Monday, April 30, 2018


Though I promised myself to be a bit less active with posting here on Rawls & Me, my oceanic adventure took an unexpected turn when I discovered a microbrewery from Råå and put together a true Vietnamese fusion lunch with Abisko flatbread, smoked salmon, avocado and rock chives.

Meanwhile, John Bolton suggests the “Libya model” for North Korea which I guess Kim will not be entirely thrilled about. Contrary to many experts, I do not however think that withdrawal of all US troops from the Korean Peninsula would be such an outrageous part of any comprehensive deal with North Korea. After all, South Korea remains fully capable of defending itself, at least long enough for US reinforcements to arrive. In any case, one reason for the joint command structure has been to prevent *South* Korean aggression, something that seems less relevant these days under Moon Jae-in.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Some final thoughts on Israel

A week ago, I went for a morning run along the Mediterranean. Today I took William in the stroller to Ålidhem Centrum so we could recycle some old cans and bottles. I guess that my personal circumstances are part of the reason why I experience such a discontinuity when thinking back on the trip.

In so many ways, Tel Aviv was a dream city with its bikes, sidewalk cafes and openly gay couples, not to mention its superb vegetarian food, murals and sandy beaches. Only in brief moments, as in the Palestinian workers planting palm trees along the waterfront, was one reminded of the dark underbelly of this society and its fundamental lack of moral reciprocity.

Still, I would go back in an instant if I had the chance, in particular to see Ramallah and the West Bank. Yet, just as on the flight home with Turkish Airlines, there are all these thoughts about what structures one is actually supporting and what it means to stay true to one’s ideals in a universe of grayscales.


Saturday, April 28, 2018


After taking the bus two hours north to Skellefteå and the Titanic exhibition, my Atlantic weekend theme now feels slightly more ghostly. At least the Basque kitchen keeps delivering, this time pintxos with avocado, mango and chili.

Titanic has been a near-obsession for Eddie for years now so he was of course thrilled to finally see the exhibition. On my behalf, I still think I want to cross the Atlantic with ship once in my life. But already in less than two months, I am booked with Scandinavian Airlines to San Francisco and this year's Breakthrough Dialogue...

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 27, 2018

Rías Baixas

When the adults stop being adults, the world suddenly becomes very serious for everyone else. I guess there is no better way of explaining what is happening on the Korean peninsula in the wake of the Trump presidency. In any case, the news from the Truce Village of Panmunjom could not possibly be any more hopeful.

Yet, tonight, I am lost dreaming of the Atlantic. While I may not necessarily win any Basque culinary prizes, I make a traditional recipe with mussels in tomato sauce, served with a white wine from Galicia that tastes of mineral and lime. Outside the last snow is melting away and I hope to soon be able to go running around the lake.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


My first really memorable encounter with Lambrusco was aboard Trenitalia from Milano to Rome some sixteen years ago. At the time, “Eurostar Italia” still existed and one could get a full course dinner with Italy swishing by outside the train window. Today at Systembolaget, I stumbled upon a “småparti” bottle from Emilia-Romagna and decided that it was time to close the circle.

Obviously, all adventures have to come to an end. For many months, I had been looking forward to going to Israel with equal measures of excitement and trepidation. Beyond an extended “interview” with the Israeli immigration authorities due to a couple of UAE stamps in my passport, I did not personally experience anything out of the ordinary. At the same time, and especially with regard to the situation in Gaza, the apartheid nature of Israel is never far away.

To give me something new to think about, I received the latest issue of Vagabond today featuring the “unknown islands of Southern Europe”. While Pantelleria may not be completely “unknown” for someone as fascinated by Mediterranean geography as I am, it still left me with a good feeling that the future will not be entirely without adventures.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Once on final approach into Gardemoen yesterday, I realized that there was still lots of snow on the ground. The contrast from Israel could hardly be more pronounced. Nevertheless, the Norwegian capital turned out to be a detour well worth taking. This morning I even managed to go for a 9.5 km run through Vigelandsparken in the spring sunshine. And now I am already on my way back to Umeå where I will stay on the ground for two weeks until it is time to head down to Kalmar and Gothenburg with the kids...

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Though not on our original itinerary, Jerusalem proved irresistible once Ally and I realized that it was only an hour away with the bus from Tel Aviv. Still, as people were quick to point out, there is no way one can give this city of cities any justice in half a day. As such, all one can hope for are glimpses, snippets of a history that remains completely overwhelming. Thanks to Rafaela, we made a first stop in the serene garden of the Austrian Hospice with a Wiener Melange which was well needed in order to prepare us for the deluge of tourists, pilgrims and school children on our way to the Western Wall.

After a couple of hours inside the Old Town, we found another safe haven at the American Colony Hotel which I remembered from a fascinating documentary about its mixed Israeli-Palestinian management team and how they have somehow been able to keep away from the endless conflict. Unlike in Tel Aviv, security was otherwise very visible in Jerusalem in ways that revealed how distant normalization still is.


Contrary to all foreign travel advice, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a large anti-Netanyahu demonstration last night. Already before I could make out what the demonstration was about my general rule of thumb (that demonstrations featuring strollers and middle-age women are often for a good cause) relieved some of the stress of suddenly seeing so many police officers.

After the Sabbath, Tel Aviv truly came alive last night and this morning it was buzzing with activity as I went for my long-promised morning run through the White City and its 1930's Bauhaus architecture.


Saturday, April 21, 2018


Last time I had shakshouka was in Melbourne nearly ten years ago. This time around, I am at Café Lewinsky 41 after a morning walk through the old city of Jaffa. Very little here in Tel Aviv, if anything, reminds you of the broader political context or that the civil war in Syria is only a few hundred kilometres away.


Poli House

I know it is a cliché, but flying distorts all proportions. Late last night, our Airbus A321-200 touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport in a land suffused in conflicting histories and existential meaning. Already at the air bridge one was greeted by emotionally laden Zionist images about homecoming and large Israeli flags. Another thing that became immediately clear is how small Israel and the Palestinian territories really are, not only in terms of surface (roughly the size of “Småland”) but also population with only about 10 million people living here.

And now, this morning, I find myself walking through the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv, overflowing with murals. Waiting for Ally to wake up, I discovered an egg chair in the lobby which immediately made me think of dal.komm café in Dongdaemun, however the breakfast in the garden quickly made it clear that I am somewhere else completely...


Friday, April 20, 2018

Research seminar

At last, it was finally Friday the 20th of April and time to take that 05.13 am bus to the airport. Waking up to a light rain after two weeks of the most incredible spring weather one could ever wish for, it felt like a perfect time to leave.

Yesterday, at the research seminar, one of our senior professors who is about to retire after a most impressive career, talked about her experiences as a member of different research councils for many years. After that, another professor at the department who has just been awarded a multi-million research grant, generously shared her application with the rest of us to highlight some key factors for success in the rather peculiar universe of external research funding.

To no surprise, they both concluded that management and communication skills are becoming increasingly important in order to attract funding. After all, given the pervasiveness of New Public Management across society, why should higher education be any different? It is of course a banal point that many others have already made but just imagine someone like Ludwig Wittgenstein being evaluated in terms of the “feasibility” of Tractatus logico-philosophicus? Or, which I could not help myself asking, what score on “scientific significance” would Copernicus have been given by his geocentric peers?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Marking madness

There is something brutally honest about marking exams. In a profession where so much is intangible and about appearance rather than substance, grinding your way through a hundred handwritten exams, having to read the same questions and answers over and over again, has a certain cathartic function.

Thanks to an early start at 4 am this morning, I have now finished this batch and can return to more casual tasks like thesis guidance. And in just above 48 hours, TK 1794 will take off for Istanbul with an onward connection to TLV which feels incredibly exciting.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Prince Edward Island

Just before Christmas, I saw an ad for my dream job, a tenure-track position at the University of Prince Edward Island focused on international climate change policy. Maybe I can blame Anne of Green Gables or an imagined fondness for the Maritime Provinces, but there was something with unfinished adventures that made me seriously considering applying. Four months later, the position remains unfilled so the temptation is still there even if I get that it is not even remotely realistic.

Overnight, missiles rained down on Syria with little apparent effect except further undermining the international norm system and the role of the UN Security Council. Here in Umeå, William woke me up at 4:40 am so I read about it just as it was happening. Now, eight hours later, I decided to make a brief culinary escape to Liguria with the leftover basil. Worlds that are nearly impossible to reconcile. Unless something dramatic happens, I remain committed to travel to Tel Aviv on Friday. However, given the number of tasks I have to finish before that, I guess there will be a short break here on Rawls & Me.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Haricots beurre

Two days later and the world is still here. I make a pasta salad with lemon, halloumi and beans while I wait for my social work students to finish writing their 100+ exams that I have to mark before I can leave for the Middle East.

For obvious reasons, modernity is often associated with disruption. While many processes, urbanization in particular, may be highly disruptive for the individual, I still think that the defining feature of our time is rather one of continuity. Unlike in the pre-modern world where currencies suddenly became worthless, territories changed owners from one day to the other and disease could strike at any moment, the liberal world order has provided social and economic stability in ways that previous generations could not even imagine.

Looking through a collection of old Lufthansa ads, what stands out, beyond how much more patriarchal the world was only three or four decades ago, is precisely the continuity of small things. While certainly no guarantee for the future, it is somehow reassuring that a person so obviously unhinged as Donald Trump can still somehow be contained.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Syrian Missile Crisis

I remember reading the classic Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis as an undergraduate, thinking how it must have been to live through those frightening days in October 1962. At the time, life as a student in Örebro seemed so incredibly peaceful in comparison.

Fifteen years later and the world is again pushed to the brink of great power conflict. Following the chemical attack in Douma during the weekend, Trump has tweeted himself into a corner as Russia promises that it will shoot down any incoming missiles and attack their launching platforms if its personnel is threatened. Such retaliation, be it the sinking of an Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer, would give rise to a nearly unstoppable spiral of escalation. After all, there were some very good reasons as to why Obama stepped back from his famous red line in 2012.

What is striking about all this is the normalcy of this Wednesday in Umeå. In the morning I went for a diabolic run of 6.66 km, overstretched some chest muscle, briefly thinking that I was having a heart attack, walked through the sunshine to work, completed my Formas grant application, supervised my thesis students, picked up the kids at the preschool, listened to the other parents small talking about the weather and their plans for the weekend, cooked some Thai food with lots of ginger and lime, and now, wrote another blog post.

Of course, just as with the Cuban missile crisis 56 years ago, cooler heads will most likely prevail (even if Trump seems to be doing his uttermost to get rid of anyone remotely sensible among his advisors) and I will fly down to Tel Aviv with Ally in nine short days.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Why Israel?

Yesterday, my mother told me in no uncertain terms that travelling to Israel “seems irresponsible unless one is forced to do it”. Already when I booked the tickets four months ago, I knew that going to Tel Aviv would not go down well with some people around me.

When I think of why I travel in the first place, it is to somehow demythologize fear of the unknown. In the very long run, it is about being part of the transition to a world where the “foreign” ceases to exist and we realize that each human being has a range of different (and often conflicting) identities and affiliations. This is not the same as turning the planet into a cinnamon bun. Just as Sweden, Denmark and Norway remain highly distinct societies in cultural terms, I imagine a global future where we can have a plurality of lifeworlds even as the notion of war is seen as completely ridiculous and anachronistic (remember that armed conflicts between the countries of Scandinavia were commonplace for many centuries).

Still, I get that Israel has a particularly complex and contradictory history. On a personal level, I do not even believe in the desirability of the cherished two-state solution. In the same way that the Dayton Agreement was an unsustainable answer to ethnic strife in Bosnia, I think that we must first realize that homogeneity itself is illusive and rather build new institutions that can transcend existing categories. Having said that, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is probably one of the most intractable conflicts on the whole planet so it seems better for politicians to focus their energy elsewhere.

So, why am I going? Like with Russia, I very much believe that more contact is better than less. Boycotts and moral absolutism only worsen polarization and monolithic thinking. As a teacher of international relations, I am willing to accept the shallow nature of any tourist trip as I have found that actually having been to countries is invaluable.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 07, 2018

720 metres on ice

Teasing me for living in the Arctic, Ally told me that the sun was shining down in Stockholm and that she was going for a run in the brilliant spring weather. Once the clouds disappeared up here in Umeå as well, I decided to put on the Hives and give it a try. I mean, how bad could it possibly be? Returning home completely soaked four minutes and one near-death experience later I know the answer, bad. So, I guess it is back to the treadmill for the coming month or so...

Labels: ,

Friday, April 06, 2018


Back in a world of slush and melting snowmen, I make some extra coffee to try to stay awake. Undoubtedly, having kids who wake you up at 5.30 am puts a certain twist to any eastbound jetlag.

On Tuesday I have agreed to give a talk at the university student association of international affairs (UPF) about Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. As I am expecting at least a couple of German exchange students, I guess any mention of the word "nuclear" will spark a lot of emotions. Which is perhaps not so surprising given the impact that anti-nuclear books like Gudrun Pausewang’s Die Wolke have had on whole generations of German kids.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Northwest Passage

Five hours out of SFO we enter a bleak and beautiful world of glaciers and beluga whales. Night has long fallen in the cabin of our ageing 777-200 and breakfast will not start for another three hours. One of many indistinguishable transatlantic crossings listening to channel 9 and Nav Canada while pondering the very mystery of flight.

In two weeks, I will be in Israel with Ally. Before that, I have one Formas grant application to submit and about a hundred exams to mark. Just before boarding in San Francisco, I picked up The Beyond Edition which made me dream of Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands and pomegranate-and-halloumi salads in Dubai. It feels like this spring will truly give Tyler a good run for his money.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Marlon Bundo

Getting off at 12th Street in Oakland, it felt like June again for a split second, as if I was about to meet a new batch of Breakthrough Generation fellows. However, from my lack of nervousness if nothing else, I could quickly tell that it was just April and that I was only there to talk with Emma about my Pinker piece. In Ted’s office I spotted two hardback copies of Enlightenment now so the book seems to have made a bit of an impression in the ecomodernist community...

Before taking the BART, I spent the better part of an hour walking between different bookstores in San Francisco. Finally, at Chronicle Books on 4th Street, I found what I was looking for, namely the John Oliver version of A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.

Otherwise, this my last full day in California has been mostly work with the exception of a morning run with an old friend from Korea. As for Asia, tonight we are staying at the Kimpton Buchanan which can best be described as a Japanese island adrift in an American sea or perhaps an inverted United flight 881.

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 02, 2018

Blue Bottle Coffee

Equipped with a fake Canadian passport and “The Anthropocene: A Very Short Introduction” by Erle Ellis fresh off the printer, I sat down for lunch at Blue Bottle Coffee.

I guess it would take Sydney Bristow or at least the Rider of the Blue to play the act as times and worlds collide. Tomorrow, I am heading over to Breakthrough HQ in Oakland so I should try to finish my response to Pinker before that. Luckily, running through San Francisco this morning gave me a burst of new ideas (although trying to sprint through Chinatown at rush hour was not a particularly good one).

Labels: , ,