Archive for July, 2009

six months of linux

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

I’ve been running both the laptop and the desktop on various flavours of Ubuntu for about six months now, which is time enough to get an informed opinion. This wasn’t a deliberate decision. I started with Xubuntu on the laptop, an IBM X40, because I was sick to death of XP’s erratic performance when switching between wireless networks and the a 3G dongle. It would interrupt me every two or three minutes with a demand or suggestion that it switch to one or the other, and in the Guardian’s confused wifi environment this was intolerable. (more…)

A criminal failure

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

I picked up in Stockholm the latest Swedish crime sensation, Aldrig Fucka Upp (Aldrig means “Never”; the rest is quite easy for English speakers to work out). The author is a criminal lawyer in Stockholm, Jens Lapidus; it’s set in and around the immigrant criminal underground. It is written. In short sentences: men like them. Fuck. Yeah.


Actually, the language is the most credible part of it. The gangster characters speak a Swedish argot with some turkish or arabic terms, but mostly full of American gangster slang. The word “blatte” (more or less “Nigger”) gets used a lot. Much of this sounds wholly credible to my ears, as does the scene where a woman probation officer is talking to a criminal uninterested in mending his ways.

But the rest is just a mess of stereotypes. The author was recommended me by a very aristocratic Swedish banker who took me to lunch at Brooks’s club to discuss FiU, and who said that it was the only treatment he knew of the immigrant criminal class, though he was thinking of the earlier book Snabba Cash. I still haven’t read that, and nothing in Aldrig Fucka Upp makes me want to: of the three main characters, two are pure recycled cardboard—the Swedish mercenary who has come back from Iraq with PTSD, and the Joseph Wambaugh style cop who is bitter, thuggish, a but crooked, but really hates criminals and will, I can see, team up with the unlikely buddy from the Internal Affairs division. So why should I believe in the blatte gangster?

Obviously, the popularity of these books tells me an immense amount about what Swedes think of their own society and of crime and immigrants. Equally, the fact that no one else has written about the subject (correct me if I’m wrong) is also telling. But I wish I could rely on what was being said, and I can’t.

Night train tips

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Swedish Railways runs some lovely sleepers which are, I think, the best way to get up to the north; and when you factor in the cost of a hotel room, they are also as cheap as flying and spending the night. What I learned this trip is that it is more comfortable, as well as cheaper, to take an entire three-bed second class carriage to yourself than to book a single-berth first class carriage. This is because the first-class carriage squeezes in the world’s smallest shower and loo; both are too small, especially the shower, and this means that everything else in the compartment is also too small. Not worth the extra money. In second class, you have to walk down the corridor for these amenities, but the carriage is much more spacious, and the tracks up north, unlike the ones to Östersund the last time I took that train, are really quiet and conducive to deep sleep.

One nice touch: as we were pulling out of Luleå I realised that I had left my English mobile charging in the ticket hall and the conductor stopped the whole train so I could run back and get it. Compare this to the archetypal Stockholm experience of running onto the tube platform to see the driver shutting the doors just as you arrive at them, and then watching your gesticulations curiously before turning to face ahead again and pulling out of the station.

Dead elk and minicabs

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

I spent last week rushing around Sweden, mostly to places I had lived in or visited before, as part of a Radio Four Crossing Continents programme which will go out in early September. The rest of the series is full of dramatic politics, but you won’t find those in Sweden at the best of times, and certainly not in late July when the entire country has more or less shut down. So we have elk carcasses, fiddle music, and sociologists explaining the term of art that is Fucking Åmål Syndrome.

Perhaps the most important discovery is that two weeks dead adolescent elk, with a stomach cavity that looks like a heaving risotto of maggots, actually smells worse than the air freshener in a Saffron Walden minicab. Further research is needed to establish whether I would rather share the taxi with an elk that has only been dead for a week.

Another encounter with a philosopher

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

I climbed from the bottom of the lecture theatre in the Law building in Cambridge to find at the top of the stairs, Professor Dennett, who engaged my companion in conversation. He was, he said, working on a research project to interview in depth and anonymously six atheist ministers of religion about the difficulties of their lives.The pressure they were under to conceal or distort their opinions was immense. They were so brave …

I broke in at this stage to say that I didn’t think it was particularly brave of them to make their livings denying what they believe to be true.

Oh, he said. But they are so brave to talk to us.

In any case, I tried to get him to write for the Graun about “belief in belief” next week. I imagine I have failed, but will in any case send an email.

The second time as farce

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

I would imagine Jesus was a kind of Jewish reformer. If you were looking for an equivalent to the figure you dimly perceive through the gospels it would probably be a Richard Dawkins.
A C Grayling.