Posts Tagged ‘UFOs’

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

May 26, 2020

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is This the Most Insulting Comment Aliens Have Said to an Abductee?

April 29, 2020

I’ve just finished reading Dr. David Clarke’s The UFO Files, a history of UFOs in Britain from the phantom airship scares of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the abduction experiences from the 60s onwards, the 70’s craze created by Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, right up to the years immediately preceding the book’s publication in 2009. The book was written to accompany the release of the government’s files on UFOs by the National Archives, and is naturally based on the records compiled by the MOD, the Air Ministry, RAF and armed forces, and the Airmiss inquiry group, which investigates near misses between aircraft.

It’s a fascinating book that shows that UFOs have been around for over a century and that the government and the British military don’t really know any more about them than anyone else. The aliens haven’t established secret bases in Britain, and neither to the RAF or anyone else for that matter have alien bodies stashed away in a secret hangar somewhere. The official government line, repeated over and again, is that UFOs or of ‘no defence significance’, and they really don’t want to get involved unless it’s absolutely necessary. They’ve therefore investigate UFO sightings and encounters when it affects national security, such as if the UFOs may actually be foreign planes. The last government report on the phenomenon concluded that most of them were generated by people wrongly identifying a variety of artificial objects and natural phenomena. Those that couldn’t be properly identified, were probably poorly understood meteorological phenomena, electromagnetic plasmas, which could also create hallucinations through interfering with the brains of witnesses. This part of the report was, however, attacked by scientists on its release as pseudoscience.

But very many of the UFOs reported over the years have been people mistaking a variety of normal objects and phenomena for alien craft. During the First World War, an anti-aircraft crew at an army base in Cumbria fired at what they honestly believed was a German Zeppelin. Except that an officer, arriving at the scene, reported that he saw them staring at a star. It was discovered during the Second World War that flocks of migrating birds could make radar trails very much like approaching enemy aircraft, although the airmen sent up to intercept them would find no-one except themselves up there. During the Cold War, UFO reports were generated by the Americans releasing the Mogul spy balloons from their base in Scotland, as well as later flights by spy planes like the U2 and SR-71. These were so secret, the Americans didn’t inform their NATO allies in the countries across which the planes and balloons traveled on their way to the USSR. As a result, RAF jets were scrambled to intercept these unidentified aircraft, while there was a spate of UFO reports along the German border.

Some UFO sightings were also caused by particularly spectacular fireball meteors burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. One of these was responsible for the Berwyn mountain crash, dubbed by some ‘the Welsh Roswell’. A series of meteors were seen over England, followed by an earthquake measuring 4-5 on the Richter scale centred in Bala. It was feared that a military plane had crashed on the mountain, as several had done so previously. The RAF therefore sent up a mountain rescue squad, which found nothing and came back down again. This was subsequently inflated into stories of the RAF’s retrieval of a crashed UFO and alien bodies.

Other sightings were caused by the re-entry of Soviet spacecraft burning up in the atmosphere. This is believed to be the cause of the Rendlesham Forest incident, ‘the British Roswell’, in which a group of American squaddies from a USAF base entered the forest to encounter a triangular UFO in 1980. It seems that the Americans seen the rocket for a Soviet Cosmos spy satellite re-entering, and then the lights from a nearby lighthouse, believing they came from an alien spacecraft.

One MOD scientific/intelligence officer believed that most UFO reports could be satisfactorily explained if they had been investigated immediately they occurred, rather than sometime afterwards. Nevertheless, there are encounters that are still genuinely perplexing. Such as the report a trucker driving through Devon in the ’70s made at a local police station. He had been driving along the main road there when a craft shaped like a mushroom descended, landing on the road ahead, out of which came six short figures wearing uniforms. After gesturing at him, the creatures eventually got in their spacecraft, which lifted up into the air and flew on, leaving the trucker shaken by the experience.

And then there’s the encounter reported by a gent in Basingstoke in 1968. The fellow had been walking down by the canal one morning when a UFO descended and he was taken aboard by their occupants. They examined him, before telling the poor chap, “You can go. You are too old and infirm for our purposes.” Popular SF, which seems to have strongly influenced the content of UFO encounters, has been full of tales of evil aliens coming to other to conquer and enslaved humanity, and carry off people off for breeding purposes. It’s usually females, as in the SF B-movie Mars Needs Women, but sometimes men as in the 1949 Hammer flick, Devil Girl from Mars. This episode occurred around about the time of the Villas Boas encounter, when a Brazilian farmer of that name had been abducted by aliens and forced to have sex with a red-headed alien woman. Possibly the crew of the Basingstoke UFO also had something similar in mind. If so, both they and the poor bloke they abducted were out of luck. Or perhaps they had in mind something far more unpleasant, in which case their intended victim was lucky. The Contactees, who met peaceful aliens in the 1950s, and the abductees from the 1980s onwards, were given messages by humanity by the aliens they encountered. These tend to moralistic sermons preaching international and intergalactic brotherhood, peace, an end to nuclear weapons and concern for the environment. Sometimes they include descriptions of the aliens’ own planets and their societies. Sometimes they’re even whisked away on journeys to these distant worlds. This poor fellow didn’t get any of that, just the blunt statement that he was too old and infirm for them. He was spared the horror and humiliation of being examined and experimented upon, but their comments still seem just a tiny bit insulting. They could have put it a bit more tactfully.

My own feeling is that UFOs, when they aren’t misidentified normal objects or phenomena, are internal visionary experiences drawing on the imagery of Science Fiction, but expressing deep-seated human fears and needs. I don’t know what generates them. I think some are probably the result of poorly understood psychological states, such as sleep paralysis. But I also wonder if others are genuine encounters with something paranormal, something that in previous centuries took the form of fairies and other supernatural beings, and now takes the form of aliens and spaceships as images more suitable for our technological society.

While David Clarke’s done excellent work researching the government’s UFO archives, and has shown that very many of them have entirely rational explanations, there may still be something genuinely paranormal out there. But it didn’t want the man from Basingstoke it encountered on that day in 1968.

Cartoon: Paul Staines – Reefer Madness

March 10, 2020

Galactic Greetings, and welcome to another of my cartoons satirising the Tories and their appalling members. The target of this one is Paul Staines, the founder and head honch of the Guido Fawkes political gossip and smear site. And the film the cartoon’s inspired by is the old stoner favourite, Reefer Madness. This was a propaganda movie put out in the 1950s to warn people off cannabis. I think its plot is about a bunch of people smoking weed, losing their minds through its powerful intoxication and murdering each other.

I don’t condone the use of illegal drugs, but thousands, probably millions of people in this country ingest it or some form or other, and definitely don’t suffer those ill effect. Like any drug, it does have its dangers. There is, apparently, such a thing as cannabis psychosis, where very heavy users of the drug have damaged their brains. And I have been told of instances of violence inflicted by those damaged by such drug use. But for most people, the effects are probably those described by a chief of police back in the 1980s. The government then was considering decriminalising it. They asked the good rozzer what he thought of it. He declared that he’d tried it once, and all it did was make him giggle. This is probably all it does to most people, who use it. Hence the film is now chiefly watched by stoners for camp laughs, because it’s so hilariously, massively wrong.

I’ve no objection to the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal use. I’m not happy with cannabis consumption at the moment because it’s illegal, and so in the hands of criminal organisations who can be extremely dangerous and violent. At the same time, I’m afraid that if it was made legal, the kind of people who are attracted to it because it’s forbidden fruit would move on to harder, more dangerous drugs, like heroin and cocaine. And these are already a far too big problem.

Staines is a suitable target for jokes about drugs, because he was part of a libertarian organisation, the Libertarian Alliance. The Libertarians, apart from believing in the complete destruction of the welfare state, absolute unregulated private industry and the privatisation of the NHS, also advocate the legalisation of recreational drugs. Staines himself was into Ecstacy. This was the drug of the ’90s rave scene, in which Staines was also deeply involved, helping to organise many of the musical gatherings. See his Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Staines. The French philosophical feline, Guy Debord’s Cat, found this piece by Staines explaining his support for recreational drugs in an essay he wrote for the Libertarian Alliance.

A lot of my Thatcherite/Libertarian friends get very suspicious when I tell them about the love and peace aspects of taking Ecstasy. To them love and peace equals hippies equals leftist. The feeling of unity and shared enjoyment to them smacks of collectivism, not the rugged individualism that they favour. But the drug actually removes inhibitions, liberating your mind from petty concerns. You feel a sense of solidarity, but it is totally voluntary, there is no coercion. Libertarians are opposed to coercive collectivism, but if I as an individual choose to enjoy a collective experience because I want to, than that is up to me. I suspect that a lot of right-wingers, Conservative, Thatcherite or Libertarian, cling to their inhibitions and are actually afraid of letting go. Many Conservatives by their very nature fear the dynamic. They are wary of the unusual and prefer tradition, stability and the conventional. The idea of losing their inhibitions to the extent that they might say or do something embarrassing horrifies them.

Some people, particularly those of a Conservative inclination, have an irrational dislike of drugs, often based on what they believe or know about drug addicts. Somehow drug pushers are evil, akin to poisoners. A lot of drug pushers are unpleasant, but that is because it’s an illegal business, and criminals are often unpleasant, violent people. Some drug dealers I know are ruthless, dishonest, dangerous psychopaths, while others are honest, peace loving, fair minded people who just happen to be in a business of which the majority of people are said to disapprove. If alcohol or tobacco was made illegal a similar situation would arise with them. Most British Conservative groups are not at all sympathetic towards legalising drugs, the Committee for a Free Britain being the only one that has come down in favour of decriminalising drugs. This might have something to do with the fact that during my time at the Committee for a Free Britain we got through quite a lot of the stuff.

At the same time, Staines’ own political sympathies were also with the authoritarian extreme right. While a member of the Federation of Conservative Students in Hull, Staines wanted to form an alliance with the BNP. He disagreed with them on immigration, but that was his only point of difference with them. He did, however, share their goals of a return to leadership, the abolition of the welfare state, and the elimination of communism in Britain – in the mass media, education and the trade unions. This was also when the FCS supported apartheid in South Africa.

He was also a member of the Campaign for a Free Britain, which was funded by Rupert Murdoch. This used to have as speakers at its conferences such delightful figures as Adolfo Calero, one of the leaders of the Nicaraguan Contra death squads. According to Wikipedia, he also used to write reports on human rights violations by the Sandinistas. Staines’ political sympathies, therefore, a very definitely Fascistic.

See: https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/tag/paul-staines/

This is why I’ve shown Staines with cannabis leaves, smoking a reefer, along with a giant toadstool. It’s fly agaric, whose white spots contains a powerful hallucinogenic used by Siberian shamans. And the face in the stalk is that of Guido’s latest junior teaboy, Tom Harwood. He’s there because he’s a member of the Fawkes massive, and, at least in the photos put up by Zelo Street, looks either stoned or colossally thick. And as Staines is so far right-wing, it struck me that if he was on hallucinatory drugs, he’d see Hitler. According to the late drug guru, Terence McKenna, people using DMT, a powerful psychoactive used by South American shamans, commonly see entities he calls ‘the machine elves’ during their trips. I’ve replaced them with the Grey aliens of UFO lore, who to me represent much the same thing. And as Staines is a Fascist, they’re wearing World War I-style German spiked helmets. Because Staines was a passionate member of the rave scence, he and they clutch glow sticks. The trouble is, the Greys’ large eyes look a little like the aviator spectacles used by American cops. This makes them look like they’re an extraterrestrial tribute band for Village People. Which is a terrifying thought.

Anyway, here’s the cartoon. I hope you enjoy it, and hey, don’t have nightmares!

It also struck me while drawing this that if you wanted to nobble Staines, with his history of raves and drug use all you’d need to do is put on one of the bands associated with the scene, like Inspiral Carpets or The Shamen. Then before you know it, the flashbacks would start and he’d be out there in a warehouse on his own, waving glow sticks around while singing ‘Es are good! Es are good!’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Soros and Genuine Neo-Nazi Conspiracy Theories

December 30, 2019

Left-wing and anti-racism bloggers, commenters and campaigners have pointed out again and again how right-wing conspiracy theories about the supposedly nefarious activities of the financier George Soros, such as those promoted by the far-right Fidesz government in Hungary, conform to the poisonous Nazi conspiracy theories about evil Jewish bankers. Mainstream Conservatives have also blamed Soros’s influence for opposition to their policies in Britain. For example, Jacob Rees-Mogg, apart from accusing John Bercow and another Jewish politico of being ‘Illuminati’ – which has its own anti-Semitic overtones – also claimed that George Soros was financing the Remain campaign.

But the conspiracy theories about George Soros don’t just resemble Nazi mythology. They are a part of it, at least in some of the material that arose from the neo-Nazi fringe in the 1990s. In his book on contemporary Nazi paganism, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (New York: New York University Press 2002) Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke discusses the work of Jan van Helsing, real name Jan Udo Holey, and his 1993 Geheimgesellschaften und ihre macht im 20. Jahrhundert (Secret Societies and their Power in the 20th Century). Two years later, in 1995, Helsing published Geheimgesellschaften 2. This consisted of his extended responses to interview questions. As you can imagine, despite Helsing’s avowed denials, it is a deeply anti-Semitic book. Goodrick-Clarke writes

Here he denies the charge of anti-Semitism, claiming Jewish friends and colleagues, before making the disingenuous distinction between Semitic Hebrews and Ashkenazi Jews or Khazars, who are his real antagonists in the persons of Rothschilds, Warburgs, the English royal family (!), Marx, Lenin, Stalin, etc. This ploy recapitulates the progressive disqualification of Jews from their Israelite heritage in Christian Identity doctrine. He then reprints several pages of Dr. Johannes Pohl’s vicious translation of the Talmud that was published by the Nazi Party in 1943 as anti-Semitic propaganda. On the Protocols, Helsing simply denies that their authenticity is an important issue: they exist and they are being applied. To complete his anti-Jewish rotomontade, he reveals that former Chancellor Helmut Kohl was born Henoch Koch and shows how George Soros is ruining East European economies through his liberal economic writ. Helsing’s dubious sources, his constant repetition of Jewish names as members of private and public organisations, and above all his emphasis on the assets and powerbroking influence of the Rothschilds as the top Illuminati family leave no doubt that his conspiracy theories are aimed at Jewish targets. (P. 296, my emphasis).

In case any of this sounds remotely credible, it’s worth noting that the royal family aren’t Jewish and neither were Lenin or Stalin. Stalin definitely not – he was a bitter anti-Semite. Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor, wasn’t Jewish either. Van Helsing also believed that there’s a secret Nazi underground base in Antarctica, as well as colonies of other Reich Germans in the Canaries, the San Carlos area of Argentina, the Bermuda Triangle and the Himalayas. They also have a standing army of 6 million soldiers, including immigrants from Aldebaran. Yes, van Helsing believes the Nazi saucer mythology, in which Adolf and his band of thugs were helped by aliens from the star Aldebaran, who told them how to build flying saucers. Of which the Reich Nazis have an armada of 22,000.

When Jacob Rees-Mogg or the other Tories rant about George Soros, they are repeating an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and should be criticised for it. But Conservative anti-Semitism has received nowhere near the amount of attention as the anti-Semitic smears against Corbyn and the Labour party. This is despite anti-Semitism being far lower in Labour. John Mann, the Tories’ anti-Semitism tsar, has shown himself completely uninterested in investigating it in the Tories, and blocked and called the children’s poet, Holocaust educator and broadcaster Michael Rosen a troll when he tried to draws Mann’s attention to some examples.

This shows how fake the Tories’ concern about anti-Semitism really is, just as the inclusion of George Soros in van Helsing’s wretched, vile anti-Semitic conspiracy theories show the real Fascism in similar fears about the financier in Tories like Rees-Mogg.

Is Black Anti-Semitism Behind the Attacks on Jews in New York?

December 30, 2019

Yesterday came the shocking news that there had been yet another anti-Semitic attack in New York. The attacker had pushed into a rabbi’s house where he and a group of others were celebrating Hanukkah, and stabbed five of them. And Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon, has posted a video about it.

Sargon is the right-wing ranter, who broke UKIP. He’s a ‘classical liberal’, or rather Libertarian, who believes in privatising everything, destroying the welfare state even further, and is anti-feminist and racist. So it should come as no surprise that he supports Donald Trump. Sargon is the man who sent the Tweet to Jess Philips telling her that he wouldn’t even rape her. When he joined UKIP and was selected as one of their two candidates for the south-west constituency in the Euro elections, the branch in his own town of Swindon asked for him to be deselected. Gloucestershire UKIP disbanded in disgust, and he was greeted with protests and thrown milkshakes and fish in places like Bristol and Truro on his election tour.

But this time Sargon seems to have raised an interesting issue and made a decent point. In his video, he goes through some of the newspaper coverage of the incidents. Yesterday’s attack is sadly only one of a number that have been carried out in recent weeks, so that several of the members of the Jewish community affected have said that they felt they were living in Nazi Germany.  Sargon noted how the newspapers claimed that the attackers were of both genders and all races, male and female, Black and White. He found a piece where one newspaper columnist called for Jews and Blacks to unite against their common enemy, white supremacy. But Sargon stated that in all the incidents he’d seen, the perpetrators had been very largely Black, although there were a few Hispanics. And he quite naturally wondered why.

Now it could be that the idea that the attacks are committed by Blacks is an illusion. It’s possible that there were equal numbers or more of Whites involved, but for some reason these were not covered as examples. Or else they were reported, but Sargon couldn’t find them when he searched the net. Certainly there have been terrible anti-Semitic attacks carried out by White racists this year.

But some of the attacks may also be due to causes peculiar to certain forms of Black radicalism. If that’s true, then it must also be stressed that this is only going to be a minority within America’s Black community, just as White racists like Richard Spencer certainly do not represent all White Americans.

Sargon suggested that it might be connected to a speech by the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, which was taken down from YouTube. Farrakhan, whose anti-Semitism is notorious, had ranted about the Jews, at one point comparing them to Termites. Given that the attackers seemed to be largely Black, he didn’t see how Trump or White supremacy could be blamed. He claimed that Trump didn’t have any problem with Jews, as his daughter had converted to Judaism. So, he asked, why were Blacks attacking Jews? He then made the perfectly reasonable point that we wouldn’t know unless somebody asked them.

It is possible that Farrakhan’s highly inflammatory rhetoric against Jews could have inspired some of the attackers. Farrakhan is the head of the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim organisation that, from the standpoint of orthodox Islam, is highly heretical. It’s a mixture of 19th century Freemasonry, Sudanese Sufism and elements of Ufology. It’s central doctrine is that W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, is the Son of God. Farrakhan claims that he was taken up to a flying ‘mother wheel’ by a UFO from a mountain in Mexico, and shown that Fard is alive and well and living on Venus, directing the war against Whites. The religion calls for the creation of a separate nation for Black Americans as it considers that they will never have justice or equality under White domination. They also believe that hundreds of thousands of years ago Blacks had an advanced civilisation, travelling to and exploring the Moon. White people are albinistic mutants created by a renegade Meccan scientist. Way back in the 1990s Farrakhan was predicting that American would be destroyed by a nuclear attack from an alliance of Muslim nations, that would free Black Americans. The religion is obviously bitterly hostile to Whites, or at least White civilisation. Given the immense exploitation and injustice Blacks have suffered in American and western history, it’s understandable.

Farrakhan also has a particular hatred of the Jews, because he blames them for the slave trade. Mainstream, respectable scholarship, such as Hugh Thomas’ comprehensive The Slave Trade, actually shows that Jews formed a tiny minority of slave traders and slave-owners.

A number of right-wing American websites also reported that the man responsible for an attack on a Jewish supermarket just before Christmas was a member of the Black Hebrew Israelites. This was a response to one of the left-wing Democrat politicos, who claimed that it was the vile work of a White nationalist. The Black Hebrew Israelites were founded c. 1964 by two preachers of Black Judaism, Gerson Parker, who took the name Nasi Hashalom, and Louis Bryant, who became Nasi Shaliach Ben Yehuda. Hashalom was the group’s spokesman, and revered as the Messiah. In 1969 they established a community in Dimona in Israel. The group believe that the only real Jews are Black Americans of slave ancestry.  Jews are fakes, and are part of the conspiracy to hide Black Americans’ real, spiritual identity from them. They will be destroyed, along with the rest of the religion’s enemies, at the Battle of Armageddon. This didn’t impress the Israeli authorities, who ruled that the Black Hebrew Israelites were not genuine Jews, and so could be legally deported. However, this hadn’t occurred by 1992, and the group was reported to have good relations with the Israeli authorities.  

It’s possible that the growth in the Nazi and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in the White population may also have encouraged similar poisonous ideas in the Nation of Islam. The September 8th, 1992 issue of the religion’s newspaper, The Final Call, carried an article that suggested that the American government was planning to fake an alien landing in order to set up a tyrannical one-world government. The article featured an interview with UFO researcher Nario Hayakawa, who said

The U.S. government behind a veil of secrecy, is testing these aerial devices or select pilots may be receiving instructions [from alien beings] on how to fly these disk shaped crafts developed by the government for the purpose of staging a fake extraterrestrial event in the very near future, perhaps around 1995… Secret international banking groups and other global secret groups are going to forcefully eliminate international borders and create some kind of controlled society… The most amazing weapon they will use to do this will be the extraterrestrial threat. 

(See Donna Kossy, Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief (Portland: Feral House 1994) 27).

This is very similar to some of the ideas promoted by White conspiracy theorists at the time, like Bill Cooper in his book, Behold a Pale Horse. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince also suggested that there was a conspiracy to create a Fascist social order with a fake alien landing in their book, The Stargate Conspiracy, published at the same time. This last book does not, however, blame the Jews and is certainly not anti-Semitic.

These ideas have been around for decades, however. This raises the question of why these attacks are being carried out now.

While Sargon is right that Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism – she did so when she married Jared Kushner, his son-in-law – Trump’s administration did contain allegedly genuine anti-Semites like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, and he did have links to and sympathy for the Alt Right. It might be that the growth in far right activism and racist rhetoric that his presidency has encouraged among White nationalists and racists like Richard Spencer has encouraged a similar increase in racism and anti-Semitism among some Black radicals.

On the other hand, it may also be that these attacks arise from tensions that a particular to the Black community. But left-wing commenters may also be right in that Trump’s neoliberal economic policies have resulted in more Americans of all colours facing terrible poverty. This is going to exacerbate racial tensions as groups compete over scarce resources. And the economic and social sense of threat this creates may cause some to seek out the Jews as scapegoats.

Racism and anti-Semitism have to be fought in all their forms. But the underlying economic causes have to be tackled as well – the poverty and the sense of despair and alienation this generates.

And that means electing a government that Sargon is definitely opposed to: one that will overturn decades of neoliberalism and restore genuine prosperity and a proper welfare net to working people. A government headed by Bernie Sanders.

 

 

Book/Magazine on the Secret Warplanes of the Third Reich

December 24, 2019

Luftwaffe Secret Project Profiles, text by Dan Sharp, illustrations Daniel Uhr (Horncastle, Mortons Media 2018).

This is one of those curious magazines, which are really soft-cover book. I found this leafing through the magazine racks of W.H. Smith last Friday, along with the modelling magazine on present day spacecraft. Morton’s have published a series of books on the strange aircraft the Nazis developed during the Second World War. Desperate to snatch away the Allies’ impending victory, they encouraged German aircraft designers and engineers to produce innovative aircraft. And some of these were very weird indeed. They included rocket planes like the ME 163 and Bachem Natter, as well as bizarre planes that incorporated rotor blades around the fusilage and propellers mounted both fore and aft. This book doesn’t cover the weirder designs, but many of those it does include are very unorthodox. The Nazis had developed jet technology, the most well-known examples are the ME 262 and the pulsejet engine that powered the infamous V1 Flying bomb. As this book shows, German engineers also developed other planes incorporating both rocket and jet power.

The blurb for the magazine reads

The constantly evolving nature of the air war from 1939 to 1945 meant existing aircraft types on all sides required constant upgrades and requirements for new types were regularly passed on to aircraft manufacturers.

The German government had already put huge resources into aviation research and development before the War – resulting in significant technological progress. So when the Luftwaffe asked for new aircraft, firms such as Messerschmitt, Focke-Wulf, Heinkel and Henschel were able to draw on cutting-edge aerodynamic research in formulating their designs to meet those requirements.

Competitions were held and the firms’ designs were measured against one another and against the German government’s strict standards – and the result was further evolution and development of even the most advanced aircraft proposals.

Luftwaffe: Secret Project Profiles focuses on the jet-propelled aircraft designs of the German aircraft manufacturers during the Second World War, beautifully illustrated by aviation artist Daniel Uhr.

More than 200 high-detailed full colour profiles cover the full range of German jet ‘secret projects’ from the war years, accompanied by details of why the designs were produced and how they fared against their competitors – based on the latest archival research.

Offering a host of different colour schemes and detailed notes, this is indispensable reading for enthusiasts and modellers alike. 

After the introduction, the book has chapters on

  1. Early jet designs of Messerschmitt
  2. Messerschmitt Me 262 versions
  3. Arado Ar 234 versions
  4. Rocket fighters
  5. Interim night fighters
  6. The 1000 x 1000 x 1000 bomber. This took its name from its intended ability to fly 1,000 km at 1,000 kph carrying 1,000 kilos of bombs.
  7. Pulsejets
  8. The 1-TL-Jager, intended to replace the ME 262
  9. The Volksjager, or ‘People’s Fighter’. This would be an airplane that even untrained pilots could fly into combat.
  10. Ramjet fighters
  11. The first jet bombers

The concluding chapter is on miscellaneous jets.

The designs produced included aircraft with swept or delta wings and a single dorsal fine in the tail, like the ME 163 rocket plane. Some were also tailless, such as the plane designed by Horten. It has recently been suggested that this is what Kenneth Arnold saw when he reported a group of ‘flying saucers’ over the Rockies in 1947. It has also been suggested that the Soviets were planning to stage a fake alien landing using an adapted version of the aircraft with children surgically altered by Mengele, which just seems to me to be distasteful bullsh*t. Some of the planes had twin tails, or replaced the standard tail fin with a V-shaped arrangement, or had two dorsal fins at the end of the lateral fins. There was also a flying wing design, and a ramjet plane which would have replaced the tail with a large dorsal fin containing the cockpit. Other unusual planes were two-stage aircraft. Some of these had a rocket engine as the first stage, one of which was very like the V-2 rockets that hit London. Another design consisted of a carrier aircraft, from which another plane was launched.

Many of these radical designs never made it off the drawing board. Others seem to have resulted in a few prototypes, but never went into mass production. The stranger planes look like spacecraft from Science Fiction, or else they were what Dastardly and Muttley from the Hanna Barbara cartoons would have designed if they were set in World War II rather than World War I.

Some of these new designs influenced the development of post-War aircraft. It is no accident that one delta-winged bomber appeared a little like the later RAF Vulcan. After the War the captured aircraft designs and information were taken back to Britain and America. German research on delta-wings, which resulted in the ME 163 rocket interceptor, were used in the development of the Vulcan, and probably Concorde, because delta wings were then able to withstand extremely high speeds better than conventional wings.

This is a fascinating piece of aviation history and will, I’m sure, appeal to people with a genuine interest in the real unconventional craft the Germans were producing. But admiration with wartime German technical innovation should never obscure the fact that the Nazi era was a monstrous dictatorship that had at its heart the organised slaughter of millions.

But also looking at these planes, I also wonder what secret designs we were also producing in the same period, which have yet to be publicised.

Video Summary of BBC Horizon Programme ‘The Hunt for Gravity Control’

November 25, 2019

And now for something a little different. Trev, one of the great commenters on this blog, asked me a little while ago about anti-gravity in a comment on a piece I’d put up about UFOs. Way back in 2016 the BBC’s Horizon science programme had an edition, ‘The Hunt for Gravity Control’, which dealt with the hunt by British, American and Russian scientists to create an anti-gravity device. This began in Britain with the aerospace scientist Ron Evans at BAE, who started Project Greenglow. At the same time the Americans had a similar project, NASA’s Advanced Propulsion physics Programme, under the direction of Marc Millis. This aimed to discover alternative methods of space propulsion to rockets. A Russian scientist, Eugene Podkletnov, believed he had also discovered a method of creating anti-gravity through the use of superconductors and a spinning disc. However, this has not been replicated, and one of the scientists interviewed on the programme dismisses Podkletnov’s claims as ‘crap’. A Black physicist, who I don’t think is named in the clip, explains why scientists believe anti-gravity is impossible: it would need an object with negative mass, which instead of creating a kind of hole in spacetime would produce a type of mound around it instead.

There has, however, been a breakthrough of sorts. At the end, Dr. Evans is shown a device which uses quantum physics to detect bodies as small as that of a human through the tiny gravitational attraction they cause, at a distance of a meter. This gives Evans hope that one day, humans may be able to master gravity.

The full documentary’s about 50 minutes or so long. It was repeated a few months ago on BBC 4, and I think it might be available on BBC iplayer. The narrator’s Peter Capaldi, who was the last Dr. Who before Jodie Whitaker took over.

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Sci-Show Explains the Psychology of Alien Abductions

October 7, 2019

A week or so ago I put up a post stating that when it comes to alien abductions and entity encounters, I subscribe to the ‘psycho-social hypothesis’. Roughly stated, this considers that they are internal, psychological events which draw on the imagery of space and science fiction for their content.

This video from Sci-Show on YouTube uses the same explanation for the phenomenon. The presenter argues that it probably arises from some strange, apparently inexplicable experience. There are many of these, but one favourite of psychologists and researchers is sleep paralysis. This when someone wakes up from sleeping, but elements of the dream and sleep state still persist. They find themselves paralysed, often with feelings of dread and the sense that there is an invader in the room. Sometimes there are feelings of bliss. Looking back, they may misremember elements of the experience, drawing on others they’ve had. The presenter here takes care to state that those who claim to have abduction experiences are no less sane and able to cope with normal life than anybody else.

But they are more prone to misremember things. He goes on to argue this using an experiment in which two groups, one of people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens and another, which wasn’t, were shown lists of words. They were shown lists of words and asked to remember them. Then they were shown another list of words. They were then asked to remember the words in the first list. The individuals, who believed they’d been abducted by aliens were significantly worse at remembering the words from the original list, confusing them with those in the second. It’s called a source attribution error. Psychologists believe that this is the same mechanism that explains alien abductions. People have a psychological experience, and then mix it up with things they have seen elsewhere, like a monster they saw in a movie. The presenter makes it very clear that this study is not definitive, as it’s very difficult to find groups of people, who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, who are willing to take part in psychological experiments.

This experiment is one of a number, which shows how fallible human memory is, particularly in the case of eyewitness accounts and especially if the witness is asked leading question. The presenter concludes with the statement that abduction experiences don’t have much to say about life out in space, but they do say much about life down here, in the human skull: consciousness.

Part of the problem with the abduction phenomenon is that many of the researchers do use untrustworthy techniques to try to recover what they believe is hidden or lost memories. One of these is regression hypnosis. This has been used by Bud Hopkins, Leo Sprinkle and a number of others. It was first used by Dr. Walter Benjamin on Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple, whose experience is the archetypal alien abduction. They were travelling back from a holiday in Canada, when they found themselves shadowed by a strange light, which then landed in a field. They got out to look, and then Barney screamed when he saw strange creatures in the craft. They then had an experience of missing time, getting home much later than they’d anticipated. Over the next few days they suffered from various strange psychological problems and sought help from Dr. Benjamin. Benjamin hypnotically regressed them, during which experience they remembered being taken aboard and medically examined by the aliens. Betty was shown a star map by the aliens, which supposedly showed the location of their home world. This was identified by a friend of Betty’s as Zeta Reticuli. Hence the belief in the abduction mythology that the hated and feared Greys come from this star.

With respect to the couple, sceptics have argued that this is likely to be a false memory. The aliens they described under hypnosis were very similar to an alien creature that had featured on an science fiction show a night or so before. Hypnotic regression is also certainly not a sure way to recover lost or suppressed memories. The FBI investigated the use of hypnosis back in the 1950s as a way of recovering useful details from witnesses. They abandoned it as far too unreliable. Hypnotic subjects were prone to confabulating – inventing details and memories – in response to questions from the hypnotist. Parts of the ufology milieu in 1990s, like the Magonians, were horrified at some of the tales of sadistic aliens and general hopelessness related and felt by abductees after they had been hypnotically regressed. They therefore banned its use. The Magonians went further, and savagely attacked the whole mythology of alien abductions and the culture that had grown up around it, and demanded it’s immediate stop. And with very good reason. But it seems that some UFO groups and abduction researchers are still using it.

I’m not saying the psycho-social hypothesis is a complete or the final explanation for alien encounters. There may be some accounts that are genuine experiences of encounters with paranormal entities. John Keel and Jacques Vallee in their books UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse and Passport to Magonia – showed how UFO encounter narratives were similar to traditional fairy lore. They weren’t UFO sceptics, however, but believed that the same phenomenon that had created fairies in the Middle Ages was now responsible for UFO experiences. It may be that UFO encounters, or some of them, are based on real encounters with such Ultraterrestrials, as Vallee calls them. But I believe that the psycho-social theory provides a sound explanation for the majority of alien encounter and abduction experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IPSO and the Press Story about Princess Di’s Warning to Meghan Markle from beyond the Grave

October 6, 2019

I found another interesting snippet from Private Eye while I was looking through a pile of old copies last night, which adds a slightly different perspective Prince Harry’s decision to prosecute the press.  Harry is rightly angered at the way his and other’s phones were hacked, and it appears that one of the other victims was his mother, Princess Diana. It looks like one of those bearing responsibility for that was Piers Morgan, who was editor of the Mirror and then News of the World when it happened.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/10/prince-harry-says-they-hacked-diana.html

I’m afraid I’ve misplaced the snippet, but if anyone’s really interested, I’ll try to find it again. But it was a report on a later sent to a complainant by IPSO about an article published in one of the newspapers. This claimed that a pair of ‘psychic twins’ had been contacted by the late Lady Di, who had given them warning from her to be given to Meghan Markle. If the Eye’s account is correct, it was deeply tasteless story. I’m not a sceptic regarding life after death and the possibility of the dead contacting the living, but this is right up there with some of the nonsense spread by mediums like the late Doris Stokes in her prime. And the various celebrity mediums, who’ve come out with messages from everybody from Henry VIII, Julius Caesar and Queen Victoria. It’s nonsense. The person, who complained to IPSO about it apparently objected to it because these claims were being reported as fact. IPSO stated that they decided that it had not. The article had included plenty of terms indicating neutrality towards the truth of the twins’ claim, like ‘perhaps’, and indicated that they were only reporting what they claimed through statements like ‘they said’. And so IPSO turned the complaint down.

The article didn’t say, who had complained to IPSO, carefully preserving their anonymity. And it could have been anyone. Princess Di may be over twenty years’ dead, but she still has her fans. Just as Meghan Markle and Harry also have their admirers amongst the general public, quite apart from their personal friends.

I was never a fan of Princess Diana. She did some good as Prince Charles’ consort, notably in her campaign against landmines. But she was also adept at manipulating the press, and her spat with Charles did diminish the general esteem of the monarchy, even if Charles was the adulterer. Nevertheless, she was killed with Dodi Fayed trying to escape the paparazzi press that followed and exploited her.

This story reminds me of comments Robbie Williams made a few years ago on a programme hosted by Jon Ronson on Radio 4. Ronson and Williams were going to a UFO and alien abductions convention in the US. When asked how he got interested in ufology, the 90s singing sensation replied that it was partly due to the rubbish he had suffered from the press about his mother. She was a medium, and so the papers had run endless stories about Williams, his mother and spooks until he was so sick and tired of it that he couldn’t read the papers. It was then that he started getting into UFOs, as something of a diversion. And on the subject of UFOs, Williams sounded remarkably sensible and grounded. When asked about some of the absurdities of the alien abduction phenomenon and Indigo Children – supposedly aliens incarnated as children to guide us here on Earth – he simply replied that he didn’t believe it or disbelieve it.

You can well understand why Williams would be upset with the press stories about himself and his mother. Just as it would be no mystery to anyone if Harry was upset about similar stories about his own mother and wife. Lady Di was certainly no angel, but she was hounded to her death by the papers. And the papers have been attacking Meghan Markle, with more than an undercurrent of racism beneath. How dare this American woman of colour marry a royal! And anyone would be annoyed at the press for hacking their and their family’s phones.

I therefore have every sympathy for Prince Harry’s decision, and wish him the very best in his suit against the press, particularly Rupert Murdoch and Piers Morgan. I’m sure that many Conservatives will too. I know one, who hated the Sun despite its right-wing bias, because it had taken every opportunity to exploit and run down the monarchy. It looks like now one of the royals is biting back.