Friday, March 30, 2007

A Danish Space Ship

One thing I like with weblogs is that, as an author, you are always free to change the tone between posts. So instead of theodicy, here comes a short note on what I did after my train ride to Örebro. I picked up a Danish space ship, or if we have to be correct, a Grand Citroën C4 Picasso and with it my blue bicycle (which has been lost for almost three years).


In the C4, my bicycle and I had a great ride south through the Swedish spring. Somewhere north of Jönköping I discovered how the quintessentially French cruise control worked. And yes, it was another Hertz Freerider.

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Finistére

The train window could benefit from a quick shower, a sponge and some minimal attention. Yet, even now, through the glass, I can see the forest, the remaining white islands in the shades and the bend ahead with its southbound track.

I am on my way back to the city on the plain, just by the “blue mountains”, where I spent the first half of my twenties. A city, a country, almost entirely deprived of the imaginative energy which keeps me breathing. Deprived of those simple things (maybe just the pattern of sunlight on a building) which nonetheless keep me there, dreaming. Mist in the Bay Area, Lantau Island or inner journeys yet to be undertaken.

Aesthetics. So long did I think that it would suffice, alone heal what is broken by offering presence and simplicity. So many illusive shortcuts to romantic bliss.

In the book I am reading, a mid-aged woman sells her Stockholm apartment and buys a house in Finistére, fin des terres, where the land ends in Europe. At least from a French perspective. A book in which every word is chosen, not a single syllable is there on a whim. That alone has an appeal on me. I know how it is to struggle with words, especially when you leave your mother tongue. I try to write poetry in English and find that the roads I can travel are few. At best, each linguistic junction offers two different directions.

The author writes on gardening, Madame C and theodicy. On the latter it may be that I am still suffering from an overdose Dostoevsky taken at a young age. But. I cannot see why a world of suffering is incompatible with a compassionate God. Rather the opposite. What would a world look like in which humans were compelled to the good? What would love be worth if your loved ones were forced to love you? Only if given the choice to do otherwise do our actions gain an ethical meaning.

Yet, after Auschwitz, the killing fields of Cambodia and Sebrenica have we come to realise exactly what freedom it is that has been bestowed on us.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pancakes

Spring in Lund. Picked up a rental car for the weekend and went out hiking in the countryside (Romeleåsen) before heading down to Smygehuk. And today my dear mother came visiting. After the traditional pancakes (all guests to Tornhem get pancakes these days) we all went out to Trollenäs castle. A weekend well spent.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Correlations

Wish I still had SPSS installed on my computer, then I would be able to analyse the frequency of posts written here on Rawls & Me and see how it correlates to the number of exams I have to mark in a given week. I guess there is a very high correlation, like r2 = 0,8.

Went for sushi alone at Wasabi. Decided to not take any work with me. Not a single piece of paper to read. Nothing. For a workaholic like myself that is a true challenge, to not learn anything, to not even allow myself to be distracted by today’s IHT.


Back at the office I watched some clips from the much debated documentary series on our former prime minister in Sweden, Göran Persson. Though I try not to engage in domestic politics I must say that, of all things bad which have come out of our present centre-right coalition, one good thing was the end of Göran’s reign. It is not that Göran says evil things about his own ministers or political adversaries. Considering that Erik Fichtelius made interviews with Göran during more than eleven years it is only expected that he now and then gives a few rather naughty comments. I mean, turning to oneself, what have I not said about friends, colleagues or other people in weaker moments over the last decade? No, what scares me is just how obvious it is that Göran suffers from a grandiose personality disorder and extreme narcissism. Combined with his utter lack of ideology, I think that we in retrospect will be quite thankful that his ten years in power were not prolonged once again last September.

The Rollback of Modernity

A light rain was falling as I took the train down to Malmö to meet my old friend. We sat down for a few hours, had a Staropramen at “Gökboet” and discussed his upcoming trip to Poland and Warsaw. About a year ago my friend worked there as a radio correspondent and I made a habit out of flying in for a weekend, discovering Canadian-Polish eateries and making excursions to places like Białowieża and the border to Belarus.




As it is well known, Polish politics has in recent years taken a very worrying turn, with the Kaczyński twins taking control over the government through their Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość). With their strong views on homosexuality, abortion and capital punishment they have once again made it evident that the Enlightenment is not a one-time fix but rather something that we have to fight for anew each day, even in the cultural heartland of Europe.

Thinking about the reasons behind the electoral success of the twins, it is clear that Poland is very different from Sweden and that part of the difference is spelled Catholicism. While those disadvantaged by “globalization” in Sweden lack a unifying moral outlook, Poles (who are still suffering from the years of “shock therapy” in the early 1990’s) can lump together market liberalism, homosexuality and everything else “indecent” into one mental category which they can then reject on the basis of their religion.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It is in the pictures

Back on the shop floor of undergraduate education: spent four hours yesterday at CPH reading through a massive 187 pages of take-home exams in preparation for today’s final seminar. The seminars in turn worked out fine and now I just have to give some detail comments on each individual paper...


However, before starting with those final comments I took a minute to download the few pictures I took in Las Vegas from my digital camera. None really turned out. Not that I am surprised considering the amount of bad luck I had in other regards :-) Anyway, taking into account that I have 1 208 pictures from my summer trip to the US in 2005 and 1 563 from the trip last fall it may not be such a disaster after all. But it made me reflect on digital pictures in general and the way we use them as cognitive signifiers of who we are.

They become short-hands of what we experience, where we have travelled and (sometimes a bit too) blunt indicators of the lifestyles we want to be associated with. Yet, by their sheer numbers, digital pictures have a certain brutality which set them apart from their analogue counterparts, obviously only professional photographers would have had 10k+ pictures in the past. I guess it reminds me of weblogs and posts like this: supply > demand

But thanks for commenting on my last post Johan H. So true.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Broken sunny day

Dreamt about green gardens south of the Apennines, dew, and early March days.

With the real-world morning drawing closer, I struggled to hold on to these images even as I knew they were not mine to keep. And when the alarm clock finally forced me over the threshold of consciousness at 6.40 a.m. I realised that all that remained in my possession was a very American cold which simply refuses to go away.

Las Vegas turned out to be a Sisyphean challenge: delayed luggage, late-night escapes from mugging-inclined locals in North Las Vegas, and fever delirious taxi-rides between over-booked hotels.

Back at the department it is a sunny day. Jan Aart Scholte visited us today and presented a paper on “Globalisation and its governance”. Highly academic.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Chicago in snow

Drinking an American Starbucks latte, making me remember A-2 and hard-working morning rituals: the venti latte before going to the computer lab at ICPSR.

Had a nice SK flight over the pond. A lot better food than last time. Surprisingly low load factor (maybe 65 percent) so I got two seats for myself.

Now waiting in Terminal 1 at O’Hare for my connecting flight down to Vegas. It is getting late in Europe, in fact it will be morning before I finally go to bed in Pacific Standard Time.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Pre-flight imagery

26 hours until landing in Chicago.


Dining alone, Nilla left for Belfast this morning. Tagliolini, bacon, onions, and tomatoes with an avocado salad and the compulsory Czech lager on an evening like this. Will have sushi tomorrow and then whatever SK has to offer.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Salut au Monde!

Sunday morning, little more than 48 hours left in Europe.

So many things do: five hours of lectures to prepare, tons of slides to put together, dozens of student e-mails to answer...

But it is Sunday morning. So I read through old postings on my friend’s weblog. His fascinating “From Laibach to Lemberg tour”.

Whitman:

“I see the cities of the earth and make myself at random
a part of them,
I am a real Parisian
I am a habitan of Vienna, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Constantinople”

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Study loans

At home. Browsing through the evening news on the internet. The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reports that fewer people are taking up student loans in Sweden and that the government agency in charge of administrating these loans now receives more money in repayments than they give out.

They sure do. Last month I myself contributed around €500. Of all the things that an egalitarian liberal should promote, student financing should be one of the highest priorities. And Sweden was, for a long time, a leading nation in this regard. But the new scheme introduced in 2001 has come to discourage a lot of people from studying at university.

For the state, paying out student loans is a negligible cost. With a V.A.T. level at 25 percent, a quarter of everything given out is returned immediately as soon as the students go for their books, computers and lattes. The rest is injected into the economy leading to even more taxes.

And even if this was not true, education in itself should be held as invaluable to a cultural society.

Of course, some would object, spoiled middle class kids like myself can pay. Yes, we can. But the current system with unfavourable interest rates and speedy repayments deter other groups, especially those coming from low-income families, from even considering a university degree. And they are the ones who need it the most.