Friday, August 31, 2018

A modernist attack on the Ahmadiyya

Originally posted on Amazon. 

I haven't seen this particular product, but I have read a similarly-titled item elsewhere. Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) was an Indian Muslim poet, philosopher and politician. He is widely regarded as the spiritual father of Pakistan, and was a leading member of Muhammad Ali Jinnah's Muslim League. The Ahmadiyya, a controversial minority group within Islam, claims that Iqbal shared their faith, until he repudiated the Ahmadis for reasons of politic just a few years before his death. In Pakistan, the Ahmadiyya are currently discriminated and regarded as non-Muslims, which makes the Ahmadi claim a political and religious bombshell. Iqbal's criticism of the Ahmadiyya movement is often referenced at various Sunni Muslim websites.

Iqbal's criticism of the Ahmadiyya is a curious blend of seemingly orthodox Sunni Islam and modernist, “liberal” Islam. On the one hand, Iqbal shares the orthodox Muslim position that the Ahmadis are apostates, since they have elevated their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to a position higher than the Prophet Muhammad. However, Iqbal then proceeds to put a modernist-nationalist “spin” on his rejection of the Ahmadis. Thus, Iqbal interprets the idea that Muhammad was the last and best of the prophets in a “liberal” way, saying that Muhammad was the last human being to whom other humans were bound to submit themselves. After Muhammad, no human person or power can demand absolute submission based on divine authority. Iqbal also says that Muhammad was the highest of the prophets, since his revelation was simple, ethical and completely in keeping with human psychology. Thus, people who “submit” to Muhammad's revelations are voluntarily embracing the most enlightened and rational faith. Ahmadiyya, by contrast, is authoritarian and panders to the primitive superstitions of the uneducated Muslim masses. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be a miracle-working “Promised Messiah”, the movement is led in a top down fashion by his descendants, etc.

Iqbal also has political problems with the Ahmadis. He accuses them of being pro-British and of creating confusion and mischief within the Muslim community in India. At several points, Iqbal compares them to the Babis and Bahais of Persia, which he believes were serving the interests of Czarist Russian imperialism. Iqbal even compares Muslim rejection of the Ahmadis with the Jewish excommunication of Spinoza. The Muslims in India must stand united, and this is made impossible by the machinations of the Ahmadis. Iqbal's concrete proposal is that the British Raj declare the Ahmadiyya to be a separate community, rather than part of the Muslim ditto. This was somehow connected to the election system in British India – presumably, Iqbal didn't want Ahmadis to represent Muslim constituencies. At the same time, Iqbal expresses support for Kemal Atatürk in Turkey, usually (and rightly) seen as a secularist reformer, not even a “modernist” Muslim. I get the impression that Iqbal wanted to turn the Muslims of India into some kind of nation in the modern sense of the term. Perhaps a bit like the Jews, who were turned into a modern Israeli nation by the Zionists?

I'm not sure how widespread Iqbal's modernist-nationalist criticism of the Ahmadiyya is in Pakistan. However, it seems that the entire political establishment from left to right are equally opposed to the Ahmadiyya, so I wouldn't be surprised if the controversies surrounding Allama Iqbal's relation to the Ahmadis will continue for some time to come…

Vladimir Putin sez no

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the international market was flooded by postage stamps supposedly issued by various ex-Soviet regions. These stamps are bogus. The Russian Federation has even issued official statements pointing out that only centrally produced Russian stamps are valid. The stamps from Sakhalin Island are no exception. Note the text in English!

By all means, buy these stamps if you like Bearded Collies or weird stamps (I think both phenomena are pretty cool myself), but note that you probably can't sell them to a professional collector of real Russian stamps, should you be able to find one in your hometown.

Personally, I'm fond of the almost-bogus stamps from Staffa, a small islet off the Scottish coast mostly inhabited by sea birds (the goats were removed a couple of years ago), or the super-bogus Nagaland postage stamps, showing European Baroque art (yeah, like the average Naga guerrilla warrior gives a damn).

Who knows, maybe even this series of dog-related "Sakhalin postage stamps" will bring back some fond memories when you're 50.

If not, you can always procure a real Bearded Collie.

A bogus basset?

Originally posted on Amazon´s site.

LOL, Amazing Amazon sells almost everything. This is supposedly a postage stamp from Sakhalin, the elongated island off the Russian coast in the North Pacific. Except that it isn't. The official postal authorities of the Russian Federation have issued several statements, condemning these and other stamps as “illegal”. They are not approved, and probably not even printed on Russian soil. No Russian region has the right to issue stamps of its own. In this particular case, the bogus quality of the stamp is obvious. Note the text…in English, with Latin letters!

That being said, I really don't care. There is an enormous grey zone between “Absolutely Serious & Officially Approved Postage Stamps” and “Forgery that can land you in the slammer”. Whoever is producing this adorable fakes with basset hounds on them, is probably inspired by the large amount of nations that print (officially, mind you) never-ending series of stamps that aren't actually used on letters, but are sold straight to collectors…

A tedious conversation

This is a relatively uninteresting pamphlet, also available on the web. The publisher is a small "Trotskyist" group, the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT). The pamphlet is really a sequel to a somewhat better publication, titled "Platformism and Bolshevism".

Platformists are anarchists, but call for a more centralized organization with a united leadership. More traditional anarchists have therefore accused the platformists of being too soft on Leninist methods. Ironically, the original platformist current was founded by Nestor Makhno, whose armed peasant detachments found themselves in conflict with the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War! The main platformist groups today are the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM) and the American NEFAC (or Common Struggle).

The IBT's polemic against the platformists is written from a Leninist-Trotskyist perspective, and little needs to be said about it here, except that "Conversations with an Anarchist" is less interesting than the main pamphlet. But then, I already said that, didn't I?

Personally, I'm pretty sceptical to both the IBT and the NEFAC. I mean, come on, one of the groups is headed by Bill Logan, and the other by Wayne Price?! Feels like choosing between the SLANZ and the RSL (who became "libertarian socialists" only after having purged every dissident on the block).
No thank you.

The word is out

“The Word” was the publication of a small Theosophical group in New York associated with H. W. Percival. The group seems to have used several different designations. In this collection of magazines, they are referred to as “Theosophical Publishing Co. of New York”. The group consisted of people who supported the anti-Besant wing of Theosophy but refused to accept the leadership of Katherine Tingley. Percival later founded his own little group, the Word Foundation, which still exists and hawks Percival's magnum opus “Thinking and Destiny”. I haven't read it.

I did skim about half of this volume, however. It contains issues of “The Word” published in 1917. The magazine strikes me as tedious and immensely boring, unless you are a very theoretically-oriented Theosophist. Thus, it serializes a work by Paul Foster Case on the symbolism of the Tarot. Other extensive surveys deal with the route taken by the Israelites during the Exodus, the notion of immortality in various spiritual traditions, and Percival's own study of “ghosts” or elementals. He claims that elementals can under certain conditions beget offspring with humans! The most curious article I've seen in this volume argues against the metric system since it was invented during the French revolution.

I'm not sure who might be interested in reading “The Word” a century later, but unrepentant fans of Percival or Case might perhaps be tempted to give it a try…

The republic of nowhere

Another Rottweiler on a fake Russian stamp...

The real life "Koriakia" (Koryaksky Okrug) is an administrative region of Kamchatka in Eastern Russia. It doesn't issue any postage stamps. All sets of stamps from "Koriakia" are bogus and considered illegal by Russian postal authorities (and, I suppose, the secret police).

In this case, the bogus nature of the stamp is pretty easy to spot: the name of the region is given in English, the name is erroneous even in translation, and the symbol in the lower right-hand corner is actually that of scouting, presumably included to give the stamp an "international" flair.

I don't mind bogus or half-bogus stamps - they are pretty interesting, in their own kind of way - but people should at least know what they are getting. Don't try to sell this to a serious collector of Russian stamps!
May the rottweiler eat everyone who disagrees...

The vanguard of a new existence?

What a shame Amazon purged me cuz algorithm, who now will write initiated reviews like this one, I wonder? 

An old and venerable postage stamp from Czechoslovakia when the country was still a "socialist republic". The stamp celebrates the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. The abbreviation "KSC" stands for the party. The almost identical abbreviation "KCS" means Czechoslovak koruna, the local currency!

The first quote is from Bohumir Smeral, one of the founders of the KSC (the party) in 1921. It reads: "We are not simply a political party. We are the vanguard of a new existence". The second quote is from Gustav Husak, Czechoslovak Communist leader in 1976 when the stamp was issued. It's less interesting and simply babbles on about the leading role of the party within the working class, its historical mission, etc.

The leafs in the background are presumably linden leafs, also seen in the flag of the Czechoslovak president, another office occupied by "comrade" Husak at the time.

Sometimes my knowledge of obscure stuff is downright scary!

The dung heap of history

A review of a peculiar product on sale from Amazon. 

A bizarre envelope celebrating Stalinist leader Klement Gottwald, the organizer of the Prague coup and the first Communist president of Czechoslovakia. He also orchestrated the notorious show trial against Rudolf Slansky, Artur London and other “Titoists” or “Zionists”, on direct orders from Joe in Moscow. For “Zionist”, read Jew – many of those purged were Jewish. There is some irony in this. Three years earlier, the Soviet bloc had supported Israel against the British-appended Arab states during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948! Well, thank you, comrades… The envelope has a text in Slovak, which claims that the name of Gottwald will live forever more (no less) in the hearts, minds and deeds of the Czechoslovak working people??!! I'm sorry, but I can only give this stuff one star, although I'm sure the product might interest some collectors.

Cliff hanger

Cornelius Castoriadis was a Greek-French philosopher, psychoanalyst and political activist. In leftist circles, he is mostly known for having founded the post-Marxist group Socialisme ou Barbarie (“Socialism or Barbarism”), which inspired a similar group in Britain, Solidarity. For some reason, Castoriadis often wrote under pseudonym. His most well known pen name was Paul Cardan.

“History as Creation” has a pretty strange publication history. It consists of two chapters of a larger work called “Marxisme et Théorie Révolutionnaire”, published in instalments between 1961 and 1964 in the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie. In 1975, Castoriadis reused this work as an introduction to an even larger opus, “L'Institution Imaginarie de la Société”. As for Solidarity, they translated the original chapters of “Marxisme et Théorie Révolutionnaire” on an on-off basis as a series of separate pamphlets. One of them, then, is “History as Creation”. Thus, this is simply a small portion of a far larger project, and could therefore be seen as a kind of Castoriadis teaser trailer. While the author poses a lot of interesting questions, he never solves them. I suppose the denouement can be found in “The Imaginary Institution of Society”.

Castoriadis attacks on Marxist philosophy are pretty scathing. He aims his sarcasm at the Hegelian trait, the “closed dialectic” in which everything real is rational, and all of human history can be rationally comprehended, presumably by Marx and Engels writing circa 1859. Not only is human history rationally understandable en toto, its future course can be predicted with certainty, too. Strangest of all, the future course of history conforms perfectly to the value-system held by Marx and Engels circa 1859... The pamphlet contains a series of bizarre apocalyptic imagines from some unfortunate Christian tract, predicting the end of the world in 1908. It's not clear whether these are from Castoriadis' original work, or have been added by the translators. They are, of course, intended as a warning to those who claim to know the exact future of society.

Sarcasm aside, Castoriadis also have a number of serious points. Marxism claims to be materialist, but its philosophy of history sound teleological. But if history has a course and a meaning which can be rationally grasped by human minds in its totality, how can we speak of “materialism”? Castoriadis, ironically or not, calls such a notion mysterious. Of course it's mysterious – but only because Marx and Engels rejected the existence of God. If God exists, then the teleology of history makes perfect sense! To Castoriadis, the difference between Hegel's “idealism” and Marxist “materialism” is negligible. In both cases, we are dealing with a “closed dialectic” which in truly mysterious fashion claims that our (finite) minds are capable of completely grasping a rational whole. Indeed, the idealist position is more logical, since it posits that the world is a product of our minds. If so, its complete intelligibility is less of a mystery than in a “materialist” scenario.

Another problem is that both Hegelian and Marxist teleology seems to be hidden, a “cunning of reason” (Hegel's term) where individual human actors or even whole human societies consciously strive for one goal, only to end up somewhere else entirely. Thus, the Puritans turned to worldly asceticism in the service of God, but ended up accumulating capital and thereby laying the foundations for capitalism, a system anything but ascetic and godly. Of course, it was capitalism that “the cunning of reason” wanted to create in the first place. History used the Puritans as its unconscious tool. But isn't this really the same notion as the Christian idea of Divine Providence, Castoriadis asks? Since Castoriadis is critical of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, he uses it as a negative example of “the cunning of reason”. Perhaps History used the Bolsheviks and the Petrograd proletariat as its unwitting tools to create a world run by the state bureaucracy?

Castoriadis' project is not merely to “place Hegel on his feet” (Marx' and Engels' description of their philosophy), but to chop off his head. The author wants an “open dialectic”, which recognizes creativity, emergence and contingency, while rejecting strict teleological (and quasi-Christian) determinism. However, these points are merely touched upon in “History as Creation”, making it imperative to read all of “The Imaginary Institution of Society”, or at least the introductory chapters.

Castoriadis does point out an additional mystery in this trailer. He admits that Marx had a point when declaring that humans make their own history, but not in conditions of their own choosing. This is what makes humanity end up somewhere else than were it wants to go. Yet, despite this, human society has a fundamental coherence, not simply in the social or cultural sense, but also as a web of symbolic meanings. How is *this* possible, if we always follow the wrong routes, are subject to contingency, and lack a teleology? Of course, a Hegelian, Marxist or (in his own way) a Christian would presumably argue that this mystery proves teleology. Castoriadis cannot accept this, creating a “cliff hanger” of sorts awaiting solution in his magnum opus…

Our friend the Rottweiler

A review of a fake postage stamp sold by Amazon. Many fakes from Russia shows Rotweilers (and bassets), for whatever quirky reason. 

Ah, here's our friend the rottweiler again. This “stamp” is supposedly from the Republic of North Ossetia, a small region in the Russian Federation, immediately to the north of…well, South Ossetia. This time, the mysterious printer at least got the Cyrillic alphabet straight. Unfortunately, he didn't get the name of the place *exactly* right. It should be “Respublika Severnaia Osetia-Alania”. The “Alania” is missing. And, of course, it *is* suspicious that so many stamps supposedly hailing from the remotest corners of the ex-USSR show exactly the same dog breeds: rots, Airdale terriers, bassets, even more bassets, etc.

The postal authorities of Russia have issued several statements, dutifully carried by serious philately websites, condemning these and other issues as illegal. No region of Russia has the right to print its own stamps. Thus, this stamp is fake! By all means, buy it if you like rottweilers or haywire philately, but don't try to sell it to a serious collector…

Womyn in the Spanish Revolution

“Women in the Spanish Revolution” is a pamphlet published by Solidarity, a small libertarian socialist group in Britain (now defunct – Solidarity that is). The pamphlet is short and relatively uninteresting, despite the best efforts of the author to mine all English-language sources readily available at the time for nuggets of information.

Her two main conclusions is that although women played an important part during the Spanish Civil War, their roles were scaled down as the emphasis shifted from social revolution to “regular” anti-fascism. For instance, women had played a more prominent part in the original militias than in the more professionalized army of the People's Front government. Another problem was the lack of specific feminist organizing. Yet, the Republic did take measures the author considers pro-woman, such as legalization of abortion or easier divorce proceedings.

All in all, nevertheless a relatively uninspiring text, but perhaps the sources are to blame for this?

Send this rottweiler to Suchumi

My review of fake postage stamps on sale from Amazon. So that´s OK, but "biased reviews" are a no-no? LOL!

Abkhazia is a small republic at the Russian-Georgian border. It's “independence” has only been recognized by Russia and a few Russian allies. Most international observers consider it a Russian protectorate. In 1992-93, Abkhazia (then part of Georgia) was the scene of a brutal civil war between Georgians and the Abkhaz, the latter backed by Russia. The Georgian president Eduard Shevarnadze was trapped in Abkhazia's capital Suchumi, but narrowly escaped before the city fell to the rebels and their Russian allies. The conflict is still unresolved, being just one of many ethnic conflicts in this volatile region. The Russian ski resort of Sochi, where the next Winter Olympic Games are about to be held, is just a stone throw away…

While these tragic events were unfolding, the international market was flooded by postage stamps supposedly from Abkhazia. While some of these stamps may have been genuine and actually used at rebel-controlled territory, most are probably bogus. What are we to make of a pair of “Abkhaz” stamps lampooning Marx and Lenin in the form of Groucho Marx and John Lennon? My guess is that the stamp showed here is also of questionable provenance, spelling the name “Abkhazia” with Latin letters, and including the name of the breakaway republic in Russian, but not in Abkhaz! And yes, the stamp shows a Rottweiler. So do many other stamps supposedly hailing from obscure regions of the ex-Soviet Union. I wouldn't be too surprised if it’s the same dog on all of them...

By all means, buy this product if you're interested in fringe philately, but I don't think you can sell it to a serious collector. Nor use it in Suchumi, in the case you should become trapped there next time the ethnic tensions flare up.
A real Rottweiler might come in handier.

Finis coronat opus

"The New Encyclopedia of the Occult" is archdruid John Michael Greer's survey of Western occultism, although a few entries on Hoodoo have been included, as well. The author, apart from being the current head of a Neo-Druid initiatory order, is also a member of at least a dozen other "secret" societies. He has also practiced ritual magic according to the system of the Golden Dawn. Thus, Greer is probably pretty qualified to single-handedly write an encyclopaedia of this kind!

The volume covers occult orders, rituals and other practices, symbols, and personages (both human and angelic). Some entries deal with well-known subjects. Who hasn't heard of Nostradamus, Theosophy, pentagrams, Wicca or scrying? Other subjects are more obscure: the Order of Sat B'hai, Seax-Wicca, sesquiquintile, zorvoyance and Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, to mention a few! And what are we to make of the Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH) and Taphthartharath? You heard me.

I suppose I must point out that Greer's opus isn't particularly sensationalist. There is very little information on black magic, Satanism, demons and other dark subjects often associated with occultism in the public mind. Greer is decidedly on the side of the "White Lodges". Indeed, the encyclopaedia often gets pretty boring, page after page filled with Kabbalistic sefirot and their angels, Tarot cards and astrological aspects. Some people will inevitably be disappointed that their favourite subjects are covered too briefly, too critically or not at all. Thus, the entry on Valentin Tomberg is very short, while everything Golden Dawn-related is treated at some length.

Those who want a more fun read should consult "The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies" instead. That book is also written by...John Michael Greer.

Finis coronat opus.

Whatever you do, don't mention the Diakka

"The New Encyclopedia of the Occult" is John Michael Greer's truly encyclopaedic overview of the Western esoteric scene. The author is the current head or "archdruid" of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA). He is also a practitioner of ritual magic in the Golden Dawn tradition, and a more or less "initiated" member of at least a dozen different secret societies (including Scottish Masonry). An impressive CV? Well, at least if your assignment is to write a rather extensive volume on the occult!

Some entries in Greer's opus deal with subjects relatively well known to the average reader, such as Nostradamus, Atlantis, astrology and Jesus (sic). Others are perhaps more unexpected. How many average readers know that the Irish poet, politician and Nobel Prize laureate W. B. Yeats was an occultist of long standing? Charles Williams, Charles Fourier and Mormon prophet Joseph Smith are other entries that might surprise some people. As behoves a work of esoterica, there are also a lot of entries on strange and maybe even bogus subjects. What are we to make of the supposedly Catholic "Order of Mopses", the Hasidic Druids of North America, Xaos Magic or Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, which is said to practice "majick"? I also learned that Earth has a dark satellite ruled by the spiritual hierophant Ob, and that we should all avoid the Diakka! I'll watch my step in the future.

Jokes aside, most of "The New Encylopedia of the Occult" is perfectly serious. Greer mostly avoids sensationalist topics, such as black magic, Nazism or conspiracy theory. Instead, his work focuses rather heavily on the Golden Dawn tradition, so brace yourself for page after page of entries dealing with Kabbalistic "spheres" and "paths", their angelic correspondences, Golden Dawn rituals, etc. Nothing wrong with that, per se. Golden Dawn, after all, worked in the Christian Hermetic tradition typical of the West. But yes, the general reader might find this somewhat boring. For those who are simply looking for a fun read about truly weird people, I recommend "The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies". But know what? Its author is also...John Michael Greer.

The new encyclopaedia of the Golden Dawn

John Michael Greer is a prolific writer, organic farmer, peak oil activist and local character. He is also the "archdruid" of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA). And yes, he spouts a large beard!

"The New Encylopedia of the Occult" is Greer's attempt to pen the ultimate reference work on the occult. Not being an occultist myself, I can't vouch for its usefulness, but it does contain many entries I found interesting, and seems to have generally rave reviews here at Amazon. However, I don't think it's suited for the general reader, who might feel plunged into too deep waters, as the author proceeds to tell us everything about the spheres, paths and angels on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, or enumerates all possible astrological aspects (including a few I'm sure even astrologists haven't heard of). Greer has long practiced ritual magic in the so-called Golden Dawn tradition, which explains the heavy emphasis on related topics. But then, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was one of the most important Western esoteric societies of the modern era, with figures like Irish poet W. B. Yeats among its members. The Theosophists were even more important, but I'm not sure if they count as strictly esoteric!

Cult-watchers might also find a few titbits here and there, about virtually unknown groups such as Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (abbreviated WITCH), Zos Kia Cultus (whose main cultic act was...ahem...unmentionable due to the moderated character of this forum), Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, Seax-Wica and the Catholic Order of Mopses (a mops is a small, ugly-looking dog). Overall, however, Greer stays away from the undergrowth of the occult world, and there is also very little about black magic, Satanism, sudden suicides among the literati, and other such subjects which other authors love to fill *their* books on the occult with.

But don't worry, our author has actually published another work on sects, cults and secret societies, "The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies", reviewed by me elsewhere. That being said, I nevertheless suspect that "The New Encyclopedia of the Occult" is pretty interesting, especially so since it offers a somewhat more civilized perspective on a subject often sensationalized by the media, opponents and occultists themselves...

The real mojo?

"The New Encyclopedia of the Occult" is John Michael Greer's encyclopaedic survey of the Western esoteric milieu. It's perhaps good as a reference work, but could be confusing to the general reader. Topics covered include the Hermetic Qabalah, Golden Dawn's ritual magic, Theosophy, Wicca, astrology and Tarot. Among the innumerable persons mentioned are W. B. Yeats, Dion Fortune, Charles Williams, Nostradamus, Franz Bardon, Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and even one Jesus of Nazareth (who Greer believes was a magician).

While the emphasis is on “Western” traditions, there are also a few loose end entries on Hoodoo, perhaps because the author is a member of a Hoodoo Church. I always assumed Hoodoo was an urban legend! Apparently, it's the real mojo. Topics *not* covered, or covered only briefly, include black magic, Satanism, conspiracy theories and the Nazi-occult connection. Greer has clearly endeavoured to write a “serious” volume on a subject often treated in somewhat different fashion by other authors. The author's esoteric-magical tradition of choice is the Golden Dawn, which shows. He has also included information on his own little group, the Ancient Order of Druids in America.

I admit that I found this subject both fascinating and somewhat weird, being steeped in more rationalist or at least main-line philosophies. (The main line isn't necessarily rational, as we all know!) I admit that I deliberately sought out the strangest pieces of information, about Taphthartharath, Zos Kia Cultus, Order of the Sat B'hai, the Diakka (watch out for those guys!) or Ob, the ruling spiritual hierophant of the Dark Satellite housing the Black Lodges. Any relation to Windom Earl in Twin Peaks? And who wouldn't want to dance along with the Hasidic Druids of North America?

But OK, this is probably the wrong approach, I know. Perhaps people like me need to be reminded from time to time that serious esotericism is neither evil nor comic…

King Arnold stood by the lofty mast

"Crises in European History" is a short book by Danish Marxist Gustav Bang. It was translated to English by Danish-American Marxist Arnold Petersen, and serialized in the Daily People in 1909-10. The Daily People was the organ of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP). In 1916, the SLP published Bang's text in a book-length version. I have SLP's 1974 edition of "Crises", but it seems to exist in an almost bewildering array of independent reprints. This is one of them.

Bang's book is intended as a popularized outline of the materialist theory of history. It discusses the rise of Christianity and the fall of the Roman Empire, the Protestant Reformation, and the French Revolution. The material is relatively uninteresting. We heard it all before. However, Bang's analysis of the French Revolution does have one curious trait. It completely omits the Jacobins and the Terror! Bang goes straight from the Girondists to Thermidor. It's not clear why. Bang was a member of the Danish Social Democratic Party, and perhaps less revolutionary in his Marxism than Petersen wants us to believe. Another possibility is fear of censorship. I'm not familiar with the political situation in tiny little Denmark circa 1910.

"Crises in European History" also contain two comments by the translator that made me laugh out load. Yeah, Arnold Petersen was Danish, alright! In one footnote, he refers to the 14th century Swedish king Magnus Eriksson (who fought several wars against Denmark) as "Magnus Smek", literally Magnus Caress. This happens to be an insult against the king, made by his adversaries who claimed that he was a homosexual. The early 16th century Danish king Christian (who waged a war against Sweden) is referred to as Christian II. Of course, Swedes call him Christian the Tyrant...

It sure is funny that a die hard Marxist like Petersen lets us in on his ethnic prerogatives. Or as the Danes would say: "De er deilig" (It is lovely).

A green mole in the ICC?

Herman Gorter when not busy writing open letters

This is a collection of old back issues of "World Revolution", the British publication of the International Communist Current (ICC). I've read three of these issues (124, 134, 135). They were published in 1989-90. Margaret Thatcher was still in power in Britain, but she was being increasingly challenged by anti-poll tax protests, including the riots at Trafalgar Square in London. Meanwhile, the Soviet bloc was in terminal crisis, the IMF had begun to impose "structural adjustment programs" on various Third World nations, Nelson Mandela was out of prison, and climate change had already become an issue. On the British left scene, the SWP and the old Militant Tendency were the strongest groups, while Class War was the most theatrical.

I admit that "World Revolution" is more accessible than the ICC's super-boring theoretical journal, International Review. But, of course, the basic politics are the same. If read carefully, the ICC's "interventions in the class struggle" turn out to be super-sectarian ruminations. The anti-poll tax movement is written off as "bourgeois", neither the Labour Party nor the unions can be supported, the SWP and Militant are no good either, and Class War are probably government agents. The crisis in the Eastern Bloc is given a pessimistic interpretation. Although the ICC opposed "Stalinist state capitalism" in the Soviet Union, they nevertheless argue that the democratic and nationalist protests against the Stalinist regimes have weakened the proletariat, both East and West, making it easy prey to "bourgeois" illusions about democracy, etc. This "wind from the east" made the ICC to draw even more pessimistic conclusions a few years later, claiming that the whole capitalist system (and society with it) was rapidly "decomposing", with no revolution in sight.

Another thing that stands out in "World Revolution" is the quasi-conspiracist perspective, what the ICC dubs "the Machiavellism of the bourgeoisie". The ICC somehow believes that the establishment (from left to right) is more or less perfectly united, and consciously decides which political party should be in government at any given time, the better to trick the workers into passivity. Thus, both British and American elections are really rigged. The British Labour Party *wants* to loose the elections to Thatcher, and therefore deliberately takes impossible positions (such as unilateral disarmament) which they know the electorate will reject. By being the opposition party, Labour can pretend to be a "radical" alternative to the Tories, and will be called upon by the bourgeoisie to take power at a later date, when the workers are too fed up with the Tories, and only Labour can control them. This scenario, needless to say, has nothing to do with classical Marxism, but the ICC believes that the capitalist class becomes *more* unified and conscious when the system declines, due to the increased power of the state, which acts like a general staff of the otherwise fractious bourgeoisie.

"World Revolution" no 134 contains a surprising article by one C D Ward about the greenhouse effect (man-made climate change). While condemning the Greens and Deep Ecology, Ward nevertheless lands in a surprisingly Green position himself: "A considerable part of the existing industrial infrastructure will have to be demolished, relocated and reconstructed on a new basis, using non-polluting energy sources. The monstrously swollen urban conglomerations will also have to be dismantled, and the tyranny of the private automobile overthrown. There will have to be a vast programme of reforestation as part of the wholesale reshaping of the social\natural landscape".

Needless to say, such a perspective has nothing to do with Marxism either, nor - I presume - with the usual line of the ICC...

Mormon backgrounds

A review of "Hebrew and the Bible in America: The First Two Centuries" 

This volume contains two articles of interest to those studying Mormon history, Cyrus Gordon's “The Ten Lost Tribes” and Richard Popkin's “The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Indian Theory”. While not really about the Mormons, both articles deal with background material.

The Book of Mormon claims that the American Indians are descendants of a lost tribe of Israel, and that this fact has some kind of eschatological significance. These ideas were not original to Mormon founder Joseph Smith, however.

Gordon and Popkin trace the origins and development of the so-called Jewish Indian Theory. Elias Boudinot was the most prominent believer in such a perspective, and in his book “Star in the West” he believes that the Indians will one day forcefully return to Jerusalem. They will also be converted to Christianity. Boudinot even founded an organization known as Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Jews. The “Jews” were in fact the Indians. Even some Jews developed similar ideas, including prominent U.S. Jewish leader Mordecai Noah, who attempted to create a Jewish “state” at Grand Island outside Buffalo, to which he planned to invite the Indians.

Thus, when Joseph Smith burst onto the stage with his seemingly weird ideas about “Lamanites” descended from Biblical Israel, he wasn't really saying anything dramatically new.

For a closer look at this matter, readers are referred to Fawn Brodie's classic “No Man Knows My History”.

They're baaaaaack...

…and very little has changed. Unrepentant fans (not to mention “guilty pleasure” lurkers like myself) won't be disappointed. The team from the BFRO is still running around with thermo cameras in the middle of the night, shouting and screaming. The producer's ideas on how to get ratings up are just as absurd as usual: think Hawaiian luau + Bigfoot. And although the BFRO represents the “moderate” faction of Bigfooting, they believe the lot!

One episode features a couple in Florida claiming that the local Bigfeet are bringing them gifts, when they aren't busy pelting their house with rocks. Another episode report observations in the Santa Cruz Mountains, an area teeming with people. What would a flock of reclusive apes be doing *there*, I wonder? And how do they get away so easily after each dramatic encounter with tourists? Naturally, “Finding Bigfoot” also visits Boggy Creek…

The most recent episode (as of today) ends with the team actually getting a response to one of their calls, but a sudden thunder storm forces them to give up any further investigations. Damn. That was close! But then, anomalists of a more occultic breed have a ready explanation for such failures. The Trickster archetype, yes?

If you are a die hard sceptic, you will probably frown on “Finding Bigfoot”, but compared to many other series on American TV, I'd say this one is perfectly tolerable, with the possible exception of Bobo's anomalous friends at that barbecue mentioned earlier. Three stars.

BTW, these episodes are officially known as Season 4, not Season 5.

Previosuly posted as a review on Amazon. 

Dear Valentin Tomberg

This was written in 2013. Today, I would probably be less skeptical to this kind of material. 

I posted a review of this curious book here at Amazon two years ago. At the time, I had only read about 100 pages. By now, I suppose I have devoured another 100! "Meditations on the Tarot" is a fascinating attempt to create a synthesis of Christianity, Hermeticism and the cosmic evolutionism of Anthroposophy. Of course, some people would argue that this is simply a home-coming for Hermeticism, which in its modern Western form has been Christian or "Christian" from the Renaissance onwards. The "anonymous" author of "Meditations", Valentin Tomberg, was an Anthroposophist who developed differences with the orthodox line of Dornach and eventually joined the Catholic Church. Indeed, his book has an afterword by Hans Urs von Balthasar (!), an important Catholic theologian and associate of then-cardinal Ratzinger. But while interested Catholics might imagine that Tomberg's oeuvre was a clever way of converting occultists to Catholicism, the opposite is more likely: the author was an occultist mole within the bosom of Mother Church. Of course, it's possible that Tomberg didn't see any contradiction between exoteric Catholicism and esoteric Hermeticism-evolutionism, but that would hardly be the "official" position of the Vatican.

Indeed, this is the most annoying aspect of "Meditations on the Tarot". While the author constantly calls on the reader to accept the authority of the Pope, the Church hierarchy and the Jesuits, his *own* ideas are anything but traditionally Catholic, if the book is read carefully. Tomberg believes in reincarnation, the Akashic chronicles, and has a "spiritual" interpretation of the resurrection, similar to that of the Tibetan "rainbow body". He does believe in a general resurrection, but only if the individual human wishes to be resurrected. God can't force anyone to resurrect against his or her will. Tomberg is also an Origenist universalist, and believes that even the Devil can be saved. When discussing cosmic evolution, Tomberg references Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but I suspect the idea really comes from Rudolf Steiner. Sure, Tomberg constantly criticizes black magic, nihilistic views on nirvana, and so on, but this isn't really Catholic either, but a kind of "right hand path" Hermeticism.

So if Tomberg doesn't subject himself to the authority of the magisterium, why should we? Indeed, it seems as if the main group of Tombergites, the Sophia Foundation, are closer to Anthroposophy than Catholicism. They have republished Tomberg's Anthroposophical writings in flashy new editions.

Another meditation of mine on Tomberg's book: the author has an "integral" or "inclusivist" approach, in which all paths are seen as "true" in a certain sense, except that his own path is the highest one, while the others are lower. Thus, the Akashic record exists on three different levels, with the lower ones being interspersed with negative-astral forces. The higher one, inevitably, proves Tomberg's position! The author is also very scholastic, having answers to pretty much everything, including clever harmonizations of seemingly contradictory positions (such as creation ex nihilo versus evolution). While this does appeal to my own "dogmatic" side, it collides rather heavily with my sceptical side. What evidence does Anonymous have that his dogmas are the true dogmas?

Perhaps the world would be a splendid place if Valentin Tomberg's sermonizing was true, but this unknown friend remains unconvinced...

Questing Beast

A review of "MonsterQuest: Giant Squid Found", an episode of the extremely boring TV series "MonsterQuest".

Another episode of “MonsterQuest”. This time Doug Hajicek and his roundtable are trying to find a squid the size of a school bus. A veritable kraken! They believe they have succeeded. The sceptics have remained sceptical. Could be interesting for squid aficionados, marine buffs or Bigfooters tired of monsters on dry land, but personally, I'm not a very big fan of this slow-paced, somewhat boring series. Only two stars. And yes, I may be subjective.

Don't mess with the mice

“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” is the second Hollywood film freely based on C. S. Lewis' Christian fairytales about Narnia. Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy return to Narnia after a 1,500 years hiatus, only to find the country occupied by a race of rapacious humans, known as the Telmarine. The native Narnians have been forced to go into hiding, or have reverted to a wild and savage existence. Peter & Co decide to liberate Narnia with the aid of Caspian, a renegade Telmarine prince. The real ruler of Narnia, the lion-king Aslan, is lurking in the background, waiting for an opportune moment to intervene…

I'm not familiar with the original story, so I can only compare the second film with the first one. The religious message has been even more de-emphasized, Peter is even more troubled than usual, while Lucy and Susan are even more modern and “feminist”. And while the mice take care of the comic relief aspect, there is overall much less comedy in “Prince Caspian” than in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”. And then there's the LOTR-Peter Jackson rip off factor…

Still, pretty good as lighter entertainment goes, so I give it three stars. Perhaps four on a *really* good day. However, I feel I'm getting too old for Narnia. Perhaps I have learned all there is to learn from these stories?

An honest believer in Swedish

This is an old Swedish translation of David Whitmer's classic "An address to all believers in Christ", originally written in 1887. Whitmer was one of the original Three Witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. He was later estranged from Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, and even more from the openly polygamous successors. Instead, Whitmer created his own group, usually called Church of Christ (Whitmerite).

In his "address", Whitmer attempts to reconcile two contradictory positions: belief in the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon, and rejection of Joseph Smith. Since most people outside Mormondom believe that Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, this position is tantamount to, say, accepting the Quran while rejecting Mohammed! Whitmer thought otherwise, since the angel Moroni had supposedly showed him the original golden plates of the Book of Mormon. In his book, he argues that Joseph Smith was only commissioned to discover and translate the Book of Mormon, and that all later "revelations" from Smith's pen were fake.

I've reviewed Whitmer's opus more fully elsewhere on this site, so here I will simply end by saying that "An address to all believers in Christ" is of considerable interest to historians studying Mormonism, since the author (inadvertently) confirms that Joseph Smith was a scryer, using a so-called seer stone placed in a black hat to "translate" the golden plates. Whitmer also reveals that the early Mormon Church had a fluid authority structure, with many of the "brethren" having the gift of prophecy, including Whitmer himself.

While the Whitmerite Church doesn't exist anymore, its members apparently joined a group with similar ideas in 1925, the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), which still exist. This group owns the exact spot where Joseph Smith prophesized that Jesus Christ would land at his second advent!

But, as they say, that's a different story. And, I suppose, a different address...

Hello, starling

A review of a starling trap (sic) sold by Amazon.

I must say that the other comments are pretty entertaining. "This trap works. I caught two starlings in it the first day". Two? Starlings? Lady, the starling is a *gregarious* bird, with a flock size from around 30 (my neighbourhood) to 1.5 MILLION (fortunately, somebody else's neighbourhood). Catching two per day doesn't mean hokum, not even if you relocate the unfortunate invasive birds. Starlings can fly, remember? As in fly back to your front porch, unite with the local House Sparrow tribe and attack the nesting places of your beloved little purple martins... :D

A parody of pelicans

A review of the flag of "Syldavia"

Syldavia is a fictitious country mentioned in "The Adventures of Tintin" by Hergé. It's said to be the smallest Balkan state, but is really intended as a good-hearted parody of Hergé's native Belgium. The name "Syldavia" is apparently based on Transylvania and Moldavia. Thus, this "flag" is a joke. But sure, I suppose this *could* fool somebody in your Midwest home town. Five stars! And yes, the bird is a pelican...

Lord Martin has the purple, I mean, floor

Although me and mine appreciate all the assistance we can get from the unfortunate race of bipedal creatures known as “American suburbanites” in our War of Independence against the nefarious European invaders (a.k.a. Common Starlings and House Sparrows), we would ask for our dear and kind allies to – don't get me wrong – realize that sometimes the Declaration of the Right of Birds have to play second fiddle to more pragmatic, immediate but likely more effective methods of actions. In plain English, DON'T RELOCATE THE BLOODY STARLINGS AFTER YOU CAUGHT THEM IN YOUR SPARROW TRAPS!!! May we also ask one of your high priest-wizards, commonly but not entirely correctly referred to as “scientists”, to use their magical skills and engineer a new deadly disease which selectively targets Common Starlings and House Sparrows only? Of course, the brood-parasitical provocations of the Brown-Headed Cowbird is the next causus belli, but then, nature red in tooth and beak, yes? Martin Purple, elected plenipotentiary of the Purple Martin tribe, over and out. And merry Xmas!

Audubon, come forth!

A review of US postage stamps showing Audubon´s portrait. 

Audubon was a famous American painter of birds. Unfortunately, he was also a rather trigger-happy hunter of same birds. Perhaps if our scientists can bring Audubon back to life, we might finally get rid of all those starlings and house sparrows that make our front lawns unsafe for the really cool birds? Don't count on it, though. Knowing this guy, he'd probably start shooting the purple martins first of all! After all, they look better in a scrapbook…

Watergate, anyone?

Reminds me of a joke in "Beverly Hills Cop", starring Eddie Murphy. "Ladies and gentlemen, here's Gerald Ford! We're so pleased to have you here, Mr. Ford." Seriously, who would buy a stamp showing a bunch of mallards signed by Gerald Ford??!! Now, a stamp showing a buck signed by Harry S. Truman might be something. Or a stamp showing a Bigfoot signed by Teddy Roosevelt. Or even a stamp showing a teddy bear signed by the same guy. But Ford?! Geezus, he was *Nixon's* VP, for Christ's sake! Even worse (if you're GOP-ish), he lost the elections to...Jimmy Carter.

Stay at home, stay alive

A review of U.S. postage stamps showing insects and spiders. 

A positively creepy collection of insects and spiders, courtesy of the United States Post Office. Talk about guilty pleasure if you never left your bug period. Or potential law suit if you get anxiety attacks every time your bug-raptured friends send you post cards with these. I know I would! I mean, get real, we're talking black widow spider, dung beetle, assassin bug, velvet ant and jumping spider! And, of course, bombardier beetle. No doubt a nod to the State of Kansas Board of Education. Still, thanks to the kind-hearted man (or woman) who also made the bug-enamoured artist include the monarch butterfly, the ladybug and the cicada…

Jesus loves nerds, this I know, 'cause the binary tells me so

I took up reviewing slightly weird and Jesus-related products last year around Christmas time, and decided to take up the little tradition again. This is a funny poster, claiming that Jesus loves nerds. I haven't seen it (full disclosure), but I'm sure your nerdie friends wouldn't mind getting it for Xmas, LOL. The poster contains scribbles such as “Heaven will have a replica of Starship Enterprise”, “Jesus can read binary” or “Jesus has read the complete Lord of the Rings series five times”. You get the drift. The best one: “Jesus can finish a Rubik's cube in 0.03 seconds flat”. Geezus, they still *make* Rubik's cubes??? I'm old enough to remember the original craze. Or was it the second one? Well, I'm sure the Son of God can create them ex nihilo, so no problem there… ;-)

We walk by sight, not by faith...well, sometimes

Some Biblical miracles are very difficult to believe. I mean, Jonah was supposedly eaten by a whale of a tale, a fishy story if I ever heard one! And some others are very EASY to believe. Like the story of Bileam's talking donkey. Seriously, was that even a miracle?! If you want to meet talking donkeys, just access the World Wide Web…

The boring Anglican

"Christian Atheist" was something of a disappointment. I had expected a sustained argument in favour of some exotic new heresy, but instead Brian Mountford simply rehashes liberal Anglicanism (or one of its fissiparous varieties). The author is the vicar of the University Church at Oxford, and a personal friend of Richard Dawkins!

In his book, Mountford has interviewed a number of people, both known and unknown, who don't really believe in God or Christianity, or believe in it only barely, but who nevertheless decided to stay inside the Church of England. The reasons are often cultural or even aesthetic: community feeling, a lot of activities, good music, etc. One of the interviewees describes himself, tongue-in-cheek, as Anglo-Choral rather than Anglo-Catholic! Another reason is nostalgia, as when one of the characters in Philip Pullman's novel "Northern Lights" say that he rather misses God, now when he's gone. A more elaborate argument is that humans need a moral compass, ritual and a sense of belonging. Religion does provide this, even though it's man-made, and for that reason, even atheists could belong to a Christian church. Several of the interviewees like the specifically Christian morality (love your neighbour, love your enemies, etc).

Mountford does wonder how one can isolate Christian morality, or aesthetics for that matter, from a relationship to a God who actually exists? In the end, however, he is too liberal to be able to challenge the "Christian atheists" (or Sunday Christians, or cultural Christians). He sees doctrine as evolving and fluid, doubt as natural and most of the Bible as metaphorical. Thus, the vicar of Oxford supports homosexuality and abortion, opposes creationism, and believes that God didn't gave Israel to the Jews. No? At another point, Mountford wonders what it could possibly mean to a modern reader that the death of Jesus takes away "sin". Does it do away with global warming?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Christian, and I probably have more in common (politically) with the author of this book than with, say, the really hard line Anglo-Catholics. Still, what's the *point* of claiming to be Christian if you reject everything distinctive about Christianity, or argue that we are dealing with metaphors and clever stories? The apostle Paul said that Christian faith is in vain if Jesus wasn't resurrected. That was no metaphor, brother. Conversely, if Mountford (like his Christian-atheist friends) believe that everything in Christianity is true, except the Christianity (with apologies to C.S. Lewis), how come that so many positive results came from this particular ancient superstition? Isn't the liberal position, if framed in this manner, really parasitical on the traditional one?

I don't think Brian Mountford ever solves these questions, and he probably doesn't even think they can be solved. But this is precisely what has led many outside observers to conclude, that the liberal clergy hold on to the outer strapping of the faith simply in order to fill the pews. And judging from this book, many of the church-goers are just as sceptical as their clergymen...