Sunday, July 28, 2019

En ny teori om wärlden

Jag tror stenhårt att den här killen kan ha rätt. 

Three Realities

Never mind the fulness

An interesting criticism of mindfulness meditation. In Sweden, mindfulness is even promoted at government-sponsored classes for the unemployed! 

A critical look at mindfulness meditation 

Schlagerbögfaktor 10,000

Jag visste inte att *den här* låten fanns på svenska, och dessutom med de tyska originalbandet! Wow. Ska jag skicka den här till STIM och Jonas Nordin för bedömning, eller?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Don´t try this at home, kiddos

Yes, this is bizarre. So stuff the New Age fluff, guys. 

Stefan Löfvéns triumf

Triumfens ögonblick 

Stefan Löfvén snoppar av Donald Trump, kejsare av Amerika, och visar därmed vilken fett jävla hård snubbe han är. 

Först kör han över Miljöpartiet, sedan Vänsterpartiet, sedan splittrar han Alliansen, och nu säger han frejdigt till den där skitfarlige maffiabossen från New York att Svärje minsann har ett OBEROENDE RÄTTSVÄSENDE, eat that, Orange Man Bad! 

Jag måste absolut rösta på denna moderna version av Herkules och Stålmannen i nästa nyval... 

Save the polar bear

This is *not* a trained bear. Wtf, I love global warming now! 

"Arbetarrörelsens" svar på krisen?

Sossarnas och "vänsterns" lösning på systemkollapsen är alltså att även borgerligt styrda kommuner måste systemkollapsa. Något annat vore ju orättvist! Sossarna kommer säkert att få fler röster i Hagfors efter detta, håhå jaja. 

Stockholm dumpar hemlösa på landet

Surströmming, kanske?

OK, den här var rolig... 

Helvete också, den missade

Medans du sov... 

Helvete att den missade, jag hade kunnat återfödas i Sukhavati redan nu på måndag!

A teddy bear and his cage

A lot of stuff like this on YouTube...

This is obviously not a real bear attack, since "Brodie" (the beast even has a name!) doesn´t attack the other people standing nearby. 

It´s a trained brown bear (not a real grizzly) showing us some of its tricks, that is all. But sure, I suppose even mock attacks can be lethal, LOL. 

Pilgrimage to pantheism

“Pilgrimage to Koyasan” is a slow-paced (some would say boring) documentary about Koyasan in Japan, a temple complex recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Koyasan was originally founded by the Buddhist monk Kukai (Kobo-Daishi) during the 9th century. Kobo-Daishi was the creator of Shingon, the most esoteric of the Japanese Buddhist sects (also known as Orthodox Esoteric Buddhism and originally a Vajrayana lineage introduced to China by Indian monks). 

The documentary shows most of the important sites at Koyasan, with the exception of Kobo-Daishi´s mausoleum, where taking photos is prohibited. Pilgrims, monks and causal visitors fill the area. Inside the temples, there are statues of Vairocana (the “god” of Shingon) and other cosmic buddhas, and also of Hindu-looking wrathful deities. 

It´s obvious from the description that Shingon has strong similarities to Advaita Vedanta, since the goal is to realize that “the Buddha” is really in your mind (i.e. it´s the Atman), and that the mind of the Buddha, you and all sentient beings is the same. This is connected to the belief in the Dharmakaya, the cosmic body of the Buddha, similar to the Brahman in Hinduism. Vairocana is purely symbolic in nature, since in this system, everything is divine, and the divine is ultimately impersonal. 

Thus, we are dealing with another form of Eastern pantheism. Some people find it profound. I just find it depressing, a kind of worship of the fallen world as “God”. Why the instinctive religion of mankind has to be “esoteric” is beyond me. Perhaps the meditation techniques are too dangerous to ordinary monads?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

I solved Fermi´s paradox, guys

There are two obvious solutions to Fermi´s paradox, and the reason why the matter hasn´t been put to rest is simply that both answers are intolerable to Modern Man and his belief in Eternal Progress, or rather a very specific view of Eternal Progress.

The first obvious answer is the Rare Earth hypothesis. We really are alone, and we are alone *not* because all civilizations go through a human-like history and eventually destroy themselves in a human-like nuclear war (a typical 1970´s anthropocentric conceit), but because multi-cellular life, or perhaps life as such, only emerged once in the entire universe – here on the third rock from the Sun. I´m not sure why this scenario is so intolerable to so many. Asimov has it, and in his novels, humans eventually conquer the entire galaxy because of it. I mean, there is no one to stop us! It´s almost as if the believers in eternal progress wants there to be advanced alien civilizations as a kind of guarantee that we will once reach that stage, too. And a secret wish to fall down and worship the aliens…?

The second obvious answer is that the universe is *teeming* with life, including advanced life, yes, including advanced intelligent life…but most of it is unable to or even uninterested in developing our kind of advanced technology, let alone fly around in space. (If you believe in the supernatural, you could even argue that most life is clever enough to avoid this shitty universe, much preferring the astral delights of some spirit-dimension.) Humans aren´t the only intelligent species on Earth. What about chimpanzees, whales, ravens, or even octopi? Let´s assume whales or octopi evolve for another 100 million years or so. What makes us think they can´t become smarter? And why must this necessarily entail leaving the sea, becoming bipedal and have opposable thumbs? “Because that is the only way we can create a civilization”. No, it isn´t. What makes us think the only way to create a civilization is the human way? What makes us think a species with whale-derived intelligence would want to make the things humans are making? Come to think of it, even creatures driven by pure instinct can create something eerily resembling a civilization. Yes, I´m thinking of ants, which did it millions of years before humans even existed.

And that´s just one planet…

Imagine what weird and wonderful creatures could evolve at other planets. Once again: what makes us think they would be interested in communicating with other star systems (or conquering them), rather than studying the notochord, the immortality of the common cockchafer, or what have you. If they evolved differently from us, they might not even *need* to create a high technology civilization that emits radio waves. That´s something we have to do because we (or many of us, at any rate) wouldn´t survive without one. Other species might not need this kind of jerry-rigged contraption.

Believers in the very specific kind of progress which entails going to the stars can come up with some pretty bizarre scenarios “solving” Fermi´s paradox. Thus, one prominent atheist (who is otherwise a very smart guy) claims that the aliens must be hiding in the empty space in between star systems (that´s why we can´t see them) constantly hooked up to a virtual reality more interesting than our galaxy (that´s why they don´t bother with humans). Analyzing the Bayesian probability for this might be interesting, even apart from the fact that it sounds almost religious…

Next week, your favorite blogger will solve Euthyphro´s dilemma and the theodicy problem. End of transmission.

PS. Now, read this:

Seven solutions to Fermi´s paradox

The curse of Ham

Not sure why this is my most popular blog post ever? I have virtually no readers in Ethiopia or Sudan... 

The curse of the Hamites 

Noooooooo, it can´t be true, it just can´t!!!

I used to have a "Platonic" view of mathematics (and abstraction in general), but here is a good polemic against such a view, written by atheist-plus gadfly Richard Carrier. I think it speaks for itself. Enjoy! Obviously, I take no responsibility for neither his atheism nor the "plus", and I can only hope that a nominalist rainbow-colored Bigfoot with telekinetic abilities and Trumpocrat politix will one day set him straight and make him return to the path of the Based Tao, but that´s me...

Wtf, I love Saudi Arabia now

Intressant artikel om Saudi-Arabiens geopolitik i Afrika. (På bilden ovan syns Sudans nyligen avsatte president Omar Bashir.) 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

How capitalist is Singapore *really*?

Singapore leader Lee together with Ronnie the Ray Gun himself

A tie-in to the discussion on Singapore on a previous thread:

How capitalist is Singapore really?

Making me wonder what exactly United States capitalistas see in this Chinese paradise? LOL.

The little left-liberal catechism

“Lilla boken om kristen tro” is a book published by the Church of Sweden (Svenska Kyrkan) in 1992. It was distributed free of charge to most Swedish households. My copy of the book also contains information from “Nynäs kontrakt”, the Church sub-division in the Nynäshamn area of Stockholm County, suggesting that it´s a local edition of some sort. Incidentally, I don´t recall getting the national edition in 1992! (Swedish Wiki claims that the author´s name is Christer Hugo. Well, no, Hugo is the author of an archived article on the web *criticizing* the book, which is anonymous.)

The book is a very left-liberal work, both theologically and politically. The fact that Jesus was a refugee in Egypt is used to promote solidarity with modern refugees. Peace and environmentalism are important goals, as is women´s liberation and economic development in the Third World. Direct aid in the event of natural disasters and famine is another activity strongly promoted by the Church. “The Little Book on Christian Faith” gives a very “soft” impression, with lots of photos of girls, infants and nice old ladies. No crusaders or fire-and-brimstone preachers in this one! It´s constantly emphasized that the Christian faith must be reinterpreted anew in each generation. (The anonymous writer doesn´t seem to understand that this makes it possible for illiberal groups to reinterpret the Bible afresh.) Issues not mentioned (this was 1992) include gay rights, trans rights and the glories of Islam. Today, “Lilla boken” wouldn´t be considered “inclusive” enough.

Interestingly, the book takes an “orthodox” (or seemingly orthodox) view of Jesus. He really was the Son of God, died and was resurrected. He was also an actual historical figure, the book claiming that “several ancient writings” mention him (they don´t) and that we can be almost sure that he lived from around 7 BC to 33 AD (we can´t). The resurrection gives fighters for social justice hope that there really is a God and immortality, and that their strivings won´t be in vain. Since the goal is justice here on Earth, Jesus becomes a kind of left-liberal overcomer of a social gospel postmillennial vision. (His Second Advent is never discussed, as far as I can see.) Naturally, his loving forgiveness is emphasized, rather than his curses or apocalypticism.

I can´t say I like this little volume. During my hard left phase, I would have regarded it as too soft and frankly hypocritical. (The bourgeoisie doesn´t mind charity. What it fears is revolution.) Today, I also have a couple of objections, too dangerous to mention here. Still, I admit that “Lilla boken om kristen tro” does give a fairly good introduction to the left-liberal illusions of the Church of Sweden.

Out of Greece?

This just in. It´s a bit speculative at this point, but personally, I think discoveries like this one will be proven to be true. First, I think the human story is far older than we think, so of course “modern humans” left Africa earlier than current research suggests. Second, I´m not even sure whether Africa is the cradle of humankind. Maybe, maybe not. Anatomically modern humans mixed with Neanderthals in Europe and Denisovans in Asia. Apparently, they also mixed with a hitherto unknown human species in Africa – Africans have unknown genes postulated to come from such a lineage. These genes are *not* found among non-Africans, suggesting either that the migration out of Africa took place before Africans started to date and mate our unknown evolutionary cousins…or humans didn´t emerge in Africa in the first place. Not that I really care. I have no problem being a honorary Afrikan, just as I don´t have any problems having Neanderthals in my family tree (although I probably would have preferred, say, peregrine falcons, LOL). Besides, the term “unknown human species” is a bit of a misnomer, since Neanderthals, Denisovans and African Hominin X must have been the same species as Homo sapiens by definition, otherwise they wouldn´t be able to mate with each other and produce viable fertile offspring…   

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Onward, Singapore...or the wet dreams of our local unfriendly capitalistas

Capitalist hero Lee busy building bridges to Putin´s Russia, here with Medvedev

“The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015)” is a collection of short quotes from the writings and speeches of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, the independent Chinese city-state south of Malaysia. The publisher seems to be Singaporean, but nominally unconnected to the ruling party. The book is difficult to understand unless you have a working knowledge of Singapore´s history and politics. Interestingly, it covers all phases of Lee´s political career: his “socialist” anti-colonialist period, his authoritarian anti-Communist period, and the later liberalization (or supposed liberalization) of the regime. The last quotes in every section often deal with globalism and the new information technology era.

Singapore, while nominally a parliamentary democracy, is a de facto one-party state dominated by the People´s Action Party (PAP) and Lee Kuan Yew himself (until his death in 2015). Since Singapore is considered a capitalist success story, the early “democratic socialist” statements by LKY has to be seen to be believed. His authoritarian statements are surprisingly explicit – no beating around the bush here (in contrast to Communist regimes). Lee openly says that of course the PAP must remain in power, that the only way to rule a Chinese society is by force, stability and economic growth is more important than democracy, indeed, democracy is wrong even in principle since it assumes that all men are equal or can contribute equally to society. 

Lee does have a siege mentality in which Singapore is constantly threatened by its neighbors, by Communism, by communal violence or by a downturn in international trade (Singapore being an important trade hub). Of course, this siege mentality wasn´t entirely irrational, the little city-state having a somewhat precarious geopolitical position. To Lee, the only guarantee of national survival is to keep the PAP strong, pure and willing to use the knuckles if necessary. In return, the people get economic growth, good education and a fight against corruption at all levels. In his later statements, LKY even concedes that Singapore used to be “boring” (this was a state in which you could get arrested for spitting on the pavement) and should instead become an international center for culture and entertainment. The older Lee Kuan Yew, while graciously allowing an Opposition, nevertheless constantly warns the people against voting for it, fearing that a non-PAP government will ruin Singapore in just five years…

Many of the quotes in this little book are standard capitalist sound bites against high taxes and nationalizations, for home ownership and huge wage differentials, complaints about Singaporean workers being lazy, and so on. This from the leader of a party which at least nominally belonged to the Socialist International! More interesting are Lee´s views of immigration and a multi-cultural society. He seems torn between a more nationalist-traditionalist position, and one more in keeping with global capitalism. There are apparently 500,000 foreign guest workers in Singapore (presumably unskilled ones), but the leader assures the people that they won´t stay indefinitely. 

Skilled immigration is explicitly encouraged, however, and use of the English language as a lingua franca is promoted. It seems to have been Lee Kuan Yew´s first language. At the same time, Lee doesn´t believe in an American “melting pot”, but rather a situation in which different ethnic communities live side by side, keeping many of their traditions intact. This would be similar to the multi-culturalist ideal current in the contemporary West. Lee doesn´t seem to like the widespread use of Hokkien, the Chinese dialect actually spoken by the common people in Singapore, but instead promotes Mandarin, the “Standard Chinese” used officially in both the PRC and Taiwan. It´s unclear whether the reason is some kind of Han national pride, or simply pragmatic considerations.

As far as I understand, Lee Kuan Yew was much admired in the United States by the tireless promoters of the eternal blessings of capitalism. This is interesting for many reasons. As already pointed out, Lee was no democrat. Nor was he a nationalist in the sense usually understood by that term (despite Singapore´s break with Malaysia). Is this the state of affairs secretly yearned for by the GOP-ish and business Democrat establishment, an authoritarian multi-cultural society?

With that reflection, I close this discussion of “The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew”.  

The Eternal Adam

“The Eternal Adam” is a French science fiction story, originally published in 1910. It´s attributed to Jules Verne, but many now believe that the real author was Verne´s son Michel, who greatly expanded on a draft left behind by his father (who died in 1905). The story is still very short, but has an intriguing message.

Set on planet Earth but in an indefinite future, the main character Zartog Sofr-Ai-San is an archeologist living in society resembling that of Verne´s own time (i.e. the late 19th century). After millennia of barbarism and war, humans have finally created a single world empire (but that too took a savage war to accomplish) and for the first time, something like universal peace, prosperity and constant scientific progress seems possible. Most people still believe in old superstitions, such as the idea that all of humanity is descended from a single primordial pair named Hedom and Hiva, created out of nothing by God. Sofr and the other “zartogs” (scientists or philosophers) know better, having arrived at something resembling Darwin´s theory of evolution. However, Sofr – who is a surprisingly honest scientist – admits that the theory (mostly developed by himself) has one major flaw. Humans don´t seem to fit into it. Archeological digs suggest that humans were just as advanced millennia before the establishment of the Empire of the Four Seas (Sofr´s own time). Even worse, humans seem to have *regressed* from an ancestral form with an even bigger brain than that of the zartogs, after which progress began anew. Animals and plants fit the evolutionary picture admirably, but not the human species.

One day, Sofr-Ai-San makes a sensational discovery literally in his own backyard. An aluminum casket thousands of years old surfaces, and after years of labor, the zartog finally manages to translate the mysterious documents inside it. It turns out to be a diary written in French during the 21st century (although the technology seems to suggest 19th century). It tells a dramatic story of a great human civilization (ours) which vanishes within hours after a world-wide cataclysmic earthquake during which all land is submerged by the sea. The few survivors manage to reach a new land arising out of the sea – the same land at which the Empire of the Four Seas would eventually be established – but within just one generation, most of their scientific and philosophical knowledge is lost, the people reverting to a primitive lifestyle. They walk around nude, sleep on the ground, think mostly of food collection, etc. The French castaway tries to salvage the scientific knowledge of his lost civilization, but these manuscripts are long gone when Sofr find the aluminum container near his residence. In passing, the survivor also mentions that another great civilization, known as Atlantis, once disappeared under the ocean…

The story ends with Sofr realizing the meaning of “Hedom” and “Hiva” (it´s Adam and Eve, of course), while also reaching the disturbing conclusion that “Adam” is eternal, every round of human civilization being a product of a few survivors from a previous one which was destroyed. Sofr is profoundly unsettled by the implications: there is no evolution or progress, but instead an eternal return (a concept presumably borrowed from Nietzsche).

I have no idea whether Verne (the father) believed in this or not, but I´m almost sure few other people did at the time (1910). I used to be a strong believer in Eternal Progress myself, so stories like this would have filled me with existential dread only 20 years or so. Which may even be the point – perhaps “The Eternal Adam” is intended as horror? Today, I have to say that the story doesn´t feel like science fiction at all. It´s the true human story, accidentally or otherwise stumbled upon by Jules and Michel Verne.

We are all Eternal Adams. And, dare I add, Eves.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Only in Russia

Couldn´t help linking to this fringe stuff. Only in Russia, right?

Secret and shabby?

An extremely confused criticism of Theosophy from "Oumuamua Guy" Thomas Sheridan. Almost made me wanna join the nearest Agni Yoga lodge or something, LOL. 

The commentary section is priceless, too. 

The gods were silent

Dick Harrison´s “Digerdöden” is a book in Swedish about the Black Death, the worst plague epidemic in world history, which killed millions of people in Europe and the Middle East during the short period 1347-1352. The book is relatively short and should be seen as introductory, but it nevertheless manages to cover a lot of ground. It discusses what caused the epidemic and how it spread, the devastation in its wake, the vain attempts to stop it, and folklore associated with the disease.

The Black Death killed between one third and one half of Europe´s 14th century population. In Scandinavia, Norway was particularly heavy hit, with many areas remaining almost depopulated for centuries. It´s not a pretty story, and it becomes even worse when we realize that literally nobody knew what caused the plague in the first place, and that no cure existed at the time anyway. The panic the Black Death must have caused would put any director of modern zombie flicks to shame. Strategies to deal with the pandemic and its aftermath included complete isolation, wild indulgence and reveling, prayer and financial contributions to the Church, and massive killing of Jews. Nothing helped. In Italy, the poor took advantage of the situation and hired themselves out as servants to rich people struck by the plague, demanding enormous sums in payment. Of course, this greed (or bizarre survival strategy) was short-lived, as the servants soon became infected as well. The only “positive” thing about the Black Death was that it killed both rich and poor at about equal rates!

Not even the clergy and the monks were safe from the mobs looking for scapegoats. At the Baltic island of Gotland, there were no Jews to blame for the epidemic, so instead a number of priests were burned at the stake accused of somehow collaborating with Jewish sorcerers. In Germany, mendicant Dominican friars were attacked as prime suspects. There was also a bizarre penitential movement known as the flagellants, consisting of men whipping themselves bloody during public processions in the hope that God would take pity on them. The flagellants often came into conflict with Church authorities, and some ended their lives at the stake. Harrison points out that the urban legends about child sacrifice being used to stop the plague could very well be true. There are several trustworthy reports from all over Europe about children, adults and animals being buried alive in this manner. The method had a certain grim logic: since the plague was personified in folk belief, attacking the personification (for instance, child-beggars from outside the community) was seen as a sure way of getting rid of the disease. According to another folk belief, a man could avoid death by helping the personified plague to cross a river, something the plague couldn´t do by itself. Harrison doesn´t say, but I wouldn´t be surprised if this belief led to killings too in the wake of a plague outburst.

The plague didn´t disappear in 1352, of course. It came back, over and over again, with the Great Plague of London in 1665 being a notorious outburst. In modern times, the plague became a Third World phenomenon, although it isn´t entirely clear why it so completely disappeared from Europe during the 19th century. Stricter quarantine regulations, including at the Ottoman borders, and modern hygiene are two explanations. Harrison doesn´t believe biological explanations work. The black rat, the main vector of the bubonic plague, has been replaced in large parts of Europe by the brown rat, but when the plague disappeared from our continent, there were still many black rats around. Today, the plague has been almost eradicated among humans even in the Third World, and effective antibiotics exist. However, the plague isn´t gone – it lives on among rodent populations. In the United States, about ten persons get the disease each year, often from infected prairie dogs. However, unless Yersinia pestis (the plague bacterium) mutates in some diabolical fashion, we are probably relatively safe from *this* particular problem. Harrison ends on a cautionary note, pointing out that there are other infectious diseases out there. He probably had Ebola in mind when writing that sentence. (The book has 2019 as its publication date.)  

I have to say that this little book gave me the philosophical creeps, and made me even more positive towards Axial Age Gnosticism. Do we really want to live on this hellish planet? Or even atheism. The gods didn´t help anyone in 1347, did they? The shit will mutate. This will happen again. And the gods will remain silent…

With Lenin on a train

Catherine Merridale´s “Lenin on the Train” is a lively and very interesting book about – guess what – Lenin´s notorious 1917 train journey from Switzerland to the Finland Station in Petrograd, Russia. This is easily the most well known piece of train travel in world history – small wonder, since it made it possible for Lenin to lead the October Revolution. I read the book in the Swedish translation, “Lenins Resa”. The book could be confusing to readers completely new to Russian history, since it really does focus rather narrowly on the train journey itself, and the February Revolution in Russia immediately preceding it. It says nothing about the October Revolution – the story stops short with the July Days in Petrograd, when Lenin had to flee from the city to avoid arrest by the Provisional Government. 

That being said, the book is extremely well written and gives the reader the feeling of actually being at the place of the action – in Lenin´s Swiss exile, on the “sealed” train (all kinds of absurd situations are mentioned), among the angry masses in revolutionary Petrograd… Part of the story is set in Sweden, including Haparanda and its Finnish sister town Torneå. I admit I knew next to nothing about 1917 Haparanda before reading this volume! Only Lenin himself remains something of an enigma, combining personal asceticism with an energetic and monomaniac pursuit of “revolution” and ideological orthodoxy.

Controversially, Merridale believes that the Bolsheviks really did get the famed “German gold”. Of course they did. Everyone admits that the fat cat Israel Helphand (Parvus) was on the German payroll. Parvus and another German agent invested heavily in the wartime smuggling business of Jacob Fürstenberg (Ganecki), who was a close confidant of Lenin. It´s difficult to believe that this *wasn´t* the conduit for German money – unless one for ideological reasons has to deny that the great “revolutionary internationalist” Lenin could ever do such a thing. Merridale points out that the Bolsheviks had a lot of financial resources at their disposal, despite having few openly declared incomes. Where did all the money come from? The Germans were using millions for war-time propaganda on the Eastern Front – was *all* that money going to Parvus´ wild swing parties? I assume it´s well established that the Bolsheviks got German subsidies after taking power in Russia, during the period of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty, so why not before? That being said, Merridale also admits that there isn´t any *direct* evidence of Lenin getting German money, but why should we expect such? Lenin was no fool. The weakest chapter in the book is the author´s weird moral preaching at the end, where she says that Lenin should have come clean about the German money since lies are always psychologically self-destructive. Yeah, whatever.

The book cover of the Swedish translations show the famous painting by M G Sokolov showing how Lenin descends from the train at the Finland Station…followed by Stalin. In reality, Stalin wasn´t even on the train! I sometimes wonder if Stalin had a sick sense of humor when he accused his old Bolshevik comrades of being “German spies” during the Moscow show trials...

For more on this, see my blog post “That elusive Berlin gold”. And yes, I recommend Catherine Merridale´s book to all readers interested in modern history.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Muskoxen in my backyard

“Jägarens fälthandbok” is a field guide for hunters in Sweden, written by Karl Henning and Rolf Svensson. The publication date is 1994. It features mammals and birds. All of Sweden is covered, including the coasts and islands, which explain why some species I assumed were strictly “Atlantic” show up in the book. There are no range maps, but the ranges are described in the species presentations. Curiously for a book directed at hunters, it contains no information on hunting seasons (if any) for the game animals?!

For obvious reasons, moose, roe deer, red deer and fallow deer are prominently featured. The guide seems pretty exhaustive, even showing Samson foxes (a genetic mutation) and foxes with scabies. All ducks are shown flying! I presume that´s how hunters usually see them (that, and in dead condition). 

I was surprised to learn that the mouflon and muskox are part of the Swedish fauna – I would be *very* surprised if a bunch of muskoxen would munch on the tulips in my backyard! Apparently, the muskox (really a species from Greenland) has been introduced to Norway, and a small group sneaked across the Swedish border into Härjedalen. A more sinister addition to the Swedish wildlife is the raccoon dog, which spreads a deadly disease that can infect humans through blueberries. I don´t mind if there is a permanent hunting season on these critters…

Just leave the muskoxen alone, will ya!

A problematic testimony?

Josephus was a first century Jewish historian, most famous for his works “The Jewish War” and “Jewish Antiquities”. The latter work contains the so-called Testimonium Flavianum, in which Josephus mentions Jesus – the only roughly contemporary extra-Biblical reference to the founder of Christianity. Josephus also mentions other characters who appear in the New Testament: John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate and James (the brother of Jesus). For this reason, Josephus´ writings have been meticulously preserved by Christian scribes, whereas the Jews consider him a traitor, since he surrendered to the Romans during the Jewish War (66-70 AD) and became a confidante of Roman commanders (and later emperors) Vespasian and Titus. Of course, some believe that the works of this Jewish maverick were tampered with by the Christians, and that the real life Josephus never mentioned Jesus or his brother…

“Josephus and the New Testament. Second Edition” is a book by Steve Mason, a Professor of Humanities from Canada. The author is at pains to point out that his work is an introduction to Josephus studies, neither more nor less. It seems it takes a scholar of some standing to sort out all the esoteric speech in the oeuvres of Josephus! Mason wants the reader to look at Josephus in the context of his own time, since he is usually used (or misused) by later Christian apologists who quote-mine his works to score this or that theological point, often of an anti-Jewish nature, or simply attempt to prove that Jesus was indeed a real person. Josephus wasn´t particularly interested in Jesus, and he certainly didn´t see himself as anti-Jewish. Nor can his works be approached as “pure” history, a treasure-trove of objective facts about the world of the New Testament, another common approach. In reality, Josephus wrote his “histories” with a very clear agenda, and a grossly self-serving one at that, precisely because he was a participant in some of the events he is describing.

Josephus had two main aims in mind when producing his works. First, he wanted to defend Judaism and the Jewish people against Roman accusations after the anti-Roman Jewish revolt in Palestine. Josephus tried to prove that only a minority of fanatics and petty tyrants were involved in the war, Judaism as a whole being perfectly compatible with Greco-Roman civilization. The second aim was to exonerate himself from the charges of treason and cowardice since he had turned coat during the Jewish War, becoming a pro-Roman imperial asset. Thus, the works of Josephus are extended propaganda pitches, and frequently contradict each other. Josephus belonged to the Jewish priestly aristocracy, a privileged layer squeezed between the Roman occupation forces and Jews demanding independence, often plebeian ones. The aristocrats´ over-riding concern was to uphold “law and order”, which made them positive towards Roman imperial power, but the incompetence and greed of many Roman officials made the balancing act between Empire and the restive locals difficult.

The writings of Josephus follow Hellenistic literary conventions, which also makes them unreliable as “objective” source material. A good example is when the historian writes about himself. Josephus emphasizes his good genealogy, that he was a precocious child, studied philosophy as a teenager, but nevertheless entered public service at an appropriate age, etc – all standard tropes of this kind of literature. He even claims to have gone into the wild and become the disciple of a certain Bannus, a desert-dwelling holy man! This claim is more Jewish, but fits neatly with the Roman idea that young men were expected to study philosophy and train their virtues – before going on to more worldly pursuits. When describing Judaism, he deliberately tries to place it as close to the Hellenistic mainstream as possible. Hence, his discussions about the “three philosophical schools of Judaism”, the constant emphasis that Judaism is very ancient, and the claim that Judaism is preoccupied with the best constitution (just like, say, Plato or Cicero). Unsurprisingly, the best polity turns out to be an aristocracy, i.e. a society ruled collectively by people of Josephus´ own class background. The entire Bible is interpreted through this lens, as is the Sanhedrin of Josephus´ own day. The Zealots, by contrast, are “tyrants” (a loaded Greek term) and bandits.

With this baggage, small wonder that the relationship between Josephus and the NT is complex, too. Mason accepts Testimonium Flavianum, although he believes it was heavily amended by Christian scribes. There are also curious similarities between Josephus and Luke-Acts (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles in the NT). Or “curious”, since they are readily explicable if we assume either that Josephus knew Luke-Acts, or – more controversially, if you´re Christian – that the author of Luke-Acts knew Josephus (rather than basing his story on authentic Christian tradition or divine inspiration). Mason is at first reticent to tell the readers his solution to the problem, but eventually discloses that he believes “Luke” used Josephus as a source. The parallels are just too many. Note also that Luke-Acts is using the standard Hellenistic tropes as Josephus when writing about Jesus and the apostles: Jesus has an impressive genealogy, the speeches are obviously composed by the narrator, there are references to philosophy and poetry, Jesus is a precocious child. Like Josephus, he even meets a master and teacher in the desert – yes, that would be John the Baptist! That “Luke” never mentions the Essenes is readily explicable on the assumption that the Christians play the same role in the Lukan narrative as the Essenes do in that of Josephus: as the peaceful, philosophical sect of Judaism. The main aim of “Luke” is the same as that of Josephus. Both want to make a group of outsiders respectable to the Greco-Roman mainstream (and to the Roman authorities). This also explains some of the differences between Luke-Acts and the works of Josephus, such as the near-positive description of Pontius Pilate by the Lukan author, while Josephus portrays him negatively. “Luke” wanted to downplay Roman complicity in the execution of Jesus, while Josephus used Pilate as another example of a provocative Roman official who was making it harder for the Jewish aristocrats to contain popular discontent.

In the end, the parallels between Josephus and the New Testament make it possible for us to question both.

Donald Trump and Disclosure

POTUS Donald Trump comes VERY close to confirming the existence of UFOs in this weird clip from a recent interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News. Confirms that a new round of disinformation is on its way...and that the US might have fancy new drone technology at its disposal.