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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Norman Mailer’s Birthday

Norman Mailer’s Birthday


Excerpt from: Writers Almanac

He wrote by hand – he usually wrote in the morning and then typed it up in the afternoon, or gave it to an assistant to type. He said: “I used to have a little studio in Brooklyn, a couple of blocks from my house – no telephone, not much else. The only thing I ever did there was work. It was perfect. I was like a draft horse with a conditioned reflex. I came in ready to sit at my desk. No television, no way to call out. Didn’t want to be tempted. There’s an old Talmudic belief that you build a fence around an impulse. If that’s not good enough, you build a fence around the fence.

So, no amenities. (But for a refrigerator!) I wrote longhand with a pencil and I gave it to my assistant, Judith McNally. She would type it for me and the next day I would go over it. Since at my age you begin to forget all too much, I would hardly remember what I had written the day before. It read, therefore, as if someone else had done it. The critic in me was delighted. I could now proceed to fix the prose. The sole virtue of losing your short-term memory is that it does free you to be your own editor.”

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Observing Sweden - Poor Man's Money


Cashless Society – 1


I bought a shirt here in Sweden last month, and paid cash.
“Do people in America still pay for things with cash?” The clerk asked.
 “I’m the only one left,” I told him. Last man standing.

I grew up in the fifties. My parents opened up a bank account for me, taught me to save. I stashed my paper route earnings at something like 3% interest . . . sixty years ago. Now banks charge a yearly fee to compensate them for the inconvenience of holding our money.

In the early sixties I ran into to two guys working with a company that was creating credit cards. They were enthusiastic. “Cash is a thing of the past,” they told me. Right. Good luck with that, I thought.

It turns out they were right . . . or wrong. I’ve never really understood the credit card convenience as I stand in line waiting for someone ahead of me at the cash register fumble with their cards, then punch in incorrect secret numbers.
It will be convenient for our governments who’ll know our every move, and for the banks, who profit from every transaction. We will be more able to spend what we don’t have. Debt is the lever that controls us all.

Excerpt from: Daily Good

Sweden Is Developing the World’s First Cashless Economy – by Mark Hay
In 1661 Sweden became the first European country to mint a national paper currency. Now, according to a report released last month by researchers at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), the nation may soon become the modern world’s first cashless society. One researcher involved estimates that by 2030 every transaction in Sweden could be digitized, thus effectively antiquating hard currency.

Sweden’s rapid shift to virtual money is especially striking because it’s not the result of one coordinated government program, but an emergent phenomenon arising from many national legal, social, and technological trends. And it’s had a host of unexpected positive effects on Swedish life, beyond just convenience for consumers, with surprisingly minimal drawbacks. Unfortunately for those in other nations who might want to experience these benefits, for now this appears to be an isolated phenomenon rooted in a uniquely Swedish experience. But as the Swedes work out the kinks in this system and create a comprehensive, proven model, the world’s doggedly cash-rooted societies may begin to move towards a cashless existence with greater speed and confidence.

Evidence of the Shift

The KTH study primarily draws its conclusions from the observable decline in the amount of hard notes in the Swedish economy. According to data from Sveriges Riksbank, or Riksbanken, Sweden’s central bank, there are currently less than 80 billion kronor ($9.4 billion) in circulation in the country of 9.6 million people, down from 106 billion kroner in 2009 (about $14.8 billion). Riksbanken has also predicted that between 2012 and 2020, the amount of cash in circulation will decline by 20 to 50. And of the cash in circulation, only 40 to 60 percent is actually in active circulation, with the rest just rotting away in lock boxes or under citizens’ mattresses. Bills and coins currently make up, at best, three percent of the Swedish economy. Put another way, there is likely less than $500 in cash per Swede in active use.

Beyond the amount of cash in Sweden, there’s also good data to show that people aren’t becoming ascetics and hermits with no need for cash—they’re just spending more digitally. This year, 85 to 90 percent of all transactions in Sweden will likely be electronic, using cards, apps, wire transfers, or some other modern mode of transfer. That number’s even higher—95 percent—for retail sales. Swedes are so heavily addicted to cards and apps (more so than any other nation) that five or six major banks in the nation have gone cashless; from 2010 to 2012, 500 bank branches moved to all-digital transactions, and removed 900 ATMs from around the nation, making Sweden Europe’s second worst country for cash machine coverage. The last reliable place to get cash in the nation is the supermarket checkout line, where you can get up to 500 kronor ($57) back per transaction when paying with a card. Even Sweden’s church collection plates have gone digital.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Going All In - Part 1

Not Knowing is the strength of man and beast.


What was it Kipling said, wagering everything on just one turn of pitch and toss, and lose, and never talk about the loss. Something like that. Putting it all on the line. Most often we don’t make that bet, the irrevocable decision.

There was a thing on Facebook last week, cell phone movie of a black girl being beat up by two other black girls who were trying to take her cell phone. This happened on a bus filled with people, who watched, and took photos. As heartless or cowardly as they seem, it’s not hard to forgive the bystanders. What would we have done? No way to know until you get a chance to make that bet. One of the would be thieves might well have had a gun, or a knife, but they were only using hands, giving their victim a good beating.

Facebook respondents were disgusted. “They could have done something, all of them, together.” Right, if there was time to talk about it. I’m sure many passengers were thinking about making some kind of move, or to say something? Hoping somebody else would beat them to it.

There was a great song back in the fifties called, Somebody Else, Not Me. I can’t find it on Google, but remember part of the lyrics, something about a Bengal tiger that had gotten loose in town. ‘It was a chance to be a hero, man of great renown. A wonderful chance for somebody. Somebody else, not me.’

A reasonable decision, not to get involved. Can’t fault someone for that. We all have much to lose. What would our loved ones say about the choice, to get involved, or not? One thing I learned the hard way, never bet on being helped by strangers.

I was walking home one Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, 1965. Haight Street was crammed with tourists come to see hippies, or pretend they were ones. At the corner of an intersection on my way, a hulking, brute sized guy was beating up a skinny Asian kid. The kid was making no attempt to fight back, probably a good move on his part. A crowd of people were observing from about eight yards way, all standing, silent, in a semi circle. I was also watching as I crossed the street. The kid was down by this time, cowering.

A woman with a camera yelled, “I took your picture, bully. And I’m going to show it to the cops!”

I stopped on the other side of the street, and was leaning against the wall of a storefront, watching to see what happened next. The brute strode over to her with a few long strides and grabbed the camera from her hand.

“Now you don’t have a picture, or a camera.” Bruto held it openly in his right hand and started up the sidewalk, passing by me, holding the device before him like a trophy.

I reached out and grabbed it from him easily, no problem. He was totally surprised, perhaps as much as I. I tossed the camera into the crowd, toward where I thought the woman was. I had no time to look as Bruto turned to face me, and I thought, I’m going to get hurt, but the crowd will stop things if it gets too bad. Why the hell did I think that?

He swung on me and missed. Then missed again. The man was big, but clumsy. Wow, I’ve got a chance, I thought, and stood my ground. From half a block away I saw two guys were running towards us. Ha! At last somebody had the guts to get involved, at last. The first one threw a block into me, worthy of a football lineman. I went down and then the three began to kick me in the back and legs, and head. I covered up as best I could, fetal position. Damn. It went on long enough for me to notice people watching, silently. It finally stopped and one of my abusers said, “You don’t fuck with the major.”

They left me alone with the crowd. I got up with a nose bleed, and some bruises, but was more or less okay. I later learned the ‘Major’ and his buddies were Hell’s Angels, and the skinny kid had cheated on some kind of drug deal. I forgave the Major, but had trouble getting over the crowd. I was twenty-nine then, and single. Being young and single helps.

What would I do today, in my late seventies, and married? Now? You never know. I didn’t know back then, but I was never sorry for the lesson learned.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Postcard From Ellie

Ellie Face Fixed 

Just a note to tell you what it’s like in Sweden.  -15 F here in Borlänge !

Ellie Shoes Fixed 

I bought two pair of shoes this afternoon, and a new coat. Pricey, but I gal's got to do what a gal's got to do. I plan to be writing more soon, but it’s hard to type with gloves on.

Love, Ellie

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Observing Sweden - Swedes Moving Out

From The
Published: 07 Jan 2016 17:12 GMT+01:00
Updated: 07 Jan 2016 17:18 GMT+01:00

More Swedes than ever are moving abroad.

Record numbers of Swedes are quitting their homeland, according to figures from the country’s number crunching agency Statistics Sweden.
More Swedish residents chose to leave the Nordic nation to live in other countries in 2015 than at any other time in the last 160 years, freshly released figures suggest.
Between 1850 and 1930, there was mass emigration from Sweden amid high unemployment and crop failures, with around 50,000 people a year quitting the Scandinavian country.
According to Statistics Sweden, some 51,237 people left Sweden last year, including foreign-born residents heading back to their home countries or other destinations.

“The proportion of emigrants in relation to the Swedish population as a whole is not as great as in the 1800s. But the fact remains that Sweden is today also a country of emigration,” Maria Solevid, political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, told Swedish broadcaster SVT on Thursday.
The official statistics follow separate figures released by the non-profit organisation Svenskar i världen (Swedes Worldwide), which last year published a widely-shared list of the most popular foreign destinations Swedes relocate to.

The United States featured at the top of the table, with 150,000 Swedes following in the footsteps of their ancestors. Meanwhile 90,000 are understood to live in the UK, with a similar figure settling in sunny Spain. Other warm climes including Thailand, France and Italy were among the leading ten choices.

However according to Solevid, there has been little detailed research on the specific reasons Swedes seek new lives abroad.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Observing Sweden - Free Speech

‘Sweden needs more free speech, not less’
Excerpt from: Published: 05 Jan 2016 10:09 GMT+01:0

In turbulent times, it is more important than ever to protect freedom of speech, writes Jonathan Lundqvist, president of Reporters Without Borders in Sweden.
There are many threats to free speech and open debate today: armed conflicts, far-reaching anti-terror legislation and digital surveillance to name just a few. But not all threats are as obvious. In fact, free speech is constantly compromised – even in western countries where it used to be a strongly defended principle.

The shots fired at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris almost exactly a year ago had hardly rung out before commentators and pundits scrambled to declare that freedom of expression had to be qualified. Naturally, they said, people should be allowed to say whatever they wanted, but then the next word out of these pundits’ mouths was "but…" Typically, a long list of restrictions followed, with freedom of expression described as problematic for this or that group.

Those who demand restrictions to freedom of speech in Sweden generally have good intentions, but good intentions are not enough. It is precisely when principles are put to the test that they need to be defended – with no ifs and no buts. Not least because tampering with fundamental principles risks backfiring. Extending legislation in order to silence your opponents, no matter how much you dislike them, is not only morally wrong – it’s often counter-productive. This has been shown time and time again. Back in the 1930s, members of the British left used their influence to ban fascists from demonstrating only to discover, a few years later, that the same laws were used against them so that they, too, were prevented from practicing their democratic rights.

Such a careless attitude to free speech is very dangerous because if we are not willing to defend fundamental democratic rights for those we do not agree with, then we should not be surprised if those rights are taken from us, too. The restrictions we are willing to enforce today – even if imposed with good intentions, for instance in order to avoid offending someone – will come back to haunt us tomorrow. It is not reasonable that one person’s hurt feelings should impact another person’s right to speak their mind.
Instead, we need to be reminded of why freedom of speech is worth defending; we need to be reminded of why this principle is so important that we should demand more of it rather than less.

Ironically, freedom of speech is rarely a tool that serve those in power. Members of the establishment always have the most to lose when their position is questioned. Free speech is a right that is not needed for people who say the 'correct' or 'accepted' things. It's a right for those who say the 'wrong' things. All societies, including the most repressive ones, enjoy a certain level of 'freedom of speech' but only for what is generally accepted and uncontroversial. The true measure of free speech is how the majority treats those who fall outside the mainstream consensus: the provocateurs, the politically extreme, the satirists, the outsiders, the difficult and the stubborn. That is as true in China, Iran and Eritrea as it is in Sweden.

The defense of free speech begins within ourselves. It's not enough to reserve the right to say whatever you want to say. There’s also a responsibility to respect the right of others to do the same. Allowing somebody to enjoy their freedom of speech does not mean that you have to take everything they say seriously, however, or that you have to blindly accept every stupidity that is uttered. On the contrary, free speech includes a certain obligation to critically examine, counter and debate, and the proper response to vile opinions is more opinions – not fewer.

The life-blood of any democracy is the battle of ideas. That's where we get to test our own convictions and arguments. That’s our opportunity to influence others – and, who knows, perhaps we can learn something along the way? Free speech demands that we do not try to silence people, not with automatic weapons and not with laws – but neither with social exclusion, angry Twitter mobs or dishonest labeling.

It is incredibly dangerous to try to institutionalize truth and legislate in the name of good taste. By turning free speech into a privilege – which has to be earned! – instead of a right – which we all have! – we're undermining the entire democratic model.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Observing Sweden – Öresund Bridge

Excerpts from: The – 4 Jan 2016

New border checks: traveler experiences

For the first time in half a century, Sweden is demanding photo identification for all rail travelers from Denmark as part of efforts to stem the flow of refugees between the two Nordic nations. The move is set to have an impact on 8,600 daily commuters who take the train over the Öresund bridge, as well as residents who use the connection to have meetings, shop or visit friends and family in Denmark and holidaymakers traveling around, to or from Scandinavia. The Local has spoken to some of those affected.

1. Nicholas Bean, British commuter
Bean, who works in marketing, only got a job in Copenhagen four months ago and described the changes as “really bad timing” for him, noting that his travel time was set to increase by up to an hour each day. The Briton, who is married to a Swede and has been living in Malmö for two years, said his first journey since the checks started had gone “pretty smoothly” on Monday morning, but that he was still disappointed in the government’s decision.
“The whole idea of it is ridiculous nonsense. It’s a sticking plaster on a problem that is much, much bigger,” the expat said. But he told The Local he felt it was “hard to not sound like an idiot” when discussing the impact on commuters because he was well aware that there were “people living in tent camps” and “thousands of others who want refuge and need to seek refuge” in Sweden in the coming months. “The checks are not going to stop people coming,” he argued.

2. David Nyman, Swedish visitor
After a night out in Copenhagen, Swedish journalist David Nyman was stopped from returning to Malmö at around 2am on Monday morning. He had failed to take his passport, national identity card or driving licence with him before the checks were introduced and attempted to persuade security staff that his press card should be considered adequate identification.
“I got denied because the guards argued that my press ID was not good enough as an ID card,” he told The Local. He said he was “tired and really wanted to go home” and decided to take a taxi instead, at the cost of 1,000 kronor ($118). “This money I will demand to get back,” he said. “I don’t think we should need ID documents to be able to travel between European countries.”

3. Rolf Olsson, Swedish pensioner
Olsson, 71, who lives in Malmö, is in favour of the checks, despite being a regular visitor to Copenhagen. “I think it’s good because we have far too many refugees in Sweden,” he told The Local’s reporter Richard Orange at Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport. “It has to start somewhere. At the beginning everybody complains and says it’s too tough, but after a month or so, everything will calm down. It should have been done a lot earlier.”
He argued that Sweden’s national government has not paid close enough attention to how the refugee crisis is affecting the country’s third largest city, which has long been a hub for immigrants.
“Stockholm doesn’t understand Malmö,” he said.

4. Per Tryding, Swedish businessman
A regular traveller between Malmö and Copenhagen, Tryding is deputy CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Southern Sweden. He spent Monday morning at Copenhagen airport’s Kastrup train station, giving media interviews outlining his argument that the new border checks could have a major impact on business in the Öresund region.
“It felt like it was a diet version of the Berlin wall and it’s actually more intimidating than you think when you need to show your identity card like that to a guard and you know they are keeping it somewhere in a cloud,” he told The Local. “Three out of four trains have been cancelled as a result of the checks (…) The commuting system is the blood system of a metropolitan economy. It will stop the blood flowing.”

5. Emma Ohlin, Swedish train ticket vendor
25-year-old Ohlin works in a rail ticket office in Malmö in southern Sweden and says she is worried about her job becoming more stressful in the coming weeks. “Yes, since I meet many travellers who miss their trains in Sweden or demand compensation for cancelled trains,” she told The Local, adding that she was already fielding plenty of questions about the new rules.
“Generally I think it is a bad decision. The Öresund bridge was not designed for ID checks and I know many people who commute who are going to have considerably longer and more complicated journeys. I believe that it will affect the Öresund region in a negative way,” she said

6. Joakim Sandell, Swedish politician
The Malmö chairman of Sweden’s ruling Social Democrat party, Sandell, backs the national Red-Green coalition’s initiative, describing the new checks as “a must”.
“To reduce the refugee influx we believe that this is necessary,” he told The Local, noting that Sweden took in around 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015, compared to 18,000 helped by Denmark. He said he did not commute daily to Copenhagen but accepted that he would be personally affected by delays whenever he made the journey.

“There are about two parts of the criticism. One is that we are making it harder for asylum seekers in Sweden and the other one is how it is affecting businesses and train commuters. I have an understanding for both parts of the criticism,” he admitted. But he said that he felt no other Swedish political parties had come up with a better alternative solution and argued that “more European countries should have been taking more responsibility” during the earlier stages of the refugee crisis, when Sweden took in record numbers of new arrivals.