Thursday, 26 January 2023

The Siege in the Ancient World

Bloody Romans

A few random musings (and a little bit of bollix) from the Flaxen Haired One

Directly quoted from the lesser-known Ferret's Bible of 1843 (Book of Eric)

Woe unto the Tiptonites!

And the Dudleyites raised a loud noise, ran about a bit, and played the tuba, badly. Then did the walls fall over a bit as they had been made by a shonky builder. And the people rushed in and started looting Aldis, Poundland and other stores of note. All was destroyed and the Tiponites were utterly vanquished. All men, women, kids, dogs, and Fred the tortoise were put to the edge of the sword. Only Shagger, the ferret survivedeth. 

Sometime, perhaps 10,000 years ago, a group of hunter-gatherer folk decided that the nomadic existence was without further merit and a change in lifestyle was required.

It was a simple life. The clan would range far and wide partaking in the fruits of the land and hunting prey. This suited small populations and the tribe had to migrate and exploit large areas of land. Successful tribes began to wax great and when the population exceeded the land's carrying capacity, a conflict between competing groups became inevitable.  

Due to a confluence of environmental factors, various locations become suitable for a novel form of existence/subsistence. Where large rivers meandered and the climate deemed moderate, folk started to harvest the wild grains and began to select for, and control, stolid and placid (eventually) livestock. This combination became irresistible and favoured populations began to thrive. Tis at this stage we see the kernels of the Nile, Levant and Indus civilisations. No longer would folk have to range far and wide to gain sustenance. Crops could be cultivated and animals harvested. However, a static lifestyle came with problems, akimbo. Lesser folk on the periphery began to envy the settled way of life. Settled communities prospered and a surplus of food encouraged specialisation and social stratification. However, most of the folk had to work hard to till the land and slaughter the sheep. And, inevitably, a  minority of society emerged that lived off the fat of the labour and land and became priests, diviners, chieftains and other useless folk. They did bugger all and profited akimbo, akimbo. This remains the same to this very day. 

The hunter-gatherers became covetous of the settled folk's possessions and reasoned that they should take from the settled community as was their wont. Obviously, this provoked a response and the engrained folk began to build fortifications around their communities. A ditch and a mud 'wall' sufficed at first, but the aggressive interlopers found ingenious ways to assault and overcome. Mud brick walls were succeeded/surpassed by a glacis and curtain walls fashioned from stone- woe to the nomads!    

Every action has a reaction and this is particularly the case when it came to fortifications. For the aggressors, the problem was a technical one and the brave staunch warrior took a back seat to the engineer. There were a number of solutions that could be manufactured and cunningly applied. Scaling ladders allowed access, but defenders could easily defeat this method of ingress. And of course, the walls could be constructed to such a height that the technical problems of employing/applying a ladder became insurmountable. Walls over 20 metres were impervious to this form of penetration. The solution: sappers could undermine a section of wall. A breach would form below the surface and the hole braced with wood. At a suitable moment, the wood would be set ablaze and the wall would tumble down. All the better if the breach occurred under a tower. The counter solution: The defenders generally became aware of the tunnelling operations from the beginning and thus counter tunnelling and the construction of a secondary wall were undertaken. Battering rams tipped with bronze assaulted the high walls. Covered moveable carts added mobility and provided protection from missiles raining from above. 

Gates represented a weak point in the fortified wall. Gates attracted the attention of the besiegers and in consequence, great effort was expended in 'buttressing' this impediment. Double gates, fronted with iron combined with flanking towers proved very effective. If the offenders managed to penetrate this gate they would be assaulted by warriors atop bristling high balconies that proceed in parallel array to a second similarly fortified entrance. Between the gates was a narrow killing zone where defenders hurled arrows, rocks, boiling fluids, javelins, and on some occasions vocal obscenities (ouch). 

Woe to the vanquished

Treachery was oft employed. The Greeks and Romans were great exponents of this technique. If a citizen, or a clique, could be persuaded to betray their fellow citizens an easy conquest was usually assured. If all failed the besiegers could settle down for a long haul. The city would be encompassed with fortifications and with no external relief forthcoming the city would be totally reliant on its own resources. Sieges could last years if a city was well-provisioned. The attackers could decide to find easier fruits elsewhere or succumb to disease. Relieving troops might appear over the horizon to provide succour and challenge the investment. A long siege might prove difficult and unpredictable. Perhaps negotiation might be deemed advantageous to both parties. A long siege is a costly affair, in men, materials and gelt. Years may pass before the besieged are in dire straights due to famine. Under these circumstances 'the holders of the keep' have little choice but accept unconditional surrender. In those circumstances the best that can be hoped for is enslavement. Therefore, citizens of the stronghold might be tempted to negotiate and treat for a 'favourable' outcome from the start. Terms of the treaty would often be sworn by invoking the appropriate god(s) that preside over such matters. This was a serious matter and would be considered inviolate in the Greek and Roman world. Piety favoured the attackers and favourable terms, at best, would allow the citizens to keep their lives and perhaps those goods that could be carried. They would be left unsullied and allowed to settle anew. The city would then be given up to the sack. That said, there were occasions when the attackers defaulted on their promise and fell on the fleeing defenders with wild abandon (see actions of the Romans: Hannabalic war).

In antiquity, once a city was breached, men, women and children faced a grim reality.  The rules of war (if they ever existed) did not apply in these instances. The Romans were particularly barbaric during the sack. All would be indiscriminately slaughtered without mercy, with no favour for age, sex or status. It has been documented that even the dogs of the city were cruelly destroyed. At such times the victor would cast aside considerations of kindred humanity and atavistic feelings aroused to a fever pitch would culminate in a primitive urge/surge to destroy. Innate horrors are unleashed and man's true nature becomes manifest in an orgy of doom.

We create a wasteland and call it civilisation. 







Monday, 9 January 2023

Morbid Reflections

The Future looks Bleak/Black

We are now truly and firm embedded in the New Year. As I sit here in my study listening to the patter of the rain on the tiles, my mind drifts to contemplate the ultimate question/conundrum- what happens when we die? As I age the question becomes more insistent and intrusive. Recently, my aged mother contracted pneumonia. She lives in a 'Home come Hospital' which best suits her medical issues. The 'Lead Nurse' of the facility warned me that in, her opinion, it was likely that my mother would succumb. Even without a serious illness, she is close to being bedridden. Regardless, the facility provides quality care and tenders to all her needs. Anyway, the nurse provided contact numbers for the local funeral directors and gave me a hug. Three weeks later, the tough old bugger has beaten the infection and is unlikely to die from whatever ailed her.

My mother is not afraid of death. In truth, she relishes and embraces death's icy grip. As a Jehovah's Witness (JW), she has an absolute belief that at some time, in the future known only to Jehovah, she will be bodily resurrected and live upon paradise earth, for eternity. There is no doubt her beliefs give comfort and reassurance. I have to grudgingly admit, I envy my mother's certainty. However, I am well aware of JW teachings, tenets and dogma and I find the whole 'Religious Ediface' laughable, and undoubtedly cultish.

If we are to be strictly honest, thoughts of our ultimate demise become prominent, as we age. I have perpended deeply upon the topic. On reflection, I do not fear death- it would be silly and pointless to do so. That said, I do fear dying in pain and/or the associated loss of dignity. I am a believer in euthanasia, however, this is not a medical option in my adopted country. The wise man knows when he should leave the 'party' and venture unto the great unknown....... Worry not gentle reader, that time is not now.

I have skirted around the topic of Death in many of my posts and expressed my beliefs on what occurs after death. My opinions have subtly evolved over time due to my deep reflections and research. If I'm going to be intellectually honest, when asked the ultimate question, I answer with a firm response: "I do not know". This answer is a sincere reflection of my strict adherence to the 'Empirical Imperative', which underpins the scientific method. Data is required before we can honestly answer any question relating to nature and reality. And herein lies our problem. There is no available information pertaining to what happens after we take our last breath. Some folk would state that there is valid data from 'Near Death' experiences. Let me state the obvious: Near-Death experiences are not data points pertinent to the question. They are merely the expression of a brain deprived of oxygen. Neurophysiologists have convincingly shown that similar episodes can be repeated by stimulating specific areas of the cerebral cortex. Science demands that the subjects under consideration undergo total brain cellular death and thereafter report their findings according to standard medical and scientific protocols. As far as I know, no such data is forthcoming. I await with frenzied anticipation for future developments within this field; it might be a long wait.

Religions, various, have much to say on the topic. I briefly introduced the JW doctrine, sadly my mother believes the whole deal. In a way, my mom is a perfect candidate for the JW religious cult. She is poorly educated and functionally illiterate.

Most religions consider some form of an afterlife where the virtuous are rewarded and the evil-doers punished. During the Middle Ages, Catholic creed was truly wedded to a belief in a literal heaven and hell, and hell was a place of eternal conflagration and torment. These days there has been an official amelioration of the doctrine. In the 13th century a 'Third Domain' was added to the infernal mix of the afterlife. Purgatory (to purge)  became a halfway alternative to everlasting scorching. Purgatory was viewed as a place of 'abode' for those who, in life, committed minor sins. Purgatory was considered a place of cleansing. A temporary residence where its denizens tarried, but for a little while. Presumably, minor miscreants do not receive the whole 'hell experience' and therefore are subject to a light searing, divinely applied.  After a designated interval of 'cleansing', the individual, now free of sin, can happily progress to paradise. 

Judaism, like Christianity, has never had a consistent or unified concept concerning the afterlife. During Jesus's lifetime, different sects and divisions within Judaism held opposing doctrines. Surprisingly the Old Testament has little to say on the matter. From what I can discern, the conservative and strictly adherent Sadducees, considered death as final and consequently dismissed the possibility of 'life after death (surely an oxymoron). Other groups, within Judaism, thought that the afterlife was a rather ephemeral shadowy affair where the soul pottered about in Sheol, slowly fading away. As for modern Judaism, I will say this: Jewish thought is heavily centred upon this life. However, some Jews teach a future bodily resurrection in connection with a coming 'Messianic Age'. The fate of the departed is dependent upon God's judgement. All are judged according to their deeds/misdeeds in life. What transpires after divine justice gets a little hazy and I don't have space here to take into account the options that have been put forth by Jewish savants. 

Both Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation and reanimation of the soul after death. It is believed that the 'quality' of reincarnation is dependent upon works and actions performed during life. Obviously, this is a very simplistic and under-explained depiction provided by the golden/silver-haired one. The curious should go forth and read anew and become informed and intellectually invigorated!          

This is but a brief survey of religious belief concerning a continuation of consciousness following demise. What is the point of my babblings? Firstly, it seems that all cultures, irrespective of historical context, appear fascinated, absorbed/abhorred by the concept of a form of 'life' following bodily demise. Tis understandable, life is dense, unfathomable and often unfair. What is the point of existence? Why do evil men flourish and wax great, while the just and the righteous suffer indignity and suffering? With a belief in a just deity surely there must be divine redress, if not in this world, then the next. 

The sad truth is that there is no evidence or data to support any of the religious musings concerning the fate of the dead. Science, as practised over the past 400 years, or so, has shown that, as a species, we are nothing particularly special. Mayhap Homo Sapiens are the smartest organism to dominate our fragile planet. All that said, we are animals after all. Animals that share 99% of our genetic make-up with our close relative, the Chimpanzee. Considering all the diverse religions out there, with their diverse views, there appears to be a consensus that humans are special and animated by 'God's spark'. Other animals are lesser breeds and are not so favoured or patronised by the resident deity, of choice. There is no consideration for animals to be suffused with a soul. Will I never bound and prance about with my long-dead ferret, Shagger, in the heavenly realm? The modern enlightened educated man knows the answer. 

Now for a few concluding thoughts. At the start of this 'loquacious post' I declared that according to the rule of the 'Empirical Imperative', I must remain silent as to what happens after we have taken our last breath. No evidence equals no conclusion. However, while I acknowledge this basic tenet, I feel inclined to express an opinion on the available evidence to hand (none). To be honest, the data I put forth belongs to the living organism and not the dead. Unfortunately, dead men tell no tales. 

I have rambled on too long and have broken the sacred '1,000-word rule' when it comes to blogging. May the gods (who/they/them/it - must respect gender fluidity, these days and not presume God's pronoun- after all, he could be a raving pooftah for all I know), give me peace and solace. 

The problem: consciousness is resident within the organ that we acknowledge as the brain. For all our scientific expertise, how awareness and cognisance become manifest is still an unfathomable mystery. Keeping in mind that the property of consciousness is firmly fixed to living neural tissue, and once the brain expires there is a loss of self-awareness, comprehension and thus consciousness. Therefore, I contend that death is equivalent to 'Socrate's gentle sleep'. Expect, but don't experience, oblivion. This is the fate of all cognisant, living organisms, stretching to eternity. Nuff said.            

Tuesday, 3 January 2023


                                           Shagger says: "I'll bite yer nose clean orwf"

 Belated Happy New Year to all my fans. Or as I like to call them: 'Flaxen Acolytes'. Sadly I have not posted as much as I would have liked last month. Real life sometimes intrudes and other matters have taken precedence. I realise that my fan base, scattered wide and far, has been denied my ingeniously crafted posts. Wailing could be heard and on one occasion I distinctly observed gnashing of the molars (sans incisors).

Worry not brethren, I'm girding my loins for a foray into literary cogency, as long as I remember to take my meds. Acolytes of the flaxen-haired one, hark: I can state, with clarity and stout-hearted conviction that the month of January will ring with pertinence and validity/vitality. Posts will fly from my 'pen' and settle with mounting anticipation and erudition upon this blog of wonder. 


Wednesday, 21 December 2022

Philosophy, but not as we know it


Most folks are of the opinion that studying philosophy, as a subject, is a waste of time. And it is true that studying philosophy at university is not always a good idea when comes to career prospects. This specifically applies when the candidate is contemplating a career relating to the subject matter. What I have stated is valid to a certain extent, but higher learning should not be construed as a vehicle for cramming minds with a multitude of information. Higher learning, by its very nature, is not a bucket full of 'rote learning'. Of course, there are facts and concepts that must be mastered. However, it is how we utilise this base knowledge to expand our learning that defines and refines the intellect. It is about developing a critical mindset that not only should be utilised in future employment, but also in other areas of existence. I'm not implying that higher education should be directed at churning out serried rows/ranks of 'Mr Spocks'. And it is insane to suggest that we go through life logically analysing all life's decisions and situations. However, important actions that seriously impact our lives require a measured, rational approach. Back to the point (perhaps): liberal topics, in general, suffer the same opprobrium as ascribed to philosophy. Sadly, although we may be enriched by studying such subjects, bills still need to be paid and the rank lure of economics requires employment commensurate with a perceived lifestyle. A Bohemian lifestyle is not for all. Nuff said.

I've strayed off the path, concerning the title, in an uncharacteristic digression. Just to wrap up: if you are so blessed to attend an institution of higher learning then pick a degree course compatible with the real world. Having an interest in philosophy, psychology or literature is fine. These topics make fine hobbies and diversions. 

The title of this post relates to alternative niche philosophies not well known to folks outside the rarified world of academia. So without further rambling, verbiage and prolixity (and aplomb), let's delve into the dark, dank world of niche philosophy........

The two philosophic schools of thought, Presentism & Externalism, are not particularly well known to lay folk. These two 'spheres of thought' are in direct contrast to each other and each has an interesting take on the concept of time. These two philosophies represent a true idealised dichotomy and to my mind, 'Externalism' is the more interesting of the two. The two topics under consideration, (Externalism, at a later date) and as presented here, are by necessity dealt with in a highly perfunctory manner. The subject matter is not so much drawn in outline, tis more of a fine line, lightly traced, in a pastel shade, with crayon.


In its simplest form, presentism denies the existence of the past and the future. Only the present is real. Of course, by necessity, the philosophy has to introduce a 'Theory of Time' to bolster its core thesis. Philosophers, both ancient and modern have struggled with 'the concept of time'. 'Time', on the face of it seems a relatively simple notion to vocalise. However, 'Time' is an elusive beast that lurks within the deep recesses of the mind and remains concealed and fleetingly regarded. Indeed, the concept of 'Time' has intrigued and occupied the greatest minds for over two millennia. In truth, the  'the passage of time', as an abstraction, is immensely complex and therein lies a temporal trap for those foolhardy enough to venture there. Then of course along comes Einstein with his unintuitive theories creating a  novel paradigm where time becomes inexplicably linked with space, giving rise to 'Spacetime' Arse.  

Presentism has an association with Eastern philosophical thought, especially Buddhism. On the whole, I'm not a fan of Eastern thought systems. I find them a little too esoteric and unintelligible. For instance, consider the quote from Fyodor Shcherbatskoy, a notable modern Buddhist philosopher: "Everything past is unreal, everything future is unreal, everything imagined, absent, mental... is unreal. Ultimately, real is only the present moment of physical efficiency".  A little too wordy and florid for my taste. 

How are we to imagine past events and plan for the future if such a philosophy is valid? While it is acceptable to consider that future events don't exist because they haven't occurred yet, it seems a strain to extend this reasoning to past events. Past events, by definition, lie somewhere on the time continuum. Events from the past impinge on the present and by a chain of causal links have a direct bearing on the present and will continue to influence a potential putative future. Consider this: Julius Caesar lived just over 2,000 years ago. The evidence for his past existence is overwhelming and from multiple sources. His actions in Western Europe, mainly through the exercise of arms, have had a direct impact on the development of Western culture, language and history. His legacy has left an indelible imprint on our present. Perhaps Presentism is only meant to be understood in a contextual, semantic manner. Thus, the statement, 'Caesar exists' has meaning only if we choose a specific time when he was alive. Caesar existed in the past of 50 BC but it is meaningless to consider that he exists in our present. In a literal sense, he doesn't exist in our present. But it is undeniable that his past existence, in a very tangible sense, has impacted upon the present and the consequences of his deeds will continue to be projected unto the future. I don't see how this philosophic system can counter this criticism. There are more technical and complex objections. If you can find the time, and inclination, consider 'Truth Maker Theory'.   

I was hoping to consider the philosophy of Externalism within this post. However, I have waxed lyrical and prattled on, unfettered. Thusly, my pontifications, on this topic will have to be postponed until a future date. Ain't dat the sad truth.  


Wednesday, 14 December 2022


                                                                  Poppy, in Repose


Welcome to Poppy, a new addition to our menagerie of zoological proportions. Poppy, a 5-month Maltese/Shitzu cross was picked up today. She seems to have settled in right away and completes our trio of hounds, including 'Alfie' and 'Little Man'.

As you can see, photography is not a skill that abides in the Flaxen-haired One. 

On a different note: I have a number of incomplete posts that require my urgent ministration and diligence to propel said 'works' unto completeness. I will pursue this aim with due vigour and fortitude and will dedicate the next two weeks, prior to Christmastide, and forgo other activities and thus concentrate my powers unto this noble cause. Arse. 

                                                     More Crap Dogs


Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Evil Simplified

                                                       Dr Mike Licona, in Repose

Dr Mike Licona is a well-respected, tenured professor, in New Testament studies. Due to my interest in theology, I have followed his work and enlivened my day by watching videos where he is involved in vigorous debates with other scholars. Though I often disagree with Dr Licona's theological stance, he is undoubtedly an erudite gentleman with a passion for his work. For context: Dr Licona, besides his academic credentials, is also a committed Christian. He sincerely believes Jesus' resurrection is provable based on sound historical methodology. This places him as an academic outlier. The consensus amongst historians is that the resurrection cannot be understood using the tools available to the historian and the matter is only intelligible in the context of faith.

Today, I came across a short video of Dr Licona addressing an audience of young Christians. A member of the audience asked Dr Licona a question concerning the problem of evil. In essence, it revolves around the following: how can a loving god permit evil. To my mind this problem is one of the most fundamental and important questions that need to be addressed by thoughtful Christians, and, in my opinion, the failure to obtain a satisfactory answer is a serious impediment to a belief in the Christian god. Dr Licona's reply was both illuminating and distressing. Indeed, his answer was rather bizarre and frankly, odd. First off, he effectively states that a belief in a deity is a prerequisite for the basis of objective morality. Does he really believe that atheists can't have a sound grasp of morality? Clearly, you don't have to believe in a supernatural agency to understand that killing and stealing are bad. These moral precepts form the basis for the formation of any civilised society. Surely we are not to follow the morals of  Jahweh of the Old Testament, whereby he indiscriminately destroys whole populations of Caanaites using Joshua and the Israelite armies as an instrument of death. The citizens of Jericho are put to death because god wants the land for his 'Chosen People'. This is hardly a morally edifying tale for us to emulate.

Dr Licona goes on to expand/expound his thesis by using the Holocaust as an example. He argues, that the event happened on the 'cusp of the nuclear age' and the evil of Hitler forced the Allied nations to wage war and defeat him. He goes on to say, that had the Allies intervened later, Hitler may have had the time to develop nuclear weapons. And if that was the case he may well have succeeded in becoming the master of the world. I find the whole argument specious reasoning in the extreme. He treats a very serious theological issue in a simplistic, superficial manner. This is not the answer I would expect from a scholar of his calibre. No doubt the problem of moral evil is an issue that is difficult for serious theologians to tackle. It is a debate that stretches back to the ancient Greeks and subsequently, there have been many sophisticated attempts to explain the disparity between god's supposed 'goodness' and the manifest evil in this world. Dr Licona should know better than present the problem in such a facile way. 

Dr Licona's sincere faith blinds him and I suspect supersedes his academic rigour when it comes to Christian theology. He starts from the premise that the bible elicits literal truth and proceeds to fit the evidence into his own agenda and belief system. This is not how historians work in the modern intellectual arena. Like scientists, they should follow the evidence and then formulate their conclusions accordingly. Often, with limited data to hand, historians, if they are to be intellectually honest, must admit that many of their conclusions are tentative at best. This is not how Dr Licona presents his case and conclusions. His glib and trite response does him no service at all and indeed makes him appear rather shallow, naive and straight-out, silly.  

Am I being overly harsh in my assessment? Listen and weep, and let me know what you think in the comments.



Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Edumucation II

Please note the following YouTube video I came across after posting my previous contribution to this blog. It is relevant and of merit. The world is indeed a crazy place and the modern education system in the West is very much part of that crazy mosaic of insanity. In my adopted country of Nuzzyland, much of what I wrote in my previous prattlings, although I had the US firmly in mind, is applicable. I would counsel prospective students to exercise due care, diligence and great contemplation before entering the hallowed halls of Higher Education. Are you smart as a whip and willing to work hard? Are you interested in the hard sciences or medicine- and have a realistic chance of being accepted at university to study these subjects? Have you considered how your time at college is to be funded and are you happy with the possibility of being burdened with many years of student debt?

Are you interested in attending college to study one of the following: sociology, philosophy, history, English literature or psychology? I ask because you may wish to ruminate very carefully and ponder how your study will help you prosper once the course is complete and how it will further your work prospects. Personally, I'm interested in many topics, including history, however, I would never have gone forth to study the subject at the college level. McDonald's is replete with philosophy graduates.