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Not procrastination, actually, just a break from this term paper I’m writing. Unlike my younger incarnations as a student, this time around I’m pretty good about not procrastinating. Instead, I’m getting anxious about writing this stupid paper because for some reason I feel it needs to be perfect, and of course, it can’t be, nor does it need to be. So, OK. I’m going to stop being anxious and just take this little coffee break (fika) and think about Aki Kaurismäki.

Until this weekend I think the only full-length Kaurismäki film I had seen was “Leningrad Cowboys Go America”. Not good credentials for someone who aspires to be a Finnophile (but I’ve also seen the Leningrad Cowboys live in concert, which must count for something). The DVD collection in the university library here is a bit heavy on the artsy classic Nordic filmmakers, as you might imagine, so on Saturday we randomly borrowed “Shadows in Paradise” (original Finnish title “Varjoja paratiisissa”), made in 1986, which has got to be one of the ten best films I’ve ever seen. It’s like, the perfect socialist realist love story, with absolutely deadpan humour. The stereotype about Finns is that they’re really intense and quiet, and the actors play up this stereotype really well. (The film does, however, negatively portray Swedish-Finns.) There is no unnecessary dialogue in this movie. I had to watch it again the next day.

So, now my goal in life is to see as many Kaurismäki films as possible. After I finish this paper, of course.


…and for the first time since I started spending lots of time abroad in 2002, I don’t feel completely embarassed to admit that I’m American.

From the article:

The Socialist Group in the European Parliament, the legislative body’s second-largest voting bloc, called the election results “the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world.”

It took a while for the Americans to realize who they had elected and the damage he had caused in the world,” said Philippe Bas, 56, whose newsstand near a Paris subway stop was stacked with newspapers from across Europe carrying analyses of the election.

In Britain, the headline over the Guardian newspaper’s lead editorial read, “Thank you, America.”

They post a lot of funny and interesting (not to mention disturbing) stuff over at English Russia, but something about this post struck me as especially funny and especially Russian — turning an old printer into a bread box. This combination of computer geekiness and resourcefulness and pirozhki (mmm, pirozhki, how I miss you) fits in nicely with my fonder associations with Russia.

Some of my classmates have blogs, but only German ones:

Here’s one in French from here, but I don’t know the writer:

Since we moved from the dormitory into our own apartment, we don’t have a television. I’m not a big fan of TV, but I kind of think we should get one here — it’s good for helping us learn more about Swedish culture and language. Of course we wouldn’t watch any of the numerous American programs which are merely subtitled and not dubbed into Swedish!

Anyway, the main thing that I miss now that we don’t have a TV is the nicest reality show ever — Bonde Söker Fru, or “Farmer Seeks Wife”. They got a bunch of cute and humble farmers together, women from all over Sweden wrote them letters, and now they’re showing the process of them meeting. OK, the idea sounds a bit gross, but the execution is classy. Really.

It’s become one of the most popular shows ever. Here’s an article about it.

I cast my first ballot in 1994, the year Mario Cuomo, one of the best governors ever, was defeated for re-election in my home state of New York. It’s been pretty grim ever since. This the best election result since I started voting — and the first election I didn’t vote in. Maybe I’m a bad luck charm.

A special hurrah for New York voters.

And Massachusetts

From The New York Times:

For the first time in memory, The New York Times is not endorsing a single Republican candidate for election to the U.S. Congress. Although Times editorials tend to agree with Democrats on national policy, we have proudly and consistently endorsed a long line of moderate Republicans, particularly for the House of Representatives. Our only political loyalty is to making the two-party system as vital and responsible as possible.

That is why things are different this year.

To begin with, the Republican majority that has run the House of Representatives – and for the most part, the Senate – during President George W. Bush’s tenure has done a terrible job on the basics. Its tax-cutting-above-all-else has wrecked the budget, hobbled the middle class and endangered the long-term economy. It has refused to face up to global warming and done pathetically little about America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Republican leaders, particularly in the House, have developed toxic symptoms of an overconfident majority that has been too long in power. They methodically shut the opposition – and even the more moderate members of their own party – out of any role in the legislative process. Their only mission seems to be self-perpetuation.

The current Republican majority managed to achieve that burned-out, brain-dead status in record time, and with a shocking disregard for the most minimal ethical standards. It was bad enough that a party that used to believe in fiscal austerity blew billions on pork-barrel projects. It is worse that many of the most expensive boondoggles were not even directed at their constituents, but at lobbyists who financed their campaigns and high-end lifestyles.

That was already the situation in 2004, and even then this page endorsed Republicans who had shown a high commitment to ethics reform and a willingness to buck their party on important issues like the environment, civil liberties and women’s rights.

For us, the breaking point came over the Republicans’ attempt to undermine the fundamental checks and balances that have safeguarded American democracy since its inception. The fact that the White House, House and Senate are all controlled by one party is not a threat to the balance of powers, as long as everyone understands the roles assigned to each by the Constitution.

But over the past two years, the White House has made it clear that it claims sweeping powers that go well beyond any acceptable limits. Rather than doing their duty to curb these excesses, the Congressional Republicans have dedicated themselves to removing restraints on the president’s ability to do whatever he wants. To paraphrase Tom DeLay, the Republicans feel you don’t need to have oversight hearings if your party is in control of everything.

An administration convinced of its own perpetual rightness and a partisan Congress determined to deflect all criticism of the chief executive has been the recipe for what we live with today.

Congress, in particular the House, has failed to ask probing questions about the war in Iraq or hold the president accountable for his catastrophic bungling of the occupation. It also has allowed Bush to avoid answering any questions about whether his administration cooked the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Then, it quietly agreed to close down the one agency that has been riding herd on crooked and inept American contractors who have botched everything from construction work to the security of weapons.

After the revelations about the abuse, torture and illegal detentions in Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Congress shielded the Pentagon from any responsibility for the atrocities its policies allowed to happen. On the eve of the election, and without even a pretense at debate in the House, Congress granted the White House permission to hold hundreds of noncitizens in jail forever, without due process, even though many of them were clearly sent there in error.

In the Senate, the path for this bill was cleared by a handful of Republicans who used their personal prestige and reputation for moderation to paper over the fact that the bill violates the Constitution in fundamental ways. Having acquiesced in the president’s campaign to dilute their own authority, lawmakers used this bill to further Bush’s goal of stripping the powers of the only remaining independent branch, the judiciary.

This election is indeed about George W. Bush – and the Congressional majority’s insistence on protecting him from the consequences of his mistakes and misdeeds. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and proceeded to govern as if he had an enormous mandate. After he actually beat his opponent in 2004, he announced he now had real political capital and intended to spend it.

We have seen the results. It is frightening to contemplate the new excesses he could concoct if he woke up next Wednesday and found that his party had maintained its hold on the House and Senate.

Strong words from The New York Times. You may think it’s a left-wing rag to begin with, but if that’s the case, you’re probably a right-wing nutjob. From my far-left point of view, the New York Times has always been very measured and moderate. If they’re saying this, you know it’s serious.

Those of you in the US, don’t forget to vote tomorrow, and not for no Republicans neither.

Did I vote absentee, you ask?


Am I a lazy hypocrite, you ask?

Erm… not entirely. I’m still registered to vote in Washington, DC, which has no voting representation in Congress, and where the mayoral race is decided in the Democratic primary, and I don’t even know what’s going on with the school board or the ANCs or anything since I haven’t lived there in two years.

Should I still have voted to show my support for the Greens’ candidate for Mayor and Shadow Rep and so forth?

Yes, I should have, and it really didn’t occur to me until it was too late.

Don’t follow my example. If you’re in the US, get out and vote tomorrow.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile, but am just now getting around to it.

Living in a small town in Sweden after living in a big city in Russia is… not a culture shock exactly. Going in the other direction would be a shock, going in this direction is like falling into a pile of feathers or something.

In St. Petersburg I felt like I always had to be on edge. I once had a wallet stolen, a very common occurrence in SPb, and another time had a knife pulled on me in a residential elevator. Here I feel like I could leave my wallet in a public place for a few hours and it would still be there when I got back.

To be fair to Russia, these things happen all the time in the U.S., too, particularly in Washington, DC, where I lived for 5 years. I had a bike stolen there once (though I found it the next day). Bike theft in DC is epidemic. You have to have at least one Kryptonite lock, preferably two, and make sure you lock both your wheels and take your seat with you if you have a nice bike.

In contrast, let’s look at a Swedish bike lock:

You swing this little pin around and it makes it so the back wheel can’t move. A thief couldn’t ride away on the bike without breaking the lock (which wouldn’t be too hard), but could pick it up and carry it somewhere. But they just don’t. Look at hundreds of bikes locked up in the town square in exactly this manner (and some of them not locked at all):

This isn’t just a small-town phenomenon either. My first time in Stockholm a few years ago I rented a bike and went biking with a local, and both bikes had these kinds of locks. If I had a really expensive bike in Stockholm I’d probably put a Kryptonite lock on it, and I did see a “lost bike” sign with a picture of a fancy bike here in Falun in September, but if you have an ordinary bike you don’t have to worry too much.

Now let’s look at the faculty mailboxes at the university.

All the locks have keys in them. Meaning, the keys are left in them, so they’re not locked. All of them. All the time. So faculty leave messages and articles for their students there. Anyone can just go into anyone’s mailbox. It was like that at my college in the US, too, but I think they’ve changed it now and anyway, there we had 300 students; several thousand students use this campus.

Of course, everything isn’t 100% perfect here. There’s a nice kitchenette for students with microwaves, so you can bring leftovers from home or buy a frozen meal from a vending machine and heat it up, if you don’t want to spend so much money on eating at the campus cafe.

There are also some refrigerators where people put stuff that they bring from home. One morning I put a yogurt in the fridge, and by lunchtime it was gone. I was traumatized. How could this happen in Sweden?

That was a minor incident, though, and overall I am thoroughly enjoying the absence of stress that comes with a culture of trust. Part of it is just a small-town thing, part of it a Scandinavian tradition. Like the people that put the following outside their house in September:

Every morning it was filled with apples for passersby. Since the passersby were mostly international students coming from the dorm, the sign was in English. Isn’t that nice?

Last weekend I was horrified to find people playing American football in the university “stadium”. There are reasons why I don’t miss the US, folks, and football is one of them.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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November 2006
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