Posts Tagged ‘‘I’ Newspaper’

‘I’ Report on Petition to End MPs’ Free Meals

October 27, 2020

Yesterday I put up a YouTube video by Carl Vernon, in which he criticised MPs for voting against free school meals for children while having their own meals subsidised in parliament’s restaurants. It seems that he wasn’t the only person incensed at this hypocrisy. Others are too. One of them, Portia Lawrie, has organised a petition calling for the subsidised meals to end. And nearly 900,000 people have signed it.

Yesterday’s I for 26th October 2020 carried an article about it by Sam Hall, entitled ‘Petition calls for end to MPs ‘free lunches”. This runs

More than 865,000 people have signed a petition demanding an end to “subsidized” meals for MPs after Parliament voted against extending free school meals for underprivileged children.

MPs are currently allowed to eat and drink in restaurants and bars on the parliamentary estate which, while not directly subsidized, run at a loss.

This means that public money is effectively spent subsidizing the overall catering operation.

The petition, started by Portia Lawrie, stated: “MPs have voted against extending free school meals into the holidays for the poorest children in teh UK in the middle of a pandemic.

“They should under no circumstances benefit from free subsidized meals out of public funds themselves.”

The public are furious, and the longer Johnson and his gang of crooks and murders continue to deny hungry children free meals, that anger will only increase. If the Tories aren’t careful, this could become another expenses scandal. That, however, affected all MPs.

This will just affect the Tories. No wonder they’re trying to deflect blame and criticism with mendacious accusations of abuse and racism.

‘I’ Newspaper: Wales Getting Ready to Nationalise Railways

October 23, 2020

Today’s I for 23rd October 2020 has an article by Adam Hale, ‘Railways set to be nationalised’, reporting that the Welsh government is about to nationalise the railways in the principality because of falling passenger numbers due to the Coronavirus crisis. The article runs

The Welsh Government has decided to nationalise its railways following a significant drop in passenger numbers because of coronavirus.

The country’s transport minister Ken Skates said bringing day-to-day rail services for its Wales and Borders franchise under public control would help secure the future of passenger services and protect jobs.

Private firm KeolisAmey has run the franchise in Wales for just two years after taking it over from Arriva Trains Wales.

Mr Skates added that: “The Welsh Government has had to step in with significant support to stabilise the network and keep it running.”

It’s excellent that this is being done. The railways should never have been nationalised. Indeed, in Britain, sections of the rail network have had to be handed back to the state to manage almost as regularly as clockwork. Unfortunately, they’ve always then been given to another private operator because of the dogma that private enterprise is always better and more efficient than the state. Even when it glaringly isn’t, as the past four decades of dismal failure by the privatised utilities companies has abundantly shown.

There is a very strong movement for the railways across Britain to be renationalised, as shown by previous press reports about criticisms of private railway companies and the franchising system. So far, however, many of the recommendations for the system’s reform simply demand alterations to the franchising system. It’ high time this was all stopped, and the rail companies renationalised across Britain.

I’ve no doubt that the Welsh renationalisation will be successful, but it will be uncomfortable for the Tories and New Labour because of their insistence on the absolute primacy of private enterprise. If it is successful, then you can expect articles by some Tories across the border here in England recommending their nationalisation. I think Lady Olga Maitland wrote one for the Tory papers the other year. But there will also be attempts by the Tories to rubbish it, and the Welsh ministers responsible in order to put the voting public off it over here.

Because if the railways are successfully nationalised, who knows where it would stop! The state could start taking over electricity, water, gas and even healthcare. Shocking!

They also might consider it better to feed hungry schoolchildren rather than send them to school starving while wasting money on fat contracts for firms run by Tory ministers and their friends.

‘I’ Article on Academic Underperformance and Social Deprivation of White Working Class

October 17, 2020

The most deprived section of the population according to some measurements is the White working class. There have been any number of articles written about this. Working class White boys perform less well at school compared to Blacks and Asians, have higher rates of unemployment and hold poorer paid jobs. And according to an article in last Wednesday’s I for 14th October 2020, the rhetoric used by Black Lives Matter and other pro-Black anti-racist activists may make this deprivation worse. The article states that working class Whites believe that they have little chance of improving their conditions due to their communities lacking status and this is potentially going to be made worse through talk of ‘White privilege’. The academics interviewed in the article also state that their communities are still suffering from the decline of Britain’s manufacturing industry.

The article’s by Will Hazell, and is titled ‘White working-class pupils think academic race is unwinnable’. It runs

White working-class pupils are falling behind at school because their communities suffer from a “status deficit” and talk of “white privilege” could make things worse MPs have heard.

An inquiry by the Commons Education Select Committee is examining why white children from disadvantaged backgrounds perform worse than any other group in education.

Only 17 per cent of white pupils on free school meals get a strong pass in English and maths GCSEs – the lowest of any ethnic group.

Meanwhile just 13 per cent of white British boys on free school meals progress to higher education, compared with 42 per cent from a Pakistani heritage, 51 per cent of black African boys and 66 per cent of Chinese ethnicity.

Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at Kent University, told MPs that there were “cultural explanations” with white working-class families suffering a “status deficit”.

White working class families were left to feel “as though they’re not being given as much recognition and esteem as others”, Professor Goodwin said.

He said the idea of “white privilege”, along with references to “toxic masculinity”, had demoralised white working class families. He added: “If we are now going to start teaching them in school they not only have to overcome the economic and social barriers within their community, but they also need to start apologising for simply belonging to a wider group which also strips away their individual agency, then I think we’re just going to compound many of these problems.”

Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at Exeter University, said white working class communities were “still recovering from the demise of the manufacturing industry”, and a “narrow academic race” in schools which felt “unwinnable” for poor white families.

The problem could only be fixed by providing improved vocational education routes for young people as well as jobs in their local communities, he said.

I think the class background of some of the children of other ethnic groups may help to explain why these generally perform better at school, and get better jobs and opportunities. than working class Whites. Not all Blacks, Pakistanis and Chinese are working class. Many of them are businessmen or professionals, who may have emigrated to Britain as part of their jobs or came over here because of the greater opportunities offered when immigration was being encouraged or at least less restricted. These children therefore already enjoy social advantages and opportunities through their parents’ higher status and education than working class children.

Also, there has been enormous effort put into improving conditions for ethnic minorities. This obviously includes affirmative action programmes. About a decade ago the former head of the Council for Racial Equality, as ’twas then, was quoted in an article in the Heil as suggesting that their should be similar programmes for working class Whites. Nothing further was then said, and I think the gentleman involved left his position shortly afterwards due to a completely unrelated matter. If he’s the fellow I’m thinking of, he was accused of making up accusations for racist abuse or something similar against a policeman at a football match.

The ideas interesting and probably necessary, but it has major problems. Not least is the way it contradicts, or appears to contradict, much contemporary anti-racist and feminist discourse and policies. The contemporary concern for equality is centred around providing better opportunities and social and economic improvement and advancement for ethnic minorities and women. Left-wing, anti-racist and feminist criticism of traditional western society is that it’s dominated by White men. This is obviously true, but it needs to be remembered that it’s dominated by elite White men. But any programme aimed at specifically improving the conditions of Whites, and especially White boys, may appear reactionary because it’s directed to improving the conditions of a gender and ethnicity – but not the class – that some view as already having too much power.

And I do think also that there’s now a lack of glamour about the White working class compared to other ethnic groups. Blacks and Asians have the glamour of the exotic, and so they can be promoted by celebrating their cultures’ achievements, as Black History Month does. But the White working class is much harder to celebrate because of their ordinariness. And the fact that the socially deprived sections are likely to be sneered at as chavs or rednecks.

The concept of White privilege has been subject to extensive criticism by people on the right. As a generalisation about society as a whole, it’s obviously true that Whites generally perform better academically, and enjoy better jobs and opportunities than many, but not all, ethnic minorities. But it ignores the fact that many Whites don’t share this privilege, and may be as disadvantaged or more than some other deprived ethnicities. I think the reason for this is that the whole concept of White privilege was formulated by middle class radicals thinking specifically about the White middle class, and lumping all Whites in with it.

I think we’re probably going to hear much more about the problems of the White working class as time goes on. The right-wing internet host and YouTube Alex Belfield has already put up a video about the plight of White working class boys. Another right-wing outfit – I think it’s called the New Culture Forum or something like that – has also put up a long video about ‘The Demonisation of the White Working Class’. I think the intention here is to exploit working class White discontent as a way of attacking the anti-racist affirmative action programmes.

Because the Tories certainly don’t care about the working class, whatever it’s colour. The Tories smashed the coal industry partly as a way of destroying the trade unions. It was the miner’s union, remember, that defeated Ted Heath. Thatcher had no interest in manufacturing, and her Labour successor, Tony Blair, blandly assumed that its role in the economy would be taken over by the financial sector. Since David Cameron’s election victory, the Tories have insisted on austerity, holding down wages, promoting zero hours contracts and attacking workers’ rights, as well as cutting the welfare benefits working people need to keep body and soul together. It’s all in the name of creating an impoverished, cowed, demoralised workforce that will take any job, no matter how poorly paid or insecure. Most of the people claiming benefits and using food banks are now people actually in work. But instead of doing anything for them, the Tories simply drum up jealousy against those even more disadvantaged. You think of the rants the Tories screamed about how they were going to cut benefits to the unemployed in order to make work pay. The unemployed were scroungers, malingerers and layabouts, who shouldn’t earn more than working people. But in all too many cases, the benefits system does not provide enough for the people who need it to live on. And how seriously the Tories take their slogan of making work pay is shown by the fact that they’ve done nothing to raise wages. ‘Cause it’s all the working class’ fault they’re poor.

In contrast to the Tories’ posturing, the people who are serious about protecting and advancing the White working class are the Labour left. The very people the anti-immigrant, racist Brexiteer right despise as traitors. But left-wing Labour activists like Richard Burgon have made it very clear that they will work for improving the conditions of White working class communities as part of their commitment to bettering conditions for all of Britain’s working people, Black, brown, White or whatever.

And you can believe them.

The Tories, however, will do nothing but patronise the White working class, drumming up racial resentments and jealousies while pushing through policies that will make them, and the rest of the working class, even poorer and more miserable.

Belfield Bashes BBC Diversity in Name of White Working Class

October 13, 2020

A days or so ago, internet radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield posted yet another video tearing into the Beeb. He’s a man of the right, who regularly attacks immigration, Black Lives Matter, forced diversity and ‘wokeness’ – what used to be called ‘political correctness’ not so long ago. He’s posted videos supporting actor Laurence Fox and his ‘Reclaim’ party, though now Fox is being sued by people he’s called ‘paedophiles’ on Twitter, and a small charity which works with disadvantaged working class young people in Manchester over the name. They’re also called ‘Reclaim’, and obviously really don’t want to have it, or their charity, associated with Fox’s outfit.

Belfield himself is also a bitter critic of the BBC and very definitely wants it defunded, if not actually wiped out altogether. He’s got some kind of personal feud with the Corporation. He was one of their presenters, but seems to have been in some kind of trouble for which m’learned friends are now involved. This seems also to have involved Jeremy Vine, as he’s posted a series of videos attacking him.

Class Attitudes at the Beeb and the Favouring of Ethnic Minorities

Belfield believes that he was looked down upon at the Beeb because of his class origins. He was a working class lad from a pit village, and this did not sit easily with the other members of the corporation, whom he lambasts as rich ex-public schoolboys, who all read the Guardian, wear chinos, sip lattes and hold lefty views and sneer at ordinary people like him. He’s also criticised June Sarpong, the head of diverse creativity at the Beeb, for demanding that there should be more Black and Asian figures in front of the camera. His view is that, according to official stats, BAME performers and presenters are already slightly overrepresent at the Beeb. The proportion of BAME actors, presenters and broadcasters at the Corporation is 15 per cent. But Blacks, Asians and other ethnic minorities only constitute 13 per cent of the British population. The real problem, according to him, is that Blacks and other ethnic minorities aren’t properly represented in the Beeb hierarchy and management.

At the same time, he rails against the Beeb lefties because White working class boys are the least privileged group in society. They underperform other demographic groups in school and jobs. At the same time, automatic ‘positive discrimination’ is not appropriate for all ethnic minorities. Indians and Chinese outperform Whites, have better jobs and higher salaries. They do not need extra help from the state, which should be target at those groups that really need it.

I think he has a point, but as with everything the right says, it’s not the whole point and more often than not its articulated with the ulterior motive of depriving everyone of state aid even when they genuinely need it. I believe he’s correct when he states that at present Britain’s minority ethnic population is 13 per cent of the total. I can also remember Private Eye attacking an anti-racist organisation for the same thing June Sarpong’s done: demanding even more representation of BAME people in excess of their real numbers as a percentage of the population.

Possible Reasons for Sarpong’s Call for More Diversity in Excess of True BAME Population Numbers

In Sarpong’s case, I think there are a number of reasons for it. The first is that she is herself Black, and seems to have automatically assumed that in this issue Blacks and Asians are suffering racial discrimination. Everyone wants the best for people like them, and so she wants more to be done for Blacks and ethnic minorities. I also think self-interest may also be involved. She’s head of Diverse Creativity, but if she admits that Blacks and Asians are already well-represented on our TV screens, then she’s contradicted some of the need for her post. And I also believe that much of it is due to the metropolitan media bubble. London, as the capital, has a very large Black, Asian and ethnic minority population. It’s well over a third, and I think it may be just under half. Black activists like Sarpong and White liberals see the high BAME population of London and automatically assume that the rest of the country must be the same. Some Black performers have described their shock on visiting parts of the country where there are very few peoples of ethnic minority background. Nearly a decade ago, the late actor and comedian Felix Dexter was a guest on an edition of the News Quiz from Scotland. Dexter, who was Black, expressed his surprise at going through some areas of Scotland where there was hardly another Black face to be seen. Which reminded me at the time of the stereotypical comments of White British explorers that they were going through regions of Africa or wherever which no White man had seen before. I doubt very much that this observation would go down at all well with racially sensitive Black activists and militantly anti-racist Whites, but it is there. I think Sarpong, and those like her, have assumed that everywhere else in Britain must be like London, and so demand the same proportion of Black stars.

All Broadcasters Dominated by Middle Class Public School Boys and Girls, Not Just Beeb

At the same time, White working class are the most underprivileged part of the population. This has been reported not just in the parts of the press you’d expect it, like the Heil, but also allegedly liberal papers like the I. The Heil has also published official statistics showing that Indians and Chinese also outperform everyone else in education and work.

I’ve also little doubt he’s correct about the lack of working class people in the Beeb, and that it’s dominated by public school boys and girls, who look down upon on peeps from more modest backgrounds. But I think that’s common throughout broadcasting. Terry Christian, whose Manc tones graced the ’90s Channel 4 yoof programme, The Word, apparently describes how he was driven mad by much the same attitude there. He was the only working class lad amongst a group of people, who all went to Winchester public school. Which no doubt explains why he wanted public schoolboys put in Room 101 when he appeared on it all those years ago.

And here’s where we get to what is not being said: how many of the staff and the performers on the other, private networks come from working or lower middle class backgrounds. How many of the faces you see on Sky and who work behind the scenes are lads and lasses who went to state comprehensives, and whose parents worked as factory workers, bus drivers, cleaners, dustmen and so on. Very few, I expect. But Belfield deliberately avoids mentioning it. Because as a right-winger he hates the BBC for its ostensible ethic of impartiality and wants it to be replaced by private networks that can feed the British public the equivalent of Fox News. Like the Times would like to do with its new channel, Times News or whatever it is, which will present news with what they claim will be an objective slant against the ‘woke’, ‘wet’ BBC. Well, the Times ain’t be a source of objective news since the departure of the late Harold Evans as editor at the end of the ’70s, so this is especially risible.

White Working Class Despised Not By Labour or Democrat Left, But Blairite and Clintonite Neocons

As for the concern for White, working class boys, I think he’s right that a certain section of the left does look down on the working class. But this isn’t the Labour left. It’s the neoliberal, corporatist right of the Democrats in America and the Labour party. There’s a very interesting book, Confronting the New Conservatism, which attacks the Neo-Conservatives and particularly their warmongering and the illegal war in Iraq. It’s mostly written from a left-wing perspective, but some of those interviewed are traditional Conservatives. One of these is a female American colonel, who bitterly attacks Bush’s grotty administration as a bunch of chickenhawks who never served in the armed forces and hated and forced out experienced senior military staff, who knew far more about the Middle East and told them directly that they were wrong. The book argues that both American parties, Republicans and Democrats, have been infected with the Neocon virus. Part of this is the bilateral support by the White middle class for affirmative action policies, provided they don’t affect their children.

Right-wing Pseudo-Feminist Attacks on Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn Shows Contempt for Working Class

You can see that in the sociological origins of the Blairites. They’re very middle class, very public school. They support affirmative action policies for women and ethnic minorities, but really don’t have any time for the working class as a whole. And especially not working class men. One of the claims that was used to attack Jeremy Corbyn over here and the awesome Bernie Sanders in America was that, somehow, they were misogynist anti-feminists. Remember all the furore about ‘Bernie Bros’ and their attacks on Hillary Clinton? This was despite Sanders’ strong support for feminist groups and his appearance as an ‘honorary woman’ at feminist rallies. Because of his support for an expanded welfare system and Medicare for All, Sanders supports policies that would benefit blue collar and lower middle class workers far more than Clinton. She was a member of the corporate elite. She has done things that have benefited women and children, but in general she supports the grotty neoliberal, corporatism that are impoverishing working folks for the benefit of the very rich.

The I and the Groaniad launched the self-same attack on Corbyn. He was a male chauvinist, who would drag the party back to the days of old Labour when it was under the patriarchal control of the trade unions. I don’t believe for a single minute that Corbyn could ever be remotely properly described as any kind of misogynist. As a member of the Labour left, which was attacked in the ’80s for its support for Black, gay, and women’s rights, I think he’s the complete opposite. As for the trade unions, I don’t doubt that they were male dominated. The strongest unions were those in mining and heavy industry, which are traditionally male jobs. Women tend to work in the service industries, which are often poorly unionised. This is because employees in those sectors are in a weaker position regarding employers. But this isn’t an argument for weakening the unions. Rather it’s an argument for strengthening them so that they can enrol and protect women workers. My mother was a teacher, and I remember that during the teachers’ strike of the 1980s banners appeared with the slogan ‘A Woman’s Place Is In Her Union’. Too right. Feminism isn’t just for middle class Thatcherite girls.

Tories Claiming To Support White Working Class In Order to Exploit Them and Destroy Welfare State Even Further

The Tories have always attack the Labour party on behalf of disadvantaged Whites. The Daily Heil ran stories from the 1980s onwards, for example, denouncing various Labour councils for giving priority for council housing to non-White immigrants. But this conveniently omits the facts that the reason there was a shortage of council housing was because of the Tories: Thatcher had sold it off, and passed legislation forbidding councils from building any more. The Tories make a great show of standing up for the White working class because of their patriotism and traditional values. By which they mean the type of working class Conservatives on whom Johnny Speight based the monstrous Alf Garnet in Til Death Us Do Part. These were people, who lived in dingy homes with cracked windows, for whom the Tories had done absolutely nothing but who somehow lionised them.

Only Labour Left Really Standing Up for Working Class Whites, as Concerned for All Working People

The people who are really standing up for the White working class are the Labour left, people like Richard Burgon and in Bristol, mayor Marvin Rees. They’re standing up for the White working class as part of their mission to defend all working Brits regardless of race and colour, Black, Asian, White or whatever. Marvin Rees is Black, but he’s Bristol through and through and has said that he intends to stand up for the White working class as well as underprivileged BAME peeps. He has said that he wants more Bristolians to know about the city’s past as a major centre of the slave trade, but he doesn’t want to demonise the White working class, because they didn’t profit from it. They also suffered, according to him. Clearly he supports Black pride, but he also genuinely support the White working class and is reaching out to them.

Blairites and Tories Exactly Same in Contempt for White Working Class

But you will not hear about these initiatives, especially from the Corbynite left, from the lamestream media or the Tories. Because it contradicts their narrative that the Labour party is racist towards White working class folks. And they have a point when it comes to the Blairites, who are geared towards picking up middle class, Tory swing voters and have ignored or scorned their working class base. Their view of what counts as correct left-wing activism is feminism and anti-racism. Both of which have their place, but they concentrate on them while going along with the Tory destruction of the economy and British industry in the name of market forces, the privatisation of the NHS, because private enterprise is always better, and the dismantlement of the welfare state and workers’ rights, because the poor, the starving, the disabled and the unemployed are scroungers who could get a proper job if only they were properly incentivised. It’s the same view of the working class the Tories hold, except that they cynically exploit the petty jealousies and vindictiveness of sections of the working class to hold them down, while all the while claiming that it’s Labour’s fault. They’re cynically exploiting White working class resentment in order to maintain the British class system and the power and authority of the traditional ruling elites. All the while risible declaring that they’re not elite at all. As Tweezer did so with her cabinet, who were almost public school educated millionaires to a man and woman.

Don’t believe right-wing shills like Alex Belfield. The Tories despise ordinary working people. The only people who are really serious about doing anything for working people – including White working people – are the true Labour centrists. People like Richard Corbyn, Dawn Butler, and the other Corbynites.

‘I’ Review of Book on the Alma Fielding Poltergeist Case

October 12, 2020

Last Friday, 9th October 2020, the ‘I’ published a review by Fiona Sturges of the book, The Haunting of Alma Fielding, by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury, £18.99). Fielding was a woman from Croydon, who in 1938 found herself and her husband haunted by a poltergeist, the type of spirit which supposedly throws objects around and generally makes itself unpleasant. The review states that she was investigated by the Society for Psychical Research, in particular Nandor Fodor. Summerscale came across the case while going through the Society’s files.

I’m putting up Sturges’ review as I’ve friends, who are members of the Society and very involved in paranormal research, as are a few of the great peeps, who comment on this blog. Ghost hunting is also very big at the moment, and there are any number of programmes on the satellite and cable channels, as well as a multitude of ghost hunting groups across the UK, America and other countries. Despite its popularity, there’s a big difference between serious paranormal investigation of the type done by the SPR and ASSAP and the majority of ghost hunting groups. The SPR and ASSAP contain professional scientists as well as ordinary peeps from more mundane professions, and try to investigate the paranormal using strict scientific methodology. They contain sceptics as well as believers, and are interested in finding the truth about specific events, whether they are really paranormal or have a rational explanation. They look down on some of the ghost-hunting groups, because these tend to be composed entirely of believers seeking to confirm their belief in the paranormal and collect what they see as evidence. If someone points out that the evidence they show on their videos actually is no such thing – for example, most researchers believe orbs aren’t the souls of the dead, but lens artefacts created by floating dust moats – then the die-hard ghost hunters tend to react by decrying their critics as ‘haters’. Many of the accounts of their encounters with the supernatural by the ghost hunters are extremely dramatic. They’ll describe how members got possessed or were chased by the spirits on their home. I’m not saying such events don’t happen at all. I do know people, who have apparently been possessed by spirits during investigations. But the stories of such supernatural events put up by the ghost-hunters seem more likely the result of powerful imaginations and hysteria than genuine manifestations by the dead.

Academic historians are also interested in spiritualism and supernatural belief in the past because of what they reveal about our ancestors worldview and the profound changes this underwent during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Psychical research emerged in the 19th century at the same time as spiritualism, and was founded partly to investigate the latter. Both can be seen as attempts to provide concrete, scientifically valid proof of the survival of the soul after death at the time science was itself just taking shape and religious belief was under attack from scientific materialism. As the review says, spiritualism and psychic research were particularly popular in the aftermath of the First World War, as bereaved relatives turned to it for comfort that their loved ones still lived on in a blessed afterlife. One famous example of this is Conan Doyle, the creator of the arch-rationalist detective, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was a spiritualist, who helped, amongst other things, popularise the Cottingley Fairies in his book, The Coming of the Fairies. Another of his books in this area was Raymond, an account of his contact with the spirit of his son, who was one of those killed in that terrible conflict.

But the history of spiritualism is also interesting because of what it also reveals about gender roles and sexuality, topics also touched on in the review. Mediums stereotypically tend to be women or gay men. At the same time, historians have also suggested that there was an erotic element to seances and investigations. More intimate physical contact between the sexes was permitted in the darkness of the séance room that may otherwise have been permitted in strictly respectable Victorian society. At the same time, there is to modern viewers a perverse aspect to the investigation of the mediums themselves. In order to rule out fraud, particularly with the physical mediums who claimed to produce ectoplasm from their bodies, mediums were tied up, stripped naked and examined physically, including in their intimate parts. Emetics could be administered to make sure that their stomachs were empty and not containing material, like cheesecloth, which could be used to fake ectoplasm.

The review, ‘Strange but true?’, runs

In February 1938, there was a commotion at a terraced house in Croydon. Alma and Les Fielding were asleep when tumblers began launching themselves at walls; a wind whipped up in their bedroom, lifting their eiderdown into the air; and a pot of face cream flew across the room. The next morning, as Alma prepared breakfast, eggs exploded and saucers snapped.

Over the next few days, visiting journalists witnessed lumps of coal rising from the fireplace and barrelling through the air, glasses escaping from locked cabinets and a capsizing wardrobe. As far as they could tell, the Fieldings were not responsible for the phenomena. One report told of a “malevolent, ghostly force”. The problem, it was decided, was a poltergeist.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the writer Kate Summerscale, best known for the award-winning The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, was in the Society for Psychical Research Archive in Cambridge looking for references to Nandor Fodor, a Hungarian émigré and pioneer of supernatural study, who investigated the fielding case.

She found a dossier of papers related to Alma, compiled by Fodor, containing interviews, séance transcripts, X-rays, lab reports, scribbled notes and photographs. The file was, says Summerscale, “a documentary account of fictional and magical events, a historical record of the imagination.”

The Haunting of Alma Fielding is a detective novel, a ghost yarn and a historical record rolled into one. Blending fact and fiction it is an electrifying reconstruction of the reported events surrounding the Fieldings, all the while placing them in a wider context.

The narrative centres of Fodor, who at the time was losing faith in spiritualism – the mediums he had met were all fakes, and the hauntings he had investigated were obvious hoaxes. He was increasing convinced that supernatural occurrences were caused “not by the shades of the dead but by the unconscious minds of the living”.

But he was intrigued by Alma, who now experiencing “apports” – the transference of objects from one place to another. Rare stones and fossils would appear in her hands and flowers under her arms. Beetles started to scuttle out from her clothes and a terrapin appeared in her lap. She would later claim to be able to astrally project herself and give herself over to possession by spirits.

Summerscale resists the temptation to mine the more comic aspects of the story. She weaves in analysis on class, female emancipation and sexuality, and the collective angst of a nation. At the time, spiritualism was big business in Britain, which was still suffering the shocks of mass death from the First World War and Spanish flu. Seances to reach the departed were as common as cocktail parties. There was dread in the air, too, as another conflict in Europe loomed.

Alma became a local celebrity, released from domestic dreariness into the gaze of mostly male journalists, mediums and psychiatrists. Chaperoned by Fodor, she made frequent visits to the Institute of Psychical Research, where she submitted to lengthy and often invasive examinations.

We come to understand how Fodor stood to benefit from the cases, both in furthering his career and restoring his faith in the possibility of an afterlife. You feel his pain, along with Alma’s, as the true story is revealed.

It sounds very much from that last paragraph that the haunting was a hoax. There have been, unfortunately, all too many fake mediums and hoaxers keen to exploit those seeking the comfort of making contact once again with deceased relatives and friends. There was even a company selling a catalogue of gadgets to allow someone to take a séance. But I don’t believe for a single moment that all mediums are frauds. There is a psychological explanation, based on anthropologists study of the zar spirit possession cult of one of the African peoples. This is a very patriarchal culture, but possession by the zar spirits allows women to circumvent some of the restrictions of women. For example, they may be given rings and other objects while possessed through the spirits asking, or apparently asking, through them. It’s been suggested that zar possessions are a form of hysteria, in which women, who are frustrated by societal restrictions, are able to get around them. The same explanation has also been suggested for western mediumship and alien abductions. Many of the women, who became mediums and who experience abductions by aliens, may do so subconsciously as these offer an escape from stifling normal reality.

I also believe that some supernatural events may well be genuine. This view was staunchly defended by the late Brian Inglis in his history of ghosts and psychical research, Natural and Supernatural, in the 1990s. As an Anglican, I would also caution anyone considering getting involved in psychical research to take care. There’s fraud and hoaxing, of course, as well as misperception, while some paranormal phenomena may be the result of poorly understood fringe mental states. But I also believe that some of the supposed entities contacting us from the astral realms, if they exist, are deliberately trying to mislead us. The great UFO researchers, John Keel and Jacques Vallee, came to the same conclusion about the UFO entities. One of Keel’s books was entitled, Messengers of Deception. There’s also the book, Hungry Ghosts, again written from a non-Christian perspective, which also argues that some of the spirits contacting people are malevolent and trying to deceive humanity for their own purposes.

If you are interested in psychical research, therefore do it properly using scientific methodology. And be aware of the possibility of deception, both natural and supernatural.

Americans Afraid of Violence at Election Buying Guns and Ammunition

October 11, 2020

There was a report in this weekend’s I, for 10 – 11th October 2020, that the sales of armaments in the Land of the Free has gone up as people are afraid of violence breaking out between the supporters of Joe Biden and Donald Trump at the election. According to the report, ‘Fears it could all turn ugly fuel boom in arms sales’ by Andrew Hay, some are even afraid the violence could lead to civil war or social collapse. The article runs

Americans worried about possible violence after the presidential election are forming community watch groups or even taking up arms.

A common fear is that the 3 November contest between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden remains undecided, leading to protests that could escalate into civil unrest, or even sectarian conflict.

For Americans like financial adviser David Powell, the greatest worry is that they could be forced to take sides to protect civil rights, private property and even lives. “I’m not part of any group, don’t want to be part of a group, I’m your regular guy who is watching the news and is getting really concerned,” said Mr Powell, 64, or Raleigh, North Carolina. He said he worries about “Antifa thugs”, a term conservatives use to describe left-wing anti-fascist activists. He said he is prepared to “stand guard”. Some people are planning foreign vacations around election day or heading to rural retreats. Others have bought guns. Firearm sales hit a monthly record of 3.9 million in June, according to FBI data.

In Portland, Oregon, left-wing activist Dre Miller has reached out to leaders of the right-wing Proud Boys to set up a line of communication to resolve conflicts. “We need to be able to call a ceasefire when things get out of hand,” said Mr Miller, 37, an organiser with a Black rights group. “As a black man I cannot stand back. I’m standing up and standing by.” (p.13).

I’m not surprised. Although the Black Lives Matter protests have been described as mostly peaceful by the mainstream media, conservatives have posted videos on the internet showing violence and intimidation by BLM protesters, as well as mobs and individuals chanting racist slogans against Whites. This strikes at the racial and political fears that led to the emergence of the survivalist and militia movements in the ’80s and ’90s. They were formed by right-wing Americans afraid of social collapse and violence from Communists, the extreme left, and Blacks. There was a report on YouTube that Black Lives Matter protesters and a White militia faced off against each other a month or so ago. I’ve also seen reports that four members of a White militia have also been arrested for trying to kidnap the mayor of a town in Minnesota in order to start a civil war.

I don’t doubt that some of the fears of social collapse have been provoked by the emergence and collapse of CHUD, the autonomous anarchist commune in Seattle a few months ago. This lasted all of several weeks before it collapsed due to violence and lawlessness and the police moved in. But I’ve also no doubt that some of the fears also go back to some of the inflammatory, racist gibberish that the ultra-conservative right spewed against Obama. The conspiracy theorist Alex Jones ranted about Obama being the antichrist, and he and other members of the far right claimed that he was a Nazi, or communist, or militant Muslim, or atheist, filled with a genocidal hatred of White Christians. A couple of pastors running a church radio station told their listeners that he would start a ‘White genocide’ that would kill more people than Chairman Mao. Jones also claimed that Obama was plotting against the American people. America’s first Black president was going to declare an environmental emergency in order to imprison America’s people in FEMA camps as part of the globalist agenda to take over the world and turn us all into transgender cyborgs controlled by the evil, Satanic one-world government. Well, Obama’s been and gone for four years now, and Americans are as free as ever. But my guess is that those fears of a radical Black takeover are still lingering, and have been stoked by the BLM protests.

And there are parts of the American far right that would welcome a civil war before White and non-White, leftists and conservatives. The right-wing blogger Vox Day, aka Theodore Beale, posted a piece years ago expressing his view that America was going to disintegrate as the non-White areas split away from the White. I think he might have been looking forward to it, like many other extreme right-wingers, in the hope that it would mark the establishment of a White ethno-state.

So far tensions haven’t quite gone that far over this side of the pond. Britain has its fair share of gun freaks and shooting enthusiasts, but there isn’t the gun culture there is in America and paramilitary organisations like the militias are very definitely illegal over here. The NF/BNP used to organise weekend ‘self-defence’ courses, but these were shut down very quickly when the cops found evidence of weapons manufacture. When the contents of a garden shed was examined, the found a can of weed killer with its name crossed out and ‘Jew Killer’ written instead. Since then the BNP has collapsed and a slew of extreme right-wing, neo-Nazi organised proscribed as terrorist organisations.

Moreover, the Black Lives Matter protests over here have also been mostly peaceful, although this is challenged on YouTube by right-wing counterprotesters. The protests, like those in America, have been composed of both Blacks and Whites. One of the speakers at the protest in Cheltenham was a cute little girl, whose father was White. Black Lives Matter, or at least the branch in Bristol, also put out a statement that they weren’t trying to start a race war, but stop one. Whether these protests and the response to them would have remained peaceful had Sasha Johnson and her Black militia been active is highly debatable. As it is when the clip of her rallying her troops appeared on YouTube there were calls for government action from Alex Belfield amongst others. A right-wing backlash is now taking place against Black Lives Matter. Priti Patel and other members of the government have apparently denounced them so there is the potential for similar racial and political violence over here.

I honestly don’t know what can be done about the tense situation in America, except hope that the people with cool heads prevail and the protests, counter-protests and political rhetoric are toned down. The racial supremacists are going to be disappointed, as America is too old and stable for there to be a civil war. But there is the potential for serious violence and damage to people’s businesses and property, and obviously that needs to be avoided.

Let’s hope common sense and decency prevails against those seeking to provoke intolerance and violence.

‘I’ Report on Macron’s Vow to Fight Islamist Separatism in France

October 9, 2020

Here’s another piece from the I about extremism, from last Saturday’s edition for 3rd October 2020. Written by their columnist Michael Rose, it discusses the announcement by French president Macron that he intends to fight against the separatism and extremist Islam in Muslim communities on the other side of la Manche. The article runs

President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to fight “Islamist separatism”, which he said was threatening to take control in some Muslim communities around France.

France has struggled with Islamist militancy for years but the government is increasingly worried by broader radicalisation within Muslim communities. Officials cite the refusal of some Muslim men to shake women’s hands, swimming pools that impose alternate time slots for men and women, girls as young as four being told to wear full-face veils, and proliferation of Islamic schools.

More than 250 people have been killed on French soil over the past five years in attacks by Islamist militants or individuals inspired by Jihadist groups. “What we need to fight is Islamist separatism,” Mr Macron said during a visit to the impoverished Paris suburb of Les Mureaux. “The problem is an ideology which claims its own laws should be superior to those of the Republic.”

France follows a strict form of secularism which is designed to separate religion and public life. The principle was enshrined in law in 1906.

Many French Muslims have long complained of discrimination and marginalisation that have contributed to poverty and social alienation.

Foreign imams will no longer be able to train clerics in France and there will be tighter controls on the financing of mosques.

“There is a crisis of Islam everywhere, which is being corrupted by radical forms,” Mr Macron said. But he added France had a responsibility . “We have created our own separatism,” he said, citing the ghettoization of minority neighbourhoods.” (p.30).

We were taught a little about the French suburbs, the banlieus, or at least those in Paris, in Geography ‘A’ Level when I was at school nearly 40 years ago. I don’t know about now, but they were then hit by poverty and marginalisation. They were built simply to house people and so consist of nothing, or at least precious little, except tower blocks. It was assumed that the residents would go into the centre of Paris for their shopping and amusement, and so there are no, or very few, shops or local amenities. As for poverty and marginalisation, Ali A. Allawi describes the deprivation, poverty and underprivileged conditions of European Muslims in his book, The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation.

There’s also been much prejudice against Arabs and Muslims in France. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown described the very cold reception her mixed race family got there when they went for a holiday a few years ago in the Independent. I thought things had improved somewhat, as a few years later she wrote another piece about a recent holiday there in which she and her family were welcomed and treated with courtesy. There was also a series of anti-racist protests a few years ago, the name of which translates as ‘Don’t Touch My Mate’. This consisted of White young people showing their solidarity by standing up to racism and discrimination against their Black and Muslim friends.

But there has also been trouble with Muslim extremism and Islamist violence. Over a decade ago there were protests across France when the government ruled that under the doctrine of laicism, the official policy of French secularism, Muslim girls were banned from wearing the hijab in schools. This broke out despite leading French imams declaring that the ban didn’t contradict Islam and could be observed by pious Muslims. The insistence that girls as young as four should wear full-face veils is definitely extreme and not required by Islamic law. From what I remember from when I studied Islam at college as part of the Religious Studies course, girls up to seven years old can wear whatever they like. The dress requirements gradually come after they reach that age, and I think that they are only required to wear the full veil at puberty.

There have been fears about Islamic separatism in other European countries. In the 1990s there was controversy in the main Germany trade union organisation. This claimed that while the affiliated Muslim organisations or its Muslim members claimed to support integration, in reality they had a separatist attitude towards their non-Muslim brothers and sisters.

I also wonder if the accusation of separatism may not be literally true, in that some Muslims extremists may be pursuing a conscious policy of apartheid. I’ve written in previous posts how, when I was studying Islam, I came across passages in books published by British Muslim presses that demanded autonomous Muslim communities. And way back in January 2000, right at the dawning of the new millennium, the Financial Times included a brief piece featuring Anjem Chaudhry, who never met an Islamist terrorist he didn’t like. Chaudhry was then running an outfit called Sharia4Belgium, which wanted Belgian Muslims to have their own autonomous enclave with Arabic as it official language, governed by sharia law. Chaudhry’s now in jail for his support for al-Qaeda and ISIS. I don’t know if such demands are still being made by sections of British and European Islam following the 9/11 attacks and the government’s attempts to curb Muslim radicalism and promote integration. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was, somewhere, though the vicious Muslim firebrands like Kalim Siddiqui, who declared that British society was a monstrous killing machine and that killing Muslims comes very easily to non-Muslim Brits, seem to have gone quiet. The imam, who received Salmon Rushdie back into the faith, also recommended that Britain should train its own imams. When he was writing their was a shortage of Muslim clergy in Britain, and he was afraid that religious extremists from places like Pakistan were being allowed in thanks to this.

Macron’s comments also came at the same time that the Spectator published a piece claiming that the Swedish authorities had announced that immigrant communities in some of their cities were dominated by criminal gangs and had turned whole areas into a no-go zones. There was a war going on between a number of immigrant criminal gangs, in which firearms and even rocket launchers had been used. The Swedish chief of police had supposedly appeared on television to state very clearly that the immigrants responsible for the violence were not proper asylum seekers, but had come to the country simply to make money through selling drugs. This was apparently confirmed by the Swedish prime minister, Lofven, who said that his country would not be taking any of the former residents of the destroyed immigrant camp in France. Or so it has been claimed by right-wing, ant-immigration websites.

A few years ago the Islamophobic, ‘counterjihad’ websites Gates of Vienna and Vlad Tepes wrote pieces praising a book by the former mayor of one of the German towns. He claimed that his town had effectively been overrun by Muslims, who maltreated and forced out ethnic Germans. The book was widely attacked and criticised. They also claimed that Malmo in Sweden, or at least parts of it, had been taken over by Muslim immigrants and become violent, crime-ridden no-go zones for non-Muslims. I don’t know how true these reports are as they come from the racist right, websites which did have connections to the EDL. Certainly Fox News’ claim that British cities like Birmingham had been taken over by Muslims and were now no-go zones for White and non-Muslim Brits provoked widespread criticism and hilarity when they made it a few years ago.

It seems to me that nevertheless, even if these claims are exaggerated, there is nevertheless a real fear of Islamic separatism throughout Europe and that Macron is reacting to it in France.

One contributory factor, I have no doubt, is neoliberalism and the destruction of the welfare state. The French scholar, Alfred Kepel, advances this argument in his book on the resurgence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish fundamentalism, The Revenge of God. When Thatcher started her attacks on the welfare state in the 1980s, she hoped that it would lead to a resurgence of charity. This didn’t happen. But Muslims are obliged to support the poor through the zakat, the alms-tax paid to the local mosque. I think this concern to give to the local poor amongst Muslims isn’t confined just to their own community in Britain. There were Muslim restaurants giving free meals to the homeless at Christmas, and my parents bumped into a young Muslim woman, who was also buying stuff she could give to the food bank, in our local supermarket. But the support provided by the mosques in the absence of state aid does mean that communities may become more isolated and inward-looking.

If we really want to stop Islamic separatism, as well as White racism, not only should Britain and Europe take measures promoting racial integration, but neoliberalism urgently needs to be ditched. It’s dividing communities as it pushes people into real, grinding poverty. But there’s no chance of that, at least in this country, as the very rich are making too much money at the expense of the rest of us, regardless of our colour and religion.

‘I’ Report on Conviction of Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn as Criminal Gang

October 9, 2020

First a piece of good news. Yesterday’s I for 8th October 2020 reported that a Greek court had convicted the Golden Dawn of being a criminal organisation. This was the Golden Dawn that’s a neo-Nazi outfit responsible for violent attacks on immigrants, left-wing activists and the murder of rap singer, not the Golden Dawn, which was an early 20th century occult society. Although the latter did briefly have Aleister Crowley, the Beast 666 and the ‘wickedest man in the world’ as a member.

The ‘I’s report on page 25, by Derek Gatopoulos, runs

A Greek court has ruled that the far-right Golden Dawn party was operating as a criminal organisation, delivering a landmark verdict in a marathon five-year trial.

The court ruled that seven of the party’s 18 former legislators, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading a criminal organisation, while the others were guilty of participating in one.

As news of the guilty verdicts broke, cheers and celebrations erupted among the crowd of more than 15,000 people gathered in an anti-fascist rally outside the Athens courthouse.

A small group among the crowd threw Molotov cocktails and stones and police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

The marathon trial had been assessing four cases rolled into one: the 2013 fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, physical attacks on Egyptian fishermen in 2012, and on left-wing activists in 2013, and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organisation.

The 68 defendants included the 18 former legislators from the party that was founded in the 80s as a neo-Nazi organisation and rose to become Greece’s third-largest.

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the verdict “ends a traumatic cycle” in the country’s public life.

The three-member panel of judges also delivered a guilty verdict against Giorgos Roupakias for the murder of Mr Fyssas. prompting applause in the courtroom and among the crowd.

Roupakios had been accused of being a party supporter who delivered the fatal stab wound to Mr Fyssas. Another 15 defendants – none of them former legislators – were convicted as accomplices.

Outside the courthouse, Mr Fyssas’s mother, Magda, who had attended every session over five years, raised her arms and shouted: “Pavlos did it. My son!” All five people accused of attempted murder against the fishermen were also found guilty, while the four accused of attempted murder in athe attacks against left-wing activists were found guilty of the lesser charge of causing bodily harm.

“Today marks a huge victory for justice and respect for Greece and the entire world,” said Eva Cosse of Human Rights Watch. “It sends a strong message that hate crimes are not and should not, be tolerated in a democratic society.”

There was never any real doubt that the Golden Dawn were a neo-Nazi organisation, although they denied it. They took as their symbol the angular design used in ancient Greek friezes which resembles a series of interlinked swastikas. Whenever they were asked about it and its similarity to the Nazi symbol, they claimed instead, quite rightly but disingenuously, that it was an ancient Greek design. They also celebrated the ancient Spartans. They were the ruling Herrenvolk of the Greek city state of Sparta, a society geared to war. Babies were examined after their birth to make sure that they had no physical defects or malformities. Those who failed the test were brutally disposed of by being thrown into a nearby cavern. Archaeologists have chillingly discovered the bones of a large number of infants, presumably the victims of this cruel custom. Beneath the Spartans themselves were the Helots, the state slave class, the descendants of the city’s original inhabitants whom the Spartans had conquered and enslaved. One day each year normal laws were suspended to allow the Spartans to treat the Helots however they liked, up to and including murder. In its militarism, enslavement, eugenics and racism it very much resembles the Nazis and their horrific Third Reich.

One of the internet news organisations a few years ago made a documentary about the Golden Dawn. They interviewed the Egyptian fishermen and other extra-European immigrants, who’d been attacked by them. I don’t doubt that the austerity imposed on Greece by the EU contributed to the organisation’s rise. We were taught at in Geography at school, when we studied the Third World as part of the ‘A’ Level course, that extreme poverty leads to political extremism and racial and ethnic conflict as different groups fight over resources. Apart from attacking immigrants themselves, the Golden Dawn also attacked and tore down their stalls in the local markets. They also gave out food parcels, but only to ethnic Greeks. It’s excellent that the organisation and the murderous thugs running it have been successfully prosecuted.

Zelo Street put up a very good piece about the Golden Dawn’s conviction, pointing out that it poses something of an embarrassment for the Spectator, its editor, Fraser Nelson, and board chairman Andrew Neil. Because the magazine, itself heading rapidly towards the far right, published a piece by Greek playboy and jailbird, Taki, praising the Nazis. Way back in 2013 Takis had written in his column that

Golden Dawn came into being because of PC, poor Greeks at times getting fewer benefits than African illegal immigrants. Then GD became very popular with certain poor Greeks while it defended them from being mugged by Albanian criminals and drug dealers, and for safeguarding older folk after bank withdrawals”.

He also claimed that they weren’t Nazis, but just good, patriotic Greek boys who were just rough. No, I think it’s quite clear they really were Nazis. And murder and violent assault goes far beyond being a little rough.

When people complained about Taki’s article, Nelson responded by saying

Our readers like diversity and well-written pieces that they disagree with. We have no party line”. This prompted Sunny Hundal to ask if they had any limits at all. Could they write pieces praising Hitler? Well, they haven’t so far, but Taki did write another piece stating that the real heroes of D-Day were the German soldiers, who fought to the death against overwhelming numbers. This is particularly remarkable considering the brutality and atrocities committed by the Italian Fascists and the Nazis during their occupation of Greece. Nelson defended this piece by arguing that “People like reading well-argued pieces with which they might disagree”. Well, you wonder. You wonder if the problem is that actually, at least part of the Speccie’s readership do agree.

The Street wondered how Nelson can defend publishing such stuff praising the Golden Dawn and excusing their violence, while claiming any complaints about it simply came from the PC brigade and invoking free speech. The Street concluded

‘After the verdicts were handed down in Athens today, Fraser Nelson should have stopped and thought. And then he should have resigned his post. But he won’t.

Because that would require principle. And he hasn’t got any. I’ll just leave that one there.’

Well, yes. It should at least have given Nelson pause. But it won’t stop him. He’s been publishing Taki for years, despite frequent complaints about his anti-Semitism. And doubtless Nelson will continue printing pieces by him. The Spectator’s a Tory magazines, and the publication of such pieces by Taki suggests that many of the rag’s readers have the same attitude towards Blacks, Muslims and Jews as those the blogger Jacobsmates found on internet sites for supporters of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson.

But remember, there’s supposed to be no problem with racism and anti-Semitism in the Tory party, who deal with it promptly, unlike Labour.

Have Astronomers Found Traces of Life on Venus?

September 19, 2020

The big story on Tuesday was that astronomers had discovered traces of a gas, phosphine, in the atmosphere of Venus. The gas is produced by living organisms, and so it’s discovery naturally leads to the possibility that the second planet from the Sun may be the abode of life.

The I’s edition for 15th September 2020 reported the discovery in an article by David Woods entitled, ‘Forget Mars, a startling discovery may mean there’s life on Venus’. This ran

Alien life could be thriving in the clouds above Venus: a team of astronomers detected a rare gas in its atmosphere, according to a study involving British researchers.

Venus, the second planet from the Sun, has a surface temperature of 500o C, and 96 per cent of its atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide. But the discovery of phosphine, around 31 miles (50Km) from the planet’s surface, has indicated that life could prosper in a less hostile environment.

On Earth phosphine – a molecule of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms – is associated with life. It is found in places that have little oxygen, such as swamps, or with microbes living in the guts of animals.

A group of British, American and Japanese scientists – led by Jane Greaves from Cardiff University – first identified Venus’s phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The presence of the gas was confirmed at an astronomical observatory of 45 telescopes in Chile. The discovery was published yesterday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Professor Greaves said: “This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock.” Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, a Royal Greenwich Observatory astronomer, who was part of the research team, added: “This was an incredibly difficult observation to make. We still have a long way to go before we can confirm how this gas is being produced but it is definitely an exciting time for science.”

The team is now awaiting more telescope time to establish whether the phosphine is in a particular part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. While the clouds above Venus have temperatures of around 30oC, they are made from 90 per cent sulphuric acid – a major issue for the survival of microbes.

Professor Emma Bunce, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, has called for a new mission to Venus to investigate the findings.

This reminds me somewhat of the excitement in the 1990s when scientists announced that they may have discovered microfossils of Martian bacteria in a meteorite from the Red Planet found in Antarctica. The above article was accompanied by another piece by Woods, ‘Nothing found since claims awed Clinton’, which described how former president Clinton had made an official announcement about the possibility of life on Mars when the putative microfossils were found. The article states that confirmation that these are indeed fossils is lacking. It also notes that 4,000 exoplanets have also now been found, and that some of them may have life, but this has also not been confirmed. Astronomers have also been searching the skies for radio messages from alien civilisations, but these haven’t been found either.

Dr Colin Pillinger, the head of the ill-fated Beagle Project, a British probe to the Red Planet, also argued that there was life there as traces of methane had been found. This looked like it had been produced by biological processes. In a talk he gave at the Cheltenham Festival of Science one year, he said that if a Martian farted, they’d find it.

A few years ago I also submitted a piece to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society suggesting that there might be life in Venus’ clouds. It was based on the presence of organic chemicals there, rather similar, I felt, to those on Saturn’s moon, Titan, which at one time was also considered a possible home of alien life. I got a letter stating that the Journal was going to run it, but in the end they didn’t. I think it may have been because another, professional astronomer published an article about it just prior to the proposed publication of my piece. I think I threw out the Journal’s letter years ago while clearing out the house, and so I don’t have any proof of my claim. Which is obviously disappointing, and you’ll have to take what I say on trust.

The possibility that there’s life on Venus is interesting, and undoubtedly important in its implications for the existence of life elsewhere in the cosmos if true. But I think that, like the Martian microfossils, there isn’t going to be any confirmation for a very long time.

Spain Passes New Laws Against Glorification of Fascist Franco

September 18, 2020

This is another excellent piece of news I found in Wednesday’s issue of the I, for 16th September 2020. It reports that the Spanish government has passed a historic law banning the glorification of General Franco, the country’s Fascist dictator, and granting reparations to his victims. The article reads

Spain has passed a law to give reparations to the victims of the late dictator General Francisco Franco.

The Democratic Memory Law will ban the foundation which guards the memory of the dictator and fine those who glorify Franco up to 150,000 euros (£138,000).

The mausoleum where Franco’s body lay for more than four decades will also be transformed into a civilian cemetery as part of other changes. School children will be taught about the law.

This is the same law that an earlier article in that same day’s edition reported offers Spanish citizenship to the descendants of Brits who served in the International Brigades that fought against Franco in the Spanish civil war. It’s a great piece of news. Franco was a butcher, who held on to power from the his victory at the end of the civil war to his death in 1975. There’s evidence, but no proof, that he may have been helped launch his rebellion against Spain’s Republican government by our secret services.

Spanish liberals have fought long and hard to overturn his legacy. Spanish archaeologists have faced considerable resistance to the excavation of the mass graves of the old thug’s victims. His mausoleum was particularly offensive. He claimed that it was a monument to everyone who fell in the civil war, regardless of what side they were on. In fact it solely glorified Franco and his Fascists. And he continued to cast a long shadow over Spain even decades after his death. I remember the looks of real horror and fear that came into the face of young Spaniards back in the 1990s at the mere mention of his name.

There was a statue of him on horseback somewhere, which has become a rallying point for Fascist scumbags from across Europe. I don’t know whether that’s still around, but the Spanish people made their own efforts to take it down. Way back in the 1980s its hindquarters were blown off with a bomb. And he was another dictator, who liked having towns and villages named after him. One of these got into the news in 1980s as it changed its name. I can’t remember precisely what the new name was, except that it roughly translated as ‘Our Town’ or ‘Our Village’. Which is obviously better than Pueblo Franco or whatever.

He was like the rest of the dictators in that he was of much less than imposing stature. I’ve got a biography of him somewhere, which said that he was under five foot tall and had a high, piping voice. He was a pious Roman Catholic, and his father had left his mother for another woman, leaving her to bring him up. He was thus very chaste, and so when he was an officer in Spanish north Africa, the other troops thought he was gay because he didn’t visit the brothels.

He was a brutal disciplinarian. When he was an officer in north Africa, he had an Arab/Berber solider shot after the man threw his meal at him. He was ruthless in his treatment of the north Africans, and treated the Spanish the same way in the civil war and his reign afterwards.

It’s great that at last the Spanish have been able to undo his cult, and are offering citizenship to the descendants of the people, who fought against him, and reparations to his victims. It’s just a pity that it’s taken all this time to do it.