Wednesday, 31 October 2007

so many lovelinesses

this is very exciting indeed. i love living in glasgow.
on sunday i am going to see elvis perkins at nice'n'sleazy (a bar), and i just found out that his opening act is andrea, a guy from my class! how cool is that.
also, andrew bird is playing on monday, and beirut is playing on wednesday. should i ditch volleyball practice on monday and go catch andrew bird in the oran mor, a church turned bar/nightclub/concert venue?

what is going on in the further northern hemisphere and on the merry east coast of the usa?

Thursday, 18 October 2007

About World War III, or, Assorted Memories

It's funny because when I was little, we used to learn about World War II and pantyhose rationing and patriotic women working and the like, and I thought it seemed a little bit glamorous. Of course, it frightened me too: to imagine that my father could be drafted; to imagine that my life could become like Annemarie's in Number the Stars. But war, in general, was a far off and mystical concept, a bit like Queen Victoria. It was just another story. I never would have dreamed that my country would have gone to war within my lifetime.

Then again, it's not like I've really noticed it. It's been more than four-and-a-half years now since the usually-silent television turned on to bring us news we'd been expecting with consternation, reluctance, and dread for quite awhile: that we had finally begun our attack on Iraq. The next day, San Francisco's streets screamed; I left school at lunchtime to add my voice to the choir, to tell whomever could hear that hell, no, I wouldn't go, I wouldn't fight for Texaco. Then I went home to the suburbs for supper, and my life went on. It's been four-and-a-half years and I haven't heard a single air-raid siren, thank god. No one's been drafted; I don't know anyone, closely, who's in Iraq. Much less anyone who's died there. My food has not been rationed, nor has my pantyhose (not that I wear pantyhose), no! On the contrary! We've been told to buy more, more, more: after all, the way the common man can support the war effort is to Keep America Open for Business. Is this wartime life?

I guess if I were from Baghdad and not San Francisco, I'd have a pretty different story. My contributions to this blog would probably be a little bit less along the lines of "so like omg the other day on the elliptical machine..." and a little bit more along the lines of, "We then decided it was time to go out and wait for dad. On our way downstairs we heard a loud explosion, seemed like a close bomb car. We went out and saw the smoke, everybody was saying the explosion was in region A, exactly where I'd usually wait for dad." And maybe if my life were like that I would feel a bit more like the people in this video, and maybe if I felt so invaded and subjugated and angry, I would really resent someone like me.

But that's not the point. (Coherence has never been my forte; anyway this is perspective heaven, not the IB.) The point is that we Americans, even those of us who spend all their time reading the New York Times on the internet, have no real tangible sense of being at war. It's rather unfathomable, so headlines like "Bush: 'World War III' Possible If Iran Goes Nuclear" are more than just slightly surreal. World War III. It sounds like a bad science fiction novel. Listen to my illustrious president: "I've told people that, if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." And how might we prevent that, Mr. President? If weapons of mass destruction can be found, so can "knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon". If war with Iran is deemed opportune, we'll probably find a way to word it.

In a way, I feel like the Iraq war is a bit like a mild urinary tract infection: you know it's there, but it doesn't bother you much, so you go about your business and try not to drink too much coffee in hopes that it will go away soon. The notion that it could become something as serious as a kidney infection is utterly absurd, kind of like a bad version of winning a raffle. One night, you wake up shivering, you can't sleep because you're so cold, you've got a tremendous fever, you try to drink a glass of water and throw up from the effort; the next day the doctor orders a CT scan which shows that your inflamed right kidney is wreaking havoc on your body. Sometimes I feel like I'm sixteen again (I don't mean in that I'm terribly, terribly awkward but that is true too): every now and then I get a sense that something very strange, very unfathomable, very distant, and very sinister is going to happen before too long, but for the most part, all I care about is boys, and Iraq and Iran are just names of places I read about in the news. I hope that the Iraq war will not spread to our kidneys, but I guess it will not be a surprise if it does.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

'energy vibrations' or 'dear friends'

yesterday i spoke to gavin, anthony's flatmate, and he told me (out of the blue) that gyms around the world are being powered by the people running on treadmills and elliptical machines. this is very cool. even cooler is the fact that, according to gavin, there are nightclubs which derive power from the vibrations in the dance floor which happen when people dance! how cool is that! this gives me a reason to dance more; it is environmentally friendly. and it gives me some cool ideas for how to design environmentally friendly buildings. imagine all the things we can do!

dear friends;
i miss you to fucking pieces and i am about to go insane.
yesterday i had a bit of a bad night. i had two glasses of wine, but they made me tired and emotional, and i was supposed to finish this cubist drawing thing that i presented in school today. i didn't finish the drawing and i didn't really sleep either.
and it didn't help that anthony seemed to be in the mood for a DTR*. this resulted in me crying and crying, basically because i want my friends back. HERE, NOW. i want to go to fishing parties and i want to sit in my room with the two of you, crying because sufjan stevens songs are so sad. i tried to tell anthony this, and he said that eventually i will make friends and that i am not a stupid friendless person. i think the worst feeling in the world is to be lonely, and right now i am.
how can this be, i've been here for a year, and still i can't sit down with anyone and cry to sufjan stevens. i am a sociable person! this is weird! and it sucks!

hmm... i guess the whole world can read this, so i won't go on.

i will, however, tell you about something amazing that happened today! approximately 1 hour ago i went down to the canteen (the refectory) to get my daily panini (they had a new version today, roast chicken and veggies, mmm). as i was waiting for my coffee to brew and my panini to heat up, i turned around and i saw...who? PER! do you know per? the swedish guy from RCN, who organised the human rights forum?
well, it took me a couple of seconds to realize where i knew this guy from, and then i was extremely happy that a little UWC just popped into my day in an extremely random fashion. turns out that his first year, silja from the faroe islands, is studying here in the painting department. weeee, i have another UWC person!
also, i don't know if i've told you this, but our third year eduardo is in the year above me in the architecture school, and we're in the same studio! very nice!
i have a picture of else, daniel and daniel, pedro, arthur and sebas on my wall, from our trip to the holy beach, and one day eduardo came over and then he said; oh, daniel daniel and sebas! aaaah, i miss muwci! and then i realized how many friends we have in common, and how amazing all these people are, and i don't know. it gave me a bit of hope that one day, we will all be together again. i miss muwci.

so on saturday i'm going to a party with per and silja and simon (from south africa, he was also at roskilde, and now he lives in edinburgh!)

i love that there's a little UWC network forming around me.

i love you guys and i think else is right, we should move to a kibbutz and raise each other's babies.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Norwegian College of Fishery Science

This branch of my university amazes me. It has been a new experience for me to meet people with a burning interest in fish. This was previously not a part of my horizon. Last night I was at a party arranged by ”The Norwegian College of Fishery Science” and this Sunday is very much marked by the fact that I had a little much to drink there. So I am afraid that will also mark this post. But I’ll do my best. I shall now tell you some incoherent stories related to the Norwegian College of Fishery Science.

Earlier this fall me and my friend Sigrid joined ”fjellgruppa” – the mountain group, and went hiking in Indre Troms. It was stunningly beautiful. Two of our fellow hikers on this trip studied deseases of fish (at the Norwegian School of Fishery Science). I don’t think their whole degree was only about this matter, but I got the impression that this was the main thing. One of them was a Swedish girl who came as an exchange student to study this in Tromsø because they are experts on this here. So I asked her what in heavens name got her interested in fish and more spcifically their diseases? She answered: ”Jag vil bara at döm skal mä bra liksom! Jag vil inte at fisken skal mä illa.” which means: ”I just want them to be okay! I don’t want the fish to feel bad.” I found this very charming, and I think about this often. She had a fishing pole with her on the trip.

Funny thing about the Norwegian College of Fishery Science is that it is full of African students. I don’t know the number but they are so many. They come all the way form Africa to educate them selves about fish. Which makes sense since fishing is an important industry in coastal African countries.

Norwegian College of Fishery Science is the prettiest building on my campus. It looks a bit like a ship and inside there is an artificial waterfall. I take my economics classes here (all economics courses are run by the Norwegian College of Fishery Science, so to be a student there doesn’t necessarily involve studying fish so much). So this weekend some enthusiastic students initiated a spectacular party. They put up posters of all over advertising ”FÆST!” which means, ”PARTY!” in the funny northern Norwegian dialect. The menu looked amazing so Sigrid, her friend Hannah from home who were visiting and I could do nothing but show up. Full of expectations we came there, with our nice big box of white wine in one hand and pleny of prejudgies about what kind of people we would meet this evening in the other. We entered the building and saw that (even though we were an hour late) there were approximately twenty guests there and the atmosphere a little pressured. We met a cute welcoming committee that insisted that we drink their welcoming drink, which was homemade licqour. A good start. We helped our selves at the buffet, which had all sorts of fish, and shellfish and other heavenly dishes. Even whale! It was delicious. After a few minutes two gentlemen kindly asked if they could sit down at out table and so they did. They didn't really meet with my pre-made picuture of the geeky ’Norwegian College of Fishery Science’-student, since one of them was a trash-metal musician. A little disappointed that the picture had been spoiled we decided foster the geeky atmosphere our selves, and invited the others of join us in a maritime drinking game. The game was in the form where one person makes a statement and the others say whether they believe this statement or not. Usually this tends to evolve around sex and such things that the youth like to talk about, but we confined the scope to things concerning the ocean. Examples of statements were “I am a fish” and “The fishes’ inner wish is to evolve to be come a panda”. This went on for some hours. At the end we all held hands and danced around in a circle to the tunes of Bruce Springsteen. Even though the organizers came by all the tables every fifteen minutes with nostalgic complaints such as: “Dænne fæsten e en fiasko, det kom jo ingen mænneska. Å, fæst på fiskerihøyskolen for noen år sia: da var det liv! Da kom det hundrevis av menneska!”, which means “This party is a fiasco, no people came. Oh, party at Norwegian College of Fishery Science a few years ago: that was something different. Then hundreds of people came!”, it was a memorable evening.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

this blog seems to be all about norway

and here comes another post on the topic.

this weekend, anthony and i went to norway. we flew from "glasgow" (prestwick) to "oslo" (sandefjord) - that's right, ryanair.
so we spent quite some time on buses/trains to and from airports. then we walked around oslo, friday was a beautiful day. we had dinner with mum and then got on the night bus to aalesund (10 hours). in the middle of the night the bus stops in "mors kro" ("mother's inn"), in the middle of nowhere, and "mother" provides us with waffles and hot chocolate and various norwegian specialities such as "vestlandslefse". we opted for pizza though.
anthony was amazed that we can pay by credit card on the bus.
then we came to aalesund, and basically we spent the whole of saturday and sunday visiting people and having food and wine and beer and more food and more beer. saturday night was my dad's 50th birthday celebration, so we went by bus down to the beach where we made hot dogs on a bonfire (another very norwegian experience for anthony). then we got back on the bus and went to a mountain, took the ski lift up, and had a big party at the top. the party involved wellie boot throwing, nail hammering, music quizzing, drinking, eating and even a visit from elvis in the late hours.
very strange, yes.
the best part was taking the lift down in the middle of the night, together with a bunch of drunken 50 year olds. the wind was strong and we bumped into bushes/trees on the way, but it was such a beautiful night and we could see all the way out to aalesund town and all the lights were nice and bright.

we took the night bus back on sunday night, so it was quite a travel-intense weekend, but also a lot of fun.

norway is rather weird.

how do your parents celebrate their birthdays?

Digging in our Heels & Giggling

I think that when you are putting off editing a terrible terrible midterm essay, it is nice to find a morbid little reason to giggle. These Norwegians have come up with an "ingenious solution" to get at a gas field called Snow White, & before too long Snow White's black, oily blood will be "crossing the ocean in specially designed ships, feeding into the pipeline network for the American East Coast." (It makes me feel a little bit closer to you, Else, all the way up there beyond the Arctic Circle: at least we are connected somehow.) But the best part is, it's got potential! Lucrative, lucrative potential! Thanks to global warming, the Artic is fast becoming "more accessible for oil and gas production" -- so really, it's self-sustaining, at least in the medium-to-short run.

Oh, you sweet, shrewd Norwegians & your natural gas.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Living Politely

The other day, after a lovely elliptical machine session, I was walking home and I passed a homeless man on 14th Street stretching out for the night; propped up next to him was a cardboard sign reading "Live Politely". At the risk of sounding even nerdier than I already do, I thought that I definitely agreed with him, that we should all be more polite, especially nasty border officials. After all, courtesy is the jelly that makes the pb&j swallowable, right? And I patted myself on the back for being, in my own opinion, generally quite polite.

So imagine my shock and dismay today on the elliptical machine, happily listening to a Grammar Girl podcast, when Mr. Manners came on to instruct listeners about the most polite way to correct someone else's grammar. Mr. Manners emphasized that you should make sure that the person whose grammar you are correcting would "welcome and appreciate the correction". This, I must confess, is something I am very, very guilty of neglecting.

It's not that I'm some sort of expert; in fact, I'm not even sure if I placed the period correctly in the penultimate sentence of the above paragraph and until I read it over I didn't notice an extremely egregious error I'd made regarding the proper spelling of "whose" in this context! (Swallowable, on the other hand, I looked up: it's correct.) And while bad spelling irks me to no end (especially if the person writing to me is writing in THEIR native language which is not MY native language), small grammar mistakes and pronunciation idiosyncrasies really don't. So why do I keep correcting? Have you guys noticed that about me? Does it bother you like it bothers another Norwegian I know?

Maybe because it makes me feel smart; maybe also because I feel like I would wish to be corrected if someone knew my wording to be incorrect. But maybe I should learn to respect other people's wishes to live in ignorance, I mean, not be corrected. It's important, after all, to live politely, and not step on too many unnecessary toes.

(PS: Sofie, a couple of weekends I lost a game of Scrabble drastically!)

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Oh Mahogany! Oh Ikea!

So the other night, I attended a presentation about the illegal timber trade called Faces of Forest Loss. In NYU School of Law's beautiful, mahogany-paneled Lipton Hall, we heard from such impressive forest defenders as Anne Kajir , of Papua New Guinea; Julio Cusurichi , of Peru; and Arbi Valentinus, of Indonesia. Each of them told us a little bit about the disastrous effects of illegal logging in their countries and what is being done to fight against it.

Here is the general story about illegal timber trade according to Ari Herkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council , who moderated the panel: an armed, often state-backed mafia, enters a forest that is ostensibly off-limits to harvest timber for the international market. This is, of course, an environmental issue: 18% of global greenhouse emissions come from deforestation, Cusurichi told us, but it is also a very serious human rights issue. Illegal forest destruction tends to have the worst, most direct impact on indigenous communities who call the forest home; furthermore, those who try to speak up against it often become the victims of serious intimidation and violence from those who stand to make a profit from the illegal timber trade.

Arbi Valentinus emphasized that the responsibility for this falls both on the supplier and the consumer -- these timber mafias wouldn't be making such profits if we weren't buying their stolen wood. The US is a major market for illegal timber, because due to a loophole in the Lacey Act of 1981, which focuses on plant and wildlife protection, it is not illegal to import illegally harvested timber into this country! An importer could literally announce to a customs officer that he had a load of illegally harvested wood, and there would be nothing the official could do about it. In August, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced the Combat Illegal Logging Act of 2007 , which would amend the Lacey Act to actually prevent illegal logging practices. Valentinus said that it would be up for debate in October, but I couldn't find anything on the internet about that.

Legislation sounds fabulous, but we as consumers also need to think about our power and our impact. A man from the organization Rainforest Relief raised his hand to point out the irony of all of progressive-minded folk sitting on mahogany chairs there applauding this good work; he added that New York City is the single largest consumer of tropical hardwoods in North America! We should also remember that illegal logging happens not only in order to create timber goods for the international market, but also in order to clear lands for agribusiness.

When I worked at Greenpeace a couple of summers ago as an intern for their forest campaign, I did a lot of research towards putting together a 'wood-purchasing guide' for conscious consumers who did not want to participate in the illegal timber trade in any way. I'm not sure if the guide was ever finished, but I remember being particularly excited that Ikea, as far as I could tell, had a pretty good reputation timber-wise. Yay Ikea!

Monday, 1 October 2007

Praise the social democracy

What kind of a professor is this? I think these things we talk about here have more to do with historical development and political priorities as a result of systems or paradigms or something, than human evolvment.

The debate about using taxes for social programmes is intense and will (according to Peter H. Lindert´s ”Growing Public”) continue to be so. He states that ”The future debate seems to follow naturally form the flow of history, the logic of self-interest, and the inevitable help-vesus-incentives quandary.” In the classic economies of Adam Smith and Malthus there wasn't much room for the public sector, the role of the state should be minimal not to mess with the competition of the market. But since 1850 or something like that, the public sector, especially in western Europe, has just kept expanding bit by bit, and than radically after the first and second world war. And it is still on increase. So at least in Norway the role of the state is big, and it keeps getting bigger, and the state is thus dependent on the tax payers (and the oil fund).

The case in norway is that after World War two there was a general wish to ”rebuild the country”, especially encouraged by the labour party wich was in power at the with Einar Gerhardsen as the prime minister. The governance was led by modern social dempcratic thought, with ideals such as welfarism, redistribution and social justice. The father of the social democracy, it is said, is Keynes which developed an idea of social democracy that on a general basis came to be widely accepted after the second world war. There was a desire the ´humanize´capitalism through state interevention.

2. I think then, following on what has previously been said, that the taxing is justified by this genereal celebration of the social democracy. Of course there is a debate, as Sofie says, about how much taxes people should pay and so on, but the most left wing and the most right wing opinions on the matter only vary by a few percentages. There is a general awareness the the system pays you back, and people are willing to invest in that.

3. When in comes to the incentives to work, that is one of the major criticisms from Adam Smith and such, that you have the ”free riders” which will benefit from the welfare system without contributing. But the system is quite good, and even though a few people do it, and it is hard to get economic support if you don't qualify for it.

4. The social differences in his country are in fact not big at all. Poverty, though it does exist, is not prominent. You do have an elite of people who earn lots more than others, but generally we’re just a bunch of middleclass people.

5. The government gives us free education, and yeah.. things I can’t remember right now. I am falling a sleep here. Yes, Sofie mentioned subsidizing on lots of things. And most public services are staterun (was that a pleonasm?), though not entirely free but a lot cheaper than what they would be if they were private. It is true that we send old people to Mediterranean countries for rehabilitation!

6. Yes, I also heard that the northern regions have relatively high suicide rates (not the whole country perhaps, but the region). And I suppose it has to do with the darkness, but probably many other factors as well. On Saturday, when we had a big party, I talked to one guy who lives in my flat, and he was doing research on ‘traumatic deaths’, which are deaths cased by an external factor, in the northernmost province in Norway. Suicide was a big issue but it can be due to the fact that the region has different social problems. There are very few people living there (to tempt people to live there you get to pay less tax if you live in the northern regions, and you get higher vages!!), and a lot of discontent since opportunities in terms of work are few. Okay, I am babbleing on with little grounds for what I am saying, so I think I should say good night. This was a horrible post.

I don’t have one of those lamps by the way. It is not very dark here yet. I think I should get a lamp when it starts being dark 24/7. But they are expensive!!

One more question...

I'm very curious about Scandinavia (Norway, at least) today!

7. So I seem to remember someone implying that you all have composting toilets. This, I know, is not true, although in ten days in Norway I probably peed in as many composting toilets as I have in this country. How prevalent are composting toilets exactly? And what is the story with recycling and compost? In San Francisco, the city comes and picks up our organic waste for us. In New York, recycling is considered revolutionary and if you say compost no one knows what you're talking about. So what is it like in Norway? What about environmental awareness/environmentally friendly lifestyles in general? (Once I told Ola I would drive him wherever he wanted. He said, "Well, I'm not American. I'd rather take the bus." Hehe.)

Answers About Scandinavia (Norway, at Least)

Dear Shane.

I am sitting here with my fellow norwegian and flatmate helene. i read your post out loud for her, and her immediate reponse was; "i don't get the people who don't understand why they have to pay taxes! norwegians i mean!" and i do share her opinion. but, then again i probably wouldn't understand if i wasn't from norway, this country where taxes are just a part of what you have to deal with, and so you do it. i mean, what can we do about taxes? yeah i guess it sucks to pay them, but then again they are the reason why our country was ranked as the no. 1 place to live by the UN (a couple of years ago, i think).


1. it might be right that people pay up to 56 % tax, though i'm not entirely sure. you pay taxes based on your income and "general wealth", ie. your shares and money in the bank. (not the ones under your pillow). it works like this; you start paying taxes when you start earning more than about $5000 a year. from then on you pay 10%, but if you start earning a lot more, your taxes get calculated in accordance with this table that shows what income gives what tax level. oh and you don't start paying taxes until a year after you've earned over $5000, because the tax level is based on your income from the year before.

2. as i said, i think the level of taxation doesn't really need justification anymore, because it is such a well run institution, inherent to the norwegian society. so people just have to deal with it. but then again, i am writing this from the point of view of a socialist, and there are plenty of epople in norway who vote for the blue parties, just because part of their agendas are to lower the taxes. and, we all see that taxation works, and everyone does benefit from it, whether they are aware of it or not.

3. well, this sounds slightly shallow, but why did i work? because if i hadn't worked i wouldn't have gotten any money at all. yeah, it sucked to work double the hours of last year, only to receive the same amount of money, but then again, this is just a fact of life that i have to deal with. plus i like working in the fish market.

4. there are rich norwegians and normal norwegians and poor norwegians. there are beggars on the streets. but i guess the standard norwegian would be rich in almost any other country in the world, just because the wages are higher, be it taxated or not. i don't know. but i think that there are so many opportunities in norway. education is free, even university, so maybe that's why most norwegians are normal, not poor. because most of them are well educated.

5. baards civil service was not something he got from the government, it was something he did for the government. what do we get? well, free healthcare, free dentist, (though both of these are only for under 18's) our farmers are subsidised so we don't have to pay $3 for milk, because farming is a dying activity, the government pays them to keep going, and hmm what else do we get. clean(ish) streets, fairly well run communal transport. many things. but there is so much room for improvement.

6. i've never had a sun lamp, but according to my flatmate helene, who's brother lives in tromso' "everyone" sits in front of this sunlight provider about 30 minutes every morning. hmmm... they get the northern ligh sometimes though, maybe that's special enough to keep them going for ages. and, according to wikipedia, the country with the highes suicide rate is lithuania, norway being ranked 44.

ps. i don;t think we are more highly evolved.

pps. even though this post seems to be portraying norway as some kind of heaven, i moved out of the country of a reason.

dear shane, i hope you can raise your hand the next time your lecturer speaks about scandinavian greatness.

much love.

oh by the way, i just went to an open mic and i sag john wayne gacy junior (sufjan) with my mate louis. helene said it sounded nice.