My Blog List

Monday, 14 April 2014

Flood: Nature and Culture - Another review

Here's a review of my book from the Eastern Daily Press - 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Aircraft that vanished


The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines 777 goes on, and on, but, of course, it is not the only aircraft to have vanished without trace. Perhaps the most famous was the Lockheed Electra being flown by Amelia Earhart (pictured) in her attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world in 1937. A voice message from Earhart and her navigator near Howland Island in the mid-Pacific was the last thing ever heard from the flight.

Much bigger aircraft have also disappeared. In 2003, a Boeing 727, being leased by TAAG Angola Airlines, took off from Luanda with its tracking transponder switched off. The aircraft had been idle for 14 months and had racked up millions of dollars in airport fees. No trace of it or the one person known to be on board has ever been found.

In 1962, a Flying Tiger Line Lockheed Super Constellation chartered by the US military disappeared over the western Pacific. It had departed from Travis Air Force Base, California, carrying 93 American soldiers to fight the Viet Cong, 3 South Vietnamese military personnel and 11 crew. The pilot’s last message gave the aircraft’s position as 280 miles west of Guam.


A tanker in the area reported seeing what looked like an aircraft exploding, but one of the biggest air and sea searches in the history of the Pacific found nothing. Another Super Constellation from Travis Air Base carrying secret military cargo crashed the same day in the Aleutian Islands, leading to strong suspicions that both were sabotaged.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Flood - disaster history treasure hunt

On the page below are two (identical) reviews of my book, Flood: Nature and Culture from the Independent.  To find them, you just need good eyes and to be able to stand on your head.


Rwanda + 20


This week Rwanda has been marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide of 1994, in which 800,000 people were murdered in just 100 days – the fastest mass murder in history.

While the Nazis favoured industrial methods of extermination, this one was carried out with low-tech weapons, notably the machete, though some victims were allowed to be shot instead, if they paid. The murderers were Hutu supremacists; their victims Tutsis and sometimes moderate Hutus.

A United Nations international tribunal based in Tanzania has tried more than 70 people in connection with the events of 1994. So far, 29 have been convicted. Another 11 trials are in progress, and 14 people are in detention awaiting trial, while 13 suspects are still at large.


Although last month, a French court sent Rwanda’s former spy chief to gaol for 25 years for his part in the genocide, the Rwandan government still accuses France of complicity in the killings, and France’s Justice Minister cancelled her plans to attend the commemorations in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Ebola spreads


Mali is the latest West African country to go on alert against the Ebola virus, after three cases were reported close to the border with Guinea where 86 people have died. Another six people have died in Liberia, while Sierra Leone has also reported cases.

Senegal has now closed its border with Guinea, and controls are being imposed on people entering Mali’s capital, Bamako.  The virus first appeared in Guinea's remote south-eastern region of Nzerekore, where most of the deaths have happened, but it was not confirmed as Ebola for six weeks, and it has now reached the capital, Conarky.
This is the first known outbreak of the disease in Guinea. Most recent cases have appeared in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a sign of the alarm it is causing is that Saudi Arabia has suspended visas for Muslim pilgrims from Guinea and Liberia.

The virus is spread easily and kills 25-90% of those it infects. Just as with AIDS when it first appeared, there is no vaccine and no cure. The deadliest outbreak so far came in Congo (then Zaire) in 1976 (pictured), when 280 people died - about 88% of those infected.


Monday, 31 March 2014

Global warming - 'no one will escape untouched'


‘Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.’ So said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as the panel’s latest report warns of ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible’ effects.

The dangers it anticipates include greater flooding in some areas, along with water shortages in others. It foresees declining crop yields just as the world’s population races up to 9 billion. The panel says the amount of evidence on the effects of global warming has doubled since its last report in 2007.

There are plenty of people who still deny that climate change represents a threat at all, but this latest IPCC report has been criticised by others for being too optimistic. Apparently a view has been taken that if the panel paints too gloomy a picture, politicians will just give up trying to do anything.


The report is based on more than 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies, and is said to be the most comprehensive assessment ever of the threat to the world from global warming. 

*See my book Flood: Nature and Culture for more on how global warming may increase the risk of flooding.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The mystery of flight MH370

Perhaps the most baffling mystery in commercial aviation history – the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 – continues to defy solution, and the agony of those with friends and loved ones aboard goes on.

Search aircraft from five countries have been scouring the ocean for a sign of the Boeing 777 that left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew. The last contact with it came less than an hour after take-off.

Much attention is now focused on the seas 1,400 miles off Perth, where there have been a number of reports of floating debris. Australia’s prime minister says there is now ‘hope’, but no more than that, that we may be on the verge of finding out what happened to the aircraft.

The Malaysian authorities believe MH370 was taken deliberately off course, for reasons unknown, and there is now speculation that the flight crew may have passed out through lack of oxygen.