Wednesday 27 August 2014

Blaming people for earthquakes

I've just been quoted in an interesting article from Newsweek (for link, see below) about the dangers that human activities such as fracking might cause earthquakes.

I talk about two quakes - the first hit Antioch in what is now Turkey, but was then one of the biggest cities in the Roman empire, in AD 115. It nearly killed the emperor Trajan and the future emperor, Hadrian, commissioner of the famous wall.

Trajan believed it had happened because the spread of Christianity had made the old Roman gods angry, so he had the local bishop thrown to wild animals at the Colosseum in Rome. An estimated 300,000 people died in another earthquake in Antioch in 526, after which the city never recovered its former greatness.

The other earthquake I mention is the one that hit Lisbon, then the centre of a great global empire, on November 1 - All Saints' Day - 1755 (pictured). After the quake, fires burned for six days, destroying 85 per cent of the city including scores of convents, 30 monasteries, many churches and the headquarters of the Inquisition. The red light district emerged unscathed, to the amusement of many in Protestant countries.

For more details on both, see A Disastrous History of the World.

This is the Newsweek story -

Sunday 17 August 2014

Egyptian government accused of crimes against humanity

Israel’s assistant in the illegal blockade of Gaza, the Egyptian government, has been accused of crimes against humanity by the US-based organisation Human Rights Watch.

The group claims it committed mass murder in its violent suppression of protests in Cairo last summer, which cost more than 1,000 lives, and calls for the country’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, and at least nine other senior security officials to be investigated for their role in the massacres.

According to its report, the Egyptian authorities presided over ‘one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history’ when they forcibly dispersed two big protest camps on August 14, 2013, leaving about 900 people dead.

One of those HRW wants investigating is Mohamed Farid el-Tohamy, head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, who met US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Washington in April.

Monday 11 August 2014

Mystery of another civil airliner shot down over Ukraine

We are still no nearer to knowing exactly who shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine (see my blog of July 20), and perhaps we never will be, but it was not the first civil airliner to be shot down over the country.

On October 4, 2001, a Siberia Airlines Tupelov Tu-154 (similar pictured) was hit by what was believed to be a Ukrainian missile while en route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk in Russia, and crashed into the Black Sea. None of the 78 people on board survived.

With the crash coming so soon after 9/11, the favourite explanation at first was terrorism, but Ukraine eventually admitted the aircraft had been hit by one of its missiles that had gone astray during a military exercise, and paid compensation to victims’ families.

Subsequently, though, the Ukrainian government denied responsibility for the disaster, and a claim against it by Siberia Airlines remains unresolved. 

Sunday 10 August 2014

The Yazidis - a history of persecution

The Iraqi government says ‘Islamic State’ militants have murdered at least 500 Yazidis, some women and children they buried alive. They are also accused of forcing 300 women into slavery.
Tens of thousands of other Yazidis are taking shelter on the hot, desolate summit of Mount Sinjar, with the Americans trying to drop aid from the air, and strike at the Islamists who are threatening the refugees.
The Yazidis’ religion is much older than Islam. They believe God created the world, but then left if to be ruled by seven angels and that after death, our souls are transferred to other human beings. They do not believe in hell or the devil.

Over the centuries, they have been persecuted by many groups including the Ottoman Turks, Muslim Kurdish princes, and Saddam Hussein’s government. Then after his fall, nearly 800 Yazidis were killed in 2007 in the deadliest terrorist act in history apart from 9/11. No one has admitted responsibility for the co-ordinated four-bomb attack, but it is generally blamed on al-Qaeda or other Sunni militants.

Friday 8 August 2014

Ebola outbreak deadliest ever

The current Ebola outbreak is by far the worst the world has yet experienced. So far more than 930 people have died in West Africa, while more than 1,700 cases have been reported. The previous worst death toll came in 1976, when 280 people died in Congo and Zaire.

The mortality rate this time appears to be about 55%, though it can reach 90%. The World Health Organisation has now declared an international health emergency, but it is not proposing any bans on trade or travel.

Ebola is a fearsome disease, with symptoms that include high fever, internal and external bleeding, and damage to the central nervous system. There is no vaccine and no cure.

One of the obstacles to containing its spread is the poor state of the health services in the countries it has struck, with a lack of medical staff, laboratory technicians and protective clothing for doctors and nurses.  (See also my blogs of April 4 and June 7.)

Thursday 7 August 2014

Two Khmer Rouge convicted of mass murder

Almost 40 years after the mass murder by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia that left perhaps a quarter of the population dead, two of the regime’s leading lights have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

88 year old Nuon Chea (pictured) served as the notorious Pol Pot's deputy, while Khieu Samphan, now aged 83, was head of state. The judge said they were guilty of ‘extermination encompassing murder, political persecution, and other inhumane acts.’
The Maoist regime’s speciality was to drive people out of the cities and force into the countryside, where they were worked or starved to death. Many in Cambodia have criticised the slow pace at which justice has proceeded, and a judge resigned in 2012, complaining that investigations into suspects were being blocked.

The convicted pair deny the offences and say they will appeal, though they will remain in gaol. They could also face a further trial on charges of genocide.