Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't mess with Vikings

One of life's persistent questions that has occupied much of my "Instinct of Idle Curiosity" is: How did Vikings become Scandinavians?  Yes this question is all about me but I find it especially relevant because I am one of the peaceable Vikings—not the variety that terrorized Europe for about 400 years.

The simple answer is Christianity—especially the Lutheran variety.  Of course, Christianity is arguably the most bloodthirsty ideology in history so a lot of other things had to happen to turn Eric Bloodaxe into the denizens of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon.  This is a remarkable example of the power of culture considering both Vikings and Wobegonians are genetically nearly identical.

But while the culture of, say, North Dakota does not especially match those Viking characteristics of the Norwegians who settled there, it's not like those characteristics disappeared.  I discovered the phenomenon of "latent Vikingness" when I first went sailing.  Being on big water was not a part of my childhood—what with growing up in the center of a continent and all.  But standing on the foredeck of a 39' sloop plowing through some nasty swells on Lake Superior triggered the first of many moments in life when I felt what I can only describe as a "Viking rush."

Sailing I got on an almost molecular level!  Sailing in storms gave me my first sensation of fearlessness—good boats are DESIGNED to weather storms—its up to YOU to get them back to port.  Fearlessness was new to me.  My parents were expert worriers—a childhood during the Depression in the Midwest will do that to you.  I was taught to fear.  But for the first time in my life, I literally felt no fear.  Needless to say, I fell in love with sailing (which is not especially convenient for someone so perfectly landlocked.)  And suddenly I understood why Vikings went to sea in open boats for essentially trivial reasons—they did not fear the sea and so sailing across it became one of those good reasons to live.

Which partly explains why tiny little Iceland seems to be the only country that has decided to go after the criminal banksters.  They're Vikings, after all, and understand the sensation of fearlessness.  Well, lead on oh descendants of Eric the Red!  Show the rest of us what paper tigers the banksters are.

Iceland Has Hired An Ex-Cop To Hunt Down The Bankers That Wrecked Its Economy

Rob Wile | Jul. 12, 2012

Adam Taylor / Business Insider

If you were involved in Icelandic high finance in the runup to the recession, you might want to start watching your back.

That's because the government has appointed a white collar crime bounty hunter who wants to haul your behind in (alive, to be sure).

LeMonde reporter Charlotte Chabas has a profile of Ólafur Þór Hauksson, a former local police lieutenant whom the Iceland government appointed to track down individuals likely to have helped sink the country's banking sector during the credit crunch.

Hauksson's job description, according to PressEurop's translation of the piece:
"On one hand, we have to investigate all suspicion of fraud and offences committed before 2009, on the other hand, we bring the lawsuits against the suspects to court ourselves," Hauksson explains. This is a 'totally new' method which allows the investigators to "follow the case" and the judicial system to "know the cases like the back of their hand". This is indispensable in order "to compete with the well-prepared defence attorneys".
Hauksson oversees a posse of 100 researchers to help track down outlaws. He's netted some major convictions since starting in 2009, including the former chief of staff of the country's finance minister on insider trading charges. Many others await their day in court, Chabas writes.

And he will track you down even if you've fled abroad.
"Searches continue and the team pursues its investigations abroad in the foreign subsidiaries of the Icelandic banks and includes questioning foreigners," Chabas writes. " 'We enjoy full international cooperation,' stresses Olafur Hauksson." more
And here's a character that Keillor would like—an otherwise perfectly dull politician who remembered to show leadership and courage when it counted.  He's the guy who put the bankster bailout to a referendum.

Iceland's president wins record fifth straight term

Incumbent Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, a 69-year-old socialist who is popular for having defended taxpayers during the country’s 2008 financial crash, has won a record fifth straight term in office, early results showed Sunday.

By News Wires (text)

AFP - Thora Arnorsdottir, a 37-year-old respected journalist with no political background who just had a baby, acknowledged defeat in Iceland's presidential election on Saturday.

Incumbent Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, a 69-year-old socialist who has held the largely ceremonial post since 1996, won a record fifth straight term in office.

With 48 percent of votes counted, Grimsson was seen garnering 52 percent, while Arnorsdottir, who interrupted her campaign for a week in May to give birth to her third child, was credited with 33 percent.

"This has been a valuable experience. Now I will take a holiday, attend to my new daughter and the other children and go on maternity leave and think how I can put this experience to use," Arnorsdottir told public broadcaster RUV.

"To get more than one-third (of votes), I'm overwhelmed. I of course hoped to win," she said, adding she had no plans to run again in four years: "This is something you only do once in a lifetime."

The fact that she had a newborn as she sought the presidency had raised some eyebrows, even in Iceland.

A pioneer in women's rights, the country is home to the world's first democratically elected woman head of state, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, and current Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, who is an openly gay woman.

"Women can't be blocked from doing things just because they have a baby," Arnorsdottir said in a pre-election interview.

In her campaign, she had called for a change after Grimsson's 16 years in power.

She had vowed, if elected, to return the presidency to its ceremonial role after Grimsson's unusually political, and at times controversial, approach.

A striking blonde with piercing blue eyes, Arnorsdottir was seen as a fresh face at a time when many Icelanders clamoured for a new breed of politicians to clean out the ranks following the country's devastating economic crash in 2008.

She decided to run after reading an official report on the crash and found that, especially when it came to "ethics and our political system... nothing had really changed."

Grimsson, a former finance minister, had meanwhile argued that his political savvy was needed as Iceland, which is recovering rapidly and has already returned to growth, prepares to tackle thorny EU membership talks and an October referendum on a new constitution.

"Iceland is now at a crossroads. Behind us are difficult years. Ahead are decisions on the constitution and our relationship with other countries in Europe," the silver-haired president wrote in an article published in daily Morgunbladid on voting day.

"There is still turbulence in the continent's economy and in many areas... The president ... shall assist the country in tackling the biggest issues; they will determine the fate of Icelanders for decades," he wrote.

Grimsson, like a majority of Icelanders, is opposed to EU membership for fear the North Atlantic nation will lose its sovereignty. more

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