Info about ‘Spiked’

Just gathering together some material on the history and prehistory of the libertarian shockjock website ‘Spiked!’, and the wider ‘Spiked Network’.

This is a comprehensive account of their origins as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP):

This is everything I could find in the Lobster Magazine archives:


This is everything I could find about them and their network on Companies House:

Phil Mullan

29 Whitfield Street


020 768 14114

Robert Lyons

Spiked Limited

Signet House

49-51 Farringdon Road


020 740 40470

Dr Helene Ingrid Mary Guldberg (Secretary since 2005, Director since 2000)

Patrick Kieran Hayes (Director since 2017, born 1990)


Jennie Bristow (“writer”, Secretary & Director till 2005)

LSG Services Ltd (Secretary till 2000)

Frank Furedi (Director till 2017)

Michael Samuel Philip Garvin (solicitor, Director till 2000)

Michael Hume (journo, Director till 2005)

David Pollacchi (solicitor, Director till 2000)

LSG Services Ltd used to be Gillbray Services Limited

Harold Goulden

Jonathan Lass

Michael Samuel Philip Garvin – (has 39 appointments)

David Pollacchi

Hal Branch

Nigel Mark Salt

(both high-end property solicitors

Lass Salt Garvin Limited:

Nigel Mark Salt

Jonathan Lass

Michael Samuel Philip Garvin


Sunil Chopra

Abraham Schwartz

LSG Services Ltd

Hal Branch

Steven Richard Daultry

Michael Garvin

David Pollacchi


Patrick Kieran Hayes (Director, born 1980, Director at British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA))

Michael Hume (Director)

(previously, Helene Guldberg)

Journalism Education Limited managed the Young Journalists Academy.

Contact: Viv Regan

Seemingly affiliated with “News Academy”, which is owned by News Corp UK & Ireland Limited.

And finally, a megathread linking the Spiked network back to a recent, weird push for the government to lift the ban on… hitting children:

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FOIA requests

Back in September I put in a few FOIA requests to the FBI, and I checked back in today to see their progress…

Disappointingly, the request for records on Henry Crown produced nothing. In the FBI’s letter they explained this was due to the records in question having been destroyed. So there ya go. To be honest I’m not that surprised, since he seems to be the most contentious figure, with the most ties to the mob and – quite possibly – to the assassination of JFK.

The Delbert Webb files are overdue for release since my request, and still classed as ‘AWAITING RESPONSE’. The nature of his relationship with Hoover (J. Edgar) and his lobbying efforts in Washington in the runup to WW2 still seem to be a great unknown, so I’m keen to see what’s in the files. I’ve already pieced together a more complete picture of his wartime affairs than anything I’ve found from a single source elsewhere, and any revelations from the FBI files could really add meat to the bones.

Last but by no means least, I got my first successful document release! In response to my request, 440-odd pages of information on David Bazelon have now been released. Having skimmed it (and saved some of the most relevant seeming stuff into separate files for easier consumption) I have to say it’s illuminating. The Feds did a great job of piecing together the truth about whichever *specific* questions they were asked. On these questions, comprehensive answers were diligently sought. Reading through it, though, it seems that with every answer there are more questions. The matter was effectively closed when it was concluded there’s nothing to indicate that Bazelon, while running the Office of Alien Property (it might have been called something else), auctioned off the businesses and land that had been seized from ‘enemy’ aliens (i.e. German, Italian and Japanese Americans) at mates’ rates, or otherwise used his role for profiteering. The FBI effectively disregarded the allegations about what he did with Japanese property, and focused on a particular real estate deal in downtown LA. After a lot of prodding and probing, they established that he was a kind of silent partner who had purchased shares in the development, despite the previous insistence that the shares were given to him as a present, and that his name wasn’t stated on any document since it was common for his friend to invest on his behalf. All this was established by about October 1952. A new file was opened in ’56, prompted by allegations that the shares were given to him as a delayed repayment for selling the seized Haas chemical business to some preferred buyers at sub-market rates. This later investigation established that this didn’t occur, or at least not in the manner that the redacted informant alleged. The final file was the telephone report of a senior Fed, LB Nichols, calling Bazelon. Nichols was apparently pally with Bazelon, and the files contained a report of his from back in 51 or 52, when B apparently approached him after hearing rumours that he was being investigated. LBN’s report back then had consistently referred to B as ‘Dave’, and was full of promises that he wouldn’t allow such a fine fellow to be ‘smeared’. His boys club approach seems to have been beaten down by J Edgar Hoover, who in a handwritten scrawl beneath this report made clear that they should by no means put a word in on Bazelon’s behalf, as they may yet have cause to investigate the issue further. Which they did. Anyway, the boys club tone was back with a vengeance as LBN reported telling Bazelon that he’d gone a little dissappointingly deep in certain murky affairs, but now it was all resolved it would just be rude to turn B down for lunch. Case closed, evidently.

Having revisited the relevant passages on Bazelon in Gus Russo’s book ‘Supermob’, it’s clear he had access to the same FBI reports that I’ve just read, and he summarised their contents accurately, with additional critique and information that’s very useful. At least the records are now online and easily accessible, so I’m pleased about that. It’s just a shame that no one gave enough of a shit to look into his other affairs, particularly regarding property confiscated from Japanese families. All that’s left are the allegations. Which are better than nothing.

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Geopolitics points to explore

I’ve seen the name of Halford Mackinder pop up a few times recently. He’s credited as the father of ‘geopolitics’ and the notion that:

“Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world.”

In his account, the heartland is Eurasia, so it’s not surprising that ‘Eurasianists’ like Aleksandr Dugin credit him as one of their influences. He was also influential on the thinking of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has argued that Ukraine is such an important ‘geopolitical pivot’ because Russia needs control of this territory in order to become a properly ‘Eurasian’ power. Hence the uproar over Crimea.

The ‘Great Game’ was a struggle between the British and Russian Empires in the 19th Century, each attempting to control the other’s expansion and control over Central Asia. The Brits were terrified that Russia would extend their reach down to India, and Afghanistan was where this confrontation came to a head.

Jump forward to the present day, and a Russia-India trade route is finally almost complete. Mackinder must be spinning in that grave of his.

Anyway, here are a couple of thinkers who’ve run with Mackinder’s theory:

The latter seems to be some strange kind Greek fascist who loves Turkey, but I might be getting confused. For whatever reason, the study of geopolitics seems to be popular with cryptofascists. Dugin’s ‘Katehon’ think tank marries these tendencies unpredictably.

Also keen to give this by Alfred McCoy a read:,_washington%27s_great_game_and_why_it%27s_failing_/

McCoy’s written compellingly about the Vietnam war and was one of the first Westerners to report on the ‘Golden Triangle’ drug trade in SE Asia.

Plenty to chew on.

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Logistics update

Re: the previous post, I’ve just been reminded how quickly things change. The Central Asianist podcast in question is about a year old, and a lot seems to have happened since then. With a view to making sense of all this, here are some articles detailing what’s been going on in the world of Central Asian logistics over the last year:

December 13, 2015

The so-called Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project aims to export up to 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year through the approximately 1,800-kilometer pipeline.

Experts say TAPI presents an opportunity for regional cooperation at an unprecedented scale linking the economies of the four countries together and enhanced energy trading between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

India will pay up $250-million in transit fees to Pakistan which will pay the same amount in transit fees to Afghanistan.

The project is considered a key opportunity to help ease growing energy deficits in India and Pakistan. Officials in Turkmenistan expect gas link will be fully operational by the end of 2019.

Pakistani officials say they expect to receive gas via TAPI in 2019.
But ensuring security of the proposed pipeline remains a major challenge as it would pass through insurgency-hit parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.


24 August, 2016

Citing Nicolas Gvosdev, a Russia expert at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., LaFranchi explains what lies at the root of Russia’s success in Syria.

“Russia has been able to reassert itself in the region partly because it set out limited goals — something the US might consider taking a cue from,” the US journalist writes, adding that these limited goals “are part of a much broader vision for Russia’s presence in the Middle East.”

Indeed, while Turkey is a key element of Russia’s Turkish Stream pipeline project, aimed at delivering natural gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine, Iran plays an important role for both North-South International Transport Corridor (ITC) and the China-led One Belt One Road (New Silk Road) initiative championed by Russia.

Remarkably, online media outlet noted recently that Middle Eastern stability is of ultimate importance for Moscow in the context of bold infrastructural projects kicked off by Russia and other major Eurasian powers in the continent.


14 October, 2016

Turkmenistan has borrowed $700 million from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to finance the construction of a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India

The $10 billion TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) pipeline, originating at the giant Galkynysh gas field in Turkmenistan would carry 33 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year.

Turkmenistan will use the 15-year IDB loan to finance construction work and equipment purchases, the country’s state news agency said.


3 January, 2017

Turkmenistan has limited natural gas supplies to Iran since Jan. 1 over unpaid past deliveries, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, a day after Iran said supplies through a cross-border pipeline had been cut off.

The ministry said Ashgabat, which exports to Iran about 9 billion cubic metres of gas a year, made the move after trying unsuccessfully to collect debts from the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC) since 2013. It did not disclose the amount owed.

However, Iran’s National Gas Company (NIGC) condemned the move by Turkmenistan as a violation of a bilateral accord.

“Cutting the gas flow is an obvious violation of the deal … Referring the dispute to international arbitration is on Iran’s agenda,” it said in a statement published on the Iranian Oil Ministry’s website SHANA.


5 January, 2017

Backed by the US, TAPI was conceptualised in 1995. However, the project failed to take off due to geopolitical tensions among the member-countries.

Additionally, Taliban insurgents, who control vast swathes of territory in Afghanistan, threatened to disrupt the project.

In recent years, though, the project gained some traction, largely owing to the Obama administration’s Afghanistan redevelopment programme.

It also obtained funding support of $700 million from the Islamic Development Bank last November.

Trump’s stance on TAPI will be a “deciding factor” for the project, official sources told BusinessLine. It seems that the Indian government will adopt a wait-and-watch approach, according to an official.

The official said that since the project has security concerns, the decision to resume talks on obtaining the Turkmenistan gas from Pakistan rests on the new Army chief. The Army’s official position is crucial, given the security implications.

However, during the recent ‘Heart of Asia’ conference, during a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, India had asked Afghanistan to explore the option of routing the Turkmenistan gas from Afghanistan via Iran’s Chabahar Port, effectively bypassing Pakistan, said another official, who refused to be identified.


26 January, 2017

Tehran said in December that Turkmenistan had threatened to stop gas exports because of arrears in payments, which amounted to about $1.8 billion and dated back more than a decade. Iran wanted to refer the issue to arbitration.

Iran has its own major gas fields in the south of the country but has imported gas from Turkmenistan since 1997 for distribution in its northern provinces, especially during the winter.

Turkmenistan in turn faces a foreign currency shortage after Russia, once a major buyer of its gas, halted purchases last year, leaving China as its biggest customer.


18 May, 2017

An stakeholders conference on the subject INSTC-Express Corridor from India to Russia was held at Foreign Service Institute on May 18, 2017 at 1100 hours. The attendees at FSI were members of diplomatic community, freight forwarders, media, representatives of various ministries, officers and staff of Foreign Training Institute. Online attendees included members of Indian Embassy in Eurasian region, ICWA and members of business community.

The opening remarks were delivered by Joint Secretary Shri G V Srinivas (Eurasia) of MEA and by Mr Alexey Pogonin, Counsellor (Political) of the Russian Embassy in New Delhi. The keynote speakers were Shri Shankar Shinde from Federation of Freight Forwarder’s Association of India (FFFAI) and Shri Balachandran, Shri Behuria and Amb Stobdan from IDSA (Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses). The discussion centred around possible routes of INSTC, its popularization, development and optimal utilisation of Chabahar port to complement INSTC and to provide connectivity to Central Asia, modalities of and impediments to multi-modal transport, way ahead, Indian decision to join TIR Convention and advantages of moving beyond to e-TIR etc.

This was followed by a presentation from Kalinga Motors Sports Club (KMSC), Bhubaneswar on a proposed motor rally between India and Russia as part of 70th anniversary celebrations of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Russia. Kalinga Motors agreed to put up the details of motor rally shortly on its website.


23 May, 2017

The latest bit of regional glad-handing came this week when Mirziyoyev visited his Turkmen counterpart along the Caspian coast… As Fergana News noted, “Uzbekistan intends to participate in the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline,” adding that Mirziyoyev “said that he ‘voiced a proposal’ about the participation of the Uzbek side in the TAPI project.”

Everything from Indian-Pakistani relations to security in Afghanistan continue to beleaguer TAPI’s prospects. And now, as The Diplomat’s Paolo Sorbello recently noted, Turkmenistan’s own gas industry is on its heels, tossing that many more questions at TAPI’s feasibility.

Mirziyoyev’s pronouncement shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand; if nothing else, there’s no harm in nodding toward improving regional relations. But Tashkent’s participation is not the silver bullet TAPI needs — even if it could bring a few more photo-ops along the way.


1 June, 2017

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Russia at a time when Delhi-Moscow relationship appears to have taken a dip. Modi faces two-pronged challenge. First, to strengthen the confidence India and Russia have enjoyed as strategic partners for decades. Second, take measures to bring Moscow out of the worrisome China-Pakistan-Russia triangle, more so after the start of Beijing’s imperialistic ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project.

Much before the launch of China’s OBOR, India, Russia and Iran had signed an agreement to establish the INSTC in September 2000. It entered into force on May 16, 2002 following ratification by the three countries. Later, 11 other countries joined the project. They are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria (observer status), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey and Ukraine.

INSTC is a 7200-km-long proposed multi-modal (ship, rail and road) transportation system connecting Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran to Russia and North Europe. If complete, the INSTC would allow faster movement of goods from India to these countries.

According to ‘Russia & India Report’, the INSTC project was first proposed at the start of 21st century, when the three countries– India, Iran and Russia — discussed the possibility of reviving the ancient transport route.

The report says that “the main ITC route begins in the ports on the west coast of India (particularly Mumbai), passes along the sea to the Iranian ports of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas, and from there by land to Iran’s Caspian Sea coast and beyond – or across the Caspian Sea to Astrakhan, or overland to Central Asia or the Caucasus to Russia and northern Europe.”

Here are some important features of INSTC:

INSTC will provide India speedy access to central Asia, Europe, and Eurasia.

The route of INSTC passes through Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, which can later be linked to Terhran’s Chabahar Port, where India has set up some major infrastructure projects.

INSTC will help connect India with five central Asian countries and also to the Eurasian nations, helping in improving India’s trade with countries like Kazakhstan, Turmenistan and Uzbekistan.

INSTC can aslo be aligned with Trans-Afghan rail line being developed by India, Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

Seventeen years have passed since the start of the project but it is yet to be started. While the scale of China’s OBOR is bigger than INSTC, the latter, coupled with the proposed Asia-Africa sea corridor by India and Japan, would help New Delhi present an effective counter to China’s OBOR.

Reports say that India is also exploring the possibility of developing a 700-km rail line between Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat in Afghanistan. This will help link central Asia with Chabahar. It is believed that India aims to use Chabahar port in Iran in the same way as China wants to use Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is just 72 km east of the Iranian port. Considering the rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics in the world, India needs to take steps for the faster completion of the ambitious INSTC project.


20 June, 2017

The proposed 7,200 km long international corridor INSTC will support the growth of Indian exports by reducing transport cost by USD 2,500 per 15 tonnes of cargo, a study has claimed. International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is a multi-mode network of sea, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia. As per a study conducted by the Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India (FFFAI), moving cargo over the INSTC will be 30 per cent cheaper and 40 per cent shorter than the current traditional route. The traditional Suez Canal route takes 45-60 days whereas the INSTC would take 25-30 days. The INSTC is likely to increase trade connectivity between major cities of Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali. According to Subhasis Ghosh, Director of Maritime World Services, the progress on cargo movement on INSTC would be discussed on September 16, 2017 on the final day of the three- day Maritime Nation India 2017 Tradeshow which commences in Mumbai on September 14, 2017.

The INSTC International Conference -2017 is being conducted by the Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India (FFFAI) and is supported by the Ministry of Commerce.
Ghosh said INSTC could be viewed as an alternative to the Suez Canal route, which takes longer and is more expensive for Indian cargo destined for trade with Eurasian countries. Ghosh said the INSTC, on its implementation, would also boost bilateral trade between Russia and India. The successful activation of the corridor will help connect India to Russia within 16-21 days at competitive freight rates leading to development of trade on the INSTC. At present, one has to either use Rotterdam port or land route via China to reach Russia and Central Asia. These are long, expensive and time-consuming.

The plan is to move goods from Jawaharlal Nehru and Kandla ports on India’s west coast to Bandar Abbas (Iran) by sea. From Bandar Abbas, the goods will be transported to Bandar-e-Anzali (Iranian port on Caspian Sea) by road and from there to Astrakhan (a Caspian port in Russia) by sea. The goods would then be transported into Russian Federation and Europe by Russian railways. India and Russia have fixed a target of USD30 billion trade volume to be achieved by 2025. Presently, bilateral trade between both nations is extremely low and it was just $9.51 billion.
If India partners with Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), it will further boost and expand its economic, trade and investment opportunities in more countries in this region.


30 July, 2017

As of next week, the Islamic Republic will no longer need to import natural gas from Turkmenistan, Iranian lawmaker Assadollah Qarehkhani said.

According to a Farsi report by ICANA, a new pipeline is to become operational in northern Iran in the coming days, which would obviate the need for imports of natural gas from Turkmenistan.

The 175-km pipeline, which measures up to environmental standards, will meet the need for natural gas in north of the country, said Qarehkhani, who sits on the Parliament’s Energy Commission.

With the pipeline coming on line, he said, there will be no drop in the pressure of the supplied natural gas anymore.

The MP then touched upon a lawsuit filed by Iran with the International Court of Justice against Turkmenistan for its breach of commitment, and said the country will demand damages from Ashgabat.

“Turkmenistan has pulled out of the agreement unilaterally without any justifiable excuse and has illogical demands from Iran,” he said.

In its lawsuit, he added, Iran has also called on the court to get Turkmenistan to reduce the price of its natural gas exports.

“Turkmenistan put Iran in a bind by increasing the price of natural gas in 2007 when Iran had no other alternative for the gas imports; hence, Turkmenistan should pay fines for its breach of obligations,” said the legislator.

“If Iran’s demands related to natural gas imports from Turkmenistan are met and the two countries reach a compromise on natural gas imports, we can import natural gas from Turkmenistan, and, instead, export Iran’s natural gas to western neighbours via swap deals,” said the lawmaker.


14 August, 2017

India and Turkmenistan on Monday discussed ways to establish a transport transit corridor between Iran, Oman and Turkmenistan.

Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport and Shipping, met Rashid Meredov, Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister of Turkmenistan, on Monday.

The two sides discussed India’s joining the Ashgabat Agreement that envisages establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor between Iran, Oman and Turkmenistan, said an official source. They also discussed ways to expand and deepen bilateral cooperation.

In 2016, the Indian government decided to accede to the Ashgabat Agreement, a move that would enable the country to utilise this existing transport and transit corridor to facilitate trade and commercial interaction with the Eurasian region. India would become party to the agreement after consent from the founding members.

Further, this move would also be in synch with India’s efforts to implement the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) for enhanced connectivity. INSTC-Express Corridor is a transport link between India and Russia.


15 August, 2017

India will host the next steering committee meeting of the proposed 1,814 kilometre-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

“I strongly believe in this project, and this is the position of Turkmenistan,” Mr. Merodov said at a small interaction.

Officials told The Hindu that the pipeline, that had its ground-breaking ceremony in December 2015, has seen flagging interest since then for a number of reasons. India’s effort is to tap Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh gasfields, which are the fourth largest in the world.

The move is also an effort by the government to stave off any Chinese interest in the project, given that Turkmenistan is a close partner of China in its Belt and Road initiative across Central Asia, and Beijing is the largest buyer of its gas. Even the Galkynysh gas basin is being developed under a loan from the Chinese Development Bank (CDB).

Responding to Indian sovereignty concerns about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Mr. Meredov said Turkmenistan was “open to all economic cooperation, which is how all such projects should be seen. India is and will be one of the most important countries for Turkmenistan.”


20 September, 2017

India and Turkmenistan will explore the possibility of expanding the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) by linking it to the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran rail link.

This was decided at the the 13 th meeting of the India-Kazakhstan Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC).


24 October, 2017

The Rasht-Astara line connecting Iran and Azerbaijan is almost complete and operations may commence early next year. The connection is the missing link on the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200 kilometer-long freight route connecting India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road.

The Astara-Astara line links the two cities of the same name via ten kilometer of rail, of which eight kilometers lie in Azerbaijan and two in Iran. The construction of the section in Azerbaijan is already complete, while the Iranian stretch nears completion, deputy director general for international affairs at the National Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) Mozhgan A. Kordbacheh recently said.

The railway, with a total cost of 51 million Euros includes the construction of a bridge over the Astarachay River and four terminals for the handling of containers, oil, grain and general cargo. It was expected to become operative in January this year, but due to several delays the current expected launch date is in February 2018.

The Astara-Rasht is the longest section on the line, with 164-kilometers of railway connecting the Iranian cities. Currently, 162 kilometer has already been completed, Kordbacheh said. RAI is actively negotiating with foreign partners about the financing scheme of the project, totalling a cost of 425 million Euros. In the coming weeks, talks in this regard are held in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.

The Rasht-Qazvin section comprises of 163 kilometers of railway, of which 95 per cent has been completed. The remaining construction work is expected to be completed by the end of 2017, Kordbacheh revealed.

The Astara-Qazvin line forms an integral part of the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC), as it will reduce journey times between Mumbai and Moscou from forty to fourteen days. Test runs have already been carried out, while a dry run was conducted a few months ago. It is anticipated that in the future ten million tonnes of freight will be transported within the network.

Apart from constructing the missing link, parties involved aim to apply competitive tariffs in order to support growth on the corridor. Moreover, up-to-date transport services and simplified customs clearance of cargoes must be realised, the Iranian and Azerbaijani rail companies agreed at a recent meeting. The main objective of the INSTC is to provide an alternative to the traditional routes carried out by sea through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea. A south-west offshoot is also under consideration, connecting Iran, Azerbaijan, the Black Sea and Europe.

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The Iran deal and TAPI

A genuinely brief one:

The other day I listened to a Central Asianist podcast episode, recorded when the ‘Iran deal’ was about to be signed. This was when Obama was still President, and long before Trump would call it the worst deal in history.

One implication of the deal was that it would turn Iran into a prospective trading partner with Turkmenistan, who are sitting on a huge amount of natural gas. If a Turkmenistan-Iran gas route was worked out, it would directly threaten a gas route the US has been pushing for years: TAPI. This is a gas pipeline that goes Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India.

Iran threatens TAPI because Turkmenistan doesn’t actually have enough gas to export in both directions.

So it might be worth checking up on TAPI and considering whether (behind the scenes) this has some influence on Trump’s comments. Bear in mind the EU would be the ultimate recipient of gas pumped down to Iran, and EU spokespeople have made clear they don’t want Trump screwing up the Iran deal.

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Quick thoughts on the ‘Goodhardtian novel’

Just putting down some quick synapse-connections prompted by Joe Kennedy’s great article on trends in what he calls the ‘Goodhardtian’ English novel. These are novels with a foregrounded commitment to the particularities of neglected parts of the country, a kind of literary ‘authentocracy’ (a term he’s used elsewhere) that makes a point of distinguishing itself from cappucino-sipping metropolitan liberalism, while implicitly addressing itself to (and accusing) the metropolitan liberal readership. In all the examples Joe discusses, this is attempted by appealing to the mythic, to the supposed national ‘deep time’, and a mystical connection to the soil. As he’s mentioned on Twitter, this is related to the recent ‘folk horror’ revival, which I’ve been following intently and grappling with politically.

Brief thoughts:

The Loney has a slightly different theme in that it doesn’t purport to speak for a given ‘particularity’, and the volkish magic isn’t accompanied by rapturous hymns to the local landscape. It follows a group of devout Catholics from ‘that London’, who head to a shrine on the Lancashire coast with their new priest. There they encounter the usual muttering local pagans. The locals’ murky ways are first signalled to the reader by dead birds hanging on a fence at the edge of a field, and later a scorched effigy with an animal skull that the narrator (a sensitive, inquisitive child) stumbles across in the woods. Later, we see their magic up close, and it’s a strange kind of anticlimax.

The party of Catholics are holed up inside (if I remember correctly, there’s a storm raging outside) when there’s a knock at the door, and the locals barge their way in and insist on performing a Mummers play. Having performed, someone who’s present discovers that they’ve been cured of some affliction. But the magical efficacy of their performance was, in a way, too particular to be credible. The mythic/visionary/’eerie’ has the most power when it’s sufficiently vague and ahistorical, when it appeals to universals like thunder storms, human sacrifice and animal skulls, the raw stuff of shamanism (at least as we tend to imagine ‘shamanism’ in the West, as abstractly universal). And also when it leaves enough unsaid for the reader to be haunted by the unknown and unknowable. When Mummers plays are seen from sufficient distance, it’s easy to see something eerie and pre-Christian about them. The obby oss, the green man, etc. They’re believably tied up with nature magic, which is available to those with a deep enough of a tie to the sod and soil, but which has to be experienced in a holistic irrational way and can’t be verbalised or reduced to particular articles of faith. You need ritual and the experience of a totalising revelation to approach the ‘meaning’ of this stuff. When the locals perform their play in The Loney, though, we get the full script. It comes across as mundane and historically specific, with references to the Crusades and the Christian devil. If the character of the Turk is included to make a point about the vilification of the Other that comes with mystical localism, this point isn’t really developed or emphasised thematically. And unless the depicted overlap of nature worship and Satanism is intended as a particularly obscure point about the divergence between Catholic and Protestant views of the world, it doesn’t really make sense. The Mummers play itself straddles Christianity and folk practise, and alongside the book’s other treatments of faith, doubt and ritual, perhaps it’s meant to indicate that as long as Christian branding sits on top of more ‘vital’ traditional rituals (of the occult blood’n’soil variety or of social practices that are anchored in fellow-feeling and openness to the world) it still has some power. But the play doesn’t seem well suited to make this point. Again, it’s too specific and historically contingent for any point about the Christian overwriting of untouched pagan ritual to really hit home, particularly since it doesn’t sit comfortably alongside what else we learn about the pagans’ rituals. We have the dead animals and scorched effigies with animal skulls, and later we have the liminal house that appears and disappears beyond banks of fog and coastal tides, where – it’s implied – a baby is sacrificed in order to give a little boy the ability to speak. The latter ritual comes wrapped up in the trappings of cosmic horror that you might find in an H P Lovecraft story. But then we read that the locals have been arrested for their grisly sacrifices. So the house where the sacrifice occurred was real, and inhabits the world in the same way everything else does, never mind the heavily emphasised themes of vagueness and doubt, hammered home by the way the story is bracketed as an uncertain memory, and the house on the hill is bracketed by fog and tides. Their cosmic crime is discoverable by a local police department. Perhaps the author intended all this to be frustrating, for the story to go in and out of focus and straddle the everyday and the Gothic, the Christian and the pagan. But, reading it, I wasn’t left with the impression that all the world is shades of grey, of doubt and fog. I came away with the impression that the author had presented a set of incommensurables and airbrushed the gaps between them, rather than identifying and working through their true connection, in a way that would be revealing or even just meaningful to the reader. Novels don’t need to spell out a hypothesis, which is one of the virtues of the medium. But if they don’t, they still need to fit together and work as a whole. Reading a book is then like a pagan ritual, whereby you absorb a larger and more abstract type of truth or vision by going through the experience (of reading the book). But for the ritual to work, and for the reader to perceive the greater meaning, there has to actually be a greater meaning for them to perceive. I almost feel bad for saying this about the book, since it’s well written and many of the characters and their relationships are well realised and sensitively written. But I think the book was fundamentally compromised by a failure in its world-building, and the substitution of a genuine vision of how its elements relate for ellipsis and a symbolism of fog and ambiguity.

I’ve failed miserably at putting down ‘a few quick thoughts’, and I’m not sure I’ve really explained myself. Another point I wanted to make was about the role of human sacrifice, and how The Wicker Man portrayed a society in locked off feudal harmony, Lord Summerisle in perfect class harmony with the local workers through their common (pagan) traditions – but for this to be achievable, the fact they must live on an island and perform human sacrifices, killing outsiders. I also had some other shit to say about how the folk revival was a reaction against American cultural hegemony and the recent ‘folk horror’ revival doesn’t seem to quiet stem from the same source, but I’ll have to develop these thoughts another time…

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General spiel, and The Unintended Reformation

I’m trying to be less precious about publishing stuff on here, bearing in mind the tens of thousands of words of I’ve written and left to moulder on my hard drive. In that spirit, I may as well put a few things down about a book I’m currently reading: The Unintended Reformation by Brad Stephan Gregory.

Brad is a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, and the book’s basic premise is that debates in Christian theology from the time of the Reformation (i.e. five hundred years ago) continue to inform many of the problems and peculiarities of life in ‘the West’ today. We can’t understand the latter, he argues, without understanding the former.

Generally, I’d consider this an incredibly boring and unconvincing premise, and I’d rather be reading something about the CIA or Nazi gold, but a few things convinced me to give this book a go.

  1. I’ve managed to convince myself I can’t write authoritatively about the Linkin Park album Hybrid Theory without understanding the Reformation. This Linkin Park project is out of control. It’s already prompted me to read a 700 page book about the genocide of Native Americans in California and submit a Freedom of Information Access request to the FBI about an Arizona construction boss who I suspect of profiteering from the wartime internment of Japanese Americans. I’m aware this is ridiculous but I’m genuinely convinced it all fits together (and I’m enjoying myself). The bottom line is I want to understand the USA from its earliest foundations, and to do this it seems I have to go back to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, when (the Protestant) William of Orange deposed (the Catholic) King James II. To get a grasp on that, I will be reading Lord Churchill’s Coup by Stephen Saunders Webb. But before that I have to go back to the Reformation and the original Catholic/Protestant schism. Perhaps it won’t stop there. I will not rest until I uncover the beating heart of the USA, and only then can I write about Hybrid Theory.
  2.  A while ago I read a very interesting book called Against the Modern World, by Mark Sedgwick. It’s the first intellectual history of a diverse but coherent group of writers known as Traditionalists, who can count among their fans the erstwhile Trump advisor and Breitbart ogre Steve Bannon, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, a few schools of Sufi Islam and the cryptofascist thinktank-hopper Aleksandr Dugin. It’s an intellectual undercurrent that pops up in some unlikely places, and ever since reading the book I’ve been on the look out. In the last couple of years I became aware of a few people on Twitter who described themselves as ‘Trad Catholics’. Some of them would frequently chat and joke around with Marxists, but I found the rest their output incomprehensible. At one point I directly asked one of them how or whether their ‘Trad Cath’ thing relates to the thinkers in Against the Modern World, who seem to be gaining popularity on the Alt-Right. They replied with some theological shit I didn’t understand, but one of them wrote somewhere that The Unintended Reformation was the most well-expressed articulation of their approach. So another reason is I’m just curious what the fuck these people are talking about, and whether their ironic liturgical jargon is obscuring some sinister politics.
  3. I still don’t really know what Protestants and Catholics disagree about. My offensive inner shorthand is that Protestantism is Christian-style atheism and Catholicism is incense, guilt and a borderline-pagan bureaucracy riven with secrets. I don’t really have a dog in the fight – I’m baptised Catholic but halachically Jewish and grew up with default-Protestant schooling and occasional visits to some happy-clappy evangelical church to fit in with our neighbours at Christmas and Easter. I wear a St Christopher necklace but I do it with such unthinking superstition it may as well be a rabbit’s foot, and apparently St Christopher was stripped of his sainthood anyway. More important than all that, I don’t care because the Protestant/Catholic split has had absolutely zero tangible impact on my life, which is a privilege and can’t be said of everyone in the UK. Although I’m of the opinion that ‘religious conflicts’ tend to be political more than theological, it would be good to understand the legacy of a split that’s still quivering through Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland.

On to the book.

As I mentioned above, Brad’s contention is that issues persist in the present that we can trace to the Reformation, and to understand what’s particular about the present we have to see this continuity, and how things didn’t need to end up like this.

The first chapter addresses the prevalent modern notion that science is incompatible with Christian faith. He traces this back to John Duns Scotus, a 13th Century theologian who suggested that God does share one characteristic with the rest of creation: being. An earlier Christian thinker, Thomas Aquinas, had suggested that God is the act of “to be“, rather than a thing among other things. Scotus didn’t mean to cause trouble, but Brad argues that this view of God as ‘existing’ in the same way other things in the universe ‘exist’ would cause all manner of trouble in years to come.

Another idea that Brad suggests we keep an eye on is Occam’s Razor, the principle established by a Franciscan friar called William of Occam. To paraphrase: the simplest explanation, with the least postulates and conditions, is the one that should be selected when trying to establish the truth.

Brad argues that in ‘traditional Christian metaphysics’, it is the absolutely non-spatial otherness of God that allows Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine, and for the bread and wine of the Eucharist to be both bread and wine and the flesh and blood of Christ. If divinity existed in the same way other objects exist, inhabiting existence in the same manner, this could not be the case. There wouldn’t be ‘room’ for the wine to be both blood and wine, or for Jesus to be fully human as well as divine.

The way I picture this distinction is that existence is a 2D grid with a finite area. You and I and everything that ‘exists’ can be found on this plane. Jesus Christ likewise occupied a finite space on this plane. The ‘traditional’ view (as I understand it) is that his divinity wasn’t an attribute that could be applied to him on this 2D plane, but instead was a unique vector in a wholly new dimension, like a point rising up in 3D. By allowing that God shares ‘being’ with everything else in creation, Scotus opened the door to saying that God exists on the 2D plane, and denying the possibility of 3D eruptions (Jesus both fully human and fully divine, wine both literally wine and the blood of Christ), of divinity expressing itself in the world in a way nothing else is ever expressed. This view of God as sharing a common attribute of being with other things, of existing on the same plane, is what Brad terms ‘univocity‘, or a ‘univocal‘ metaphysics.

When the Reformation kicked into gear and spread in the 1520s, this was a central disagreement between the Catholics and breakaway Protestants, who subscribed to the univocal view that was first described by Scotus. In the face of this challenge, Catholic thinkers doubled down on an Aristotelian philosophy, thus associating Catholicism with a school of physics that would grow less and less tenable as scientific discoveries challenged its precepts.

Because of these fundamental disputes, religious claims were increasingly bracketed out of discussions about the natural world and its laws. Brad:

New institutions, too, such as the Royal Society of London, were dedicated to the Baconian investigation of “matters of fact” about the natural world in ways that could transcend the interminable fruitlessness of theological controversy.’ [p.48]

With the exception of Pascal, the European philosophers of the 17th Century all subscribed to a ‘univocal’ metaphysics, which led them to talk about God as something that reason can be applied to. But the fact they all produced subtly (and sometimes radically) different accounts demonstrated that reason led down different roads. According to Brad, God’s self-revelatory actions in history – the exceptional 3D eruptions – are so important precisely because of the limits to reason and the inability of 2D beings to rationally grasp a wholly foreign dimension.

The great power of Newtonian physics was that it could explain the world irrespective of how God relates to it. Science thus became separable from religious truth claims. However, Brad argues that the ‘traditional’ Christian metaphysics was left untouched, unchallenged, since science can only compete with God if one holds the ‘univocal’ view that God and the laws of physics exist in the world in the same way, i.e. that you can plot them on the same plane. And so the ‘traditional’ view could persist implicitly, in the unchanged Catholic liturgy and the believer’s quiet faith in transubstantiation.

Brad argues that the ‘univocal’ view paved the way for commercial acquisitiveness and exploitation, and the world became ‘so much raw material awaiting the imprint of human desires‘. His reasoning seems to be that if existence is no longer ‘the Catholic theatre of God’s grace‘, and God is no longer given to 3D eruptions but instead exists in some way as the totality of the 2D plane (somehow both omni-present and omni-absent?), then nature and the things within creation lose some of their specialness, their potential for a focused divine effervescence.


At this point, I started to detect a bit of ‘tone’ in the writing. Brad seems to really hate the affable empiricist David Hume, who proposed that our ideas about the natural world and its laws are derived from perception. The following is my summary of Hume’s argument from memory of reading him years ago, rather than what’s in The Unintended Reformation: you see one object hit another, and the other object moves. At first, these events seem separate. If you see it happen again and again, without exception, you observe a ‘constant conjunction’ between A hitting B, and B then moving. From this repeated observation, the mind introduces a ‘necessary connection’, namely that object A is causing object B to move by hitting it. The so-called ‘problem of induction’ is that for us to be justified in making the assumption that this is a necessary law of nature, it must be the case that the future will resemble the past. But our only grounds for saying this are that it always has, in retrospect, which is only relevant if, again, the future will resemble the past.

Back to Brad:

Standing squarely in the univocal metaphysical tradition and yet apparently oblivious of the tendentiousness of his beliefs, Hume did not base his argument against miracles on a careful, critical, case-by-case evaluation of the evidentiary testimony pertaining to discrete, alleged miracles. That was how the evaluation of purported miracles in canonisation proceedings was being conducted at the time in Rome, in accord with the best medical science of the day… Hume, by contrast, dogmatically rejected all alleged miracles based on his own beliefs.’ [p.61]


The philosophical belief that natural laws are necessarily exceptionless is not empirically verifiable in our own or any conceivable configuration of human knowledge, because verification would require the observation of all natural events in all times and places.’ [p.63]

This seems to be intended as Brad’s great “Gotcha!” moment, but it’s an odd charge to level at Hume, who fundamentally distinguished between ‘constant conjunction’ and ‘necessary connection’, the latter being a trick of the mind that’s based on an unprovable premise. Either Brad’s referring to writing by Hume that contradicts this fundamental part of his own philosophy, which I’m unaware of or don’t remember, or he’s attacking a straw man and his argument slides into irritation at Hume’s apparent lack of interest in how the Catholic Church applied ‘the best medical science of the day‘ in its assessment of weeping statues.

Anyway, I’ve now written 2,000 words so it’s probably time to wrap this up. Brad moves on to a writer called Schleiermacher, who I didn’t previously know about. Schleirmacher grounded religion in feeling, rather than reason. The danger of this is that all it takes for the world to become disenchanted is for you to stop feeling it, or indeed to start feeling something else entirely, such as the ‘will to power’ and Dionysian amorality described by Friedrich Nietzsche. Moving forward to Darwin, Brad makes the point that the principle of evolution is, again, only incompatible with Christianity if you subscribe to a ‘univocal’ view of existence. If not, what’s to say that God doesn’t drive the micro-mechanisms of genetic mutation? To make such claim requires a postulate that science alone can’t provide.

This is Brad’s central, concluding point, and it seems a reasonable one. Divinity cannot be disproven by science if, by definition, it sits outside the observable realm to which the scientific method can be applied. He concedes that there are decent reasons for disenchantment, such as wars and genocides, human perversity and destruction of the natural world. But science, necessarily, is incapable of disproving the God of ‘traditional’ Catholic metaphysics. All there can be is doubt.

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