Saturday, March 29, 2008

ALSP 08

Returning from the Sherwood Forest and a conference which left me with a frustrating mix of academic fulfilment and communication breakdown. Had the chance of talking to Stephen Gardiner, Tim Hayward and several others whose work I have been following closely over the last years. Conferences are good in the sense that you get to meet the person behind the theoretical ideas. The risk is of course that it will be that brutal over-a-beer version which stays with you afterwards.

And that risk goes both ways. Presenting my paper yesterday I once again felt how difficult it is to challenge the dominating discourse in green political theory without being reduced to a strawman. Despite the official veneration of critical thought, it sometimes seems as if some people only have two mental boxes, one for those in favour of the neo-liberal paradigm (whatever that now is) and one for those who, like themselves, are against it.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

St Pancras International

Ten hours later and still on the road. After a brief transfer at Kastrup, I am trying to stay awake over a medium Americano while waiting for my northbound purple train. On the other side of the glass window, the magnificent station hall of St Pancras.

Twenty minutes ago on the tube, a friend who is doing his PhD at the LSE walked into the same underground car. Knowing that I am in the US this semester and that London has a population of eight million, we were both rather taken back by the extremely low probability of this happening.

(somewhat delayed posting)

Danube mist

As through a rift in the time-space continuum, I am suddenly back in that same armchair. For long this alcove, in front of the large windows with the block letter sign saying "Flughafen Wien", served as the nexus of my academic writing. Thinking back, I cannot count all the papers that have been finalized right here, waiting for a flight up to Copenhagen.

This morning, I find myself en route to Britain, more precisely to Nottingham for a conference on global justice. I should go over the presentation once more. But I just wanted to share that moment when my flight made its final approach through the Danube mist, the serenity of the white polished facades of the city and then suddenly, a hundred or so ultra-orthodox Jews from Brooklyn applauding a safe landing at runway 11/29.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Rollercoaster slow

This must be the first post on Rawls & Me which I compose outdoors. My morning train was delayed into Penn Station and once there, I did not at all feel like Left Forum but rather to once again let myself be absorbed by the city. Remember that sweet moment of unlawful freedom, like back in school, when you decide to not go to class?

Instead of debating the future of the left I now intend to stroll on, maybe all the way down to Battery Park. Rollercoaster slow.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The beef and the greenhouse

Working with climate change, I have long known that livestock production is one of the larger sources of greenhouse gas emissions. A recent UN report has now confirmed that meat production is responsible for even more emissions than all of the transportation sector (that is air, land and sea).


Surprisingly, the national media in Sweden has picked up on this and asked leading politicians about their views. Somewhat less surprisingly, their responses, for the most part, accounted to nothing but a flat denial, saying that meat consumption simply is “not the problem”.

Personally, I think it is very good that the issue has finally emerged politically. Though I tend to be hesitant about the environmental citizenship approach and its focus on individual guilt (as opposed to collective progressive action), I still think there could be an interesting policy window here.

Let’s face it. Despite being a meat eater myself I have no problem recognizing that the average Swedish meat consumption of 80 kilograms per year is nothing but perverse. It is not good from a health aspect, it is not good for the animals and it is definitely not good for the global climate. And there is something very simple we can do: Eat less meat. It does not cost anything (we actually save money by doing it). Beyond voluntary action, I find the idea of a “meat tax” laudable. Not only would it have obvious progressive effects (just visit any steak house and you will find a majority of well-off men) it would also lower obesity-related healthcare costs while allowing tax breaks on more climate friendly food.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Expat blues

It is 8 p.m. on a Thursday. Earlier today I sent in a manuscript to "Environmental Science & Policy". Despite morning hours of editing and proofreading I still get that creepy grad student feeling of not being effective enough, of allowing my work day to drift away. Have been thinking about Lake Ohrid, the Armenian Highland and that Foreign Correspondents' Club; still uncertain what the summer will hold.

I remember a conversation at Washington Dulles International airport, about the loss of home or rather the quest of defining a new one. In her case the poles were America or Vienna. In my case it was a less distinct bifurcation, given that I still feel a bit bereaved of Germany.

Considering the material circumstances of most people on this planet, the conversation may seem superficial. Yet, knowing to value the freedom that we have been bestowed does not take away the fact that we owe ourselves a conscious decision. Rather the opposite.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The restraint principle

Tuesday afternoon coffee, reading anew Marcel Wissenburg’s highly scholarly essay in Fairness and Futurity from 1998. In the background, Mississippi votes on CNN.

First, thanks Marcus for the piece by Jeremy Waldron on Minority Cultures and the Cosmopolitan Alternative which much more eloquently than my blog post below succeeds in bringing home the cosmopolitan argument.

Then, turning to the text by Marcel, I feel a strong urge to move beyond the antagonistic paradigm in intergenerational justice thinking. As I will argue in the revised version of my article for Political Studies, the restraint principle only addresses the downside of intergenerational affairs and not its possibilities. But this topic, I am afraid, is definitely too intricate for a blog post.

This weekend I will go into New York City to take part in the annual edition of the Left Forum, where, among others, Bronner will have a panel on political violence in Dafur.

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Why cosmopolitanism is sexy

At tonight’s seminar I was once again confronted with the received view that cosmopolitanism lacks inspirational power and that it remains but an "empty category". Without the flesh and blood of national communities, people are thought to experience a rootless nihilism that will render them incapable of all moral and political action.

Admittedly, this is a topic for an article rather than a blog post.

Yet, I would like to have a shot at it by suggesting that, by the end of the day, cosmopolitanism may turn out to be a lot "sexier" than we normally think. Let me start by means of a parallel case.

In democratic theory it is sometimes argued that "people" want a return to the local, a return to a time when political decisions came with clear alternatives and that they now feel alienated by the growing international complexity (be it linguistic, diplomatic or economic). In order to rescue democracy, it is argued that we need radical political and economic decentralization.

To me, this line of criticism has always said more about how certain political theorists tend to view "people" than about the views actually expressed by those people. Everyone who has travelled abroad knows what a mind-opening experience it can be. Everyone who has learned to master a foreign language and found that "weave of stretched out hands" knows its magic. Everyone who has stood in awe wondering how society at all can possible does not want reductionism or simple answers.

Clearly, the recipe for the future should be to embrace this brave new world in which we are asked to grow instead of withdrawing. By taking individuals, and not states or ethnic communities, as the basic ontological building blocks, cosmopolitanism recognizes that the other side of those romanticized images of the local community is spelled social control. Even if it can be argued that cosmopolitanism today remains an elitist project, that does not mean that we should not try to extend its reach. In my view, communitarianism speaks to the past and not the future of humanity.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Saturday

I just boarded a metal-grey N.E. corridor train, one that will make all local stops between the airport and New Brunswick. Yesterday evening, coming in late from Mexico, I could not reach my train connection so I decided to rent a car and hit the turnpike once more. A fierce and blinding rain welcomed me back to the Estados Unidos.

With the rain still falling this morning, I decided to make the best of the situation and drive over to Jersey Gardens (a large mall close to Newark) and do some necessary shopping before returning the car. The economic miserabilism of the media appeared as distant as ever with thousands of Americans lining up for their favourite weekend activity. Still reeling from my unexpected travel expenses, I limited my shopping to a pair of white towels, a discounted suitcase (the old American Tourister acquired in Monfalcone, Italy, finally gave up on me yesterday), and some Chinese food court lunch.

“-Next stop, New Brunswick, New Brunswick is next!”. Okay, I leave this as a naturalistic if not rather pedestrian post.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The blank slate

All writers know its secrets, its blend of endless potential and painful insufficiency.

Yet, every time it hits me with the same brutal beauty. In a way I do not want to have a web log. I want the words unsaid to be the all there is. And now I cannot even conjure that moment as I dragged my feet through the blue water and its infinitude of sand.

The serenity of being. With my shoes back on I asked the bartender for a scotch; “sin hielo, por favor”. IKEA glasses. Det är sent på jorden.

//

Another CFP, this time for a conference in Pavia, Italy, 16-17 September. I should give up my melancholia and put together an application. Bis gleich!

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Med evac

By now I should know that all plans are subject to change. But still I was taken a bit by surprise this morning when I woke up with a nasty eye infection in my right eye. Having seen the doctor and started with the antibiotics, I could not imagine myself heading south for six hours aboard a sweltering bus.

Yet, staying on Cozumel would quickly get economically unsustainable. All considered, I thus found myself left with no option but the reasonable one, to book a flight back to New York via Charlotte tomorrow.

Paradise lost.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Transcontinental

Travelling down an itinerary which already feels as if it belongs to another time. One more hour to go until UA 145 lands at the shores of the Pacific. Reading The Economist which of course comes with an extensive coverage of the primaries.

It is sad to see how both Hillary and Obama have taken on the murky rhetoric of protectionism instead of being courageous enough to tell Americans how much they overall have gained from globalization. And more importantly, how much the world needs American leadership in the ongoing multilateral negotiations of the Doha Development Round.

Given their mutual fascination with “change” it should be easy for both to see the possibility of striking that grand bargain in which progressive taxation of the rich (who in the last decades have gained the most from globalization) is used to give a second chance to those adversely affected by the same processes. Clearly, this can be done in a non-paternalistic manner through for instance universal health care, more generous study financing or labour-intensive investments in energy efficiency.

“-Ladies and gentlemen, we have now started our descent into San Francisco International Airport, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartments. Please turn off all electronic devices until we are safely parked at the gate."

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