THE WORLD AS SEEN, READ ABOUT, LISTENED TO, AND INTERPRETED
Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University,
Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Kwame Anthony Appiah (Author, philosopher of history, politics and social sciences.)
Kwame Appiah implies western democracy is the best form of government.
The democracy of which Appiah writes is one in which rule-of-law, freedom within the limits of rule-of-law, and equal opportunity are evident.
However, contrary to Langston Hughes’ poem, the sea is not calm. Democracies’ sea is stormy because its principles are inconsistently practiced.
Appiah’s chapters on religion may be a slog for some but they offer understanding of the inconsistency of religious belief. Religious contradictions are legion. Sermonizers pick and choose paths they like rather than any truth biblical writings may impart.
“The Lies That Bind” examines the role of religion, culture, and government in society.
Agnosticism, and atheism grows with revelations of science, stultified freedom of thought, and (though not mentioned by Appiah) ecumenical abuse.
Appiah’s life story reinforces the importance of culture. Both his parents were highly accomplished people. His mother was a British artist, historian, and writer. His father, from Ghana, was a lawyer, diplomat, and politician. Both parents come from accomplished families. Their son chooses to marry a man when same sex marriage only slowly becomes culturally accepted.
Appiah’s history addresses the ascendence of the Mongol empire to illustrate the breadth of Mongol conquest while noting its style of government control. His point is that control is exercised with a level of tolerance for independence, cultural understanding, and religious belief among Khan’s descendants.
Genghis Khan (1162-1227 Leader of the Mongol Empire)
In summary, Appiah argues democratic societies need to rethink identity in terms of human equality. Whether a man or woman is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, server in a restaurant, or laborer in construction, all are equally human. Appiah notes Trump’s political success in America relates to his intuitive understanding of what many political aspirants ignored—the importance of American labor, whether highly educated, unschooled, rich, or poor.
A leader of an enterprise can be right, even damn right, but fail without the help of labor. Disrespecting labor ensures failure. This is a lesson Henry Ford understood when he raised the wages of his work force. This is a lesson Elon Musk will undoubtedly find in his acquisition of Twitter.
Appiah’s lifebuoy is meritocracy, a government holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. The idea of meritocracy came about in the 1960s. However, there are academicians, like Daniel Markovits who believe the concept of meritocracy increases inequality and causes decline in the middle class. Markovits argues middle-class families lose equal educational opportunity because of high cost. Without equal opportunity for education, too many Americans are left without Appiah’s lifebuoy.
Appiah does not directly address issues of equality of opportunity in a democratic-meritocratic society. Though Appiah may be a minority in white western culture, one doubts his educational opportunity was ever a question of cost.
On balance, Appiah offers insight to how democracy can be improved. The key is equality of opportunity which implies democracy needs to focus on safety-net’ issues which entail more help for lower- and middle-class income earners. The safety-net is one which provides equal access to education, health care, and employment, i.e., without regard to sex, race, religion, or ethnic qualification. In democracy, that means election of leaders who are willing to ensure equality of opportunity for all.
“Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole” offers insight to those at a crossroad in life.
“Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole” is an apt book-title for diagnosis of brain dysfunction. Like “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, truth of a neurological disorder is like following a rabbit down a “…Rabbit Hole”. Diagnosis of neurological disorder resonates with the obscure analogies of Lewis Carrol’s imagination.
One presumes “Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole” is written and edited by Brian Burrell. It may be that division of a doctor’s and writer’s expertise may not be a fair description of this book’s creation. But, unquestionably, Dr. Ropper’s stories drive the narrative. In any case, from a potential patient’s perspective, this is an insightful examination of what it means to live or die when a serious neurological disease strikes.
Dr. Ropper’s experience at a leading hospital in Boston is a terrifying journey into the art of neurological medicine. The terror lies in what doctor’s do not know about brain function. When one’s neurological system fails, diagnosis and prognosis are keys to a patient’s decision to live or die. What Ropper’s experience suggests is doctors must carefully interview every patient who seeks help for what is abnormal behavior.
What Ropper explains is–careful physical examination and detailed interview notes improve diagnosis and treatment for neurological disorder.
It is somewhat understood that doctors, and the medical profession in general, are extremely busy, particularly in this age of Covid19 and a perennial flu season. What Ropper’s experience shows is accurate diagnosis in a case of brain dysfunction is inhibited by a three headed monster–time, education, and practice. For the medical profession, there will always be some medical crises that overburdens services.
The natural consequence of medical overburden comes from population increase, a 24-7 work week, and burn-out which affects a doctor’s time for diagnosis.
Of particular interest in Ropper’s stories are neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and medical emergencies like stroke. Ropper implies many doctors do not spend enough time interviewing patients to clearly understand what is going on with their neurological disorder. Doctors don’t ask enough questions about when symptoms began, how they exhibited, and the effect they have on the patient’s life.
A three headed monster (time, education, and practice) interferes with proper diagnosis by attending physicians.
Doctors only gain experience through education and, more importantly, practice. Mistakes are made in every profession, but none more directly impact the individual than in doctor/patient relations. Ropper notes the best way of reducing mistakes is to learn from them and not make them again.
When a mistake in diagnosis leads to death, Ropper explains it is important for doctors to fully investigate the details of the mistake. Ropper argues autopsy should be used as a tool for understanding mistakes and improving future treatment.
Michael J. Fox, as is generally known, is struck by Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that creates a palsy or tremor in one’s body. Fox went to Ropper in his late thirties when the symptoms first appear. Fox wishes to continue his career but needs help with the tremors. Initially, Fox and his career handlers wish to keep the diagnosis secret. However, Fox grows to understand he can continue to act and do more for research and cure by going public. Fox, according to “Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole” raises millions of dollars for treatment of Parkinson’s disease. As is well known, Fox continues his career successfully as an actor with Parkinson’s disease.
Living with a neurological disorder is closely examined in “Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole”. Living with the disorder is a personal choice.
Some embrace the disorder like Michael J. Fox, the only “real name” patient in the book. Others suffer, many in silence, with what treatments are available to mitigate their symptoms.
Another impactful story takes two different directions. Two patients are diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) which is presently incurable and fatal. After careful diagnosis, Ropper explains the progression of ALS to two of his patients. One chooses to be kept comfortable to end her life rather than deal with its progressive debilitation. The second person chooses to deal with the debilitation and live longer with his family despite its consequence.
Stephen Hawking is not mentioned in “…Rabbit Hole” but is known as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He became a noted author of Astrophysics with contributions to the science of black holes, space, and the concept of time.
There is much more to be learned by listening to “Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole”. The fundamental message is that when a neurological disorder interrupts one’s life, the decision about what one should do is based on two things. One accurate medical diagnosis and two, a personal informed decision about what to do with one’s life.
The book’s conclusion is that a decision about living or dying from an incurable neurological disease can only be made by the stricken patient, no one else. This is not to say a doctor and one’s family is not a part of the decision but that the final answer lies with the patient.
“Florida” is a series of well written short stories. The binding theme of the author’s stories is her view of life. As Lauren Groff makes clear in her former book, “Fates and Furies”, there is little difference between the sexes. Women may give birth, but children are children who need care. The truth is men, more often than women, physically leave their children. Most women stay. Groff suggests it is not necessarily because women want to stay but they have fewer alternatives.
Once born, most children are loved and held close while some are abandoned physically and/or emotionally by their parents.
Groff infers women most often stay, but not because of a maternal instinct. A woman can choose to abandon their children just like men, but they may have grown to love their children. On the other hand, they may fear the social recrimination if they leave like fathers. Groff seems to infer women are as capable of leaving their children as men, but society treats the sexes unequally. In many ways, Groff wants equal treatment of men and women, but her observations are a harsh judgement of human beings.
Groff implies societal expectation is different for women than men.
Beyond strength differences, Groff’s stories show there are no differences between men and women. A woman is as likely to pursue sex as a man for the same purpose. Groff suggests there is no difference between men and women when it comes to desire for sex.
Groff tells a story of a violent storm that interrupts a single woman’s night out. Groff’s character is trolling a bar for a conjugal companion for the night. The violent storm leads to a dangerous interlude with a man that might as easily rape her as help her survive the storm. The man chooses to drink himself into a stupor and the woman survives the encounter without being raped.
Groff shows poverty is as crushing for women as men.
Both men and women can quit working or lose a job and devolve into homeless vagrants. Either can choose to become thieves, sexual consorts, or menial laborers to survive at the bottom of society.
Groff’s stories may appall some listeners, but she offers a point of view that strikes at the heart of sexual inequality.
Emotional human attachment is important in every story Groff writes. She is not suggesting either men or women are incapable of real love of each other and their children. She is arguing there are no intellectual, or emotional differences between the sexes.
The Other Slavery (The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America)
Narrated by: Eric Jason Martin
Andrés Reséndez (Author, Historian, Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago.)
One suspects “The Other Slavery” is unknown or misremembered by most Americans. “The Other Slavery” is not about America’s civil war, the Emancipation Proclamation, or Abraham Lincoln. It is about indigenous peoples and their adaptation to a world turned upside down by newcomers from foreign lands.
As is well known, slavery has been a societal constant since the beginning of recorded history. Today, it appears in pornography, low wage peonage, so-called re-education camps, and political/social incarcerations. What Reséndez explains is that Indian tribes of the west are increasingly incentivized by slavery with the arrival of foreigners. Though slavery may have been used by Indians earlier in history, it became a significant source of revenue for warring tribes.
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano (aka Cortez), 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca.
Reséndez reminds listeners of internecine wars of early America when conquistadores and Indians ruled the American southwest.
One Indian tribe captures a different tribes’ sons, and daughters to trade for money, horses, guns, and butter from the Spanish or later settlers who need cheap labor or who seek domestic help and/or carnal pleasure. Reséndez notes young women’s slavery prices are higher than young men’s because of their dual service as domestic laborers and sex objects. Over time, as Spanish land holders are replaced by American land holders, Indians remain a source and victim of the slave industry.
Men, women, and children are used by land holders and competing Indian tribes as barter for trade.
Santa Fe, New Mexico becomes a focal point of conflict between Pueblo Indians and the Spanish. The victimization of Pueblo Indian slaves leads to a rebellion that removes Spain from the New Mexico territory, at least for several years. However, the lure of silver brings Spain back with a slave trade resurgence in southwestern territories of America. Reséndez explains the slave trade becomes endemic as silver is discovered in Mexico and the southwest territories.
The need for cheap labor in silver mines multiplies the value of Indian slaves in the southwest.
The slave trade never dies. Greed drives Indian tribes to steal people from different Indian’ tribes to profit from human sales to landowners looking for cheap labor. Reséndez notes it is not just Indians victimizing Indians but American and Spanish landowners buying young men and women Indians and other human victims to serve as low-cost labor for silver mining, farming, and domestic service.
Reséndez notes male slaves were more difficult to manage than women slaves but for strength males were coveted for their labor in silver mining. Some of the mines were deep in the earth, all were dangerous. Underground mines were flooded with carcinogenic mercury tailings that shortened the lives of those who worked there.
Slavery goes by many names. As is known by historians, the Dawes act further victimizes native Americans.
Reséndez reveals how slavery has always been a part of society. Self-interest is a motive force of human nature. Slavery is found in penal colonies of authoritarian governments to provide cheap labor. Slavery is also found in democratic governments that legislatively reduce the cost of labor based on corporate influence on public policy. A free market, not lobbyist influence, should determine public policy.
The hope for elimination of slavery lies in government policy that reinforces belief in human equality and a balance between corporate profit and cost of labor as determined by a free market.
“A Life of My Own” introduces Claire Tomalin to those who do not know her. Born in London, and educated in English grammar schools, Tomalin graduates from the University of Cambridge to become a writer.
Tomalin meets and marries a fellow Cambridge student named Nicholas Tomalin who becomes a successful journalist. He is killed on assignment while reporting on the Arab Israeli war.
As a listener/reader one appreciates Tomlin’s writing. As a respected biographer, Tomalin illustrates the importance of honesty in writing about one’s life story.
Tomalin writes with candor and detail that make one believe what she writes. Tomalin has written several biographies of famous people like Mary Wollstonecraft, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austin, and Samuel Pepys. References she makes to her research for earlier biographies assures listeners of her diligence in revealing her own life. How well we know ourselves is always a question, but the facts Tomalin reveals suggest she, like Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, is a woman of substance.
As with all who have lived a long life, Tomalin experiences good and bad fortune.
She is raised by a father and mother who love her but divorce. As a child growing up, Tomalin mostly lives with her mother who cares for her. However, as a single mother, the two undoubtedly struggle to make a living. Her father remains a part of Claire Tomalin’s life but seems only later to provide some level of trust and security in their relationship.
There seems a great deal of love but a sense of frailty and insecurity in Claire Tomlin’s life with her mother. Her mother is a musician and unpublished composer who works at odd jobs to support their life together. Most divorced wives recognize how difficult it is to lose one/half (usually more) of a family’s income when divorced.
Claire Tomalin’s life enters a new phase when she marries Nicholas Tomalin. Because of Nicholas’s job, he is away from home on assignments. Claire pursues her own career. They separate. They come back together. Nicholas is tragically killed while on a 1973 news assignment to report on the Arab Israeli war.
At some point in Claire Tomalin’s marriage, the man she married becomes physically abusive. Tomalin explains her husband is a bon vivant who attracts other women’s attention.
Claire Tomalin is left with five children, three daughters and two sons. She publishes her first book in 1974 (“The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft). She becomes the literary editor for the “New Statesman” and “The Sunday Times”. Her mother dies. Her father dies. One of her sons is born prematurely and requires special aid. A daughter commits suicide. She manages through it all and marries the novelist and playwright Michael Frayn in 1993.
She continues to write into her late 80s. Along the way, she meets some of the greatest writers and authors of modern times. As with anyone who lives into their 90s, it seems Claire Tomlin has had an eventful and good life, but it required grit and determination. Something one cannot help but admire is that Tomalin is a woman of substance.
East West Street (On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”)
By: Philippe Sands
Narrated by: David Rintoul, Philippe Sands
Philippe Sands (British Author, attorney, specialist in international law.)
“East West Street” is narrated by two people, the first narrator defines the origin and legal definition of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”. The second narrator recounts real-life’ details that relate to those definitions.
The first public use of “genocide” is introduced in the Nuremberg Trials of former Nazi administrators. Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) wrote a book, “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe”, that introduces the term “genocide” in 1944. He becomes a needling gadfly in the Nuremberg trials. The word “genocide” is initially rejected but becomes a part of the trial as it proceeds.
Sands suggests Lemkin’s role is diminished by his uncooperative behavior when first selected to serve on the Nuremberg’ adjudication team. Lemkin is relegated to a lesser role as a consulting attorney, in part because of his insistence on the use of “genocide” in the Nuremberg trials.
Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959, Polish lawyer, coined the word-genocide.)
Regardless of Lemkin’s alleged attitude, one is compelled to agree–the perpetrators of the holocaust committed both “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”. Individual men, women, and children were murdered. At the same time, specifically identified groups of people were murdered by the Nazis. The largest group is Jewish, but many groups were not affiliated with religion. Poland lost an estimated 3 million Polish Jews, but Poland also lost an estimate 1.8 million Poles with no Jewish heritage. An estimated 3,000,000 Ukrainians were enslaved and/or murdered, some undoubtedly were Jews, many were not.
Hans Frank (German governor of Poland 1939-1945).
On several occasions, the son of Hans Frank (the German governor of Poland during WWII) is interviewed. Frank’s son believes his father knew nothing of the atrocities of Poland’s concentration camps when first interviewed. In subsequent interviews, Frank’s son realizes his father enforces orders of the Third Reich to exterminate the Jews of Poland. His son begins to realize his father is not who he thought him to be. The former governor of Poland is convicted and executed after his Nuremberg trial.
In the end, defendants in Nuremberg are accused of “crimes against humanity”. “Genocide” is a group accusation while “crimes against humanity” is a person-specific indictment. What makes “East West Street” more than a definition of words and indictment is the detailed research that illustrates war’s personal consequence to innocent men, women, and children who suffer from war.
The author notes “Genocide” has become international law used for the first time in 1998 to convict Jean-Paul Akayesu for Rwandan murders. Sands suggests the concept of genocide remains controversial in the sense that it magnifies potential for conflict between groups.
There is no question that Jews were the largest singular group to be systematically tortured and murdered by the Nazis, but Lemkin’s definition of “genocide” is a label applicable to other groups of humanity. We have ample examples in the 21st century. There are the examples of indigenous Indians and Black slaves in America, and Uighurs and Tibetans in China.
The truth that Sands reveals is that every rape, torture, enslavement, and murder is individual, personal, and tragic. Sands meticulous research shows how brutal and singular “crimes against humanity” are to the individual. He finds his family is torn apart by Hitler’s Jewish obsession. The wounds engendered by Hitler’s leadership are shown unhealable to generations of Jews.
Hitler’s abhorrent beliefs festers in the 21st century.
Sands captures the true threat of authoritarianism in “East West Street”. One person can enslave, torture, or kill another person. More ominously, one person can influence a government to become an enslaver, torturer, and killer of millions. The first is a crime against humanity; the second portends genocide. Of course, today we see Putin’s attempt to eradicate the Ukranian nation and its people. One must ask oneself, is this not the genocide of which Lemkin wrote?
Luke Mogulson (Author, reporter for various national and international publications.)
Luke Mogelson’s “The Storm is Here” carries the risk of being an echo chamber for those who believe Trump is the worst thing to have happened to the Republican Party and politics of the United States.
One must ask oneself, who is this author? The following is a brief review of Mogelson’s life, noted on the internet.
Luke Mogelson is an American reporter who is known for shooting the riot footage of the US Capitol video.
He was born in 1982 in St Louis, Missouri, United States of America. Fogelson is of American nationality having a white ethnic background.
Currently, Luke Mogelson’s age is 38 at the time of this writing.
Luke Mogelson does not have an official Wikipedia and bio made in his name.
As such, there is not much information about his family and educational qualifications.
Luke is a daring and brave reporter and has covered reports for the New Yorker on the Syrian War and West Africa’s Ebola epidemic.
He has lived in places such as Paris and Mexico. On the other hand; Luke Mogelson has not officially revealed to us his wife‘s name and her current whereabouts.
Luke is also a famed contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and won the prestigious National Magazine Award in 2014. His work has appeared and allegedly been well-appreciated in The New Yorker, The Hudson Review, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and many more.
He has written books titled; These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories which was released worldwide in 2016.
At the least, Mogelson is a respected, brave, and well-travelled reporter, published in several national and international publications. If “The Storm is Here” is viewed as only an echo chamber for Trump haters, one should measure Mogelson’s credibility as a reporter and respected writer, published by notable national and international papers and magazines.
Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer.
Mogelson begins his book with freedom loving Americans who resent Michigan Governor Whitmer’s autocratic response to the Covid 19 pandemic. She orders businesses to be closed and mandates masks to protect Michiganders from spread of the virus. The consequence devastates local businesses that needed income to survive during the pandemic.
Karl Manke (Michigan barber.)
Mogelson focuses on an elderly barber’s business and his refusal to close his doors during the pandemic. His business becomes a rallying cry for freedom fighters who believe freedom is more important than what became over 1,000,000 American deaths from Covid19.
Mogelson recounts the tumultuous years of the Trump presidency. Every listener will have a visceral response to Mogelson’s reporting. In the end, all one can conclude is that “They are Us”. America, like all countries of the world, has a flawed form of government.
The flaw is universal because citizens of every country and government are flawed by the insecurities and prejudices of being human.
Trump is a proven liar, a showman with the ability to martial support of some of the smartest and honest Republicans in America.
They know who they are and still hope to be vindicated by history. Mogelson reveals how misled the Republican party has been by a showman. Trump has no understanding or concern about how destructive his actions have been to the potential of democratic equality and freedom. America has taken two steps back from the one step forward. The last step forward is in the Obama years of governance. This is not to suggest Obama is an exemplar of the best America can be but that he advanced democratic equality and freedom by one step forward.
Mogelson leaves judgement of activists who support Trump’s lies and incitement to the facts of history.
We must be judges of ourselves by clearing understanding “they are us”. Many of these activists who support Trump believe in white supremacy, and the inferiority of others based on skin color or place of birth. It is not a matter of forgiveness but recognition of the threat of authoritarianism in democracy. Trump is not the first President (Democrat or Republican) of the United States to martial the hate of Americans for others. He will not be the last.
Mogelson’s facts are here for all to hear, believe, or disbelieve. The real message is “they are us” and democracy is, and always will be, a work in progress.
Having Finnish grandparents made traveling to Norway and Finland more interesting. Because of little information about Hannah and Matt Savela, there is little prospect of finding anything about their lives in Finland or their arrival in the U.S. However, a tour of Finland, dinner with a Finish family, and a well-informed Nordic guide made one appreciate what it might have been like to be born and raised in a Nordic nation.
My grandfather arrived in Minnesota in the early 1900s. My grandmother may have already been in Minnesota. They moved to Oregon. My grandfather worked for the railroad and was gifted a watch at retirement. They raised four daughters and two sons. All their children married. All the daughters had children of their own. Some stayed married, others did not. Both male children served in the armed forces. All four girls worked outside their families, in addition to raising their children. One of the boys retired from the military, the other retired from some unknown employment.
Landing in Norway, after a long flight from Seattle, we were greeted by an Overseas Adventure Travel driver to take us to our hotel. At the hotel, we met our Swedish guide who gave us the next day’s itinerary and sent us off for a sleep. Our guide is a philosophy major with a doctorate in ethics. Her education is a great reward that helps uninformed travelers better understand the unique Nordic democratic culture.
The capital of Norway, Oslo, is our first stop. We tour The Vigeland Park with hundreds of sculptures that represent the circle of life. It is considered the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. Depending on how you enter the park, gates open to a sculpture of intertwined humans in a circle, or from the other entry, a giant obelisk festooned with naked bodies of men, women, and children. The sculptures reflect life from birth to death. The park is beautifully landscaped showing autumn colors if you arrive in October.
The most well-known sculpture is the oft-photographed angry baby boy on the Vigeland Park bridge. The scowling baby is made famous around the world by post card illustrations.
Leaving Oslo, we visit the second largest city in Norway. Bergen has a population of approximately 285,900. It is on the west coast, occupying most of the district of Midthordland. Its history reaches back to the 11th century. One of many beautiful sites is at the top of Mount Floyen. Visitors are carried by funicular to a view of the harbor. In autumn the view is great but a short hike further up the hill at the funicular’s end reveals a beautiful lake, surrounded by fall colors.
Before leaving the Bergen area, we visit Oygarden’s salmon farm to view another source of income from the North Sea. After a brief introduction by a local guide, we are motorboated to an inlet across from an asphalt batching plant to view a salmon fish farm. Two things come to mind. One, why would the government authorize a dirty industry next to a fish farm, and two, why is it necessary to farm fish when one lives on the North Sea? Of course, the answer is the same for both questions. It provides employment and income to a country that serves its citizens more equitably than the rest of the world.
Wild salmon are nearly extinct. Without farming, salmon would disappear from dining room tables. The asphalt issue is little less explainable except in the sense of all countries being hooked on the carbon industry.
In Norway, we reach the farthest north one can reach by automobile. At this northern most point, a museum, a restaurant, and outdoor monuments memorialize one’s arrival. And, of course, there are the elusive and varied northern lights.
Discovery of oil in 1967 changed Norway and influenced its socialist objectives as a democratic nation. Traveling through the countryside one sees the impact of oil wealth with well-groomed towns with few residents but the newest mechanical conveniences for agriculture and public utility services.
Contrary to most Americans understanding of Scandinavia, our guide explains Finland is not a Scandinavian country. Finland is a Nordic country which includes Scandinavia, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Aland, and Greenland. Finland was once a part of Sweden but gained independence in 1917. Ironically, that independence occurs during the Eastern Bloc revolution that is won by the Bolsheviks (the Reds) who were competing with the Whites for hegemonic control of Russia. The Whites lost to the Reds in Russia but gained control in Finland. The irony is in the relative quiescence of the Reds and Whites historic conflicts and the Whites ability to maintain a level of independence from what became the U.S.S.R.
Our first stop in Finland is Kirkenes. The long porous border between Russia and Finland demands a great deal of compromise for Finland to remain independent. As we learned from one of WWII’s Finnish survivors, Russians are people with the same ambitions of all peoples of the world. Residents of Kirkenes refuse to be bogged down by political differences between Russians, Finns, or the Germans which they allied themselves with during WWII. Every relationship is measured by personal behavior, not government politics. Conflict arises from the politics of competing governments. The Finns did not want to live in a communist, particularly Stalinist, country. The Finns relished their independence and pursued it in ways a long border with Russia would allow.
During WWII Finland sides with the Germans, largely with the objective of insuring their independence from Russia. The Finns did not accept Hitler’s antisemitism or his horrendous “final solution”. What Finnish soldiers fought for is independence, not German hegemony or racial purity.
Today, a traveler notes the striking difference between Nordic countries’ and Russia’s vision and action to secure “common good” for their citizens. Scandinavia and Finland are heavily taxed, socialist countries. Collected taxes provide provably excellent educational and social/medical services at lower to no direct cost to all Nordic citizens. In contrast Russia (the former U.S.S.R.) is controlled by an appointed government body (the communist party) that focuses on building its national reputation in the world by demanding work from its citizens. Any benefit inuring to citizens is secondary to Russian leadership’s industrial or hegemonic plans.
The standard of living in Norway and Finland rivals the best educated and wealthy countries of the world. That cannot be said for the majority of Russian citizens. The principals of low-cost education and health services is a wonderful dream to many Americans, but Nordic success is a function of factors quite different from those in America.
Approximately 21 million people live in Scandinavia with Finland adding another 5.5 million. America’s population is 332.4 million. Though all are democratic, consensus building is more difficult in more populated democratic countries than smaller countries. The bureaucracy needed to provide educational and medical services are naturally larger and more expensive with bigger populations. Though both areas of the world are classified as secular, America has a strong religious base that influences public policy.
Our guide suggests religion is more of a tradition than “belief in God” in Nordic countries. Though the majority of Nordic residents identify themselves as Lutheran, they generally do not believe in God.
In Norway, oil revenues have become a major source of wealth for the country. Every year, an estimated 20% of the national budget comes from an oil industry’ self-perpetuating investment fund. It is used to support programs like social security, unemployment, education, and health benefits for all Norwegians. An ethics board reviews and regulates use (beyond the aforementioned) of the oil industries’ contribution to the national budget. That board outlines the ethical standards that must be met to use funds from the oil industries’ 20% contribution. Finland does not have Norway’s oil wealth but is politically organized to provide a similar safety net for its citizens.
Aside from oil wealth, there is a societal difference between Norway and Finland. Finland’s border with Russia entails a more intimate connection with Finnish culture. Trade between Russia and Finland is more important because of proximity and the need for food and household goods. Norway has enough wealth and separation to keep Russia at arm’s length. Another difference is that Finland has an indigenous population called the Suomi that is highly regarded and supported by the education system. The Suomi culture reverences reindeer in the same way an American cattle rancher reveres cattle. However, reindeer are exclusively owned and regulated by Suomi descendants.
The natural environment in Scandinavia and Finland is harsh. Water surrounds the peninsula and outlying Nordic countries. The frigid winter seasons isolate small communities throughout Norway and Finland which compel population concentration in a few cities. It is common to see small communities of a few hundred (or less) citizens living on a Fjord many miles from a major city. Self-reliance and independence are consequences of that isolation.
Despite that isolation and independence, one finds both Norwegians and Finns are personable when meeting outsiders. One senses the same assessment of outsiders that is referred to by the Finnish WWII survivor that explains her relationship with Russians. Outsiders are measured by their personal interaction with Nordic citizens, not by their nationality.
The most striking difference between American Democracy and what we experienced in Norway and Finland is in their success in melding democratic values with social welfare. America could benefit from understanding how Norway and Finland have managed to reach consensus on social policies that provide a more comprehensive safety net for its citizens. Many Americans may wonder how these two countries manage to achieve such benefit without compromising the human desire for freedom. One suspects it has something to do with how consensus is achieved through political discourse but there seems an underlying social understanding of “common good” in Nordic countries that is missing from American society.
Like America, Norway and Finland are not perfect societies. They have experienced some of the same right-wing violence that has occurred in America. One wonders how democratic cultures can as easily breed Norwegian murderers like Anders Behring Breivik or American murderers like Timothy McVeigh when so many great leaders have led their countries out of societal darkness.
These same democratic cultures create leaders like Jens Stoltenberg and Erna Solberg in Norway, and Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt in America.
Jens Stoltenberg, former prime minister of Norway, now serving as the 13th secretary general of Nato since appointment in 2014.
Erna Solberg, 2nd female and former prime minister of Norway, current leader of the opposition as Leader of the Conservative Party.
Abraham Lincoln, President of the U.S. during the Civil War, author of the Emancipation Proclamation to end American slavery.
Franklin Roosevelt, President of the U.S. during the Great Depression and WWII.
Political leaders are not perfect nor, for that matter, always right. They are human beings who choose to lead their countries to the best of their ability. The difference is the culture and structure of the government in which these leaders lead. Even in the most autocratic countries, leaders must have followers. It is in a process of consensus, whether in autocracy or democracy, that public policy becomes real.
After our trip to Norway and Finland, one cannot help but believe there is much for America to learn. On the other hand, neither Nordic nor American cultures have found the perfect balance between freedom and common good that ensures an equal opportunity for citizens to be sad or happy.
Michael Booth (British Author, food and travel writer.)
Later this month, we will travel to Scandinavia and Finland. As a suggestion by our guide, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” is a fascinating introduction to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. To be fair to indigenous people of the Nordic countries, one might keep in mind the author is British while living for ten or more years in Denmark with his Danish wife and family. The author notes they moved from Denmark for a short time, but his wife convinces him to return.
Booth is a travel and food writer. He explains that an extra motive for writing this book is because a wide part of the world knows little about Scandinavia and much of what they think they know is wrong. I am more in the first than second category but have an interest in the subject because of my Finnish grandparents.
In contrast Finland is a laggard at 21st position but Booth claims Finland is his favorite among the five countries.
The Danish-Swedish company Arla Foods is the 7th largest dairy company in the world. The industrial transportation and shipping company Maersk is a Danish company. IKEA, Volvo, Assa Abloy (key card locking systems for hotels), Electrolux, Ericsson, and H&M are Swedish conglomerates. Denmark and Sweden are industry power houses in the world.
Booth notes Norway became rich with the discovery of oil. Denmark’s and Sweden’s wealth lies in different strengths and weaknesses revolving around their respective international businesses.
What makes Booth’s book interesting, and entertaining is his view and contrast of Nordic societies. Booth suggests both Danes and Swedes are somewhat cliquish and standoffish but act differently among themselves. Both prefer working with their own countrymen and women. Danes revel in individualism whereas Swedes are more clannish. Neither particularly welcome outsiders but Swedes like working together with fellow Swedes as teams with common purpose. In contrast, Danes work within a hierarchical structure that relies on positional direction. Finns are characterized as less ambitious with a live and “let be” view of life. A Finn works to live rather than lives to work. Booth suggests Norwegians appear standoffish to many but its more from a wish to be self-reliant and reserved. The idea is to preserve personal space among themselves and to have respect for others who may or may not be Norwegian.
Iceland is not a part of the trip we are taking, and Booth only skims Icelandic culture but suggests Danish influence is the predominant characteristic of their population. (Iceland was founded by Danes.) Booth’s primary story of Iceland is in their errant decision to rely on banking system managers that nearly collapse the economy in the 2008 economic crises. Belief in hierarchal structure and positional direction nearly bankrupted Iceland because of unwise risks taken by bank managers.
A listener’s general impression from Booth’s book is that the Nordic countries are uniquely different but generally socialist with the highest tax rates in the world.
Those tax rates provide the best education and health systems in the world. However, their socialism does not impede their innovative entrepreneurial and capitalist interests. In Booth’s opinion, the Nordic countries represent the future of the world by melding capitalism with socialism.
Booth infers the success of Nordic countries begins with their education system. Teaching is an honored profession that is difficult for potential employees to join.
Teaching positions and teachers are highly educated and respected by the general population. Contrary to what one would presume, classes for students are medium size (20 to 23 students), teacher salaries are middle class, class days are limited to 4 hours, and every family has access to any school in their area. Tutoring is widely practiced for students needing help. There are no private schools.
As is true in all countries of the world, immigration is being horribly mishandled. Fair immigration policy in Norway and the world remains a work in progress.
Booth notes Nordic countries have not achieved perfection. With the threat of authoritarianism that diminishes the value of human life, histories of these countries show mistakes were made in WWII and are still being made in the 21st century. On the other hand, Booth shows native Nordic residents endorse and practice equal rights for men and women, a laudable example for the rest of the world.
Stephen Jay Greenblatt (Writer, Harvard University Professor.).
Shakespeare’s plays expose the perfidy of tyrants that reminds one of Vladmir Putin’s actions in 2022. Greenblatt notes Shakespeare explains tyrants rise when governments show weakness at their center. One can conclude the economic collapse of the U.S.S.R. is the proximate cause of Putin’s ascension.
Stephen Greenblatt offers a clever summary of tyrants in Shakespeare’s plays. Greenblatt’s book is published in 2018.
Shakespeare’s tyrants are destined to fail in a variety of ways. One must remember that Shakespeare’s plays are not history but have elements of history in their story. Dramatic affect and a livable wage are what motivate Shakespeare to write for the theatre.
Prescient insight to the nature of human beings is what makes Shakespeare a seer whose prose and plays survive centuries of analysis and earned adulation.
King Richard III is a martinet who barks orders for little reason other than to exercise power. He acts with the arrogance of a narcissist. He murders brothers, nephews, and subordinates who get in his way or refuse to obey his orders. He expects loyalty first, with any opposition viewed as disloyalty.
King Richard cares nothing for rules or human life. His followers are sycophants at best and enablers at least. King Richard III murders brothers and confidents to secure the throne.
He marries for lust and control, murders King Henry VI, marries the assassinated King’s widow, and dies in an ignominious battle. Having killed everyone near him, he grows paranoid of those around him. That paranoia cripples his effectiveness as a sovereign. He may have lost his crown in battle, but his murder of followers and managerial incompetence destine him for failure.
Greenblatt recounts the many tyrants exposed in Shakespeare’s plays but none, other than Richard III, seem comparable to Putin. Putin gathered support of kleptocratic sycophants that are beginning to recognize their wealth and success is threatened by Putin’s foolish attempt to re-annex Ukraine.
Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Putin is alienating followers and murdering or imprisoning competitors who challenge his leadership.
Greenblatt summarizes events of Shakespeare’s plays to show how tyrants are editors of their own defeat. One hopes there is enough Russian resistance to forestall a nuclear war caused by a tyrant who cares nothing for human life, other than his own.