. They also are not allowed to holler to those who are on the other sides of the walls. They’re like invisible. They do that to Norwegians who can’t turn their necks very well when driving in Arizona. Really, they get sequestration - in Arizona jails and prison, like John Kristoffer Larsgard.
As an American, a culture watcher and an English professional, I have to keep an eye on words. I therefore had to note the weekend edition of the International Herald Tribune, page 5, column 1, which sounds like most of the other thousands of sound bites heard through the fog in the last few days, “Mr. Obama summoned the four top congressional leaders to the Oval Office in an effort to discuss how to move forward after the failure to avoid the cuts, known as sequestration, White House aides said. “
First, it was the fiscal cliff which, if we went over it, who knew what might happen and since we did not, most folks now think we really should have given it a try and seen what happened.  Now it is sequestration, which has, somehow, happened. I was ready to blame White House aides for causing this problem with the definition of sequestration, until I discovered it emanates from a much more dangerous source, the Congressional Research Service. This appears to be a real office, located in Washington, D.C., which means they are completely in the dark on these English points. Besides, anyone who is defining sequestration and is also concerned with hiring a geospatial information systems analyst has their net spread too widely, let’s say.
Norwegians know how to focus on things.  So I read the sentence to my Norwegian husband and asked him if he knew what sequestration meant. He said, “Er, sequencing?” and I said, “No, sequestration.” “Isn’t that when someone is frustrated when they are at sea?,” he replied. “Why, yes,” I replied. Like the clever Norwegian he is, he has captured the new and modernized core concept completely. I then corrected his understanding with my base-English knowledge.  “No, actually, I think it has to do with being stuck somewhere and not being able to get out.” “Well, the congressional leaders were not trapped in the Oval office, were they?  They went there of their own accord,” he ventures.  Let’s give him that one, I thought. “No, they’re not trapped,” I agree. “No, they’re not trapped,” he continues, gaining ground, “They spent millions to get there, and now that they’re there, they find out the job is not so funny.”  My husband means “fun.”  He also means the job of being a member of Congress, not the job of going to visit the President.
After a few minutes, it became clear that someone needed to set the record straight – and tell the world what sequestration is and what it has to – or should have to - do with the current mess in Congress. I will try to do that in simple English, since, as everyone knows, sequestration is one of the those special words we don’t use very often – because it sounds very complex.
English has a wonderful way of building up the usages of words in specific areas, such that we can attempt to get at the core meaning and accepted usages of this word by studying its historical usage. Linguists, in addition, feed words into computers to see how often we use them, when, where and why. Since I am not a linguist, I’ll explicate in the old fashioned way – by reference. 
The Oxford English Dictionary shows the word, sequestration, was first recorded as being used in the year 1450, with appearances in 1475 and 1581. By then, it referred to offenders who were excluded from the Sacraments. By 1854, it had to do with “delinquents” (yes, delinquents) who were punished by being kept from the Christian service (not that hard to take probably), the  food table (very hard to take, probably) and common meetings (easy to take, probably).
Fast forward to now. The Congressional Research Service is reported to define sequestration as “a term used to describe the practice of using mandatory spending cuts in the federal budget if the cost of running the government exceeds either an arbitrary amount or the the gross revenue it brings during the fiscal year.” 
Excuse me, but this is counter-intuitive to the actual meaning of the word. Since sequestration has to do with someone or something being kept from someone or something, it relies upon the premise that there is something or someone to be kept away from.  And that the something or someone is kept away. Implementing spending cuts when there is no money in the money pot does not qualify as doing something to something.  It does qualify as doing something to nothing, but that then does not satisfy the initial premise upon which the word was created and used down through the centuries. It also then does not carry any of its own emotional weight, as the word is supposed to do. (an oxymoron) continues, “Simply put, sequestration is the employment of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in the face of annual budget deficits.”  Again, this statement simply confirms my point.
The Congressional Research Service defines sequestration:
"In general, sequestration entails the permanent cancellation of budgetary resources by a uniform percentage. Moreover, this uniform percentage reduction is applied to all programs, projects, and activities within a budget account.
However, the current sequestration procedures, as in previous iterations of such procedures, provide for exemptions and special rules. That is, certain programs and activities are exempt from sequestration, and certain other programs are governed by special rules regarding the application of a sequester.”
This makes sequestration a two-faced taker, what the Norwegians would call ‘double-moral,’ something they are sure the U.S. does a lot of. Besides, to be exempt from sequestration should mean that one is free to move about. Most public programs in the U.S. these days barely have enough flexibility to wag their social tails, let alone try to move about.

We know. It’s a big laugh contest, a giant drama. Why else would David Falcheck and hundreds of other journalists write stuff like this:

“Days away, sequestration - the dramatic federal spending cuts - may seem like the crisis du jour for the gridlocked U.S. Congress, but the impact would be far-reaching, impacting everything from food inspection, to air traffic control, to defense.” -David Falcheck for
It’s quite scary, but that French touch really helps the medicine go down. Still, why are they holding the lack of money in a room and not letting it out?

I suggest the following alternative definitions be applied, despite the green-eyeshade crowd at CRS:

Option 1: Sequestration is  “a legal writ authorizing a sheriff or commissioner to take into custody the property of a defendant who is in contempt until the orders of a court are complied with.”  In this sense of the word, Congressional leaders are in contempt of their public duty, and the Sheriff has the right to lock up their mansions and fancy cars until they come up with a decent budgetary arrangement, which, by the way, IS one of their duties. (Thanks to Merriam-Webster online for these.)

Option 2:  Sequestration is “a deposit whereby a neutral depositary agrees to hold property in litigation and to restore it to the party to whom it is adjudged to belong.”  Now, at least, we are working with a fiscal-related definition. In this case, the money that isn’t there, which is the taxpayers’ money, should be held by a neutral party, say, the President, until the fighting in Congress is over, at which time it should be given to the public.  Well, after all, it is theirs. I trust the President to do that.

A third sense is worth noting for its effect on quelling bad-talking, as noted in the following classic example usage: “During their sequestration, jurors were not allowed to speak to reporters.”  That’s right.  Congress should be sequestered and not be allowed to speak to anyone – until they come to some important decisions on the budget, agreed and common decisions.

Last but not least, the word, sequestration, holds a strong sense of being alone.  I’m inclined to think of the poor sod who landed in a dirty locked room, circa 1550, with no bread or water, for stealing an apple from the rich farmer’s garden. Of course, Congress would like you to think of it this way, too. After all, haven’t they done everything they could do? And now, sequestration has come to them anyway. And yet, Merriam-Webster shows the following (questionable) example in the ‘lonely’ category: “What would you bring for sequestration on a desert island?”  This is easily modified to read, “What would you bring to a Congressional party?”  Answer: Your money, of course, so you could buy some votes.

My husband has long ago lost interest in this, deciding to walk the dog on the ice instead. My balance is not as good. As for me, it’s time to consider today’s dinner menu, and the work waiting for me in my office. What I won’t be doing is holding my breath when some smartie-pants in Washington suddenly realize that sequestration, as they define it, is hurting real people who desperately need the social safety net that our modern tax, budgetary and social service systems were meant to and should provide - on an efficient and ongoing basis.