Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Russell's Paradox

                                                               Herr Cantor in a set of one

In this post, I'm taking a break from my latest obsession with 'Roman History' and interlarding my general nonsense with something very sensible and philosophical   

Bertrand Russell was an English mathematician, logician, philosopher, and undoubted intellectual powerhouse of the 20th century. I consider him the last 'Great Polymath' as his interests and abilities were diverse and multitudinous. His book: 'A History of Western Philosophy' is a wonder to behold. A great book by a great man. In this book, Russell not only encapsulates philosophic development spanning 2,500 years he also manages to place individual philosophers within historical and intellectual contexts. He cogently and eloquently represents philosophers within their intellectual milieu. He goes to great effort to consider the influence of prior philosophers upon man (philosophers are always, men- except in modern times when they are not), and the subsequent furtherance of intellectual development on those to come. In addition, his style is compact, elegant and without unnecessary embellishment. He comes from a time when folk of genius seemed to burst forth like ripe fruit in the summer sun and their abundant cornucopia spillethed (not a real word) upon a florid landscape (steady Flaxen-Arse). Alas, those times are no more.

Anyway, I've waxed enough- tis time to get to the point. Today's fare is a little on the dry side and intrudes upon the esoteric. It concerns, 'Set Theory'. Set theory was initiated in the 1870s by the brilliant German mathematician, Georg Cantor. Simply stated it concerns stuffing stuff into boxes, of different hues, or the same hue,  just because we can. As you will note, my style for the following is vastly different from my usual grandiloquent style. Tis more in keeping with my professional stance, in times past and not a single 'Arse' shall impinge, unless I get bored.  This post is not for all as it is, as a consequence of the subject matter a tad dry. But, gentle reader, it is difficult to present the problem in a more 'user-friendly' manner.  

Russell's paradox is a classic paradox in set theory that is named after the English philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell. The paradox arises when we consider the set of all sets that do not contain themselves. This set, known as the Russell set, is defined as follows:

R = {X | X is a set that does not contain itself}

The paradox arises when we ask the question: Does R contain itself? If R contains itself, then it must satisfy the condition of being a set that does not contain itself, which is a contradiction. On the other hand, if R does not contain itself, then it must satisfy the condition of being a set that does contain itself, which is also a contradiction. Thus, the paradox shows that there cannot be a set of all sets that do not contain themselves.

The paradox was first discovered by Russell in 1901 when he was attempting to find a way to avoid the logical paradoxes that had been discovered by the German mathematician Georg Cantor. Cantor had shown that there are different sizes of infinity and that the set of all sets is a larger infinity than any other infinity. This led to paradoxes like the set of all sets that do not contain themselves, which seemed to defy logic.

Russell's paradox is significant because it shows that there are limits to what we can define using set theory. It reveals a fundamental inconsistency in the way we think about sets and collections. It demonstrates that some assumptions we make about sets can lead to contradictions and inconsistencies.

To understand the paradox in more detail, let's consider the two cases that arise when we ask whether R contains itself or not.

Case 1: R contains itself

Suppose that R is a set that contains itself as an element. This means that R satisfies the condition of being a set that does not contain itself because R is a set that contains itself as an element. But this leads to a contradiction because R cannot both contain itself and not contain itself at the same time.

To see why, suppose that R contains itself as an element. Then R satisfies the condition of being a set that does not contain itself because R is a set that contains itself as an element. But this means that R does not belong to the set R, because the set R consists only of sets that do not contain themselves. This leads to a contradiction because R must belong to the set R since we assumed that R contains itself as an element.

Case 2: R does not contain itself

Suppose that R is a set that does not contain itself as an element. This means that R satisfies the condition of being a set that does not contain itself. But this leads to another contradiction because R must be an element of the set of all sets that do not contain themselves. But R is itself a set that does not contain itself, so it must be an element of this set. This contradiction arises because we cannot consistently define the set of all sets that do not contain themselves.

The paradox shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we think about sets and collections. We assume that any collection of objects can be made into a set, but this assumption leads to paradoxes like Russell's paradox. We cannot define a set of all sets that do not contain themselves, because such a set leads to a contradiction.

Russell's paradox has significant implications for the foundations of mathematics and logic. It shows that some of our most basic assumptions about sets and collections are flawed and that we need to be careful when defining sets and collections. It also shows that there are limits to what we can prove using set theory and that we need to be aware of the limitations of our theories.

A select few great thinkers have proposed ways of circumventing the above contradiction. However, I deem that if I continue in this vein I will lose what little readership I already have.

Tis enough for today. I will endeavour to pen a less boring post on the morrow, but only if I remember to take my medication.  


Friday, 24 March 2023


What a Pooftah

No doubt my astute readership will notice the flurry of posts toward the end of this month. In truth, I have a number of posts ready and waiting for posting but for the want of a little editing. Some of these posts 'in waiting' are quite old and thusly I've decided to put forth a little editing effort.

The Roman Emporer Elagabalus ruled Rome for but a short time. The reign was truncated and tumultuous, marked by scandal, corruption, and religious controversy.

I've written extensively about ancient Rome including vignettes on the more famous/infamous Roman emperors. Of course, there are many to write about, although most are unremarkable and demand to be forgotten. During the 3rd century, during a crazy period of political instability, emperors came and went at an alarming rate and it is a wonder why so many seemed so keen to take office when the average tenure could be measured in months. A time unimaginatively known as the 'Crisis of the Third Century'. Anyway, I've decided to continue the theme, concentrating on some of the more interesting and colourful characters ever to don 'The Purple'. Today's post concerns emperor Elagabalus. This was not his given name but a later addition/affectation due to his adherence to weird and exotic Oriental religious practices. This character was unfit to rule and was not expected to. A mere marionette whose strings were pulled by powerful personalities behind the screen, notably his mother and grandmother. 

If decadence can be measured by its rulers then the 'rule' of Elagabalus indicates how far the once great Roman Empire and society had declined. An institution initiated by Octavius in 27BC had seen a plethora of incumbents, of varying competence by the time of Elagabalus' rule. However, the general reader only remembers the like of Nero and Caligula. Who recalls Marcus Aurelius or Vespasian?

Elagabalus, also known as Heliogabalus, was a Roman Emperor who 'ruled' from 218 to 222 AD. He was born in 203 AD in Emesa, Syria, as the son of Sextus Varius Marcellus and Julia Soaemias, who was the niece of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus. His real name, assigned at birth, Sextus Varius Avitus Bassinianus, was more in keeping with his eventual destiny. He adopted the nickname Elagabulus due to the worship of a sun deity of the same name. Like Gaius Caesar Germanicus, who from an early age became known as Caligula (little boots), Elagabalus is virtually unknown by his birth name. At the tender age of 14, this unremarkable wretch became emperor after the assassination of his cousin, emperor Caracalla. Caracalla is also worthy of my literary ministrations- mayhap a blog topic for the future? 

Elagabalus was known for his extravagance, particularly his lavish spending on religious rituals and ceremonies. As mentioned, he worshipped an Eastern sun god and was a self-appointed priest of the effete deity, Elagabal, and rashly brought the cult of Elagabalus to Rome when he became Imperator. He ordered the construction of a temple to Elagabalus on the Palatine Hill, and he himself would perform the religious ceremonies, wearing extravagant robes and jewellery. He even tried to introduce the worship of Elagabalus as the primary religion of the Roman Empire, which caused outrage among the Roman people. Rome was usually tolerant of the importation and inclusion of foreign gods into their pantheon, nevertheless, there was a strict hierarchy of deities with the traditional Roman gods at the pinnacle. Even the dissipated Roman populace of the period was not quite ready for the usurpation of their religion by a lush Oriental idol. Eventually, Christianity would fulfil the role once Roman civilisation was at its nadir. 

Elagabalus was also known for his scandalous personal life. He married five times, including a Vestal Virgin, which was considered a grave offence in Roman society and without precedent. And indeed, in more enlightened times, a Vestal who broke her vows of chastity would be buried alive. He justified his decision by stating that the union, if fruitful, would result in 'god-like children'. A Roman should stay within cultural norms or be Caesar. He also had numerous sexual relationships with both men and women, which was considered abhorrent by conservative Romans. His behaviour was seen as disrespectful to Roman values and traditions, and he began to accrue opposition from the Roman Senate and more importantly and disastrously, the military. 

In addition to his religious and personal controversies, Elagabalus was also known for his ineffectual rule. He was heavily influenced by his mother, Julia Soaemias, and his grandmother, Julia Maesa, who were both ambitious and sought to control the emperor. Elagabalus was often distracted by his extravagant lifestyle and did not pay much attention to the affairs of the state. He appointed incompetent officials and advisors, which led to widespread corruption and mismanagement.

Elagabalus faced several challenges during his reign, including military uprisings and invasions by foreign powers. In 222 AD, he faced a rebellion led by his own cousin, Alexander Severus, who was supported by the Roman Senate and the Praetorian Guard. In March 222AD whilst visiting the Praetorian camp Elagabalus was assassinated along with his mother, Julia Soaemias, by his own troops. Alexander Severus became the new emperor and attempted to restore order to the Roman Empire. For the period, Severus' reign of 13 years (222-235AD) is to be considered almost miraculous.    

Despite his short and controversial reign, Elagabalus  left a lingering impression on Roman history. His introduction of the cult of Elagabalus to Rome had a lasting impact on Roman religion, and some scholars argue that his influence can be seen in later Christian practices. His scandalous personal life and extravagance also contributed to the further decline of the Roman Empire and the erosion of traditional Roman values. Elagabalus remains a fascinating figure in Roman history, representing the excesses and corruption of the later Roman Empire. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

The Unkindest Cut of All

 The Tool of Religious Devotion 

Today's contribution is a little off the beaten track in comparison to my usual literary fare. Here I briefly consider, in my opinion, one of the vilest and most despicable practises enacted by the Catholic Church in a long history and litany of horror put forth in the name of 'Religious Devotion'. A practice performed on boys, subject to coercion, or at worst, performed without consent. A procedure that left the abused mutilated and forever locked in sexual immaturity.      

Castrati were male singers castrated before puberty to preserve their high-pitched singing voices. This practice originated in Italy in the 16th century and continued for a further three centuries. Testicular removal was deemed, and designed, to preserve a male's prepubertal voice. A most desired characteristic to please the rich and higher clergy alike. Mutilation was seen as a way to produce a type of singer who could perform the elaborate and highly ornamented music of the Baroque and early Classical periods. In this post, I will examine both the history and controversy surrounding this perverse/perverted practice.

The act of castrating young boys for the purpose of musical prowess began in the late 16th century in Italy. The demand for castrati arose from the growing popularity of opera, which featured highly virtuosic singing that required a range and flexibility of voice that few mature, and intact, male singers could achieve. Castration, prior to puberty, prevented the boy's larynx from fully developing, allowing them to retain their high-pitched singing voices forevermore.

The procedure was performed by cutting off the testicles, which produced a number of physiological changes in the body (no shit). The lack of testosterone during a critical developmental time prevented the vocal cords from thickening, which, in turn, allowed the retention of prepubescent vocal tones. The castrati also had larger lung capacity and therefore greater endurance, which allowed them to sustain long, complex vocal passages.  

Castrati quickly became the stars of the opera world, and their popularity spread throughout Europe. They were highly sought after by opera companies and performed for royalty and the wealthy elite. Their voices were considered to be the pinnacle of vocal artistry, and they were revered for their ability to sing with incredible power, range and emotion.

Despite their success and popularity, the practice of castration was controversial, and enlightened folk railed against the custom. The Catholic Church initially supported the practice, as castrati were considered to be an acceptable alternative to women singing in church choirs, which was deemed inappropriate. Of course, there was no way the inferior female, the wretched instigator of the 'The Fall' would be allowed to sing in God's sacred house. Arse. The Church believed that only castrati could provide a pure, angelic sound to enhance the liturgy, sans bollocks.

However, as the popularity of castrati grew, so did its criticism. In time, it began to be viewed, by many, as an abomination against nature. The procedure was also dangerous, and many boys died during the procedure, or by subsequent infection or other medical complications, post-op.

As the 18th century progressed and with the 'Enlightenment' in full swing, attitudes toward castrati began to shift about a bit. Enlightened times brought forth a greater focus on reason and ethics, and castration was increasingly seen as barbaric and a violation of basic human rights. The Church also began to distance itself from the practice and issued a decree in 1770 that prohibited the castration of boys for musical purposes.

Despite this, the popularity of castrati persisted into the 19th century, although it began to decline as musical tastes changed. The rise of Romanticism and the emphasis on naturalism in music led to a greater appreciation for more natural, unadorned singing styles. By the mid-19th century, the practice of castration had largely disappeared.

Today, there is a renewed interest in the castrati and their music. Modern technology has allowed us to recreate the sound of the castrati using computer modelling and voice analysis. Recordings of modern singers performing castrati repertoire can be found online and in music stores.

The controversy surrounding castrati raises important ethical questions that still resonate today. The practice of castration for musical purposes violated the natural rights of the child and caused immense physical and emotional pain. At the same time, it produced some of the most sublime and beautiful music ever written. The legacy of the castrati reminds us of the power of music and the lengths to which people will go to achieve musical perfection. And also, it is a reminder of the power of the Catholic Church in times past. What an execrable institution.  

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Ode to Shagger the Ferret

                                Shagger in his prime: Go Shagger!

Tis the first post of the merry month of May (poetic licentious)

and I have penned an ode to my beloved ferret, Shagger. I'm inclined to style my prose with an archaic lilt just to show what a pretentious cunt I am. Arse

Oh, Shagger, fair ferret of the land,

With fur as soft as finest sand.

Thy whiskers long, thy eyes so bright,

Thou art a creature of delight.

From field to field, thy feet doth tread,

A nimble soul, with grace instead.

A playful beast, with tricks to share,

Thou art a creature beyond compare.

With every bound, and every leap,

Thou dost evoke a joy so deep.

The children laugh, the elders smile,

Thou art a creature without guile.

Oh, Shagger, creature of the wild,

With spirit free and heart beguiled,

Thou dost run and jump and play,

And fill our hearts with joy each day.

Thy nimble form, with grace and charm,

Dost fill our souls with sweetest balm.

Thy playful ways, thy gentle soul,

Thou art a creature of the whole.

From dawn till dusk, and dusk till dawn,

Thou art a creature to be drawn.

With love and laughter in thy wake,

Thou art a creature we must take.

Oh, Shagger, fair ferret of the land,

With fur as soft as finest sand.

Thy spirit free, thy heart so true,

Thou art a creature we pursue.

In fields and woods, in hills and glades,

Thy spirit free, thy soul ne'er fades.

Thou art a creature of the wild,

With heart and soul both sweet and mild.

So come, dear Shagger, take my hand,

And lead me through this wondrous land.

With thee beside me, heart so bright,

I know my days will be filled with light.

Oh, Shagger, creature of the wild,

With spirit free and heart beguiled,

Thou dost run and jump and play,

And fill our hearts with joy each day.

So there it is gentle reader. My heart overflows with plaque and assorted cellular detritus. So before you go, take heed, and be overjoyed to know that my next post will be very sensible indeed. This will manifest my true nature and detract/distract from my palpable, nay glaring, ferret fixation.

Friday, 24 February 2023

Sad Tidings

Sadly, last Saturday I found two of our alpacas dead in their pasture. This leaves just Ted, the alpaca, and Bert (sheep). I immediately called the local livestock vet to check on Ted and Bert, our remaining boys. However, we had to wait several hours for a visit. After examination, he declared the boys healthy, but as a precaution gave them a cocktail of drugs even though he was unsure why our other livestock had died. The weather was extremely hot and although our stock could not have been dead more than 24 hours, they were already attracting a myriad of flies and starting to stink. I wanted to wait, before internment, to see if the vet could provide a diagnosis. I had managed to secure a mechanical digger on short notice and therefore made the decision to bury our boys before the vet could attend. 

So what could have killed our two, apparently healthy-looking, boys? Just the day before we had been hand-feeding our stock and they looked fine. The only recent change in their routine had been the week before when they all received their annual cut and drench (anthelmintics). The drench contains chemicals to kill off internal parasites that all stock animals are prone to. There is nothing to suggest that the chemicals contained in the drench solution would cause harm as they are specifically formulated for alpacas. I did a little research to see if the presence of certain plant species could prove fatal if ingested. I scoured the pasture and couldn't identify any potentially poisonous plant species.

I'm at a loss to understand what could have killed our boys. Anyway, we are monitoring our two surviving livestock and keeping a close eye on their demeanour and general health.  

Sunday, 19 February 2023

Bow Making

Tillering Stick, of DOOM.

My Bow-Making Journey

I have a keen interest in archery and I'm privileged that I own a property where I can shoot my bows safely without killing the neighbours. That said, I do have plenty of land to hide the bodies. In addition, I own a barn to which I've dedicated a large section for my woodworking activities, including bow making. Anyone who has indulged in the art of bow building will acknowledge that it is not an easy enterprise. You would think the most simplest of bows, the English longbow (ELB) would be relatively easy to build. After all, it's just a straight stick. But this is certainly not the case. The trick is to achieve a bow in which both limbs bend evenly and in concert together throughout the length of the bow. Sounds easy, but in practice, this is, without doubt, the most challenging part of the bow-making process. If you so desire to make a more complex design, such as a recurve, or reflex/deflex bow there will be additional challenges. If you really want fun, perhaps you should design a laminated bow comprising three different wood species.

After 5 years of endeavour, of only trying to make ELBs I have a box full of broken staves and a single, poorly built bow. Bow-making is not a skill that can be mastered overnight. It takes many years, at least in my case, to get to a stage where I can confidently make a bow, and honestly, I'm not there yet. Bow-making requires patience and a modicum of forbearance. There is nothing more frustrating than spending many hours crafting a bow and ending up breaking the bow at the last stage. I would be lying if I said I haven't been discouraged and therefore I have had a break from bow-making in general. But recently, I've decided to get orf my big fat arse (big fat arse!) and try anew.

This time I purchased a rough stave for the construction of an ELB. This time, it differs from my previous endeavours in that the stave is a trilaminate composite. My previous attempts were undertaken on a single piece of wood, unadorned (self-bow). The trilaminate I'm attempting to build this time consists of osage orange (belly), with a bamboo core and an outer strip of hickory. These disparate wood pieces have been securely glued together to form a composite whole.  Also, this stave has been commercially sourced specifically for constructing an ELB. My previous attempts involved using wood from trees grown on my property or timber obtained from a local timber store. A critical part of the overall process is not only selecting the right species of hardwood but also ensuring that the piece of wood chosen is optimal for bow making. There are many factors involved, but I won't be considering the complex mix of characteristics, here. Thus, the advantage of purchasing a piece of wood, specifically designed for bow-making, is that it removes the problem of optimal stave requirements. 

So far, I have been carefully removing wood from the belly of the bow (osage) using a farrier's rasp and a cabinet maker's scraper. Thus far, I have been very conservative with the wood removal and have tried to keep the amount removed spread equally along the length of the bow. So far, so good. The next stage is the dreaded tillering. To help in the process I've constructed a 'tillering stick' (see photo). This simple device allows the 'proto-bow' to be bent along its length using a simple pulley system. This allows the bowyer to stand away from the bow to gain perspective. Hopefully, this will enable me to detect weak spots (hinges) and areas of unequal bending. Areas of the limbs can be marked with a pencil to indicate where wood needs to be removed. Furthermore, any weak spots should be identified and wood from this area, not be removed. This is a painstaking process but is critical. At some stage, the bowyer comes to a stage where he is happy with the work and stops. In the end, I'm aiming for a bow of around 40 to 50lbs draw weight at a draw length of 28".  

Once I've completed the project I'll post an update and let my readers know whether I have a fully functioning bow or, alternatively, expensive firewood.   

Gratuitous photo of my three crap dogs, plus my son's equally shit hound

Saturday, 11 February 2023

Cato the Elder

                                                               Dat no Brat Pitt

As we start February 2023 I've decided to continue with a post about the ancients. Today's post concerns a Roman gentleman whom I will refer to as 'Cato the Elder' (b234 BC - d149 BC). There is a Cato, called 'Cato the Younger'. However, he is not as interesting or compelling as the older Cato. As far as I'm aware, there is no recorded instance of 'Cato the Juvenile' or a 'Cato Approaching Middle-Age'.   

Above we have a Roman bronze bust of Cato (I will no longer refer to Cato, as the Elder; simple Cato will suffice- with one exception). The rendition represents a realistic style characteristic of Rome art, of the period. As can be discerned, the 'portrait' is not particularly flattering to the man, in the looks department. I'm sure my dedicated readers are aware of the book, 'The Picture of Dorian Grey', by Oscar Wilde. Anyway, if the principle of the novel is sound, then we can see that Cato did not live an exemplary life. And indeed, from the accounts we have, it appears that the creases and lines skillfully crafted upon the 'portrait' are well deserved. However, I am forced to add, that to later Romans, he was considered an exemplar of how a Roman should conduct himself, both privately and publically - go figure. 

Marcus Porcius Cato is a rather remarkable and important fellow, of his time, but like poor Scipio Africanus, is mostly unknown, except to specialists. In mitigation, he did live 2,200 years ago. To understand Cato's nature and actions I need to add a little introductory material. This is necessary in order to place Cato in some form of coherent, historical context.

Cato came along at a time when Rome was undergoing intense social and economic change. He was a plebian by birth and, although considered a 'new man' by the sniffy patricians became widely respected amongst all classes, but not universally liked  The First Punic War was the first contest between Rome and Carthage, and it was a bitterly fought struggle, with Rome as the ultimate victors (264 BC - 241 BC). The fruits of victory were profound. The acquisition of Sicily, after the war, brought great riches to Rome. Sicily, prior to the war, had been equally divided between the Greeks and Carthaginians. The land was highly cultivated and the cities along the east coast were sophisticated, wealthy and Hellenic. And also, let us note that Rome imposed a hefty and punitive war indemnity (pun intended) on the Carthaginians, consisting of much silver, among other things. All this wealth, flooded into the coffers of the minority elite and things began to change. This was not the only challenge the Romans had to deal with. After the war, the Romans became seriously acquainted with Greek culture and civilisation and were mightily impressed. They soon came to realise, that in comparison, they were uncultured oafs. The upper crust began to learn Greek and ape Greek mannerisms. Greek orators and philosophers flooded Rome and obtained an easy living under the patronage of rich patricians, like the Scipio family, who were utterly philhellenic. During this time, Cato can be seen as a reaction against opulence, and as he thought, the effeminate decadence of Greek influence. He considered close contact between the cultures enervating and detrimental to the Roman conception of stoic, hardy manliness- he had a point. 

Cato was commended for living a simple bucolic life. Although admired, his lifestyle was unlikely to be emulated.  Apparently, he was happy to work the fields alongside his slaves and partake of a simple repast. He was also a brave and famed soldier and led contingents of soldiers in the Second Punic War both in Spain and Italy. In 191 BC he became involved in the successful conclusion of the war against Antiochus III at Thermopylae. Cato was renowned for living a simple unadorned life and had great respect for old Roman virtues. At least as understood by Romans, of his time. By our standards, he would be considered boorish and brutal. His own household was ruled by a 'rod of iron'. His slaves were either working or sleeping and mercilessly beaten or executed for minor transgressions. When his slaves became too old for practical work they were sold.

From the above, we might conclude that Cato was an uneducated brute, but this is not the case. Indeed, he was a highly educated man. He was famous for his oratory which was simple and unembellished, with no verbal frippery. He wrote several books however, only one has survived in full. Only fragments of the others remain to this day. Like all Romans of note, he progressed in society, and the ranks, with a military career (military tribune) and it appears that Cato was a competent soldier. Cato's oratory, legal skills and behaviour became noted by a patrician, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, and Flaccus became Cato's mentor and supporter. The preferred way a man could proceed and excel in the Roman world was through the support of an elder, wealthy adherent. The patronage/client system in Roman affairs should not be underestimated. Under Flaccus' influence and guidance, Cato progressed through the required political ranks. In 205 BC he was elected quaestor; aedile in 109 BC and praetor in Sardinia (198 BC). In 195 BC he was elected to the highest office Rome could bestow, consul. 

The great soldier and contemporary of Cato's, Scipio Africanus- he who finally defeated Hannibal, incurred the wrath of Cato mainly due to his philhellenic stance. Due to Cato's concerted attack, Scipio's political reputation was sullied and the great soldier, and statesman, became embittered and left Rome for good, dying soon after (d 183 BC).

In 184 BC, Cato was elected to the position of 'censor' together with his mentor and mate, Flaccus. This was an interesting position. In essence, these twin magistrates were arbitrators of Roman moral conduct. Good luck says, I! Cato was worried about the perceived degeneration of Roman vigour and moral fibre due to the pernicious infiltration and influence of Greek culture. He, therefore, introduced laws to prohibit/inhibit the ostentatious expression of wealth. In this venture, he ultimately failed.

In his later years, he was renowned for his expression of hate for Carthage. And his, 'Carthago est delenda' echoed throughout the forum. His plea was noted and in 146 BC Carthage was utterly destroyed. It was inevitable, there was only room for one great power thereabouts. Few folk know the historic importance of the destruction of Carthaginian power. It determined that Western Civilisation would subsequently be founded on the flint hard, and brutal, stoicism of  Rome, rather than the lush, and exotic, Semitic Carthage.   

Undoubtedly when Cato died in 149 BC he was out in the field ploughing the Sod.  

What are we to make of this Cato?

I need to ask, would I have been enthralled to sit in a pub and have a few beers with 'Cato the Ferret', sorry, I mean 'Elder'? I would like to state: Mayhap we should not judge this gentleman, or Romans of the time, by our standards and mores. There was no equivalent of the 'Geneva Convention', in the ancient world, however, it does appear that the 'Civilised Nations' of the Mediterranean did comply (mostly) with the terms of treaties drawn up between nations, and these treaties were sanctioned by their various gods. It would have been impious to break such compacts. There were also a set of informal policies/rules, applied to war. For example, after a long siege, the inhabitants were likely to be slaughtered and survivors enslaved and the city thoroughly sacked. This gave an incentive for a city to capitulate early for the promise of leniency. The ancients, in general, followed dictums of war that modern man would find familiar/similar. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun where human nature is concerned. We moderns take the moral high ground at our peril. All that said, to our minds, and through the mists of time, the ancients appear unnecessarily cruel and wantonTo return to my question. I think my answer would be an emphatic, no. While no doubt the man was intelligent, erudite and cultured, in spite of the rustic pretence, I suspect Cato would have been an absolute, bore in social gatherings. There is only so much rusticism a man can take. Also, I'm not a great fan of posca- nuff said. Arse bucket. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Meet your Hero?

Hannibal Barca

Have you ever been asked the question: "If you could meet one person from history who would that be?"  Perhaps a little idle musings with your friends, at school, over break. Mayhap it was an assignment given by a teacher. Regardless, it is an idea, that inevitably arises in thoughtful folk at some time in their life. Here is my hero.  

Hannibal Barca b247 BC.

Now you may ask? Flaxen, true Englishman as you are, and given your rich cultural history, replete with a litany of fine heroes to worship, why do you choose an ancient foreigner? Tis inexplicable and requires further enunciation. That is a valid response and one that I will try to answer, as follows.  

Hannibal continues to fascinate and inflame my soul and hopefully, I'm able to put forth a few reasons why this man requires/demands adulation. Hannibal's life, wars and schemes are well known and we have several separate accounts of his campaigns and exploits. That said, what we have is a little one-sided and comes exclusively from his bitter enemies, the Romans/Greeks. Consider the calamity/calumny if we only had accounts of Napolean written by the British. Thus, the account of Hannibal's life is vastly biased in favour of the ultimate victors. All history is presented this way to a greater or lesser degree. As well as a general Hannibal was highly educated and versed in several languages, including Greek. According to Cornelius Nepos, Hannibal is said to have written books in Greek, including: 'Addressed to the Rhodians on the deeds of Cnaeus Manilius Vulso'. Sounds like a right riveting read. In addition, he was accompanied on his campaigns by a Greek secretary, Sosilos. Sosilos is said to have written an account of Hannibal's attainments during the great adventure of the Second Punic War. Alas, any writings by the great man himself and the works of Sosilos have been lost. What a treasure they would have provided for modern historians.

I mentioned Napolean previously. Though Napolean was ultimately defeated his genius in war can not be denied, even by an Englishman. Similarly, Hannibal has deserved a similar accolade. If there had been a colourful female component to the 'story' surely Shakespeare would have produced a play in his honour. Perhaps he should have fleshed out the ephemeral figure of Imilce; a flurry of embellishment to mete/meat out his narrative. The shade of Dido would emerge from the wings, stage right. And what about the poor doomed Sophonisba. A pawn in the affairs of man and tossed aside for expedience's sake; a barbarian's passions thwarted. Surely a tragic tale worthy of exposition. It is not as if Shakespeare was unaware of Hannibal due to some unfathomable gap in his education, for posterity we have this from his pen: ''A witch, by fear, not force, like Hannibal, Drives back our troops, Arse''. Although the narratives have not kind been to Hannibal, they cannot hide a grudging admiration for the man, and importantly, they cannot leave out his deeds. And it is in his deeds that we observe and acknowledge the pure unadorned greatness of the man (stop waxing lyrical Flaxen). And those deeds are prodigious, indeed. For Hannibal managed to maintain a campaign on hostile lands, with meagre support from his homeland, for sixteen years. During this time he was harried by enemy forces constantly. Often these forces greatly exceeded Hannibal's beleaguered army, in men and arms. If we are to reckon true genius it does not always come with the furious flurry of battle. Look to events where Hannibal's cunning and mobility left the Romans chasing their tales. What a man reveals in prolonged adversity proves true greatness. But let us not forget his glory. In the initial flurry of his campaign, he inflicted three catastrophic defeats on the Romans driving them to their knees. Although I praise Hannibal, a degree of exaltation must surely be reserved for his opponents. Tis a testament to the stoic, iron-hard toughness and the fanatical political steadfastness of the Romans in that they did not buckle or waver in their ultimate war aims. What other nation, of the time, could have prevailed under such severe adversity?

Hannibal was a Phoenician by descent, and his ancestors hailed from the coast of Canaan (the city of Tyre). Thus the Carthaginians were Semites related to their staunch foes the Israelites, although, by the time of the Punic wars the Carthaginians had already been ensconced in their north African homeland for 600 years. Hannibal hailed from the aristocratic Barcid family and by the time of the Punic wars this noble house had been thoroughly interbred with Greek stock; hybrid vigour. The Barcid family were rich and connected, and at this time, had emerged as the premier family involved in Carthaginian political affairs and military matters. Hannibal's father, Hamilcar, had been a highly respected general in the First Punic War against Rome (264-241 BC). Getting back to the man- Hannibal is the Roman rendition of the Punic, Chenu Bechala (Grace of Baal).  

As for the character and personality of the man, again, we enter the land of the 'shifting sands' of history. The Romans of the time hated Hannibal with a white-hot passion, and no doubt, they had a right to do so. Throughout his 16-year /campaign/reign on Italian soil, he conducted himself with elaborate skill and cunning. Hannibal was undoubtedly a tactical genius and it has been estimated that of the 750,000 soldiers the Romans raised and placed in the field during the war, no less than 300,000 fell to the sword. The Romans recognised Hannibal's bravery in the field and the devotion his troops had for the man. As for an insight into Hannibal's personality, I will defer to the writings of a Greek scholar, Polybius. Polybius was a close contemporary of Hannibal's, and a friend of Rome, and although he had never met Hannibal, he had interviewed men who did know him. The main conclusion drawn by Polybius is that Hannibal was excessively cruel and had a fondness for riches. The criticism of cruelty was analysed by Polybius and he admits that on occasion, as mediated by military expediency, and circumstance, acts of cruelty appear justified. Though I'm not condoning cruelty, it has to be said that the act of war, and the fortunes of war, is by necessity pitiless. This concept applies equally to the ancients and moderns alike. And certainly, the Romans, themselves, were particularly noted for their cruelty, especially during the sack of a city.        

A few final remarks: There is little doubt that Hannibal was a military genius (a necessary overused word in this essay). However, twas his sad and anointed fate to be pitied against the Romans. It is my considered and studied opinion, that Rome, of the time, was unbeatable and Hannibal by ridiculous poor fortune and happenstance/happenchance had been thrown against this most implacable and indomitable of nations. I don't have the space to elaborate on this bold assertion, however, my unsupported claim demands a future post-watch this space (?space-cadet).  

Hannibal ultimately failed in his quest to vanquish the Romans; a tragic fallen hero. But do we extol the military virtues, or even remember Hannibal's nemesis? Few can recall the victor at the battle of Zama in 202 BC. Poor Scipio Africanus is lauded by no one. Hannibal's deeds have resounded/resonated down the centuries and if nothing else, folk remember his trek across the Alps, with elephants. Even today, military tacticians study the battles that made Hannibal immortal.    

I have prattled on enough and will finish with the avowed final words of the man himself. As an old man, Hannibal decided to take poison rather than fall prisoner to the hated Romans:

 "Let us now remove the Romans of their fears by the death of a feeble old man".



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 peace. 







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.