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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) 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 just 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 possibly 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 creep is one) but who 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.. (No man, you’re nothing like animals. Animals tend to behave far more civilized than what you do, so a comparison would be an insult to animals). 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 fool 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 (may have felt similarly and) 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’s 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 test or the teacher is 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) his 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.

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 (thanks to Shahab for pointing this out to me).

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 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!”

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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 :)

 

EmpathyQuote-300x263

I have facebook-friends. Quite a few really; over 200!  98% are people I have met in real life (I have pretty strict criteria for whom I will friend/allow on facebook); the remaining 2% are people I find particularly interesting or whom I have ‘known’ online for 10 years +.

One of those people posted this article just recently. The article details the execution of a rapist, and the description made me sick to my stomach. What made me feel even worse though, was the blood-lust of those who commented on the post… I do realize the guy was a monster, and to put it any other way would be incompassionate towards his victim. Furthermore, to chalk it up to his “disordered mind” would be psychological reductionism – he was (most likely) able to control his behaviour, and the behaviour he carried out was the absolute worst! That said, there is something to be said for how:

i. We as people act towards those who wrong us.

ii: What actually works as deterrents in terms of criminal behaviour.

Of all the things Gandhi said, one of his wisest sayings (to me anyways) was “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”- I firmly believe that the notion of of retribution is misguided unless it serves a purpose. Killing does not serve a purpose. You want to teach the perpetrator a lesson? Teach him empathy. Make him understand the fear, the horror and the damage his victim felt. Don’t kill him though. That’s just barbaric. If we consider ourselves to be civilized human beings, we do not stoop to that level.

Then there’s the deterrent-part. You know what? Killing people does not stop them from doing wrong, check out these stats 

That’s about all I’ve got.

On social distance, a great TED-talk and refugees

Image from allnationstranslations.com

Image from allnationstranslations.com

Nickey (check out her awesome blog here) suggested I’d do a blog entry about social distance, so that’s what I’ll do :)

First let’s clarify concepts.

You’ve got locational distance. If you’re reading this on your laptop while sitting on a beach in Egypt, first of all, damn you, you horrible braggart.  I resent you a lot and I hope you get sand in unmentionable places (<–Norway is a cold, dark place these days and I am growing increasingly bitter. I can’t wait to see what a pleasant, adorable creature I’ll be by January).  Nevertheless, If you’re in Sharm El Sheikh, and I am in Norway (>:() there would be a great locational distance between where you and I are physically located.

Then there’s social distance. There are three types; interactive, normative and affective social distance (I’ll try to make this not too boring, but bear with me).

1). Interactive social distance has to do with to which extent groups or individuals interact. That is, how often they’re in touch, and how close they are when they’re together. One can interact with someone on a frequent basis without being interactively socially close. For instance, I frequently interact with grocery store employees, but we are not very close. Not that I would mind if we were, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Colleagues and students are another example; I interact with them frequently and I feel pretty close to some of them.

2). Normative social distance has to do with how you view another individual or group; are they part of your ingroup (‘She’s just like me!!1! <3′) or part of an outgroup (“oh…Those weirdos.. I hear they brush their teeth up and down instead of from left to right, they smell funny, and they hate kittens and rainbows”). To put it into context; an individual who is far right on the political spectrum, loves Limbaugh, Ayn Rand’s teachings and hates puppies (those things frequently go together, or so I’ve heard) would be normatively distant from myself. An individual who is at the left (though not faaar left) on the political spectrum, loves puppies, and likes Chomsky, Foucault and Freud would be much closer to where I stand.  I would consider the first guy an outgroup-member, and the second, an ingroup-member.

3). Affective social distance is all about feeeeelings; how close you feel emotionally towards that other person or group. You are likely to be affectively close to your family members (i.e., you love them) while not very affectively close to the janitor of your building (though I’m sure she or he is perfectly nice and fully deserving of love and respect).

Now, a word of caution before I continue. Academics like to parse things up into discrete categories. That way you get neat little conceptual boxes. The problem is that our world is not a neat, tidy place, and nothing is as messy as our emotions, cognition and behaviour. The categories frequently accompany each other, and the presence or absence of one does not exclude the others.

What made Nickey suggest this particular topic was this TED-talk.

Did you hear those three truths Ash Beckham spoke?

1. Be authentic. If you want someone to be real to you, they need to know that you bleed too. This is extraordinarily difficult. Our lives are largely built around posturing. We are told what we should be and how to get there (Thanks a lot Women’s magazines, you guys are the worst!). There’s something odd about authenticity; the more you show that you are imperfect, the more those around you (those who matter anyway) sympathize/empathize with you. This because we all have the same emotional range (except for a tiny scary group of people). Showing vulnerability and telling others of your shortcomings may feel awful in the moment, but you’ll survive. I am, for instance, not cool. I fail to wear the right clothes, and my weight fluctuates. I like things that have never been trendy (you’ll probably find this shocking, but an interest in old maps and fossils isn’t the hallmark of coolness. Who’da thunk..)  I am horrible at sports. I have no coordination, and I cry ALL. THE. TIME. I also deal with an at-times, crippling anxiety. When people find out, they tend to say “oh, ok.” Sometimes they’re indifferent and sometimes they hug me. So far though, telling it like it is has done me no harm.

2. Be direct. Just say it. Directness is golden.  It is also easy to understand.

3. Be unapologetic. I will never master this, but I greatly admire those who do. I have faults and flaws and I keep trying to correct them. I am way too apologetic, and I would love if someone could teach me how to accept my (impossible to fix) flaws.

Anyway, back to the various kinds of social distance: What is scary is that they are all at the root of prejudice. We’re all prejudiced to some extent (see my example of the Rush-Limbaugh-loving-puppy-haters); the question is where that prejudice leads, and whether we are reasonable enough to recognize it as our own issue, and not necessarily a flaw or shortcoming in others.

The current discussion concerning refugees in Norway is illustrative of all the various forms of distance, including locational distance. It also includes a fairly hefty dose of ignorance about conditions around world, but that’s for another post.

Interactional social distance: I think it would be fair to assume that most Norwegians do not interact with a great number of refugees on a regular basis. If they did, they might come to see how incredibly varied the group is. They might start seeing them as individuals, and they’d likely find the idea of locking them up abhorrent.

Normative social distance: once one has been exposed to a great number of refugees, one would (usually) come to the realization that they may differ from ourselves in some respects, but that we are more alike than different. This is not a conclusion one arrives at without also having a healthy dose of respect for other human beings. When you treat others with respect, they tend to open up and return that respect. They (may) also start telling you of their passions, fears and struggles. If you empathize, you’ll likely notice that you would feel the very same emotions they feel when facing similar conditions.

If the aforementioned social distance-gaps have narrowed, that is, if you have become close with several members of the group in question,  the affective social distance is likely to be influenced. You come to no longer view the group  as a homogeneous faceless entity but rather as a group highly different of people, some of whom one likes and some of whom one may not like quite as much.

Nevertheless, treating them inhumanely is much more difficult once you see them as real people.

Now, please join this group. It is a group whose aim it is to stop those in power from locking up refugees while they’re waiting to have their application processed.

On a horribly tragic event and collective punishment

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I have never once had to lie about or hide my ethnicity. I am Norwegian-Iranian (as mentioned in the bio) and I am completely comfortable with being Norwegian-Iranian. I would also be comfortable with any other constellation of mixedness; Polish-American, Kenyan-Bolivian, Israeli-Italian-Bosnian, Arab-Swede-Macedonian, Spanish-Icelandic, you name it.  The reasons why I am comfortable with my ethnicity are many. First, ethnicity is not very important in terms of my identity. I can’t deny that my background has shaped who I am, but if I run a “who am I really?” inventory, several adjectives come to mind looong before the noun(s) describing my cultural background (make of that what you want..). I also feel no shame and absolutely no guilt in terms of my heritage or the actions of the groups I am perceived to belong to. The leadership in Iran for instance; they are (largely) a collection of massive jerks. This is not only in my mind, they regularly make asses of themselves in global public fora. Remember when Ahmadinejad claimed that there are no gays in Iran? Or his ignorant and cruel Holocaust-denial? Yeah, not my fault. The guy is a tool, and I have no responsibility for his actions or words whatsoever, despite our (partially) shared ethnicity. I also have no responsibility for Breivik’s actions. Neither am I to blame for how a certain subset of Norwegians behave when they travel abroad (uhm.. Some drink. A lot. And some have been known to move to other countries and demand that the native population learn the Norwegian language…).  Again, it is not my fault, nor my responsibility. I can try to educate them or attempt to make them see how silly they appear, but it is usually a futile endeavour. Besides, it’s kinda one of those “I know what’s right for you” things that I prefer to avoid.

Now, my refusal to be held accountable for others actions is tied to my ENORMOUS PRIVILEGE (I know all-caps is annoying, but it is called for). In terms of looks, I am indistinct. You can’t look at me and decide where I am from, and in cases where I have encouraged others to guess, guesses have ranged from Norwegian, British to Russian to “maybe..Uhm….???”  I am so pale I am practically light-blue most of the year. My hair colour is brown and I have blue eyes. I (usually) breeze through customs, and I am perceived as innocent until proven otherwise. This is not the case for a great majority of people across the world, and this brings me to the point of this blog-entry.

First, let me describe the horrible event mentioned in the headline of this entry. What happened was this; an asylum-seeker hailing from a country south of the Sahara killed 3 people on a bus travelling from Valdres, central Norway. The man was psychotic. Psychosis is not exclusive to any group, and it is not unheard of that the paranoia (commonly) associated with psychosis ends up causing harm, most frequently to the individual experiencing psychosis, but sometimes also to those around him or her. The man had likely experienced hardships you and I cannot comprehend. Imagine having to flee from one country to another, aided by human smugglers. Imagine being stowed in a rickety truck and having to remain in said truck across the (incredibly dangerous) Sahara. Imagine having to travel great distances at sea in a boat that’s not really seaworthy. Said boat is also likely to  hold many more people than what it is meant to. Imagine leaving, even abandoning your friends, family, maybe also your children and spouse in the hopes that they may come after once you have found a safe place to live…The families these refugees leave behind are likely to have invested quite a bit of money in the trip  (travelling across borders while not holding papers is not cheap) thus helping, but also placing an additional burden on the refugee.

Then you’re likely to be rejected from one country after another. You’ll arrive one place, get thrown into an awful detention centre, then shipped back to the place you last came from. This can go on for years and years, and unsurprisingly, many lives have been lost. Keep in mind that the people making this journey have no fault in their own misfortune, they were simply born in the wrong place. These are places where paperwork and official records are shoddy at best, and non-existent at worst.

Upon arrival in Norway, refugees are placed in a ‘mottak’, another kind of detention centre. The conditions in some of these are awful to say the least. Many are for-profit, and refugees from all across the world are placed together. There’s nothing for them to do and most have horrible trauma in their background. You might wait for months or years while someone in a far-away location decides your fate. You have no idea how long it will take, and you have no idea of the outcome. You are at the mercy of a public official, and the uncertainty is overwhelming..

Pretty grim, no?

Our man had recently had his asylum-application rejected and was set to be shipped out.  He was to be sent to Spain, back to another detention centre. He snapped. He killed. Innocent lives were lost, including his own (he is alive and in a psychiatric ward, but if or when he comes to, what kind of existence and reality will he be facing?). The survivors on the bus will have to deal with the trauma for years to come. The families of those killed will never get back their loved ones. It couldn’t possibly be more tragic.

What is worse is the fallout. Politicians are calling for locked detention centres. That is, innocent refugees will be treated like criminals, because once you lock someone up and deny them freedom of movement, you’re effectively placing them in jail. The bus-company that owned the bus on which the incident occurred has decided that they will not allow refugees on their buses for a while. So one tragic event has led to a whole group of people being punished. What more is the fear many of his countrymen face. I was told as recently as today (by people from the same region) that they now attempt to conceal where they hail from in order not to be associated with either the man or the event. People who belong to visible minorities have it rough enough as it is, it seems awfully unfair that they should live in fear that the general populace might find out that they were born ‘in the wrong place’..  Most have done nothing wrong, but still have to live in fear. All because we as humans frequently view those who are dissimilar from us as a coherent group, not as differing individuals with different experiences, different psyches, different lives;  yet, with the exact same emotional range as ourselves. We stereotype and assume based on very limited information. Any time you hear the words “people from X are like Y”, you’re witnessing stereotyping. It is not so bad when the stereotypes are innocuous (“Norwegians are docile and for the most part friendly”)  but it is outright dangerous when the qualities superimposed on a group has elements of “this is why these people are dangerous”-reasoning. People are frequently killed because they are perceived to belong to a group believed to be dangerous.. (There were several cases of Sikhs being killed or badly beaten post 9/11, simply for having beards and wearing turbans…Yeah, ignorance is very very dangerous).

I (again) can’t come up with a good/useful conclusion, but I sure hope people come to their senses. I hope they do remember  that one should never judge all the people from a given group because of what one single (very sick) person did. Let us not forget that if the shoe was on the other foot, we might all have been judged based on what our resident terrorist Anders Behring Breivik did.

Image from wikipedia.com

On my ineptitude, travel and IQ tests.

I’m going to Toronto tomorrow morning. My dog Niko is moving to a whole new continent, and I’m going with him, just to make sure he makes it there safely. I’m a little nervous, not because I am in any way afraid of flying; I was only 6 weeks old when I took my first flight, and have taken hundreds of flights since then. Nothing remarkable has ever happened. There have been a few drunken and belligerent people, but there’s drunken belligerent people pretty much everywhere.  Anyway, I am worried for Nick though. I’m sure he’ll be safe, but I worry that he will stress and/or freak out. I also worry because I was the one to put together his travel-cage.

There are some things I am pretty good at. There are many more that I am absolutely useless at. For instance, I have a degree in agriculture, and if there is one thing I know virtually nothing about, it is agriculture. I somehow managed to get through three years of schooling without learning much of anything, and I think it says something about myself, the educational system, and the (sorry to all of those who find agriculture thrilling) boring nature of agriculture.

I am also (as previously mentioned) completely  unable to comprehend instruction manuals, no matter how simply written. Just look at the abomination below:

This is the instruction manual. My mind cannot process or even begin to comprehend what it wants me to do.

This is the instruction manual. My mind could not process or even begin to comprehend what it wanted me to do.

It took me about an hour and a half to put the thing together, and at one point, I had several parts I didn’t know the function of. I put them where the instruction manual told me to, but I am still not sure what they do.

What is this? What function does it serve?

What is this? What function does it serve?

I finally got the cage/box together though, and it looks like this:

uh-oh...

uh-oh…

It may very well collapse mid-flight and I sure hope Niko will be ok when it does..

Anyway, that brings me to the topic of IQ-tests.

I would likely receive a  high-ish score, both because I am somewhat academically inclined, but also because I know how they work (knowing what I know, I would cheat. It is a sad realization, but let’s be honest. I would TOTALLY likely cheat and I’d probably feel pretty smug about it too). I am nevertheless useless at tasks an average 9 year old would have no problems carrying out.

I have, as previously mentioned, tested IQ in a research setting. And, if there is one thing testing IQ teaches you, it is the uselessness of IQ-tests. Case in point: the two highest scoring individuals I tested were (long-term) unemployed, and one of them was homeless. I don’t mean to carve on the homeless or the unemployed, but people seem to assume that a high IQ is linked to great success. It is not. IQ-tests tap into how you may do academically. That is,  if you’ve been taught to think like a westerner; if you have had access to resources (read, money/education) and most importantly, if you have the motivation and drive to do well.  Motivation is key Without it, you’ll get nowhere (unless you’re one of those who were born into money. Some people make money simply by existing and having a recognizable name, but they don’t count. Or, they shouldn’t anyway). Regardless, the homeless guy had plenty of intellectual ability, he just wasn’t motivated or moneyed. Someone with an IQ considerably lower than his, but with higher motivation, would likely do much much better in life.

Another problem is that the tests are timed, and I find this to be problematic stupid. Who cares if it takes you 2 minutes, 20 minutes or 2 days to arrive at an adequate answer, as long as you eventually arrive at said answer? I bet it took Galileo, Descartes, Curie (did you know she was Polish? She was! I always assumed she was French), Somerville  and Einstein quite a while to come up with their respective theories/research findings.  ”Hey dummy, why so slow?” doesn’t really apply in those cases. So, timing intellect seems pretty silly and thoughtless when placed in context, no?

IQ tests are also culturally biased. They have been used to oppress and marginalize people who deserved better, and I personally think they should be made away with. But that’s just me.

Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it :)

 

My Prof/Boss's book- he was brilliant! (yet terrifying).

On spam, my (awesome) subscribers and schizophrenia

 

 

I keep getting spam in the comments section, and it is all for make-up, cosmetic surgery and weight loss products (what are you insinuating spam-bots? If you relied on my search history, you’d find me stuff/products that gets dog-vomit out of carpets and books on how to learn all the rules of Norwegian grammar (preferably “in 15 minutes or less”). That’d be useful, but instead I’m bombarded with ‘hey fatty, you’re kinda hideous‘- type spam. Sigh.

A very cool thing though, is that my subscriber-list has almost doubled, I now have 22 subscribers!  (myself and Sufi included, but still, that 20 people want to read my blog is incredibly flattering  (I <3 you subscribers)).

Over to the schizophrenia-thing. One of the most interesting jobs  I have had (besides the one I have now)was in schizophrenia research. Schizophrenia is not (as many believe) ‘multiple personality disorder’ (or ‘dissociative  identity disorder’; a diagnosis that many, myself included, have serious doubts about). It is a disorder characterized by delusions (beliefs that are not true and who are at times outlandish; think Aliens/CIA/FBI/CSIS/PST monitoring thoughts through microchips implanted in the patients brain (paranoid delusions); the belief that one has killed someone without having done so; the belief that one is Really special (called ‘delusions of grandeur’; think historical figures like Jesus Christ or likewise). There are also hallucinations (you see, hear, feel, taste, smell or otherwise perceive sensations that are not present). And finally, general disorganization (you’re not able to distinguish/sort impressions).

We split symptoms into groups. There are positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions etc); negative symptoms (flat affect/withdrawal/immobility (catatonia)), and disorganized symptoms (difficulties in organizing thoughts/speech/etc).

I’ll probably write several posts on schizophrenia, so I won’t go too in-depth here. If you’re particularly interested in the disorder, please buy my former honours thesis-professor and boss’s book, “In Search of Madness; Schizophrenia & Neuroscience”.

 

Just some quick facts about schizophrenia:

Anyway, the reason I am posting this is because I came across this video on facebook. It is a heartwarming story of a woman who lives with a schizophrenia diagnosis. It is not representative though. Many, if not most patients do not have insight into their own condition (“I’m not crazy!”) and many suffer a great deal. Patients with schizophrenia frequently end up homeless, incarcerated, and though they might be violent (in rare cases. Besides, we can all be violent, it is part of our nature) they are much more frequently victims of violence than perpetrators. Anyway, this This video is more representative of how schizophrenia may look.

This is one of those posts I can’t come up with a clever conclusion for. I guess I could say that there is very little reason to be afraid of patients with schizophrenia? In encounters with people suffering from schizophrenia, displaying compassion and respect usually works very well- I have yet to be attacked anyway, and I have been around schizophrenia-patients for quite some time.