Blog Hiatus

There will be no more blog posts here for the foreseeable future. I have recently suffered a stroke, and my right arm and hand are useless.

Condensed Version of Atlas Shrugged

Inspired by Wrong Hands: Cartoons by John Atkinson.

“Who is John Galt?”

People start looking for John Galt.

Some people disappear.

John Galt appears; gives speech.

John Galt gets captured and tortured.

John Galt gets rescued.

John Galt and his rescuers take over the world.

And last, but not least:

People read the book, and lives (including mine) are changed.

Others hate it, and their lives remain unchanged.

Street-walking regulation

This is a translation of a passage from Ormus and Ariman by Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793–1866). It is a classic of Swedish satirical literature.[1]

We Ormus, by the grace of our own benevolence &c. &c. &c. When, oh men! you have built for yourselves towns, and between your houses have established streets, which should form an intersecting pattern; then it is incumbent upon you that you sit not all the time indoors, but you must pay each other visits and practice sociality, as well as intercourse, using for that purpose conversation, which should as often as is possible be intermingled with descriptions of all creatures’ faults, the bringing to light of which is of the utmost importance. But when you set out into the streets, you cannot be allowed to walk on any which street you like, for such could disturb the publick order, since it might occur to several of you to tread upon the same lane, so that no one can make his way there. Never the less, and so that no one may suffer a restriction of his freedom, each one of you is requested once a year, the tax registration period, to report which street he wishes to choose for the coming year in order to get to the market place, which other one to get to the harbour, which third one to the pharmacy: and he should also at the that time report those friends he wishes to visit in the course of the year, as well as the street he wishes to walk in order to reach each friend; whereupon We will let the applications be presented to Us, and establish, at Our own discretion, each person’s street-walking for the year. The stamp-fee paid for the decisions hereupon will be used as salaries for that supervisory personnel which needs must be put in each street-corner to oversee that each town-dweller walks his street, and exact from him fines in case he deviates.

Rendered into English by
Per-Olof Samuelsson
Not quite dated

* * * * *

For the benefit of my Swedish (and other Scandinavian) readers, who may be unfamiliar with this satirical classic, I give the original text below:

Vi Ormus, enligt benäget åtagande &c. &c. &c. När människor! J haven byggt eder städer, och mellan husen anlagt gator, över vilka tvärgator böra löpa; så skall eder åligga, att icke ständigt sitta inne, utan måsten J besöka varandra och utöva samhällighet, jämte umgängelse, därtill brukande samtal, vari som oftast bör inmängas beskrivning över alla varelsers fel, vilkas framhållande i dagen är av högsta vikt. Men då J begiven eder åstad på gatorna, kan det icke varda eder efterlåtet att gå på vilka gator som helst, enär sådant kunde störa allmän ordning, efter månge av eder kunde på en gång få det infallet att beträda samma gränd, så att ingen där komme fram. Likväl, och på det ingen må lida inskränkning i friheten, tillstädjes envar att en gång om året, skattskrivningstiden, uppgiva vilken gata han under kommande året önskar välja åt sig, för att på den färdas till torget, och vilken annan, för att gå till hamnen, vilken tredje till apoteket: ävensom han då bör angiva de vänner, han under året vill besöka, jämte gatan han, för att komma till varje av vännerna, önskar gå; varefter Vi vele låta Oss ansökningarna föredrags, och efter gottfinnande fastställa varje persons gatugång för året. Kommandes den lösen, som erlägges för utslagen häröver, att användas till avlöning åt den uppsyningspersonal, som i varje gatuhörn nödvändigt måste anställas, för att efterse, det var och en stadsbo går sin gata, och fordra honom till böter om han avviker.


[1] In Zoroastrianism, Ormus or Ahura Mazda is the good principle of life, while Ariman or Angra Mainyu is the principle of evil. Almqvist turns the tables by making Ormus a full-fledged bureaucrat and Ariman a free spirit.

Retrospection

I now have a retrospective department on this blog. I will re-publish those articles in English that are now on my web site. First out:

The Objectivist Validation of Individual Rights
Appendix: An Answer to Walter Block
Is Fractional Reserve Banking Compatible with Objectivism?
Joseph A. Schumpeter – Friend or Foe of Capitalism?
Objectivism versus “Austrian” Economics on Value
Reisman Insights Without George Reisman
Objectivism and “Austrian” Economics – compatible or not?
Quotes from Jean-Baptiste Say

Earlier, I have published My Life as a Translator.

Look out for more.

Some Blog Statistics

I have had a little more than 20 000 visits on this blog since I began blogging in 2010. Not much to brag about …

By contrast, I have had almost 60 00 visits on my Swedish blog. But then, I have blogged much more frequently in Swedish than in English.

Most popular blog posts:

Aristotle on Egoism (727 visits)

The Art of Quoting Ayn Rand out of Context (694 visits)

Aristotle on Youth and Old Age (609 visits)

Murray Rothbard on the Soviet Union (491 visits)

A Short Word on Hans-Hermann Hoppe (485 visits)

Least popular blog posts:

The Robbery (2 visits)

My Review of We the Living (3 visits – why is there so little interest in this book?)

Visits by country (since February 25, 2012; no statistics available before that date):

USA (8 888 visits – yes, that’s right)

Sweden (2 869 visits)

Great Britain (796 visits – yes, this is a gap)

Canada (748 visits)

India (417 visits)

And only one visit from China. (The same for Afghanistan, Yemen. Syria, Morocco, Mongolia. The Dominican Republic, Liberia, Zimbabwe, The Seychelles, The Virgin Islands, Senegal, El Salvador, Antigua and Barbuda, Oman, and Djibouti.)

Happy New Year!

The Robbery

This is a piece I wrote for a course in English in the late 70s. Just for fun, but you may try to figure out the allusions I make.

Once upon a time there was a dragon whose social security number was 500313-6663. He was born on the 13th of March 1450 B.C., the very same day that the Lord smote all first-born in Egypt, and the “3” had recently been added to indicate he was a male dragon. As is dragons’ wont, he hoarded gold. The gold was intended as a dowry for his daughter, a witch who had lived for many a year in the Caucasus, but had now reputedly been deported to some far-off place in Siberia. Quite by accident, the witch was still unmarried. Following the great example of the Queen of Ithaca, she possessed a bow, and the promise was that any suitor who could hit the Czar in Moscow with an arrow would be entitled to share her bread and bed. But the only suitor who was capable of doing this, one Ulysses H. Grant-You-That, happened to arrive in March 1917, just after the last Czar was dethroned. They are still debating whether the Secretary General of the Communist Party will do as well. Anyway.

Since time immemorial, or at least since the introduction of the Income Tax Amendment, our dragon had been hiding out in the Rocky Mountains, depositing his hoard of gold in the deepest cave he could find, well shielded from the searching eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. But then, on the 31st of December 1974, gold was again declared free and legal to be owned by any American citizen. And so it came about that in the spring of 1975 our dragon moved out into the wide plains of Colorado to bask in the sun and enjoy the glittering reflections of his trinkets of gold, large and small, sometimes drowsing off to dream of his daughter and the terrible fate of her failed suitors, to be awakened in the late afternoon by two ravens, carrying news of today’s gold price from the markets in London and Zürich, respectively.

Now, let’s get somewhere. We haven’t yet come close to the actual robbery. First of all, we have to introduce the robbers.

There were only two of them, and at this moment they were gathered in a small abandoned shed in the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. It was late at night, and the shed was frugally illuminated by a kerosene lamp, standing on a table, which was littered with empty beer cans. The walls were decorated with pin-up girls, their sexiness tempered by full scale posters of Bruce Lee, Bobby Orr and Muhammed Ali and a funny drawing of a famous used-cars salesman.

The two men around the table, thoughtfully sipping their beer, were known by the names of Bright Eye and Bushy Tail, their given names long lost in the fog of a slum childhood, long since torn apart by the sun shining through the bars of reform schools and penitentiaries, the remainder washed down in the showers of Fort Leavenworth. Bright Eye had only one eye, the other one having been lost in a fist-fight with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas; but then the brightness of his one eye had doubled. Bushy Tail had acquired his nickname firstly from his eyebrows, enormous enough to hide anything his eyes might express, and secondly from his devoted following of Bright Eye. Before they met, he had been a personal bodyguard of Meyer Lansky, but was fired for growing a beard and taking to smoking cigars. Bushy Tail, however, was too dumb to understand why this aroused ill-temper I Lansky, and to this day hasn’t figured it out.

The upshot of their plotting will be shown in the next chapter.

Chapter Two

The sun poured incessantly and mercilessly down on the Colorado plain. Far in the background, one could discern the jagged line of the Rocky Mountains. Clouds of dust could be seen at the horizon, indicating cars making their way toward Denver or away from that illustrious burgh. The dragon was sleeping un untroubled sleep with one eye, keeping a vigilant watch with the other.

Suddenly one dust-cloud was coming in his direction. Soon the cloud was materializing into a jeep, and presently its wheels were screeching to a stop by the left ear of the dragon, who groaned and tried to think of tinkling cymbals. Two men, whose identities you will have guessed, stepped out.

“Hi, Smoggy,” called out Bright Eye. “We wanna have a word with ya.”

“Whaddya mean, have a word whimme,” retorted Smoggy. “In case it’s a four letter word, as I have reason to believe, lemme point out it can’t be shared between the three of us.”

“What’s that gibberish he’s talking?” said Bushy Tail, but Bright Eye hushed him down with a kick on his shin bone. “We’ve heard”, he continued, “that you’re a master at guessing riddles.”

“What of it?” said Smoggy. “In case you’re from the IRS, as I have reason to fear, I can give you one right away. Why isn’t the head of a dead cat tax-deductible?”

Bright Eye knew the answer to this, having once shared cell with a Zen Buddhist. And now the riddle game began in earnest. “What animal is busy convincing everyone he is really an ass, too?” (Answer: the elephant.) “What famous economist is only one ‘s’ removed from sanity?” (Answer: Paul A. Samuelson.) “What university is in the eye of God?” (Answer: Berkeley.) “What’s the crime for which there is no bail outside the Church?” (Answer: being born.) “How many answers can blow in the same wind without getting blurred?” (Answer: any number, as long as they don’t contradict one another.) “How did Cartesius actually die?” (Answer: he stopped thinking.) “Who’s got better esthetic judgment than Edmund Wilson?” (Answer: an illiterate high-school student.) “What’s the greatest conquest in the history of Soviet Russia?” (Answer: Robert.) “What’s the offspring of a Black Angel and a White Devil?” (Answer: gray labor.) “Do dragons possess free will?” (Answer: not if they don’t want to.)

How the actual robbery took place is so obvious that I will not tire the reader with any lengthy description thereof. Anyone who knows his Tolkien will have guessed what the last riddle was: “What is it that Bushy Tail has just carried away before he jumped into the back seat of our jeep?”, and that the jeep was far off before the dragon had figured it out and collected his fire into that all-consuming blast.

Suffice it to mention that the trinket stolen was a golden ring, set with a sparkling diamond, which had once belonged to the Queen of Sheba; that powerful curses were laid upon it, so that Bright Eye’s one eye grew dimmer and dimmer, and Bushy Tail grew moodier and moodier and took to reading Ecclesiastes; and that the ring was ultimately found in an ash-can by Grandma Grant-You-That and swiftly dispatched to Ulysses H., so that it has now taken its rightful place on the witch’s finger. Czardom is yet to be reintroduced in Russia, and the couple is still living in sin.

The dragon, after cooling off, tried to sue the IRS, but lost his case through contempt of court: he accused the counsel for the defense of being a blood brother of John Maynard Keynes and thus unable to estimate the true value of gold; of being a former boy scout and therefore prejudiced against dragons; of being a creature of the welfare state and thus incompetent of justice; of being a cross-breed between Charles Darwin and Madame Blavatsky and thus unfit for survival.

The author of this faithful chronicle, finally, was charged by his critics with the following: turning the mystery story into a vehicle for philosophical ideas; smuggling reactionary political concepts into the narrative; showing disregard for the established literary traditions of Naturalism; not giving due credit to the works of Samuel Becket; rejecting evolutionism and embracing catastrophism; and inventing his own robbers rather than being content with the robbers next door.

Perusing the stack of reviews on his table, he laughed heartily and said to himself: “If this be reactionary, make the most of it!”

Per-Olof Samuelsson
(note the spelling!)

Some Differences Between Swedish and English

Also published as a Facebook note.

Having studied the Swedish language diligently for seven decades and the English language for almost as long (close to six decades), I cannot help noticing some of the differences between the two languages. Here are a couple of examples:

First, the concept of “evil”. The Swedish word for “evil” is “ond” (or – depending on the grammatical context – “ont”). So if I want to say that the Devil (or Ellsworth Toohey, or that weird philosopher from Königsberg whose name I kant remember) [1]is evil, this is the word I will use. Or, if I simply want to say “That was evil”, it becomes “Det där var ont”.

But if I say “Jag har ont”, this doesn’t mean, as one would suspect, that I have something evil in me, but that I have an ache, or simply “It hurts”.

This, perhaps, is not so odd – for, as Ayn Rand points out in “The Objectivist Ethics”, our first contact as children with the phenomena of good and evil is through the sensations of pleasure and pain. Pain is I signal that something threatens one’s life, i.e. of something evil.

But take another example. If I say that “jag är ond på någon”, this doesn’t mean that I am evil to someone, but that I’m angry with someone. Perhaps not so odd, either – since anger might be a reaction to something one regards as evil. (Also, the more common Swedish word for “angry”, which is “arg”, in older times was often used as a synonym for “ond”.[2])

But here is another expression: We often say “Jag har ont om pengar (eller tid)”. The literal meaning of this is “I have evil about money (or time)”, but this simply makes no sense in English. The actual meaning is “I am short of money (or time).” (Conversely, “I have plenty of money/ time” comes out in Swedish as “Jag har gott om pengar /tid”.)

Well, being short of something is a bad thing – and “bad” is a fairly close synonym for “evil” (in many cases just a difference of degree[3]).

Still, we might ask whether this means that we Swedes have a very profound understanding of “good” and “evil” – or that we are terribly confused about those concepts?

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The next example concerns the virtue of justice. Objectivists make a big deal about the fact that we deserve what we have earned. For example, if a man has earned his money by honest work, he deserves his money; if he has acquired his money by theft, or fraud, or levying taxes on the productive members of society, he does not deserve his money. Or if a man has earned respect or admiration by his actions, he deserves this respect or admiration; but if he merely clamors for those things, he doesn’t deserve them.

But in Swedish, this distinction between “earning” and “deserving” doesn’t exist. We use the same word, “förtjäna”, for both. And this makes it quite cumbersome to translate this point about justice into Swedish. The translator has to get around it by saying something like “we deserve such things as we have made ourselves deserving of” – but that is pretty self-evident, isn’t it?

The question here is whether we Swedes really have to be taught or preached to about this aspect of justice, when the point is already built into our language?

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The third example concerns the virtue of pride. Proper pride is the expression of genuine self-esteem – and is obviously a good thing in the Objectivist ethics. A different kind of “pride” is an expression of pseudo-self-esteem – and, for lack of a better word, we may call it “pseudo-pride”. (An example of it is a braggart.)

But in this case, the Swedish language does make a distinction. Proper pride is called “stolthet”, while improper pride is called “högmod”. So the expression “Pride goeth before a fall” in Swedish is “Högmod går före fall”, never “Stolthet går före fall”.

We Swedes understand the distinction! It is built into our language.

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There are of course umpteen such differences between Swedish and English. (The Swedish word for “umpteen”, by the way, is “femtioelva”, literally “fifty-eleven”.) The ones I have mentioned here have some philosophical significance. (Not much, admittedly, but some.)


[1]) The joke is off-topic, but I kant resist it.

[2]) As in the expression ”argan list”, which means literally ”evil cunning”.

[3]) Not in all cases, though. If a man does something bad by mistake, or out of ignorance, it does not mean that he is evil.