The next rebels

I belong to the generation that followed the boomers. No, not Generation X. That other generation. The small one that is considered boomer but really isn't. We're just the tail at best. We aren't the ones that rebelled. As my high school history teacher said: We're the nothing-happened generation.

There's a lot of good to be said for the Baby Boomer generation. They changed the rules, making it possible for patients to get a second opinion, to have sex (and babies) outside of wedlock, to get women into management and politics and marathons. A lot of important things started before the boomers became old enough, but they were the first generation to live the change as teenagers or college students or young adults. I admire their chutzpah and appreciate their efforts. My "tail" generation, c. 1958 to 1966, just followed along and got the fruits of the "older kids'" labors.

Now they're approaching retirement or have retired. They're still in jeans and I see the contours of the next mark they're going to set on society: Wine and rock-n-roll in nursing homes.

The boomers that have become CEOs, rich patriarchs, well-established, safe and settled, owning their own home (and members of my generation are in there, too) have also become the ones that don't want to share or accept change that others want. Conservatism is not specific to boomers, however, but is just something that seems to be more and more common as we age. What's not good is when conservatism is born out of fear of loss, rather than complacency or satisfaction.

The generations after the boomers did not rebel in the same way. Generation Jones (the "tail"),  X and Y (the millennials) have their identities but did not protest loudly. My history teacher said what he said right after he said, "It's all been done." Somebody else had already fought. Somebody else had already protested. Somebody else had already demanded. Somebody else had already gotten the changes.  So by the late 70's/early 80's, there wasn't anything in our society that needed placards and megaphones.

There is now. There is a new protest generation: Generation Z. Like the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The ones who got fired up after they got fired upon. These kids haven't backed down yet. They have the necessary staying power. They are rebeling and will continue to rebel. They have a good cause. They see that society has let them down and they want change. I am proud of them, I have faith in them, and their voices are necessary. I am impressed by their intelligence, their focus and their stamina. I recognize a generational change, one that will alter the 21st century, like the boomers altered the 20th, and I welcome it.

In a home or a garden you need to get rid of the clutter or the weeds so it won't choke out healthy life. When a society gets too full of itself, has too many unhealthy laws or behaviors, the ones doing the tossing are the rebels. We need our next generation of rebels.


The Daily Prompt: Rebel

May is for strikes

I remember strikes used to terrify me. I was so brain-washed by the American view of unions that I quit mine here in Norway once in a panic. I rejoined quickly and have a gold pin for 25 years' membership and first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be on a proper strike.

As April rolls around, unions start negotiations. It's a bi-annual thing. My union (the union of financial and insurance employees) does its thing in even-numbered years. This year it's a tad more interesting than usual. We've broken off negotiations. There are three main points of contention that my union won't agree to. If we don't get anywhere, even with mandatory negotiations, there will be a strike.

This whole process will take at least a month. So I lied when I said May is for strikes. It can just as well be June, or April, or September. Or whenever. But Norway revolves around May 1, and most unions release their new wage scales on that date, and the government sets the value for G on that same date.

G is short for "grunnbeløp" or base amount, from which things like social security payments, group life insurance payouts, and other benefits are calculated. I have a life insurance policy through my employer that pays out 5 G should I leave the planet before retirement. Minimum pension through social security in Norway is 2 G. I expect they'll announce what G for 2018 is later this week. For 2017, it's NOK 93.634. (That's not much what with our cost of living.)

I rejoined the union. Not only is there safety in numbers, but there's power, too. That's the point: A single voice doesn't carry the way a group of voices does. I've participated in political strikes (usually two hours of not working by leaving a couple of hours early) and an outright strike with standing in front of our employer's building holding signs and spending two weeks waiting to be told to go back to work.

Norwegian employers like unions. It's easier to talk sense to one party rather than hundreds. And often that's how it works out: Union reps get to participate in (some) management decisions and then turn around and explain the decisions to us workers. For the most part, it all goes smoothly. I think Norwegian management enjoys a high level of trust and loyalty. But union membership is going down. Many things unions had to fight for are now labor law so union membership isn't seen as a vital part of work life.

I think it is. I see (and feel) changes in the work place and government that are eroding workers' rights and we need watchdogs as well as understanding of what the changes are and why. Some are inevitable; some are just because someone's greedy (or stupid).

When I lost my job in 2014 due to downsizing, I had a lovely union rep who made sure all the legalities were in order as well as being great to talk to. So I had more than HR's equally lovely employee helping me out, which I really appreciated. So I'm staying a union member.

By the way, my union strikes so rarely that when we had our big two-week strike in 2006, many of us had never done that before. It wasn't just me who was clueless. We also didn't win.

I hope we do this year. Enough erosion!

Happy International Labor Day!

The Humanity Star

I read about this very bright object being shot up into orbit around Earth earlier this year, just to twinkle in natural sunlight as an artificial star for a few months. And I noted that it would be visible from Norway on April 24-25 2018.

I've had this date marked on my calendar since I read about the controversial launch of the Humanity Star. Although I understand the arguments against this bright object that the astronomers had, I thought I may as well take a look since it's up there. I read somewhere that it would be visible in my part of the world today or tomorrow.

First of all, it's overcast now and it will continue to be overcast the next couple of days. Never fails. I guarantee that if they announce some awesome celestial phenomenon visible from Bergen, the skies will not be clear. I pretty much treat forecasts for southerly viewings of the Aurora Borealis as forecasts for rain now. (In case you're wondering, auroras are a polar phenomenon that weaken the farther away from the poles you get—unless the aurora activity is very strong.)

Secondly, the Humanity Star website tells me that the thing reentered Earth's atmosphere and burned up in March.

Well, no matter. Did I mention it's overcast?

Feeling like Clover

I don't often post about politics. Mainly, it's because I don't have the intellectual capacity to understand and engage. I therefore understand those who vote with their gut, because I do, too. But I do get impressions from the world around me and right now, it looks like it is reenacting "Animal Farm". I know that George Orwell wrote "Animal Farm" (and later "1984") as an allegory for the communist revolution in Russia, but the allegory applies to any situation where the leader of a change or revolution ends up betraying it. Everyone plays a role: The leader, the leader's right-hand man, the idealists, the purists, the skeptics, the counter-revolutionists, the followers.

It's been a while since I read "Animal Farm", but I remember one of the horses from the story, one of the last who could remember how it all started, but couldn't quite grasp the details of it, partly because she couldn't read. I have looked up a list of characters and the one I'm thinking of is Clover.

Clover, as I recall, was told, as the animal uprising against their human owner began, that four feet are better than two (with exceptions made for chickens). She happily agreed with that premise. Much later, she was told that two feet are better than four, which confused her because that wasn't how she remembered it. The revolutionary leaders, the pigs, told her she was mistaken, and, trusting them, she believed them.

The US, as of this writing, with Donald J. Trump as president, seems to be adopting changes and laws that remind many of us of the changes that happened in Germany under Adolf Hitler's rule, which lead us into a world war. Racism, protectionism and nationalism are on the rise. These forces are dividing the world into "us" and "them" and painting "them" as inferior, dangerous and unwanted. Like in Germany in the 1930's, it starts with skin color, then other ethnic or cultural categories, then financial class, then educational or political class… I think that's the order.

You see, I'm Clover. I remember being taught this history and how it started, what the forces were that led up to it and then allowed it, but I can't remember the details. I want to. I feel there is something I should know to keep us from derailing, but I also feel that the only way to find out is to read a world history book from start to finish, all over again.

There is another part of history that seems to be repeating itself: The Cultural Revolution of China. China is starting to crack down on religious citizens, on Christians, and it is also starting to "sort" people according to their accomplishments and income. It's the 1960's all over again.

The world is about to burn, and I know somewhere deep inside my brain how the match got struck. I want to remember so maybe I can warn people.

But like Clover, I find that the details escape me, the information that was once fresh has gone stale and even missing. And it worries me. My gut tells me we are nearing a cliff and we need to turn around. We need to remember we are all "us".

Misguided versus misogynistic

Yesterday’s post about a badly behaving co-worker, reminds me of another time a male co-worker behaved badly. In that second incident, a good man made a mistake. I did go to HR this time. I felt he needed to know that he had been terrifying.

Norwegian men can get so tall. The guy in this incident also towered over me, as well as being in a position of authority.

At a company picnic, with free booze, taking place after work at a rented boathouse in a secluded inlet, Tall Guy tried to get me alone. After a weird conversation where he asked me if I was lesbian (huh?), he convinced me to dance with him on the pier. I wasn't too bothered by him at this point, since we had cubicles across from each other, and got along at work. We were alone, then, far enough away from the lights from the boathouse to not be easily seen.

Then he started talking about something he needed to tell me. I was expecting another awkward Q&A about personal stuff and tried to get out of his arms (we'd been dancing) and go back to the rest of the party.

That's when he grabbed my forearms. I tried to break free, but he just held on tighter, constantly saying he wanted to tell me something.

I asked him to let go of me, but he either didn't hear me or didn't care. I was was starting to feel fear.

There was nothing else to do but to stop struggling and hope he would release his grip. He wasn't terribly coherent (we'd both been drinking), but he kept holding onto my arms, moving them as he tried to make his point. I was too focused on finding a way to break free to pay attention to what he was saying.

At some point, he seemed to finish, and let go of me. I dashed away immediately, back into the boathouse. He followed a few minutes later, but left me alone.

This was a Friday.

On the Monday, I talked to a contact at HR, a female psychologist who had been helping me with some personal stuff. I told her what had happened, and my reason for telling was that he needed to know that what he did was Absolutely Not Cool. She totally agreed.

She, him and I ended up in a meeting together. He was quite chagrined. I took his apology to be sincere. I could go back to trusting him.

Some men seem to be afraid of what #metoo will mean in interacting with women. That we won't know if the man is flirting, or joking, or whatever. Trust me, we know the difference. And we are able to also know when we're dealing with a misogynistic fellow or a misguided one. We can be quite patient with the latter. We have been too patient with the former.

Threat or warning?

I always joke about how I don't make threats; I warn. That's because I don't believe in idle threats. I think if you threaten somebody, you should also mean to carry the threat out. So I may as well warn. It's a bit weird to write the above, because I'm a relatively harmless person. But let me give you my own little contribution to #metoo and the time when I had to issue a threat-warning.

Folks think Norway does things so much better when it comes to sexual equality, but there have been and are jerks and abusers here, too. And a lively debate about it, complete with derailing and strawmen. The men I know are good men, men I can trust. I have not attracted the worst of them, and I consider myself extremely lucky.

Then there's the co-worker who one day put his hand solidly on my rump as I was passing by his cubicle. I cannot remember how I reacted. I have a temper and I may well have given him a death-glare. Or just kept moving. Not that he cared. His had a big, self-satisfied grin.

A couple of weeks later, he did it again. This time, I whirled around on him. I know I used my death-glare and matching tone of voice, too. To his self-satisfied grinning face I told him that if he ever did that again, I'd go straight to HR.

To my surprise, his smiling face collapsed in shock, then fear, and he backed away, back into his cubicle.

I was surprised, because I didn't know if HR could help, and I wasn't expecting 161 cm me to intimidate all of 188 cm of him (he was more than a head taller than me, for you non-metric folk).

But I would have done it. I would have gone to HR, and maybe my conviction was what sold it. I still felt safe at work, I still felt I would be heard. I would carry out my threat.

He never touched me again.

With the #metoo movement and the discussion about sexual harassment, I have often wondered why my co-worker backed down instantly. My theory is, he wasn't expecting me to get angry. Because when I read about how women react, they typically have my first reaction. The one where we aren't sure what happened, and we don't want to provoke a larger, stronger man further. We try to defuse rather than defend. But getting angry is a natural and justified reaction. And so we have #metoo.

To my fellow sisters out there: I wish you empowerment, I wish you faith in yourself, and I wish you a death-glare that will serve as an excellent warning.


Daily prompt: Warning

Dethroning 1964?

We've had one of the wettest and coolest summers ever in Bergen in Norway this year—rainy enough to have us wondering if we will break a record. The current record for the most rain in one summer is from 1964. That's the record we're trying to break this year. Actually, we've been very against breaking the record, but once we got to mid-August after a wet and miserable "summer", we all thought "Oh, whatever, may as well go for broke".

I know about the rain in 1964. In 1964, my grandpa ordered a Mercedes 190 D with a diesel engine direct from the factory in Stuttgart, painted in a shade of blue picked out by my grandma. He took my grandma with him to Europe to pick the car up and they drove it around in Germany and then up into Sweden, all the way up to Kiruna (I assume). There they put the car (and themselves) on a train and went to Narvik in Norway. (There is still no road between Kiruna and Narvik.)

From Narvik they made their way down to Bergen and visited relatives. While on the coast of the Osterfjord, visiting the farm of Mundal Grandpa grew up on and got his name from, my grandparents enjoyed three sunny days. They were told those were the only 3 days of no rain the Bergen region had had that whole summer.

We are not going to break 1964's record, when 810 millimeters (31.89 inches) of rain fell in the months of June, July and August.

As of last Wednesday we were short 75.1 millimeters (2.96 inches), and on Friday the weather gods blessed us with glorious sunshine. I actually broke a sweat on Saturday. Today it has rained heavily, but not enough to dethrone 1964, and the forecast is for no rain the rest of the week.

The weather gods have a very, very wicked sense of humor.

July 22

It's 10 AM and I'm watching a memorial ceremony on TV from Oslo, reading the names of the 77 who lost their lives 6 years ago in what has been called Norway's 9/11: The bombing of a government building, and the shooting of young people attending a political camp on the island Utøya on July 22 2011. I'm crying again. On July 22 2011 my TV was on for 6 hours, broadcasting everything that was happening, starting with an explosion in downtown Oslo at 3:25 pm. There was complete confusion: Nobody knew what had broken windows in many buildings. By 5 pm it was confirmed that a bomb had gone off. We would learn later that 8 people were killed. The offices of the national newspaper VG were also hit. Rereading their report—before anyone knew what was going to happen next—the caption on the link to a video stands out: "Hallo!? Er det noen som trenger hjelp?" Some of the strongest images I first saw on that day were of people filming the rubble and smoke and confusion, calling out with desperate voices to any survivors.

And then another report: Shots fired on the island of Utøya where members of the Labour Party's youth group was gathered for a summer camp.

That was Anders Behring Breivik's plan: Cause so much confusion, mayhem and death in Oslo that emergency services would not be available at Utøya (less than a half hour away from Oslo by helicopter). He was a little late in parking his bomb. On a Friday in the middle of vacation time, many had already left the office by 3 pm so the number injured and killed was less than it could have been.

Civilians, people who happened to live on the mainland by the lake Utøya is in, actually got out their boats and headed towards people in the water, people who had jumped in the lake to escape the bullets. The police were slow to react and to organize their response; they were relying on the usual chain of command, which didn't work because it was vacation time in the police, too. In their defense, nobody was expecting an act of terrorism, a mass murder, a lone killer who was well-prepared and very determined. But yeah, Breivik started shooting at 5:21 pm and the police didn't get to the island until a good hour later because they didn't have their own boats. Once the police were there, though, they overpowered and arrested Breivik quickly.

I keep crying as I write this, as I listen to the memorial speeches. I remember the shock 6 years ago. It was my last day of vacation. Bored, I turned on the TV and wondered why NRK was broadcasting news at 4 pm. I quickly realized that something horrible had happened in Oslo and continued to watch. Then the reports of shooting started to come in. I stayed glued to the TV until bedtime. The events were so unbelievable, so overwhelming, so shocking. The next day I did not turn on the news at all. I was feeling overwhelmed. On Monday July 25, I stood in the pouring rain in downtown Bergen, with thousands of other people, participating in a combination memorial and peace march.

But as I revisit the events, I realize something that gives me joy: Norway didn't change after July 22. Norwegians are still trusting people. Nobody has spoken out in hateful ways. The memorial today focused on peace, on fighting the elements that create racism. And: We haven't yet learned to be afraid about being out in public, in spite of terror alerts. Of course, that's also deliberate: Not letting "them" win. Business and life as usual is the Norwegian way.

The challenge for Norway after "22. juli" has actually been in how to handle the personal aftermath, how to support those who survived or who lost a loved one that day. Today's memorial service was inspired by the one held in Nice this year for last year's Bastille Day attack. We learned that it is better to remember our lost loved ones, to name them, rather than stay quiet about it. That being allowed to share grief in public is better than grieving alone.

My reaction to July 22—in 2011 and now—tells me I'm more Norwegian than I thought.


US presidential election 2016

This morning I doddle at home so I can catch the latest news at 7:30 AM. I learn that Pennsylvania has ensured Trump's win. To my own surprise, I burst into tears. I repair my make-up and go to work. There, I discover I am the office political commentator, being the only American here. "What happened? How could America vote for Trump???" they want to know. "We can't understand it. It's inexplicable," they say. And I reply, "No, it's explicable."

Because it is. I am not surprised, just incredibly disappointed, because this what not the outcome I had hoped for.

So I begin to answer my co-workers. I, one who rarely bothers with politics, surprise myself by having any answers at all. Thank goodness for all the memes and links on Facebook!

One thing I found was map that colored the political US according to county, not state, and instantly the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and a few major cities not on the coasts were colored Democratic blue, while the vast space between them was Republican red. And in that vast space are dying towns, low-income people, low-educated people and an increasing number of jobless.

The maps after this election are pretty similarly colored. (Screenshots via the L.A. Times.)

2016 election results by state

2016 election results by state

2016 election results by county

2016 election results by county

All over this nation, you have good people, who are not racists or uneducated or even white, who will vote Republican, no matter what—because they always have. The loyalty continues even though the Republican party today is not the one they cut their political teeth on; it no longer keeps a sharp eye on government spending while giving individuals the right to decide for themselves. Now, it bloats government and has gotten especially invasive when it comes to religion, same-sex marriage rights and women's health.

However, the Democrats, although they have managed to balance the budget, have not been able to shore up workers' rights, or women's rights. They have not been able to stop wars (some even agreeing to them), and they have been rather timid around the populistic Republicans, not daring to call them on their nonsense.

I think that's why Hillary didn't win. In a nation of people who get all their news via soundbites, the short sentences and short words and short temper Trump uses are easier to relate to. Hillary sounds like the college-educated politician she is: Using sentence structures that are familiar to a reader, and words that are familiar to a government bureaucrat. I'm not saying she's hard to understand. I'm saying she's challenging to someone who is used to being informed via FOX News. And it can seem like she doesn't understand the struggling folks when she doesn't sound like them. (Another possible reason she didn't win, can be that third party voters are more likely to be liberal and take votes from the Democrats.)

Too bad. Everything I've heard about her suggests she does notice the struggling ones and has a history of championing their causes. But, then we have another reason she lost: She's a woman.

It has become quite clear to me with all the articles and tweets about rape culture (for example, #yesallwomen) that the US is misogynistic. Sorry, long word; let me try again: The US hates women who don't stay home with the babies they got getting raped because they asked for it. (Yes, the right-wingers are that rational about the issue… *sigh*)

I have believed for a long time that the US is devolving into a Dickensian version of itself. It is backsliding into a developing nation, not a developed one. The inequality between the races, the oppression of women and people of color, and the ever widening gap between rich and poor, with the ever dwindling rights and opportunities for the latter (and a good portion of the middle class, too) are all qualities not associated with a well-run, industrialized and democratic nation.

How do you fix something like that? To paraphrase Einstein, you don't solve a problem using the same thinking that caused it. So many Americans put the blame on the politicians and so a man who is neither a bureaucrat or politician, nor someone who has worked in those areas, looks very attractive. They think he can fix what earlier political decisions have broken because he's not those people.

I think I cried because I know my sorely divided and abused country of birth needs unity, trust and equality, and a government that will provide that and the safety nets people need. (How can you have the right to pursue happiness if you are denied resources like education and healthcare, for example?) Worrying about that being less likely to happen under Trump than Clinton, has had me reacting like this for a bit:

I do not see Donald Trump as a healer of the great America. But, Trump has surprised us once. I hope he surprises us again.