Author Archives: admin

Trip to Uzbekistan

 

So, I recently travelled to Uzbekistan. The country is lovely, with winding hills, gorgeous parks, magnificent mosques and deserts/scrub landscape.

IMG_20181008_173418There were a few things that did strike me as interesting though, and the first was the language. Knowing some Iranian, I was able to identify a few Iranian words. The language is Uzbek, but the Turkish and Farsi influence was noticeable. The presence of the letter Ø (not present in English. Don’t be fooled by Motørhead and Møtley Crue) was the Turkish marker. It is a fairly rare sound in languages across the world. Secondly, the words “Mikånam (to do), Bashe (ok) were borrowed from Farsi. I lovelovelove languages, so this was a high-point.

IMG_20181008_173426
A second point was how clean Uzbekistan was. With well over 30 million inhabitants, one would expect a bit of garbage lying around, but except for in rural areas, it was exceptionally clean. There were older ladies everywhere tidying, and it would seem the state provides some form of pension for carrying out this task. This is similar to Iran, where the unemployed get a sort of salary for cleaning streets and public areas.
Uzbekistan has no coastline. For those of you who have studies economy, it will come as no surprise that this affects the economy. Land-bound countries are typically poor. Why? Because of limited transport-possibilities. Transport by sea is much much cheaper than by land.
Infrastructure. Where other countries spend money improving roads (Spain!!), Uzbekistan prefers spending it on grand structures and luscious parks. The roads were horrible.

43253573_10155822233283581_3992475992043028480_n IMG_20181009_065632
The main production is cotton, which explains why Uzbekistan is poor.
Religiosity. The people of Uzbekistan did not appear to be very religious, despite the majority claiming to be Sunni Muslims. Alcohol was readily available, non-halal food likewise. People were dressed modestly, but there were very few hijabs to be found. I asked our guide about recruitment to (for instance) organizations like the Islamic State, and he did claim there were some that had left to join, but it didn’t seem like it was pervasive. I did get into a conversation with a young boy in one of the stores though; he claimed my father was not a Muslim, as he is Iranian, thus Shia, thus not a Muslim. Other than that, the food was ok. The people were ok. The hotels were ok. The sights were marvelous. The currency was.. Approximately like the currency post WW1 in Germany. To get one dollar, one would need approximately 8500 Soms (Uzbek currency). A decent meal would run you about 50000-100000 Soms, and a proper Kebab cost about 12000 Soms.

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That’s all for now, thank you for reading :)

Yup...

Update on the Insanity in Norwegian Politics..

 

Hey, so did you hear  about the new Norwegian minister of Justice?

Fortunately, Listhaug is now gone. And we all rejoiced!

Well… At least up until the moment we found out who our elected officials chose as her replacement.

Per Sandberg.

What a delightful fellow!

What a delightful fellow!

He once headbutted a refugee. He now has a criminal record because of the incident.

He drove 100 km. pr. hour in a 60 km. Zone. That’s another entry in his criminal record.

He drank (plenty of) hard liquor prior to speaking in the Norwegian Parliament.

He has advocated for allowing alcohol-safe roads. That is, making roads safer for intoxicated people to drive on. I am dead serious. He (in all seriousness) stated that the roads should be improved in a manner that facilitates drunk driving.

So, I am under stricter restrictions than Per Sandberg. I have to have a clean record with the police to work in a school.  A basketball, football or any other coach must have a clean record. To work in a kiosk at the airport, you must provide a clean record, and your record has to be clean if you want to work in security.

To work as cleaning crew in a school? Yup, you have to have a clean record. Yet, the Minister of Justice seems to be exempt.

I’m (very, very reluctantly) going into politics. I hate having to do it (‘m a very bad liar, so I’ll be a horrible politician), but someone has to stand up against this foolishness. And, I have dragged Kathrine and Yaser (heart-love-love-heart) into this mess. We’re going to fix Norway.
Stay tuned!

Stewie

On Norwegian Insanity

 

Hey all!

On the global arena, Norway is frequently held up as a country that normally gets it right, but not this time Jose!

Our government is comprised of several political parties, but the head party is a right-wing xenophobic one. One of its’ ministers is named Sylvi Listhaug. She was the one who claimed to understand how being a boat-refugee feels like after bobbing around in the Mediterranean sea for a few minutes. She is against…Well, pretty much everything that is right and decent in this world.

This is Listhaug in the Mediterranean sea. The whole stunt was carried out for her to "experience how boat refugees cross the ocean". There was a rescue crew, film crew lots ofphotographers and a boat nearby. She was made a laughing stock, and was even featured  on late night talkshows in the U.S, most notably on John Olivers show.

This is Listhaug in the Mediterranean sea. The whole stunt was carried out for her to “experience how boat refugees cross the ocean”. There was a rescue crew, film crew, lots of photographers and several boats nearby. She was made a laughing stock, and was even featured on late night talkshows in the U.S (most notably on John Olivers show).

Last week, another one of our politicians (Bjørnar Moxnes) pulled a “no confidence” move, as an answer to Listhaug stating that the Labour Party favours terrorists over Norwegian security.

Moxnes. Our male politician all look like superheroes :)

Moxnes. Our male politician all look like superheroes :)

See, she posts these kinds of statements on Facebook and Twitter, and then walks away as the world burns down in her wake (in avery Trump-like fashion).

She has famously stated that she thrives on conflict, and let me tell you, (as a psychologist), that’s not a personality-trait one desires in a leader.
So, it looks like the no-confidence-move will go through. She attacked the very party who had 77 individuals killed in a terrorist attack. Anders Behring Breivik, our very own home-grown terrorist was indeed a member of her party, and she chose to label the labour party  ‘terrorist sympathizers’.

This is him. He killed kids. He was in Frp, Sylvis' party.

This is him. He killed kids. He was in Frp, Sylvis’ party.

Now, in response, our resident Neo-Nazis and xenophobes decided to show her their support by sending her flowers. Mind you, I am not flippantly throwing insults around, these people actually state that Quisling was the last good politician our country had. They claim that our prime-minister is secretly a Muslim, who is trying to sneakily Islamify (Muslimize?) Norway, simply because she in her twenties (she is now 57) had a Gambian boyfriend.

Faceplant? Look at the symbol? Is it reminiscent of another earlier symbol?

Faceplant. Look at the symbol. Is it reminiscent of another earlier symbol?

They’re calling for a public execution of our Prime minister, as they claim she is a traitor to the country.

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Batshit crazy?

Yes. Yes indeed.

So, Sylvi poses with flowers, and we’re all shaking our heads in disbelief.

Listhaug

Listhaug

In response, Bjørnars followers initiated a fundraiser, not for flowers (“who will wilt and die”), but for Doctors Without Borders! And as of now, they have raised  USD. 1,071,792.

last ned
Please contribute if you can! Share this post! I would very much appreciate it!

Donate here!

 

Yemen-Jun-Sept-2017

On Yemen and a forgotten tragedy

Up until recently, I knew nothing about Yemen. The discourse here in Norway (and in the West in general) focuses on areas that we are highly involved in. That (usually) means areas in which we have a vested interest (Oil. Oiloiloiloiloil).

We’ve have (for instance) attempted to solve several global conflicts and have been part of many peace-negotiations, but we’re not that great at it (If I may say so). We have made multiple attempts at solving the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

And as of now? Palestinians and Israelis clearly have nothing but  love for one another, right?

We are clearly master-negotiators!

Yemen however, has never been on our radar. Our trade with Yemen is minimal. Of all the people I have (informally/sneakily/not to their knowledge) surveyed, there has not been a single individual who has any knowledge of Yemen. The same goes for me. I knew nothing about Yemen prior to the arrival of a super-smart, compassionate and clever young Yemenite in my Norwegian language class. This kid is wise beyond his years, super-nice, and he spends about 90% of his time helping others.
As my  ignorance became increasingly more intolerable, I finally decided to attend a couple of talks on the subject of Yemen (So, now I consider myself an expert ;)). Prior to the talks (and because I am a super-curious (nosy?) person), I started investigating.

Here’s a bullet-point breakdown:

 

Stolen from thedailybeast.com

Stolen from thedailybeast.com

yemen

From https://www.wordsinthebucket.com/series/yemen  Check out the website, you'll find many spectacular photos of Yemen.

From https://www.wordsinthebucket.com/series/yemen
Check out the website, you’ll find many spectacular photos of Yemen.

Recently there has been a bit of reporting on the famine in Yemen, particularly so on social media, but we’re not getting much information about why people are starving.

So, what is the problem? Well, I am not sure I entirely understand, and my student told me that even most Yemenites  are somewhat confused. As I wrote earlier, there are conflicts between several factions, and the last conflict started with the Arab Spring. To understand how Yemen has remained fairly unstable (but also out of the Western media) one has to know a little about former  President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He was the president of northern Yemen from 1978-1990, and the president of a united Northern and Southern Yemen from 1990-2012. Saleh was a strongman in the truest sense of the word. And, according to the lecture I attended last Saturday, he was also a master manipulator and a genius at both building and switching alliances. Saleh was killed in December 2017. It is claimed that Saleh was a behind-the-scenes leader of the Houthi take-over of Yemen. The Houthi/Ansar Allah  is a religious, but also political grouping who were initially fighting Saleh, whose allies include Iran and Syria. Saleh managed to maintain a fairly unstable peace, but peace nonetheless. Now that he is gone, it’s anyones guess what will happen next.

There is another faction, Al Hirak, who in the 90’s sought decentralization and independence for the south. They have formed an alliance with the Saudis and have a running conflict with the Houthis. Further, there is Al Islah, whom previously were the enemies of Saudi, but who now are Saudi-backed. To muddle up the picture, there’s also a particularly aggressive fraction of Al-Qaeda active in the region..

Confused? So am I…

Now, in order to keep things (fairly simple), there are two major outside powers involved in the conflict. One being Saudi Arabia and the other being Iran. A third, lesser actor is the United Arab Emirates.  Al Isla  is a Saudi-backed grouping, and the Houthis are backed by Iran (for now). The Emirates and Saudi are not getting along, and as such, they support different sides in Yemen. Iran appears (again, according to the lectures I attended) to have provided the Houthis with SCUD-missiles. Some of these have been launched in to Saudi, and as retaliation, the Saudis have ensured a blockade on import of food and necessary goods to Yemen. This blockade is responsible for the starvation and suffering of millions of people. Not one of the outside actors are innocent in this scenario. Iran is to fault in supplying weapons, and Saudi is at fault for the blockade. And before one makes a stab at the “why can’t they grow their own produce?” argument, there this: inside Yemen, there’s been a problem with depleting ground water. Why? Khat. Khat is a mild stimulant. The leaves of the plant are chewed in Yemen, Somalia and other places in the region. The WHO does not consider the plant to be very harmful, but use can lead light psychological dependence (keep in mind, coffee-use can lead to actual physical dependence, so.. There’s that. Alcohol is also highly addictive, both physically and psychologically).
So, what we do know is that 3 million have fled the country. Very few have ended up in Europe; many more have ended up in Somalia. When I asked about why they flee to Somalia, I was told that it might be a combination of conservativism and finances/funds (it is prohibitively expensive to travel to Europe/America).  We also know that 19 million more are in need of aid.  Diphtheria and Cholera runs rampant, and people are dying from starvation and easily preventable diseases.  Fortunately, Aid-organizations are able to access the Yemeni population.

It is not all that expensive to lend a helping hand either. It will set you back the equivalent of about 6 Starbucks coffees, a pair of jeans or a meal at a mid-priced restaurant (a cheap restaurant if we’re talking Norwegian prices).
Donate here! I promise it will be worth it :)

On the “Tragedy of the Commons” and immigration policy.

resource

Hi all! :) (<– Optimism at its finest!)

It has been a while since I last wrote. I have been busy, but I am also quite lazy, and as such, the blog has been put on the back-burner. Anyway, things have not changed for the better in the fields I am particularly interested in (buttons are a topic of discussion among world leaders, egoes have grown exponentially, and the public discourse is…Well… Interesting…)

So, I thought I would blog a bit again.

Now, prior to studying Psychology, I was a Social Sciences student. More specifically, I studied Globalization and Development. I also enrolled in a few non-psych classes while studying in Toronto, and when a field involves migration, human rights and North-South matters, one will inevitably encounter economic theory. PLEASE DO CLOSE THE TAB JUST BECAUSE YOU JUST READ THE WORDS “ECONOMIC THEORY”. I PROMISE I WILL TRY TOO KEEP THIS INTERESTING!!1! Now, if you are not already familiar with the field of economic theory, it may sound dull and irrelevant, but trust me, it is relevant to almost every aspect of life. Let’s look at some examples:

  1. Love

There is (of course) economic theory that pertains to the topic of love.  Did Melania marry Trump for his charming demeanour and his beautiful yellowish locks? Nope. No, she didn’t. Her relationship to Donald perfectly illustrates that love and economics are closely tied..

What's not to love?

What’s not to love?

2. Trust

Yup, there is a theory that explains the psychology and economics of trust.  for instance; neoclassical economic theory considers trust in strangers to be irrational, whereas theorists in behavioural economics  have shown us that people are more trusting of strangers than what one would expect. Fun and interesting, right?

3. Crime.

It should come as no surprise that there exist several economic theories of crime. These theories can (for instance) explain why Norwegian police officers are much less corrupt compared to police officers in several other countries in the world. In addition there are several economic theories of conflict (prime examples are Rwanda, Former Yugoslavia, The Middle East and so on), there are economic theories of democracy, of social change, religious beliefs and so forth. See? Economic theory is EVERYWHERE!

Now, the particular theoretical model I would like to discuss is referred to as “The Tragedy of the Commons”. It was first described by biologist Garrett Hardin in 1968, and is most frequently used in environmental matters, but it will do here. (If my many years of university studies have taught me anything, it is how to manipulate a model to fit any topic). The theory states that any shared resource is likely to be overused and depleted if everyone has access to said resource. The tragedy of the commons has been used in attempts to restrict immigration, and though some  politicians might not be aware of the model, they use the very same reasoning to justify restricticions.  The Norwegian minister of integration and migration uses it on a frequent basis to argue for an increasingly more restrictive immigration policy. Her name is Sylvi Listhaug. She has time and time again claimed that “We cannot help them all” and that “We should help refugees where they are”…  What she in essence is saying is that refugees seeking to come to Norway should not be allowed to enter.

This is Listhaug in the Mediterranean sea. The whole stunt was carried out for her to "experience how boat refugees cross the ocean". There was a rescue crew, film crew lots ofphotographers and a boat nearby. She was made a laughing stock, and was even featured  on late night talkshows in the U.S, most notably on John Olivers show.

This is Listhaug in the Mediterranean sea. The whole stunt was carried out for her to “experience how boat refugees cross the ocean”. There was a rescue crew, film crew, photographers and a boat nearby. She was made a laughing stock, and was even featured on late night talkshows in the U.S, most notably on John Olivers show.

Listhaug is furthermore forcibly deporting a great number of young Afghan refugees, stating that “Kabul is safe” (It is most definitely not. The most recent suicide attack occurred three days ago.)  She frequently speaks  of how our national funds quickly will be depleted if we allow refugees to come to Norway, and when she does so, she is talking about the tragedy of the commons. The claim is  false. The average wage in Norway is just under 70.000 USD. The most favoured car-brand is Tesla, which start at prices above 72000 USD. The more exclusive models start at over 1.52000 USD.

I, (being a school-teacher with plenty of student debt (I studied abroad), but with my own apartment and car, can afford several vacations abroad every year (last year I visited Barbados and the Maldives, this year it will be Jordan, (likely) Uzbekistan, and Scotland). The market for luxury goods is booming, and many of us can afford to have our groceries delivered and our cleaning done by others. If we agreed to pay even one percent more in taxes, there would be plenty to go around.  That everyone in our Parliament (“Stortinget”) earn more than 900.000 Norwegian Crowns (approx. 112.000 USD), should help illustrate that we are not hurting. Furthermore, what Listhaug does not take into consideration is what we are losing in terms of resources by stopping people from entering. Our population is rapidly aging, and within a fairly short while, there will be a considerable number of elderly in need of care. We need a workforce that is willing and able to carry out these jobs, and not too many Norwegian youngsters are all that interested in jobs within this particular part of health care. We are also missing out on brilliant minds whom might come up with ideas Norway would greatly benefit from. As of now, Norway is reliant on its oil and fish industry. We develop weapons too, but the economy is largely a service-economy, and innovation is meagre to say the least. By severely restricting the number of refugees entering the country, we might also be turning away brilliant minds. Thinkers, artists, scientists and statesment similar to  Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Madeleine Albright, Hannah Arendt, Karl Marx, Karl Popper, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Sergey Brin,  Max Born, Enrico Fermi, Robert Fano, Walter Kohn, Dame Stephanie Shirley, Isabel Allende, Joseph Konrad, Bertolt Brecht, Victor Hugo, Nabokov,  and Merhan Nasseri who were all refugees. One of the reasons Norway has grown wealthy is because of our oil-reserves. We do have other resources as well, but oil is the biggie. And pray tell, who do we have to thank for our wealth? Farouk al-Kasim- an Iraqi geologist. So, while a restrictive immigration policy might sound reasonable and cost-effective in the short term, it is likely to be damaging in the long term.

Is that not a reasonable example of the Tragedy of the Commons?

oslo

On Oslo, again.

Hi! :)

This will be a totally non-serious blog entry. I will not discuss either drug policy, politics in general, human rights or terror. Yay!

Anyway, this year our Christmas celebrations are supposed to be at my house. My parents are moving, and as such their place is an unholy mess right now. Unfortunately, so is mine, despite my having lived here for over 4 years. So, my plan for today was to tidy and clean my apartment. Now, there are few things I dislike more than cleaning and tidying (don’t get me wrong, I like living in tidy, non-health-hazardous conditions, but I detest having to be the one responsible for creating said conditions). So, what better time to procrastinate by blogging?

Amanda!

Amanda!

Nevertheless, when I am off work, I tend to go for fairly long walks with my dog Amanda. Amanda is a chubby little mixed breed; she’s a weirdo with 6 toes on her hind-legs and an intense dislike for skateboards, rain and dogs larger than herself. (I can relate; I am not crazy about skateboarders, rain or very tall people either). Anyway; when we go for walks, I occasionally see things I find interesting. Some are interesting because they strike me as unusual, others are pieces of art whom I may or may not understand, and others again are just curious or just plain dumb things (<– in my opinion. They may make perfect sense to others). So, I have a massive number of photos stored on my phone. And as I have this blog, I may as well post them :)

Here are some of the photos I’ve recently taken, I hope you enjoy them :)

These are statues in front of the area called "barcode" in downtown Oslo. Notice the buildings in the background? They are of dissimilar size and design, hence the name barcode. Most find them to be architecturally interesting, but I find them annoying.

These are statues in front of the area called “barcode” in downtown Oslo. Notice the buildings in the background? They are of dissimilar size and design, hence the name “barcode”. Most find them to be architecturally interesting, but I find them annoying, as I much prefer symmetry.

Ekeberg

There’s a lovely park in the midst of Oslo (you’ll get there by bus 34 or 74) at a place called Ekeberg. I have written about it earlier, but most of you probably have not read the previous post, so I’ll write another entry about this wonderful place. It is a great place to bring kids, there is no traffic/cars, and there’s a farm where your children can get to pet sheep, cows, chicken and geese and ride ponies  for a small fee.

20151221_143003

In the forest surrounding Ekeberg, there’s a sculpture park, and following are a few of those sculptures:

The Ekeberg-park is not nearly as well-known as "Vigelandsparken/Frognerpark", but it is far more interesting and beautiful. There are several sculptures at Ekeberg, and some are somewhat creepy (like this one) and some are wonderful :) You'll get to Ekeberg by taking bus 34 or 74.

Ekeberg-park is not nearly as well-known as “Vigelandsparken/Frognerparken”  but it is far more interesting and beautiful in my opinion. Some of the sculptures are somewhat creepy (like this one) and some are wonderful :) (Vigelandsparken can be seen here: http://www.vigeland.museum.no/en/vigeland-park).

This George Cutts piece is called "the dance"; it moves.

This George Cutts piece is called “the dance”; it moves.

This is art I don't understand.. This is a light-post that talks. I have never stood around long enough to actually hear the entire thing, but there is a speaker attached that goes on a lengthy existentialist monologue, and it never fails to creep me out.

This is art I don’t understand.. This is a light-post that “talks”. I have never stood around long enough to hear the entire monologue, but there is a speaker attached that goes on a lengthy weird existentialist-type talk, and it never fails to creep me out.

This installation is called "The couple" and it is one of my favourites :)

This installation is called “The couple” and it is one of my favourites :)

This face is inverted, but an optical illusion will make it appear as though it is not. It is another piece I really like.

This is called “Konkavt ansikt” an optical illusion will make it appear as though it is not carved into the rock. It is another piece I really like.

Art by Damian Hirst. I lovelovelove this piece. I'm not going to describe exactly why I love it, cause I'd most likely sound pretty dumb ("intestines are neat!") or pretentious ("Angel or human, we are all fundamentally the same"). Nevertheless, it is fantastic! :)

Art by Damian Hirst. I lovelovelove this piece. I’m not going to describe exactly why I love it, cause I’d most likely sound pretty dumb (“intestines are neat!”) or pretentious (“Angel or human, we are all fundamentally the same”). Nevertheless, it is fantastic! :)

Another angle

Another angle.

Here's another piece of art that I do not understand. As you can see, it is a woman squatting, with her pants around her knees. When you walk by, a sensor is triggered and she appears to pee... :/ I am too prudish for such art, but my friend Lidia pointed out that there certainly exists figures of males peeing, so why not a woman? This is probably a feminist statement, and also a symbol of how weird Norway can be at times.

Here’s another piece of art that I do not understand. As you can see, it is a woman squatting, with her pants around her knees. When you walk by, a sensor is triggered and she appears to pee… :/ I am too prudish for such art, but my friend Lidia pointed out that there certainly exists figures of males peeing, so why not a woman? This is probably a feminist statement, and also a symbol of how weird Norway can be at times.

Another note-worthy aspect of Ekeberg is its’ history. Humans have lived there since 8000 B.C, and considering that Norway was probably a pile of frozen rocks back then, it is surprising that anyone chose to actually travel to and settle in this region.

People back then were (unsurprisingly) hunter/gatherers.

People back then were (unsurprisingly) hunter/gatherers.

In more recent times, the area has seen war. There is a field called “Svenskesletta” where a battle was fought between Norwegian and Swedish forces in 1567. The field is currenly a dog-park. As you may well know, German troops occupied Norway in World War 2, and Ekeberg was an important area. The Germans planted 5000 mines in the area, and it was also chosen as the location for a grave-yard for falled German soldiers.

View from the ‘Scream-bridge’.

Oslove :)

See this view? It is probably the best in Oslo, and it is also the background of one of the most famous paintings of all time; Edvard Munch’s “Skrik” (the Scream)The bridge the previous picture and the next picture was taken from is actually the background of one of the most famous paintings of all time, Edvard Munchs, "The Scream" (no kidding!) .

 

skrik_960_1210830150

 

 

That’s all for now, I might add another picture-post shortly, thanks for reading :)

 

On a great Norwegian Expression, Government Spending and Refugees.

Image from http://luftdesignfabrikken.blogspot.no/

Image from http://luftdesignfabrikken.blogspot.no/

So, there’s this really great Norwegian expression that I can’t seem to find the equivalent of in the English language, it is “å spare seg til fant”. The expression is somewhat difficult to translate, but it roughly means that saving money (where one should not have), might in the long term end up doing more damage than good. And, it couldn’t be more fitting when the topic at hand is government spending.

A few disclaimers at the outset:

Don’t get me wrong; Norway is an ok country. It is not the paradise Michael Moore and others have painted it out to be, but I love my home-country. It is beautiful and its social institutions have served me well. Its’ Gini-coefficient  is low, which means that compared to many other countries, inequality is not a huge problem. Our HDI (Human Development Index) ranking is sky-high. We come out almost on top in terms of women’s’ rights, and unemployment is fairly low. But, it is far from ideal, and with a right-wing government in place, we’re certainly not heading in the right direction. Securing a job if you don’t have a network is very difficult (unless you are in the 1% in terms of education). Favouritism and nepotism are considerable problems, where those who get the great jobs aren’t necessarily the best suited (sometimes they’re outright incompetent, but just happen to have the right connections). And, “disobedience” (in terms of not towing the company-line, whether the company line is right or wrong) or whistle-blowing can be (and has been) severely punished.

Back to the point. When seeing how resources/government funding over the past few years has been (and currently is being) allocated in Norway, the expression “å spare seg til fant” immediately springs to mind. I am also  left with the feeling that choices in budget-cuts (at several important institutions) were deliberate, and aimed at those who have the least power in society (somehow, we don’t see major cuts in areas where the population has more available resources).

The cuts I am most concerned about involve resources made available to refugees and immigrants. Norway, similarly to many other countries, receives a fair number of migrants. Some come here to work (mostly other Europeans; Norway’s EEA-membership allows citizens of EU-countries to live and work in Norway), but a substantial number come as refugees. To get gainful employment in Norway, most (almost all) employers require employees to be proficient in the Norwegian language. And this proficiency is measurable. In fact, there exists a Common European Framework of Reference for Languages where an individuals’ command of a language is assessed according to level. Level A1 is the beginner level; A2 is slightly more advanced, and so it goes, all the way up to C2. At B1 level, you’re considered an “independent user”, which means you can navigate society and you can also read, write and understand the language well. B1 is furthermore the level required to get a steady job.

Getting to level B1 is no easy task, and it is particularly difficult for some. Those who have a first-language that differs greatly from the target language, those who are monolingual, those who do not have a great deal of school background and those who are ‘older’ usually have a much harder time at it. And some, understandably so, never get there. In terms of time-frame, I consider it an notable accomplishment when people are able to get to B1-level in 2 years (and that’s with about 20 hours of lessons a week), and anything less than that, is outright impressive.

Adult refugees are given a 2 year window (almost regardless of background, age and so forth) to finish a “introduction-program” in which they will be attending language classes, learning about Norwegian society, and in short, will receive the necessary help to get settled in Norway.

Now, Our current Conservative Prime minister, Erna Solberg, has on several occasions stated that it is essential to know the language in order to actively partake in Norwegian society, and integration minister Solveig Horne (a real piece of work that one..) has been vocal about how refugees living in Norway have to make a greater effort to become integrated in Norwegian society. All the while, the funding towards Norwegian language classes aimed at the refugees and migrants is clearly lacking. Several schools have had to cut back on school hours pr. week, not because money has been mismanaged (the resources available to these classes are considerable less than to other educational institutions) but because the programs have been underfunded for a looong time.  I’d love to hear Solberg and Horne explain how  refugees are to fulfill their demands, given the current situation. I bet there’d be a lot of squirming and awkwardness involved, 

When we’re talking funding and money, the lack of funding to language education will undoubtedly cost far more in the long-term than than what it saves in the short-term. Our social system is such that if you are unable to support yourself, you will receive at least some help. So, if a refugee is unable to secure a job because of lacking command of the Norwegian language, he or she will receive welfare. This means that the longer it takes said refugee to learn Norwegian, the more it will cost the government. Keep in mind that the welfare-spendings alone are costly, but the bureaucracy involved (think case-workers, payroll-employees etc) is in a whole different league altogether. If we then start adding the cost of lost tax-revenue, we’re looking at very large sums. Most refugees (99% of those I have met and worked with) want nothing more than a job, but with fewer hours in class pr. week, it will take them a looong time to get there. 

How’s that for “å spare seg til fant”?

This doesn’t take into account the human factor; the psychological implications of going for years trying to learn a difficult language. The feeling of not being allowed to contribute to society. The feeling of exclusion (remember those times you have travelled to countries in which you didn’t understand the language? It is difficult when your stay is limited to one or two weeks, but it is soul-crushing when it spans months and years). Nevermind having the knowledge that you can’t help your children with their homework, and you don’t understand the letters they bring home from school.

Curiously, at the same time, those in power seem to have no qualms taking fairly substantial pay-increases, even though the economy in their particular district is at a low-point. How about this Mayor who received an almost 10% raise this year? Does he really need a raise of 85000 NOK? (in excess of 10.000 USD). Keep in mind that he already has a salary that sits at well over 100.000 USD a year, so somehow I doubt he’s hurting. Now, not only did he get a substantial raise himself, he also proposed that his colleague should get an raise of 12,2%, that is, a raise of 136000 (about 17000 USD).

I bet that money could be put to better use elsewhere…

On the curious case of male confidence.

gap

Taken from www.theatlantic.com

I work in a school. It is not a regular school; my students are all immigrants who hail from a million different places. I love my job, my colleagues and my students, and having a background in psychology, I couldn’t have found a more appropriate workplace.

First, let it be known that a having a background in psychology does not mean that the psychologist in me is on at all times. For instance, I have had a *lot* of personality psych/abnormal psych, but unless I see a highly unusual behaviour/behaviours, repeated over time, I think nothing of it. I also (probably) have a wider range of what I consider “normal” behaviour than most people do (this because of my earlier work with patients suffering from psychotic disorders). But, when I see a behaviour repeated over time, I tend to notice. The behaviours I notice may be quite trivial, such as the one in which my colleagues all press an “unlock-switch” when going through a door from the student-lounge to the stairwell. This particular switch does not need to be pushed, and they are well aware, as they do not push it or attempt to unlock the door when coming from the stairwell to the student-lounge. Are you following me?

Let me put it in sciency terms:

Participants: Super-nice colleagues.

N= not sure, but at least 7.  the mean age of participants is approx. 40 years (S.D.=10)

Materials:

  1. Door.
  2.  Hands.
  3. Researcher’s eyes.

Behaviour:

Student-lounge –> stairwell = switch pushed to unlock door

Stairwell –> student-lounge= no attempt made to unlock door

(We’re skipping the intro, method and discussion and heading straight for the conclusion).

Conclusion: teachers will press a switch where there is a switch to be pressed, even though the door they intend to open is unlocked. This due to conditioning, as said door used to be closed. More research is needed as to why the same teachers seem to not exhibit similar behaviour (swiping a key-card) when they come the other way.

Ok, I digress, what I was going to talk about was attribution-theory, and why many (not all) men/boys think differently when it comes to success, when compared to many (not all) women/girls.

One thing I’ve noticed in working with (literally) hundreds of students/pupils of both foreign and Norwegian descent, is that boys tend to be more confident than girls. When they do well, they take all the credit for their success; none or little is given to the influence of external factors/external environment (say, parents, teachers, background, socioeconomic status, pure luck and so forth). Girls do the opposite. When they do well, they tend to credit something or someone else (they’ll mostly attribute success to dumb luck). Here’s where attribution-theory comes in. What boys do is linked to what is known as the “self-serving bias”. That is, they believe that any success can be attributed to their own inherent skills. Faced with failure, they tend to attribute this to an external factor (bad test/bad teacher/poor working environment). Girls do the opposite; they are (frequently, not always) subject to the “impostor syndrome”. Despite continued evidence of their competence and skills, they are unable to internalize it and keep crediting outside factors.

It’s a little sad really.

men-vs-women-mirror-jokes

Taken from: http://sharideth.com/

A funnier (?) phenomenon is related to flirting. Have you ever noticed how some (not all) men seem to have way higher self-esteem than women when it comes to looks and perceived desirability? A lot of factors play in of course, societal pressures being a major one (but that’s not the topic of this post).

Nevertheless, here’s a neat article discussing how men tend to “overperceive” sexual advances (that is, flirting) while women “underperceive” sexual advances (again, flirting). A quick summary: a (Norwegian!) study found the over/under-perception-thing to be real, and the researchers suggested that it might be because men are biologically wired to never miss an opportunity to “spread their seed” (urgh..), while women have evolved to underperceive advances in order to find an optimal partner.

The moral of the story is: never make eye contact (or any other form of contact) ladies; you might get accused of sexual harassment ;) (On a serious note, this  might explain some of the mistreatment of women in more patriarchal cultures).

Anyway, these research findings might go a way to explain why “Bob at the local bar” never can seem to take a hint, no? ;)

Thanks for reading, I better be off to work!

 

 

 

 

On Psychology and the Islamic State

Yezidi children and women have been abducted in massive numbers by IS. IS consider the Yezidi to be apostates and 'devil-worshippers' (<--not true of course). You can read more about the Yezidi's here.

Yezidi /Ezidi children and women have been abducted in massive numbers by IS. IS consider the Yezidi to be apostates and ‘devil-worshippers’ (which is ridiculous of course). You can read more about the Yezidis/Ezidis here.

 

I have had a pretty busy schedule with both studies and work, so I haven’t had the time to update this blog for a while. But, a few of my facebook friends have asked me to post, and as I am super-flattered that anyone would care to read what I write, I’m happy to oblige :) This post however, will be painfully unfunny, maybe obvious and quite boring. It also covers a huge topic, and I can’t possibly give a full analysis of all the factors involved, but I’ll give it a go :)

I’m sure you’re all aware that several Scandinavian (and other) youth have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the ranks of IS, formerly known as ISIL or ISIS (and in some regions, DAESH). The point of this blog-post is to try to outline why young men (and some women) choose to leave a safe existence in order to join a group whose methods are so barbaric that it is difficult to fathom.

Back-story:

According to our media, in excess of 50 (the number fluctuates according to source) Norwegian nationals actively fight alongside ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Some are Norwegian citizens, born to parents from the region. One notable (and high-ranking) member is of Chilean decent, and some may be from other groups, also converted “ethnic Norwegians” (<– I loathe to use the term, but it’s commonly used to distinguish people of Norwegian descent). There are some who blatantly boast about their membership on social media, but there are probably also ones who keep a fairly low profile. We have a few individuals here in Norway whom openly show their support (this guy is one) but whom remain on Norwegian soil. A current national debate is ongoing as to whether he  and others like him should be deported, and in the process lose their Norwegian citizenships.

Some have spoken to the media; one notable case being this guy who complained that the IS were portrayed as ‘animals’ in western press.. Several thousand others hail from European countries, members from the U.S have also joined the fight, and Oz has contributed its fair share of fighters as well.

The reasons why people join groups like IS are complex, and different people will have differing motives, but there are some commonalities. The IS runs a very efficient propaganda-machine, one that facilitates recruitment of Western youth. Many of the members whom appear in the media were raised in the west and speak impeccable English, French and German, as evidenced by the video portraying the murder of James Foley. (I’m linking to his wikipedia-page, simply because it is virtually impossible to find a recent news-item that does not also have a video of his execution. I don’t want to take part in spreading the video).

The radicalization process

One does not go from being a kind, considerate community-member to full-fledged jerk and decapitator overnight; it is (of course) a process.  Initially, the radicalization process starts ‘at home’. Some get in touch with radical groups through aquaintances and friends, and some get radicalized and recruited online.

So, I’ve talked about how the creation of groups fosters an in-group/out-group division in the past, but it’s worth repeating. The in-group are those who are seen as “like me/us” and the outgroup is seen as “Not like me/us”. This goes for all of us and is not necessarily bad, but, creating groups affects percepts and beliefs about ones own group and the out-group. Members of the outgroup are perceived as more homogenous (this is directly tied to stereotyping; the belief that “all Norwegians/Americans/Germans/Indians do/are <insert belief here>), that is, the outgroup-members are viewed as less complex/more alike than ingroup-members. This phenomenon is called the outgroup homogeneity effect. When a group is viewed this way,  and if it is coupled with negative beliefs,  it becomes easier to view them as slightly less human, and thus transgressions against outgroup-members are easier to carry out.

One can, through gradual exposure, use of authority, dehumanization of the victim and a number of other processes, make people do horrible things. The radicalization-process moves through stages. The first stage starts with a grievance over a perceived deprivation or restriction, be it social, economical or other. What follows are beliefs about perceived injustice. The third stage is blaming: there is a reason for this injustice and someone is to blame. Many people hold the belief that injustice or bad luck has to have a cause (a classic example is this guy who claimed that the floods in Britain were caused by God as punishment for the Govts’ legalization of gay marriage…) and it is called “the just world hypothesis/fallacy”. Believing for instance, that one is disadvantaged because of looks, background, ethnicity or religion (which very well might be the case, but that’s another discussion) can be a contributing factor towards hating those who you perceive to be at fault for your condition. The final ‘reaction’ stage is one in which the perceived transgressor is viewed as evil. Violent acts are the result of dehumanization/demonization, as social and psychological barriers to the impulse to act on aggressive urges have been removed.

Some of the guys who have joined IS have felt disconnected and disadvantaged and therefore, sought (and found) a sense of community in a group who promised a utopia of sorts. They were then slowly introduced and socialized towards increasingly more radical ideas and extreme behaviours. Some religious leaders (also in the West) have sanctioned the use of violence and the methods used to rid the world of the “Bad” people (that is, the out-group members).

The ease with which the methods have been used is a result of dehumanization of the victim/”enemy”. Dehumanization and demonizing of the victims are key elements, and it was non more clear than in how the IS have treated theYezidis/Ezidi’s of Kurdistan. They labeled them Devil-worshippers, and once you have the Good vs. Evil-thing going, it makes it so much easier to transgress against those you victimize.

Personality and such

Certain personality-traits are likely to predominate in people who willingly seek to join these kinds of groups. They tend to be action-oriented, stimulus-hungry (that is, easily bored), they seek excitement and they are, of course, aggressive. You may know that antisocial individuals (and I don’t mean asocial individuals, those who don’t enjoy socializing, but people who do harm to others) have a lower resting heart-rate than the rest of us. They also have a lower reaction (as measured by an increased heart-rate and sweating, fancily called “skin-conductivity”) to stressful stimuli, and would therefore find it easier to cope with ugly, anxiety-inducing situations. Thus, they would possibly/likely find combat-situations exciting rather than terrifying. (I am in no way saying that the whole group suffers from antisocial personality disorder, but many would score above average on some of the traits associated with the disorder.)

Neurotransmitters (brain-chemicals) may also come into play; low serotonin levels have (numerous times) been linked to aggression. Deficits in the frontal region of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) have been linked to both low levels of stress, reactivity and fearlessness. Add to this that some (if not all) of the IS members may not fear death because death in combat secures you a pretty decent spot in the after-life (you know, the whole 72 virgins and rivers of honey and that), and you’ve got a very, very scary group.

It should be noted that IS is not just a religious group, it is a political one as well, so the whole notion some seem to hold of  it being all about religious zealotry, detracts from what it is all about.

As is fairly obvious, their rhetoric is without nuance, they see black and white, right and wrong, evil and good. There is no middle-ground. They divide people into two main groups, “Us” and “Others”. The Others (in this case, the kuffar or non-believers) are bad and out to get them, and their own group, despite their barbaric practices, is good. Their actions are perceived to be justified and moral.

They rely on a couple of well-known psychological mechanisms: externalization and splitting, In (very) simplified terms, they look outside themselves for the sources of their own difficulties. I bet you’ve met several individuals who rely on the same mechanisms. It is the guy whose failure to get along with coworkers is blamed solely on the coworkers. The failure to do well in school is because the tests or the teachers were unfair, not because the student failed to study. As J. Post writes in his “Leaders and their followers in a dangerous world ”…unable to face his own inadequacies, the individual with this personality style needs a target to blame and attack for his own weakness and inadequacies…It’s not us, it’s them. They are the cause of our problems (pp. 128-129). Anders Behring Breivik’s thinking and history follows this model to a tee. He was largely a failure, but unwilling to admit or even acknowledge his own faults, sure found someone outside of himself to blame for his shortcomings.

One study found other commonalities in people who chose to join terrorist organizations:

  • They tended to come from fragmented families.
  • A statistically significant number had lost one or both parents by the age of fourteen, and loss of a father seemed to be particularly predictive. This was the case for Behring Breivik. Though his father didn’t die, he left Breivik’s mother when Anders was only a year old. Breivik’s father cut off all contact when the boy got in trouble at around 15-16 years of age.
  • A very high percentage had severe social conflicts growing up, particularly with the parents. The father, when present, was frequently described in hostile terms.
  • 1 in 3 had been convicted in juvenile court. Arfan Bhatti, a Norwegian citizen and Islamist is an excellent example of this. Prior to becoming radical, he was a torpedo and all-around criminal.
  • Many are what could be labeled “losers”. They tend not to be successful in either their personal, educational or vocational lives, but they’re generally not from the lowest layers of society. Nevertheless, feelings of inadequacy coupled with an opportunity to finally be considered significant can be a powerful motivating force. The ‘loser-status’ is not a certain one though, several of those who join are not what would commonly be considered losers; some have ideological reasons for joining despite enjoying educational/vocational success (like this guy).

If we look at one of  IS’s top ranking officers, Abu Omar al-Shishani (whose Chechen name was Tarkhan Batirashvili) life fits this model: he was in the army until he fell ill. After being dismissed, he had no job, was piss-poor and ran into trouble with the police.

He ended up in prison, and left for Syria once released.

Not exactly your model citizen.

See? To a tee.

al-Shishani

al-Shishani

Many feel disconnected from the greater society. They have an unstable sense of own identity thus a religious collective identity might provide an answer to the whole “meaning of life” question. Humans are social animals (yup. It may be a cliché, but it is nevertheless true), and most of us feel a need to belong. A need to belong is identified as one of four primary motivations to join a terrorist organization. Among other motives are the opportunities for action, the desire for social status and of course, material reward. If we again consider al-Shishani; going from being destitute and broke he rose to the top of a major organization, thereby gaining both a sense of belonging and a very high social status (within the group). He certainly has had opportunities for action as well. Considering that IS is the wealthiest terror-networks in existence, one can presume that he also has gained some material rewards. (IS pays its fighters of course; according to Syria Human Rights Watch, a Syrian fighter who joins IS gets a wage of about $400, and he’ll get more if he has wife and kids. A foreign fighter gets about double that.)

This is not to say that there is a specific terrorist profile or identity, there’s a great deal of variation, these are just commonalities found among some, but not all.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Successful groups or brands benefit from having a leader that is perceived to be strong, intelligent, forceful and sometimes maybe charismatic (mind you, I believe al-Baghdadi is nothing but a figurehead, but that’s another discussion entirely). Nevertheless, note the cult of personality that has been created around the proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They have used a very efficient strategy to create a picture of the man as almost divine. He has rarely appeared in public and this is a very strategic move.

By keeping him out of the limelight he remains shrouded in mystery. If he were to appear more in the media, there would also be a greater chance of him making mistakes that might make him appear more human (think about it, if he were to have a visible booger or if he were to sneeze in public, what would that do to his image as almost divine?). He has already come off as somewhat ridiculous purporting puritanical piety while donning a Rolex, and his credibility might be ruined by further blunders. So, media-exposure might harm more than do good.
Those of you who have followed the news around IS may also have noticed a fairly recent name-change, or rather, an addition to his name. For years he was merely al-Baghdadi (he’s had plenty of name-changes), but now, the name Al-Qurashi has been added. Qurash was Muhammad’s (y’know, the Prophet) tribe (qabila). By adding the Al-Quarashi name, he is telling us that he is directly related to Muhammad.

footage-al-baghdadis-friday-speech-which-he-appears-be-wearing-rolex-twitter

A strong charismatic leader can make their followers do almost anything; we’ve witnessed this throughout history (think Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Khomeini, Ataturk & several others). Couple it with problematic social conditions (the whole Middle-East is a mess right now) and you’ve got a prime setting.

Had IS stood completely alone, then they wouldn’t have been a problem, but they do indeed have some support, and this is why: they’ve used a strategy that was used by the religious leaders of Iran following the revolution. They are winning over parts of the local community through very simple measures. That is, through providing necessary goods. IS has distributed food, other material goods, and have in areas ensured a relatively stable supply of electricity. The region is not known for its stable supply of either of those things, and by providing them, they’re actually making local friends (among Sunnis of course). They also provide jobs where there is high unemployment, thus gaining followers

So, in sum, there are many motivating factors. Some are ideological (the desire for an Islamic State, Sunni in this case); some of the fighters may seek the thrill and exitement; some seek a place in where they can belong; some want to elevate their social status; some are in it for the money and some may also view IS as being the panacea to righting perceived (or real) wrongs carried out by Western powers in Islamic countries (these guys are not too fond of what the US, Great Britain and Europe in general have done in the region. This encompasses everything from waging wars, reaping economic reward unfairly, to the creation of Israel). Some may be just good old revenge against real or perceived enemies or apostates.

As for what will happen next, I have no idea… Kurdish fighters (Peshmerga) aided by Western powers are doing their part in combatting the group, but it is difficult, if not impossible to stop an ideology through bombing. In a worst case scenario, the group might indeed be strengthened by the continous attacks, as the belief that “they are out to get us” is confirmed.

There’s lots more that could have been said, but I’m pretty tired so I think I’ll leave it at that. Thank you for reading :)

On maps, b.s. and lies.

My favourite map (1794).

I love maps. More specifically, I love old erroneous maps. I collect them, and I have a total of four, the oldest one being from 1708. I am also currently enrolled in a geography/pedagogy program at the university of Oslo. What is interesting about this is that I know very little about geography, and I am almost completely unable to actually read a map. I much prefer wandering/driving around aimlessly till I accidentally stumble upon my destination. If I’m in a rush, I might ask someone, but I mostly do the “Oslo isn’t that big, I’m bound to hit it at some point”-approach.

In terms of geography, I’m pathetic. I once (in front of a whole class) pointed to South America while talking about Africa (the students have hearts of gold, so they just chuckled. I also suspect that they believe me to be a little slow, and therefore grant me extra leniency). In my defense, South America and Africa are pretty similar in shape if you squint.

Now, the reasons why I like old maps are many. For one, I love history and I love old things (I also collect fossils). The most important reason though, is that I love how people, when uncertain about something, will resort to bullshitting. Note the below map of Africa? Yeah, I’ts got a non-existent mountain range right from West-Africa to East-Africa, and looking at it never fails to crack me up :) I just love the thought of some cartographer, some 160 odd years ago, looking at the map he had just drawn and thinking to himself “it’s kinda bare eh? I know what this needs! a mountain-range! Lalalalalaaaa, a moooouuntain-range!”

20130330_134216

As such, it could be claimed that B.S and lies are a part of our shared history. And we all lie. Even babies lie! We don’t all lie maliciously, and some of us lie less than others, but the research is pretty conclusive; lies are part of the human experience and have probably always been so (“Does this fig-leaf make me look fat?”). Lies are told to enhance our self-esteem (this is the most frequent form of lying among men) and in an effort to not hurt feelings (most frequent among women).  You can see a great TED-talk on the topic of how to spot a liar here  I was going to make a point of how we still blindly believe some claims (even to the point of using them to deny others their human rights) but I have annoyed enough people today, so I am not going to get into the veracity of the various Holy Texts. I’ll save that for a day in which I feel like alienating about 50% of my friends and acquaintances.

On that note, here are some of my other maps:

This one is from 1794.

This is the whole view of the map seen above.

This one is from 1708.

This one is from 1708.

This one is from 1723.

And this one is from 1794.

And this one is from 1794.

Here’s a great link that perfectly illustrates how borders are anything but static over time: History of Europe- 6013 years in 3 minutes

(So..That nationalistic pride-silliness that many engage in is kinda mis-guided, no?).

Here’s a wonderful link covering maps that’ll tell you everything from population-density  to alcohol consumption across the world.

That’s all I’ve got. No clever sign off, no nothing, just maps and lies :)