Saturday, March 31, 2018

Polaris

Walking down the aisle of our brand new Boeing 777-300ER, I was able to take a few snapshots of the United Polaris cabin (unfortunately sans bear). Once settled in at the very end of the bus (45B), there is no denying that the cramped ten-abreast configuration offsets some of the joys of flying in a new plane. Still, all things considered, United remains one of my favourite airlines for crossing the North Atlantic when you factor in miles earned, laptop power ports, and illy coffee.

Right now we are a few hundred kilometres north of Reykjavik. Over the years, it has become somewhat of a tradition for me to write blog posts during this stage of TATL flights. It is a point when the journey becomes truly real despite the sea of ambivalence below. Today, I guess I should hurry back to writing about Pinker but, sometimes, it takes a measure of procrastination to gather thoughts and direction.

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Salon feuille d'érable

A world away from Umeå, Sol Viking touched down shortly before noon at Flughafen Frankfurt am Main. Two hours in the buzzing unreality of airports with its indeterminate range of destinations and shifting timelines. While two hours may still be a bit short for clearing security twice and taking the Skytrain over to the B gates, some very positive reviews of the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge had left me curious enough to take one for the team.

The verdict, well, it may not be the FCT but the ironic gesture of serving “Petit Bourgeois” alone was enough to make up for the trek. Throw in some excellent sandwiches, mixed Italian starters, and a much lighter design than what Lufthansa has on offer and it is clearly one of the better lounges that I have been to recently.

On the way down to Frankfurt, I finished reading Pinker’s “Enlightenment now” which was an incredibly uplifting book. While there may be a few more nuances to the history of the Enlightenment than Pinker gives justice to and the book would have been stronger without its odd sexist jokes, I really cannot recommend it enough. So whatever I end up writing for Breakthrough Journal, it will be a very sympathetic critique.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Days rushing by

Today I had eight hours of seminars with my social work students. Tomorrow will be the same and on Thursday it is back to thesis guidance. With my mother helping out with the kids, I am fortunate enough to be able to take a couple of micro breaks, like a treadmill run at 6 am or lunch at Gotthards.

Looking down into my coffee, I saw a reflection of the snow-covered glass ceiling. Fleeting moments, somehow still worth capturing.

In four days I will fly out of Frankfurt on a United 777-300ER to California. Meanwhile, I recommend taking a moment to read the story of Amalia Illgner suing Monocle for their unfair use of interns.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Vagabond and beyond

Last year, I tried to complete some of the Vagabond city runs but due to different airplane malfunctions and last minute cancellations, I only managed to do London and Berlin in the end.

This spring, I plan to take the city run concept beyond my book to, first, San Francisco and then, a few weeks later, to the White City and Oslo. In preparation, I am back at USM but this time with a commitment to keep my heart rate well below 160...

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Jersey Shore

Ten years ago tonight, I was out driving along the Atlantic coast in a Japanese convertible. Jumping from one barrier island to the next, I followed seemingly endless dunes all the way from Cape May to Sandy Hook. The air was still cold from winter but, only a few weeks later, there would be cherry blossom and Gabriel would come visiting.

These days, I have traded the convertible for bus number 8 and, instead of island hopping, I am back with thesis guidance. This semester, the topics reach from the role of Swedish soft power to the governance of nursing homes, mixed up with everything from how higher education institutions can help students with disabilities to the future of “open government”.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Enlightenment now

The other day, I accepted an invitation from Breakthrough Journal to write a short response to Steven Pinker’s new book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress”. Given the number of unfinished tasks on that to-do list, accepting the offer was probably not the smartest thing to do but presumably better use of my energy than writing yet another blog post ;-)

While thinking about what to write for Breakthrough, I picked up some vegan BBQ burgers from “Astrid and the monkeys” which turned out just great with halloumi and chipotle-mayo on top.  Still, it had me again questioning the realism of ecomodernism and to what extent people have to buy into a perfectionist ideal or "comprehensive conception of the good" (to speak with John Rawls) in order for it to actually work? After all, while the great promise of ecomodernism – i.e. that liberal freedom can be made compatible with Anthropocene conditions – may be true for energy, the same can hardly be said about agriculture or our relationship to non-human animals…

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Supervillains

Philip Cafaro is a leading Malthusian thinker who recently received funding for a research project on “overpopulation” at the University of Gothenburg. Last Friday, he and some of his fellow researchers published an op-ed in Svenska Dagbladet suggesting that poor people should be locked out of Sweden so that they do not get rich and start polluting. At least that was the underlying thinking behind their piece entitled “Environmental reasons for a more restrictive immigration policy”. Unfortunately, I was too slow on the ball this time as Svenska Dagbladet ultimately decided against publishing my piece after publishing three other replies. For those of you who read Swedish, here is my full response to these Malthusian supervillains:

Det kan tyckas som ett banalt påpekande, men människor försvinner inte för att de kastas tillbaka i fattigdom. Sällan har anti-humanismen givits ett tydligare uttryck än i artikeln ”Miljöskäl talar för mer begränsad invandring”. I sig är detta kanske inte något som borde förvåna. En av forskarna bakom artikeln, Philip Cafaro, har under lång tid argumenterat för att människor ska låsas ute från USA, även där av miljöskäl. Mer allmänt råder bland många forskare inom fältet en föreställning om att mänskligheten kollektivt skulle kunna ”backa” ur moderniteten och att det skulle vara en ekologisk nödvändighet att världens fattiga aldrig erhåller ett drägligt materiellt liv. 

Som tur är har ett växande antal så kallade ”ekomodernistiska” forskare börjat utmana detta deterministiska synsätt. 2015 publicerades ”Ett ekomodernistiskt manifest” som vände på ekvationen och uppmanade oss att, istället för att se människor som en belastning, tvärtom se hur fler människor med högre utbildning och ett växande välstånd är en förutsättning för att kunna lösa de oerhörda utmaningar som vår planet står inför. Detta ska inte misstas för blind tekniktro. Aldrig har den gemensamma politiken varit viktigare. Istället, för att som idag fokusera på lösningar som måhända fungerar i vårt eget land (t.ex. eldandet av biomassa som förutsätter stora markarealer och oerhörda ingrepp i naturmiljön), så har jag i min egen forskning visat på varför vi snarare bör utveckla lösningar som är globalt skalbara (exempelvis nästa generations kärnkraft).

För att kunna skapa bred politisk enighet kring kraftfulla klimatåtgärder är det emellertid en förutsättning att debatten förmår röra sig bortom såväl moralistisk konsumtionskritik som malthusianska skräckfantasier om ”överbefolkning”. Varken ”klimatbantning” på Instagram eller det tysta upprätthållandet av en världsordning som närmast kan beskrivas som global apartheid representerar meningsfulla vägar framåt. Vad som behövs är en politik som på allvar vill förverkliga en mer rättvis värld i vilken människors livsbetingelser inte längre avgörs av något så godtyckligt som i vilket land de råkar födas.  En nyckelkomponent i en sådan politik är utvecklandet av rena energikällor som är väsentligt billigare än existerande fossila alternativ och därmed attraktiva både för länder som inte tar klimathotet på allvar (exempelvis USA) och för de utvecklingsländer som idag står i valet mellan fortsatt fattigdom eller ökade utsläpp. Oavsett vad artikelförfattarna tycks tro så har vi den här planeten tillsammans. Som invånare i ett av världens rikaste länder är det vårt ansvar att lyfta blicken och, istället för självspäkelse, leda teknikutvecklingen så att alla människor i framtiden kan leva ett modernt liv.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Föhnwind

As we remember from Buffy, being dead is not necessarily the kind of impediment that most people think it is. In the autumn last year I wrote about the notion of a "cold civil war" and, speaking from beyond the grave, John F Kennedy just returned to weigh in on the Trump presidency in his inimitable Boston Brahmin accent:

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason — or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem”

In another warming echo from the past, I was reminded of childhood days in Innsbruck and my dad explaining to me how the "Föhnwind” could bring sudden warm weather and red sand from the Sahara desert. Although without the sand, the same weather phenomenon has catapulted the temperature in Umeå from -21 on Friday to +6 degrees today! 

The South Coast

From Old Harry Rocks to Durdle Door, I have only begun to explore the south coast of the UK. Still, as the number of tasks on my to-do list becomes nearly unmanageable, it is to such places that I retreat in my mind.

I just finished reading a review of Paul Auster's “4321” which also seems to be about alternative lives and malleable geographies. From two years ago, I remember a vivid Skype conference call about ecomodernism and the Left, sitting in the middle of Frölunda Torg, one of those placeless malls that could truly be anywhere in late modern capitalism, thinking that we would soon all have much more serious problems. A few months later, Brexit happened and then the election of Donald Trump.

Sometimes, when I cannot sleep, I think of how insignificant all our worries about mortgages and future career paths will seem if the world does indeed break down for real. Then all this that was before will simply seem like a blissful bubble, a dream that one would do anything to return to.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

At last

Once past seven kilometres, I realized that the only way out was through. Despite that my heart rate again proved that I have more will power than actual physical strength, I continued all the way through to 10k. As the clock stopped at 49 minutes and 37 seconds, I felt immensely relieved that I do not have to put up with this madness any longer :-) Hopefully, my future gym sessions will be much more enjoyable and healthy.

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Inland Empire

As everywhere else, the narcissism of small differences applies to North Sweden. While I often refer to Umeå as the “High North” here on Rawls & Me, people from, say, Tromsø, would find this label slightly entertaining. Even within North Sweden, I have found that those living in the interior considers the “coast” to be clearly lacking in terms of authenticity, perhaps not as bad as “Stockholm” but certainly not the real thing.

This afternoon, taking the kids for a train ride up the River Ume, I sort of see their point. After a morning of intense snowfall, it was like entering a different realm. The closest I can remember was when flying from London to Skellefteå in 2009 and being greeted by a herd of reindeers just outside the airport.

For military strategic reasons, the main railway through North Sweden was built far away from the coast when constructed during the late 19th century. Before the Bothnia Line was built about 120 years later, the tiny town of Vännäs was an almost legendary junction where people travelling to and from Umeå had to change trains. Today, its station, built in 1891, truly felt like frozen in time.

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Friday tacos

When moving back to Sweden four years ago, adapting to the strict cultural norms and habits of the majority culture was kind of a challenge. Without a TV, we were automatically disqualified for “fredagsmys” in front of “Mello”. The real source of alienation however was the fact that we did not seem to eat tacos on Friday nights. Over the years, we have tried our best to fit into the neighbourhood but it surely did not help that we once had tacos on a Tuesday.

Anyway, walking down the aisle at the supermarket yesterday, I stumbled on some “pulled oats” which seemed to offer a vegetarian path to, if not citizenship, so at least neighbourhood normalization. With some chipotle taco seasoning, I think the result was actually highly satisfactory.

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Thursday, March 08, 2018

Climate survey

As many social scientists, I have developed a somewhat compulsive relationship to surveys. Knowing how hard my students struggle to get a decent response rate, I always try my best to fill them out. Yesterday, I received a survey from the municipality of Umeå which was kind of fun, first of all as it forced me to put into black and white how much I spend on travelling (spoiler alert: it is a lot!) but also because it gave me a chance to vent my frustration over how much in Umeå is built around cars. At least I was also able to express my appreciation for the excellent bus network. After all, I am somewhat of a power user during the winter months with four to six rides every day (as seen above). Another question in the survey had to do with what I could personally do to reduce my carbon footprint. I gave the obvious ecomodernist answer: promote nuclear power! Oh, the joy of small things...

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Coastal California

Maybe it was the breathtaking views when driving up to Stinson Beach in 2010 that started it all. In any case, Russian River Valley last year sealed it and now every name along the Pacific Coast Highway tends to put a smile on my face. Tonight I ventured yet further north, all the way up to the Willamette River in Oregon for some Other People’s Pinot (or O.P.P. for short).

After four years in a row attending the Breakthrough Dialogue in Sausalito, I did not really expect another invitation but last night I received one. Still not sure whether I will actually go though, maybe it is finally time to spend Midsummer in Sweden rather than Marin County? But, as always, the programme is very tempting with everything from rewilding to “decoupling vs. degrowth”. The theme of this year’s Dialogue is “Rising tides” which feels particularly poignant given how conflicted our views of globalization have become. Regardless of the academic content, there is something with Cavallo Point itself that keeps pulling me back.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Port lights

Ever since growing up in Kalmar, I have been fascinated by sea ports at night. There is something with their lights, their liminal character and how they beckon of distant continents. Looking through old pictures from when I lived in Gothenburg, I found the one below, taken in January 2009, right after I got back from Australia.

Today has been a whirlwind of course planning, grant application writing and one hour on the bus with William going back and forth only to discover that the church did not have any singing for kids due to “sportlovet” (the famous Swedish mid-winter break which I always spent with my parents on a train somewhere in Eastern Europe). At least I was able to steal a moment at the gym, still falling short of those 10k in 50 minutes though but hopefully I will get there soon.

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Sunday, March 04, 2018

From Russia with love

In many ways, it is incomprehensible that a city like St Petersburg, with more than five million people and a grandeur that would make any European capital blush, has existed a mere 700 km from Sweden without me ever visiting. But first locked up behind the iron curtain and later remaining oddly inaccessible due to a strict visa regime (which has always just been the flip side of the short-sighted visa regulations imposed by Sweden/Schengen), it did take a concerted effort to finally make the short flight across the Baltic. After a weekend in this magnificent city I can only regret that it took me so long.

As Rut Viking climbs out over Kronstadt, I try to make sense of my impressions. Contrary to what one would perhaps expect, the friendliness of everyday interactions stands out. So does the sheer size of the city and the ease by which I could imagine myself being in a Dostoyevsky novel. Some things were more like I had expected, such as the number of women caring for their kids with no men in sight. The latter made me think that, in certain ways, Russia may be even more patriarchal than the UAE where you often see dads walking down the streets with their toddlers in tow. Of course, a short weekend is far from enough to form any meaningful opinion about anything but I still leave Russia with a warm heart. More than ever, I also feel deeply frustrated by the military build-up in Northern Europe and the lack of imagination on behalf our politicians. If there can be de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, I just cannot see why the same should not be possible along the shores of the Baltic.

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Saturday, March 03, 2018

Warszawa

After a surprisingly revealing day in Lund yesterday, we took the first LOT flight down to Warsaw this morning where we were warmly greeted by my childhood friend and man-about-town Gabriel. As always, returning to the great cities of Central Europe is a bit like being catapulted back into an alternative universe, one that for many years used to be my playground but now feels strangely less familiar as national conservativism has taken its sinister toll.

While the fading graffiti may still assert that “no one is illegal”, there is little doubt that the momentum, at least for the time being, is with those who want to build walls rather than tearing them down. Maybe it is a false hope, but rather than just despairing at the state of affairs, Gabriel pointed out that as reactionary voices have increasingly come to appropriate the language of equality (for instance in their sudden interest for women’s freedom in relation to Islam), they have also inadvertently inserted a logic that may ultimately end up undoing their own political project. After all, every suggestion that other people may in fact be our moral equals is highly destabilizing for those who seek a world of permanence and fixed identities.

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