Monday, February 28, 2011

Olof Palme – the Swedish JFK

Today it's 25 years since the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot to death on a Stockholm street, leaving the country in a shock that we're still not completely over. There are many similarities to his fate and that of John F. Kennedy, as well as the traumatic effect these assassinations had on Swedish and US society.
Olof Palme (1927-86) was a charismatic Prime Minister who also made a lasting international impression, far beyond what his small country would expect its leader to be able. Especially the third world countries appreciated his engagement in their situation.

In other countries, he was less appreciated at times. For example, the US government was frequently irritated by his critique of the Vietnam war, which he expressed already in the mid-1960's.

A Pensive PM
He was an excellent political thinker and speaker, which was obvious when the famous reporter David Frost interviewed him 1969 in US television. Frost was quite impressed by the balanced and pensive answers he got from his guest. Here's the long interview on YouTube (divided into four videos):

What impressed David Frost the most was Olof Palme's answer to the question what he would like his obituary to say:
“That, I have never thought of. And I hope that I will, up to the very last breath, not think of it. Because I think that the moment people begin to think of their obituaries, they start to be scared, they don't dare to do things, and they lose their vitality. So, I hope you'll help me to keep that thought out of my mind.”

I met Olof Palme a few times in Stockholm, finding him to be a modest and sensitive person, also very observant and curious, with sincere respect for the thoughts of others – even those of my, at the time, youthful mind.

Of course, he was a politician at heart, with that decided direction of his rhetoric, but he never lost his genuine interest in the open dialogue and exchange of views that is the essence of democracy. I was quite fond of him, and proud to have him as our Prime Minister.

The Palme Hatred
There were also lots of people, in Sweden as well as abroad, who nourished a strangely agitated hate towards Olof Palme. They worked with slander, often passing into the absurd. Oddly, such haters were found among both right wingers and left wingers. There was something about him that provoked them.

To a large extent, I believe that his intelligence upset them. We want our politicians transparent, but this complex mind, with all that went on inside it, was impenetrable. So, lots of people became suspicious of him. When they couldn't read his mind, they were sure that it was hiding something, and when they couldn't dismiss his arguments, they thought that he was lying.

This animosity was such an established fact in Swedish society and politics that it was given a frequently used expression, “the Palme hatred.” It's strange that an elected leader of a democratic country should meet with such emotions. Certainly, there are and there have been many leaders more deserving. Even today, 25 years after his assassination, I come across many Palme haters in Sweden. He must have touched a nerve.

The Unsolved Murder
On February 28th in 1986, shortly after 11 PM, as Olof Palme and his wife Lisbeth were walking home from a cinema, he was shot to death by a man who is still to be found.

Swedish society was rather virginal at the time, shocked by the murder, and stumbling for a while after. So was the police, where its Stockholm chief immediately took control of the investigation, although he had no practical police experience. He made a media circus of it all. The investigation is still going on, in a cold case way, but there is less and less hope of catching the assassin.

Swedish citizens put flowers on the street, where Olof Palme was shot.

There have been some suspects. One, a middle-aged alcoholic criminal named Christer Pettersson, was even taken to trial, losing the first one but freed on his appeal. He is still a major suspect, but died a few years ago, so there's no chance of a new trial declaring him guilty.

There have been countless speculations about what forces might have been guilty of the murder, including some elaborate conspiracy theories accusing domestic as well as international powers. For several years, there were hundreds of civilians, maybe thousands, spending most of their spare time making their own thorough investigations. It didn't lead to much.

Not Only a Life Lost
It's hard for the whole country to find closure, when the murderer is still unidentified. But more importantly, Swedish politics has not been the same since.

With Olof Palme, a humanist and compassionate ideology was always present as a major driving force in Swedish politics. This has evaporated, to be replaced by pragmatic thinking, as if politics were just another kind of business, completely aimed at maximizing profit.

Also in international politics, Sweden has retreated considerably, its leaders being much less outspoken about the many injusticies remaining and reappearing in the world.

As for the similarities between the case of Olof Palme and that of John F. Kennedy, I guess that they are obvious from the above.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's All Real - the World According to the Tao Te Ching

I recently published my English version of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching. As an appetizer, here's the start of the first chapter of the book. This is where Lao Tzu, the legendary writer of the book, sets out his cosmology and the basic principles behind his world view. It's not an easy text to interpret in its Chinese origin, nor to translate into another language with any confidence. Not to mention grasping its ideas. So, this is how I see it. Others may see it very differently.

The Way that can be walked is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of all things.

Free from desire you see the mystery.
Full of desire you see the manifestations.
These two have the same origin but differ in name.
That is the secret,
The secret of secrets,
The gate to all mysteries.

It’s All Real
Lao Tzu begins his writing about Tao, the Way, by stating that the written word cannot fully encompass the real thing. The workings of the Way are hidden behind what we can observe. It was present at the dawn of time and the birth of the universe, but it’s visible only through what has been created out of it, in accordance with it: the whole world and all its creatures. Tao is the Way the universe works...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 1 Translation and Commentary

(The image above is the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching in Chinese, the Wang Pi version.)

Here is more about my English version of the book:
Tao Te Ching – The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained
Here is the book on Amazon:
Tao Te Ching on Amazon
It's also a Kindle ebook:
Tao Te Ching – Kindle ebook

If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Was the Old Man a Woman?

Working on my English version of the Tao Te Ching, I speculated on the age old questions about the identity of the old man said to be the writer of the text. An intriguing possibility gnawed on my mind – what if the old man was in fact a woman?

Tao Te Ching, the classic on Taoism, repeatedly expresses preference of the traits traditionally linked to the female – such as humility, care, and yielding instead of struggling to take the lead. This was quite unusual in China at the time of the text's appearance, which would be somewhere during the 6th to the 4th century BC.

Legend has it that the writer was Lao Tzu, a man who had worked as a civil servant at the court of the emperor. When he got old, he left the court and the country, riding a water buffalo. A border guard convinced him to write down his wisdom, before leaving the country for good. This he did, and the result is the Tao Te Ching.

Nothing is known for sure about the man. Lao Tzu simply means Old Master, as if his own name didn't matter. Some annals claim that he was an older contemporary of Confucius, but that can be discussed. Many modern scholars doubt that he existed at all. They believe that the Tao Te Ching is just a collections of proverbs and such.

The title Lao Tzu, Old Master, might also be plural – the Old Masters. That would argue for the book being a collection of proverbs from here and there in Chinese tradition. The title also lacks gender specification. The Old Master might just as well be a woman.

Many historians and other experts on ancient China would object that a female author of this or any other classic is highly unlikely. Maybe so, but definitely not impossible. We probably have no way of knowing for sure, but I like the idea.

There is something about the mildness of the Taoist philosophy, the compassion of the Taoist ideals, and the soft words by which they are expressed in the Tao Te Ching, that suggest a female writer. Men in those days, mostly also today, have had a tendency to proclaim their wisdom much more firmly, announcing it proudly. They usually reason and argue quite categorically, without any hesitation.

Certainly, there's nothing ruling out a male writer of the Tao Te Ching, either. Most writers up until the last couple of centuries have been male, in every part of the world. But not all of them. This could be one exception.

In any case, the Tao Te Ching is surprisingly soft-spoken and pensive, for a classic that has become one of the most prominent texts of ancient wisdom. Whether male or female, we should all be more like Lao Tzu.

Here is more about my English version of the book:
Tao Te Ching – The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained
Here is the book on Amazon:
Tao Te Ching on Amazon
It's also a Kindle ebook:
Tao Te Ching – Kindle ebook

If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tao Moving

Yesterday, I finally finished the work on my English version of the Tao Te Ching, and uploaded the files to the publisher. The book will be available on Internet bookstores in a few days - both as a Kindle ebook and in regular print.

If I may say so, myself, I am very pleased with the result. I managed to get the translations of the 81 Lao Tzu chapters as clear and simple as intended, which is how I perceive the Chinese original. Also, my comments on each chapter didn't feel out of place, when I was proof reading. Now, I am eager to see if future readers will agree or not.

So, if you come across the book and have a look at it, please let me know what you think about it. As soon as the book is out on Amazon, I'll put links to it on this blog.

The image above is the book's cover.

Added February 13:
Now, the book can be ordered at Amazon and other Internet bookstores. Here are links to it:
Tao Te Ching at Amazon US
Tao Te Ching as a Kindle ebook
More about the book