Friday, August 4, 2017

Vardø - plus ça change

Vardø, Norway. radome left, church right
A friend sent me an article the other day about the radome in the town of Vardø in Norway. Although we have never met, he and I are both on the listserv of folk who worked at the listening station at Teufelsberg in Berlin back in the 60s when everybody and his Uncle Jake were listening to the commies and keeping the world safe for democracy. That was our take on things, at least. We are now old men, cold warriors we call ourselves, keeping in touch.

Radome.  Didn't remember the word (radar + dome) and had to look it up. Those balloon-like structures covered in canvas to hide the antennas, as if there was any doubt what was under them. I guess folks just didn’t want the Russians to see what the antennas were aimed at. Who knows? All so long ago. All so irrelevant to life these days.

This article on Vardø was another story, however. That’s a listening station, unlike Teufelsberg, that is still in service.

Vardø is way way up north in Norway. Just how far north, you ask?  Well Jakarta is 6 degrees above the equator, Tokyo is 35, New York is 40, Istanbul 41, Oslo, Stockholm and St. Petersburg are all at about the 59-60 degree latitude. Vardø is 70.3706 degrees north. Way up there. Too far up for trees. Somebody brought one in and planted it once, but it died.

But that’s not the interesting measure. What’s interesting is how far east of Greenwich it is. Greenwich is 0.0077. London is 0.1278. Oslo is 10.75, Stockholm is 18.06, Istanbul is 28.97, St. Petersburg is 30.33 and Vardø is 31.10.  That’s right.  Vardø is east of both Istanbul and St. Petersburg, Russia.

To get to Vardø from the capital in Oslo, you get in your car, point it north, and drive for about 24 hours, first through Sweden, then through Finland, then back into Norway again. Check it out. A marvelous geographical anomaly.

Vardø has a history that goes back 800 years. They built their first church there in 1307. In the 17th Century they began burning witches, some 90 poor souls in all. Not an insignificant number when you consider the total population in 1789 was about 100. Today it’s up to about 2100, give or take. I don’t know how many of these are engaged in spying on the Russians, some 40 miles away on the Kola Peninsula, chock full of high security naval bases and other restricted military zones.

remains of radomes at Teufelsberg
in Berlin
In Berlin, aside from the possibility the Russians could have marched in at any moment, in which case we were fried fish, there was little danger involved. Too much beer, maybe. Too many sausages. In Vardø apparently there is such an electromagnetic charge in the air that the cancer rate is sky high, and pregnant women are far more likely to miscarry than elsewhere.

All to what end, I’d like to know. According to Donald Trump, we’re missing the chance of a lifetime to make friends with the Russians. He calls efforts to discover why they hacked our last election a “witch hunt” and insists his buddy Vlad is a great guy who, after all, runs his country admirably.

“We don’t rely on American banks,” said Eric Trump in 2014. “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” No kidding. Now it turns out, according to a story in The New Republic,

Whether Trump knew it or not, Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling and racketeering, but even as a base of operation for their criminal activities.

What’s so unreal about all this is not that Donald Trump is a world-class con man, or that a critical mass of American people, particularly those whose hearts beat for an authoritarian leader, have been suckered by this wretch, but the fact that this game we all played all through the Cold War years is still being played today. Then it was Berlin and the listening post at Teufelsberg. Now it’s a tiny town above the Arctic Circle (i.e., latitude 66 degrees). Then it was “the commies” and their KGB leader Vladimir Putin. Now it’s Russia and their president Vladimir Putin. Then it was the oligarchs in the Kremlin. Now it’s the oligarchs in the Kremlin and the White House. Different decade. Many of the same players. Definitely the same game. Military industrial corporate bosses keeping the money flowing their way. Little guys pretending to keep democracy alive.

Plus ça change.

photo credits:

Teufelsberg, Berlin Jochen Teufel/Wikimedia
route to Vardø - grab from Google maps

No comments: