Saturday, December 25, 2010

What They Should Have Sung

Some songs have an element of magic. They squeeze your heart and flood your mind. It's far from always clear why, but it can happen in an instant, and it happens again each time you hear the song anew. The mystery of music – but lyrics have a lot to do with it, too.

One such song is Handbags and Gladrags from the 1960's, recorded many times since. I saw a recent Rod Stewart TV concert, where he sang it together with the Stereophonics, who made a somber cover of it in 2001. But Rod beat them to it, on his very first solo album released in 1970, and he's kept the song with him through the years.

He was not the first, though. The initial recording was made by Chris Farlowe in 1967, but it was written by Manfred Mann singer Mike d'Abo, who recorded it without much notice in the 1970's.

Handbags and Gladrags has an enchanted melody, paired in a splendid way with instruments slightly heading elsewhere. That's delicious, like Champagne with salmon, but still it would fall flat without the lyrics, which sort of create and elevate the tones of the melody. Poetry that turns into song all by itself.

It's strikingly obvious already at the sad starting lines:
Ever seen a blind man cross the road
trying to make the other side?
Ever seen a young girl growing old
trying to make herself a bride?

The chorus is an intriguingly composed line: The handbags and the gladrags that your granddad had to sweat for you to buy.
But that was not its initial form. Mike d'Abo had it end: so you could buy, which is simply bad grammar. Rod Stewart obliged in his version, but he also used a slightly different wording, copied by the Stereophonics three decades later: The handbags and the gladrags that your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy you. But there, the melody becomes slightly awkward, not as naturally flowing as in the first solution above.

Also, the message doesn't stand out as well about the spoiled girl carelessly spending money that she wasn't the one sweating to earn. Granddad didn't spend the money. The girl did that all by herself. Otherwise she would not be to blame.

The choice of words in the Rod Stewart and Stereophonics versions also lose the emphasis on the word “sweat”, which brings additional power to the message of the song. They stress instead the word “had”, and that doesn't help much.

Strangely, I find no version of the song where the ideal wording of the chorus is used. I may have made it up myself. That happens. Anyway, that's what they should all have sung:
The handbags and the gladrags that your granddad had to sweat for you to buy.

The version above is by Kelly Jones (singer of Stereophonics) in the Jools TV show.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bye to Censorship – and Hello

Sweden stops censoring movies. It's the last of the democratic countries to do so, and it was one of the first countries to start it in 1911. Swedish tradition is one of government control in order to “protect” its citizens from bad influence – but the last few decades of censoring movies have dealt with excessive violence, and not sex scenes. That makes some sense.

Although the law until now allowed for censoring movies, it has not been done since 1995. The last one was Martin Scorsese's Casino, where three violent scenes were cut out.

Statens Biografbyrå (the State Cinema Agency) has been handling the censorship through the years. Since the 1960's, they have mainly struck at excessive violence, whereas explicit sex scenes have been accepted to an increasing degree – even to some extent when combined with violence.

Here is their own search list of all the 38,000 films they have inspected since 1956, and what they decided about them. Earlier records are probably not computerized.

Adult at Fifteen
After 100 years, from January 1, 2011, the law will not allow any censoring of movies for an adult audience. But the categorization of movies according to the age of the audience will continue. There are four categories: accepted for all audiences, allowed from seven years, from eleven years, and from fifteen.

When you go to the cinema, you're an adult at fifteen. That also happens to be the age of consent in Sweden, but I doubt that there is any connection between the two – at least not nowadays. Maybe in past years, when sex scenes were considered for censorship, they thought that at fifteen, you were expected to handle them, since you were free to have sex.

Personally, I've never been a fan of excessive violence in movies. That was true also when I was fifteen, so when growing up I was kind of pleased with the censors cutting out the most brutal scenes of the movies. The problem was that they sometimes also cut out scenes of other kinds, and they always did it recklessly, so that the remaining movie could become erratic and hard to follow.

Chain Saw Sale
I wouldn't have minded if they used their scissors in films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 1974, and its sequels. But in Sweden these films were completely censored. That's overdoing it. Kind of a fun fact is that when this was debated heavily in Sweden, chain saws were on sale at a Swedish department store.

When The Warriors was released in 1979, there was a huge and heated debate about censoring it, since there was fear that it would inspire gang violence in Sweden. But the movie was released to cinemas, without a single cut, and nothing much happened.

Not that any kind of censorship is healthy at length, but Svenska Biografbyrån has done a reasonable job, considering the circumstances. They have focused on age limits, and on elements of excessive violence, but they have not worried much about sex.

Sex Again a Sin?
In Swedish TV, on the other hand, there seems to be an increasing hysteria about sex, although no censor demands it. The producers censor themselves. This is also true, lately, about Swedish movies. It seems to be a world trend, probably caused by all kinds of moralists and religious fundamentalists raising their voices.

Swedish film was once famous for daring sex scenes in movies. That fame started with One Summer of Happiness (Swedish title: Hon dansade en sommar) in 1951, where an actress showed her breasts in a love scene.

In 1967, I am Curious (Yellow), with explicit sex scenes, was released. It created a lot of noise around the world, and next year had a (Blue) sequel. Its director, Vilgot Sjöman, ten years later released the movie Taboo, where he examined what the title states, including sexual orientations all the way to necrophilia. But in 1977, it was not that much cause for alarm.

Since the 1970's, though, Swedish film has become increasingly hesitant regarding love scenes and sexuality. Not that the subject is avoided, since that would leave little else to attract adult audiences, but the love scenes have become quite innocent – skipping nudity and sweaty bodies almost altogether.

But such censorship is voluntary, already done in production, so there is no law to either decrease or increase it. That's the real danger of censorship, spreading like a plague today. Controversy is avoided by simply not provoking anybody. If it keeps on, the world will become increasingly gagged – and very, very boring.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Suicide or Bombing

A man carrying bombs blew his car and himself up in Stockholm. Fortunately, nobody else was seriously wounded. The first terrorist suicide bomber in Sweden. There are so many aspects to this, I hardly know where to begin. Nothing in this world is simple, nor black and white.

We don't know for sure yet, but I doubt that this is an organized terrorist attack, as those striking many other countries in the world, these last few decades. It seems to be the work of what's usually called a solitary madman. He probably lacked the support and backing of terrorist organizations.

He was a fanatic Muslim, who had convinced himself of acting in accordance with his religion. He left a message where he blamed Swedish troops in Afghanistan and the provocative work of a Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, who made images of the prophet Mohammed as a dog.

Well, Swedish troops in Afghanistan are, as far as I know, mainly peace preserving forces, just like the many UN missions that Swedish troops have been involved in for several decades. Lars Vilks' artistic provocation has upset many Muslims, but not to the extent that the Danish caricatures published some time earlier did.

This lonely terrorist was probably mainly searching desperately for a higher cause, and in such cases religion is often easily accessible. That's reason for us to keep on questioning religion in any of its forms. We can't surrender to a position where we respect religion so much that we refrain from investigating and criticizing it. Nothing in society should be above inspection and debate.

What's the Responsibility of an Artist?
There is more to contemplate. For example, I think about Lars Vilks' artistic provocation. It's easy enough to understand his aim. Like many of us, including me, Vilks was upset at how cowardly passive the Swedish politicians and media were, when Denmark was aggressively attacked because one of its newspapers published caricatures of Mohammed. Politicians worked secretly to stop Swedish press from publishing the same pictures, and the press obliged, giving all kinds of absurd arguments for not showing their readers the pictures in question.

The only commendable press reaction to the threats against Denmark and its press, would be for the press of the rest of the world to quickly publish the same pictures. Swedish press – and many others – chickened out, sadly. They regretted it later, without admitting it publicly, but the damage was already done.

So, when Vilks made his Mohammed dog, he was kicking in a wide open door. Swedish politicians and press had to stand up for him, not to make the same mistake twice. He was – and is – at risk of being attacked by aggressive Muslim fundamentalists, but he has the complete support of official Sweden. And he is a risk to it. Is he really morally allowed to do so?

International terrorism, as well as individual extreme fundamentalism, don't care if they strike at innocent civilians. Actually, they often prefer it. This suicide bomber in Stockholm went to its most populated shopping area with several bombs on his body and a backpack full of nails. Had he succeeded, many innocents would have been wounded or killed, including children.
We should all consider this risk when we act this way or that.

Not that we should allow terrorists to dictate our agenda and our actions, ever. But still, Vilks made a provocation that was evident to increase the risk of terrorist strikes in Sweden, especially since he knew that the Swedish government had to defend him. If he didn't consider this very carefully and responsibly, he allowed his art to go above ethics, or he just didn't care in his strife to make noise.

I regard myself as an artist of sorts, and I know that I would have great trouble with such considerations, before deciding on something equally provocative. I will defend Vilks' right to make such art, no matter what, but I allow myself to wonder if he has the same respect for others, and if he is primarily a compassionate human being.

The Failing Swedish Secret Police
Another thing is the action of the Swedish secret police, SÄPO, which has an embarrassing track record.

In 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was killed in the street by what seems also to have been a solitary madman – it's not yet certain. SÄPO, responsible for his security, had no bodyguard assigned to him at the time, and later defended it by claiming that there had been no threat against him. Well, he was assassinated...

In 2003, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anna Lindh, met the same terrible fate. Again a solitary madman, as far as we know, and again no SÄPO bodyguards. Guess what they said?

Historically, SÄPO has been totally preoccupied by chasing communists, and not much apart from that. Olof Palme discovered, when he had just become Prime Minister, that SÄPO regarded him as a security risk, because he had participated in a demonstration against the Vietnam war. So I guess he didn't feel much protected by them.

Now, SÄPO proudly steps in and declares that since this bombing is a terrorist act, they take over the investigation and just about everything else – although there is already news coming out about their failure to act on some alarms about the bomber's plans and behavior. My guess is that they will primarily struggle to hide their blunders. I don't expect that they accomplish much more. They're still mainly a sad joke. An expensive one, too.

I understand that it's almost impossible to protect society from solitary madmen, but this one had a Facebook account where it was quite obvious where he was heading, and he made several trips to England and the Arab world. Combined, those are telltale signs. Still, SÄPO has already admitted to knowing nothing about the man beforehand. Don't they bother about threats that are not fancy enough?

As a powerful organization they might only be interested in fighting other powerful organizations. Pride is one of the greatest powers, and one of the most costly.

What to do?
Extremism and fundamentalism are probably elements of which society cannot rid itself. Unfortunately, I believe such behavior to be stimulated by the panic that society reveals when experiencing it. The noise that one terrorist act causes, inspires the next one.

Suicide is like that, the experts have known for long. For this reason, the press in Sweden is discreet about suicides, even when famous people commit them. Somehow, a widely published suicide gives the impulse for others to follow the example. If a suicide bomber is primarily suicidal, and that's probably the case, then the same influence is likely there, too.

But media silence is no solution, since it creates other problems. We need to be able to talk about all, and to know about all. Otherwise we will soon have no idea of what to do, and what challenges to face.

Normal suicides are neither demonized nor glorified. We should not do that with terrorist suicides, either. If they are portrayed as suicides, although with terrorist claims, they might lose their attraction.

The Swedish suicide bomber was obviously a confused person with the dream of becoming a hero, no matter at what cost. He was not a monster, although he tried to commit a monstrous deed, nor was he any super villain. Just a lost soul with a mistaken cause. A desperate attention seeker. Who would want to walk in such a man's footsteps, really?

I know it is difficult, but we probably need to defuse terrorism by playing it down, from the devilish conspiracy to the personal tragedy. If we reveal the weakness and confusion of the ones carrying the terrorist deeds out, new recruits may be scarce.

I might be wrong.

Aikido – the Peaceful Martial Art

In 1971, when I was 17, I came across aikido for the first time. On my request, a friend showed the technique nikyo on me, bringing me down on the floor painfully. I forgot the pain in my amazement and decided that I had to learn that mysterious art. Now, almost 40 years later, I'm still working on it, and I'm still just as amazed.

My friend Christer was a couple of years older. I had known him for quite some time before realizing that he had practiced one of those Japanese martial arts, and I didn't understand why he had not bragged about it. Any teenage boy would. But I had to drag it out of him, and I had to insist on him showing me anything at all.

In those days, little more than the “judo chops” that Austin Powers jokes about, and the karate of Oddjob in the Goldfinger movie were at all known to the general public. Aikido I had not heard about at all. It seemed like magic. Christer just sort of waved his hand around mine, and I was down, in a flash of pain.

I went to the local club, one of the few in all of Sweden at the time, put on a blue training overall, and started to practice. It was an immediate passion. I even dreamed about aikido, and could think of little else – including schoolwork.

By now, it's an integral part of who I am. Its peaceful strategy of avoiding conflict by solving it without confrontation, or simply passing by it, has become a reflex. My breathing, posture, and ways of moving my body, are always the same as when I practice in the dojo. My way of looking at the world is greatly influenced by how to perceive the surroundings at keiko, the training. It's no longer possible to extract aikido from the rest of me.

I think that everyone who has done aikido for any significant period of time has the same experience. One could call it a way of life, but I prefer to regard aikido as an ingredient in it. Aikido is not a way of living, but one of the tools by which to refine the vehicle of one's path through life.

The Koan Art
It's an odd martial art. Aikido contains no attack techniques, only defense. Therefore, competition is impossible, as well as excluded out of principle. There should be no loser. It's complicated enough to take a lifetime to learn, and during that time the difficulties seem to increase rather than to diminish – as one becomes aware of how much more there is to perfect.

It's a martial art that is nothing less than a koan, the riddle used in Zen. The answer to a question is mostly another question, and learning is done best by not trying to know. You practice, although your mind understands neither how nor why, and gradually your body's experience will enlighten the mind, with a language not consisting of words.

Eastern philosophy has one distinct difference from that of the West. The latter is theoretical, made up by sentences, whereas the former is nothing, if not expressed in the body and in actions. Thinking must turn into doing. In aikido, it starts by doing, which leads to thinking, but it's still all about the doing.

The peacefulness of the aikido solutions is expressed by how softly and gently the body performs the techniques, and how pleasant the experience is to the attacker. That increases by time and persistent practice only. No shortcuts, no end result around the corner.

Books and Stuff
Since I'm a writer by profession, I just had to make a book about aikido. But it took almost 20 years. When I finally got around to writing it, I was surprised to discover how much of its content I had received already in my very first years of practicing aikido, and listening to my first Japanese teacher Toshikazu Ichimura, who was the head instructor in Sweden in those days.

He was a complicated man, which is not rare in this strange art, but he was also very generous with trying hard to emit all that he was able, and all that he knew. He followed faithfully the principle of trying to make his students surpass him. I hope I do the same.

My first aikido book was initially called Aikido – the Peaceful Martial Art, but the new edition is renamed Aikido Principles, to clarify that it's a book about aikido theory, not a manual on how to do the techniques. There's little point in trying to learn aikido from a book, so why pretend it's possible by writing one that way? But there's a lot to talk about, when not engaged in training.
So my book talks about all those things one might think about when keiko is over.

Here's more about the book: Aikido Principles. You find it on most Internet bookstores, for example at Amazon. If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

I have also written a book about the attack techniques. True, there is no attack in aikido, but we need to be attacked in order to practice it. The attack technique training is often neglected in aikido dojos, so I got the idea to write a book about how to develop one's skills at this, and what to consider about the attacks, for the aikido practice to improve. Actually, to advance properly in your aikido, you need to work with increasingly advanced attacks.

The book is straightforwardly called Attacks in Aikido. Here it is on Amazon. If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

I've so far written two more books relating to the aikido theme (and more books might come in the future). Aikibatto is about sword and staff training, which are part of the aikido curriculum. The Japanese sword is well known for its sharpness and the myths about it. The staff is less famed, but also practiced extensively in most aikido dojos. Here is the book on Amazon). If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

Ki is the life force principle of Eastern tradition. It is also spelled chi or qi. It's essential in aikido as well, so much that it's part of the name of this art. Aikido means approximately “the way of joining the life forces” (those of the defender and the attacker). Most people are quite bewildered about it, so I wrote a book presenting ki and how to exercise it: Qi – Increase Your Life Energy. Here it is on Amazon. If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

But there's a limit as to what can be learned about aikido from reading, so I also made a bunch of videos, where I try to show it. Here is my YouTube account, where I put these videos: Aikidostenudd. There are also lots of texts, images, and videos about aikido on my website:

Mainly, though, it's a thing to practice together with others in a dojo. Enough said.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Not Only Punched by Ingmar Bergman

I just saw the rerun of a TV interview with Ingmar Bergman, the world famous Swedish movie and theater director, not long before he died. He confessed that he had punched a critic to make sure that he would not be able to write any more reviews about Bergman's work. He seemed quite proud about it.

In 1969, the major morning daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter theater critic Bengt Jahnsson visited the rehearsal of a play Ingmar Bergman directed. Jahnsson had written quite harsh words about Bergman in past reviews, so the latter went up to him and pushed him around (or punched his face, it's a bit unclear). It made the news, and Bergman was fined SEK 5,000 (USD 1,000 at the time).
An account of the event can be found here.

Bengt Jahnsson has since been made kind of a laughing-stock, even beyond his death in 1991. The vicious critic who was defeated by the brilliant director, like a knight defeating a dragon. I was 15 when I read about it in the newspapers, and my sympathy was with Bergman. The poor artist had enough of insensitive words about his art, I thought.

Years later, in the 1980's, I started to work for Dagens Nyheter as a rock critic (also coming to do some theater reviews). I got to know Bengt Jahnsson, without realizing at first that it was the one who had been attacked by Bergman. I found him to be an intelligent and gentle man, with penetrating eyes and a magnificent sense of humor. So I was quite surprised when learning that he was the critic Bergman despised (and continued to do so until his death).

I couldn't understand why. Bengt Jahnsson impressed me as someone worth reading, his thoughts meriting some serious contemplation, so why would Bergman want to beat him up?

The TV interview made me realize that it was all strategic. Bergman wanted to disqualify Jahnsson from reviewing any more of his work, since Jahnsson was one of the most critical reviewers of it. As far as I remember, it worked. Others took over at least most of the reviewing of Bergman's work, maybe all of it.

That's cheating, of course. Critics don't work for artists, but for the audience, the readers of the newspapers who consider seeing a play, or just want to compare their opinion with that of a critic. That's true for any genre of critique. Bergman sabotaged it by interfering with the process, which was no less immoral than if a critic would make noise to obstruct a performance. It doesn't flatter Bergman's memory that to his last day, he was proud of it.

Actually, I got the idea that something else was involved in Bergman's hatred. I had the impression that Bengt Jahnsson was gay. I don't remember if he said it out loud or not, but he gave me the distinct impression. And Bergman had a thing with that. He wanted desperately to be a macho man, although the actors at the theater joked about him being so deep in the closet he didn't even realize it himself.
Bengt Jahnsson might have touched a Bergman nerve right there.

Also, contrary to Bergman as well as most of his reviewers, Jahnsson had a working class background. Different worlds, different perspectives.

Anyway, I find it sad that on the Internet as well as in other sources, Bengt Jahnsson is mentioned very little, and for little else than the conflict with Bergman. Jahnsson wrote a lot of theater reviews worth reading. He also wrote several books, including essays and poetry. He is worth being remembered for more than that Bergman assault.

When I worked at Dagens Nyheter, I also got to review one of Bergman's plays, a radio theater performance. I don't remember how critical I was, but surely not altogether praising it. But that was when he was older, so I didn't worry much about his punching power. I guess that the artist's temper didn't hinder him from choosing his victims with some caution.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Openleaks to Close the Leaks

A group from Wikileaks is starting an alternative to it, calling it Openleaks, with a slightly different modus operandi. Whether this is true or just another hoax to discredit Wikileaks, the plans presented so far imply more of a seal than a leak.

I'm not that sure about the authenticity of these news. So far, they seem to be spread mainly in Swedish media, such as Dagens Nyheter. It can be fake news originating from forces struggling to discredit Wikileaks and Julian Assange – and there's a lot of that, right now.

We will see on Monday, December 13, when the website is supposed to open.

Anyway, the idea of Openleaks is actually to be less open than Wikileaks. The news material they get is not to be published by them, but sent on to other select media. That way they avoid being sued and such, they imagine, but it also means that they allow traditional media to act on the material as they see fit – or not act at all. In other words, pretty much like any old news agency, such as AP and UPI.

The very basic idea of the Internet is that all information should be freely accessible to all, which is exactly what Wikileaks is about. Openleaks, with its closed concept, is planning the opposite. It is way off, and it will not work. Any news agency only working towards other news media is much weaker than one daring to depend on the world public for its support and continued activity.

The ones behind the Openleaks idea, if it's not just a fake, want to take over the success of Wikileaks, but avoid the risks. Good luck with that. The only thing it will lead to is voluntary censorship, to stay out of problems, until nothing of any interest to anyone remains.

Wikileaks Should Leak More
Not that Wikileaks stands the test of crisis that well. Now, it's mostly inaccessible, because of attacks to its website from who knows how many enemies, high and low. The Wikileaks revelations are not accessible to the general public.

They should have predicted this, and initially acted to make such sabotage impossible, or at least less successful. The Internet contains the solution: When information is spread out over millions websites, how to censor it?

So why didn't they do that, initially? Why didn't Wikileaks publish all the material at once, and make it easy for countless of other websites to copy it, as well as for every Internet user to catch it on their hard disks?

I believe it has to do with vanity. Wikileaks and its Editor in Chief Julian Assange want everybody to go to their website, and return to it for more news. They want to be exclusive with the source material. So, they have become an easy target for the forces sabotaging their work, and they have deviated from the basic principle of the Internet.

I am reminded of Robespierre, the blood thirsty agitator in the French revolutionary Parliament. He led the persecution and execution of so many aristocrats, as well as members of his own Parliament.

As things got worse, he made threatening speeches about planning to reveal accusations against several of his fellow members. But before he had a chance to do so, other members spoke, accused him of similar crimes, and got him arrested. After some turmoil, Robespierre was swiftly guillotined.

Let's hope Julian Assange escapes such a fate, but let's also hope that he realizes how serious the situation is, and hurries to publish all the material Wikileaks possesses, and not only on their own website. Until this is done, the threats to him, to Wikileaks, and to the relative freedom of the whole Internet, are at great risk.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Civilization vs. Nature

Time for a photo. This one I regard as a symbol of the everlasting battle between civilization and nature. The grass grows in the pavement. When left alone, nature always returns and conquers. Is it possible to have a civilization that doesn't need to fight back?

I'm no Thoreau. I enjoy city life. Although I can become aghast by the majesty of a mountain and the smell of forest air, nature makes me impatient at length. I need to return to the turmoil of the city. A friend once called me the most urbanized person she knows. That might be. The city boy who occasionally has a little sip of wildlife, if not too wild and not too uncomfortable.

Still, I enjoy the fact that nature just doesn't give up. We may force it to retreat, when we construct our society with cement, steel, and glass, but we can't make it stay away for good. As soon as we turn away momentarily, nature creeps right back up behind us. It has the patience and perseverance of something continuously renewing itself, as the main trait of its existence. Nature forever returns, because that's what it's all about.

Of course, civilization has this trademark as well, sort of renewing itself as a process on which it is based. It is built, it withers, and gets rebuilt. But compared to nature, it's an amateur. Civilization contains resistance against its own renewal, and accomplishes it only by severe damage to itself. In civilization, change is reluctant and costly, whereas in nature it simply never stops. So at length, the renewal of nature is irresistible. Civilization should learn from its example and adapt to it, instead of furiously fighting it.

Actually, that's the core of the message in the Tao Te Ching. The grass gladly growing in the middle of the pavement says the same.

Click on the image to see it enlarged.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rape is More than Rape in Sweden

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is locked up in English jail, in the process to be deported to Sweden for charges of rape. Rape is a terrible word, but in Swedish law it's not only what we normally mean by it. A number of sex offenses, major and minor, are called rape – and treated equally severely by the Swedish legal system. Moral panic replaces justice.

For the last few years, moral panic and political correctness have cooperated to change Swedish laws on sex offenses towards the absurd. In their eagerness to demonstrate how much they abhor any kind of sexual abuse, the politicians have jumped to decisions widening the legal definition of rape. Now it includes a lot of offenses that come nowhere near the action of rape, the forced intercourse.

In some cases, neither Bill Clinton nor the rest of us would even call it sex at all.

The reason for the widened legal use of the word rape is claimed to be a care for the victims, ensuring that the crime is taken seriously in courts and leads to significant punishment. This seems like a good reason, but in reality the effect tends to be the opposite.

Instead of minor sexual offenses being regarded with more sincerity, the major ones, like real rape, tend to be seen as less serious. Of course, when the meaning of the term rape is widened it gets diluted. Not in the legal system just yet, but in the minds of the general public.

Soon, the courts will need to do the same, especially since there is an increasing number of cases that are little or no more than expressions of disappointment or jealousy, and similar subjective emotional issues of no real legal baring.

The Swedish parliament went an awkward way in its effort. Instead of simply raising the penalties for sex offenses, major as well as minor ones, they hardened the semantics. I am reminded of newspeak, in George Orwell's novel 1984, where an oppressive government uses language to brainwash its citizens and confuse their understanding of democracy and justice. When the Swedish parliament is doing the same, it's terrible evidence of their poor respect for basic civil principles.

A Matter of Condoms Only
So, in the case of Julian Assange, he is not – yet – the victim of a great interstate conspiracy to sabotage Wikileaks and its recent revelations. He is the victim of the term rape expanded in Swedish law to apply to things that are hardly crimes at all, but because of this can be treated as such.

In a way, this is even worse. Instead of a conspiracy, which would be illegal, the persecution and harassment of Assange is legal, stripping him of his human rights completely.

Behind the accusations against Assange are two Swedish women who discovered that he had made love to them both, and probably was not interested in a longtime commitment to either one of them. They went to the police together, as an alliance of two women spurned.

They both admit that the sex with him was consensual, but one claims that Assange deliberately made the condom break (what man in the world would?) and the other claims that they had sex without a condom against her will (although she didn't in any way oppose it at the time). Obviously, they were just searching desperately for some offense of which to accuse him.

Here are the circumstances regarding the events and the two women's charges, according to the police reports: Daily Mail report

The Guilty Ones
The Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny insists on the charges and on arresting Assange in his absence. According to her it's just for questioning, since Assange has not yet been able to give his version of the matter, although he stayed in Sweden for several weeks before going to England.

She refuses to say if there will be a trial, or to state the specifics of the alleged crimes. But it doesn't stop her from demolishing his reputation throughout the world, and putting him at great personal risk in so many ways. He is already punished, although there has been no trial.

The attorney of the two women, Claes Borgström, is a cynical opportunist who cashes in on this, all that he can, and participates gladly in the slander of Assange, blaming him for just about everything and then some. Both he and the prosecutor seem not at all displeased with the media attention this brings them.

What if the charges against Assange are dropped, or the court finds him innocent? How can his honor be restored? Will those who maltreated him be charged?

In both Swedish and European law, the judicial treatment of an accused may not be out of proportion to the charges. This has definitely happened here. Will the prosecutor be punished for this? Also, it is illegal to make false charges against someone. Will the two women be accused of this?

The Swedish legal system is Orwellian in so many ways, for example in the diminished rights of the accused, who is treated as guilty before the trial – a major mockery of the principles of justice. The accusers are rarely, if ever, at risk of anything at all, no matter how absurd their accusations are, which makes for a paranoid system of insecurity, again very Orwellian, or for that matter a reminder of extreme fascist and communist states.

So much wrong is exposed in the case against Julian Assange. The Wikileaks ingredient, and what it might have to do with this, is not even on the top of the list. From the Swedish perspective I would say that the worst is how justice deteriorates when moral panic and political correctness are allowed to shape it, and how quickly civil rights die when the legal system is free to act without the risk of being punished for its misuse of power.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


When I was eleven years old, I shouted to my future adult self: “Remember what it was really like!” Well, I remember my shout, but I can no longer claim to understand what I was supposed to remember.

The photo above is of me a couple of years before that shout. It was forming, somewhere in my chest, but not yet expressed.

In the world of literature, there are thousands of stories about childhood, maybe even millions. I've written a few, too. Still, do these books convey the true nature of that age? If they are not written by children, I doubt it.

The adult is the remaining shell of the child of the past. Memory is deceit. No matter how detailed, it keeps the form but dissolves the substance.

The child is not the adult waiting to happen, but another creature either deserted or locked up in the increasingly thick and rigid body of the latter. Sadly. Wars are born out of this.

There is a Swedish word, upplevelse, which describes what childhood is all about. The closest English word I find is 'experience', but it's far too matter-of-factly. Upplevelse is the emotional relation to what is experienced – what it feels like. To the child, that's more real than the reality igniting the feelings. The world is nothing if not perceived, experienced, and felt. All the children know this.

That much I remember. You know nothing about childhood if you don't realize that it's all about what it feels like, every moment of it, every burden of it, every disappointment and delight, every fear and longing, every discovery, every challenge, every consolation. But how to remember all these feelings?

Friday, December 3, 2010

When Dogs Die

I've experimented with what I call syllable poems, because they consist of only one-syllable words. I made video recitals of them, with clips illustrating the content – sort of. Above is the most popular one of them, When Dogs Die.

The English language makes little resistance to one-syllable poems, especially when you write about the big issues of life, death, love, hate, god, joy, grief, pain, and so on. The most important words are one-syllable. For that matter, so are the four-letter words.

The above poem, asking whether dogs have a soul, has received a number of comments, mostly from people who have recently lost a dog, and mourn it. It seems my poem gives them some kind of solace. What more could a poet ask for?

I've made a small number of syllable poems, so far. Here's a playlist of them all:
Syllable Poems

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cablegate Is Another Gate to Democracy

Wikileaks has published thousands of cables to and from a number of US Embassies, revealing the diplomatic negotiations behind the scenes. They call it Cablegate. There is a lot of gates, these days, that governments struggle to keep shut. No can do in the Internet era. Learn to live with it.

Hillary Clinton is furious. She is far from alone. Her indignation hides behind security reasons, but what scares Hillary and her colleagues the most is the increasing difficulty to keep secrets secret. This is relatively new to leaderships around the world, and they don't want to adapt. In spite of their claim to be democratic, they want to decide what the voting public shall know about their actions.

Free Speech for Real
The Internet has changed the world, and continues to do so, more than we are able to imagine today. Secrets, discretion, centralized control of the flow of information – these are things of the past. News now travels with the speed of light, and spreads like a flu, without passing through the scrutiny and concern of some Editor in Chief. Anybody with Internet access can reach out to the whole world.

That's wonderful, of course, but a nightmare to old style politicians – and that's still pretty much all of them. Before the Internet, the sources to publication were slow enough to hinder and few enough to suppress. But you can't do that with whole populations. Word will get around, views will be expressed, no matter how provocative they might be.

The Wikileaks website is now being attacked with such power that it is frequently unreachable, and such a broadside to it might need substantial resources to be accomplished. It's not yet known who is behind these attacks, but let's just say that several governments in the world don't mind at all.

Not that it will function to keep the Cablegate material away from the public for long, but it reveals what many government bodies try to do: control the Internet, so that they can decide what will be spread on it, and what will not.

They want to return to a society of censorship.

They blame it on the need for security, the fight against terrorism, racism, pedophilia, or whatever. But the bottom line is that the governments simply abhor the free word when for the first time in history, anybody's voice can reach the whole world.

Society Doesn't Move Backwards
In China, great parts of the Internet are censored, and some huge international companies assist the Chinese government in this. In Europe, the EU organizes a massive mapping of Internet activity, even every email sent, archiving it for the purported reason of fighting terrorism. These things will increase. Governments don't let go of their control without a fight.

They will lose it. Society doesn't move backwards, at least not for more than a little while. The governing bodies and mechanisms are not homogenous enough for total control to be possible, and the Internet is a maze already to begin with.

I'm not sure that the Cablegate material will reveal any surprising scandals of sensational dimensions. It seems at first glance mainly to say that politicians and their diplomats usually discuss every option before deciding on their actions, which is not only expected but also a responsible way of handling power. The cables also show that governments are keen to manipulate each others as well as the public. Well – duh!

What is revealed by Cablegate as well as any other gate is the same: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

That's not news, but we need to constantly remind ourselves, or the misuse of power will escalate to absurdity, and our leaders become dictators. Democracy is not guaranteed by our votes on election day, but by how we act in between elections, what we accept and what we protest.

Cablegate is not a lesson for governments, for they are hopelessly slow learners. The lesson is for us, the people, who ultimately decide, on a daily basis, what authority to grant our leaders.

I love the Internet. For the first time, everybody can reach out and speak their mind, without having to pass through censorship or editorial scrutiny. Therefore, the Internet has become the very most precious instrument of democracy, and needs to be protected accordingly. I'd like to see a new amendment in every Constitution of the world to this effect.

Politicians will not volunteer to make it happen, but they might feel forced to oblige in their constant pursuit for votes. Even if they do it hypocritically, it's good to have it done.