Jens, stay home!

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COMMENTARY – VIEWS ON THE NEWS: Has anyone else noticed the irony of how people worried about the climate – including Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg – spend vast amounts of time, energy and taxpayers’ money flying all over the globe, burning up jet fuel and generating untold tons of carbon emissions? On another topic: Heard about the shampoo maker who spent more than half-a-million kroner so that Norwegians would not be able to buy the shampoo at a decent price? Stay tuned.

Here comes the first of  a new “spouting off” column. Perhaps it’s wrong to editorialize about the news, as well as write it, but most newspapers do, so we’ll occasionally allow ourselves the same privilege. We’re certainly not trying to compete with all our readers who regularly spout off themselves in our “comments” feature, but after years of following Norwegian news, it’s time to put a few things in perspective.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg will be doing more globetrotting in the next few weeks, for the sake of the climate. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Jet-setting Jens
Norway’s prime minister is embarking on a lot of travel this week and next, as he keeps trying to save the world from climate change. The problem is, he and others like him seem to contribute to the problem, simply through all the traveling they do. Legions of activists and journalists and politicians are in Durban, South Africa for the latest UN climate conference. Most were pessimistic on arrival but maybe there will some progress after all the travel and meetings. It brings back memories of all those who flew up to Tromsø a few years ago on a similar mission, many in private jets. Climate king and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore has done the same, globe-trotting to save the globe.

Norway’s Jens Stoltenberg, under pressure to make more emissions cuts at home, is among those heading for South Africa. He’ll also be escaping a storm within in his own government and a spate of “extreme weather” not unlike the type climate researchers claim is resulting from climate change. From South Africa he’ll move on to Australia and then even to the South Pole, where he’ll talk to climate researchers about how humans are destroying the planet with all their climate emissions.

Meanwhile, around half-a-dozen teams of polar enthusiasts are trekking over Antarctica even as we write, aiming to reach the South Pole to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen’s arrival on December 14, 1911, and celebrate with Jens. It would seem that given melting ice and disappearing ozone layers, the last thing Antarctica needs right now are more teams of adventurers and politicians and all their flights in and out.

Perhaps like how the Arctic needs all the cruiseships arriving in the summertime, spewing out more emissions into a fragile environment, while planeloads of tourists arrive on Svalbard. Now Stoltenberg’s own government is also seriously considering more mining activity on Svalbard, not to mention all the oil and gas exploration going on in the Barents.

What are they thinking?

In a lather over shampoo
Switching to another topic near and dear to foreigners’ hearts in Norway: High prices. Few news stories have been more disturbing this autumn than an article in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) last month. It told how cosmetics giant L’Oreal sent workers out to local outlets of discount retailer Smart Club to empty Smart Club’s shelves of its own hair care products including shampoo, balsam, mousse and dyes.

Within minutes, around 2,270 various L’Oreal products were loaded into shopping carts. Those clearing the shelves paid more than half-a-million kroner for L’Oreal’s own goods, just so that ordinary Norwegians would not be able to do the same.

What were they thinking?

It seems Smart Club’s clever purchasing agents had managed to acquire the L’Oreal products somewhere in Europe for a price well below wholesale prices in Norway. Smart Club was then passing on the savings to its customers. But L’Oreal realized Smart Club’s offer was undercutting the carefully constructed retail price L’Oreal’s hair salon merchants were accustomed to getting.

So Smart Club was a threat, and L’Oreal felt a need to preserve the inflated price its merchants want. “We sell brand-name goods at low prices,” Per Rune Lunderby, managing director of Smart Club, told DN. “Not everyone is happy about that.”

L’Oreal executives claimed the products on sale at Smart Club were only meant to be sold (at much higher prices) in “professional” hair salons. “We have to protect our brand,” pleaded Tor Øiestad of L’Oreal, adding that L’Oreal also saw a need to protect the quality of its products, by making sure Smart Club was selling the real thing. More likely, L’Oreal had to protect its profits, and those of its merchants.

It wasn’t the first time Smart Club’s sale of brand-name goods at low prices (by Norwegian standards) led to producers buying up all the inventory themselves. It also happened when Smart Club offered a good deal on Ilse Jacobsen and Hunters rubber boots. The practice of the producers clearing the shelves is “a well-known method of holding prices artificially high,” Lunderby said. Once again, Norwegian consumers got the short end of the stick, but many were likely to simply shrug their shoulders. They’re known for being passive, and those screaming in the grocery aisles tend to be foreigners.

Accommodating a mass murderer
On a more serious note: Many Norwegians were stunned by the news last week that confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik may avoid punishment by being declared criminally insane. Others were already wondering what penal system officials were thinking, as they prepared to spend millions on a major prison remodelling project aimed at accommodating Breivik if he doesn’t wind up in a psychiatric institution instead.

They say Breivik would need social contact with more people than just prison guards. Other prisoners may thus be carefully selected to share new, specially built high-security quarters for the man who killed 77 persons in a bombing and massacre on July 22.

Breivik, however, is not particularly popular and likely would need protection from other prisoners. Officials keen on taking good care of prisoners in Norway instead of simply incarcerating them claim they have control but that seemed doubtful when news broke recently that another unpopular inmate known as Lommemannen (The Pocket Man, for luring young boys to stick their hands in his pockets) was attacked by another prisoner with a fork in the canteen at the same prison where Breivik is. He wound up needing stitches.

There actually were 17 cases of violence among prisoners last year, reported newspaper VG. Guards insist they’ll know what they’re doing by eventually allowing Breivik to mingle with other inmates. Given what happened to Lommemannen, maybe they do.

Heroes defrocked
Finally: Pity the poor Norwegians whose heroes were suddenly defrocked this autumn, in one case quite literally. First came the bare truth about Fridtjof Nansen, whose love letters to the last of his mistresses included photos of himself in his birthday suit. Then came Tor Bomann Larsen’s latest book on the royal family, with news that then-Crown Prince Olav didn’t want to go into exile when the Nazis invaded and actually promoted negotiating with them instead.

The revelations would seemingly shake Norwegians to the core, but reaction was typically stoic with more shrugging of the shoulders. A wide range of newspaper columnists either ignored the embarrassing truths or penned apologias, like professor and commentator Guri Hjeltnes, who wrote about the royal revelations in DN that “no, Norwegian history doesn’t need to be rewritten, but it is duly nuanced and enriched.” She simply called news of what many called Crown Prince Olav’s “naiveté” as “a valuable addition to our understanding the country’s history.”

Photos of statesman, polar hero, author and humanitarian Nansen in the buff sparked more headlines, but they soon blew over as well. And as usual, Norwegians just carried on.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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