Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Would Jewish Emancipation Activist David Friedlaender Be Considered an Anti-Semite Under the I.H.R.A. Definition

November 23, 2020

David Friedlaender is one of the major figures of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment. This was a movement of the 18th and 19th centuries in which Jews strove to reconcile their religion and ethnicity with contemporary western culture in order to take their place alongside their gentile fellow countrymen as full and equal citizens. According to the entry on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) Friedlaender (1750-1834) was

A forerunner of Reform Judaism. Through his marriage he became part of a distinguished Prussian family of Court Jews and he was one of Moses Mendelssohn’s circle. He believed the Jews were ‘destined from time immemorial to guard and teach by example the pure doctrine of unity and sanctity of God, unknown to other people.’ He argued that prayers for friends and country should be substituted for the messianic hope, and that secular law should be studied rather than Talmud. He also was tireless in his efforts for Jewish political and civil rights in Prussia. (p. 359.

Reform Judaism is a particularly radical reformulation of Judaism, which took over some features of Protestant Christian worship. In contrast to more traditional forms of Jewish worship, such as Orthodox Judaism, prayers are held in the vernacular rather than Hebrew and include choirs. The movement originally believed strongly that Jews should work to become full members of the countries in which they lived, and rejected Zionism. Reform Judaism’s essential doctrines in the US were stated in 1885 in Pittsburgh, when the rabbis there declared

We recognise in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect the approach of the realisation of Israel’s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men … We recognise in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason … We accept as binding only the moral laws and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilisation.

This suggests that instead of viewing the Messianic hope as the appearance of a Messiah to redeem Israel, they saw it as the inauguration of the new era of peace and justice throughout humanity. Their views on tradition and mdoern culture were modified at a meeting in Columbus and 1937, and the movement has since discarded its anti-Zionism. In Germany the movement accepted changes in the liturgy while remaining theologically conservative.

The article on them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions also says

Reform congregations are united in the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and rabbis are trained at the Hebrew Union College in the USA and Leo Baeck College in the UK. Reform Judaism has no official status in Israel (though it has a few congregations and kibbutzim), because only Orthodox rabbis are recognised; and the Orthodox repudiate such Reform organisations as the ordination (semikhah) of women as rabbis. (p. 809.

This hostility undoubtedly explains why the late Jonathan Sacks, when he was Chief Rabbi, declared that Reform Jews were ‘enemies of the faith’. This was the language of religious bigotry, the type of statement made by the fanatically intolerant before beginning their persecution and violence against their religious enemies.

As for the ordination of women, one American Jewish community made the news last year through their ground-breaking step of ordaining a Black woman as rabbi. Which should be a riposte to the racists out there who claimed that Jackie Walker, one of the peeps smeared as an anti-Semite by the fanatics in the Israel lobby, couldn’t be a Jew because of her skin colour.

The I.H.R.C. definition of anti-Semitism permits reasonable criticism of Israel, but claims that denying Jews their national right to a homeland is anti-Semitic. This is highly questionable for a number of reasons. There are a number of other nations, who at the moment don’t have their own state despite their aspirations. These include the Basques and Catalans in Spain, and the Scots in Britain. Yet there is no international declaration that states that refusal to recognise their aspirations for a homeland constitutes a form of racism.

There have also been different movements in Judaism, that rejected Zionism. On the one hand there are the ultra-traditional Haredi, who reject Israel on the theological grounds that it can only be founded by divine action through the Messiah. On the other there were Reform Jews and their predecessors, who rejected Zionism because the saw the Jews’ real homelands as the current countries in which the lived. Jewish anti-Zionist bloggers such as David Rosenberg and Tony Greenstein have pointed out that Zionism was very much a minority position amongst European Jewry before the horrors of the Second World War. In America there was little interest in Israel among Jews until the late 1960s and the emergency of Neo-Conservatism. Greenstein and the Israeli historian and critic of his country’s barbarous maltreatment of the Palestinians, Ilan Pappe have shown that rather than being pro-Jewish, Zionism has been itself tinged with anti-Semitism. Many gentile Zionists supported the movement as a way of removing Jews from their countries. It’s why Hitler initially signed the Ha’avara agreement with the Zionist leaders to permit and encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine. Pappe in his book Ten Myths About Israel includes an episode that clearly demonstrates this link between anti-Semitism and Zionism. In the 1920s Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, approached a German nobleman for his support. He noted that the man had taken an interest in it, and asked him why he didn’t support it. The aristo replied that he hadn’t, because he didn’t want people to think he was an anti-Semite.

And many of the opponents of Israel’s persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, both Torah-observant and secular, are self-respecting Jews. But they’re smeared as self-hating and anti-Semitic by the country’s fiercely intolerant defenders.

But the example of David Friedlaender shows that if denial of Jewish nationalism is defined as anti-Semitic, then some of Jewry’s most ardent and tireless workers for emancipation, dignity and equality, who believed passionately in their religion and their people’s destiny and witness to the God of their ancestors, are Jew-haters. Which is ridiculous and absurd, or so it seems to my non-Jewish eyes.

I’m sure that some criticism of Israel is undoubtedly anti-Semitic. That of real Nazis, for example. Their hatred of Israel is part of a general, virulent, genocidal hatred of Jews. But the rejection or just simple criticism of Zionism by self-respecting Jews and their gentile allies, who genuinely despise anti-Semitism along with other forms of racism and Fascism, is clearly very different.

It strikes me that the inclusion of anti-Zionism in the I.H.R.A.’s definition of anti-Semitism is simply sectarian bigotry. Some Jews are supporters of Israel, others, who may be no less Jewish, aren’t. Just as some of the gentile critics and opponents of Zionism may the Jews’ most committed defenders and supporters.

A far better definition of anti-Semitism, and one that needs no examples to clarify it, is the simplest. It’s hatred of Jews as Jews, regardless of religion or ideology. That was definition used by the man who coined the term ‘anti-Semitism’, Wilhelm Marr, founder of the Bund Antisemiten in 19th century Germany.

The Board of Deputies, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Chief Rabbinate and other Zionist organisations have no business trying to foist such a partisan and highly discriminatory definition on the Labour Party or anyone, whether Jew or gentile.

JLM-Backed Candidate for Young Labour Chair Withdraws After Commenting on ‘Good-looking’ Nazis

November 21, 2020

Oh the irony! After years of twisting comments by their opponents to smear them as anti-Semites and Fascists, some of the folks with the JLM are getting a taste of their own medicine. According to an article in the Morning Star, Eluned Anderson, one of the candidates for the Young Labour leadership, was the regional ambassador for the Holocaust Education Trust and had the backing of the Jewish Labour Movement. However, she had to withdraw after she called two of the most notorious Nazis ‘incredibly good-looking’. This was on the Facebook page of the Young Free Speech Society, where another member had asked “Have you ever met/seen/know [sic] of a physically attractive Nazi?” She replied “Look, I know they were evil bastards, but Eichmann and a young Ribbentrop were incredibly good looking.” This naturally upset many people, most obviously Jews, whose family were murdered by the Nazis. Anderson apologised, and said there was no call for her comment. It was stupid, she said, and she was stupid to make it.

What makes it ironic is that she was one of the people, who had posted on social media that Jeremy Corbyn was an anti-Semite, and Rebecca Long-Bailey was a racist. David Rosenberg, of the Jewish Socialist Group, therefore remarked that her tweet showed how cynical that was.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/young-labour-chair-candidate-withdraws-over-comments-about-incredibly-good-looking

Hoisted by her own petard! Ho-ho! But unfortunately, she did have a point. The Aristotelian view, that one’s physical appearance reflects the state of one’s soul, so that those with beautiful souls are themselves physically beautiful, isn’t true. You don’t want to say anything remotely complimentary about these monsters, but it is a fact that some of the most horrific tyrants in history were good-looking people, and used their attractiveness in their drive to power. In his paranoia and megalomania, Stalin murdered 30 million Soviet citizens. But he had been good-looking chap in his youth, and had reputation as a seducer. As well as fancying himself, Hitler also had legions of female followers and did his level best to exploit this. This photograph of the Nazi leader is in the 1936 English translation of Mein Kampf, ‘My Struggle’, published by Paternoster Press. It clearly shows Hitler trying to pose as best he can as some physically attractive, as well as the dynamic, charismatic leader.

Years ago there was an item on Radio 4 which included a woman, who had been a member of the resistance against Hitler in either Germany and Austria. She stated that the girls in her class all found Hitler attractive with the very definite exception of herself. Historians have noted that Hitler had many aristocratic women admirers, and he deliberately reserved the first two rows at Nazi meetings and rallies for women because they would take the rest of the crowd with them when swayed by his oratory.

And it wasn’t just Hitler. Mussolini was, like Stalin, also a thug and a seducer. But he also had legions of female fans. Christopher Duggan discusses the mass of mail the Duce received from women besotted with him in his book Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy (London: Vintage Books 2013). The British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, was a promiscuous adulterer who had a string of affairs with the wives of various other aristos.

Now many of the Nazis were indeed physically repulsive. Not just Hitler, but also Goebbels, Goering and Himmler, but the sad fact is, not every murderous thug looks it. If all Nazis and Fascists were ugly bruisers with beer guts, then it would be easy to see them for what they were and fight against them. But they’re not. Monsters can be good-looking people, just as people who aren’t physically attractive can be noble, decent and good. This is why it’s important to look beyond stereotypes and superficial impressions, in order to see the real character beneath.

And it is important to remember, if just as a warning, that some people did think Hitler and the rest sexy, and so supported them. Which is why people should never judge politicos by their looks.

Who Decided ‘Jewish Community’ Meant ‘United Synagogue’

November 19, 2020

Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension was lifted yesterday and he was readmitted to the Labour party. So there was, unsurprisingly, a mass outcry by the usual troublemakers, liars and smear merchants. Starmer responded by fudging the issue and refused Corbyn the Labour whip. This is, as Mike has pointed out, gross political interference of the type which the EHRC report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party condemned in the first place. He has also broken any number of Labour party internal regulations, as the Skwawkbox has clearly demonstrated. He’s done absolutely no good, except to annoy people with an unacceptable compromise. Unacceptable, because Corbyn’s supporters are still outraged by his unjust treatment of the Labour leader, while the smear merchants won’t be satisfied by anything less than his expulsion and the complete prostration of the Labour party to their own ultra-Zionist views.

Margaret Hodge

Among those crawling out from under the rocks to attack Corbyn were Margaret Hodge, Jessica Elgot, Rachel Riley, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Community Security Trust, none of whom are unbiased by any means. Hodge is the stupid, lazy and arrogant Labour MP who got herself suspended for calling Corbyn a ‘f**king anti-Semite’ in parliament. She then got herself readmitted after she started bleating about how terrifying her suspension was, and that it must have been like the terror experienced by German Jews under the Third Reich when they were waiting for a knock from Gestapo.

Her treatment was nothing like that horror, and she insulted the victims and families of those, who really had been imprisoned in the concentration camps. Her suspension was extremely lenient, no doubt helped by the fact that the media was very definitely on her side. Others would have received far harsher punishment. And her stupid, facile comments prompted an outrage response from Jews and gentiles, whose relatives had been victims of the Nazis.

But we shouldn’t be quite so surprised at her tactlessness. This is a woman who signally failed to do anything about real Nazism and anti-Semitism in her constituency. So much so that when the BNP had seven members elected to the local council in Tower Hamlets, their leader, Derek Beacon, sent her a bouquet of flowers in appreciation. She was also responsible for suppressing a report into child abuse in the council, then tried to blame its suppression on Corbyn. Apparently she was threatening to the leave the party if Corbyn was readmitted. If she did, it would be no loss to anyone, but unfortunately she hasn’t.

Jessica Elgot, Israel Lobbyist

Jessica Elgot is another Blairite, and if memory serves me right, she used to work for one of the Israel advocacy organisations. Which should immediately tell you that she isn’t concerned about genuine anti-Semitism, but simply protecting Israel.

Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Gaza and Islamophobia

The same applies to the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and its odious boss, Gerald Falter. Falter founded it in 2014 or thereabouts because he was shocked at the way British public opinion had turned against Israel because of the bombing of Gaza. His wretched organisation is tinged with Islamophobia. On its website it declares that most anti-Semites are Muslims, and one of its patrons is a Hindu bigot who hates Islam, Christianity and those at the very bottom of the Hindu caste system. This character founded Operation Dharmic Vote to mobilise right-wing Hindu voters partly because he was outraged that high-caste Hindu doctors had to treat the people previously described as ‘the Untouchables’.

Community Security Trust and Violence Against Protesters

Then we come to the Community Security Trust, a volunteer police force set up to protect Jews and their property from attack. This would be all well and good, if that was all it did. But its members are supposedly trained in self-defence by the Israeli security forces and have been responsible for instances of violence themselves against protesters demonstrating against Israel. In one case Jewish and Muslim demonstrators were forcibly separated. Others were struck and beaten, including women, the elderly and a rabbi.

There’s also more than a little racial favouritism being shown in the establishment of the CST. I don’t know of any other ethnic group, which is allowed to have its own volunteer police trained by a foreign country. It can be argued that other ethnic groups deserve such a force more, as this is relatively little anti-Semitism compared with the prejudice against Blacks, Asians and Muslims. Can you imagine the reaction of our absolutely unbiased right-wing press if, say, Britain’s Black community had their own police force organised and trained by the Jamaicans or Nigerians? Or the Hindus trained by the Indian army? Or British Muslims with Saudi Arabia, Iran or Pakistan? They’d have a screaming fit and yell that we were being taken over by foreigners. But the CST is allowed to continue with the full cooperation of the British state and police.

Rachel Riley

As for Rachel Riley, this is a woman, who seems to have a visceral, personal hatred for the Labour leader and his supporters. She was on Talk Radio yesterday telling the world how terrible the Labour leader was, because he laid a wreath on the grave of the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the murder of the Israeli Olympic team in 1974 when he was attending some kind of gathering in Tunisia. This would have been extremely difficult, as Zelo Street has pointed out, because those monsters are buried in Libya.

Corbyn’s critics have been presented as representative of the British Jewish community as a whole. They aren’t. They are representative only of the right-wing, ultra-Zionist British Jewish establishment. Corbyn had many friends and supporters in the Jewish community, as have others, who have been smeared as anti-Semites, like Ken Livingstone. Corbyn was particularly respected by the Haredi community for his help in preserving their historic burial ground from redevelopment. He was also supported by Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas, with whom he spent a Passover Seder. Which enraged the Board of Deputies, who claimed it was a snub to the ‘Jewish community?’

Jonathan Sacks, Sectarianism and the March of the Flags

What Jewish community? As many Jewish left-wing bloggers have pointed out, there is no monolithic Jewish community, and the Board of Deputies only seems to represent the United Synagogue. And many of Corbyn’s other critics seem to be members, such as the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. Sacks died last week, and obituaries appeared praising him and his work. I’ve no doubt he was an excellent fellow in many respects, but he was also a sectarian bigot with a fanatical devotion to Israel. He caused outrage a few years ago when he, an Orthodox Jew, declared that Reform Jews were ‘enemies of the faith’. This is the language of religious hatred, uttered by bigots before launching terrible attacks on their victims. Christian anti-Semites no doubt have said the same when persecuting Jews. Sacks was also an opponent of homosexuality, before opportunistically changing his mind and declaring that people had to be more open and accepting. He also led a group of British Jews on the annual March of the Flags in Jerusalem. This is the Israeli equivalent of the various Orange marches in Northern Ireland, when the Protestants of the Orange Order march through Roman Catholic areas. In the case of the March of the Flags, it’s when Israeli boot-boys march through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem to provoke and intimidate them. During these marches, Palestinians are insulted and abused, and their property vandalised. Liberal Jewish organisations asked Sacks not to go, but he refused. But what I also found interesting was that he seemed to be another member of the United Synagogue. The obituaries mentioned that he belonged to the Union of Hebrew Congregations, which looks to my inexpert eye as the United Synagogue by any other name.

The United Synagogue and the Corbyn Smears

Some of the Jewish journos, who took it upon themselves to write pieces smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semite are also members of the United Synagogue. The I published several of these pieces, noting at the bottom of the article the writer’s membership of the denomination. Which raises a few questions.

Are all, or the majority of those smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semites members of the United Synagogue? And if they are, who decided that the United Synagogue and its members spoke for all of Britain’s Jews? After all, it’s as if someone decided that only Tory Anglicans represent British Christianity. And when they produce stats claiming that Israel is important to the identity of 77 per cent of British Jews, is this really representative of all of the British Jewish Community? Or is it once again just confined to the United Synagogue?

All of Britain’s Jewish community deserve to be heard on the issue of Corbyn and Israel, not just Tory-voting ultra-Zionists and the United Synagogue.

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

November 16, 2020

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

Gotz von Berlichingen’s Account of How He Got His Iron Hand

November 16, 2020

One of the landmarks in the history of artificial limbs was the iron hand specially made for the German knight, Gotz von Berlichingen after his own was shot off by the Nuremberg forces at a battle at Landshut in Germany. Berlichingen was in born in 1480 in Wurttemberg, where his family were knights. G.G. Coulton includes his description of how got had his real hand shot off and an iron one made so that he could continue his military career, in his collection of medieval texts, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967), vol. 2: 135-7 along with a number of other stories from the old soldier’s memoirs. Coulton states that Berlingen has been described as the last of the robber barons. From 1541 onwards he fought for the German emperor Charles V in a series of wars, first against the invading Turks, and then against the French. The great German poet and playwright Goethe wrote a play based on his life, and Coulton claim that the romanticism of his memoirs influenced Sir Walter Scott. Von Berlichingen’s account of the loss of his hand is as follows:

I will now tell how I came by my wound. You must know that on Sunday, as I have related above, while we were skirmishing again under the walls of Landshut, the Nurnbergers turned their cannon upon friend and foe alike. The enemy had taken up a strong position on a dyke, and I would fain have broken a spear with one of them. But as I held myself still and watched for an occasion, suddenly the Nurnbergers turned their cannon upon us; and one of them, with a field-culverin, shot in two my sword-hilt, so that the one half entered right into my arm, and three armplates therewithall; the sword-hilt lay so deep in the armplates that it could not be seen. I marvel even now that I was not thrown from my horse; the armplates were still whole; only the corners, which had been bent by the blow, stood forth a little. The other half of the sword-hilt and the blade were bent, but not severed; and these, I believe, tore off my hand betwixt the gauntlet and the arm-piece: my arm was shattered behind and before. When I marked now that my hand hung loose by the skin, and that my spear lay under my horse’s feet, I made as though nothing had befallen me, turned my horse softly round, and, in spite of all, came back to my own folk without let or hindrance from the enemy. Just then there came up an old spearman, who would have ridden into the thick of the fray: him I called to me, and besought that he would stay at my side, since he must see how matters stood with me. So he tarried with me at my prayer, and then he must needs fetch me the leech. When I came to Landshut, my old comrades told me who had fought in the battle against me, and in what wise I had been shot, and that a nobleman, Fabian von Wallsdorf, a Voiglander, and been struck and slain by the same shot, not withstanding that it had struck me first; so that in this wise both friend and foe took harm alike. This nobleman was a fair and goodly gentleman, such that among many thousands you would scarce find any goodlier to behold…

From that time forth, from the Sunday after St. Vitus’ day until Ash Wednesday, I lay in Landshut; and what pain at that time I suffered, each may well imagine for himself. It was my prayer to God that, if I stood indeed in His divine grace, then in His own name He might bear me away to Himself, since I was spoiled now for a fighting man. Yet then I bethought me of a man at arms of whom I had heard my father and old old troopers tell, whose name was Kochli, and who also had but one hand, notwithstanding which he could do his devoir against his foe in the field as well as any other man. Then I prayed to God, and considered within myself that, had I even twelve hands, and His grace and help stood not by me, then were all in vain. Therefore, thought I, might I but get me some little help by means of an iron hand, then I would prove myself as doughty in the field, in spite of all, as any other maimed man. I have ridden since then with Kochli’s sons, who were trusty horsemen and well renowned. And in all truth I can think and say nought else, – now that for wellnigh sixty years I have waged wars, feuds and quarrels with but one fist,-but that God Almighty, Everlasting and Merciful, hath stood wondrously and most graciously by me and at my side in all my wars, feuds, perils

Coulton’s book also has an illustration of the iron hand, based on a engraving preserved by the family.

As you can see, it seems to be an adaptation of the gauntlet and armour for the arm. I think the great 16th century French doctor and surgeon, Pare, created similar artificial limbs, and it shows that medieval science and medicine were rather more advanced than the usual received view of superstitious ignorance. Berlichingen and his hand seem to me to be a great model for a Fantasy or SF character, and I do wonder if Michael Moorcock used him as the basis for the artificial hand wielded by his hero, Corum, who is, like far more famous Elric of Melnibone, another incarnation of his Eternal Champion.

American Media Silence over Racist Comments by Israeli Former Chief Rabbi

November 9, 2020

One of the points Blum makes in his book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, is that the press and the media are complicit in American imperialism and its attendant horrors and crimes through propaganda designed to promote and justify it. And it isn’t what it publishes so much as what it doesn’t report. And news coverage of Israel in America is also very biased. As an example of what American’s didn’t read, he discusses the statement by a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and leaders of the extreme right-wing Shas party, Ovadia Yusuf, that non-Jews were created by the Almighty to serve Israelis. Blum wrote

‘Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world; only to serve the people of Israel,’ said Rabbi Ovadia Yusef in a sermon in Israel on October 16, 2010. Rabbi Yosef is the former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel and the founder and spiritual leader of the Shas party, at that time one of the three major components of the Israeli government. ‘Why are gentiles needed?’ he continued. ‘They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi [master] and eat,’ he said to some laughter.

Pretty shocking, right? Apparently not shocking enough for the free and independent American mainstream media. Not one daily newspaper picked it up. Not one radio or television station. Neither did the two leading US news agencies, Associate Press and United Press International, which usually pick up anything at all newsworthy. And the words, or course, did not cross the kips of any American politician or State Department official Rabbi Yosef’s words were reported in English only by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, a US-based news service (October 18), and then picked up by a few relatively obscure news agencies or progressive websites. We can all imagine the news coverage if someone like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said something like ‘Jews have no place in the world but to serve Islam.’ (p. 275).

People won’t have read it or seen it on the news over here either. Peter Oborne, in his documentary on the Israel lobby for Channel 4’s Despatches in 2009, described the attempts by the lobby in this country to suppress any reporting of atrocities committed by Israel and its allies. One of the talking heads on the programme was Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of the Graon. He told how, whenever his newspaper did so, he’d receive an angry visit from the President of the Board of Deputies and his pet lawyer demanding that the story should be spiked on the grounds that it would cause Brits to hate Jews. Senior, and very respected BBC journalists like Orla Guerin were also accused of anti-Semitism by the Board because they dared to report on national news the massacre of Palestinians by Israel’s allies, the Lebanese Christian militia the Phalange in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. A subsequent inquiry found that the report was not anti-Semitic, and only factually inaccurate in one detail.

Now I can appreciate that there are very good reasons why Yusef’s odious remark shouldn’t be reported. It is precisely the views that the Nazis and other anti-Semites and Fascists have claimed Jews have of gentiles. And claims that Jews believe they are superior to gentiles and wish to rule them are behind all the murderous conspiracy theories about them, theories that led to the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. Such views of Jewish racial superiority, as I understand it, profoundly contradict Jewish theology. Contemporary rabbis have argued that Israel’s status as the ‘Chosen People’ does not mean that they are racially superior to anyone us, but rather that they have a special duty as a servant nation to act as moral exemplars, ‘to be a light unto the gentiles’ as the Hebrew Bible states. The prophet Isaiah also states that Jews in exile are to work and pray for the health of the city that they share with their gentile fellows. Since at least the 1920s Jews have been very careful to show that they reject the racial supremacist views that anti-Semites impute to them.

I very well appreciate why decent people would not want to report Yusef’s odious views, especially now with genuine anti-Semitism rising along with racism and Fascism generally. But I believe that these fears are somewhat exaggerated. The great mass of the American and British public, as well as the French, for that matter, aren’t anti-Semitic. Tony Greenstein has published surveys showing that the vast majority of Brits either have a positive view of Jews, or don’t have any particular views about them one way or the other. Less than 10 per cent have negative views of them. That’s clearly too large, but it shows that real Jew-haters are in a minority. Yusef’s views could easily be reported, accompanied by articles making the point that he speaks only for a Fascist Israeli fringe, accompanied by firm rebuttals and denunciations from respected Jewish organisations. There are any number of Jewish critics of Likudnik Fascism.

Besides, Yusef also has other, equally disgusting views about other Jews. A few years ago he got in the pages of Private Eye and a few other publications for what he said about the Holocaust. He declared that the European Jews, who were murdered by the Nazis, got what they deserve because of their sins in their past lives. Yusef may be a Jew, but that’s blatantly anti-Semitic. I understand that it’s also rubbish theology. Judaism doesn’t have a doctrine of reincarnation. The closest I can find to it is the Wheel of Gilgal in Karaite Judaism. If I understand it correctly, this holds that the Lord sometimes gives sinners a second chance and so they are reincarnated after their death. But the Karaites are different from mainstream Talmudic Judaism. Whether you’re Jew or gentile, Yusef’s an unrepresentative, indeed, anti-Semitic, nasty bigot talking nonsense.

But I suspect the refusal to report his remarks isn’t actually about fears that they would promote genuine anti-Semitic. It’s to protect Likud and its coalition partners. An Israeli philosopher and chemist coined the term ‘Judeonazism’ to describe such views amongst Israeli politicians. He was, like many Jews, including Israelis, bitterly critical of the Israeli state’s treatment of the Palestinians. While the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism includes comparing Jews to Nazis, in this case the comparison is entirely apt. Likud and its coalition partners include too many, who have similar views. If Yusef was simply a gutter preacher, whom no-one in Israel listened to, he could be dismissed as yet another fanatical nutter. But he was the founder and spiritual head of one Likud’s coalition partners. His comments should have been reported, not because of what they show about Jews or even Israelis, but because of what they show about Likud.

I’ve made it clear that Fascism, racism and anti-Semitism are murderous doctrines that should be fought everywhere, whether it’s Nazi Germany, Netanyahu’s Israel or present-day China. But by demanding that the western media not report comments like Yusef’s, and the atrocities against the Palestinians that views like his promote, organisations like the Board of Deputies and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism are complicit in the perpetration of this Zionist permutation of Fascism.

Remember what one liberal Jewish opponent of Zionism once said: ‘To be a Jew is always to stand with the oppressor, never the oppressor’. It’s a view that condemns the right-wing media and the Israel lobby, as well as the Likudnik regime they protect.

‘I’ Article on Revelations about Police Unit Set Up to Infiltrate Protest Groups

November 6, 2020

Tuesday’s I, for 3rd November 2020, also carried a story by Margaret Davis, ‘Secretive police unit ‘infiltrated a range of groups’, about information about the Special Demonstration Squad and its activities that has come out in the Undercover Policing Inquiry. The article runs

A shadowy and controversial Metropolitan Police unit was originally set up amid protests over the Vietnam War in the late 60s, a public inquiry has been told.

The Undercover Policing Inquiry, which has cost £30m so far, began hearing evidence yesterday about undercover policing in England and Wales between 1968 and 2008.

The counsel to the inquiry, David Barr QC, said that the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was set up because there were official concerns that public anger over the conflict and unrest in Europe, particularly in Paris, signalled that far-left groups in England and Wales were planning disorder in the UK.

It has emerged that for decades undercover police officers infiltrated a significant number of political and other activist groups, in deployments which typically lasted for years.

“The information reported by these undercover police officers was extensive. It covered the activities of the groups and their members. It also extended to the groups and individuals with whom they came into contact, including elected representatives.

“Groups mainly on the far left but also the far right of the political spectrum were infiltrated, as well as groups campaigning for social, environmental or other change.”

The-then home secretary, Theresa May, set up the inquiry in 2015 after widespread condemnation of the tactics used by secret units. “The inquiry will be seeking out the truth,” Mr Barr said. “Publicly wherever that is possible, so the full facts become known and appropriate recommendations can be made for the future conduct of undercover policing.”

Some of the methods employed included using names of dead children as undercover identities without their families’ consent.

A number of women, including at least one who had a child with an undercover officer, were deceived into sexual relationships.

Initially the SDS, also known as the Special Operations Squad and nicknamed “the Hairies” because of undercover officers’ hippie appearance, targeted only far-left groups and those associated with Irish civil rights campaigns.

Now it was quite right for the state to set up groups to infiltrate some of these groups. The late 60s were the time when the Weathermen were blowing up things across America and in Europe there were radical, ‘Maoist’ Marxist organisations also committing terrorist outrages. I still remember the Bader-Meinhof Gang in the 1970s in Germany. Over here, apart from the IRA and other Northern Irish terrorist groups, there were other, smaller groups that were taking up violence. One of these was the Angry Brigade, who blew the door off the house of a Tory MP with a bomb. Although no-one was fortunately killed, they were arrested before they could go further. The One Show a few years ago had an item on them and their bombing campaign, and in the opinion of one of the cops interviewed on the programme, they would have gone on to kill people.

The problem isn’t that the cops infiltrated and disrupted genuinely extremist, violent groups but that they also infiltrated other, mainstream left-wing organisations in order to destroy them and smear their members. And as the scandal over the wretched Institute for Statecraft and the Democracy Initiative shows, the British state is still determined to smear the left, and recent Tory legislation trying to define what is a subversive group includes even some of the most innocuous organisations.

The SDS and similar organisations are out of control and a real threat to democratic left-wing politics and organisations, and they’ve been seeking to disrupt and undermine them for a very long time. It will be very interesting to see what else comes out about this branch of Met during this inquiry.

Trump’s Accusations of Electoral Fraud and the Elections that Put the Fascists in Government

November 6, 2020

Yesterday Trump started flinging around accusations of voter fraud. He had already won, he declared, and so counting should stop. He also claimed that there was massive electoral fraud in states like Nevada and Georgia, where he’d lost to Biden, and stated that he was taking legal action against those states over the result and demanding recounts. These accusations seem to be utterly false, and his proposed lawsuit against Georgia has already been thrown out by the supreme court or whatever. There’s absolutely no basis to these accusations. They’re just an attempt by the megalomaniac man-baby to hang on to power any way he can. But it’s provoked demonstrations by his supporters up and down America, who are demanding that the authorities do exactly as he says.

This is all absolutely astonishing. It amazes me, because it’s less like the actions of an accomplished politician so much as a petulant child demanding that they’ve won a game and that everyone should therefore give in to them. Because. But it’s also a logical progression of Republican attitudes and policies towards voting. I put up a post a week or so ago reproducing and commenting on an article in the I, which reported that in some southern states like Mississippi Blacks and other sections of the population were being prevented from exercising their democratic rights by local legislation. Some of this dated from the era of Jim Crow, and was deliberately intended to limit the Black vote. A few years ago, The Young Turks put up a video attacking legislation the Republicans had put in place. This was ostensibly to combat voter fraud, but there was no real need for it. It’s real purpose was to exclude the poor, Blacks and students from voting. One southern Republican even gave the game away by saying that they passed these laws to stop the Democrats getting in.

It reminds me somewhat of the supposedly democratic election in Italy in the 1920s which saw Mussolini’s Fascists voted into power. At the time none of the parties in the Italian parliament had a clear majority. It had been hoped by Italy’s ruling liberal politicians that by inviting into government, they could form a coalition sufficiently strong to break this deadlock. But Mussolini didn’t want to be a junior partner. He wanted all of it. And so legislation was passed that defined Italy as a single constituency. Whichever party got the most votes nationally, would take something like three-quarters or so of the seats in parliament. The rest would be shared among the other parties. The Fascists won the election, though in many places they lost spectacularly. One of these, ironically, was Mussolini’s home town of Predappia, where he only got 2 per cent of the vote or less. Well, he had an obvious disadvantage there: they knew him.

But the result was that the Fascists became the overwhelmingly dominant party, and Italy began its journey towards dictatorship.

Mussolini had used constitutional methods, as well as brutal force, to gain power. Hitler did the same later in Germany, when the German president similarly hoped that he could break a similar political deadlock there by including the Nazis in a coalition government.

Trump’s wild, unsubstantiated accusations of electoral fraud and demands that voting should be stopped are an attack on democracy. They aren’t as flagrant or grotesque as the colossal gerrymandering that gave Mussolini control of Italy, but they’re definitely on the way there.

I don’t think Trump will get his way with his demands. But they do mark another stage in the gradual undermining of American democracy. And I’m afraid that if Trump does win, he will try to put in place legislation that will further further weaken it so that the Republicans can keep on winning unfairly. And the endpoint of all this, as in Germany and Italy, will be a right-wing dictatorship.

But it will be cloaked in the language of democracy, and protecting the will of the people.

The German Communist Party’s 1931 Demands for Women’s Equality

November 4, 2020

One of the other books I’ve been reading during the lockdown is The German Left and the Weimar Republic: Selection of Documents, edited by Ben Fowkes, (Chicago: Haymarket Books 2014). The Weimar Republic was the name given to Germany for the all too brief period from the end of the First World War to the the Nazi seizure of power in 1933/4. It was a tumultuous period which saw the brief rise of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ council seize power briefly, the brutal suppression of soviet republics up and down Germany by the Freikorps, the rise of the Nazis, and splits in the majority Germany socialist, the SPD, which produced the USPD (Independent Socialist Party of Germany), the SAP (Socialist Workers’ Party) and the German Communist Party. The book collects a number of documents from these left-wing parties and movements, which reveal their policies and attitudes towards some of the most important issues of the day.

In 1931 the KPD proposed a law to protect and give full equal rights to working women. I’m putting this up, because while I’m very definitely not a Communist, these demands show how far ahead of their time the Communists were. Women’s right to work was attacked by the Nazis, who saw women’s proper sphere as ‘Kinder, Kirche, Kuche’ – children, church and kitchen. And although governments now are keen, or claim to be keen, to promote women’s equality in politics, culture, industry and science, the laws protection working women from exploitation and arbitrary dismissal have been and are being rolled back. This is line with the general attack on worker’s employment rights and job security.

The KPD proposals ran

We call on the Reichstag to demand that the government introduce a bill to protect and give full equality of rights to working women according to the following principles:

  1. Establishment of complete economic, cultural and political equality of rights between women and men. All laws and emergency ordinances that contradict this are to be abrogated with immediate effect.
  2. Women in all enterprises in industry and agriculture, doing the same work as men, are to be paid wages at the same level as men. The longest daily working time for women is to be set at seven hours, with full wage equality, while for unhealthy and heavy work, as well as for young females below the age of 18, it is to be set at six hours.
  3. (Similar provisions for office workers).
  4. Working women are to have a fully equal right to occupy all posts in all professions. Women workers, office employees and civil service officials are not be dismissed because they are married. All working women are to receive free professional training appropriate to their professional capacity.
  5. All unemployed women must have a legal right to full unemployment insurance payments without means testing or reference to the income of family members. Every kind of compulsory labour or compulsory re-training is prohibited. The right to receive social insurance during the whole period of unemployment is to be guaranteed.
  6. All working women employed in industry, agriculture, commerce and transport and domestic work as well as women in the so -called free professions, housewives and the female relatives or working peasants are to be included in the social insurance system.
  7. Dismissal of pregnant women is legally prohibited up to the 12th month after the birth of the child. The pregnant woman is to receive full pay and be exempt from work from eight weeks before until eight weeks after the birth. Nursing mothers are to receive half and hour twice a day for breast-feeding their children, without any reduction in wages. Maternity homes in sufficient numbers are to be made available to all working women, also creches for babies and children up to three years old, nurseries for children from three to school age. These services are to be provided free of payment. They are to be directed and supervised by control committees made up of delegates from the working population, mainly women.
  8. The interruption of pregnancy is to be permitted by law. The contrary paragraphs of the penal code (184 Section 3 and 28) are to be abolished. All persons condemned under the previous abortion paragraphs are to be amnestied immediately, and all current cases are to be terminated. Abortion carried out by a doctor and the provision of the means to avoid pregnancy count as medicate help in the national system of insurance.
  9. When entering marriage, the woman retains her right to decide independently in all legal and personal matters. She is not dependent on the husband in any of her decisions. After marriage, the women may take the name of her husband, but she may also continue to be known under her maiden name. She has the same parental power over her children as the man.
  10. All exceptional provisions dealing with the unmarried mother and the illegitimate child are removed. Every unmarried women has the right to be bear the title of ‘Frau’. In mixed marriages, the choice of nationality is left to the woman.

Obviously, abortion rights are still extremely controversial today. And one of the reasons for the introduction of zero hours contracts and firms insisting that their employees should sign documents stating that they are self-employed is deny women rights like maternity leave. And unemployed women and men are required to go for compulsory retraining and work under Blair’s wretched ‘welfare to work’ initiative. Which is another Tory idea taken from the Americans.

The reduction of the working day for women would be controversial today. More women work part-time than men because they do the majority of work rearing children and running the home. A week or so ago someone proposed that women’s working day should therefore be shortened generally for those reasons. But one of the drawbacks of this would be that women would need to be paid more than men in order to close the gender income gap. Many men on the political right already feel that they will be discriminated against regarding pay rates because of this.

The KPD made these demands nearly 90 years ago, and despite many of them having been introduced over the following decades, we still need to follow their recommendations to defend the rights of all working women along with workers generally.

Book of Photographs of the Paranormal

October 31, 2020

Photographs of the Unknown, by Robert Rickard and Richard Kelly (London: New English Library 1980).

I thought this book would be a suitably spooky subject for Hallowe’en. Bob Rickard is one of the founders and editors of the Fortean Times, the magazine of the weird that’s been going since the 1970s. A little note on the last page underneath the picture credits gives instruction to readers how they can submit their photographs of the paranormal to the Fortean Times. The blurb on the back cover runs

SEA MONSTERS

ALIENS

LEVITATION

POLTERGEISTS

ECTOPLASM

PHANTOMS

UFOS …. all photographed!

The largest, most complete, most amazing collection of photographs of the Unknown and the Unexplained ever published.

Many have never been published before, others are presented for the first time in their original full colour. They have been researched and collected from all over the world.

If you believe and want to convince other people, if you don’t know for sure but have an open mind, if you’ve ever been inclined to believe but want to see the evidence, you will need this unique archive that covers the whole range of unexplained phenomena.

The book has the following chapters, each containing these individual sections

Introduction

Strange Life, Loch Ness, Water Monsters, Sea Monsters, The Yeti, Bigfoot.

Unusual Natural Phenomena, Living rocks, Falls, Atmospheric magic, Natural ‘UFOs’, ghost lights.

UFOs, Flying Cigars, UFOs and Planes, UFOS over Water, UFO Shapes, UFOs Above Us, UFOs in Motion, UFO Beings Among Us? Optical UFOs, Computer Analysis, UFOs from the Sea.

Psychic Phenomena, Possession, Stigmata, Bleeding Images, Ectoplasm, Mediumship, A Modern Medium, Thoughtography, Kirlian Photography.

Paranormal Persons, BVM and Angels, Portraits of Christ, Aliens, Phantoms, Materializations.

Mind over Matter, Yoga, Pain Immunity, Psychic Surgery, Fire Immunity, Firewalking, Spoonbenders, Table Turning, Levitation of Objects, Apports, Levitation, Poltergeists.

This is another book I ordered from Amazon in order to give myself something to read during the lockdown. I think I remember it from the time it first came out, and if so, then the book really scared me. I was at secondary school, and the books publication was featured on breakfast TV. I remember one of the presenters of the Beeb’s breakfast show introducing a piece on it by saying something about the unknown being photographed and asking ‘but what are they photographing?’ Which is a very good question. The book I remember had a different cover. This was a monotone/ black and white photo of a medium producing ectoplasm from their mouth, in which there were faces. This doesn’t seem to have this image, which may well have come from the hardback edition. Or it may be that I’m confusing it with a completely different book. There is, however, a photo of ectoplasm coming out of a medium’s left nostril, in which there’s the face of a young soldier killed in World War I. It was these ectoplasmic faces which scared me, and I can remember the fear I felt passing the book on a display table in George’s, the big local bookshop in Bristol on a trip there.

Some of the photos are very well known, like Patterson-Gimlin pic of Bigfoot, a still taken from film footage of the creature walking in the American woods made a few years before. To many people, the film and photo are proof that Sasquatch is a real, paws and pelt animal. The film’s been shown on any number of TV documentaries about Bigfoot and the Yeti. Some of the experts called on in these programmes to give their opinion have said that it’s unlikely to be a fake because the fur is of different lengths. You’d see this in a real animal, but not in a costume. On the negative side, other experts have said that it can’t be real, as the creature seems to have both male and female genitalia. But perhaps it’s just got manboobs.

The debate about this photo still goes on today, but others are hoaxes or almost certainly hoaxes. A few years ago it was revealed that the ‘surgeon’s photograph’ of the Loch Ness monster, which has appeared in countless documentaries, newspapers and magazine articles about the cryptid, was very definitely a fake. It was created by adding a plesiosaurus-style neck to a toy submarine, which was then sent sailing in the Loch.

The same goes for some, at least, of the UFO photographs. There’s a photo of a UFO bearing the Ummo symbol. The Ummo messages were a series of letters sent to various people in Franco’s claim, which claimed they came from aliens, who had travelled to Earth from the planet Ummo. They contained a wealth of detail about their spacecraft, language, home world and so on. Most, if not all UFO investigators now believe they were a hoax. As are the photos of the Venusian spaceships taken by George Adamski. One of the photographs Adamski claimed was of an alien spacecraft was actually of his chicken coop. A few weeks ago I went to an online lecture hosted by the paranormal investigation group, ASSAP, in which the speaker suggested that Adamski’s Venusian spacecraft was actually a photograph of a type of gas lantern then available. And yes, they do look exactly the same.

The ‘thoughtographs’ are the images Ted Serios, an alcoholic bellboy, claimed to produce on film using the power of his mind. This was after he’d drunk enough to start his gums and anus bleeding. I don’t know if Serios was ever caught in fraud, but I’ve watched documentaries where sceptics have shown how it could have been faked. The same goes for the piccie of Soviet psychic Nina Kulagina showing off her telekinesis skills. This was debunked back in the ’90s or so in the Channel 4 programme Secrets of the Psychics.

Sceptics have also argued that psychic surgery is also a fraud. The psychics who claim to be able to perform such miracles don’t actually cut into the body of their unfortunate dupes, and the disease organs they remove aren’t human but chicken guts. This particular paranormal field was the subject of an episode of Jonathan Creek, the BBC detective drama about a crime-busting stage magician. That particular episode involved the murder of someone, who was dying and desperate to have similar treatment, or who had actually undergone it. It was some years ago, and I can’t really remember. It doesn’t matter, as the show came down very much on the side of the sceptics.

Sceptics have also presented a strong argument that firewalking isn’t supernatural either. From what I remember, flesh burns at quite a high temperature, higher than the coals and embers on which people walk, and so anyone can do it. Well, that’s what they claim. I wouldn’t like to test it, and don’t advise anyone else to do either unless they know exactly what they’re doing.

The Fortean Times also carried an article a few years ago, which also claimed that the photograph showing a group of men in broadbrimmed hats and raincoats surrounding a diminutive alien was also a hoax. It was published in a German newspaper as an April Fool’s or Hallowe’en prank, or the German equivalents thereof. As for spoon-bending, made notorious by Uri Geller, there’s a trick to fake that which goes all the way back to the 18th century and the book, Rational Recreations. It’s possible that Geller, if he is a fake, is using that trick or similar.

It’s also entirely possible that some of the spirit photos are also fakes. They’ve been taken since the 19th century and the American photographer Hans Mumler. I have a feeling that Mumler was sued by people, who believed he’d deceived them. They noticed that the dead relatives and other people, who appeared in Mumler’s photos, did so in the same poses, expressions and attitudes as they had in other photographs. There were several ways such photographs could be faked with the plates exposed twice, once for the image of the sitter, and again for the supposed spirit. However, I think Mumler, or perhaps one of his competitors, was found not guilty because the prosecution couldn’t prove which method, if any, he’d used.

There are also problems with the photos of mediums producing ectoplasm. I think some fakes used to swallow cheesecloth, which they’d then regurgitate during seances. It was also noted that the female spirit one of the 19th century mediums used to materialise looked remarkably like her, but the two did appear side by side. It’s probably fraud but this argues against it.

Several of the poltergeist photos seem to be of the Enfield polt that was investigated by the SPR and Guy Lyon Playfair in the 1970s. This is a notorious British case which Playfair seemed to believe was genuinely paranormal, and which he publicised. The sceptical UFO magazine Magonia has suggested instead that it was fraud within an unhealthy family situation.

Other paranormal phenomena are almost certainly camera artefacts, such as the mysterious balls of light in one set of photographs, as the book itself suggests. Others include the mysterious tendrils of light captured by a female photographer. I came across the same effect on photos taken by a visitor to Derby jail, which is now open to ghost hunters as a haunted location. A few quick experiments showed that this did seem to be a trick of the light as it was caught in the camera lens.

I’ve also come across an explanation, which I’m afraid I can’t remember, for the Kirlian photographs that were also all the rage at one time. This showed that, as dramatic as they appear, they definitely aren’t of any aura surrounding living things. But they do look really beautiful, however.

I doubt if any of these photographs would convince a sceptic like the late James Randi or mentalist like Derren Brown. On the other hand, it may be that some are genuine, and that there really are paranormal forces out there that some have been able to capture on film.