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Confronting boxing's segregation history

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 9:08pm in

Imperialist and racist tactics were used to attempt to ensure both literal and symbolic white dominance of the sport, argues Gavin Lewis

Claudia Jones: Communism and the Notting Hill Carnival

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 6:51am in

As well as founding the Notting Hill Carnival, Claudia Jones lived a revolutionary life fighting for black liberation and socialism, writes Lucy Nichols

Cover And Catalog Copy For ‘The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: My Shapeshifting Journey’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 4:00am in

The good folks at Temple University Press have a cover design for my forthcoming book, ‘The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: My Shapeshifting Journey.’

Here is the catalog copy for the book:

An autobiographical account of a cricket lover’s journey across nations and identities

The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: A Shapeshifting Journey

Samir Chopra is an immigrant, a “voluntary exile,” who discovers he can tell the story of his life through cricket, a game that has long been a presence—really, an obsession—in his life, and in so doing, reveals how his changing views on the sport mirror his journey of self-discovery. In The Evolution of a Cricket Fan, Chopra is thus able to reflect on his changing perceptions of self, and of the nations and cultures that have shaped his identity, politics, displacement, and fandom.

Chopra’s passion for the sport began as a child, when he rooted for Pakistan and against his native India. When he migrated, he became a fan of the Indian team that gave him a sense of home among the various cultures he encountered in North America and Australia. This “shapeshifting” exposes the rift between the old and the new world, which Chopra acknowledges is, “Cricket’s greatest modern crisis.” But it also illuminates the identity dilemmas of post-colonial immigrants in the Indian diaspora.

Chopra’s thoughts about the sport and its global influence are not those of a player. He provides access to the “inner world” of the global cricket fan navigating the world that colonial empire wrought and cricket continues to connect and animate, observing that the Indian cricket team carries many burdens—not only must they win cricket matches, but their style of play must generate a pride that assuages generations of wounds inflicted by history. And Chopra must navigate where he stands in that history.

The Evolution of a Cricket Fan shows Chopra’s own wins and losses as his life takes new directions and his fandom changes allegiances.

Did the Militia Group that Planned to Kidnap the Michigan Governor Commit Treason?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 10:00pm in

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock On Wednesday, October 7, the Michigan Attorney General filed 19 state felony charges against...

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The gathering Covistance, its promise and its main enemies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 6:32pm in

Those who already in March foretold the folly of lockdowns and social distancing did not dream we’d still be in the same place after 7 months. Only slowly has it dawned that the panic would become an enduring business model. For a long time, we believed sanity would soon prevail and all we had to do was argue the case and let the prophesised damage speak for itself.

Yet there now is an emerging Covistance: a resistance to the covid-mania and its business model. It’s main message is that the vast majority of the population should immediately return to normal life and enjoy themselves. Throughout the world you see critical civic society groups emerging that share this message, involving medics, lawyers, economists, journalists, businesses, and the general public. In Australia, that Covistance is relatively high-profile with particular television networks, former PMs, and newspapers openly resisting the covid-mania. Brave insiders like Sanjeev Sabhlok have shown zivilcourage. The same is true in the UK, the US, Germany, France, Spain, and many other places. But not everywhere. In consensus countries like the Netherlands and New Zealand, for instance, the Covistance is low-profile with only a few doctors, lawyers, and the odd economist popping their heads above the parapet.

In an intellectual sense, forgive me for saying so, the Covistance won the argument a long time ago. I don’t say this because some 500,000 people and 20,000 scientists signed the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), or because the experience of Sweden really does show that you dont get Armageddon if the population behaves normally. I also don’t say this because the WHO’s special envoy on Covid implicitly agreed lockdowns were a bad mistake and that the WHO’s own modellers think the virus is no more harmful than a nasty seasonal flu after all, which it admitted when it let slip it thought 10% of the world was infected already (implying an IFR of 0.13%). Nor do I say this because the covid-mania policy objectives keeps changing radically from “delay infections” to “eradicate the virus” to “the miracle vaccine is coming”. I don’t even say this because the Covistance is basically advocating a return to the scientific consensus of before the covid-mania of march 2020 and thus has scientific gravity on its side.

I say the intellectual fight is long-won by the Covistance because the actions of both governments and populations reveal them to secretly agree. Just look at how short-term all the economic measures were and still are: they have been designed to last months, hence predicated on the notion of a return to normality when the virus has run its course. Ask yourself how many governments are openly planning to live for years with lockdowns and hence really thinks their policies can continue for years, which is the timeline on the Phase III trials of the vaccines? Why do you think many governments still use and publicise exaggerated projections of deaths and cases instead of accurate numbers if realistic numbers were honestly deemed proof enough? Why the continued censorship and harassment of demonstrators by the authorities if they believed their case was strong enough to keep the population onside anyway? Many governments are simply going from one short-run plan to another, displaying a lack of any real belief in their actions.

You see the same revealing two-faced attitude now increasingly in the general population. Many still say they want harsh measures, but join raves in the woods, full beaches, secret parties in homes, and forget about their masks and social distancing as soon as they’ve had a few. The tv and films they watch are showing normal life. The education their kids are getting is oriented towards normal life. So their actions betray they don’t truly believe in a “new normal”. Covid-mania has for many become what listening to sermons in the church used to be: you really believed it Sunday mornings, but ignored it the rest of the week.

So who is the natural enemy of the Covistance? Who is committed to the fear-mongering such that they will give no quarter? As usual, the question an economist asks is ‘cui bono’: who is benefiting? Unfortunately, the answer is that the group of beneficiaries has grown over time and is very powerful.

A very important unexpected beneficiary is Big Tech. The Nasdaq, which is the share market for the Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook, shows you the story: in March, the Nasdaq plunged just as much as the Dow Jones and other industrial share markets. So Big Tech analysts did not expect it to win. Yet, by mid-April it became clear that while the industrialists were indeed losing business, Big Tech was actually making a killing from the lockdowns. People too frightened to go to stores or to the office worked from home and shopped online. Katching for Big Tech! The Nasdaq is hence now substantially higher than before the mania, whilst the other share markets are much lower.

Big Tech thus became a powerful ally in the censorship programs of governments. It already ‘followed the WHO guidance’ and brushed out conflicting advice, which was a tough job since the WHO kept changing its mind on things like face masks and  lockdowns. The collaboration with covid-mania turned even more blatantly anti-scientific when scientific sanity returned in this debate in the form of the GBD. In most countries, but not the US (!), Google stopped allowing the website of the GBD to pop up in the first page when you googled “Great Barrington Declaration”. I saw that change for myself and you can check the screenshots of people in different countries. On Bing or Duckduckgo you do see the actual website of the GBD. Try it yourself to see if this censorship holds where you are. What I got this morning on the first page in London from Google were links to silly conspiracy stories surrounding the GBD. Reddit has also banned GBD in some of its forums.

Big Tech is powerful and not easily dismissed. Even most of the Covistance uses Facebook, twitter, Reddit, Google, and all the other mainstream communication platforms. If Big Tech makes life sufficiently difficult for the Covistance, then that Covistance would have to turn to other providers of technology, which is a big cost many wont easily make. It is not all bad though: Big Tech is revealing its hand and showing a group of privileged people who otherwise would not notice what these companies are prepared to do. We are learning the hard way that Julian Assange has been right about them all along.

Another group of beneficiaries is made up of the medical advisers around most governments. In their panic of march 2020 they ditched the contingency plans available and went with the totally unproven experiments of lockdowns and all the other things they advocated subsequently. They have been found out to be no more than copycat pretenders, for whom admitting their mistake would likely spell the end of their careers. The same is true for many economists who jumped on the initial bandwagon. They are now doubling down too. In for a penny, in for a pound.

An even more committed group are the businesses and bureaucrats employed by covid-mania. Think of the covid-marshalls in the UK who tell random people how to live. Think of the purveyors of masks and tests. Think of the companies that have sold billions of vaccines even before they are produced. Think of the hordes of regulators that dream up tiers, levels, flow-charts, and action-plans relating to covid. Think of the companies delivering home office supplies, home internet services, and sanitisers. Think of those who initially couldn’t have dreamed they would be in higher demand, like dog breeders and second-hand car salesmen.

The longer the covid-mania lasts, the longer the list of commercial entities predicated on its continuation grows. At a certain moment, the old economy is simply gone whilst a new one to replace it would still take years to fully absorb the workforce. Yet, that new economy is less productive and would of course collapse if the restrictions ceased because the old desires supporting the old economy (like entertainment and travel) would once again kick in. We could have a decade of recessions: from the old to the new and then another one when we go back again.

Last but not least, of course, the beneficiaries include many politicians. Their power and popularity has soared beyond previous levels, and whilst the popularity slips away the power is still in their hands. I know you might hate to hear this, but power is very, very addictive. Our literature, from Faust to Macbeth, tells us of its lure and what people are willing to do for it. Well, hordes of politicians have been handed power by covid-mania and have used it to expand that power. This makes them formidable enemies of the Covistance that wants them to let that power go.

So, these are then the enemies of the Covistance: many governments, an emerging industry of public-sector oriented profiteers, an emerging industry oriented towards the commercial new normal, Big Tech, and all those who staked their reputations and livelihoods on the covid-mania.

I deliberately did not put the media on this list, despite the fact that one can certainly say their have been culpable in the emergence of covid-mania and are a key tool of governments in maintaining it. That is because media has no real horse in the race: if it changes its mind and its tune because it sees the population change its mind, it will not matter much to their business. Many journalists have clearly enjoyed being fear-mongerers, but as an industry the media is not a big beneficiary and hence not really the natural enemy of the Covistance. They are potential allies, particularly if they see the tide changing.

I also did not put the general population or any segment of it on the list. That is because every segment is such a clear loser from covid-mania in the long-run. The economic and social collapse is not to the benefit of any large group in society. Even the elderly will not win from being starved of contact with their friends and family for years, with their health services and pensions diminished. Some groups have been convinced they benefit from the mania, but since they do not really benefit, I regard no major demographic as natural enemies of the Covistance. They are to be convinced.

Apart from the committed enemies, there are also roadblocks put up along the way. All the myths and superstitions surrounding covid are of that ilk. Examples are the myths that overflowing IC units spell Armageddon for the population, that children are as much at risk as the elderly, or that long-covid is just as important as risks of death. A new myth is the idea of a “circuit breaker” of 2-4 weeks, by which they mean a repeat of the failed European lockdowns lasting 2 months first time round. The constant stream of unopposed garbage coming from governments and hangers-on adds to the roadblocks facing the Covistance.

What are the chief weapons of the Covistance? Of course the Covistance has good arguments on its side, but we should realise that we have far more powerful weapons in our arsenal than science and reason.

The Covistance offers hope and fun. We dont fear the virus and hence laugh, sing, dance, share, and dream together. The covid-maniacs must at least pretend to be isolating and pessimistic. They have to advocate poverty and prudishness for all whilst the Covistance promises Christmas, Carnaval, busy pubs, and long nights.

So “bella ciao, bella ciao” my fellow Covistas. Not only do I believe we have truth on our side, but also fun and hope. Even Big Tech can’t win against that.

Live Event: Living with Pandemics: Finding New Narratives

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 5:05pm in

Tags 

pandemics, history

In conversation with Dr Erica Charters and Robin Gorna. TORCH Goes Digital! presents a series of weekly live events Big Tent - Live Events! Performance Week​ Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities.

How have societies responded to pandemics, throughout the world, and throughout time? What are the new narratives, meanings and cultures that emerge and shape emerging realities? As this conversation will remind us, there is no simple answer to the problem of disease – but disease is also far more than a medical or scientific problem. Robin Gorna will draw on her experiences with social movements and cultural responses to AIDS since the 1980s, which brought hope and massive social change in the midst of rage and death. She will discuss the many connections between the two pandemics - of cultural change, politics and people and emerging narratives, with reflections on her current experience of living with Covid-19 in her own body. Erica Charters will discuss a just-published special issue of Centaurus on ‘The history of epidemics in the time of COVID-19’, reflecting on how the discipline of the history of science and medicine has responded to the current pandemic. Sharing historical approaches to understanding disease, she will explore how historians have framed pandemics and what a long-term context might offer for our understanding of COVID-19.

Biographies:

Dr Erica Charters (History Faculty and Wolfson College) examines the history of war, disease, and bodies, particularly in the British and French empires. Her current research focuses on manpower during the eighteenth century, examining the history of bodies as well as the history of methods used to measure and enhance bodies, labour, and population as a whole, including the history of statistics. Since disease was the biggest threat to manpower in the early modern world, Erica looks at how disease environments – throughout the world – shaped military, commercial, and agricultural power, as well as how overseas experiences shaped European theories of medicine, biology, and race alongside political methodologies such as statistics and censuses. Erica's monograph Disease, War, and the Imperial State: The Welfare of British Armed Forces during the Seven Years War (Chicago, 2014) traces how responses to disease shaped military strategy, medical theory, and the nature of British imperial authority (awarded the AAHM 2016 George Rosen Prize and the SAHR 2014 Best First Book).

To read more about Erica's recent publication, please visit: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/16000498

Robin Gorna is an AIDS activist and feminist who has led global and local campaigns and organisations, including SheDecides (the global women’s rights movement that she co-founded 2017), the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (hosted by WHO), International AIDS Society, and Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. She set up the global AIDS Team for DFID (Department for International Development) in 2003, and then moved to South Africa to lead the UK’s regional and national HIV and health programmes. She co-founded, and now chairs, the St John’s College Women’s Network. She studied Theology but spent far too much time involved in student drama until the end of her 2nd year when she saw an early performance of The Normal Heart (by Larry Kramer) and signed up as a volunteer with the UK’s new AIDS Charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust. She remains fascinated by the ways in which culture and the arts inspire social movements, including the global AIDS response. She publishes regularly and wrote one of the earliest books on women, Vamps, Virgins and Victims: how can women fight AIDS? She’s now working on a feminist memoir exploring a life lived between two pandemics. For more information, please visit Robin Gorna's website here: www.robingorna.com

A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 6:27am in

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.

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

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 5:12am in

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.

What about the beat?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 11:32pm in

While much of the discourse around popular music might emphasise the importance of singers, it’s really all about the beat, argues Martin Hall

Lawless Tories Pass Legislation Allowing Security Forces to Commit Crimes

This is very ominous. It’s another attack on the security of British citizens from potential persecution and tyranny from their own government. On Wednesday, 6th October 2020, Mike put up a piece on his blog reporting that Boris Johnson and his cronies have passed legislation that permits MI5, the National Crime Agency and other organisations using undercover agents and informants to commit crimes. They do, however, have to show that the offences are ‘necessary and proportionate’, but won’t say which crimes are authorised for fear of revealing the identities of their spies to the criminals and terrorists they are attempting to infiltrate and monitor. Mike also points out that there’s the danger of ‘mission creep’, that the scope of the crimes the undercover cops and agents are permitted to commit will expand as the security forces decide that this is required by their activities.

The new law was opposed by both Labour and Tory MPs, criticising the lack of safeguards in it which they described as ‘very vague and very broad’. In fact, only 182 Tory MPs voted for it. Keir Starmer once again showed his Blairite utter lack of backbone, and ordered the party to abstain. Only 20 Labour MPs voted against it. This means that it would have failed if Labour had had any principles and opposed it. Unsurprisingly, the Labour MPs who voted against it included the ‘far left’ MPs Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Ian Lavery, whose tweet explaining his reasons for doing so Mike also gives in his piece. Lavery said

I voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill tonight. This was the correct course of action. I simply could not support legislation that would allow #spycops to murder, torture and use sexual violence without fear of any legal accountability.

Mike’s article also includes numerous other tweets from ordinary Brits condemning the new law and the Labour party and its leader for not opposing it, except for Corbyn and the other 19 courageous and principled MPs. Carole Hawkins, for example, tweeted

Mass kidnappings, torture & assassinations all without any comeback now the rule of law in 3rd world, nonentity Torydom. Every so called “British value” disappeared on the 5/10/20.

And Elaine Dyson said

#StarmerOut The Labour party & the public deserve better. During the COVID-19 crisis & with Brexit just a couple of months away, we need a strong opposition against the Tory gov. Labour must stop whipping its MPs to abstain on bills that leave sh*tstains on human rights.

Mike comments

There is only one reasonable response to legislation that authorises government agents to commit crimes – especially extreme crimes such as those contemplated here, and that is opposition.

But opposition is not in Keir Starmer’s vocabulary.

Let’s have a leadership challenge. He has to go.

And if he isn’t ousted this time, let’s have another challenge, and another, until he is. He has turned Labour into a travesty.

This is a real threat to the safety of ordinary citizens, and another step towards despotism and arbitrary government. This is very much the issue which made Robin Ramsay set up the conspiracies/ parapolitics magazine Lobster in the early 1980s. There is plentiful evidence that the western security forces are out of control, and are responsible for serious crimes against people and their governments. The late William Blum, a fierce, indefatiguable critic of the American empire and its intelligence agencies, has published any number of books exposing and discussing the way they have conspired to overthrow foreign governments and assassinate their leaders. One of these has two chapters simply listing the countries, whose governments the US has overthrown and in whose democratic elections it has interfered. One of the most notorious is the CIA coup of the mid-70s that overthrew the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, by the Fascist dictator General Pinochet.

Britain’s own security forces have also shown themselves no strangers to such activities. In the 1950s we conspired to overthrow the last, democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil industry, the majority of which was owned by us. We’ve since engaged in rigging elections and other covert activities in other countries around the world. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, British security forces colluded secretly with loyalist paramilitaries in the assassination of Republicans. The IRD, a state propaganda department set up to counter Soviet propaganda, also smeared left-wing Labour MPs such as Tony Benn as supporters of the IRA. All this and worse is described by the entirely respectable, mainstream historian Rory Cormac in his book Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy.

Such lawbreaking and criminality is the reason that there is a significant conspiracist subculture in America and Britain. Following the assassination of JFK and the shock of Watergate, many Americans don’t trust their government. This distrust mostly takes the form of paranoid, bizarre, and in my view utterly false and dangerous stories about the government forming secret pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli to experiment on humans in exchange for alien technology. But some of this distrust is justified. In the 1970s, for example, the CIA plotted to stage a bomb attack in Miami. This would be blamed on Cuba, and provide the pretext for an invasion to oust Castro and his communist government. Fortunately this was never put into practice, but this, and similar entirely historical, factual plots, mean that Americans are justified in being wary and suspicious of their secret state and intelligence agencies.

And so should we.

We’ve already taken several significant steps towards authoritarian rule. One of the most significant of these was the passages of legislation by Blair and then David Cameron setting up secret courts. This allows suspects to be tried in secret, with the press and public excluded, if it is deemed necessary for reasons of national security. The law also allows evidence to be withheld from the defendant and his lawyers for the same reason, in case it reveals the identities of agents and informants. As I’ve said numerous times before, this is very much the kind of perverted justice system that Kafka described in his novels The Castle and The Trial, and which became a horrifying reality in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

The idea that the state, or high-ranking individuals within it, are engaged in a conspiracy against their own people has now become something of a staple in American cinema and television. There was Nine Days of the Condor in the 1970s, in which Dustin Hoffman plays a secret agent, whose co-workers are killed by another covert organisation while he’s out getting lunch, and then the X-Files in the 1990s. Not to mention Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, both of which feature rogue Federation officers conspiring to lead some kind of attack on the Federation itself.

Back down to Earth, the 1990’s British police drama, Between the Lines, also tackled the issue of rogue undercover agents. Between the Lines starred Neil Pearson and Siobhan Redmond as members of a unit set up to investigate offences committed by police officers. This included issues that are still, unfortunately, very much relevant, such as the shooting of unarmed suspects by mistake by armed police. One episode had the team investigating a secret agent, who had infiltrated a neo-Nazi organisation. This man was responsible for a series of assaults, raising the question that he had actually gone native and become part of the group he was supposed to bring down. This was at least 25 years ago, and it depicts exactly the kind of thing that could and no doubt has happened. Except that the Tory legislation means that the individuals responsible for such crimes, or at least some of them, will be exempt from prosecution under the new laws.

As for the claims that there will somehow be safeguards to prevent abuse, I’m reminded of the Charter of Verona, issued by Mussolini’s Fascists towards the end of Fascist rule in Italy. By then the majority of Italy had been occupied by the Allies. Mussolini himself was the puppet head of a rump Fascist state in northern Italy, the infamous Salo Republic. The Duce attempted to regain some popularity for himself and his movement by taking a leftward turn, promising the workers’ a place in industrial management. The Charter declared that no individual would be held for more than seven days without charge or trial. Which sounds far more liberal than previous Fascist rule. The reality, however, was that the Salo Republic was propped up by the Nazis, while brutal deaths squads like the Deci Mas roamed the countryside killing anti-Fascists.

Britain isn’t a Fascist state by any means at the moment. But legislation like this paves the way for the emergence of a genuine authoritarian regime. It is an active threat to the lives and security of ordinary Brits, and Starmer had no business whatsoever supporting it.

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