Friday, October 31, 2008

The Melbournian

“so one is able now
in ideal situations
to plot a stroll
to new continents”

Ondaatje again, in less than an hour it will be November. Outside, sporadic rainfall and a vaporous mist perfectly indicative of Halloween.

For the moment I have no particular plans for the weekend, will probably work a bit and gear up for the 5th (sic!). With 18 hours time difference to California, the US Election will be an afternoon business here in Melbourne, an afternoon which I intend to spend with the Australian Greens at the Limerick Arms Hotel. Hopefully I will be able to borrow a 3G network adapter from a friend and make some live comments here on Rawls & Me.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Climate economics

As SAGE is preparing a new encyclopaedia on green politics, I have been commissioned to write the article on “sceptical environmentalism”. With a maximum word count of 1500 and a deadline in early February, it is not an urgent task, yet I have spent the last days doing some preliminary research. Only a few months ago, the journal Environmental Politics published an extensive literature survey of the topic, revealing that of 141 environmentally sceptical books published between 1972 and 2005, 92 percent were linked to different conservative think tanks.

That being noted, I would nonetheless maintain that there is room for a valid criticism of mainstream green thinking, not to mention its more radical incarnations. However, unlike the junk science espoused by so called “climate sceptics”, the issue should not be whether the environmental problems are real, but rather what we are to do politically about them.

Most cost benefit analyses of global environmental change, such as the ones championed by Bjørn Lomborg, assume a known probability distribution for each uncertain outcome or parameter. However, as Martin Weitzman has argued in a recent contribution to the economic theory of climate change, we are inferring these probability distributions from a limited amount of empirical information. Instead of assuming a normal distribution with thin tails we should assume one with fat tails, including some truly ominous estimates. With no firm upper bound on the possible damages, it seems as if we have not correctly valued the risk of catastrophic climate change. On the other hand, given the technological advances of the last centuries, mainstream economists may also incorrectly have underestimated the “other side of the equation”, as in what exactly can be achieved by (democratically guided) scientific and technological progress over time.

It is uncontroversial to say that technological change is poorly understood in economics. Though economists may (perhaps) be able to estimate how a new cell phone model may contribute to economic growth in one country they can say nothing of how “breakthrough technologies” such as nuclear fusion would impact our civilization. Yet, given the deep uncertainty of both risks and possibilities in the century ahead, it seems urgent to “insure” ourselves against the worst possible outcomes, arguably by investing sufficient resources to open up advanced technological paths to environmental sustainability.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Conditio Humana

Beyond measuring relative scholarly achievement, a citation index may give you a glimpse at where your ideas have travelled once they went into print. The other day I found a paper by an Armin Grunwald, based at a research centre in Karlsruhe, citing my 2005 article in Futures. Armin opens his paper with a simple yet profound observation:

“Scientific and technological progress broadens humanity’s options and decreases its dependency on the given. With the increase in contingency in the conditio humana associated with it, however, not only new freedom of choice, but also problems of orientation arise.”

In a way, almost everything I have published has been about “unpacking” this observation and drawing out its implications in terms of democratic theory, international relations and, not the least, our obligations to future generations. Some may hold this “bold strokes approach” to be unscientific. While I may partially agree to that, I also hold it to be indispensible, for if not the scientific community, who exactly would critically debate the big-picture questions of humanity?

Working with these issues on a day like this is not particularly easy. Though we always should be cautious about exaggerating the importance of our own time, it looks as if this autumn has put a lot of old constants in sudden danger. And while the 68-generation of reformed communists may be certain that the “markets will rebound”, The Economist points out that even as the immediate financial calamity may have been averted , the “world economy is still cooking up something very nasty”.

As the shockwave is rapidly engulfing “the real economy”, we may be about to witness a rather formative juncture, determining among other things to what extent we will have the resources to tackle global climate change. Either, the crisis will spark a hitherto unseen commitment to international solidarity, a renunciation of many nationalist pretensions as the world realizes its profound interdependence, ultimately leading in the direction of a single global currency. Or, the disintegrative forces will win the day, as national governments yield to the growing nostalgia for self-sufficiency and romanticized green ideas about the “local”. It is always safe to say that the real result will end up somewhere in between. But if not the planned meeting in Washington D.C. in November will be the watershed, I am willing to put those famous €0,02 on that first year of the incoming administration will play a certain role in the history books of the future.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Puzzles

Late Friday afternoon, still trying to bring some structure to my new article project on environmental citizenship theory. I remember writing the abstract at Fröken Olssons Kafé in Gothenburg, just before setting off to the Caucasus with Lina.

Since writing the abstract there in May, I have been thinking of situating the paper closer in relation to the discourse on post-ecologism. While its American strand has a more optimistic undertone, the European notion of post-ecology remains profoundly defeatist. Deprived of all transformative hopes, the mere act of existing in the late-capitalist society has become a source of enduring individual guilt. With apparent scientific certainty, different carbon calculators allow us to know exactly how far we are from being responsible “environmental citizens”.

Admittedly, I am treading a fine line here. While it is certainly laudable to try to live a less ecologically destructive life, the problem is that this focus on individual shortcoming deflects our attention away from our collective responsibilities. By offering an illusive route to sustainability (if only I spend my vacation at home instead of in Thailand...) it fails to address the root causes of our current predicament, and more importantly, it takes away the political pressure to seek more radical progressive action.

In retrospect, if all goes well that is, I think this will be one of the greatest puzzles for future scholars, why our inertia with regards to innovation was so overwhelming, why it took so long for our political leaders to recognize our shared planetary destiny, why we kept building nuclear weapons in a world of ever deeper interdependence?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Anathem


In the end it felt inevitable, having finished Gilgamesh I could just not resist buying this great new work of speculative fiction by Neal Stephenson. The clue is already on the cover where we learn about the main character Erasmas or “Raz”, “a young avout living in the Concent”. Due to a memorable anglo-slavic (sic!) misspelling I felt an immediate sense of identification. As evident in his other books, Stephenson suffers from severe graphomania, this time the page count stops just before a thousand, probably only because it then reaches the absolute limits of paperback printing.

In praise of wind turbines

Browsing the September issue of Monocle, as always a solid “briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design”. This issue reports from inside the absurd personal cults of Turkmenistan and from the night club-escapism of Beirut. There is also an uplifting article on the new Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI) being established in Portorož, Slovenia. Drawing on my own experience of teaching international masters students in Lund, I believe that higher education remains one of the most effective ways of building bridges across countries and cultures. While recognizing that this integrative process can be painstakingly difficult at times, it is about planting the seeds of what one day could become a truly cosmopolitan culture.
//
Given the response I have received on the post “Simulative politics” below, I thought it would be appropriate to clarify my position somewhat. Even as we may not know what a sustainable society would look like, we definitely know what a less ecological destructive one would. While this is unlikely to solve the long-term equation of planetary sustainability, there is every reason to make massive investments in energy technologies such as wind and solar power, to continue building high-speed train networks and to improve overall energy efficiency. With the darkening economic outlook, this should indeed be the time to set up whole new industries of labour intensive green-collar jobs to replace the ones lost in for instance car manufacturing (as hopefully underway right now in West Sweden).
All such measures are crucial, not the least to provide enough time to bring success to bolder projects on nuclear fusion, nano-technology and other converging technologies.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Unausweichlichkeit

It is late at night when I finish Gilgamesh. 251 resonating pages of “economical prose” exposing the characters, the thickening fog of war and its imminent brutal realism. And on the far side of the tunnel all those stories told to me as a child, the toil of the sugar beet fields in Skåne in the fifties, narratives so dense that I can feel them under my skin.

It is the quality of a good book. The English language fails to provide a word here, between imperious and irresistible. As often, the adjective “unausweichlich” comes to me immediately in German.

03:06, it is high noon along the Eastern seaboard and already six in the evening in Europe. In other words, time to depart for dreamland.

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Foliation of space-like hypersurfaces


Back at the red table for a caffè latte at Bruce. Good to get starting with work, for too long this morning did I allow myself to be captivated by the great encyclopaedia of our times, adjusting small details and providing my own, however limited, contribution to the vast collective intelligence of Wiki. For some reason, these wiki-sessions tend to take me far outside my own domain and into the enchanting world of “real science”. The mathematical beauty defining the frontiers of abstract human thinking. I scribble down the Alcubierre metric in my Moleskine; hopefully to the confusion of any future grandchildren who one day will find this black notebook on a dusty attic somewhere.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Simulative politics

When it comes to global climate change, political leaders everywhere seem to agree on the need for radical and immediate action. Survey data from the industrial countries also confirms that there is a striking consensus between political elites and the general electorate “that it is time to stop talking about things and take decisive action”.

However, as shown by Dale Jamieson in his revealing article “An American Paradox” (Climatic Change, 2006, 77:97-102), when those surveyed are confronted with specific policies with definite costs, their commitment to green reform seems to vanish. Likewise, on the political level, talk seems to be cheap but real action frighteningly expensive as few politicians are willing to seriously challenge the core principles of consumer capitalism.

According to Ingolfur Blühdorn, this observed discrepancy can be attributed to “simulative politics”. According to this notion, politicians repeatedly make the case that serious action is necessary, yet lack any genuine will to carry out that action, believing that the prescribed “cure” would ruin their political future.

Though Blühdorn has built an intricate theoretical framework around these ideas (which I will not be able to give justice to here on the weblog), let us crudely examine some of the premises of this argument:

1) Climate change is an urgent problem
2) Political leaders know what “real” action would look like
3) “Real” action would be painful and include, inter alia, an end to consumer capitalism
4) Instead of this “real” action, political leaders engage in “simulative politics”

I believe that if we think of it in these terms, our politicians immediately come out looking a bit better. Though most of us would agree on the first premise, the other premises remain contestable to say the least. First, though some green writers may have articulated visions of what an ecotopia would look like, the transitional politics that would lead us to these fluffy green lands seem dubious at best, especially from a global perspective. Thinking of how difficult it was to reach international agreement on the (much watered-down) Kyoto-treaty, we can only imagine how difficult it would be to reach agreement on dramatic cuts in economic activity. Even more disturbingly, with a world population approaching seven billions it is uncertain that even such dramatic cuts would suffice to ensure long-term sustainability.

Much of my research has been focused around the second and the third premise. Contrary to many in the “green camp”, I would say that we know very little about what real and meaningful action would look like. Green thinking often presupposes a computer-game-like command of resources and people, that the fabric of society will remain intact throughout any transition and that it is possible to simply “scale back” the material metabolism of our societies. Contrary to this, history suggests that crises rarely lend themselves to planning and that, more often than not, grand plans built around sacrifice may lead to coercive if not totalitarian politics once the original idealism is extinguished.

With all this in mind, the practice of “simulative politics” should not come as a surprise to anyone. Instead of some secret Naomi Kleinesque conspiracy, I believe that our political leaders are just as confused as the rest of us about what a positive global future would look like and, especially, how to move from here to there. Though I often give the impression of certainty regarding a Star Trek-like global federation, I have to admit that, if anything, that image is about direction rather than destination.

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Enoteca Oggi


I like coming back to the romanticized images of what doing a doctoral degree is like; drinking dark-roasted coffee and spending innumerable hours in university libraries, learning, meditating, writing. With the new Trandemos website finished (though still waiting for its final approval before being published) the last days have been a bit like that. More specifically, I am reading up on the early work on post-ecologist politics done by Ingolfur Blühdorn in his 2000 Routledge monograph. Will probably post more on that but first I would like to give you an “insider tips” to the area around the University of Melbourne. On 237 Lygon Street there is Enoteca Oggi, authentically Italian with outstanding food and two asynchronous clocks on its walls, one showing the local time at Fiumicino, the other at Tullamarine.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cow up a tree

I had planned to attend the Sunday service at the Church of Sweden out in Toorak. Little did I know that today was the annual Around the Bay in a Day bicycle event which made me miss the connecting tram at the Domain Interchange with a single critical minute.


Instead of eternal forgiveness I found myself drifting through the interminable construction yards of Docklands. At the waterfront I came across a cow hanging in an artificial tree, an art installation by John Kelly. Otherwise, unlike the London original, this antipodean interpretation of Docklands felt all synthetic with large empty concrete slabs, wind-tormented palm trees and disoriented Japanese tourists. Despite this I decided to linger a bit longer in this late-capitalistic architectural nightmare, to sit down for the mandatory caffè latte and smile a bit as I came to think of Obama’s hilarious speech at the Alfred E Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner: “I even spilled my soy chai latte all over my Shih Tzu”.
Latte fetishism and liberalism. Yesterday, my good friend brought up that issue again, this time in relation to a new doctoral dissertation in comparative literature by Nina Björk which has become subject to a heated debate in the Swedish blogosphere. The dissertation, “Free Souls - Ideology and Reality in Locke, Mill and Benedictsson”, sets out to prove that the liberal self was never as free or unencumbered as the great liberal thinkers wanted us to believe. First, to be a bit cynical, I have to say that to a political theorist this hardly comes across as a shocking new line of criticism.
Yet, given the intense debate that the dissertation has sparked, it may well be worth to think a bit further about it. Clearly, if we are to rightly appreciate the emancipatory potential of liberal thought, we have to separate the life and deeds of individual liberal authors from liberalism as such. As Stephen Eric Bronner repeatedly emphasized during his seminars this spring at Rutgers, a more appropriate question would be to ask ourselves if there is something in the work of these authors which cannot be reduced to their particular historical setting?
Just as it would be wrong to deny that an author such as John Stuart Mill occasionally gave expression to the prejudices of his time, I believe it would be equally wrong to try to reduce the liberal ethos into these prejudices. Rather it becomes possible to criticize these prejudices precisely because they were not shared by other liberal theorists at the time. Further, the concept of autonomy is not as much a constitutive principle as it is a regulative ideal. When we decide to treat our fellow citizens as our equals, as being independent moral subjects, we do not do so out of some obscure empirical theory but as a normative affirmation of their individual autonomy. It is not like that liberals (for the most part at least) are stupid enough to think that people exist outside all social bounds, it is rather that we do not want to essentialize people as defined solely by these bounds.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gilgamesh

Friday afternoon, still playing around with different design ideas for the website. Outside, a forever blue sky as I take a long walk through Prahran, all the way up to South Yarra station. In a book store I find the novel by Joan London which Robyn talked so lyrical about, Gilgamesh.


The back cover blurb brings back a stock of recent memories: London, the Caucasus and then Australia. Set in the late thirties, just as the “modern world is waiting to erupt”, a time of closure which I always have been fascinated by. Be it the Weimar republic or those mist-drenched Mediterranean ports that offered a last overseas escape route. Reading the opening chapter made me think that conditions on a tiny farm in south-west Australia were probably not so different from what my grandparents experienced: hard work in the fields, a culture of male silence and emotional attrition.
I write this on Cabinet, a lounge bar with a solid Victorian charm, considered to be one of the hidden gems of the Melbourne bar scene according to the Herald Sun, obviously a selling point immediately falsified by the very act of printing the newspaper. On the outset, my life is so completely disconnected from that farm existence in south Sweden, yet I think it reverberates through my soul more often than I consciously recognize. Delayed casual chains of family history. Beyond melancholia it leaves me with an urge to do good to all the opportunities that have been given to me.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Education

”So how do we discuss
the education of our children?
Teach them to be romantics
to veer towards the sentimental?”

Reading that the conservatives in Stockholm are about to introduce grades for ten year olds made me pick up Ondaatje again. On one hand it is urgent to raise standards, especially in the humanities. On the other, instead of measuring relative failure, those teaching resources should be used to prevent kids from falling behind in the first place. Given all we know about society, it is a mystery to me why we do not double, or even triple, the money spent on schools, especially for the young ages? Even in strictly economic terms, the return on investment would be staggering and seen all over the board: crime, employment, science, the arts, name it.

At least in the Swedish context, a first step would be to improve the training of the teachers. Too often, people go into teaching because they lack bolder dreams. Our universities are then quick to extinguish any remaining ambition by failing to provide them with a sufficient academic challenge.

But when all this is said and done, we still have to reflect on the deeper purpose of all this. And that should be to advance civilization in its broadest sense. However, in the lingo of the former leader of the so called “liberal” party in Sweden, Lars Leijonborg, education is only a mean to achieve international competitiveness. Though undoubtedly important, that view indicates that the centre-right coalition still has a lot of thinking to do when it comes to a more fundamental question: do we have a society in order to sustain an economy or an economy in order to sustain a society?

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lunch pizza

At last all twenty take-home exams have been marked, grades submitted and personal comments sent out to the students. Like car rides on summer highways, marking exams always takes a lot longer than you are able to remember the following year.

But, finished! In the coming days my work will shift focus rather dramatically as I take on the task of redesigning the website of Transdemos – a joint research project undertaken by Stockholm and Lund University. Since I am not part of the research team, the website is something I do on a consultancy basis (like a few other similar projects). During my undergraduate studies I used to constantly switch between political science and informatics, these days the mental change is somewhat less instantenous.

Walked a bit along Carlisle St in the other direction, found a white library and another good small café called “Bruce”, owned and operated by Bruce himself. As frontline bastions of late-modernity, these places may be the first to fall if people decide to cut down on their discretionary spending. Thinking of how much such places contribute to the urban experience, one can only hope that people instead decide to not buy a new car or upgrade their cell phone to the latest model. With my breakfast running late due to the exams I traded the planned ciabatta for a delicious lunch pizza at "Bruce". I am definitely coming back.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Life in the colonies

Every morning when I take a shower, I am reminded of how far Australia (or for that part Hong Kong, Canada or Singapore) has advanced beyond Britain itself. Be it in terms of water pressure, mass transit or the overall built environment, it is clear that Britain has not quite recovered from the world wars nor from the costs associated with its early entry into industrialism (much of its infrastructure is now literally falling apart due to old age).

Yet, the old homeland has The Guardian Weekly. Its format is particular suitable for long journeys into the unknown, you can tuck it away in the backpack for a while and when you pick it up, it will still have a few more days to go until “expiration date”. In a world of global instantaneous news, The Guardian Weekly reminds you of how it used to be, especially here in the “colonies”, far away from all decency.

Yesterday, my flatmate Lillian took me along for a Sunday excursion to historic Williamstown, the seafaring town which provided a natural harbour until the Yarra River was deepened and the Port of Melbourne was developed in the 1880’s. There, in the sun along its pavements, I was struck by how Australia has been able to cherry-pick its favourites from the planetary smorgasbord: Italian ice-cream next to Nepalese specialities, French crêpes competing with Mexican nachos. Being here in Australia tends to trigger a lot of thinking about such issues, about integration and assimilation, about how much idealism it will take to prevent the dark Huntingtonian fantasy of cultural disintegration from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy (for more on that, I encourage you to read Göran Rosenberg’s new series in Dagens Nyheter - unfortunately only available in the Muppet language).

Well, back to The Guardian Weekly in which Jonathan Freedland has a good piece on the US election and why the world rightfully should be concerned about November 4. Until global democracy is realized, America remains the de facto leader of the free world. Not only will the new president be charged with leading the world through the present economic convulsion, much of our common future will depend on what policies America will pursue in the coming decade. Be it in energy, security of free trade, without American leadership, the world will be left drifting and even more valuable time will be lost. Yet, watching a recent Republican rally in suburban Minesota on CNN (where a woman accuses Obama of being “an Arab”), it is easy to slip into elitism. But that if anything would run counter to the Whitman spirit. It is by asking the best of people, rather than by looking down of them, that America has the chance of once again becoming that “shining embassy on the hill”.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Later

As already noted here on Rawls & Me, there seems to be a strong positive correlation between the number of exams I have to mark and the frequency by which new posts appear on this weblog.

By nightfall I returned to St Kilda beach, bought The Age and sat down in an almost empty bar to read the daily news. It may seem tragic for a Friday night but for the moment, the solitude is self-chosen, it is about applying the existential brakes after hectic months filled by constant travel, teaching and social activity.

//

In the months ahead lie the Great Ocean Road, fairy penguins and kangaroos that came out at night to jump around the golf course.

Weg mit dem Speck

Morning sun filtered through the wooden Venetian blinds, I wake up just in time to say good-night to my friends in Europe. Yesterday I went running again, two rounds around Albert Park Lake, 10 kilometres, I am slowly getting there. After my American food adventure this spring any exercise is well overdue. Today I will head up to the university for a second time and meet Robyn for lunch.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

World on the edge


With the world financial system on life support, picking up this week's issue of The Economist is unlikely to make you feel any better. Since it went into print, the malaise has continued to worsen and some herald this to be the end of capitalism.

Not that quick. Though the capitalistic system will certainly face serious challenges in the future as the world gets hotter and more crowded, I take this crisis to be of a more traditional kind, emanating as it is from a long unsustainable housing boom. At the same time, echoing the 1930's, there is something strange with economic growth coming to an end in a world in which so many people still urgently need to improve their material living standard.

Yesterday, I finally sent in that article. Reading up on dependency theory made me think of how Marxist explanations of poverty have evolved as sort of a three-stage-rocket. First, under early industrialism, it was fairly straightforward, the declining rate of profit was thought to lead to an "increasing immiseration of the proletariat" as Marx famously put it. Then, as this turned out to be empirically false and (following the great compromises between labour and capital) people in fact got it a lot better, Marxists had to argue that poverty had only moved and that any gains were bought at the expenses of people in the Third World. Now, following the rise of China and India, there is suddenly a third reason as to why people have to be kept poor and that reason is spelled the global environment.

What unifies the three explanations is that they take society to be a zero-sum game played out with finite resources. That assumption is just as false today as it was in the 1930's. However, before we take another mojito and disappear into liberal cornucopia we have to remember that even as the possibilities ahead (including space industrialization) may seem endless, we are not quite there yet. For the moment, we are still stuck in a primitive fossil economy, torn by endless wars, and in the midst of so much spatial/temporal chauvinism. It is not at all certain that we will ever learn how to "ride the Juggernaut of modernity" as Giddens memorable expression goes.

Progress is never inevitable nor linear. Only a week ago new dark tales reached us from the Vienna woods as the xenophobic FPÖ/BZÖ took 29% of the vote in the national election. And, what is especially worrying, a third of the country's new young voters (the voting-age has just been lowered to 16) backed them.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Theory

One of my Canadian friends just got into grad school at Carleton University. Today, I was chatting with her about “theory” as she had been asked to specify what theoretical framework she would base her research on. And anyone who has been to a pol sci seminar in North America knows the veneration by which the word “theory” is occasionally uttered.

Personally, being a so called political theorist, all this talk about theory makes me a bit uncomfortable. Often I have the feeling that we make things too complicated just to show off and then find ourselves stuck in those intractable ontological discussions. It is my sincere belief that much empirical political science can comfortably be interpreted through a lens of historical institutionalism without having to invoke more delicate stuff like structuration theory.

What is worse, much “theory” in political science tends to blur description, prescription and method in ways that are unfortunate to say the least. On the other hand, I have long given up on the early Wittgensteinian task of language demarcation. Thus, live and let live. At least for the most part :-)

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Australian wool

Walking around thinking, writing and of course latte drinking :-) Went into an outdoor gear shop and bought a pair of thermal wool socks, hopefully they will keep me warm during the coming nights. Then, following the Lonely Planet trail, I made it all the way to Brunswick Street, where allegedly "Italian conversations fly over the head of the girl at the neighbouring table reading Proust".

Disputable. But I did find a nice bar with good coffee, Don Vincenzo, where I am now browsing through my latest acquisition, The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje:

“The distance between us
and then this small map
of stars
           a concentrated
ocean of the night”

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Transience

I finish the last chocolate-covered macadamia nut. The room is cold in that special southern European indoor way that anyone who has lived through a winter in Salamanca, Ferrara or Barcelona would immediately recognize. I wrap the static fleece blanket even closer and think that, as we move into November, my nights will instead be eroded by sweltering summer heat.

Today I returned the Avis car, read through the referee comments once more and started to write. I think it will take a few more days until I am ready to send in the revised version to Environmental Science & Policy.

After work I spent an hour walking around St Kilda beach, a lot of European backpackers there, loud German voices and a place called the Oslo Hostel. Otherwise, Melbourne speaks to me with a certain escapist flair, it is that “other shore” that you reach a lifetime later, when all potentiality has turned into irreversible actuality. I know it is an aesthetic fallacy but by then one wants to have set the score straight somehow, to have lived all that one knows there is to it, to fully have trusted one’s intuition.

Yet, intuition can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Life it is not only about searching but also about having the courage to hold on.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Ocean and Me

After landing in Melbourne I fell into a deep dreamless sleep. With a short interruption for some Singapore style stir-fried rice and an evening walk through St Kilda, I slept all into the bright blue Sunday morning. Awake and refreshed I then picked up a white Toyota Aurion at Avis; it was time for the compulsory IKEA-expedition! Since Ireland last autumn I have felt a bit more confident about driving on the left, but of course, the day was not without its occasional exciting moments.

Having returned with a bed, a lamp, a red rug and some large wine glasses, I decided to truly take the day off and drive south to explore the Mornington peninsula. There I was greeted by green hinterlands, vineyards and dramatic beaches as I made it down to the ocean coast and its national parks. Breathtaking to just stand in the wind and imagine the distant icy shores of Antarctica.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Hemispheres

Shortly after departure from Singapore Changi, the 747-400 took me across the equator. It made me think of school days back in the mid-eighties, how that light blue line on the map used to trigger my imagination on a boring day in the class room: what would it feel like to actually cross it?

//

Instead of a direct connecting flight to Australia as my original itinerary suggested, I decided to take a DBC-voucher and stay over day in Singapore. Thus, for the second night in a row I find myself aboard a red-eye flight which, if the magic screen is correct in its calculations, has about three hours to go until touchdown at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport.

Singapore was a lot greener than I had expected, a massive assemblage of merchant ships from all over the world filling its waters, a land of tall black skyscrapers and Starbucks. Last night the luminous cities of India had filled me with fear and renewed determination - let us just hope that those “advanced technological paths to sustainability” which I so often talk about do indeed exist, otherwise I have a creeping feeling that our civilization is, simply put, doomed.

Sorry for being so outspoken. In a short while we will fly in above the red deserts of Australia. This is the grand escapade and it would set the wrong tone to start in such a gloomy mood. Next time I post here, there will be a picture of the sea.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

So it begins

Light turbulence as we cross the Caspian Sea. The computer screen is informing us that we have 8:25 hours to go until landing in Singapore. The last days have been hectic with packing, teaching and many fond farewells - everything one may expect before setting off for a 16 000 kilometres journey across three continents and nine time zones.

Though certainly about exploration, this trip is also about finding home. The Oxford-born Indian author Pico Iyer once wrote that, to him, “home” is a work-in-progress, much like a manuscript that constantly is being revised. We add new years abroad, different languages and life modes, as we aspire to realize that cosmopolitan ideal of leaving our narrow national identities and becoming, as Iyer calls it, “honorary citizens of the future”.

Unfortunately, for the time being, that ideal is only within reach for a small fraction of the people living on this planet. As our collective mood turns darker it easy to forget that emancipating vision of the world coming together as one common human civilization.

Soon entering Afghan airspace, it has been seven years of fighting now. It is sad to see that such wars are the furthest our political imagination reaches. There were chances: 1945, 1989 and maybe even 2001. We can, and urgently need to, do better.

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