Living In A Time-Free Zone

It’s June 21, which means it’s officially summer.  (Those of us in the rainy, cool Midwest may be forgiven for not recognizing that.)  June 21 also means the summer solstice has arrived and therefore, in the northern hemisphere, it’s the longest day and shortest night of the year.

190617165942-watches-on-bridge2-photographer-jran-mikkelsen-jpgSome of the northernmost cities of the globe have already been enjoying days where the sun never sets.  In Sommaroy, a Norwegian island that is north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for more than two months — from May 18 to July 26.  And during that period of constant daylight, the islanders don’t exactly follow conventional concepts of time.  In the early a.m. hours, when most of us are abed, Sommaroy residents are likely to be out doing activities that we associate with late morning or afternoon.  In part, that’s to compensate for the fact that, from November to January, Sommaroy doesn’t get any sunlight at all — but the practices of the islanders during this time period also recognize that standard concepts of time, set by a daily sunrise and sunset, really don’t apply when you have 24 hours of constant daylight.

Now Sommaroy residents want the Norwegian government to recognize their practices officially, and declare Sommaroy a “time-free zone” during the constant daylight period, which would allow businesses and schools to have flexibility in their hours of operation.  Visitors to Sommaroy during this period are encouraged to acknowledge the “time-free” concept by leaving their watches on the bridge that connects the island to the mainland.

Many of us live lives that are governed, to a certain extent, by the clock.  We get up, eat, work, watch TV, and go to bed on a schedule that is derived, in large part, from the rhythms established by the sun.  What would it be like to live in a place where there was constant sun — or for that matter, no sun — and therefore no standard concept of time?  Would you still follow a schedule, or would you simply sleep when you wanted, eat when you wanted, and work when you felt you had to, without regard to the tyrannical clock?

Most of us don’t have to think about that, because we don’t live in places where there is constant sunlight, or constant darkness, for any part of the year.  But if humans venture into space, and take years-long interstellar voyages or live underground on inhospitable planets and moons where sunrise and sunset are not daily occurrences, our prevailing notions of time will be put to the test.  In a way, our time-free friends on Sommaroy may be giving us a peek into what human lives might be like in the future.

Advertisements

Banking On The Doomsday Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a pretty apocalyptic concept in a pretty apocalyptic place:  a lonely repository of almost a million stored seeds of different plant life from around the world, preserved in a building embedded into the Arctic frost on a remote island at the northern tip of the globe.

The Vault itself looks apocalyptic.  It’s a sharp-edged, vertical rectangle jammed 500 feet into the mountainside on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, like the end of a knife handle plunged into a frozen side of beef.  It looks exactly like a set from a big-budget Hollywood end-of-the-world disaster movie, in which a rugged and diverse band of far-sighted, parka-wearing scientists must go to the ends of the Earth in a race against time to save the world while evildoers or religious fanatics try to thwart them.

Located just 800 miles from the North Pole, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is designed to preserve global botanical diversity against the threat of absolute catastrophe — be it nuclear holocaust, meteor strikes, crippling volcanic eruptions, or mass disease that wipes out the world’s plant life.  The Vault commenced operations in 2008, and it contains more than 850,000 seed samples, from nations all over the world, that could be used to restart plant life after the post-disaster dust has settled.

And now the first withdrawal from the Seed Vault is going to be made — thanks to the Syrian civil war.  The Seed Vault contains samples of hardy strains of wheat, barley and grasses that can grow in desert areas, and those seeds have been requested to replace seeds in another seed bank, in Syria, that has been damaged by the fighting.  There are a number of seed banks located around the world, but the Svalbard facility — thanks to its remote location and frozen climate — is considered the ultimate backstop.

It’s sad to think that, only a few years after the doomsday vault was opened to store seeds for eternity, a mini-apocalypse has required it to be used.  And you also wonder: at what point do the Seed Vault’s operators stop allowing seeds to be removed?  Crippling and destructive civil wars in places like Syria are terrible and devastating, but they are also — unfortunately — commonplace in our war-torn world.  If your purpose is to safeguard the global ecology and preserve a glimmer of hope for the world in the event of the unthinkable, a miserly withdrawal policy would seem to be in order.

Crime . . . And “Punishment”

Anders Breivik killed 77 people, many of them kids, in carefully planned attacks on government buildings and a youth camp in Norway.  Today he was determined to be sane, was found guilty of the mass murder — deemed “terrorist acts” under Norwegian law — and received the maximum sentence of 21 years in prison.

A man who kills 77 people is found to be legally sane?  Sentenced to a mere 21 years in prison, as the maximum available penalty for the cold-blooded killing of dozens of people?  And, according to the news article linked above, the “guilty verdict comes as welcome relief to victims and their families, who have been looking for closure 13 months after the tragic event”?

It is unimaginable that a disturbed mass murderer like Breivik, who is only 33 years old, could be walking the streets, a free man, in only two decades.  What better indication could there be of the differences between the United States and Norway — their people, their criminal justice systems, and their concepts of just punishment — than this absurdly lenient sentence?

Many Americans applaud the European social model and decry the harshness of punishments meted out by American courts.  Does anyone, however, seriously defend this grossly inadequate penalty and the notion that 21 years in prison is sufficient punishment for an unrepentant fanatic who gunned down 77 innocent people and now plans to write books about his attacks and his crazed political views?

We All Scream For “The Scream”

Not many pieces of artwork become iconic.  Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa obviously is one; Michelangelo’s David is another.  I would put Edvard Munch’s The Scream in that category.

Munch painted four versions of The Scream in 1895.  Three are in museums in Norway, Munch’s native land.  The fourth is being auctioned tonight.  It is expected to be sold for at least $80 million, and if it fetches more than $106.5 million — the current record — before the auction is gavelled to a close, The Scream would become the most expensive painting ever sold.

It’s not hard to see why The Scream has become an instantly recognizable image in modern culture.  The mindless horror evoked by the image of a screaming man on a bridge under a lurid sky can be used to capture our reaction to things as diverse as the futility of daily life, senseless crimes, and the Holocaust.  I’m sure that more than one Norwegian dealing with the mass murder committed by home-grown madman Anders Breivik thought of The Scream when they read about Breivik’s unpardonable crimes.

It would be fitting if a painting that is so accessible, and so aptly related to modern life in so many respects, became the most expensive painting ever sold.

Madmen In Every Corner Of The Globe

Anders Behring Breivik, the man who killed 77 people in Norway last summer, is on trial in Oslo.  Although he has admitted to the killings, he has pleaded not guilty to charges of mass murder and terror.

Today Breivik got a chance to explain his actions and his twisted motivation.  He bragged that he had carried out “the most spectacular and sophisticated attack on Europe since World War II.”  He said his ruthless killing of unarmed people at a youth camp was an act of goodness, not evil, and explained that he acted to defend Norway against immigration and multi-culturalism.  He thinks liberal ideas are ruining Norway — and apparently he thinks the appropriate response is to murder people in cold blood.

In short, Breivik is an evil lunatic.  His existence in a beautiful, peaceful country like Norway just means that you can find madmen everywhere.  I suppose it should be comforting, in a sense, that America doesn’t have a corner on crazed mass murderers — but it isn’t.  How many disturbed, dangerous people like Breivik are out there?