May 072020
 

If you read Thomas Piketty’s ground-breaking Capitalism and Ideology, you will see that a great deal remains to be done in the world, and I’m very much afraid that it will have to be done by you and me and our children and grandchildren. It will certainly not be done by any president or prime minister here, there or anywhere else. As Greta Thunberg has pointed out, our grandchildren will not thank us for the state of affairs we leave to them unless we do our D–dest to try to set things right.

The problem with Covid, to my mind, is not so much that it is a killer – locust swarms that destroy everything in their paths are also killers (by proxy), and you don’t hear much about them – it’s who it kills and why. Like other contagious diseases it primarily kills people in congested areas, particularly where sanitary conditions are unsatisfactory, people with scant access to health care and education, and people with short-sighted employers and governments. It will probably not kill people like me, who can work from home at a cottage in the wilds. I only come face to face with another human, separated from me by a glass screen, twice a week at checkout.

So the Covid issue is not really about Covid, it’s about all the underlying stuff, the stuff systematically kept in the shadows. The media makes sure that we mull over the prospects of suffering a terrible Covid death, that we sit still and thank the powers-that-be for whatever handout we get to replace the jobs many of us have lost or will loose. Not to rock the boat, that is the idea. No wonder a recent Guardian article sees fit to remind us that we are actually not all in the same boat.

You will see some of the issues lurking in the shadows behind Covid if you scroll down the entries of the Oxford-based “Our World in Data” . Pass quickly over the Covid stuff, and take a look at issues such as “Nutrition” (“22% of children younger than 5 are stunted”) or Maternal mortality.

Now “Our World in Data” is not a “leftist” site. It probably takes pains not to be, as failing to do so would mean less funding for the research underlying its data. Nevertheless, I was amazed to find that there were no figures about maternal mortality in the United States. “Now why would that be?” I wondered.

Unsurprisingly, this chart shows that the proportion of women who die in pregnancy, giving birth or within 42 days after giving birth has fallen drastically from 1991 to 2015. If you press the button “Add country”, you will see that Tunisia, for example, is doing nicely, but there is no data for the US. For Canada, yes, and for North America, yes. So the figures for the US are hiding behind Canadas? Interesting.

I turn to Wikipedia (as at 07.05.2020)

The US has shown to have the highest rate of pregnancy related deaths o/c maternal mortality amongst all the industrialized countries. The CDC first implemented the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System in 1986 and since then maternal mortality rates have increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 17.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. [Highlighting by Pelshval]

And here is a Vox article on the issue:

If you compare the CDC figure to other countries in the World Health Organization’s latest maternal mortality ranking, the US would rank 55th, just behind Russia.

What does Joe Biden propose to do about that? Blame Covid?

I apologise for harping so much on the United States, but it really does get on my nerves that a country that is NOT the great meritocratic, egalitarian and Democratic society it claims to be insists on calling the shots about just about everything, everywhere, all the time. It is high time we all, including in the US, start doing things differently. This is not “the best of all possible worlds” to quote Voltaire’s Pangloss (or Leibnitz, if you like, but I’ve never read Leibniz). For many people in the US, it is not even the best yet. And it will get worse for all of us, before it gets better.

Piketty proposes a whole array of alternatives. He does not tell us what to do. He just tells us that other ways are possible. Actually, the only course that is not open to us is the one we are on now. Before long, this road will simply close down.

Piketty also tells us why we are so blind to the existence of other options, which goes a long way, in my mind, to explain why many people, including myself, have said, “It’s no use… We can’t repair this mess… Hopeless… You can’t beat the financial system, market forces… ” But the Berlin wall did come down, didn’t it? We thought it never ever would, but it did.

Feb 052020
 

There aren’t many encouraging stories these days. Maybe I know of one, though. (Mind you, I make no promises.) My story starts grimly enough, with a headline that began to pop up here and there some time last spring: “Millions of songbirds vacuumed to death every year during Mediterranean olive harvest”. If you google it, you will see for yourself.

Now in the UK there are a lot of bird lovers, and they started singing angrily. A veritable storm of protests rose up from the throats of British bird-loving consumers. Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose felt pressured and have apparently promised to take a closer look at what olive products they stock.

That’s nice, isn’t it? An example of ethical market forces, right?

We could leave it there, of course, and it is certainly very moving that the British were up in arms about something that isn’t royalty, and in a Brexit year, no less. So hats off for the British! My neurotically unsentimental compatriots would probably not have lifted a finger; they can’t tell the difference between a bird and a drone. (In fact, this wasn’t even news in my country, where we guzzle olive oil by the litre.)

But there is a shadow story here, and it is not as nice. For one thing, few supermarket chains will refuse to sell ecologically harmful products, as that would be suicide for the chains in question. The proportion of poor people in Britain, as elsewhere, is growing. Given the choice of hand-picked expensive olives and vacuumed cheap olives, which will they choose? If all poor people knew that every bottle of the cheap oil they use is likely to have cost the life of perhaps five birds, many of them might consider giving up olive oil altogether. But they don’t know, and even if they do, there are so many other horrible things going on that – well, what can you do? There are innumerable children being killed in wars and hot spots, wombats being killed in Australia – even after the fires – coral reefs dying… Locust swarms are consuming parts of Africa, miners are being shot, populations are fleeing from sinking islands, tens of thousands of refugees are being held in consentration camps in Greece and Libya, etc. etc. etc.

We shall of course soon see the emergence of eco-friendly supermarkets, shops where all products are tested. They will be exorbitantly expensive, though. So “the market” will not solve the climate crisis or any other serious ecological challenge. It will just be an opportunity for the rich to pay indulgence, as it were.

Still, my verdict is that this was a beautiful story because it tells us that sometimes, people – even masses of people – will be happy to serve an honestly good and peaceful cause. A tiny Robin with its scarlet breast can move the sternest of us to tears. I know, because I held one in my hand a year ago, when it had died after crashing into my window. Small creatures whose lovely songs ring through the woods in late afternoons are such a stunning contrast to war games, Netflix series and the increasingly ghastly news we cannot help but hear even though we try not to.

As an afterthought to the above, I would like to point out that nation states can actually impose laws, can actually prohibit certain things, and can, also, encourage other things. I would like to direct your attention to the Nordic Swan Label. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_swan

I say no more for now.

Oct 062019
 

I have not previously written about drugs here, but goodness knows there is reason to raise the topic, even though we now have the climate to worry about.

We tend to be very loud when we talk about drugs. It’s a big issue. Parents worry about their children and/or grieve on behalf of a brother or colleague whose child actually fell prey to some addictive poison. Then, of course, there are the endless discussions about whether or not a substance is addictive chemically or psychologically.

There are those of us who maintain that drug addicts need help, others who clamour for their imprisonment and others who would rather see them dead.

The war on drugs imposes harsh sentences on dealers and mules, but as we all know, those who actually thrive on drug trade – the kingpins, as it were – are rarely caught. They are too rich and very much too ruthless and powerful.

Those who pay the greatest price for the war on drugs are the innumerable murder victims in Central and South America, innocent by-standers for the most part, but also judges, human rights activists and even priests.

Tax payers in Western countries also pay a great deal without realising that what they are paying makes no dent in the amount of cocaine and heroin that is brought into our countries, the astronomical sums our kids pay for the stuff, and the fabulous profits enjoyed by the kingpins, whether they live to all appearances innocent lives here, or far away.

I put to you the plight of a town in Southern Europe where registered unemployment is 32.4%. I must add that those who are not eligible for unemployment benefits may see no reason to register, so the real number of unemployed will be much larger. What I’m saying is that many young people in such places see no future for themselves. They have to live with their parents, cannot form their own families and should not have children. They cannot go on vacation, cannot buy a car or anything else, for that matter, and tend to grow listless. They give up. Those who were young when the financial crisis broke are nearing middle-age now, and still unemployed. Turning to drugs is in a sense an act of despair, a form of slow suicide. Putting these people in prison is probably totally ineffectual.

On the other hand, you have societies in rich countries such as in Scandinavia, where many kids turn to drugs out of boredom or peer pressure. I’m not sure putting them in prison would help either.

There is no doubt that the war on drugs has been a total failure, but there is no consensus as to the alternative. So we continue dedicating the best part of our policing efforts to it.

Personally, I believe that the drugs problem can and should be solved. Doing so, however, would require a completely different approach. I’ll leave it there for now.

Aug 162019
 

I went to a demonstration today. Yes. I haven’t done that since I was a kid, but today I went. Why? Because I felt shame. Here’s the story:

The other day, a young man shot his way into a mosque. Yes, here! In this supremely peaceful country! Fortunately, nobody was killed, because two old and unarmed men who had been praying in the mosque were able to overpower the would-be killer more or less as soon as he got in.

The news spawned shock waves in the media; pictures of the two white-haired heroes, looking dazed by all the attention, and incessant interviews with senior police officers: Who? Why? How?

Now we know. He is a 21-year-old white supremacist from one of the wealthier outskirts of the capital. He is so far being charged with terrorism and murder. Oh yes, on that same day, he had apparently killed his half sister, who is of East Asian extraction.

The following day was the religious holiday Eid-al-Adha, and many Muslims worried that going to their Mosque might, from now on, be dangerous. So a number of people, from all religious denominations – including, I understand, Jews – and of all political colours, went down town, to the country’s largest mosque, to form a circle, a human shield, around it.

I saw it on the news. People forming the human shield just stood close to the walls of the mosque, surrounding it, silently holding small signs bearing messages of encouragement to those who wanted to go in and pray. I also saw the expressions on some of those who came to pray, and they were moved. So was I, watching them on TV. And I was ashamed, because it had not even occurred to me to go down town to symbolically protect the Mosque.

That was why I attended a demonstration today, an expression of warmth to all those who have travelled far physically and emotionally, who have crossed tremendous barriers to become my compatriots.

During the speeches, I fantasised. What if the white supremacists had also demonstrated, had marched down the town’s long, straight main avenue bearing their slogans, what would have happened? I knew, at least, what I would have wanted to happen.

***

Spectators would have been lining the avenue long before the slogan-bearing gang approached. The spectators would be waiting, chatting amiably, eating ice creams or playing with their phones. Oldies like me would have brought collapsible stools on which to sit and wait.

I see the slogan-bearing gang approach. Every once in a while, they chant something or other, raise a fist in the air and walk more or less in step. People around me fall silent, put away their phones and stare at the approaching army. Closer and closer it comes. Suddenly, I notice that there are so many of us that we cannot help touching one another. We stand literally shoulder by shoulder. Some of us exchange glances, others don’t, but we all look mostly in the same direction, and the marchers approach.

Now we can hear what they are chanting. I have of course risen from my collapsible stool, which I have folded and slung across my shoulder. I stand tall and straight, white-haired among the golden, black, light brown, dark brown and grey heads. We are all staring sternly at the heavy-booted men – mostly men, yes – and we notice that the expressions in their faces are almost all the same. We notice, in fact, that very much about them is all the same, and I, for one, feel that my mouth has contracted into a thin streak.

Finally, they are there, just ready to pass us.

Nobody attacks them. Nobody even says anything. Our lips all seem to be glued together. But as I feel the shoulder on my right side move, I look at the person beside me and see she has turned her back to the horde. The person in front of me is turning his back to the horde and is looking at me. I turn my back to the horde and now face the woman behind me, who turns her back to the horde, and the person on my left has already got the point and those behind and in front of her as well.

I cannot see it, since my back is turned, but what meets the army of white supremacist brats is a silent wall of human backsides.

Aug 012019
 

I’m angry. Very angry. Not as angry as a terrorist (at least I assume terrorists must be angry) since I’m not angry enough to kill or even condone killing. But I’m angry enough to fall silent and remain silent for days on end.

Watching the elephantine spectacle of US politics makes me so angry that I have to turn off the news, would you believe it! How can a country that considers itself the greatest, the best, and the strongest etc., etc., etc., be so full of fools that a tottering business-as-usual conservative is deemed the only candidate likely to topple you-know-who?

Come on, people, wake up, for Petes’ sakes!! We are really and truly balancing on the brink of global climate disaster (not least thanks to you-know-who) and we are really and truly on the verge of yet another unforgivable war in the Middle East (exclusively thanks to you-know-who). But you almost all seem to be blissfully asleep, dazed or drunk – what do I know?

Until less than a week ago, I would never have had the temerity to express myself so offensively against a whole nation. But I swear (this is getting worse by the second – so I’m swearing now?) that the US educational system is what Spaniards would call “un desastre”. An absolute shambles! Allowing the majority of your kids, generation after generation, to leave school without knowing how to stay reasonably informed about the rest of the world, let alone their own part of it, is a crime against an entire population, and the Democratic party is evidently not going to do anything about it.

I say nothing of the others, the non-Democratic Party, but believe me, in a just world they would be indicted and convicted by a global tribunal for crimes not only against their own nation but against humanity.

Even your home turf is seedy. I’ve been looking at US crime statistics, life expectancy, child mortality, food insecurity, etc. etc. Mind you, most US official sites put on their Sunday best, so you won’t learn much there, but take a look at your nothing less than spectacular ranking here and an extremely interesting glimpse into a related issue here. This one from the CNN is somewhat embarrassing in view of the fact that the US spends more per capita on health than any other country. And as for child mortality...

So I zoom out again, from hurricane-ridden USA to a world facing yet another unforgivable – yes, I am repeating the word “unforgivable” war in the Middle East. Have you guys any idea of what it must be like to be an ordinary citizen in Afghanistan or Iraq not to mention Jemen? Of course you don’t. Do you guys at all care? Stop ranting about Iran and take a look at the blood-stained Saudi-led coalition.

There is one man who knows more about the modern-day Middle East than almost anybody else in the entire world. His name is Robert Fisk – just google him, and you will see his medals.

Until less than a week ago, I would not have written all that I have just written. But less than a week ago, I read another one of Robert Fisk’s pieces. Pieces? It was more like an outburst, a verbal explosion. None of his normally cool analysis, just fury. His patience had obviously been strained to the limit. I fear Robert Fisk may be charged with defamation, but for me, his “piece” felt exhilarating. Mind you Robert Fisk would probably disagree with me on many issues, but his insight is crucial and invaluable and it is being ignored by the nincompoops that are playing games at the top of the world.

In the mean time, I state my humble opinion about the world’s most hated country (last paragraph, and that was 15 years ago): You-know-who is merely the product, not the cause. Something is rotten at the very core of the United States of America, which could have been such a wonderful nation.

Jan 172019
 

Sometimes I walk my dog with a very kind and very large man with a very kind and very large dog. His is not a frivolous mind, far from it; he does a great deal more thinking than most people I know. And of course, as can be expected of a man who thinks a lot, he has some opinions, a couple of which I disagree with. However, I’ve stopped shouting at him (he has never shouted at me) because he is not motivated by greed, and he is certainly not callous.

One of the issues we disagree about is “climate change”. I was stunned when he quietly said, “actually, I’m not really sure it is all that anthropogenic”. I thought that in this country, at least, there was wide consensus about the devastating impact of greenhouse gases on the planet. After all, the level of education here is generally high, and there are scientists in almost every family.

I still think my friend is an exception in a way, yet, in a way not. Although most of us here agree about the effect on the planet of greenhouse gases, we are doing hardly anything about it. We talk a lot, to be sure, but according to official figures in 2018, emissions of greenhouse gases here have not (!) decreased since 1990, and there is no sign of their doing so in the immediate or less immediate future. Why? Well, for one thing, who is going to pay for the reduction? The tax payer? The rich? You and I by forfeiting air travel and by shivering through the winter months? And what about the other countries? Why should my country pay the price if your country lives as though there were no tomorrow?

And yet, we all see it coming, the dreaded tomorrow, when even my part of the planet, not to mention yours, will no longer be a nice place. Actually, it hardly bears thinking about, and in my country, more and more women are saying to themselves: I cannot bear the thought of bringing children into tomorrow’s world.

Meanwhile, with fewer and fewer babies inhabiting my country, we live just like you do, as though there were no tomorrow, because the thought of tomorrow does not bear thinking about. But since my friend is quite incapable of not thinking, he has taken the alternative approach: he thinks that whatever is happening to the planet is through no fault of ours, so there is really nothing to be done, and the planet will survive as it always has.

When you get down to it, both he and I – in spite of our different viewpoints – are like a terminal patient I once knew: With shining eyes, he would speak about buying a little sailboat and sailing to an island he knew of. He would pitch a tent there, light a campfire and fry the fish he had caught himself. He radiated when he evoked skin-diving in the clear waters around the island, or listening to birds singing as the sun went down, or watching the sunrise from his sleeping bag. Just thinking about him, I long for summer and I’m already planning …

Jun 202018
 

We used to be a peace-loving nation, or so I’m told, until our current right-wing government aided by the Secretary General of NATO turned our country into the Emperor’s poodle (no offence intended to poodles, believe me).

However, I don’t think we’ve ever been any more peace-loving than the other lot, whoever they are (probably no less, either). After all we’ve been a major arms supplier for years. In 2008, Norway was the world’s fourth largest arms exporter according to Statistics Norway.

Though our importance as a global arms exporter declined somewhat after 2008, our exports to Saudi Arabia and that country’s buddies Kuwait and UAE  have risen sharply of late. In fact, our arms exports rose by 33% in 2017 as compared to 2016 (s0urce: NRK August 2018). Interestingly, in terms of “Military weapons, incl. sub-machine guns”, we ranked as the world’s second largest exporter in 2017, according to ITC.

However long our would-be status as a peace-loving nation has been dragged by the Emperor’s chariot through Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and, indirectly, also Jemen, we found out a long time ago, maybe as far back as in the Palaeolithic period, that to have friends, you must have enemies; your friends’ enemies. If your friends wish to stop all immigration, you virulently oppose all who take the opposite view, also those who say that well, we cannot let everybody in, but …And vice versa! If you fiercely uphold a position of neutrality in the matter of one war or another, everybody else, on either side, is your enemy.

Now the things that you and your friends strongly dislike make up a disparate bundle, and that is all fine and dandy, and we can all proudly agree that you and I and all our friends are individualist, until we get down to fashions and food (well, perhaps not all that individualist). And as for friends and enemies, if what people wear when we first meet them, and what they eat, doesn’t immediately give away their positions on the issues that matter (music, immigrants, football, climate, computer habits, etc.), we discreetly ask them a few test questions and WAM, they are either in or out, and that’s that.

We don’t shoot enemies anymore, at least not within this realm; we just don’t waste our breath on those who are out. We don’t even shout at them, but treat them quite simply as non-existent, just like our predecessors treated slaves or servants. More’s the pity; we might otherwise learn a thing or two. After all, if two parties differ, one of them is evidently wrong, maybe both, and there may be something to be said for both of the opposing views. Take the Palestine issue, for instance, nobody, not even the Palestinians, have ever maintained that they haven’t made some pretty fatal mistakes, though they don’t agree on just what those mistakes were. And as for the Israeli side, there is absolutely no doubt that as late as in the 1940s, there still seemed absolutely nowhere in the world for Jews to go except to the USA, and even there, anti-Semitism was common.

But no, we don’t listen, we don’t speak, we don’t even shout, we just turn our backs.

So now the horses dragging the chariot are stomping at the borders of Venezuela, while the Emperor and his buddies, Saudi Arabia and Israel are all itching to to get rid of Iran, and his slightly reticent partners of war in NATO are whipping up a hysterical fear of Russia, and boy does the Emperor ever have them in his pocket! Yes, no matter how they smile condescendingly over the Emperor’s antics, they have more or less invited him into their beds: They have been deluded into imagining that Russia is a goblin that will stop at nothing, as opposed to them and their equally morally superior friends, and where will they be without him if Russia decides to gobble up all of Europe?

Jun 162018
 

Have you heard the tale about the three wishes, the bickering couple and the sausage that ended up hanging from the wife’s nose?

Nowadays, marital discord is more likely to be resolved with a murder than with a magical sausage implant. In fact, most people today, myself included, “don’t believe in” magic.

But you never know. Do you think the US emperor had read Philip Roth’s 2004 novel “Plot Against America” before he stood for president? I find that very unlikely. Yet, something the author imagined could have happened in 1940 (but didn’t), did in fact happen in 2017: A man with no real or academic knowledge of political science, social sciences or any other science (unless you consider a Bachelor of Economics and a capacity to bully other people “academic knowledge”), a man whose primitive slogan was “America First” became president. In Philip Roth’s “what if” game, “America First” is for Christians, not Jews. In the unreal reality that our disbelieving eyes have been following since 2017, as though it were a dystopic TV series, “America First” admittedly welcomes Jews. Nevertheless, Trump’s reign has distressed and deeply saddened “most American Jews”, cf. CNN 16/5/2018

As I see it, it is grossly unfair that US Jews so often are blamed by people all over the world for the crimes against humanity committed by Israel. It is not the American Jews that root for the eviction of Palestinians, the occupation of the West Bank and the imprisonment of the entire population of Gaza, but mostly Evangelical Protestants and the Tea Party movement. Unfortunately, as a result of Israel’s heinous crimes against humanity, anti-Semitism will increase.

In his novel, Philip Roth claims that fellow Americans were anti-Semitic when he grew up. I believe him! I believe him because in Plot Against America he strikes me as being meticulously, almost drearily, realistic. Philip Roth is not generally dreary! So in this novel, he is making a tremendous effort to cling to reality. Yet, the plot, the election of an “America First” man as president in 1940, is only a pseudo-reality, which turned out to be real reality in 2017… and now I, writing this, am totally confused. What is real, what is not and what is simply (black) magic?

I think Philip Roth is far from the only person who has played the “what if game”. In fact, I am sure that you, as I, will have heard players define the stakes, and you, as I, will have shaken your head doubtfully about the outcome of some of the most common “what if ” propositions.

  • What if the world were ruled by men only?
    (Oh, well, we know all about that.)
  • What if the world were ruled by women?
    (Not sure the outcome would be all that much better.)
  • What if the world were ruled by me?
    (We know, or should know, a lot about that as well. But do we learn? Have we even started to learn to recognise the psychopaths whose aim it is to rule the world?)

At the moment, however, I am more concerned about the aspect – potential aspect, admittedly – of magic in all of this. Wouldn’t it be nice if wishful thinking could ensure a different sort of  “what if”?

What if almost all of us wished that everybody in this world could be guaranteed adequate nourishment and drinking water, basic accommodation (with sewage and electricity, etc.), adequate health care and adequate education? Would our wishing it make it happen?

Feb 142017
 

What do you tell your children when they ask you about the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” or the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”?

Maybe your children are still only toddlers. One day, however, you may have to explain to them not only the meaning of NATO and TTIP, but how you used your democratic rights to support or to not support your country’s adherence to one or the other. One day, the “democratic” world’s parents will have to explain to their children how a “redneck” who refers to international agreements as “dumb” became the world’s most powerful man. I am not sure future generations will be impressed by the replies:

  • (about NATO) “Well you see, first the communists and then the terrorists … “
  • (about TTIP) “We were all sort of one big family, so trading mainly with each other seemed natural.”
  • (about the world’s most powerful man) “We respected democracy.”

Are we, the parents – we who were once children and who now have children who will someday be parents – are we responsible for the acts of NATO, the consequences of TTIP, the stunningly irresponsible acts of the current US president? If we are not, who is?

Yesterday, there were at least 300 thousand demonstrators on the streets of Romania’s towns furiously protesting against corruption. Their votes had not been worth much, but their anger on the streets may just possibly have some effect. After all, in 1258, the English king’s angry subjects managed to restrict his power, forcing him to accept the Provisions of Oxford. True enough, rebellions have most commonly been brutally repressed, but some of them have yielded improvements for posterity.

Can we consider the election of Trump a rebellion of sorts, the result of the disenchantment of impoverished segments of the US population? Not all his voters were traditional “rednecks”, after all. Did not many of them have reason to feel betrayed, forgotten and neglected? Was their vote not a demonstration of resentment? As far as rebellions go, however, I’d say the consequences for posterity of this one seem bleak.

In my country, and probably in most others, people applying for senior executive posts are put through rigorous personality tests. They have to prove their mettle, demonstrating advanced skills and eminent suitability for the job. Not so for the president of the United States, where the voters have no say about NATO and TTIP, but they do get to decide who gets the top job.

I cannot tell you whether I would prefer to be torn to pieces by a shark or by a pack of hyenas. I have no experience of being torn apart and I’m sure I shall do all in my power to keep things that way. But I know for a fact that the US has invaded very many countries, and that the CIA has engaged in innumerable invasive, clandestine and anti-democratic operations all over the world over the past 50 years, operations the country’s own citizens don’t seem to want to know about. In many countries all over the world, there is therefore much seething hatred against the USA.

Hence, for any country, a military and / or trade alliance with the USA is a very serious liability. To put it more succinctly: Iran is far less of a threat to world peace than the USA which, under its current leadership, is even a threat unto itself.

Each country needs to consider its defences, to be sure. Self defence is indeed vital and includes avoiding entering into or sustaining alliances with bellicose expansionist states (even if they are lucrative to powerful segments of the population).

So how about reconsidering our options?

Aug 192015
 

I never understood the point of advertising. Oh, I’ll admit any day that if all my friends are raving about Vex – “and you know, it actually works,” – I might very well buy Vex regardless of what it’s for or whether I need it. But if some smooth humanoid that looks like Bambi pops up on my device and starts reeling off reams of pseudo-scientific twaddle about Vex’s riboneucleic effect on the peptic lumen of my wrinkles – not to mention if Bambi uses expressions such as “nature’s own” (in which case Vex is probably made of seaweed) – I’ll go and make a cup of coffee or turn off the device. Most likely the latter, because Bambi will be be sure to turn up again in the course of whatever it is I’m watching, and I won’t want more than one cup of coffee.

No, I never understood the point of advertising. Until now, that is. Now that I am actually paying a little attention to the ongoing election campaign in my country. (No need to look it up – just municipals, no big deal.) And now I finally understand the point of advertising.

You see, if you’re producing something you know will most likely not have the desired effect, you can’t let Bambi tell the public, “well, at least it probably won’t hurt you” or “it may stain your clothes”  or “be sure to bring an iron with you wherever you go”. With her gleaming unnaturally bright soft smile, she will – nay, she must – say that our wrinkles will disappear within 6 months, or that there is a 6-year guarantee or simply: no wrinkles. If you’re producing something that is essentially just seaweed or sawdust, your product’s survival hinges on your capacity to convince us, the public, what it is not, to wit: worth our money. Mind you, we, the public will be paying not only for the seaweed and the blender, packaging, pectin and chemical preservatives but for a bevy of lawyers hovering over every word uttered or written by your company. In spite of all their legalese precautions, there are always a few cranks around who will take you to court because they can effectively prove that the wrinkles did not go away, so you also need a few economists who can calculate the potential losses of the worst case number of lost lawsuits.

Q: But what if the campaigning politician is actually telling the truth, what then?

A: Stupid question. The only people who will vote for him or her will be friends and family. Who wants truth, for heaven’s sakes? Elections are like Christmas parties. We want gifts. That is what we have been taught to expect. Why would we otherwise take the trouble of standing in line somewhere to cast a ballot? We want something in return, don’t we.

Q: But surely there are some politicians and some voters who……?

A: Yes, yes, all right. Of course there are people, even some politicians, both on the so-called left and the so-called right side who seriously care – and many of them are even well-informed, take pains to stay informed and believe it is their duty as citizens to try to understand the complexities of our world. Nevertheless, the bottom lines of elections always tend to smack of seaweed or, worse, sawdust.

Q:Why? Anybody can have their say!

A: Yes, but not during elections. Elections are not about issues, but about what political party will get the job of governing the country or municipality. The people who talk are elected by their parties to say nice cheerful things that will make voters happy and vote for them, not the things that will depress voters.

For instance: Europe is tiny and there is a tidal wave of desperately poor and traumatised people rocking its fragile outer borders. Already, there are many cracks in the border, and people just go on dying by the thousands, attempting to cross. How do our politicians propose to deal with this issue? Some of them say (thankfully, many others do not agree) “We don’t want refugees here!” Have they ever taken a moment off from their politicking to imagine what would happen if the tables turned, if Europe were sacked, as the Roman empire once was, by very angry, very illiterate and very hungry millions? Where would we go? Who would give us asylum? Do you think voters want to hear about that?

True, these are only municipal elections, so the global situation is really not on the agenda. But the climate should be. Is my municipality willing to carry its part of the burden of changing the way we live here? This is a cold country. We use an awful lot of electricity. It is also a very long and sparsely populated country, so we use an awful lot of cars to get around. In 2014, carbon emissions from road traffic had  grown by 25% compared to 1990, while our total greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 3-4%. Do you think voters want to be told that from now on, they will not be allowed to drive to work?

So, yes, by all means, try Vex. Maybe the wrinkles will disappear, but if they don’t, don’t worry, be happy.