towards a brighter future

The sun cast long shadows in Ullånger at noon in December last year. Go see.

Tonight things take a turn for the better. Well, brighter at least.
I’m not sure why but the older I get the more difficult I find this dark season.


popping up in Baghdad

Christopher Hitchens takes a look at a man with a strange career. Once US attorney general, Ramsey Clark is nowadays involved in defending some of the most prominent criminals the world has seen in recent years. Anything goes as long as there’s an opportunity to bash his own country.

From bullying prosecutor he mutated into vagrant and floating defense counsel, offering himself to the génocideurs of Rwanda and to Slobodan Milosevic, and using up the spare time in apologetics for North Korea. He acts as front-man for the Workers World Party, an especially venomous little Communist sect, which originated in a defense of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

I was wondering when Clark would pop up in Baghdad, and there he was last Monday, presenting his credentials to the judge in the Saddam Hussein case and being accepted at his face value as a defense spokesman. He lost no time in showing what he is made of.

Hitchens’ column here.


thank you for nothing, Mr. Pagrotsky

Today, finally some development on the DAB front.

Granted, I don’t expect a lot from this government. So I should have been warned. Still, having gotten rid of our previous minister for culture I was somehow expecting a bit of vision, some clout, I don’t know what. Leadership maybe? Yes, that’s it. Leadership. Silly me.

What we got was a non-decision:
  • no phase-out plan for FM radio
  • no green light for DAB
  • no conclusions after a decade of testing
  • no guidance for our public service SR
  • no vision whatsoever

What a bold move!

Such decisive leadership after 10+ years of testing!

Thank you for nothing, Mr. Pagrotsky.


Bildt on "Tsunami over Rosenbad"

Former PM Carl Bildt has read the report from the independent commission on the performance of the Swedish government in the wake of the tsunami. Bildt is obviously not exactly an impartial observer in this matter and his verdict is clear. This is not primarily a case of the wrong party being in power (although we could certainly use a change) or the wrong people making up the government (which is an understatement). It’s really about PM Persson.

It's an indictment against the Persson system of government.

And the core conclusion to be drawn from the report is that this can't be allowed to go on. With the existing set-up of failed persons just sitting there, they are as likely to fail the nation tomorrow as they failed the nation yesterday.

Bildt’s analysis here.

a medium without a future?

Patiently awaiting some guidance from our beloved government regarding DAB...

Meanwhile, a media analyst warns that our public service Sveriges Radio might lose its dominant position unless they refocus their efforts onto newer distribution channels. Forget about FM, he says. And don’t bet it all on DAB. Radio has to be available where young people are finding music today. In cell phones. In mp3-players. In cable TV.


December in Vålådalen

Noon in Vålådalen Posted by Picasa

The sun barely managed to rise above the treetops in Jämtland. It was just before New Year, I was on my 44th and final trip of the year and the radio was full with confusing news about a tsunami. Go see.


Lisbon is far away

Any reader of this web log will know that I’m a friend of the Union. But even yours truly agrees that the agriculture sector is a sad story full with subsidies, tariffs and protectionism. This week brought some good news though. Subsidies to sugar beet farmers will be limited. Mind you, not abandoned. Limited.

Swedish Agriculture Minister Ann-Christin Nykvist has welcomed the decision by European Union ministers Thursday to overhaul the EU’s sugar subsidies, slashing prices by more than a third and offering generous pay-offs to farmers willing to abandon sugar beet production.

Even minor reforms require outside pressure, in this case from the WTO. Supporters of the Lisbon agenda for reform and competitiveness might despair. We have a long way to walk.


interesting times ahead

The developing story of eco-cars and the shifting auto market got even more fascinating today when GM announced draconic layoffs. Reminds me of the old curse “may you live in interesting times”. The former leaders Ford and GM might be wondering just how interesting it’ll get and just how much they can take.

General Motors Corp. said Monday it would cut 30,000 hourly jobs and close or scale back operations at about a dozen U.S. and Canadian locations in a bid to save $7 billion a year and halt huge losses in its core North American auto operations.

Full story here.



I can't say I adore the beauty of Malmö but Pildammsparken is a lovely spot and the November sun joined me on my visit there.


socially conscious capitalists

Returning to the topic of Hybrids... The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting comment about social capitalists. As the role of governments diminish, the planet could still be saved from all sorts of threats by socially conscious capitalists like Toyota.

In short, Toyota is showing the world how to exploit green technologies by first gaining market share, and then leapfrogging to the top. The sustainability of our modern world may depend upon social capitalists such as Toyota, which can link their own profits to society's progress as defined in the 21st century.

Read the column here.


stockholm by pixels

Three colleagues sharing an interest in digicams and strolling through their home town are documenting Stockholm in a new web log. Nothing fancy but kind of fun.

It started a few years ago when someone (it can’t have been me) suggested we’d meet before work one morning and walk the cams, so to speak. So we did (although early mornings are hardly one of my specialties) and by now we’ve made quite a few excursions.

Check us out at stockholm by pixels. The words are Swedish but the pictures might as well speak for themselves.


Health bomb keeps ticking

Updating the diabetes story...

A special report in the Guardian turns our attention to this ticking health bomb.

…childhood obesity has tripled in the past 25 years. Nearly one in six British kids is overweight; 6% are obese. For the first time, children are being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, a disease previously thought to be confined to the over-40s. Last year, the government floated a possible ban on the TV advertising of junk food…

…bans don't necessarily work. There are no ads on children's television in Sweden and yet their kids are as overweight as ours…

Read the report here.


November in Mörbylånga

First snow on Öland

The first winter storm had passed and by the time my bus reached Mörbylånga a pale November sun tried to warm us all on my first visit to Öland. Go see.


Eco-cars a growing niche

So it’s a trend. Last month, when I bought my hybrid, was the best ever for eco-friendly cars in Sweden. This according to recent stats quoted in The Local.

Still, nine out of ten cars sold are old-fashioned petrol gobblers. Makes me wonder.


October in Smygehuk

View of Öresund from Smygehamn 

Windy but lovely. The local fast-herring establishment was closed for this October Monday but the southern tip of Sweden provided a sunny view of Öresund. Go see.


Hagsätra: A view to a wall

What a lovely season this is! Find a concrete wall in Hagsätra (of all places) and there's all the scenery you could ask for...


Freivalds “pleased”

The Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs informs us that she’s pleased with the referendum being held in Iraq. 

Mrs Freivalds adds that “it’s important that the international community continue to support the interim Iraqi government”. Wisely spoken. So how does Sweden intend to help? Could we at least reopen our embassy?


Time to wake up

Eleven months left before we’re electing a new Riksdag.

The opposition maintains a lead but most of it started melting away when Prime Minister Persson decided to flex his campaign muscles in Björkvik.

If there’s anyone left who still believes the Alliance will have a smooth sail to victory it’s time to wake up. Well, there is one. I’d remain cautious.


Death and Purity in Bali

"Random bombings are not a protest against poverty and unemployment. They are a cause of poverty and unemployment and of wider economic dislocation."

Christopher Hitchens has a good column in Slate about how we keep failing in trying to project political reasons behind terror.


Choosing a Hybrid

I got myself a car the other day. A major decision for anyone. A milestone for me. Well, you might remember the background. It took a while do decide. I rented. I test-drove. I contemplated. At the end I stuck to my first instinct and got myself a hybrid.

Timing is everything.

Toyota Prius was introduced in 1997 and was first criticized for being uncomfortable. So it was redesigned and launched on a broader scale last year. This time the journalists were enthusiastic and we had a new Car of the Year. This helped convince me.

When I started looking in July 2005 there was hardly a day without headlines about skyrocketing oil prices. The prospect of future gas shortage loomed once again in peoples’ minds. This didn’t exactly make my decision more difficult.

The scientists are approaching a consensus now that CO2 emissions are among the worst foreseeable environmental problems in the coming decades. We’re all accountable for the choices we make. Those of us who can afford a new and more eco-friendly vehicle can no longer flee our responsibility. My decision was made.

I got myself a Prius.

I’m not the only one choosing a hybrid these days. According to some analysts we’re seeing the beginning of a major shake-up in the auto market. Let’s hope so. We can no longer go back to the future of excessively wild petroleum consumption. Those days are ending.


Don’t mess with Facket

The collective agreement is a lovely invention, probably the best since sliced bread. This claim is constantly repeated by trade union representatives as well as ministers.

There is no end to the blessings that come with collective agreements. They make the worker strong, proud and safe and they’re a symbol of a climate where enlightened employers gladly pay anything to get the job done exclusively by Swedish workers. The best is good enough and a merry future awaits us all. Can you hear the violins?

Incidentally collective agreements also help solidify the unique power of the trade unions. It’s quite simple really. The persons negotiating for millions of members are trusted with a lot of power and they won’t give it up. In fact, they’re actively consolidating their power base by sponsoring the Social Democrats who in return provide favorable legislation whenever requested. I scratch your back and so on.

The most astounding aspect of collective agreements is that they’re so flexible. Not only do they constitute a backbone in society. They can also – get this! – easily be broken whenever the union folks feel like doing so. A wildcat strike makes life more fun and if you'd expect an iota of critique from the very same persons constantly promoting the value of collective agreements you’d be dead wrong. A minister wouldn’t bite the hand which feeds him.

This unhealthy power concentration has prevailed for decades, it’s nothing new. Apparently, we’re not able to rid ourselves of this. If a non-socialist government would appear it can look forward to nothing but hostility from the unions. But there is hope on the horizon. The EU is examining the techniques Sweden uses to exclude foreigners from our labor market.

Meanwhile, don’t mess with Facket.


Mona Sahlin misses again

Mona Sahlin, Minister for Sustainable Development, has announced an initiative to reduce our dependency on imported oil. Target year is 2020 when we’re supposed to have a society where these is always a better alternative to oil for heating and transportation as well as our industry. 

Some will dismiss this as politics as usual. So it is, of course. Any seemingly courageous initiative less than twelve months before an election which just happens to coincide with the current debate (in this case about petroleum prices) should be met with a bit of caution. This is particularly true for a ministry which has specialized in words rather than action and for a government which is pressed by lousy poll figures.

Nevertheless, Sahlin’s initiative is bold and mostly constructive. Sustainable development is a necessity and a question far more important than the never-ending whining about the price of petrol.

Unfortunately, the ministry hasn’t been able to come up with a consistent policy. Specifically, any attempt to reduce oil dependency and CO2 emissions should embrace nuclear power rather than dismantling it. Sahlin knows this and therefore she doesn’t mention nuclear power at all in her lengthy article. Sweden has deliberately given up a position of world leader in this field. In the wake of Kyoto there are immense possibilities for those able and willing to export civilian nuclear technology.

At the end of the day, sustainable development – like many other areas – requires a new and different government. Let us replace Sahlin, embrace nuclear power and go forward with the goal of eliminating oil dependency by 2020.


Cardless in Geneva: No longer clueless

I was cardless and clueless for a moment but things worked out. A fax provided the right number to call for cash transfer confirmation. I got my money and could breathe a lot easier.

A recap: ten minutes after the ATM confiscation I had my card canceled and a new one ordered. Twenty hours later I was able to pick up emergency cash at the local post office and my immediate concerns for the duration of this week-long trip were over. Rapid assistance, indeed.

I learned some lessons from this cardless adventure:

1. No matter how careful you are, you can lose your card due to machine failure
2. Check the fine print for your card, find out if there is an emergency cash option and whether this option is accessible 7x24. Will the card issuer answer the phone when you call?
3. Always carry a phone and make sure you know the right number to call when you lose a card
4. In case you lose your card at the worst possible moment (probably before checking into your hotel upon arrival) bring sufficient cash to last until assistance can be expected or bring a second card
5. Obtaining emergency cash required long overseas phone-calls as well as associated service fees, not to mention the trouble of finding and visiting a post-office at a time when I had other plans. None of this would have been necessary if I had brought a second card.


On the bottom of the Rhine

Dear Rick, 

I saw one of your operas last night; you know the one with the swimming Rhine maidens, the smith with the silly helmet, the big snake and the rainbow. The Rhinegold, first part of that 4-pack series The Nibelung's Ring. Quite impressive really. After 125 years you’re filling the Royal Opera in Stockholm to the very last seat (well, except those reserved for the royals themselves but they rarely go no matter what’s playing). 

Unfortunately I didn’t understand one iota. This first part is supposed to be fairly positive (one critic even referred to it as comedy) but to me it was all gloomy, bombastic, mostly incomprehensible and entirely boring. Sorry Rick, but that’s how I felt. I’m no opera expert but I’ve seen quite a few over the recent twenty years so I wouldn’t consider myself a beginner. Last night I really felt like one. You know that feeling when you’re the only one in a crowd who doesn’t understand the common language. 

But I suppose it’s just me. The others seemed thrilled to be there. Concentrated from the very first note, appreciative afterwards. Maybe I’ll try another one of your operas. Not anytime soon though. 



Cardless in Geneva: Disconnected

I woke up to another cardless day in Switzerland anxiously waiting for that miraculous call from the Emergency Folks who where supposed to arrive any minute with a pot of gold or at least some dough to take me through this week. 

The phone stayed silent so I went about my business which happened to be some work this day, specifically a meeting with a software vendor. An hour went by. Yet another hour. And then – the call! I was quite nervous and cell coverage was lousy with bits and pieces of words and sentences lost so it took a while and some confusion (mostly on my part) before we managed to agree on where in town I should be able to pick up my cash. I asked for a fax confirmation and they wanted me to call them back on a specific number to confirm before a certain deadline. Sure I could. 

Oh, no, I couldn’t: “the number you’re trying to reach has been disconnected”. Great. What now? I was running out of time as well as ideas.


September in Storulvån

Getryggen, Storulvån Posted by Picasa

There was rain, blue skies, snow and drizzle and all kinds of weather on that day. My third and final visit to Storulvån last year ended with a lovely sunset. Waiting for the bus back to Enafors I took dozens of pictures of "Mount" Getryggen in its autumn costume. Go see.


Cardless in Geneva: On the phone

Suddenly I was cardless

It’s kind of funny I suppose that someone as conservative as I who seldom rely on credit cards would find myself cardless and bewildered upon arrival by Lake Geneva. The ATM seemed quite confused as well. Having successfully demolished my plans for the next day it started complaining about being temporarily out of service and didn’t accept any more customers.

Time for the first international cell phone call in this matter, to my bank in Stockholm. What a lovely invention, a bank you can call at any odd hour! They agreed that the card must be blocked and a new one ordered and sent to my home. But I needed cash. Did I want to use the Emergency Cash service? Didn’t have much of a choice really and agreed. It would cost SEK300, I was told. At which hotel did I stay? What was my passport number? How much did I need? Someone would call me back, maybe the same evening but probably the next day, and have this fixed. 

With my phone turned on I went to sleep, grateful that I had decided to check in to my hotel before the ATM adventure.


Railing along

International train traveling isn’t what is used to be before the age of low fare air travel. Well, don’t blame me. I keep doing my part. Recently I went to Geneva via Copenhagen and Essen (and home again) in a most comfortable and civilized fashion. The environment needs better transportation but a number of factors must be addressed if railroads should gain some ground again. Here’s my top-ten list, in no particular order. 

The price. It’s not unusual for a first class train ticket to cost more than business-class on the plane. Deregulation with competing operators should help a lot. Who establishes a “Ryan Rail”? 

The reservation system. I tend to do my own research, finding out my favorite route from A to B with exact connections as well as seat requirements. My specification is often complete. Still it can take an hour (or two!) on the phone before the person taking my call has succeeded with the reservations and implemented my collection of tickets. This is outrageously awkward and only true enthusiasts would go through that twice. 

The packaging. I leave Stockholm with a bunch of tickets. Each one is an agreement with a specific national railroad company, for instance the German DB. Their responsibility begins and ends on their own train. Where I come from and, more importantly, where I’m going is of no interest to them. No one is responsible for transporting me from A to B. This becomes painfully evident whenever there is a delay and I miss a connection. 

The view. Window-cleaning on trains is badly neglected in the Nordic countries. Learn from the Swiss, they understand that tourists actually want to see something through clean glass. How difficult can this be? 

The monitors. In Swedish stations monitors are used to provide up-to-the-minute information on arrivals and departures. On the continent there is often one major centrally located wall-covering display but few if any monitors. Instead, there is a display on each platform indicating the next event for a particular track. The difference is significant. If your connection is moved to another platform you won’t be reading about it while waiting at the usual platform. If you miss the load-speaker announcement, you might miss your train as well. 

The food. A long-lived and nowadays totally unfounded myth says that Swedish SJ serves poor food in general and plastic sandwiches in particular. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d advise anyone interested to try the three-course meal served at your seat in X2000 business class. It’s a delight. Likewise in the bistro or conventional restaurant car where I’ve seldom been disappointed. In other countries it’s another story. I’ve had a depressing and expensive lunch in a Swiss train crossing the Alps (although the view compensated for the food!) and the Intercity from Rome to Sicily with its Chef Express has been a gastronomical scandal every time I’ve tried it, most recently in November 2003. 

The language. Slowly, slowly we’re moving towards the day when you can easily make yourself understood with English on any major train and in all major stations in Europe. On my latest trip to Switzerland there was only one elderly woman in a German ICE who lost her temper, shouted “Sprechen Sie Deutsch mit mir!” and turned her back on my question (about a malfunctioning AC, incidentally). She was the only exception on this trip. The other staff were friendly, helpful and most of them fairly fluent in English. Things have improved considerably in the ten years I’ve been crisscrossing the continent by rail. 

The air. European trains are increasingly smoke-free these days. Sweden took the decision several years ago. Even Italy has joined these days, who would have believed that? Way to go, Silvio! Pockets of resistance remain, like in Switzerland, but there is hope. What a relief. 

The security. In terms of accidents, trains are statistically among the safest means of transportation. That’s all fine but security for your belongings is another story. On a long journey you cannot possibly bring your luggage with you all the time in the restaurant car, to the toilet and so on. Amazingly, there is no way to lock your compartment from the outside in some continental sleeping cars. A simple cardkey-system couldn’t be that difficult to adopt? 

The speed. On real long distances, like Stockholm-London, trains cannot possibly compete with airplanes in terms of speed. But as high-speed connections, such as the Eurostar under the channel, become more frequent the disadvantage decreases. And on mid-distances it’s just as fast to travel from city to city and avoid commuting to and from airports as well as excessive check-in margins. We need an integrated European network of high-speed trains, twice the speed of the current Swedish flagship X2000.


Cardless in Geneva: Card retained

It was a hot night in Geneva when my troubles started.

Having arrived a few hours earlier and already checked into my hotel I decided to get myself some cash. I had all my tickets and I’d pay the hotel with my card so CHF200 should be more than enough. Took a stroll to the Cash Service in the Cornavin station. Chose the right out of two
ATM's, selected English as my language of preference, the amount desired and finally entered my pin code. The machine paused for a while, as they usually do, but apparently everything was in order and it merrily prompted take your card. Its mechanics started buzzing in a friendly fashion and a light began to blink just at the slot where my card would appear. Soon. Well, any moment now… More buzzing, more blinking. Then a few seconds of silence before the screen announced card retained.

I suppose the heat contributed to my slow reaction. It took a couple of minutes before the reality of the situation became apparent. The CHF200 never materialized, my credit card had been confiscated for no apparent reason and my cash supply wasn’t anywhere near sufficient for the hotel bill let alone other expenses over the next four days. It was 7.30pm on a busy Tuesday afternoon and I had been robbed by a machine.

So it began, my cardless stay in Switzerland.


72' 54"

Sometimes life just goes on swimmingly.

I managed 2000 meters in 72’54” recently, a new personal best on this particular distance. Good average speed but I should be able to do better. Maybe next week?


No gas, no direction

Sweden continues through a phase of jobless growth. Any quarter now things will begin to look brighter! So we’ve been told for years. The phenomenon is not unique to Sweden but our dysfunctional labor market makes matters worse. 

Time is running out for the government so they’ve announced a big scheme to create jobs in the public sector. This is yet another temporary effort designed to fix permanent structural faults. It has nothing to do with the creation of real jobs. It has everything to do with an upcoming election. PM Persson intends to bring down the unemployment figures, no matter how. With no idea about how to solve the real problem he wants to appear energetic and committed. With an oversized public sector and extreme levels of taxation he intends to spend even more tax money on temporarily expanding the public sector. His concept is embarrassing at best. 

No gas, no direction. Power without vision. The Labor party has reached the end of the road. Sweden needs a change.


US action complements hot air from Kyoto

Global warming must be taken seriously. We cannot predict the future with certainty but there is plenty of evidence on the table that something's going on and the principle of caution requires careful handling of this little planet. It’s the only one we’ve got. 

The UNFCCC-initiated Kyoto Protocol was an attempt at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The good thing about Kyoto was that it took place at all, increasing global awareness. But Kyoto came too late, provided too little and was a misguided effort. The protocol fails to require action from the most rapidly growing economies, like India and China. 

The American criticism of Kyoto has been substantially correct but still the Bush administration hasn’t been entirely credible on this issue. Specifically: disputing global warming is certainly a reasonable position. The scientists are far from certain about cause and effect and how to interpret our changing environment. Still, claiming that global warming might be a problem but we won’t do anything as long as others don’t do their part was an awkward standpoint for a global leader. 

Now, at long last, some constructive action on the climate issue. America has taken the lead, much like we expect them to do on any issue. The six-nation initiative, announced in Vientianne, focuses on clean growth, developing new technologies as well as actively promoting good existing energy sources like civilian nuclear power. The kind we’re dismantling in Sweden, in case you forgot.


Serves him right!

Prime Minister Persson intends to build a house worth 2M Euro. Could this kind of “news” possibly lead to an inflamed debate in any other country? In our Land of Envy this causes all sorts of criticism. The great irony here is that his own Labor Party has thrived on exactly this kind of envy for decades. So the opposition could be forgiven for thinking that such a storm, in fact, serves him right.


August by Bråviken

Abborrberg, Norrköping Posted by Picasa

It was one of the warmest days of last summer and I celebrated my visit at Abborrberg by Bråviken outside Norrköping with a gigantic ice-cream. Go see.


dab-i-doo (I do)

Updating the DAB story... I finally decided to face my responsibilities as a citizen of the digital age and get myself a digital radio.

When my TV broke down a couple of years ago I imagined I’d have that fixed in a jiffy. But I soon discovered how much time I “saved” by not watching (at best) semi-intelligent televised stuff and these days I have no intention of re-enabling television in my home. Not a chance.

Radio is different. Radio is for people with imagination. Radio is cultured. Radio can be enjoyed while watching the sunrise. Or while closing my eyes and relaxing. Or just about anything. Radio is a non-intrusive resource. And from now on, my radio is digital.

The sound is great, there is additional information (for example what song is playing now) in the display and I get six new non-FM-channels. Future receiver models will even provide pause or rewind if I have to take a phone call or need to go get a pen to write something down.

So I’ve done my part, I’ve joined the tiny DAB-population and now I expect our minister for culture to put together a comprehensive strategy incorporating commercial as well as public radio. Ten years of experimenting without listeners is quite enough.



You remember the ketchup bottle analogy. First comes nothing, then nothing and then… it’s tomato sauce party time.

The visionaries behind Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in Sweden might be hoping for their own ketchup effect. From what we’ve been told, DAB is a great success already. The technology is here, Sveriges Radio is distributing six new channels digitally. The FM-band is already fully occupied with no room for new channels. Handheld digital music devices are everywhere. Public service radio should go digital to remain relevant and attractive. So all the good reasons are already in place.

There’s just one slightly annoying factor: no one’s listening. Well, very few. 930 receivers were sold last year, nationwide. With that kind of stellar success, we'll all remain in FM-land for the rest of our lives.

It started ten years ago when Sveriges Radio and BBC introduced the very first digital channels. The British government wisely included commercial stations in their DAB strategy. Not so in Sweden where SR was left alone to pursue experimental broadcasting. We're now entering the second decade of DAB in Sweden and amazingly there's still no political decision about its future. In fact, DAB has been shut down outside our major cities in an effort to cut costs! dab-i-dab-i-doo, what a government we've got!

To find some listeners SR has decided to distribute its digital channels via the web. Understandable but a mixed blessing really. The obvious advantage is that anyone with reasonably "semi-broadband" internet access can listen. (I've tuned in to SRX while writing this.) But with web radio available there is even less incentive now to go buy a digital receiver.


To Boldly Go

The Space Shuttle has returned to flight after being grounded for a couple of years. Now follows a twelve-day mission and then we can all breathe easier when the crew has been brought safely home. 

Space exploration is of paramount importance for science and for the spirit of humanity. It is frequently criticized as being costly in a world with lots of down-to-earth problems. This criticism is unfair. As long as the world can afford to spend $950 billion on the military I cannot imagine why anyone would consider peaceful space exploration costly and unnecessary. 

We need to boldly go where Discovery just went. That’s what humanity is all about.


Go see!!

Konstmuseet, Göteborg in January 

A wild idea turned into a project with a significant budget and a strictly limited time plan. SEK 65000 for a rail pass and twelve months to go see Sweden. My hypothesis was that it would all be doable with public transportation. Others might have rented a car now and then but I didn’t have that option. Boats, buses and trains it had to be. 

All in all, I made 44 journeys. I spent 95 nights on trains and in hotels. I used nine days of saved vacation time. It was an incredible year - here’s a recap. 

Jan 6 Sundsvall 
Jan 9-10 Malmö 
Jan 24 Göteborg 
Feb 6-7 Östersund 
Feb 21 Karlstad 
March 6 Växjö 
March 19-21 Storlien 
April 1-3 Malmö, Trelleborg, Smygehuk, Lund 
April 11 Västerås 
April 17-23 Visby, Fårösund, Burgsvik 
April 29-May 3 Storvallen, Storlien 
May 17 Oslo 
May 27-29 Falsterbo, Lund, Malmö 
June 4-7 Köpenhamn, Malmö, Sofiero 
June 11-13 Härnösand 
June 20-22 Mölle, Kullaberg, Malmö 
June 23-28 Storulvån 
June 30 Linköping 
July 8 Gävle 
July 11 Hudiksvall 
July 14 Katrineholm 
July 15-19 Vålådalen 
July 21 Norrköping 
July 27 Linköping 
July 29-Aug 2 Storulvån 
Aug 4 Norrköping, Abborrberg 
Aug 11 Linköping 
Aug 12-16 Humlebaek, Malmö, Hässleholm, Kristianstad, Lomma 
Aug 18 Norrköping 
Aug 19-23 Östersund 
Aug 25 Örebro 
Sep 2-6 Malmö, Köpenhamn, Halmstad, Tylösand, Lund 
Sep 11-18 Duved, Åre, Storlien, Storulvån, Östersund 
Sep 23-27 Växjö, Kivik, Simrishamn, Båstad 
Oct 9-16 Falsterbo, Skanör, Höllviken, Smygehuk, Humlebaek 
Oct 21-24 Uddevalla, Strömstad, Kosteröarna, Smögen 
Oct 28-Nov 1 Storlien, Strömsund, Östersund 
Nov 5-7 Göteborg, Skara 
Nov 11-14 Helsingborg, Malmö 
Nov 18-21 Kalmar, Mörbylånga, Emmaboda, Karlskrona 
Nov 25-28 Funäsdalen, Östersund 
Dec 3-5 Härnösand, Ullånger, Veda 
Dec 17-19 Karlstad 
Dec 25-31 Vålådalen 

My biggest mistake was trying to travel cheap in the first months. It wasn’t until April that I finally had a hotel night. I certainly saved a dime or two but those winter trips were hectic and not very pleasant. 

The best idea I had was to throw in a series of brief summer night excursions. Using X2000 I was able to reach places like Linköping, Norrköping and Gävle, spend a few hours and then return to Stockholm with the last train watching the sun reluctantly set after another long summer day. 

Weather-wise I was remarkably lucky all year long. Very little rain, lots of sunny days but few of them really hot. You know me, I can’t stand the heat. And when it did rain cats and dogs, like in Bohuslän on October 22, I was already on my way back from Strömstad after a great day at Kosteröarna and didn’t really mind. Lucky guy. 

The worst day was the very first one, in Sundsvall. It was Epiphany and the entire town was closed. I spent half the day walking on slippery, icy sidewalks and the other half in a café that had somehow forgotten to close. On that day I learnt to do my research and be prepared. Bring a map, a list of phone numbers; always check opening-hours and connections. Have a plan A for good weather and an alternative one just in case. What a valuable lesson that was! 

Biggest disappointment? Got to be the fact that I missed Dalarna entirely. Unforgivable, really. I was planning to go there several times but something else always turned up. 

My rail pass was the golden version, enabling unlimited first class train traveling. Was that really necessary? Definitely. For example, there are several options for traveling from Stockholm to Malmö but this card includes a single compartment with my own toilet and shower on the night train. I can rely on a good night’s sleep; I won’t be tired upon arrival. On top of this, a hotel breakfast is included. I’ll be just as alert as if I had slept in my own bed and ready to make the most of the day. I could certainly have traveled less expensively but there’s no way I would have managed these 44 journeys in twelve months. 

My only companion was my digicam. I took thousands of pictures, a few of them can be seen in my galleries for northern and southern Sweden. 

It’s been a while now. I keep thinking about where I was and what I was doing at the same time last year. Great memories. There’s just one regret. I didn’t get to see all of Sweden. SJ doesn’t cover the entire country. There’s a lot to be seen north of Åre and Härnösand. So my project will have to be augmented. Somehow. Sometime.


Did our future just blow up?

Things looked real good. But now my sense of optimism has been weakened. All it took was a couple of disastrous referenda and four bombs in London. The momentum for peaceful integration and prosperity has served us remarkably well since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Can it be regained? Let's hope so. Fortunately, the Union has got a strong leadership now.


One small step for mankind…

…one giant leap for me!

Ok, a
driving license is no big deal really. It’s tougher in Sweden than in some other countries, it’s more difficult in a big city and it would probably have been easier if at least some of my lessons hadn’t occurred at rush-hour (bad planning on my part!). But it’s not exactly rocket science. How could it be? Most people go through this. Most of them significantly younger than I am and without such a struggle. What made my journey so difficult?

Alinge turns out to be a real soul-mate in this matter. A slightly-less-practical guy, to put it mildly. Just like me. R
eading about his ordeal at school had me amazed. Could have been me!

I’m not very brave and never was. I certainly enjoy exploring new frontiers but preferably through a radio documentary! You get the picture. Not the bold adventurer. So I was scared stiff when Magnus had me driving round that parking lot in Väsby in March. At a velocity of 15 km/h images from my childhood kept flashing by and I was certain something was about to explode. Yes, I’m exaggerating slightly but trust me –
it was no picnic.

This spring wasn’t my first attempt at driving. I did take some lessons in the early eighties but gave up for much the same reasons. That failure made the whole idea spooky and it just grew spookier as the years passed by.

But now I’m through, I’m officially authorized. My thanks to the staff of
Väsby Trafikskola, they’re really the best. I have absolutely no idea how they did this but they did. And here I am. I’m very grateful.

Apart from giving my parents a lift now and then, I'm not sure what I’ll use my driving license for. My expertise in public transportation has served me well in Stockholm and all of Sweden as well as through Europe and even on Sicily. But I’ll come up with some kind of project, I always do.

See you around, on the road!


Quiet, please. Players are waiting...

If it wasn’t for tradition, why would half the world eagerly follow The Championships these days? Grass is probably the worst surface for tennis. It has been abandoned almost everywhere and for good reasons. Not so in London. Tradition, you know, old chap

Speaking of London, with its ever unpredictable weather and without a decent roof over any court. Why would anyone sponsor an event with entire days of “rain delay”, why would anyone pay a pocketful of pound notes (no Euros here, old boy!) for the opportunity to get soaking wet while waiting for nothing: “Ladies and Gentlemen, play is suspended.” 

Why do TV companies pay large sums each year for this? It’s tradition, Sir. Why do almost all players forsake weeks of important training on regular surfaces for a few weeks on grass? Why would a spectator in the year 2005 interrupt whatever he’s doing because the Duchesse of Torquay is arriving: “All rise!”. Tradition seems to be a valid excuse for anything. 

A generation ago there were two major grass tournaments, in Melbourne and London. The Aussies then wisely chose hard-court and built a roof over Rod Laver Arena to protect the event from the weather. Not so in London. You know why. 

Like it or not, tradition does matter.


It’s not the heat

It's not the heat. I can’t stand warm weather so I try to have air conditioning installed wherever I lay my hat. It’s not the green stuff, truly beautiful but my allergy requires constant medication and I keep sneezing from March to June. It’s not the birds - a busy woodpecker keeps waking me up by hammering my cottage. What is it, then? It’s the light, the Nordic light. The slow evenings, just a couple of dusky hours and on comes the light again. With the birds, the green stuff and the heat. Well, you can’t win’em all! So I turn up my AC, I blow my nose and take some more Loratadin, I forgive the woodpecker and wish I could save some of this light for a darker, gloomier day. 

Midsummer at Storulvån, Jämtland 2004 Posted by Hello 

And I remember Midsummer last year at Storulvån in Jämtland. Beautiful surroundings, friendly people, superb dining. Wish I could be with you again this year. Happy Midsummer, in Storulvån and everywhere!



A little girl, less than a day old, was murdered before Christmas 2002 and found in Kungsängen, north of Stockholm. She was buried a year later. The tragedy is still a complete mystery. Who is she? Who did this? Why?


June 6 in Sweden: And now it's official!

Not exactly sure what we’re celebrating today but… anyway... hooray!  
Formerly unofficial national day at Sofiero outside Helsingborg, June 6 2004.


Grundlov in Denmark

One day early but what the heck... Congratulations, Denmark!  
Constitution Day at Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen, June 5 2004.


Continued on Page B37

Did you also grow up in a world where newspapers where the only conceivable way to start a day? So did Michael Kinsley and this column is hilarious.


caution: fragile Union

The history of Europe hasn’t exactly been peaceful. 

Bringing an end to our wars by tying the countries closer together is what the Union is all about. If this project should fail there is every reason to be worried. So I can’t really imagine why anyone with a tiny knowledge of history would be gloating about the recent setbacks. It’s not a perfect union but it’s the only one we’ve got. Let’s take good care of it. The alternative is distinctly unpleasant.


Facing the draft again?

Bob Novak has an interesting column about America’s recruiting dilemma: finding enough volunteers to defend freedom in remote corners of the world.

Re-introducing the draft is hardly an option. Having successfully protected the homeland from more attacks since 9/11 the President now leads a nation less alarmed and therefore less willing to defend the country.

How can a democracy remain vigilant?


Summer is sweet

More than 350000 Swedes suffer from diabetes. Many more have not yet been diagnosed. Spring is here so I checked the ice-cream boxes in a local shop the other day. Well over 30 different kinds from two manufacturers, one more tempting than the other. None of them sugar-free. Get this: not a single ice-cream without sugar. What kind of wake-up call do we need to start fighting diabetes?


Stenmarck beats "The Big 4"

Four countries (France, Germany, Spain and the UK) are always guaranteed a place in the ESC final. This strange rule was introduced a few years ago for economical reasons. Now we move on from strange to outright embarrassing. These “big 4” are occupying the four last positions in this year’s ranking. Their guarantee will come in handy next year!


big fire waiting

A fire broke out in the Stockholm subway this week. Fortunately no one was killed but the incident is the worst since this network was established in the fifties. As usual with issues of security, interest surges after an incident, questions are asked: investigative panels will be appointed. Rightfully so. 

The labor union has all the answers at once, of course. Guess what? This is all the fault of the employer. How surprising! Cost-cutting has led to poor maintenance, they claim. Well, maybe. 

I’d suggest we take a closer look at another factor: the uncontrolled spreading of waste-paper in stations as well as in trains and on the tracks. Tons and tons of free “newspapers” are distributed every morning. Every grown-up who fails to bring his paper out from the subway again is partly responsible for the real big fire which will hit us one day.


not your average Inn...

Grilled fillet of veal and braised leg of veal with tarragon and apple

Read that sentence again.

Sounds delicious, right? Tasted even better…

I was lucky enough to have lunch at Edsbacka Krog today. Officially authorized in 1626 as “an Inn at Edsbacka, in the rural district of Sollentuna”, this reputable restaurant has been around for a while. Not exactly the cheapest place in town but the food is great and the service is superb.

Bring a friend, spend some time and enjoy!


Will we ever learn?

World War II in Europe ended 60 years ago today. Jubilant crowds celebrated peace and embraced their liberators. From dust and rubble, the defeated Germany was restored through massive infusion of American aid. For decades, NATO under American leadership protected our freedom from the Soviet threat. Generations of European leaders knew in their hearts just how much we owe the US.

When the Wall finally came down we could all breathe easier, some even proclaimed "the end of history". Sadly, it was more like the end of memory. History is hardly taught at all in Swedish schools. Leaders in Germany and France show increasing arrogance and no gratitude. In spite of recent reminders, like the complete European fiasco in Yugoslavia, there is an unfounded perception that Europe doesn't need the US. Oddly enough we're also unable to aid in fighting tyranny elsewhere like when we're asked to help in Iraq. Strong and absent? Not very credible.

Well, why use force, why not rely on diplomacy and work through the UN, you ask. Isn't that the way to go in a civilized world?

Twelve years and countless UN resolutions got us absolutely nowhere in Iraq. Basic diplomacy couldn’t save Kosovo. Decades of concessions to North Korea has led to an alarming threat. The world is a dangerous place and a policy of consensus is certainly a good principle but not a universal solution. I’m sure Mr. Chamberlain would have agreed.

Imagine Mr. Chirac confronting Saddam. Imagine Mr. Schroeder saving Kosovo. Imagine Mr. Annan disarming North Korea. The world needs American leadership. The next time the US enters a period of isolationism we’re in big trouble.

60 years ago freedom was restored in Europe. Not by resolutions, diplomacy or concessions. Europe was liberated by thousands upon thousands of allied soldiers paying the ultimate price. Will we ever learn?


Turncoats, beware

Voters seem to reward steadfastness and persistence. Now Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair have both been reelected. Highly controversial in some vocal circles, their leadership has been approved by those who should know best: their own voters. Staying the course is a basic leadership skill. Being a turncoat is not.


An Ark has stranded

An Ark has stranded in Tomteboda. Most Stockholmers have probably noticed it already. The new head office "Arken" for Swedish Posten was inaugurated in 2003. It’s an amazing box, a "think-tank" made of steel and glass. Lots of glass. Tens of thousands of square meters, as a matter of fact. An entire career for a window-cleaner!

Eye-catching from the outside, fascinating on the inside, the view over Stockholm from the office of CEO Erik Olsson on the tenth floor is magnificent. This complex actually contains two "buildings" with connecting footbridges and hanging conference cocoons (!) from which you can gaze down into a canyon between the lower floors. Unless, of course, heights make you feel dizzy in which case you might prefer to concentrate on something else… Seriously, a few employees had difficulties upon moving into Arken. Their training included visiting places like Katarinahissen.

Members of the art club Konstföreningen Stockholm were invited on April 27 to a presentation and a walk through Arken. The building has been decorated with hundreds of items. Interestingly, no new art was purchased. Instead, Posten decided to preserve and move pieces of art from other locations which have been abandoned, such as the old main post office on Vasagatan.

Fortunately, Arken is partly open for the public. This includes all three restaurants. Take the subway to Västra Skogen followed by a ten minute walk. But hurry or you’ll miss the wood anemones! Only time will tell whether Arken remains a success. Meanwhile, anyone interested in new Swedish architecture should pay a visit.


Thieves United

Fare-dodgers in Stockholm “cannot choose to walk 5 kilometers if it does not suit us to pay the fare”. How thoughtful! Is the concept limited to stealing public transportation or does the philosophy include taking just about anything rather than paying for it? Since the anarchists are part of this organization I suppose that answers the question. 

Meanwhile, honest citizens have to pay 600 SEK for a 30-day travel-card in order to pay for trains, buses and salaries as well as replacing equipment that has been vandalized. And, on top of all this, paying for those who won't.

As if this outrage wasn't enough we're having a pseudo-debate on whether or not ticket inspectors in Stockholm are too tough. Violence has occurred when fare-dodgers won't stop and identify themselves. This, we're told, is the ticket-inspectors' fault.


Let’s have a ball

Live from Kiev, the Eurovision Song Contest! Who would have believed that? Habitual EU-bashers, kindly explain how you would have brought all these people together in no time at all after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Without the Union? Yeah right. 

This year it’s once again time for Sweden. Singer-dancer Martin Stenmarck will sweep Kiev and sufficiently large parts of the continent off their feet to bring home Sweden’s fifth victory in ESC.

Let’s have a ball 
The winner takes it all 

Good luck, Martin!


This won’t do, Fredrik

This winter has seen a shift in the political opinion polls. The socialists are no longer comfortably controlling the electorate. September 2006 could be the most uncertain Swedish election since 1991. The recently launched Feminist Initiative could help by further weakening the left. 

Still. The political blocks are almost equal in size. After a winter when practically everything has gone disastrously wrong for the Labor party, the left is still supported by 48%. In 2006 the right-wing Alliance will have a tough time with the media, being carefully (and rightfully) scrutinized as an alleged governing alternative. Meanwhile the Labor party will roll out their big guns in an unrivaled campaign machinery. Going into this fight opposition leader Reinfeldt would need a significant lead. 50-48 won’t do.


Cosmic music takes me home

”Anyone mentioning Grieg and Sibelius should also include Lundsten.” 

This generous statement was made when Swedish composer Ralph Lundsten was awarded in Germany a few years ago. 

Lundsten has created heavenly music for decades in his intriguing Andromeda studio south of Stockholm. He was among the pioneers of Swedish electronic music in the sixties. Many of his fellow composers turned inwards, cultivating electronic music as a highly introvert form of expression. Lundsten’s music is inclusive, embracing the contemporary as well as traditional themes. 

My personal favorites are his seven Nordic Symphonies. Wherever I go in this world, Lundsten’s harmonies conjure images of the Nordic seasons and take me right back home.


Winds of change

There’s something in the air. The Union has grown to include 25 member states with even more waiting at the doorstep. There is true hope for peace and stability in this war-torn corner of the world. Traveling across borders is no big deal. Yesterday’s enemy could become your best trading-partner. As usual, changes are met with reluctance. What if my favorite sausage becomes more expensive? Why can’t we just keep our old traditional coins forever? What if my job is moved off-shore? One of the most important tasks for our national leadership will be to explain the realities of globalization, stay the course when the winds of change blow stronger and encourage people to research, study and become more competitive to make use of our new possibilities. Prime Minister Persson hasn’t even tried. Our next leadership will have to.


Take the I Train!

Daylight savings time is here. Summer is near. Light and hope returns to the north. In fact, the farther north you travel the more light and hope you’ll find. My beloved inland railway once again welcomes tourists from near and far. This year I’m excited to hear that the season has been prolonged into September. In my world, nothing beats the sight of autumn colors and the first frost in the wilderness. Every Swede should enjoy Sweden’s longest tourist attraction. At least once. What are you waiting for?


Footing the bill for football

Kick-off in our top national football league Allsvenskan is just round the corner. The party is on and, as usual in Sweden, the tax payers will have to foot most of the bill. 

I don’t know what’s wrong with football but there are plenty of other sports where huge crowds can get together and enjoy a fair game. You can even bring the kids. Not so in top level football. There is verbal and physical violence both on- and off-field. In fact, matches are classified in terms of risk level. A big match requires a huge police effort. I’ve had quite enough of this. Football clubs are commercial organizations and should carry the entire cost for maintaining a reasonable level of security.


Provocative persistence

Few if any world leaders are being scoffed like the British PM and the US President. Their persistence in pursuing a policy of conviction regardless of recent polls provokes outright hatred. Both are born-again Christians. Is this a coincidence?


No retirement in sight

We’re entering the Holy Week. 

The Pope is back in the Vatican and I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes part in Easter Mass. John Paul II has done great service to the church and to the world. Now he’s old and frail but with no retirement in sight. He’s supposed to die in office. It's a cruel tradition. 

Why not send him a greeting?


Make a difference!

Today is a gift. Yesterday is gone, "updates no longer possible". Tomorrow is not a promise. But today is here and you can make the most of it

Franz Schubert died at age 31, leaving a lasting footprint in history. Centuries come and go, his music lives on. Surely he had bad days like you and me but he didn't waste his time

Schubert's talent was unique. So is yours. No one can take your place. Make a difference in someone's life. Your own, for example. Why not shut off your TV and start today?


Save the champagne

Oh joy! The opposition has got a majority in our most recent national opinion poll. I hate to ruin the party but someone’s got to. 

The center-right opposition looks considerably stronger in this poll than in others. Given the statistical uncertainties it’d be interesting to have this trend confirmed. 

The alleged margin is five percentage points, 51-46. Assuming this is true it is still a slim lead. 18 months before the election anything can and will happen. Don’t forget that with a bit of help from our state television drastic shifts in the opinion occurred in the very last days of the 2002 campaign. 

Three out of seven parties in the Riksdag are small and risk losing their representation altogether due to the rule that requires at least 4 percent of the national vote. If any of these parties fail to reach 4 percent that would shift the balance drastically and the opposition runs the biggest risk since two of these parties belong to the opposition. 

Adding further to the uncertainty, there is a rumor about a new feminist party. This could mean more difficulties for the left but no one knows. 

The governing Labor party hasn’t started their campaign. When they do we’ll notice. They’ve got an awesome campaign machinery and thanks to the unholy alliance with the unions they will have by far the largest campaign budget. 

Sweden is in desperate need of a regime change and there appears to be a positive trend for the opposition but we’ve got a year and a half of fierce campaigning before us. So save the champagne for now.


The little train robbery

Springtime, what a lovely season. Don't miss a minute! Shut off your TV, leave the car, take a walk. Unfortunately, there are more signs of spring than birds and tulips. On the commuter trains we can look forward to another season of begging.

Giving is a must; there is no excuse for not giving. Many of us can afford giving a lot. Many of us do. But that's a private issue and
should be kept private.

However, there is every reason to reject our commuting fortune-seekers. Some of them might be honest, many are obviously not and there is no way of knowing. Supporting
a serious, transparent charity is the only way to ensure that your money ends up with those most in need.

Finland shows the way

Once in a while, when I grow tired of the nostalgic gridlock that dominates Swedish (government) politics I look eastwards.

Finland leads by example. Having endured wars in the 20th century and having been paralyzed for decades by the proximity to the threatening Soviet Union this small country has regained strength in no time at all. Not only has their economy recovered. Finland has also repositioned itself to become an important member of the Union.

Finland is pragmatic. For several years the country was governed by a big coalition from left to right. Partisan bickering was set aside and the politicians joined forces to change course after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Finland is realistic. While Sweden wasted decades on a fruitless debate about nuclear power (and has now begun to shut down fully functional power plants) Finland drew the right conclusions from the threat of global warming and is now busy building its fifth reactor. Nuclear power will prove paramount in facing climate change and Sweden used to be a world leader in this field. No more. By now we’re even dependant on importing electric power.

Finland is courageous. They joined the Union at the first opportunity while Sweden, with its relative freedom from the Soviet Union, could have done so a generation earlier. When the monetary union was formed, Finland joined at once. Again, compare with Sweden. Just like Finland we’ve agreed to join the single currency while joining the Union in 1994. Due to lack of leadership we simply haven’t lived up to this promise and by now it’s anybody’s guess how long this will take.

Finland is vigilant. Having learnt from history they know the realities of being a small country next to Russia. While Sweden is moving backwards, dismantling its remaining military power, Finland is already half way into NATO. In an area where Swedish politics offers taboos and invocations about neutrality Finland has a realistic debate.

Finland shows the way.


Trust me!

Seven political parties share 349 seats in our Riksdag. How much faith do you have in the respective party chairs? This question is repeated regularly in a national poll. In the recent survey, opposition leader Reinfeldt was considered most trustworthy, slightly ahead of Prime Minister Persson who has seen a steady decline in confidence over the last three years.

What makes a politician (or any leader for that matter) trustworthy? Reinfeldt is a nice chap (I would probably have voted for his party today) but he was elected party chair recently and since the Moderates spend most of their time in opposition we haven’t seen his qualities as a national leader. Reinfeldt has made a sharp turn towards the center, abandoning a lot of hard-line liberal positions and making him and the party sound a lot like the Labor party. Whether this is good tactics remains to be seen in the next election September 2006. But is it credible? When is the next change due? In whom do we trust?


Meanwhile in Småland

It’s been a relatively warm winter again but at -13C we’ve got ourselves a crisp cold night. A decent amount of snow provides a brief but welcome winter and the full moon makes for lovely walks with or without the dog if you’re fortunate to live outside the city lights.

My thoughts go to those who have been struggling without electric current after the huge storm in January. They might not have considered themselves very lucky recently but things could have been worse. January was mild. February began likewise. But tonight is no time for a picnic in Småland.


Rudeness instead of arguments

Margot Wallström, vice president of the Union, has entered the blogosphere. In her own down-to-earth way, she writes about a day in the life of a Commissioner. What does she do, whom does she meet, what makes her tick? 

She and I have probably never voted for the same party in Swedish elections and I disagree with her on many issues, for instance about the Kyoto protocol which was the topic of a recent blog entry. But her kind of leadership style is accessible, personal, inspiring and it’s just what the Union needs. 

Wallström has decided to make her blog open to comments. There are plenty already. I followed the thread about Kyoto for a while and I found it saddening. Several remarks are without substance on the issue, written in an insulting, even hostile tone. Rudeness instead of arguments, where does that take the debate? Can an unmoderated public forum maintain a civilized tone? Just like any dedicated professional, Margot Wallström deserves respect for her work. Those who are unable to debate the issues should have the decency to abstain from turning an open forum into abuse and verbal vandalism.


70' 55"

I wasn’t going anyplace. I just kept swimming along, lane after lane. Few things would appear more useless than spending your morning in a pool. Yes, I did see an occasional glimpse of the winter sun thru the roof but that was it. Hardly exciting. And yet, having finished this incredibly boring, weekly exercise I got almost euphoric. Whatever for?

My silent companion the wristwatch quietly announced a new personal best: 1950 meters in 70 minutes 55 seconds. Hardly worth mentioning - the professionals would do this odd distance in
about 23 minutes. So what’s the big deal? You tell me. What is it with records that keeps challenging us? Why would I consider this the achievement of the week? Silly, really.

Still, what’s your personal best?


Referendum or responsibility?

Why doesn’t Sweden hold a referendum on the new European constitution? I keep hearing this question. Why aren’t Swedes allowed to have their say in this matter? Yes, why? I wouldn’t be surprised if such a referendum ultimately takes place but it shouldn’t. Here’s why.

Sweden has adopted the concept of representative democracy. The idea is that, once in a while, we have general elections in order to select 349 trustworthy parliamentarians from various parties to serve in our Riksdag where they are supposed to take care of our nation’s affairs – big and small. They are professional decision-makers and they work full-time so they have the time and the ability to penetrate even complicated issues.

There is also an emergency exit. When the political parties are unable or unwilling to handle an issue, they can duck their responsibility and hand the decision back to their voters in a referendum. The professionals have failed so the rest of us should step in, take care of a real tough issue and let the pros concentrate on the simple stuff. Sounds ludicrous? It is. This kind of failure has occurred twice in the last decade.

The most serious problem with the referendum is that issues are removed from their context and handled separately. Who is ultimately responsible for the big picture?

So is there any point in asking for a referendum? There is. If you’re unhappy with the current majority situation in the Riksdag and if you don’t respect the result of the most recent election you can always hope to use a referendum to achieve whatever is on your mind. It’s perfectly legal but not very democratic. Join the debate and make a difference next time instead.


Only in America... unfortunately!

It’s been a year now since Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, the crown jewel of American states. He inherited partisan gridlock and a lousy economy. Now he’s beginning to turn the state around. Few if any pundits are still laughing about the former actor. Instead, he is met with respect for his unconventional approach, his growing public appeal and for bringing about change across party boundaries.

Schwarzenegger is living testimony to the American dream: there’s hardly anywhere you can’t go if you’ve got what it takes. He shows leadership, he electrifies the political process and by reaching out to politically uninterested groups he strengthens the Californian democracy. On top of all this he helped swing Ohio in the November election, campaigning effectively for the president. Governor Schwarzenegger is rapidly building a political platform and, at least in my book, he has already reached the fourth highest political office in the U.S.

Now take a look at this guy. A former body-builder-turned-actor with a funny accent. He’s self-made and as far from a political insider you could possibly get. Can anyone imagine this kind of career in Sweden? Ever seen this kind of charisma in the Riksdag? Why in the world do we consistently find ourselves with the most uninspiring leaders?

Ah, but we’re so very democratic, aren’t we? Money doesn’t matter here like in American politics! I disagree. Any campaign will cost money and I find it perfectly reasonable that a well-regulated and transparent fund-raising process is better than our system where the tax-payers foot most of the bill while additional money conveniently changes hands from supposedly non-partisan unions to the labor party whenever there is an election coming up.

Ok, so it’s only been a year. Schwarzenegger might fail, we don’t know yet. But we could certainly learn a thing or two.


Better not earn too much

Wanja Lundby-Wedin, one of the most influential figures in Swedish politics was interviewed on public radio. As usual with Swedish media, a lot of attention was wasted on questions about her salary. She is the highest ranking representative for two million workers and the way she decides to manage the union and its relations with the government is of profound importance. Her personal income is not.


Yet another blog?

A solution looking for a problem? Possibly. Could be fun though!