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He worked, he died

A friend of mine recently died from cancer. Although I did not have too much to do with him on a regular basis outside being my client at work, him being my doctor when I was sick, him becoming a neighbour when I bought the house, and meeting him a few times at the local choir, he was the kind of person that you can't help call a friend. If you spoke to him for no more than a minute, you'd consider him a life long friend.

His children made some wonderful speeches about how wonderful their father was.

Then came a co-worker. And the theme of co-workers were work. And I balked inside. Because they were not talking about his passion, but about work. "He was a good worker. He loved to work. He did a lot of overtime. He cared about work."

Those words. "Work." So much more could have been said. This man was a physician. He had a passion for people and helping them stay well and treating them when they were sick. He made personal contact with his patients, he truly cared, and that was his drive, his passion.

And somehow, this was boiled down to "he was a good worker who happily accepted a lot of overtime when necessary."

There was a whole bunch of them present. I see them as the "work mafia." Because what seems important to them is the idea that you work hard, not the content of your work, not your passion for your work. Which makes me think that I need a will that bans the words "work", "job" and "labour" in my funeral.

While I have a passion for the things I do for a living, I do those things because I have a passion for it. Not because it is a job. I take pride in the results of my work. It is my personal achievement. And I think this is how people deserve to be remembered - their passions. Their drive. The things that truly defined them.

That's what his children did. And that's why their speeches were so memorable.


Graded universities

It has been found that new, small universities in Norway are easier on the grades than the old heavyweight traditional four universities. It may be argued that small universities have a better teacher/student ration than the larger ones, the most plausible reason seems to be tradition.

These new universities are simply colleges that have matured into university status, and there seems to be a tradition that colleges are easier on the grades than universities. Students now have an adverse reaction to the implication of getting an "easy grade". They now fear that their degree will be worth less in the job market, because the employer may think they are not as good as someone from an older university.

"Which is unfair," says one student, "because I have worked hard for my grade." A statement that actually indicates that the grade was not easy to get after all.

How can this be?

There is a story about how someone wrote an essay and almost failed. He complained, another teacher read the essay and gave the guy an A. If a grade is supposed to reflect your skill, how can it be so subjective?

It all comes down to the definition of the grading system. The grade itself does not by itself give you an objective measure of how well you know the subject. It is a measure of how well you live up to your teacher's expectations. Expectations may vary greatly, and some may even have different expectations from different students in the same class, thus treating them differently.

In addition, students who actively discuss the subject in class tend to be favoured, as they show an interest in the subject, even if this may very well be an issue of introverts vs extroverts.

A better way?

The source material to setting the grade, however, is an indisputable measure. Subjects are divided into several lessons. Each lesson you either don't know, you're learning, or you master. The number of lessons you master is your skill level.

Someone at "Math level 1" knows how to count integers and nothing else. It doesn't matter if it is first grade or 10th grade, it is still level 1. In the grading system, that's an A for the first grader and an F for the 10th-grader. So an A or and F is not directly usable information.

To understand what an A and an F means, you have to find out what the expected skill level for that class was. And to make matter worse, these expectations may vary from year to year.

"Math level 1" still means the same thing, and can be used directly. So you're math level 3 and know how to add and subtract? Sorry, I need an employee with at least math level 5, because the job includes both multiplication and division.


Rating by levels rather than expectations makes learning into a game and is, in fact, quite similar to eduction gamification through Personal Kanban. I also believe that the psychology will be different, in that each level increase signifies a personal achievement that can start a positive spiral for new level increases.

Rating by expectations, however, means that if you're not able to keep up at some point, your grades will go down and thereby initiate a downward spiral instead.

In addition, gamification through skill level measurement, encourages "masterers" to assist those who are falling behind. Expectation rating, however, is a fear based system that encourages students to hide the fact that there are things they don't understand.


Information security: Students banned for being HIV positive.

In Arkansas, students have been banned from attending school for failing to declare their "HIV status". A statement from the school acknowledge that this is the case, and that they have educational purposes for knowing whether or not the students have HIV or not.

From an information security point of view, this is fail. Even though they have not named the students, they have still breached personal information: Within the school, it is visible who has been kicked out. By acknowledging that this has to do with HIV, the connection will be made. The appropriate response still is as simple as "I can not comment on individual students." "So is fear of HIV the reason for kicking them out?" "I can not comment on individual students." "Is it true that they have to give a test?" "I can not comment on individual students."

The correct response from media would then be to ask for the things that are supposed to be public. In this case, the assertion is that students that are suspected of having HIV are suspended or kicked out of school for not making a medical test to document their status. If this is the case, there must be a policy about this in the school. Hence, the question is "what is the school's policy on students with or suspected of having HIV?"

Simply because those things should be unrelated to the public unless the victims themselves takes the issue to the media. It might sound unfair, but even then, it is all at the victim's discretion what gets published. Because the institution can not comment on specific people, only recite policy to the media. Even if the victim lies to the media about an issue, the institution can only recite policy.

This is how a dialogue between journalist and institution would go, if the institution cared about information security:

"The victim says you did A, is this true."
"I can not comment on specific incidences concerning individuals."
"Is it normals for the institution to do A?"
"A is the procedural response to B"
"And has the victim done B?"
"I can not comment on specific incidences concerning individuals."
"But the victim has already said you did A."
"Again, I can not comment on specific incidences concerning individuals."
"The victim also said you did C."
"I can not comment on specific incidences concerning individuals."
"But C would cause B. Why would you do C?"
"It is not in our policy to do C. To my knowledge, we have never done C to anyone."
"Are you saying that the victim is lying?"
"I can not comment on specific incidences concerning individuals."

In the specific case in Arkansas, the combination of B and C lead to A. The victim spoke only of how B lead to A, which seems ridiculous. In a press release, the institution also mentions that there is a factor C, which has previously been unknown to the public. What is known is that A is suspension from shool, that B is a missing HIV test, the public is now free to speculate on what can be combined with HIV to cause suspension. And speculations are really nasty animals.


Letting democracy win

What if we could make democratic elections ... well ... democratic and meaningful?

Every four year, Norwegian citizens elect a new Norwegian government, although we statistically end up electing the same more often than we elect a new one. Every time, there are massive election campaigns, similar to the campaigns we see in other democracies around the world, with parties touring the country and bashing other parties, debating each other and occasionally trying to bribe voters. So are elections truly a representation of the people, or is the government hijacked by PR agencies?

Political engagement

In an actual democracy, people should at least be aware of what they think about an issue for the entirety of the four years the government sits. If a new political issue comes up now, right after the election, you have an entire four years to get your facts straight. Use that chance, or your vote will be hijacked by people who will not give you time to even think if their argument hold or not.

In addition to having a well thought out opinion, you also have the possibility and right to influence politicians directly by writing them. If you found a documentable flaw in an argument, make sure it gets documented and well known.

Campaign rules

It gets ugly. My first idea was to start up an NGO that keeps track of party karma. Every time a party presents something negative about another party, karma goes down. If they advertise their own programme, karma goes up. If they lie, karma goes down.

Better yet, this should go into legislation. To protect democracy, parties should not be allowed to slander each other. Three strikes and you're out of politics. Three out of the party, and the party is out of the election. Campaign about your own platform, not about how ridiculous you think other people's platforms are.

Fact check

One of the parties in the winning coalition of last week's election in Norway defended their platform with arguments that didn't hold up to fact checks or even logic check. Somehow, they were exempted from media scrutiny. I want to bring forth an abstraction of at least two issues known to me:

1) Moving the threshold the wrong way
A group of people A get divided into group B and group C. As it turns out, a very unpopular group D is made up ONLY of people from group B and E. Group C, on the other hand, are just fine. So to reduce the number of people in group D, they want to move the division threshold, so that more people from group A go into group B and fewer into group C, thus increasing the number of people who will end up in group D.

2) Restricting the wrong group
Two groups of people are under different legislation. There are great restrictions on who can apply to be part of group A, and you have no rights to benefit C. Due to international agreements, it is very easy to get into group B, where you do get and abuse benefit C. In order to reduce the abuse of benefit C, they wish to put heavier restrictions on people who want to join group A. To be able to hide that this is a flawed argument, they lied about group A's rights to benefit C. A fact check would have revealed this.

Even in a political climate where parties DO criticize each other, there was never a protest against this flawed logic. Even the state run "politically neutral" national TV station NRK did not confront or reveal the party about their lie in example 2.

New rule about politics: Three lies and you're out!


...and every year, we hear some parties saying that they "lost" and will look into what they did wrong in this campaign, while other parties cheer and celebrate that they won over the other parties. However, parties are not supposed to win a democratic election. The people are. And the people win the election only if the parliament accurately represents the diverse opinions of the people.

I am looking forward to the day when all elected representatives celebrate that "yes, we have put together a good representation of the population, and are happy to work with each other."


After the election is over and coalitions are formed, parties negotiate about core issues and ministers. Since ministers carry the power to implement politics, the resulting politics will come from these negotiations. This means that if everyone who elected party A did so because of issue B, are at risk of getting party C take that post, and party A gets post D instead, even though that's the one topic where the voters disagreed with party A.

Therefore, it would be more appropriate if we could elect which party each minister should come from. During the election, I could elect one party for minister of environmental protection, and another party for minister of education, because that would more accurately represent what I think in a holistic manner.


So here's the action plan:

  • Make use of all four years to find out what you mean in every political issue. Do it systematically.
  • Write to politicians about your findings. Get heard.
  • Document and publicize lies and flaws of logic.
  • Fact check the arguments.
  • During elections, parties should advertise their programmes, not what they think of other parties' programmes.
  • Campaign rule: Trash opposing party three times, and you're out of politics. A party losing three candidates this way, and the party is out of the election.
  • At any time: Three lies and you're out of politics.
  • Celebrate everyone who got elected, not just your own coalition. You are all there to represent the people.
  • Allow people vote on which party should take which ministry post for "holistic voting"
Think tank

So who wants to fund my politically independent political think tank?


Links for week 2013.37

Quantifying cities' emotional effect - scientific backing, that order attracts orderly behaviour and disorder attracts disorderly behaviour.

Vindskip - turning the ship into a sail - This area of Norway is already known for fuel saving and stabilizing inverted bows. Now, another engineer in the very same area has decided that you don't need lift as much as you need to turn the ship into a huge sail. Expected fuel savings: 60%

On Think Tanks - because I'm considering to implement one.

Baeckeoffe - because Alsatian cooking with history is worthy some attention.


Bullying: LoA-approach

A woman posted on an LoA group I'm a member of, asking for advice in the following scenario:

Her niece is overweight and gets bullied at school. She came across some advice that might help her reduce weight and approached her brother about it. The result was a shut down of communication.

The scenario is really four events. To keep things clear, I will treat the four events as separate, even though they obviously intertwine.

Getting bullied for being overweight

No. You do not get bullied for being overweight. The weight is a hook that the bully invented. If there was not the weight, there would be the glasses or your shoes or your nose or your hair or anything that the bully can think of.

The purpose of the hook is that you swallow it. The bully finds the one spot that you feel is wrong about yourself. As soon as you take the bait, he just has to pull you in. Hence, if you accept yourself the way you are, the bully can say anything, and it won't hurt you. Because you know the bully is just full of it. It's like the bully saying "ha ha, you think 2+2=4, stupid you!" Well, 2+2 is 4, thank you very much.

Someone who feels good about and are confident in themselves can not be bullied. Bullies even avoids confident people, because confident people remind the bully that they themselves are not confident. So if you want to help a victim, the best thing you can do for them is to accept them the way they are and nurture everything that the victim feels good about AND make their "weakness" also something that they feel good about.

Advice to help reduce weight

Is being overweight bad for your health? There's science going both ways on this one. LoA pretty much boils this down to: You are what you think you are. So if you believe obesity is bad for you, then it is bad for you. Also, if you believe that you deserve bad health for whatever reason, then that is what you are going attract for yourself.

If you accept who you are, as you are, unconditionally love yourself and the life you're in, for good and for bad, you will automatically also do the things that brings you good health. So the way to recovery is not some hints in a magazine, it begins with your own attitude to yourself. And the only person who can change your attitude to yourself is yourself.

Unsolicited advice

No matter how well intended it is to give advice to others about parenting, anything unsolicited is always taken badly. Always. It's not your life, it's not your children. And the advice is usually unrelated to LoA in the first place.

I understand that you feel they are doing something wrong. If things are going wrong, it is because they feel wrong. Unsolicited advice therefore only reinforces this feeling of being wrong. It creates distance, not closeness. It generates bad feelings, not good ones. And the only thing that can help anyone is good feelings.

The appropriate approach is therefore to accept and love these people, even with what you perceive as their flaws. Go ahead and love them for who they are and use any chance to make them feel good. When they feel good, they will also change their behaviour to good, and your mission has been accomplished.

Shut down of communication

Of course, the unsolicited advice lead to complete severing of communication, which in turn made you feel bad about everything. Here's what LoA and prophylactic psychology says about conflicts:

1) Do your part. That is, apologize. If they won't take your call, send flowers with a note. Do it any way you like, just communicate that you're sorry.

2) Accept that you have done your part. The ball is now in their court. Until they come back to you, leave it at that.

3) If they decide not to accept your apology, then this has nothing to do with you. It has to do with their feelings, their perception of the world, the things that they attract to their lives. It is their lives, and they can decide to hold the grudge and let it rot them from inside, or they can forgive and receive the love you're prepared to give them. It is their choice, and there is nothing you can do or should do to affect it.

4) If they decide to hold the grudge, you don't need them in your life anyway. Though I understand they are family, you can still light a candle for them every now and then, and send love and appreciation their way, as long as you are able to hold on to the good feelings about them and ignore any bad feelings. It is easier to do when you accept that their grudge is a mental illness and not part of them.


Mental health at work

My department is especially vulnerable for psychic health: We are few, so if anyone is out, we have a real capacity problem. Despite this, we also have to accept that other people are frustrated over our capacity problem, and take it out on us. To survive, we have special focus on mental health and, to make it more tangible, we run a Burn Out Self-Test every month. This makes it easy to report mental health trends to top management, and also gives us a hint about when it is necessary to take some kind of action.

The first piece of action is to sit down and be open about what it is that bothers us. All stress issues can be related back to obstacles for the three motivating factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We then discuss what we can do to get rid of the obstacles and restore the motivation. If we do things right, it should be visible in the next test.

Mental health is something we have learned to speak openly about within the department. This openness fosters a culture of compassion and camaraderie. Our verbal suggestion box is not only about a ping pong table, but more so about compassion for the frustrated client swearing at us from the other end of the phone line. And if one person needs to vent, we give them that space. Someone else will deal with the difficult client.

Mastery, then, is no longer just about the tasks of the department. It is also about mastering one's own mind.


Educational quality

We're in the last few days of campaigning for the Norwegian federal elections this monday. One of the hot topics is the quality of primary education. Somehow, we are falling behind our Nordic neighbours, and politicians have differing views on why this is the case.

The popular way of dealing with the issue is to blame the quality of the teachers, and the proposed remedy is to educate teachers more. This, in turn, angers teachers, who feel politicians are really saying that teachers are not qualified to do their job.

If this was the case, low grades should be randomly distributed among the "bad teachers". A bad national average, on the other hand, reminds me more of a systemic failiure. And I see good reasons why this is a plausibe suspect.

At a minimum of every four years, and sometimes more frequently, there is a new ministrer of education who wants to "do something". This has lead to many reforms without allocating resources to follow through with them. Part of the reforms adds an extra burden of documentation - which takes precious time away from the real work teachers are supposed to do. The burden of documentation can also be considered a lack of trust from the overhead administration, and politicians in particular, the ones who ordered the documentation to be created in the first place.

Good work is achieved by accessing the worker's drive. Research has boiled this down to three items: Purpose, mastery and autonomy. Political reforms that attacks on teachers' autonomy, feeling of mastery and pupose are therefore also an attack on their drive, which in turn is a direct sabotage of their work.

This said, it would also be interesting to look at the student's drive. I am sure students, too, would learn better if they were allowed to find their own purpose, mastery and autonomy of their own learning situation as a drive for their own learning.


Tools: Sex, music and violence

Swedish débutante author Erica Löfström's first book "Sex, music and violence" is surprisingly in Norwegian. The book's main character Beatrice uses sex, music and violence as a survival kit handle life.

"People have said that my book gives insight of a mentally ill person's reality, but I never thought of this as being a mentally ill person. The book only describes how a person uses tools to handle life and their complex background."

I applaud this outspoken view and look forward to getting a copy of the book. I'm looking forward to reading this book - but will it be just as good as The howling miller?


Book review: The red-green island of terror

I was given a book titled "Den Rød-Grønne Terrorøya" - The Red-Green Island of Terror - in order to "read, and please keep an open mind, don't just throw it away. And tell me what you think afterwards." I promised to do just that.

The title refers to Utøya, known for the mass murders of July 22nd 2011. The introduction lies a foundation of no tolerance to terror, no matter who performs it. The content, however, revolves solely around the political and economic support of the west wing youth organizations at Utøya for a Palestinian left wing organization that has been labelled as a terrorist organization.

The book attempts to make a case of Norwegian governmental support of foreign terrorism, paints the current red-green government as anti-Semitic muslim nazis, and concludes that this was the real cause of the July 22nd massacre: As left wing extremists, they were now a viable target for right wing extremists.

While some of the facts might raise an eyebrow or two, the book falls under the "fjord"-category with me. By fjord, I mean you make such a deep dive into a specific side of a conflict that, not only is your sight limited to that one conflict - and deeper yet, just one side of the conflict - but everything you see is taken as evidence of this one-sided paranoia. It is also a reference to Fjordman, a Norwegian extreme right wing blogger, whom I see as an example of someone with the "deep into conflict filter" turned on.

A deep, limited view of a conflict is in direct contrast to the overview of the flying spaceman, who couldn't care less about the bickering, if only people could help each other out instead . Again, the introduction makes an argument that terror should not be applied by anyone for any reason, yet the actual chapters of the book is blaming only one side for terror, ignoring the terror imposed by the "other side" of the conflict.

However, extreme left and extreme right can exist only by applying such filters. As my intention today was only to review the book for what it is, I won't bother getting into the details of the conflict and its complexities. I've already done that before. The book still looses some credibility on statements that are not backed up by references, or worse yet, are completely misleading.

For instance, it claims that it was the red-green government that got rid of Christianity as a subject in primary school, when this, in fact, is merely a directive passed down by the EU. This claim is put together with muslims being invited to Utøya, making it look as if the Labour Party is trying to replace Christianity with Islam.

I could list numerous points of distorted reality in the book. I will leave that to later. And there is even some good things to take away from the book - the lessons we could learn from it. How we can do things better. The book itself won't do it, it's a finger-pointing book about the Problem with No Solutions, yet it does point out a few things worth of investigation:

For example, in terms of role play, what could we potentially learn playing both sides in an honest manner, instead of just making a political drama? When political youth organizations get involved in international politics, how can we encourage to see things with a better overview instead of diving into the depths of one side of a conflict? How can we encourage our children to cherish all humans instead of helping others paint an alien out of the "perceived enemy"?

Because in the end, concentrating on the problem will only make the problem bigger. Concentrating on the solution will only make the solution greater. And the solution, of course, lies largely with the children that will inherit the future.


Treating ADHD with food and discipline

In the news: Food and discipline against ADHD

In the USA, almost 10% of children under 18 are medicated for ADHD.
In Norway, about 4%.
In France, 0.5%.

What's the secret?

According to family therapeut Marylin Wedge, "French doctors try to find the psychosocial sources for behavioural problems. Doctors are more interested in what the children eat and see correlations between food and behaviour."

You are what you eat.


Bullying at work

"It is almost impossible to prove bullying at work," says LO-attorney Karl Inge Rotmo. While the employer has the burden of evidence that the physical work environment is in order and that there has been no discrimination, the victim must carry the burden of evidence in occurrences of non-physical bullying.

In my 10.2.2009 article in Vestlandsnytt "I was bullied", I pointed out that the victim does not necessarily know that it is being bullied. This is especially true for the work place. Alteration of the work environment to make someone uncomfortable is a way of making someone quit. It is, unfortunately, a common way simply because it is so hard to prove. Especially when the bullying is in the form of making the victim feel incompetent and worthless.

Bullying at the work place has many possible purposes: The bully's mental health, therein exaggerating other people's shortcomings in order to divert from one's own shortcomings. Squeezing someone out because of their success, which takes attention away from their boss. Squeezing someone out to make a vacancy for a friend or relative. At the end of the day, the bullying has a purpose, and it is therefore typically performed in a covert operation with subtle hard-to-prove alterations of the work environment.

Further, mental health is not seen as something very tangible. It does, however, have tangible ripples in terms of reduced productivity. If the mental health of someone who ends up quitting their job was the problem, then that one person quitting would be the end of the story. If you have a high turn over rate of employees, the problem is probably not the employee.

If you want to fight bullying at the work place, you have to look at root causes and prevent these causes from tainting the business. We know now that employees are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Bullying actually attacks at least one of these three (usually autonomy) and are therefore counter productive. The cure must therefore be to create a work environment that fosters these motivational factors. Not only is it productive, it also reduces the bully's need to bully.