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.


Friday 25 November 2022


                                                              None Transferable    
The power of education. I've approached this topic on my blog before, possibly from a few acute and even obtuse angles. However, tis possible that in this post I have something new to add.

Higher education (post-High School) has been elevated as the ultimate attainment and the necessary requirement for the fulfilment of financial success and stability; an automatic pass unto the 'Middle-Class'. Here everything is rosy and white picket line fences adorn orderly immaculately kept lawns abounding serried ranks of detached homes. Tis/was the American dream after all.  

As a lad, I came to the world of acaedemia rather late. However, once ensconced upon the path of 'enlightenment', I pursued the intellectual route as if Damascus bound. In those halcyon days of the 1970s, my higher educational aspirations were funded by the taxpayer. Not only was my degree paid for but I received a modest stipend. Once graduated I continued my studies and my post-graduate programmes were funded, for the most part, by scholarships. Race forward unto the modern era. The taxpayer no longer funds higher education and the aspiring student (most of them at least) will have to succumb to the pernicious system of serial loans. Their reasoning: once complete, education will lead to high-paying jobs and the money spent will be seen as an investment in future prosperity.

No doubt, the path of Higher Education, in today's bustling economic market and society contributes to the future success of some. Of course, there are those that cannot fail because of familial connections. There is a reason why barristers and doctors have a tendency to run in families. Hunter Biden, anyone? 

It seems that to get any job these days a degree is a prerequisite. For the most part, a degree is not really necessary and the degree itself, in the content taught, is not applicable to the job. This obviously does not apply to vocational positions.  For prospective employers, a degree indicates an air of intellectual respectability and a marker that the candidate has the cognitive wherewithal to be a competent and easy-to-train employee. This argument held sway 40 years ago when perhaps 5% of the population partook in higher education. But in the age of meritoxcracy, 50% of New Zealanders attend University. This statistic is mirrored and reflected throughout the known Western world. What does it mean when higher education becomes commonplace? It has to be a universally good thing, where everyone benefits? Job seekers are more knowledgeable and intellectually prepared for the modern workplace. Employers are gaining employees who are intellectually mature and prepared for entry into the innovative work enviroment. As a counterpoint: if most members of society are obtaining degrees, what does this have to say about the quality of the education being doled out? Back in the day- O those yesteryears when the streets were paved in gold (not dog shit) and a quid could buy a bushel of ferrets (neutered)- those times are no more. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. In the 1960s, for example, higher education was reserved for the intellectual elite and attendance necessitated a degree of mental acumen. It was hard to get in and the degree programme was intellectually demanding. Today, however, all it takes is a participation certificate and a note from mom and the gates of knowledge open, as if by magic, and you enter on a magic carpet made of bank notes.......

Higher education is big business. Governments can no longer fund higher education through taxation and thus it behoves the student to be rich, or more likely, to enter the dark world of debt at the tender age of 18. And then after obtaining the prized degree the newly, intellectually franchised individual, is ready to enter the workforce with a debt of 100k. When making money is the main concern in education you can be assured that the quality of that education is secondary and invariably suffers as a consequence. Let me be frank: a good proportion of students in higher education do not have the innate smarts to complete a legitimate degree course. Sadly, I have seen the effects of the 'money first' principle first-hand. In my previous life, I used to teach and mentor students engaged in a degree course for Lab Scientists. For the most part, the quality of the course and the students encountered was high. This is in keeping with expectations. But even in a topic where intellectual rigour is paramount, I encountered a couple of choice specimens who had wandered far from the ideal. One lad, actually a very nice chap, although not endowed with any intellectual attainment, was particularly exasperating to teach. During the course the students were bidden to undertake a practical research project culminating in a PowerPoint presentation to their peers. I remember the day as if were 15 years ago (it was 15 years ago). The whole presentation was excruciating to watch as it was apparent that the student was struggling with the concepts engendered. I had the task of informing the University Department, by email, that the student would fail this aspect of the course. I received a phone call, within a thrice, informing my good self, that failure was not an option. This particular student was magically transferred to a new mentor for academic consolation.       

You can get a degree in anything these days? Want to study: 'The Patriarchal Oppressor in Western Society', then there is a course for you. My point: many modern degrees are worthless in study and application. There is a reason why entry into the STEM subjects and medicine is hard. You have to show, before admission, that you have the intellectual mettle to complete an intellectually challenging and demanding subject.    

And the upshot: we churn out a host of graduates with unrealistic expectations. Employers are not to be fooled. A degree in gender studies or philosophy is a great foundation for working at Mcdonald's. The student dream of using their degree as a pass into a high-paying profession, is just that, a dream. As it has always been the case, those with talent will do well (all other things being equal), while those cut from lesser cloth will have to tailor their ambitions accordingly. 

Thus far, I have not considered the logical extension of running Universities directly funded by the students. Over the last few decades, there has been an explosion of 'for-profit' institutions. There is no pretence, here. The bottom line is money and the cost of attending is way higher than attending a traditional edifice of education. The only qualification for enrollment is the fee. As for the quality of education, I will say no more here. I have already covered this elsewhere in this esteemed blog. And if you are a really lazy student, there are 'colleges' that will send you a degree certificate without the fuss and dedication of years of study. Just send a cheque and matriculation and graduation are covered by your work experience.

I'm going to be accused of being cynical, world-weary and no doubt, an elitist bastard. Guilty on all counts, M'Lord. I'll leave the post with this last thought (actually it is penultimate): the world is a tough and scary place. Unless you are so fortunate to have been born white, in the West, and rich, you will only rise and succeed by your own ability, grit and mettle. As a viable alternative, for the favoured few,  if you are female, beautiful and blond you could marry into wealth. But for most, there is no real alternative to being smart and hard-working. There is one constant though. The world is still run by the 'True Elites' of this world. And unless the fundamental laws of human nature are about to change, this will always be the case.   

I now come to my last point. How come after my many years of higher study, I still can't bloody spell. Arse.    


Thursday 17 November 2022

Fat Ugly Bloke Wins Beauty Contest


Seems Legit

And so it has come to pass that a biological, 'transgender' man (Brian) has been declared the winner of a US beauty contest. No doubt he will go on to win the title: Miss New Hampshire and subsequently, he/she/it will be crowned Miss United States of America. 

Afterwards, the fat lad opined:

“I am so honoured to be crowned your new Miss Greater Derry 2023, and I am thrilled to show you all what I have up my sleeves. This will be an amazing year”

I'm guessing that he/she/what? will have fat hairy arms up those voluminous sleeves.  

Truly, I have no more to say. 


Saturday 12 November 2022

Ramblings with a a side of Barbed Wire


In 1867, an American cattle rancher patented, 'Barbed Wire'. A simple invention that revolutionised stock control. A wire structure punctuated every 6 inches by a curly barb- so tantalisingly simple, but effective, in keeping stock from straying from designated areas. It did not take too long before military planners decided to adapt this bucolic device to matters bellicose.

Not only could the wire limit the meandering of the curious ovine, bovine and swine, but its barbs could prevent ingress/egress of the casual interloper. The device was cheap to manufacture, easy and quick to install and performed its designated role with reckless efficiency. It found limited utility in the American Civil War and the Anglo-Boar Wars but it would make its main debut, and prickly presence felt, during the maelstrom of the Great War (1914-1918). After the flurry of military offences at the opening phase of the conflict, combatants quickly realised, that if the war was to be conducted, without further catastrophic casualties (a forlorn hope), a defensive stance would have to be maintained, albeit temporary, until offensives could be undertaken from a position of tactical stability and strength.

At the outbreak of war the concept of adopting a defensive stance was inconceivable and an anaethema to all nations who took part, with the exception of poor Belgium. The accepted and unified dogma dictated that success on the battlefield can only be achieved by aggressive offensive action. Those reliant on static defensive positions would cede the initiative to the aggressor and thusly be doomed to react and be compliant to their enemy's whim and will. And of course, this made perfect sense from an August 1914 perspective. For the French, right from the start, an aggressive attack was considered absolutely essential to carry the day. Sheer moral/morale fortitude was the most respected martial quality. Even the reality of 'modern war', made manifest, would not deter the French offensive spirit. Thus, French trenches always had an air of temporary occupation. The trench system seemed perfunctory to the industrious trench construction of the Germans and, perhaps, the British. Let us not judge the Gauls too harshly. After all, the initial German advance had captured vast swathes of sacred French land. It was a matter of national pride that drove the French to undertake their disastrous offensives of 1914/1915. Let us not forget that the last five months of 1914 accounted for one million French casualties. The flower of French manhood had been squandered in ill-conceived offensives and the French army would never truly recover from the ruinous loss incurred during those scant months of 1914.

By the late months of 1914, it became apparent to even the most hardheaded proponents of offensive action that static defence had become sovereign on the battlefield- the reason(s) are manifold and interrelated. Tis a grand mystery that the power and strength of the defensive position were not fully appreciated by military strategists and thinkers prior to the Great War. All the elements that contributed to the strength of  'defence'  were there to see. In the end, I suspect the various militaries wanted to conduct and enact war according to 'Victorian' social theory, of the time: attack is always bold, heroic, glorious and manly. In contrast, defence is somehow stolid, cowardly and not consistent with the best military virtues (whatever that might mean). Perhaps, the 'Victorian' generals of the Great Conflict could not conceive of war in any other way. They could not conceive how a defensive tactic could eventuate unto a strategic battlefield victory. However, an active, responsive defence, could and would, win battles and wars. As an example consider the battle of Verdun: the Germans battered the Verdun salient from three sides with heavy artillery. The Germans guessed correctly, that the French would defend this patch of land until the last man due to a misplaced sense of honour- a tactic not in keeping with sanity at this stage of the war (February 1916). Equally, senseless, the Germans could not resist throwing in their troops, wave after wave on well-defended positions. They should have stuck to their original plan and their guns that dictated that the artillery would inflict the majority of casualties. But initial success with relatively small numbers of troops goaded the Germans to change their master plan. Never a great idea to change a well-thought-out plan ad hoc. In the end, the Germans suffered as badly as the French and after 6 months of heavy fighting, the French achieved a Pyrrhic victory, of sorts. Also, consider the Kaiserschalkt of March 1918. A close-run thing and the British were but a ferret hair (ferrets have very fine hair/fur) from being pushed to the channel ports. However, the British with French support managed to halt the Germans and begin their own offensive culminating in the armistice of November 1918. In this instance, the attacking Germans not only lost the battle but also lost the war.

As implied, barbed wire was, in many ways, the perfect instrument for the maintenance of a defensive line. Often employed in layers, many yards deep, it was not designed to be impenetrable to infantry; its presence was designed to impede and delay. The attacking infantry would scurry looking for gaps caused by the preceding artillery barrage. More often than not, there was no gap to be had as the shells rarely achieved their purpose. In most instances, the wire was tossed, reformed, rearranged, augmented and reaffirmed in a more effective and deadly impediment to pedestrian progress. Indeed, could there be a more insidious, devilish, humdrum device of war? So banal, so commonplace and so destructive, both physically and psychologically. Men supine, exerting and terrified would have to rely on metal shears, and iron nerves, to carve a path through this dense, oppressive, grasping jumble of wretched steel. And as the men struggled, the machine gun chatter would decimate their ranks, producing scarecrows by the bushel, embraced in a phantasmal, entangled, dance of death.

The coming of the tank in July 1916 gave the Allies the edge to cut the wire. Not only could the rhomboidal behemoths cross the standard German trench, but they could also crush and carve a path for the following infantry. What took artillery days and men hours to effect, the tank did so in mere seconds. It was not the perfect solution, however, as the tracks of the primitive vehicles would become rapidly clogged when traversing thick belts of wire rendering/rending the tank inert, and vulnerable to the ubiquitous drum roll of shell fire.

Enough of the waxing lyrical, Flaxen! True eloquence lies with the men who experienced the horrors and faced the grim reality of war. I have no more to add.

Listen and weep.

Monday 31 October 2022

Blanket Man

                                                   Blanket Man Waiting for a Waka

 This post has been inspired by one of my regular commenters, who will remain nameless (Doonhammer).

This post, in a way, is a follow on story to my previous post concerning the Iranian hermit. 'Blanket Man' (for it is he) was an exciting fixture in Central Wellington for a decade. He stood out from the other homeless folk congregating in the area due to his erratic behaviour and lifestyle. For instance, he wore nothing but a blanket- hence the monicker. Indeed, his fame spread wide and far and hence he has become immortalised in Wikipedia- go check it out.

Of course, throughout his itinerant existence, he attracted the attention of law enforcement. What can you do to a man who lives outside the law? Predictably, he ended up in 'da nick' for a while and was exposed to the indignity of being assessed by mental health professionals resulting in a residential stint in the Wellington 'Nut House' (Ward 27). Also predictably, once released unto 'civilised' society he took up his usual position and stance/posture in Courtney Place, Central Wellington. 

His convictions were relatively mundane, but legion. Apparently, his police record stretched to 17 pages. Most of his arrests related to drink and drug offences (marijuana). He was more of a nuisance than a criminal menace, although local businesses were none too keen on his shenanigans as he had the woeful habit of cluttering doorways with his filthy presence and depositing sundry rubbish items with random abandon. On one occasion he was convicted of driving a vehicle without a licence. In court, he said he was 'driving' a waka (Maori canoe). His inventive defence cut no sway with the residing magistrate and he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in the Wellington gulag (I made that up). Although he was sentenced to community service, on at least one occasion, the fact that he refused to wear shoes or clothes precluded the enactment and fulfilment of his sentence. Obviously, there was little point in administering a fine. 

In 1979 he was charged with drunk driving causing the death of his close friend. It has been suggested that this episode resulted in a 'breakdown' ultimately contributing to his societal withdrawal and vagrancy. Anyway, for whatever reason, he appeared in Wellington City Centre about 2000 and quickly became somewhat of a local celeb, and dare I say it, icon.    

For the most part, he was relatively harmless, although he did have the unsettling habit of exposing his genitals to passing women folk. In spite of his 'stinky demeanour', he managed to attract female attention. Certain slutty elements of Wellington society have been known to satisfy his carnal lusts, after bouts of heavy weekend carousing.   

Blanket Man died in Wellington Hospital, on 15th January 2012, probably of alcohol-related causes. He now resides with his god(s), Tane-mahuta/Ranginui. Apparently, the Maori gods don't adhere to any formal dress code, thus, he will not be castigated/castrated for his brand of sartorial inelegance.  

His name was Ben Hana.

Friday 28 October 2022

Dirty Dan, the Iranian Man

                                       You can see where he was scratching his head

I am posting on the demise of the world's dirtiest man- a bold claim if you ask me. Anyway, I've decided to put 'pen to paper' in deference to his passing. Here is my previous musing upon this foul but crusty individual. So this fella has been pottering about the Iranian plateau for a goodly 60 years, without a sniff of bodily cleaning products. Eventually, after niffing up the environment and general locale, something awful, the villiage folk decided to take matters unto themselves and subject our  'hero' to thorough bodily cleansing. Not long after however, the shock of being moderately clean was too much and Dan's mortal existence was so sorely tested that he died, mayhap of shock. Although that said, the old bugger was well over 90.

I was so moved by this grim tale of grime, that I have put forth an ode, nay ditty, in commemoration of Dan's filthy existence, sadly snuffed out by an impromptu scrubbing, unwanted and decidedly unwarranted.

A sad tale of woe and dirt, 

As Dan never did have a clean shirt.

No more doth he smoke da shit,

No more doth he pong a bit.

He has gone forth to meet his maker,

No more emitting a noisome vapour.*

* To qualify: this would not apply, of course, if they just left his body to rot under the hot Persian sun. Poetic licence/nonsense. 

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Fond Musings, Akimbo!

         Behold the Man; Behold the Universe

Before continuing to read this post, I strongly suggest that the reader contemplates, and digests (not literally, of course, that would be just silly) an old post of mine, first penned in 2019, titled: Biocentrism. The topic of biocentrism has been expounded and expanded by a highly renowned scientist and stem cell researcher, Dr Robert Lanza. Essentially, the theory hinges on the concept that without biological entities perceiving the world, the universe and everything, there would be no world/universe/everything. He outlines his approach in two well-written and thought-provoking tomes. His theory enlists current quantum theory and dynamics to support his highly controversial musings. For instance, consider the 'Double Split Experiment'. I will not describe the experiment here, as I have already written about the investigation and its findings in the post on biocentrism. However, I will reiterate that the findings defy rational interpretation and are, frankly, rather unsettling to the cogent mind. However, interestingly, the concept of biocentrism has been put forth as a possible explanation for all this strangeness. When I wrote the 2019 post I intimated that further posts on the topic would follow....... Three years hence, I have decided to pick up the thread and continue where I left off. Consider this post as an introduction to the posts to come.  

In this introduction, it is important to state that I wasn't always the uncompromising and hard-headed rationalist that I have become. In my frivolous youth, I was very open to the possibility of supernatural worlds and occurrences. In part, this was due to an experience I had when I was but 3 years of age. As I distinctly recall to this day, my unsettling and profound experience is as follows: I remember awakening and observing an apparition, close to my bed. The apparition took the form of an old lady, seated. The experience was in vivid colour, clear and distinctly defined. She wore her hair in a grey bun and was clothed in old-fashioned garb, somewhat reminiscent of the early 20th or late 19th centuries. She also wore a pair of half-moon glasses. My ghost appeared very solid and real, to me. There was no animation and I remained transfixed and horrified. The experience, was perhaps, just a few seconds, and then my 'lady' broke up in a mosaic myriad of colours and disappeared. The spell was broken, and thereafter I ran screaming into my parent's room. 

It is possible to rationalise my experience. It is relevant that my vision occurred just as I awoke- remnants of a lucid dream, perhaps? All that said, there remain certain interesting elements to my experience. Thus, 'The Lady of the Council House' has aspects that remain rather intriguing. For instance, the old-fashioned dress and appearance would fit with the age of the house. As I understand the house was built sometime in the latter half of the 19th century. As a 3-year-old, I would not have made the connection at the time. Indeed, it was only when I was much older that I found the whole episode, anachronistic. Spooky, mayhap, although it is conceivable that my unconscious mind altered the experience, over time. But, regardless, the 'scene', taken in its entirety, was evocative of solid reality.

Undoubtedly, my experience influenced my subsequent beliefs and I became prey to various unsubstantiated paranormal phenomena. By my early 20s, I had become immersed in a raft of weird and strange ideologies. This was not to last. Imagine a fresh-faced, young Flaxen attending his first year of  'Big School'. Twas at university that my intellectual life paradigm evolved to things rational and coherent. As my science education progressed I began to grasp that the key to understanding, almost everything about the world, required mastery and appreciation of data acquisition and interpretation through the scientific method. And yet, we have the 'Quantum World' with its own nest of 'reality'. Biocentrism is not the only interpretation that has been put forth. The 'Simulation Hypothesis' has also been considered as a possible explanation for quantum oddity. Predictably, I have written about the simulation hypothesis here, back in 2016. According to the simulation scenario, the strange quantum world is but a glitch in the computer code controlling our 'existence'- Nick Bostrum and Elon Musk are leading exponents.  

I freely admit the bizarre findings attached to all things quantum disturbs my mind, more than I can say- that is why I have to write it down. There is a serious point to be made though. Our ancestors evolved a large brain for a reason. It seems that having an intellect is a positive quality conducive to survival. And here is the rub. We may be smart, but are we smart enough to fully contemplate the overwhelming universe in all its overwhelming and manifest complexity?  We may have to accept, that perhaps, our intellects are simply not attuned to understand and unravel the deep mysteries of our existence. Or perhaps, Biocentrism has the answer(s). Let's take another look at this fascinating concept, at least according to Dr Robert Lanza. Once more into the rabbit hole of DOOM (or enlightenment?).

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Baghdad Battery

           Battery No More?

I have noticed that my writings, of late, are leaning heavily toward military history. Nothing wrong I hear you say, however, this blog is decidedly eclectic and there are many other areas worthy of appraisal. So, I'm going to redress the balance somewhat by delving into a topic encroaching on science, archaeology and history. 

Thinking ahead, in terms of future posts: I am much taken with quantum mechanics, and theory. Let us be honest, the quantum world is a strange place and is barely understood even by the brilliant theoretical physicists who devote their professional careers to conjuring and taking deep ponderous drafts unto quantum quandaries, various and unlimited. If there was anything that could finally persuade the golden/silver-haired one that a 'supernatural' element encroached upon our ultimate reality, it would, by necessity, be precipitated by a profound contemplation of all things, quantum.  

I'm sure most folks have heard of the 'Baghdad Battery'. Exact details concerning the item are sparse and in some instances contradictory. Depending on sources it was either discovered in 1936 or unearthed two years later in the vicinity of Baghdad, Iraq, by the German Archeologist, Wilhelm Konig. Regardless, the item made its way to the local Baghdad Museum and resided in contemplative oblivion, its majesty unsullied and disregarded, until 1940. In 1940, Konig inspected the ancient artefact anew and declared that it belonged to the Parthian period (247 BC-224 AD). However, a subsequent interpretation placed the pot to a later time period, more in keeping with the Sassanid Empire (224 AD- 651 AD). It was during the 1940 examination that the 'battery hypothesis' was advanced.  At this juncture a brief description of the so-called battery will be helpful: the object is a clay pot (see above) 5" in height with an opening of 1.5". The opening had originally been sealed with bitumen. Inside was found an iron rod with evidence of corrosion- not unreasonable considering the artefact's age. In addition, a copper cylinder was found therein and there was evidence of an acidic residue/accretion on the inside of the pot. At face value, the 'battery hypothesis' does not appear to be unreasonable. But let us delve a little more...... 

Firstly, although the copper tube was found to protrude from the jar, through the bitumen plug, the iron rod did not. This does not support the battery hypothesis, as the item as a whole would not be able to sustain an external connection between the two dissimilar metals to facilitate a direct current.  

Secondly, similar pots have been unearthed in the vicinity. Again, the pots contain bimetallic objects. In this scenario, papyrus parchments have been identified, within, often too fragile to gain any further insight. But it seems the ancients have conveniently, and very kindly, left further clues that have enabled archaeologists to postulate a plausible counter hypothesis. Some of the jars contain inscriptions engraved on the inside of the vessel. These inscriptions have survived the ravages of time well enough to be deciphered. It appears that the scribblings relate to invocations and spells against individuals who have fallen foul of the 'inscriptors' (not a real word). Thus it appears the author wishes ill tidings on a neighbour and hopes they receive a good, and mayhap well deserved, spiritual 'kicking'. Sometimes, the most simple and mundane explanation is the most likely. 


In such circumstances, context is king. Do we have evidence of a need for electricity in the time frame under study? To date, there is no evidence, from archaeological digs or contemporary written material, to suggest that the technology, of the time, required electricity. And yes, I am aware of the Dendara 'lightbulb'. It has been put forth that the 'battery' could have been part of an apparatus for gilding silverware. However, not an iota or jot of evidence has been uncovered to support such a hypothesis. Earlier I put forth that 'context was king'; I lied, empirical data is Konig. And now we start to enter, 'woo woo' territory. Of course, fringe, new-age, folk have adopted the battery hypothesis without critical thought and analysis. The artefact has slithered, unhindered and has become carelessly woven into their strange and bizarre word view and landscape and has consequently spawned theories numerous and ponderous. I will not give further credence to factually unsupported utterances. Their 'Arcane Knowledge' is but a click/Gogle away. Drink deep, then discard.   

Sadly, and predictably the artefact disappeared with about 10,000 other items from the National Museum of Iraq shortly after the coalition invasion in 2003. Subsequently, over half of the stolen artefacts were recovered but the current whereabouts of the 'battery' remain unknown. No doubt it will end up in the private collection of a Western billionaire if this is not already the case.      

Sunday 2 October 2022

On War III

                                                       Samnite Warriors, in Repose

The rise of Rome, from a small town on the seven hills flanking the river Tiber, in central Italy, to the Great Empire it became is a story that has enthralled historians, ancient and modern to their very core. What was unique about this particular city, and its people, that propelled the Romans to rule great swathes of western Europe, and southern Europe, together with the Middle East, the Balkans and north Africa? Rome in 400 BC did not appear particularly special amongst the many warlike peoples of central Italy. But first, there are other matters to contemplate.

Although Greek civilisation was at its zenith, in 400 BC, it had suffered and survived a series of bitterly contested internecine wars, as well as wars against the Persian empire and the Carthaginians. Its greatness, fostered by the fierce independence of the city-state system was ultimately responsible for its downfall. Greece was never a nation and though the Greek cities were bound by language and strong cultural ties, there was never a unity that would allow the Greeks to found and rule over an empire. It is true they would forge leagues and alliances. These leagues formed for defensive and offensive reasons were too fragile to provide true unity- they were always subject to the turbulent flow of Greek politics and changing expediencies. In the end, fractured city-state politics were to be exploited by a semi-barbarous Greek kingdom to the north. Macedonia would bring forth unity and coherence by means of the sword and the skilful manipulation of Greek politics (338 BC).  But it would always be a Macedonian Empire. The Greek cities could never overcome their fierce and innate independence and could never really come to terms with the 'political reality' imposed from without. It took the cohesive genius of Phillip and thereafter, Alexander, to force the Greeks to become partners in the empire to come.

It will always remain a mystery, that after conquering and securing the Persian Empire, Alexander became obsessed with expansion, further east, unto mysterious lands. His army was none too keen and it was their reluctance to continue that would define the eastern limit of his Empire in 324 BC. In hindsight, his persistence was an insane vainglorious adventure not predicated upon sound military or logistical foundations. It seems odd that he never contemplated, turning west, once Persia was conquered. During his exotic bellicose peregrinations, he left one formidable enemy unbloodied and unsullied, 'Westward ho'-, the Carthaginians. 

The Carthaginians hailed originally from the city of Tyre, Phoenecia, and were supposedly founded by an exotic queen/bint with astonishingly acute/astute/cute tailoring skills, sometime in the 9th century BC. Apparently, according to myth and folklore, she was named, Dido. This wayward/seaward seafaring folk made land on the North African shore, in what is now, Tunisia, sometime after teatime. Anyway, it twas an astute colonial possession/progression, and the city they founded was named, rather unimaginatively, 'New City' (Carthage). The relatively civilised Punes (a Greek rendering) soon dominated the barbarous tribes of the hinterland and founded dependent cities along the North African coast. As time went forth, the Carthaginians began to quarrel with the equally land grabbing/grubbing Greeks, especially over possession of the island of Sicily. Eventually, and after much blood-letting, there followed an uneasy truce, leaving the Greeks in possession of the eastern parts, whilst the Carthigininains held the west (265 BC).

And thus, I have set the stage for the entrance of the Romans (stage left). Eventually, the Romans would take over all the Hellenes had built. This was not apparent to Alexander or to his immediate successors, of the time. The Romans were slow and steady on their way to greatness, however, and regardless, their initial succession, albeit sluggish, was inexorable and sure-footed. Certainly, the Carthaginians didn't see them coming.             

By, 290 BC the Romans were well on the way to their conquest of  Italy and were left unmolested by the Greeks until Roman expansion threatened the Greek diaspora in southern Italy. In 282 BC they came into dispute with the Greek city of Tarentum. A notorious Greek king and freebooter, Pyrrhus of Epirus, a nephew of Alexander the Great, decided to intervene on behalf of his Greek cousins. He amassed an army and confronted, and defeated, the Romans at Heraclea (280 BC) in southern Italy. Pyrrhus, like all Greeks, thought of none Greeks as barbarians, Romans included. However, it is said that he was impressed by the Roman army's camp disposition and orderliness. While in hostile territory, Roman soldiers constructed a fortified night camp with a ditch, earthworks and a palisade. On seeing the industrious Romans constructing their camp, Pyrrhus remarked: "funny, they don't act like barbarians". The Macedonian general was able to defeat the Romans once again at the battle of Asculum (279 BC). Both battles were hard fought and costly. It seems that Pyrrhus was not without an ironic sense of humour and exclaimed: "another victory like this one and I will be going home alone" (Pyrrhic Victory). A final battle ensued, in which the Greeks were defeated at Benventium in 275 BC. Pyrrhus had had enough of his Italian adventure and decided that there was more profit to be obtained elsewhere. And so he left his southern Greek allies to their fate. This garrulous Greek offered a final prediction. As he was embarking with his army from Sicily, he declaimed: "what a wonderful wrestling ground we are leaving to the Romans and Carthaginians." It is a great shame I don't have the space to write about this energetic, and generally underrated, Greek soldier/king, in this series of posts. Anyway, he came to an ignominious end after being struck by a roof tile in Argos, in 272 BC.  Worthy of another series, perhaps?           

At this juncture, it will be useful to consider how the Roman army of the time of the Second Punic War (218 BC-202 BC), was organised and armed. For most folk when they think of the Roman army, they imagine a truly professional set-up. In truth, the army only became the professional edifice of modern conception with and after the Marian reforms (107 BC). Prior to the Marian reforms, the Roman army, was very like Greek armies, in that it was a militia formed by citizens who could afford to equip themselves, with arms. The army would be raised for a campaign and disbanded once the hostilities concluded. Originally, the army was armed and fought very much like the Greek hoplite. After a series of wars with a hill people (Samnites) of central Italy (ended 304 BC), the Romans found that their mode of fighting was too inflexible in broken hill country and adapted their equipment and way of fighting accordingly. The Romans were always happy to adopt ideas from their enemies if it suited and ancient writers declare that the Romans copied the Samnite shield (Roman scutum). However, other sources state that the Romans had adopted the scutum at an earlier time. From now on the battle order was more open, and small units of men could operate independently (maniple- 120 men). They also arranged the army into three battle lines: the first line consisted of the youngest class of citizens (hastati); the second line (Principes) contained men in their prime, and the third line was formed of grizzled, battle-hardened veterans (triarii). 

By 272 BC the Romans had conquered most of the Italian peninsula and were about to embark on their first overseas adventure that would set their course to becoming a Great Empire. It was in 264 BC that the Romans decided to meddle in Scillian affairs during which they came into conflict with the Carthaginians. Two glorious wars later, ending in 202 BC, the Romans had control of Sicily, the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica, together with most of the Spanish peninsular. Carthaginian power was forever broken and the city was destroyed in 176 BC by the Romans and former Carthaginian territories in north Africa were annexed. 

This will do for now. I consider this post as an introduction to the 'Roman Way of War'; why were the Romans so successful and how have they influenced the Western Way of conducting war up until the modern era? This will of course represent the final post on the 'On War' series unless I decide otherwise.       


Monday 26 September 2022

Socrates Has the Best Answer

     Jewish Heaven- please do not  adjust your set

I'm just putting the final touches on my third post in the much-vaunted series, 'On War'. To break up the bellicose monotony I felt moved to intersperse a post concerning the oft-misunderstood topic of ancient Judaic and early Christian concepts relating to what happens after we die.

Humankind is obsessed with death and the question of what happens after we die. Tis the final great mystery. To be fair, there is no intellectually satisfying answer to this question. If we are, to be honest, we must throw our hands up in the air and state: we don't know. This has not stopped speculation on the matter. Religions, numerous, and the Christian religion, in particular, have an unequivocal answer- yes there is an afterlife, although when pressed, religious leaders are unable to provide specifics, except the Jehovah's Witnesses- they are very specific; they are always specific. Tis to be noted that many Christian sects denounce the JWs and do not consider the adherents as Christians. And likewise, the JWs are more than happy to return the compliment. For simplicity, and for the sake of consistency, I'm happy to exclude Jehovah's Witnesses from the Christian fold and covenant.

Returning to the beliefs of 'Real Christians'. What is the Christian concept of heaven; where is heaven to be placed and what do we actually do there as we ride out an eternity? If we are to accept that Christianity is founded upon Judaism, then we would do well to examine what Judaism teaches about the afterlife, in the centuries before Jesus' birth, and subsequent to his demise (arbitrary divisions). Also, what do modern Jewish scholars think happens after we draw our final breath?

For Jesus' historical antecedents, the above question is easy to answer: there was no expectation of an afterlife. The Torah (first five books of the old testament), if you dare to read, have nought to say upon this matter. All that can be inferred is that your corporeal existence is your Lot. No heaven or 'Great Mystery' was to be asked or answered. Perhaps it was why the ancient Jews (and modern Jews) placed, and place, such a great emphasis on doing good and doing no harm during, this life. This is the core essence of Judaism to this day, the so-called: Golden Rule. It could be argued that any further admonishments/ embellishments are just/Just commentary- go read. This universal view began to change, in some Jewish circles, at least, during the 6th BC century. Thoughtful Jews began to ask: ''how come the righteous in this life suffer, while the rich and the wicked prosper? Surely this is blatantly unfair?'' This line of thought may have become popular at about the time Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians and many Jewish families were marched off into exile. 

While it is true that there is virtually no mention of an afterlife in the written Torah, the oral Torah speaks volumes. I will not go into why the oral Torah became into being, how it was promulgated and why it was thought necessary after 70 AD to put forth into writing.  In essence, the written oral tradition (surely an oxymoron) is but a commentary on the Torah developed by Jewish scholars over many centuries. Anyway, although it is difficult to extract a coherent and consistent 'after-life tradition', certain elements are worthy of comment. When God made Adam, he did so by breathing 'divine breath' into inanimate mud to create life. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for spirit and breath are the same (ruah). And expanding on this theme, we can see how the ancient Jews could conceive of death as a time when the last breath (spirit) leaves the body. Aspects of Judaism began to, as I understand it, perceive a reawakening of life when the physical body and the spirit (breath) come back together. This will occur en masse on a future judgement day (End of Times). Living corpses, deemed righteous and worthy will reside with God, forever. The naughty folk will be destroyed. To be honest, this view is not universal. By Jesus' time the Pharisees believed something like this, although the conservative Sadducees appear to have abided by the teachings of their ancestors, in that, there was no existence after death. Both the body and the soul would cease to exist. From the gospels, it is reasonable to infer that Jesus' pontifications on the afterlife were in tune with what the Pharisees expected. In this regard, consider the parable of the 'Sheep & Goats' (Mathew's Gospel). This is the view of most modern, critical bible scholars on how Jesus viewed the afterlife. That said, not all serious scholars agree. Jesus' teachings are not always internally consistent throughout the Gospels. This likely has more to do with how the unknown gospellers interpreted Jesus' teachings, within their own doctrinal context and prejudices, rather than due to the original teachings of the Nazarene.  

Modern lay Jews, if they have an opinion on the matter, are likely to stick to the Pharisee's interpretation. This also seems to be the majority viewpoint amongst Rabbis. Judaism has always been a religion of 'this life', as already mentioned. Modern Judaism reflects this ancient tradition. Furthermore, Jews are becoming increasingly secular in their thought. There are, however, ultra-conservative sects that remain strict in their observance of the Law and the tenets of Judaism. From my observations, a significant proportion of Jews are 'unbelievers' however, they continue to practise Jewish rituals, to a lesser or greater extent, as a consequence of strong cultural associations and identity. In addition, there is a minority perspective that speculates that even the 'ungodly' will eventually be saved after a relatively brief period in some form of purgatory. This is akin to Catholic doctrine. Though, as I understand it, purgatory, in the Catholic tradition, is a place where 'the good/godly' go to be purged (tis in the name, after all ) of their sins before being allowed into heaven- this is not an option for the naughty- straight to the hot place, for eternity, for them.  The Jewish doctrine of purgatory seems a tad more humane than the Catholic version. And let's be honest, with our knowledge of human nature, to the fore, a more sensible and ultimately practical, proposition. 

And finally, I'll consider the early Christian stance and thoughts on the 'thereafter'. I think it is fair to state, that the earliest Christians (they were born Jews, after all), adopted the mainstream Jewish doctrine, of the time, with regard to the possibility of an existence after death. Christianity's future (and virtue) lay, not with the Jews, but with the Greek-speaking gentiles of the Roman Empire. Gentile converts immersed in Greek concepts of life and death undoubtedly had different ideas from their Jewish contemporaries. And these ideas and concepts were well established amongst the ancient Greeks and differed significantly from Jewish notions. It is fair to state, that the Greeks considered their own teachings, culture and philosophy vastly superior to those of different cultures, including the Jews. Therefore, Greek-speaking converts added their own Greek philosophic concepts to Christianity, and this included their own pagan Greek ideas of  'life after death'. And it is these concepts that would form the basis of Catholic philosophy, eventually- Jewish doctrines were to be discarded, willy-nilly. 

Tis enough for one post. I will go into more depth on the topic of 'Early Christian Thought on the Afterlife' in a second post. Also, I would like to look at how the concepts of Christian Heaven and Hell developed over the centuries culminating in the dominant views of the various, major Christian denominations. This may develop into another enthralling series.      

Saturday 24 September 2022

Promenading About Town


Needs a Nostrum, Methinks

Yesterday, I decided to wander around my local town to engage in a modicum of focused shopping. Mrs F did not accompany me on this occasion. Sadly, she has had a series of surgeries on her right foot and is thus convalescing at home with a strict injunction, from the banebrake, not to place weight upon her macerated appendage. Consequently, shopping in the town is forbidden. And so, I'm allowed to shop unfettered. Although I would not wish enforced immobility on my good wife, the opportunity to engage in light, untethered shopping is a boon that needs to be clasped/grasped between two plastic shopping bags (if you can find 'em), with alacrity.

 When it comes to shopping, Mrs F is not of this world. To be honest, I regard shopping as a necessary chore, and as such, should be undertaken as efficiently and quickly as possible. Mrs F belongs to a different school of philosophy where shopping is a studied and divine form of recreation. She is quite happy to spend all day shopping and to return to the garth with nowt but corns. In practice, this means I avoid accompanying Mrs F on any of her 'shopping extravaganzas', with due gusto. I am not alone in my assessment of my wife's shopping prowess. In fact, our son and daughter are also none too keen to engage in said activity with the woman that gave them life. Moving forward.......

Anyway, I was between shops when I espied a gaggle of folk on the corner of Ferret Street and Ferret Boulevard. As I'm of a curious disposition I was drawn unto the congregation and peregrinated thereoff/ forthwith. To my surprise, and on further inspection, the commotion concentrated upon a proselyting duo of Jehovah's Witnesses (henceforth known as, JW x 2). Why do they always come in twos- if not pairs?  If I had been accompanied by Mrs F, I would be obliged to look the other way and continue without gainful and fruitful engagement. I would get the: 'don't you fucking dare/stare'. As I was without restraint/constraint either physical or ethereal, I decided to ask the sweet smiling, middle-aged lady for spiritual enlightenment. After a few probing enquiries, it became quite apparent that I was not dealing with the intellectual elite of the organisation. My opinion became fully cemented once she asked from where I once hailed. I replied that I was birthed in the township of  Dudley in the faraway kingdom of England.  Immediately upon my exclamation, she followed up with: "Then you must have heard of Kenny Smith, he's from England". After a brief pause/hiatus, I replied, accordingly: "Could this be the Kenny Smith of 24 Mons Road, Kate's Hill, Dudley. She responded: "No, he was from Wigan". Twas at this time I decided to terminate the conversation, go home, and drink copious amounts of fine ale. This was of course rather unusual as the majority of JW x 2 I have conversed with in the past have buggered off, of their own volition, admittedly after I had been confronted upon my own doorstep. For reasons, that will always remain inexplicable to me, JW x 2 are none too keen to prolong our dialogue.  But on this occasion, I made an excuse, stating that the 'Mega Supa Big Woppa Do Da Store' was having a sale on expired and fire damaged  Arthur Askey Memorabelia- I thank you. I wonder if Kenny Smith reads my blog?    

Sunday 11 September 2022

On War II

  A work of art or war?

This post is a continuation of the previous post, titled, 'On War'. Rather unimaginatively I have entitled the second post in this unbidden and often forbidden series: 'On War II'. In my ignominious first foray, I made a series of unsupported and sweeping statements concerning how our stone age ancestors engaged in armed struggle with fellow man. I also mentioned that the Western concept of war, as initially practised by the Ancient Greeks, was somehow different from how most cultures conducted warfare. I also noted that the Greek mode of organised fighting went against human nature's innate preservation instincts. I would now like to advance a few observations and ideas on why this form of armed struggle became predominant amongst the Ancient Greeks.

Ancient Greek warfare developed its characteristic form during the 7th century BC. Individual warriors were called 'hoplites' after the large round shield carried into battle (the hoplon). In addition, the hoplite wore a cuirass of bronze and or layers of linen glued together; bronze greaves to protect the lower leg and the highly characteristic bronze helm. The Greeks were armed with a long spear, of 8 feet in length, and a short, 'stabbing and cutting' sword. The hoplite stood shoulder to shoulder with his comrades and thrust his spear overhand or underhand depending on his position within the ranks. Due to the great length of his spear, those men in the second and third ranks could extend their spears past their comrades in the front rank. This disposition made the replacement of those killed in line relatively easy and without loss of cohesion.  

The Greek phalanx existed as a dynamic interlocking whole. Each man faced the enemy warrior to his front and would try to aim his spear at any exposed areas of flesh whilst his opponent did the same. Each warrior relied on his companions left and right to perform the same dance of death. Engagements were short-lived and it has been estimated that the battle proper did not last longer than 30 minutes. Fighting in heavy armour, in the sun, and under conditions of constant controlled terror could not be maintained for long. When a battle line eventually broke, the army would lose cohesion and it is only then that the actual killing would occur. However, it was a rare occasion, when Greek was contesting with Greek, that wholesale destruction of the beaten army would follow. Modern estimates suggest that the casualty rate never exceeded 15%.  The victorious hoplites rarely pressed the defeated for long and were usually content with their triumph and possession of the battlefield.   

A hoplite army was mainly/manly composed of heavy infantrymen, as described. Cavalry was never a significant component of the army. Greece never had the grazing capacity to support a large horsed contingent. Light infantrymen also played a role prior to the clash of their heavier armoured brethren and would trade missiles (javelins and sling stones/lead pellets) with light infantrymen of the opposing army. This group consisted primarily of young men without the means to support the expensive arms and armour required of the classical hoplite. Once a formation broke and fled, lightly armoured men would chase down the encumbered enemy hoplite. In these circumstances, the defeated hoplite would often discard their heavy shield and spear. For a hoplite to draw a sword was considered a mark of desperation.    

Hoplite battles had a regularity, constancy and ferocity about them that may seem strange, at first consideration, but are readily explainable given the circumstances under which the Ancient Greeks laboured. The Ancient Greeks were a disputatious folk and agreeably fond of fighting amongst themselves, often to their overall detriment. Their civilisation centred upon the city-state and each city-state was fiercely independent. And to maintain their independence, a military force, for defence and aggression, was required. The military force was maintained through a 'militia system', the only notable exception, of course, was Sparta. Therefore, freeborn men (generally, although not exclusively, georgic tillers of the sod) who were able to purchase their military equipment and trappings were expected to muster, when called, to undertake their military duty. In contrast to modern professional armies, the Greek armies were distinctly middle class. To be called to arms was an honour and an obligation unto your polity. The Greeks would come together as an affiliated 'nation' only in times of a serious external threat, for instance as occurred during the Persian wars of the 5th century BC. A coming together of several cities, often termed 'leagues', to form a military alliance was a pragmatic expedient to prevent domination of the isthmus by a single state. Not all leagues were primarily military in nature but could reflect commercial, religious or ethnic considerations  The various leagues formulated over the centuries are worthy of a post unto itself- if I can be arsed (Arse).

As for the peculiarity of the Ancient Greek mode of war, modern historians have proposed a number of ingenious ideas worthy of note. Greece is a mountain-dominated country and suitable arable land is limited and a highly desired resource. One goal of a warlike expedition into enemy territory would oft be directed at destroying the enemy's crops.  If the invading army could achieve this aim, this, of course, could lead to serious famine in the succeeding year. Crops to be destroyed would be put to the fire- for some reason I find this concept strangely alluring. Moving on. It seems that grain crops, (in Greece at least) prior to harvest, are only dry enough and therefore combustible for a few weeks in May. After harvest, the ears of corn would be stored, and concentrated, in easily defended barns and silos. Consequently, if an enemy could be kept at bay, from ravishing the fields, for just a brief period, the worst effects of their despoilation would be averted. Also to be taken into account is that, the aggressors' fields would be vulnerable to destruction whilst their war band was off a rollicking as there would be insufficient armed men left behind and available for their own defence. All this taken into consideration, would place a premium on a rapid and decisive outcome. For the Ancient Greeks, the nature of the land, the people and the intractable cultural environment telescoped war into a nightmarish but brief affair. The fact that the temporal dimension of war was short favoured a brutal decisive clash. A desultory, low-key extended strategy would not do and therefore we see an evolution of warfare unrivalled in sheer ferocity. The frightfulness was self-limiting. Once the din and clash of arms subsided both protagonists seemed content, and no further military action would occur for that year. After the battle, a truce would be called and the all-important ritual of tending to the fallen could be undertaken without fear of interference. The victor would errect a cairn of triumph and war would be over for this season. How civilised.

The Romans were the natural heirs of 'Greek War'. They were willing students and thus embraced and nurtured the Greek concept of 'innate horror' of the set piece battle with relentless gusto. But they did not practise the Greek concept of limited war or military restraint. For the Romans, the nastiness continued unabated and Western warfare lurched into/unto a new adventurous landscape of supreme terror, where the enemy could expect no respite, temporal or otherwise.  As a continuation in this seminal and singular series, I will now turn to contemplate the phenomenon that was Ancient Rome, at war. This post will be the penultimate in my trilogy, in four parts, 'On War'.  May the Gods that look over such madness forgive me. 

Wednesday 31 August 2022

On War

Okay, folks, the usual disclaimer, caveat, forwarning, foreboding and dictate: The following are the ramblings of a man with a tenuous grasp of reality, on the best of occasions. Thus, consider my musings no more than a man who has an interest in things military and, over the years, has read wide/wild and free on matters of which I have absolutely no practical experience. I am but a simple, 'Armchair Warrior' with an overactive imagination/medication. What follows is opinion and in no way should be construed as expert commentary. Consider your comments and opinions in this light. As for censure regarding my 'scholarship'. I will not hear or brook such a thing. Take from this post, what you will in the spirit of a man renowned for spouting, total and utter, bollocks. Arse.      

It has to be admitted that we are a somewhat contentious species. But we may not be the only species on the planet that actually engages in planned conflict. For instance, several ant species undertake a 'campaign' to attack other ants and destroy the 'citadel' complete/replete with resident/resplendent Queen. Our closest relatives, the pongids, specifically chimpanzees, can be particularly unpleasant. That said, over many centuries, societal pressures have shaped humans into the organised, highly efficient proponents of organised conflicts. This has not always been the case. 

Primitive humans, 12,000 years ago, lived the 'idyllic' life as hunter-gatherers. This was before our ancestors became acquainted with the joys, and fruits, of stock domestication and the cultivation of crops. The human population was low and consequently, a simple hunter-gatherer lifestyle was acceptable without conflict with other human groups practising the same mode of existence. Life within the tribal structure, by necessity dictated by the harsh mistress of survival, was highly stratified. Adult men acted in concert together to hunt prey. The larger the game taken, the better. A large animal provided the necessary protein required to maintain the family structure. Sophisticated hunting strategies focused on herd animals. Herd animals flock together for protection. But primitive hunters could utilise this tendency through tactics designed to exploit an evolutionary loophole. Thus, herding animals to a naturally enclosed area facilitates ambush and subsequent destruction by cooperating, coordinating hunters armed with javelin, spear and club. Such high protein yields were conducive to an explosion in population coupled with the development of means for meat preservation and storage in times of inevitable shortage due to seasonal fluctuations and random/unpredictable privations affecting man and prey in equal/unequal measure.

When the first wandering bands of primitive humans entered mutual violence is lost unto temporal oblivion. Reasons for conflict are also beyond extraction although reasonable scenarios may be pondered with a degree of plausibility and merit. In ecology, there is a concept called, 'Carrying Capacity'. Simply stated, the concept refers to the resources available on a unit area of land that is able to support X individuals of a particular species. In the animal world once this limit is exceeded there is a 'biological adjustment' or in common parlance: there is a degree of dying to account for the degree of disequilibrium; eventually, the adjustment is sufficient, and death, at least due to starvation, returns unto the natural carrying capacity of the environment. This is how nature works in all its feral, majestic glory- are you not in awe?      

In a situation of limited resources, strife between groups would be inevitable. The hunting tools require no modification to inflict destruction on fellow humans. The javelin and bow preclude the need to close with the 'enemy'. Even primitive, stone-age bows would be effective killers up to 50 metres. For close quarter action, stone hand axes, hafted or simply clasped, could be used to inflict disabling 'cerebral haemorrhages' on an adversary. A comment on flint tools: there is a wide misconception that flint is not particularly useful as a cutting implement. Whilst it is true that flint is easily chipped (also a helpful feature), an edge fashioned by a skilled artisan is super sharp. Indeed, in the modern context, shards of flint have been employed in delicate eye surgery. Here endeth the lesson/digression.    

Strife amongst bands of hunter-gathers would be often spontaneous events and risk-averse. The term  'risk averse' needs a little explanation. In our modern world protected by professionally trained soldiers, we have little concept of the mechanics of stone-age, conflict. Anthropological studies over the last century, focussing on 'pre-contact' groups in South-East Asia and the Amazon basin have helped to gain some perspective. Tis hard to tease out generalisations but with my characteristic, breathtaking, all-encompassing arrogance, I will do so. During contact and strife, combat is tentative. Individual warriors are very concerned with their personal safety and don't usually act in a way that we would construe as brave or bold. If the opposing warriors are of about equal 'effectiveness' (needs to be defined) casualties are often low. This is not to say that widespread killing is not an option. If one group is smaller, unprepared for battle and cannot flee, wholesale mayhem and killing are likely. Also, a similar situation can arise if a group is caught unawares and is unable to fight back. Bravery and steadfastness in battle are not something that comes naturally to our species. We have evolved to 'way up' risk in a given survival situation, and running away has always been a highly viable life and consequently evolutionary strategy. A man has to undergo rigorous training and indoctrination to become an effective soldier. Natural self-preservation instincts need to be subsumed into the unnatural, rigid and disciplined society that is a modern army. By modern army, I'm referring to armies that have existed in 'civilised' communities for the past 2,500 years. It is fair to state, that as far as Western civilisation is concerned, the Greek hoplite was the precursor and template for what followed. A template adopted/adapted by the Romans and eventually passed on to the Germanic peoples who succeeded the Romans in the West, post-collapse. I will deal with the rise of the Western way of war, defined by the concept of the set piece battle in my next post in this series of posts on 'the fundamental nature of warfare'.              

Sunday 28 August 2022

Bert and Ernie

The Boys in Happier Days

About 8 months ago we acquired a couple of rams for free, Bert and Ernie, as their owner just wanted to get rid. Otherwise, they were destined for the knacker's yard. Mrs S is a big old softy (not me, I'm tough) and became upset that these young healthy creatures were about to be discarded unto the bone gatherer. At the time, they were about a year old. We already had three alpacas residing in one of our large fields and it was no problem adding a couple of ovines; the carrying capacity of the land was not to be exceeded. The lads were promptly delivered and the alpacas watched/awaited the delivery of the new arrivals with studied/studded interest (the alpacas had metal nose rings). Once released, the new additions began to graze immediately and we left them to settle in. As we left the field, Ted the alpaca came over to say hello and promptly mounted one of our new additions. 

It needs to be emphasised that neither my wife nor I are from farming stock. Prior to moving to our current rural property our only experience of 'livestock management' was owning a succession of white, fluffy lap dogs. However, managing alpacas and sheep is relatively easy- leastways according to YouTube. After all, both types of animals are just more woolly and larger versions of ferrets, aren't they?  Both sheep and alpacas require an annual cut and treatment for worms and other potential parasites, and nowt else. Of course, my wife and grandchildren regularly feed the animals over the fence with ovine/camelidae nutritional pellets. For a handful of nuts these, usually standoffish creatures, will allow hand patting and a little unassuming human interaction.

And thus the Great cycle/circle of life continues, without abate and drama, until..... One sunny winter's morn I toddle awf to the livestock field with a song in my heart and a beer in hand. Twas after 10.00 am after all. The purpose of the visit was to administer repair work to the hut that had been erected for the animals to gain respite from the extremes of New Zealand's weather. In this instance, a panel had come down due to rain and wind and thusly my woodworking ministrations and exertions were expressly, and sorely, needed. As I was about to set to work, I espied Ernie 'resting', supine. As the day was sunny and unseasonably warm I felt little concern. I, therefore, got to work and within a short span, I had undertaken the repair. Henceforth, livestock on the property would no longer be at the mercy of the vicissitudes of New Zealand weather. My husbandry obligations had been fulfilled with skill and undoubted aplomb! Satisfied, and filled with wonder, I regarded my land with a squint-eyed, vista-encompassing, sweep. It, at this stage, I noticed that Ernie had not moved since last regarded. With understandable trepidation, I drew near. His stillness at my approach did not bode well. I sat by the still, stricken animal and cradled his head. He was with life but by a small margin. I called the vet and she arrived within a short span. After a cursory, but professional inspection, she relayed that the prognosis was terminal and that to avoid any further suffering, poor Ernie, was to be euthanised. The family gathered and spent a few minutes with our ailing friend. Afterwards, the vet administered the drug and his family stayed until he gave up his last breath.

Next day, we buried Ernie and on the following morn, we assembled and my granddaughters placed a few wildflowers upon the place of his final repose. It was then we noticed that Bert had deposited a pile of his excremental waste (is there any other?). Could this be his way of saying, 'Goodbye'? We will never know.