norwegian century

Wednesday assorted links

Wednesday assorted links

1. The Norwegian century continues (WSJ): “When Norwegian athletes take to the ice and snow at the Olympics, they don’t mess around: the Scandinavian nation of just 5 million has won the most medals of any country in the history of the Winter Games.”

2. NYT profile of Vargas Llosa, not just the usual.

3. Are we running out of trademarks?  Recommended, worthy of its own post, but not easy to excerpt.

4. Ideas for improving peer review.

5. Japanese plans for the tallest wooden skyscraper.

Favorite popular music from 2017

It’s wrong to call this “popular music,” because most of it isn’t that popular, but we certainly can’t call it rock and roll any more, can we?

First, here are the ones that everyone else recommends too:

Run the Jewels 3, not a let down.

Kendrick Lamar, Damn, a common pick for best of the year.

Tyler the Creator, the album has an obscene name, which I won’t reproduce, but I can list the name of the Creator.

King Krule, Ooz, “The world is a filthy, utterly debased place, his music suggests, but there are rewards of sorts for those determined to survive it. In this spirit, The OOZ drops at our feet like a piece of poisoned fruit, a masterpiece of jaundiced vision from one of the most compelling artists alive.”

Migos, Culture, rap from Atlanta.

Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory, but not theory as they do it as Northwestern.

SZA- Cntrl, from New Jersey, “Her forebears are more Keyshia Cole and Mary J. Blige, who have hurt and have been fearless enough to sing about that hurt…”

Lorde, Melodrama, “the New Zealand century” is gaining on “the Norwegian century.”

Taylor Swift, Reputation.  This one is kind of popular.

Perfume Genius, No Shape, “The body has become sturdier, less despotic.

My summary remark is that I didn’t intend to listen to so much rap/hip-hop, but it remains the most vital genre.

Here are some more original selections:

Jlin, Black Origami, “…a gorgeous and overwhelming piece of musical architecture, an epic treatise on where rhythm comes from and where it can go.

Juana Molina, Halo.  Argentina, avant-garde songstress, vivid vocal and instrumental textures, she has almost abolished lyrics.

The Secret Sisters, You Don’t Own Me Any More, folk for 2017, “They went from opening shows for Bob Dylan and Paul Simon to cleaning houses to make ends meet.”

Django Bates, Saluting Sgt. Pepper.  A jazzy, big band, music hall take on the album, works surprisingly well, one of the freshest takes on the Beatles since Laibach.

Paul McCartney, Flowers in the Dirt, remastered, an underrated album to begin with, this release also includes the previously unavailable acoustic demo tapes with Elvis Costello.

Death Grips, Bottomless Pit.  Has the information density and partial unpleasantness of the old Skinny Puppy recordings, “seesawing from grit to gloss to back again.”

Beach Boys, Wild Honey, titled 1967 — Sunshine Tomorrow.  This remix brings out what was supposed to be just a “blues/soul/Brian cooling his heels” album as an acoustic masterpiece and proper successor to Pet Sounds and Smile.

Philip Glass, Piano Works, by Víkingur Ólafsson. One of the two or three best Glass recordings I know, here is an interview with the pianist.

Overall, if I had to push any of these on you it would be the last two.  Soon I’ll cover jazz and world music.

Is Norway an economically overrated country?

The petroleum sector is about 21% of gdp and half of exports.  It’s not just that prices are down, rather quantities produced have been declining throughout the oughties.  (That is the less well known angle here.)  Currently Norwegian oil production is at about half of its 2000 level, and the sector is now bracing for 40,000 job cuts.

Here is from a recent internal economists’ critique of the country:

The group has documented how Norwegian politicians all too often have approved major investment projects that benefit far too few people, are poorly managed and plagued by huge budget overruns. Costs in general are way out of line in Norway, according to the group, while schools are mediocre, university students take too much time to earn degrees and mainland businesses outside the oil sector lack enough prestige to help Norway diversify its oil-based economy. The group mostly blamed the decline in productivity, though, on systemic inefficiencies and too much emphasis on local interests at the expense of the nation.

Is this entirely reassuring?:

Prime Minister Erna Solberg recently spoke of the need to invest in areas where people actually live…

After you adjust for wage differences, it costs 60% more to build a road in Norway than in Sweden.

There is this too:

“Approximately 600,000 Norwegians … who should be part of the labor force are outside the labor force, because of welfare, pension issues,” says Siv Jensen, the finance minister.

The country has largely deindustrialized, oil of course aside.  And there is a fair amount of debt-financed consumption.

The country has falling and below average PISA scores by OECD standards.

Not everyone admires Norway’s immigration policy, and there is periodic talk of banning begging in the country.  It seems there are only about 1000 beggars — mostly Roma — in a country of about five million, so you can take that as a sign they are not very good at processing discord.  Far-right populist views do not seem to be going away.

For sure, Norway will be fine.  Did I mention per capita income is over $100,000 a year and they have no current problems which show up in actual life?  Hey, the “over” in “overrated” has to come from somewhere!  The country also has the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund and owns about one percent of global stocks.  Still, the idea of a rentier economy makes me nervous.  When most people don’t “have to” do that well, often cultural erosion sets in.

They’ve made a new film : “Here’s a beautiful video of Iceland and Norway, time-lapsed and tilt-shifted to show the hustle, the bustle, and the beautiful splendor of Scandinavia from a more toy-like perspective. Called The Little Nordics, it was filmed by Dutch design team Damp Design. Happy Friday!”

Sorry Magnus, Karl —  I know you guys are still underrated.  It’s not for nothing that I used to call it “the Norwegian century.”

Addendum: Here is my earlier post on whether Sweden is an economically overrated country.  At least it is cheaper to build a road there.

Open Borders in Svalbard!

Well north of Iceland there is a island archipelago that is governed by Norway but because of a peculiar treaty it has entirely open borders:

When you land in Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, you can step off the plane and just walk away. There’s no passport control, no armed guard retracing your steps, no biometric machine scanning your fingers. Svalbard is as close as you can get to a place with open borders: As long as you can support yourself, you can live there visa-free.

In an excellent piece in The Nation, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian describes the history and what it is like to visit:

Formally, Svalbard—known as Spitsbergen until the 20th century—belongs to Norway, which writes the laws, enforces order, builds infrastructure, and regulates hunting, fishing, and housing. Last year, when a Russian man was caught trying to rob a bank in town, a Norwegian judge sentenced him under Norwegian law to a Norwegian jail. But Norway’s control over Svalbard comes with obligations outlined by an unusual 1920 treaty signed as part of the Versailles negotiations ending World War I.

Written in the aftermath of the war, the Svalbard Treaty is both of and ahead of its time. Its architects stipulated that the territory cannot be used for “warlike” purposes. They included one of the world’s first international conservation agreements, making Norway responsible for the preservation of the surrounding natural environment. The treaty also insists that the state must not tax its citizens more than the minimum needed to keep Svalbard running, which today typically amounts to an 8 percent income tax, well below mainland Norway’s roughly 40 percent.

Most radically, the treaty’s architects held Norway to what’s known as the nondiscrimination principle, which prevents the state from treating non-Norwegians differently from Norwegians. This applies not just to immigration but also to opening businesses, hunting, fishing, and other commercial activities. Other countries could not lay formal claims on Svalbard, but their people and companies would be at no disadvantage.

Some 37 percent of Svalbard’s population is foreign born and there is an abandoned Soviet town with statues of Vladmir Lenin. Tyler will also be pleased to know that there are puffins.

I can’t say that I am tempted to move, but given global climate change it’s good to know that I could.

Hat tip: The Browser.

My Conversation with Karl Ove Knausgaard

Here is the audio and transcript, this was one of my favorite Conversations. Here is the CWTeam summary:

Knausgård’s literary freedom paves the way for this conversation with Tyler, which starts with a discussion of mimesis and ends with an explanation of why we live in the world of Munch’s The Scream. Along the way there is much more, including what he learned from reading Ingmar Bergman’s workbooks, the worst thing about living in London, how having children increased his productivity, whether he sees himself in a pietistic tradition, thoughts on Bible stories, angels, Knut Hamsun, Elena Ferrante, the best short story (“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”), the best poet (Paul Celan), the best movie (Scenes from a Marriage), and what his punctual arrival says about his attachment to bourgeois values.

Here is one excerpt:

KNAUSGÅRD: You have this almost archetypical artist putting his art before his children, before his family, before everything. You have also Doris Lessing who did the same — abandoned her children to move to London to write.

I’ve been kind of confronted with that as a writer, and I think everyone does because writing is so time consuming and so demanding. When I got children, I had this idea that writing was a solitary thing. I could go out to small islands in the sea. I could go to lighthouses, live there, try to write in complete . . . be completely solitary and alone. When I got children, that was an obstruction for my writing, I thought.

But it wasn’t. It was the other way around. I’ve never written as much as I have after I got the children, after I started to write at home, after I kind of established writing in the middle of life. It was crawling with life everywhere. And what happened was that writing became less important. It became less precious. It became more ordinary. It became less religious or less sacred.

It became something ordinary, and that was incredibly important for me because that was eventually where I wanted to go — into the ordinary and mundane, even, and try to connect to what was going on in life. Life isn’t sacred. Life isn’t uplifted. It is ordinary and boring and all the things, we know.

And:

COWEN: So many great Norwegian writers — Ibsen, Sigrid Undset, Knut Hamsun — there’s nationalism in their work. Yet today, liberals tend to think of nationalism as an unspeakable evil of sorts. How do we square this with the evolution of Norwegian writing?

And if one thinks of your own career, arguably it’s your extreme popularity in Norway at first that drove your later fame. What’s the connection of your own work to Norwegian nationalism? Are you the first non-nationalist great Norwegian writer? Is that plausible? Or is there some deeper connection?

KNAUSGÅRD: I think so much writing is done out of a feeling of not belonging. If you read Knut Hamsun, he was a Nazi. I mean, he was a full-blooded Nazi. We have to be honest about that.

COWEN: His best book might be his Nazi book, right? He wrote it when he was what, 90?

KNAUSGÅRD: Yeah.

COWEN: On Overgrown Paths?

KNAUSGÅRD: Yeah.

COWEN: To me, it’s much more interesting than the novels, which are a kind of artifice that hasn’t aged so well.

KNAUSGÅRD: Yeah.

COWEN: But you read On Overgrown Paths, you feel like you’re there. It’s about self-deception.

KNAUSGÅRD: It’s true, it’s a wonderful book. But I think Hamsun’s theme, his subject, is rootlessness. In a very rooted society, in a rural society, in a family-orientated society like Norway has been — a small society — he was a very rootless, very urban writer.

He went to America, and he hated America, but he was America. He had that in him. He was there in the late 19th century, and he wrote a book about it, which is a terrible book, but still, he was there, and he had that modernity in him.

He never wrote about his parents. Never wrote about where he came from. All his characters just appear, and then something happens with them, but there’s no past. I found that incredibly intriguing just because he became the Nazi. He became the farmer. He became the one who sang the song about the growth. What do you call it? Markens Grøde.

COWEN: Growth of the Soil.

And:

COWEN: Arnold Weinstein has a book on Nordic culture, and he argues that the sacrifice of the child is a recurring theme. It’s in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. It’s in a number of Ibsen plays, Bergman movies. Has that influenced you? Or are you a rejection of that? Are you like Edvard Munch, but with children, and that’s the big difference between you and Munch, the painter?

I told you we ask different questions.

KNAUSGÅRD: Yeah, yeah. You just said different. You didn’t say difficult.

Knausgaard showed up for the taping carrying a package of black bread, which he forgot to take with him when leaving.  So for the rest of the day, I enjoyed his black bread…

How early were the Nordic countries secular?

Statistical data on levels of church attendance before the 1960s is fragmentary, but what there is suggests that the low levels of religious participation recorded later in the century were not so new.  Clergy returns for Denmark, even excluding the metropolis of Copenhagen, where levels of church attendance were known to be exceptionally low, recorded that only about 8 percent of Danes attended Lutheran services on “an average Sunday” in the 1930s, falling to 6 percent in the 1940s, 5 percent in the 1950s, and 4 percent in the 1960s…In Sweden in 1927 it is estimated that only 5.6 percent attended a Lutheran church on a normal Sunday; by the 1950s it was under three percent.

A Norwegian estimate is of 3.8 percent in 1938, and Finland seems to have been below 3 percent by the 1950s.  For purposes of perspective, in most other European countries the collapse of church attendance came in the 1960s.

That is all from the new and interesting Brian Stanley, Christianity in the Twentieth Century: A World History, published by Princeton University Press.

The world’s longest interview

Defying the stereotype of the tight-lipped Scandinavian, popular Norwegian crime writer Hans Olav Lahlum set the world record for the longest interview on Thursday after spending more than 30 non-stop hours chatting in an online broadcast.

Lahlum, who rarely paused for more than a few seconds, discussed topics ranging from U.S. presidents to his fictional characters during the online show hosted by VG Nett, the online arm of Norwegian tabloid VG.

The new record awaits approval from Guinness World Records.

Fast-talking Lahlum, who is also a left-wing politician, historian and top chess player rarely stumbled during the gabfest, which also covered such scintillating topics as his preferences for mixing puddings and kebabs.

“I think I can safely say that tonight I might go to bed a little earlier than usual,” he said as he and interviewer Mads Andersen beat the old record of just over 26 hours.

Shortly after surpassing the previous record, Lahlum plunged into a weighty discussion on world literature in general and Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in particular.

“Do you have a plan for how you will get Lahlum to stop talking when the interview ends?” one viewer asked VG on its online forum.

There is more here, and the article explains this is part of a broader Norwegian trend toward “slow TV”:

Norway, a pioneer in slow programming, has spawned several lengthy television hits in recent years, and public broadcaster NRK earlier this year aired a 12-hour show centered on a burning fireplace with experts discussing the intricacies of fire wood.

In 2011, it broadcast 134 hours non-stop of a cruise ship going up the Norwegian coast to the Arctic, bagging the world record for the longest continuous TV program along the way.

And an earlier broadcast of an eight hour train journey from Oslo to Bergen was so popular, NRK had to repeat it.

As I’ve mentioned before, so far the Norwegians are having an awesome century.

For the pointer I thank Øystein Hernæs.

Why are Swedish meatballs so much smaller than their American counterparts?

This topic has been knocking around the blogosphere as of late:

I am a longtime reader of MR and there is a question I have been wondering about for a long time.  I was hoping you could share your thoughts on meatball heterogeneity.  My girlfriend made dinner for me and the entree was Swedish meatballs.  I never knew how small their meatballs are.  It seems inefficient to roll all that meat into such tiny balls.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to roll them into big balls like we do in the US?

First, history + hysteresis play a role.  According to Mathistorisk Uppslagsbok by Jan-Ojvind Swahn, the Swedish concept of meatball first appeared in Cajsa Warg's 1754 cookbook.  Yet as late as the early 20th century, beef was still a luxury in Swedish culture, whereas meat was plentiful in the United States.  America had greater access to game in the more moderate climate and also greater grass resources for supporting cows.  The Swedes were also late in benefiting from the refrigerated transport revolution, which started elsewhere in the 1920s and brought more meat to many households.  (This tardiness was due to the concentration of population in a small number of cities, combined with rail isolation from Europe.)  The end result was smaller meatballs, a tradition which has persisted to this day.

On the plane of pure theory, standing behind the lock-in effect is the Ricardian (or should I say Solowian?  Solow is the modern Ricardian when you think through the underlying asymmetries in his model, which ultimately make "capital" non-productive at some margin) fixed factor explanation.  A Swedish meatball recipe usually involves much more dairy than a non-Swedish meatball recipe.  Constant returns to scale do not in general hold for recipes, much less for loosely packed spherical items involving fluids.

Oddly, the extant literature does not seem to have considered these factors.

From the comments: Lennart writes: "Swedish meatballs, having loads of surface that are fried crispy, are much better than other forms of meatballs for that reason alone. Norwegians and Danish have big meatballs, but that's because they are boiled, so there is no crispy-fried surface to maximize (and hence nowhere near as good)."