Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Talking football and music with Nick

Last night I listened – and briefly talked to – one of the artists I have followed and admired since the mid-1990s. I know this might sound somewhat ridiculous, but Nick Hornby has played a reasonably important role in my life, in the same way as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, and quite a few other artists have: they have all been a familiar voice, saying wise things, in times when I have been very sad, glad and/or confused.

Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and High Fidelity rocked my world in a way, and after reading those books I learnt three things:
1. It is ok to be totally obsessed by football, and feel physically ill when your team is about to be relegated - or win the championship. A lot of people behave that way, and that obsession can also be used to sort out relations with friends or family members who also cannot help hugging total strangers in a stadium or in a bar when your team scores.
2. It is ok to be totally obsessed by rock’n’roll, and to regard the compilation of a mixed tape the highest proof of affection to a human being. This can complicate your relation to the other sex, but as you grow older, you learn that all relations cannot be as uncomplicated and easy-going as a three-minute pop-song with The Beatles. And that other signs of affection should be brought into the relationship as well.
3. Boys do cry, relationships are difficult, you often feel sad, lonely and useless but it is stupid to only drink pints with your mates and never talk about it. The relation between boyfriend-girlfriend in High Fidelity, or father-son in Fever Pitch, gives you some basic, important clues.

Thanks to my wonderful friend Henrik, I ended up going to a theater in Stockholm last night (Södra Teatern), where Nick Hornby read music-related essays. One of Hornby’s favorite bands, Marah, played some of the tunes mentioned in Hornby’s essays, and later they played a short but fantastic gig. (Their version of The Clash’s “Lost in the supermarket” was awesome).

The essays where all very thoughtful and funny, and it was nice to hear Nick Hornby read them in his very English accent. Personally, I laughed a lot when he spoke about how you remember many concerts mostly because you really had to pee but couldn’t (U2 in June 1992 came to mind). Or how you spent other concerts only thinking about the relation you had (or wanted to have) with the person you went to the concert with (a concert in December 1993 came to mind here).

After the concert, it happened that Henrik and I could have a brief and enjoyable discussion with Nick Hornby. I had to ask him if he had a solution to how both Gerrard and Lampard can play midfield for England in the World Cup this summer, and we also exchanged some concert stories and views of the band Marah. I regard that little chat as private, but since my old copy of Fever Pitch now has a written dedication, I will share that quote. The quote comes from one of the essays Hornby read, and I asked him to write it down since I think it represents my view/ a “Fred Perry-progressive view” of music, but also politics and football; know and respect the past, but live in the present, and don’t ever stop thinking about tomorrow:

Do I think the music of the past is better? On the whole, yes I do. But it’s not a fair fight. There’s more past than present”. Nick Hornby

Vote for your top five teams in sports!

Through the wonderful BBC website I found (and just completed) this test, that I highly recommend if you are at all interested in British sports.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Det som skrivs läses faktiskt!

Jag måste säga att det känns kul men samtidigt märkligt när jag upptäcker att människor jag inte känner refererar till saker som jag har tänkt på och sedan skrivit ned. Här en ledare i Borås Tidning, som diskuterar en artikel jag skrev i tidskriften Tiden. (Tack Emma A för tipset!)

BBC on top-class Swedish health care

So, it is time again to say thanks to Jon for brining the latest news: BBC News Online has a very interesting article about Swedish health care, telling us that ”cancer survival rates, infant mortality and life expectancy figures all outstrip many of its European neighbours.” The conclusion of the article is that even though health can be even better in Sweden (of course), the country I am so proud of has top-class health care, and Britain (and the NHS) has a lot to learn. Read the whole article here, and through Jon I also learnt that BBC News Online published another article about Sweden recently, so here you can read more about biogas in Linköping. So, long live Swedish welfare, and long live the ambition to make our societies sustainable. And thanks Jon for bringing the news.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Music (i.e. Bruce) and politics

Through my friend Brian, who works for the Democratic congressman Jim Cooper (TN-5), I got some useful Washington gossip. So, New Jersey Democrats Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg (both Senators) proposed a resolution congratulating Bruce Springsteen on his contribution to American culture (this year it is 30 years since "Born to Run" was released). But needless to say, Senate Republicans shot the resolution down... And who will replace Corzine in the Senate (he was recently elected governor of the Garden State)? Read more about the whispers in Washington here...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ledarstick om artikel i Frihet!

På ledarsidan i lördagens SvD (ej på nätet) finns ett ledarstick som kommenterar en artikel om CUF som jag har skrivit i det senaste numret av SSUs tidning Frihet. I ledarsticket skriver Per Ericson att "sossarna saknar den gamla centern, som gärna sökte allierade i vänsterfältet. Få andra har anledning att dela denna nostalgiska längtan".

Det är inte överraskande att Per Ericson är nöjd över att centerpartiet och CUF nu är lika högervridna som SvDs ledarsida. Däremot verkar de bli besvärade när någon sakligt beskriver hurt fort förändringen har gått, och jämför dagens CUF med de centerungdomar som på 1970-talet hade gemensamma kampanjer med SSU och kallades för såväl "Gröna khmerer" som "Åsa-Nisse marxister". Men jag tackar ödmjukt för uppmärksamheten.

Artikeln om CUF finns ännu inte på nätet eftersom SSU precis håller på att göra om sin hemsida (premiär 1/12). Men Frihets utmärkte tf chefredaktör Jocke, en riktig Fred Perry-sosse med bra koll på såväl politik som musik och kläder, har lovat att den ska läggas ut på den nya hemsidan så snart som möjligt. Då lägger jag ut en länk här, och då om inte förr kan ni läsa artikeln som stör Per Ericson så mycket.

Mr. Belarus at CER-website!

Just got the CER-Bulletin in my mailbox and saw to my delight that one article was written by my favorite Swedish MP, Urban Ahlin (who is also my “mentor” in a way). Urban, chairman of the Riksdag’s Foreign Relations Committee, writes that the EU needs a new policy on Belarus:

"EU policy should therefore focus less on Lukashenka and more on winning the hearts and minds of Belarusians. The EU cannot for now hold out the carrot of potential membership. But it should make clear that it would like Belarus to join its 'neighbourhood policy' as soon as the circumstances change. Belarus could then benefit from the trade concessions, cooperation programmes and EU funds available to other EU neighbours. The EU should start off by publishing a draft 'action plan', spelling out both the reforms that Belarus would be asked to undertake, and the benefits that would flow from the plan."

I think Urban’s arguments make a lot of sense, but I also detect another bottom line here. The Swedish social democratic party has had a very high profile when it comes to issues related to Belarus for a long while, dating back to the 15th of March 2000 when Urban Ahlin, then deputy secretary general of the party, presented the campaign Stop Luka! (still up and running, check Today the Social Democratic party has more than ten projects in Belarus supporting the opposition against Lukashenka, one of them is run by Social Democratic Students.

Therefore, many social democrats laughed when the leader of the Conservative opposition, Mr. Reinfeldt, tried to deliver a speech on foreign relations some weeks ago. In his speech, Mr. Reinfeldt underlined how close Belarus is to Sweden, saying that the capital of Minsk is closer to Stockholm then the northern city of Luleå. Unfortunately for Reinfeldt, he was wrong about that, mixing up the distance to the cities in northern Sweden where nobody votes for him anyway. However, Minsk is closer to Stockholm than the northern city of Kiruna, just as the Social Democratic party wrote in a campaign leaflet already in 2000…

Bottom line: I am happy Sweden has a chairman of the Foreign Relation’s Committee that gets an article published in a leading think-tank’s newsletter. And I was not impressed by Reinfeldt’s speech on foreign policy (I was there and listened to it, read all about it here). But it is somewhat amusing when the Conservative party pretends to care more about the outside world than we social democrats do. They want to slash foreign aid, they do not support the Make Poverty History campaign, and I would be very surprised if their party has more than ten projects supporting democracy in Belarus.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Very funny political test

Through Jon's blog I found a very funny political test. I ended up close to Gandhi (-4.50, -6.82), being very left (as opposed to right) and VERY social libertarian (as opposed to authoritarian). Try it out, quite English and very funny.

Sweet dreams, George Best

To some people, it seems pretty ridiculous to follow Liverpool FC as closely as I do. After all, I did not grow up in Liverpool. Or in England. Or in Northern Ireland (where George Best was born). But in the suburb of Kallhäll north of Stockholm, we for sure had two public TV-channels when I grew up, and Saturday 3 PM meant English football (the show was called Tipsextra, kick-off at 4 PM). And in the mid-eighties, Liverpool had a fantastic team, and they played in red, and Liverpool was the working class city of The Beatles. Moreover, in those days Liverpool had one of the few Nordic players in English football, the guy with the belly and the quick feet, the magic Jan Molby. (Molby was an expert penalty taker, and scored 40 of the 42 penalties he took for Liverpool. He also became the first foreigner to play for an English club for ten years).

Supporting Liverpool also means not supporting Manchester United. When the invasion of Iraq was about to happen in 2003, Liverpool supporters put up a big sign during the games: “Don’t bomb Iraq. Nuke Manchester”. Just a joke of course, but with an edge against the team we love to beat.

But today one of those Manchester United players you just cannot help admiring passed away. George Best died way too early, his fondness of alcohol being well known. I read a nice obituary here (in Swedish) and here (in English), and Liverpool’s website also pays tribute to George Best today.

So sleep well George Best. I do not know if you ever really said: “I spent most of my money on birds, booze and fast cars. The rest I just squandered”. But if so it is a quote with a dark side that I will not use for a while. All you supporters of Manchester United, I feel your pain today and I pay my tribute. But when we come to Old Trafford on the 22nd of January, it is time for the beautiful game again.

Backarna kring Bankeryd...

En kort kommentar kring dagens Temo-undersökning, samt en längre analys av borgarnas tomgångskörning sedan haveriet i Bankeryd (också publicerad i tidskriften Tiden), hittar du här.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

O'Brien and Halonen

When I lived in the US my friend and housemate Vlad encouraged me to watch Conan O'Brien's talk show, something I have enjoyed doing once in a while ever since. For quite some time you can also follow O'Brien in Sweden (TV4+), and lately there has also been a buzz about the show in Nordic newspapers. The reason is that for several shows in a row, O'Brien has been joking about the fact that he and the Finnish president Tarja Halonen are true look-alikes (see picture if you are in doubt; pale, red hair, etc). Many episodes have started with Halonen's election commercials.

I watched O’Brien joking around about this last night, for exemple reading fan-mail he has received from Finnish kids. So far, two things are certain. First, they do for sure look a lot alike... Secondly, it is really cool and a true boost for Halonen (and Finland) to get all this TV-time in the US and across the world. Naturally, this will (on average) help Halonen, a true, popular, fantastic social democrat, to get re-elected as president of Finland in January. But the real arguments why she should get re-elected has nothing to do with an American TV-show, read more here.

Finland has presidential elections in two rounds, just like France, and the big question is whether Halonen will get +50 percent already in the first round on January 15th (looks likely right now). According to the stories I have read, O’Brien is now invited to come and visit Halonen and Finland, something that might not happen – but it would be quite a boost for the campaign. Since I know quite a few Finnish friends follow this blog, I hope to get an invitation so that I can take the boat to Helsinki and help distributing some roses and leaflets during the last days of the campaign - whether O'Brien will show up or not. And a Finnish, social democratic, presidential victory party promises quite a looong and fun night. Go Tarja!

About ECOSY at Bommersvik...

There is an informative article about the ECOSY-weekend at SSFs webpage, written by the hard-working secretary general Axel (in English).

If you follow Swedish politics...

...and read Swedish you must not miss this editorial in Expressen. PM Nilsson, Eric Erfors and Mats Olsson (sports) are often worth reading in the tabloid that used to be Sweden's biggest.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Important geopolitical shift!!?

A quick piece of advice for all international realtions nerds: there are quite a few interesting articles at the website of the Centre for European Reform (CER) right now. One example is an article by Mark Leonard about India's possible geopolitical shift (first paragraph of Leonard's article quoted below, you will find the CER website here):
One of the most significant geopolitical events of the decade has gone almost unnoticed in the west: at September’s meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, India joined the US and the EU in backing a resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear programme. In deciding to vote with the west - rather than abstaining with Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa - India signalled its willingness to join the top table of international diplomacy and to abandon its automatic solidarity with the developing world... (Read the whole article here).

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Weekend at Bommersvik

This whole weekend I am running around at the beautiful conference center Bommersvik outside Stockholm. The reason is a meeting with the ECOSY Student Network and I am really happy (and proud) that we are having it in Sweden, arranged by Social Democratic Students. Right now 17 students from some 15 countries across Europe are busy in workshops about education and globalization, life long learning, etc. Later today my favourite Member of the European parliament, Åsa Westlund, will come and visit us. This is a perfect example of how the building of a stronger European social democratic movement, and a cross-national political debate, are slowly being established. Needless to say, I am enjoying every second of it.

Funny enough, I will have to make a quick visit to Stockholm during the afternoon in order to sit on a panel about... the future and objectives of the left in Europe. The reason is all the seminars and meetings being held in central Stockholm during the yearly "Socialist Forum" at ABF on Sveavägen. The panel I am in starts at 15:30 (whole program here) and normally the forum is full of interesting (and sometimes somewhat odd) seminars. Well worth a visit.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

London reflections 5: David or David?

Another thing that was impossible to avoid when reading newspapers and discussing politics in London is the “David or David” race for the leadership of the Conservative (Tory) party in Britain. David Davis and David Cameron are the two candidates left in the race and the winner will be decided by a vote among all the members of the Tory party (those who are still actually members of the Tories have until December 5th to vote for David or David, and right now 11 events/debates with the two contenders are held in England, Scotland and Wales. Not that the Tories have any support in Scotland or Wales, but they are going there anyway).

Right now Cameron is clearly the frontrunner, and he will win unless something spectacular happens. BBC News has an excellent page with loads of information about the candidates (here), and my reflections are the following.:
1. David Cameron is younger (39), a better “communicator” (i.e. he is telegenic), and would give the Tories a necessary, younger touch in the election against Gordon Brown (!?) in say 2010. In short: a Notting Hill Tory modernizer.
2. David Davis is a more traditional, Eurosceptic Tory with a lot more experience (Cameron has only been an MP for four years, Blair had been an MP for more than ten years when he became party leader). Davis had a tough, council-house upbringing, and is regarded to be more solid on policy (Tory policy, that is).
3. As someone said during the weekend in London, the members voting for a new Tory leader would ideally want a David with Cameron’s public relations skills, and Davis’ experience and policy. When having to choose, they will go for the guy who looks good on TV. Is that necessarily bad for Labour, who might soon be challenged by a young, hungry opposition leader?

I would say no, the future of the Labour party will be decided by decisions within the party (and government). The Tories are still too irrelevant to do any harm, so Labour’s worst enemy would be a leader that does not understand to govern with his new, smaller majority, or a party that does not understand that it has a leader of incredible potential. Keep on going Blair, focus on reform instead of the Davids, but make sure to govern together with your MPs and your party.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

London reflections 4: New format, new columns

OK, Hugo Young was great, but who are the great columnists now in the new Berliner-format of The Guardian, or the soon-to-be-Berliner The Observer? My choice: Will Hutton, most famous (I guess) as the author of "The state we're in" and "The world we're in". But I'd also say Polly Toynbee, since she always writes about Sweden in such an insightful way... (read an old entry about Toynbee here). Most naturally there are so many other columnists you never have time to read, let me know of other good ones!

This Sunday, Henry Porter wrote a column instead of Hutton in The Observer (Hutton is "away" somewhere), but I liked the way in which Porter compared the rhetoric of George Washington with the present crises of the Bush White House. The title says it all:
"Washington (George) led the way in political rhetoric. Now Washington (DC) leads the way in crises and scandals". Will Condi Rice become Vice President before Christmas?

You can read the column here, and while you are reading it, think of me who read it on the plane from Stockholm to London, in the old larger paper format still used by The Observer, trying not to disturb the fellow passanger next to me. (Picture of Will Hutton)

London reflections 3: Berliner format!

As we all now, The Guardian is an excellent newspaper on the web, and won the online Oscar for Best Newspapers in the 2005 Webby Awards. In September this year The Guardian changed its traditional paper edition (see picture) to the Berliner format (same as Le Monde), partly because other newspapers (such as The Independent) has changed into a tabloid format.

I must say I like the Berliner format, which has more height than a tabloid, but due to its smaller size than the traditional broadsheet edition, it is much easier to read on the underground (you can see all three sizes, as well as a sheet of A4 paper, in the picture).

The Guardian’s “Sunday edition”, The Observer, is still printed in the old format but will go Berliner sometime early in 2006. After reading The Guardian on the underground Saturday, and The Observer the following day, I must say I prefer the new format and I also like the new typeface (Guardian Egyptian). But as you can tell from the entry below, what I miss in The Guardian is Hugo Young.

London reflections 2: New books

As always, one must buy some books at for example Borders and Waterstones on Oxford Street. This time I bought:
  • Al Franken’s “The truth (with jokes)”: just to keep me anti-Bush-updated. And to get a good laugh.
  • Paul Richard’s (editor) “Tony Blair in his own words”: speeches and letters from the early 1980s to today, for inspiration - always rhetorically and most often politically.
  • Hugo Young's “Supping with the devils: Political writing from Thatcher to Blair”: a collection of columns by one of my all time favorite columnists. I read the foreword and introduction on the plane home and it made me miss Young’s columns a lot (he died in September 2003). His analysis is always sharp and informed, and he was very and almost too tough on Blair when it came to the war Iraq – as I remember the columns from 2003. Now I can read them again when I want, and those columns always challenge your mind - just like a good column should do.

Monday, November 14, 2005

London reflections: Blair lost!

During the ECOSY-meeting in London (see below) it was impossible not to discuss Tony Blair’s first ever defeat in Parliament (over the 90-day detention of terrorist suspects). One interesting interpretation of the defeat was presented by one of the impressive speakers that visited our meeting, John McTernan (political secretary to Tony Blair). McTernan pointed out that around 80 percent of the population agrees with Blair, but also referred to an article in the Guardian last Friday. The article reports that the Tories accuses the Labour government and the police of cooperating in order to sway uncertain MPs. Read it again: the Tories are accusing the police of going to bed with Labour! McTernan said that this might have been the day when the Tories finally handed over the issue of security – a traditional issue benefiting parties on the right – to the Labour party.

I agree to a certain point. Blair (and Clinton) were totally right to make progressives credible on issues regarding security (“tough on crime and tough on the causes on crime”). McTernan’s analysis might also be correct, Labour sure is credible on security, this has helped them to win elections, and Blair sure has tougher fights ahead of him (the welfare reform green paper, education bill, white paper on health). When it comes to the 90-days, I think it sounds like a very long time, and even if I have not heard all the arguments or behind the scene arguments, a compromise would probably have been the best outcome.

Conclusions? 1. I don’t think Blair’s defeat was that serious; greater battles are waiting around the corner and hopefully this experience will help Blair to reform Britain in a positive way while getting the whole Labour parliamentary group with him. Continue to reform, but privatization is not the way forward, even if different methods of providing welfare should be tried and used. 2. Center-left parties are correct to address the issues of security and terrorism seriously, but when doing so, civil liberties and long-term compromises should never never be forgotten. The Labour government is walking on a fine line here. 3. Blair lost an election in Parliament, but the Tories are still so offside in the political debate and Labour still has the third term and thus the possibility to continue to reform Britain. Keep the mantel of reform, fight crime and terrorism, but never forget our sacred civil liberties. Glad you survived Blair, you were wrong about the war but have made many other good things, and you still have reforms and improvements left to do.

English football nerds only

Listen and laugh at and with Jose Mourinho (found this thanks to a friend in Estonia).

Political weekend in London

I spent the weekend in London representing Swedish Social Democratic Students in the bureau-meeting of ECOSY (ECOSY is the umbrella organization of socialist and social democratic youth and student movements in Europe). It was a fantastic weekend, hosted by Labour Students and Young Labour, and later today I will write more about the political meetings we had, the thoughts the weekend provoked, and some interesting books I bought. More later!

Taking suburbs seriously

So many things have been said about the riots in France but I would like to share three reflections and three links.

Reflection one: Everyone who says that jobs and education are crucial is, of course, on the right track. The difficult thing is how to make this happen. But to build a new university in a suburban area where a lot of young people with foreign background live is right and brave. Example: Södertörns högskola in Southern Stockholm: To have a university right where you live lowers the entry barrier, but the task then is to make sure that people move on from a degree to a job. The relation between the university and local government, business and entrepreneurs then becomes key.

Reflection two: How people live really matters. The center-left must dare to speak more openly about ownership and how you often care more about your surroundings if you have a stake in it (not necessarily and only through private ownership, but also through cooperatives). Example: The Bronx NYC: In 1998 I visited an area in the Bronx that previously had had really severe problems: the tenants often had their apartments insured, then burnt them down, received the insurance money and then moved somewhere else. But through involving the tenants in renovation projects in the area, through cooperatives, neighborhood groups and different kinds of ownerships, the whole area developed in a very positive way. You are less likely to burn something down if you actively feel you are part of it.

Reflection three: This is also a question about democracy and local politics. The parties and trade unions to the left of center have an important task in cooperating with and involving people of foreign background in, for example, suburbs with large ethnic minorities. We cannot just be parties ruled by the academic or trade union elite. Example: The cooperation between Social Democratic Students and Kurdish students: I have written about this project many times before; see entries in July for example. (But: you should also make sure you cooperate with progressive, democratic groups and strive for real, long-term involvement on an equal basis).

Link one: Le Figaro writes positively about the suburb of Rinkeby in Stockholm. Not the whole article is published online, but some interesting things are mentioned, for example how the buildings are “long and not tall”, avoiding the HLM-tower blocks as in France.

Link two: Financial Times had some interesting articles Saturday. One was about how Marseille has not been that severely struck by the riots, the reason being that due to the geography (hills on one side, water on the other) there are no big HLM-suburbs outside the city. A second interesting article was written by legendary football writer Simon Kuper on the subject of integration and French football: “Racism lives on in France as World Cup win fades”.

Link three: Got the DLC-newsletter, with the headline ”Taking suburbs seriously”, and thought it would entail some useful advice about integration working in practice. But it was about the Democratic election wins in the US, a country where the rich middle class often tend to abandon the city center and move to the suburbs (vice versa compared to many European cities). A totally different subject of course, but a good reminder that progressives only can fight for and achieve just and equal societies when we are in office.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A good old Bush-laugh

As we all now, George W. Bush is having a lot of problems right now. As a former speechwriter and political nerd, I very much enjoyed leaning back, watching this video-clip, and then just having a good old laugh at him.

Naturally, by now I guess most progressives have stopped underestimating Bush and the GOP. But now they are truly in deep, muddy waters, and even if Bush got some three million more votes than our guy, a good Bush-laugh sure is a good Bush–laugh. Enjoy.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Mark Leonard, again

Sweden’s number one political TV-show, Agenda, has now turned into a new format, called “Agenda Europa” (naturally focusing more on European political issues). The first show last night was really promising, including interviews with Mark Leonard and Prime Minister Göran Persson. I also enjoyed listening to Robin Chater (president of the Federation of Employers in Europe), just because he was so unsympathetic and had opinions often exactly opposite to mine. And the idea to allow an EU-correspondent, this time from Ireland, to speak directly to the viewers about EU-issues worked really well, especially since the Irish journalist was so articulate.

So, I really liked the show, and I think the journalist Erika Bjerström is the right person to run it. Somewhere I realized though that this is a show that speaks to me; an educated, pro-European political animal. However, I hope the show also will be of interest to a wider audience, which may be the case since I think last night’s show had a mix of very interesting topics. As one might have guess, I really enjoyed the interview with Mark Leonard, I wrote about this boy-genius already in May on this blog and his book “Why Europe will run the 21st century” is a must. And Prime Minister Göran Persson also said without hesitation that some problems have proven to be too large for the nation-state to solve. Exactly.