Wenche Behring Breivik: The secret interviews and forthcoming books

Well, what did you know: While journalists all over the world unsuccessfully were chasing interviews with the mother of Norwegian soloterrorist Anders Behring Breivik, she was giving almost daily interviews to NRK's former Russia correspondent Marit Christensen.

That much was made clear in VG's interview with Christensen months ago (behind paywall). But it soon became clear that there had been a fallout between the two, and people close to the late Wenche Behring Breivik were threatening to take legal action to stop the book.

Yet today the book is here, due to be launched at a press conference at publisher Aschehoug's later today. And it turns out Wenche Behring Breivik gave another interview on her deathbed, this one to former war correspondent Åsne Seierstad, who is due to publish her book on the twin terrorattacks in a few weeks (additional reporting here)

Will we get to understand more about her son and what shaped him from all of this?

According to Anders Givæver, Christensen's book is really just as much, if not more, about Christensen and how she experienced meeting, interviewing, getting to know and falling out with Wenche Behring Breivik.

Should be interesting, must read both books. First reviews of Christensen's book:

VG: "A dirty broadside". Dagbladet: "This is not the best book that could have been written with Wenche Behring Breivik as a source. But it is the only one we have." NRK: "This is not the mother's fault"

Update 02.11.2013: Having read Christensen's book I found it painful, important - and rushed. The book could have done with more work and more thorugh editing, and yet it's a moving portrayal of a very painful, tragic life and a mother who has been shamed on many accounts in media stories while never before telling her side of the story.

I find that I agree to a large extent with Kjell Lars Berge's review for NRK though I'm not sure about his final conclusion: The mother's story is an important part of the jigsaw puzzle of understanding Norway's worst mass murderer, but it didn't really give me a clear answer as to who can or cannot be blamed for her son turning out the way he did. If anything, it just made me reflect more on how complex life can be, how many factors contribute to turning us into whatever we become...


A ghostly weekend and the future of streaming

I was ill this last weekend and spent it in the company of ghosts. Fictional ones, that is.

As it happened, I’d been fighting flu for quite some time.  But I had just finished some big, important assignments, could finally allow myself to be ill and it was raining cats and dogs:

So what better time to test an online streaming service for audio books?

Ordflyt, owned by Norwegian publishing house Cappelen Damm, bills itself as a kind of Spotify for audio books (or rather, Wimp for audio books, as the service is developed by Aspiro, the company that also has developed Norwegian Spotify-competitor Wimp).

In either case, it was the perfect companion on a grey and rainy day, and even though the selection of audio books available through the service still is limited, and the free section mostly is limited to old classics, I greatly enjoyed being reacquainted with Oscar Wilde’s old classic “The Canterville ghost”.

On the whole I liked Ordflyt (though still in beta) because of its App Store-like ease of use:

Digital marketplaces such as Apple’s App Store and Amazon’s Kindle has spoiled many of us to such a degree that we’ve come to expect that ease of use from any new service.

But more interesting than the streaming service in itself:

Of course, for book lovers such as me, it’s great to have a Spotify for audio books too, but when I tweeted about my review of Ordflyt, @portart (aka Marius Röstad) had an interesting suggestion:

Why not combine streaming of music and streaming of books in the same service?

Certainly, if it wasn’t for the business-related challenges, combining Ordflyt and Wimp, would give Wimp a huge competitive advantage over Spotify? (Wimp is currently available in Sweden, Denmark and Portugal in addition to Norway).

Both Android and iPhone-apps with the ability to seamlessly transfer tracks between say PC and iPhone are in the process of being developed for Ordflyt – and having both audio books and music available to stream, or play offline, via any of your computers  and/ or mobile devices seems like a very attractive proposition to me.

In fact, in the long term: why not combine the likes of Spotify, Audibook and Netflix into one big streaming service?

I am aware that streaming movies and streaming sound is two very different propositions and that movies take up a lot more bandwidth, but still: it’s an attractive proposition – your very own mobile entertainment centre that you can tap into wherever you go.    

As for ghosts, I also read Andrew Taylor’s “The Anatomy of Ghosts” this weekend, mainly because I greatly enjoyed his bestselling book “The American Boy”


I found some of the villains in “Anatomy of Ghosts” so annoying that I nearly put the book down at times, but it certainly did wonders for my flu to lose myself both in the paper-book and the audio book.

It’s rather amazing what a miracle cure just staying at home for a few days with some decent books (and Lemsip) can work on flu;-)

And while we’re on the subject of ghosts, this ghostly weekend of mine also reminded me of one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever worked on: namely when I did all the research, effectively working as a fixer, for a big magazine feature on how to have a ghostly holiday (or rather go ghost-hunting) in Britain.

This is about five years ago but I was rather proud of myself for putting together a great travel route which included a meeting with one of Britain’s top paranormal experts and a stay at what billed itself as the most haunted house in Britain - with a representative from the local paranormal society bringing over all sorts of equipment for identifying any ghostly presence.

I’m afraid I’m pretty much an out-and-out rationalist myself, but I found working on the story both fascinating and enjoyable - if bizarre. The most bizarre moment was probably when I called up an establishment in the West-Country, which told me:

“Unfortunately, all our eight ghosts are friendly ones, nothing scary like in this place on the other side of the mountain”

That place on the other side of the mountain was Skirrid Mountain Inn, by the way, not that I’ve ever been there or got to send “my journalist” there in the end.

But luckily, I did blog about my experience putting together that story. Reading through that blog post now I can recall the week in question vividly, which I doubt I’d be able to do without that blog post


On Lorites and Long Tails

Do you ever get the feeling that your caught up in a discussion you've been having too many times before?

That weird feeling when you find yourselves talking about (media) issues you thought were resolved many years back, or arguments you thought had been put to rest ages ago?

It's often an awkward position to be in when you feel you really should point out that we had this discussion in 2001, 2005, 2007 or ... (insert year) and arrived at those and those conclusions to the arguments someone is bringing forth now.

Sometimes of course, you're only to happy to steer the debate in a more interesting direction by doing so, though other times, when these issues are being discussed anew in full earnest and with much passion, it really does make you feel like a Lorite.

See, I just found a new term for this when I read Neil Stephenson's "Anathem" recently. It's a rather complex book - interesting, very Stephensonesque but not my favourite Stephenson book - which I reviewed briefly on Facebook, but I was taken by the role Lorites play:

Lorite: A member of an order founded by Saunt Lora, who believed that all ideas that the human mind was capable of coming up with had already come up with. Lorites are, therefore, historians of thought who assist other avout in their work by making them aware of others who have thought similar things in the past, and thereby preventing them from reeinventing the wheel.

That's a rather useful role to play, but, even though I've actually studied the history of ideas, I can't for the life of me remember which philosophical direction Lorites alludes to (though I did spot lots of Plato, Spinoza, Heidegger, Kant etc in the book). Come to think of it, it can often be very useful to keep in mind the history of science, of ideas, of printing etc when contemplating today's debates on media and technology - there are many universal, reocurring themes - but why I associated Lorites withe Long tails when I first started writing this post (probably a few months or so back) evades me right now...

A Conspiracy of Paper and the Spiderweb of Credit

"A system of credit is like a great spiderweb - you cannot see it until you are trapped within it, and you cannot see the spider until she dangles above you, poised to devour."

Now here's a description that fits like hand in glove for the many personal accounts I've heard on people who've found themselves trapped in the credit snare, and I wonder if the description doesn't feel familiar to all those (media) company owners currently struggling to restructure the mountain of debts they've accumulated in happier times. The memory of Mecom-boss David Montgomery telling a group of journalists, myself included, that the company didn't have enough debt back in April 2007 springs to mind, but I'm digressing.

The quote is from a book I was reading last week, called "A Conspiracy of Papers", and, even though it is set in eighteenth-centry London and deals with the origins of today's financial markets, I was struck by the parallels to today's financial realities. The book is historical crime of the kind I must admit I have penchant for, Neal Stephenson's triology "The Baroque Cycle" is another good example, and, amid all the action, the characters find time to discuss things like the soundness, or lack thereof, of shifting from coin to banknotes e.g in paragraphs such as this:

"But silver is silver. Coins are clipped because you can take them to Spain or India or China and exchange it for something that you desire. You cannot do that with a banknote, because there is nothing to support the promise outside its point of origin... these financial institutions are committed to divesting our money of value and replacing it with promises of value. For when they control the promise of value, they control all wealth itself."

MatOgBenk 036

Now, it gets rather philosophical, most things do if you look deep enough, but this currency-debate has not gone away: you still find those who advocate that currency should be based on real or objective values, like gold, today. More to the point, imagine how we've gone from debating a gold-based vs paperbased economy to one where a complicated web of derivatives and credit can bring down the global economy, as happened with sub-prime, collateral debt obligations (CDOs), credit default swaps and what have you not.

I'm reminded of this brilliant visualisation of the credit crisis, and I'm afraid I belong to those who think we're not out of the woods from that crisis yet, far from - especially not media companies who are struggling to deleverage, find a more viable business model and at the same time suffering the effects of the collapse in the advertisement market. Things are not looking great.

But back to the macroperspective: while reading the book I found myself wondering how much and how little has changed, and how, even if the financial market and its instruments have grown ever more complex, many of the arguments remain very similar. Just listen to this bit from Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria:

Finance has a history of messing up, from the Dutch tulip bubble in 1637 to now. The proximate causes of these busts have been varied, but follow a strikingly similar path. In calm times, political stability, economic growth and technological innovation all encourage an atmosphere of easy money and new forms of credit. Cheap credit causes greed, miscalculation and eventually ruin. President Martin Van Buren described the economic crisis of 1837 in Britain and America thusly: "Two nations, the most commercial in the world, enjoying but recently the highest degree of apparent prosperity and maintaining with each other the closest relations, are suddenly plunged into a state of embarrassment and distress. In both countries we have witnessed the same [expansion] of paper money and other facilities of credit; the same spirit of speculation...the same overwhelming catastrophe."

"Modernisation" Minister launches book on sharing culture

I just learned that an anthology on sharing culture, edited by Heidi Grande Röys, the Norwegian minister of Government and Administration Reform, is out today (via Sermo Consulting). It's called "Shared opinions - about the web's social side" (my adhoc translation, more about the book + excerpts for download in Pdh here in Norwegian)

I must admit my gut feeling is scepticism because, well, she's hardly at the forefront of the social media (r)evolution, but I see that many clever people, such as Eirik Solheim, Gisle Hannemyr and others, have contributed to the book, so I'll try to get hold of a copy as soon as I'm back from London. If it really is a sign the country's Government has caught on to what's happening it is very encouraging. I have seen various attempts at Government blogging which hasn't really impressed me, and I know some Norwegian politicians are getting pretty good at twittering, even blogging, so maybe... I'd like to be convinced....   

Heidi Grande Röys, Norway's minister of Government Administration and reform, photographed by me at the 25 year anniversary for the Norwegian edition of Computerworld last year.

Sshh... don't mention it: on burying a book launch

Carl I Hagen. Ooops, slip of the tongue, and a most humble apology to my international readers for focusing on local news, but the publishing house of this controversial Norwegian politician seems bent on burying the news of his book launch.

Sending out an invitation to the launch of his new book at 7:39pm on a Friday evening in Norway, where journalists are known, likely even, to leave their work at 4- 5pm, makes you suspect this is a book they don't want to be associated with. Now, who shall I compare Hagen with: Pim Fortuyn, Jörg Haider, Newt Gingrich? In either case, we're dealing with a politician the intellectual elite might be uncomfortable being associated with, but one the publishing house might safely assume is controversial and/or popular enough for 'the masses' to purchase a book from even if the media didn't mention the launch. Or, maybe they've cut an exclusive with someone...

Those were the days...

Or were they? Whether or not this is history, and if making it history is desirable, can be debated, but it still sums up much of the glory newspapers held, and still hold to many a journalism student. Okay, so I've shamelessly ripped this quote from a Fantasy book, "The Court of the Air" by Stephen Hunt, but I bet most of you can relate to some of the romantic sentiments about newspapers in these lines:

"It's easy to mistake this [The Middlesteel Illustrated News] for a couple of sheets of wood pulp, m'dear, but you'd be wrong. This is a weapon. No less than the bloated airship floating above Middlesteel; and this can do a great deal more than burn a district to the ground. It can inflame an entire nation to arms. It can send the people stampeding in one direction or t'other at a polling booth. It can burrow into the heart of the flash mob and turn over the stone of the underworld so everyone can see the worms and maggots crawling through our sewage. It can uproot the stench and sweat of Stallwood Avenue mill and slap it down inside the comfortable five-storey house of an articled clerk. It can take a selfless act of bravery and make it seem like the grossest foolhardiness - or it can take an idiot and raise him up to strut across the floor of parliament like a peacock."

The most Dangerous author in Britain

I was enthralled to read a while back that New Line Cinema, the studio behind the Lord of the Rings triology, has started casting the first part of Phillip Pullman's fabulous trilogy "His Dark Materials". I absolutely loved those books and found it intriguing to see how much Pullman draws on Milton's "Paradise Lost" and the works of William Blake, as I was quite obsessed with those works myself in my early teens.

Peter Hitchens, the conservative British columnist, famously published an article about Pullman entitled “This Is the Most Dangerous Author in Britain”, in which he called him the writer “the atheists would have been praying for, if atheists prayed.” The New Yorker came up with a more informative review in this excellent article: “His Dark Materials” may be the first fantasy series founded upon the ideals of the Enlightenment rather than upon tribal and mythic yearnings for kings, gods, and supermen. Pullman’s heroes are explorers, cowboys, and physicists."

I also like Pullman's approach to literature: "Stories never fail us," said Pullman when he won the Carnegie Medal. '"In adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. But stories are vital. There's more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy.

...The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. They’re embarrassed by them. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do."

And the future is...

Anne-Marie Ugland. Mark that name. Last week she signed a contract, likely to lead to her first series of popular novels, with one of Norway's biggest publishers. Ever since we went to senior high school together she's nurtured and worked towards this ambition: Doggardly. Disciplinedly. Passionately – always upholding the virtue of the good story. At this point I could reminiscence about the good old times and the elaborate plans we made for the future, but the future is upon us: well-deserved Anne-Marie. Congratulations!

The tooth trolls have arrived London

Cultural imperialism comes in many different forms: today Norwegian tooth trolls Karius and Baktus will be let loose in London in an attempt to get East End kids to get their toothbrushes out more often. Creations of Norwegian author Thorbjorn Egner, Karius and Baktus live in poor Jack's mouth where they continuously plot to create as much damage as possible. Little Troll Productions is staging “Karius and Baktus"at the Hackney Empire today and tomorrow.