Gangs, Guns, and Flying Humans: Why the Winter Olympics are Better than the Summer Olympics

The Winter Olympics for Britain means finishing a “creditable” 65th in most events. Indeed, keeping track of the British athletes requires a separate box on the screen: yes the 1st, 2nd 3rd places are on display, but then we also have a special box where we Brits learn how far behind the leaders our athletes are trailing. In fact we have only really produced one famous winter Olympian: Eddie the Eagle.

eddie-the-eagle

Eddie the Eagle, getting ready to fly…

Despite Britain’s lack of success, I love the Winter Olympics. Let’s face it, the Summer Olympics are boring as fuck; running, cycling, and even walking in circles over miscellaneous distances seems less the pinnacle of human perfection than a two week long exercise in torturously dull television. In contrast, the Winter Olympics, while technically undertaken in along the same Olympic principles, is like a one month trip into the psychedelic dream-world of criminal genius lunatic.

Now, I realise that this might not resonate with Norwegians to whom launching oneself down steep icy hills on two narrow bits of plastic and then shooting stuff appears perfectly natural. Indeed, looking at the medal count, Norwegians probably like it because they are remarkably good at it. However the Olympics has a unique appeal to the wider, non-snow-expert audience that Norwegians and Scandinavians do not seem to recognise.

Flying Humans
First, while the Summer Olympics technically involves pushing human performance to the limits, the Winter Olympics goes much further, and then some. This is because seemingly most winter Olympic events contain some flying-human component. Yes, flying; humans aren’t meant to fly, but one would not know this from watching Sochi. Ski-jumping itself is basically a tribute to human capacity for defiance and blind optimism; it is hypnotic watching these humans hurling themselves one after the other into the sky literally giving an elegant V to rationality, gravity, and anyone on the ground who might consider their sport a dangerously bad idea. I do not know exactly how the Winter Olympic committee decides on new events, but nothing new seems to get in without a giant ramp or three with which to launch people from. And this brings me onto the next brilliant thing about the Winter Olympics.

Extreme Danger
The almost permanent prospect of death is ever present in most winter Olympic events. Usain Bolt may run very fast (well done Usain), but he is unlikely ever to crash. So while his speed-feats are sort of impressive, they pale in comparison the way the remarkably cheery kamikaze downhill skiers, bobsleighers, snowboarders face their doom whenever they practice their hobby. Indeed, the best bit of the Norwegian coverage is when TV tells the family story of the Norwegian ski-jumpers: specifically whenever they show old pictures of 5 year olds shooting off ramps, while their proud parents watch in the background, blissfully oblivious that in most countries they would be liable for child neglect.

Utilization of household objects for sport
But even if watching humans try to fly does not appeal, you can always switch over to curling, an event that has somehow managed to turn brushing into a sport. Like everything in the Winter Olympics, I love imagining how it was conceived. Presumably sometime around 1900, some bored peasants were sitting around one cold January morning looking for something to do. All they had at hand was rocks, ice and brushes and so, curling was born. But curling also has important social benefits, providing a source of escapism for depressed housewives and housemen who thanks to curling can imagine they are in the Olympics whenever they are doing the kitchen floor.

Gangs
The final element that marks the superiority of the Winter Olympics is the open gang culture. The Skiers and the Snowboarders clearly dislike other. And, like all good gangs – the Mods and the Rockers, the Bluds & the Cribs, the Jets & Sharks – they take great care to differentiate themselves from their rivals by clothing. The Skiers are perfectly pragmatic in their condom-suits optimized for everything except style. The Snowboarders meanwhile, to whom aero dynamism would also be an obvious advantage, have collectively decided that they would rather go baggier and therefore slower, than win dressed like the enemy. Indeed, the Snowboarders are almost unique in global sport in the way they have privileged style over speed. This irritates the Skiers who look down on snowboarders like the AA on alcoholics, while the Snowboarders, clearly having too much sex to care, consider skiing about as cool as a dad at a wedding disco. Sadly, the Summer Olympics lacks this gang subplot, and are instead all united by a dull homogeneous professionalism.

ptun on a horse

“Putin on a Purple Horse” Courtesy of Hja, Norwegian culture in English

Russia
In sum, what is not to love about the Winter Olympics? What other global event combines flying, brushes, guns, and gangs? None, and thus nothing compares. The only downside to this year’s event is that it is being held in Russia. But even that seems to have had a silver lining. Indeed, the event has provided a unique opportunity to shine a light on the Russia’s anti-gay laws, bringing protest to the country in a manner that would otherwise be impossible. Moreover, the impressive array of online memes mocking Putin, surely cannot have passed by a man with such an ego without irritation. Indeed, it is always amusing to see how vain leaders’ desire for the prestige of hosting large scale sporting events frequently ends up biting them in the ass.

The Future
Ultimately, it seems obvious that if the Summer Olympics expects to survive it needs to learn from its weird winter cousin. That is why in Rio 2014, I dearly hope to see Usain Bolt running along in baggy trousers with a brush strapped to his back.

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This article was originally published  on Paulbeaumont.blogg.no through Nettavisen.no

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Secure World Problems

Passwords are the bane of modern existence. I have at least 37 ongoing at moment, mostly variations on football players that once played for Huddersfield Town AFC. I would like to unify my catalogue of passwords into one Überpassword, but the IT online security departments have created insurmountable obstacles to my one password utopia.

Indeed, there is no rhyme or reason to the level of security, the level of difficulty required for these passwords. My bank would let me use PASSWORD, meanwhile my university requires that:

1. It is not a fucking word
2. It has random capital letters
3. Those capital letters are not at the beginning of the password.
4. It must have numbers, but they cannot be in any recognisable sequence

IMAG0067

Suggested password: Q7#SQVq4 ? Fuck you, and your exclamation marks too.

I am beginning to think that my university does not want me to sign up for courses. Maybe that is how modern universities force you out. There are too many rules and regulations to actually expel someone, much better to just irritate you into leaving by making the criteria for your passwords so difficult that you just give up. It works to an extent, I do not spend my time writing my masters thesis, as much as I spend my time organising my passwords.

I do not meet that many criminals, but I it is difficult to conceive of someone working day and night to be able to sign me up for miscellaneous university courses . Or perhaps they are:

“BINGO” Tony the mobster shouts to his compadre,”I have finally hacked into Paul Beaumont’s StudentWeb!”

“At last”, Jimmy  exclaims, “I have waited for this day my whole working life. Sign him up for Advanced Development Studies!”

“One step ahead of you Jimmy, I have signed him up for that and Intersectional Feminism, in a post conflict nexus”

And so it went, the criminal masterminds put aside their plans for making money through scheming and cheating, and signed me up for several courses that I was only vaguely interested in. When the news got back to the heads of security at the university they were distraught. They could not understand how their remarkably complex criteria for passwords had been broken. The problem they had not considered of course, was that:

The harder you make the password, the more likely professional idiots like me will write it down and lose it.

In conclusion, let us fucking make the passwords we want and deal with the consequences. Yes idiots will lose, but idiots always lose. University students do no need the security one typically associates with tactical nuclear weapons.

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Defending Norway from The Guardian

Norwegians should know better than anyone else not to feed the trolls. But it is hard to turn the other cheek when they jump above the line – not only to opinion pieces, but to the “news” section in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

Michael Booth’s hatchet job on Nordic Countries entitled “Dark Lands: The Grim Truth behind the Scandinavian Miracle” has gone viral at the time of writing to the tune of 20,000 shares on Facebook. Intended to “redress the imbalance” of pro-Scandinavian articles in the UK press, Booth, a resident of Denmark, sets himself up as an expert on all the Nordic countries’ social woes. Predictably, our hero Booth misfires badly. As one commentator on the Guardian explained, Booth’s article is what you get when you “take a stereotype, blend it with a pinch of ignorance, add a smattering off rather desperate humour and try and sell it in book form as real insight.”

scream

Living in Norway in Munch’s and Booth’s imagination

I am not qualified to offer a riposte on behalf of the other Nordic countries slandered. But as a long-term and extremely grateful English immigrant to Norway, a land Booth calls “xenophobic”, “scrooge-like” “a-social” and “inward looking”, I feel a duty to defend my adopted home. Indeed, Booth appears unable to write a sentence on Norway unburdened by a faulty premise or willful misrepresentation. The following is a dissection of the article, point by point

1. The conflation of Breivik, anti-Islamism and the “rise” of Progress (FrP)

Booth: in September the right-wing, anti-Islamist Progress party – of which Breivik had been an active member for many years – won 16.3% of the vote in the general election, enough to elevate it into coalition government for the first time in its history. There remains a disturbing Islamophobic sub-subculture in Norway.

There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to know where to begin. (To start), Breivik left Frp ages ago complaining it was not radical enough. Moreover, if we judged collectives by their most extreme individual members, then the Republican party in the U.S. has thousands of “links” to extremists of every stripe. But even if you accept the dim-witted simplistic premise that Progress are a one policy “anti-Islamist” party, their percentage of the vote has fallen by a third since the last election. If one assumes that FrP’s voters are a homogenous gang of extremist racist right wingers, as Booth implies when it linking Progress FrP to Breivik, then such a vast drop in 4 years suggests that Norway is doing a pretty good job of dealing with its anti-Islamist subculture.

However, labelling FrP as merely an “anti-Islamist party is hopelessly reductionist; they have a broad populist platform that promises low taxes, cheap booze, more roads, more money for the police, “freedom of choice” (read privatisation) as well as anti- immigration policies . The most we can say is that their anti-immigration policies did not put off 16% of Norway from voting for them.

Furthermore though, Booth’s “grim truth” in Norway is also the norm in the UK. The policies and rhetoric of “the anti-Islamist party” in Norway are the staple of the UK’s mainstream parties.The UK loves to look down on continental Europe whenever a far right party gets into office, but in fact, the UK’s “disturbing anti-Islamic subculture”, is hidden about as well as a racist elephant a rug. The UKIP are hardly enlightened, yet regularly poll around 18%; while the violent anti-Islamic British Self Defence league counts its members in the thousands. But perhaps most tellingly is that many of this “anti-Islamist” party’s polices were born in Britain: Progress’ plan to intern asylum seekers while their application is processed was introduced 10 years ago in the UK by New “Labour”. The reason the UK has no “anti-immigration” party in power is because it has an undemocratic election system that very deliberately marginalises the small parties (right, left, racist and green). Ultimately, though, the UK’s current coalition government makes FrP Progress look moderate: after all this British government is the one that recently introduced a migrant repatriation scheme in which giant billboards with “GO HOME” were driven around ethnically diverse areas of London. If Norway has a disturbing anti-Islamic subculture, as Booth suggests, then the UK simply has a disturbing anti-Islamic culture.

tory-van-620_2628143b

I kid you not: this van was driven through London’s most multicultural areas.

2. Proving prejudice with prejudice

To apparently prove his claim about Norwegians especially xenophobia nature. Booth writes:
Ask the Danes, and they will tell you that the Norwegians are the most insular and xenophobic of all the Scandinavians

This must be one of the most dim-witted statements ever to be published in The Guardian.  It uses prejudice as evidence of prejudice; Booth is essentially saying that “generalizing from what can only be the tiny sample of Danes I have met, they seem to frequently and unpleasantly generalize that Norwegians make the most unpleasant generalizations”.

Can we expect the Guardian to report on miscellaneous English people’s observations on Scottish spending habits, the French’s penchant for garlic and America’s collective IQ when it comes to other “international news”, then? The answer of course is no, because that would be stupid.

3. Imaginary trends, imaginary correlations

Booth: it is true that since they came into a bit of money in the 1970s the Norwegians have become increasingly Scrooge-like, hoarding their gold, fearful of outsiders.

Booth has a lot going on here: Norway Hitting oil (or coming into money) is correlated with both 1) Scrooge-like hoarding and 2) fear of outsiders. Let’s break this down: First of all, the notion that Norway came into money is misleading. Norway did not just come into money, it hit oil, something very different. Oil, counter-intuitively, is actually correlated with under-development and war, not wealth. Norway is pretty much the only country that has escaped the “Oil Curse”, and managed to spread the benefits across its whole society; hence why Norway now rests top of the UN development index and has long sat amongst top five most equal societies in the world. Norway has certainly shared the oil money with its general population, then.

But what if Booth means hoard in the sense of not sharing it with the world?

Well, again, Norway has also long resided in the top 5 of aid giving countries. So, unless Booth expects Norway to just give away its oil money at unprecedented levels, Booth is again misleading his readers. Meanwhile, Norwegian Universities provide fee-less education in English to the 10% of its students from abroad . In this regard, they beat most of Europe (and certainly the UK) in terms sharing their education services to “outsiders”.

Perhaps when Booth suggests hoard he is making a reference to Norway’s Pension fund, the world’s largest investment fund. Granted, you could call that Scrooge-like if you consider saving money for your general population to cope with the latent pension time bomb threatening all social democracies, , but I think that might better fall under the adjective “prudent”. It certainly beats privatising the North Sea stocks and spending the windfall to spend on a self-inflicted recession like Margaret Thatcher did.

Booth’s second claim is even more dubious: Fear of outsiders in Norway he claims has apparently increased since the 1970s, and this is correlated to swelling of the oil fund. How precisely is he measuring this fear of outsiders? Norway has a lot more “outsiders” living within its borders these days due to globalisation, and like all Western Social Democracies, it is experiencing teething problems marked by a growth in nationalist parties like Progress. However, it is huge leap to pin this un-sourced growing “fear of outsiders” on Norway’s oil wealth. Indeed, it would be obvious to roll out the old “correlation is not causation” cliché here, but it does Booth’s argument too much credit, as he offers nothing compelling to support his claim the fear of outsiders is growing.

4. Lies, Damn lies, Statistics and Sweden

Instead, what Booth does offer is this wilfully disingenuous comparison with Sweden’s asylum policy:
though 2013 saw a record number of asylum applications to Norway, it granted asylum to fewer than half of them (around 5,000 people), a third of the number that less wealthy Sweden admits (Sweden accepted over 9,000 from Syria alone)

The first thing to note is that Norway is half the size of Sweden, so comparing absolute numbers is unfair. But making amends for what I will generously call Booth’s “oversight”, we can see that Norway accepted about ⅔ of the asylum seekers Sweden did relative to its whole population. This is still not as good as Sweden, but then Sweden is top of the list in terms of the number of asylum seekers accepted per person, so the comparison does not really show that Norway is bad, as much as Sweden is very good. Norway actually came a pretty decent 3rd. Thus if Norway is becoming more fearful of outsiders (accepting Booths dubious criteria, or accepting asylum seekers), it still seems considerably less fearful than the vast majority of the rest of the world.

5 Harder, Longer, Sicker

Booth: “his countrymen [Norwegians] have been corrupted by their oil money, are working less, retiring earlier, and calling in sick more frequently.”

Booth demonstrates here that he might well be a sociopath. In Booth’s world, Norway could improve by working 12 hour days until death and never calling in sick – unless you happen to die. Earlier in the piece, when damning Denmark with nonsense, Booth suggested that Denmark’s shorter working days caused low labour productivity (this is nonsense because productivity is measured by output per hour), here Booth fails to grasp rudimentary social policy, or more bluntly, the raison d’état of the state: to make people’s lives better. Ideally, this involves – you guessed it – working less, retiring earlier, and calling in sick when you are sick. That is not “corruption”, it is progress.

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None of this is to say that Norway is some sort of Utopia. However, it has many flaws. And the original premise of Booth’s article to look beyond the “unblinking idolatry” of all things Scandinavian is a good one. The trouble here is the execution and the executioner. Booth’s text is at its best when writing about Denmark – not surprising since that is where Booth lives – and worst when regurgitating stereotypes about Norway, where he has not lived. The Guardian should have found experts for each Scandinavian country if they wanted credible nuanced reporting. Unfortunately, The Guardian loses close to £1m a week, and given the choice between click-bait trolling, and quality reporting, clicks won. A sad day for a once proud newspaper.

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