The Bookworm Beat (11/13/14) — Morality edition (and Open Thread)

Woman writingAs you’ve probably noticed, I’ve spent a bit of the past two days doing housecleaning at my site: I’ve upgraded the comments feature (for the better, I hope) and I’ve rebooted the “read more” feature so that posts are truncated, requiring less vertical scrolling, but can easily be expanded and contracted without having to leave the home page. I’ve also done housecleaning in my house, with a much-needed pantry clear-out. Now, I’m cleaning out my inbox, ’cause there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s interesting. Who says spring cleaning can only take place in spring?

So, if you’re interested in this portmanteau post, click “read more” and you’ll see it unfold before you.

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Of Norway, petrodollars, free education, etc.

One of my old high school friends, an ardent liberal, posted the following on his Facebook page:

Norway smart - America stupid

Doesn’t that just make so much sense? Give free education and your nation will be wonderful.  Of course, both “Mr. Silhouette” and the friend who posted it suffer from no small amount of ignorance in making that assertion.  For one thing, I’m virtually certain that they don’t know that Norway can offer this free education, as well as a variety of other social benefits, in significant part because it’s floating away on an incredibly profitable sea of petrodollars.  Were Obama to allow the Keystone pipeline, we might be able to fund a few more educational opportunities in this country too.

The other thing that the cartoonist ignores is that Norway is a petite country (4,722,701 people compared to America’s 316,668,567).  More than that, Norway has a staggeringly homogenous population.  According to the CIA World Fact Book, the population breakdown for Norway is “Norwegian 94.4% (includes Sami, about 60,000), other European 3.6%, other 2% (2007 estimate).”  The numbers are a bit different for America:  “white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate).”  Even that’s misleading, because it’s just skin color (whites and blacks), and broad racial classification (Asian, Amerindian, Alaska native, etc.).  This breakdown utterly fails to take into account America’s cultural melting pot, with our genetic and cultural mix representing people from every corner of the earth.

The population differences between the two countries mean that, in America, it’s very difficult to convince everyone to do the same thing at the same time.  In Norway, on the other hand, people are practically born in lock-step.  (And don’t even get me started on Leftist educational trends in America that involve everything but education, or on the fact that we force non-academically inclined students into academic classes when they should be learning a trade.)

Finally, what neither Mr. Silhouette or my friend know is that Norway is having sufficient problems with its socialism — and that’s despite the fact that petrodollars are paying for the costly luxury that is socialism — that it is starting to turn right politically, away from socialism:

This country was transformed by the discovery of huge oil deposits off its shores in 1969. Although Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, was quickly established to lead the development of the new oil discoveries, the industry has been open to private investment and participation on a scale seldom found outside the United States. That has led to an extremely efficient and profitable energy sector, which provides 36 percent of the national government’s revenue. The Government Pension Fund, into which much of the oil profits are channeled, had $445 billion in assets in 2010 and represented nearly 2 percent of the equity in European stock markets. The value of the pension fund’s assets approximately equals the value of all the real estate in Manhattan.

“Oil has turned Norway from a sleepy, largely rural economy into an economic powerhouse,” says Norwegian businessman Olaf Halvorssen. “So much money comes in to the government that Norway has largely escaped the trimming of the welfare state that many other European countries are going through.”

But more and more people recognize that the oil wealth won’t last forever, and a real debate is just starting in this country of 4.9 million people over what direction its economy should go. Norway will be holding elections for Parliament on September 9, just two weeks before Germany votes. If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

This trend is occurring despite the fact that, so far, Norway’s economy has not only been stable, but it’s been growing at twice America’s 1.5% growth rate:

This country was transformed by the discovery of huge oil deposits off its shores in 1969. Although Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, was quickly established to lead the development of the new oil discoveries, the industry has been open to private investment and participation on a scale seldom found outside the United States. That has led to an extremely efficient and profitable energy sector, which provides 36 percent of the national government’s revenue. The Government Pension Fund, into which much of the oil profits are channeled, had $445 billion in assets in 2010 and represented nearly 2 percent of the equity in European stock markets. The value of the pension fund’s assets approximately equals the value of all the real estate in Manhattan.

“Oil has turned Norway from a sleepy, largely rural economy into an economic powerhouse,” says Norwegian businessman Olaf Halvorssen. “So much money comes in to the government that Norway has largely escaped the trimming of the welfare state that many other European countries are going through.”

But more and more people recognize that the oil wealth won’t last forever, and a real debate is just starting in this country of 4.9 million people over what direction its economy should go. Norway will be holding elections for Parliament on September 9, just two weeks before Germany votes. If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

Please read more of John Fund’s article to learn about the sea change taking place in Norway.

Here’s what I’ve learned:  if my Leftist friends put up a snarky political poster on their Facebook page, it’s invariably factual deficient or logically flawed.

Skjolden, Norway

During the night, we traversed one of the longest fjords in the world. We awoke to the village of Skjolden, a sleepy little hamlet in a valley left behind thousands of years ago after glaciers pushed their way through granite, before debouching in what came to be the fjord.

I have no words to describe how beautiful Skjolden is. If you stand with your back to the village, you look out upon an endless narrow fjord flanked by towering, tree-covered almost-cliffs. I say “almost-cliffs” because they’re not completely vertical. They’re just ALMOST vertical.

Face the village, and you see rich green farmland dotted with white and yellow houses and red barns, all of which occasionally climb into the mountains that encircle the valley on every side but the fjord side. Winding its way through this perfectly pastoral farmland is a swift-moving river that’s the brilliant blue gray color that only glacial water can be.

If you leave the valley’s plain and hike a few minutes into the surrounding hillsides, you’re in a sun-dappled, moss-covered woodland that is quite obviously home to fairies, sprites, wood nymphs, and the occasional troll. Peek through the delicate, white-barked larches (or maybe birches), and you see spread out before you a patchwork of green farmland dotted by rustic buildings, on either side of a crystalline gray-blue river, ending in a perfect fjord.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that, looking back on all my travels and all of the beautiful places I’ve seen in my life, Skjolden easily takes its place on the top ten list. It’s just exquisite, and precious, and breathtaking.

Incidentally, the farmland is just as perfect up close. We saw horses and nursing foals; placid cows; an endless profusion of flowers, both cultivated and wild; the requisite farmhouse cat (gray and white, of course); and handsome people who walked friendly dogs, spoke perfect English, and were as friendly as their dogs were, only thankfully more helpful, since we kept getting lost and needed guidance.

This afternoon, as we headed out of the fjord for our next port of call, the ship opened the doors to the bow so that we could stand at the very front of the ship see both sides of the fjord simultaneously as we head out. As we wended our way past the various mountains that flowed into the sea, we were treated to one incomparable vista after another.

We also got to see (although only from a distance) one of Norway’s stave churches, this one dating back to 1070. It was amazing to think that this wooden church has guarded the passage way and the inhabitants’ souls for almost one-thousand years.

Other than that, all is well. As a total aside, there was an interesting show on the ship today: Lance Ringwald (his last name is something like that) performed. Lance is a two time Olympic gymnast (1988 and 1992), a World Champion gymnast, and a member of the USA Gymnastic Hall of Fame. In other words, as an athlete, he’s the real deal.

Lance is also a total, and somewhat manic, extrovert who didn’t know what to do with himself when his athletic career came to the end. He decided to reinvent himself as a cruise ship entertainer. He swings on the silks, uses a walker like a high bar, juggles (very well), and sings and plays the piano. I enjoyed the show, which had the quality of a really good, old-time vaudeville show.

I’ll let you know whether Alesund is as good as or exceeds Skjolden. Considering that Alesund is above the arctic circle, I have high expectations that it will be pretty special.

Bergen, Norway

We visited Bergen today, which is very, very far north. So far north that, during December, the residents can get as little as 9 hours of daylight the whole month, if the ship’s expert is to be believed. During July, though, Bergen gets 160 (or maybe 180) hours of daylight. It’s 9:00 at night now, and back home we’d look at the same sky and guess that it’s about 5:30.

Bergen was founded in 1070 by one of the first Kings named Olaf. There where a lot of Olafs, and I don’t remember which one founded Bergen. For a long time, Bergen was Norway’s capital city. Since Oslo took over, though, Bergen has dropped to second place, with a population of about 240,000.

The visual highlight of Bergen is the wharf area, which has a small castle and the famous row of 18th century houses, some of which sag delightfully, like colorful drunks next to their more sober sisters. From travel brochures and shows, one has the sense that all of Bergen has that charming, somewhat loopy antiquity, but that’s definitely a false impression. Outside of the historic area, Bergen is a thriving, modern city. The white Norwegian houses, with their black tile roofs, seem to climb every one of the seven hills that make up this charming city at the far end of a fjord.

After admiring the wharf, we took a funicular up to a spectacular view area that allowed is to see the entire city spread out before us. We then hiked even further up, to some of the most beautiful little glades I’ve ever seen. Bergen gets around 240 days of rain and snow annually, so the woods are lush, and mossy, and dotted with small lakes on which float delicate lily pads. I kept feeling as if I’d wandered into one of those 19th century pastoral landscapes we saw at the museum in Oslo. Only the cows were missing.

Marin is semi-arid, so a hike up Mount Tam or Ring Mountain tends to be a yellow and dusty experience. If there’s been rain, the dust turns to mud, and the yellow scrub takes on a greenish cast, but lush is not the word I would use to describe it. Lake Tahoe, like Bergen, is carved out of wonderful, solid, glittering gray and pale gold granite, but it too is arid. Unlike Tahoe, the granite in Bergen was softened by feathery trees, moss in all shades of green, soft, waving grasses, and meadow flowers.

It’s a good thing nature was so satisfying, because everything else was too expensive to enjoy. Norway is one of the most expensive, and profitable, countries in the world. This doesn’t come about because of exceptionally good management or unusually hard work. Instead, Norway floats on a sea of oil (or, as they said in the “Beverly Hillbillies,” “black gold, Texas tea”). I think a guide told us that Norway is the third largest oil exporting country in the world.

The Norwegians don’t use the oil themselves (for the most part). Instead, they ship it out to great profit, and then turn around and piously use renewable energy within their own borders.

Okay, that was a bit snarky of me.

Where the Norwegians get great credit is that they’re like the Alaskans in that they think the oil wealth is a bounty owned by all, rather than just by the oil companies. Unlike Alaska, though, which sends checks to each Alaska citizen, the Norwegians are so homogenous in their belief systems that they willingly plow it into socially agreed-upon infrastructure and social services.

Norway’s socialism thus works to the benefit of all, not because socialism itself works, but because the Norwegians can bankroll socialism with black gold, and impose it upon people who all think alike. What this means is that, while many can admire the Norwegian model, few can emulate it.

Both systems — Alaskan and Norwegian — are good on their own terms, and especially good when compared to the Russian and Middle Eastern models, which see corrupt oligarchies and poor masses.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about Bergen. More tomorrow.

Oslo impressions

I liked Oslo. I can’t quite put my finger on why I liked it, but I liked it just as strongly as I disliked Stockholm. Go figure….

Part of the pleasure I took in Oslo was tied to the fact that the ship docked within one minute’s walk from the old fort/castle. I don’t have any literature to bolster my memory, so I’m riffing here when I say I believe it was originally built at the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th centuries. It was substantially remodeled at the beginning of the Thirty Year War at the start of the 17th century.

It’s a lovely structure, with huge, gray medieval blocks of stone serving as the base, and smaller, golden colored bricks from the Scandinavian Renaissance completing the climb to small, but fairy-tale like towers.

Housed within the walls of the castle is the “Resistance Museum,” a very nicely put together exhibit that focuses on Norway’s fierce resistance to the Nazi occupation. I had forgotten that the word “Quisling” owes its origin to the disgusting Norwegian politician who welcomed the Nazis and was disowned by his countrymen.

The museum opens with a nice homage to Norwegian Jews who fought in the resistance. Throughout the exhibit, it reminds visitors that Norway’s Jews died at Nazi hands.

The museum makes it clear that it is a point of pride that the Norwegians sided against the anti-Christian, totalitarian ideology that wanted to subjugate the world and kill Jews. It is inexplicable to me that now, throughout the Scandinavian world — and particularly in Norway — it is a point of pride that they side WITH an anti-Christian totalitarian ideology that wants to subjugate the world and kill the Jews.

Norway, after all, is fierce in its condemnation of democratic, pluralist Israel, and slavish in its devotion to the Nazi-like Palestinian cause. Norwegians seem oblivious to the fact that not only do the Palestinians espouse Nazi goals, they enthusiastically threw themselves in with the Nazis during WWII and have never backed away from them allegiance.

From the Resistance Museum, we wandered through the city, heading to the art museum, which houses one of the original Munch “Scream” paintings. (We skipped the Munch museum, because it’s being remodeled, while the main museum has a seizable exhibition.). Along the way, we visited the City Hall, which, once again, I can’t date. It drives me bonkers that I don’t know the dates of the things we saw, but the rest of the family was moving so quickly, I never had a chance to stop and study the details of what we so.

In many ways, the town/city hall has that muscular look of Soviet architecture, so I think it was probably built in the 1920s or thereabouts. On the outside, it’s a rather forbidding brick structure. On the inside, though, you find yourself in a light, airy, spacious chamber covered with brilliant murals and mosaics. It’s a very attractive space.

As for the Munch exhibit, I wish we hadn’t wasted our time. Aside from the Scream, which had the virtue of familiarity, nothing Munch did appealed to me. In his early years, his art was derivative, with a little Seurat (spelling?) here, a little Picasso there, a bit of Gauguin for a change, followed by a dollop of Manet — none of it done very well. Munch then settled into his own style of drab colors and uninspiring graphics. Had it not been for the Scream’s fitting so well into the 20th century zeitgeist, I doubt many would have found him memorable.

After the museum, we headed back to the waterfront and took a short, lovely ferry ride to the Viking ship museum. It houses three Viking ships recovered from burial mounds. Two are in good condition, with the third in fairly good condition. They are, in a word, amazing. For one thing, they’re incredibly elegant, with their high, curved prows, and their swelling bellies. They are a beautiful combination of design and functionality. They also have that intricate Viking carving, with twining animals and Gods winding their way up the prow, and ferocious animal heads decorating posts and sledges.

The Viking ships are also surprisingly small — surprisingly, I say, because the hearty Vikings who traveled in them covered remarkable distances on such an unfriendly sea. They went as far south as the Mediterranean and as far northwest as Nova Scotia. Along the way, they terrorized and settled parts of England, France, Greenland, and all points in between.

So here’s a little factoid: At the Resistance Museum, we learned that the Nazis sent around 400,000 troops to Norway because Hitler believed that the inevitable Allied invasion of Europe would take place there. In fact, as we all know, the D-Day invasion took place on the beaches of Normandy — which owe their name to the Norseman who settled there so many centuries before. Hitler was right that Norse shores would be the landing point; he just picked the wrong Norse shores.

After admiring the Viking ships, we went to the nearby folk museum, which is an open air museum in which they’ve assembled buildings from all over Norway. My only regret is that we had too little time there, since we arrived only 90 minutes before it closed.

Ninety-minutes simply wasn’t enough time to see all the buildings and living history exhibitions. We saw weaving, a farm kitchen from 1959, a “stave church” from the 12th century, a tenement from early 20th century Oslo, a bakery from the 1700s — and only scratched the surface. I could have spent hours there. Not only was it fascinating, it was so very beautiful, as the grounds were covered with idyllic green pastures, log cabins with grass growing on the roof, half-timbered buildings, and brick mansions.

When the museum closed, we headed to the Vigesland park. Vigesland was a man who spent around 40 years in the middle of the 20th century creating dozens of granite sculptures for a single park. The sculptures are meant to show people in motion and people relating to each other — parents and children, men and women, old and young. The park itself is beautiful, because it is terraced, green, and spacious, with flowers blooming everywhere.

As for the sculptures . . . well, they weren’t my cup of tea. They’re crudely done and I found them unappealing. The kids were “creeped out by them,” especially the fact that all the figures are nude. They found it off putting to see a naked father frolic with his equally naked children. I think growing up in an era of high-profile pedophile cases made this seem very inappropriate to them.

What totally revolted me was the centerpiece — a tall column of writhing, entwined bodies of all ages, all presumably dead. It’s supposed to show the cycle of life. To me, however, it looked like nothing more than a photo of the bodies at Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen — all ages, all sexes, all nude, all tangled together.

The park ended the day’s sightseeing and it was a slightly sour note. Having said that, though, I still found the tourist part of Oslo appealing. Incidentally, Vigesland is in a less touristy part, and we saw innumerable Muslims and Africans there. Not a critical mass, by any means, but still enough to hint that the immigrants aren’t in the city centers but are, instead, in the outskirts of these major Scandinavian towns.

As for the natives, they were good-looking, friendly, and almost all spoke incredibly good English. Surprisingly, they spoke with American accents. Usually when one travels, those who speak English do so with a British accent. In Oslo, though, they sounded almost American. Their effortless bilingualism was very impressive.

And those are my Oslo impressions. We’re now heading north to Bergen. The sea is calm and the sky is clear. Although it’s already 10 pm now, the sun is still well above the horizon. We’ve been told that tomorrow, as has been the case since our vacation started, it’s going to be HOT. I still can’t believe that, after two summers of steaming not vacations (the Mediterranean and Japan), my hopes for a cool northern sojourn have been dashed by a heat wave.

More later.

Found it on Facebook: a story about a mass murder that didn’t happen

One of my high school friends is black, pro-union, devoutly Christian and (to my surprise, given her San Francisco upbringing) apparently pro-Second Amendment.  She passed this along from one of her Facebook friends (who is a big numbers conservative Christian Facebooker):

San Antonio police crime scene

San Antonio Theater Shooting

On Sunday December 17, 2012, 2 days after the CT shooting, a man went to a restaurant in San Antonio to kill his X-girlfriend. After he shot her, most of the people in the restaurant fled next door to a theater. The gunman followed them and entered the theater so he could shoot more people. He started shooting and people in the theater started running and screaming. It’s like the Aurora, CO theater story plus a restaurant!

Now aren’t you wondering why this isn’t a lead story in the national media along with the school shooting?

There was an off duty county deputy at the theater. SHE pulled out her gun and shot the man 4 times before he had a chance to kill anyone. So since this story makes the point that the best thing to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun, the media is treating it like it never happened.

Only the local media covered it. The city is giving her a medal next week.

Just thought you’d like to know.

I remain disgusted with the media’s deliberate attempt to whitewash news while at the same time creating their own narrative for whatever sinister reasons.

As far as I can tell, the only thing inaccurate about the story above is the date — the shooting that was stopped by an off-duty deputy took place on December 30, not December 17.  Everything else is accurate — guy goes into theater, starts shooting like crazy, people panic, and then this happens (emphasis mine):

The gunman entered the theater, Antu says, where he fired a shot but did not hit anyone. An off-duty sheriff’s deputy working security then shot the gunman.

The best defense against a crazed, armed bad guy, is a heroic armed good guy.  End of story.

One more point:  the Facebook post says “I remain disgusted with the media’s deliberate attempt to whitewash news while at the same time creating their own narrative for whatever sinister reasons.”  Apropos the media narrative, it’s worth noting a point that Dan Baum, a pro-Second Amendment Progressive, makes in a Harper’s Magazine article he wrote after the shooting in Aurora:

Among the many ways America differs from other countries when it comes to guns is that when a mass shooting happens in the United States, it’s a gun story. How an obviously sick man could buy a gun; how terrible it is that guns are abundant; how we must ban particular types of guns that are especially dangerous. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence responded to the news with a gun-control petition. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times has weighed in with an online column saying that “Politicians are far too cowardly to address gun violence . . . which keeps us from taking practical measures to avoid senseless shootings.”

Compare that to the coverage and conversation after Anders Behring Breivik murdered sixty-nine people on the island of Utøya in Norway, a year ago next Sunday. Nobody focused on the gun. I had a hard time learning from the news reports what type of gun he used. Nobody asked, “How did he get a gun?” That seemed strange, because it’s much harder to get a gun in Europe than it is here. But everybody, even the American media, seemed to understand that the heart of the Utøya massacre story was a tragically deranged man, not the rifle he fired. Instead of wringing their hands over the gun Breivik used, Norwegians saw the tragedy as the opening to a conversation about the rise of right-wing extremism in their country.

The problem in America isn’t the Second Amendment.  Instead, the problem comes about because the Progressive media creates a warped narrative that takes guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.  The result is that guns exist, but law-abiding people (a disproportionate number of whom are black) die from killers who know that there is no one and nothing that can stop them:

It is true that all countries in Southern and Western Europe had lower murder rates than the U.S. But it might be worthwhile to parse the U.S. number if we continue to make such comparisons.

In over 52% of the murders in the US in 2011 in which the race of the murderer was known, the murderer was black. Over half of the victims of murder were also black. But blacks are only 13.6% of the population. Put all that together, and the murder rate in the US for non-blacks was more like 2.6 per 100,000 in 2011.

As Peter Baldwin put it in his book, The Narcissism of Minor Differences, “Take out the black underclass from the statistics, and even American murder rates fall to European levels.”

It’s timely, as always, to remember that gun control in America began as a way to keep blacks defenseless and disenfranchised.  Progressives dress the whole thing up in prettier language, but their eugenic roots are starting to show.