Quotulatiousness

October 12, 2014

Finnish research vessel harassed by Russian navy ships

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:29

Uutiset reports on a Finnish marine research ship’s run-ins with the Russians in the Baltic Sea:

Finnish research vessel SS Aranda near Turun Linna

Finnish research vessel SS Aranda near Turun Linna (via Wikipedia).

The Russian Navy has twice interfered in the movements of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) marine research vessel Aranda in international waters. According to SYKE, the two incidents occurred in August and September, when Aranda was conducting research for the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute off the coast of Sweden. In both incidents, the Russian warship attempted to prohibit the research vessel from accessing a sampling location in international waters east of the Swedish island of Gotland.

In the first incident on August 2, the Russian warship made radio contact with Aranda and urged it twice to change course. The Aranda initially obeyed the request, but at the second warning, the ship’s crew replied that it would not deter and intended to stop at the research point as planned. At this time, the crew of the Aranda observed a submarine moving along the surface of the water.

The second incident on September 2 saw a Russian helicopter approach Aranda several times. After this, a nearby Russian warship took a course directly towards the ship’s stern, passing the boat in very close proximity. The Aranda maintained its course and speed throughout the incident.

October 4, 2014

Venerable Carl Gustav gets a major upgrade

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Nicholas de Larrinaga reports for Janes 360 on the latest version of my favourite recoilless rifle:

Saab debuted a new variant of its Carl Gustaf 84 mm shoulder-fired recoilless rifle, the M4, during a series of demonstration firings at the Bofors Test Center at Karlskoga, Sweden, on 24 September.

The latest version of the nearly 70-year-old weapon system has been designed to offer significant weight savings over its predecessors, as well as improvements to other aspects of the system.

The M4 weighs 6.7 kg, some 3 kg lighter than the earlier Carl Gustaf M3 and half the weight of the 14.2 kg M2 version still in service with many nations. This has been achieved by constructing the recoilless rifle’s barrel out of titanium, saving 1.1 kg (compared to the M3’s steel barrel), building its outer casing our of carbon fibre (saving 0.8 kg), and by redesigning the weapon’s venturi to save a further 0.9 kg. The redesign has also served to decrease the size of the Carl Gustaf, bringing the M4’s total length down to under 1,000 mm.

Saab Dynamics Carl Gustaf M4 84 mm recoilless rifle (Saab)

Saab Dynamics Carl Gustaf M4 84 mm recoilless rifle (Saab)

There are currently 11 different ammunition types available for the Carl Gustaf weapon system, providing considerable operational flexibility. Programmable ‘smart’ ammunition types for use with the M4 are expected to be the next to reach the market. Saab officials also disclosed they are working on a new concept of ammunition for the Carl Gustaf: and ‘Ultra-Light Missile’ that would feature lock-on before launch guidance, feature several attack modes, and have a range of 1,500-2,000 m – approximately doubling the range of the existing Carl Gustaf ammunition types.

September 20, 2014

Russian air activity rises significantly

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

It may just be a co-incidence (or it may be that these intrusions happen all the time but are only occasionally reported), but I fired up my Twitter client this morning, these entries were almost consecutive in my Military list:

Update: CNN talks to a White House military representative about the US and Canadian intercepts.

Two Alaskan-based F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers, a statement from NORAD said. The Russian planes flew in a loop and returned toward Russia.

Two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets intercepted two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the Beaufort Sea, the statement said.

Though the planes did not enter sovereign territory, the statement said, they did enter the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone west of Alaska and the Canadian ADIZ, according to a statement.

The ADIZ is a zone of airspace which extends approximately 200 miles from the coastline and is mainly within international airspace, according to the statement. The outer limits of the ADIZ go beyond U.S. sovereign air space.

May 21, 2014

“The VA really is a good example of a single-payer, socialized health system”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:22

J.D. Tuccille on the Veterans Health Administration:

Just a couple of years ago, Paul Krugman pointed to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) as a “huge policy success story, which offers important lessons for future health reform.” He gloated, “yes, this is ‘socialized medicine.'”

Similarly, a letter touted by Physicians for a National Health Program trumpeted “the success of 22 wealthy countries and our own Department of Veterans Affairs, which use single-payer systems to provide better care for more people at far less cost.”

How could a bloated government bureaucracy achieve such low-cost success? As we found out recently, it’s by quietly sticking veterans on a waiting list and putting off their treatment for months — sometimes until the patients are far too dead to need much in the way of expensive care. Which is to say, calling it a “success” is stretching the meaning of the word beyond recognition.

And, while the White House insists it learned from press reports about the secret waiting lists, Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledges that the administration long knew about “the backlog and disability claims” that have accumulated in the VHA.

This should surprise nobody. Canada’s government-run single-payer health system has long suffered waiting times for care. The country’s Fraser Institute estimates [PDF] “the national median waiting time from specialist appointment to treatment increased from 9.3 weeks in 2010 to 9.5 weeks in 2011.”

Likewise, once famously social democratic Sweden has seen a rise in private health coverage in parallel to the state system because of long delays to receive care. “It’s quicker to get a colleague back to work if you have an operation in two weeks’ time rather than having to wait for a year,” privately insured Anna Norlander told Sveriges Radio.

[...]

So the VA really is a good example of a single-payer, socialized health system. Just not in the way that fans of that approach mean.

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 2, 2014

National reputation rankings for 2013

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:37

In Forbes, Susan Adams reports on the most recent reputable countries report:

Which countries have the best reputations? What does that even mean? The Reputation Institute, a global private consulting firm based in New York and Copenhagen, has just released its fourth annual list of 50 countries, ranked according to what it says is people’s trust, admiration, respect and affinity for those countries.

Topping the list for the third year in a row: Canada. Sweden comes in second, one place up from last year and Switzerland is third, up from fourth last year. (Australia slipped from second to fourth place.)

What’s most notable is how far down the U.S. ranks: 22nd place, behind Brazil and just above Peru. Several European countries that continue to battle severe economic turmoil ranked above the U.S. again this year including Italy in 16th place, France in 17th, Spain in 18th and Portugal in 19th place.

One reason the U.S. doesn’t rank higher, says Fernando Prado, a managing partner at the Reputation Institute, is that when asked what was most important to them in gauging a country’s reputation, respondents said it was effective government and appealing environment a bit more than an advanced economy. But the U.S. has been steadily gaining in each of those three categories, says Prado, which explains why it moved up one place from 23rd last year. Prado adds that the U.S. is burdened by what he calls “a negative emotional halo” that has to do with being a world superpower. Outside the U.S., people have mixed feelings about its dominant role in the world.

November 10, 2013

Alison Bechdel on the revived popularity of the “Bechdel Test”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

You’d think, with all the social advances in equality for women over the last few decades that our media would more directly reflect that equality … but you’d be wrong. Quite some time ago, Alison Bechdel outlined a quick test you could use to determine whether a book or movie treated women as real people or just as foils for males:

The Bechdel test is used to identify gender bias in fiction. A work passes the test if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Commentators have noted that a great proportion of contemporary works fail to pass this threshold of representing women. The test was originally conceived for evaluating films, but has since been applied to other media.

Pretty low hurdle, yet a vast number of books and movies fail to meet even this minimal standard. Recently a Swedish theatre chain decided to use the Bechdel Test to evaluate the movies they were showing (with Bechdel’s blessing), which has revived interest in the test itself. Bechdel talks about this on her blog:

I said sure, that sounds awesome, go for it.

So they did, and the Guardian ran an article about it on Wednesday. Which prompted a flurry of emails from radio programs who wanted to talk to me. I spoke to Marco Werman at PRI’s The World, and got to join in his conversation with Ellen Tejle, the director of the participating cinema in Stockholm. I also did a background interview with the NPR program Here and Now.

Yesterday I got a lot of other requests from other media outlets but I’m ignoring them. I feel bad about this. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong about not seizing every possible chance for publicity — if not for myself, then at least for the brave Swedish cinema consortium, not to mention the cause of women everywhere.

But inevitably in these interviews I say simplistic things, or find myself defending absurd accusations — like that the formal application of the Test by a movie theater is somehow censorious.

I have always felt ambivalent about how the Test got attached to my name and went viral. (This ancient comic strip I did in 1985 received a second life on the internet when film students started talking about it in the 2000′s.) But in recent years I’ve been trying to embrace the phenomenon. After all, the Test is about something I have dedicated my career to: the representation of women who are subjects and not objects. And I’m glad mainstream culture is starting to catch up to where lesbian-feminism was 30 years ago. But I just can’t seem to rise to the occasion of talking about this fundamental principle over and over again, as if it’s somehow new, or open to debate. Fortunately, a younger generation of women is taking up the tiresome chore. Anita Sarkeesian, in her Feminist Frequencies videos, is a most eloquent spokesperson.

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.

June 4, 2013

Sanandaji – Sweden’s problem is too many libertarians

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

Okay, that headline is unfair, but Tino Sanandaji does go out of his way to include the vast hordes of notoriously dogmatic and highly influential Swedish libertarians as part of the problem triggering the recent riots:

While immigrant unemployment is high, recent unrest can hardly be blamed on austerity. Successive governments have poured billions into problem areas in public investments, with limited success. In addition to free health care and other services, a family of four in Sweden is entitled to around $3,000 in welfare benefits each month. Last year, every middle-school pupil in one of Husby’s public schools received a brand-new iPad. (A total of 2,300 tablets have been distributed to local schools.)

Nor is Islam the cause of the riots. Radical Islamism is a problem, but it’s not related to this unrest. Most rioters appeared to be secular, even atheist. Some were Christian Assyrians. Frankly, most young immigrants in Sweden today do not care much about Islam. A far more potent influence than Islam on the Swedish ghetto is American gangster rap.

[. . .]

Making matters worse, multiculturalism morally privileges Third World cultures over Western culture. It preaches a modern version of original sin, damning Western civilization for historical crimes such as colonialism and racism. Much of public discourse today is devoted to endlessly reciting the historic crimes of the West. The problem with this discourse is not that the West is innocent of these crimes; it is not. The problem is that the blame-the-West interpretation of world history is one-sided. Endlessly recounting Western crimes against humanity while ignoring similar crimes committed by non-Westerners creates a dark and biased image of Western civilization. Meanwhile, the West’s contributions to humanity — such as democracy, the scientific revolution, human rights, and the industrial revolution — are downplayed or falsely credited to other cultures.

Resentment toward the West makes integration harder. Immigrants learn — and make use of — the message of victimhood, which fosters hostility toward their host society. And claiming victim status is appealing from a psychological perspective, as it confers moral superiority. Immigrants who wish to integrate and adopt a Swedish identity are accused of “acting white” or being “an Uncle Tom.” The latter is not a translation from Swedish; the American phrase “Uncle Tom” is the actual term of abuse.

In the face of this litany of crimes, Swedes have developed a deep sense of collective guilt and consequently lack the cultural self-confidence to integrate immigrants. The former leader of the Social Democratic opposition famously stated: “I believe that this is why Swedes are jealous of immigrants. You have a culture, an identity, a history, something that binds you together. What do we have? We have Midsummer’s Eve and other lame things.” Not to be outdone in the department of self-abasement, the current right-of-center prime minister added: “The fundamentally Swedish is merely barbarism. The rest of development has come from outside.” Note that this fierce hostility toward Swedish culture does not originate with Muslim immigrants; it comes from Swedish elites, including liberals to the left and libertarians to the right (there are no conservatives in Sweden). Swedish libertarians are, if possible, even more militantly hostile toward Sweden as a nation-state and to the very notion of patriotism.

While I’m sure that Swedish libertarians exist, I have to say that they’ve managed to stay pretty carefully out of my view.

May 26, 2013

Reporting (and omitting to report) certain news items

Filed under: Britain, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

Mark Steyn on what was top of the issue-sheet for journalists discussing the Woolwich murder and the Swedish “youth” riots:

For the last week Stockholm has been ablaze every night with hundreds of burning cars set alight by “youths.” Any particular kind of “youth”? The Swedish prime minister declined to identify them any more precisely than as “hooligans.” But don’t worry: The “hooligans” and “youths” and men of no Muslim appearance whatsoever can never win because, as David Cameron ringingly declared, “they can never beat the values we hold dear, the belief in freedom, in democracy, in free speech, in our British values, Western values.” Actually, they’ve already gone quite a way toward eroding free speech, as both prime ministers demonstrate. The short version of what happened in Woolwich is that two Muslims butchered a British soldier in the name of Islam and helpfully explained, “The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day.” But what do they know? They’re only Muslims, not Diversity Outreach Coordinators. So the BBC, in its so-called “Key Points,” declined to mention the “Allahu akbar” bit or the “I”-word at all: Allah who?

Not a lot of Muslims want to go to the trouble of chopping your head off, but when so many Western leaders have so little rattling around up there, they don’t have to. And, as we know from the sob-sister Tsarnaev profiles, most of these excitable lads are perfectly affable, or at least no more than mildly alienated, until the day they set a hundred cars alight, or blow up a school boy, or decapitate some guy. And, if you’re lucky, it’s not you they behead, or your kid they kill, or even your Honda Civic they light up. And so life goes on, and it’s all so “mundane,” in Simon Jenkins’s word, that you barely notice when the Jewish school shuts up, and the gay bar, and the uncovered women no longer take a stroll too late in the day, and the publishing house that gets sent the manuscript for the next Satanic Verses decides it’s not worth the trouble … But don’t worry, they’ll never defeat our “free speech” and our “way of life.”

One in ten Britons under 25 is now Muslim. That number will increase, through immigration, disparate birth rates, and conversions like those of the Woolwich killers, British-born and -bred. Metternich liked to say the Balkans began in the Landstrasse, in southeast Vienna. Today, the Dar al-Islam begins in Wellington Street, in southeast London. That’s a “betrayal” all right, but not of Islam.

April 3, 2013

Oh, you must mean the other Michael Moynihan!

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:07

Wikipedia is a great resource, that has justifiably relegated printed encyclopedias to the dustiest, most distant part of the bookshelves. It does, however, have a few minor drawbacks … as Michael Moynihan explains:

It came to me in Prague. Or possibly Copenhagen. But to minimize confusion, let’s agree upon Prague. I assume I was being unbearably pretentious, sitting beneath one of those baroque sculptures on Charles Bridge (or was it one of those other, less beautiful bridges spanning the Vltava River?), a tattered Tom Stoppard play stuffed in my back pocket (or possibly Kafka?), the Plastic People of the Universe on my headphones (could have been Dvořák). It was here, leafing through back issues of the Prague Post and Prognosis, that I was inspired to print 10,000 copies of a muckraking, nakedly ideological newspaper of my own. To be launched in Sweden. To be called the Spectator.

I must confess that these images of Prague — in all of its inspirational grandeur — are cribbed either from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being or INXS’s video for “Never Tear Us Apart.” Because despite what my Wikipedia entry tells me, I’ve never been to the Czech Republic.

[. . .]

It’s possible to quibble with or contest every second sentence in my encyclopedia entry, which quickly cratered my confidence in the website. But there are plenty of studies suggesting that Wikipedia is, despite its ability to be edited by anyone with excess free time and an Internet connection, about as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. It also has the benefit of being up to the minute: when news breaks, when a public figure dies, details are added to Wikipedia almost immediately. A fact check of important subjects with multiple editors — Darwinism, Squeaky Fromme, the Boxer Rebellion — suggests that the website is broadly trustworthy, terrific at aggregating links, and a worthy springboard to better material.

But what of those entries covering the hopelessly insignificant, like me? I won’t bore you by cataloguing all the mistakes in my entry (I found about a dozen), but the results weren’t terribly impressive. I’m unsure how long it remained on the page, but according to Wikipedia’s edit log, my biography once claimed that I had a “vagina” and — pardon the language — “love the cock.” The only people who can refute the first point are, I hope, biased in my favor and wouldn’t be trusted by Wikipedia as “reliable sources.” The second point, also difficult to disprove, seems irrelevant to the job of polemicist.

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.

December 19, 2012

Not all submarines are equal

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:02

Strategy Page on the US Navy’s need to work with — and even consider buying — modern diesel-electric submarines:

The U.S. Navy continues to debate the issue of just how effective non-nuclear submarines would be in wartime, and whether the U.S. should buy some of these non-nuclear boats itself. This radical proposal is based on two compelling factors. First, the U.S. Navy may not get enough money to maintain a force of 40-50 SSNs (attack subs.) Second, the quietness of modern diesel-electric boats puts nuclear subs at a serious disadvantage, especially in coastal waters. With modern passive sensors, a submerged diesel-electric sub is often the best weapon for finding and destroying other diesel-electric boats. While the nuclear sub is the most effective high seas vessel, especially if you have worldwide responsibilities and these nukes would have to quickly move long distances to get to the troubled waters, the diesel electric boat, operating on batteries in coastal waters, is quieter and harder to find.

[. . .]

For much of the past decade the U.S. Navy has been trying to get an idea of just how bad the threat it. Thus from 2005 to 2007 the United States leased a Swedish sub (Sweden only has five subs in service), and its crew, to help American anti-submarine forces get a better idea of what they were up against. This Swedish boat was a “worst case” scenario, an approach that is preferred for training. The Gotland class Swedish subs involved are small (1,500 tons, 64.5 meters/200 feet long) and have a crew of only 25. The Gotland was based in San Diego, along with three dozen civilian technicians to help with maintenance.

For many years before the Gotland arrived, the U.S. Navy had trained against Australian diesel-electric subs, and often came out second. The Gotland has one advantage over the Australian boats, because of its AIP system (which allows it to stay under water, silently, for several weeks at a time). Thus the Gotland is something of a worst case in terms of what American surface ships and submarines might have to face in a future naval war. None of America’s most likely naval opponents (China, North Korea or Iran), have AIP boats yet, but they do have plenty of diesel-electric subs which, in the hands of skilled crews, can be pretty deadly.

December 13, 2012

Sweden’s other export: migrant workers

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:25

A fascinating story of a small-but-rich country importing workers from Sweden:

As an American, it is bizarre to think of modern Sweden, so often lauded as a paragon of social and economic stability, as coughing up migrant workers. Stranger still is that the Swedes migrate to Norway, which has always been regarded as Sweden’s little brother. Often at war, Sweden forced Norway into an uneven union for most of the 19th century. Though politically independent of Sweden for over one hundred years, Norway has remained culturally subordinate to its larger, more-established neighbor. Norwegians watch Swedish television, listen to Swedish music, and read Swedish books. Before the Norwegian translation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was released, the original Swedish version was the best-selling book in Norway. But in the last 25 years, Norway has added workers to the list of things it imports from Sweden.

In the eighties, Norway became rich off of oil. Its sovereign wealth fund is currently valued at about 600 billion dollars. From 1999-2009, average Norwegian family saw an increase of almost 100,000 NOK, or about $17,000. With its population of only five million, Norway needed to import laborers and service workers for its exploding economy. I once hitched a ride from a retired sailor, and after running out of ways to compliment his RV, I asked him how Norway had changed over the years. He thought Norway had it too good now. As a young man, he’d been at sea for over a year at a time, whereas “the young people today don’t want to work at all. It’s good that we have the Swedes.”

Current estimates of the number of Swedes living and working in Norway hover between 80,000 and 100,000. In Oslo alone, it’s thought that there are 50,000 Swedes, which is about 10 percent of the city’s population. Most of these are service workers. Indeed, the Swede-as-service worker has become something of a stereotype in Norway. The 2010 rap hit “Partysvenske” is an extended mockery of male Swedish migrant workers, who are portrayed as effete drunks who invade Oslo’s nightlife. At one point, the rappers — Jaa9 & Onklp — chide, “Make a mojito, do what you do well.” The condescension towards Swedish migrant workers was prevalent enough for Norwegian television to produce a mocumentary series titled Swedes Are People. There’s a weird power dynamic at play, with both groups exhibiting a sort of passive aggressive bitterness towards the other. For their part, Norwegians seem eager to buck Swedish cultural influence and assert their economic dominance. Speaking to the New York Times in 2007, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo put it rather well:

“When I was young, Swedes had whiter teeth, clearer skin, Abba, and Bjorn Borg. We had lots of fish, and not much more. Today, Swedes have been cut down to size. And I would say that many Norwegians enjoy the fact that so many Swedes are here doing menial jobs.”

When the Norwegian cross-country skier Petter Northug beat his Swedish rival across the line at the 2011 World Championships, he used opportunity to taunt Sweden about the low value of the Swedish currency. The Swedish media, on the other hand, laments the fact that Swedes are reduced to literally peeling bananas in Norway — albeit for about $23 an hour.

H/T to Tim Harford for the link.

October 7, 2012

Swedish lunch lady ordered to discontinue food that is “too good”

Filed under: Europe, Health — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:37

Everyone wants the best for their kids, but heaven help you if you provide higher quality food than kids at other schools get:

Annika Eriksson, a lunch lady at school in Falun, was told that her cooking is just too good.

Pupils at the school have become accustomed to feasting on newly baked bread and an assortment of 15 vegetables at lunchtime, but now the good times are over.

The municipality has ordered Eriksson to bring it down a notch since other schools do not receive the same calibre of food — and that is “unfair”.

Moreover, the food on offer at the school doesn’t comply with the directives of a local healthy diet scheme which was initiated in 2011, according to the municipality.

“A menu has been developed… It is about making a collective effort on quality, to improve school meals overall and to try and ensure everyone does the same,” Katarina Lindberg, head of the unit responsible for the school diet scheme, told the local Falukuriren newspaper.

However, Lindberg was not aware of Eriksson’s extraordinary culinary efforts and how the decision to force her to cut back had prompted outrage among students and parents.

Of course, Toronto is rapidly catching up to Swedish standards in this regard: we have an active “parents group” that protests against school fundraising efforts because not all schools can raise the same level of donations, so they want equality imposed: either all funds raised should be shared with every school or no fundraising should be allowed at all.

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