Sunday, December 21, 2008

Should I Join the Pack And Write "Very Negative Stories" About Carl Freer?

I got a comment from a Danish journalist who questions my motive for writing about Carl Freer and Gizmondo. You can read her comment below my previous blog. Here is my answer:

Hi Dorte,

Thanks for your comment where you suggest that I have written “very positive stories on Carl Freer”, implying that I must have a “reason” for that, other than my duty as a journalist to listen to all sides, hold my judgment until I have sufficient proof, and not to engage in the sort of pack journalism that has been rampant when it comes to Carl Freer and Gizmondo. The fact that my reporting and interviews are seen as “very positive stories” says more about the current media climate in Denmark and Sweden than anything else. Does the Jante Law oblige me to write “very negative stories on Carl Freer”, and make sure that nothing Carl Freer says in an interview could be even suspected of having “a positive tone”?

As I’m sure you know from reading my stories, I have never stated that Carl Freer is either guilty or innocent, but I have made clear that I believe that much of what has been written about him reflects flawed and sloppy journalism.

As for any personal relationship, I had never heard of Carl Freer before Stefan Eriksson’s infamous crash on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, which led to a request from one of my clients to follow the story. I did what most journalists do these days when they start working on a new story, i.e. I googled. My initial view of Carl Freer and Stefan Eriksson was that they were criminals just as they were portrayed in Swedish, British and American media, and when I interviewed a traffic sergeant at the Malibu station, he gave me the same story of Stefan Eriksson and his cars and Carl Freer and his 10 million dollar yacht in Marina del Ray, but when I, after Carl’s arrest in April 2006, interviewed Steve Whitmore, senior media advisor at the LA County Sheriff's office, he told me that he had been released and was “cooperating fully with us.” But if Freer was such a hardened criminal, why would he do that? This was one of these little things you run into when you are working on a story that doesn’t make you change your direction, but leave a question hanging.

I went on to cover other stories, now and then checking for news about Carl Freer’s new venture Xero Mobile, until my editor at one day got an email from Carl Freer addressed to me. He wanted to talk. And we did, first over the phone, and later during a full day interview in New York. What he told me convinced me that he at least deserved to be heard, and when I went back and reread the stories about Gizmondo and Carl Freer, I realized that they were built on very loose ground, and that was also the case with Wired’s long piece, and the one in Los Angeles Times. One problem for the journalists was that Carl Freer – who was the brain behind Gizmondo - didn’t talk to reporters, as he was deeply suspicious of all media after the Gizmondo collapse, and as he had been advised by the investigators not talk to media while the investigation was ongoing. But now that it was all but over, and the executives at Gizmondo Europe Ltd., was cleared from suspicions of criminal wrongdoing, he was free to speak, and he chose to talk to me, as he felt from reading my stories that I could give him a fair hearing.

As I wrote in my first article after my first interview with Carl Freer, I was initially hesitant to meet him, even more so alone in a SoHo hotel-room. I still thought of him as potentially affiliated with Stefan Eriksson’s “Uppsala Mafia”, and didn’t really want to get “involved” with them, even though "mafia" in Sweden has very little to do with the real thing. Hence, he is not an old friend of mine, and no, I don’t have any financial interest in writing him up or down (I would probably have made more money from covering him if I had gone with the flow and just whacked away at this Swedish Piñata).

You also ask if he impresses me. Well yes, he does. He is brilliant, well spoken and thinks strategically. Having covered IT for over two decades, I can say that the series of IT-based projects that led to the Gizmondo made a lot of sense. He seems to be a clever entrepreneur who comes up with smart business models that integrate the latest technology with innovative business models. I don’t see why he would spend so much time and effort on actually building things and developing business models, if all he wanted to do was to scam people. And if he besides already had pocketed tens of millions of dollars from the Gizmondo Europe crash, why would he want to do it again, unless he was pathological somehow? It doesn’t make sense.

But the fact that he has a great personal charm doesn’t preclude that he still could be a crook. You don’t have to be a brute to do bad things. But you do need proof before you accuse somebody of crimes. And the only thing Carl Freer has been convicted of is – as far as I know - signing his parents’ names to a student loan check for 20,000 kronor (about US$2,500). He claims that he did so with his parents’ permission, but the bank didn’t accept that. I interviewed Carl Freer’s mom Marianne about this on April 27th, and she confirmed his story, explaining that the incident happened after her husband had left her, and that she and her son was having a hard time financially. Her husband had agreed to cover certain costs for the family, but they had problems in communicating, and there was some confusion over the details.

This incident, which occurred when Carl Freer was 17, is the only time when he has been convicted of anything. But that didn’t prevent a big Swedish newspaper from opening their major expose with depicting him as a person who rips off his parents. “I thought I was going to faint when I opened the paper that Saturday morning,” Marianne told me.

One more thing: Yes, the re-launch of Gizmondo has been delayed several times, but what does that prove? Have you ever heard of other companies delaying products? Do you remember Microsoft’s operating system “Chicago”, which after years of delays was launched as Windows 95? The fact that Media Power has been forced to delay the new Gizmondo several times proves, if anything, that they are not sitting on a secret stash, but have to struggle to secure financing and to deliver the product. Neither have they repeated the huge mistake of going public without a product to sell. Hence their dependency on private capital and Chinese conglomerates.

Part of the problem with media's coverage of the Gizmondo affair is that it is such a great story, and I would be surprised if it doesn’t end up as a Hollywood movie with Matt Damon as Carl Freer and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Stefan Eriksson.

A blockbuster for sure, but will it capture the truth? I don’t think so.

Hans Sandberg

Friday, December 19, 2008

Yes Dear, There Will Be a Gizmondo, Just Not This Year... And It Will Be Different

As you may have suspected by now, there will be no launch of the new Gizmondo in December, but it's not because of any evil shenanigans on Carl Freer's part. It was the financial crisis that killed his ambition to bring out the revived Gizmondo in time for Christmas.

I suspected for a while that at least some of his investors might have taken a beating in the global financial meltdown, and that that was the explanation for why we never saw the promised new Gizmondo web site (should have been up by mid-October) and why November passed without any news about Gizmondo, only to be followed by a very quiet (Giz-wise) December. I was to busy with other reporting to pursue my Gizmondo track, but late November I emailed Carl Freer and told him that if you don't come out with an explanation soon, you will be gobbled up in the blogosphere. He said okay, and we decided to meet on December 2nd, which turned out to be the same day that the news about the disappearance of the Danish IT-entrepreneur/suspected swindler Stein Bagger hit the fan so to say. And Carl Freer was of course immediately linked to the case by Danish and Swedish media, which smelled a chance to finally nail Mr. Freer to the wall (they are not that into crosses in Scandinavia).

Carl Freer, December 2008

The sudden media storm made me fear that Carl might want to back out of the meeting, but there he was, greeting me with a big smile, and giving me a three hour interview/presentation in presence of his new president, Doug Toth, Ivan Kozhuharov, CTO, and James Hunt, who these days besides representing the British liquidators, is a consultant to Media Power.

I had a long list of questions, and they had some serious demo's to show off. (More about that in a later report).

The only no-show was the new Gizmondo.

"Unfortunately, we’ve had to reschedule the launch of Gizmondo. It's due to the economic climate in the U.S., as well as in the rest of the world. It has affected us in our ability to fund and get funded in regards to the manufacturing of components," Carl Freer explained.

"We’ve had some very, very 'touch and go' moments here for three months. It has affected everyone. I was at one point thinking of abandoning the whole project, because I didn’t see a way out of it; a way to fund it. I don’t have half a billion dollars or 300 million dollars. You can only try and do your best," he told me.

The Chinese company that was going to build the new Gizmondo, and already had shipped a first small batch, were dragging their feet, probably because of the financial downturn, and this left Carl Freer and his team increasingly frustrated. What they did then was to rethink the whole project, and start to look for alternative ways of getting the Gizmondo to the market. They hired a "scrubber" in Shenzhen, China to locate OEM-manufacturers that might want to work with Media Power. But going down this path required a redesign of the Gizmondo, so the new Gizmondo Carl Freer is working on right now will use an existing chip set, like the ones you can get from companies like HTC. The idea is to add functionality to smartphone device and add an advanced 3D graphics chip, probably not Nvidia, but the OMAP3 from Texas Instruments. With a new PCB, they could then stuff the electronics into a new package. Carl Freer told me that he still likes the original shape of the Gizmondo, but is open to the possibility that the new one will be different.
"It’s a question and one that I’ve been battling with. In an ideal world, I would like to have the same design, because I am affectionate and feel part of that. I would have liked to have the same design, but the reality is that we can’t fit all the new componentry we need on that size chip set."

The key thing is not the shape, but the open platform.

"If you look at gaming devices today, they consist mainly of the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS. There are a few other renegades, the Game Park and so on, but what we are talking about is creating a fully wireless Pocket PC, one that also has a gaming engine. There is nothing out there in the market that has the open source AppStore compatibility that we are talking about. I believe that the majority of games for the Xbox soon will be sold through Xbox Live. This will make connectivity more important than retail, so the Apple AppStore, and the Xbox Live is very, very interesting. Could you imagine if Xbox had an open platform, and we could build games and just post them, and see if they sell? It’s the same kind of mentality behind what Android is putting up now. In fact, Android has arguably less restrictions than Apple, but you still have to submit and they have to put their little finger on it," he said verbatim.

The new Gizmondo will come in two versions, Windows CE and Linux based Android. And as it will be built on a smartphone platform, it will have a phone! But, it will not cost 99 dollars, for the simple reason that it costs more to by from OEM's than if you have a large manufacturer who can build everything from scratch.

Santa, or at least Carl Freer, does however have some good news for at least some of Gizmondo's fans. He told me that owners of the original Gizmondo will be able to trade it in for the new batch he got from China before the world went belly up.

Ho, ho, ho!

Hans Sandberg

Correction Dec 29, 2008: Carl Freer changed his statement about online sales of Xbox games in response to feedback from a reader who challenged his statement that a majority of Xbox games are sold online. This is not the case today, but Carl Freer is optimistic about the switch in a near future from retail sales to online sales of games (that can be downloaded).

Teknik360 report about the delay of the new Gizmondo

Here is a link to my first report for, which is a new IDG news site in Sweden.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hot Gizmondo News In the Pipeline

This is a teaser. I hate to tease, but I have too much in my bag to just dump it here, so I will have to restrain myself. Sorry. The reason is that I sat down on December 2 with Carl Freer and his team in their New York office.

We spent three hours going over a lot of superhot stuff relating to Gizmondo's whereabouts, the state of Media Power, augmented reality and Carl Freer's plans. The same morning I got email from Denmark wanting to know if it was Carl Freer who had lent Stein Bagger, the fugitive Danish CEO of IT Factory the car that he used to drive across the country before turning himself over to he police in L.A. I had planned to deliver the news later that week, but the IT Factory thing blew up and it turned out that it was Carl Freer's partner Mikael Ljungman who had lent Bagger his Audi S8 although he didn't know then that Bagger was on the run, and once he found out convinced him to turn himself in. I did a lot of reporting about this for Berlingske Tidende, the leading Danish morning paper, and my reports were quoted by other papers and by radio and TV. That's the reason why I had to put aside my exclusive interview with Carl Freer where he reveals everything about Gizmondo, GetFugu and Media Power. Check back later to find out more. But bare with me as I pour over the interview, trying to sort out things. I'll be back!

Hans Sandberg

Monday, November 24, 2008

Barack Obama Introduces His Economics Team

Tough Team Needed For Obama's Big Jolt

People who complain about Barack Obama picking experienced insiders rather than political newbies can't be serious about change. It's not that he has moved "center-right", but that he is getting ready for the Big Bang, the Big Jolt!

If Obama were interested in mainly posing as a radical president, he could very well have started to stuff his coming cabinet with ideological lefties, but such an Obama administration would hardly have survived half it's political honeymoon. There will be missteps, but if you assemble an inexperienced team in a time of crisis, and then launch a program of radical change, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, Obama is picking out a team that instills confidence even among his political enemies, and makes the conservative columnist in New York Times, David Brooks, burst out that "I find myself tremendously impressed by the Obama transition".

"Obama seems to have dispensed with the romantic and failed notion that you need inexperienced 'fresh faces' to change things. After all, it was L.B.J. who passed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, because he is so young, Obama is not bringing along an insular coterie of lifelong aides who depend upon him for their well-being.

As a result, the team he has announced so far is more impressive than any other in recent memory. One may not agree with them on everything or even most things, but a few things are indisputably true.
First, these are open-minded (.........)
Second, they are admired professionals. (....)
Third, they are not excessively partisan. (....)
Fourth, they are not ideological. (....)
Finally, there are many people on this team with practical creativity. (....)

Believe me, I’m trying not to join in the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haute bourgeoisie. But the personnel decisions have been superb. The events of the past two weeks should be reassuring to anybody who feared that Obama would veer to the left or would suffer self-inflicted wounds because of his inexperience. He’s off to a start that nearly justifies the hype."

The team he is putting together is a team that can handle the Big Jolt necessary to jump start the American economy and lead the world economy out of the recession, and out of the disastrous Bush/Cheney Era.

"We need a clear break," Austan Goolsbee, one of Obama's top economic advisors told CNBC, CNN and MSNBC on Monday morning, in advance of the President-elect's announcement of his economic team, which is expected around noon today.

Goolsbee made clear that the new president will "come in with a bang... a one-two punch" in terms of a huge economic rescue package, which some experts believe could reach a trillion dollars if not more. Obama will cut taxes for most Americans, investment in the country's collapsing infrastructure, as well as in schools and green energy, just the kind of investments that can create jobs and raise the economy's efficiency over time, as well as make the U.S. more independent of foreign oil and make a contribution to fighting global warming.

Getting an experienced team in place does not mean sacrificing "change". Having Barack Obama in place as the "decidererer" means that change reached the top. The rest is execution, and it better be executed well, or we are heading further down the slope.

Hans Sandberg

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On Gizmondo's Promised Revival, Rusty Car Batteries & the Medieval Treatment

It’s hard to please everybody. Hence I'm facing a gruesome threat from a blogger who seems to lack both good taste (see his screen name) and common sense (a rusty car battery may not do the job). But, he assures me, if I "told the truth" he might spare me the “medieval treatment” (did they use car batteries back then?) or a free trip to Gitmo (medieval enough I guess.)

on Sept. 11, 2008
I'd like to see this journalist Hans Sandberg hooked up to a lie-detector while his balls were connected to a rusty car battery. If he told the truth about actually seeing and experiencing the Gizmondo 2 then its all good. If he lies then he gets the medieval treatment to his gonads. Or just send him down to Guantanamo for a little "enhanced interrogation".

This vitriol followed a blog post by Jeff on Giant Bomb Video Game News hoping to abort the arrival of Gizmondo 2 (or 1.5 if you so prefer that).

“Self-described Swedish-American journalist Hans Sandberg has the inside track on the zombie handheld that just won't die. Yes, he claims to have seen the Gizmondo 2,” Jeff writes and continues: ”The new device, weirdly enough, seems to look exactly like the old one. The insides, however, will apparently sport a newer Nvidia graphics chip and will offer a choice of operating systems. So it'll be able to run Windows CE 6.0 or Google's upcoming Android OS. But you'll have to choose at purchase--you won't be able to change back and forth.”

On September 9th, Rich Jenkins, CEO of Media Power, unpacked and showed me a Gizmondo, which he said was part of the first shipment to reach the U.S. I admit that I made a mistake in not having him turn it on, but it was already late, I had a train to catch, and besides, I couldn’t see what he had to gain by pulling out an old Gizmondo.

People who say that the new Gizmondo looks exactly like the old one are right, because it does. Carl Freer told me a year ago that they decided to use the old design rather than to start on a new one in order to bring it to the market fast and inexpensive. After my September post about the December arrival of the re-launched Gizmondo, Carl Freer clarified that it still uses the first version of the chip set, but that he plans to upgrade it in a second release. With that clarification, the rest of my report stands as reported on my blog. Whether Carl Freer and his team manage to deliver on time is not up to me. The October launch of the website has obviously been postponed, but I would not rule the whole thing out because of that. October has after all been a rather rocky month for all of us, so if it forced Freer to push back his plan somewhat, I would give him the benefit of doubt.

Hans Sandberg

PS. Here is a real medieval tool for torture.
I found it in Siena in Italy and it works fine
without car batteries.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John McCain Is Not the Real Stuff

Tim Dickinson, a contributiong editor at The Rolling Stones magazine sums up John McCain in a few and very interesting minutes. John McCain has more in common with Sarah Palin than one migh first suspect: Both are basically shameless self-promoters, with very little substance to back up their claims, whether it regards their own history, or their featherlight opnions. They pride to call themselves mavericks, but there are many less flattering names for people who pretend to be something they are not.

Watch the Rolling Stone piece here!

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pea Soup, Punch & A New Book

In case you didn't know it, Swedes have a particular affinity for pea soup - made of yellow peas and not the split green peas that count for pea soup in the U.S. When I served in the Swedish army - which was mandatory back then - we had peasoup and Swedish pancakes every Thursday for dinner. The food at the cantina usually sucked and so did the pancakes, but the pea soup was great.

For Swedes abroad pea soup brings you closer to home, which is why Manhattan sports it's own Swedish pea soup association - Ärtans Vänner - born some forty years ago, and still surviving.

Next Thursday I will attend the Halloween Pea Soup Party hosted by Ärtans Vänner, and introduce my new book Swedish-American Currents. Check out the online invite here!

And You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Stupider... Try "Socialism" Or "the Russians Are Coming"

John McCain is desperate. His campaign is floundering and his Vice President candidate is a public embarrassment, attracting only devout foot soldiers and what looks like a bunch of beefy, beer-bellied guys, who would love to drool all over over her at the nearest pool hall.

The McPain campaign has tried everything out of the republican playbook, but for once it seems that the democrats have found their own Teflon Man. For all the muck they have been throwing his way, Barack Obama looks as crisp and neat as ever. And his lead is growing!

Hence the socialism debate, which is really farfetched, but hey, these are desperate times if you are a conservative republican hoping to extend the George W. Bush era for another eight years. So now there is talk about socialism and even communism. Neither McCain nor Palin dare to say it straight, so they quote instead their newfound think-tank, Joe-the-Wannabe-Plumber, who asked if Obama's tax plan isn't "socialism."

What did Barack Obama say to enter the Socialist Hall of Fame? Well, he suggested that it's not a bad thing to spread wealth around a bit, by taxing the rich more. My God, what an offense! Only thing is that you would have to put most American presidents in this Hall of Fame with Barack Obama as they all have used the tax system for income redistribution, and so would John McCain if he became president. But a McCain-Palin government would do its best to redistribute from the middle class to the rich, and cut services for the poor, which might not exactly be "what Jesus would do."

For all her lowlife Joe Sixpack attraction, the shopoholic Sarah Palin looks more and more like Marie Antoinette, who (probably wrongly) was accused of callously suggesting that the poor could "eat cake" if they couldn't afford bread. For all her parrotting, prancing and giggling, she is no friend of the average Joe, and neither is Joe McCain.

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sharp Critic of President George W. Bush Wins the Nobel Prize In Economics

Media captures Princeton University's toast for Paul Krugman.

He looked happy, but tired and slightly frazzled, which one probably should expect from an economist these turbulent days, and certainly from one that just got the call from the Royal Swedish Academy informing him that he has been awarded the Noble Prize in Economics. 

Paul Krugman gets the prize for his research as a young man, modifying the classic theory of copmparative advantages to bring it a bit closer to reality. At Princeton University he is a popular lecturer and text book author, but for the past eight years he has written columns for the New York Times, and it is these sharp and often biting columns that has made hime famous outside the Academical world. He is politically progressive, and supported Hillary Clinton until she pulled out of the primary. His criticism of George W. Bush's economic and political follies has been an ongoing theme in his columns.  

He said at the press conference in Princeton that he is not interested in a post in a Barack Obama government, saying that working in the government doesn't agree with his temper.

A happy, but exhausted winner.

Paul Krugman with John Nash, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics.

Paul Krugman with colleagues at the Economics Department.

Paul Krugman was naturally asked to comment on the current financial crisis, and sounded slightly optimistic after the summit in Europe over the weekend.
"This was the first time that the decisionmakers surpassed the expectations, he said."

Hans Sandberg

Monday, October 13, 2008

George Soros Speaks

Watch Bill Moyers' interview with George Soros!

Read John Cassidy's extensive review of George Soro's new book The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means in the same magazine.

Also read The Financial Crisis: An Interview with George Soros in the May 15, 2008 issue of the magazine. 

And George Soros article The Perilous Price of Oil in the September 25, 2008 issue.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Blatte United - A Swedish Soccer Team That Shines On and Off the Field

Blond and blue-eyed they are not, but they come from Sweden, speak Swedish, love soccer, and are proud of their mixed heritage. In New York they found good jobs, opportunities, and a chance to not stand out as “immigrants.” And there they came together as Blatte United, one of the city’s best amateur soccer teams.

For all the multiculturalism of the intellectual and political circles in Sweden, immigrants and their children find it hard to fit in. They often sense that they stick out because of their parents, the way they look, maybe even a foreign accent. It’s true that Sweden has a generous public policy when it comes to refugees and other immigrants, providing them with housing, education, and the other boons of the welfare state, but it’s still hard to find a qualified job if your name is Ahmed and not Anders. (Some immigrants take more Swedish-sounding names so that their job applications won’t be immediately dismissed.)

The members of Blatte United didn’t “flee” Sweden, but they are all living in New York, some permanently, some temporarily while studying. Most of them didn’t know each other before Medufia “Keke” Kulego and Omino Gardezi met at a Manhattan party, realized that they were both Swedes, and discovered that they both loved soccer. An idea was born, and soon enough, they had formed a team that later was named after the Swedish slang for immigrant: Blatte.

On June 7, Blatte United won Manhattan’s Bowery Cup in Chinatown after defeating Bowery Football Club 2 in the semifinal and Bowery Football Club 1 in the final. These were two incredibly intense matches played under a scorching midday sun with just a short break between. All three teams played to win. They played tough, sometimes rough, but without resorting to dirty tricks.

Four days later I met up with five members of the team at Syrup Inc., a hot ad agency in Manhattan’s TriBeCa district. (Jakob Dashek, son of a Swedish mother and a father of Finnish-Czech descent, and Robert Holzer, an American who once worked at New York Times Digital, founded Syrup eight years ago.)

Selim Adira was born in southern Sweden to parents who had immigrated from Morocco. He moved to the U.S. three years ago to work as restaurant manager for the Swedish restaurant Ulrika, and now runs the official residence for the Swedish UN ambassador Anders Lidén. When Adira lived in Rosengård, a large immigrants’ suburb in outer Malmö, he played soccer with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who later went on to become Sweden’s leading soccer star.

Sebastian Alvarado played soccer on Sweden’s junior national team as well as in Spain’s Division 2. His father came from Chile, his mother from Finland. He arrived in the U.S. five years ago and today is business development manager at Syrup.

Omino Gardezi grew up in Sweden. His father was a diplomat from India and his mother came from Iran. He moved to New York in 1993 and is one of the top managers for Syrup. He also has his own media-consulting firm, S.A.M.

Adel Koubaa is a medical student at Sweden’s in-ternationally renowned research hospital Karolinska Institutet. For the past six months he has done research at Boston University and New York’s Columbia University. Koubaa was born in Sweden to parents from Tunisia.

Medufi a “Keke” Kulego is known to Currents readers, as we introduced him in our banking and finance issue (Winter 2007). He was born in Malmö, Sweden, to parents from Ghana. He grew up in Rosengård and excelled at soccer. Like many of his immigrant friends he dreamed of becoming a pro, but his father insisted that he excel at school too, which he did. He landed a soccer scholarship that took him to St. John’s University on Long Island, where he stayed for four years. When he returned to Sweden with a degree in business marketing and finance, he discovered that the only job he could get was as a physical education teacher at a local high school. Disappointed, he moved back to New York, where he became a hedgefund manager.

Blatte’s passion for soccer is certainly something its players share with other Swedes, as well as with people all over the world (except in the U.S., where American football rules the sports mainstream). But in addition to winning late night and weekend soccer games, they are succeeding in New York City, an ultra-competitive place where you would think that displaying a Swedish mentality in a business setting sounds like a bad joke.

But none of my new Blatte friends would hesitate for a moment to put “Swedish” on their business cards. For them, their Swedish connections and mentality are big plusses. “It’s great to be able to say that you come from Sweden!” Omino Gardezi says. “I definitely say that, even though my dad came from India and my mother from Iran. I’m a Swedish citizen, and my nationality is Swedish.

”The Swedish business mentality has a lot to do with building long-term relationships, while it’s a more short-term thing for Americans,” Gardezi goes on. “Swedes are a bit more cautious and would never want to burn any bridges. They are diplomatic and take their time. I believe we have an advantage as immigrant Swedes. We have the aggressive foreign mentality, but at the same time we’ve acquired the  Swedish mentality from living in Sweden. This is a great combination that’s worked out really well for us all here.” “It’s definitely a good thing to be a Swede in the U.S.,” Sebastian Alvarado agrees. “People have an immediate picture of Sweden — they like it right off the bat. And Sweden has definitely formed us. When Americans hear that you are from Sweden, they assume you’re a hard worker, disciplined, and humble. We are automatically helped by this. In busi-ness, Sweden is known as a  highly developed country with advanced industries. Swedes have a very strong reputation.”

“They have a fantastic reputation, for coming from such a small country,” says Gardezi. “Sports, culture, design, you just name it,” says Alvarado.

“In my field, finance,” says Keke Kulego, “Swedes are very humble and down-to-earth, while Americans are more aggressive in their posture and how they see things. Everything is big. Everything is loud.”

“Swedes’ down-to-earth approach is very non-threatening,” Gardezi says. “Americans are so gung-ho about everything, but they really like the mellow Swedish attitude.”

But as good as the Swedish mentality can be when blended with the Blatte mentality, on its own it can hold you back. When you move to New York, you need to shed some of your Swedishness if you’re going to make it. “We immigrants have that fire in us that the ordinary Swede doesn’t have,” says Kulego.

“The Swedish humility is a positive thing for us, because we know how to balance it.”

“You can tell the difference between somebody who’s been here for a while and someone who’s new,” says Alvarado. “People who’ve been here a few years get a tougher skin and dare to be a little more pushy, while the newcomers act more Swedish.”

"Back home you have a formula to stick to,” says Kulego. “You’re not allowed to be loud and stick out. You’re not allowed to be yourself. If you don’t stick to the formula, you’re seen as crazy and obnoxious. In Sweden, it’s not good to be full of yourself, believe in yourself and talk aloud about it.”

“It’s almost strange, because a lot of Swedes here are completely integrated into American society,” Gardezi says.

“Swedes are very flexible,” Alvarado says, thinking of Swedes abroad. “You can put a Swede almost anywhere and he will adapt well. That’s actually something Swedes are very good at, and they fit in really well into the U.S. Most Swedes love New York and the atmosphere here.

“There is, however, a big difference between us immigrant Swedes and what you call ordinary Swedes,” Alvarado continues. “We’re more aggressive right from the start, more daring. We have a little more of this Zlatan mentality. Maybe you need to be something in between,” he says, displaying the Swede’s typical preference for lagom (“just right.”)

"We have immigrants to Sweden who’ve been very successful here. Just look at Omino, who runs much of this company, and Keke, who works for a hedgefund, and Marcus Samuelsson with his restaurants. Their success has a lot to do with their multicultural background, with the fact that they dared to break the barriers. It has a lot to do with personality, and a Swedish mentality of discipline and hard work, but they would never have made it if they hadn’t dared to go for it,” Alvarado says, pointing to Frans Johansson’s book The Medici Effect (see Currents No. 1, 2005).

Sweden’s famous welfare system leaves our Blattar with mixed feelings. On one hand, they admire Americans for working hard and not complaining about it, whereas Swedes complain about being exhausted after having worked 9 to 5. On the other hand, they feel that Americans work so hard because they don’t know better. “All they’ve ever known is working 10 to 12 hours a day with two weeks of vacation a year. In Sweden you’re aware of alternatives,” says Alvarado. “I like the fact that workers stick to their rights in Sweden. Nobody talks about that or unions here, so you can push workers around more. They can sack you and you’ll be out the next day with two weeks’ pay if you’re lucky. I know many who that’s happened to.”

“I admire that Americans work without complaining so much. Even if they work until 8 in the evening, they can go out and have a drink with friends. People are having more fun. Try that at home,” Selim Adira says, but Alvarado interjects: “Here in New York, many are young and don’t have families and children yet. People come here to make a career and make money, so the tempo is high.” When you leave home you change. For Swedes, it’s as if the Law of Jante (groupthink) loosens its grip abroad. “Swedes at home and Swedes abroad are like two different types,” says Adel Koubaa. “Over here they enjoy being social, while they’re more careful at home. My parents have lived in Sweden for 33 years, and even though they have colleagues at work, they don’t have any close Swedish friends, friends that you can just drop in on. When people meet, it’s for formal dinners.”

“But how many American friends do you have here?” Gardezi asks.

“I have quite a few,” Alvarado says.

“But how many do you see regularly? I’ve lived here since 1993, but I see three, maybe four Americans,” Gardezi says, which brings him back to Blatte United. “You try to connect to people that share your interests. My mother’s best friend comes from Chile. Our group here connects because we come from similar neighborhoods and have similar experiences from school. We have a lot in common.”

“It’s easy for guys to join our group. We work in very different trades, but we all have soccer as our big passion, and we have a similar mentality,” Alvarado says.

”When my dad visited me in New York, he was so surprised at the fact that people talked to us everywhere,” Adira says. “He told me that at home, he takes the bus every day but nobody ever talks to him. Nobody says hi, and they don’t ask how you are  doing, but here people are so warm and friendly. ‘How are you doing?’ people ay when you enter a store. They talk to people they don’t know. People are also very polite and helpful here in New York.”

“And still, they’re much nicer in California and other parts of the country. There they think New Yorkers are unfriendly,” Alvarado comments.

What do other Swedes think when they hear about what the Blatte group is doing here?

“We work with a lot of Swedish companies, and they’re usually completely wowed about everything we’ve done,” says Alvarado. “We’ve worked with big brands and we’ve done this and that. They are always wowed and they ask, ‘How did you do that?’”

“Traditional Swedes are amazed when they see us, but you know, we never got the chance in Sweden. That’s the dilemma,” says Kulego. “They’re impressed, and there is something in them that’s happy we’re Swedes, but there’s also something that can’t believe we’ve reached this stage. And then they say, ‘Wow, you speak Swedish so well,’ and I say, ‘Why shouldn’t I? I was born in Sweden!’ They can’t really grasp that we’re doing well over here, but we could have done well in Sweden if we’d gotten a chance.

Hans Sandberg

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Evolving Swedish (Business) Mind

(First published in Currents Magazine No. 3 2008.)

Let’s say you’re an American having dinner in Stockholm with a Swedish businessman. The food is delicious and the view of the Royal Palace across the water is spectacular. Everything would be perfect if it weren’t for the silence. “Why am I doing all the talking?” you wonder. “I thought we understood each other, but I’m not so sure anymore.”

Here you are in one of the most Americanized countries in Europe, yet you feel like you could be in Japan or China. You can’t read your partner’s mind, and his body language isn’t helping much. He, on the other hand, is satisfied with today’s meetings, but would rather go over a few details of the project than engage in small talk about personal stuff.

“Swedish businessmen abroad tend to be too single-mindedly focused on doing business, even at a dinner with their business partners. French and Japanese businessmen see this as a purely social event, an opportunity to get to know the person they’re dealing with, to learn about his hobbies, his family and children. To many Swedes, this is strange. They don’t understand the weight this is given in other countries, and even if they do, they don’t always know what to say, as they often lack knowledge about their own culture and history,” says Åke Daun, a retired professor of ethnology at the University of Stockholm and the author of several books about Swedish culture including Swedish Mentality (Stockholm, 1989), which shaped much of the debate on the issue in Sweden.

Once you get to know the Swedes, you’ll realize that there is nothing wrong with you, nor with your Swedish partner. It’s just that you’re coming from two different cultures. While Americans live in subcultures that are often ethnically mixed and overlapping, most Swedes live in homogenous environments where it doesn’t take much context to figure somebody out. This is why it’s said to be a “low-context” culture.

The Swedes have a reputation for being hard workers, great inventors, socially progressive, skilled at international diplomacy, as well as savvy business-men who have built global empires such as ABB, Electrolux, Ericsson, IKEA, H&M, Saab, SKF, and Volvo. But then again, they can be painfully shy and awkward.

Stereotypes are stereotypes, shortcuts we take when we can’t or don’t want to deal with reality in all its complexity. But once we take a closer look, the simplistic image seems to dissolve, revealing a more complex picture. Take Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, one of the most famous Swedes in soccer. Every Swede knows Zlatan. Next, Aquavit’s famous chef has a perfectly Swedish name — Marcus Samuelsson — but he was born in Ethiopia and adopted by a Swedish couple at the age of three. There are about one million Swedes like Marcus and Zlatan these days, and some of them have even made their way over to the U.S. In this issue you will meet some of Samuelsson’s friends in Blatte United, a soccer team made up of young immigrants who had immigrated to Sweden as children but have since emigrated to New York. They all speak Swedish, often with a southern accent, and are proud of their Swedishness, as well as of their “blatteness” (blatte is slang for ”immigrant” in Sweden).

So being Swedish doesn’t have to mean you’re blond, blue-eyed, and boring, but there are still Swedes who fit the stereotype. A foreigner with a little experience can usually pick out a Swede at a party. They hover among other Swedes like penguins waiting for their spouses to return from the long journey. The lucky ones find an acquaintance to exchange a few words with, but the conversation seldom gets going until alcohol has softened the grip of Lutheran guilt, which strangely enough has survived a century of secularization.

Åke Daun traces the Swedish mentality back to the country’s rough climate and late industrialization. The modern Swede was late in becoming urbanized, and when a large part of the population moved to the big cities and suburbs in southern and central Sweden (during the 1950s, 60s and 70s), they brought with them a rural village culture. Mr. and Mrs. Svensson found themselves lived in modern-looking cities and suburbs but were still peasants at heart, to quote Martin J. Gannon’s Understanding Global Cultures (Sage Publications, 3rd edition, 2003).

“When Swedes meet, they look for sameness, for the least common denominator,” says Daun. “It’s still one of the most homogenous countries in Europe, and its peasant culture survived well into the 1950s. Before the Second World War, most people lived in rural areas or small towns, and Stockholm was a very small capital with very few foreign tourists.

“The population’s homogeneity resulted in a strong expectation for likeness in social meetings. If you meet people you don’t know at a dinner party, you will almost instinctively look for what you have in common, whether it’s ideas, hobbies, work or common acquaintances. You will avoid divergent views during the initial conversation. A good host always tries to match up guests that have something in common to ensure that the dinner conversation will be nice.

“One result of this cautious ambition to find similarities is that it can be hard for a Swede to join a conversation with several people at once. Hence, the Swede might prefer to just listen and look interested,” Daun says.

Historically, Sweden’s rough terrain (only seven percent arable land) and short harvest season put a premium on hard work and practicality. You had to stick together and cooperate in order to survive the long, cold winter, and during the brief summer you had to work from early morning to late at night to reap the harvest. You had to be practical, one reason that Martin Luther’s puritan ethos gained such a strong hold on the Swedish mind. This down-to-earth, egalitarian attitude was later absorbed by the social-democratic labor movement that ruled Sweden for most of the 20th century.

When it comes to the shyness Swedes are so famous for, Daun says they share this trait with Americans. He points to research he did with his American colleague James McCroskey at the University of West Virginia, who is an expert on shyness. “We studied students in several countries and found that American and Swedish students were equally shy, but while the American culture encouraged the students to overcome this social handicap, the Swedish culture associated it with humility and high morals. The quiet person was seen as deep and reflective, while people who talked a lot were seen as superficial and difficult.

“While being outspoken and speaking up are seen as signs of self-confidence in the U.S., in Sweden this is seen as being boastful and lacking humility. In the U.S., on the other hand, as well as in Southern Europe, a person of few words is perceived as stupid, one who has nothing to say. Swedes take it as a negative if you talk a lot and are loud. It’s a sign of being a foreigner, of being different,” Daun says.

This can create problems for immigrants to Sweden, especially if you’re coming from an old-city culture where you spend a lot of time talking as a way of investigating your social environment. In such a high-context culture, you can’t take for granted that you understand other people, which is why you need to talk to them.

But the stereotypical Swede is becoming far less typical, and this is especially true for entrepreneurs, innovators, and businesspersons. To run a business, you have to step out of the mold and dare to break the “Law of Jante” (i.e., the “Don’t believe you’re special!” attitude that grew out of Sweden’s egalitarian village culture and the bureaucratic capitalism which emerged during the 16th and 17th centuries).

Add to that that the entire Swedish society has gone through tremendous changes over the past few decades. Sweden’s already highly international economy has grown even more integrated into the globalized world, thanks to cross-national mergers such as those that gave us ABB and Pharmacia Upjohn, and the sale of Saab Automobile to General Motors and Volvo Automobile to Ford Motors. Today, more Swedes than ever are working and traveling abroad, at the same time that Sweden has become mixed economically, culturally, and demographically (13 percent of the population are first or second generation immigrants). Besides, we have a young generation that grew up with Facebook, Google and YouTube and is used to teaming up with people from all around the world to battle shoulder to shoulder in virtual wars. And finally, when Swedes go on vacation, they are as likely to go to Turkey, Thailand, or Trinidad as to stay in their parents’ little red sommarstuga.

Hans Sandberg

What Would Jesus, the Pope, and John Maynard Keynes Do?

What would Jesus do about the financial collapse? Would he come down on Wall Street flipping those tables that haven’t already been flipped? Or would he, like Pope Benedict XVI, preach Buddhist sounding nihilism - 'money vanishes, it is nothing'' - something that an innocent soul - God forbid! - could take to mean that it is all right to fill this globalization pioneer's collection baskets with words rather than those vanishing bills and checks. After all, "only God's words are a solid reality" as the pontiff preached in Rome on Monday.

When the Pope declares the world's financial systems "built on sand," he should have reminded us not even the most solid faith was enough to keep St. Peter’s Cathedral from crashing down, hence Bramante made sure that it had a firm underpinning. In Wall Street’s case, such underpinnings are called regulations, and I can’t remember having heard demands for government regulations of the financial markets from the Catholic Church who at least in American politics often have sided with the deregulators.

If we take the Pope’s statement on a personal level, there is certainly an existential truth in his paraphrasing Jesus, "he who builds only on visible and tangible things like success, career and money builds the house of his life on sand''. But one does wonder if that truth also holds in the Vatican City with all its glorious display of conspicuous wealth? I much enjoy visiting catholic churches, but there is something to say for Lutheran simplicity.

But enough of this, because it’s not really what Jesus would do or say that interests us. The real question is what John Maynard Keynes would think if he had been around to watch capitalism performing what looks like a global hara-kiri. Contrary to the classical economists, and to our neo-conservative believers, Keynes looked at the real economy, and what he saw after the Great Crash of 1929 was that the markets are not going to bring about equilibrium where all resources are optimally used. Mere humans run the markets, and humans are typically shortsighted. It takes not a village, but a government to pull a country out of a severe recession, or a depression. There is always work that needs to be done, and leaving everything up to the markets carries a political risk that no responsible government can take. Hence it intervenes, projecting its power into the future. The private sector typically does not respond well to needs that are long-term, and where the rewards are indirect and often lies years in the future. What FDR did - inspired by Keynes - was to lead the country and the economy to start working again, whether it was to build roads, dams or water systems. The government can do this and it can - and if it does it well, and for peaceful purposes - give the entire economy the jolt it needs to restart the economic engines.

When capitalism freezes up, it doesn’t mean that our private and social needs have seized to exist, but that there is a general loss of confidence among the actors in the market. There is simply too much fear and uncertainty, which means that the ball de facto has passed from the economic system to the political system.

The world, and the United States in particular, is facing a tremendous need for investments in education, health care, repairing and expanding its collapsing infrastructure, and in converting its energy system from one that exacerbates global warming to one that relies on alternative and sustainable energy and limits its dependence on foreign energy sources. The private sector cannot lead here, but if the government sets out the course, and starts the process, the private sector will soon catch up and take over. That was how the computer industry grew from serving the Department of Defense and NASA to serving the entire society, and the entire world.

The world is now shell-shocked much like after 9/11. Hopefully, the answer will not be ignorance, economic follies, chauvinism and new wars (the McCain Path), but realism, economic and ecological restructuring, fairness and global responsibility (the Obama Path).

Hans Sandberg

Monday, October 6, 2008

And this Man Was Going To Fix the Financial Mess..

There is a ton of things I'd like to say about this video, but it really speaks for itself. It's not shrill, it's not an attack ad, it's just the truth, plainly stated. That's why it is so devastating for McCain. Just watch it!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sarah Palin Did Great - Apply Directly To the Forehead

Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin surprised the world by not making a fool of herself in the debate with Joe Biden, but she did it by following her script so tight that there were moments when I thought I was watching the Head On commercial.

Im a Hockey Mom! Cut Taxes! McCain Is A Maverick! Drill, Baby, Drill!
Im a Hockey Mom! Cut Taxes! McCain Is A Maverick! Drill, Baby, Drill!
Im a Hockey Mom! Cut Taxes! Get the Government Out of the Way!

Hans Sandberg

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

U.S. Ambassador Wood's Reception For SACC-USA

Ambassador Michael Wood gives a welcome toast.

Ambassador Michael Wood and Viveka Wahlstedt,
chairman of SACC-USA.

Gunilla Girardo, president, SACC-USA and
Nils-Eric Svensson, a promoter of Region Skåne in
southern Sweden.

Viveka Wahlstedt presents my book "Swedish-
American Currents" as a farewell gift to the ambassador.

The ambassadoren, who has worked as
a publisher, browses my book about Currents.

The U.S. Ambassador with my book about Currents.

The Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce (SACC-USA) held its annual Entrepreneurial Days conference in Sweden on September 15 and 16 at Hotel Clarion Sign in Stockholm. The night before, the U.S. Ambassador Michael Wood held a VIP-reception at his residens. 

SACC-USA managed to convene a successful conference and matchmaking event with many interesting discussion panels, despite the implosion of the financial markets and turmoil on Wall Street. It was maybe not exactly business as usual, but how often is business actually as usual? At the Edays conference the spirits were high, and the focus on how to create more business opportunities in the U.S. and in Sweden.

Michael Wood's Sunday night reception was in a way a farewell party for the ambassador as he will have been replaced by a new ambassador the next time SACC-USA gathers in Sweden. Michael Wood is a man of great charm and intelligence and he has managed to become one of the most popular U.S. Ambassadors to Sweden ever despite the fact that he represents one of the most impopular U.S. presidents ever, who also happens to be an old friend of the ambassador.
The explanation for this feat is that he is a genuin and totally unpretentious guy, who has focused his effort on connecting Sweden and the U.S. in a field that fits our time perfect: alternative energy. In his speach at Edays, he said that president George W. Bush had given him that task.

In his toast he lauded SACC-USA and SACC-USA's chairman Viveka Wahlstedt lauded the ambassador in her thank you toast. Then she presented the ambassador with my just released book "Swedish-American Currents" to have as a memory of Sweden and SACC-USA when he returns to his homeland.  

Hans Sandberg

Friday, September 12, 2008

How the Supermarket Won Italy’s Hearts and Minds

A floating vegetable store in Venice.     Photo: Hans Sandberg

Trying to find a supermarket in Rome? Good luck, and while you’re searching, stop in at one of the ancient city’s many botteghas, macellerias or salumerias to pick up something to eat and drink. Old ways live on in Italy, especially in the south, which is one reason that it took so long for the supermarket to catch on.

When the first Italian supermarket opened in Milan in 1957, it came at the prodding of Nelson Rockefeller, the American capitalist philanthropist who in 1959 became mayor of New York City and in 1976 vice president to Gerald Ford. He had sponsored similar projects in Latin America that he now introduced to Milan, a stronghold for the Italian Communist Party. The idea was that “it’s hard to be a Communist with a full belly.”

“Italy had lived through two world wars, fascism, poverty, and lacked even the most important goods,” explains Emanuela Scarpellini, associate professor at the University of Milan, and an expert on the history of the Italian Supermarket. What it didn’t lack was stores, mostly small family-run stores. In 1951, there were 951,382 stores and small businesses catering to the public in Italy. 801,837 of them had only one or two employees, 198 had more than 100, while only one had more than 500. (All according to Emanuela Scarpellini’s study “Shopping American-Style: The Arrival of the Supermarket in Postwar Italy”, published in Enterprise & Society, Vol. 5 No. 4, 2004.) And with so many small shopkeepers there was a strong political base for resistance to modernization.

Emanuela Scarpellini, professor at University of
Milan.    Photo courtesy of Emanuela Scarpellini.

The old family-owned store had its charm, and usually excellent food from local producers, but the food was costly and the supply limited. Italy’s grocery sector was “a backward sector, even compared to other European countries”, says Emanuela Scarpellini. “The same was true for the department stores. We only have two national chains in the 1950’s, La Rinascente and Standa.”

A cheese vendor in Rome.                     Photo: Hans Sandberg

Besides, the country’s infrastructure was badly damaged, making it hard to build the necessary logistic and distribution networks. “The depression, the wars and the damages delayed the creation of a national market,” she says.

The American supermarket was not the only alternative to the traditional grocer. Italy already had a very large cooperative movement, which had built buyers coops and agricultural coops. Some of the largest supermarket chains in the country emerged from the cooperative movement, and are today quite common, especially in the north. The Coop group, which consists of nine regional companies, is Italy’s largest supermarket chain, with total sales of 13 billion dollars (Riccardo Lotti, Peter Mensing, and Davide Valenti in “A Cooperative Solution”, published in Strategy + Business July 17, 2006)

But the little guy didn’t go away. “The local mom-' n'-pop stores continue to play an essential role,” wrote Dana Biasetti, an expert at the U.S. Embassy in Rome in an overview published in AgExporter in October 2002.

“Italians were accustomed to small shops, and friendly relations with the shopkeeper,” says Emanuela Scarpellini. “It was part of the social tissue of everyday life. You knew the shopkeeper and he knew you. But by the end of the 1950’s, we had this idea of modernity coming from the United States. America was coming to Italy, and the supermarket was part of that. Much of this was of course an imagined America, brought on by Hollywood movies, media icons and things like that.” America was at the time seen by many as a liberator, a beacon of political freedom, modernity and material wealth.

“With the supermarket, America not only brought in a new type of technical organization, but a symbol for the end of poverty,” says Emanuela Scarpellini.

“The supermarkets had a more efficient organization, self-service, good logistics and a different relation with the producers. They could buy big quantities, and sell at a low price. It was a revolution,” she says.

“We had new and foreign brands coming in, like Coca Cola. Self-service was also very important, because for the first time, customers could touch the goods without the mediation of the shopkeeper. This changed your relation to the goods,” she says.

When growth took off in post-war Italy, people’s income went up giving them money to spend. And the supermarkets and department stores could reach them in new ways through television and TV-advertising. Small stores couldn’t afford that, and were not able to respond to the demand for new categories such as frozen food. “They simply did not have freezers and refrigerators,” she says.

A small supermarket in Montesarchio in southern Italy.
                                                           Photo: Hans Sandberg

Once the supermarkets had established their viability, they were sold to Italian investors, who built new stores and chains. Still, it took a long time for them to become popular. In the 1970’s, supermarkets had less than five percent of food retail sales, according to Emanuela Scarpellini.

“You would find supermarkets mostly in the big cities in the north, in Milan and Turin, and then in Rome and Venice. We must also take into account the fierce opposition by the small shopkeepers and their politicians, who fought this development.”

“Italy was a very decentralized culture, where the butcher and the baker was part of the local infrastructure. And local licensing laws tried to preserve this structure.”

“Political parties such as the Christian Democrats were very weary and worried about the new supermarkets, and feared that their voters would be hurt. They saw it as a question of defending the social fabric, and not only about economics. It was a social and political issue. So we heard a lot about monopolistic capitalism in the 1960’s and 1970’s.”

The relatively underdeveloped domestic Italian retail sector made it easier for French and German food retail giants such as Carrefours and Lidl to set up large new shopping centers and hypermarkets. “After the 1970’s, with the liberalization and globalization, we saw more of the international companies in Italy,” she says, adding “they became important players in 1980’s and 1990’s, especially in the north.”

A new Carrefour "hypermarket" north of Neaples.
                                                                Photo: Hans Sandberg

The international chains increased the pressure on Italy’s food manufacturers as they drove up the imports, as well as forced change and more emphasis on logistics, efficient production and production for export.

“The industry saw that this was the future, that they had to change, and compete on quality, and even price. This was an important adaptation for the Italian food industry.”

One could think that small shops would benefit from the new logistics systems or using the Internet, but the big chains have their own organizations, according to Emanuela Scarpellini. There are local or regional chains for small independent stores, but their way of competing is to “find a particular producer that can give them a special product. They try to differentiate, so that they can offer something unique,” says Emanuela Scarpellini.

“We now have the slow food movement, and many Italian producers have focused on high quality food. The food industry is becoming more important, like the fashion industry. They also contribute to selling the image of Italy.“

The modern supermarket was a response to social change, and caused its own changes.

“It brought men into the supermarket,“ says Emanuela Scarpellini. “Shopping was previously only made by women, but now men entered and took part in this activity.”

One reason for this was that women usually did not drive, and the car was essential as many supermarkets were located outside the city. The supermarkets also had an impact on women’s role in society, both as it provided new jobs for women and helped workingwomen, who could not spend as much time as before on daily shopping.

Today both the supermarket and the mom & pop store co-exist in Italy.

“Today, the supermarkets have more than 50 or 60 percent of sales. They are dominating the market, but the numbers are still lower than for other European countries. There is still an important place for small shops in Italy.”

Half a century has passed since has passed since Italy got its first supermarket. At that time, it filled a need that was deep and sometimes desperate, but still faced resistance on many levels. It won the hearts and minds of the Italians by providing a wide variety of goods at relatively low prices. Back in the 1950’s, one customer was so happy about it that she told Roland Hood, one of the supermarket pioneers, “I have written to my sister in New York and told her to vote for Mr. Rockefeller if he ever runs for Governor again.” Another said “I’m sure God has sent you Americans to do this wonderful thing for us in Italy.” Yet another was overheard saying, “just remember this next time you vote, they don’t have any of these in Russia.” (Emanuela Scarpellini, 2004, p 662)

Whether it saved the country from another revolution is, as most things are in Italy, open for debate.

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gizmondo 2 Is Here - Sales Start In November/December

I met with Rich Jenkins, CEO of Media Power yesterday, and he told me that the new Gizmondo is here, but not yet on sale. I asked for physical proof, whereupon he opened a small storage room with combination lock, only to return like another Santa Claus with a big hard package, stacked with neatly bubblewrapped Gizmondos. Direct from China. "The rest are in the warehouse," he said.

Rich Jenkins says that the deal with the Chinese manufacturer is "negotiated and done," and that the company can ramp up production next year depending on the demand. The design is basically the same as the first Gizmondo, but with a newer version of nVidia's graphics chip and a new battery. (Owners of the first Gizmondo can send in their old crappy battery and get a new and better one for free.)

The price? Carl Freer thought he could launch it at $99 dollars when we spoke almost a year ago, but Rich Jenkins says that it probably will be higher. "We're working on the price," he says. The new Gizmondo will come with either Windows CE 6.0 or Google's new Android operating system. the new unit will be open, so that you can run any Windows CE game on it. But you have to choose between CE and Android. You can't have both, or switch, at least not yet.

You'll have to wait until November-December to order it on the company's upcoming - and really, really cool website, which will be launched in Mid-October.

And I had almost turned cynical about the new Gizmondo, as deadlines passed only to be followed by new ones.... but here it is at last!

Hans Sandberg

PS. Back home in my office, I asked myself. How do I know that it really was the new version he showed me? It was a new box and unopened shipping box from China he cut open, but couldn't it have been an old box? I guess it could have, but what would he and Carl Freer have gained by doing that? To extend a charade for another two months? It doesn't make sense, so for now at least, I believe that he told me the truth and showed me the real thing. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

Republican Dishonesty And A Couple of Cool Clips

The Democratic Convention was great and brimming with hope, while the Republican Convention - once Gustav's (or God's for those of you who are believers...) rage subsided enough to let it start - was a display of deep dishonesty.

There was a moment when I felt that John McCain was playing the foreign policy card so that he could get some elbow room versus the religious right, but now we know that that wasn't the case. McCain does what he does for his own sake. He uses people to get where he wants to get. He doesn't hesitate to lie and cheat, but still claims that we have to believe him because he got shot down over Vietnam. But character is not something that is cut in stone, and especially not an opportunistic character such as McCain's. Republicans often try to make people believe that character is what sets them apart compared to the wishy-washy flip-flopping liberals. But it is a charade intending to hide the fact that the Republican message of "small government" and "tax cuts" would hurt most people. If they focused on the message they wouldn't have a chance, so they focus on the "war hero" instead, and the nobody from nowhere with perfect fundamentalist credentials. 

For an uplifting take on Republican hypocrisy, watch this wonderful piece on the Daily Show!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Swedish-American Business Book

I just published a book about the Swedish-American business world on the Print-On-Demand website  

Click here to see the book on!

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An Unconventional Convention

OK, he is up there, not all that far from Martin Luther King, Jr.  

To get a historic perspective on this campaign, read Robert A. Caro's op-ed piece Johnson’s Dream, Obama’s Speech in New York Times. It's one of the best pieces I've read about this campaign, and there has been many good ones.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Will Karl Rove's Contempt For the Congress Catch Up With Him?

The House Juciciary Committe voted on Wednesday, July 29, to recommend that Karl Rove is cited for contempt of the Congress.

AP writes:
"Voting along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee said that Rove had broke the law by failing to appear at a July 10 hearing on allegations of White House influence over the Justice Department, including whether Rove encouraged prosecutions against Democrats."

The Send Karl Rove To Jail campaign yesterday delivered 127,000 signatures demanding that the House Judiciary Committe take action against Karl Rove.
"I think it's ridiculous that Karl Rove thinks that he doesn't have to follow the law, and nobody in this country should be above the law," said House Judiciary Committee member Linda Sanchez (D-CA) when she received the petition from Brave New Film's Editorial Director ZP Heller.

Watch Brave New Films take on Karl Rove:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Does McCain Know In What Country He Is Running For President?

It's a mean question, and I don't want to pick on him because he is old. There are many old men and women who are smart and vital, but John McCain is not one of them. He may be shrewed, and he has charm, but he doesn't seem clearheaded enough to run anything but his golf cart.

Remember when Joe Lieberman had to wisper in his ear about the Sunni and Shia thing, which McCain had confused when he said that Iran (Shia) was training Al Qaeda (Sunni) fighters? 

Remember when McCain talked about Iraq's border to Pakistan?

And now he is so giddy about the relative calm in Iraq that he ascribes it all to "the surge", which as I'm sure you remember by now, he supported.

But as Ilan Goldenberg writes in today's Huffington Post (my italics):

John McCain made a mistake this evening, which as far as I'm concerned, disqualifies him from being president. It is so appalling and so factually wrong that I'm actually sitting here wondering who McCain's advisers are. This isn't some gaffe where he talks about the Iraq-Pakistan border. It's a real misunderstanding of what has happened in Iraq over the past year. It is even more disturbing because according to John McCain, Iraq is the central front in the "war on terror." If we are going to have an Iraq-centric policy, he should at least understand what he is talking about. But anyway, what happened.

In an interview with CBS news anchor Katie Couric on Tuesday night McCain said:

McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is as -- such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane [phonetic] was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history. Thanks to General Petraeus, our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn't make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed.

Watch the interview here:

But, writes Ilan Goldenberg - echoing Keith Olbermann at MSNBC - there is a slight problem here:

The surge wasn't even announced until a few months after the Anbar Awakening. Via Spencer Ackerman, here is Colonel MacFarland explaining the Anbar Awakening to Pam Hass of UPI, on September 29, 2006. That would be almost four months before the President even announced the surge. Petraeus wasn't even in Iraq yet.

With respect to the violence between the Sunnis and the al Qaeda -- actually, I would disagree with the assessment that the al Qaeda have the upper hand. That was true earlier this year when some of the sheikhs began to step forward and some of the insurgent groups began to fight against al Qaeda. The insurgent groups, the nationalist groups, were pretty well beaten by al Qaeda.

This is a different phenomena that's going on right now. I think that it's not so much the insurgent groups that are fighting al Qaeda, it's the -- well, it used to be the fence-sitters, the tribal leaders, are stepping forward and cooperating with the Iraqi security forces against al Qaeda, and it's had a very different result. I think al Qaeda has been pushed up against the ropes by this, and now they're finding themselves trapped between the coalition and ISF on the one side, and the people on the other.

He also adds a quote from Colin Kahl in Foreign Affairs:

The Awakening began in Anbar Province more than a year before the surge and took off in the summer and fall of 2006 in Ramadi and elsewhere, long before extra U.S. forces started flowing into Iraq in February and March of 2007. Throughout the war, enemy-of-my-enemy logic has driven Sunni decision-making. The Sunnis have seen three "occupiers" as threats: the United States, the Shiites (and their presumed Iranian patrons), and the foreigners and extremists in AQI. Crucial to the Awakening was the reordering of these threats.

Maybe Ol' Bush could spare John McCain a room at the Kennebunkport compound, and the world another president who knows nothing about the world.

Hans Sandberg

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Terrible Stain George W. Bush Left Behind

The madness of the Bush administration yet has to find it's Shakespeare.... Until then we can only keep watching TV and read the papers and blogs, and wait for the day when he is dumped in history's garbage bin.   

So much went wrong during his two periods of power misuse that one feels numb. But we must preserve our ability to feel outrage and spell it out, like Bob Herbert did in his New York Times column today (my italics): 
When the constraints of the law are unlocked by the men and women in suits at the pinnacle of power, terrible things happen in the real world. You end up with detainees being physically and psychologically tormented day after day, month after month, until they beg to be allowed to commit suicide. You have prisoners beaten until they are on the verge of death, or hooked to overhead manacles like something out of the Inquisition, or forced to defecate on themselves, or sexually humiliated, or driven crazy by days on end of sleep deprivation and blinding lights and blaring noises, or water-boarded.

To get a sense of the heights of madness scaled in this anything-goes atmosphere, consider a brainstorming meeting held by military officials at Guantánamo. Ms. Mayer said the meeting was called to come up with ways to crack through the resistance of detainees.

"One source of ideas," she wrote, "was the popular television show ‘24.’ On that show as Ms. Mayer noted, “torture always worked. It saved America on a weekly basis."

Ms. Mayer is Jane Mayer, the author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.

Bob Herbert continues:

Ms. Mayer noted that Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the late historian, believed that “the Bush administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.”

After reflecting on major breakdowns of law that occurred in prior administrations, including the Watergate disaster, Mr. Schlesinger told Ms. Mayer: “No position taken has done more damage to the American reputation in the world — ever.”

Americans still have not come to grips with this disastrous stain on the nation’s soul. It’s important that the whole truth eventually come out, and as many of the wrongs as possible be rectified.

Hans Sandberg

Click here for a review of Mayer's book.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thomas L. Friedman to W: "Mr. Bush, Lead or Leave"

New York Times' columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote a sharp rebuke of President Bush's energy policy, if we are going to call it that. It's well worth reading.

"Two years ago, President Bush declared that America was 'addicted to oil,' and, by gosh, he was going to do something about it. Well, now he has. Now we have the new Bush energy plan: 'Get more addicted to oil.'”

The problem with Bush according to Friedman is that he is acting like a drug pusher struggling with his image, but always pushing his slimy slithery dark dope.

"It’s as if our addict-in-chief is saying to us: 'C’mon guys, you know you want a little more of the good stuff. One more hit, baby. Just one more toke on the ole oil pipe. I promise, next year, we’ll all go straight. I’ll even put a wind turbine on my presidential library. But for now, give me one more pop from that drill, please, baby. Just one more transfusion of that sweet offshore crude.'”

The occasion for Friedman's sarcasm is President Bush's recent attack on the Democratic Party for not allowing the oil companies to drill wherever they want, disregarding environmental concerns. Listen to Bush as quoted by Friedman:

“I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past. Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions. If Congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act.”

Your President has spoken.

Which makes Friedman mad, and righteously so:

"This from a president who for six years resisted any pressure on Detroit to seriously improve mileage standards on its gas guzzlers; this from a president who’s done nothing to encourage conservation; this from a president who has so neutered the Environmental Protection Agency that the head of the E.P.A. today seems to be in a witness-protection program. I bet there aren’t 12 readers of this newspaper who could tell you his name or identify him in a police lineup.

But, most of all, this deadline is from a president who hasn’t lifted a finger to broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year, which could actually impact America’s energy profile right now — unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow — and create good tech jobs to boot."

But wait, it gets better...or worse, if that's possible:

Ever wondered why so little is done to promote alternative energy in the U.S.? There is a very sensible proposal (H.R. 6049, “The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008”) to extend for eight years the investment tax credit for solar energy installations, for one year a wind power production tax credit, as well as a three year extension of tax credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables. "These critical tax credits for renewables are set to expire at the end of this fiscal year and, if they do, it will mean thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars of investments not made," Friedman writes and adds:
"People forget, wind and solar power are here, they work, they can go on your roof tomorrow. What they need now is a big U.S. market where lots of manufacturers have an incentive to install solar panels and wind turbines — because the more they do, the more these technologies would move down the learning curve, become cheaper and be able to compete directly with coal, oil and nuclear, without subsidies."

The only pump that President Bush wants to prime belongs to Big Oil. What else to expect from an oilman without a clue? We're counting the days... and hoping that he doesn't try to pull the trigger on Iran in another miscalculated attempt to "save the world," or at least save the upcoming election for John McCain

Hans Sandberg

Hubble Telescope Images