Monday, September 18, 2017

Rider of the Blue

Back in Umeå, I struggle to hold on to the trip for a bit longer. Between picking up my astronaut winter jacket at the dry cleaner and a visit to the gym, I buy a cheap bottle of sherry from Jerez de la Frontera, perfect for marinating some shrimp, scallion, chili and cilantro. Together with cashew nuts, I throw it all into the wok, creating a yummy but rather different dinner from the HCHF-diet I have followed during my three days in Spain.

In London the other month, Fredi recommended the book “I am Pilgrim”. The last time I read a crime story was back in December when I was completely glued to Paul French’s “Midnight in Peking”. I am afraid it is no better this time around. Right now at page 345 out of 912, I wonder what the book’s ultimate toll will be in terms of my precious night sleep :-) 

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

LX2021

While I have no intention to begin competing with Lucky, I just have to say how thrilled I am about my flight with Swiss up to Zürich this morning. For those looking for that lost golden era of flying, it is worth knowing that when booking well in advance (in my case, about six months), Swiss has some deeply discounted intra-Europe Z fares which can be just a few hundred Swedish kronor more than a regular economy ticket. While Swiss is certainly a good airline in economy as well, it is hard to imagine that this kind of service exists in the same universe as the sweepstakes madness of Ryanair. Vi auguro un volo piacevole!

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Instantáneas Españolas

After a dramatic start with a mid-air lightning strike, a lost bag and a malfunctioning flight computer, I could not have had better days in Spain. Unfortunately, the misplaced bag meant that my Barcelona city run had to be cancelled but I made up for that with churros, tons of tapas and great company.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fugitive pieces

A glass of Cigarra, a Portugese red wine made of shiraz and tinta barocca, turns out to be the perfect rain weather companion to the novel “Fugitive Pieces” by Canadian author Anne Michaels. On the other hand, time turns out to be somewhat of a blind guide as the story shifts from war in Poland to that most elusive of islands, Zakynthos. Written in the late 90’s, it certainly speaks of vertical time and mysterious symmetries.

In less than a hundred hours, I will be on a flight to Zürich and then Barcelona. Last time I was in Catalonia, I was struggling to finish my PhD, feeling the pressure as time was running out and my own limitations were becoming visible, also for my supervisors back in Lund. This time around, there is no academic stress but just a short mischievous escape from all the duties and responsibilities of the real world.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Caprica

Following a week with crisp blue skies, rain blew in from the Bothnian Bay late last night. With Anna away on a conference dinner, I decided to mix preparations for my classes next week with revisiting some old episodes of Battlestar Galactica. For someone who believes in bright futures, it is a dark, conflicted and morally ambiguous universe, one that reminds me that I may be the one who is ultimately mistaken.

After my PhD defence in December 2010, Mia gave the most wonderful speech in which she contrasted my Star Trek post-scarcity optimism with the darker “neoliberal” pessimism of Battlestar Galactica. At the time, I had only a cursory familiarity with the series.

The ending of the series notwithstanding, I do not believe that any rejection of technology can be comprehensive enough for anarcho-primitivism to make sense. Like Bruno Latour, I believe that we must rather care for, or even learn to love, our monsters. Though I may be less worried about the “singularity” after my sister got her degree in machine learning and calmed me about the prospects of the toasters taking over the world, I still foresee that accelerating technological evolution, especially with regard to medicine, will give rise to profound ethical dilemmas. On the other hand, technologies sometimes arrive too early for us to understand their true value. For instance, if nuclear energy was discovered today, everyone would immediately recognize it as the “magic silver bullet” it is when it comes to stopping climate change.

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Sunday, September 03, 2017

Worlds apart

This morning I woke up to the news that North Korea has tested a thermonuclear device, generating a 6.3 magnitude explosion according to the latest USGS estimations. While not surprising in any way, it once again underscores the urgent need for real negotiations. As I suggested already in April, I think Trump has a unique chance to do something good here as he is not as constrained by the kind of commitment to multilateral regimes that have tied the hands of his predecessors. For one thing, it is now beyond debate that North Korea is a nuclear power and should be recognized as such. Thus, moving forward means abandoning much of the thinking behind the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Only with a permanent peace treaty between North Korea and the US in place is there any hope of normalization and, ultimately, denuclearization. For every day, waiting becomes less and less of an option as North Korea continues to expand its nuclear stockpile and the risk for miscalculations increases. And since the only meaningful pre-emptive action would be a massive nuclear assault, saying that a "military option" is still "on the table" is just plain stupid.

On a personal level, I used to live with this continuous crisis in the back of my head for three years. Suddenly protected by 7,000 km, its significance shifts from immediate physical vulnerability to what is says about our long-term future as a species. If this conflict can be defused, then I think we have good reasons to be very optimistic about that future. Obviously, the opposite is very much true.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

First autumn run

As the leaves turn yellow and the forest outside is brimming with blueberries, I am able to go for a quick lunch run around the lake. Over the summer, my running has improved quite a bit and I feel much less exhausted afterwards compared to what I did in the spring.

Now on Monday, Anna will fly down to Skåne and I will be alone with both kids which is kind of scary since I have a two-hour lecture scheduled in the afternoon. Hopefully, they will both be fine at the new preschool but it certainly makes one wish that we had relatives living closer by.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Expanding opportunity in the Anthropocene

The journal Ethics, Policy & Environment has a somewhat innovative format by which they publish a number of peer commentaries in response to a specific “target” article. In the next issue (20:3), the target article is based on a book by Randall Curran and Ellen Metzger called “Living well now and in the future: Why sustainability matters”. Reading the book, I could not resist the temptation to write such a 1,500 words commentary to point out that one can think very differently about the future and our obligations to posterity.

As often, my writing was interrupted, or perhaps I should rather say inspired, by some Lego space adventures. It is striking that one can write a whole book about the future and so completely ignore what may really be at stake in these debates. At least, it is my hope that the title “Expanding opportunity in the Anthropocene” will spark some interest in hearing the other side of the story.

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Poached eggs

Thanks to the kids, we have very long mornings before the teaching marathon resumes. This leaves me with a bit of time for experimentation in the kitchen. Today, I made poached eggs with salsa verde, as a taste of what is to come when I head down to Barcelona in two weeks' time. Before that however, it is back to Plato and the history of philosophy.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Uncertain connections

Racing back across the North Sea, it is still uncertain if I will make my connection up to Umeå tonight. At Heathrow, there were problems starting one of the engines of our A320. In the end, with a bit of help from an airport mechanic, we were able to spin up the engines and join the taxi queue for runway 09R/27L.

In a widely cited YouGov/Economist poll from November 2016, less than half of Americans, Britons and French said that globalization is a “force for good”. There is clearly no shortage of pundits trying to explain this discontent, most of them focused around widening inequalities. While economic factors may be paramount, I have long argued that part of this phenomenon can also be explained by an inability to offer a comprehensive political vision of a globalized future or even simple assurance that, in the end, “all will be cool”. The lack of such visions and assurances of course has to do with how quickly globalization has unfolded and how immature we still are as a species. Still, many people, even among the global elite, cling to a romanticized past or remain hesitant to draw the full implications of moral universalism.

Reading Peter Frase’s book again reminded how important it is to offer a progressive vision of the future in which all people in this world are needed and valued. However, such a vision can never be about charity or the creation of an indolent “consumtariat” living off some kind of universal basic income. Instead, it must be based on the scientific and economic contribution that each person can make. Rather than locking the poor into low-paying service jobs that not only supress aggregate demand but also deprive people of their sense of self-value, a social democratic future would seek to lift people everywhere to ensure that they have the capacity to create something of true global value to others. This is in fact my greatest reason for long-term optimism about the many challenges that humanity is currently facing, climate change in particular. If we can imagine a world in which 10 billion people have access to higher education, it would not be unreasonable to also imagine a hundred million of these people working on solving such grand challenges. When envisioning such a future, the futility of trying to run away from modernity or putting up walls to protect us from each other should be clear for anyone to see.

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