left biblioblography: December 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday Funny – A Bit Of Fry And Laurie

For those of you unfamiliar, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie is the comedic teaming of Hugh Laurie (yes, the star of House) and Stephen Fry.

The following is a favorite bit of mine (and the Tick’s cry of “Spoon!” comes to mind, don’t know why):



Monday, December 28, 2009

My Year In Review

So, it’s going on what? Holy crap, four years. It flies, does time, regardless of having fun or not.

I am going to title 2009 (for myself) as the Year Of Living Lazily.

I was laid off in February, and have been surviving off a small inheritance. I thought to myself, hey, learn Chinese, write more, go out and be more social, but all those hard intense training sessions of Tai Chi have made me – more laconic. I was warned about this, so no complaints.

I have now been a non-smoker since October of 2008, so it’s about 14 months since I’ve smoked a cigarette. Mind you it’s not since I’ve touched a cigarette, but put it in my mouth and smoked one. There’s been moments where I scrounged a butt outta an ashtray (hey, addiction’s addiction. I maintain Cocaine is the only drug that makes people eat their boogers), looked at the thing, and tossed it. I tried to bum one, but a real friend who smokes said, “You’ve gotten this far – why waste it?” I even broke down and almost bought a pack 4-5 months in – the cashier plopped it down, I looked at it, announced “I quit!” and left. I am, however, popping Commit lozenges, but I can now go to sleep without listening to the phlegm rattle about in my lungs. On the down side, I picked up some weight which I still haven’t gotten rid of.

I hit a lot of tournaments in the spring and summer months, and I’m now up to 31 medals, and 9 plaques (the medals are rotting away in a drawer somewhere). It’s a nice feeling to know that I have a few gold medals (and some silver and bronze as well) in my martial art of choice.

Chances are strong that I’m going to get another shot at a position that I didn’t get in 2006. Therein lies a tale:

In 2006, I was hired by a job placement agency to work at a big telephone company (I’m not naming names, don’t ask) as a technical support person. So I went in for two weeks of training. Little was I to know, that this would be the equivalent of a boot camp and a shining example of social Darwinism. Swim or drown, baby. They pounded info into a group of about a hundred people, and then we had to take tests – and no squeakers (or mulligans) allowed. I’ve always been a squeaker – I do well in classroom environments, but tests, they ain’t my thing. So I scored around 65-70%, they said sorry. The agency then sent me to work for the Registrar of Voters for the 2006 election. I did okay, they made me Precinct Director in Berkeley (which consisted of me visiting polls, and staring stupidly when asked questions). After that, they shipped me off to Long’s Drugs to tie Xmas trees to people’s cars in the pouring rain and refuse tips. Seriously. Long’s management has this thing where you don’t take money people throw at you. Three days, and I had to beg off. It was too wet, and it was definitely a young man’s game (I was having serious physical issues – pounding a base onto one tree isn’t so much, but you do that 20-30 times, and cramps set in right quick). They then shipped me off to the Chabot college book store as a parking attendant monitor. Everything was fine – I threw a little freight (and felt extremely old around all those yowwens) right up until I caught a horrible flu. It was so bad, I could barely keep broth down. Two days, I called in sick. Then the weekend. I called in Monday, weak as a kitten, ready to work, and was told the client ‘wanted someone reliable’. I protested that I’d gotten ill, not my fault. I tried to pester them to give me more work, but I’d become persona non grata. Sadly, a lot of agencies will do this. Fast forward to this month. I sent off an old resume, to the same guy who brought me on 3 years back. We talked on the phone, he asked me to come in, and yes, he remembered me. We went over the technical stuff, and then he asked me why I wanted to try again. I told him that A. I’ve always wanted a second crack at this, B. I still have my notes from 3 years ago, and C. I know exactly what I’m getting into. I’m still awaiting confirmation for my eligibility (the guy said if the company doesn’t mind, I’m in), but given how they treated me last time, I’m withholding bragging rights until I know for sure.

I tried out for my black belt, but didn’t get it (about 80% – again, no squeakers allowed). Maybe I’ll try again.

It’s now been two years since I’ve disowned my family. I’m managing okay, I don’t get in the holiday spirit like I used to, but I tell people, hey, the big trick is getting along with yourself, which is (in my opinion) a big problem in the world today. I’ve gotten the odd email – I’m usually terse and to the point, but it doesn’t look like reconciliation will happen any time soon.

As for the blog, I should apologize to my regular and long time readers. I’ve been terribly lazy, and I average about 2 posts per week, when I could be rattling my sabers more regularly. 2010 may be the year that I start getting stoked up again, but we’ll see.

Questions, comments, or general natter will be acceptable.



Sunday, December 27, 2009

And The Jury’s In – Again – Religion Improves Nothing


Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

I rather enjoyed this article by the author (authoress? Is it PC to use that term?) of the Meme Machine.

Are we better off without religion?

Popular religious belief is caused by dysfunctional social conditions. This is the conclusion of the latest sociological research (pdf) conducted by Gregory Paul. Far from religion benefiting societies, as the "moral-creator socioeconomic hypothesis" would have it, popular religion is a psychological mechanism for coping with high levels of stress and anxiety – or so he suggests.

I've long been interested in Paul's work because it addresses a whole bunch of fascinating questions – why are Americans so religious when the rest of the developed world is increasingly secular? Is religious belief beneficial to societies? does religion make people behave better?

I’d assume that there’s a number of variables – it’s likely ingrained into our collective consciousness because of the Establishment cause, appears on our money, and there’s a degree of diversity among the religious that possibly rivals the amount of biological diversity of the coral reefs in Australia.

Many believers assume, without question, that it does – even that there can be no morality without religion. They cite George Washington who believed that national morality could not prevail without religions principles, or Dostoevsky's famous claim (actually words of his fictional character Ivan Karamazov) that "without God all things are permitted". Then there are Americans defending their country's peculiarly high levels of popular religious belief and claiming that faith-based charity is better than universal government provision.

Citing G. Washington is an argument from tradition, and nobody needs the supernatural to be decent folks.

Atheists, naturalists and humanists fight back claiming that it's perfectly possible to be moral without God. Evolutionary psychology reveals the common morality of our species, and the universal values of fairness, kindness, and reciprocity. But who is right? As a scientist I want evidence. What if – against all my own beliefs – it turns out that religious people really do behave better than atheists, and that religious societies are better in important respects than non-religious ones, then I would have cause to rethink some of my ideas.

This is where Gregory Paul and his research come in. I have often quoted his earlier, 2005, research which showed strong positive correlations between nations' religious belief and levels of murder, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and other indicators of dysfunction. It seemed to show, at the very least, that being religious does not necessarily make for a better society. The real problem was that he was able to show only correlations, and the publicity for his new research seemed to imply causation. If so this would have important implications indeed.

In this latest research Paul measures "popular religiosity" for developed nations, and then compares it against the "successful societies scale" (SSS) which includes such things such as homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births and abortions, corruption, income inequality, and many others. In other words it is a way of summing up a society's health. The outlier again and again is the US with a stunning catalogue of failures. On almost every measure the US comes out worse than any other 1st world developed nation, and it is also the most religious.

Read the rest – it’s a good article, and it illustrates all the nonsense we’ve been discussing here for years. Religion improves nothing and no one. We share morals, none of this ‘borrowing’ folderol. Superstition is the fear of death, dimly cloaked, a ruse and tool of the alpha shamans, who shake their book at us and expect that we shake in fright as a response. It may have served some purpose in centuries past, but our species has evolved to having no need of shadowy wraiths and ghosts of Xmas pasts to keep us in lockstep anymore.

It is good to be free. To breathe, to know that our lives are our own, and the shackles of anachronism are broken.

Be free. Breathe. Our lives are works of art, to be made beautiful.

Be free.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Seinfeld’s ‘Festivus For The Rest Of Us’

Perhaps the funniest season was the made-up holiday, ‘Festivus’.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Blast From The Past – Of Mithras, Mythology, And Muddled Meanings

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers! 


Be gracious to me, 0 Providence and Psyche, as I write these mysteries handed down for gain but for instruction; and for an only child I request immortality, O initiates of this our power (furthermore, it is necessary for you, O daughter, to take the juices of herbs and spices, which will to you at the end of my holy treatise), which the great god Helios Mithras ordered to be revealed to me by his archangel, so that I alone may ascend into heaven as an inquirer and behold the universe. – The Mithras Liturgy

Anyone who has walked down the blogging path of atheism has, at least in the beginning (while rooting about in historic data), heard the name of Mithras. Or has had more than one spirited debate with the religious about the matter of mythological parallelism.  So, in the alleged spirit of the season, I thought it fitting to pull down this old topic from the shelf, blow and bat the dust off it, and give it a going over.

The archeology is actually quite slim, as evidenced here. And from here:

The first surviving ancient author to mention Mithras is Statius ca. 80 AD, who makes an enigmatic reference, possibly to the tauroctony.

And theories about how it originated are, sadly, all over the place:


The Greek biographer Plutarch (46 - 127) was convinced that the pirates of Cilicia, the coastal province in the southeast of Anatolia, were the origin of the Mithraic rituals that were being practiced in the Rome in his day: "They likewise offered strange sacrifices; those of Olympus I mean; and they celebrated certain secret mysteries, among which those of Mithras continue to this day, being originally instituted by them." (Life of Pompey 24). The 4th century commentary on Vergil by Servius says that Pompey settled some of these pirates in Calabria. But whether any of this relates to the origins of the mysteries is unclear.


According to 3-4th century AD philosopher Porphyry, Mithraists considered that their cult was founded by Zoroaster. But Porphyry is writing close to the demise of the cult, and modern scholar Robert Turcan has challenged the idea that Porphyry's statements about Mithraism are accurate. His case is that far from representing what Mithraists believed, they are merely representations by the neo-platonists of what it suited them in the late 4th century to read into the mysteries. Merkelbach and Beck believe that Porphyry's work "is in fact thoroughly coloured with the doctrines of the Mysteries."

Cumont's hypothesis

Scholarship on Mithras begins with Franz Cumont, who published a two volume collection of source texts and images of monuments in French in 1894–1900. Cumont's hypothesis, as the author summarizes it in the first 32 pages of his book, was that the Roman religion was "the Roman form of Mazdaism", the Persian state religion, disseminated from the East.

Cumont's theories were examined and largely rejected at the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies held in 1971. John Hinnells was unwilling to reject entirely the idea of Iranian origin, but wrote: "we must now conclude that his reconstruction simply will not stand. It receives no support from the Iranian material and is in fact in conflict with the ideas of that tradition as they are represented in the extant texts. Above all, it is a theoretical reconstruction which does not accord with the actual Roman iconography."  He discussed Cumont's reconstruction of the bull-slaying scene and stated "that the portrayal of Mithras given by Cumont is not merely unsupported by Iranian texts but is actually in serious conflict with known Iranian theology." Another paper by R. L. Gordon showed that Cumont severely distorted the available evidence by forcing the material to conform to his predetermined model of Zoroastrian origins. Gordon suggested that the theory of Persian origins was completely invalid and that the Mithraic mysteries in the West was an entirely new creation.

Boyce states that "no satisfactory evidence has yet been adduced to show that, before Zoroaster, the concept of a supreme god existed among the Iranians, or that among them Mithra - or any other divinity - ever enjoyed a separate cult of his or her own outside either their ancient or their Zoroastrian pantheons."

Beck tells us that since the 1970s scholars have generally rejected Cumont, but adds that recent theories about how Zoroastrianism was during the period BC now makes some new form of Cumont's east-west transfer possible. "Apart from the name of the god himself, in other words, Mithraism seems to have developed largely in and is, therefore, best understood from the context of Roman culture."

I use the term ‘sadly’, because it does tend to be one of those overworked but inadequate talking points when debating with the average theist. There is no proof that any sort of pilfering went on from either side. It’s an engaging thought, but a dead end:

The idea of a relationship between early Christianity and Mithraism is based on a passing remark in the 2nd century Christian writer Justin Martyr, who accused the Mithraists of diabolically imitating the Christian communion rite. Based upon this, Ernest Renan in 1882 set forth a vivid depiction of two rival religions: "if the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic," Edwin M. Yamauchi comments on Renan's work which, "published nearly 150 years ago, has no value as a source. He [Renan] knew very little about Mithraism..."

The philosopher Celsus in the second century provides some evidence that Ophite Gnostic ideas were influencing the mysteries of Mithras.

Mithras and the Virgin Birth

Joseph Campbell, who was not a Mithras scholar, described the birth of Mithras as a virgin birth, like that of Jesus. He gives no ancient source for his claim.

Mithras was not thought of as virgin born in any ancient source. Rather, he arose spontaneously from a rock in a cave. In Mithraic Studies it is stated that Mithras was born as an adult from solid rock, "wearing his Phrygian cap, issues forth from the rocky mass. As yet only his bare torso is visible. In each hand he raises aloft a lighted torch and, as an unusual detail, red flames shoot out all around him from the petra genetrix."

David Ulansey speculates that this was a belief derived from the Perseus' myths which held he was born from an underground cavern.

And December 25th was not the alleged birthday of this man-myth:

Mithras and 25 December

It is often stated that it was believed that Mithras was born on December 25. Beck calls this assertion "that hoariest of 'facts'". He continues: "In truth, the only evidence for it is the celebration of the birthday of "Invictus" on that date in Calendar of Philocalus. 'Invictus' is of course Sol Invictus, Aurelian's sun god. It does not follow that a different, earlier, and unofficial sun god, Sol Invictus Mithras, was necessarily or even probably, born on that day too."

Clauss states that there were no public ceremonies of the mysteries of Mithras: "the Mithraic Mysteries had no public ceremonies of its own. The festival of natalis Invicti [Birth of the Unconquerable (Sun)], held on 25 December, was a general festival of the Sun, and by no means specific to the Mysteries of Mithras."

Steven Hijmans has discussed in detail the question of whether the general "natalis Invicti" festival was related to Christmas but does not give Mithras as a possible source.

And the shedding of blood is a reference to….?

Mithras and Salvation

A painted text on the wall of the St. Prisca Mithraeum in Rome contains the words: et nos servasti . . . sanguine fuso (and you have saved us ... in the shed blood). The meaning of this is unclear, although presumably refers to the bull killed by Mithras, as no other source refers to a Mithraic salvation. According to Robert Turcan,Mithraic salvation had little to do with the other-worldly destiny of individual souls, but was on the Zoroastrian pattern of man's participation in the cosmic struggle of the good creation against the forces of evil.

So, the short version is – there is no evidence that Christianity borrowed from Mithraism, nor is there any vice versa. I am convinced that Theodosius I’s implementation and enforcement of the Nicene religion led to the destruction of a great many documents and monuments that would have given us substantial proofs one way or another, but alas I cannot prove it. As a talking point, it’s a fair illustration of not only how parallels occur (or are borrowed, or pinched, or whatnot), but also how incredibly sketchy historical veracity becomes when the Christians took over.  Outside of that, it’s not the sort of factoid that will slap the reader into some sort of admission. Then again, as we all know, facts are for the pragmatist and the realist, not the religionist.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Greg The Bunny

This was a short-lived show that I actually very much enjoyed. The basic premise was that puppets were very much actual people, replete with idiosyncrasies, idiocies, and general bad behavior. It’s odd humor, but very funny. Also note, that the syndicated series was much funnier than the IFC production (even though I loved the name of the producers – Monkies With Checkbooks).

The ‘Count’ is obviously a send-off of the Sesame Street character, even though the mention of him sends Count Blah into a wild rant every time.



Saturday, December 12, 2009

Allegories Gone Wild – The Shish-Kebab Of Destiny

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

Spear_of_Destiny “ESOTERIC, adj. Very particularly abstruse and consummately occult. The ancient philosophies were of two kinds, -- exoteric, those that the philosophers themselves could partly understand, and esoteric, those that nobody could understand. It is the latter that have most profoundly affected modern thought and found greatest acceptance in our time.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

As an extension of pareidolia, humanity has ever sought succor from symbols, amulets and talismans. Possession itself is an outgrowth of mammal territorialism, and we’ve all no doubt heard people claim that ‘their’ team (how it can be ‘theirs’ is a stumper, since they’re not on the bloody team itself) will only win if they paint their faces or sit on a ‘lucky’ couch, or mumble some arcane formula to a rabbit’s foot. It seems to be our lot to suffer the fools who seem to think that some scapular or wafer contains a potency against unseen unproven forces.

Herein is a bit of a tale – that spear that allegedly pierced the mythical man-child of Christianity.

According to Christian texts, the Spear of Destiny (also known as the Holy Lance, Holy Spear, Lance of Longinus, or Spear of Longinus) is the spear that is reported in the Gospel of John (19:31-37) as having pierced the side of Jesus during his crucifixion.

In the oldest known references to the legend, in the Gospel of Nicodemus (of uncertain date, possibly 5th or 6th century), the soldier who pierced Christ's side is identified with a centurion called Longinus (making the spear's "correct" Latin name Lancea Longini). Later Christian tradition, harking back to the novel The Spear by Louis de Wohl (1955), further identifies him as Gaius Cassius. It should be noted that there is a historical figure named Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of the conspirators responsible for the death of Gaius Julius Caesar. Another "Longinus" is credited with the authorship of the treatise On the Sublime. Roman names held little variety, especially among members of the same family.

The Gospel of Nicodemus is categorically rejected by the delusionists – but this is old news.

There are many prototypes and analogues of the spear in other legends, it can be compared to the ancient Irish weapon, the Spear Luin, and is similar to the Bleeding Lance of Grail mythology, which was eventually claimed to be the Spear of Destiny.

Mystical swords and spears litter the legends of history. There are a few tridents and bows, , but nowhere near the profligacy of the first two.

Back to the Spear of Destiny. Lo and behold, nobody can agree on which one is the item in question (Surprised? No? Me neither.):

One such "Holy Lance" was allegedly unearthed by a Crusader named Peter Bartholomew in Antioch in 1098 while the Crusaders were under siege from the Seljuk Turks under Kerbogha. Peter Bartholomew reported that he had had a vision in which St. Andrew told him that the Holy Lance was buried in St. Peter's Cathedral in Antioch. At the time some were skeptical, but others were convinced. In any case, after much digging in the cathedral, Peter Bartholomew took a hand and, in a few moments, discovered the lance. For some of the Crusaders this was a marvelous discovery. At the same time, dissension had begun in the ranks of the Muslim army besieging the city. This combination of factors resulted in the Christian army being able to rout the Muslims a few days later when they joined battle, allowing the Crusaders to decisively capture Antioch. That object is now at Etschmiadzin in Armenia. Scholars believe that it is not actually a Roman lance but the head of a Roman standard.

As Frank Sinatra put it, “Imagination is crazy, your whole perspective gets hazy.”

Another of the many Spears of Destiny is the one in The Vatican. The earliest reports of that Spear were circa A.D. 570, described as having been on display in the basilica of Mount Zion in Jerusalem adjacent to the Crown of Thorns. The point of the spearhead was alleged to have been snapped following the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 615. The point was set into an icon, and found its way to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was later transported to France, where it remained in the Sainte Chapelle until the 18th century. The icon was briefly moved to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris during the French Revolution, but it subsequently disappeared. The lower section of the spearhead was allegedly conveyed from Jerusalem to Constantinople sometime in the 8th century. It was sent by Sultan Beyazid II as a gift to Pope Innocent VIII in 1492; Innocent had the relic placed in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It still resides there. The Catholic Church makes no claim as to its authenticity.

The holy spear that was used by the Holy Roman Emperors (cited from Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor on, the one most often referred to) as a part of their imperial insignia found its way to Vienna, Austria, where they are kept in a museum. Dr. Robert Feather, of England, a metallurgist and technical engineering writer, tested that Holy Lance in January of 2003. He was given unprecedented permission not only to examine the Spear in a laboratory environment, but was also allowed to remove the delicate bands of gold and silver that hold it together. The silver band bears the inscription "Nail of Our Lord". It was added to the Holy Lance by order of Henry IV, the third German Holy Roman Emperor, in 1084. Around 1350 King Charles IV Of Bohemia had a golden sleeve put over the silver one, inscribed "Lance and Nail of the Lord."

In 1411 Sigismund was made Holy Roman Emperor. In 1424 he announced: "It is the Will of God that the Imperial Crown, Orb, Scepter, Crosses, Sword and Lance of the Holy Roman Empire must never leave the soil of the Fatherland." This collection of relics, known collectively as the Reichkleinodien or Imperial Regalia, were moved from his capital in Prague to his birth place, Nuremberg.

When the army of Napoleon Bonaparte approached Nuremberg in the spring of 1796 many were terrified that Napoleon would seize the Spear and rule the world with it. The city councilors decided to remove the Reichkleinodie to Vienna for safe keeping. The collection of relics was entrusted to one Baron von Hügel, who promised to return the objects as soon as peace had been restored and the safety of the collection assured.

The Holy Roman Empire was officially dissolved in 1806. Baron von Hugel took advantage of the confusion over who was the legal owner of the Reichkleinodie and sold the entire collection, including the Spear, to the Habsburgs. Baron von Hugel's perfidy did not come to light until after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. When the city councilors of Nuremberg asked for their treasures back the Austrian authorities' response was a curt rejection. And there they stayed until the Anschluss, when Adolf Hitler claimed the Spear of Destiny as his own.

Another purported Holy Lance has been in Krakow since at least the 1200s, though German records indicate that the lance was a copy made from the German lance under Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, with a small sliver of the original embedded. Another copy was given to the Hungarian king at the same time.

Far be it from the conspiracy theorists to take this and spin it into all sorts of malarkey:

Trevor Ravenscroft’s 1973 bestseller The Spear of Destiny has fixed his version of the legend in the minds of many today. He claims that Adolf Hitler started World War II to capture the spear, hypothesizing that Hitler's interest in the relic probably originated with his interest in the 1882 opera Parsifal — by Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner — which concerns a group of knights and their guardianship of the Holy Grail, as well as the recovery of the Spear. Though a number of historians cast doubt on Hitler's obsession with the Spear as it was reported by Trevor Ravenscroft et al, recent work by researcher and author Alec MacLellan has unearthed material from Ravenscroft's original source that seems to validate some of the stranger assertions.

Is it me, or does Ravenscroft seem somewhat…deranged?

Ravenscroft maintained that the spear came into the possession of the United States of America on April 30, 1945; specifically, under the control of the U.S. 3rd Army led by General George Patton. Later that day, supposedly in fulfillment of the legend that to lose the Spear meant death, Hitler committed suicide. Patton became fascinated by the ancient weapon and had its authenticity verified. Patton did not go on to use the spear, as orders came down from General Dwight Eisenhower that the complete Habsburg regalia including the Spear of Longinus were to be returned to the Hofburg Palace, where it remains today. It is interesting to note that George Patton, in his poem Through a Glass Darkly, curiously posits himself as Longinus in a previous lifetime.

This is a direct reference to the Vienna spear, which was dated to the 7th century CE. Oh, and the crazy gets crazier:

Ravenscroft repeatedly attempted to define the mysterious “powers” that the legend says the Spear serves. He found it to be a hostile and evil spirit, which he variously referred to as the Antichrist and the Spirit of the Age. Smith and Piccard similarly attempt to identify what they too perceive as a malignant spirit reaching through the Spear. In a mishmash of quantum physics, Christianity, and the New Age they offer a handful of ideas, from the Spear channeling the “angry God of the Old Testament” (Jehovah) to it somehow transferring a part of The Crucifixion to the Spear, with the Spear becoming a Doppelgänger for the Holy Spirit, becoming, as they put it, an Unholy Spirit.

See children? This is what happens when you don’t have healthy hobbies. Buechner proves to be a little less flamboyant, but still something of an overactive imagination:

Dr. Howard A. Buechner, M.D., professor of medicine at Tulane University and then Louisiana State University, added a strange chapter to the tale in his two books on the Spear. He claims he was contacted by a former U-boat submariner who in turn claimed to have helped take the Spear of Destiny to Antarctica in 1945 and to have helped to recover it in 1979. Buechner was a retired Colonel with the U.S. Army who served in World War II, and had written a book on the Dachau massacre as a witness to the event. He was presented by the pseudonymous “Capt. Wilhelm Bernhart” with the log of the 1979 Hartmann Expedition and photos of some of the objects recovered.

According to Buechner, the Spear currently on display in the Schatzkammer in Vienna is a fake. He claims that he had evidence that Heinrich Himmler, head of the Occult Bureau of the SS, had formed a circle of Knights dedicated to the Holy Lance and further, had Japan's greatest swordsmaker create an exact duplicate of the lance. Buechner claimed that the duplicate went on display in Nuremberg while the real one was used in arcane black magic ceremonies in a specially appointed castle in Wewelsburg, Germany. Even wilder, he wrote that Hitler personally had selected Col. Maximilian Hartmann to send several of his most prized possessions, including the Spear of Destiny, and Hitler and Eva Braun's ashes to Antarctica. According to him Col. Hartmann recovered the Spear of Destiny from the ice in 1979 and it is now in hiding somewhere in Europe, in the possession of the Knights of the Holy Lance.

After contacting most of the members of the alleged expedition and others involved, including senior Nazi officials and close associates of Adolf Hitler, like Hitler Youth Leader Artur Axmann, Col. Buechner became convinced the claims were true and that he was either the victim of an elaborate hoax, or the Spear of Destiny really did reside for a while in Antarctica and may well be in the hands of one or more individuals who believe, as Col Hartmann may have said “the Holy Lance points ever towards our eternal Deutschland.”

He may as well start waving it around and yell, ‘ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn’.

Smith and Picard are a bit more to the point, but no less wild:

Col. Buechner's story is examined and partially corroborated by both Alec Maclellan and the research/writing team of Jerry E. Smith and George Piccard. These writers focus on the mysterious surrenders of two U-boats to Argentine authorities months after the war’s end and how they may have been part of the “Fuehrer Convoy” taking high ranking Nazis and maybe treasure, to Argentina and/or Antarctica.

Spear legend meets Urban legend in the writings of the two conspiracy theory authors, Smith and Piccard. Their retelling of the Spear myth stretches from its purported creation in 3061 B.C. by Tubal-Cain, seventh generation grandson of Adam (the Spear was forged from a meteorite at the same time that he made the sword Excalibur), to Admiral Byrd’s battle (Operation Highjump) in the Antarctic against Nazis in their underground fortress in Neuschwabenland. Their version is replete with Nazi UFOs and the search for Atlantis. They connect the Thule Society (a Nazi secret society) to the Yale University Skull and Bones fraternity and the horrific events of September 11, 2001.

So…is that enough crazy for ya? That Hitler may have evinced some pointed interest in the artifact is likely. However, imbuing the bloody thing with magical powers is…well, foolish and pointless (pun intended). Even if it were the actual article, only one has been dated (the Vienna lance), and the Krakow lance has been declared a copy of the former.

In summation, Man tends to imbue inanimate objects with personality, a vain attempt to project himself onto the world around him. And when it appears that more positive statistics seem to occur in the vicinity of specific objects, religious people begin spinning tales about miraculous properties, unaware that it’s really all down to probabilities. Five million crystals do absolutely nothing, but a few might be in the general circle of a positive outcome, and voila! We got us an amulet, folks! Multiply that by a few millennia, overactive imaginations, and the snowballing effect of embellishment, and it results in eerie Theremin music, some thoroughly ridiculous memes, and the occasional out-in-left-field Fox series.

I hope this has been somewhat educational, because here the lesson endeth.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles

A very irreverent and down right bizarre comic strip. That’s all the intro it needs. If you have issues viewing it, the original can be found here.



Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Troubled Genius Of Horselover Fat

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

It is not often that I write of other writers, better writers than I – and it saddens me when I read of the degree of mental pain and self-torture that these geniuses were subjected to. Nijinsky had schizophrenia, Tolstoy had a small but impressive litany of issues, Van Gogh and Newton suffered from bi-polarization, Dickens suffered from clinical depression. It seems that great creativity springs from great pain, which is indicative of how badly the world is wrought.

As I was sprouting from muddled middle-schooler to troubled teen, I chanced across the writings of Philip K. Dick, and was completely tumbled by his strange visions and his eclectic command of the language. Many of you (as avid bibliophiles) are no doubt aware, Mr. Dick was the author of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, which became a major movie title Blade Runner. He was also the mind that created the concept of Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly. A personal favorite of mine was the Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, and the novel Valis was my first (albeit brief) encounter with the concept of exegesis. 

For the most part, the art is usually a reflection of the artist, but as a rule, the artist is not the art, but the art is a facet of the creator. However, Valis was actually somewhat autobiographical in nature (in which he named himself Horselover Fat, "Horselover" echoes the Greek etymology of the name Philip, while in German, Dick's surname means "fat". )

It is a little known fact that PKD actually had some serious mental health issues:

On February 20, 1974, Dick was recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive delivery of extra analgesic, he noticed that the delivery woman was wearing a pendant with a symbol that he called the "vesicle pisces". This name seems to have been based on his confusion of two related symbols, the ichthys (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) that early Christians used as a secret symbol, and the vesica piscis. After the delivery woman's departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions. Although they may have been initially attributable to the medication, after weeks of visions he considered this explanation implausible. "I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane," Dick told Charles Platt.

In 1974, even admitting the onset of visions was a stigma – most likely that exists to this day. Again, religion provides an umbrella for the disturbed to hide under.

Throughout February and March 1974, he experienced a series of visions, which he referred to as "two-three-seventy four" (2-3-74), shorthand for February-March 1974. He described the initial visions as laser beams and geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and of ancient Rome. As the visions increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live a double life, one as himself, "Philip K. Dick", and one as "Thomas", a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century A.D. Despite his history of drug use and elevated stroke risk, Dick began seeking other rationalist and religious explanations for these experiences. He referred to the "transcendentally rational mind" as "Zebra", "God" and, most often, "VALIS". Dick wrote about the experiences in the semi-autobiographical novels VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth.

None of the explanations seem overly rational.

At one point Dick felt that he had been taken over by the spirit of the prophet Elijah. He believed that an episode in his novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said was a detailed retelling of a story from the Biblical Book of Acts, which he had never read.

One has but to read the novel to see how delusional that is. Or, just read the synopsis.

In time, Dick became paranoid, imagining plots against him by the KGB and FBI. At one point, he alleged they were responsible for a burglary of his house, from which documents were stolen. He later came to suspect that he might have committed the burglary against himself, and then forgotten he had done so. Dick himself speculated as to whether he may have suffered from schizophrenia.

Strangely, there’s no motive listed for why two high-powered Intel groups would be interested in him.

Many of his works showed several powerful themes running through them:

Dick's stories typically focus on the fragile nature of what is "real" and the construction of personal identity. His stories often become surreal fantasies as the main characters slowly discover that their everyday world is actually an illusion constructed by powerful external entities (such as in Ubik), vast political conspiracies, or simply from the vicissitudes of an unreliable narrator. "All of his work starts with the basic assumption that there cannot be one, single, objective reality," writes science fiction author Charles Platt. "Everything is a matter of perception. The ground is liable to shift under your feet. A protagonist may find himself living out another person's dream, or he may enter a drug-induced state that actually makes better sense than the real world, or he may cross into a different universe completely."

Alternate universes and simulacra were common plot devices, with fictional worlds inhabited by common, working people, rather than galactic elites. "There are no heroes in Dick's books," Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, "but there are heroics. One is reminded of Dickens: what counts is the honesty, constancy, kindness and patience of ordinary people." Dick made no secret that much of his ideas and work were heavily influenced by the writings of Carl Jung, the Swiss founder of the theory of the human psyche he called "Analytical Psychology" (to distinguish it from Freud's theory of psychoanalysis). Jung was a self-taught expert on the unconscious and mythological foundations of conscious experience and was open to the reality underlying mystical experiences. The Jungian constructs and models that most concerned Dick seem to be the archetypes of the collective unconscious, group projection/ hallucination, synchronicities, and personality theory. Many of Dick's protagonists overtly analyze reality and their perceptions in Jungian terms (see Lies Inc.), while other times, the themes are so obviously in reference to Jung their usage needs no explanation. Dick's self-named "Exegesis" also contained many notes on Jung in relation to theology and mysticism.

Mental illness was a constant interest of Dick's, and themes of mental illness permeate his work. The character Jack Bohlen in the 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip is an "ex-schizophrenic". The novel Clans of the Alphane Moon centers on an entire society made up of descendants of lunatic asylum inmates. In 1965 he wrote the essay titled Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes.

Drug use was also a theme in many of Dick’s works, such as A Scanner Darkly and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Dick was a drug user for much of his life. According to a 1975 interview in Rolling Stone,[31] Dick wrote all of his books published before 1970 while on amphetamines. "A Scanner Darkly (1977) was the first complete novel I had written without speed," said Dick in the interview. He also experimented briefly with psychedelics, but wrote The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which Rolling Stone dubs "the classic LSD novel of all time," before he had ever tried them. Despite his heavy amphetamine use, however, Dick later said that doctors had told him that the amphetamines never actually affected him, that his liver had processed them before they reached his brain.

A sad troubled genius was Horselover Fat – he spun wild tales that ran rampant with weird conspiracies, and challenged the concepts of reality. It was unfortunate that these were bizarre echoes of his personality, a pastiche of a fragmented person, struggling, ever struggling, and that the baroque meritocracy of his vision resulted in some of the best science fiction ever put to pen.

I do not have it in me to mock his pain, or his inability to cope. It poses the question, however: if he had been privy to the advanced psychological treatment we have access to today, would he have then still penned the works he had, or been reduced to a drooling patient in a psych ward?

It is food for thought, it is.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Futurama

One of my all time favorites is Futurama. The following clip is from Bender’s Game.