Friday, March 30, 2007

”Now there’s a red light blinking there, has it been all the time?”

Lately I've been following the "Chairman Persson" documentary on swedish television. For those of you unaware of the situation, Göran Persson was first a high-ranking official in the social democrat administration, later became minister of finances and finally sat as party-leader and prime minister for some eleven years. Already at the beginning of that story, in particular one reporter, Erik Fichtelius, got his background stories much through Persson and managed to get an agreement to continue that kind of semi-confidential interviews throughout Persson's career. Among other conditions, the interviews were made with the agreement that they would not be released in full until Persson stepped down. No one realized then it would be that many years...

Last week SVT released the material in four hour-long episodes, plus at least as much material only online, plus that the entire unedited material will be available for scholarly analysis. Keep any thoughts you want about the social democrats and Göran Persson, but the amount of interesting thoughts (on politics, primarily), not to mention the amount of insane blunders anyone would let out in front of the camera in such long time is absolutely amazing.

It makes me a bit nostalgic and proud to be a swede when I see a project like this made. The programs had some 1.5 million viewers, and I feel like blurting out "And me!", and it was important enough to watch it online from Estonia! Debate afterward has been thin at best though, reminds me of the media-judgments in the sulphur-reaking monologue of Carl-Johan Vallgren. Documentaries and debate- and cultur-pages may be hard to digest, but I still instinctively resist the lazy approach some people have that "what would the world care about this?". I think that at least taking some part in what's going on in the world around you is essential to expanding your understanding and intelligence. If a reasonably mature arena for public debate is not maintained a society may face total political bankruptcy and citizen participation goes extinct. If nothing else, as a necessary basis to enable action it is necessary, or as Doktor Kosmos so wisely put it "Actually what you say matters, not only what you do".

One recent topic of public debate here in Estonia has been that the Estonian Lutheran Church decided to do a Church of Nigeria (quote: ”our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality”) and announced some kind of objection to that Church of Sweden has decided to perform same-sex unions. I wish I could read that article but anyhow try follow the debate closely, the schism is a fascinating one.

What seems to be the case is that Church of Estonia fail to, or refuse to see the decisions Church of Sweden had to make. Facing an increasingly secular society where religious fundamentalists gather in more charismatic movements, the "state church" saw their clientele fleeing, especially if they would take the conservative path in issues like that of sexuality. Especially the former arch-bishop K.G. Hammar was one very strange but successful bird in reforming the swedish church, with statements such that he considers the biblical texts on virgin birth "poetic" and when supporting the Ecce Homo exhibition.

Now the government were releasing their groundwork on reforming marriage law, and Church of Sweden did essentially all they could, stated not only that they are willing to accept same-sex marriage, but that they support equal rights for all, especially for such a persecuted group as homosexuals. Essentially they would have lost their right to register any civil unions otherwise. Still, they guarded their integrity and think the tradition-laden word "marriage" should be kept out of civil unions law altogether. Fair enough, in my opinion. Let them those who want remain bigots, and all others marry!

PS. Work here in Estonia has granted me some fascinating insight into the true story and people behind Skype. So go check out Bluemoon and compare their people list with that of Skype (the page I meant to find was here), as well as the great coverage back in the day by CNN

Update 2008-01-11: The international version "A Prime Minister - Ten Years Behind the Scenes" was released a while back, so now anyone inclined and fluent enough in English can get an insight into our dear Swedish social democracy lunacy. If you don't want the web fluff you can simply open in your favourite media player, or for you advanced geeks (i.e. Me) dump the stream from mms://

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The highs and the lows

Haven't blogged in a while. There have been a numer of highs and lows worth mentioning lately.

The weather has been really nice the last two weeks. My first barbeque of the year was this weekend, followed by a day of surfing and tanning at the beach. Last week I and a friend had a great evening out dining with LaserDavid and his friend who were visiting SFO for a convention.

My car suddenly stopped running while driving on the highway two weeks ago. Naturally this was shortly after my ceiling fell in. It's also stalling sometimes when stopping at a red light. Very annoying. I have to turn the key three or four times before it starts up again. I left it at my local mechanic and of course they couldn't reproduce the problem. So I got it back, and of course it soon started to act up on me again. Now it's back in the shop for a second attempt at identifying the fault. I've investigated the problem and done a lot of searching on the net for that kind of problem with Volvos of that model and year. It could be pretty much anything from a rare short circuit ($) to a broken ignition control computer ($$$) to a worn out fuel pump ($$). Either the mechanic can repro it and replace the part, or I have to live with the issue until the car starts bailing on me with such a high frequency that's it’s impossible to miss it. *Sigh* My car is a wonderful piece of machinery otherwise.

This coming weeking I'm going skiing, hoping that my bad luck qouta takes some time to replenish itself. I'm the one with least experience with winter sports in my social group, so it's likely going to be a hard weekend of learning.
I am learning to surf right now and so far that has only cost me a new pair of glasses. Despite having security straps for them, a wave hit me so hard that they disappeared with straps and all. Luckily I didn't have to drive all the way home without them, and I needed new ones anyway.

Some weeks ago, me and a bunch of colleges, friends and friends of friends rented a limo and took an 8 hour ride around the wine country in Napa Valley: Wine tasting, picnicking in the sun and listening to trivia about wine. You get pretty dizzy after such a trip but it's certainly worth it, not having to drive around the valley yourself with a bored sober driver, or no sober drivers at all. In California, you can drive if you have a blood-alcohol level of less then 0.08 percent (0.8 parts per thousand, "promille"). That's crazy in the mind of a Swede (we have 0.0). It's my ambition to try not to take advantage of such freedom.

Otherwise I have pretty much worked 60 hours a week the last few weeks. I guess it’s a matter of “You work hard, you party hard”. Speaking of work and party, I got my hands on the movie “Riot On” last weekend. It’s a crazy movie about a Finnish tech company that got a lot of VC in 2000 and crashed as IT went down two years later. It has been around for a while but I noticed that I could get the DVD from Amazon just recently. Anyway these guys blow a lot of money on building a company image, recruiting relatives and partying like crazy. If you have ever worked at a startup, been though a "high-tide" with crazy inflated expectations in industry, or worked at an IT company you should see this. It takes a bunch of Finnish guys to make a movie about that time. Like they weren't good at partying anyways. I can just hope the age of wonders is not over yet.


The Aparment Complex "Billy"

The week before last was a bit messy. On Wednesday I woke up from a loud crash, and realized that about 20 square foot (2 square meters) of my ceiling had just collapsed. What the f*ck?

Housing in my area is expensive. As I might have mentioned, houses cost about the same as they do at home, but the prices are in dollars instead of SEK.
California, not to mention Palo Alto, is insane. My one room apartment is $1100 a month to rent. But it's not the houses themselves that cost money. Construction materials are more expensive, but often of lower quality and construction labor is cheap.

The standards are somewhat set by climate. It's always above freezing and doesn't rain for about 6 months out of the year. Historically the price of energy has been very low. So instead of building well-insulated houses people have been cranking up their heaters. The peak of energy consumption however, is reached during the summer when all the air conditioners pump heat out of the buildings. Energy is becoming expensive though, and building codes are changing to accommodate, but the quality of most buildings compared, at least to Swedish standards, will have to be described as crappy. I was about to compare them to buying a whole house at IKEA, the same fragile particle board material that most of the stuff from IKEA is made of, and assemble it with discount tools from your local DIY construction warehouse. But then I might be discrediting IKEA too much. Much of the stuff they make is sufficent quality for many purposes.

Anyway. I got a weeks worth free rent and a new unit in the same building. I also took the opportunity of partying and sleeping over at friends during the few days I couldn't occupy the old apartment.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Estonia vs. Sweden

Just to tease you all a little bit, and perhap to explain why this post has been not happening for so long... I give you, the points on which I plan to comment on Estonia vs. Sweden:

- Rich and poor

- Politics

- Nazis and communists

- Sexism

- Alcohol consumption

- Entertainment

- Housing

- Work market

- Insurances

- Celebrities

- Humor

So, feel free to post your prejudice in the comments already!

Lost in the pancake

I guess this should have been expected, getting my Master degree is after all what I had been working for for a long time. And then it showed up in the mailbox:

Don't get me wrong, the ring as well as my diploma I am so happy and proud about that to anyone else it would probably border to the silly, but they are also distinctive signs that my university days are over. It is a closed chapter and I will not go back to Chalmers, probably not to Gothenburg either. Friends are dissipating all over the world and here I am, constantly hearing a language I barely understand and I am getting more comfortable with English than my good old Swedish and yeah... it does make one feel a bit... lost in the pancake.

A couple of weeks ago Laserdavid came here for a weekend visit and I don't think he would disagree in that it was a pretty amazing weekend. So to all of you old homies, wherever you are, I will remember and somewhat miss those old days, but now is also time to embrace something new. Regrettably it seems impossible to embrace both old and new at the same time.

Gothenburg and the old friends feels particularly far away when I heard Rydis is gone somewhere and people are missing him. Heck, I do too and hope he is well. But do the Basvrak even exist any longer? Should they? Do I need to care? Nevermind, that's just my obligation-driven thinking speaking.

Anyway, things are fine here, everything is busy as ever and even if the above chunk of sentimentality seemed sad, I'm still extremely happy I moved here. From here on, up, up and beyond!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Emigrants

This is a short post about Swedish emigration and the Swedish Author, Vilhelm Moberg, who inspired the name of this blog.
In the fifties and early sixties he wrote four novels describing the lives and adventures of a Swedish family emigrating from Sweden to the US in the mid 19 th century.

The Emigrants (1951), ”Utvandrarna”
Unto a Good Land (1954), ”Invandrarna” (litt. The Immigrants)

The Settlers (1961), ”Nybyggarna”
The Last Letter Home (1961), ”Sista brevet till Sverige” (litt. The Last Letter To Sweden)

Those were harsh days in Sweden, then a poor country. Starvation, hopes for a better future and a sense of adventure drove the Swedes across the Atlantic.

Here is a map of the distribution of Swedish-Americans in the US.

I have distant relatives somewhere here in the US, and there are a number of fellow students, and alumni, from my university living in the area. And then there is of course the Young Scandinavians Club :) which has been serving me as an extended family lately.

I feel like I could settle pretty much anywhere though, as long as there is work and fun people.
The world is my friggin' Oyster!

Some notable Swedish-Americans (wikipedia): Greta Garbo, Uma Thurman, Buzz Aldrin, Harry Nyquist, John Ericsson, Charles Lindbergh