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A Swede in Germany

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Odd language use / Swedish journalism

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Disclaimer:
This text turned out to be much thinner than I had anticipated. I would normally have foregone it entirely or waited until I had more material. However, as I explicitly mentioned it in the linked-to text, I prefer to get it out of the way.

The poor style and grammar of many journalists often annoy me. Recently, I have become increasingly annoyed over the Swedish use of “då” (roughly, “then”, in at least some meanings) as a sentence or even paragraph opener. Unfortunately, this is not even limited to journalists.

For instance, consider a sentence quoted earlier today:

Då menar jag att med hänsyn till dessa omständigheter har det varit försvarligt av Krister Petersson att i sitt beslut namnge den personen.

Here the word is used to imply “in light of this”, “considering this”, “in this situation”, or similar; while a literal translation might be “then”, or something like “at that time” or “in that [sic!] situation”. Looking at the logic of language, not the typical actual use, this seems quite odd.*

*This is not a unique example. Consider e.g. the English use of “since” to imply causality instead of timing; or the French “sans doute” to imply “probably” instead of the literal “without doubt”. Indeed, such small traps are so common that an attempt to save writing from them might lead to unrecognizable texts. Some uses are worse than others, however, and “då” is quite bad.

However, this is a comparatively harmless case. Common uses include e.g. the pattern:*

*I have kept no specific example. The quote is hypothetical, put directly into English for illustration. The division into two paragraphs is deliberate and matches the pattern used; however, the actual examples tend to be a little wordier.

Last year, boxer-X and boxer-Y fought to a controversial draw. Last night, they met again.

Then* boxer-X won on knockout.

*In a past sense. The English “then” is actually less misplaced than “då”, because “then” can be used for sequencing in another manner, as with “I went to the movies and then I went home”. In Swedish, this would likely have been resolved with “sedan”: “Jag gick på bio och sedan gick jag hem”. The same sentence with “då” would likely have been taken as something simultaneous, as with “I went to the movies and while I was there I went home”.

Unnatural, contorted, and with some risk of confusion? It is the same in Swedish. Even “now” (“nu”) would have been better, and something like “this time” clearly so. Moreover, the entire construction is dubious. I might have gone with:

Last night, boxer-X defeated boxer-Y on knockout in a re-match of their controversial draw from last year.

(Of course, many other variations are possible—but few as poor and odd as the original.)

Still, this type of pattern appears again and again: A first paragraph with background information. A second paragraph, beginning with “Då”, with the event. (Optionally, followed by further paragraphs with more details.) This is the odder, as someone reading about a sports event in a newspaper will want to see the result in the first sentence of the first paragraph.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 19, 2020 at 1:45 pm

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No defamation charges against Krister Petersson (murder of Olof Palme)

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In an earlier text, I noted that prosecutor Krister Petersson risked prosecution, himself, for defamation of a dead suspect for the murder of Olof Palme ([1]; cf. [2] for more context).

It appears that he will remain unprosecuted:

A (likely paywalled*) Swedish site cites the överåklagare** Anders Jakobsson as saying:

*This newspaper usually is. Currently, 2020-08-19, it claims that all articles are free until September 1st.

Min bedömning är att Krister Petersson visserligen pekat ut en person på ett sätt som kan vara förtal enligt brottsbalken, men sedan är frågan om det var försvarligt att lämna ut namnet. Och det anser jag. Mordet på Olof Palme och den utredning som sedan har genomförts har varit föremål för ett betydande allmänintresse, och i massmedierna och av så kallade privatspanare har den så kallade Skandiamannen vid flera tillfällen pekats ut som mördaren. Då menar jag att med hänsyn till dessa omständigheter har det varit försvarligt av Krister Petersson att i sitt beslut namnge den personen.

Translation:*
My estimation is that Krister Petersson did point out a person in a manner that could be defamation according to brottsbalken [roughly, “criminal code”], but then the question is whether it was justifiable to provide the name. And I am of that opinion. The murder of Olof Palme and the investigation that followed has been of considerable interest to the public, and in mass media and by so called privatspanare** the so called Skandiamannen*** has been pointed out as the murderer on several occasions. Then**** I opine that, with consideration of these circumstances, it has been defensible for Krister Petersson to name this person in his decision.

*The original is in overly complicated and poor “government language”. I have not made any greater attempts to provide additional clarity or to translate into a more English idiom (governmental or otherwise).

**A term that probably arose during the Palme investigations, to refer to amateur investigators with an interest in the Palme murder. A somewhat literal translation is “private scouts”, but “investigator” is likely more idiomatic than ‘scout”. These, however, are typically not “private investigators” in the U.S. “P.I.” sense.

***An anonymizing alias commonly used for the man whom Krister Petersson mentioned by name.

****Translation of the idiomatically awkward word “då”, which I will discuss in a later text.

I am far from certain that I would concur with the above, as I am highly skeptical to “the public has the right to know” arguments,* as fingering Skandiamannen seems unnecessary to me, and as there was no true gain from mentioning him by name (as opposed to alias). Note that Anders Jakobsson, himself, uses the alias and not the name. Krister Petersson could simply have said something like “Personally, I favor Skandiamannen, but as things stand, we can never know for sure.”, but he went a fair bit further and did mention the name. I stress that I would see a considerably stricter standard for a public official speaking in his official capacity than I would for a private individual expressing his private opinions, including the privatspanare.

*Excepting matters that are truly of public interest and public nature, say governmental policy, professional misbehavior by politicians and civil servants in office, and similar. The fact that Palme was murdered qualifies, that this-or-that celebrity has a drug problem does not, and whether Krister Petersson’s statements is on the right side of the border is disputable.

As an aside, I would not necessarily reason “it is very easy to find out the name of Skandiamannen; ergo, there is no harm done in mentioning the name over the alias”, as Anders Jakobsson might have. The opposite might be more reasonable (“[…]; ergo, we should not mention the alias either”).

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August 19, 2020 at 12:17 pm

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Sweden and COVID

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A recent article on UNZ is very interesting both with an eye on the situation in my native Sweden and with regard to issues like journalism and public policy.

Broadly speaking, the article amounts to Sweden (which has imposed far less restrictions than most other countries) having done much better economically done others and having paid at most a small or tolerable price in terms of health effects, yet also being torn down by international media.

A few meta-issues:

  1. Looking through the article and the comments, it is clear that a great uncertainty exists on what the true situation is.* The truth might well be out there, but how do we outsiders get at the truth? One way is to look into varying sources and to give dissenting voices a hearing, but that takes a lot of time and doing so on all important issues would be more than full-time job. Here there is a niche where journalists could truly provide “value added”: have a strong critical thinker go through various sources, debates, and whatnot, and have him summarize the overall sets of opinions and arguments, determine the currently dominating opinion, and give his own take on plausibility and whatnot as an extra protection. What journalists actually do is pretty much the opposite … Too often, they grab a single source, often a government agency, another media outlet, or a professor of the social “sciences”, and blindly trumpet that one viewpoint to the world. Indeed, in many cases, they deliberate try to squash dissenting opinions to prevent the readers from forming their own opinions, lest they come to a different conclusion or perception than the journalists want to push.**

    *And I am not necessarily saying that the data and interpretation in that article are the superior ones. My impressions go in the same direction, but my leg-work is not even remotely up-to-date.

    **See e.g. a recent text on NYT.

    This problem (and this wasted opportunity) is by no means restricted to epidemics. Consider e.g. the current heavily distorted U.S. reporting on alleged racism, including an often highly incomplete picture of the George-Floyd case.

  2. Chances are that both governments and journalists suffer from a can’t-retreat-now effect: even admitting the possibility that Sweden had made a better choice could lead to a horrifying loss of reputation and credibility. For instance, what politician wants to be known as the “guy who tanked the economy for no reason” or “the guy who cost me my job for no reason”. (Vice versa, I strongly suspect that an early fear in the other direction increased the panic-making: no politician wants to be known as “the guy who let millions die because he did not follow the example of everyone else”.)
  3. Sweden’s policy would have been a good thing, even had it backfired: In order to handle situations like this one, we need information and we need to be able to compare strategies. When more-or-less everyone uses a tight lock-down strategy, how are we supposed to get this information and how are we to compare strategies? (Even aside from complications like inconsistent data gathering, testing, attribution of death, whatnot, between countries.) As is, we do not actually know that more than non-trivial counter-measures were needed, because there is no true benchmark to tell us whether an no-restrictions policy would have led to the equivalent of four-flu-seasons-in-one or the Spanish Flu.* Looking e.g. at Germany (alone), there might not be enough data to allow anything but a second major shut-down, should a second wave of even specifically COVID occur—the room to draw important lessons has simply been too small.**

    *I still suspect the former. Also remember e.g. the SARS and swine-flu scares that eventually had a trivial impact, far less than COVID, even without massive lock-downs.

    **And I suspect that the one lesson (or “lesson”?) will be an immediate introduction of face masks, as opposed to the delayed one that took place this time.

    Imagine instead that there had been an international agreement that different countries* should apply different levels of restrictions. Take something as trivial as varying where masks are mandatory, how large gatherings are allowed, or whether old people should be isolated. When the next epidemic comes, we would have a better idea of what counter-measures bring what benefit or damage* to health and what damage to e.g. the economy. Indeed, as even this wave has hit the world at a stagger, controlled experiments with the first countries hit could have given some help to countries hit later.

    *Or, in e.g. Germany or the U.S., different states of the federation.

    **To this, remember that e.g. involuntary isolation can have negative health effects of its own, as can unemployment caused by the counter-measures, etc. It is not a given, in advance, that even the net health effect will be positive. In my own case, it has almost certainly been negative through weight-gain and damage caused by an idiot neighbor (cf. e.g. portions of an older text, which also address the general issue in a little more detail).

    Sweden’s heretic road gives us at least some chance of comparison.

Excursion on “we can’t risk it”:
Looking at the last item, some might argue that we simply cannot take the risk and that it would be a callous risking of human lives. With this I would disagree on several counts, including that the same argument would apply in a great many other cases and result in a crippled society, that we could equally argue that the opposite would be a callous risking of the economic well-fare of the people, that neglecting to gather this information is a callous risking of future lives, and that policies can always be changed, should the situation turn out* to be unacceptable.

*One of my complaints with how the situation has been handled is that the gun was jumped—extremely far-going restrictions were applied before it was clear that the situation would actually turn out badly without restrictions. (Something that we still do not know …)

Excursion on my take on the core issues:
This few-restrictions policy is in line with my own recommendations (if in doubt because adults should themselves decide what small or moderate risks they do take) and the economic advantage is a near given. That the health effects are small* is in line with my expectation, but confirmation is good. The treatment by media is not unexpected, but I would have hoped for better.

*Compared to e.g. the overall death toll from all causes or total loss of life-years, not necessarily “raw” COVID death cases from comparable countries with a more restrictive policy. (Note that COVID still only provides a fraction of all deaths and that many of the dead were so old and sick that they lost only a small portion of their lives—unlike e.g. that middle-aged chain-smoker who died in lung cancer or that child who died in a car accident.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 26, 2020 at 1:22 pm

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Tolkningsföreträde

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I find myself, again, wanting to reference the Swedish concept of tolkningsföreträde. To make this easier, I publish this text as a considerable modification of an excursion from an older text:

An apparently international problem with many members of the Left is that they presume to have, using a Swedish word, “tolkningsföreträde”—it is their way or the high way: They decide what a word should mean. They decide what is sexism, racism, xenophobia, whatnot. They decide what is acceptable. They decide what is fair and unfair. They decide what is science and what quackery.* Etc. Often, they even presume to decide what someone else meant by a statement and what his motivations were.** Have the audacity to question this right in Sweden,*** even by pointing to the possibility of another interpretation or by pointing out that their use does not match the established one, and what happens: You (!) are accused of demanding tolkningsföreträde …

*Often mixing the two up in a manner that would be comedy if it was not so tragic, as with the blanket condemnations of anything related to IQ or the influence of “nature”, despite solid evidence, and the blanket acceptance of e.g. “gender studies” claims and a “nurture only” view, despite very severe problems with lack of proof, ideological bias, an adapt-the-facts-to-fit-the-hypothesis attitude, and whatnot.

**Not to be confused with the often observed (and it self disputable) attitude that it is solely the subjective perception of the “target” which counts to determine e.g. whether a statement is offensive: Here I mean the case of e.g. unilaterally deciding which interpretation of a statement the speaker intended and unilaterally deciding that the speaker was motivated by e.g. racism or sexism—not e.g. by concerns over sustainability of this-or-that or by the wish to make a joke. For instance, someone who says “White lives matter” is actually a racist shit who means that Black lives do not matter—not someone who, just maybe, might try to point to problems with the current attitudes against Whites or who wants to push for a more inclusive approach.

***The principle holds internationally too, if to a lesser degree and without use of the word “tolkningsföreträde”. Consider e.g. the very deliberate misdefinitions of “racism” pushed by some groups, which are simultaneously illogical and contrary to established use, but where even the attempt to push the correct meaning can lead to condemnation.

The behavior often goes beyond what can be taken as good faith based in stupidity and ignorance, and moves into outright Orwellian areas, where deliberate attempts to manipulate the debate and suppress dissent must be suspected. This especially when the Left reverses the accusation by complaining about tolkningsföreträde in others. Then again, the level of hypocrisy and blindness is often disturbingly large, and, even here, I cannot rule out an inability to see the hypocrisy.

The word, it self, means roughly “precedence of interpretation” and originated as a legal term* implying that one person/organization/whatnot has the power of interpretation of e.g. an agreement or a set of rules or by-laws, in case of ambiguity or dispute.

*An English/U.S./common-law equivalent might well exist, but I am not aware of it.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2020 at 10:32 am

Blogroll update / Follow-up: Sweden, murder, and murder of justice

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After a recent text on absurdities around the Palme murder I did some reading on other people’s reactions (and the murder in general). Gratifyingly, for once, most debaters seem to have agreed with me.

Indeed, some have even attempted to have Krister Peterson, the prosecutor* in charge, prosecuted … For instance, a Swedish source, claims that three notable Palme debaters have filed a complaint concerning “förtal av avliden” (“defamation of the dead”) with Riksåklagaren**.

*A word that did not occur to me during the writing of the original text. (Should someone wonder at the inconsistency.)

**In U.S. terms, a hypothetical “Prosecutor General”.

Generally, this blog has a wealth of information and discussion around (lately) the Krister Peterson fiasco and why he was wrong to proceed as he did, and (for years) the Palme murder and investigation. The author, Gunnar Wall, has himself written several books on these and other topics (that might also be discussed on the blog).

While I have not attempted to go through more than several of the older posts, it can make a worthy blogroll entry—especially, if it it makes the pressure on Krister Peterson a little higher.

The blog is entered on my Swedish blogroll:

https://gunnarwall.wordpress.com/

Written by michaeleriksson

July 2, 2020 at 8:51 pm

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Thirty years ago

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Around thirty years ago, sometimes and somewheres a little earlier or a little later, it appeared that the world was breaking free from the Leftist insanities of the 20th century:

The Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe had fallen—as had their greatest symbol in Western eyes, the Berlin Wall. Germany was in the process of reuniting. Gone were the likes of Honecker and Ceaușescu. The free West had won over the enslaved East.

China under Deng Xiaoping was turning away from Mao and his abominable heritage (Tiananmen Square notwithstanding).

In the U.S., Reagan had undone some of the damage caused by the likes of LBJ, and, if nothing else, managed to bring an era of economic optimism, which seemed irreversible and irreversibly non-Swedish to my young* eyes.

*I was born in 1975, so the Reagan-era proper fell mostly in my pre-teens. My early impressions are likely even based more on the brief continuation under Bush the elder.

In the U.K., brought to the edge of disaster by Labour and the unions,* Thatcher had turned the ship around.

*And which had never seen the post-war recovery of e.g. Germany, before the 1970s depression-era hit.

In my native Sweden, the 1991 election saw a rare non-Leftist victory; the iron alliance between the Social-Democrats* and the unions** was rusting; and the main Communist party, VPK***, re-branded it self as a mere Left party in the wake of the collapsing dictatorships. More: many members suddenly loudly protested not just that they were Communists no longer—but that they had never been Communists to begin with: They had either just been hibernating in VPK as a least evil or the name had just been a misleading legacy for years.

*Which ruled Sweden for most of the 20th century.

**Most importantly in the shape of the umbrella organization LO, which was immensely powerful in its own right and had very tight ties to the Social-Democrat party, including that a membership in an LO organization automatically and unavoidable lead to a membership in the Social-Democrat party—never mind what political opinions the member actually had.

***“Vänsterpartiet Kommunisterna” (“the Left party the Communists”; odd in Swedish too). With the re-branding, it became “V” and “Vänsterpartiet” (“the Left party”).

In my eyes, we were heading into a bright new era of freedom, prosperity, and enlightenment.

Today? In 2020, a mere thirty years or roughly one generation later?

How short is human memory …

Today, the West is collapsing into Leftist populism and extremism, most often in form of various PC and Feminism movements, quasi-Marxist ideas like identity politics, etc., void of reason and basing their success on cheap propaganda and reality distortion. At the same time, the “old Left” has recovered in e.g. Sweden and Germany, despite its ideas having been long outdated even thirty years ago.

Look at the current U.S. Look at the destruction of U.S. colleges, dominated by Leftist ideas and Leftist intolerance. Look at the fiasco of ObamaCare. Look at the racial and other hate mongering by the Left, and the Weimar-Germany level of chaos that it has caused. Indeed, in some areas, like the purification of thought, the common blanket condemnation of people based on being White Men (resp. Jews), or the Kristallnacht-like activities of some “peaceful protesters”, I am reminded more of the (pre-war) Nazi dictatorship than of the failing Weimar republic. The replacement of real science with ideologically correct “science” is a particularly dangerous parallel. Indeed, note how the Nazis could condemn a scientific theory for being “too Jewish”, while the modern U.S. can do so for being “too Western” or “too Dead-White-Men-y”.

Sweden is crippled by Gender-Feminism, officially subscribed to even by the allegedly non-Left* parties. The current government is Social-Democrat and since that 1991 election, we have had a mere eleven years of non-Leftist government to twenty** Social-Democrat years. And, yes, the formerly Communist (still Marxist-Socialist and additionally Feminist) party is still present in parliament. It even has a larger share of the votes than it did before the fall of the Communist dictatorships. The situation in higher education and science is as bad as in the U.S.

*Who, just as in Germany, are hiding under labels like “Center”, because “Right” has somehow become a label of evil, while “Left” somehow, absurdly, has become a label of good and enlightenment, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite the events of the 20th century, despite its lack of arguments, despite its (almost always) highly egoistical and (often) hateful nature, despite its the-end-justifies-the-means mentality, …

**Counting the on-going four years in full.

Germany, since I moved here in 1997, has had eight years of outright Social-Democrat rule, five years of outright Conservative rule, and twelve* (!) years of joint** Social-Democrat/Conservative rule. Those five years include the last year of the Kohl era, which stretched from 1982 to 1998—centering on exactly 1990. As to “Conservative”, Frau Merkel has turned out to be very far from Mrs. Thatcher.*** The SED, the old East-German Communist party, hiding under a new name, still sits in parliament. When the re-branded SED took a third of the vote in the state of Thüringen, media and politicians went into panic—but not because of this truly negative development. No, instead they panicked over the “Rightwing” AFD having made some progress, which still left it well short of the SED.

*Again, counting the on-going four years in full.

**This type of unholy and anti-democratic alliance raises a whole set of other questions, but they are off-topic today.

***But I stress that my own political position is more Libertarian or Classical(!) Liberal. This still leaves Conservatives as a much better choice than Social-Democrats.

Etc.

The old Communist nations, admittedly, have not re-descended into Communist dictatorships, but that does not change the horrible truth—that the tables from thirty years ago have been turned. Idiocracy is no longer a future threat—it is current reality. All factors considered, Der Untergang des Abendlandes might be progressed too far to be stopped by now. The barbarians are already well past the gate.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 25, 2020 at 12:08 pm

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Sweden, murder, and murder of justice

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As I visited my father in February, Swedish TV made a lot of noise about the 1986, still unsolved, murder of Olof Palme—new hotshot investigator Krister Petersson* announced that the time for big revelations was upon us. In just a few months (why the wait?) he would either announce** the perpetrator or (!!!) close the investigation.

*Not to be confused with Christer Pettersson, who was once convicted (and later acquitted) of this very murder. Cf. below.

**This is a while back, so I do not remember the exact formulations, what he said and what the media speculated, etc. The “announce” is the likely minimum for Krister Petersson; he might or might not also have spoken about arresting someone, but some media certainly did. Other speculation included that the murder weapon had been found. This speculation was not quashed by Krister Petersson. This is the odder, because today’s claims include that it would be impossible to match the bullets fired at Palme to any given weapon—something that must have been know for a very long time (if true).

My spontaneous reaction was that Krister Petersson was more interested in making publicity for himself and that the result would be the “or”, that the investigation would be closed.

Today, 10th of June, was the day for the big revelation, almost four (!) months later. The result: the investigation is being closed …

True, he did also name his candidate for the culprit, but one that had been on the table for decades and who was long dead. In other words, we do not have an interesting revelation but just a rehash with a little more (claimed) certainty—not quite as bad as “Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK!”, but not much better either.

Moreover, because the accused murderer, Stig Engström is conveniently dead, there will be no trial and he will not be able to defend his name, e.g. by providing new exculpating evidence—and he will certainly not be able to file a libel suit or otherwise strike back. Here we have a potentially* innocent man who will be considered the murderer by great swaths of the population and many history books—who has no chance to say anything in his defense.

*An important word: I do not claim that he necessarily is innocent. He might be an innocent man who made a convenient scapegoat; he might be guilty and crucified without due process.

An additional aspect is that his death is the justification to close the investigation: “We know whodunit; ergo, it is a waste of time to look for someone else. The murderer is dead; ergo, it is a waste of time to spend more resources on him. Double-ergo, we can close the investigation in good conscience.”

The whole situation reeks.

What would a good investigator have done? He would (a) have skipped the publicity making in February, (b) closed the investigation without naming names (even if he was personally convinced), (c) accepted that this was not his stepping stone to fame and fortune.

The exact timing of events might be coincidental, but it is an oddity that today’s revelation appear to be just short of twenty years after Stig Engström died (“26 June 2000”, according to the linked-to Wikipedia article), while the original publicity came shortly* before the anniversary of Palme’s death.

*I do not remember the exact timing, but it was likely after the 20th of February. The murder took place on the 28th (in 1986). Also note that Stig Engström has been dead for the clear majority of the time since the murder—twenty years out of thirty-four and change.

Moreover, irrespective of whether Stig Engström was the murderer, the investigation has resulted in at least one grave miscarriage of justice—what in Sweden is dramatically called a “justitiemord”*. Either he is innocent, and then he is a victim; or he is guilty, and then Christer Pettersson was a victim; or, maybe, both were victims. (Barring some conspiracy setting, where they were both, somehow, involved in the murder.) Who then is Christer Pettersson? A petty criminal, drug user, and mental patient, who in 1989 (!) was convicted for the very same murder that is now pinned on Stig Engström. Mere months later, the conviction was overturned, but by that time, virtually everyone in Sweden knew him by both name and sight—and many still considered him the killer, many more** the prime suspect.

*Literally, either “murder of justice” or “murder by justice” (either justice it self has been murdered or justice has committed the murder, in both cases metaphorically). I am uncertain which is historically more warranted, but I always understood it as the former as a child and this matches the textual shape of the English “miscarriage of justice” better—hence, the dramatic title of this text. (If there is a connection to the English “judicial murder”, the meaning has drifted considerably.)

**Including yours truly, until I left Sweden in 1997 and lost track of the investigation.

Christer Pettersson, incidentally, died in 2004: If the two main candidates have been dead for sixteen and twenty years, respectively, then closing the investigation with a generic “It is highly unlikely that we will find revolutionary new clues after more than thirty-four years of very little success and, if we do, there is a considerable risk that the culprit is dead anyway. Besides, the witnesses are dying* too.” seems justifiable.

*Notably, the main witness, Palme’s wife, is also dead. I have not investigated the more secondary witnesses, but even if they are alive, thirty-four years is far, far too long for someone to remain a reliable witness.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 10, 2020 at 2:14 pm

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Some follow-ups based on receipts (and some thoughts on VAT)

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Sorting my private and business receipts for the past quarter for my VAT declaration, I found two that have some impact on past texts:

My receipt from the the Swedish book sale:

As I see from the receipt, the VAT on books (and in general) in Sweden is an absurd 25 %. The German rate is a more civilized rebated 7 % (to a standard rate on most products of 19 %—already very hard to defend).

This is something that I failed to consider when complaining about prices, and it does explain a portion of the price disparity. Say, for easy numbers, that the pre-VAT price of a book is 10 Euro (or its equivalent in SEK). Then the post-VAT price is respectively 10.70 and 12.50. At least for cheaper books, this might explain most of the difference in price. For more expensive, unfortunately, the lion’s part remains.

(A completely fair comparison would also consider factors like purchasing power, but that would require too much research. However, for the record, the purchasing power of low earners tends to be higher in Sweden, but that of high earners lower, relative Germany.)

My receipt from the post-flight meal from my Finnair fiasco:

In the text, I write that “We hit the ground again at 18:48; the time until official landing was obviously longer, and likely left us still about an hour late (scheduled landing was 17:55).” and “At this point, I had no eye on the time anymore, but I was likely done [with the meal] shortly before eight.”.

The receipt claims that my “tab” was opened 19:09 and closed 19:47. Add a few minutes before and after, and this would be a good estimate of my stay. The “shortly before eight” is verified, and the “about an hour late” seems plausible, as I had no checked luggage and could move fairly directly to the restaurant.

Excursion on VAT:
The above is a good illustration of one of my own pet theories: Governments like VAT, because the enormous amount of money diverted to the government usually flies under the radar.

With income tax, the earner knows that he has earned amount X*, but for some reason only received amount Y. Why? The government. With VAT, he sees the price tag including** VAT to begin with and if the price is too high, who is to blame? The store. (Or the manufacturer, capitalist greed, whatnot.) That the government might well be the single party earning the most money on the purchase, and might well be responsible for the lion’s share of the difference between end-price and accumulated costs, that does not register with most people.*** (And, cf. above, even those who are aware of it, might fail to consider it in all circumstances.) Assume, in contrast, that customers saw the pre-VAT price of products cited and, again and again, had to shell out that Swedish 25 % extra at the cashier’s. The acceptability of VAT, I suspect, would drop very considerably.

*However, this amount is also often distorted, if not so blatantly as with VAT. Consider e.g. the Swedish “arbetsgivaravgifter” or the portion of social-security and health-insurance the German employers pay on behalf of their employees. In both cases, the increase of employment costs push the nominal salary down by a similar amount, implying hat they are actually paid by the employee, but in such an indirect manner that many are unaware of it.

**At least in every country that I have made purchases in. From fiction, I have the impression that this is different in at least some parts of the U.S.

***This will depend on factors like the overall markup on an item and what business has charged what business what amount during production. Note hat Value Added Tax is fairly agnostic on how the value has been added, and treats hard work by employees no better than a luxury markup. (Of course, this is just looking at VAT, without factoring in e.g. the income tax on salaries and taxation of company profits. Overall, the government is almost always the main earner in e.g. Germany.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 13, 2020 at 5:59 am

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Re-visiting the yearly Swedish book sale

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My very first post through WordPress, almost exactly ten years ago, was on the yearly Swedish book sale. A few days ago, in Sweden to renew my passport, I visited it again for the first time since (probably) 1997.

I left highly disappointed, managing to pick up only three books from one of Sweden’s largest bookstores*:

*The Akademibokhandel in central Stockholm. During a longer stay, I might or might not have tried some other bookstore.

  1. Most of the books for sale were uninteresting junk and/or targeted strictly to the mass-market. Among the exceptions, there was a considerable portion of “public domain” works that are available for free from online sources, e.g. works by Strindberg.
  2. The books on sale were mostly hardcover, giving a rebate on the heavily marked-up hardcover price, leaving the remaining price no better* than I would expect from a (non-rebated) pocket book. To this I note that pocket books are usually the superior format to begin with (and the more so in my current case, as I was trying to save weight for my flight). Indeed, there were several books that I at least would have investigated further, had they, even at the same price, been in pocket. (But also a few that were too large to be suitable for the pocket format and which I might have been interested in, had I not had the airplane to worry about.)

    *I have, obviously, not made an in-depth comparison and the individual book might have rated higher, lower, or roughly the same. The point is that by just buying pocket books, I would have had roughly the same price, even without the benefit of a sale.

  3. There were plenty of pocket books, but they were almost all in English and not part of the sale. (My focus was on Swedish books, for obvious reasons; however, in all fairness, the English sections were excellent by a German standard.)
  4. Among books not on sale, I was astounded by the price level, with prices far higher than in Germany or the U.S. Extremes included a one-volume dictionary for well over 500 SEK and a book of possibly eighty pages for more than 300 SEK.* Even outside the extremes, however, I again and again looked at a potentially interesting book, turned to the price, and decided that I was not going to buy it at 10-or-more Euro above what a comparable book would have cost in Germany. As I later understood my father, this high price level is not restricted to Akademibokhandeln but reflects industry practices in Sweden. (Also cf. my original post.)

    *As a rough rule-of-thumb Euro, Dollar, and (with a larger error) Pound equivalents can be reached by dividing by 10.

  5. While the non-fiction portions of the bookstore were considerably better than in the Wuppertal bookstores, they were not truly strong for what is supposed to be one of the largest bookstores in Sweden—and from a chain originally targeted at academia, at that. The large* Mayersche in near-Wuppertal Düsseldorf, e.g., is considerably stronger (even for fiction); compared to the Berlin Dussmann, a truly good bookstore, Akademibokhandeln is a complete joke.

    *Beware that the chain Mayersche has several stores in Düsseldorf alone, and that the rest are crap.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 29, 2020 at 12:34 pm

Tearful visits

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An unexpected side-effect of my visits to Sweden was a mixture of sorrow and nostalgia that had me on the verge of tears for most of the first few days in Kopparberg.

The largest reason was the respective deaths of my maternal grand-mother (2012) and mother (2017): This was my first visit to Kopparberg in a good many years and seeing their graves for the first time made their deaths real in a different manner. The effect and the feeling are hard to put in words, but imagine knowing that -X degrees is cold and then actually being exposed to -X degrees.

Moreover, seeing old places and things stirred up a great many memories of the two, some of which had not entered my mind this side of my move to Germany in 1997 (or even earlier). I did spend a fair amount of time thinking about them and our past history after their respective deaths, but memory is a tricky thing and there was so much that was simply not available without the right prompts. This especially when it came to older memories, from when I looked upon them as kind and caring figures through the eyes of a child, before the eyes of a teenager took over and turned them into annoying adults who just got in the way. (An unfortunate side-effect of my moving to Stockholm to study in 1994, and then to Germany, was a reduction in contacts, limiting my ability to look at them through an adult’s eyes and leaving the teenage view quite strong even twenty years later.)

Other deaths contributed too, especially as I went through old photos, including one or two that actually showed my parents and all four of my grand-parents at the same time—a meeting that must have been quite rare, as my paternal grand-father died when I was one or two years old and as all three families lived a good distance from each other. Of the six, only my father remains. (My maternal grand-father also died prematurely in 1982; my paternal grandmother more reasonably in 1994.) Then there were photos of Liza, the family dog, who had to be put down when I was a child, a cousin who died in his twenties, and his (also dead) father. (This not to mention a great number of less emotionally loaded dead people, e.g. a great-uncle that I had only ever met a handful of times.)

Then there were a lot of nostalgia and resurrection of memories in general (as opposed to those dealing with relatives). As the recurring reader knows, I have a weakness in this area and there were a great many triggers to process in a fairly short time. (See e.g. [1], [2] for some prior discussions.) This especially with an eye on the reason for my visits: My mother’s house was being sold, and I had to decide what of my childhood and teenage possessions I wanted to and realistically could bring back to Germany and what must ultimately be lost. Ditto remaining things from my mother and what she had kept from my maternal grand-parents. (More on this in a later text.)

Other areas of nostalgia and a feeling of loss were common, e.g. through what in the village had remained the same and what had changed over the years, including the closing of the school that I visited as a child, the one bookstore, and one of the two grocery stores (specifically, the one my mother and grand-mother always used). Generally, Kopparberg was quite small to begin with and has been heading downwards for decades—the current population is around three thousand.

In many ways, I had a few weeks to process emotions, make decisions, reach closure, etc. that others might have several decades for—as would I have had, had I remained in Sweden. (While I do not regret the move, especially as Sweden has been going downhill since then, I often wonder how my life would have turned out, had I stayed.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 19, 2019 at 8:44 am

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