The atmosphere had been surprisingly relaxed, despite the big differences in perspective. Thomas had made some rather provocative claims, especially in the ears of people like Frank and John, but no one's feelings had been hurt. It had all been quite civil, despite the frank language used, and Bjorn wondered for a minute how that could be. Then a thought struck him, that it might have been Ante, or rather his food and wine, that had set the stage for the open and relaxed atmosphere.
The feeling of wealth and plenty that Ante's meals always conjured up set the stage for the sort of frank and open exchange of ideas that Bjorn had just witnessed. One could not help feeling content and pleased sitting at Ante's table, and with such a cushion to lean on, as it were, mere words and ideas were nothing to be overly worried about. The world would not end, one way or the other. And to think that anyone actually had a say in the matters discussed was delusional anyway. No one at the table had any real influence on the world of politics. Everybody knew that. And in that respect, it mattered little what Thomas or anyone else might think about the state of the world.
But before Bjorn had time to think more about Ante's ability to create a good atmosphere for discussions, he was suddenly distracted by the word Lundby on a banner being waved on TV, and he turned on the sound to hear what the news was all about. However, there was nothing new being said. The protests against the colony was continuing, mostly in Oslo, but other places too. People were gathering outside asylum centers, repeating the same mantra about the Lundby colony being cruel and uncivilized.
"We can't send people to the arctic, just like that," people said. "It's inhumane. It violates their rights. It's fascist. It's not worthy of a civilized country like Norway to treat people like this."
But the project had not lost any of it's popularity among the general public, despite the protests, the anchor woman noted. Then she asked a news reporter in front of a gathering of protesters why she thought the general public did not object to the cruelty of sending people to the arctic, noting that many of the refugees were indeed from warm places like Africa and the Middle East, making it all the worse to send them to a place so cruelly different from where they were from.
"It is hard to say," the reporter answered. "It may be the crisis. It is certainly not natural for us as a nation to be so indifferent to people's suffering as we are today."
And with that reply forming the final note on the matter, the anchor woman thanked the reporter for her insights before switching to economic news where the big headline for the day was a private pension fund that had gone bankrupt. Having made tremendous losses on financial papers tied to European debt, the pension fund could no longer meet its obligations, and with the new right wing government unwilling to pick up the pieces, the bankrupt fund had been liquidated.
The assets were already being transferred to another insurance company, the anchor woman explained, and new contracts would soon be issued to the unfortunate pensioners, however, at a substantially lower monthly payout than what had been the case up until the bankruptcy. The pensioners were in essence left without a say in the matter, and when interviewed about it, one angry old lady described it as daylight robbery and a gigantic failure of capitalism.
Bjorn turned the sound off again, having heard enough to feel relieved that he never payed anything into any pension fund. Except, of course, the mandatory monthly contribution to the state pension fund. But that was state run, and could not fold in the same way. Its pay outs were guaranteed, not by some private company, but by the state itself.
And while thinking about the convenience and security provided by the state run pension fund, Bjorn was reminded of all the other services provided by the state. Health care, old people care, schools, police, courts of justice, fire fighters and defense were all provided by the state, free for all. And in that light, Bjorn's salary was not bad at all. To think that he was no better off than people like Aung in Lundby, was just plain silly.
Why had he even thought such a silly thing? Bjorn wondered. Salaries in Lundby were horrendously pitiful. And they had to pay for everything. Nothing was free down there. They didn't even have schools. That's how bad things were. And then, for some reason, Bjorn had nevertheless managed to imagine himself no better off than them.
Bjorn turned off the TV, shaking his head in silent recognition of his own silliness. Then he got up from where he was sitting, found the letter from Oslo on his desk and looked through it again.