Monday, April 30, 2007

Fossil adventures

Yesterday, Nilla and I just had it with the Towncar. It was so monstrous and over-sized that, after a week of constant parking problems and refuelling stops, we decided to take it back to Hertz for an exchange. And boy, did we score? Instead of a warm two-ton Lincoln we got a convertible Mustang GT!

In the morning we set off towards two villages southwest of Arlington called Granbury and Glen Rose. On the stereo I played an old album, in fact from the very year I was born:

The music was new
Black polished chrome
And came over the summer
Like liquid night.
The dj's took pills to stay awake
And play for seven days


(The Doors with “Black Polished Chrome”)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Fade to grey

A well read bible. Down here in the south I cannot think of any other thick black book which would be as full of small stickers, colour underlining and dog-ears.

So many things here in Texas appear to be so simple. “Giving is celebrating others” I read on a sign. So much charity, still so many poor. (and how come that social democrats are the ones who are accused of being paternalistic?)

So many churches, still so much crime.

So many moral preachers, still so much immorality.

So many regulations, still so much the land of the free.

Or is it just that people here live out the extremes a lot more than we do in Sweden? They cherish life (especially the unborn) yet they execute their sons and daughters. They pray for world peace, yet they develop new nuclear weapons.

And who am I to sermonize? I just sit here with another non-fat grande latte, reading New York Times and thinking how multifaceted and ambiguous everything is.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Turned me down

After the dark post last night, this will sound somewhat superfluous. But unfortunately I have some bad news to report: STINT has decided to turn down my application for a semester at Rutgers in 2008. The decision came in this morning. The good thing is that they ranked my academic record “excellent” (the highest) which is a substantial improvement of last year’s application. The bad thing is that I have to make new arrangements for what to do next year.

There are a number of options, either I can wait until the autumn semester of 2008 and apply for Fulbright. Or I can go anyway with my regular salary (and hopefully some extra scholarship money from Crafoord). Right now I am leaning towards the second option.

And yes, I am back at Starbucks. It is all about branding:

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Late on Earth

As you might have noticed, Rawls & Me has recently seen a deluge of new posts, many on my adventures here in the Lone Star State.

It is a narrative in the making, I can already feel that I will look back on these days with a certain nostalgia. The more I see of America, the more I yearn for its distant lands when back in Europe. Yet, I realise that this continent has lost much of its innocence, but so have I. It is, to speak with Ekelöf, “sent på jorden”.

Reading another ECPR paper, this one by Matthew Rendall on the gloomy topic of “Nuclear weapons and intergenerational exploitation”.

There is so much darkness in this world, so many things that have been broken and no way to go back. Only faith remains, credo quia absurdum, to pray and to hold on to our dreams:

“And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow,
your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.”

Pax!

Davon träume ich dann...

Driving for hours through green cedar forests while listening to a special home-burnt compilation; flooding myself with impressions. Slowly the distances on the map become intelligible; Texas is of roughly the same size as France...

Parking the Towncar at a different Starbucks today, not that it makes much difference. Ordering a tall frappuccino to digest the rather brutal burger I had somewhere out there in the countryside. »Only in America»

Now reading ECPR papers (or, well, I am weblogging but as Richard Florida would say, that is only indicative of the creative class, to mix work and play). The paper I will comment on is written by the Norwegian PhD student Robert Huseby and carries the title: “Deontology, Non-Identity and Future People”. Judging from it and the other papers I have received so far, I must say that this year’s ECPR Joint Sessions is likely to become one of the most interesting conferences I have ever attended.

I slowly finish the melting frappuccino. “Eine andere Welt” is playing in my earphones as I try to escape the highly customized Starbucks music.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gliese 581

Being abroad, I often find myself browsing through the Swedish news at Dagens Nyheter. Today this was well worth doing since I found an exciting article stating the discovery of the first earth-like exo-planet, orbiting the star Gliese 581. Since my undergraduate course in astrobiology back in 2004, I have only waited for this to happen.

With astronomers having discovered a few hundred exo-planets over the last decade, this is the first planet that potentially can harbour life (at least life which is compatible with our own carbon-based and oxygen-breathing bias). If followed by the detection of other planets with similar characteristics we can start to approximate one of the variables in the Drake Equation, ultimately giving us an indication of how common (intelligent) life may be in the universe.

All this points towards the future of humanity, towards all the things that will be within reach over the next centuries if we play our cards well. It is my belief that we urgently need to move beyond the current antagonistic paradigm of international relations and realise how fragile life on this planet really is. Instead of sectarian violence, imperial fantasies, and spatial chauvinism, I urge us all to join Carl Sagan in his hope that one day our descendents will “marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way”.

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Thief in the night

Woke up at 5:23 local time, feeling irreversibly awake. Walked around the quiet apartment, picked up a handful of red grapes and decided to turn on my computer and some Rolling Stones with “Bridges to Babylon”.


As daybreak gets closer I will change to shorts and put on my running shoes. Taking a swim last night inspired me but it was the burger which finally convinced me of the necessity :-)


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Tornado watch

The light morning rain turned into a tornado. A strange feeling to be out driving in a two-ton Lincoln Towncar and listen to the radio as the tornado-warnings closed in on me. Luckily, the most severe thunderstorms took a somewhat more western track. And now, just before sunset, the sky cleared up as Nilla and I went for a Mexican styled burger with jalapeño and guacamole.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Where are the windswept plains?

Starschmuck mornings which give me time to read ECPR conference papers, slurp a grande non-fat latte and listen to XM satellite radio customized for the creative class. Of course, this could have been anywhere: Ann Arbor, Kowloon or Cambridge.


But now it is Texas, and the light rain outside the window surprises me. It is so green, so welcoming and the people sitting around me seem to work just as relentlessly as anywhere else in America. Our apartment is not so far from the railroad and, in the night, the cargo trains blast their dreamlike horns as they make their way through Arlington.

I am eager to explore, to sink into that special vacation-like mood in which you develop a sensibility for the small details. As the Welsh poet William Henry Davies once put it:

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

...

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.”

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Arlington, TX

One good thing with flying United on domestic sectors in the US is that you have channel 9, that is, you are allowed to listen to all the radio communication going on between the cockpit and the different ground controls. Just to hear: “UA 725, you are clear to go” and then in the next second feel the growing thrust from the engines definitely adds something to the trip.

Anyway, at 22:30 Central Time we made a safe landing at Dallas / Forth Worth Airport. However, our bags did not. This is the third time my bags get lost at Chicago O’Hare. The truth is that I have never lost a bag somewhere else in the whole world. So, baggage claim, lost luggage reports to fill in and then, my favourite, Walmart shopping for contact lenses solution, tooth paste and so forth at 1 a.m.! But this time we were lucky enough to have a car, and besides, the neighbourhood here is really very different from North Las Vegas.

For the first night we are staying at a small friendly hotel called the Sanford House Inn, surrounded by lush green vegetation and with a breakfast table populated by highly intellectual Canadian gentlemen. For the coming two weeks, UTA will arrange an apartment on campus and apparently there is a nice arboretum suitably for running. Report will follow.

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Off the map

This is the second post written on Rawls & Me over the Atlantic, cruising at 36 000 feet over the outermost parts of the North-American continent. Right now, Nilla and I have been flying west for almost six hours.

Today SK served meatballs with mashed potatoes. Eating meatballs outside Sweden reminds me of Saturdays at IKEA Vösendorf when thousands of Viennese families go there as “Nordistik” pilgrims to eat from the 5 euro “eat as many meatballs as you want buffet”.

//

SK’s in-flight entertainment system now features a selection of “old goodies”, maybe to satisfy those passengers who (through extensive travelling or simply bad taste) otherwise would have had to endure “Casino Royale” for the umpteenth consecutive time. On our flight, this list of classic movies consists of “Shakespeare in love”, “As good as it gets” and “The Truman Show”. Spent an hour watching Jim Carrey in the latter. Recalling my last blog post on Tennyson, I would say that the final scene, in which Truman sails into the fake horizon, somehow takes on a new meaning. Or something.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Absentia animi

Morning in Malmö; a long breakfast with a good friend, like to listen to her and glimpse fragments of life different from my own.

Then alone again, making a ciabatta at home with “prosciutto ham”, one of the more mesmerizing tautologies that our local ICA store has come up with.

Reading some Ekelöf. To me, the words take on a very Jungian interpretation. Rumour has it that Jung at one point said that he was thankful for being Jung and not Jungian :-) And in 24 hours I will be just south of Norway, flying toward the Americas together with Nilla. Thus, I cannot but quote some words from my favourite poem by Tennyson, likely to even further exacerbate my “resfeber”:

'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Gibran goes weblogging

Last autumn I wrote a post on Buddhist blogging. Today I turn to Gibran:

   “You talk when you cease to be at peace
with your thoughts;
   And when you can no longer dwell in the
solitude of your heart you live in your lips,

and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
   And in much of your talking, thinking

is half murdered.
   For thought is a bird of space, that in a
cage of words may indeed unfold its wings

but cannot fly.”

Today, a colleague told me that she was thinking about starting a weblog but was uncertain about what to write on it. She asked me, what do you write? – All sorts of things: politics, about my research, travel notes and some completely irrelevant “personal” stuff. Not very enlightening perhaps.

Today was also the day of the long awaited seminar on the viability of a European public sphere. The seminar went okay, had a strange experience of absence though, like if I already was on the other side of the Atlantic in my mind. Often during these seminars I feel so unintelligent or rather ignorant about so many things. There are so many books which I should have read, so much history I should know, so many theoretical concept which I only partially command.

So I stay silent.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The bare essentials

Today I bought a 32 litres backpack to carry around my laptop, some t-shirts and other essentials during my summer tour to Albania and ex-Yugoslavia. I know it is crazy, but after my trip to the US last autumn with 30 kilos of oversized luggage I have decided that this trip will be a real field excursion, nothing but an absolute minimum and a lot of Y3 washing powder.

Yesterday I made contact with Markus Bousska, my dear friend in Vienna so now Gabriel and I have a place to stay during the first night. Flight tickets have also been booked, all we have to figure out now is how to get from Tirana to Skopje via Lake Ohrid...

Yet, the Balkan trip is still two months down the road. But thanks to Anders I now have in my possession a pin from “Albturist”, the state tourism organization of the communist era, which fills me with anticipation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Environmental ethics

Today, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter had an article on carbon neutralization written by Andreas Malm, a syndicalist who joined the newspaper’s cultural section a few years ago. In his article, Malm argues that the trade in carbon credits is nothing but a modern equivalent to the indulgence trade of the 16th century.

Using a recent report by Larry Lohmann to support his claims, Malm criticizes the idea of carbon neutralization, suggesting that neither planting trees nor offsetting carbon by for instance installing solar panels in Third World countries will do any good.

Though this topic may be too big for a blog post, the article by Malm and the underlying report by Lohmann once again persuaded me that so called “greens” are not in any way interested in finding pragmatic solutions to the environmental problems. Their agenda has a lot a more to do with creating a paradoxical sense of guilt while at the same time mustering support for future “radical action”.

I write “paradoxical” because these greens prophets fly around to the same environmental conferences as I do. They herald some quasi-mystical inner change of humanity which one day will bring about the “sustainable society”. Obsessed by “small-scale solutions”, “local knowledge” and “soft technology” they fail to see the urgent desire for an adequate living standard held by billions of people throughout Asia, Africa and South-America.

They want to turn the environmental problems which we are now facing, and especially the threat of climate change, into an ethical test of humanity. Fuelled by an almost utopian zeal they want to see a radical transformation of society, a dismantling of global capitalism and a return to their own highly romanticized images of the “organic society”.

Glossy as such utopian images may seem we have to recognize that we as a civilization are very young, we are just beginners. We have just played the game of “modernity” for a little more than two hundred years. The current environmental problems should not come as a surprise and they can also, most likely, be mitigated through radical technological innovation.

What we need is more time to learn about the human condition, we need to allow more generations to grow up in prosperity all over the world and discover their own desires, not the ones of a particular sub-group of Western intellectuals. We cannot simply “reverse modernity” and reject the enormous progress which has been made during the last centuries. Instead we should use the instrumental power of modernity and through conscious political action develop new technologies, “ride the Juggernaut” to speak with Anthony Giddens and start to build a cosmopolitan planetary civilization.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Plombier polonaise

Today Nilla and I defied the warm spring weather and went inside to see five short theatre plays inspired by an article series written by Maciej Zaremba in 2005. The articles addressed our own Swedish version of the ”Plombier polonaise”-debate which followed a blockade enforced by the unions against Latvian constructions workers in Stockholm.

As I remember that I read Zaremba’s articles with great interest, I was of course excited about this new artistic interpretation. And I must say it turned out pretty well, though a bit uneven in terms of quality between the different plays.

Clearly, the underlying political theme is as important as ever.

As the debate has evolved there are a few things in particular which I find disturbing. First, how come that Swedish middle-class kids should be allowed to work a year in for instance London, earning a relative low salary (well-protected by their parents if anything serious would happen to them) while we consider it “social tourism” if a Lithuanian girl wants to do the same in Stockhom? Second, what would really be the alternative of allowing money and jobs to flow to the new member countries in Central and Eastern Europe? To just keep these country down there in poverty? Of course not. By moving industrial production (like the vacuum-cleaner factory in Västervik which recently has been moved to Hungary) new jobs are created in these countries which eventually will raise living standards there and in turn increase demand for Swedish goods that are higher up in the value chain (read AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals or cell phones designed in Sweden).

Of course we, as a country, are a lot better off by selling such high-tech products than vacuum-cleaners. The problem is just one of distribution. Though the shareholders of Ericsson may benefit tremendously from this globalisation process, the same does not necessarily apply to the workers in that specific Västervik factory. And it is here, that we as egalitarian liberals should engage in the debate and show why distributive justice requires us to offer a new hope for people disadvantaged by increased economic globalisation. Through things like a generous study loan system or free dental care (all paid by progressive taxation of the rich) that hope can be given without awakening the spectre of paternalism.

It is time to move beyond the idea that international competition is a zero-sum game.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Artefacts

Still struggling with the manuscript. Yet, I decided to take the morning off with Nilla, to have a long breakfast together at an outdoor café here in Lund while making plans for our summer vacation.

Back at Tornhem we have put up our new Eileen Gray table. This circular glass table, known as E-1027, was designed during the mid-twenties by Gray and inspired by the tubular steel experiments of Marcel Breuer at Bauhaus.


It is kind of fascinating to see how her table, with its eighty years old design, interacts with my new Ericsson toy, the W880i. Artefacts.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Silver Palomino

Reading a manuscript on the normative and empirical viability of a European public sphere.

As often these days I find myself onboard a silver-grey train, this time returning to Lund after a short visit to Kalmar, my parents and their perennial computer problems. Met up with Gabriel yesterday and planned a possible trip to the Balkans in June: Vienna, Sarajevo, Tirana and finally Istanbul. Although I travelled a lot to Bosnia-Herzegovina with my parents before the war, Albania and Turkey are still white spots for me.

Crowded train. “Silent” compartment with loud kids playing around with their breakfast. In my dreams bareback I ride across the scrub desert floor.

The manuscript which I will be discussant of next Friday is written by Max Conrad, a fellow PhD candidate in Lund. Like last time, I plan to write some short reflections here on Rawls & Me.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A shallow post

Just about to go swimming at Högevallsbadet. But listening to Afterglow with Sarah McLachlan I first browse through my wardrobe feeling extraordinary happy about a purchase I made last week. A short-sleeved black linen shirt from Boomerang.

Perfect for Texas. Or a drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh :-)

Lone Star State


Easter came and went, and so did the warm spring weather. But according to the forecast, we will be seeing temperatures in the high teens during the coming days. As for Dallas, make that high twenties! Yes. In twelve days I will once again board SK 943 to Chicago O’Hare, this time together with Nilla and with an onward ticket to Dallas Ft Worth. There, Nilla will be holding a workshop for undergraduates at the University of Texas at Arlington while I will be enjoying the sun, a frappuccino or two at Starbucks and also write a conference paper due for presentation in July at Mansfield College, Oxford.

Directly after our two weeks in Texas it is off to Helsinki (in fact, I will have to take all the Helsinki-papers with me to Texas) and ECPR Joint Sessions. Which this year coincides with the Eurovision Song Contest… No wonder I had a hard time finding a hotel room.

So, a lot of more travelling coming up on Rawls & Me!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Tabouleh

I have not posted in a while but there have been some sad tidings. Tomorrow Nilla and I are flying up to Stockholm for a few days so this afternoon I decided to make a great bulgur salad with the remaining vegetables. Turned out pretty decent, mixing yam and burghul makes one think of Benjamin Barber, doesn’t it?


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Blackberry

No, this post is not about a PDA. It is about my gardening adventures. Last weekend I planted some hornbeam but also three tiny blackberry plants. Together with the Japanese magnolia on the other side of the house these plants are as close as I seem to get to Finistére. I wonder how surprised everyone would be if I turned Rawls & Me into a weblog on gardening?

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The embassy on the hill

»The sky's still, the same unbelievable blue» as Springsteen put it. Early Sunday morning, Nilla has taken the train up to Stockholm for a visa interview at the US Embassy and I try to write up the blog post I started on yesterday.

Actually that post was on another US Embassy, the one in Prague. Located on the Petrin Hill and overlooking the historical city, the American embassy was for a long time precisely a beacon of freedom: a white house surrounded by gardens and apple orchards.
To me, the white building represented an unworldly purity, the hope embodied by Walt Whitman: I hear America singing. All the things the US could have been (and still can become).

During the long nineties, that beacon was not as dimmed as it is today. There was no Guantanamo, no Halliburton Administration and definitely no rapping Karl Rove. One could spend Sunday mornings like today with a Californian Omelette, reading the news and there was only Whitewater or maybe a lost saxophone.