Wednesday, July 27, 2011

KELO interview is online!

I'm not sure why it won't disply on the blog. Visit the link to see the footage!

Home of the Giants

Driving out of Oslo early on Saturday morning, the city seem quiet...too quiet. I'm sure Saturday mornings are usually like that, but this particular day a sense of grief and mourning seemed to hang over the city and over those who we saw on the streets.


50 students and two young guides set off for Jotunheimen, a wilderness area several hours north of Oslo. The name translates as the Home of the Giants. During our hike I thought many times of the Big Friendly Giant created by Roald Dahl, who spent his childhood summers in Norway, emerging from the fog. The fog prevented us from seeing anything at the top, but made for a good hike nonetheless. On the way up and down we could see a network of small lakes with steep mountains on all sides. A few cabins and a herd of wild reindeer dotted the hills near the water. The only thing that could have possibly completed this picturesque scene would have been Ganldalf appearing over a hill in all of his glory.

We stayed at the Sjoa Rafting camp where a compound of teepees and grass-roofted buildings gave us a warm bed, delicious food cooked over an indoor grill, and a wood burning hot tub and sauna! We lived well on Saturday night!

Sunday was much of the same weather - fog, rain, cool temperatures. The rafting was absolutely incredible. The water was cold, but not unbearable and the guides let us jump out when it was calm and float down the river along side the boats. We stopped for lunch along the way and the guides had hot soup and bread for us. After lunch we went cliff jumping to get back down to the boats.

I'm not sure if this was covered in the release form

It was an incredibly relaxing weekend before returning to the final stretch of research, writing one lengthy paper/exam, and preparing for another.

This evening I interviewed over the phone with Keloland's Don Jorgenson about Norway's reaction to the events on Friday. Hopefully that interview will be online soon and imbedded on here. Tomorrow we meet with Barry White, US Ambassador to Norway.

To see pictures from our weekend in Jotunheimen, click here.

As usual, thanks for reading!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Norway, the Peace Nation

This popular poster/picture hangs in Ingun's school in Bergen

As a traveler, a student, and a person, today has been one of the more trying days of anytime I have been abroad. As I said on my Facebook page earlier, a quiet, rainy day in Oslo took a turn in a very different direction this afternoon. First, my Augie colleague Michael Seeley and I were made aware that Augie's Associate Dean of Students of 21 years, Tracy Riddle, passed away. She was a friend to everyone in the Augie community; her presence will be greatly missed. I remember meeting with her on the day after finals this spring and she was so excited about projects for the next academic year. The remembrances of Tracy that quickly appeared on Facebook affirmed the community that Augie is and Tracy's impact on it.

Next, we saw a short news clip online about an explosion in downtown Oslo. We all heard a loud noise a little while before, but never imagined the destruction created and sense of security that was penetrated in that moment. The local newspaper, Aftenposten, shared a few images with a brief report in Norwegian. Soon, the BBC was carrying video and live updates. Two of the American students I am with were downtown at the time and felt the windows shake in the office they were in. Those two were able to get back to the University Campus (a 5 minute metro ride) safely. As of now, we do not know of any ISS students who were at the scene or injured in any way.

I suppose it is the natural reaction of any people or country under attack to ask themselves: why us? Many people around the globe, including Norwegians, are especially asking, why Norway? The small, Scandinavian kingdom has not seen a bomb go off in its capitol city since the Nazi occupation during World War II. Norway is a world leader in peace and humanitarian efforts. Why Norway?

It doesn't do any good to speculate "why" this happened as enough people are already doing that and more news is developing at present. What I do know and can speak to is the reaction felt in Norway. Norway is known as peace nation and is not used to being the subject of attack. Few people here or abroad could have predicted the day would come when we would see the headline "Terrorism in Norway" as one website put it.

Shortly after the senseless attack downtown, a gunman dressed as a police officer opened fire at a youth camp about 30 miles west of Oslo. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose office was targeted earlier today, was scheduled to visit the camp tomorrow. They now suspect that the gunman claimed the lives of several people at the Labor Party rally on the island.

One of my Norwegian friends shared the following message on his Facebook page: This is a time for unity and togetherness, not hatred and fear! Keep a cool head, and a warm heart. Please keep the people of Norway in your thoughts.

So where does this leave peace? I'll conclude with this passage, one of Tracy's favorite, that Augie's Dean Dr. Jim Bies shared with students in an email today:
"For I know the plan I have for you, says the Lord . . . plans to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

On a lighter note, I'll be white-water rafting in Jotunheimen (The Home of the Giants), north of Oslo, for the weekend. BBC is your best bet to get the real story out of Oslo. More when I return on Monday.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When Great Minds Convene

A few days ago I read an article that happened to show up on the side of the Huffington Post's main page. The article brings together the work of several great minds:
  • The Dalai Lama - not only a spiritual leader but the leader of the growing international inter-faith dialogue movement
  • Eboo Patel - Rhodes scholar, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, speaker at the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Forum
  • reference to highly acclaimed book, American Grace, which includes research contributions from Augustana Professor Dr. Pehl
  • and of course, Arianna Huffington, because she's just great.
Patel is the author is this editorial entitled "His Holiness and the Art and Science of Interfaith Cooperation." I encourage you to read the entire article - here is the paragraph that struck me most:

Over the past decade or so, enough research has been done on religious diversity and interfaith cooperation to constitute the beginnings of a science of the field. Here's what we know from Robert Putnam and David Cambell's "American Grace": positive personal contact with people from different faiths significantly improves people's attitudes towards those religions and communities. Here's what we know from work done by Stephen Prothero and Pew and Gallup surveys: appreciative knowledge of other religions improves people's attitudes towards those communities and traditions. In other words there is a strong relationship between attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge -- a magic triangle, so to speak. And that is precisely how the Dalai Lama has shaped his book and his recent teachings. Get to know people from other religions personally, preferably by doing service work together. And get to know some things you admire about their traditions, especially those areas that have commonality with your own. A good place to start is on the shared value of compassion. In his simple and straightforward way, the Dalai Lama is telling stories that work the triangle.

Much of what Patel writes and the Dalai Lama teaches fits perfectly in the context of what we have been learning at the Nansen Academy in Lillehammer and in Oslo at the International Summer School. Education and contact at a human level are the best ways to break through barriers and build bridges; even where barriers do not exist, there is much to be learned.

After reading bits and pieces of the Dalai Lama's writing and listening to him speak in January I can say he that he has a "less is more" way of communicating. To that tune, the Dalai Lama is very effective at spreading his message in 140 characters or less via Twitter. I started following the Dalia Lama on Twitter over a year ago and I always appreciate his reminders to treat others with compassion and live so that others might live well. It's people like him who make Twitter a worthwhile network.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why yes, we did eat cake.

Much like the famous (albeit unverified) quote from Marie Antoinette suggests, we indulged ourselves in some of best of what Paris has to offer...including good food!

Over the weekend, four American colleagues and I left the periphery of Europe and landed in the middle of Paris on France's biggest national holiday, Bastille Day. It's ironic that the things I liked most about Paris - Versailles Palace, the Louvre - are the products of the extravagance and class disparity that those who stormed the Bastille Prison were protesting. The combined wealth of French Royalty and the planning done by Napoleon in the early 1800s clearly made Paris what it is today.

Here is a link with pictures. The pictures from the Louvre and Versailles are just a sampling of what we saw to try and give you a taste of the sense of awe these places left us in.

Our very own Michael Seeley is a French and Napoleon history buff (nerd) and very eloquently gave us a complete history/defense of Napoleon as we wandered the city. Our favorite part of Paris may very well have been that they don't use the Norwegian kroner. As a result, we were good patrons of most bread and pastry shops we passed.

Versailles and the Louvre were both entirely overwhelming with the extravagance of the structures and their contents. We spent seven hours at Versailles on Friday. Inside, we navigated the labyrinth of rooms to see some of highlights: the Hall of Mirrors, state apartments with extraordinary art displays, the royal chapel, and some of the King's reception rooms. After converting square meters to square feet, Versailles is over 700,000 square feet. Suffice it to say that the Palace left us in awe and unable to fully comprehend the size and extravagance as it exists today, and the wealth and grandeur that once filled the royal court. After two hours inside we went to the extensive gardens and then to the rear of the grounds were Queen Marie Antoinette had her "retreat" (retreat from what?) and farm - all of which stand perfectly preserved.

The Louvre, a former royal palace, is perhaps equally impressive as a building and contains so many pieces of art that we usually see in textbooks or as copies of official portraits. Particularly, I liked seeing statues and paintings of Psyche and Cupid and paintings of Dido and Aeneas that we have studies in mythology classes. Time is never on your side in a public art museum.

The rest of our time was spent enjoying Paris, its gardens, its food, and other attractions. It was a perfect 4 day break from classes, but we were happy to return to Oslo!

Look for two posts in the next few days: one on our meeting with former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, and another entitled "When Great Minds Convene"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Refocusing (or maybe challenging) our lens

In conversations with so many new friends from abroad, it is important for me to remind myself that my way of thinking and seeing things is affected by my lens, or rather my political, social, religious outlook. When looking at the welfare state in Norway, we need to refocus the lens from an American paradigm, to that of Norwegian politics and society.

The phrase "from cradle to grave" is commonly used to describe the welfare state in Norway. Norwegians enjoy healthcare, education (childhood through university), additional monetary support for students, unemployment and disability pensions, and many other services as a result of what Norwegians have come to expect from their government. Essentially, the entire political spectrum of Norway is shifted to the "left" so that even those on the "right" expect many of these government services while still advocating for more private investment and lower taxes. Of course, the multiparty system (which, incidentally, avoids a gridlocked Parliament!) allows for parties to be positioned above and below the political spectrum as well as from left to right. A common political science model looks like this:

Bear in mind that the severity of these labels becomes more moderate as you move toward the center.

Some of the common political debate over the welfare state and role of government include the use of Norway's tremendous oil fund, tax rates on the wealthy, and economic support for Norwegian industries (i.e. fishing).

It is important to keep in mind that modern Norway is a wealthy nation, but a modest one. Between the 19th and 20th centuries Norway rose from being one of Europe's poorest to one of the world's richest nations. Oil provided an incredible boon to the economy in post WWII Norway. Some would argue that oil has created a greater class divide in Norway, something that some Norwegians fundamentally oppose.

These comments and observations come from my limited time in the country and surface study of the subject. Later in my course, we will actually get more into the particulars of the evolution of the welfare state.

Certainly there is wide variety of opinions of the welfare state amongst Norwegians. The bottom line that I have come to hear and understand is that Norwegians live a very good, secure life and they are all well aware of their good fortune and are grateful for all it provides.

In closing, allow me to stoke the fire a bit: The same Americans who like to say the average tax rate in Scandinavia is well over 60% (which is incorrect) are likely the same as those who think socialism and communism are the same thing. Norwegians have decided that at the price of high taxes, they want their government to provide the assurances of health and education to its citizens. Their progressive tax has not killed the economy and has not killed jobs. It seems to me that they get what they pay for. Food for thought.

So many political, demographic, economic differences make it impossible to talk about the Norwegian and American models on the same level. However, to emphasize the closing point, please consider the following editorial from Augustana President Rob Oliver:

Oliver: 'Sacrificing Now for Kids, Schools, Will Pay Off Later'Friday March 11, 2011 The following editorial, authored by President Rob Oliver, appears in the Friday, March 11, edition of the Argus Leader:

As a proud South Dakotan, a parent and an advocate for education, I am compelled to contribute to the dialogue surrounding the much-talked-about proposal to cut our state’s K-12 education budgets.

As we look to solve South Dakota’s budgetary challenges, I believe we can find the answer to our dilemma by looking to the past.

What might we learn from those who settled this great country, who saw it through hardships far beyond what we now face, and who were the architects and builders of the most productive economy in the world? What might we learn from those who built the finest education systems in the world, the best infrastructure, and the model of democracy that so much of the world craves today? I believe it can be summed up in one powerful word: Sacrifice.

After surviving the economic difficulties of the late 1800s, the challenges of the War to End All Wars, the Great Depression, the Dirty Thirties and World War II, our nation’s Greatest Generation set about paying off our country’s massive debt and building America’s infrastructure, including the educational systems that became the envy of the world, with a determination the likes of which other countries had never seen.

How did they do it? They did it with tax rates far higher than we complain about today. They taxed themselves because they believed that a strong America was good for the world, and for their children who would take over upon their retirement.

The challenges we face today are not nearly as simple as some would try to tell us by suggesting that cutting government is the only answer. The issues before us are complex and multi-faceted.

Make no mistake about it, investing in education is the best means for developing an appreciation for complexity. Education is our best means for developing solutions to complex problems. And, education is the best and most lasting stimulus for building our economy and developing a civil society. Yet, even as we acknowledge this, education funding is being placed on the chopping block in most states and in our nation’s capital, and education in America is losing ground rapidly to other countries.

The power of investing in education is not a new or novel idea. Whatever our voter registration card says, at our core, we all know that teaching children today will ensure a better tomorrow. Yet, each year, education seems to be losing its position as a public good, and salaries for teachers and education funding overall (especially in South Dakota) are a sad reflection of our budget priorities.

I believe that what is needed from all of us, and from our elected officials, is a bold call for collective sacrifice. If we are honest with ourselves, we can readily see that the budgets of our cities, counties, states and country will not be balanced only by cost cutting. Raising taxes is not something anyone wants, yet it is obvious that it is a necessary part of the solution.

The popular argument however, is that we dare not raise taxes in these economic circumstances. It is important to remember that economics is a social science, a study of human behavior both individually and collectively. Just as it is wrong to conclude that any single economic tool will have a guaranteed outcome, it also is a fallacy to conclude that there is a linear relationship between raising taxes and stalling the fragile economic recovery. It is more appropriate to ask what drives consumer confidence and confidence in public-sector decisions such that individual and social behaviors are positively influenced by economic and public policy.

It is my feeling that many – not all – of our elected representatives have underestimated the electorate by perpetuating the thinking that voters are unwilling to face higher taxes in exchange for real solutions. I believe that most Americans, and most South Dakotans, would feel a greater sense of confidence in the future if legislatures around the country set aside bitter partisan politics and focused on real problem solving, including the potential of raising taxes as part of a multi-faceted approach to balancing budgets without abandoning priorities, such as education and appropriate care for elderly.

Bottom line: Let’s quit fighting about how to cut education, and let’s invest in it – together. Let’s tax ourselves to do this and invest in our young people. It begins at pre-kindergarten and continues through K-12, preparing our sons and daughters to then enter the work force or continue their preparation through post-secondary educational opportunities. We will be proud that we invested, and countless young people will gain from it, producing tangible benefits to our communities, state, nation and the world.

But now, as author Ben MacIntyre says, I'm really starting to over-egg the pudding. On a lighter note, tomorrow's post will be about my long weekend in Paris!

As usual, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


St. Chapelle cathedral in Paris (click to enlarge)

For several years I have observed France through Scott Shephard's camera lense. While I'll see many of the sites he's captured, one stands out as a point of inspiration for me to go and explore the extravagance and grandeur of Paris.
Incidentally, Scott has a wonderful Photo A Day blog that is worth looking at...every day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

2012 Peace Prize Forum Speaker

This week, the Nobel Peace Prize Forum (the entity organizing my program) announced that the speaker for the 2012 Forum will be former South African President F.W. de Klerk.

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum website shared the following announcement:

You deserve some very big, very good news. It’s an honor to announce that former President of South Africa F. W. de Klerk has accepted our invitation to be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Nobel Peace Prize Forum. We’ll send specific details later, but for now hold the dates of March 1-4, 2012. You will once again experience the inspiration that only a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate can deliver.

President de Klerk, who won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, was the last State President of apartheid-era South Africa, serving from 1989 to 1994. He is best known for engineering the end of apartheid, South Africa’s racial segregation policy, and for supporting the transformation of South Africa into a multi-racial democracy. In recent years, his passion for peace continues through his work addressing the complex challenges of the 21st century, such as building multicultural societies, rethinking immigration policy, and understanding global economic forces.

Around the world forces which favour peace are on the move. Amongst those, economic development is fundamentally important. Economic growth, generated by the free market, is transforming societies everywhere.

- F. W. de Klerk (from his Nobel Peace Prize address)

Even today, President de Klerk’s 1993 Nobel Address delivers goosebumps. We all know that the path to peace is often steep and costly. For South Africa, the price of peace assumed many forms, as the country moved from negotiation to reconciliation and beyond. President de Klerk himself paid a price – personally and politically – by ushering South Africa into a new era. With that in mind, I also would like to announce that the official theme for 2012 forum will be: “The Price of Peace.” We feel this theme fits well with the work of President de Klerk, as well as the many current and past struggles for peace taking place around the globe.

Also at the 2012 Forum, the other nine Peace Scholars and I will share our research from this summer. My topic: can reforming the United Nations Security Council better facilitate and sustain peace?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Midterm, McConnell, much much more

It's a shame the other topics don't have any relevant words starting with m. Maybe more alliteration Monday.
As it turns out, midterms hysteria in Norway is the same as midterm hysteria in the U.S. Those who have midterms here are noisily chattering in the common room tonight preparing drafts of papers and study guides. I, on the other hand, am without a midterm this week and am content to research, read, and blog (while putting off reading!). A combination of recent experiences, reading, and news have me thinking tonight...

This flattering image of Mitch McConnell is straight from today's HuffingtonPost Headline. Everything we have been learning in the classroom and from our international friends, as well as my own philosophy, indicates that lines in the sand have never been the tools of good dialogue and compromise. So it seems ironic at best, and down right embarrassing at worst that the US and the world watch as one side in particular refuses to budge on a compromise to raise the debt ceiling. The BBC headline earlier this week was "Who will default first: Greece or the United States?"

I bring up this example for a variety of reasons. The first reason returns to my thoughts following our week in Lillehammer when we talked about dialogue with those whom we disagree. The second loosely connects with one of the main messages in Jan Egeland's A Billion Lives: industrialized nations could be doing much more to provide financial support to humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. When these measures are restorative and protective, innocent people are given the chance they deserve. When these measures are preventative, we save lives and costs of more aggressive options down the road. The constant struggle of these causes, like most, is funding. Egeland cites a poll conducted in 2004 that surveyed Americans on how much of the federal budget they thought went to foreign aid (this excludes Department of Defense spending). The average amongst the respondents was 24%; the actual figure was less than 0.25%. The United States continues to lead amongst developed countries in its contributions to the United Nations and a variety of peacekeeping (NATO) and humanitarian efforts. But we can do better. I think this also illustrates how seriously out of touch people are with how their money is being spent.

Jan Egeland's career exemplifies the word extraordinary. Formerly the UN Envoy to Colombia, Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross, and State Secretary of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry--just to name a few--he most recently served the UN as Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. The book is his account of missions he was part of in Sudan, Colombia, Ivory Coast, the aftermath of the Indian Ocean hurricanes, and helping to broker the Israeli/Palestinian Oslo Accords. The title of the book, A Billion Lives, addresses his claim that "a billion lives are still at stake in humanity's front lines." While he says that on the whole humanitarian efforts are working, and the world is a more peaceful and better educated place, we can do better. At various times I have read and heard the words of UN critics; Egeland lays those claims to rest, and despite his bias, presents a very straightforward case for why peace and humanitarian missions work. Results are not immediate. As Nansen says, "the difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer."
Suffice it to say, I would be satisfied with having any of Egeland's jobs...or any job in that field :)

This week will be a whirlwind of bliss. After catching a few of the Harry Potter movies at a local sci-fi convention on campus over the weekend (yes, all in attendance were card-carrying nerds) several of us will see the last installment on Wednesday night at the Colosseum Kino theater: the world's largest IMAX theater. Tuesday our group visits the Holocaust Museum and Wednesday we visit the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and its founder, Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway. Early Thursday morning, before most of you have gone to sleep in the U.S., four of my colleagues and I will travel to France and arrive amid chaos on Bastille Day! It will be a great four day break!
More discussion forthcoming on the welfare state...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tusen Takk!

...or "a thousand thanks" as they say in Norway! Thank you to those of you who have left comments. While I'm sure my delayed response, in some cases, left you in terrible suspense for many sleepless nights, I have and will try to respond. Also, thank you to Cecilie from Bergen, who was kind of enough to take me to dinner at Akker Brygge Wednesday night while she was in Oslo for work! It was great to see her again and I did not mind skipping a meal in the dorm! Norway continues to provide friendly faces and generous hospitality.

Here is a brief recap on last week:
Our two excursions for the week took us to the Nobel Institute and the Nobel Peace Prize Center. The Nobel Institute is the building where the Nobel Peace Committee meets throughout the year to review nominations, compile reports, and select the Nobel laureate(s) each year. Our guide was the Librarian at the Institute who has worked there for over 40 years. Her presentation of the Institute and its work made a strong impression on all of us. The librarian might best be described at matriarchal and presented history about the Peace Prize and its winners in a very humble, yes respectful way. Her role as librarian is to oversee the in-house resources used to compile reports on nominees once the selection committee begins to narrow their initial list. The room were the decision is made is lined with a small black and white photograph of each of the laureates since the inception of the award. The room, like the entire building, is classy, classic, and gives the award the prestige it deserves.

in the Nobel Committee Room

The next room we entered was adorned with copies of the certificates each laureate is presented with - each with a different piece of art that is commissioned by the committee well before the laureate and their cause is known.

copies of past award certificates

Our final stop was the room where the ceremony used to be held each December 10. The media and crowd that the awarding attracts has moved the annual ceremony to the University of Oslo for a time, and most recently to Oslo's City Hall. This small auditorium is currently used for the announcement of the laureate in early October as well as for the press conference in December. Here, the Librarian told us various stories about the "winners." She very nonchalantly said that "we like the give the laureate about a 30 minute heads up before the they can be ready for the press." One winner was flying across the Atlantic when the announcement was made. Once he arrived at the airport in the U.S. he wondered why there was so much media at the gate. He was very surprised to get the news when get entered the terminal.
me and Al Nobel

On Friday, our group visited the Nobel Peace Prize Center: a museum with traveling exhibits as well as interactive exhibits about all of the previous Peace Prize Laureates. The two traveling exhibits gave us more Nansen! as well as a photo exhibit about displaced people around the world. The emphasis of this Center was definitely less about the individual laureates and more about peace and conflict around the world. Our group of 10 had "class" inside the Center for an hour after going through the exhibits.

Thursday of last week we ran into Augsburg College President Pribbenow. The world is small.
President Pribbenow wearing one of his signature bow ties

This weekend we tried to act like Norwegians...relax, take a hike, sit by the lake, walk down by the docks. All around, a good weekend. The week ahead is filled with reading and coursework. Next time I'll share some thoughts on my Scandinavian Politics class and the welfare state! (Gasp!)

Hipp Hipp Hurra! the Norwegians say for their biggest national day, Syttende Mai. Today in America, we celebrate the founding fathers we have always known about...and the one Michele Bachmann recently added to U.S. history.

America's 6th President, John Q. Adams

Happy 4th of July to all!