Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Torture in US "black prisons"


(via http://www.jordanplanet.net/)

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Yeah, you know, Hussein Mustafa, I met with him in Jordan, and he was an incredibly credible person. He is a dignified older gentleman, about now 50 years old, and he wanted to talk about what had happened to him, but he really didn’t want to talk about that sexual stuff, and in the end, you know, I said to him, “Look, you don’t have to, but it’s very important if things happened, that the story get out, so they don't happen to other people,” and in the end he did, and it was in front of half a dozen people who were just transfixed as he described how four soldiers took him, one on each shoulder, one bent down his head and then the fourth of them took this broomstick and shoved it up his rectum.

Now there was no one in that room -- and they were from a variety of places -- who didn't believe that what this man was saying was true, but I am afraid, I’ve got to tell you, that that’s far from the worst that’s happened. When you talk about Bagram, when you talk about Kandahar, those aren’t the worst places the U.S. has run in Afghanistan. The dark prison, sometimes called “Salt Pit,” in Kabul itself, which is separate from Bagram, has been far worse than that, and I can tell you stories from there that just make your skin crawl.

Monday, 6 February 2006

Iraq demo

Cica took this photo at the big one. Left to right: Elisabeth, Mel, me, Clemency, Cica's cousin, Natasha, Elodie. Heh. It lends me some wholly undeserved glamour. What a great day that was. Pity we didn't win.

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Fast social science

So on the subject of media attention to US and UK politics, these show the number of articles from the Times, FT and Guardian with different words in their headlines, 1990-2005. I rebased so that 1990=100, a dubious procedure because if 1990 was a very high or low year, that will make the subsequent pattern look better or worse. (In particular, take the White House/Downing Street comparison with a grain of salt.) Still, the trends are real enough. As far as I can see the story here is actually that Presidents and Prime Ministers have got more media attention, legislatures less. Country differences are pretty speculative.

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Papers I would like to write

Whenever I get an idea I scribble it down on a sheet of paper and draw a little thought bubble at the top. This is an ongoing post with a list of papers I would like to write. Some of them are actual viable political or social science ideas. Others are things way out of my field, or ideas that might not be quite worth my time.

  1. Use "Blink"-style analysis of interviewers' posture, voice etc. when talking to politicians from different parties to provide an objective test of media bias.
  2. Why do human parents seek to control their children's sexual behaviour? This is AFAIK unique among animals. It is quite hard to understand from a genetic point of view: your children's interest in maximizing fitness is identical to your own (apart from the issue of degrees of relatedness, which might conceivably make a difference e.g. in cultures where people marry their cousins). Is the parental behaviour cultural or is there a genetic component? How did it arise?
  3. Hobbes' theory of the church in Leviathan Chapter XII seems to foreshadow modern economic theories of religion. He actually mentions the church before he gets to the state. It would be an interesting topic in intellectual history.
  4. Modelling how a city's size is affected by the size of other nearby cities. You might expect big cities to "drain" the population of near neighbours. The model could be applicable to other phenomena - firms in markets, even countries.
  5. How to extend formal models of elections to include the spread of information about policy through the population.
  6. Small churches and political parties seem to suffer more splits than large ones. Why? A formal model invoking control over resources and the ability to buy off potential splitters might help.
  7. Media analysis of how reporting of US politics has increased in non-US countries. A simple hit count for "senator" and "president" versus "MP" and "Prime Minister" would be a start.

I'll keep posting these as I remember them. There are a lot more!