Norway vs Germany

I am a Norwegian living in Germany. To get an accurate assessment of the relative qualities of these two proud nations I really ought to write this in tandem with a German living in Norway, but I’ll save that for the future. I don’t know if I know any Germans living in Norway well enough to initiate unserious writing projects with them.

Free wi-fi commonplace in public places. 1-0

Prices. 1-1

Cars stopping for pedestrians. 2-1

Strong anti-racism culture, even when the parties in government are right-wing. 2-2

Trains that run when you want them to run, where you want to go, most of the time. 2-3

Near-universal availability of pale ales and red ales. German beer culture is very self-centered and smug, assuming its own superiority without having made comparisons with other beer cultures. 3-3

In Germany, beer is commonly served with coasters. This is marginally more hygienic than leaving them directly on the table, and aestethically far superior. 3-4

Going to parties without having to bring drinks. 3-5

Cashier tills with separated bagging areas for separate customers, permitting each customer to bag at his or her preferred pace. 4-5.

I speak Norwegian effortlessly and German with some difficulty. Less than when I moved there, but constantly making mistakes and not finding the right words can be very frustrating. 5-5

No working class poverty. When people in Norway are poor, it is usually because they can’t work or can’t get jobs. In Germany, on the other hand, large parts of the working population get paid too low salaries to be able to survive without receiving social benefits from the State, working more than full-time, getting support from spouses or family members, gaining money via criminal activity, or the like. Not something that belongs in a civilized society. The minimum wage in Germany was recently raised to €8.5, but it needs to be raised more. In Norway, there has traditionally been very strong labour unions who have collaborated and negotiated successfully with the employer-organizations and with the state, and thus people with full-time jobs make a living, almost by default (except if the employer is one of those that routinely breaks labour laws). 6-5

A solid effort from both countries, and the outcome is much more even than I had expected. Luckily for my patriotism it was a home victory.

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Love vs the Revolution

On Stratigraphic Geology, Swedish hip hop and life itself

Life is like a geological column. Although the flow of time is smooth and continuous, it can often be useful to view it as a sequence of distinct stages with their own defining characteristics. Geologists characterize their stages or zones by referring to so-called index fossils. These are remains of organisms that are found uniquely in a particular zone, alternatively in unusually high abundances.

This hypothetical geological column serves as an example of this  This column represents a sediment core from a lake / bog, and the fossils are the most abundant plant fragments in each stage or zone. In the figure, we get four zones based on four distinct communities of plants: zone I, III and IV are distinct ecosystem types, whereas zone II is a transitional zone between zones I and III. If any botanically inclined people read this, you can probably reconstruct the palaeoenvironment of the area from which the sediment core originates; this is however only tangential to the main story here.

Index fossils can be plants, as in my example, but more often they are shell-forming microalgae and protozoa such as diatoms, foraminiferans and radiolarians. For longer periods of time more slowly evolving animals such as trilobites, molluscs, conodonts or even vertebrates are chosen.

In my life, the stages are not defined by animals. Since I have always been interested in animals, they are an ever-present factor that is not useful in distinguishing between the stages of my life. Instead, the «index fossils» here are of a musical nature – my life stages are characterized by the main albums and/or artists that I listen to during one particular stage.

One of the characteristic «index fossils» in my life is The Struggle Continues, an LP which was released by the Swedish rap group Looptroop in 2002. The album defines the latter half of my revolutionary socialist period, the period in which I also started understanding hip-hop music. More generally the album is notable as the beginning of the Looptroop we have today; with its sofisticated layered samples and its topical duality. Previous efforts from the crew (notably A modern day city Symphony (2000) and Promoe’s 2001 solo album Government Music) concentrated on socialist and anarchist political themes, with large doses of aggression towards politicians, policemen, capitalists and the mainstream media. The Struggle Continues introduced a second theme; namely the importance of love and affection.

When The Struggle Continues first came out, I enjoyed the political songs the most. After all, I was a revolutionary socialist at the time. I wanted to kill the rich and redistribute the wealth for the good of all mankind, and therefore chose the most confrontational and hard songs as my primary listening material. Thus, I spent hours headbanging to the subtle, yet dynamic EmBee beat of «Looptroopland»; annoying fellow bus passengers with the staccato cello sample in «Get ready» and discussing the intertextual references in «Fruits of Babylon» with my father.

When I listen to songs from that album today, however, a very different picture emerges. In recent years I have almost exclusively listened to the emotionally strong-laden narratives of what I’ll call the Love triangle. These are three to four songs that are thematically connected and all consider mankind’s yearning for love, affection and intimacy. «Looking for love» features the group’s primary lyricist Promoe telling the stories of two alienated urban youths meeting and connecting on a night train (its reprise «Still looking» has an alternate verse by CosM.I.C). In «Fly away» the entire group talks about leaving loved ones behind, either temporary for going on tour or permanently; breaking up with someone. The song that I currently consider the highlight of the entire album, however, is Promoe’s second solo effort «Bandit Queen».

This song features a 26 years old Promoe listing the characteristics of the woman of his dreams over a well-knit collage of jazz and classical samples with a strong hip-hop drumbeat. This special someone is an independent, confident, liberated girl with a need for music and sex and a desire to live her life in freedom and love; she is the person Promoe wants to spend his life with before, during and after the revolution. The song has been criticized by some for only replacing one set of unrealistic women’s ideals with another. However, the ideals aren’t meant to be universal – Promoe needs one woman only, who chooses to be his woman out of choice rather than neccessity. Also, her beauty is one of her own, rather than one defined by the parameters of mainstream culture. I see the song as a feminist manifesto as written from the viewpoint of a strong alpha male desiring the new freedom of the feminized society.

The revolutionary songs, on the other hand, are not as relevant today as they used to be. Most of them are still good pieces of hip hop craftmanship, but my appreciation of them as songs has dwindled with my enthusiasm for the revolution. Today my revolutionary views have been diluted into the boring liberal social democracy almost everybody in Norway believes in; I now consider the existing framework of democracy to be sufficient for making a decent society for everybody. The aggression towards authorities that the teenage me used to love now seems misplaced; why don’t the kids use this energy on something constructive or beautiful? Why should you be angry when you can feel beauty? Solidarity? Love?

For determining the scores in this match, time will be my judge. Since the three love-themed songs on The Struggle Continues stay relevant in my life and the many revolutionary ones do not, love wins with 3 points. I’ll give the revolution one point, though, for the one song that binds the love and the revolutionary themes together – the title track «The Struggle Continues», which is about connecting with other people through music and love. Over a mellow guitar sample from Bo Kaspers Orkester, the three rappers rhyme about the stress of modern society, the strength we get from experience and music, and the importance to work together for a better future for everybody.

This is a message I still can endorse.