Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lost luggage

When your home is a suitcase, it feels not so good when that suitcase gets stolen. And that is exactly what happened today aboard train 326 just after leaving Kalmar. I had put away my black Samsonite suitcase ten meters down the aisle and apparently someone decided to take it along as he/she disembarked in either Nybro or Emmaboda.

Thus, a bit grumpy today. I had planned to write a blog post on the thawing of the Siberian permafrost and the recent scientific findings which show that subterranean methane has indeed started to leak into the atmosphere. For those engaged in climate research the implications of this are potentially alarming. Methane is a powerful green house gas with a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide. If the tundra continues to melt it may trigger a self-reinforcing feedback loop by which ever more methane is released, also from methane currently trapped in ocean sediments, all causing dangerous and abrupt climate change.

It is an understatement to say that we urgently need a political response. At the conference in Barcelona I attended a panel called “The Calm Before the Storm?” on liberal democracy and the challenges posed by climate change. There, once again, I realised how pessimistic many in “the green camp” have become about the chances of turning this development around. Not only do they fail to rightly appreciate existing socio-economic dynamics, their own “solutions” all seem to dependent on some kind of quasi-mystical change of humanity and the realization of their own perfectionist ideals about the good life. As I have argued elsewhere, to turn the question of climate stability into some sort of “ethical test” of humanity is irresponsible at best and highly cynical at worst. Clearly, history does not give a favourable record of earlier attempts to facilitate deep changes in attitudes and behaviour.

With this in mind, any political response must transcend existing green thinking by rejecting the trade-off between nature and people that they project. Instead of de-modernization and a return to the material standard of the fifties (a common example among green theorists) we should immediately seek advanced technological paths to long-term environmental sustainability, paths that will allow rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India to continue to build a decent living standard for their people while reducing their local as well as global environmental impact.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Filmjölk mornings

Back in Sweden with all its signifiers. Mesophilic fermented milk definitely sounds worse than it is. Remembering German friends in Stockholm who thought they had deciphered the system as they poured “filmjölk”, believing it to be “Vollmilch” (milk with 3% fat), into their coffee.

Later, on the train, I took a break in my work to watch one of the last episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There, towards the end of the seventh and final season, the ethical complexity increases as the Federation finds itself fighting through a moral grey zone in the 24th century equivalent of the South Ossetia conflict.

In a way, the realism is failing, humans will most likely not advance into a space-faring civilization unless we also improve our moral sensitivity and reflexive capacity beyond the present. In the past I always said that only institutional progress was possible and that our moral capacities were constant. Thinking further about it however, I figured how misanthropic such a view was. For certain, it makes a difference for children to grow up in freedom and peace. It makes a difference for children to have shelter from the elements, access to schooling and professional healthcare. Meaning, that in a bright future, where more and more people will come to live in democratic societies, enjoying greater personal freedom and emancipation from parochial cultural practices, we can also expect an ethical improvement in human behaviour. This is not to say that we will not feel mistrust to each other, be unfaithful or commit petty crimes. But maybe we will evolve beyond *institutional* violence as we acknowledge our shared responsibility for the future of humanity.

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Night over Europe

I once read an interview with a seasoned pilot, who had spent many bright summer nights crossing the North Atlantic. Reflecting on the serenity of those nights he simply said “we do not belong up there”. Maybe true.

There is something intangible about flying through the night, even high above our own continent, to just take in the landmass, the cultural landscape, the thick layers of history, all the houses with their warm receiving lights.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Poisoning the well

The last days have seen two important articles in Svenska Dagladet on Lex Orwell. The first one, written by lawyers at Center for Justice, lists a large number of points on which the new law violates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The second article, written by the senior weblogger and phd in informatics Nicklas Lundblad, shows how the technological imperative of Lex Orwell (it is possible!) has been allowed to completely overshadow the more important question: do we want it?

Reading the online version of these articles, I am disappointed to find that both the comments field and the blog links are overflowing with conspiracy theories, everything from “9/11 was planned by George W Bush” to those staple accusations against the Bilderberg-group.

As always, it is difficult to assess how representative such views actually are. But it is easy to see that they play very well in the hands of those who claim that anyone opposing Lex Orwell is either ignorant about its purpose or suffers from paranoia anyway.

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The nihilism of Starbucks

Last day of a great conference. High spirits as I head back to Plaza Catalunya together with a group of Germans. Almost enough to make me forget that I woke up this morning with the compulsory conference cold and, if I was a responsible person, should spend the rest of the day recovering in my hotel room. Teaching starts on Monday.

The morning was not that good, even apart from the cold. I think there is a correlation here, every time I do not feel so well, I find myself engaged in these sliding discussions on cosmopolitanism and the perceived “emptiness” of any future global culture. As already discussed here on Rawls & Me, I have made it into my personal crusade to challenge this view, with the obvious risk that people think I want to turn the whole world into a Starbucks or maybe an airport...

Some day I would like to write a proper response to this criticism, admitting that also cosmopolitans are driven by darker psychological motives than just dispassionate Kantian reasoning. For one thing, to be democratic, political cosmopolitanism presupposes a perfectionist ideal, a vision of a future in which people everywhere are made both “reasonable” and literate. Abhorrent as such a vision may seem to many academic people, it is not any different from what was once necessary to make democracy work in a single country. Just think of the education levels in pre-20th century Europe. Enlightened elites had to pursue a perfectionist vision of compulsory schooling and, ultimately, economic redistribution in order to make democratic participation meaningful. The case of Weimar also illustrates what happens when that idealistic vision of the elites fails and the bond with the wider population breaks.

At the same time, there is an element of fascism here, despite how benign our purposes may be. The best would be to simply fast-forward time and, once democracy is universal, re-engage in this debate. However, that will not be possible. And history tells us that the means we use are just as, if not more, important than the actual ends we seek. And it is here that it gets difficult.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The re-masculinization of political culture post-9/11

Conference in progress.

Yesterday, at the opening plenary session, Fred Halliday from the LSE gave an educated lecture on “the Mediterranean in an age of globalization”. Of the many things I appreciated in his talk, the idea that both Western and Eastern political culture have undergone a “re-masculinization” in the wake of 9/11 really sparked my thinking.

Though I am hesitant to jump on the gender-speak bandwagon, it is clear that the last half decade has seen a return of traditionally “male” ideals. It is not too far-fetched to think that, with the Cold War gone, many in the military-industrial complex spent the long nineties, eagerly looking for new enemies or, as the jargon goes, "new threats". The 11 September attack provided them with just that, once again there was a meaning and a purpose to replace the old enemies.

Now, think of sustainable development. So far, environmental sustainability has almost completely been framed in terms of moderation, conservation and care. These are traditionally seen as “female” values. If taken seriously, a sustainable life seems to require dramatic cuts in the material metabolism of our societies: no more flying to overseas conferences, no more convertible driving and no more prosciutto. On a less humorous note, traditional conceptions of sustainability also seem to presuppose that the vast majority of people on this planet never comes to enjoy our material standard.

In my work, the main normative concern has been to challenge this “green mantra”, arguing that there may be advanced technological paths to both environmental sustainability and climate stability. These paths would mean radical innovation in emerging technologies such as nuclear fusion, nano-miniaturization and space exploration. It goes without saying that such a vision alludes to traditionally “male” or Apollonian virtues like expansionism, creativity and inventiveness. However, in the mainstream discourse, alternative visions or paths to sustainability are not widely discussed. Instead the task of achieving environmental sustainability has generally been reduced into making all those sacrifices that we all “know” are necessary but at the same time remain frustratingly unwilling to actually make.

Combining this lack of inspirational visions of the future with the current security-oriented paradigm, it is tempting to think that “the war on terror” is precisely what you would expect “boys” to come up with unless they are given a more meaningful task (it goes without saying that the word “boys” can refer to both men and women). Maybe then a vision of a grand future for all of humanity could serve as a powerful corrective, underscoring the global scope of the challenges ahead and the obsolete nature of military thinking.


P.S. As for the “re-masculinization” thesis, Susan Faludi should rightfully be credited for presenting a similar argument about the post-9/11 world in her recent book "The Terror Dream".

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Barcelona mornings

Certain countries leave you with no illusions, you are a foreigner and all you can do is to accept your fate and try to get the best out of it. Having exhausted almost my entire Spanish vocabulary to order a café con leche with a bocadillo de jamon y queso, I recognize that my linguistic isolation is even worse here in Catalunya.

But it is all fine, sometimes it is relaxing to just walk around, be “the dreamer kind” and order a late-night mojito as if you never heard about Cuba. Right now I am reading up on the conference papers, the panel I will chair promises a diverse mix, everything from global democracy to the politics of Albania. Also, this year the ECPR Graduate Conference seems to have attracted quite a lot of people from Turkey as well as students abroad working on Turkish politics. Undoubtedly, Turkey is a crucial litmus test for the future and one can only be thankful that the drama of the summer came to a happy conclusion on 30 July when the Turkish constitutional court decided to not ban the ruling AKP party.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Morning train

Travelling south along the west coast of Sweden with the first X2000 morning service, will be in Lund just in time for the department morning coffee. Yesterday was a good day, I sent in a slightly revised version of my conference paper with a summary to Manchester Metropolitan University, bought a nice camera and made my favourite pasta salad.

Today there will be a seminar on Marx and capitalism at the Malmö Festival at 7. Until then, administrative duties and preparations for the teaching I will undertake in September before leaving for Kangaroo-land.

Listening to Amy Macdonald’s enchanting Scottish accent, “where you gonna sleep tonight”, no problem relating there. Every so often I miss my room under the American trees, it has been close to three months now of roaming homelessness. In a sense, being this kind of “homeless light” strips away all that unnecessary weight and brings forth the fundamentals. At the same time, I never thought I would long so much for a simple wardrobe or a fridge.

Monday, August 18, 2008

μ 850 SW

With my flight to Barcelona leaving on Friday, I decided to make what I hope will be my last investment in digital cameras for a while. It has been rather tiresome with one Olympus being stolen in Brighton last year and one Casio Exilim falling into pieces.

After some consideration I went for a Stylus 850 SW. It is shock proof and water proof down to 3 metres, meaning it is suitable for both Australian beach excursions and Melbourne night life.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dictionary 2.0

Every so often Microsoft Word tells you that the word you just written does not exist. You right-click and choose to add it to your personal dictionary. After a few years all those screaming red lines turn into a growing repository of individuality. Here is my dictionary file which I believe will offer some linguistic challenges for those tired of Sudokus.


actualism, Adelholzener, aerogeek, ahistorical, airmiles, Alexanderplatz, Amartya, Amazon.de, Amerika-äventyret, anarchistically, Annika, antropocentrism, arbets-marknadsstyrelsen, Arlanda, atemporal, atheoretical, Axess, axiologically, bads, Balliol, Barack, Barroso, baspoäng, Bathory, Benhabib, bergamottolja, Bergendorff, biofuels, Bjørn, blitzens, blog, bloggandet, blogging, blogosphere, blogpost, Blühdorn, Bodström, Brennero, Bronner, Brundtland, Budejovický, Budvar, Burggasse, Buridan, Bäckstrand, Chakrabortty, chargrilled, ciabatta, clientelism, communitarianism, Conception, consequentialism, contractarian, contractarianism, contractualism, contractualist, Corvinus, cosmocrats, cosmopolis, cous-cous, Crafoord, Dworkin, dystopic, Ebba, ecologism, Ecotopia, ECPR, EKC, ekocentrism, Elin, Elsiv, Esping, essentialization, EU, euro, eurolatte, Europaparlamentsval, eutrophication, fella, Falkenroth, Fernsehturm, FHI, Fishkin, Flughafen, Folkpartiet, Fordian, FRA, Frappuccino, frukost-cappucino, Fägersten, förvaltningspolitik, Garton, Gemma, germanophile, Geserick, Ghraib, Giddens, governmentality, grande, Grantchester, Habermas, Hbf, Hillerbrand, Hjorth, hyressubventioner, ICPSR, idealtyper, immiseration, internet, internettrafik, Interrail, intersubjectivity, intervjuresor, IPCC, Jagers, Jürgen, Kahlenberg, Keele, Kierkegaard, Klappenrechner, Klingemann, kommunitarianism, Lambertz, Lantau, Laplacian, laundromat, Lex, Lina, Lomborg, Lotta, lunchätande, Malmö, maxtaxa, McBeal, Merkel, Miljöpartiet, mittseminariumtext, Moleskine, monological, Moomin, München, nano, nano-miniaturization, Nilla, Nordhaus, Nozick, NSA, Næss, Nürnberg, Obama, operationalized, orchestrated, orwellianska, Parfit, particularism, paternalistisk, peer-review, Pia, Post-Westphalian, posthuman, practitioner, Prenzlauer, presidentialism, quinoa, Radetzki, Rasmus, rasmusiansk, Rawlsian, realpolitik, renewables, reträttzon, Riksrevisionen, Routledge, Routley, Routuvaara, Ryanair, Sannerstedt, Schiphol, Schwechat, scientistic, signalspaningslag, Skyharbor, sms, småkommentarer, sociograms, Sofi, soulmates, Spangenberg, spatio, spill-over, springskor, Staffordshire, Staropramen, Starschmucks, stratovolcano, Streetville, structuralist, subprime, syftesformulering, symbolpolitik, syndicalist, sökbegrepp, Søren, teleporters, texting, theorethical, Tolgfors, Toulmin, Towncar, toxification, transboundary, transgenerational, transnational, Tännsjö, tågdikt, tågluff, universitet, Valpolicella, Veltliner, vetja, voluntarist, världsfederalist, Växjö, Vösendorf, WCED, Westbahnhof, Wissenburg, wittgensteiniansk, Wolfstahl, Worldwatch, Yard-a-pult, Zelmani, Älmhult, Örebro, Östratornsvägen, überachiever

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The return of Realpolitik

When reading through recent editorials in the IHT, it is easy to think that the “realists” won the day. “Airy discourses about the commerce-driven dynamics of globalization and new norms of international conduct will not vanquish realpolitik” as Rajan Menon, professor of international relations at Lehigh University, charmingly puts it in his op-ed about Georgia’s fate.

In the Swedish media, the same views are echoed by Mikael Holmström and others. They may all be right if we only look at the case of Georgia here and now. But as often, these realists fail to see the larger picture. Take South Ossetia. Fearful of Mikhail Saakashvili’s promise to restore “territorial integrity” and with 90 percent of the local population in favour of autonomy, it is not strange that its secessionist government has welcomed the military support of Russia. At the same time, if its leaders were to chose between a future as an integrated part of a prosperous Georgia joining the EU or a future as a poor backwater province in Russia, I believe that the logic on the ground would look somewhat different.

It is precisely because of this that we have to renew our commitment to further EU enlargement and, in the long-run of things, world federalism. The realists only look smart because they take a snapshot of world history here and now while ignoring the longer trends towards economic, political and social integration.

Finally, as some have noticed, this is the first time I write about Georgia and the Caucasus after the war began. Following my trip there in June, learning about the conflict has been a bit like coming back to the Balkan wars, the fusing of personal memories with horrible television images. At the same time, and unlike the Balkans, I leave to others to provide a deeper understanding of the background.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cruel town

”this town has got the youth of me
all eyes turn hollow”

Listening to the Anna Ternheim cover version of "Shoreline". Behind me I have another day working in the library, for the moment with an article to be published in Environmental Science & Policy.

Being here in Kalmar for longer tends to spark a reflective process in my mind, I come to think of my teenage years and what was really there and what was just my own self-imposed constrains and prejudices.

Last night I was again having a drink at Byttan, this time with a childhood friend. The guests, the waitress, ourselves, you so much wish there to be more to it than what you see or are able to articulate. In some cases you know there is, other times you are afraid that life is occasionally truly reducible to the Sims. As a humanist you want all surfaces to hide worlds of internal marvels: that people read novels by Hermann Hesse, that they have their secret apple orchards which they care for or that they are just about to set off for a year in Paris.

At the same time, and in no uncertain terms, small towns are dreadful, especially if you grow up in them. Back in school I dreamt of university towns, cosmopolitan cities like Vienna or even Stockholm. Still today I can experience that sense of euphoria when I talk about the urban and its emancipating potential. Of course, I know it is not all that simple, with age or a family of your own comes different values. But that insight does not persuade me about the soundness of spending billions of euro every year to artificially prevent further urbanization.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Breaking poetry

”Above the blank page lurking, set to spring
are letters that may compose themselves all wrong,
besieging sentences
from which there is no rescue”


In my hometown library, there are a few shelves of literature in “foreign languages”. Part of it is in English, and an even smaller part is made up of poetry in English. Yet someone had the good judgement of acquiring a collection of poems by Wisława Szymborska, all hiding in a white dust jacket for nearly three decades.

Though invited to the town of Radom, I did not quite make it to Poland this summer, and now there is no time. I count the days and find that there are only five more until everything turns serious with teaching, conferences and the annual kick-off activities at the department. I finish her poem, “The Joy of Writing” and turn to my second find, a collection of Modern Scandinavian Poetry, also printed sometime there in the early eighties.

Harry Martinson:

“We sat on the shore of forgotten words
and tired hands
where only the wind-blown sands are eternal
to those who build on sands”

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Paperback writer

Waiting at a train station, a classic scene stretched out between the imminent departure and the eternal delay. Grey benches, a piece of dark chocolate and that dream of one day being able to write a novel. I think of alternative settings: mist in 14th century Trondheim, contemporary nihilism in a seminar room or the transient nature of every truly meaningful encounter.

I know some of my (personal) pitfalls: the use of clichés, the lack of intersubjectivity and the inability to write realistic dialogues. Instead of a novel, I have to accept that my Moleskine holds another blogpost.

Sometimes I have these fantasies of writing a mediocre bachelor or master thesis over a weekend and a box of valpolicella, of allowing myself to be absorbed in the universe of words without all that hampering academic reflexivity and discourse awareness. I remember some rainy February days of 2004, how I just wrote away, ten pages at the time in inexplicable bliss. It is a paradox of my profession that we spend so much time fearing words even as nothing makes us happier.

"In Kürze erreichen wir Alvesta. In Alvesta haben Sie Anschluss zum Regionalzug 7543 in Richtung Kalmar. Wir verabschieden uns von allen Gästen die in Alvesta aussteigen…" - unfortunately only in my germanophile mind, but nevertheless, it is time to wrap up this post.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Barcelona paper

Finally I have submitted my paper to the 2nd ECPR Graduate Conference in Barcelona. And though I promised myself to stay away from Rawls & Me for a while I thought it would be nice to publish the paper here as well.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

FRA-fight

Today Dagens Nyheter organized a live chat with the director of the National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA), Ingvar Åkesson. Limited to one thousand characters I had to keep it short so in the end I came to repeat a question I have asked in an earlier blogpost here on Rawls & Me.

It is interesting to see how Ingvar tries to evade my question. Neither I nor anyone else have suggested that FRA will monitor and store *everything*. The violation of the Swedish constitutional rights and the European Convention on Human Rights happens already when they intercept a communication and filter it through their system.

//

Rasmus Karlsson:

I Regeringsformens andra kapitel heter det
som bekant: "Varje medborgare är gentemot
det allmänna skyddad mot [...] hemlig
avlyssning eller upptagning av telefonsamtal
eller annat förtroligt meddelande."
Inskränkningar i dessa fri- och rättigheter får
endast göras för att tillgodose ändamål som
är godtagbara i ett demokratiskt samhälle.
Begränsningar får "ej sträcka sig så långt att
den utgör ett hot mot den fria
åsiktsbildningen". Att veta att allt man läser,
skriver och tänker på hemsidor utanför
Sverige hela tiden automatiskt kopieras till
en statlig avlyssningscentral där det
genomsöks efter statsfientligt material tycks
åtminstone för mig vara just en sådan
inskränkning som ett demokratiskt samhälle
inte kan godta. Jag förstår att du som chef
för FRA är övertygad om att ni endast har de
bästa avsikter. Det finns dock ett principiellt
demokratiteoretiskt problem här som du
gång efter annan verkar oförmögen att ta till
dig.

Ingvar Åkesson:

Jag håller med dig att man i ett demokratiskt
samhälle inte kan godta att allt man läser, tänker
och skriver kopieras av en "statlig
avlyssningscentral". Jag är säker på att Lagrådet
som just har att vaka över att lagstiftningen
stämmer med grundlagen aldrig skulle gå med på
något sådant. Så kommer det heller inte att bli.
Det intrång som många uppfattar som
"massavlyssning" är att staten får tillgång till
teletrafiken. Men det innebär inte att allt kommer
att avlyssnas eller sparas för vidare bearbetning.
Det är riktigt att Lagrådet ansåg att ett intrång
föreligger redan genom att staten bereder sig
tillgång till teletrafiken. Men Lagrådet ansåg också
– trots detta - att en godtagbar balans nåtts
mellan enskildas grundlags- och
konventionsskyddade krav på skydd mot intrång i
privatlivet och det allmännas rätt och skyldighet
att svara för att för att nationella säkerhetsintressen
kan tillvaratas.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Sunshine and noir

“-Enjoy it while it lasts.”
“-The very words I live by.”


Maybe the only James Bond quote I have found reason to return to. Today is Saturday and I am back with my parents at the Baltic seashore after some birthday festivities in and about Copenhagen.

So, here it finally is, three zero day. A lifetime later I find myself sipping some Australian white wine at the restaurant Byttan, a taste of what is to come. Reading a bit in "Grand Tour" I figure that my own tour, at least the web based one, once again will have to take a little break. First, I don’t feel I have much meaningful to write about for the moment *, and second, there is far too much work out there which stresses me. So, a break, probably until I land in Melbourne on the 3rd of October. Or maybe there will be some small posts of live reporting from the 16th of September when the Swedish parliament will open after its summer recess. Then I will be in Stockholm together with thousands of others to protest against the new mass surveillance law. I urge you to join: remember, remember the sixteenth of September!


* Or more specially, I once again suffer from the perennial problem of finding the proper balance between personal associations and public reasoning. Makes me wish I was one of those up-and-coming 20+ weblogging girls who are talented enough to make a point of being non-identifiable and genre transcending. But on the other hand, I am also inclined to agree with a comment further down on Elin Grelsson’s weblog which suggests that "the private is always perverse".

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