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Archive for July 2008

Obscure placenames part IV: Matching Green

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I used to laugh every time I drove anywhere near Matching Green, but what I didn’t know at the time was that one of the next villages along was called Matching Tye. I don’t know which is better…

I’ve also started to notice that oddly-named places seem to come in clusters. For example, not far from Matching Green we also have Red Ho, Brick Ho, and, perhaps best of all, Collin’s Cross. I don’t know who Collin is, but if ever you’re passing Brick Ho, it’s probably best to walk straight ahead and try not to inflame the situation…

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July 31, 2008 at 10:00 am

My Mum’s blog…

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I can’t remember the exact point that I realised there was a difference between writing simply to communicate information, and writing with style (which isn’t to say that I feel I’ve ever fully mastered the distinction). But I think it may have been around the time that my mother had to take me to the doctor, after I’d been hit in the face by a football (sport was never my vocation), and suffered a week of nosebleeds. In her absence note to my junior school teacher, she explained that the doctor had said there would be no lasting damage, so long as in future I “keep out of the way of nose-bound footballs”.

My Mum’s always written a diary, and done various bits of creative writing over the years, but this is her first real venture into the blogging world. The basic idea is to give an account of her effort to walk, over the course of this year, 400 miles in aid of the charity we set up in memory of my sister Charlotte. But there’s a lot more to it than that - I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

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July 30, 2008 at 10:03 pm

Sceptic of the week – Rachel North

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One of the great things about the internet is that it allows those who, through no fault of their own, have been catapulted into the public eye, to speak directly, and in their own words, rather than through the distortions of the mainstream media. Those in favour of giving the government ever more ‘sweeping powers’ – in the hope that this will keep us all safe – often seem to assume that victims of terrorism will automatically be in favour of such measures.  But Rachel North, who became a prolific blogger after surviving the July 7th London Bombings has vociferously campaigned against moves to water down basic freedoms in the name of ‘security’. In this eloquent piece for Comment is Free, North argues that “no government can keep us safe, even if they watch over us and film us and check our emails and internet use and hold our most intimate data and fill hundreds of prison cells with people who are merely suspected of, but not charged with, any crime”.

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July 28, 2008 at 10:13 am

First review for “Don’t Get Fooled Again”

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“Richard Wilson’s Don’t Get Fooled Again has been compared to Francis Wheen’s How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World. It provides an objective and philosophical dissection of some commonly-held beliefs. It is also an entertaining collection of anecdotes illustrating how sensible human beings get duped. Almost a self-help book, this provides the reader with the analytical tools to avoid being taken for a ride, as well as being entertaining and informative.”

- Patrick Neale, The Bookseller

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July 28, 2008 at 8:04 am

British MPs sceptical of UK government denials over Iraq torture

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The Observer reports that a committee of MPs has cast doubt on UK government denials over the use of torture in Iraq. Evidence heard during the trial of soldiers implicated in the killing of an Iraqi prisoner, Baha Musa, suggested that the troops had been ordered to use coercive interrogation techniques, including hooding and ‘stress positions’. Now the Parliamentary select committee on human rights has accused the Ministry of Defence of blocking their efforts to trace responsibility further up the command chain. The committee also suggests that public assurances given by former armed forces minister Adam Ingram, and Lieutenant General Robin Brims, have been contradicted by evidence that UK troops had been using banned interrogation techniques following legal advice from their superiors in Iraq.  

Wide-ranging freedom of information laws in the United States have helped to ensure intense public scrutiny of the conduct of American forces in Iraq. A series of legal-rulings compelling the release of previously classified government documents have helped to illuminate the role played by senior figures in helping to make situations such as Abu Ghraib possible.  In Don’t Get Fooled Again I was able to draw on many of these primary sources in seeking to understand Abu Ghraib and other related cases.

But here in the UK, the picture is still far more murky. So far, our senior officials have largely escaped any implication that they ordered or condoned the use of torture or other abusive treatment in Iraq. Cases such as the killing of Baha Musa have largely been seen – as was Abu Ghraib at one time – as the work of ‘bad apples’ rather than the result of systematic, officially-sanctioned, abuses. Britons have so far been able to console themselves over the various fiascos relating to Iraq with the assurance that at least ‘our boys’ would never engage in the kind of systematic depravity pursued by US forces at Abu Ghraib. But in the absence, here in Britain, of the kind of judicially-enforced transparency made possible in the US by robust freedom of information laws, it’s tempting to wonder whether the UK chain of command may simply have been in a better position to cover its tracks.

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July 27, 2008 at 10:45 am

On the value of peer review…

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Previously this post read:

Earlier this week I blogged about the extraordinary transformation of Radovan Karadzic, war criminal, into Dragan Dabic, alternative medicine practicioner. While I’d seen the website of the clinic where he’d been working, what I didn’t know was that Dragan himself actually has his own website, which bears the intriguing title “Healing from Within: The Ever Increasing Need for Alternative Viewpoints in the Modern World”… Odd though it may seem on one level, in a way it makes a kind of sense that Karadzic could so easily switch from one type of cynical psychological manipulation to another… Thanks to Ty for the link.

*UPDATE* - Here’s the rough English translation of DD’s homepage from Google.

Many thanks to JEF for pointing out that the ‘Dragan Dabic’ website looks to have been set up the day after Dabic (aka Karadzic) was arrested! According to www.allwhois.com, the site was created on July 22nd, and is registered to an address in Wisconsin, USA…

An illustration, once again, of the indispensible value of ‘peer review’

See also “Poe’s law”, over at rationalwiki: 

“Poe’s Law relates to fundamentalism, and the difficulty of identifying actual parodies of it. It suggests that, in general, it is hard to tell fake fundamentalism from the real thing, since they both sound equally ridiculous. The law also works in reverse: real fundamentalism can also be indistinguishable from parody fundamentalism.”

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July 25, 2008 at 10:01 am

US Major General who led Abu Ghraib investigation accuses authorities of “war crimes”

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In 2004, it was Major General Antonio Taguba’s damning report – then still a classified document – that triggered the prosecution of a number of the soldiers who had committed abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq. Now, in the preface to a detailed study by Physicians for Human Rights, Taguba states that “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I look into the deceptions and delusions around the use of torture in Iraq, at the evidence which suggests that Abu Ghraib was anything but an isolated case, and at the striking parallels between the Abu Ghraib abuses, and the notorious “Stanford Prison Experiment”.

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July 24, 2008 at 11:08 am