Sweden’s parliament will vote tomorrow about a law restricting asylum and immigration. It includes rules that limit the right of families to reunite, replaces permanent residence permits with temporary ones, and sets higher requirements for paying for your own upkeep. All signs point towards the proposal being passed.

I am appalled and ashamed. We live in one of the world’s richest countries, and instead of helping those in desperate need, right on our doorstep, we shut them out and pretend that it’s someone else’s problem. Just like during WW2, Sweden pretends to not see the problem. We make a dirty deal with Turkey and turn a blind eye to Turkey’s human rights problems, so that we won’t be inconvenienced. We’d rather let refugees die than have them come here and disrupt our comfortable lives. Fifty years from now, Sweden will look back at this time as a shameful period in our history.

The refugee situation has made me consider applying for a Swedish citizenship, for the first time ever, just so that I can go and vote against the people who are pushing Sweden in this direction.

I remember my own first few years in Sweden. It wasn’t in any way comparable to the refugee children’s situation, of course. But still, even now, over twenty years later, I remember the stress of having to live with a temporary residence permit, the anxiety that started building up months before our permits would need to be renewed, and how it grew and grew the closer we got to the deadline. Never knowing whether I might be sent back, away from my friends and my school; never daring to make plans for a longer-term future; having to take undocumented summer jobs (because we needed the money) instead of openly looking for a proper legal job. Not being able to sleep at night because I didn’t know if and when we might be kicked out, leaving my life behind.

I had my mother and brother with me at least. I cannot even imagine what it might feel like to go through this alone, knowing that your family is living in a war zone and won’t be allowed to join you for years.

And now Sweden’s politicians intend to put all refugee children through that.

So grateful that I do not need to trek across a continent to save my family from war.
So grateful that I do not have to worry about my children drowning when crossing a sea in an overcrowded boat.
So grateful that I do not have to leave behind everything I own and try to build a new life from scratch in a strange place.

It’s hard for me to imagine being in a situation like that – and yet not so hard after all. After all, it’s not that long ago that Estonians were fleeing across the sea. Not in my lifetime, not in my mother’s – but in my grandmother’s.

In another timeline, it could have been me.

I could be living in Estonia still instead of having moved to Sweden as a child. Russia could have aimed their provocations at Estonia instead of the Ukraine. I could be trying to escape from war to a peaceful country on the other side of the sea.

The populist, nationalist, far-right Sweden Democrats got 13% of the votes in this weekend’s elections, ending up as the third largest party. This awakes all kinds of negative feelings in me. On the one hand, the negative, ranging from simple distaste to worries about a future that echoes 1930s Germany.

And on the other hand a guilt-mixed gratitude that I share none of the worries and frustrations that have driven so many to vote against the “establishment”: I do not need to worry about unemployment, the social safety net, the availability of health care for the young and nursing for the elderly, integration and segregation, crime… Intellectually I know that several of these topics could become relevant to me personally with very short notice, but for now I blithely live on in my worryless world.

But what this also does is awake debate. I normally skip all the articles about politics in newspapers etc. They’re either full of dull questions about administrative details (who wants to lower which tax by how many percentage points) or about individual politicians (who was caught fiddling what rule, or who said what about somebody else).

And now, for the first time in forever, there are interesting articles about politics in the newspapers. They discuss ideology, the big issues, visions for the future. Oh there also are endless pages of discussion about who will or will not ally themselves with whom to form a government… but for the first time in years, or possibly EVER, I am reading and sharing articles about politics, such as this, and this. Good things might yet come out of this.

There are beggars in Stockholm. There didn’t use to be many at all, but now not a day goes by without me seeing some in the streets.

There is also a fair amount of debate going on around the beggars. Many of them are Roma/gypsies, many are from Romania, so much of it is coloured by prejudice. People talk about organised beggary by criminal groups, about entire extended families moving here to beg, about beggars being dropped off by car at their spot, about made-up sob stories of sick children.

And I know there is some of that going on. One sub-group of beggars is the “cards in the train” type. They have printed cards with a photo of some sick family member and a few sentences about their situation. Once I watched one lady set out her cards on the seats in the train and saw that her sick child had different diseases on the different cards… A friend reported on Facebook seeing a beggar dropped off by a nice car in the morning. And they are definitely organized: there is usually a man outside our local supermarket, but recently I’ve seen a woman in the exact same spot, so maybe they swapped or maybe he’s gone and left his seat to her.

But there have also been stories about their life back home, by actual journalists who actually visited their families and saw the grinding poverty and deprivation they live in, and interviews with beggars who tell about the soul-crushing humiliation of having to beg for a living. I don’t doubt any of that, and I can’t feel angry with them for making that choice.

I think about them every day as I pass them. I pity them because I cannot imagine having a life where begging would be my best option.

I am also angry, bothered and embarrassed because I feel helpless. I do not know what to do about it.

I could give money to them, of course. But I cannot bring myself to do it, because I cannot disregard the big picture.

They are so many. One day I counted five on my way home from work: at Fridhemsplan, at St. Eriksbron, at Karlberg station, at Spånga station, and finally one at the supermarket. Which one do I give to? One? All?

Giving creates a relationship. I see that guy outside the supermarket every day. How could I give once and then ignore him? I would feel an obligation to keep giving. Daily? Weekly?

Giving will help that family, but it will also mean that their second cousin will hear about it and will also make his way to Stockholm to beg, which I don’t want to happen.

I cannot affect the people and government of Romania to make them take better care of their weakest, or to provide equal opportunities to gypsies.

The problem is so close and vivid that I cannot ignore it, but I also cannot do anything about it. I hate this.

There is a debate going on in Swedish media right now about näthat, “net hate”: hateful, threatening, demeaning comments to bloggers and journalists, especially women. Death threats, graphic descriptions of sexual violence, harassment online and offline. The trigger was an episode of a respected investigative TV programme, Uppdrag Granskning, that focused on net hate. As an extra twist, a trailer for that episode got so many hate comments on YouTube that comments were turned off.

I feel as if those people must be a different species, not entirely human. How is it possible for a seemingly normal human being to feel so little empathy, so little kinship with another, that you can either (1) seriously wish to torture and kill them because you don’t agree with their opinions, or (2) imagine that the target for those threats “probably doesn’t care much” because it wasn’t seriously meant?

I don’t hate anything or anybody, and I cannot even really imagine the feeling. There are people towards whom I feel contempt, disgust, anger. There are people without whom the world would be a better place, and I would be glad if they ceased to exist – mass murderers and such.

Even from such negative feelings, there is a huge leap to wishing great humiliation, pain and suffering on those people. Not just wishing them gone from the world, but wishing that they died a painful death, or spending time and energy on harassing and humiliating them.

I can sort of imagine, very hypothetically, that I could possibly feel such hate in response to some great harm done to me or my family – if those mass murderers had killed my children, say – if I wasn’t really in my right mind.

But in response to a blog post with which you don’t agree? What could fill those commenters with so much hate?

Or perhaps it is me who is not entirely normal. (Well, I knew that already, but perhaps this is another aspect of it.)

Is it normal to hate?

I feel curiously unperturbed by this weekend’s bomb attack in Stockholm. And then I feel perturbed for being unperturbed – it happened right here in this city in a central location where I have regularly been. But then the same already happened in London 5 years ago while I was living there. Getting numb, I guess.

And disappointed in humanity, and sad that it should come to this.

The news sites are all talking about the volcanic ash that’s shut down Europe’s air traffic. Bus, train, car rental and taxi companies are doing great, as people like John Cleese take a taxi from Oslo to Brussels.

Now they’re saying that the ash cloud might hang around for months. I’m wondering what will happen to our Beijing trip, which is only a month away.

If you’ve been following my delicious links (which you probably haven’t, at least until I started posting them here, too) you might remember The Dog Ate Global Warming, a story about how key climate data seems to have been “misplaced” by scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, maintainers of several key data series supporting the global warming hypothesis.

Now emails and other internal documents from the CRU have been leaked (and there are various theories about how they got out). CRU supporters (such as RealClimate.org) try to deflect criticism by predicting that

…the noise-generating components of the blogosphere will generate a lot of noise about this. […] Instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded “gotcha” phrases will be pulled out of context.

(Try this listing of excerpts at Examiner.com for a taste of those cherry-picked phrases. Sounds pretty bad to me.)

Others (such as (Lord) Nigel Lawson) read the documents as revealing that

(a) the scientists have been manipulating the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend; (b) they have consistently refused outsiders access to the raw data; (c) the scientists have been trying to avoid freedom of information requests; and (d) they have been discussing ways to prevent papers by dissenting scientists being published in learned journals.

I’ve been trying to find some place that actually summarizes the situation but I guess it’s too early for that. In the meantime, Watts Up With That? and Climate Audit Mirror seem like good threads to follow.

The latest thing to engage the hearts and minds of bloggers is the plight of Jon Engle, who says that a stock art site is accusing him of pirating his own work. The stock art site says he’s copied their images, and Jon says it’s the other way round.

What’s interesting about this story (which has made first page news on most blog aggregators out there) is not who’s right and who’s wrong. The interesting part is that 99% of the readers automatically assume that Jon is telling the truth, even though he doesn’t offer any proof or examples of the pirated work. I counted; out of the 400 comments on his blog post I could find 3 or 4 that were not offering Jon their immediate support, swearing at the evil of corporate lawyers etc., without doing any research whatsoever. And among all the people digging, redditing, re-tweeting, re-blogging and otherwise spreading the story, I found one sceptical blog post, and one commenter actually doing some investigative work.

Where did this mob mentality come from? Is it because Jon is one of them (bloggers)? Or because it feels better to side with the small guy against big business? Whatever happened to critical thinking?


Edited to add, on Wednesday: Now there are responses based on actual facts.

Have you seen the Earth Hour campaign? Seems incredibly stupid to me. Not only is the message the usual “ask the government to do more” (Isn’t it easy to fix the world’s big problems? Limit your own effort to an hour and ask someone else to solve the rest) but it also seems like a hugely wasteful and, actually, climate-damaging idea. Power plants are not made for coping with huge step changes in demand, and that this gimmick is likely to cause a lot of headache for power plant operators. Millions of people all turning off their lights and appliances at the same time, and then on again within minutes of each other, will put a lot of strain on the power system. Do something meaningful instead: hang your laundry to dry instead of using a tumble dryer, or use public transport instead of a car.