Boys Pretending to be Vikings

 

viking landing

At the end of Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir’s (professor of Gender Studies, University of Iceland) Beck lecture on the Viking Banksters, she included a poem by Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttur (1983).

Woman

When all has been said

When the problems of the world

Have been weighed gauged and settled

When eyes have met

And hands been pressed

In the sobriety of the moment

–some woman always comes

To clear the table

Sweep the floor and open the windows

To let out the cigar smoke.

It never fails.

Many centuries before, the role of the Icelandic housewife had been described by a German trader, Gories Peerse, who had gone to Iceland between 1554 and 1586. Peerse wrote a long poem about his stay in Iceland. This poem was translated by David Koester from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

And there no one stands up from the table [lit. dishes]

who needs to pass water, believe me about that.

The lady of the house must pass him the chamber pot,

and she doesn’t turn away,

and must take it back from him.

They are not ashamed of that.

She must then get rid of it,

that is the manner and custom of this land.

By 1983 the women aren’t passing the pot, but they’re still cleaning up after the men who indulge themselves and leave a mess. By 2008 the mess made by men is greater than it has ever been. Never before has the ability to borrow money at so little cost been possible. Now, the men can borrow recklessly, and borrowing vast sums, can buy recklessly, buy grocery chains, clothing stores, football teams, A Landsbanki employee in Gimli, Manitoba, for Íslendingadagurinn, was heard shouting into his cell phone, buy, buy, buy.

How much brains does it take to borrow money and then spend it? It works all right if it is someone else’s credit card and after paying themselves handsomely for having borrowed as much as possible and spent it by overbidding everyone else, when the bills came due and couldn‘t be paid, they then said, “Hey, this isn’t my credit card. It’s yours.” And walked away with the money they had given ourselves.

What the banksters did or tried to do was privatize profits and socialize debts. Nifty. They made the deals, they paid themselves, they gave themselves vast bonuses, they raked in the money. Woops. It all crashed. Not their problem. Let the tax payer pick up the bill. What a great system for the elite group who have been running an old boy network. Favours for favours. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We were good friends in high school and college and we know each other. Never mind merit. Never mind competence. Let’s you and me do a deal.

Bonuses are given for exceptional competence. Or that’s what they are supposed to be for. Nobody is competent who causes a financial crash. Ergo. All those bonuses should be paid back with interest. They were obtained under false pretenses.

Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir, in her lecture ‚“Finance Vikings,Masculinities, and the Economic Collapse in Iceland“, had an interesting thesis. The banking mess was created by a bunch of hyperactive, testosterone driven, vain, self-important men (MEN). Women such as Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, were elected to clean up the mess. Thorgerdur’s thesis includes the idea that if the exclusive little private group of men were forced to include women some of the juvenile “We’re Vikings and we know more than anyone else, we know more than the credit rating agencies, more than the Norwegian, Danish, Swedish bankers. The Vikings raided the known world and brought home loot and we’re Vikings,” would have some limits put on it. The banksters and businessmen conveniently left out the fact that most Vikings were Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish. They left out the fact that Iceland’s population during Viking times and during the present is too small to have any real impact. Yup, we’re such hotshots that we’re going to sail into Hong Kong and conquer China next.

From the repeated references to the Vikings and how the banksters and businessmen were like Vikings, and the overwhelming sense of self-importance, one wonders that they didn’t take on the names of the pagan gods. I’m Thor. I’m Odin. I’m Loki. If they ran out of avatars, they could have started including fictional characters. I’m Conan. I’m Xena. Oh, wait, no. Well, maybe some of them. It’s hard to say.

Of course, some of them could have taken names from the sagas. Hmm, they probably already had names from the sagas. Maybe that’s why they had juvenile fantasies about being Vikings. When I was a boy and went to see movies (cowboy, pirate, Viking, army), I and my friends played at being cowboys, pirates, Vikings, and soldiers but we had adults around to keep us in touch with reality. “No, you may not borrow your father’s rifle and bullets to play army.” If we’d been to a movie about bankers and wanted to play at being bankers for a few days, my mother would have said, “No, you may not borrow your father’s wallet to play banker.”

Thorgerdur’s recommendations include more gender equality. No more relegating Icelandic women to holding the piss pot. No more relegating Icelandic women to cleaning up after the men make a mess.

Insist on quotas on the number of women on boards of companies.

Monitor big and important companies to keep the old boy network from packing the boards with their friends.

Demand that women be part of state administration, that information and decision making be public.

Insist on breaking down gender stereotypes in rural areas.

Given the juvenile behavior of the banksters and the business boys, it might be a good idea to place women in charge who could give them time out for bad behaviour, send them to their rooms, and take away their salaries and bonuses.

The problem, of course, is that this behaviour has been going on in Icelandic society since Gories Peerse’s time. Let’s say from 1500 to the present. That’s 513 years. The self-important group with the big egos have family histories of cosy relationships, privilege and the absolute belief they have the right to be privileged. The strange idea that North Americans of Icelandic background have had that there were no social classes in Iceland and everyone was equal left out who owned the keys to the food cupboard, who owned the land, who did the hiring. Just because the boss is poor, doesn’t mean he isn’t the boss. He still decides whether you are employed, what and how much you eat, what clothes you get to wear, how much work you have to do, how much you get paid.

Icelanders make a big thing out of genealogy. Hey, hey, my lineage leads to a bishop (got his privileged position by appointment from the Danes), a public official (got his appointment from the Danes), had a business (probably in partnership with or funded by the Danes). My ancestors were privileged and that makes us an important family and I, therefore, have the right to be privileged and the rest of you whose ancestors weren’t as important (your ancestors weren’t as good at sucking up to the Danes) as mine, have no right to make decisions, no right to all this money, no right to trophy wives.

Thorgerdur’s right, of course. Get women into the decision making process and some of the I’m- a-Viking fantasy will be shrunk. Break up and refuse to allow the old boy network to function and when it starts, have laws in place to stop it. No more attitude such as we were so impressed by these really, really important people we were supposed to be supervising that we really, really couldn’t bring ourselves to pick up the phone and insist that we have a meeting and find out what they were doing. After all, they were important.

For a long time in Iceland, people who weren’t large farm owners endured dreadful treatment. Many came to see the elite who ruled did so by a kind of divine right. The church supported the elite. It knew on which side its dried cod was buttered. That kind of situation creates an attitude among some people that says those people really are more important than us. We don’t deserve the things they deserve. They do have the right to take what they want and, if we’re lucky, they’ll throw a few dried cod heads our way. It’s the trickle-down-dried-cod-head effect.

God, if only we could bring Laxness back from the grave.

 

 

Does it hurt, yet?

It doesn’t matter what political party is in power, the rule is the same, savage those least organized, most unrepresented, least able to provide donations to a political party or to provide high-paying directorships or jobs to politicians out of office.

That’s us, folks. You and me.

You made reasonable assumptions about the income you would receive on your savings or for an annuity. Reasonable assumptions don’t take into account the venality of the political class.

I just came across a copy of The Financial Post, January 26, 1980. Here are part of the tables provided.

“Five-year GICs and term deposits

At the banks:

Bank of B.C.        11%

Bank of Montreal 11.25%

Bank of Nova Scotia 11.25%

At the trust & loan companies

Canada Permanent         10.75

Canada Trustco                 11.25

Fidelity                                                11.25

Etc.

The government(s) lowered the interest rates, and lowered the interest rates, and lowered the interest rates to keep the economy moving. Except it didn’t. All it did was create a housing bubble that has threatened to destroy the American economy, robbed people of homes as the bubble collapsed, allowed lenders to make liar loans, sell worthless bundled mortgages in a frenzy of greed.

In the meantime, retirees were having their financial feet cut out from under them. That’s not the banks money that is being leant out at 2.99%, that’s the depositors’ money. And, because the loan rate is so low, the interest paid to the depositor is next to nothing.

Interest rates have not been set by the market. There has been no free market. Interest rates have been set by government(s) for all the wrong reasons. The very people who railed against government interference in the free market, capitalist system have been the first to privatize profits and socialize losses. The bankers who have, once again, created a terrible financial mess, get massive loans of our tax money and give themselves outrageous bonuses because they’re still in business.

Vancouver and Toronto are the centers of real estate madness with no price too high because no matter how high a price, the buyer knows that someone will pay even more. The music will never end and no one will be left without a chair. The music is stopping and more and more reports are of real estate “investments” going bad. The real estate industry plays games with the numbers but sales are down, prices are down and indications are that they’re going to keep going down.

The problem is that a lot of people in their sixties and early seventies have a simple retirement plan. Sell the house. Live off the avails. That’s fine, except a lot of people are retiring and how many younger people can afford houses of one million plus? I’m a bit ahead of the curve. A war baby, I retired eight years ago, sold my house and down sized three years ago. Right now, I wish I’d downsized into a rental.

When I downsized and bought my current house, the market was crazy. There was little for sale and what there was was mostly garbage. Tatted  up junk going for unbelievable prices. The atmosphere was that of a carnival with people certain they were going to win a prize.

The housing crash in the USA didn’t have to happen. It wasn’t a natural disaster like a tornado. It was created by a toxic combination of bankers and real estate companies abetted by governments. You’ve heard of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac in the USA and the disaster they became. We’ve got our own CMHC. Those guaranteed mortgages? You and I are doing the guaranteeing. The bankers take the commissions and you and I take the losses.

In the meantime, to keep the housing bubble from collapsing, interest rates are kept at artificial levels. Retirees like you and me are being robbed. We thought we were in a market economy, we thought free enterprise was what existed in Canada. Not anymore.

Doesn’t matter whether the government if Conservative, Liberal, NDP, marijuana party, they all feed the same hogs with food off our plates. Check out what you get for your savings. Check out your grocery bill. It ain’t us whose being fed.

 

 

On loving our community

My mother became a Credit Union manager quite by accident.

My father had gone to the local bank to borrow two hundred dollars to finance his commercial fishing for the fall season. The bank turned him down. The bank manager was quite straight forward about the reason. He said it wasn’t his job to lend out money but, rather, to collect it so it could be sent to Toronto to be loaned out by the banks there.

Although the local manager was polite, the attitude of the banking system was right there, in my father’s face, as we’d say nowadays. There was the Eastern contempt for the western Canada, contempt for small businesses, contempt for rural people. We were the suckers standing in front of the carnival tent with the huckster carny man giving the pitch to separate us from our money, the medicine man standing on the back of his wagon extolling the virtues of his medicine that would cure everything but, in actuality, would cure nothing, the immigration agent taking our money and disappearing with it, the companies selling us mouldy grain and rotten canvas tents.

It was all there. “A lousy two hundred dollars,” my father said. He wanted the two hundred dollars so he wouldn’t have to borrow it from a fish company. If he borrowed money from a fish company, then he had to sell them his fish for the coming fishing season. That meant they set the prices. He couldn’t sell to the fish company that was offering the best price. Dealing in a perishable product, he was trapped in a system that was a remnant of the medieval system of the indentured servant.

He joined the Credit Union board. It had, if I remember correctly, no more than a few thousand dollars. It was run from a local home. When the person taking care of the books said he couldn’t do it anymore, my father brought the books home and asked my mother to take care of them for two weeks. That two weeks stretched into twenty years.

At first, she had office hours one afternoon a week, then a day a week, then two days a week, then the Credit Union put a safe into the house. The number of days increased. Deposits increased.

Finally, my father said he’d build a commercial building and rent out part of it to the Credit Union. He was a do-it-himself kind of guy. He’d had one business, a laundry, go bankrupt on him, and he’d learned to keep costs down. He bought a corner lot through which a creek ran. People said no one could build on that piece of property. He had culverts put in. He had a friend who was an engineer who drew up the plans. He and my father bought salvaged steel beams. They sub-contracted work. The metal safe in the house was replaced with a vault in the new building.

My mother learned on the job. Good people helped her. She attended meetings and conventions. In the early days, she was the only woman at the conventions. That was hard.

But what lay behind her decisions as a manager was love of community. She’d been an only child and was often lonely. When she’d married my father and moved to Gimli, a small, rural village supported by commercial fishing, an airbase, summer tourists, mixed farming, she said she was never lonely again. She was absorbed first by my father’s large, extended family, then by the community itself.

She saw her role, the credit union’s role, as helping local people. She never forgot the bank’s refusal of the two hundred dollars to my father. Someone once said to her, you have all that money and she replied, it’s not my money. She did not see the credit union or her role as a manager as a way to make herself rich. She would have dismissed the idea that “greed is good” as no more than an attempt by the greedy to justify their selfish actions. Greed is only good to those people who do not love their community.

She saw herself as a custodian. Her job was to do what was best for depositors while, at the same time, do what was best for borrowers. That meant being sure that people could afford what they were buying, could make the payments. It sometimes meant providing business advice, particularly for people wanting to start a local business. Her job was to  help others, not herself.

There were no get rich quick schemes. No loaning out as much money as possible to anyone who applied so that she could get a commission or bonus. She worked for her salary. The profits belonged to the credit union members. There were no liar loans. There was no bundling of crappy mortgages and selling them off to unsuspecting businesses or individuals so that more crappy loans and mortgages could be made to increase the size of her commission.

She was just a credit union manager in a small town but she stood and stands head and shoulders above all the bankers in North America and Europe who have been so driven by greed that they’ve placed the entire banking system in jeopardy, all the bankers who have looted their banks, who have speculated with their depositor’s money.

A small town credit union manager with ethics. Something nowadays it seems impossible to find among the wreckage of arcane financial instruments, of billion dollar losses, of obscene bonuses paid with money that should go to stockholders.

Head and shoulders over these greedy bankers? She retired with enough money to keep her in comfort in a small town way. A three bedroom bungalow. An older car. Money in the bank to cover daily expenses and to make a trip to visit her son each Christmas. It would have been good if she’d have had a pension for her twenty years but there were no pensions in such small places in those days. She and my father managed on their savings and their investments. Head and shoulders and more.

Would people have admired her more if she had ripped off the credit union by changing the rules so she got a commission on loans and then pushed out as much money as possible, selling off the mortgages and starting over and over again? Some would, I guess. There are people in our society who worship Mammon. Who believe that greed is good and, if they get a chance, are as greedy as possible, who have no sense of responsibility to their family, friends, neighbours, community.

Her ceremony at the Lutheran church yesterday was simple. Three of us spoke about her life. A friend sang a hymn. We all joined together in singing two hymns. Her ashes were in a pottery urn, beside it a picture of her when she first came to Gimli. They were flanked by two simple vases with a few flowers.

People came on this warm Saturday, they came in spite of it being Canada Day, in spite of it being the municipality’s 125 anniversary. Her grandchildren came and her great grandchildren.

We gathered at the graveyard under a blue prairie sky with white floating islands of clouds. The minister said a prayer, scattered some earth as he said ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The undertaker put the urn in a red velvet bag and placed it in the hole that had been prepared in my mother’s mother’s grave. The graveyard is on the edge of farmland, at the juncture of the original pioneer road and Highway 9. There are glimpses of Lake Winnipeg to the East. To the West are the gravel ridges of pioneer hardship.

The graveyard isn’t old but it is old enough that my Icelandic great grandparents are buried there. They came to the shores of Lake Winnipeg in 1876 with the first Icelandic settlers. My mother, as Irish as Irish can be, her parents both from Northern Ireland, slipped into this Icelandic, Ukrainian, German, Polish, Native community and made it her own. Her ashes and the bodies of her parents rest here, a long way from Ireland, a long way from the Mountains of Mourne but they share their resting place with the people who were part of their new Canadian life.

She loved Canada, this town and the people in it and, for a lifetime, she did what she thought was best for everyone.