Year of Books

One way of summing up your year is to look back at your reading. Quite early in the year I got my hands on Nicholas Drayson's "A Guide to the Beasts of East Africa" as a way of reconnecting with Kenya again before going to Nairobi. Then I continued with "A Sting in the Tale" and "A Buzz in the Meadow" by Dave Goulson, since I wanted to know more about bees and sustainable gardening.
From Warszawa 2015
During spring, I started to prepare for my journey to The Caucasus by reading several books such as Tom Reiss' "The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life" as well as Anna-Lena Lauren's "I bergen finns inga herrar" (There Are No Masters In The Mountains) and "Frihetens pris är okänt" (The Price of Freedom Is Not Yet Known).
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
Summer was spent reading Aminatta Forna's sad and dramatic book The Memory of Love, Kristina Kappelin's charming observations in the "Italiensk dagbok" (Italien Diary) and my mother's copy of Danny Wattin's "Herr Isakowitz skatt" (Mr Isakowitz' Treasure) from the reading list in her book club.
From Stråvalla 2015
During autumn I enjoyed reading a book about books: Samantha Ellis' "How to Be a Heroine - Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much" making me want to go back and reread some classics. The stunning "The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance" by Edmund de Waal had been in my possession for quite some time and now I finally got around to read it (note to self: order his new book: "The White Road"). I also reacquainted me with JK Rowlings in the form of Robert Galbraith and her/his crime novel "The Cuckoo's Calling" (I've already ordered the sequels as a Christmas gift to myself).

Some of the last readings of the year had a common theme: cats. Takashi Hiraide's "The Guest Cat" is set in Tokyo, May Sarton's "The Fur Person" takes place in Boston and Henning Mankell's cat in "Italienska skor" (Italien Shoes) was living on an island on the east coast of Sweden.
From Nairobi March 2015
In sum, my books have taken me all over the world and spanned more than 100 years of history. I wonder where they will take me next year!

Happy New Year! Gott nytt år!


Christmas Cry

In 2006, the Church of Sweden published a modern addition to the hymnbook. One of the songwriters who were asked to contribute was Py Bäckman. I think few people knew that she had secretly written psalm songs for quite some time by then, since she is more known as a rock artist.
I very much like her song "Koppången" although it never fails to make me cry. The church choir at the Christmas Carols concert in the Gothenburg Cathedral sang it softly yet powerfully and the tears started rolling down my cheeks, leaving me with a taste of salt in my mouth and a lump in my throat. The melody is beautiful, but it's the lyrics that get to me.
I know that those who have left us
Understand that we are like flares as long as we are here
There among glimmering stars, vanishing one by one
Life comes very close, like a glimpse of the truth
We are captives of the time, like a palm print on an old, frozen window
Who have been given grace by the ravages of time
I look around me in my apartment and think of those whom I don't see that very often and those who have left me for good. Some of them are easier to remember because of their dear gifts:

The glass prism from Lena, who taught me always to consider if more than one perspective can be right. The curling Santa from Ann, who demonstrated the importance of making the university a real workplace for both students and faculty. The penguin family huddling on their ice floe, from Maja-Helena who is much better than me at taking the learning road instead of the judging one. The matchboxes with cross stiches made by Åsa, who is the best leader and manager I know, sticking to the basic values long after being abandoned by her supervisors. The stout nutcracker from my aunt Kerstin, who never ceases to appreciate new music. The candlestick given to me by Randi, who showed me how to treat consultants as appreciated colleagues. The Christmas lamb from Marie, who helped me celebrate Christmas in Australia long time ago.
I'm surrounded by the warmth of friendship radiating through the years. Comforting me, as my eyes well up again. God Jul and Merry Christmas!


Hedgehogs and Foxes

At Ekkullen where I live, a hedgehog has nested under my neighbor's terrace. We rarely see him/her but sometimes during the late summer evenings we can catch a glimpse. Foxes are scares here, but I've seen some in the countryside striding across the fields.
Both hedgehogs and foxes are mythical creatures, although associated with different features. In 1953 the essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox" was published by philosopher Isaiah Berlin. It draws on the work of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus who states that "a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing". Apparently, Berlin wrote it as an intellectual game but it was taken quite seriously.

In the essay Berlin divides writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea and foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea. He claims that Plato, Dante, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Ibsen are hedgehogs and that Aristotle, Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, and Joyce are foxes. Although clearly lacking in gender awareness, Berlin doesn't favour any of the animals and they both seem to be very successful.

Management researcher Jim Collins is much more fond of hedgehogs. In his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't, he introduces the "Hedgehog Concept" as the intersection of the following three circles: (a) What you can be the best in the world at, (b) What drives your economic engine, and (c) What you are deeply passionate about. According to Collins it's not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at.

Blogger Abraham Kamarck is in contrast in favour of foxes. Similar to Berlin, he claims that you can be a fox by nature but a hedgehog of conviction, and use this in communication. However, sticking to one single thing in business when the environment is changing is not a good strategy. According to Kamarck, hedgehogs make great experts and often “win” TV debates, because they have a simple, easily communicated message. He has also looked into what happened to the great companies in Collins study and found out that they were "not not successful because they stuck to a single idea. In fact, quite the opposite, many of them radically departed from a proven strategy that had worked in the past…something a Hedgehog would never do!"
"The main lesson from the stories in Good to Great is that the companies created cultures that allowed them to adapt and switch directions (at that point in time). Collins’ Hedgehog Concept seems to miss this point." http://thefoxandthehedgehog.com/jim-collins-hedgehog-concept-is-wrong/
Recently the Economist used the hedgehog-fox distinction when discussing the merits of Clayton Christensen, famous for his theories on disruptive technologies. In the article, Christensen is described a being a hedgehog, clinging to a very narrow definition of disruptive innovation.
"In Mr Christensen’s theory, disruptive innovators are generally newcomers. But perhaps the most successful disrupter of recent years is an established firm—Apple—that has applied its mastery of technology and design to ever more areas. Mr Christensen greeted the arrival of the iPhone with a shrug: this was a “sustaining” rather than a disruptive innovation, with “limited” chances of success. He failed to see that Apple was reinventing an entire category of product, by turning the mobile phone into an all-purpose computer, entertainment system and shopping centre."
"Indeed, there are good reasons for thinking that this second kind of disruptive innovation may be more important than Mr Christensen’s: think of the threat that Google poses to carmakers, Facebook to newspapers and Apple to television stations. Back in 1995 Mr Christensen struck fear into executives by warning them that they could be put out of their jobs by companies they had never heard of. Today the biggest threats may come from people they talk about every day."
From Winter Collection 2015
I like both hedgehogs and foxes, the real ones, and I can see merits in both metaphors as well. I've also written a short story featuring a fox called "Raskar över isen". I found it difficult to translate because it is very Swedish in character, but I can give it a try should anyone insist.


Wine Route

After his ark stranded at the Mount Ararat, the Bible says that Noah planted a vineyard, harvested grapes, fermented them and got drunk.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
The story may well be true, at least the part about the wine, since archeologist have found remnants of wine-making equipment close by in a cave Armenia. They put the date of the technology to around 6.000 years ago. My mother wasn't too impressed with the Armenian wine, although she liked the Ararat brandy. It belongs to Pernod Ricard Group, which also includes the Swedish Absolut Vodka.
Georgia also has a long history of wine-making and UNESCO added its ancient traditional method using the Kvevri clay jars to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. The wine industry grew with the Christianisation,  apparently disregarding the situation with Noah. Since Georgia consider themselves to be the third country in the world to introduce Christianity as the state religion, they've been at it for a really long time (since around 300 AD). To what extent you could really call something a country at that time and where the border of Georgia was and is, is a totally different story.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
In 2006, the wine industry in Georgia was hit hard when Russia placed an embargo. Georgia is now trying to sell the wine to Europe and the US. In Sweden, your can't get Georgian wine in the Systembolag shops, but they are listed. On a totally different note, the Swedish saying "lägga rabarber på" apparently comes from misunderstanding the word "embargo".

There are more than 30.000 lobbyists in Brussels, on a par with the number of employees at the European Commission. Most of them represents various industries. The wine industry is well represented by organisations such as the Association of European Wine Regions and the European Federation of Origin Wines but also more general organisations such as FoodDrinkEurope and the European Spirits Organisation
From Brussels 2012
The number of lobbyists trying the influence the EU to restrict access to alcohol is much less and they have considerable fewer resources. I have visited IOGT-NTO's office in Brussels, and it was neat but not flashy.

Ever wondered why all these articles keep popping up in the news about the benefits of wine? And why the connection between alcohol and cancer is not mentioned that often, even though a rather small amount every day can considerably increase the likelihood of breast cancer. Thank you Julia Mjörnstedt who started Ung Cancer for bringing it up!


Analog Nostalgia

I must admit: I produce heaps of poet's snow. Although I have a background in ICT and use lots of social media, I still prefer the old version of things. I enjoy my paper newspaper although I have to visit the recycling station often.  I read magazines at the library and some find their way to my mailbox such as National GeographicTrädgårdsliv and Lantliv.  I use my Filofax every day (it's a way of life) although it is heavy and worn, putting PostIt-notes on the pages with important messages to myself.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
When faced with a longer text I have to read and really think about, I print it on paper (both sides) and go through it with a pen in hand. I still buy CD:s (I used Spotify when it was for free, and never got around starting to pay). I only watch the TV channels that come with the standard package, although I must say that the HBO and Netflix ads are very tempting.

When I travel by plane, I prefer to have my QR code on paper instead on the smartphone, but strangely enough I find it ok when I go by train. I prefer a paper map and real guidebook, although we almost lost the one on Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan in the customs.

I buy paperback books (in stores and from and Amazon and Bokus) and I put them on shelves (latest one: "How to be a heroine"). I prefer using real cookbooks (current favourite is "Sött, sweet, dulce") although sometimes I search for recipes on the web, such as this wonderful Christmas bread from Ernst.
From Skåne July 2015
However, I have stopped making scrapbook photo albums and focus totally on making them available through Picasa although sometimes I do a print version. I only send postcards to my aunt in the UK, everybody else gets Facebook and LinkedIn updates, emails or sms. I've never been good at keeping a diary, but I do have my blogg.

I agree with Sherry Turkle, that we have to think deeply about the new kinds of connection we want to have. The devices we use, have a big impact on how we interact with others and if we're not careful, we might end up connected but still alone.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015