Day 209 — Neighborhood kids

The water hazard on the golf course is becoming quite the hang out for the neighborhood kids. Of course every Swedish kid can skate and Sweden and Finland hold their own with the U.S., Canada and Russia in hockey in the Olympics. Sweden took Finland to the cleaners today in the world bandy championships being held in Almaty in Kazakhstan by a 12 -0 whupping. Then Russia slaughtered the U.S. something like 15 -3 later. Bandy is called Russian Hockey and it is basically soccer on ice but with a lot more scoring. 11 players to a side and they use field hockey sticks to bat a little ball about the size of a baseball around the rink that is as large as a soccer field.

Anyway here are some shots of future bandy, hockey and figure skaters on a Sunday afternoon on the local rink.

Me still enjoying the novelty of walking on water.

They start young here.

Bianca, of course, attracted a crowd.

This girl didn’t even need skates to have fun out on the ice.

I’ll end for today with a shot of Mariette sporting the very latest in winter headgear.

Swedish army issue all the way. Bianca looks embarrassed to be seen with her.




Days 207 and 208 — Walking on water

Ice is water and Bianca and I were out walking on the frozen sea yesterday morning. The wind was whipping up and, damn, the wind chill really makes it feel colder than it is.

This is a view back towards our local fish stand from the frozen sea.

These rocks are maybe 50 feet out in the water.

This afternoon there a guy and his two kids were skating on the water hazard on the golf course. I need some skates (and a hockey uniform since I barely know how to skate even on perfect ice, much less the bumpy surface on this pond). Sure looks like fun.

Of more interest, perhaps, is this article I just read which presents the path along which Norway and Sweden were able to secure a high degree of economic equality for their populations. I haven’t posted much historical or political commentary on the blog but this is relevant to events occurring around the world over the last year or so and shows how it could be done again to benefit the greatest number of people. The article is called:

How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 Percent’

While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

 Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Kurt Wallender and Jo Nesbro will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.

Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change.

In both countries, the troops were called out to defend the 1 percent; people died. Award-winning Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told the Swedish story vividly in Ådalen 31, which depicts the strikers killed in 1931 and the sparking of a nationwide general strike. (You can read more about this case in an entry by Max Rennebohm in the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The Norwegians had a harder time organizing a cohesive people’s movement because Norway’s small population—about three million—was spread out over a territory the size of Britain. People were divided by mountains and fjords, and they spoke regional dialects in isolated valleys. In the nineteenth century, Norway was ruled by Denmark and then by Sweden; in the context of Europe Norwegians were the “country rubes,” of little consequence. Not until 1905 did Norway finally become independent.

When workers formed unions in the early 1900s, they generally turned to Marxism, organizing for revolution as well as immediate gains. They were overjoyed by the overthrow of the czar in Russia, and the Norwegian Labor Party joined the Communist International organized by Lenin. Labor didn’t stay long, however. One way in which most Norwegians parted ways with Leninist strategy was on the role of violence: Norwegians wanted to win their revolution through collective nonviolent struggle, along with establishing co-ops and using the electoral arena.In the 1920s strikes increased in intensity. The town of Hammerfest formed a commune in 1921, led by workers councils; the army intervened to crush it. The workers’ response verged toward a national general strike. The employers, backed by the state, beat back that strike, but workers erupted again in the ironworkers’ strike of 1923–24.

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The Norwegian 1 percent decided not to rely simply on the army; in 1926 they formed a social movement called the Patriotic League, recruiting mainly from the middle class. By the 1930s, the League included as many as 100,000 people for armed protection of strike breakers—this in a country of only 3 million!The Labor Party, in the meantime, opened its membership to anyone, whether or not in a unionized workplace. Middle-class Marxists and some reformers joined the party. Many rural farm workers joined the Labor Party, as well as some small landholders. Labor leadership understood that in a protracted struggle, constant outreach and organizing was needed to a nonviolent campaign. In the midst of the growing polarization, Norway’s workers launched another wave of strikes and boycotts in 1928.

The Depression hit bottom in 1931. More people were jobless there than in any other Nordic country. Unlike in the U.S., the Norwegian union movement kept the people thrown out of work as members, even though they couldn’t pay dues. This decision paid off in mass mobilizations. When the employers’ federation locked employees out of the factories to try to force a reduction of wages, the workers fought back with massive demonstrations.

Many people then found that their mortgages were in jeopardy. (Sound familiar?) The Depression continued, and farmers were unable to keep up payment on their debts. As turbulence hit the rural sector, crowds gathered nonviolently to prevent the eviction of families from their farms. The Agrarian Party, which included larger farmers and had previously been allied with the Conservative Party, began to distance itself from the 1 percent; some could see that the ability of the few to rule the many was in doubt.

By 1935, Norway was on the brink. The Conservative-led government was losing legitimacy daily; the 1 percent became increasingly desperate as militancy grew among workers and farmers. A complete overthrow might be just a couple years away, radical workers thought. However, the misery of the poor became more urgent daily, and the Labor Party felt increasing pressure from its members to alleviate their suffering, which it could do only if it took charge of the government in a compromise agreement with the other side.

This it did. In a compromise that allowed owners to retain the right to own and manage their firms, Labor in 1935 took the reins of government in coalition with the Agrarian Party. They expanded the economy and started public works projects to head toward a policy of full employment that became the keystone of Norwegian economic policy. Labor’s success and the continued militancy of workers enabled steady inroads against the privileges of the 1 percent, to the point that majority ownership of all large firms was taken by the public interest. (There is an entry on this case as well at the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The 1 percent thereby lost its historic power to dominate the economy and society. Not until three decades later could the Conservatives return to a governing coalition, having by then accepted the new rules of the game, including a high degree of public ownership of the means of production, extremely progressive taxation, strong business regulation for the public good and the virtual abolition of poverty. When Conservatives eventually tried a fling with neoliberal policies, the economy generated a bubble and headed for disaster. (Sound familiar?)

Labor stepped in, seized the three largest banks, fired the top management, left the stockholders without a dime and refused to bail out any of the smaller banks. The well-purged Norwegian financial sector was not one of those countries that lurched into crisis in 2008; carefully regulated and much of it publicly owned, the sector was solid.

Although Norwegians may not tell you about this the first time you meet them, the fact remains that their society’s high level of freedom and broadly-shared prosperity began when workers and farmers, along with middle class allies, waged a nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good.

 ABOUT George Lakey

George Lakey is Visiting Professor at Swarthmore College and a Quaker. He has led 1,500 workshops on five continents and led activist projects on local, national, and international levels. Among many other books and articles, he is author of “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” in David Solnit’s book Globalize Liberation (City Lights, 2004). His first arrest was for a civil rights sit-in and most recent was with Earth Quaker Action Team while protesting mountain top removal coal mining.



Day 206 — More Ice

Sorry for my obsession with ice here but for someone who never dealt with anything larger than an ice cube, some of the formations here are pretty fascinating. Out for a walk this morning I came upon some puddles that had frozen.

I have no idea how this puddle of water froze with this pattern.

While another, 10 feet away, froze like this.

The water hazard at the golf course is frozen solid enough to go skating on it as I could tell from the skate marks this morning.

When the wind comes up it is definitely starting to get chilly. The only one who doesn’t seem to notice is Bianca. She refused to wear the raincoat we got her and probably would not wear a sweater either. She just runs around like a maniac and that seems to do the trick.


Days 204 and 205 — Frozen waters

Mariette used to tell me that sometimes the ocean freezes in Sweden. Impossible, I thought, though I never outright disputed her contention.

Well, it is starting. It has been cold here finally and we are due for our five days in a row with temperatures of -5 C, which is about 23 F. I took a walk this morning and sure enough, the ocean is beginning to freeze over.

That is ice.

This is slush that will probably be ice tomorrow.

More ice. Can you imagine if San Francisco Bay froze solid? People could skate from one end to the other. Apparently people do skate on the ocean when it really freezes. I think I would try the water hazards on the golf course first, which are really solidly frozen now.

On a sunny day, though, it is incredible beautiful now. Here is yesterday’s sunrise.

And some golden hour colors.

I have to admit that cold weather tends to clear the head. And really fires up Bianca’s motor.

Day 203 — Guldbaggen, “The Gold Bugs”

Sweden has its own thriving film industry, the best of which rivals anything done in Hollywood (e.g. Ingemar Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander” and the recent Millennium Trilogy films based on the Stieg Larsson books.) And they also have their version of the Oscars, called the Gold Bugs. Instead of a gold statue of Oscar the winners of the Swedish version get a giant reddish looking beetle. The format follows the yearly Hollywood spectacle albeit with Swedish nuances as you shall see. After Mariette finished watching her dog shows on Animal Planet she switched to a random channel and discovered that tonight is the Swedish Oscar Night.

As in Hollywood, others in the industry are presenters in this self-congratulatory show.

There are three nominees in each category and they show clips of the performances.

The suspense is palpable as the envelope is opened. (Really joking here.)

The winner reads a lame acceptance speech. That red thing behind the mic is the gold bug award. Seriously, it is a giant beetle.

The audience applauds appreciatively. And on it goes, category after category.

Notice the informal attire of the man to the nomiee’s left. No tie. One presenter came wearing no jacket at all, just a shirt and trousers. At least it was a long sleeve shirt.

They had entertainment of a sort. This was corny disco number performed in all seriousness. 

Mariette and Bianca were inspired to get into the act.

This woman won for best documentary. She was wearing Ugg-style boots, leggings, and this loose T-shirt, essentially exercise clothes. The paper hides the tattoo on her right arm. Her speech consisted of support for the government support of filmmaking which prevents commercial interests from infecting the industry here the way it has all but destroyed products coming out of Hollywood which today are 90% computer generated explosions, monsters and car chases. She got rousing applause and deservedly so. You can see her gold bug better in this shot.

The Swedish Gold Bug Awards are wound much less tightly than the Oscars are. Things are much more casual and seemingly naive, but by the time we could not stand to watch any more, I think I figured out what is going on: the Swedish Oscars are a cleverly ironic parody of Hollywood’s show. If Hollywood were to watch the Gold Bug awards, they might get a good look at themselves.  In other words, the Gold Bugs are different enough not to be a direct copy but similar enough that one cannot help but see how ridiculous these awards shows are.

In other news, I took the second part of my Swedish test this afternoon after staying up until 5:00 a.m. watching the 49ers fumble away their trip to the Super Bowl. (I probably did better than I expected thanks to a stiff cup of coffee just beforehand.) Still, this team achieved far beyond anyone’s expectations and if Jim Harbaugh is not a unanimous choice for NFL Coach of the Year, then the award has lost all credibility.

Temperatures are getting down to the low 20s tonight and we are due for several bright, clear and cold days. And some more snow by Friday. Keep an eye out for a giant statue of a Snow Dog.

Day 202 — “Will you still need me, will you still feed me . . .”

Evidently so.

Yummmm. Getting ready to tear into pork chops, my favorite of all Marette’s mother’s meals.

Bianca, of course, got her pork chop first.

She employs the inhale-first-taste-later strategy. An entire pork chop was gone within 10 seconds.

Things are blooming already. This is called trollhassel which is Swedish for witch hazel as near as I can figure.

Afterwards, a walk on the beach. Lots of people were out enjoying the bright sunshiny day.

As were the ducks. Seems like mating season.

One of my favorite houses. I love this fence and yard.

We were well into the yummy cake before Mariette reminded me to take a shot.

That funky table is where Olle does his paintings. He said that if (and when) there is a retrospective of his art that this should be at the entrance to the exhibition. By the way,  you can see the catalog of the exhibition he did in 2009 along with several other artists here: Years ago I put up a blog of his paintings and will try to find it again. Some of his stuff is really, really nice.

Finally, a nice gift from Olle and Ella. Those five little rectangles next to Gustav Vasa are holograms. I like colorful money.

Anyway, what will make it a perfect day is a 49er victory tonight, starting at around 12:30 a.m. No matter what happens, Monday is the second part of my Swedish test, so all the air is coming out of the balloons.

Still, I am ready for another trip around the sun.


Day 201 — More Weather

Got more snow today. In the morning it was icy rain and then turned to snow and went on pretty good for an hour or more. Needless to say the Saturday housecleaning got delayed.

Snoopy perfected this trick back in the day. Some of these flakes were as big as cotton balls floating down.

You can see how big some of those suckers were.

Tonight, we took the bus into town to see a movie, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Really well done but you had to be sitting next to a mystery/spy freak like Mariette to follow the plot intricacies.

According to the weather forecast we are due for several days of minus temperatures, but winter doesn’t officially start until there are five days in a row of minus temperatures. We are due for 7 out of 8, which won’t cut it around here. Has to be five in a row.