Sunday, December 31, 2017

Onwards

Though taken out of context, I stumble upon the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “if dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future”. It is the last day of 2017 and the world is still here. This year, the house champagne has been replaced by a timeless St Pancras favourite. Food wise, I went for a safe vegan bet as in the black bean, sweet potato and quinoa croquettes that I made two weeks ago to celebrate my return from the mirror universe.

In Svenska Dagbladet, the conservative party concludes the year by arguing that immigrants should be excluded from the Swedish welfare state until they have earned “their share” by working. Unsurprisingly, the social investment perspective is completely absent. What is worse is that no progressive politician dares to counter this misanthropy with a transformative vision of the future. So afraid have progressives become of “looking down on people” that they can no longer make simple qualitative distinctions or even begin to explain why, rather than having immigrants toil away as cleaners or servants for the rich, we should invest in those arriving in Sweden so that they become equally productive as those born here. Even if such investments in education would delay their entry into the labour market with five or even ten years, they are absolutely necessary to defeat the static racist worldview that has come to permeate so much of our society.

We need every mind working at its fullest potential if we are to make good on the promise of the Enlightenment and ensure a good Anthropocene. More than ever, I am convinced that our limits are political and cultural rather than ecological or technological. So, without further ado, onwards!

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Midwinter

While still less snow than in the 1993 post-apocalyptic computer game “Midwinter” when all of the planet gets covered in ice, the last days have truly put my snow shovelling skills to the test. With my childhood friend Gabriel visiting from Warsaw, the timing could not have been better. Last night, we went for a drink a Rex, trying to make sense of the political dynamics of Poland and the rest of the continent. It is so sad to see that Poland lacks a social democratic party capable of offering an alternative to reactionary nostalgia or trickle-down economics. But the same is probably true for Sweden, that our social democratic party would never be able to build the welfare state from scratch today, and that it only survives thanks to its historical legacy. What is missing is both a theoretical analysis of contemporary capitalism and a practical ambition to build a more just society.

Even when the political argument should be obvious, as when the Swedish financial minister Magdalena Andersson suggests increasing spending on preschools with a massive 20 billion SEK, there is basically no justification as to WHY this is important or any meaningful vision of where a politics of radical engagement may lead.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Short Walks from Bogotá

The neighbourhood kids are out flying with their new Christmas drone. Seeing it hovering above the snow pile made me feel like living in a sci-fi movie. When my mother was here the other week, I asked her how incomprehensible, if at all, our home would seem to someone in the 1940s. The microwave oven is after all just another oven, the induction stove just another stove and the first mechanical dishwasher was invented already in the 1850s.

I know it may sound shallow, but one thing I really appreciate with getting older is to simply be along for the ride, to see how the future unfolds, how the inherent contradictions of being human are played out in new technological contexts. Sometimes, this means disconnecting:

More seriously, the defining technological change of our time has to do with the domestication of the global. To be on the cusp of a time when we finally have to grow up and stop running away from our common humanity. The Trumps of this world are really the last desperate attempt to defend old hierarchies and patterns of domination when we should instead have the courage to turn outward and have confidence in the power of our example.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Gold List

With the cold blue sky above only interrupted by the odd Christmas flight on its way to Rovaniemi, I thought this would be a good time to put together a short list of my 2017 travel favourites, Lucky style.

Best Coffee: Nord Coast Roastery, Hamburg
Best Independent Hotel: Timber Cove, Jenner CA
Best Chained-brand Hotel: Park Hyatt, Zanzibar
Best Boutique Hotel: Hotel Brummell, Barcelona
Best Cinnamon Bun: Kioskkafé, Norfolk Place, London
Best Award Value: One-way ticket Dar es Salaam – Umeå in business class with Swiss and SAS for 27 000 Eurobonus points per person using American Express 2-4-1 voucher

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

What's Past is Prologue

Around this time last year, I had tons of travel plans. With the exception of Panama that turned into Tanzania, all of them materialized. Though the world may feel just as uncertain as it did back then, I still hope that the next year will be one of many new discoveries. Having said that, there is also something beautiful with not knowing where the road leads, to take a sip of our local Glühwein and disappear into uncharted geographies.

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Context is for kings

Today I had my revenge at the gym. Last time around I almost got a heart attack but today I ran 5k in 24 minutes and 39 seconds. So if I now just run twice that distance in the same pace, I will be back where I was when doing fire-fighting as a 19 year old… But then I did not have two kids and a full-time job, so I guess context matters.

I remember that someone asked me if I was really afraid of climate change. I think an honest answer would be that it is a bit like with terrorism. That I am not too worried of it per se, but that I am worried about how we as a society may react to it. Already today, justified concern about climate change (combined with irrational fear of nuclear energy) is frustrating progress towards a more equal world as it is holding back crucial investments in energy infrastructure in developing countries. In the rich world, the exclusive focus on renewable energy is making electricity expensive and thereby preventing widespread electrification, leading to thousands of premature deaths from air pollution, not to mention vast ecological destruction caused by the burning of biomass.

From a utilitarian perspective, the real risk here is of course planetary entrapment. Fortunately, “degrowthers” are still very far from coming into power in any country but with a rising number of extreme weather events and rapid warming that may quickly change. Especially as many people already feel disoriented and unwanted due to the deepening inequality caused by decades of insufficient social investments.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Into the forest I go...

Equipped with a quote by John Muir, I made it back from the mirror universe. Instead of beef, I am blogging some vegan black bean, quinoa, and sweet potato croquettes with pumpkin seed chipotle cream. Outside, we just had another rain on snow event but already tonight, the temperature is expected to drop back to -18 degrees.

With the exception of thesis guidance on Wednesday, the coming week is highly unusual as I will have research time more or less the whole time. I cannot even remember when this last happened so instead of blogging I will head right back to my pedagogical article on “gallery walks”.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

In a mirror, darkly

Just before midnight, our Boeing 737-700 “Tyra Haraldsdatter” landed in the cold, almost tangible, silence of Umeå. Alone in the Polar night, I waited for my taxi as the “external world” slowly faded away.

Then, today at lunch, a deafening roar suddenly made the windows rattle. I looked out and saw a formation of 12 fighter jets racing out towards the Baltic. For a split second, I thought that war had come. Then, I realized that it was just time for the traditional Christmas tree formation flight.

Mirror universes; I blog beef with pesto and red wine from Argentina. But then again, the Democrat Doug Jones defeats the Republican Roy Moore in staunchly conservative Alabama in the wake of #metoo. Perhaps we will always be oscillating between the highest and the lowest in each of us? On the plane up from Frankfurt I found parts of a poem by Michael Ondaatje that I had written down in my Moleskine:

“All this
darkness and stars
but now
under the Napa Valley night
a star arch of dashboard
the ripe grape moon
we are together”

If nothing unexpected happens, I will remain on the ground for a little more than two months. This also means that I am ready to sum up my 2017 travels. With Russia cancelled, the only new country this year was Tanzania. In total, I visited 10 countries and flew 60,172 miles (which is 15k more miles than last year). 

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Western Cape

After experiencing endless lines and crying passengers at Heathrow yesterday, I have now safely returned to the golden age of air travel. Equipped with a glass of wine from the Western Cape and the Monocle Winter Weekly, I am more or less at terms with my failed foray. Sometimes, there are detours worth taking in life. 

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Aloft

From Aloft Beijing Haidian to Atlanta or SFO, there is something deeply confusing with hotel rooms that look identical across continents. For the moment, the windows come with the half-abandoned warehouses and factories of East London.

In China, Aloft was like a sanctuary when the cultural shock became too overwhelming. Today it was just the cheapest hotel closest to London City Airport. Still, it brings back memories of long evenings with endless manuscripts and a highly globalized teddy bear.

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Lifecycle emissions

Nature Energy just published a new study on the life-cycle emissions of different low-carbon energy sources which shows that nuclear, wind and solar all have significantly lower life-cycle emissions per produced kWh compared to fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). In the study, nuclear is calculated to produce 4 grammes of CO2 equivalent per kWh (gCO2e/kWh), solar 6 gCO2e/kWh and coal with CCS a whopping 109 gCO2e/kWh. Yet, since some of the authors are based at the climate institute in Potsdam, I was not surprised to learn that they have calculated the numbers for nuclear based on the use of gaseous diffusion plants although this is an incredibly energy-intensive process that has long been obsolete. Thus, taking more modern enrichment methods into account, the numbers for nuclear would probably look even better compared to renewable energy sources.

In any case, I should be happy that they at least recognize that nuclear is a low-carbon energy source. Though I may be wrong, it seems like more people are beginning to reconsider nuclear in light of how serious climate change has already become. 

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Docklands

Like the spore drive malfunctioning, it was perhaps inevitable that my luck would eventually run out. A few centimetres of snow and British Airways decided to cancel 25% of its flights out of Heathrow, meaning that instead of the W in St Petersburg, I have to contend with an icy day at Aloft in Docklands. Hopefully, Lufthansa will have better luck tomorrow morning so that I at least get back to Umeå and the boys.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Contradictions

A decade ago, I read an article entitled ”When Will the Chinese People Be Free?”. In it, the American academic Henry S. Rowen argued that growing economic prosperity would automagically make China “Partly Free” by 2015 and “Free” by 2025 (using the labels from Freedom House). What difference ten short years can make...

When working in China, I often got the question how I could “support” such a regime by living there. While I understand where that question is coming from, my answer has always been that more engagement is better than less. As long as one avoided certain delicate topics such as Tibet or the Falun Gong movement, I was in fact surprised by how open both the Chinese students and the other faculty members were about the dysfunctionality of authoritarianism.

Now as I find myself writing about Russia, similar questions have returned. However, far from discouraging me, they have made me even more convinced about the need for new positive narratives about Russia’s role in the world. Otherwise, just like at a preschool, if one kid is seen as a troublemaker, that may quickly become the only role that kid knows how to play.

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Monday, December 04, 2017

The very words I live by

One cold morning in November, I was sitting in one of those faculty meetings, looking out at the blue skies, thinking that something had to be done to improve the overall Bond factor in my life. Pretending to take notes, I did what James would have done, that is to book a ticket with British Airways from London to St Petersburg (which at 8.500 Avios and £18 in taxes is a steal).

With the visa now processed by the Russian embassy in Stockholm, my two days in St Petersburg will indeed be “shoot in and out” to borrow the words of Bond. Last time I offered a Bond quote here was in the summer of 2008 so I think it is allowed, boyish as it may be. While the actual trip will be more work than play, I am excited to get at least a glimpse of that colossal country that for so long has captured my imagination.

In other news, it is safe to say that the kids loved Stockholm. Living in a small city like Umeå, it is easy to forget what a treasure it is to have real museums, especially with a kid as inquistive as Eddie.

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Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Arctic

A month into my fourth winter in the Arctic, the weekend brought long-awaited sunshine and perfect weather for “snowracing”. The last weeks have been unusually taxing with deadlines for several important applications but, hopefully, the end of the year will be somewhat less insane. Already tomorrow, we are taking the kids down to Stockholm to see my sister. And then it is soon time for Pilgrm and Russia.

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