The world’s least interesting national day

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National Day 2011 at MillesgÄrden, Lidingö,

Today is Sweden’s National Day, and practically no one cares.

Under the headline “National Day, a bluff clothed in Blue and Yellow”, the noted historian Dick Harrison tells the newspaper “Svenska Dagbladet” today that what was originally Swedish Flag Day had its origin with the founder of Skansen, Artur Hazelius, in the 1890’s. Apparently he held a number of Flag Days, but they all got rained out. According to Harrison, it rained least on June 6, so Hazelius stuck with that date.

Afterwards, people looked for historical events on June 6, and discovered that Gustaf Vasa was crowned King of Sweden on that date (under the Julian Calendar) in 1523, and a new Swedish Constitution was signed (not adopted) on June 6, 1809. Harrison says these events were linked to the day after the fact.

The day didn’t become a public holiday until 2005, replacing Pentacost Monday, and that was only because industry realized Pentacost Monday happens every year, but two years out of seven June 6 falls on a weekend. Unlike US, where the following Monday is a holiday in such cases, Swedes lose out if a holiday is on a weekend. So industry realized they could get more work out of people with June 6, and successfully lobbied for the change.

“Svenska Dagbladet” points out that most Swedes feel no connection to the day, and the true national day of Sweden is Midsummer. That’s when everyone is out, dancing around Maypoles, and picnicking together.

In recent years one custom has been attached to the national day. Every year on June 6 city halls across the country hold ceremonies to honor those who became Swedish citizens during the previous calendar year. I attended such a ceremony in 2011, and it was fun. But for most Swedes June 6 has virtually no significance.

Stockholm Baseball Opens 2014 season with Double Wins

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Defending Swedish champs Stockholm opened the 2014 season taking a doubleheader from visiting Leksand, 6-5 and 9-3.

Leksand led the first game until the bottom of the ninth inning, when Stockholm tied with a bases loaded walk. The winning run came with the bases still loaded, with a batter hit by a pitch.

Twice during the game Stockholm loaded the bases, then failed to score.

One of the strangest plays came while Stockholm was issuing an intentional walk, when the home plate umpire called a balk.

Telia how could you delete files from my harddisk?

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After Christmas I prepared for the 2014 MLB season by watching my recordings from the 2013 World Baseball Classic. This was fun, following the progress of the Netherlands to the semi-finals….but about a week ago I discovered that all of my recordings had been deleted.

This my iptv supplier Telia apparently did because the recordings were from ESPN America, which no longer exists. Why the disappearance of the channel should result in deleting recording files on a harddisk they do not explain, except to say they can’t actively access my harddisk and erase files.

Yet that’s what they did.

ESPN America apparently pulled the plug on August 1, 2013. I didn’t even notice, which perhaps just shows that the channel itself no longer filled a role, at least for baseball fans.

Major League Baseball arrived on European TV screens in 1997 when Britain’s Channel Five started broadcasting the ESPN Sunday Night game live, in the early hours of Monday mornings European time. To explain the game to viewers more familiar with cricket they offered a pair of entertaining and knowledgeable hosts, who introduced the programs and talked during the America commercials.

Best of all, Channel Five’s signal was available on satellite all over Europe. Thanks to the magic of VHS, viewers could record those middle-of-the-night games and watch them at their leisure.

For me, in a pre-World Wide Web era, it meant I could reconnect with baseball after being away from it for years (boxscores in the “International Herald Tribune” was not a good way to stay in touch).

One, and later two games a week, was wonderful, but the whole European baseball fan world changed again in 2002 with the launch of the North American Sports Network, NASN. Carrying American sports around the clock, they had several baseball games every day during the season. Even better, eventually they popped up on our Swedish cable TV offerings, which was handier than relying on satellite.

In 2007 the channel was purchased by ESPN and renamed ESPN America. The baseball offerings remained the same (there was probably a preponderance of relys from ESPN), and I think my only criticism was that they only carried Spring Training from Florida, not from California. They only carried one or two Giants games a month, but that was to be expected when they had to share time among all the teams.

After the 2007 season Channel Five gave up its MLB broadcasts, the ESPN competition was just too much.

Enter the Internet.

The first baseball game I ever listened to live online was on September 6, 1995, when Cal Ripken broke the record for playing in consecutive games. The broadcast from WBAL in Baltimore was carried online in some now outmoded streaming audio format. I had tried to listen to the MLB broadcast using Real Audio, the Seattle Mariners in Real’s hometown, but there was so much demand it was impossible to access.

All this was over a dial-up modem at 14000 baud.

Over the years, with faster Net access, MLB consolidated first Gameday Audio, and then video from virtually every game as MLB.tv. Nowadays, with every Giants game (and those of every other team) available, TV and radio, live and on-demand, not only on my TV (through an app on the set itself as well as in my Apple TV box), but also on my iPad and iPhone, there was no reason to subscribe to ESPN America any more. So I can see why ESPN pulled the plug.

But I did need ESPN America a year ago during the World Baseball Classic. There was no online access to those games, but ESPN America carried them all.

We had just switched from cable to iptv from Telia, connected to their 100 Mb/s fiber network, and upgraded to a box with a recordable harddisk. So I took out the shortest possible subscription to ESPN America (three months) and happily recorded at least ten games, including all I could of the Netherlands, and the semis and finals in San Francisco. (Which I watched there at AT&T Park….When the games ran overtime I could even use the app on my iPhone to extend the recording back in Sweden.)

So these were the recordings I was watching after the Christmas, the ones that have been erased from the harddisk because the originating channel no longer exists. Telia assures me my other recordings are safe (presumeably as long as those channels exist). But this reminds me of the way Amazon suddenly deleted the eBook of “1984” from its Kindle apps around the world.

Systembolaget delivers (just slowly and dearly)

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We have received a wine delivery from Systembolaget, Sweden’s state-owned retail alcohol monopoly. This was extraordinary, but it also reflects the company’s twin missions, to sell alcohol, while at the same time discouraging people from buying alcohol.

Home deliveries as a test began some weeks ago, and were extended to Stockholm in late September and to surrounding communities like ours on October 4. I would have liked to have placed an order on day one, but for various reasons had to wait until October 10. It was then that the two obstacles to home delivery became evident, the transport fee and the long wait for delivery.

Five to seven times the delivery fee

From time to time we order food deliveries from Coop, the Swedish cooperative, one of many grocery chains offering that service. They charge SEK 49 to deliver, with next day delivery (except weekends). Systembolaget charges 5-7 times as much for a delivery as does Coop (outsourced to the mail and package delivery company Bring).

The cost is enough to discourage most people, but the wait seems especially designed to minimize customer interest. The earliest delivery date for my October 10 order was October 29, two and a half weeks later. This apparently to discourage impulse buying.

(And while I was flattered when I was carded buying wine at a Safeway state at the age of 42, twice the drinking age in California, it was a bit weird having my ID checked at the age of 64.)

Forced into it by the pro-temperance Liberals

Systemet was basically forced into home deliveries when EU membership meant that Swedes could order liquor from abroad and have it delivered home. One of the strongest proponents of home deliveries by the monopoly this was Carl B. Hamilton, a veteran Liberal Party MP and a member of Systembolaget’s board of directors. The Liberals are the Swedish party most influenced by the Temperance movement, and while opening up for (highly controlled) home deliveries may initially look counter-intuitive, this was apparently seen by the party as a way to prop up the alcohol monopoly and defend it against a threat.

The other three parties in Sweden’s center-right goverment have somewhat varying approaches to alcohol.

Victory over the Center

In opening up to home deliveries, the Liberals seem to have won out over the Central Party, based traditionally on Sweden’s farmers. This country has a very tiny number of wine producers, all in the south, and most apparently on the island of Gotland. These have been pleading for wine-tasting at their vineyards. This would obviously be a great boon for sales, as currently their wines are only available (sometimes) at nearby state stores. But vineyard wine-tasting would challenge the monopoly (opening the door to more alternatives), and even the proposal for Systemet to be in charge of sales at the vineyards seems to have been rejected.

The very religious Christian Democrat Party wants to be as restrictive as possible about alcohol.

 

The Conservatives change policy (at least in public)

On the other hand, the Conservatives (conservative Moderates), larger than all the other coalition parties put together, long actively called for the abolition of the monopoly, allowing for private liquor stores and sales of alcohol at grocery store. This was in line with their distrust of public services where private actors could do the job, as seen by their leading the campaign to break up the pharmacy monopoly and for the creation of private profit-taking clinics and schools funded by tthe taxpayers. But something happened when the party began to campaign with the other three parties before the 2004 elections. The Conservatives sought to recast their image as “The new Labor Party”, trying to sell the idea they could adminster the welfare state better than the Social Democrats who had built it.

While pundits and opposition politicians can argue over whether they have actually done that, and their steady decline in the polls since the 2010 elections wold indicate some of the voters no longer accept that image, abandonment of the traditional position on Systembolaget seems to have been part of that image recasting. Private school, clinics, and pharmacies apparently have not disturbed the model, but the restrictive approach to alcohol seems to be too finely ingrained in Swedes to rock the boat over.