Monthly Archives: July 2013

On Oslo, junkies and the bystander effect

narkplata246-copy-jp-870

Image taken from vg.no

The downtown core of Oslo is about a 20 minute walk from my place. Lately I’ve been going down there pretty much every day. I go because I have nothing better to do, and because I get very easily bored (ridiculously so. Relaxing is really not my thing).  Anyway, there are a lot of hard drug and alcohol addicts in Oslo. (If you’ve read the post on Western and Norwegian Drug Policy, you’ll know of this.)

If you go to Oslo’s Central Station (“Oslo S or Jernbanetorget”, our main train station) you’ll see them. They hang out in several different locations, but Oslo S seems to have the greatest concentration. They’ll get chased away by the cops, but they come back within a fairly short time. If you then walk up Karl Johan (the main street in the centre of Oslo), you will also find them; they might be selling =Oslo mags, or they may, as the one guy I met last night, lie on the sidewalk, seemingly unconscious.  I’ll get back to the (seemingly) unconscious guy, but I have to explain the psych-part first.

There’s this (horrible) phenomenon called “the bystander effect” (psychology majors will be fully aware of this). The bystander effect is simply explained; when we see someone who is in trouble, we frequently fail to react. If there are many people present, as was the case today, we are even less likely to act. It is a weird phenomenon, and it happens all the time. The first time it was adequately described was back in 1964, when Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered in New York. Kitty was attacked, she cried for help, and there were many witnesses.Several of the witnesses heard Kitty’s cries and some saw the event. What was common for them all was that they did nothing.

It would be easy to judge them as horribly incompassionate, but please understand that these weren’t bad people. They were just subject to the bystander effect. Our psyches are cruel though, so when we are aware that there are others witnessing the same event that we are, our minds tell us that  that it is not our responsibility; that we ‘should stay out of it and mind our own business’. We assume that someone else will take care of the problem.  The thing is, this fabled  ’Someone else’ does not take care of the problem, because the ‘someone else’ will likely take the same position as you. We see it in the case of ‘jumpers’ or people who accidentally fall down on railroad/subway tracks when there’s a train coming. The more people are present, the less likely someone is to react. If there is only one person present, she/he is likely to help, to assume responsibility, but when there are tens or hundreds, we all stand by and watch it happen while waiting for someone else to do something.

In becoming aware of the bystander effect I have deliberately chosen not to fall for it. When I see someone struggling, I react. It is not a matter of being in a compassio-thon of sorts, it is just about having the decency to ask if the other person is well. I have never encountered any problems in doing so; the maximum amount of effort I have had to put in was to place a call to the police/ambulance (in the case of a very psychotic young man). The guy yesterday was perfectly fine ( he was just high as all get out) and all I had to do to assure that he was fine (i.e., that he wasn’t in need medical assistance)  was to shake him slightly and ask him if he was ok. No effort, just a question and a gentle touch.

So now that you’re aware of the bystander effect, I hope you react when you see someone who looks to be in a bad way. The worst thing that might happen is you may be told to mind your own business, and though that may hurt a little, you’ll live, and you’ll know that you did the right thing.

On why you probably shouldn’t buy a new cell phone until your old one is busted

Coltanlady

I am not crazy about cell phones. I dislike all phones really, but I dislike cell phones in particular.  I am not important enough (in the big picture) to have to be available 24/7, and I am quite bad at talking on the phone. I interrupt the person I am talking to, because I can’t seem to figure out whose turn it is to talk. Then there’s the awful ‘stutter/talk over each other thing’ that usually follows after my interrupting. I am also slow at texting. These are (I think) pretty good reasons for disliking phones. There are much better reasons to dislike cell-phones (and many other electronics) though, one being the trade in coltan.

Coltan is used in electronics (and missiles, weapons-systems and more). It is  a metallic ore,  and it is mined in several different places in the world, among them the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC for short). I am sure everyone is aware of the trade in blood diamonds (there’s even a movie); coltan is the blood-diamond of metallic ore. The trade in coltan helps fund  the (incredibly bloody and brutal) war within the DRC. Coltan funds the activities of warlords. These warlords use militias who are frequently made up of child-soldiers and the militias are responsible for brutal/incredibly violent rapes.

Image taken from www.whenthenewsstops.org

Image taken from www.whenthenewsstops.org

I have already mentioned that coltan is used in weapons manufacturing but I think it is worth repeating. Coltan has caused an increase in child labour (and thereby a decrease in school attendance) and has (of course) also been responsible for destruction of the habitats (and the killing off) of several already endangered animal species. And who profits? The large multinational companies. The already very wealthy. Trust me, the miners are not well paid, neither are the child soldiers. Not even the warlords are,  but the companies we willingly give money to in order to have the latest gadget, profit on a massive scale. The UN proposed sanctions against 85 multinationals, but after (vigorous) lobbying by member-states, nothing ever came of it.

Image taken from themartlet.ca

Child mining coltan. Image taken from themartlet.ca

All in all, our rampant consumerism has a very high cost. We don’t acknowledge that it exists though. We should probably reconsider our consumption, particularly when we are aware that it is costing lives.

Mind you, I am not innocent in this; I have a computer. I have a TV and I have a cell-phone (So, in the case of the cell, I only got a new one when I dropped the one I had inherited from my dad in my coffee-mug). I have many many electronic devices, but I am doing (and will continue to do) my utmost to keep it to a minimum. The people who would be impressed by my possessions are not people I really consider important to me anyway, so the brag-factor is absent. I am certain that I don’t need the Iphone 6, and I am pretty sure that most others don’t need it either.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Sorry about the depressing content, but awareness is a pretty good thing. Or so I think.

On Roma in Europe and Norway

 

This photo was taken in Berlin and depicts a 23 year old Roma woman by the name Erna Lauenburger. Erna was a skilled writer,and had she been allowed to live, she might have contributed  much more than she already has.   She was executed in 1943 for no other reason but having been born Roma.

This photo was taken in Berlin and depicts a 23 year old Roma woman by the name Erna Lauenburger. Erna was a skilled writer,and had she been allowed to live, she might have contributed much more than she already has. She was executed in 1943 for no other reason but having been born Roma.

(Again) note; I do not claim to have the answers as to how the problem of the Roma could possibly be solved, that’s the domain of the authorities and the politicians (and I would make a horrible politician).  I observe and write notes because I have nothing better to do. That said, get to it guys!! That’s why you got in to politics right? Cause you know how to fix problems/find solutions?

Anyway..

I’m certain that whoever reads this knows of the Roma, but just in case you don’t, I’ll give a brief introduction. Roma are frequently referred to as “Gypsies” (Gypsy is considered an offensive term in some circles) and they are wanderers. They originated in the Indian subcontinent and are currently dispersed throughout Europe and parts of the Americas. Throughout time, the Roma have been persecuted (almost?) on par with the Jewish people, but there are considerable differences between the two groups. Where the Jewish people persevered (despite incredible hardships) and have managed to spread the word of their ill-treatment, the Roma have not. Literacy and education has made all the difference. Both groups have been denied entry to several countries (among them, Norway) and forced sterilizations carried out by the majority-population were (and are) commonplace in the case of the Roma.

The Roma were also persecuted during the Holocaust, and the only group treated worse were the Jewish people. We are (of course) aware that it did happen to Roma too, but there is not a whole lot of discussion of the Roma’s fate these days.

Now, the more things change, the more they stay the same, right? I am not suggesting that Roma are exposed to Holocaust-like conditions these days, but they are certainly marginalized and treated like garbage. They are frequently beggars and live on the street. Some steal (I probably would too if that was my only option). The great majority are illiterate, and in European society at large, they are not considered equal to the rest of us. Their kids are sent to schools for intellectually disabled or segregated into ‘all-Roma’ classes. They do not have access to the same healthcare as you and I, and their life-expectancy is considerably lower than ours. They frequently refuse to disclose their ethnicity to the authorities and I completely understand why; I would never let my (non-existent) children suffer a fate like that of the Roma. Their paranoia is very well-founded, but in withdrawing from the rest of society they create an even greater problem for themselves. Progress is (usually) achieved through interaction, and without it, they’ll remain where they currently are.

Back to Norway (and Europe, but my first-hand experience is naturally from the country in which I live). The trend is not changing. Roma are still persecuted, but in a ‘kinder, gentler way’. They are chased away by the cops when they set up camp (this is not entirely unreasonable, camping is forbidden within Oslo’s limits unless it is done in costly camping-lots, so there’s that). They have been attacked with fireworks.  A smallish Norwegian newspaper (fairly) recently printed an article in which it was claimed that the Roma eat pigeons (!), rats (!!) and dogs (!!!) (feel free to contact me if you want any of the articles translated). This claim about Roma eating rats was supported by a picture of a bone which appears to be from a chicken wing (check it out, there’s a cigarette-butt that serves as a size-indicator. Rat-bones are much much smaller so if that bone is from a rat, it would be a Monster!). I would call the article `weirdly-phrased and almost propaganda-y’. These are people who do not eat shellfish, as they consider scavengers not edible, so the likelihood of these allegations being true are minuscule.  It was also alleged that they defecate outside, and that without properly wiping! (I would love to hear how Jan Hauger, the person claiming this, would know anything about how the Roma wipe. I do not contest that they might ‘go’ outside, but how do you know about their wiping-habits Jan?).  I am not usually in the business of judging others, but I’ll make an exception for Mr. Hauger. What he said harkens back to 1930′s Germany (*very angry-face*).

An added problem is that of “helpful people” (in other, non-minced words; ‘well-meaning idiots’). We have a guy here who started an organization called “Folk er folk” (“people are people”… Yup, not a particularly clever name…) He decided that the smart thing to do was to print a magazine (of sorts) that the Roma could sell as a means to get some money. There is already an organization doing that;  =Oslo, a long established institution where the sellers are  addicts (alcohol, narcotics, you name it). I will always buy =Oslo, and I will never buy “Folk er folk’s” magazine. Not because I don’t empathize with the Roma, but because it is a dirty concept. First, I am not too fond of his stealing the idea of a street-magazine (could it be considered intellectual property theft? I think so). Secondly, it has (naturally) created a conflict between two marginalized groups whom both deserve better. Bjønnulv Evenrud (the founder of “folk er folk”) should have known better.  (Am I being particularly judgy today? Yes. Yes I am.)

It should be said that the Norwegian government has tried to help in some ways. They have set up showers (which have not been used) and porta-potties (which were quickly trashed, by whom is uncertain). It might be so that the Roma lead their lives in a way that focuses less on showering and indoor-toilets and more on everyday survival. I must also commend many members of the Norwegian clergy; they have demonstrated on the Roma’s behalf, and I can honestly say that my respect rose considerably. It was a true act of compassion.

Anyway, To the psychology-part of this post; what does ‘information’ like what was printed in the newspaper article mentioned above do to our psyches? If we are gullible enough to believe it, it makes us consider the “vastly different” as not quite human. They do things we would never do; they eat things we would never eat; they act in ways we (from our privileged positions) find to be awful. We do not acknowledge that they are living, breathing humans with the exact same emotional range as ourselves. When we dehumanize, it becomes much easier to treat people in ways that we would never dream of treating those we consider our equals.  These were the mechanism at work in the Holocaust, in former Yugoslavia/Bosnia, in Rwanda, Abu Ghraib and in countless other cases. We dehumanize, we create ‘An Other’, and in the process, we ignore our humanity, compassion and empathy. A case in Italy illustrates my point; two Roma girls drowned during the summer of 08. Normally, those around would react with shock and horror, but instead they chose to continue sunbathing, just meters away from the dead girls.. If your reaction to young girls dying is that of nonchalance and indifference, you certainly do not see the girls as real human beings, as someone’s daughters and someone’s sisters. You have lost your ability to feel compassion, and that’s a serious flaw in your character.

Or so I think.

Oslo (pt. 2) look at “Tourist in my own city” below first :)

The prison itself, it goes by the name of "botsen". I have been inside, and trust me, it is nowhere near as cushy as Michael Moore and others claim Norwegian prisons to be.

This prison  goes by the name of “Botsen”. I have been inside, and trust me, it is nowhere near as cushy as Michael Moore and others claim Norwegian prisons to be.

Posters calling for a boycott of the fall elections. That might not be the way to go about it, but what do I know?

Posters calling for a boycott of the fall elections. Uhm..Guys? Not sure that’s the most productive way to change a system you perceive to not be functioning.

 

"Botsen" seen from the other side. The round stones you see in from have been collected from the different regions of Norway.

“Botsen” seen from the other side. The round stones you see in front of the prison have been collected from different counties/regions of Norway.

The park where we walk Niko.

The park where we walk Niko.

 

This is Alnaelva; I walk here at least once a day. There's a wonderful small path going through a virgin forest. I love it so much.

This is Alnaelva; I walk here at least once a day. There’s a wonderful small path going through a virgin forest. I love it so much.

Said path also has a bridge, and what you're seeing in the background is an old factory. Seeing it reminds me of the industrial revolution

Said path also has a bridge, and what you’re seeing in the background is an old factory. Seeing it reminds me of the industrial revolution

 

Notice how the rock is incorporated into the building? Neat!

Notice how the rock is incorporated into the building? Neat!

Along the path.

Along the path.

 

Vålerenga (Vaalerenga); a kinda-sorta borough of Oslo; it is famous for its  soccer and hockey teams.

Vålerenga (Vaalerenga); a kinda-sorta borough of Oslo; it is famous for its soccer and hockey teams.

Galgeberg translates to "Gallowsberg" - this is where the gallows were.

Galgeberg translates to “Gallowsberg” – this is where the gallows were back in the day. The last time someone was executed here was in 1815.

 

This is a squatter-camp near my place. The kids living there seem nice.

This is a squatter-camp near my place. The kids living there seem nice.

 

The gate to the ruin-park nearby. The ruins are from year 1100 AD.

The gate to the ruin-park nearby. The ruins are from year 1100 AD.

 

Gravestone

Gravestone

Skate-bowl (I guess? the kids skate in there and has a bowlish-kinda shape to it).

Skate-bowl (I guess? the kids skate in there and has a bowlish-kinda shape to it). This is in Gamlebyen (the oldest part of town, close to where there was a big viking battle many hundred years ago).

 

I'm Great at taking pictures!!

I’m Great at taking pictures!!

The guy depicted is Oslo's  guardian angel, St. Hallvard.

The guy depicted is Oslo’s Patron saint, St. Hallvard.

 

 

 

Tourist in my own city

Oslove

Oslove

If you go towards the Royal castle there are famous quotes from playwrights and writers on the sidewalk. This (and the following) says "when the starting point is the most insane/crazy,the result will frequently be the most original". It is taken from Ibsen's "Peer Gynt"

If you go towards the Royal castle there are famous quotes from playwrights and writers on the sidewalk. This (and the following) states that  ”when the starting point is the maddest, the result will frequently be the most original”. It is taken from Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”

 

 "when the starting point is the most insane/crazy,the result will frequently be the most original".

“when the starting point is the maddest,the result will frequently be the most original”.

 

I have taken quite a few pics of garbage bins lately, this one is neat though.

I have taken quite a few pics of garbage bins lately, this one is neat though.

"Norway is a free country, inhabited by unfree people" (I can't get the whole quote into the frame so this goes for the next pic to. This is also an Ibsen-quote.

“Norway is a free country, inhabited by unfree people” (I can’t get the whole quote into the frame so this goes for the next pic to). This is also an Ibsen-quote.

"Norway is a free country, inhabited by unfree people"

“Norway is a free country, inhabited by unfree people”

 

Statue close to Aker brygge (the docks).

Statue close to Aker brygge (the docks), I really like this :)

Really crappy pic of Akershus castle taken from Aker brygge.

Really crappy pic of Akershus castle taken from Aker brygge.

Aker brygge. This is a posh area of the city. Not my favourite place

Aker brygge. This is a posh area of the city. Not my favourite part of town.

 

The Nobel Peace Center is a museum of sorts.

The Nobel Peace Center is a museum of sorts.

Oslo City Hall

Oslo City Hall

Statue right by "Spikersuppa" ("the nail-soup") in central Oslo.

Statue right by “Spikersuppa” (“the nail-soup”) in central Oslo.

Cool statue at Groenland, in the east-end of Oslo. This is my favourite part of town. It is slightly grittier than other parts but it has been somewhat gentrified. I don't think it's going to go the way of Grunerløkka though, which used to be a working class neighbourhood but is now hipster central.

Cool statue at Groenland, in the east-end of Oslo. This is my favourite part of town. It is slightly grittier than other parts but it has been somewhat gentrified. I don’t think it’s going to go the way of Grunerløkka though, which used to be a working class neighbourhood, but is now hipster central.

I call this masterpiece "blurry shot of man in yellow shirt; Groenland". Don't ask how much I want for it, you don't want to know.

I call this masterpiece “blurry shot of man in yellow shirt; Groenland”. Don’t ask how much I want for it, you don’t want to know.

Botsfengselet (a prison) in Groenland park. I have seen the inside (why? you'll never know...Hardy-har-har).  Trust me, Norwegian prisons are nowhere near as cushy as Michael Moore and others claim.

There are so many churches in Oslo you wouldn’t believe it. There are not a whole lot of Christians though; the trend is not towards Christianity but rather towards neo-religiosity, or religions appropriated from other regions of the world. Our (former) Princess believes she can communicate with angels. She runs a “Angel school” where you to can learn how to communicate with angels and develop your spirituality (for a hefty fee of course). We also have several Shamans living and working in Norway; cultural appropriation at its purest ;)

 

I'm still at Groenland but now near the prison. The prison has a store where people can buy things that inmates have made.

I’m still at Groenland but now near the prison. The prison has a store where people can buy things that inmates have made.

Johan Scharffenberg was a Norwegian psychiatrist and criminologist. He worked at the prison for quite a while.

Johan Scharffenberg was a Norwegian psychiatrist and criminologist. He worked at the prison for quite a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Men’s Rights Advocacy Groups.

 

Ok, so we have feminists, of which I am one. I fully believe in gender equality (I believe in equality across the board really) and I respect men and women equally.

The men I know like and/or love are morally upstanding lovely people whom I deeply respect. I do not like generalized statements about either gender. I think notions like “all men are pigs” are ridiculous. I also think stereotypes about women, or certain sub-sets of women are dumb. “European women are more sexually liberated than American women” is a bizarre stereotype I’ve faced on several occasions. Ditto for “American women are shallow and stuck up” (there are a lot of “women/men from place X are such-and-such” statements out there). Equally dumb are claims like “feminists are (insert broad generalization here)“.

But, there’s one exception, and that’s Men’s Rights Groups. Feel free to call them “not terribly bright”- I certainly won’t stop you. I firmly believe that Anders Behring Breivik falls into this category, and I also think that much of his anger stems from his difficulties with women, but I’ll leave that for another post. Fjordman, the guy most frequently cited in Breivik’s manuscript, is also a self-professed anti-feminist and men’s rights advocate.

A little background on the Men’s Rights Movement. The group is mostly made up of white males. The most disenfranchised group, historically and currently. I am not making the claim that white men have never been unfairly or harshly treated (it’s a class and money-thing), but if we were to compare to other groups in society, they’ve had it pretty good. Anyway, these guys feel that with the advent of feminism, they’ve lost fundamental rights. Most long for a more “traditional societal structure”, but not knowing the complexity of social structures around the world, what they’re really describing is fifties Western ideal of sorts (2 parents, 2 children living in one household). A place where women are dainty, feminine and submissive, and men are allowed to set the rules.

They have started looking for women in far-flung corners of the world in the hopes that they might find the kind of woman they seek. I read one hilarious thread once (can’t find it now) where they were discussing this particular problem; one of the participants claimed that the Philippines was the place to go to find said submissive feminine woman. Another debater responded with a claim that Pinay-women no longer were any good because of Western influence. A third responded that there were still some good Pinay-women but that you had to go up into the small villages in the  mountains. And I imagined chubby little white guys trekking through the jungle in search of “the perfect woman”.

 

Phil

Nevertheless, these guys have a solid hatred on for women like myself, and will rail against western women as “shallow and obsessed with money”. I am neither of those, and my female friends are most certainly not either.

It would really be quite funny if it wasn’t for the fact that some of these guys do real harm. There was the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, where nine women were shot and six killed. This by a man who claimed to be fighting feminism because feminism had “destroyed his life”. Then there was George Sodini. He went to a gym in Pittsburg and killed three women and injured nine more. The reason was that he couldn’t seem to find women who would be with him (gee, I wonder why?). And of course, there’s a slew of other cases, just not on the same scale (I think. I am not sure).

I am not entirely unempathetic- it must be difficult not being able to find a mate. I do wonder though, what kind of woman is it that these men think they deserve? How do they treat the women they meet? And why are so many women victimized by men when all the men in my life manage perfectly well to treat the opposite gender with respect and love? You guys should give classes.