The Global Human: Social Comments

Nobel Peace Prize 2015

Posted in Nobel Peace Prize by Solveig Hansen on 2015/10/09


TED Talk: How I stopped the Taliban from shutting down my school

Posted in In the News, TED talks by Solveig Hansen on 2015/09/22

“When the Taliban closed all the girls’ schools in Afghanistan, Sakena Yacoobi set up new schools, in secret, educating thousands of women and men. In this fierce, funny talk, she tells the jaw-dropping story of two times when she was threatened to stop teaching — and shares her vision for rebuilding her beloved country.”

Yom Kippur and Eid al Adcha 2015

Posted in In the News by Solveig Hansen on 2015/09/16

This year, the most holy day of the Jews – Yom Kippur and of the Muslims – Eid al Adcha will again be celebrated around the same time. This is a timely video:

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Ella Minnow Pea and Five Dozen Liquor Jugs

Posted in Books, Freedom of Speech, Writings by Solveig Hansen on 2015/08/22

 Text: Solveig Hansen, 2015

When letters in a pangram start falling off a memorial plaque, the letters are banned, with harsh punishments for those who use the forbidden characters. This is the plot in Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Written in 2001, the story is a commentary on issues like censorship and freedom of speech. It is also a fable for lovers of words.

First, some facts and history: A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of a given alphabet, at least once. A perfect pangram uses each letter only once. The opposite of a pangram is called a lipogram, in which one or more letters are omitted. Today, pangrams are typically used to display samples of typefaces on computer screens.

The best known English pangram is The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, first used at the end of the 19th century as writing practice. Later, it was used to test typewriters and teleprinters.

Another 19th-century pangram is Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs, made well known by Mark Dunn in his novel Ella Minnow Pea, in which the search for a shorter pangram is part of the plot.

Ella Minnow PeaElla Minnow Pea
In the novel, the pangram The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog is credited to Nevin Nollop, a fictitious inhabitant of the equally fictitious island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina. The pangram is written on tiles on his memorial statue. When the letter tiles start falling off, the island’s high council bans the use of the fallen letters from all communication, written and spoken, and enforces a penalty system for using them. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on neighbors and report violations to the council.

The story is conveyed through letters and notes sent between various characters, and as the alphabet diminishes, the letters disappear from the novel. When the first letter, z, falls off, the heroine of the novel, Ella Minnow Pea, explains:

“To speak or write any word containing the letter Z, or to be found in possession of any written communication containing this letter, one will receive for a first offense a public oral reprimand… Second offenders will be offered choice between the corporal pain of body-flogging and the public humiliation of headstock upon the public square. For third offense, violators will be banished from the island. Refusal to leave upon order of Council will result in death.”

Then the letter q falls off and is outlawed. Ella writes:

“As luck would have it, there are simply not all that many words in the English language which claim this letter among its constituents.”

However, even the removal of the two least-used letters has its repercussions: the loss of radio and newspaper and recordings of music with lyrics.

When d falls, the days of the weeks are renamed:


In the end, only five letters remain, LMNOP (= Ella Minnow Pea, get it?). “Now onlee 5 remain at 12 o’time. Onlee 5. Onlee 5 remain,” Ella writes to herself in her penultimate letter.

The solution to restoring their language and topple Nollop from his godlike stature is to find a pangram of 32 letters, in contrast to Nollop’s 35. Ella discovers this phrase in one of her father’s letters: Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Read the rest of the book for yourself.

Listen: Audio interview with Mark Dunn

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Saudi Author Turki Al-Hamad: Our Youth Are Brainwashed

Posted in In the News by Solveig Hansen on 2015/07/23

MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) posted this clip from an interview with Saudi author Turki Al-Hamad on Rotana Khalijiyya TV, Saudi Arabia, aired July 13-14, 2015. He talked about the extremist discourse prevalent in Saudi Arabia, leading many of its youth to join ISIS, and said, “In order to stop ISIS, you must first dry up this ideology at the source.”

12 Inspiring Quotes from Nelson Mandela

Posted in Quotes by Solveig Hansen on 2015/07/20

Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza

Posted in Books by Solveig Hansen on 2015/07/20

Excerpts from the book:

Now 21, in her bio-note Rawan Yaghi writes: “I believe in literature’s power to cross borders and walls. I have experienced fiction’s ability to erase mental boundaries of nationalities and prejudices, and its ability to reach the human core of people….”

In her bio-note, Elham Hilles notes that “Writing is a way of resistance….” And Hanan Habashi specifies the resistance in hers: “Because many people around the world think they have the right to speak on their behalf, Palestinians are suffering two opposing stereotypical images that are equally disturbing and doing the just cause injustice: the Palestinian as a helpless victim, a mere object of sympathy, or as a bloodthirsty savage. Palestinians are neither.”

The Might of the Pen

Posted in Writings by Solveig Hansen on 2015/05/26

Text: Solveig Hansen

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” we frequently say, even more so after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The man to thank for this phrase is Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873).

Cambridge Dictionaries defines this idiom as “thinking and writing have more influence on people than the use of force or violence.” Isn’t that what writers aspire to: find the right composition of words that moves and shakes and transforms – or maybe puts a smile on the reader’s face?

The pencil & sword analogy is not a new one. In the biblical Epistle to the Hebrews, for instance, verse 4:12 reads: “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”

According to Wikipedia, “The pen is mightier than the sword” as a phrase was coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his historical play about Cardinal Richelieu (1839). Richelieu discovers a plot to kill him, but as a priest he cannot take up arms against his enemies. His page, Francis, tells him: But now, at your command are other weapons, my good Lord. Richelieu agrees: The pen is mightier than the sword, he says, Take away the sword; States can be saved without it!

A literature critic wrote that Bulwer-Lytton had achieved something that few men could hope to do: write a line that is likely to live for ages. Of course, today we just call them one-liners.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” He is also renowned for the opening line “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Although the phrase was penned by Bulwer-Lytton, there are earlier texts emphasizing the power of words:

Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.

William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, Act 2: … many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.

Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly said: Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.

Going back to the 4th century BC, the Greek playwright Euripides supposedly wrote: The tongue is mightier than the blade.

BBC: Who first said ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’?

How do you perform your poems?

Posted in Poetry by Solveig Hansen on 2015/05/10

Watch and be inspired by Sarah Kay, a spoken word poet/performer. In this TED talk, she reads her amazing spoken word poem called B, written to her future daughter. It starts like this:

If I should have a daughter… ‘Instead of ‘Mom’, she’s gonna call me ‘Point B.’ Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint the solar system on the back of her hands so that she has to learn the entire universe before she can say ‘Oh, I know that like the back of my hand….’

They praise her for being “elite” – but tease her for being unmarried

Posted in Ecucation by Solveig Hansen on 2015/05/02

Hamamatu (19) shares what it is like to be one of the few girl secondary school graduates in her community in Northern Nigeria, a place threatened by Boko Haram and old traditions.

Happy Earth Day 2015

Posted in Poems by Solveig Hansen on 2015/04/22

April 22 is Earth Day. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. Read more at Earth Day Network.


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Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)

Posted in Poetry by Solveig Hansen on 2015/03/28

Tomas Tranströmer, Swedish poet and winner of Nobel Prize in Literature (2011), has died at the age of 83. He was known as a master of metaphors, capturing the corners of the human mind and adding a sense of wonder to the journey of life.

Sometimes we need to land and warm ourselves, even only for a while. “There’s so much we must be witness to,” he wrote in Summer Meadow, “Reality wears us so thin, but here is summer at last: a large airport – the controller brings down planeload after planeload of frozen people from outer space.”

His poems often have a religious quality to them. In Romanesque Arches, we are reminded that we are always underway, constantly creating and recreating ourselves, opening “vault behind vault,” like in a cathedral. “You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.”

Enjoy Romanesque Arches, translated by Robert Bly, read by Rudi A. Bach, music by Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble:

Romanesque Arches

By Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly

Tourists have crowded into the half-dark of the enormous Romanesque church.
Vault opening behind vault and no perspective.
A few candle flames flickered.

An angel whose face I couldn’t see embraced me
and his whisper went all through my body:
Don’t be ashamed to be a human being—be proud!
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.

Tears blinded me
as we were herded out into the fiercely sunlit piazza,
together with Mr and Mrs Jones, Herr Tanaka and Signora Sabatini—
within each of them vault after vault opened endlessly.

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A Poem for a Cup of Coffee

Posted in Poetry by Solveig Hansen on 2015/03/21

Pay for your coffee with a poemOn this World Poetry Day, Julius Meinl, an Austrian coffee company, turns poems into currency. Guests in coffee shops all over the world are invited to pay for their coffee with a poem.
#PayWithAPoem #WorldPoetryDay #PoetryDay

My coffee poem:


You bring me coffee
I bake you cake
I eat your coffee
You drink my cake
Then we practice
the art of conversation

By Zol H, 2013

See also:
Guardian: “What is a poem worth? As authors around the world despair of making a living, a company based in Vienna has finally come up with a definitive answer: one cup of coffee.”

‘Pay With a Poem’ and Four More Ways to Celebrate World Poetry Day

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World Poetry Day 2015

Posted in Poetry by Solveig Hansen on 2015/03/21

“Poetry is the universal human song, expressing the aspiration of every woman and man to apprehend the world and share this understanding with others.”

Irina Bokova, Director General
Message on World Poetry Day 2015

March 21 was declared World Poetry Day by UNESCO in 1999.


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“Why I, a Muslim, am going to a synagogue”

Posted in In the News by Solveig Hansen on 2015/02/20

Saturday, February 21, following the Shabbat service, young Norwegian Muslims will form a human shield around the synagogue in Oslo. They call it the “ring of peace.” One of the eight organizers, 17-year-old Hajrah Arshad, told a Norwegian newspaper:

We have taken this initiative not just as fellow human beings but also as Muslims to show that Muslims are opposed to the hatred Jews have to face.

2,000 have said they will attend. One of them is Waqas Sarwar. He wrote this blog post in The Times of Israel:

It has been one week since the terrorist attack in Copenhagen that killed Dan Uzan, a Danish Jew. He was standing guard outside the city’s synagogue during a Bar Mitzvah gathering when a terrorist shot him dead in an act of unprovoked and blind killing for no other reason than Uzan being a Jew.

A week later and just across the sea, in Oslo, the Shabbat will be marked in a rather unusual way. A group of Norwegian Muslims have decided to take upon themselves the task of organizing a human “chain of peace” around the synagogue in an act of solidarity. The gesture will be carried out on Saturday on the completion of Shabbat.

Read the whole post: Why I, a Muslim, am going to a synagogue – the comments are interesting, too

See also:
The offical Facebook page for the Ring of Peace event
Norwegian Muslims will form a human shield around an Oslo synagogue (Washington Post)

Oslo Synagogue

Oslo Synagogue

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