Quotulatiousness

August 3, 2014

Who is to blame for the outbreak of World War One? (Part five of a series)

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Over the last several days, I’ve posted entries on what I think are the deep origins of the First World War (part one, part two, part three, part four). Up to now, we’ve been looking at the longer-term trends and policy shifts among the European great powers. Now, we’ll take a look at the most multicultural and diverse polity of the early 20th century, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.

Austria becomes Austria-Hungary

Here is a map of Austria-Hungary at the start of the First World War:

Austria-Hungary in 1914 (via NZHistory)

Austria-Hungary in 1914 (via NZHistory)

A big central European empire: the second biggest empire in Europe at the time (after Russia). But that map manages to conceal nearly as much as it reveals. Here is a slightly more informative map, showing a similar map of ethnic and linguistic groups within the same geographical boundaries:

The ethnic groups of Austria-Hungary in 1910. Based on "Distribution of Races in Austria-Hungary" by William R. Shepherd, 1911. City names changed to those in use since 1945. (via Wikipedia)

The ethnic groups of Austria-Hungary in 1910. Based on Distribution of Races in Austria-Hungary by William R. Shepherd, 1911. City names have been changed to those in use since 1945. (via Wikipedia)

This second map shows much more of the political reality of the empire — and these are merely the largest, most homogenous groupings — and why the Emperor was so sensitive to chauvinistic and nationalistic movements that appeared to threaten the stability of the realm. If anything, that map shows the southern regions of the empire — Croatia-Slavonia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina — to be more ethnically and linguistically compatible than almost any other region (which neatly illustrates some of the limitations of this form of analysis — layering on religious differences would make the map far more confusing, and yet in some ways more explanatory of what happened in 1914 … and, for that matter, from 1992 onwards).

Austria 1815-1866

For some reason, perhaps just common usage in history texts, I had the distinct notion that the Austrian Empire was a relatively continuous political and social structure from the Middle Ages onward. In reading a bit more on the nineteenth century, I find that the Austrian Empire was only “founded” in 1804 (according to Wikipedia, anyway). “Austria” as a concept certainly began far earlier than that! Austria was the general term for the personal holdings of the head of the Habsburgs. The title of Holy Roman Emperor had been synonymous with the Austrian head of state almost continuously since the fifteen century: that continuity was finally broken in 1806 when Emperor Francis II formally dissolved the Holy Roman Empire due to the terms of the Treaty of Pressburg, through which Napoleon stripped away many of the core holdings of the empire (including the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Kingdom of Württemberg) to create a new German proto-state called the Confederation of the Rhine.

The Confederation lasted until 1813, as Napoleon’s empire ebbed westward across the Rhine before the Prussian, Austrian, and Russian armies. After the Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of Nations for the many different armies involved), several of the constituent parts of the Confederation defected to the allies. As part of the re-alignment of borders, treaties, and affiliations during the Congress of Vienna, both Prussia and Austria were added to the successor entity called the German Confederation, but Austria was the acknowledged leader of the organization.

The Rise of Prussia and the eclipse of Austria

Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 (via Wikipedia)

Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 (via Wikipedia)

The Kingdom of Prussia was the rising power within the German Confederation, and it was likely that at some point the Prussians would attempt to challenge Austria for the leadership of Germany. That situation arose (or, if you’re a fan of the “Bismarck had a master plan” theory, was engineered) over the dispute with Denmark over the duchies of Holstein and Schleswig.

Denmark was not part of the confederation, but the two duchies were within it: the right of succession to the the two ducal titles were a point of conflict between the Kingdom of Denmark (whose monarch was also in his own person the duke of both Schleswig and Holstein) and the leading powers of the confederation, Austria and Prussia. When the King of Denmark died, by some legal views, the right of succession to each of the ducal seats was now open to dispute (because they were not formally part of Denmark, despite the King having held those titles personally).

In Denmark proper, the recently adopted constitution provided for a greater degree of democratic representation, but the political system in the two duchies was much more tailored to the interests and representation of the landowning classes (who were predominantly German-speaking) over the commoners (who were Danish-speakers). After the new Danish King signed legislation setting up a common parliament for Denmark and Schleswig, Prussia invaded as part of a confederate army, and the Danes wisely retreated north, abandoning the relatively indefensible southern portion of the debated duchies. In short, the campaign went poorly for the Danes, but quite well for the Prussians and (to a lesser degree) the Austrians. Under the terms of the resulting Treaty of Vienna, Denmark renounced all claims to the duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg to the Austrians and Prussians.

Austria’s reward for the campaign was the duchy of Holstein, while Prussia got Schleswig and Lauenburg (in the form of King Wilhelm taking on the rulership of the latter duchy in his own person). The two great powers soon found themselves at odds over the administration of the duchies, and Austria appealed their side of the dispute to the Diet (parliament) of the Confederation. Prussia declared this to be a violation of the Gastein Convention, and launched an invasion of Holstein in co-operation with some of the other Confederation states.

This was the start of the Austro-Prussian War, also known as the Seven Weeks’ War. The start of the conflict triggered an existing treaty between Prussia and Italy, bringing the Italian forces in to menace Austria’s southwestern frontier (Italy was eager to take the Italian-speaking regions of the Austrian Empire into their kingdom. As the Wikipedia entry notes, the war was not unwelcome to the respective leaders of the warring powers: “In Prussia king William I was deadlocked with the liberal parliament in Berlin. In Italy, king Victor Emmanuel II, faced increasing demands for reform from the Left. In Austria, Emperor Franz Joseph saw the need to reduce growing ethnic strife, by uniting the several nationalities against a foreign enemy.”

In his essay “Bismarck and Europe” (collected in From Napoleon to the Second International), A.J.P. Taylor notes that the war took time and effort to bring to fruition, but not for reasons you might expect:

The war between Austria and Prussia had been on the horizon for sixteen years. Yet it had great difficulty in getting itself declared. Austria tried to provoke Bismarck by placing the question of the duchies before the Diet on 1 June. Bismarck retaliated by occupying Holstein. He hoped that the Austrian troops there would resist, but they got away before he could catch them. On 14 June the Austrian motion for federal mobilization against Prussia was carried in the Diet. Prussia declared the confederation at an end; and on 15 June invaded Saxony. On 21 June, when Prussian troops reached the Austrian frontier, the crown prince, who was in command, merely notified the nearest Austrian officer that “a state of war” existed. That was all. The Italians did a little better La Marmora sent a declaration of war to Albrecht, the Austrian commander-in-chief, before taking the offensive. Both Italy and Prussia were committed to programmes which could not be justified in international law, and were bound to appear as aggressors if they put their claims on paper. The would, in fact, have been hard put to it to start the war if Austria had not done the job for them.

The contending forces in the Austro-Prussian War, 1866 (via Wikipedia)

The contending forces in the Austro-Prussian War, 1866 (via Wikipedia)

Strategically, the Austro-Prussian war was the first European war to reflect some of the lessons of the recently concluded American Civil War: railway transportation of significant forces to the front, and the relative firepower differences between muzzle-loading weapons (Austria) and breech-loading rifles (Prussia). In the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (or Sadová), Prussian firepower and strategic movement were the key factors, allowing the numerically smaller force to triumph — Austrian casualties were more than three times greater than those of the Prussian army. This was the last major battle of the war, with an armistice followed by the Peace of Prague ending hostilities.

North German Confederation 1867-1871Initially, King Wilhelm had intended to utterly destroy Austrian power, possibly even to the extent of occupying significant portions of Austria, but Bismarck persuaded him that Prussia would be better served by offering a relatively lenient set of terms and working toward an alliance with the defeated Austrians than by the wholesale destruction of the balance of power. Austria lost the province of Venetia to Italy (although it was legally ceded to Napoleon III, who in turn ceded it to Italy). The German Confederation was replaced by a new North German Confederation led by Prussia’s King Wilhelm I as president, and Austria’s minor German allies were faced with a reparations bill to be paid to Prussia for their choice of allies in the war. (Liechtenstein at this time was separated from Austria and declared itself permanently neutral … I’d always wondered when that micro-state had popped into existence.)

Aftermath and constitutional change

After a humiliating defeat by Prussia, the Austrian Emperor was faced with the need to rally the empire, and the Hungarian nationalists took this opportunity to again demand special rights and privileges within the empire. Hungary had always been, legally speaking, a separate kingdom within the empire that just happened to share a monarch with the rest of the empire. In 1867, this situation was recognized in the Compromise of 1867, after which the Austrian Empire was replaced by the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.

The necessity of satisfying Hungarian nationalist aspirations within the empire made Austria-Hungary appear as a political basket case to those more familiar with less ethnically, socially, and linguistically diverse polities than the Austrian Empire. From a more nationalistic viewpoint the political arrangements required to keep the empire together (mainly the issues in keeping Hungary happy) created a political system that appeared better suited to an asylum Christmas concert than a modern, functioning empire. In The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark explains the post-1867 government structure briefly:

Shaken by military defeat, the neo-absolutist Austrian Empire metamorphosed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under the Compromise hammered out in 1867 power was shared out between the two dominant nationalities, the Germans in the west and the Hungarians in the east. What emerged was a unique polity, like an egg with two yolks, in which the Kingdom of Hungary and a territory centred on the Austrian lands and often called Cisleithania (meaning ‘the lands on this side of the River Leithe’) lived side by side within the translucent envelope of a Habsburg dual monarchy. Each of the two entities had its own parliament, but there was no common prime minister and no common cabinet. Only foreign affairs, defence and defence-related aspects of finance were handled by ‘joint ministers’ who were answerable directly to the Emperor. Matters of interest to the empire as a whole could not be discussed in common parliamentary session, because to do so would have implied that the Kingdom of Hungary was merely the subordinate part of some larger imperial entity. Instead, an exchange of views had to take place between the ‘delegations’, groups of thirty delegates from each parliament, who met alternately in Vienna and Budapest.

Along with the bifurcation between Cisleithania and Transleithania (Hungary), the two governments handled the demands of their respective majority and minority subjects quite differently: the Hungarian government actively suppressed minorities and attempted to impost Magyarization programs through the schools to stamp out as much as they could of other linguistic and ethnic communities. The Hungarian plurality (about 48 percent of the population) controlled 90 percent of the seats in parliament, and the franchise was limited to those with landholdings. The lot of minorities in Cisleithania was much easier, as the government eventually extended the franchise to almost all adult men by 1907, although this did not completely address the linguistic demands of various minority groups.

Hungary also actively prevented any kind of political move to create a Slavic entity within the empire (in effect, turning the Dual Monarchy into a Triple Monarchy), for fear that Hungarian power would be diluted and also for fear of encouraging demands among the other minority groups in the Hungarian kingdom.

Rumours of the death of Austria: mainly in hindsight, not prognostication

After World War One, many memoirs and histories made reference to the inevitability of Austrian decline. Most of these “memories” appear to have been constructed after the fact, rather than being accurate views of the reality before the war began. Christopher Clark notes:

Evalutating the condition and prospects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the eve of the First World War confronts us in an acute way with the problem of temporal perspective. The collapse of the empire amid war and defeat in 1918 impressed itself upon the retrospective view of the Habsburg lands, overshadowing the scene with auguries of imminent and ineluctable decline. The Czech national activist Edvard Beneš was a case in point. During the First World War, Beneš became the organizer of a secret Czech pro-independence movement; in 1918, he was one of the founding fathers of the new Czechoslovak nation-state. But in a study of the “Austrian Problem and the Czech Question” published in 1908, he had expressed confidence in the future of the Habsburg commonwealth. “People have spoken of the dissolution of Austria. I do not believe in it at all. The historic and economic ties which bind the Austrian nations to one another are too strong to let such a thing happen.”

Austria’s economy

Far from being an economic basket case, Austrian economic growth topped 4.8% per year before the start of WW1 (Christopher Clark):

The Habsburg lands passed during the last pre-war decade through a phase of strong economic growth with a corresponding rise in general prosperity — an important point of contrast with the contemporary Ottoman Empire, but also with another classic collapsing polity, the Soviet Union of the 1980s. Free markets and competition across the empire’s vast customs union stimulated technical progress and the introduction of new products. The sheer size and diversity of the double monarchy meant that new industrial plants benefited from sophisticated networks of cooperating industries underpinned by an effective transport infrastructure and a high-quality service and support sector. The salutary economic effects were particularly evident in the Kingdom of Hungary.

Okay, enough about Austria for now … remember I said that the causes of the war were complex and inter-related? By this point I hope you’ll agree that this case has been more than proven … and we’re still not into the 20th century yet!

February 11, 2014

A perfect day at the zoo for the kiddies

Filed under: Europe, Media, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:49

James Delingpole isn’t kidding:

If I’d been anywhere near Denmark that day, I too would have eagerly dragged my kids along to the zoo’s operating theatre to witness the ghoulish but fascinating Inside Nature’s Giants-style spectacle.

Why? Well, partly for my entertainment and education, but mainly for the sake of my children. I know we all love to idealise our offspring as sensitive, bunny-hugging little moppets who wouldn’t hurt a flea. But the truth is that there are few things kids enjoy more than a nice, juicy carcase with its guts hanging out. Dead birds are good; dead badgers are better; a dead giraffe is all but unbeatable.

You first tend to notice this trait on family walks. Desperately, you’ll try to keep your reluctant toddler going by showing it lots of fascinating things. Sheep or tractors may do the job, just about. But not nearly as well, say, as a dead rabbit with its belly distended with putrefaction and flies crawling over its empty eye sockets. It’s your child’s introduction to a concept we all have to grapple with in the end: what Damien Hirst once called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”.

This, no doubt, is one of the reasons for the enduring popularity of Roald Dahl. Dahl’s brilliant insight is that children, au fond, are horrid little sickos who like nothing better than stories about giants who steal you from your bed in the night to murder you, and enormous crocodiles that gobble you all up. His is a natural world red in tooth and claw: Fantastic Mr Fox really does slaughter chickens — because he’s a fox — and when he gets his tail shot off you know, much as you might wish it otherwise, that it is never ever going to grow back.

[...]

Which reminds me: one of the stupidest mistakes made by Copenhagen Zoo was to have given that two-year-old giraffe such an affecting name. “Catomeat” might have worked. But to call a giraffe you’re planning to chop up and then chuck into the lions’ den “Marius” is surely asking for trouble. I wouldn’t want to execute a giraffe called “Marius”, would you?

I do, though, think that as a culture we need to be more grown-up about this sort of thing. If we’re going to have zoos and safari parks (as I believe we should; most of us will never have the money to enable our kids to see these wonders in the wild), then we have to accept the consequences. One of these is that sick, inbred, overpopulous or dangerous stock (like the six lions recently put down at Longleat) will have, on occasion, to be culled. Yes, it’s not ideal, but that unfortunately is how the world works. With animals, as with humans, the deal is this: none of us gets out of here alive.

January 30, 2014

Scandinavia’s less-than-utopian reality

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:42

Canadians are often found wanting in comparison to Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, or Danes in any international ranking. Except for smugness, where Canada (of course) is the undisputed world leader. But according to Michael Booth, things are not quite as wonderful in Scandinavia as we’re led to believe:

Whether it is Denmark’s happiness, its restaurants, or TV dramas; Sweden’s gender equality, crime novels and retail giants; Finland’s schools; Norway’s oil wealth and weird songs about foxes; or Iceland’s bounce-back from the financial abyss, we have an insatiable appetite for positive Nordic news stories. After decades dreaming of life among olive trees and vineyards, these days for some reason, we Brits are now projecting our need for the existence of an earthly paradise northwards.

I have contributed to the relentless Tetris shower of print columns on the wonders of Scandinavia myself over the years but now I say: enough! Nu er det nok! Enough with foraging for dinner. Enough with the impractical minimalist interiors. Enough with the envious reports on the abolition of gender-specific pronouns. Enough of the unblinking idolatry of all things knitted, bearded, rye bread-based and licorice-laced. It is time to redress the imbalance, shed a little light Beyond the Wall.

First, let’s look at Denmark, where Booth has lived for several years:

Why do the Danes score so highly on international happiness surveys? Well, they do have high levels of trust and social cohesion, and do very nicely from industrial pork products, but according to the OECD they also work fewer hours per year than most of the rest of the world. As a result, productivity is worryingly sluggish. How can they afford all those expensively foraged meals and hand-knitted woollens? Simple, the Danes also have the highest level of private debt in the world (four times as much as the Italians, to put it into context; enough to warrant a warning from the IMF), while more than half of them admit to using the black market to obtain goods and services.

Perhaps the Danes’ dirtiest secret is that, according to a 2012 report from the Worldwide Fund for Nature, they have the fourth largest per capita ecological footprint in the world. Even ahead of the US. Those offshore windmills may look impressive as you land at Kastrup, but Denmark burns an awful lot of coal. Worth bearing that in mind the next time a Dane wags her finger at your patio heater.

Okay, but how about Norway? Aren’t they doing well?

The dignity and resolve of the Norwegian people in the wake of the attacks by Anders Behring Breivik in July 2011 was deeply impressive, but in September the rightwing, anti-Islamist Progress party — of which Breivik had been an active member for many years — won 16.3% of the vote in the general election, enough to elevate it into coalition government for the first time in its history. There remains a disturbing Islamophobic sub-subculture in Norway. Ask the Danes, and they will tell you that the Norwegians are the most insular and xenophobic of all the Scandinavians, and it is true that since they came into a bit of money in the 1970s the Norwegians have become increasingly Scrooge-like, hoarding their gold, fearful of outsiders.

Finland? I’ve always gotten on famously with Finns (and Estonians), although I haven’t met all that many of them:

I am very fond of the Finns, a most pragmatic, redoubtable people with a Sahara-dry sense of humour. But would I want to live in Finland? In summer, you’ll be plagued by mosquitos, in winter, you’ll freeze — that’s assuming no one shoots you, or you don’t shoot yourself. Finland ranks third in global gun ownership behind only America and Yemen; has the highest murder rate in western Europe, double that of the UK; and by far the highest suicide rate in the Nordic countries.

The Finns are epic Friday-night bingers and alcohol is now the leading cause of death for Finnish men. “At some point in the evening around 11.30pm, people start behaving aggressively, throwing punches, wrestling,” Heikki Aittokoski, foreign editor of Helsingin Sanomat, told me. “The next day, people laugh about it. In the US, they’d have an intervention.”

[...]

If you do decide to move there, don’t expect scintillating conversation. Finland’s is a reactive, listening culture, burdened by taboos too many to mention (civil war, second world war and cold war-related, mostly). They’re not big on chat. Look up the word “reticent” in the dictionary and you won’t find a picture of an awkward Finn standing in a corner looking at his shoelaces, but you should.

“We would always prefer to be alone,” a Finnish woman once admitted to me. She worked for the tourist board.

Sweden, though, must be the one without any real serious issues, right?

Anything I say about the Swedes will pale in comparison to their own excoriating self-image. A few years ago, the Swedish Institute of Public Opinion Research asked young Swedes to describe their compatriots. The top eight adjectives they chose were: envious, stiff, industrious, nature loving, quiet, honest, dishonest, xenophobic.

I met with Åke Daun, Sweden’s most venerable ethnologist. “Swedes seem not to ‘feel as strongly’ as certain other people”, Daun writes in his excellent book, Swedish Mentality. “Swedish women try to moan as little as possible during childbirth and they often ask, when it is all over, whether they screamed very much. They are very pleased to be told they did not.” Apparently, crying at funerals is frowned upon and “remembered long afterwards”. The Swedes are, he says, “highly adept at insulating themselves from each other”. They will do anything to avoid sharing a lift with a stranger, as I found out during a day-long experiment behaving as un-Swedishly as possible in Stockholm.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle (via Facebook) for the link.

January 24, 2014

A Danish solution to the high cost of modern warships

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:47

Developments like this should be of great interest to the Royal Canadian Navy:

… constrained budgets in America and Europe are prompting leading nations to reconsider future needs and explore whether new ships should be tailored for what they do every day, rather than what they might have to do once over decades.

The solution: extreme flexibility at an affordable price for construction and operation.

Here the Danes have emerged as a clear leader by developing two classes of highly innovative ships designed to operate as how they will be used: carrying out coalition operations while equipped to swing from high-end to low-end missions.

The three Iver Huitfeldt frigates and two Absalon flexible support ships share a common, large, highly efficient hull to yield long-range, efficient but highly flexible ships that come equipped with considerable capabilities — from large cargo and troop volumes and ample helo decks for sea strike and anti-submarine warfare — in a package that’s cheap to buy and operate. The ships come with built-in guns, launch tubes for self-defense and strike weapons, and hull-mounted sonar gear, and they can accept mission modules in hours to expand or tailor capabilities. The three Huitfeldts cost less than $1 billion.

The ships also are coveted during coalition operations for their 9,000-mile range at 15 knots, excellent sea-keeping qualities and command-and-control gear, plus spacious accommodations for command staffs. That’s why the Esbern Snare, the second of two Absalon support ships, is commanding the international flotilla in the Eastern Mediterranean that will destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

Wikipedia has this image of the HDMS Iver Huitfeldt:

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

The class is built on the experience gained from the Absalon-class support ships, and by reusing the basic hull design of the Absalon class the Royal Danish Navy have been able to construct the Iver Huitfeldt class considerably cheaper than comparable ships. The frigates are compatible with the Danish Navy’s StanFlex modular mission payload system used in the Absalons, and are designed with slots for six modules. Each of the four Stanflex positions on the missile deck is able to accommodate either the Mark 141 8-cell Harpoon launcher module, or the 12-cell Mark 56 ESSM VLS.

While the Absalon-class ships are primarily designed for command and support roles, with a large ro-ro deck, the three new Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates will be equipped for an air defence role with Standard Missiles, and the potential to use Tomahawk cruise missiles, a first for the Danish Navy.

For contrast here is the HDMS Esbern Snare, the second ship in the Absalom class:

Danish Navy Combat Support Ship HDMS Esbern Snare in the port of Gdynia, prior to exercise US BALTOPS 2010.

Danish Navy Combat Support Ship HDMS Esbern Snare in the port of Gdynia, prior to exercise US BALTOPS 2010.

That’s not to say that these particular ships would be a good fit for the RCN, but that the approach does seem to be viable (sharing common hull configurations and swappable mission modules). However, the efficiencies that could be achieved by following this practice would almost certainly be swamped by the political considerations to spread the money out over as many federal ridings as possible…

H/T to The Armourer for the link.

October 17, 2013

Who were the Vikings, Episode one

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:23

Neil Oliver heads for Scandinavia to reveal the truth behind the legend of the Vikings. In the first programme, Neil begins by discovering the mysterious world of the Vikings’ prehistoric ancestors. The remains of weapon-filled war boats, long-haired Bronze Age farmers, and a Swedish site of a royal palace and gruesome pagan ritual conjure up an ancient past from which the Viking Age was to suddenly erupt.

July 28, 2013

Procol Harum and the Danish National Concert Orchestra and choir

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:34

Procol Harum performing A Whiter Shade of Pale with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and choir at Ledreborg Castle, Denmark in August 2006

H/T to American Digest for the link.

May 2, 2013

Canada’s Arctic patrol ship design program just a job creation scheme that doesn’t actually create jobs in Canada

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:58

The CBC’s Terry Milewski on the Harper government’s much-heralded shipbuilding program which is far more expensive than it needs to be — because of the demand that the work be done in Canada — and yet somehow doesn’t even manage to create Canadian jobs:

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose and Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced March 7 in Halifax that Ottawa will pay Irving Shipbuilding $288 million just to design — not build — a fleet of new Arctic offshore patrol ships.

Irving will then build the ships under a separate contract.

However, a survey of similar patrol ships bought by other countries shows they paid a fraction of that $288 million to actually build the ships — and paid less than a tenth as much for the design.

In addition, the design of Canada’s new ships is based upon a Norwegian vessel whose design Ottawa has already bought for just $5 million.

The Norwegian ship, the Svalbard, was designed and built for less than $100 million in 2002.

Experts say the design price is normally 10-20 per cent of the total cost of the ships.

But don’t worry … jobs are being created or saved by this major Canadian government project … in Denmark and in the United States:

Another criticism of the project is that much of the design work — in a project meant to create Canadian jobs — is actually going overseas.

Although Irving will manage the design project in Nova Scotia, it has subcontracted the actual production of final blueprints to a Danish firm, OMT. Seventy Danish ship architects will work on those.

The job of designing the systems integration is going to Lockheed Martin and the propulsion system will be designed by General Electric, both U.S. companies.

This is only to be expected, say supporters of the project.

“We’ve been dormant here for better than two decades now. We don’t have the skill sets inside the industry,” said Ken Hansen, editor of the Canadian Naval Review in Dartmouth, N.S.

April 28, 2013

Denmark re-thinks their generous social support system

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:52

Denmark has a very liberal approach to welfare and social services … perhaps too liberal:

It began as a stunt intended to prove that hardship and poverty still existed in this small, wealthy country, but it backfired badly. Visit a single mother of two on welfare, a liberal member of Parliament goaded a skeptical political opponent, see for yourself how hard it is.

It turned out, however, that life on welfare was not so hard. The 36-year-old single mother, given the pseudonym “Carina” in the news media, had more money to spend than many of the country’s full-time workers. All told, she was getting about $2,700 a month, and she had been on welfare since she was 16.

In past years, Danes might have shrugged off the case, finding Carina more pitiable than anything else. But even before her story was in the headlines 16 months ago, they were deeply engaged in a debate about whether their beloved welfare state, perhaps Europe’s most generous, had become too rich, undermining the country’s work ethic. Carina helped tip the scales.

[. . .]

Students are next up for cutbacks, most intended to get them in the work force faster. Currently, students are entitled to six years of stipends, about $990 a month, to complete a five-year degree which, of course, is free. Many of them take even longer to finish, taking breaks to travel and for internships before and during their studies.

In trying to reduce the welfare rolls, the government is concentrating on making sure that people like Carina do not exist in the future. It is proposing cuts to welfare grants for those under 30 and stricter reviews to make sure that such recipients are steered into jobs or educational programs before they get comfortable on government benefits.

Officials have also begun to question the large number of people who are receiving lifetime disability checks. About 240,000 people — roughly 9 percent of the potential work force — have lifetime disability status; about 33,500 of them are under 40. The government has proposed ending that status for those under 40, unless they have a mental or physical condition that is so severe that it keeps them from working.

March 9, 2013

Dinner at world’s top restaurant: 200 Euros. Vomiting and diarrhea: no extra charge

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:31

Naharnet on the unfortunate experiences of diners at a top restaurant in Denmark:

Diners who forked out for a top-notch meal in a Danish restaurant dubbed the world’s best eatery got more than they bargained for when dozens came down with a nasty case of food poisoning.

The two-Michelin-star Noma restaurant in Copenhagen prides itself on dishes like pike perch and cabbages or wild duck and pear but in February its delights left 63 punters and some staff members vomiting or suffering from diarrhea, health officials said Friday.

The diners at Noma, which grabbed the number one spot in Restaurant magazine’s prestigious annual ranking in 2010, 2011 and 2012, fell sick over a five-day period and the outbreak may have come from a sick kitchen staff worker, inspectors said in a report which can be seen on the eatery’s website.

February 2, 2013

“The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways. We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.”

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Based on this report in The Economist, we really should strive to be more like Sweden, and not for the reasons most Canadians would expect:

Sweden has reduced public spending as a proportion of GDP from 67% in 1993 to 49% today. It could soon have a smaller state than Britain. It has also cut the top marginal tax rate by 27 percentage points since 1983, to 57%, and scrapped a mare’s nest of taxes on property, gifts, wealth and inheritance. This year it is cutting the corporate-tax rate from 26.3% to 22%.

Sweden has also donned the golden straitjacket of fiscal orthodoxy with its pledge to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Its public debt fell from 70% of GDP in 1993 to 37% in 2010, and its budget moved from an 11% deficit to a surplus of 0.3% over the same period. This allowed a country with a small, open economy to recover quickly from the financial storm of 2007-08. Sweden has also put its pension system on a sound foundation, replacing a defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution one and making automatic adjustments for longer life expectancy.

Most daringly, it has introduced a universal system of school vouchers and invited private schools to compete with public ones. Private companies also vie with each other to provide state-funded health services and care for the elderly. Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist who lives in America, hopes that Sweden is pioneering “a new conservative model”; Brian Palmer, an American anthropologist who lives in Sweden, worries that it is turning into “the United States of Swedeamerica”.

[. . .]

This is not to say that the Nordics are shredding their old model. They continue to pride themselves on the generosity of their welfare states. About 30% of their labour force works in the public sector, twice the average in the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation, a rich-country think-tank. They continue to believe in combining open economies with public investment in human capital. But the new Nordic model begins with the individual rather than the state. It begins with fiscal responsibility rather than pump-priming: all four Nordic countries have AAA ratings and debt loads significantly below the euro-zone average. It begins with choice and competition rather than paternalism and planning. The economic-freedom index of the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, shows Sweden and Finland catching up with the United States (see chart). The leftward lurch has been reversed: rather than extending the state into the market, the Nordics are extending the market into the state.

Why are the Nordic countries doing this? The obvious answer is that they have reached the limits of big government. “The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways,” says Gunnar Viby Mogensen, a Danish historian. “We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.” The economic storms that shook all the Nordic countries in the early 1990s provided a foretaste of what would happen if they failed to get their affairs in order.

November 30, 2012

Christine Jorgensen

Filed under: Health, History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:58

The BBC has a retrospective on Christine Jorgensen, who started life as George Jorgensen, switching gender 60 years ago:

News of a pioneering sex change operation, one of the first involving both surgery and hormone therapy, was announced in 1952 — exactly 60 years ago this weekend.

“Ex-GI becomes blonde beauty!” screamed one headline as newspapers in the United States broke the news.

George Jorgensen, a quiet New Yorker, shocked a nation by returning from a trip to Denmark transformed into the glamorous Christine.

[. . .]

On her return to the US, Jorgensen was greeted with curiosity, fascination and respect by both the media and the public. There was relatively little hostility.

Hollywood embraced her. Theatre and film contracts began to roll in, she was invited to all the most glamorous parties and even crowned Woman of the Year by the Scandinavian Society in New York.

“I guess they all want to take a peek,” Jorgensen once said.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s she made a comfortable living, touring the country singing and doing impressions in her own show.

She was less successful in her personal life. Her first serious relationship broke down soon after their engagement. The next went as far as the register office, only for Jorgensen to be refused a marriage licence when she pulled out a man’s birth certificate.

November 28, 2012

Is English really a Scandinavian language?

Filed under: Britain, History, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:14

ESR on some recent linguistic speculation:

Here’s the most interesting adventure in linguistics I’ve run across in a while. Two professors in Norway assert that English is a Scandinavian language, a North Germanic rather than a West Germanic one. More specifically, they claim that Anglo-Saxon (“Old English”) is not the direct ancestor of modern English; rather, our language is more closely related to the dialect of Old Norse spoken in the Danelaw (the Viking-occupied part of England) after about 865.

[. . .]

Previously on this blog my commenters and I have kicked around the idea that English is best understood as the result of a double creolization process — that it evolved from a contact pidgin formed between Anglo-Saxon and Danelaw Norse. The creole from that contact then collided, a century later, with Norman French. Wham, bam, a second contact pidgin forms; English is the creole descended from the language of (as the SF writer H. Beam Piper famously put it) “Norman soldiers attempting to pick up Anglo-Saxon barmaids”.

This is not so different from the professors’ account, actually. They win if the first creole, the barmaids’ milk language, was SVO with largely Norse grammar and some Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. The conventional history of English would have the girls speaking an SOV/V2 language with largely Anglo-Saxon grammar and some Norse vocabulary.

November 13, 2012

Denmark discovers that “price elasticity” is a real phenomenon

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government, Health — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:24

Denmark is getting rid of its “fat tax” imposed last year, as it has failed to solve the problem it was intended to address:

Gone, by popular demand: Denmark’s fat tax. ‘The fat tax is one of the most maligned we [have] had in a long time’, said Mette Gjerskov, the Danish food and agriculture minister, in a press conference on Saturday announcing the decision to ditch the policy. ‘Now we have to try improving the public health by other means.’

[. . .]

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that slapping taxes on things doesn’t necessarily persuade people to consume less of them. So Danes either went downmarket in their buying habits by buying cheaper products, or popped across the border to Sweden or Germany to buy their fatty foods there instead. The only real effect was to hit the profits of Danish companies. Chastened by the experience, the Danish government has also scrapped plans for a sugar tax, too.

As the OECD notes: ‘The impact of imposing taxes on the consumption of certain foods is determined by the responsiveness of consumers to price changes, ie, price elasticity. However, it is difficult to predict how consumers will react to price changes caused by taxation. Some may respond by reducing their consumption of healthy goods in order to pay for the more expensive unhealthy goods, thus defeating the purpose of the tax. Others may seek substitutes for the taxed products, which might be as unhealthy as those originally consumed. Depending on the elasticity of the demand for the taxed products, consumers will either end up bearing an extra financial burden, or changing the mix of products they consume in ways that can be difficult to identify.’

So, simply from a practical point of view, food taxes — indeed, any sin tax, including extra duty on tobacco or minimum prices for alcohol — can have some unwanted negative consequences while largely failing to achieve their intended aim.

August 27, 2012

Lego is 80 years old

Filed under: Business, Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:28

In The Register, Brid-Aine Parnell on the 80th birthday of one of the iconic toys of the 20th century:

Way back in 1932, Ole Kirk Kristiansen, a Danish joiner and carpenter, found he wasn’t making enough money from carpentry anymore and decided to try making and selling wooden toys instead. Although he didn’t know it yet, he was on his way to building the Lego company, which would eventually have some of the most recognisable and long-lasting toys in the world: bricks and yellow minifigurines.

[. . .]

According to that research, girls aren’t into Lego. Poul Schou, senior vice president of product group 2, told The Register that Lego was for boys, not girls, because although both sexes loved the larger preschool bricks of Duplo once the girls hit five, they weren’t interested in construction anymore.

“We have seen that girls seem to be less interested in continuing with our products when they get to four or five years old so we don’t really get them into the Lego system,” he said.

Here at Vulture Central, that seemed really odd. Not only did everyone in the office, regardless of gender, remember playing with and loving Lego throughout their childhood, for the most part, their kids, both boys and girls, love it as well.

[. . .]

Schou said that the company got “a lot of feedback from boys and girls”. The kids are encouraged to go online to talk about the products they buy and what age they are, and the boxes often include incentives to answer Lego survey questions as well.

Of course if girls aren’t buying Lego stuff, they won’t be answering any questions, which would be a kind of answer in itself (although whether the answer would be “Girls don’t like Lego” or “Girls don’t like surveys” would be hard to figure out).

June 21, 2012

Light to moderate drinking during pregnancy has no measurable health risks

Filed under: Europe, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

As Radley Balko pointed out on Twitter, “Prediction: The activist public health crowd will go absolutely nuts over this study.” Jacob Sullum on a recent European health study:

Despite the familiar surgeon general’s warning advising women to abstain completely from alcoholic beverages during pregnancy “because of the risk of birth defects,” there has never been any solid evidence that light to moderate consumption harms the fetus (as Stanton Peele pointed out in Reason more than two decades ago). New research from Denmark, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates once again that heavy drinking is the real hazard. In a study of more than 1,600 women (“nearly a third of all Danish women who were pregnant between 1997 and 2003,” Maia Szalavitz notes in Time), children of women who consumed nine or more drinks per week during pregnancy had shorter attention spans and were five times as likely to have low IQs at age 5 than children of abstainers. But no such effects were apparent in the children of women whose alcohol consumption during pregnancy was light (one to four drinks per week) or moderate (five to eight drinks per week). “Our findings show that low to moderate drinking is not associated with adverse effects on the children aged 5,” the researchers said.

Szalavitz cautions that a “drink” as defined in this study contained 12 grams of pure ethanol, compared to the American standard of 14 grams, one-sixth more. Given the relatively wide consumption ranges, that difference probably does not matter much. Szalavitz also notes that, unlike earlier studies, this one asked women about their drinking while they were still pregnant, so the responses are less likely to be skewed by inaccurate recall. Still, self-reported drinking, especially by pregnant women, probably underestimates actual consumption, meaning that the amounts associated with no neurological impairment are apt to be bigger than those indicated by the study.

One of the issues with studies of this sort is the very need for self-reporting: most people, after a lifetime of public health warnings, will under-report their drinking (whether consciously or not). In this case, that’s a useful thing to provide some level of comfort in the findings: if most women in the study under-reported their actual intake of alcohol while pregnant, yet the children show no negative effects developmentally, we can concentrate on those few who really do over-indulge and whose children do suffer as a result.

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