Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Get Out. Get the Hell Out: Musings on the Summer News in Norway

Get out. Get the hell out:
Musings on the Summer News in Norway

Nice to be globalized, isn’t it? Didn’t we look forward to this for like, well, perhaps the last 10 or 20 years?  After all, we are most of what we know exists in the universe that is alive. (By ‘we,’ I mean everything on the Earth that can think and that is alive including whales.) Most of what we know is happening on this planet. But, what?  Have to live together in the same space? Forget it. We know we have to, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. And we don’t do that very well all the time because, well, our moods vary.

Plus, why not kill whales when we know we can, like Norway does, despite the global ban?  Isn’t that part of the ongoing discussion related to the ‘civilization of the species?’  By that, I here mean just homo sapiens – which, by the way, means, rather pathetically, ‘wise man.’  Don’t talk to us about killing whales, Norway says:  talk to us about global climate change.

Back to the summer news. To wit, “Berlin expels American spy chief as strains grow,” headlines the International New York Times on July 11th. Apparently, the CIA’s “station chief, who has not been identified” “has been asked to leave Germany.” Well, if he hasn’t been identified, couldn’t he just disappear instead? So they asked another CIA officer, who said “It’s one thing to kick lower-level officers out; it’s another thing to kick the chief of station out,” which, frankly, seems like a no-brainer to me, because, well, they are different.

Then there’s the latest row over the Obama administration’s choice for Norway’s next Ambassador to Norway from the United States, a Mr. George J. Tsunis.  I try not to weigh in on such arguments – primarily because I worked in the Illinois state’s bureaucracy for enough years to know that no boss runs the show; the people who work there as civil servants do. Occasionally, a political appointee can claim to have improved matters more than they detracted from the generally tortoise pace of things of State, although that’s also rather rare.

But the fuss continues:  The opinion page headline reads: “Fabian Stang har rett til å fortelle presidenten hva han mener,” meaning that Fabian Stang, the Mayor of Oslo, has the right to tell the President what he thinks, with the tag line, “Skiv til Obama!” or Write to Obama! According to the Aftenposten newspaper of July 20, quite a few people have gotten on the ‘No to Tsunis for Ambassador to Norway’ bandwagon.  They claim he shouldn’t even get in, let alone be told to ‘Get out.’ They want him gone before he arrives. He’s unqualified and the whole appointment smacks of political pork. I do something for you (like give Obama lots of money for his campaign), and you do something for me (like send me to Norway as Ambassador from the U.S.).  I don’t know; I think the pork scales don’t really ‘add up’ on this one.  If I had something to say to Mr. Tsunis, it would be, “Listen, you don’t really want to move here, you know?  You think you know how it would be to live in Norway, but frankly, it’s not all a bowl of cherries – there are lots of problems – most of which you can’t influence no matter who you are, and if you try to argue any sense into the government, you’d surely fail since they are not interested in listening to anyone who is not, well, them.

But no, in this latest article, it is noted that the Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang (who I really really like, besides the fact that his name is Fabian and I still have my Fabian tear pillow which I actually cried real crocodile tears into when I was a teenager), would like to send President Obama a letter regarding Mr. Tsunis’s appointment – to express several points of opinion on this. The main one is, the Aftenposten confides, that never has the U.S. planned to send an Ambassador who is so thoroughly unqualified for the position, and Oslo is intrinsically engaged at all levels because that’s where he would live and where the Embassy is. Tsunis may be unqualified but I could have told him that.  But should a Mayor of a city send a letter to the U.S. President?  Well, if I can, Fabian, you can too. We have more democracy in the U.S. than you do here in Norway, anyway. Go for it.

Why, Fabian, I once sent a letter to Norway’s Secretary of State, Kjell Magne Bondevik.  He was to host a conference sponsored by Norway against terrorism in New York City associated with the United Nations.  I felt I could assist in that work. I also needed a job and was seeking appropriate connections desperately. He did not even write back. No one did.  But once you move to Norway, you find out that no one ever does. It’s like we well-qualified foreigners are invisible, which is how Norwegians like us best.

While we’re on the subject of banishing people, let’s include the needy and unemployed, who are banished from Svalbard, the island Norway calls its own, located within the Arctic Circle.  According to the New York Times of July 11, a remarkably good issue, “Arctic archipelago banishes the needy.” Svalbard’s Governor, Odd Olsen Ingero, has a police staff of 6, one detention cell, no one has been locked up since last summer, and that was only for two days. Why, you ask?  Because you aren’t allowed to be unemployed, for one thing. As the article notes, Ayn Rand would love this place. If you aren’t employed, you are deported. “If you don’t have a job,” says Ingero,” you can’t live here.”  Great. I love it.

Tell this (again) to the Norwegian government, whose most recent manifestation as a Høyre–FrP mix is less like a conservative government, and more like a quiz on Conservative Politics 101. Summer’s agenda was to legalize Segways, so parliamentarians had a chance to try them around town. Let’s see – shall we pass a law against begging? Sure. Send them back to Romania, too. Shall we deport the homeless? Yes, let’s – just don’t use more money on doing it. Some time ago, the Norwegian Supreme Court said no: one cannot let families micro-manage their immigration acceptance based purely on disadvantaging their own children in order to create their ultimate case for approval (a good decision). No, scream all the bleeding heart Save-The-Children brigades across the land, full of pity for kids that managed to learn a language they should never have been given a chance to learn in the first place, kids who are the pawns in their own parents’ games.  And because the budget for getting rid of people is so high, cut the budget – so what if the applicants have to live in prison-style living quarters until we tell them they can’t stay . . . in 2 or 3 years. Because we’re backlogged!

The ‘cucumber news’ of summer streams on. Yes, they call it that here: “agurk nytt,” which news is doubly funny when it has to do with cucumbers, which Norwegians love and eat in great quantities, especially in summer.

Still, the prize for best ‘Get Out’ stories of summer come from Russia and Israel.  As for Russia, they just want what they can’t have – without taking it, so everyone who doesn’t agree in the Ukraine should just get out. Which some are doing.  As for Israel, the situation is a little different. From the perspective of most Norwegians, who have plenty of Palestinian refugees among their numbers, these are the folks who got permission to live on specific tracts of land, and then began wholescale takeovers of all the land around that they could manage to grab, fight for, wall off, and defend by tooth and bloody nail. Note I am not speaking for myself. Not only do they want the Palestinians to be gone – off the Palestinians’ own land, but to get out of sight. Out of sight is, after all, out of mind – when it’s on the other side of an apartheid Wall, completed in 2005 which runs for 422 miles and costs Israel $260 million dollars annually to maintain – and which helps to separate Israel from its nearest neighbors, with whom it should make peace and trade for the good of all.  Therefore, as Israel’s Prime Minister told CNN yesterday, he is saddened when he hears of innocent civilian Palestinians being killed. After all, he would not be able to see it so he has to just hear about it. And is he really?  I don’t know. I’ve been watching Israeli troops murder Palestinians since I could watch TV.  I won’t say how many years that is, but now that you know I’ve got a Fabian pillow, the cat’s out of the bag. What I can’t understand is where the people who keep killing each other and getting killed come from.  Wouldn’t they eventually run out of people in this area? They certainly won’t run of out of guns and weapons. Now that’s important. Call the arms traders today. They don’t have to get out.

Nice to be globalized, isn’t it?  Privacy used to be a protected right, and now it’s just a checked box and an unwanted toolbar. Ask Ask.

Kids used to hang out at Utøya solving the world’s pressing problems, and today it’s a memorial to a stupid killing spree that happened three years ago, today. At least this year they’re making plans to get back to business next summer out there, not a moment too soon, in my opinion. 

Ambassadors used to intervene for the good of their citizens in their countries of assignment, and now it’s either a spying mission or a pork job. 

So go one’s thoughts as the fjord glimmers in the afternoon sun during one of Norway’s warmest and most beautiful summers on record.

I guess the upside is: Transparency is also improved. More people at all levels and in all places are going to be held more accountable.  Maybe whale killing in Norway and by Norway will also someday stop.  There’s always hope in the air that we will eventually discover ways to create sustainable biodiversity and save the planet’s species before it’s too late.

So look up. We can at least hope you won’t see a drone. Me, I’ll be collecting cherries for the jam that will help us survive the dark winter.  Meanwhile, get out into the fjord and jump in today – it’s cold and feels wonderful.

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” 
 Henry James