Thursday, December 31, 2009

If You Read Swedish: Send Me An Email, And I'll Send You A Book!

I have published six books over the past 18 months, one in English and the rest in Swedish. The books are available both as traditional books printed on paper and as ebooks that you can read on your computer or Kindle, maybe even on your iPhone. If you send me an email (you find my email address in the upper right corner of this blog), I'll tell you how to get a free copy of the 150+ page book "Smakprov."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No, It Wasn't Reagan's Policy That Cracked the Soviet Union

A new book challenges the widespread belief that it was Reagan's policy that made the Soviet Union crack. I haven't read it yet, but here is what the publisher -- Yale University Press -- says:

Former U.S. ambassador to the USSR Jack F. Matlock refutes the enduring idea that the United States forced the collapse of the Soviet Union by applying military and economic pressure—with wide-ranging implications for U.S. foreign policy. Matlock argues that Gorbachev, not Reagan, undermined Communist Party rule in the Soviet Union and that the Cold War ended in a negotiated settlement that benefited both sides. He posits that the end of the Cold War diminished rather than enhanced American power; with the removal of the Soviet threat, allies were less willing to accept American protection and leadership that seemed increasingly to ignore their interests.

Matlock shows how, during the Clinton and particularly the Bush-Cheney administrations, the belief that the United States had defeated the Soviet Union led to a conviction that it did not need allies, international organizations, or diplomacy, but could dominate and change the world by using its military power unilaterally. The result is a weakened America that has compromised its ability to lead. Matlock makes a passionate plea for the United States under Obama to reenvision its foreign policy and gives examples of how the new administration can reorient the U.S. approach to critical issues, taking advantage of lessons we should have learned from our experience in ending the Cold War.
Sounds very interesting! I've been arguing this point for many years in private conversations, so it's nice to hear it from somebody who was there when it happened...

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Remember Senator Palpatine, the Evil Senator From Star Wars?

Senator Palpatine was the pale-faced senator of the Galactic Empire that rose to become the Emperor through treachery and falshood? Well fiction seems to have become reality thanks to senator Joe Lieberman.

Here is what Wikipedia says about the senator.
"Although Palpatine is a well-respected statesman, underneath his affable public persona lurks his true identity: Darth Sidious, a Dark Lord of the Sith. As the Dark Lord, he initiates and manipulates the Clone Wars to destroy the Jedi and usher in the oppressive Galactic Empire.”

The Palpatine character has according to Wikipedia “become a symbol of evil and sinister deception in popular culture. Palpatine was ranked #3 greatest villain by Wizard magazine on its ‘100 Greatest Villains of All Time’ list.”

I wonder where senator Joe Lieberman will end up on the list of the "100 Greatest Traitors of All Time?"

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This Bed Is Not Available At IKEA....... At Least Not Yet

Sweden is famous for many things, including seatbelts, Volvo, Ikea, zippers and it's welfare system. Add to that "Duxiana" and "Hästens" (made out of horse hair,) comfortable although expensive luxury beds that will make it easier to sleep through the long and dreary darkness of October through March. But for those of you that intend to stay awake, there is now more than Gevalia Coffee to rely on: Try the latest addition to the list of famous Swedish innovations (based on an old idea from India) -- The Nail Bed!

A Bed Where Comfort Is Not the Point 

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Penn & Teller - Circumcision

The Most Stupid Argument For Circumcision - "The Son Should Look Like the Father"

I was watching a piece about circumcision on the Today Show. The piece was not bad, which was a nice surprise in itself, but it ends with a rather stupid statement by the blond co-host (I don't know the names of the hosts that day.. it was not the regulars, Kathy and Hoda): 

Dark-haired host:

"...a tough decision, and I made sure for my son that I stood there with him, because it was so hard on him..."
To which the blond host adds:
"No, no, I wasn't there for the actual 'nippin' or whatever you want to call it...but I thought also that for a lot of dads, because they want their sons to look like the way they look, so their sons can identify with their fathers."
The dark-haired host laughs:
"Why are you laughing?"
"I don't think it is a good enough reason!"
I've got a couple of questions for blond host:
How often does a father look at his son's penis past diaper changing age? And how often does the son inspect his father's penis? Would it really hurt the son's self-esteem if he saw that his father's penis looked like his when the foreskin is rolled back? And what father would be so stupid as to feel troubled if his son wasn't surgically altered as a baby? 
If a son can't identify with his father is he doesn't look like him, does that also go for the hair color, eye color?
Should a blind father make his son blind too? And if the father is missing a leg, should he make his son look like him in that respect to?

Hans Sandberg

The Dark Dreams of Christian Fundamentalists

Not a lot unlike Islamic fundamentalists, some Christian extremists are dreaming dark dreams, but their prayers for Obama's death can't stop change. Even if they succeeded in killing Obama, change will go on, like it did after Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated. What Would Jesus Do? Grab a gun and kill the President... for some reason, it doesn't sound like something he would do... If you want to pray, maybe you should pray for the fundamentalists speedy return to reality.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stockholm Panorama

Stockholm - Allways beautiful, and it's one of the most livable cities in the world for at least 5 months of the year. For the other 7 months, there are plenty of art, culture and museums, plus all those wonderful cafés and restaurants.
Click on the Stockholm link at the beginning of this post to see a great panorama photo (from the Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

John Pavlik Discusses New Technology, Journalism And Storytelling

In this interesting video clip, Rutgers professor John V. Pavlik talks about new technology's impact on storytelling in media, and his 2008 book Media in the Digital Age. I interviewed John Pavlik when he was at Columbia University back in 1996. He was then involved in a research on a Mobile Journalist Tool, which would help journalists in the field using advanced computer and database technology. The article is included in my new book Amerikansk press under stress. It is also available on my Swedish website Sandbergs hörna.

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Windows 7 Is Here, And Guess What, It Seems To Live Up To Its Promise

Microsoft officially launched Windows 7 at a party held at Skylight Studios just around the corner from Manhattans' meatpacking district. Windows 7, the multiplatform, multitouch and relatively slim operating system offers hope for us stuck with XP, and an escape route for those of us who where unfortunate enough to upgrade to or buy a system with Windows Vista pre-installed.

Steve Ballmer was his usual self, jolly, engaging and straight-talking. The demo worked without glitches and the focus was totally on user experience. Not a word about gigabytes and gigahertz. It looks like the PC finally has caught up with and maybe even surpassed the Mac, displaying the look and feel of an iPhone. Steve Ballmer said that Windows 7 finally has reached the goal Bill Gates put forward many years ago, to put Windows everywhere. It aims to be the new digital home entertainment center, running everything from audiosystems and wireless picture frames to TV's, Internet TV's and allowing you to connect to your home network while traveling.

I'm not a big fan of Microsoft, but neither am I one of those who allways have to find faults in everything they do. Vista was a disaster that set them back tremendously, opening the field for Apple and Google, but with Windows 7 they have a strong foundation to build on.

We have two Vista systems in the family, one 32-bit XP and one 64-bit XP in our family, plus a bunch of other systems mostly gathering dust. Microsoft Sweden sent me a copy of the 64-bits Windows 7 last week, and even though the install on our 64-bit XP system was anything but painless as it refused to recognize the 32-bit networking card, webcam and mouse driver. The installation program suggested that we find help online, but that was hard without access to the network and router, so my 18-year old son Erik had to download "homemade" drivers on another system and copy them over via an USB stick. However, he eventually got his system up and running, and now loves it. It's fast, looks damn good, and runs everything but the sticky notes, the webcam and the mouse, which works so and so.... "Now I understand why Logitech's webcam was on sale... and they are not going to provide me with 64-bit drivers as they rather sell new webcams," he tells me.

Well, well, that's nothing compared to my futile attempts to install OS/2 many years ago. I swapped out every possible part and driver. I still never installed! And that may have been my good luck as IBM eventually would throw in the towel on their "Windows killer"...

As I write this, Alex, my 15-year old son, comes by my office and reports that his upgrade from 64-bits Vista to 64-btis Windows 7 went smooth. No problem at all. "It seems pretty good so far," is his first comment.

Hans Sandberg

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Russia Looks to China for Power Lessons

"Like an envious underachiever, Vladimir V. Putin’s party, United Russia, is increasingly examining how it can emulate the Chinese Communist Party, especially its skill in shepherding China through the financial crisis relatively unbowed," Clifford J. Levy wrote in New York Times about a meeting between Russian top leaders and leaders of China's Communist Party. (Russia’s Leaders See China as Template for Ruling, October 19, 2009.)

Twenty years ago, during Mikhail Gorbachev's state visit in May 1989, it looked like China's leadership was in need of political help as it struggled to contain growing waves of protest from students and workers dreaming of democratic political reforms. Thousands of students occupied Tiananmen Square on May 13, just before the arrival of the Soviet Communist Party leader, creating a major loss of face for Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese party leadership. We know how this drama ended, but the paradox is that while China entered a long period of relative political stability and unprecedented economic growth, the Soviet Union collapsed, leading to radical economic and political reforms followed by a chaos and lawlessness that ultimately brought Vladimir Putin, a former KBG-chief, to power. He managed to centralize the power, using Russian nationalism, the country's vast oil- and natural gas resources in an era of rising prices, this in combination with his personal charisma and Russia's military strength.

Today, however, Russia is hurt by the global financial crisis, and its fundamental economic weakness became obvious once the oil prices came down. China, in contrast, used its centralized political power and financial strength to push through a huge stimulus package, which turned the economy around, helping the world economy pull out of the Great Recession.

“The accomplishments of China’s Communist Party in developing its government deserve the highest marks,” Aleksandr D. Zhukov, a deputy prime minister and senior Putin aide, declared at the meeting with Chinese officials on Oct. 9 in the border city of Suifenhe, China, northwest of Vladivostok. “The practical experience they have should be intensely studied.” (Quoted in New York Times.)

The recent meeting between top leaders from Russia and China was only one in a series of such meetings, and China's President Hu Jintao has been invited to attend United Russia's convention in November and more meetings are planned. Russia's ruling party is even planning to open an office in Beijing according to the Times.

"Whatever the motivation, Russia in recent years has started moving toward the Chinese model politically and economically," Levy writes.

China is not the only country the Russians are studying: "...Mr. Putin’s political aides have long studied how to move the political system to the kind that took root for many decades in countries like Japan and Mexico, with a de facto one-party government under a democratic guise, political analysts said. The Russians tend to gloss over the fact that in many of those countries, long-serving ruling parties have fallen."

This is an interesting fact since one political system that China's leadership studied in the 1980's was Singapore, a country that had a "de facto one-party government under a democratic guise." China's authoritarian political system, which essentially is a dictatorship where the party elite controls all key levers in the society, is very attractive to the Russian leadership: “We are interested in the experience of the party and government structures in China, where cooperation exists between the ruling party and the judicial, legislative and executive authorities,” Vladimir E. Matkhanov, a deputy in Russia’s Parliament, said at the Suifenhe meeting, according to a transcript quoted by the Times.

It will be interesting to see if the current political exchanges between Russia and China will lead to a closer political, and maybe even military cooperation, something that could change the balance of power between China, Russia and the United States.

Yet another challenge for Team Obama.

Hans Sandberg

If you understand Swedish you may want to read this blog posts on my Swedish blog, Sandbergs hörna.
Ryssland, USA och Kina - Intervju med W. Joseph Stroupe, del I. (2007)
Ryssland, USA och Kina - Intervju med W. Joseph Stroupe, del II. (2007)
Putin släpper inte greppet, men vad är det han vill (December 2007)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sweden's Internet Knocked Out By A Missing Dot

Sustainability just got a new meaning. Read on here!

The Old Economics Is Dead - Long Live Socio-Economics!

The impact of the economic crisis on the mainstream economic theory is still to be felt. Alan Greenspan's mea culpa was instructive, but just a blip. What we do need is a radical overhaul of the economic theory, which for the past 50 years has been seduced into obscurity by elegant mathematics.

The Great Recession was the ultimate wake-up call, but there is a strange silence coming out from the economics departments near and far. Paul Krugman did adress the issue at length in the New York Times Magazine, and George Akerlof and Robert Schiller has fired a substantial volley, but considering the degree of complicity from the discipline, one could ask for a lot more in terms of self-critique from our dismal scientists.

Maybe the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics can be of help here. At least, it point the discipline in the right direction. New York Times' Louis Uchitelle quotes Schiller in a blog:

“This award is part of the merging of the social sciences,” said Robert Shiller, a Yale University economist. “Economics has been too isolated and too stuck on the view that markets are efficient and self-regulating. It has derailed our thinking.”
Hans Sandberg

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Re: Polanski, or would Hitler have been excused if he had been a better painter?

I don't believe in "L'art pour l'art," art for the sake of art. It may be timeless, but it is art for mankind, "L'art pour l'homme."

A lot of great art have come from people who turned out not to be that great human beings. We still listen to their music, admire their paintings, photos or films, but that doesn't mean that we need to forgive them their crimes or immoral behaviour. Does that mean that the artist is above the law, that the genius can do whatever he or she wants?

Roman Polanski is a great filmmaker, but also a man devoid of moral.
Here is what he did.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Norway to fill the void left by Chile’s collapsing salmon export

Norway’s salmon farmers stand ready to grab a huge chunk of the U.S. fish market left by Chile’s shrinking salmon export to the U.S., which will drop 40 percent in 2009, and another 70 percent in 2010. “Norwegian salmon could jump from five percent of the U.S. market to 25 percent,” says Børge Grønbeck, marketing manager at the Norwegian Seafood Export Council during a visit to New York.

Børge Grønbeck was in New York as part of the export council’s plans to reopen its U.S. office and start a campaign to boost Norway’s export of farmed Atlantic salmon to the U.S. “Chile holds 50-60 percent of the U.S. market, but there has been a serious decline since 2008 due to the ISA-virus (infectious salmon anemia),” he says, adding that Norway, which is the largest producer of farmed salmon in the world, wants to fill the gap left by Chile’s falling export. “We have the capacity and Norwegian salmon is well known,” he says.

Norway produces about 750,000 tons live weight of farmed salmon yearly out of a world production of about 1.5 million tons. The U.S. market for seafood is the third largest in the world, and 88 percent of the U.S. seafood consumption was imported in 2008.

Børge Grønbeck says that Chile’s regulation of its fish farms have been lax, allowing them to sit too close to each other, making the vulnerable to disease. Norway on the other hand, has had a strict regulatory framework, emphasizing sustainability, and spreading out its salmon farms to limit the use of antibiotics. A recent report in the New York Times said that in 2008 Chile used 350 times more antibiotics in its farmed salmon than Norway did in its farms. (718,000 pounds vs. 2,075 pounds)

For Norway, this is not just a one-time shot, but also potentially a long-term gain on its number one international competitor in the farmed salmon business. “It will take many years before Chile is back,“ Børge Grønbeck says.

Filling the void left by Chile is only one part of the new Norwegian strategy. “American eat too little seafood,” he says, adding that this presents both an educational and a PR-challenge. American’s eat relatively little seafood and salmon, which makes the growth potential the bigger. Americans eat on average 7.4 kg seafood per person and year, which is much less that in Europe and Norway (where the seafood consumption is three times the U.S. average.) Farmed salmon captures 15 percent of the seafood consumption in the U.S., which amounts to 280,000 ton. (It takes about 15 kg live weight salmon to produce 7.4 kg filleted salmon.)

The council hopes to teach both the distributors and retailers how to inform the consumer better and be more efficient in selling salmon. It is also important to educate the consumer about the health benefits of eating salmon, and overcome consumer fear of eating fish. “Many consumers simply don’t know how to prepare salmon, and think it is hard to cook it,” he says. “Once you show them, they often burst out that ‘I didn’t know it was that easy!’” When the council had a campaign in Norway to address this issue, it led to a big increase in sales during the grill season.

The Norwegian strategy will also push for easy to prepare meal solutions, better displays in supermarkets, and better branding of Norwegian salmon. In many supermarkets it can be hard to find out where the salmon comes from, and there is little advice for how to select and prepare your salmon.

It seems as Norway have a leg up on its competitors when it comes to farmed salmon, but there are environmentalist that criticize the entire industry of farmed seafood. “The growing global appetite for cheap farmed salmon is imperiling wild fish populations across the planet,” according to scientists quoted by the National Geographic magazine (February 12, 2008.) "Salmon farming seems to have a negative impact on wild salmon," Jennifer Ford, a lead researcher of Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, told the magazine. Her research was however put in doubt by Marine Harvest, the world’s largest salmon farming company. Other factors have contributed to the decline in wild salmon, according to the company.

Hans Sandberg

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Social Impact of the Great Recession

The recession will end, even this one. But it won't be back to the usual, it won't be back to the "happy days" of inflated real estate and easy profits on Wall Street. We're in the middle of a huge social shift, not unlike what happened in the 1960's. My guide to understand what's happening is Albert O. Hirschman.

When the IT- and telecom bubbles burst, there was a blip when people sat down and asked themselves what the meaning was with it all, but Osama bin Laden shook us out of all that, and George W. Bush took the opportunity to launch a couple of wars while lowering taxes on the rich, which got the economy started again, even though it was heading down the wrong way leading to the Great Recession of 2008.

But there was an underlying shift going on, a shift of the type Albert O. Hirschman discussed in his brilliant little book Shifting Involvements - Private Interest and Public Action (Princeton University Press, 1982, 2002)

The "me first" era had run its course and no Hummer or three-car garage could ease our existential pain, or address the large public issues that loomed ever larger at the horizon (war, poverty, health care for all, global warming, infrastructure...). The failure of private solutions lowered the alternative cost of public action, which we saw in the tremendous outburst of support and volunteering for the Obama campaign.

The shift from private to public emphasis helped prepare us for the challenges we are now facing, and it will be strengthened by the impact of the recession. This was illustrated well in Peter S. Goodman's story in the New York Times on August 28: Reluctance to Spend May Be Legacy of Recession

The Great Depression imbued American life with an enduring spirit of thrift. The current recession has perhaps proven wrenching enough to alter consumer tastes, putting value in vogue. 
“It’s simply less fun pulling up to the stoplight in a Hummer than it used to be,” said Robert Barbera, chief economist at the research and trading firm ITG. “It’s a change in norms.”
“Not only have people lost money, but they don’t expect as much appreciation in the money they have, and that should affect consumption,” said Andrew Tilton, an economist at Goldman Sachs. “This is a cultural shift going on. People will save more.”
Not only will they save more, they will take part in public life much more as their private options are limited when dealing with huge collective problems.

That's bad news for conservatives who live off fear and government-bashing.

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gapminder Minds the Missing Natives

Gapminder reacted fast after I pointed out a mistake in the U.S. Population map on their site. Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor of international health who became worldfamous overhight after a TED speech in 2006, wrote to thank me for my alert.

"We agree that it would have been best to show the native population, but we have not found any such time series. Gapminder only have the resources to display existing dataset and make them freely available."
In another comment from Gapminder, Zhang writes that "we have changed the name of the indicator (US citizens), and also added some explanations in the tooltip bar, which could be seen when you hover your mouse on the indicator."

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's Wrong With This Gapminder Graph?

I'm a big fan of Hans Rosling and his Gapminder, but even his wonderful graphics program falls under the old GIGO rule, i.e. Garbage-In-Garbage-Out.

Take a look at this graph of the U.S. population (and click on the link below to work with it!) 

The U.S. population

Now, follow this link so that you can compare it with the first graph.

The immigrant population in the U.S.

Pull the slider on the first graph all away to the left, and watch what happens. The entire population disappears. Isn't that strange? What happened to the native population, i.e. the American Indians? You could say that well, they were not part of the U.S. population, but then again, why do we count the non-citizen immigrants in the second graph?

There is only so much an automatic tool can do. You still need human judgement to get it right. I'd like to see an updated map where we can see the shrinking native population as the first few rounds of (mostly European) immigrants arrive and spread. It would be a more disturbing picture, which is often the case with the truth.

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Is Healthcare Suddenly Such A Hot-Button Issue?

Many of these mad people (not talking about Sarah Palin this time) are genuinly upset, but they are not upset about their kids dying in foreign lands or their jobs being lost to outsourcing. They are upset about the fact that the Obama government is trying to expand healthcare coverage to poor people like them. It's strange! The only explanation I can think of is that they feel like they are about to fall into an abyss, making them grasp for anything. And guess what, the mad radiorators are stoking the fire, playing on their fears. If they had more "socialism", i.e. more social security, unemployment insurance and healthcare coverage, they wouldn't feel so desperate. Which is why republicans never liked the benefits big government can provide. They don't want people to feel safe, because when you feel safe your relax, the adrenaline wears off and you start to talk to people instead of yelling at them. Fear is a wonderful preserver of Status Quo.

Hans Sandberg

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can Good Design Save Moribund Newspapers?

Here is an inspiring and fascinating TED talk about newspaper design. The basic idea is basically that you might be able to save the newspaper by making it beautiful, a piece of art. I would certainly be more willing to pay for a paper that looks really good, but the question is if I would do it over and over, if the design pull doesn't go away after a while.

Hans Sandberg 

Monday, August 10, 2009

Paul Krugman Nailed It: Big Government Did It! Now what?

Paul Krugman nailed it this morning in his New York Times column:

So it seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government.
It's not over yet, of course, and the right-wingers will paint the future (without Bush-Cheney) as black as they can imagine it... hyperinflation, a new Weimar era.. but it's self-serving bullshit.

At the end of his column Krugman writes:

There’s still, I fear, a substantial chance that unemployment will remain high for a very long time.
One question nobody raises in the U.S. is where all the new jobs are going to come from now that we have outsourced manufacturing to China and white collar jobs to India. Maybe the jobs won't return, because of automation, outsourcing and information technology. Why not then cut the workday/workweek, and share the work that still needs to be done? A crazy idea? Of course, about as crazy as the idea that the workday should be 8 hours and not 11 or 14 or whatever. Was 8 hours a day/40 hours a week written in stone on the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain?

If you have a job that needs to be done, and you need to feed the whole clan (humanity), which way do you prefer?
1) Let 80-90 percent of the people do the job, and let the rest rot (after all, aren't there workhouses, Uncle Scrooge would have said?)
2) Reset the standards so that more people can share the work and the pay. It doesn't have to be completely egalitatarian and non-capitalist, but could be done by simply resetting the standard. 30 hours a week, and for those companies, countries that don't comply, there are always fines, taxes and tariffs, like we would do for those employing child labor.

Hans Sandberg

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bullets And Batons Outdid Twitter In Iran

I'm mourning, but not Michael Jackson or Farrah Fawcett. I'm mourning the death of the democratic opportunity in Iran, just as I mourned the death of the democratic opportunity in China after June 4, 1989. And just as then, the good guys didn't win, the bullets were more powerful than brittle humans made out of flesh and bones, and there was no real leadership to help them out.

And for those of you who thought twitter and Facebook could do it, well it was a nice thought. Here is a snippet from today's New York Times:

While protesters were aided at first by technology — primarily the Internet and text messaging — the government deployed its control of state television and news outlets to sweep away competing narratives.

“It is still possible that the information age will crack authoritarian structures in Iran,” wrote Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “But it is far more likely that the government will be able to use that technology to secure its own rule.”
Iranian Leaders Gaining the Edge Over Protesters (New York Times June 27, 2009)
Trita Parsi and Reza Aslan sums up the events in an article for Foreign Policy magazine called The End of the Beginning - What will be the legacy of the Green Revolution?
In many ways, the Ahmadinejad government has succeeded in transforming what was a mass movement into dispersed pockets of unrest. Whatever is now left of this mass movement is now leaderless, unorganized -- and under the risk of being hijacked by groups outside Iran in pursuit of their own political agendas.
Although successful at first, the discipline has clearly broken down. This should be no surprise -- the movement is by now in effect leaderless. A source close to Mousavi says that the first and second circle of people around Mousavi have all been arrested or put under house arrest. Mousavi himself has limited ability to communicate with his team and his followers. The lack of leadership is visible on the streets, where demonstrators exhibit unparalleled will and courage, but lack direction and guidance.
Hans Sandberg

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bo I Andersson Leaves GM

Bo I. Andersson, head of supply management and logistics and General Motors, and the only non-American on GM's board, is leaving the troubled auto giant. He is said to become CEO at another company, although which one is not yet clear.

Andersson joined GM in the mid-1990's and became head of GM's global supply management group in 2005, reporting to CEO Richard Wagoner Jr. (Who was forced out after the U.S. Government had to bail-out GM). Andersson was once rumoured to become the next CEO after Wagoner. When I asked him about the rumours in an interview late 2006, he answered:
“Next question…. No, I don’t think that will happen, but somebody floated my name. Do I think that it’s going to happen? Absolutely not.”

He didn't say that he didn't want to.

"Bo has made tremendous contributions to the development of our global purchasing and supply chain strategy as we've globalized our product line portfolios and manufacturing footprint," GM's new CEO Fritz Henderson said in a press comment to Andersson's departure.

“They’re going to have some very big shoes to fill,” John Henke Jr., president of supplier-research firm Planning Perspectives told Bloomberg Business News on Friday.
“He was a tough guy, but he knew his business and he knew what he had to do,” Henke said, adding that Andersson “is too good and he loves the business.”

Read my interview with Bo Andersson in Currents magazine No. 1 2007.

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sexy Koenigsegg Buys Saab Automobile

Not, it wont be China that buys Saab Automobile from General Motors if we are to believe a report on the Swedish TV-channel SVT's news program "Rapport". Instead, it is the tiny Swedish manufacturer of extreme sports cars - Koenigsegg - that buys the Swedish auto manufcturer.

Financing for the deal comes from investors in oil-rich Norway. The details are being worked out according to the report. Koenigsegg was founded in 1994 by Christian von Koenigsegg,  a 36 year old Swedish entrepreneur. His custom made elegant cars are among the hottest things on four wheels you can buy.

Injecting Koenigsegg into Saab Automobile sounds far-off, almost whacky, but also very, very sexy, something Saab could use after having been part of big and boring GM.

Hans Sandberg

Monday, June 1, 2009

The 2009 Childhood Soccer Tournament

Childhood USA and Blatte United invited young kids from New York to a day of soccer, food, ice cream and fun at the Met Oval Foundation Soccer Field in Queens, one of New York's oldest.

Marcus Samuelsson and two young New Yorkers. 

Charlotte Brandin, Childhood USA, 
and Selim Adira, Blatte United Football Club.

About 50 kids from Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem and Queens got a chance to play soccer in the sun on Sunday, May 31st. Among the teacher were Swedish-born amateur soccer players,  including New York's famous chef, Marcus Samuelsson, and hedge fund manager Medufia "Keke" Kulego.   

-It a chance for us to highlight what childhood is about, says Charlotte Brandin, Executive Director for Childhood USA, the U.S. section of World Childhood Foundation. We hope to repeat the tournament next year, she adds. 

-It's fun to combine multiculturalism with soccer and to do it here in Queens. It's a great theme for our cooperation with Childhood USA, and a lot of fun to teach kids play soccer, Marcus Samuelsson says in break between two games.  

-We always have tournaments for adults, but we always wanted to do something for the children, says Selim Adira, whoese parents immigrated to Sweden from Marocco. He moved to New York four years ago and runs the residence for the Swedish U.S. Ambassador.  

"The 2009 Childhood Soccer Tournament" was arranged with support from Volvo Group North America and AQ Kafé. Childhood USA hopes that the soccer event will benefit its five charity partners in New York: Family Advocacy Program in Bronx, Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem; Safe Space Drop-In Center in Far-Rockaway i Queens, Chances for Children in Bronx and Inwood House in Manhattan.

-It's a fantastic thing, and the staff is doing such a wonderful job. They are really dedicated to help the children, says Maria Williams, a Queens resident whose four year old daughter join the games with gusto despite never having played soccer before. 

A four year old soccer enthusiast from Queens.

 Portia from Bronx with her youngest 
daughter, five-year old Navaia.  

-They told me about the program at the Family Advocacy Program in the Bronx. I thought it was fun. I used to play on a soccer team when I was younger, and I wanted my three daughters to get the experience, says Portia, a mother of three.

-Soccer is fun, and hard, says her oldest daughter Destiny, who is eight. She adds that the hard part is to get the ball in the net. I want to join the Bronx Rangers, she says.

-I like soccer. It was fun, and I like to run. And I made a goal, says her sister, seven-year old Jamaia.  

Terrence Johnson, a teacher at Middle School 399
in Bronx some of his eleven students 
who attended the soccer event.

-It’s a good event, because we are from Bronx, and soccer is not a game that a lot of kids get to play. They were excited to get to do something you normally don’t get to do, says Terrence Johnson, a middle school teacher from Bronx. 

Met Oval Soccer Field with Manhattan's
skyline in the background.

Marcus Samuelson teaches soccer. 

Kick off!

Ready for the game! Assistant Coach 
Mahir Ali Hossein and his team.

Marcus Samuelson instructing his soccer students. 

A student training with the Swedish hedge fund
manager and Medufia "Keke" Kulego.

Charlotte Brandin, Childhood USA and 
Christina Moliteus, SWEA and board 
member at Childhood USA.

Text & Photo: Hans Sandberg   Copyright: Hans Sandberg

Monday, May 4, 2009

Is It Possible to Blend the European Welfare System and the U.S. Frontier Spirit?

If you ever wonder why Europeans do things differently, without necessarily rushing to judgement over either the Europeans or the Americans, you ought to read Russel Shorto's essay in this past Sunday's New York Times' Sunday Magazine (May 3rd). The subtitle is "How I Learned to Love the European Welfare State" but it's not a simplistic love. He takes a balanced approach in this little masterpiece of cross-cultural analysis.

'So where does this get us? If the collectivist Dutch social system arises from the waters of Dutch history, how applicable is it to American society, which was shaped by the wagon train and the endless frontier? And why would a nation raised on “You can go your own way” and “Be all that you can be” even want to go Dutch?

To the first point, there are notable similarities between the two countries. The Dutch approach to social welfare grew out of its blend of a private-enterprise tradition and a deep religious tradition. The ways in which the United States seeks to fix its social system surely stem from its own strong tradition of religious values, and also from a desire to blend those values with its commitment to private enterprise. And while I certainly wouldn’t wish the whole Dutch system on the United States, I think it’s worth pondering how the best bits might fit. One pretty good reason is this: The Dutch seem to be happier than we are.'
If you replace the Netherlands with Sweden, the story is equally true. Try that on these two paragraphs:
'Then, too, one downside of a collectivist society, of which the Dutch themselves complain, is that people tend to become slaves to consensus and conformity. I asked a management consultant and a longtime American expat, Buford Alexander, former director of McKinsey & Company in the Netherlands, for his thoughts on this. “If you tell a Dutch person you’re going to raise his taxes by 500 euros and that it will go to help the poor, he’ll say O.K.,” he said. “But if you say he’s going to get a 500-euro tax cut, with the idea that he will give it to the poor, he won’t do it. The Dutch don’t do such things on their own. They believe they should be handled by the system. To an American, that’s a lack of individual initiative.”

Another corollary of collectivist thinking is a cultural tendency not to stand out or excel. “Just be normal” is a national saying, and in an earlier era children were taught, in effect, that “if you were born a dime, you’ll never be a quarter” — the very antithesis of the American ideal of upward mobility. There seem to be fewer risk-takers here. Those who do go out on a limb or otherwise follow their own internal music — the architect Rem Koolhaas, say, or Vincent Van Gogh — tend to leave.'
Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What's With the Czechs?

First we have President Václav Klaus in denial of global warming, and now we have Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek in denial about the global financial crisis. Maybe the entire Czech Republic joined the Republican Party....

But fortunately, the Czech people just ousted his government, but before stepping down, he used his role as rotating President of EU took the opportunity to blast Barack Obama's effort to save the world economy by describing it as a "way to hell" as it supposedly “will undermine the stability of the global financial market.”

Where is Jaroslav Hasek when we need him?

Hans Sandberg

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fair-Minded U.S. Diplomat Angers Right-Wing Zealots

Charles Freeman, an American diplomat with 30 years of experience, was nominated to become the next chairman of the National Intelligence Committee, but withdrew his nomination after a slanderous smear-campaign by extreme-right Israeli lobbyists. Ambassador Freeman was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, March 15th.
It's sad to see such a smart and level-headed guy derailed by right-wing zealots.

Nominee Ends Bid for Key Job in Intelligence
Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post
Iran, Jews and Pragmatism
Interview With Charles Freeman

Monday, March 9, 2009

More on the nattering nabobs of negativity

First, watch Jon Stewart ripping into CNBC and their sorry bunch of pundits (with the exception of Steve Liesman who is smarter and more knowledgeable than the rest of the bunch together).
It's a gem; funny, sad, and a piece of media history.
Watch it! 

Paul Krugman commented on the pundits/economics reporters pang for fiscal conservatism in his latest column:
'President Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy was “massive,” “giant,” “enormous.” So the American people were told, especially by TV news, during the run-up to the stimulus vote. Watching the news, you might have thought that the only question was whether the plan was too big, too ambitious.
Yet many economists, myself included, actually argued that the plan was too small and too cautious.'

And Frank Rich picked up on Jon Stewart's CNBC-segment in his Sunday Times column Some Things Don’t Change in Grover’s Corners.

On Monday, the New York Times had an interesting piece explaining how the CNBC network is struggling to retain its tiny, but wealthy, group of viewers by becoming more political and by lambasting president Obama.

'But in a change from previous downturns, CNBC is now a place for politics, to borrow a phrase from its sister channel MSNBC. The network’s journalists have been encouraged to speak their minds, making the line between reporter and commentator almost indistinguishable at times.

“When they are all sitting around the table it’s hard to tell a business pundit versus a reporter,” said Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
With economic attention focused on Washington, the network is spending less time on bullish stock picks and more time assessing the government’s actions.

In recent weeks some have perceived the network to be leading the campaign against President Obama’s economic agenda."

Now you may be ready for a little more nabob skewering from Jon Stewart's side:

In case you missed my previous blog about the revenge of the nattering nabobs of negativity, scroll down to read it!

Hans Sandberg

Friday, March 6, 2009

The nattering nabobs of negativity are back

The chatter is very intensive right now, and destructive, but it's not emanating from Bora Bora. No. it comes right out of New York, Atlanta, from CNN, MSNBC and CNBC, and it includes the entire spectrum of media commentators, from normally sensible persons like Anderson Cooper, to the generally wacky ones like Larry Kudlow.

They have all become the "nattering nabobs of negativity", which Nixon's nutty vice president Spiro Agnew lambasted so badly (thanks to then speechwriter William Safire who coined the phrase). Our talking act like hysterical passengers on a sinking ship, but it's not the ship that is sinking, only their 401K's that are shrinking. It is certainly painful, but their job is to analyse and report, not distort and vent. 

The problem with the nabobs of 2009 is that they are making things worse. They refuse to look deeper, instead pandering to the least common denominator, which of course is fear. They want everything fixed right now, only to complain that Obama is trying to do much and has too much on his desk. Above all, they want their 401K's back to where they were when we all were financially bubbleicious and happy, even if it didn't make sense and we killed the Earth in the process.

Analyst often say that we need a capitulation before the markets can turn back up. In a way they are right, but before the investors can capitulate, the pundits need to capitulate.

It's time to simmer down, and give the economy a chance! 

Hans Sandberg

PS. For an interesting take on the role of psychology in this crisis, read Amartya Sen's essay in the New York Review of Books: Capitalism Beyond the Crisis.  


Monday, February 23, 2009

Prospect of Healthy Change Spooks Wall Street

The Dow keeps falling, reaching ever new lows, and some Wall Street analyst are blaming Barack Obama and his team for the sad state of the market. They complain that the investors are confused, and don't know the rules anymore, because the government are changing them. 

In a way, they are right, because from Wall Street's point of view, the new administration is doing exactly what it set out to do - to bring change, and change means insecurity, and makes it harder to apply the old models and rules of thumb. This is as it should be, because Wall Street has forsaken most of its credibility by pursuing short term greed so recklessly that it almost brought down the world's financial and economic system. Very few on Wall Street, and in the Republican Party complained when CEO's awarded themselves 100's of millions in bonuses for what we now know was a mostly fictitious performance. That was the order many Wall Street gurus and financiers want to return to as it made it so easy to make outrageous profits from doing no good. But that order is gone, imploded under the weight of greed and corruption. 

Barack Obama stepped into this chaos, and started to clean up the mess, but doing so he is bound to ruffle the feathers of those who profited from the Bush era corruption of the markets. It will take some time before the force of the new regime, and the new reforms will be felt and understood. Once that is done, share will start to move up again, but not driven by derivates and Bernie Maddoff style shenanigans, but but companies pursuing real opportunities, making real things and providing services we really need. It might not go as fast as it did before the latest bubble burst, but neither will it deflate as easily.

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Change to Green at House of Sweden

SACC-USA (the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in the U.S.) held a clean tech seminar at House of Sweden on February 6th together with the Embassy of Sweden. Speakers from Colorado, Michigan and Georgia stressed the importance of Swedish technology and know-how input to make America’s energy system greener.

Chemrec's U.S. CEO Rick LeBlanc at the Change to
Green seminar. Photo: Hans Sandberg
The seminar, which attracted over 150 people, was arranged in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden, Sweden’s National Property Board, and the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington. D.C. The Swedish Embassy treated visitors to the seminar to a special “Embassy of Sweden Edition” of my book Swedish-American Currents.

The "Embassy of Sweden Edition”
of my book. Photo: Hans Sandberg
Besides representatives for the three states, there were speakers from the Green Building Council, Swedish Bioenergy Association (Svebio), and Chemrec’s new U.S. subsidiary. The latter company has developed a technique that can turn a pulp and paper mill into a biorefinery, while still machine paper or pulp. Potentially revolutionary stuff, as it could save thousands of jobs and make many cities much less dependent of foreign oil. (For a full report from the Change to Green conference, see the next issue of Currents magazine!)

House of Sweden, Washington, D.C.
Photo: Hans Sandberg

The secret behind Sweden’s lead in alternative energy is that the country never allowed itself to surf on cheap oil, but taxed it high, which gave room for the alternatives, that now are ready for primetime. Back in the 1970’s, Sweden’s oil dependency was 77 percent, but it is quickly dwindling and should be phased out by 2020.

Hans Sandberg

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Way Forward Outlined in New York Times Magazine

NYT-writer David Leonhardt has written an excellent essay about Obama's strategy for taking the U.S. out of the economic crisis, and at the same time fundamentally change the economic and social system in the U.S. Here is a quote:

TWO WEEKS AFTER THE ELECTION, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, appeared before an audience of business executives and laid out an idea that Lawrence H. Summers, Obama’s top economic adviser, later described to me as Rahm’s Doctrine. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Emanuel said. “What I mean by that is that it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”
In part, the idea is standard political maneuvering. Obama had an ambitious agenda — on health care, energy and taxes — before the economy took a turn for the worse in the fall, and he has an interest in connecting the financial crisis to his pre-existing plans. “Things we had postponed for too long, that were long term, are now immediate and must be dealt with,” Emanuel said in November. Of course, the existence of the crisis doesn’t force the Obama administration to deal with education or health care. But the fact that the economy appears to be mired in its worst recession in a generation may well allow the administration to confront problems that have festered for years. That’s the crux of the doctrine.

(NYT Sunday Magazine, Feb 1, 2009. Published online January 27, 2009)

Hans Sandberg

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Economic Crisis and the Hypocrites

Listening to the Republicans attacking Barack Obama for trying to save the U.S. economy from the disaster that George W. Bush and his followers brought upon us is a bit much. Hypocrisy!

While it is true that the U.S. is running a huge deficit, and that it will grow considerably over the next few years, the key thing is not the number per se (within reason), but what we do with the money we borrow from the future. It’s a tremendous irony that the conservatives are now screaming about deficits and government spending, something they didn’t do when George W. Bush turned the surplus he had inherited from Bill Clinton into an ever growing deficit with his tax cuts for the rich and disastrous invasion of Iraq. It’s only when the U.S. government is going to do some real investments in the future and help the middle class and working that they go bananas.

Nobody is proposing to substitute the capitalist market economy with a centrally planned socialist economy, but when you are in a deep recession on the verge of a depression, you can’t follow the old playbook by having the Fed fiddling with the interest rate.

It sounds like many conservatives would rather do nothing, but this is not an option today, unless you are willing to allow for mass poverty, starvation and possibly a civil war down the line. John Maynard Keynes wrote the book so to say on how to prevent the capitalist economic system from self-destruction, and it’s thanks to him and clever can-do politicians like FDR that the U.S. and world’s major capitalist economies has system stabilizers, which prevents it from collapsing totally.

Conservatives hates government intervention, unless it is for Hot Wars like the invasion of Iraq, or Cold Wars like the SDI program, which is why we didn’t hear them protest much against either Ronald Reagan’s reckless defense build-up or Bush feckless war in Iraq.

What Keynes showed and FDR did was that it is better for the government to spend than sit idle, while the economy settles on an unnecessary low capacity utilization. When the private sector has lost hope, and consumers are terrified, there is no incentive to invest and build the future. But the government can take a longer view, and if it uses its resources and the money it borrows wisely, it can put idle resources (which you have to feed and shelter anyhow unless you want to gamble with a revolution) to work and give the entire economy a jolt and steer it out of the ditch.

In today’s world and in the U.S., there are tremendous unmet needs as far as services to the public goes, for investments in the crumbling infrastructure, and in jump starting the green economy that is the one and only future for the world. We are facing a structural shift, and market forces typically cannot respond to such major changes as we lack accurate pricing signals for a transition from one economic structure (based on the old, carbon-based Earth destroying energy) to another (based on renewable Earth friendly energy). If you invest wisely, and governments can do that even if they don’t always do it, you can get the economy back on track, a new track, and once the engines are humming again, we can make a plan for paying back our loans.

Of course we would much rather have done this investment in a better future when we had the money and a surplus, but don’t have that luxury thanks to eight years of George W. Bush and his republican boosters.

Give Barack Obama a break. He’s on the right track, and he’s an honest man who cares for you and me.

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jessica Alba Takes On Bill O'Reilly, Who "Corrects" Her about Sweden's Neutrality

For more about Sweden's policy of non-allignement in peace and neutrality in war, see Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

After Eight Long Disastrous Years, America Is Finally Out Of Darkness

The Inauguration, it was Barack Obama at his best, composed, proud, smart, and ready to turn America around. He spoke to an American people who has overcome prejudices of the past, and showed the world a new face of America, and the power of democracy. The Bush-Cheney junta has left, and America is finally back as a force for good.

Hans Sandberg

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hawaii Takes the Lead In U.S. Telemedicine

Princeville, Hawaii

Getting to a doctor can be hard if you're living on a small island in the Pacific Ocean, and very expensive if the visit requires a flight to a hospital in for example Honolulu, Hawaii, and possibly a night at an hotel. I wrote about telemedicine programs in Hawaii back in 2001 when telemedicine was just being explored, but the State of Hawaii last Thursday (January 15, 2009)launched a statewide program that allows patients to "see" a doctor without having to travel.

Ina Fried wrote in her CNET blog on January 15, 2009 that:

"The state is the first to offer online physician visits statewide, under a program that kicks off Thursday. (....) Hawaii passed a law in 2006 that paved the way for Thursday's launch. The legislation led HMSA to look for ways to implement online health care, a search that eventually led the company to Boston-based American Well. The two companies have been working together since last June, along with Microsoft, whose HealthVault system is supported to allow patients to maintain their own health care records. " (my italics, HS.)

More sources for info about telemedicine in the Pacific Ocean:

Hawaii: Testbed for Telemedicine (Metro, 2001)

Doctors Will Make Web Calls in Hawaii (New York Times, 2009)

STAN (State of Hawaii Telehealth Access Network)

For more information about the prospects for using information technology in U.S. healthcare, watch the Senate hearing on Investing in Health IT: A Stimulus for a Healthier America.

Telemedicine and Telehealth in the Pacific Islands Area (Peacesat/Pan-Pacific Education and Communication Experiments by Satellite, University of Hawaii)

Telehealth Research Institute

Hans Sandberg

Friday, January 9, 2009

Food For Thought - The Meatrix

I just discovered The Meatrix, which came out a year ago or so. It's a spoof of The Matrix movie, but fun and for a very good cause.
Go to The Meatrix site and watch the movies.