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Archive for the ‘Sceptic of the week’ Category

Sceptic of the week: Muntazer al-Zaidi

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From The Times:

“This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq,” he shouted before being overpowered by security guards and bundled out of the room.

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Written by Richard Wilson

December 17, 2008 at 9:08 pm

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

Sceptic of the week – Charles Philipon

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For a period of time during the mid-nineteenth century, openly carrying a pear around the streets of Paris could get you arrested. It all began in 1830, soon after the accession of King Louis-Philippe, when Charles Philipon, a little-known artist, launched a satirical magazine, in which he likened the head of the monarch to a pear. Outraged, the King tried to suppress Philipon’s efforts by ordering his courtiers to buy up every copy of the magazine (possibly not the most effective method of discouraging a fledgling publisher).

When this didn’t work, Philipon was put on trial for having ’caused offence to the person of the King’. Philipon openly mocked the proceedings, urging his prosecutors to go further, and arrest every pear tree in France for disrespecting the corrupt and authoritarian monarch. A six-month prison sentence seems to have done little to deter him – between 1831 and 1832 he was reportedly prosecuted 16 times for his reckless and seditious pear-likening activities – but this only seems to have brought more publicity to his campaign.

As time went on, writes historian David Hopkin:

Other newspapers, even government ones, found it impossible not to mention pears. Puns proliferated, as did pear-shaped graffiti. Fanny Trollope, visiting the Latin Quarter in 1835, found ‘Pears of every size and form… were to be seen in all directions.’ They were also all over the walls of prisons. In 1834 there was even a shop specialising in wax pears. Through the press the language of pears reached the provinces, Philipon claimed they were springing up all over the country.     

Louis Philippe was finally overthrown in the revolution of 1848 – but the mockery didn’t stop there. More than 150 years on, says Hopkin, Philipon’s taunts continue to echo. “Even among historians Louis-Philippe cannot rid himself of this tiresome fruit; it is simply impossible to write about him without the image of the pear floating into one’s mind, the very symbol of an unloved and unlovable monarch”.

Thanks to Philipon, France’s tyrannical monarch will forever be known as “Louis-Philippe, the pear-shaped king”.

Written by Richard Wilson

August 24, 2008 at 5:15 pm