Sunday, June 30, 2019

Simply Buddha

Sure hope these are "ours"...

In 2004, US fighter pilots of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group had a number of UFO encounters off the Californian coast. Many of them were visual. The UFOs were occasionally also seen on radar by naval personnel. The UFOs were relatively small and drone-like, but accelerated at impossible speeds. They were interested in a mysterious glowing phenomenon in the ocean, perhaps a submerged “UFO” (or is it USO?). The US military confiscated the evidence and swore everyone to silence, but somehow the story got out anyway. The military later released some strange footage of the unidentified objects. In this documentary, some of the navy personnel on duty at the ships USS Nimitz and USS Princeton are interviewed about their experiences. The pilots are not featured.

These UFO observations are not bad. Indeed, they probably did happen. But what did the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group really encounter out there? Nobody knows, and I certainly don´t rule out anything, not even flying mermaids. However, the most likely explanation is a secret *human* drone project of some kind, either “one of ours” or some Russian, Chinese or North Korean quality gadgets. In other words, the military could be behind the entire thing. Perhaps they were testing their new drones in the area deliberately, to see how the pilots (who were on a training mission) would react? The UFO-MIB angle comes in handy if anyone starts asking too many questions. This time around, however, the strategy didn´t seem to have worked – even mainstream media outlets reported on the story. Rather than being sidelined to kook territory, the whole thing became national headline news! Unless somehow, that too is part of the grand conspiracy plan…

My prediction is that next time the US engages some rogue (or not so rogue) state in military combat, we will hear a lot about the state of the art drone technology of the US navy, and how their supersonically fast drones are used to track Charlie´s submarines…

Occult technology

“Ancient Discoveries: Secret Science of the Occult” is a grossly misnamed BBC documentary, which I link to mostly for entertainment purposes (it´s only about 50 minutes long, for some reason the clip repeats the documentary twice). If you are a TV producer at a “serious” network and don´t know what to show the proles this week, the pro tip is (apparently) to stitch together four completely unrelated topics and connect them to “the occult”, and voilà, you just saved the ratings. That´s essentially what the BBC did here, although I´m sure some Gardnerian Wiccans or esoterick Crowleyans might decide to piggyback on whatever success this production will have (LOL).

The topics dealt with in “Secret Science of the Occult” are, in order of appearance: the mystery initiations of the ancient Mayans, the Rood of Grace at Boxley Abbey in England, the siege of Malta, and the Nekromanteion of Acheron in ancient Greece. Of these, the siege of Malta in 1565 has zero occult connections. The Rood of Grace was a miraculous crucifix exposed as a mechanical device (and hence a hoax) during a radical phase of Henry VIII´s Reformation. I admit that I found the Mayan segment fascinating – it seems my ancestors had a rather scary mystery cult deep underground, below the temples of Chichen Itza. And yes, child sacrifice was part of the picture. The Nekromanteion was, at least according to the BBC, another hoax. An underground temple in which the ancient Greeks could meet the spirits of their departed, the “spirits” were really dummies operated by pagan priests through mechanical devices, while the supplicant was high on hallucinogenic drugs and hence unable to see through the fakery.

The theme running through this production is that “the occult” is fake and that some occultic phenomena can be explained by appeals to technology. On this score, at least, the BBC is rather daring, since non-skeptical documentaries (usually of an American vintage) have more viewers. Otherwise, I was struck by the strong literalism of the “occult” claims (or is it just a BBC distortion?). The Nekromanteion was regarded as the literal entrance into Hades, just as the caverns under Chichen Itza were regarded as literally part of the Mayan underworld. No allegory here! The fact that the places were used for mystery initiations, presumably involving some pretty strange food or heavy dancing, gives the “literal” interpretation a slightly new meaning…

Don´t try this at home, kids.

From Duce to decadence: the strange tale of the Tyresö Palace

“Tyresö Palace – Nordic Museum”, published in 2016, is a tourist guide to Tyresö Slott in Stockholm, Sweden, and its immediate surroundings. Since 1932, the palace belongs to the Nordic Museum, founded by 19th century ethnographer Artur Hazelius (who also created Skansen). I recently visited and found it…strange. The last owner had a weird obsession with Marie Antoinette, the 18th century French queen executed during the French Revolution. If you want to see 20+ portraits of said Marie Antoinette, Tyresö Palace is definitely the place for you! Yes, one little engraving even shows her execution at the hands of the evil revolutionaries. There are also many portraits of Catholic popes and cardinals, and one photo of Mussolini. Yes, *that* Mussolini.

Clearly, not what you expect to find at a Swedish “palace” (I suspect a British lord would refer to the premises as “manor”)!

I was glad that I picked up this little book at a bookstore in nearby Tyresö Centrum, since it explains a thing or two. The palace was originally built during the Swedish “Great Power period”, and belonged to the ultra-illustrious Oxenstierna and De La Gardie families. Often, it was inherited on the female line (strange, I´ve been told by my politically correct teacher that Swedish women didn´t have inheritance rights until the late 1800´s, Muslim women of course getting them already under Muhammad). The palace has been rebuilt so many times that it´s not *really* a 17th century building anymore, rather it´s a bewildering and eclectic combination of many different Revival styles. I have no idea what they are called, but I suppose we could call them Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Romanesque and Neo-Gustavian. The Rococo interiors are real, though (including a Chinese tapestry). And yes, the present look of the palace is due to American wealth!

The last owner of Tyresö slott, Claes Lagergren, was a late 19th century Swedish businessman of farmer stock (well-to-do farmers, presumably). He was something of a maverick, had a fascination with the old European aristocracy, and converted to Roman Catholicism during a visit to Rome in 1880. This was at a time when most Swedes still considered Catholicism politically and religiously suspect, Sweden being a Protestant nation (with growing pockets of secularism here and there). Lagergren become papal chamberlain (!) in 1884, and five years later Pope Leo XIII officially ennobled him, giving him the title of marquis. Serving as a kind of diplomat between the Vatican and Sweden (this was before the Vatican became a soverign state), he also supported the Bridgettine Order of Elisabeth Hasselblad. His money made it possible for the Bridgettines to acquire Saint Bridget´s old house at Piazza Farnese in Rome. This of course explains both the Catholic portraits at Tyresö Palace (including of Saint Bridget or Birgitta, the famous Swedish 14th century mystic who moved to Rome) and the infatuation with the French aristocracy. The only known portrait painting of 16th century pro-Catholic Swedish king Johan III actually painted during the king´s lifetime also hangs at the palace, Lagergren apparently acquiring it in Rome.

Did I say “his” money? Well, not entirely his money…

In 1891, Lagergren married a super-rich American, Caroline Russell (later Caroline Lagergren), a member of a prominent New York business family with interests in banking, shipping and railway transport. It was thanks to her money that the Lagergrens could acquire Tyresö Palace and the enormous estate surrounding it. The restoration and/or rebuilding of the palace were also made possible by Caroline´s substantial wealth. Claes Lagergren´s newly minted aristocratic title gave the couple access to the Swedish crème-de-la-crème, including Prince Eugene who periodically lived at their estate and even established an artists´ colony there. (Eugene was a “Symbolist” painter otherwise mostly known for his connection to Waldemarsudde.) After Caroline´s death, Claes married another rich American, which enabled him to continue the lavish lifestyle. The palace was bequeathed to the Nordic Museum at Lagergren´s death in 1930 (officially taken over two years later).

One thing that struck me when visiting Tyresö slott was the (fairly typical) combination of ultra-conservatism and decadence. Lagergren was on a friendly basis with the painters around Eugene, including Anders Zorn (something not mentioned in the info booklet). Zorn, notorious for his paintings of nude women, was apparently something of a pornographer in private as well, telling lewd stories in drunken condition at Lagergren´s dinner parties, after having first tasted roasted peacock (the favorite dish of the marquis). It sounds weird that a papal chamberlain and admirer of Duce would have a guy like this over for dinner, but there you go! It´s also interesting to note that a huge portrait of Madame Le Pompadour adorns one of the many walls of the palace…

“Tyresö Palace – Nordic Museum” also contains information about a very different world: that of the peasants and servants working at the estate. Many of the peasants were crofters, and all of them seem to have been dirt poor, or nearly so, living in run-down houses literally infested with bugs. Once Caroline came down to a peasant who had just given birth, giving her some blankets – something unprecedented at the time. It seems the marquis missed the social encyclical of Leo XIII.

With that, I end this little blog post.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Ja, Åland

Den egensinnige åländske redaren Gustaf Eriksson intresserar dagens miljövänner. På engelska!

Captain Eriksson´s Equation

A different breed of Man

In 1888, famous Swedish writer August Strindberg plus family spent the summer in Denmark, at the 18th century Skovlyst palace at Holte. Strindberg, who I assume was quite the character, was soon embroiled in a bitter conflict with the head of the palace staff, Ludvig Hansen. Hansen accused Strindberg of sleeping around with one of the maids, 16-year old Martha Magdalene, who was also Hansen´s half-sister. Apparently, Hansen´s violent outbursts scared Strindberg into leaving the palace prematurely. Later, he filed a formal complaint with the Danish authorities, accusing Hansen of theft. Then, nothing much happened, Strindberg with family simply leaving the country.

Or so poor Hansen imagined…

In 1889, Strindberg had a novella published in Denmark. Titled “Tschandala”, it´s nominally about the conflict between a cultivated 17th century Swedish intellectual and a suspicious-looking Scanian palace administrator (Scania or Skåne was a Danish province until the 17th century). Anyone who knew the local gossip about the Hansen fracas immediately recognized the references. Yes, it was Strindberg´s answer to Hansen´s accusations, republished on a semi-regular basis ever since as part of the famous author´s collected works. Clearly, messing around with August Strindberg came with a price! (The Swedish version wasn´t published until 1897.)

As already indicated, the plot is set in late 17th century Sweden. The main character, Andreas Törner, is a learned university teacher who is forced to spend a summer in Scania, a former Danish territory annexed by the Swedish great power. Törner and his family rent rooms at a nearby palace, administered by a certain Jensen, who is married to the aristocratic widow owning the estate. Jensen turns out to be a “Gypsy” or “Traveler” (Strindberg uses the politically incorrect designations “zigenare” and “tattare”. The latter in particular is considered strongly derogatory). He is depicted as a lower breed of man, a chandala or pariah, constantly surrounded by filth and foul stenches. The palace and its adjacent gardens are run down, the animals have nothing to eat, and the administrator´s main activity seems to be stealing (and sometimes eating) other animals from nearby farms. His family are a clan of bandits, and heavy drinking orgies are the main order of the day. Like many other low-lives, Jensen imagines himself to be a man of culture, worth and education, but of course looks comic or pathetic compared to Törner, described as an “Aryan”. Jensen is also something of a pimp – he wants his daughter Magelone to enter an illicit sexual relationship with Törner. Soon, the Aryan and the Gypsy are at each other´s throats in something that is presumably supposed to be a psychological thriller. Jensen burglarizes Törner´s rented room, threatens his children, tries to get him framed for theft, and so on. Törner fights back as best he can. At one point in the narrative, the Aryan reveals that Jensen´s wife isn´t really an aristocrat at all, but the daughter of a common harlot, thereby punctuating Jensen´s insolent pretensions at being part of the nobility. It also punctuates Jensen´s Gypsy pride, since it means that a non-Gypsy “gypped” *him* rather than the other way around. (It´s part of the plot that Jensen believes his wife to actually be a noblewoman, and therefore regards his marriage with her as his best Gypsy scam.)

An interesting detail with the story, is that Törner (who is Strindberg´s alter ego, remember?) *does* have sex with Magelone (really Hansen´s teenage sister Martha Magdalene). Magelone is described as extremely ugly, and sex with her as borderline bestiality. Törner´s body and soul are soiled by the experience, while the Gypsy of course sees it as a great success for his intrigues. In the end, Törner decides to get rid of Jensen. Playing on the Gypsy´s superstitions and fears, Törner projects pictures of ghosts which profoundly shock Jensen and reduce him to a babbling fool. In a climactic scene, a ghost-like image of a dog appears, inducing the starving dogs of the palace to attack the distraught pariah, tearing him to pieces. “The Aryan had emerged victorious”.

How much of the story is true? This sounds like a silly question – everyone assumes that it´s character assassination pure and simple – but in his private letters, Strindberg at least pretended that “Tschandala” told the truth, with the obvious exception of the climactic murder scene. He claims that Hansen actually was a Gypsy, defrauded Strindberg of money for the rent, and then drove him away from the palace. A Gypsy orchestra, a burglary into Strindberg´s rented room, and huge aggressive dogs played a prominent part in the psychological warfare. In his letters, Strindberg admits that he did have sex with the maid, but claims that she was 18 years old (and hence presumably legal to mount). The letter includes a portrait of Martha Magdalene, drawn by Strindberg himself, depicting an ugly and slightly obese nude female. She was also “very hairy”. Strindberg also claims that the aristocratic lady who owned Skovlyst was a brothel owner!

For obvious reasons, “Tschandala: berättelse från 1600-talet” (the Swedish title), is often considered to be Strindberg´s absolutely worst work, due to its explicit anti-Gypsy or anti-Traveler racism. While the anti-Ziganism is (of course) obvious, the work has further dimensions, equally disturbing to modern readers (and also to “progressive” Strindberg aficionados – the famous writer is often regarded as a man of the left). “Tschandala” is a Nietzschean story, with Törner-Strindberg cast in the role of Übermensch. The word in the title comes from Nietzsche´s “The Anti-Christ”, where he uses it profusely. In Hinduism, the chandalas are one of the untouchable castes. Equality is said to be impossible, since there really are different breeds of men. Even more disturbingly, inequality has to be *consciously created*. The “tschandalas” are filthy because they have been *forced* into the gutter by Manu´s laws. Also, the only way for the Aryans to flourish is by oppressing the “tschandalas”, thereby turning them into manure for the sprouting of the elite intelligentsia. In the novella, Törner has to set aside his Christian convictions and veneer of civilization in order to embrace his true nature as an Overman. Only by dispensing with societal conventions can he hope to defeat the out-cast Gypsy. It´s also interesting that Törner is described as a progressive. He is opposed to the autocratic rule of Swedish king Karl XI, and it´s implied at several points that he is an atheist. Strindberg presumably didn´t see any contradiction between a certain kind of leftism and the elitism of Friedrich Nietzsche.

With that, I end this review.

Gudakonungen har talat

Dax för vänsterliberalerna i Kalifornien att bryta med gudakonungen? Vad håller dem kvar, är det de tantriska sexritualerna? Men dem kan man ju få gratis på andra ställen i California, eller? 

  1. Dalai Lama varnar för massinvandring

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ett UFO blir briefat om UFOn

Donald Trump har blivit briefad om UFOn. Pentagon påstås i tio års tid ha haft ett forskningsprojekt om saken. Och en stridspilot låter sig intervjuas om saken...av Aftonbladet.

Och vi vet ju alla vad detta betyder, eller hur? Jepp, USA:s försvar har utvecklat ett nytt stridsflygplan, fel personer har sett det, och därför spelar man ut UFO-kortet som desinformation.

Men så kan det ju inte vara för det vore ju en KONSPIRATIONSTEORI.

Jaha. Så du menar att aliens finns? 

Donald Trump och UFOn

A Big Bang that did happen

“Big Bang in Tunguska” is a 2008 documentary about the so-called Tunguska event or Tunguska explosion, a mysterious (and very large) explosion that took place in 1908 in a remote part of Siberia in Russia. The Tunguska event is the largest impact event in recorded history, and could have killed hundreds of thousands of people if it had happened in a large city. The official death toll seems to be zero (sic), but an Evenk native interviewed in the documentary claims that many Evenk were indeed killed by the blast. The first scientific exploration of Tunguska Ground Zero was made in 1927.

Fanciful speculations about the explosion are legion, and some of them are (tongue-in-cheek) mentioned in the documentary, such as the claim that Nikola Tesla did it (ha ha) or that an alien space ship collided with a huge comet just outside the Earth´s atmosphere, the alien cosmonauts sacrificing themselves to save humanity (or was it progressive mankind). I read about the Tunguska event already as a child, in a book which promoted the “mini-black hole” theory, also mentioned in the program. Antimatter and the inevitable UFOs are other proposals. And yes, one of the guys interviewed claims it must have been a – wait for it – mosquito explosion! If so, it had no appreciable impact on the local mosquito population, which is so enormous, that it´s downright impossible to visit Tunguska during the summer… Maybe it was a mosquito population explosion, LOL.

The native Evenk people have an original theory all their own. They say that one of their shamans asked the thunder-god to destroy a competing clan. Angry at being used in this base manner, the god responded by punishing the Evenk with the Tunguska explosion. Clearly, we have to be careful what we wish for!

The documentary points out that no impact crater have been found, although it´s possible that one of the lakes in the region could be such. There is definitely an epicenter. Curiously, the trees in the epicenter were left standing after the explosion, while all other trees in the area fell to the ground! The theory which seems to fit all the facts is the idea that the events were caused by a meteorite which exploded in the atmosphere. There are still dissenting voices, though, including those who suspect that the explosion was caused by a hopefully rare form of volcanic activity in the Earth´s mantle. Weird facts that perhaps still need to be explain include magnetic anomalies in the region, and mutations in the local trees (their tree-rings are larger after 1908).

One thing that struck me when watching “Big Bang in Tunguska” is how extremely wild and isolated the area is. Even going there is hell, and staying around is no better. Temperature varies from -40 degrees centigrade in the winter to +35 degrees centigrade in the summer, almost as if Tunguska was another planet. During the summer, the area is turned into a cluster of impenetrable marshlands (mosquitos love it). The documentary reminds us of the fact that humans aren´t really in charge of anything. We can´t subject Siberia to our will, and we´re sitting ducks for meteorite impacts (or comets…or volcanic eruptions…or antimatter…or…). Who the hell put us on this rock, anyway? The Evenk thunder-god?

The documentary is nevertheless recommended.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Glad Midsommar!

Själv "firade" jag midsommar genom att ta en buss som går i typ två timmar genom värsta urskogen, måste vara Stockholms läns knäppaste linje, ha ha. Tyvärr fick jag inga gudomliga uppenbarelser från träden, men kanske nästa gång...?

The trouble with Tasaday

I´ve been fooled twice by the strange and wonderful tale of the Tasaday. As a teenager, I believed that the story was real. And later, I believed (like everyone else) that of course it was a crude hoax. The real story, alas, is much more complicated. But then, that´s to be expected, is it not?

The link above goes to a classical NOVA documentary about the Tasaday aired in 1993. The story, set on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, started already in 1971, when Philippine government official Manuel Elizalde “discovered” a mysterious tribal people living in the rainforest. Known as the Tasaday, the natives lived on a Stone Age level and were super-primitive, having no tools, virtually no clothing, no knowledge about horticulture or even hunting, no religion and no rituals. They picked frogs and crabs with their bare hands, lived in caves, and had extremely crude stone tools. (They *did* know how to make fire, though.) Above all, they had no contact with the outside world, despite living only a three hour walk from the nearest farming village. The Tasaday became an overnight sensation, being seen as a remnant of humanity´s deep Paleolithic past. Until 1986, when new reports from the area rather indicated that the whole thing was a monumental hoax, orchestrated by Elizalde, and that the “Stone Age natives” were really paid actors from the neighboring farm villages… (Elizalde had fled the Philippines when long-time President Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown by the democratic opposition, thereby making it possible for independent reporters to reach the Tasaday area without being chaperoned.)

There the matter could have ended…except that it didn´t. The NOVA documentary interviews several anthropologists who studied the Tasaday during the 1970´s, and they are unconvinced by the hoax argument. For instance, the Tasaday language is distinct from those of neighboring peoples, and has almost no foreign loan words, nor words relating to agriculture. How likely is it that the Tasaday (including the children) could have systematically excluded all such words from their everyday speech in order to bolster the hoax? They also seemed familiar with the caves (again, including the children), also strange if they were really house-dwellers from a farming community. The documentary reaches the conclusion that the Tasaday, in a sense, were both a hoax and the real thing. Many of the concrete statements about them in the international media were grossly exaggerated. Elizalde probably did use them for PR purposes. For instance, they *did* have hunting technology. On the other hand, the Tasaday really were a separate community, not simply paid actors playing out a part.

It seems that the Tasaday once were farmers, indeed, they may have belonged to the neighboring Manobo people. At some point during the 19th century, the ancestors of the Tasaday took to the rain forest, perhaps in order to escape slave-raiders. Thus, they were not a Paleolithic remnant, but rather fugitives from a very modern calamity. After 200 years as hunters and gatherers, their language had inevitably changed to reflect their social transformation, and their isolation can best be described as a survival strategy. NOVA calls them “secondary primitives”. Their play-acting, but also their later statements that it was all a hoax, are probably also part of the same survival strategy. Today, the Tasaday are learning agriculture from their Manobo neighbors and attend Christian churches, while still feeling comfortable as semi-nude hunters and gatherers. In a sense, I suppose you could say they have retrieved their agency…

Link to an article by Thomas N Headland, also interviewed in the documentary.

Tales of the unknown

“Berättelser om Det Okända” is a book by Clas Svahn, a mostly-skeptical Swedish Fortean, who for some time was the national chair of UFO-Sverige (one of the more skeptical UFO groups). It´s a sequel of sorts to a previous work by the same author, “Det Okända”. Since Svahn isn´t a fanatical true believer, the book might anger those who *really* believe that you can channel Atlantean priestesses, levitate tables or catch an unsuspecting mermaid (or merman) on the high seas. The general reader might find it to his liking, though, at least as light weekend reading…at least if the general reader´s first language is Swedish.

The topics somewhat haphazardly covered by Svahn include sea-serpents, mermaids, time travel, Erich von Däniken, modern prophecy, visions of Jesus, the curse of the mummy, and (not again!) the breatharians who believe you can live on pure air (or was it prana). Svahn has consulted other Forteans and skeptics on various items, and also did some research himself. Somewhat ironically, the Swedish fringe people covered are mostly unknown even in Sweden, while many of the foreign incidents are globally known (such as the sea-serpent observation of “Daedalus” or the stigmata of Padre Pio). I admit I never heard of Erik Jonas Lindberg and his death rays before, nor the (failed) prophecies of Anton Johansson.

The book probably could have needed somewhat better editing, but overall, it gives a good glimpse into the wild world of sometimes-Swedish Forteana. Of course, Atlantis is real, although I doubt you can channel one of their priestesses. But then, you´re not Dion Fortune, are you now? :P

The tragedy of South Vietnam

“South Vietnam. A Political History 1954-1970” is an anonymous book published in 1970 as “Keesing´s Research Report 5”. The book tries to be as objective as possible (must have been difficult during the Vietnam War!), but is probably anti-war and pro-NLF. Somewhat curiously, it mentions the US role in the war mostly in passing, instead concentrating on internal troubles in South Vietnam, including near-esoteric conflicts between different regime factions.

After the overthrow of “emperor” Bao Dai in 1955, power in South Vietnam (the non-Communist zone of Vietnam) ended up in the hands of Ngo Dinh Diem, whose authoritarian Catholic regime alienated the Buddhist majority of the country (and pretty much everyone else, too). There are still strong suspicions that the United States had foreknowledge of, or even approved, the murder of Diem during a military coup in 1963. After the murder of Diem, the new rulers never quite managed to put their act together, the regime splintering into a myriad factions and competing cliques (including supporters of the ousted Diem). The book becomes more difficult to read as the story progresses through the 1960´s.

South Vietnamese elections were never particularly representative, since Communists and “neutralists” (real or perceived pro-Communists) were excluded from the electoral process. Of course, the Communist-dominated National Liberation Front (the “Viet Cong”) weren´t interested in the elections anyway, preferring to take power through armed struggle. The Buddhist opposition was also largely excluded from the political process, and seems to have become increasingly friendly towards the NLF as a result, making the regime even less willing to make concessions. Interestingly, the National Assembly elected under these highly restrictive conditions *also* proved unruly, and sometimes tried to veto decisions taken by the military-controlled government. Under intense pressure, the Assembly always backed down in the end. The book also confirms that the South Vietnamese state entity probably wouldn´t have survived without American aid. Apart from the US military presence, the United States also gave South Vietnam enormous amounts of financial aid, without which basic government functions wouldn´t have worked. The money was also needed to combat inflation, famine, etc.

The strong support of the NLF is, ironically, visible in official South Vietnamese government statements about the number of Communists killed or otherwise incapacitated, the number of villages “pacified”, etc. Those numbers are always very high, and if taken at face value, therefore show that Uncle Charlie was pretty popular outside Saigon. Otherwise, I must say that this Research Report gives a very rosy picture of the NLF, essentially taking its pronouncements about free elections, broad coalition governments, neutrality and gradual (not immediate) reunification with the Communist North Vietnam at face value. In reality, the southern zone was speedily conquered and incorporated by the Hanoi regime after the US withdrew its troops. No surprise there – study Stalin´s and Mao´s strategy and draw your own conclusions…

The book ends with the South Vietnamese House of Representatives (the local constitution was nominally very similar to that of the United States) approving a Land Reform Bill, apparently at the prodding of one Richard Nixon. The interesting thing to note is that the land reform was de facto a massive expropriation of the landlords, since only 20% of the compensation was in cash, the remaining 80% being given in the form of government bonds (which must have been pretty worthless in South Vietnam during the war). The US pledged 10 million dollars in aid to help implement the land reform. I have no idea what happened to this last-minute proposal to let the Vietnamese peasants eat something more than cake, or if anyone else than “Keesing´s Research Reports” ever noticed. The South Vietnamese regime simply couldn´t be saved by 1970. In hindsight, its downfall looks inevitable. (How peasants in North Vietnam were treated, see my review of “From Colonialism to Communism” by Hoang Van Chi. Not a pretty story either.)

With that, I end my review of “South Vietnam. A Political History 1954-1970”.  

Does homeopathy work? A supernatural explanation

A defense of homeopathy from John Michael Greer. Yes, the guy who wrote "The Shoggoth Concerto". I take no responsibility for the state of your cell salts, though. 

John Michael Greer on homeopathy

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Welcome, Madame President

Let´s have some fun. Who will be the next president of the United States? In 2025, presumably! I say it´s Tulsi Gabbard. Let´s synchronize our watches and meet again in 2025... 

Hare Krishna!

Jag fick just ett "allmännyttan moment"

Det som står i den här artikeln är ju inte HELT fel...så när som på en liten detalj. Ni kan säkert räkna ut den. Och om ni inte kan det, så kommer här en ledtråd: stärk allmännytan...stärk allmännyttan...stärk allmännyttan...

Nyheter Idag kritiserar KD:s bostadspolitik

Byzantine studies have never been so boring

”Acta Byzantina Fennica” is the journal of the Finnish Society for Byzantine Studies. It accepts contributions in English, German, French, Italian and Greek but, alas, not Finnish. This is the 4th issue published in 2015. I admit that I found it incredibly boring and dragging. But then, I´m more into Byzantine theology than actual imperial history!

The most useful piece has the title “A Helping Hand from the Divine: The Triumphalist Iconography of the Early Theodosians”. After explaining how pagan Roman emperors used Herakles-Hercules as a potent divine symbol for their rule (and, I suppose, their wars), we learn that the most Christian and Orthodox emperor Theodosius the Great *also* used pagan iconography to justify his, including depictions of the very same Hercules. Theodosius also consciously modeled himself on Trajan, who was (of course) a pagan. It seems that Theodosius wasn´t as strictly Christian in his statecraft as he has often been made out to be by (surprise) Christian sources. This seems logical – after all, pagans existed all over the Roman world (including some pretty high places) long after Theodosius supposedly forced everyone in the Empire to become a Trinitarian or else. Could be of interest for further reviews…

Other pieces in these Acta include a short biography of Constantine Loukites, a court official at 14th century Trebizond (the Trapezuntine “Empire” was a rump Byzantine state established by the Komneni after the Latin capture of Constantinople), a weirdly eclectic article on Dyrrachium dealing with everything from topography to the Venetian salt monopoly, an article on Byzantine campaigns against Latins in the Peloponnese (both sides used Muslim Turkish mercenaries!), and a discussion about the surprisingly positive view of Cleopatra found in the “Epitome” of Ioannes Xiphilinos. His picture of the debauched Egyptian queen might have been tempered by direct experience of an actual female ruler, the Byzantine empress Eudokia Makrembolitissa. I admit I never heard of her until reading this little volume.

Nothing on the Messalians.

Den enda rationella religionen

För övrigt anser jag att buddhismen är den enda något så när rationella religionen. Alla andra är fucking mucho loco. Problemet är bara att buddhismen är så jävla pessimistisk. Vem fan vill nirvanera? Seriöst. 

Trolling the skeptics?

“Fakta eller fantasier. Föreställningar i vetenskapens gränstrakter” is a Swedish book edited by Jesper Jerkert. It´s a sequel to ”Vetenskap eller villfarelse”, which I haven´t read. Both books are written from a skeptical perspective and reprints material from “Folkvett”, the magazine of the Swedish skeptics´ organization VoF. Think “Skeptical Inquirer” and CSICOP and you get at least some of the picture. Since the contributions are written by a diverse bunch of authors and are often quite short, the quality of the material is equally varied. Most of it is tolerable, regardless of whether you are a skeptic or not. For obvious reasons, I found the Atlantis debunking unconvincing, but YMMV. The book was published in 2007 and shows Olof Rudbeck on its front flap! Yes, that would be the 17th century loco who claimed that Sweden was, ahem, Atlantis…

One contribution stands out, and I can´t help thinking that the editor might have been trolling his readers. It´s the Dalkvist-Westerlund article on parapsychology, which actually defends the idea that parapsychology is a legitimate science, and criticizes its skeptical critics in some detail! I will certainly use this piece, fully cross-referenced, in any future confrontation with the Angry Atheist brigade (although I might just as well be sending it telepathically to James Randi). Another intriguing article attacks Sigmund Freud, painting him as a more or less conscious fraud. I noted that the article attacks both his early “seduction theory” and his later idea that all memories of sex abuse in early childhood are purely imaginary – both claims, the author of the article claims, are Freud´s own speculations, since the psychoanalyst´s own case files back up neither. The author sees Freud as a seeker and intellectual explorer who made the mistake of insisting that his wild ideas were scientifically proven. (Velikovsky comes to mind here.)

Yet another interesting piece deals with Environmental Somatization Syndrome (ESS), including oral galvanism, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), and oversensitivity to electromagnetic fields. The author, a medical doctor, believes that these syndromes are all in the mind, and tend to go away if the authorities simply refuse to listen (and refuse to pay). The fact that each generation, or every country, has its very own “ESS”, often connected to new forms of technology, while the symptoms are identical, is to the author a good indicator that we are dealing with problems that are at bottom psychological. Also, ESS-type symptoms *disappear* if a real toxin is present, to be replaced by the standard symptoms associated with that particular agent.

Lysenko, alternative medicine, humanistic psychology, the new Swedish Bible translation, dowsing, the Intelligent Design movement, the history of conspiracy theory, and the differences between CSICOP and VoF are other topics covered in “Fakta eller fantasier”.

Perhaps not the best book around on the topics under debate, but quite well-crafted for lighter weekend reading. If skepticism is your cup of tea (or homeopathic sugar water), you probably won´t regret reading it.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Waldorf and mistletoe: The theory and practice of Anthroposophy

“Inspirerad av Antroposofi” (Inspired by Anthroposophy) is a Swedish book with somewhat surprising contents. The editors have collected generally pro-Anthroposophy articles from a number of non-Anthroposophists, some of which used to be well known personages in Swedish cultural life. I was surprised to find contributions by Göran Rosenberg, Maria Bergom Larsson, Agneta Pleijel and Annika Åhnberg. Of these, perhaps only journalist, author and editor Göran Rosenberg is known outside Sweden. There is also an article on Rudolf Steiner and his place in intellectual history by Ronny Ambjörnsson. I admit that my own view of Anthroposophy is more negative, and I can´t say this book changed my impression…

The usual entry point into the occult world of Steiner´s Anthroposophy is Waldorf schooling. Many of the contributors placed their children in Waldorf schools. Maria Bergom Larsson was actually a teacher at the Waldorf school at Ytterjärna, where the Anthroposophists have built their Swedish headquarters. Biodynamic farming and, in Rosenberg´s case, the Camphill movement (care of children with learning disabilities), are two other points of entry. The contributors like the “practice” of Anthroposophy, while finding the “theory” (i.e. Steiner´s clairvoyant revelations) hard to believe or even incomprehensible.

Personally, I was apparently very Ahrimanic as a child (as behooves a guy with three planets in Capricorn), since the Waldorf system of pedagogy would probably have driven me nuts: “create your own textbooks”, artistic drawing, fairytales, eurythmy, clothes made of wool, blaaaah. (Not mentioned in this book, the Anthroposophists are also anti-vaxxers.) But sure, I suppose this could work for a certain kind of autistic and special needs children, something also emphasized in the book. Curiously, many Anthroposophists seem to be very left-wing, while the occult philosophy of Steiner is more “conservative” in nature. I suppose the ecological and decentralist angles attract a certain kind of leftists, as does the counter-cultural angle more generally. Maria Bergom Larsson was allowed to be a teacher at the Waldorf school despite not being a true believer in Anthroposophy, which must have been quite the attitude test, since the teachers are supposed to meet every Thursday to study Rudolf Steiner´s lectures – like everything else in this movement, the Waldorf pedagogy (supposedly) comes from the spirit-world as revealed by the sixth sense of Steiner. It was interesting to note that the Waldorf schools have a strong confessional streak, with the children setting up pageants based on the Biblical creation story or Steiner´s speculations about the archangel Michael (who plays a prominent role in his cosmology).  

The most bizarre contribution, perhaps inevitably, is written by an actual Anthroposophist who tries to explain the occult theories behind the movement´s alternative medicine. She seems to be suggesting (it´s not entirely clear) that hay fever isn´t caused by allergens from actual plants, but is a psychological condition! For completely opaque reasons, lemon juice cures hay fever. The author also claims that homeopathic mistletoe can cure cancer – an illegal statement in Sweden, but perhaps only in the context of actual prescriptions? The reasons for why mistletoe has this property is, once again, very opaque. The contributor also expounds at length on what a wonderful learning opportunity many diseases, including potentially fatal ones, can be… Yeah, haven´t we heard that one before!

Ambjörnsson´s article (co-written with Kerstin Thörn) attempts to place Anthroposophy´s founder Rudolf Steiner in a broader perspective. It´s quite interesting. Somewhat surprisingly, given the seemingly original speculations of this man, the Austrian polymath turns out to be very much a child of his time (the early 20th century) – or perhaps just a few decades behind it. Anthroposophy could be regarded as a synthesis of occultism, Romantic philosophy and evolutionary theory. Theosophy, a strong occult movement at the time, gave Steiner the template to work from. Goethe, Schelling and Herder were other influences – as was Hegel, not mentioned in the article. Steiner´s biodynamic farming was inspired by the Romantic-vitalistic humus theory. His pedagogical and aesthetic ideas, while more original, also had affinities with contemporary reform movements. I suppose somebody could argue that the “practice” could be separated from the “theory”, after all.

Above all, I get the impression from “Inspirerad av Antroposofi” that Anthroposophy is at bottom harmless - in the wrong kind of way. These people will never change the world, let alone initiate some kind of revolution. They are simply a spiritual safety valve for the privileged middle classes. After spending some time in Green Anthroposophy land, it´s back to high modernity (and capitalist) main frame. With that comment, I end this week´s Anthroposophy-bashing session. 

Live long and prosper.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Thorium Cult

“The Thorium Dream” is a short documentary from Motherboard TV about the Thorium Energy Alliance, a campaign group in the United States trying to convince whoever is interested about the blessings of thorium-based nuclear reactors. 

The documentary isn´t *that* interesting, and says relatively little about the thorium reactors themselves. Instead, we get a series of Messianic sales pitches from the Alliance leaders. The whole thing looks very geeky and even slightly cultish, although the “cultists” are self-ironic, since one of them even talks about thorium energy being “like an Ashram in the sixties”! LOL. 

That being said, I happen to suspect that these guys (or geeks) are on to something. Yes, thorium reactors probably can “save the world”, or at the very least make us less dependent on fossil fuels and uranium-based nuclear energy. The problem is that any large-scale conversion from our present energy system to another one will take a long time and cost a lot of money (and, I suppose, energy). Do we still have the time? Donald Trump is dizzy on fossil and fracking, while Europe is waking up from its “solar and wind” stupor only to embrace that good ol´ uranium that made the world MAD-ly safe during the latest Cold War. “The Thorium Dream” claims that China – as usual – is developing thorium reactors, and in other sources, India is the main suspect. 

While I don´t think anything can play the role of Secular Messiah (for us humans, one day is not like a thousand years), thorium reactors are at the very least worth a try. Unless, of course, you want to move in with the hippies featured in this documentary, and then die of the bubonic plague.

In my hometown

“Ortodoxa och österländska kyrkor i Sverige” by Thomas Arentzen is a book about Orthodox believers in Sweden. It was published in 2016. It´s interesting to note that the work wasn´t published by any Orthodox Church, but by a Swedish government agency, the so-called Committee for Government Grants to Religious Denominations! Thus, we are really dealing with an official attempt to map the Orthodox Churches. The book is probably intended as a guide for bureaucrats handling faith-related issues. That being said, it may be somewhat useful for the general reader, too. The author is an Eastern Orthodox Church historian.

The book covers the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox (“Monophysite”) and “Nestorian” jurisdictions currently found in Sweden. Eastern Catholics are mentioned more in passing. There are currently about 400,000 Orthodox believers in Sweden, according to the author´s rough estimations. The figure seems to include people who are only “culturally” Orthodox, however. The number of officially declared members of such Churches is only about 163,000. Most Orthodox believers are immigrants. The largest Orthodox church body in Sweden is the local jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This surprised me – I always assumed it was the Syriac Orthodox Church. It seems this Church is currently split. If all the Syriac Churches are counted together, they indeed have more members than the Serbian Church in this god-forsaken country. Swedish Orthodox believers are in very short supply. “Svenska Ortodoxa Prosteriet” has only about 2,000 members and are administratively a branch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Finnish Orthodox congregation in Sweden (with church services mostly in Swedish) has about 1,500 members and belongs to the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople rather than that of the Orthodox Church in Finland (!). I have to admit that the various bureaucratic struggles so often beloved by the Orthodox make my head spin…

Most of the information in this book deals with Church history, membership figures, and the already mentioned jurisdictional wrangling. The author briefly describes the liturgy of the various groups covered. He also, just as briefly, mentions traditional church holidays, many of an obviously “folkish” (pre-Christian?) character. The notorious revelations of Syriac Orthodox girl Samira Hannoch are mentioned only in passing, perhaps to respect her privacy. After all, this is a book published by a government agency. The author mentions a Syriac Marian apparition in Tensta, an immigrant neighborhood in Stockholm, but also mostly in passing. I admit I had no idea the Virgin Mary appeared in my hometown! Nor did I know that there was an Eastern Orthodox starets living in the forests of Dalarna... 

Thomas Arentzen´s book is somewhat dry, but if you understand Swedish and are interested in Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy (or Nestorians), I suppose it could be of some interest.

Monty Python meets Ben Hur

“Risen” is a 2016 American Biblical drama, freely based on some of the events in the New Testament. The main character, tribune Clavius, is non-Biblical but probably inspired by Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus at the crucifixion and later converted to Christianity. The plot is set at the time of the crucifixion, which Clavius is ordered by Pontius Pilate to supervise. When the body of Jesus (called Yeshua in the film) mysteriously disappears, Pilate commands Clavius to investigate the case and apprehend any suspects. The tribune soon realize that the case is stranger than he expected, and eventually discovers that Jesus is alive and well, that is, resurrected from the dead. The film ends somewhat inconclusively, with the Roman officer apparently converting to Christianity after the Ascension, while the disciples return to Jerusalem to await Pentecost. Clavius, fearing capture by Pilate, wanders into the desert to an uncertain fate…

The film is intriguing on a number of points. For starters, it´s not very “pious”, except at the end. Indeed, many of the characters or situations might have been included in Monty Python´s classical comedy “Life of Brian”! The disciples speak with rustic British accents and come across as a bunch of holy fools. Mary Magdalene (a reformed harlot as usual) speaks in stereotypical riddles. A recurring gag in the film is the line “Pilate summons you”, uttered at least five times. The disciples can´t seem to remember the Lord´s Prayer. Jesus is more serious, but I couldn´t help noticing his “Jewish” nose…and his striking likeness to Swedish New Age pop star Thomas Di Leva! But OK, the latter is presumably a co-incidence.

Another intriguing feature is that the film is very “orthodox” theologically speaking (orthodox with a lower case “o”, that is). Thus, the resurrection is portrayed as physical, not simply spiritual. The origins of the Shroud of Turin are explained – yes, it really was the burial cloth of Jesus. The Ascension is also physical or quasi-physical, with Jesus clearly being lifted *up* into Heaven. On other points, “Risen” emphasizes the Jewish character of early Christianity. Jesus is called Yeshua, God is constantly referred to as Yahweh, and Yeshua is thus the son of Yahweh. His Messiah-ship and kingship are often mentioned as a tie-in to Jewish beliefs. Yet, at the end, Jesus inaugurates the new dispensation by calling on the disciples to convert all the Gentiles...

An interesting scene features Clavius attempting to pray to Yahweh in Roman-polytheistic fashion, promising him “temples and many games” if he gives him a sign relating to the events he is investigating. Another strange fact: when Swedish TV recently showed this film, Clavius was referred to as an “agnostic” in the program presentation, when he is explicitly depicted as a devotee of Mars in the film.

This mixture of Monty Python and “Ben Hur” isn´t the best film ever made, but I admit it wasn´t *that* bad either, if you can stand the somewhat peculiar angle…

None dare call it treason

“1808: Gerillakriget i Finland” is a book by a Swedish author named Anders Persson. The name is extremely common, and I admit that I don´t know exactly who this Anders Persson might be, except that he has written several books on modern European history. His main interest seems to be the fate of small nations squeezed between the great powers: interwar Austria and Czechoslovakia, and Finland pretty much all the time. Persson´s main thesis is that it´s frequently the common people who take up arms to defend their nations (or at least their homesteads) in times of war, while the political and economic elite waffle and even collaborate with the enemy. His book gives a somewhat peculiar impression, “leftist” and yet somehow conservative at the same time.

In 1808, Russia attacked Sweden and eventually occupied Finland, which had been under the Swedish crown for centuries, thereby effectively depriving Sweden of almost half of its territory. The war of 1808-1809 was a national disaster for Sweden, and King Gustav IV Adolf was actually overthrown as a result. Sweden had refused to join Napoleon´s continental blockade against Britain, while Gustav Adolf apparently quite un-ironically believed the French emperor to be the Beast of Revelation mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps not the best grounds for a realistic foreign policy of a small nation during the turbulent Napoleonic Wars! When France and Russia temporarily united against the British, Napoleon gave Czar Alexander the green lights to attack Sweden and dismember it best he could. The Swedish troops at Sveaborg in southern Finland, one of Sweden´s best fortifications, surrendered to the Russians already at an early stage of the war. This was a huge national scandal, and many suspect to this day that the commanders at Sveaborg were conscious traitors.

Indeed, it seems that most “lords” in Finland were more than willing to collaborate with the advancing Russian troops. Landlords, priests and bailiffs remained at their posts and started taking orders from the Czar and the Russian military brass, thereby easing the way for the enemy. In the Lutheran Churches, the priests often preached non-resistance. Of course, this was before the era of nationalism and the modern nation-state, but it´s difficult not to see the actions of the officials in charge as downright treasonous. After all, they were supposed to be loyal to the King in Stockholm! There was also an active Swedish exile milieu in the Russian imperial capital of St Petersburg, which lobbied the Czar with requests to take military action against Sweden. These aristocratic exiles had their roots in the “Anjala League” directed against King Gustav III, Gustav IV Adolf´s father, and his war against Russia in 1788-1790.

When the petty and not-so-petty officials decided to side with the Russians (for “practical” reasons, of course – what else?), the peasants took up the resistance instead, sometimes with the aid of Swedish military, sometimes on their own. A large portion of the book deals with the struggle at Åland, which has a Swedish population. That the peasants at Åland fought back, while the commanders at Sveaborg surrendered, wasn´t lost on the Swedish press. King Gustav IV Adolf eventually awarded the leaders of the Åland guerillas medals of valor at a special ceremony in Stockholm. The book also describes the resistance in Österbotten, Birkaland and Norra Karelen. It was a curious alliance in a way, between the conservative anti-Napoleonic autocrat Gustav IV Adolf and angry armed peasants with little respect for the local officials and priests. Persson compares it to the anti-French resistance in Spain, led by priests and monks, or the ditto peasant war in Tyrol under Andreas Hofer. The author believes that Romanticism rather than Enlightenment thinking heralds nationalism, a phenomenon he seems to regard as historically progressive. Overall, however, the book is descriptive rather than analytical.

Russia´s victory in the War of 1808-1809 was probably a foregone conclusion. Russia had more manpower, while the Finnish population suffered from failed harvests, famine, and pestilence. It´s amazing the peasants managed to resist at all! Clearly, the Swedish military suffered from bad leadership (including from the King´s side), while traitors abound everywhere. Finland was finally declared an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Czar. Persson believes that the popular resistance against the advancing Russian army made the Czar rethink any plans he might have had to make the Finnish peasants serfs. Somehow, I doubt this – my guess would rather be that it would have taken a considerable mobilization of resources to reduce the free Finnish peasantry into serfdom. Rather than undertaking such an operation, the Czar already from the start planned to keep the social relations in Finland pretty much as they were within the context of an autonomous “Grand Duchy”. That, of course, is why the officialdom in Finland (including the Lutheran clergy) so easily made the transition from Swedish to Russian dominion – it wasn´t much of a transition to begin with. The peasants, by contrast, feared enserfement or at the very least large-scale plunder at the hands of “Cossacks and Kalmyks”. Also, their deep-seated class suspicions against the officialdom were amply confirmed when the local “lords” put their own safety above loyalty to king and country (which the peasants supported).

In the end, both camps were vindicated – Finland did enjoy autonomy without serfdom under the Czar for generations…until Russia decided that the time had come to Russify Finland (but still without serfdom, alas), triggering a series of events which eventually led to Finnish independence in 1917.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

No terrorist cells in this one

“Tempel Riddare Orden 100 År i Norden” is a very obscure book, published in 1987. I was somewhat disappointed reading it, I mean, I had hoped that the “Knights Templar Order” described in the book would turn out to be a sinister and shadowy upper class cult of half-crazed terrorist wanna-bees, based in *Sweden* of all places, but naaah… 

The TRO is actually an extremely respectable Christian temperance lodge! Think Good Templars and you get at least part of the drift.

The TRO has its roots in the 19th century American temperance movement. Its US parent society was formed in 1845 and was first called the Temple of Honor. Its members came from a much larger temperance movement, the Sons of Temperance. In 1849, the Temple of Honor broke all relations with the larger body and became fully independent as the Temple of Honor and Temperance. The first Swedish lodge was established in 1887. Interestingly, the Temple of Honor later died out in the United States, and in 1938 the Supreme Council was officially transferred to Sweden. Today (or at least in 1987), Tempel Riddare Orden (Order of the Knights of the Temple) exists in all Nordic countries. This book contains material in both Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.

Membership is limited to Christian males, and absolute abstinence from alcohol and drugs is (of course) a requirement for all members. While the order is non-partisan, it certainly has political connections, since several of its past Swedish Grand Masters have been Members of Parliament for the centrist Liberal Party. The Liberals used to regroup both free-thinking atheists and people with a background in the free churches (Christian denominations outside the Church of Sweden). Another prominent member is Bengt Göransson, a Social Democrat and former minister of culture and education. King Gustav VI Adolf was briefly the “protector” of the order. Many leading members of the TRO are/were also active in the IOGT, a more well-known temperance organization.

So why is the TRO a separate body at all? The main reason seems to be that the “Knights Templar Order” is strongly inspired by Masonry and its esoteric (or perhaps pseudo-esoteric) rituals. During the heyday of fraternal societies and orders back in the 19th century, this probably didn´t look so strange as it does today. After all, even the super-respectable IOGT is named after the crusading medieval knights of the Temple! Are we to believe this book, the Temple of Honor and the TRO were more seriously into Masonic ritualism than many other temperance groups, which gradually abandoned the concept. So did the Temple of Honor eventually, but the ritual work continued unabated in the Nordic offshoots. The rituals of the TRO are secret, but its meeting halls (showed in this volume) certainly remind me of the Freemasons. It seems the order was “outed” by some misguided tabloid reporters in the early 1980´s, and I suppose I could find the details if diligently searching for them, but who cares? Let me guess: you lie down in a coffin, hold a skull, and then experience a resurrection to the tunes of a Mozart composition?

With that jocular comment, I leave you for tonight. ;-)