Sense about Science

***An email I received yesterday***

Dear Friends

A message from Simon Singh:

“It has been 18 months since I was sued for libel after publishing my article on chiropractic. I am continuing to fight my case and am prepared to defend my article for another 18 months or more if necessary. The ongoing libel case has been distracting, draining and frustrating, but it has always been heartening to receive so much support, particularly from people who realise that English libel laws need to be reformed in order to allow robust discussion of matters of public interest. Over twenty thousand people signed the statement to Keep Libel Laws out of Science, but now we need you to sign up again and add your name to the new statement.

The new statement is necessary because the campaign for libel reform is stepping up a gear and will be working on much broader base. Sense About Science has joined forces with Index on Censorship and English PEN and their goal is to reach 100,000 or more signatories in order to help politicians appreciate the level of public support for libel reform. We have already met several leading figures from all three main parties and they have all showed signs of interest. Now, however, we need a final push in order to persuade them to commit to libel reform.

Finally, I would like to make three points. First, I will stress again – please take the time to reinforce your support for libel reform by signing up at http://www.libelreform.org. Second, please spread the word by blogging, twittering, Facebooking and emailing in order to encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Third, for those supporters who live overseas, please also add your name to the petition and encourage others to do the same; unfortunately and embarrassingly, English libel laws impact writers in the rest of the world, but now you can help change those laws by showing your support for libel reform. While I fight in my own libel battle, I hope that you will fight the bigger battle of libel reform.”

And from me, Síle:

The campaign for libel reform was launched by Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN on Wednesday 9th December. You can read about it in the following articles:

BBC NEWS Comic Dara O Briain says libel laws ‘quash dissent’

The Times Scientists urge reform of ‘lethal’ libel law

The Independent Comic Dara O Briain lambasts ‘bully’ libel law

The Mirror Dara O Briain wants libel reform

THE UCL provost: libel law is stifling academic freedoms

New Scientist blog Campaign to reform English libel law launched

Press Gazette ‘Libel can kill – reform it now’

The Press Association Dara O Briain wants libel reform

To read the background of this campaign see www.senseaboutscience.org/freedebate. We still need your support. Add your voice at www.libelreform.org and help us reach our fundraising target at www.justgiving.com/bookfund.

Best

Síle
Síle Lane
Public Liaison
Sense About Science
25 Shaftesbury Avenue
London
W1D 7EG

Reg. Charity No. 1101114

Tel: +44 (0)20 7478 4380

www.senseaboutscience.org

Sense About Science is a small charity that equips people to make sense of science and evidence. We depend on donations, large and small, from people who support our work. You can donate, or find out more, at www.senseaboutscience.org/donate

Forest fungi

Out for a walk yesterday afternoon in the woods and came across lots of lovely growths of fungi. Since I am no mycologist, I shall not attempt to identify them incorrectly, but here are some pictures of the more photogenic groups.

Some of the images taken in poorer light under trees were taken using the night exposure mode on my Nikon D80 with a slow flash. This seems to have worked reasonably well, although pushing the sensor speed has resulted in a slightly soft, grainy feel to some images.

Beavers are back

The trial re-introduction of European beavers to the North Knapdale area has been running since the end of May this year. On Friday I had the opportunity to visit one of the sites where the beavers have been active. Great delight to see signs of beavers at work, including the first beaver dam in the wild in Scotland for four centuries and other signs of the habitat management in which beavers indulge.

Beaver Dam

Beaver Dam

Saplings felled by beavers

Saplings felled by beavers

Dredging by beavers

Dredging by beavers

More information on the Scottish Beaver Trial can be found at their website.

A military funeral

What follows is the text of an email I sent to Canadian relations after Jason’s funeral on 4th June.

Attended Jason’s funeral on Thursday in a beautiful Cotswold village under a glorious summer sky. The whole village turned out to watch the procession go past, including the local primary school. The local BBC news crew were also in attendance, although I haven’t found a clip on the BBC news website, so it might just have been shown locally in Oxfordshire.
This was a full military production (and I use the word advisedly and with no disrespect to family and friends). The forces take care to give considerable honour and respect to those of their number who fall in conflict and this was no exception. A number of marines in uniform were in the pub before the procession, including those who knew Jason and those who did not. We walked as a large family group behind the hearse through the streets of Bampton in a strange silence; the police had closed the roads and the locals came out to pay their respects. The only sound was the tolling of the church bell, two tolls and a pause, two tolls and a pause … As we approached the green in front of the church, the men of the local Royal British Legion who lined the lane lowered the various standards they were carrying in respect. To our right were drawn up in ranks about 40 marines in dress uniform, all facing away from the coffin and with heads bowed. The bearer party of marines, with bare heads, took possession of the flag-draped coffin and proceeded along the path through the churchyard, which was again lined by the honour party with rifles sloped and heads bowed. We processed into the church through the west door and found that it was already three-parts full. I ended up sitting next to Caroline (about the only person I knew) and it took an age for everyone else to come in. The usher was a marine nco who was extremely efficient in filling up nooks and crannies with people. One poor group of young women, obviously hoping to find a space somewhere at the back, had to come right down the packed nave, squeeze past the coffin on its bier, up through the choir and into the chancel where some more choirstalls were empty. The choirstalls beside Jason’s coffin were filled with his comrades and the south apse was filled with the remaining marines. A number of other marines in wheelchairs and on crutches were also present. A standard bearer from the RBL stood at attention at the head of the coffin throughout the hour-long service with the marine standard. Jason’s dress hat and gloves were on the flagged coffin.
The parish church in Bampton is a beautiful Cotswold stone building with an eclectic range of styles and successive campaigns of building. The west doors were open and the light gave a very serene feeling to the whole place. There must have been around 500 people packed in to the place. Peter was at the organ and did a sterling job.
The service went as funerals will. Great solemnity and enormous stretches of silence between the ritual. Richard (Jason’s older brother) gave the tribute and I was surprised to hear just how strong a southern African accent he had – I shouldn’t have been, but I was.
There were several enormously poignant moments in the service. When Jason’s medals were presented to his family. When Richard spoke of the friendship and innocence of young brothers playing at home on the farm. When we sang the hymns “For those in peril on the sea” and “I vow to thee my country”. When, at last, at the end of the service and after a long silence when we stood in contemplation, the marine bugler played the last post from outside the west door and behind us, letting his perfect notes echo and resound through the building. When, after another silence, the shots of the salute cracked out three times. The sense of military business returned when the bearer party came back in to retrieve the coffin at the quick march (they left at slow). And so we emerged again into this beautiful English, Cotswold summer day with nary a cloud in the sky to see the cortège depart for the cremation.
I didn’t follow on to the cremation. I had to make my way to Suffolk and find somewhere to get some food – the diabetic’s great excuse.
A strange and powerful day. The phrase that came to mind was the “theatre of war” – this military production with its well-rehearsed cast; its dramas and players, the music and sound and fury. But what a company! I watched these young men in the pub beforehand and they had a quiet, confident camaraderie that I’ve seldom seen. Even though many of them hadn’t met, they knew and recognised one another and were at ease in their shared identity and common purpose. We may sometimes dislike the task that they are given, but they are worthy of our respect and gratitude for they way they accept their duty and, often, pay the price.

In memoriam: Marine Jason Mackie

The following is the text of the Ministry of Defence  news item reporting the death in action of my cousin, Marine Jason Mackie:

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Marine Jason Mackie of Armoured Support Group Royal Marines was killed in Afghanistan on Thursday 14 May 2009.

Marine Jason Mackie

Marine Jason Mackie
[Picture: via MOD]

Marine Mackie was supporting IX Company of the Welsh Guards when his vehicle struck an explosive device in the Basharan area of central Helmand, Afghanistan.

The explosion killed Marine Mackie instantly and also injured his crew mate who is still receiving medical treatment.

At the time of his death Marine Mackie was serving as a Viking All Terrain Vehicle Operator in 3rd Armoured Support Troop of the Armoured Support Group, Royal Marines.

Marine Jason Mackie

Marine Mackie was born in Bampton, Oxfordshire and was 21 years old. He joined the Royal Marines in June 2007. Following successful completion of Royal Marine Recruit Training and the Commando Course he joined 40 Commando Royal Marines based in Taunton where he initially served as a Rifleman.

He then underwent the Armoured Support Operators Course, qualifying him to operate the Viking All Terrain Vehicle. In September 2008 he joined the Armoured Support Group Royal Marines and completed pre-deployment training before deploying on operations to Afghanistan in November 2008.

Marine Mackie was an energetic and highly respected member of the Royal Marines and the Armoured Support Group. He loved all sports and was always a central character in the unit social life.

Marine Mackie was a very passionate and proud Zimbabwean who enjoyed hunting at home on the farm, a hobby which helped him become a marksman during basic training. He was admired by his colleagues for his work ethic and love of life. He was extremely proud to be a Royal Marine Commando and held dear the qualities of the Commando spirit and displayed courage, determination, unselfishness and cheerfulness in abundance.

Marine Mackie’s family paid the following tribute:

“Jason was one in a billion and will be sorely missed by his family and friends and his partner Vic and her family.”

Marine Jason Mackie

Marine Jason Mackie
[Picture: via MOD]

Major Richard Hopkins Royal Marines, Officer Commanding Armoured Support Group said:

“Marine Mackie was a colourful, cheerful and enthusiastic young man who I will always remember for his sense of fun and everlasting grin. He was immensely proud of being a Royal Marine and a Viking operator and took great pleasure in his work.

“As a member of my vehicle crew on several operations, he had proved himself to be a highly capable, dedicated and hard-working operator. Always at the centre of any pranks or games, he was the first to pick up a ball, bat or anything else that could be improvised and employed for sport.

“When on task he remained the true professional, focused and alert regardless of the hardships. He immersed himself in the life of a Royal Marine and was thriving in the operational environment.

“The Armoured Support Group has lost a brave and skilled operator but more than this, we have lost a loyal and popular friend. Marine Mackie was one of ours and we will never let go of his memory. His death is a bitter blow but we remain resolute and focused on our duties and will not see his sacrifice pass by in vain. My thoughts and those of every member of the group are with his family and girlfriend at this difficult time.”

Captain Gez Kearse Queens Royal Hussars, Officer Commanding 3rd Armoured Support Troop said:

“Marine Mackie was an outstanding young man and a superb soldier. Never one to shy away from responsibility, Mackie’s ability to continue working in the harshest of environments brought out the best of this extremely dedicated young man.

“Mackie would continue to graft when others slipped by the wayside, motivating those to continue through the difficult times. A passionate sportsman, Mackie was a talented cricketer who often bowled many a batsman out with an improvised ball and bat made during extended periods in Patrol Base locations.

“Marine Mackie was an outstanding young man and a superb soldier.”

Captain Gez Kearse

“Wonderfully generous with his time and energies, Marine Mackie epitomised all that it is to be a Royal Marine. As a soldier he will be missed as a true professional. A hole has been left in 3rd AST which can never be filled. My thoughts and prayers extend at this most difficult of times to his family and girlfriend.”

Warrant Officer Class 2 Group Sergeant Major Matt Tomlinson CGC Royal Marines said:

“Marine Mackie was known to me as ‘Makie’ – but perhaps it should have been smiler because whenever we spoke he would always greet me with that smile. Despite hardships during missions and tasks, atrocious weather and long, drawn out hours of endless Viking operations, Makie would always appear from his vehicle smiling.

“This shows the true character of Makie, a true ‘Bootneck’ a strong fit Royal Marine, one of the brave, leading the section from the front despite the threat. Marine Mackie will always be remembered, it would be impossible to forget such a character. It was an honour to know him, likewise an honour to serve with him; it will be an honour to remember him. God bless you Mackie.”

Lance Corporal Jamie McGill said:

“Marine Mackie was an unbreakable Marine both physically and mentally, always smiling when times got tough. Everyone knew him for his big grin. He will be sorely missed by all the lads from ASGRM.”

Lance Corporal Thomas McDermott said:

“Marine Mackie was a strong Royal Marine and was always first to volunteer for any job. He was a well liked member of the troop, always with a smile and cheerful outlook on life. Mackie will be deeply missed by all.”

“Marine Mackie was known to me as ‘Makie’ – but perhaps it should have been smiler because whenever we spoke he would always greet me with that smile.”

Warrant Officer Class 2 Group Sergeant Major Matt Tomlinson RM

Marines Jamie McGillick and Tom Leatherbarrow said:

“We both shared a room with Jason Mackie when we were at 40 Commando together, having all passed out of recruit training around the same time. He was an absolute pleasure to be around and was always up for a night out and a laugh together.

“We had a great six months together at 40 before all moving to ASGRM in September 08. Jason brought his sense of humour with him and always found something continually more honking to do to make us all laugh. He was excellent at breaking things but always managed to keep a smile on his face despite the admin vortex that was continually following him around. He was a fantastic bloke and we will all miss him deeply. Rest in peace mate.”

Marine Anton Rushmere said:

“Mackie had the kind of personality you could always depend on to lift morale when things got hard. We loved to talk about home and family and often shared parcels containing biltong and ouma rusks, an African delicacy. Mackie was a family guy through and through and loved his girlfriend very much and my thoughts are with them all now.”

Marine Mathew Vowles said:

“Mackie was a young and ambitious Marine. You could always rely on him to boost your morale either by getting caught doing something he shouldn’t or generally just having banter with the lads. He was a true character in himself who had a lot of ambition. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends, especially his girlfriend. He will be dearly missed by all the lads and will never be forgotten.”

Trooper Bobby Moore said:

“Marine Mackie was a strong character with a promising career. He was always centre of any banter or prank being played on the lads, but would always give the game away with his smile. Gone but never forgotten.”

Marine Callum Gray said:

“Marine Mackie was a brilliant soldier and an even better friend. Mackie didn’t have the best of laughs but he seemed to do it a lot so that is good! He had a great dream and I have no doubt that he would have succeeded. To a wonderful friend, a brilliant soldier and my brother, Mackie. Always in our hearts.”

“Mackie had the kind of personality you could always depend on to lift morale when things got hard. We loved to talk about home and family and often shared parcels containing biltong and ouma rusks, an African delicacy.”

Marine Anton Rushmere

Marine Chris Bardsley said:

“Marine Mackie was a good marine and a hoofing mate. Always first to put his hand up to help someone, and the last to shy away from any work. He will be sorely missed by everyone in ASGRM.”

Marine Ben Tait said:

“Marine Mackie was a strong bootneck who prided himself on upholding the Corps values. His cheerfulness in adversity was one which we all respected him for. His ability to never drip and look on the positive, is what made him such a valued member of this group.”

Marine Baz Markham said:

“Marine Mackie was a physically fit and strong member of the group. Always helping out whenever he could. It was an honour to have known him and he will be missed.”

Marine James John said:

“Marine Mackie was a very strong and promising Royal Marine. He was always up to help someone out and never shied from any work. Always found with a smile, he will be dearly missed by all members of ASGRM.”

Trooper David MacDougall said:

“Marine Mackie was a promising and strong character who never shied away from work and he always had a smile on his face. Mackie loved life and most of all loved being a bootneck. He will be missed by all but never forgotten.”

Secretary of State for Defence, John Hutton MP, said:

“I was extremely saddened to learn of the death of Marine Jason Mackie. It is clear from the tributes paid to him by his commanders and comrades that he was a very popular character and a brave young Marine, whose loss will be felt deeply by those he fought beside as well as by his loved ones. My thoughts are with them at this terribly sad time.”

Spring concert

Sunday was the return leg of the annual combined concerts with the Corran Singers (Mid Argyll, red jumpers) and the Kilmallie Singers (Fort William, blue hooped sweaters). I missed the first leg in Fort Bill because only a private Harrier jump-jet would have gotten me there in time from Ipswich.
This year’s programme was:

  • Haydn – Nelson Mass
  • Mendelssohn – Hear My Prayer
  • Mendelssohn – Extracts from Elijah
  • Mendelssohn – There Shall a Star Come out of Jacob

The full credits include:

Conductor: Sheila McCallum
Organist: Morley Whitehead
Soprano: Charlotte Sutton
Mezzo-soprano: Marion Ramsay
Tenor: Warren Gillespie
Baritone: Benjamin Weaver

Only a small audience, but then the Public Hall in Ardrishaig is not one of the west of Scotland’s top venues. In fact it’s a bit of a hole and the fact that this is it as far as arts venues go in the Lochgilphead are tells you everything you need to know about the attitude of the local council to culture.

Anyway, back to the main event. Your writer is to be found lurking in the bass section desperately hoping that someone will confidently (a) be counting the intervals accurately and (b) sounding out with the right note. I like the Haydn; this is something I know I’ve sung in the past, probably as a teenage bass, and I enjoy the dynamic movement of the piece. The Mendelssohn on the other had I can quite easily never sing again. I find the Elijah musically trivial and the other pieces terribly bland. All goes to show how little of a music critic I really am (or ought to be).

Still, no major bloopers from the bass section, at least none that earn a scowl from the conductor, and we leave the field bloody but unbowed, honours even, until the next year.

    Back from Suffolk

    A long, but very worthwhile, trip to Suffolk at the end of last week, attending my TA training group.
    Travel from Argyll to east of Ipswich either involves multiple train journeys via London, or flights and car hire and extra days travelling, or just getting in the car and spending all day on the drive, which is over 500 miles. Well, I don’t mind spending a day at the wheel providing it’s not pissing down and there aren’t any major jams, so it’s my own four wheels for me.
    My preferred route is down the motorways to Penrith then across the A66 to Scotch Corner, before trundling down the variants on the A1 to join the A14 through fenland to Ipswich and the job lot of roundabouts that were inflicted on Suffolk in the cause of connectivity.
    The consequence of a twelve-hour journey is that it takes several hours to stop buzzing and relax, but I’m used now to that sort of distance.
    Decided to stop this time and explore the castle at Brougham, east of Penrith. A lovely red sandstone ruin all to myself – arrived just as it opened for the day – although not the most romantic of old castles. I tend to judge every castle by the standards of Goodrich in Herefordshire, which was a regular haunt in childhood and had ramparts and dungeons and moats and keeps and towers – all the stuff of happy boyhood afternoons and maternal terror.
    The content of the training this time revolved around how metaphor in TA shapes our positions as practitioners. For me, being a fairly conceptual Hector, this was very interesting. It’s clear that one has to develop and refine one’s own ideas about practice and the underlying TA principles that inform it in order to become congruent in thought and behaviour.
    Because of commitments back home on Sunday afternoon, the journey back was a bit of a challenge, having to leave Ipswich at five in the afternoon on Saturday and plod home in one hit (with appropriate food, pee and sanity breaks. Hit the sack at about half-past-three in the morning after a better drive than I expected. Took the M62 instead of the A66 – 36 extra miles but probably no difference in time. Still, I resent those extra miles and will probably stick to the Scotch Corner to Penrith road in the future.

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