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Brian Haw immortalised in Google Streetview

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Google’s latest piece of zoom-able 3D world-mapping wizardry has got the twitosphere all excited, and even London Mayor Boris Johnson has been enthusing. The detail is quite overwhelming – all the way down to the wording on the protest placards in Parliament Square, with Brian Haw himself sitting right in the middle:

Brian Haw on Streetview

Written by Richard Wilson

March 19, 2009 at 2:48 pm

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“The Catholic Orangemen of Togo”

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I’ve just made a start on Craig Murray’s new book  “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo” (which he is making available for free via this link), and it’s certainly a page-turner. I suspect that I’m slightly more obsessive than most about what makes for a really good first paragraph, but this certainly works for me:

I spent the eve of the Millennium in my garden, on the spacious lawns of Devonshire House in Accra, hosting a seven course meal for 120 people, with dancing, fireworks and unlimited champagne. Despite the hysterical rubbish with which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been bombarding me for weeks, the World’s computers didn’t crash, and the future looked bright.

Osama Bin Laden doesn’t use the Christian calendar so wasn’t celebrating that night. He had already accepted the idea – not originally his – of suicide attacks involving hijacked aircraft. His al-Qaida network had about 180 members. Al Gore looked pretty safe to win the democratic nomination and the Presidency. George Bush was a blip on the horizon whose record as a Vietnam draft-dodger would surely scupper his chances.

The World was on the brink of unhappier times. But we didn’t know it, and I was happily immersed in what remains my first and abiding concern…

Click here for more…

See also The Ex Labour Minister & the African Private Equity Firm for a further extract, in which Murray alleges dodgy dealings by former DFID minister Baroness Amos.

Written by Richard Wilson

January 12, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Poll: Do you have way too much time on your hands?

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clock

Written by Richard Wilson

January 10, 2009 at 12:00 am

Something awful…

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Written by Richard Wilson

January 9, 2009 at 1:53 pm

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Kid Fear’s best song yet (or at least my favourite)

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My brother-in-law Lieven, aka “Kid Fear” has been making giant steps forward with his musical career over in Belgium. Here’s the just-released (and appropriately surreal) video for his latest song, “Weekend in the Sand”

Written by Richard Wilson

September 16, 2008 at 12:01 am

Sceptic of the week – John Ward

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In 1988, 28-year-old Julie Ward was found dead in a game reserve in Kenya. The Kenyan authorities claimed that she had been attacked by wild animals, committed suicide or been struck by lightning. The UK Foreign Office – initially at least – supported this view, and tried to persuade Julie Ward’s family that there was nothing more to know.

For the last 20 years, Julie’s father John Ward has been campaigning for her death to be recognised as a murder, and for those responsible to be brought to justice. In the process he has exposed the efforts of the Kenyan authorities in covering up the truth – and, perhaps most shocking of all, the complicity of the UK government in these efforts, which he has described as “treachery”.

More details of this cover-up were released this week under the Freedom of Information Act – having been withheld by the UK government since 2004 on the transparently bogus pretext of “national security”. We now know that four years ago, an independent UK police inquiry concluded that the Foreign Office had been guilty of “inconsistency and contradictions, falsehoods and downright lies” and had deliberately obstructed John Ward’s attempts to reveal the truth about his daughter’s death.

The Foreign Office admits mistakes, but denies wrongdoing and claims that it has learned its lesson. The fact that the results of the internal police inquiry were withheld for four years on such obviously spurious grounds suggests that whatever lesson they have learned, it isn’t about openness and transparency…

Written by Richard Wilson

September 9, 2008 at 6:16 am

Contacted by the dark side…

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A lot things seem to be happening at once right now: The Guardian has kindly featured an article I’ve written about the latest shenanigans with the Foreign Office, my big sister Charlotte, and the extremist group who killed her in December 2000, Palipehutu-FNL. Burundi’s bad boys recently made contact with me via a supposedly neutral intermediary called Dieudonné Haburagira.

Less than 24 hours after that article was published, the Foreign Office gave their response to the Freedom of Information Act request I made several weeks ago, asking for details of their secret (not any more) meeting with the Palipehutu-FNL leader, Agathon Rwasa.  It makes for an amusing read – the letter listing their reasons for withholding most of what I’ve requested is significantly longer than the document containing the meagre information that they are prepared to give… 

More background on this here – and there’s a burgeoning Facebook campaign on the issue here.

PS – and here’s what my Mum thinks.

Written by Richard Wilson

August 27, 2008 at 7:48 pm

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…

Written by Richard Wilson

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.

Written by Richard Wilson

July 30, 2008 at 10:03 pm

“Every Brilliant Thing”

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My friend Paul just sent me a link to an amusing new collaborative project which aims to come up with a comprehensive roster of “every brilliant thing”. The resulting list will then be used to help create an innovative, yet-to-be-revealed, installation art exhibit. Examples range from “People falling over (but not hurting themselves)” to “Aromatic duck pancakes with hoi sin sauce” and “The word ‘haberdashery'”. Anyone can contribute, so I added a couple of my own, including “Absurd place-names” and “The Flemish word ‘kwiestenbiebel'”. More details here.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 21, 2008 at 10:07 pm

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Mayhem at Hay as Monbiot attempts citizen’s arrest on “war criminal” John Bolton

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The former Bush administration official John Bolton narrowly escaped a citizen’s arrest last night at the Hay book festival, when a crack team featuring writer George Monbiot and comedian Marcus Brigstocke tried to apprehend him on war crimes charges. Bolton reportedly fled the festival tent behind a cordon of security guards, with Brigstocke in hot pursuit, as Monbiot was bundled from the scene, and 20 placard-waving protestors denounced Bush’s former arms control under-secretary as a “war criminal”. 

“I’ve made what I believe is the first attempt ever to arrest one of the perpetrators of the Iraq War”, Monbiot later told the BBC. “I believe that is a precedent and I would like to see that precedent followed up”. 

The Telegraph has published Monbiot’s charge sheet against Bolton here.

This latest development brings to two the number of Comment is Free contributors who have attempted citizen’s arrests on high-profile political figures in recent years…

Written by Richard Wilson

May 29, 2008 at 8:36 am

Obscure placenames part I: Diss, Norfolk

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“There are over 1000 car parking spaces in Diss”, according to Diss Online, all of which “are free on Sundays and Bank Holidays, except the Railway Station”.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 12, 2008 at 10:39 pm

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Burundi politican jailed for calling the President an “empty bottle” (and inciting armed rebellion)

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Here is an odd story. Back in 2006, when I wrote this article for Comment is Free, Burundi seemed to be sliding towards dictatorship, and the prevailing view was that Hussein Radjabu, then Secretary General of Burundi's ruling party CNDD-FDD, was at least partly to blame. 

Radjabu had made a number of open threats against the independent media – describing journalists who criticised the government as “talking skulls” on one occasion – and was widely believed to have been behind the arrest and torture of several prominent opposition leaders on the bogus pretext (no evidence was ever produced – the giveaway sign of a conspiracy theory) that they were jointly plotting a coup. He was also suspected of orchestrating a number of unexplained killings, together with a botched attempt on the life of the award-winning journalist Alexis Sinduhije, and of using kickbacks from a number of corrupt business deals to fund his own private militia.

But in early 2007, ruling party members voted to oust Radjabu from his position, and he was then arrested. The instability continued, however, and when I met some CNDD-FDD members who visited London last summer, it was clear that Radjabu's influence was still casting a long shadow. One of those I spoke to, Senator Mohammed Rukara, told me that unknown assailants had fired shots at him earlier in the year, and many believed that Radjabu's associates were behind the attack.

The BBC's latest report suggests that Radjabu's fall may alienate Burundi's Muslims. As ever, it's very hard to know how you could evaluate such a claim or find evidence for it. I'm generally sceptical of the presumption that a community as a whole will inevitably feel victimised simply because someone who happens to belong to that community has been found guilty of a crime and prosecuted. While Radjabu and his allies may try to paint this case as an attack on the entire Muslim community, this doesn’t automatically mean that every Burundian Muslim will share this view.

What the reports on this case don’t seem to mention, regrettably, is that some of the fiercest and most high-profile opponents of Radjabu have also been Muslim – not least Senator Rukara, who is a leading member of Burundi's Islamic community. 

But the story does seem to highlight the irony of Burundi's topsy-turvy judicial system. The charge for which Radjabu was jailed was "plotting an armed rebellion", and – most heinously of all – calling the President an "empty bottle". The fact that he is also suspected of orchestrating torture, assassination, and mass-killings seems to have played no part in his prosecution and conviction. And there is no sign yet of any justice for the victims of Buta, Teza, Muyinga, Gatumba, Itaba or the Titanic Express.

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Written by Richard Wilson

April 5, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Freeze, puppy!

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Operating clandestinely from a base in the West Country, my cousin, Tom Wilson (aka “Freeze Puppy”), has been doing some intriguing musical things for a couple of years now. Grainy footage occasionally shows up on Youtube, and further evidence of the man’s activities can be found at this Myspace page.

Written by Richard Wilson

April 3, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Posted in Other stuff