Neil Oliver heads for Scandinavia to reveal the truth behind the legend of the Vikings. In the first programme, Neil begins by discovering the mysterious world of the Vikings’ prehistoric ancestors. The remains of weapon-filled war boats, long-haired Bronze Age farmers, and a Swedish site of a royal palace and gruesome pagan ritual conjure up an ancient past from which the Viking Age was to suddenly erupt.
October 17, 2013
August 12, 2013
Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column has lots of nice things to say about this young man:
For the sheer story-telling of it, Havard Rugland has to be this morning’s winner. He’ll tell his story at The MMQB in detail Tuesday, but the short version is this: Soccer player from a small town in southwest Norway, enchanted with American football. Ordered a football online in early 2011, began kicking it for fun, made a YouTube video of him powerfully kicking a football, Norwegian TV picked it up, it got some buzz on American TV, and the Jets invited him for a tryout late last year. Detroit tried him out, then signed him last spring.
“I scored some points in a real football game,” Rugland said from the Lions’ facility Sunday, still sounding incredulous about it all in his quite-good English. “It is such an incredible feeling, when that first kick went through.”
It showed. For a third-quarter first-preseason-game field goal, Rugland’s 49-yarder engendered huge emotion on the Lions’ sidelines. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch lifted Rugland in the air, and the team gathered ‘round, pounding him on the pads and helmet. It’s hard to have a feel-good, memorable moment in a first preseason game, but this was certainly one.
May 2, 2013
Canada’s Arctic patrol ship design program just a job creation scheme that doesn’t actually create jobs in Canada
The CBC’s Terry Milewski on the Harper government’s much-heralded shipbuilding program which is far more expensive than it needs to be — because of the demand that the work be done in Canada — and yet somehow doesn’t even manage to create Canadian jobs:
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose and Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced March 7 in Halifax that Ottawa will pay Irving Shipbuilding $288 million just to design — not build — a fleet of new Arctic offshore patrol ships.
Irving will then build the ships under a separate contract.
However, a survey of similar patrol ships bought by other countries shows they paid a fraction of that $288 million to actually build the ships — and paid less than a tenth as much for the design.
In addition, the design of Canada’s new ships is based upon a Norwegian vessel whose design Ottawa has already bought for just $5 million.
The Norwegian ship, the Svalbard, was designed and built for less than $100 million in 2002.
Experts say the design price is normally 10-20 per cent of the total cost of the ships.
But don’t worry … jobs are being created or saved by this major Canadian government project … in Denmark and in the United States:
Another criticism of the project is that much of the design work — in a project meant to create Canadian jobs — is actually going overseas.
Although Irving will manage the design project in Nova Scotia, it has subcontracted the actual production of final blueprints to a Danish firm, OMT. Seventy Danish ship architects will work on those.
The job of designing the systems integration is going to Lockheed Martin and the propulsion system will be designed by General Electric, both U.S. companies.
This is only to be expected, say supporters of the project.
“We’ve been dormant here for better than two decades now. We don’t have the skill sets inside the industry,” said Ken Hansen, editor of the Canadian Naval Review in Dartmouth, N.S.
March 24, 2013
Canada recently dropped out of the top ten in a UN beauty contest that we once “won” seven years in a row. At the time, Canadian politicians used that accolade as a regular talking point. Now, a bit to my surprise, the media hasn’t been using the “loss” as a stick to incessantly beat the government with. How unexpectedly mature of them:
Canadians with a penchant for lists will recall that in 1994 we began a record stint of seven straight years atop the United Nations Human Development Index. Meant to provide an international comparison of living standards, our dominance on this global leader board was seen as tangible proof Canada was the best country in the world. The annual report regularly garnered substantial media attention and sparked plenty of national braggadocio. Prime minister Jean Chrétien, in particular, made it a frequent talking point.
No longer. We haven’t topped the rankings since 2000. Current leader Norway now boasts more first-place finishes than we do. (Although our Nordic friends haven’t yet won seven in a row.) In fact this year marks the first time Canada has failed to place in the top 10. The most recent edition, released last week, has us at a humbling 11th — a whisker above South Korea. Ireland beat us.
[. . .]
In 1992 the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency stripped Canada’s federal foreign debt of its coveted AAA rating, thanks to an endless stream of government deficits. In January 1995 the Wall Street Journal measured Canada for a barrel suit, declaring us to be “an honorary member of the Third World” in its now-legendary “Bankrupt Canada” editorial. Our debt-to-GDP ratio hit a peak of 68 per cent that year. The loonie was worth about US$0.72, and would bottom out at US$0.62 before it was done falling.
Since then, of course, Canada’s financial turnaround has become a totem for countries around the world struggling with the after-effects of the Great Recession. Government finances are in better shape than most and our dollar at par. Canada’s reliance on natural resources, once considered a retrograde habit, has played a large role in allowing our economy to weather the storm. Our banking system is an international paragon of virtue; we’re even exporting central bankers. Plus Canada has adopted a more self-confident stance on foreign policy, replacing our old reputation as a meek and mild peacekeeper with a more authoritative voice.
February 2, 2013
“The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways. We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.”
Based on this report in The Economist, we really should strive to be more like Sweden, and not for the reasons most Canadians would expect:
Sweden has reduced public spending as a proportion of GDP from 67% in 1993 to 49% today. It could soon have a smaller state than Britain. It has also cut the top marginal tax rate by 27 percentage points since 1983, to 57%, and scrapped a mare’s nest of taxes on property, gifts, wealth and inheritance. This year it is cutting the corporate-tax rate from 26.3% to 22%.
Sweden has also donned the golden straitjacket of fiscal orthodoxy with its pledge to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Its public debt fell from 70% of GDP in 1993 to 37% in 2010, and its budget moved from an 11% deficit to a surplus of 0.3% over the same period. This allowed a country with a small, open economy to recover quickly from the financial storm of 2007-08. Sweden has also put its pension system on a sound foundation, replacing a defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution one and making automatic adjustments for longer life expectancy.
Most daringly, it has introduced a universal system of school vouchers and invited private schools to compete with public ones. Private companies also vie with each other to provide state-funded health services and care for the elderly. Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist who lives in America, hopes that Sweden is pioneering “a new conservative model”; Brian Palmer, an American anthropologist who lives in Sweden, worries that it is turning into “the United States of Swedeamerica”.
[. . .]
This is not to say that the Nordics are shredding their old model. They continue to pride themselves on the generosity of their welfare states. About 30% of their labour force works in the public sector, twice the average in the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation, a rich-country think-tank. They continue to believe in combining open economies with public investment in human capital. But the new Nordic model begins with the individual rather than the state. It begins with fiscal responsibility rather than pump-priming: all four Nordic countries have AAA ratings and debt loads significantly below the euro-zone average. It begins with choice and competition rather than paternalism and planning. The economic-freedom index of the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, shows Sweden and Finland catching up with the United States (see chart). The leftward lurch has been reversed: rather than extending the state into the market, the Nordics are extending the market into the state.
Why are the Nordic countries doing this? The obvious answer is that they have reached the limits of big government. “The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways,” says Gunnar Viby Mogensen, a Danish historian. “We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.” The economic storms that shook all the Nordic countries in the early 1990s provided a foretaste of what would happen if they failed to get their affairs in order.
December 13, 2012
A fascinating story of a small-but-rich country importing workers from Sweden:
As an American, it is bizarre to think of modern Sweden, so often lauded as a paragon of social and economic stability, as coughing up migrant workers. Stranger still is that the Swedes migrate to Norway, which has always been regarded as Sweden’s little brother. Often at war, Sweden forced Norway into an uneven union for most of the 19th century. Though politically independent of Sweden for over one hundred years, Norway has remained culturally subordinate to its larger, more-established neighbor. Norwegians watch Swedish television, listen to Swedish music, and read Swedish books. Before the Norwegian translation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was released, the original Swedish version was the best-selling book in Norway. But in the last 25 years, Norway has added workers to the list of things it imports from Sweden.
In the eighties, Norway became rich off of oil. Its sovereign wealth fund is currently valued at about 600 billion dollars. From 1999-2009, average Norwegian family saw an increase of almost 100,000 NOK, or about $17,000. With its population of only five million, Norway needed to import laborers and service workers for its exploding economy. I once hitched a ride from a retired sailor, and after running out of ways to compliment his RV, I asked him how Norway had changed over the years. He thought Norway had it too good now. As a young man, he’d been at sea for over a year at a time, whereas “the young people today don’t want to work at all. It’s good that we have the Swedes.”
Current estimates of the number of Swedes living and working in Norway hover between 80,000 and 100,000. In Oslo alone, it’s thought that there are 50,000 Swedes, which is about 10 percent of the city’s population. Most of these are service workers. Indeed, the Swede-as-service worker has become something of a stereotype in Norway. The 2010 rap hit “Partysvenske” is an extended mockery of male Swedish migrant workers, who are portrayed as effete drunks who invade Oslo’s nightlife. At one point, the rappers — Jaa9 & Onklp — chide, “Make a mojito, do what you do well.” The condescension towards Swedish migrant workers was prevalent enough for Norwegian television to produce a mocumentary series titled Swedes Are People. There’s a weird power dynamic at play, with both groups exhibiting a sort of passive aggressive bitterness towards the other. For their part, Norwegians seem eager to buck Swedish cultural influence and assert their economic dominance. Speaking to the New York Times in 2007, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo put it rather well:
“When I was young, Swedes had whiter teeth, clearer skin, Abba, and Bjorn Borg. We had lots of fish, and not much more. Today, Swedes have been cut down to size. And I would say that many Norwegians enjoy the fact that so many Swedes are here doing menial jobs.”
When the Norwegian cross-country skier Petter Northug beat his Swedish rival across the line at the 2011 World Championships, he used opportunity to taunt Sweden about the low value of the Swedish currency. The Swedish media, on the other hand, laments the fact that Swedes are reduced to literally peeling bananas in Norway — albeit for about $23 an hour.
H/T to Tim Harford for the link.
November 28, 2012
ESR on some recent linguistic speculation:
Here’s the most interesting adventure in linguistics I’ve run across in a while. Two professors in Norway assert that English is a Scandinavian language, a North Germanic rather than a West Germanic one. More specifically, they claim that Anglo-Saxon (“Old English”) is not the direct ancestor of modern English; rather, our language is more closely related to the dialect of Old Norse spoken in the Danelaw (the Viking-occupied part of England) after about 865.
[. . .]
Previously on this blog my commenters and I have kicked around the idea that English is best understood as the result of a double creolization process — that it evolved from a contact pidgin formed between Anglo-Saxon and Danelaw Norse. The creole from that contact then collided, a century later, with Norman French. Wham, bam, a second contact pidgin forms; English is the creole descended from the language of (as the SF writer H. Beam Piper famously put it) “Norman soldiers attempting to pick up Anglo-Saxon barmaids”.
This is not so different from the professors’ account, actually. They win if the first creole, the barmaids’ milk language, was SVO with largely Norse grammar and some Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. The conventional history of English would have the girls speaking an SOV/V2 language with largely Anglo-Saxon grammar and some Norse vocabulary.
April 22, 2012
Paul Mendelle explains why the Breivik trial in Norway seems so strange to those used to British or American court practice:
It’s the dinner party question that every barrister gets regularly asked — how do you defend people guilty of such terrible crimes as murder, rape and paedophilia? It’s a simple enough question, and one I expect to hear often now that the Anders Breivik trial is under way, but there’s not a simple answer. The query raises issues that go far beyond mere problems of professional ethics. It touches upon matters of fundamental constitutional importance to us all.
The shortest answer is to say that we don’t defend people who are guilty of these crimes; we defend people who are accused of them and who tell us they are not guilty. Contrary to just about every drama series on TV, barristers do not provide their clients with defences. It’s the other way around: clients give us their instructions, and we are bound to act strictly upon them. The joke among barristers is that if we were in the business of providing our clients with defences, we’d come up with something a damn sight better than they do.
[. . .]
But while we are obliged to take our clients’ cases and to act on their instructions, we are certainly not obliged to act as their mouthpiece. Quite the contrary, the court is not to be used as a soapbox from which the defendant spouts political views. We are obliged to defend the man accused of racially motivated crime if he is adamant he is not guilty, but not if he wants to use us to justify his racist views. And if we did, the judge would stop us.
That’s why the Breivik trial seems so strange to the eyes of an English lawyer: because what is being proffered by Breivik does not appear in any legal sense to amount to self-defence. No individual has the right to resort to mass murder to defend his country, as he claimed when he concluded his ludicrous evidence. The court does indeed seem to being used by him as a platform for him to express his twisted views and while it has had the very good sense to impose a broadcast blackout, I cannot imagine that an English court would allow the defendant to give that evidence, or to call the sort of witnesses he plans to call. I hope I never have the occasion to be proved right.
April 21, 2012
John Walker points out how many headline writers and reporters seem to be gleefully eager to pin Breivik’s horrific crimes on computer games:
It’s pretty relevant to note much of what the killer said in his opening statements, in which he described secret societies, battles for purity, global conspiracy, and refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the courts. Very few press outlets took his comments at face value nor reported them as fact, strangely enough, but rather pointed out that he was either mad, or trying to appear mad. Now he has told the courts that he played World Of Warcraft for apparently 16 hours a day for a year, and saw Modern Warfare 2 as a police-shooting simulator, and not only is the press at large taking it as fact, but most are twisting Breivik’s words to their own interests. Something has gone very wrong when the horror of his actions is being used to fuel irrelevant agenda.
Yesterday Britain’s Daily Telegraph spoke to Oslo University professor of sociology, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, who believes that one factor that “hasn’t sufficiently been taken into account” was Breivik’s so-called “fascination” with World Of Warcraft. Because Breivik likes order and doesn’t like chaos, erm, something something, it’s gaming’s fault.
[. . .]
Then comes Modern Warfare. This he told the courts he played between November 2010 and February 2011, and described it as “a simple war simulator”. He explained that it was helpful for learning about “aiming systems”, and then described in some detail how he had used the game to practice killing policemen.
So, well, an immediate thought. That’s not what Modern Warfare is, or lets you do. The scripted corridors, nor the multiplayer, offer no useful practice for any such actions, and don’t allow you to simulate practising killing policemen in the manner Breivik describes. There is of course the infamous No Russian airport level, in which you play as an undercover agent with terrorists, and are able to shoot (or not shoot) civilians and policemen, but I think it’s unreasonable to suggest that it offers what Breivik claims. Of course there are many other shooters out that that would let you create your own specific scenarios, attempt to rehearse escaping from armed forces, and so on. But Breivik, in keeping with much else of his rhetoric, doesn’t make much sense here. It is very unfortunate that while a sceptical press has been enjoying picking over his comments about being a member of the Knights Templar, and disproving them, they see no need to question his remarks on using Call Of Duty as a simulator for combating armed police in real life. Instead here it’s assumed he’s being honest and clear-headed. It’s also important to note that Breivik’s memoir makes it clear that he only played MW2 after he had entirely planned the attacks, and it was in no way influential on his decision to kill anyone.
December 19, 2011
Don’t worry, my Norwegian friends, it’s just small-minded Canadian jealousy that you tend to beat us in all the “Smug Country” polls and your national monopoly is even more constricting and incompetent than our equivalent national monopoly:
Everyone knows the Norwegians are the most revoltingly perfect people in the world.
They consistently top all lists of Things Good Countries Do.
They give more to foreign aid than just about any other country in the world. Countries are supposed to give 70¢ for every $100 of national production, but hardly any do. Norway gives about 40% more than the benchmark. They’re sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in oil profits, and instead of blowing it on short-term expediencies (like a certain western province we could mention) they squirrel a lot of it away in an investment fund to help maintain their high standard of living when the oil runs out. And believe me, their standard of living is high: a cradle-to-grave nannyism that revolts conservatives but seems to work for Norwegians. (In Norway, life is so soft that even cows are required to have rubber mats in their stalls so they can rest comfortably between shifts).
They’re so perfect they’re annoying. Even Swedes get tired of hearing about them. So it’s kind of fun to read about how they’ve completely buggered up their supply management system, so that the entire country has been stripped of its butter supply just as Christmas arrives and everyone gears up to make lots of stuff for which butter is required. And if it reminds you of Canada’s own supply management system (think: dairy products and Quebec), all the better.
July 28, 2011
Douglas Murray points out that Breivik’s actions even before the attacks would have marked him as insane:
Anders Behring Breivik believed himself a Knight Templar and awarded himself various military ranks accordingly. He also believed that he and other self-described Islamophobic racists had common cause with jihadis and that the USA has a Jewish problem. So even before he planted a car bomb in a civilian area and gunned down scores of young people, it would have been clear to anyone who bothered to question him that Breivik was insane.
Of course, no discussion of the Oslo massacre is complete without considering the media reaction:
But in the coverage since his atrocities first broke on to the world, two troubling tendencies have converged. The first is the search for reason in a mind that was clearly a stranger to it. The second is the tendency — particularly strong on the left — to use any horrific act as a megaphone for existing prejudices. In the aftermath of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford in January, the left-wing media and politicians hunted for the right-wingers who they claimed had inspired the attack. That the gunman was not only a loner but a psychotic maniac was largely ignored as they rushed off excitedly to attack their ideological enemies. And so it is with Breivik.
For the past decade and more, every time an Islamist has blown something up, a chorus of voices — mainly from the left — has rightly said that ‘we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions’. But this time it was different. The Labour MP Tom Harris observed, with great frankness, that a ‘palpable relief that swept through the left when the identity of the terrorist was made known… Here, thank God, was a terrorist we can all hate without equivocation: white, Christian and far right-wing. Phew.’ So never mind not jumping to conclusions. When it seemed to emerge that, among many other things, the killer also claimed to be opposed to immigration and was fearful of Islam, that jump became a great leap towards group blame.
July 25, 2011
Mark Steyn is quoted in Norwegian terrorist Breivik’s “manifesto”, and this is being used to paint him and others as “inspiration” for the attacks. He responds:
I have been away from the Internet for the weekend, and return to find myself being fitted out for a supporting role in Friday’s evil slaughter in Norway. The mass murderer Breivik published a 1,500-page “manifesto.” It quotes me, as well as several friends of NR — Theodore Dalrymple, Daniel Pipes, Roger Scruton, Melanie Phillips, Daniel Hannan (plus various pieces from NR by Rod Dreher and others) — and many other people, including Churchill, Gandhi, Orwell, Jefferson, John Locke, Edmund Burke, Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, not to mention the U.S. Declaration of Independence.* Those new “hate speech” codes the Left is already clamoring for might find it easier just to list the authors Europeans will still be allowed to read.
It is unclear how seriously this “manifesto” should be taken. Parts of it simply cut and paste chunks of the last big killer “manifesto” by Ted Kaczynski, with the occasional [insert-your-cause-here] word substitute replacing the Unabomber’s obsessions with Breivik’s. This would seem an odd technique to use for a sincerely meant political statement. The entire document is strangely anglocentric — in among the citations of NR and The Washington Times, there’s not a lot about Norway.
[. . .]
Any of us who write are obliged to weigh our words, and accept the consequences of them. But, when a Norwegian man is citing Locke and Burke as a prelude to gunning down dozens of Norwegian teenagers, he is lost in his own psychoses. Free societies can survive the occasional Breivik. If Norway responds to this as the Left appears to wish, by shriveling even further the bounds of public discourse, freedom will have a tougher time.
Brendan O’Neill looks at the media reaction to the Oslo and Utoya terror attacks:
When it was reported on Friday that there had been an explosion and an horrific mass shooting in Norway, many observers assumed that al-Qaeda or some other radical Islamist group had struck at the heart of peaceful Scandinavia. ‘Norway’s 9/11’, said the front page of the Sun on Saturday, with the subheading: ‘“Al-Qaeda” massacre.’ Yet when it was revealed that the alleged bomber and shooter is a Norway-born, blonde-haired, farm-owning Aryan, observers quickly bought into the idea that we were faced with something very different from an al-Qaeda attack. This wasn’t ‘Norway’s 9/11’ after all, but something more akin to Columbine-on-steroids, a right-wing madman letting off steam in a most barbaric fashion. As one Norwegian police official put it: this was ‘probably more Norway’s Oklahoma than its World Trade Centre’.
Yet this simplistic categorisation of contemporary terror assaults — where violent outbursts get slotted into files marked ‘Radical Islamist Fury’ or ‘Right-Wing Anger’ — makes too fine a distinction between acts that are actually very similar. Just because something like 7/7 in London was executed by men with dark hair and brown skin who claimed to be fighting on behalf of the Muslim ummah, while the bombing of Oslo and massacre on Utoya were carried out by a white guy who claimed to be protecting European Christian culture, that doesn’t mean these are diametrically different actions. What they have in common is far more important than what separates them. And, stripped of their pseudo-political garb, what unites today’s various terror tantrums, what makes these kind of people possible in the first place, is a very powerful culture of estrangement in modern society.
In much of the media, particularly amongst the respectable broadsheet press, there was a palpable sense of relief when it was revealed that the alleged killer is white with far-right tendencies. This means he is the kind of person we can unambiguously hate. Where Islamist terror attacks, from 9/11 to 7/7, induce in some liberal observers torn and tortured feelings, where they want to condemn the violence but also feel the need to explain it as a natural reaction to evil Western foreign policy, Anders Behring Breivik is someone they can despise in an uncomplicated way. This means that while the attacks may not be ‘Norway’s 9/11’, they could well be the cultural elite’s 9/11 — in the sense that this is an act which the influential liberal classes may seek to politicise in an opportunistic fashion, to make moral mileage out of, in the same way that the right did after 11 September 2001.
August 26, 2010
Newly released MI5 information shows that the allied defeat in Norway in 1940 may have been caused by a German espionage triumph:
[Marina] Lee is said to have infiltrated the headquarters of the British Expeditionary Forces in Norway and obtained information about the plan drawn up by British commander Gen Auchinleck.
German commander, Gen Eduard Dietl, who was holding the Norwegian port of Narvik, was reportedly considering a withdrawal, but the disclosure of these details meant his forces could block the Auchinleck plan.
British, French and Norwegian troops were later forced to withdraw from German-controlled Norway.
Born in St Petersburg, Russia, Lee was married to a Norwegian communist and had trained as a ballerina before becoming “a highly valued and experienced German agent”, according to the files.
She is described as “blonde, tall, with a beautiful figure, refined and languid in manner” and reportedly spoke five languages.
One account says she personally knew Stalin — leading to conjectures she was working for both Berlin and Moscow who, at that time, were on the same side, our reporter says.