Archive for the ‘Things I’ve done’ Category
At 7.55pm on Monday evening I’ll be on Channel Four, in the first of a series of short films for the week of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I’ll be talking about the massacre that formed the subject of my first book, Titanic Express - in relation to article eight of the UDHR, the right to justice. The film was made by Native Voice films, in collaboration with Amnesty International, and will be showing on Channel Four’s “3 minute wonder” slot. To give some sense of the detail that can go into a TV production, this 3 minute short took the best part of two days to film, with many hours more for editing. It was a fascinating process to be involved with, and from the edits I’ve seen so far I think they’ve done an excellent job.
There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.
Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair.
Just as an experiment, and in the spirit of “adding value”, I went over to Hazel Blears’ blog earlyish yesterday and left a fairly friendly comment about the debate that she’s started.
I got a friendly on-screen message back suggesting that the comment would go up within 1 working day of being received. No sign of it yet…
I suppose it’s possible that the comment, despite my best efforts, fell foul of Blears’ decency rules in some way. According to the note on the website, “all comments are subject to approval by Communities and Local Government, as outlined in our terms and conditions“.
If you then click on the link to find out what these “terms and conditions” are, you currently get this message:
Sorry! An error has occured whilst trying to deliver the page to you. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.
I can’t think of a more appropriate slogan for the UK government online media experience. Welcome to the future of blogging, New Labour style!
*UPDATE 11/11/08: I’m pleased to say that the comment was published yesterday, with a cordial reply from Hazel Blears.
First the Buddhist talked of the ways to calm, the mastery of desire, the path of enlightenment, and the panellists all said ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great’. Then the Hindu talked of the cycles of suffering and birth and rebirth, the teachings of Krishna and the way to release, and they all said ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great’. And so on, until the Catholic priest talked of the message of Jesus Christ, the promise of salvation and the way to life eternal, and they all said ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great’. And he thumped the table and shouted: ‘No! It’s not a question of it if works for me! It’s the true word of the living God, and if you don’t believe it you’re all damned to Hell!’
And they all said: ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great’.
RE: DEAR LUCKY WINNER
From; Mrs. Susan Sweeney
Tower 42,Level 35 25 Old Broad
EC2N 1HQ DX: 557 London
I bring to your notice the winning letter from British Email Promotion Company held on the 4th of AUG, 2008 using an Automated Internet email ballot System, your email address has won the sum of #1,258,250.00 GBP United Kingdom Pounds or $2,500,000.00 USD United States Dollars in category ‘B’ Your winning informations to claim your prize are stated below;
YOUR WINNING INFORMATION
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Serial number: 3134/1198
To claim your prize contact the paying bank
DIRECTOR FOREIGN OPERATION DEPARTMENT
AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT BANK GROUP
….and I particularly liked this deal-closing detail:
This email promotion is jointly sponsored by Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich and Microsoft corporation owner Bill Gates to promote the use of the internet email facility….
While I was at work this morning I had a call from Heleen, who was at home because of a doctor’s appointment (our baby’s due date is more or less a month after the new book comes out!).
Ten shiny new copies of Don’t Get Fooled Again had just landed on the mat – (OK – it was actually the obligatory man turning up with a box and asking you to scribble incoherently on his Ipod, but symbolically it was mats all the way).
It’s the first time I’ve seen a finished copy – they look brilliant – I’m in awe of the graphic designer. After all the late nights, early mornings, emails, phone calls and footnotes, it finally feels as if the job’s done…
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…
All being well, this is the text that will actually appear on the cover!
Why is it that, time and again, intelligent, educated people end up
falling for ideas that turn out on closer examination to be nonsense?
We live in a supposedly rational age, yet crazy notions seem increasingly mainstream. New Age peddlers claim to cure Aids with vitamin tablets. Media gatekeepers stoke panic and regurgitate corporate press releases in the name of ‘balance’. Wild-eyed men in sandwich boards blame it all on CIA… Even the word ‘sceptic’ has been appropriated by cranks and conspiracy theorists bent on rewriting history and debunking sound science.
But while it may be easier than ever for nonsense to spread, it’s never been simpler to fight back….
Don’t Get Fooled Again offers practical tools for cutting through the claptrap and unravelling the spin – tackling propaganda, the psychology of deception, pseudo-news, bogus science, the weird cult of “Aids reappraisal”, numerous conspiracy theories (including the one about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq), and much more.
Richard Wilson’s book is user-friendly, enjoyable, shot through with polemic – and argues forcibly for a positive solution. Don’t be a cynic – be a sceptic!
“Don’t Get Fooled Again” is a very different kind of book from “Titanic Express”, but there are some common elements. Both, in their own ways, centre around a search for the truth, personally and politically. Both also look at how we can distinguish what’s true from what isn’t – or at least how we can tell a reasonable assumption from a completely nonsensical one – and why it is that these things matter. And both look in some detail at the issue of conspiracy theories, and the damage they can do.
In “Titanic Express”, the conspiracy theories I came across were often all-encompassing – so much so that at one point I was told that my sisters’ killers suspected me of being part of some devilish global plot to discredit them. And in “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, many of the most disturbing delusions I looked at – such as the belief that HIV doesn’t exist or is harmless, seemed ultimately, again, to rest on the belief in some conspiracy or another. What I wasn’t able to do in “Titanic Express” was to look in detail at the features that define a conspiracy theory, what it is, psychologically, that attracts us to such ideas, and the tools that we can use to unravel them – so it was great to have a chance to go into these questions a bit more in DGFA.
My first book, Titanic Express, was published by Continuum in 2006. It takes its title from the bizarre name of the bus that was ambushed by Burundian rebels in December 2000, close to the capital Bujumbura. One of the 21 victims of the attack was my elder sister Charlotte, who had been working as a teacher in neighbouring Rwanda. Her Burundian fiancé – another Richard – who was travelling with her, was also killed.
It took over a day for the news of Charlotte’s death to reach us. More or less from the moment I heard it, I was consumed by an overwhelming desire to know what had happened to my sister in the last moments of her life. But as time went on, this developed into a much wider interest in the chaotic chain of political events that had led to her death. The Titanic Express massacre was just one among hundreds – if not thousands – carried out by ethnic extremists, both Hutu and Tutsi, in Burundi since the current conflict began in 1993. Yet I’d known almost nothing about it until it had a personal effect on me. One of my reasons for writing the book was to try to make some record of the lives that had been lived – and lost – in a largely forgotten part of Africa.
Although this was always going to be a niche book, the response was immensely heartening. Titanic Express was covered sympathetically in several mainstream newspapers, including the Times, Sunday Times, and Independent, among others. Equally gratifying was the reception it got from many of my Burundian contacts. While not everyone agreed with my recounting of Burundian history – some deny, for example, that a genocide was committed against the Hutu population in 1972, and there was some disquiet over my criticism of the involvement of the current Rwandan government in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the disagreements were much milder than I had expected!
Since Titanic Express was published, I’ve continued to campaign on the issues raised in it, and later this year I hope to be involved in an event in London marking the fourth anniversary of the August 2004 Gatumba refugee camp massacre, which was another of the cases I highlighted in the book.
One of the most moving independent reports about the Titanic Express case was written in French by a Burundian journalist, writing under a pseudonym for fear of reprisals against his family, who interviewed the mother of Charlotte’s fiancé back in 2005. I made a rough translation into English and, not knowing what else to do with it at the time, published it on Indymedia here.