July 22nd 2011: The Utøya Massacre

I wrote this op-ed piece in the days following the July 22nd massacre in 2011. I had forgotten about it until someone dear to me asked me about it, and I dug it up again. I wrote it for the op-ed pages of The Pace Chronicle, the student newspaper at Pace University in New York, where I was the Opinion editor. I have edited it slightly for readability, phrasing, and some typos.

On July 22, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian, set off a car bomb in downtown Oslo in the government district. He then continued on an hours-long shooting spree on the island Utøya, the site for the Labor Party's youth summer camp. Masquerading as a police officer pretending to have urgent information about the car bomb, for which he was responsible, he proceeded to murder 69 people and wound dozens more.

Added to the eight people killed in the bombing, the most recent count of casualties stand at 77 (although the actual number is still partially unknown). Needless to say, this sort of domestic terrorism could instil rage and despair in any sensible individual.

Breivik has been described as a Christian fundamentalist by the media, and although his self-published 1,500-page manifesto casts some doubt on this claim, he is, by all measures, a dogmatic extremist. His manifesto (of which large swaths have been directly lifted from the manifesto of Una-bomber Ted Kaczinksy) describes his attacks as necessary evils to combat the “threats of a multi-cultural society and that of Islam.” Breivik sees these as threats to the “pure, Christian character of Norway” and was somehow deluded into thinking that a violent outburst of mass-murder would be a step in the right direction.

Since the fatal events, there have been peaceful gatherings in all parts of my home country, public appeals for charity, speeches admonishing terrorism, and huge spikes in voter registration and membership increases for the moderate, left-wing political parties that control Parliament.

Although difficult, the appropriate response to these attacks are not ones of rage and advocating for revenge. Rather, it is support for the secular, humanist democracy that has made Norway one of the safest, most prosperous nations since the end of World War II. The calm and collected responses, such as these, from my family and friends encapsulate the collective response of the Norwegian people. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg vowed that our country will fight back with “more democracy,” and promised a special investigation into the attacks to help the victims and their families help cope.

What makes me glad to call Norway my home is that there has not been a single (at least not public) outcry for the speedy return to “peaceful, religious values.” The Christian religion was seemingly complicit in compelling this blonde-haired, blue-eyed sociopath to kill 77 of his fellow humans in cold blood; he claims in his manifesto that his violent outburst was intended to spur a mass-return to the Christian, pre-multicultural values of eras past. Little did Breivik anticipate that the public reaction has been the diametrical opposite.

Norwegian writer and poet Nordahl Grieg said that “our country is so small that when someone falls, it is always a brother or a friend.” He was right. Although I personally knew no one who was affected by the attack, on the morning of July 23 I found myself in the bathroom of a Manhattan café, dry-heaving in haze of confusion and exasperation.

While my exchanges with my mother, as well as a public venting of anger on my Facebook page, were more of an expression of that primal rage that inevitably arises, I simultaneously asserted that I would be the first to defend democracy in the face of terrorism. Judging by the national, collective response of Norwegians everywhere, there is an entire nation backing each other up.

While it is impossible to do something about the isolated, psychopathic wildcards that occasionally pop up to assault us, it is a moral and civic duty to encourage the thoughtful and peaceful reproach of regressive politics of the kind that Breivik espoused. It is our first, and best, line of defense against a society ruled by fear, suspicion and xenophobia.

In the midst of despair and heartbreak it is comforting to know that I live in a nation that will not tear him limb from limb (which is not unthinkable in other parts of the world), but rather a nation that is now united by tolerance, freedom of expression, and support for democracy.

Friends & Faces

Friends and Faces from 2013 and 2014

Fall 2014 Photographs

These are some random photographs that I've taken during my first few months in San Francisco. Some are from a photoshoot for Ona Bags, some are from Halloween, some are from school assignments. Will update more later. 

Underwater Photography

This is a sample of some underwater photography I did last year while working as a field specialist in Mozambique for South African underwater photographer Fiona Ayerst, and the year before while I was a wildlife photography intern in Mosselbay, South Africa. 

It is posted in the fond memory of my friend and fellow diver and underwater videographer Meaghan Oosthuizen who very unfortunately passed away today.

Click on the images for full-size versions. Best viewed while enjoying your favorite beverage.

J-School Dispatch #1

My first week of graduate school is over. The first four days were devoted to orientation, getting students familiarized with the workings of UC Berkeley generally and the J-School specifically.

Investigative reporter and J-School faculty member Lowell Bergman, left, chats with Daniel Ellsberg about the Pentagon Papers, the state of journalism, and nuclear non-proliferation.

A highlight of orientation week was guest speaker Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers. If you don't know, Ellsberg worked for the Department of Defense during the Vietnam War and released thousands of secret documents to The New York Times that explained in excruciating detail how terribly the Vietnam War was going for the US, in direct opposition to the public claims of the government. In short, he released secret documents to the press before it was cool: Daniel Ellsberg is the hipster of whistleblowers.

We also got a visit from Peter Nicks, a documentary filmmaker and J-School alum who directed the internationally acclaimed documentary film The Waiting Room that chronicles the trials and tribulations of patients, doctors, and nurses at the Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. In a way his film reflects the inherent problems of the strained health care system in the US. This microcosmos of health care made me extremely grateful to have a solid health insurance plan. He also showed us footage of his upcoming documentary project focusing on another integral part of Oakland, namely the police department. It seemed extremely gritty and real, and after having seen The Waiting Room I can't wait to see his portrait of the Oakland PD.

The last and fifth day of the week was the first day of classes. At the J-School all incoming students have to take a mandatory class called 'J200 - Reporting the News.' This J200 class is divided into different sections: topicals, and hyperlocals. The topical section is devoted to health and environment, and the local sections focus on the cities of Oakland and Richmond, two cities in the East Bay. Students are divvied up into these sections based on their indicated preference of reporting areas. 

J-School post-orientation mixer with beer and good conversations in the North Gate Hall courtyard

I'm in the Richmond section under the tutelage of Robert Rogers, a reporter and alum of the J-School himself, who covers Richmond and knows the city very well. The local sections work as real online news publications. In fact, they are real online news publications and it's our responsibility to operate them as such. Our specific news website is appropriately called Richmond Confidential, or RichCon for short and has been around since 2009. 

Each student reporter in the class is assigned to a beat, which is journalist lingo for a specific area of interest that we're assigned to cover. Beats can range from arts and entertainment, to education, and to politics and crime, the latter of which is my beat.

This is particularly interesting, I think, because it is a city with high crime and poverty rates. I suspect we're in for an interesting and challenging time. Learning by doing, trial by fire, and so forth, I guess.

When I have told techies and other relatively well-off people in downtown San Francisco that I'll be reporting in Richmond some have joked about me being a "war correspondent" and saying that I should be exceedingly careful when moving about Richmond.

My professor generally dismisses this. I'm inclined to take the word of the man who makes a living reporting on that city, and not the people who commute between their tech company's office and the local coffee shop: no offense to the people I've met to in downtown San Francisco, because they're lovely and friendly people, but I doubt they spend much time in Richmond themselves. 

Next week is devoted to a boot camp, a high-intensity weeklong introduction to efficient reporting and storytelling, with 12 hour days, five days in a row, focusing on writing and video production. It'll be challenging. It'll be new and awkward at times. It'll be awesome. I can't wait.

San Francisco Thus Far

View of San Francisco from Dolores Park. You'll have to imagine the smell of marijuana yourself.

I have visited San Francisco twice before, but only a few days at a time. This time around I'm going to live here for at least two years (unless all my plans fall apart for some reason) and based on what I've seen and experienced so far I'm pretty confident I'll love it.

It has been a week since I left Norway for Northern California, more specifically Berkeley and San Francisco. While I'll be attending the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, located in the town of Berkeley (duh) in the East Bay, I have thus far lived in downtown San Francisco in my friend Helena Price's apartment. Helena is a professional photographer (check out her website!) and knows the city very well, having lived and worked here for five years. She has been kind enough to put up with my incessant questions about the ins and outs of the city, has shown me around, and has introduced me to her friends, all of whom are lovely people.

The Campanile clock tower on the UC Berkeley campus.

I have visited the Berkeley campus twice so far, poking my head into the J-School to show my face and to get to know people. I've met some of the other students in the incoming class of 2016 and all the staff and faculty that I have met so far seem like wonderful people. What I have noticed however, is that they're always reminding us to enjoy our last days in freedom, so to speak, because the upcoming semester will be intense, demanding, crazy, work-heavy, full of pressure, so on and so forth. 

While I have zero doubt that the upcoming semester will be incredibly challenging, demanding our utmost attention and effort, I have a sneaking suspicion that the good people at the J-School are trying to put us in a mental state where we're prepared to work our asses off. I'm entirely OK with this. I'm of the opinion that hard-won excellence is better than easily attained nothingness and laziness. Exerting no effort may be easy and temporarily comfortable but nothing good comes of it in the long run, so I'm really looking forward to running myself into the ground, writing until my fingers bleed. I hope and think my writing will improve, but if it doesn't, at least my typing will.

(If my assumption about their tactics is entirely mistaken I will freely admit as much on December 12th, when our first semester comes to a close.)

Finding a place to live has proven to be a challenge. The plan is to rent a place together with my friend Nicholas, who's working as a cafe manager in the city, somewhere in the East Bay, preferably close to Berkeley. All the warnings I received from friends in the area were spot on; it's really hard to find a place here. Apartments move quickly and the rent is fairly high. Being that San Francisco has become the most expensive city in the US to live in, this explosion in rent has started affecting surrounding areas like Oakland and Berkeley. In other words, a good deal of luck in finding a place would be really helpful.

All in all, San Francisco appears to be full of creative and friendly people, a lot of homeless people, the smells of urine and marijuana, awesome, cheap, and delicious food, and some great schools. Seems like a great place to live and thrive for a few years while I improve my writing and photography. I'll take it.

Norway in a Nutshell: A Rant

On the eve of my departure from Norway I thought it'd be fitting to vent a little bit about my people and our occasional obliviousness. I hope you all will forgive me, although I'm pretty sure that most of you reading this, if you're from Norway, will recognize yourselves or someone you know.

Without further ado, here is my list of things Norwegian people need to get better at. 

1. "Excuse my Norwegian arms"

During a meal, if someone is talking, it's OK to politely ask them to pass you the salt shaker or what-have-you, even if you temporarily interrupt the story they're telling. Norwegians have not gotten this memo, however, as we will instead stand up, and stretch across the dinner table to grab whatever it is that we need. Apparently this is so common that it has it's own tongue-in-cheek description: "Please excuse my Norwegian arms." 

Lets stop doing this. It makes us look meek and too afraid to politely ask for something we need, although everyone understands that this is in fact OK to do. 

2. Learn How To Stand In Line

If you're ever in Norway and find yourself using public transport, don't expect the locals to form an orderly line to get on the bus/metro/train. Instead, they will congregate in a disorganized mess around the entrance like a herd of goddamn cows, without making room for the people who first need to exit. I constantly see people shoving themselves onto the bus without waiting for everyone else to exit. It's as if they cannot fathom that waiting an extra 10 seconds to let everyone off the bus first will actually speed up the proceedings. Don't be selfish. This leads me to my third point...

3. Give Up Your Seat for People Who Need It!

While riding on public transportation you'll constantly see young and able-bodied people pretending to ignore the elderly people around them who might need to sit down (at least more than you, you 26-year old hipster goof.) Don't be an inconsiderate butthole. 

Whenever I'm on the bus and I see someone who might need my seat more than I do, I make a point of giving it to them in a conspicuous fashion so that hopefully others around me will take notice. 

In fact, we're shitty in general at helping others in public. My own brother has actually forced his way through a crowded aisle on the bus from the very back row of seats to help a young mother carry her baby stroller off the bus, even though other people were standing right next to her and did nothing to help. 

4. Don't Shuffle Around Like a Zombie in the Grocery Store

Another place where my people seemingly shut off the part of their brains that's responsible for paying attention to their surroundings, is the grocery store. We will aimlessly, slowly wander the aisles lost and without a clue as to what we're doing there.

While I don't blame you for taking your sweet time to buy that delicious frozen pizza, at least you can make an effort to not block the aisle for those of us who like to complete our grocery shopping in less than a damn hour. 

Just today I was reprimanded by a family member for almost losing my shit at the grocery store. We had just gotten a shopping cart and entered through the turnstiles to the store and the two ladies in front of us just....stopped. Just stood there with their cart, confused, as if they had just woken up from a coma, not knowing where they were. While I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs for them to get the hell out of my way, all I could do was grip the handle of my cart and start shaking it violently while biting my tongue, because I realize it's bad form to verbally assault strangers for no (apparent) good reason. 

My point is this: Please pay attention to your surroundings. You might have all the time in the world for running your errands but that doesn't mean others should have to be stuck behind your indecisiveness. Pretty please with sugar on top, just MOVE!

5. Its Okay to Say 'Excuse Me' If You Need to Get By

I have actually had people just push themselves into me or some of my friends in public without saying a word, when they needed to get by. If you don't know, this is generally considered more rude than saying "Excuse me" and waiting an extra second for me to hear you and move the hell out of the way. Even when they have physically forced themselves past you they won't make eye contact and say "Pardon me." Don't be so goddamn afraid of talking to strangers! They're not dangerous (unless they have facial tattoos. Just find another way around those people).


So let's stop being so afraid of talking to strangers, taking up space in public, stepping on people's toes (figuratively speaking), or just being nice and considerate to people. I'll be gone for at least six months, so I trust the rest of Norway will have this all figured out by the time I return. Thanks. 

Frankenfoods Are Your Friends: Please Relax About GMO Foods

This picture is inherently misleading, and I think you know that.

GMO foods aren't going to kill you. Please relax.

I know that Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, is a controversial topic that is sure to stir up debate. You'll see arguments about the merits or drawbacks of GMOs all over the internet these days. The reason I'm throwing my hat in this over-crowded ring is because I dislike the misinformation and outrageous allegations thrown around by many anti-GMO activists and impassioned people who maybe, just maybe, are a bit misinformed about what they're talking about. 

Before I get on with my post, I'd like to point out that I'm not against organic foods, or the people who grow them. Do your thing. This farm town is big enough for the both of you. By endorsing GMO foods, I'm not automatically against non-GMOs. Got it?

Ok, let's get on with it. Here are four reasons why you should relax about GM foods. 

1. The Scientific Consensus Says GMOs Are Safe

Opponents of GMOs claim that they are dangerous for your health, or at the very least, that more research needs to be done on the subject.

Well, there has been tons of research done on this very topic, and the numbers simply aren't favoring the anti-GMO activists. A group of Italian researchers went about cataloging almost 2000 studies on the subject of GMO safety. The studies come from research institutes all over the world. 

According to this Forbes blog post, the researchers couldn't find a single example from the 1783 studies they reviewed demonstrating that GM foods were harmful to humans or animals. 

According to lead researcher Allesandro Nicolia, the team's goal "was to create a single document where interested people of all levels of expertise can get an overview on what has been done by scientists regarding GE crop safety."

According to a poll published in The New York Times in July of last year, 37 percent of respondents said they feared that genetically modified foods can cause cancer and/or allergies. The article notes that no scientific research supports this view, that GM foods do not carry risks that are not found in non-GM foods also. 

2. GM Foods Will Help Us Feed Future Generations

It's well known that we struggle to feed the world's population. There are plenty of calories produced on a daily basis around the world (according to author Brad Pilon, the US alone produces enough food to feed all its' citizens 4000 calories a day, which is a lot), but it's difficult to get this food to the places where people need it to, you know, not die. 

The increasing world population, combined with climate change (and all that it brings with it) makes it exceedingly difficult to feed everyone, but GMO crops can help feed more people than non-GM crops. 

According to this MIT Technology Review article, plant diseases destroy approximately 15 percent of the world's agricultural harvest on an annual basis. That translates to a lot of food not being shoved into the mouths of starving people around the world. 

The article specifically talks about Irish scientists who've (appropriately enough) genetically modified a type of potato, making it resistant to blight, a disease that normally kills non-modified potatoes. This is important because potatoes are a vital food source in poor areas of the world, and so huge crops of it can thus survive where normal varieties can't. 

This souped-up potato coming out of Ireland is but one instance of GM foods doing good. Golden rice is an example of a genetically modified organism that is in fact better than the conventional, non-modified variety. 

Golden rice has been modified to contain beta-carotene. This can help combat Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) by letting the body convert it into Vitamin A, a nutrient that is necessary for various reasons.

VAD is common in poorer areas of the world where rice is a staple of the local diet. Relying on a carbohydrate-rich, micronutrient-poor food source such as rice almost inevitably leads to VAD, which can impair your vision, and sometimes lead to irreversible blindness, making you more vulnerable to infections, impairing your skeletal growth, and reducing your immune response. 

The World Health Organization reports that in 2012 almost a quarter of a billion school children around the world suffered from VAD, and that providing these kids with Vitamin A could help prevent a third of deaths of children under age five, amounting to around 2.7 million children saved, per year. Propagating golden rice as an alternative to conventional rice could help combat this ghastly malady. 

These are only two out of numerous example of why we need GM food sources to help feed future generations. Conventional, non-modified crops simply don't have a great enough yield for us to produce enough food for everyone, but GM foods might. If you fail to see this, you have a problem.

3. Opponents Regularly Abuse and Distort Scientific Findings

Opponents of GM food sources all too often resort to misusing science, relying on debunked/retracted studies to make their point, twist the words of credible scientists for their own gain, or straight-up lie. This is something you'll see over and over again when looking at articles online by anti-GMO writers and activists.

If they really had accurate scientific findings on their side there would be no need for them to distort facts and studies, or to misrepresent what the science actually says, and there would be no controversy. 

I will use two example to illustrate my point. The first is an article that ran in the woman's magazine ELLE last year, about how one of their writer's allegedly cured a painful condition she was suffering, by stripping GMO corn from her diet, and how GMO foods can lead to allergies.

Slate.com publised a long post thoroughly debunking the ELLE article, interviewing the very same scientists and researchers the ELLE writer had originally spoken to. Every single one of them claimed they had been misquoted, had their views misrepresented or distorted, and some even contradicted the ELLE writer's points. You really should read the whole piece as it's well-written, well-researched, and emblematic of the intentional distortion of facts and statements happening on the anti-GMO side of this debate. (It is worth pointing out that this ELLE story uses a tactic of pretending there is debate or controversy on an issue, where there in reality is none, and the issue has been settled long ago. This is a tactic often used by anti-GMO writers. Do not trust it.)

The second example is that of the horrible, dreadful Vani Hari, aka "The Food Babe." Besides having given herself a stupid and self-aggrandizing nickname, her attacks on the food industry and GMOs specifically have been debunked so many goddamn times that I can't really believe people still take her seriously.

I don't want to link to her website because I don't want to contribute to even one iota of web traffic to her nonsense-filled website. Feel free to Google her if you want. Even better, Google "Debunking the Food Babe." However, I will link to this article that explains why her blog post on Fig Newtons (of all things) is a collection of pseudo-scientific, ignorant science-sounding babble that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Hari claims that consumption of GM foods has been linked to allergies, and kidney and liver diseases. This is simply false and basically every single scientific body and regulatory entity in the world that studies the safety of GM foods disagree with her. 

Do not trust her; she is a hack preying on the scientific illiteracy of her audience to make money. My friend and former college roommate Dan summed up the basis of The Food Babe's strategy: "Scary words are scary." Put differently, if someone throws hard-to-understand scientific phrases and words at you in the context of a scare-mongering piece about the dangers of GM foods, it's all too easy to fall for it. No one has claimed it's easy to be a smart and informed consumer, but it is absolutely worth the effort. 

Please read these expert debunkings of Vani Hari if you want a deeper understanding of her scam tactics.

Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe: The Jenny McCarthy of Food (Science Based Medicine)

The New Yellow Journalism (Brookstone Beer Bulletin)

The Food Babe is Anything but an Expert on GMOs (The Montreal Gazette)

My final word on Hari is this: She has claimed that major food corporations "are trying to poison us slowly by using cheap and harmful ingredients." This is a sinister and stupid claim, and it leads me to my last point of this post:

4. Why would food producers try to kill or poison their customer base?

You'd have to be pretty dense to believe that food corporations are trying to poison their customers. That cannot seem like a sound business strategy even to the biggest mouth-breathing college drop-out. 

This reminds me of the debacle in the 80's where several metal bands were accused of putting subliminal Satanic messages in their music, urging their fans to kill themselves. Stand-up comedian and social critic Bill Hicks stated the obvious when he asked "why the fuck would a band want their fans to kill themselves?"

The same goes here: what does a company have to gain by poisoning and presumably, in the end, killing their customers? Wouldn't one assume that this would get out after a while, and that these very same corporations trying to murder you would change their strategy? After all, all they seemingly care about is their profits, and murdering your customers is a sure-fire way to lose money in the long run.

Final Words

Please relax about GMO foods. There is no credible scientific evidence to suggest that they are dangerous to your health, and in fact, there is evidence to suggest they are our best way of feeding future generations. (If you believe this to be untrue, please sit down and read about Norman Borlaug, aka "The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives," a scientist, scholar (and gentleman) who genetically tinkered with wheat to make it more durable and easy to grow in demanding conditions, and exported it to South America, India, and Pakistan. Based on projected starvation rates, he is credited with having saved over a billion people from starvation.)

Please be skeptical of people who make a living off of campaigning against innovations in crop technology and GM foods. They usually have something to sell, which should always invoke skepticism.

Sometimes, anti-GMO activists cross the line: In France this year, anti-GMO activists destroyed over one hectare of rapeseed trial crops, not realizing they weren't even genetically modified rapeseeds. This is, to put it mildly, not OK. Put matter-of-factly, it's criminal conduct and vandalism.

Even worse, in 2002 the government of Zambia refused to accept food donations in the middle of a goddamn famine and widespread starvation, because most of the food was GM maize from the US. Zambia's then-president Levy Mwanawasa said that "simply because my people are hungry, that is no justification to give them poison, to give them food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health." 

This is where scientific illiteracy and ignorance about GM crops can turn genuinely lethal. When it goes this far, one should consider it a moral obligation to speak out against it.

Going Public: Norwegian Authorities Made the Right Choice

In light of the recent news about a terrorist threat against Norway, Hans-Jørgen Bonnichsen, the former chief of Danish intelligence, came out against the Norwegian authorities' decision to inform the public about the threat. In an interview with the Danish newspaper Berlingske, he said: 

- You can see that this has already put Norway in a state of shock and alarm. You've stabilized the reputation that terrorists want, namely a reputation as someone to fear and who can attack at any time. 

Bonnichsen explains the authorities' decision by referring to the national trauma the country experienced after the July 22nd, 2011 attacks. 

- It's the only reason I can think of. [...] Threats are a reality in any western intelligence organization, and it's their responsibility to deal with them. Here, [Norway] has chosen to hand that burden and worry over to the citizens. 

I personally disagree with a few of Bonnichsen's points. Although he's the one with a career in intelligence gathering and national security, and I'm just a goof with a keyboard, I do have a pair of working eyes. 

Since the threat against us was made public I have been working in the city center of Bergen, Norway's second biggest city. The weather has been unusually nice and people have been swarming the streets in droves, day and night. There have been big events in several of Norway's cities, with the Cutty Sark/Tall Ships Race in Bergen, the Norway Cup soccer tournament in Oslo, etc. People are everywhere. No one seems especially worried. 

I have been unusually cognizant of people around me and trying to gauge people's behaviour in public in light of the potential danger. Everyone is acting normal, and there have been more people out in public the last few days than what I've seen in a long time. This is pure speculation from my side, of course, but if the Norwegian population had taken the aforementioned burden from the authorities (or at least shared in it) more people would have stayed at home. 

The Norwegian security police have for the last few months been releasing monthly reports of threats against the country (or at least the ones' they are comfortable sharing) and they have all been checked off as unlikely and not much to worry about, after thorough investigations. This last threat has apparently been the exception, and so they've heightened security all over the country. This is understandable. 

Normally Norwegian police is unarmed. I do believe they have a firearm locked up in their squad cars, but they never carry guns. Now they do. If the authorities would have said nothing about the threat, but put the police forces at their highest level of alertness and sent them into the streets with weapons, without telling us why, people would definitely become more worried than they are now. 

Cato Hemmingby, a researcher at the Norwegian Police Academy, agrees with me. In a commentary piece on newssite Dagbladet, he argues why PST made the right decision. 

- Going public like PST has done, has two main objectives. The first is to make it more difficult for terrorists to execute an attack. The second is to make the public more alert and responsive. It is a wise strategy that may have helped to reduce the threat. When terrorists lose the moment of surprise it becomes less inspiring [to other potential attackers or enemies of the state, one assumes] and more difficult to carry out an attack.

Police Commissioner Odd Reidar Humlegård explains in an interview with national broadcaster NRK that,

- When we armed the police and increased their presence, we had to go public and explain why we did it. But we cannot say more than what we have said so far. It's about source confidentiality and protection, and about not exposing this situation more than what is absolutely necessary.

Considering the vague nature of the threat, it was the right choice to inform the public. If the security police knew specifically who made the threat, and where their attack was meant to take place, they would have eliminated the threat without telling us. If you know you can prevent an attack without needlessly disturbing the peace, great. Do it. 

I'm under the impression that the authorities made the right move: after the national tragedy three years ago we as a people have become determined not to let something like that happen ever again. It would be absolutely catastrophic to the reputation and credibility of the government, and our country as a whole, in the global stand against terrorism, if they knew about a credible threat, did not inform the public, and then failed to prevent it.

Now, having informed the public, Norwegian authorities have an entire nation of people looking out for each other, partaking in our own safety, and doing everything we can to make sure we remain a safe and sound democratic society. I think that's a good thing. 

Evil Rears Its Ugly Head: Terror Threat against Norway

Three years ago, on July 22nd, 2011, Norway experienced the worst loss of human life since World War II, with the domestic terror attack carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in the government district of Oslo and at Utøya, an island where the Labour Party's summer camp for youths was taking place. 77 people lost their lives, hundreds were injured, and an entire nation was shocked to the core.

Today, evil rears its ugly head again.

At 10 AM today, Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen and Benedicte Bjørnland, chief of the Norwegian Security Police (PST), announced at a joint press conference that persons with connections to islamist extremists in Syria intend to carry out an attack on Norway sometime in the next few days.

According to Bjørnland the threat is credible, but unspecific. Anundsen warned the public to be vigilant. 

Atle Mesøy, a researcher specializing in security studies at the Norwegian Environmental and Bio-Science University, says in an interview with NRK (Norway's state broadcaster) that it's unlikely that any of the bigger terrorist organizations, like ISIS or Al-Qaeda, are involved. 

"It's more likely that a smaller group with connections to Norway, that has fought with bigger terrorist organizations in Syria, is behind the threat," Mesøy said. 

According to PST, somewhere between 40 and 50 people with connections to Norway, are fighting, or have fought, in Syria. 

For anyone unfamiliar with Norway and its culture, it is generally considered one of the most liberally progressive and peaceful societies on Earth. When we were struck by domestic terrorism in 2011, no one was prepared. No one. Nothing like it had happened since World War II, and the population, generally speaking, seemed to be under the illusion that we were immune to such atrocities.

Police heading to Utøya, where Anders Behring Breivik shot and killed 69 people, on July 22nd, 2011.

The police faced massive criticism in the aftermath for being unprepared to deal with the situation. This image became emblematic of this unpreparedness: It shows nine armed police officers heading to Utøya in a small inflatable boat. It is clearly overloaded. Apparently the engine stalled halfway to the island and the police had to switch boats before they were able to make it to the island and arrest Breivik.

When he willingly laid down his weapons and surrendered he had shot and killed 69 people, most of them teenagers participating in the Labour Party's Youth Summer Camp. Before his shooting spree he had set of a car bomb in the government district in Oslo. It killed eight people, wounded dozens, and caused millions in damages. It takes a special kind of sociopath to use a car bomb merely as a diversion

There's an interesting contrast between the 2011 attacks and today's threat, and that is the opposing ideologies motivating the attacks (or potential attack in today's case.)

Breivik claimed in his 1800-page manifesto, which he distributed online the day of his attack, that his intention was to combat the growing multiculturalism in Norway, that "Islam and cultural marxism is the enemy," and that the deportation of all Muslims from Europe was a necessity to save our "traditional values."

Today, the threats supposedly come from reactionary Islamists with connections to Syria. Lately we have seen the implosion of Syria and Iraq, where the terrorist organization ISIS/ISIL claims to have re-established the Caliphate in accordance with an extremely strict interpretation of the Muslim faith. ISIS, it is worth mentioning, has shown itself willing and capable of such boundless brutality that Al-Qaeda kicked them out. 

(I am NOT claiming there is a direct connection between the situation in Syria/Iraq and today's threat against Norway, because I have no idea if that is the case. I am merely noting what I find to be an interesting contrast between the first real terror attack against Norway, and what is now presenting itself.)

To me, this goes to show that extremism, whichever direction it may take, can manifest itself in deadly ideas and ideologies.

Three years later, almost to the day, we hear of threats against our country. We did not have that luxury last time, so I hope the authorities adequately ramp up security operations to deal with it in such a manner that no one has to die. We lost enough people three years ago. Now we have no excuse to not be prepared.

"A Blind Eye" Shows the Ugly Reality of Climate Change

Rune Eraker is a Norwegian documentary photographer with 25 years of experience. His recent exhibition, "A Blind Eye" at the Bryggen Museum in Bergen, Norway, focuses on the ugly and often unreported side effects of climate change and its impact on the lives of millions. 

I went to see this exhibit yesterday with my friend. It many ways it was shocking and depressing. In another way it was starkly refreshing to be reminded of the often-unseen realities of our world. 

The photos are from all over the world but they share the universal quality of being depressing: Central American farmers going months without work due to failed crops resulting from altered, and unpredictable, rain patterns; tourists in the Maldives lounging on the very same beaches that will be under water in a few decades; Indian cotton farmers committing suicide by the hundreds of thousands due to years of failed crops and crippling debt. 

Cattle farmers in South Sudan risk having to migrate out of the area or die: a temperature increase as small as 2-3 degrees celsius will make the area too hot for humans to live in. 
Respectfully gathered from Eraker's Photoshelter website

These are only a few of the many effects Eraker documents in his exhibit. They are depressing facts but they are also important. For me personally (and many others, I suspect) it's all too easy to forget the distant realities of the world we live in, to become ensconced in my own little bubble, and to never consider the far-reaching impacts of the lifestyle I participate in. For me, seeing this exhibit forced me to remember that I have been unbelievably lucky in the lottery of birth, and I shouldn't take too much for granted.

It also reminds me to be thoughtful about what I buy and consume, how I treat foreign cultures when I travel, and to keep these issues in mind when I participate in the democratic society in which I live.

It can surely be comfortable to ignore the ugly sides of modernization, progress, and the ever-increasing demands of the Western world, but at what price?

I'm not pointing fingers with this post because I would surely implicate myself. However, while I'm not suggesting you should go out there and recycle all your pairs of Birckenstocks, I do think we all need to keep in mind climate change, environmental degradation, conservation efforts, etc., when we go out to vote, and that we try to make well-informed choices in our daily lives. The type of positive change in the way we run our world, the type change that will somehow ensure we don't entirely ruin our planet, will surely come about when thoughtful leaders make the right political choices and force the unrelenting march of progress in better directions. Luckily, there are some signs we're (slowly) moving towards it, as when the Obama administration recently announced the imminent creation of world's largest marine sanctuary.

It's easy to write this off as some hippie-like "Save the planet!"-type yammering, but if our air becomes unbreathable, our planet becomes too hot and too dry to produce food, and our water too polluted to drink, then anything else we want to do becomes pointless to even consider, because we're probably too busy dying.

(Also, if you're scoffing at your screen as you read this, I really don't know what to say to convince you that our planet is worth protecting. Maybe try drinking polluted water for a few months, eating a fraction of your normal, weekly food-intake, or holding your breath, and see how well you fare.)

Moving to California

Recommended listening while reading: California Dreamin'

My summer in Norway is coming to a close, after some ups and downs, and I'm preparing to move to California to attend the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. 

My family's summer house in the Swedish woods.

Working part-time this summer as a bartender at a local dive bar was interrupted by a brief stay in the hospital. After a successful surgery, sick leave from work followed, with the accompanying regaining of strength and endurance, and so forth. Part of this convalescence period was spent at my family's summer house in Sweden.

I'm currently back in Norway after an all-day, cross-country drive through the mountains. My passport has finally returned from the US Embassy in Oslo, complete with a brand new F1 student visa.

The first official date of the semester is on August 25th, when orientation starts. Student visa regulations stipulate that F1 visa holders cannot arrive in the US earlier than 30 days before the first date of the school program. Thus, my plan is to leave in early August to have some time to familiarize myself with the area, meet my friend and look for a place to live.

I have not been in school since May, 2012, when I finished my undergraduate degree at Pace University in New York. I'm excited to get started again, and while I fully recognize that this will be a much more challenging experience, I'm very ready for it.