Sunday, 21 February 2010

Winter storms and Olympics, plus a flight of an eagle

It is - again - time for the Winter Olympics. I am definitely glad about living once again in a climate that has actual seasons. Last night was a stormy night. I went to get some supplies to the local store late in the afternoon, before the weather would come howling in. The hissing, or swishing sound of a fine shower of dry snow landing on trees and earth is one of those things that will get your skin tingling. I could smell the firepalaces and perhaps wood-fired saunas (the best kind) coming from the villas in the area. Later the snow would come down in an almost horizontal manner. I've missed this. A leisurely Sunday morning opened with a fast-paced jog into the sunshine and fresh powder in the forest.

As I've been missing downhill skiing, I've been watching the alpine disciplines on TV. Sweden has a long time alpine tradition of success, but this time aroud we got some serious entertainment. Sweden's veteran skier Anja Persson - who has a number of Olympic medals in her pocket already - suffered a very dangerous fall after a flight of sixty meters into which she was launched from a high speed. Miraculously - or maybe due to her superb ability to control her body - she came out from it with buises only, and continued undeterred to a bronze medal next day. She has one cool head.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Car Trouble

Yes, thats a Bugatti Type 41 (aka 'Royale'). I recently read from Wired that it is maybe the most coveted collector car in the world. Its production started in 1927 and Ettore Bugatti was planning to sell these to the European royalty. Alas, the Great Depression intervened. It is quite a set of wheels, definitely your style if you happen to be the monopoly man. What a peculiar specimen of industrial produce!

During the last few months there has been intense debate in the Swedish media about the iconic car maker SAAB, as its future has been quite uncertain. Like Volvo, it has been a kind of a manifestation of Swedish mindset and style in designing and building cars. Both companies were pioneers in car safety (for example, it was Volvo who originally came up with the 3-point safety belt that has probably saved untold numbers of lives), and they still like to build those 5-star Euro NCAP rated vehicles. Very comforting if you have a family in the car. Even Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson has commented on the calming effect of driving a SAAB.

However, both companies have been sold to American car giants years ago. The idea was that as a part of huge corporations they will have the access to newest technology and extensive sales networks. However, with SAAB at least, the opposite has happened. SAAB used to be a piece of unique Swedishness relished by a devout global fanbase, but soon corporate men with souls of accountants made sure that it bacame very much like the average mass produced European car. As SAAB seemed to have reached the end of the road, there was something akin to an awakening in the Swedish press and public - suddenly the realization of losing the other half of the car industry with all related businesses seemed to strike home, as at the same time, Ford sold Volvo to the Chinese.

It now seems that car industry will join the ranks of vanishing cogs of industrial base as its reduction steadily continues. Shipbuilding is long gone, and with it all the jobs and export income. The government was suggesting to the SAAB employees that they should start to build windmills instead. What a dreadful prospect! If one has seen the eyesore of fields littered with towering windmills in the West of Sweden, one has seen enough :) Sweden is one of the most free-trade enthusiastic countries in Europe, and I do suspect it has to do with the fact that Swedes subconsciously believe that they will fare well in an open situation, being able to export much. Sweden does have a very long tradition of exporting manufactured goods (for example, in the 1700's, 80% of the produce of Swedish cannon foundries went to export). Except that they soon wont produce much, so what is there left to export, is the realization.

USA and the major European countries with big car industries have seen to it that their car industries stay in the country and keep on employing and tax-paying. Tax-payers money has not been spared in the bail-outs (as anyone can calculate the cost of an army of unemployed who have very limited buying power in the economy). Except in Sweden. Whereas many talk the talk of free trade lovin', few walk the walk when its against their own direct interest. Except Sweden, where fath is genuine and true.

However, if you cannot produce, and the parties doing the producing for you decide to cut off your supply, one may end up in a difficult situation. And have to improvise, like these guys:

Does it have a 3-point belts and side airbags? Nevetheless, I have a feeling that these guys will be upgrading soon. Good things come to those who wait.