Saturday 13 June 2015

Of disasters, gods and spirits

The court case against four Western tourists who stripped off at the top of a Malaysian sacred mountain has been given added spice by claims from a local politician that their action caused an earthquake that killed 18 people. His rationale was that they had angered the spirits of Mount Kinabalu.

It is easy to mock, and other Malaysian politicians have distanced themselves from linking the natural disaster to the tourists’ behaviour, but we should remember that the need to find some divine retribution behind the suffering inflicted by disasters is deep-seated, and was common in Britain until relatively recently.

After we were struck by the worst storm in our history in 1703, Queen Anne declared it was because God felt a ‘heavy displeasure’ at our wickedness. Even though thousands were killed, especially around our coasts, it was no good feeling sorry for ourselves, she said. We had behaved so badly, we were lucky the storm was not even worse.

When cholera struck in 1832, the British government announced a series of days of fasting and humiliation during which the nation would confess its sins and beg for God’s forgiveness. It did not halt the disease, which raged for another year and killed about 60,000 people.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

David Cameron and Europe - at last the truth

Like me you probably thought you were seeing things a couple of days ago when David Cameron suddenly seemed to develop a backbone as he declared that anti-European ministers would have to, er . . . follow government policy or resign. Indeed we were seeing things, and normal service was resumed within a couple of hours as Dave caved in to the anti-European fanatics.

I did warn that if the Tories won the General Election in 2015, Britain would leave Europe. It is not what Cameron wants. He and George Osborne understand it would be a disaster, even if the rest of their party do not, but having the courage to say so is, of course, quite another matter.

It’s clear that Cameron’s plan is to follow Harold Wilson’s recipe from 1975. Lace your speeches with plenty of anti-European rhetoric and agree to a referendum to placate the extremists in your party. Carry on a ‘renegotiation’ with your European partners. Gain a couple of cosmetic changes that you sell as major concessions. Win the referendum to stay in Europe by a comfortable majority.

I covered the 1975 referendum, and here is why Cameron will fail:-

1. Harold Wilson was one of the sharpest political operators Britain has ever seen. Cameron is simply not in his class.

2. The newspapers in Wilson’s time covered Europe reasonably fairly. Now the papers with the biggest circulations spew out an unremitting stream of anti-European bile.

Brexit looms. Will the last businessman to leave the country please turn out the lights.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

What sank the Yangtze cruise ship?

What caused the Eastern Star cruise ship to capsize in the Yangtze River with the loss of more than 440 lives? Meteorologists confirmed that a ‘sudden, strong and violent’ storm hit the area, and the transport ministry said the Eastern Star was a ‘grade B vessel’ that might be vulnerable to it.

But others are asking how it could be overturned in seconds, without being able to send out a distress signal, when no other vessels in the area seem to have been affected. It is known that the ship was investigated for safety defects in 2013.

Of the 456 people aboard, only 14 have so far been rescued, including one man who spent ten hours in the water, but hopes are fading that any more survivors will be found. The captain and the chief engineer are in police custody.

China’s worst peacetime shipwreck of the twentieth century came in 1948, when the passenger steam ship Kiangya (pictured) sank in the mouth of the Huangpu River 50 miles south of Shanghai with the loss of up to 3,900 lives. It is believed it struck a mine left behind by the Japanese after World War Two.

Monday 1 June 2015

Rana Plaza collapse - murder charges

The owner of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh which collapsed in April 2013 with the loss of more than 1,100 lives has been charged with murder. It was the deadliest event of its kind in modern times.

Sohel Rana and 41 others, including government officials, are accused of ignoring warnings that the buildings, about 20 miles from the capital, Dhaka, were not safe. Any convicted of murder could face the death penalty.

There has been criticism of the length of time it has taken to bring charges, but investigators say they have had to take statements from more than 1,200 people. It is said this is the first time anyone has faced criminal charges over an accident in the country’s clothing industry, which is one of the biggest in the world, and provides cheap items for some well-known Western retailers.

It is alleged that three extra storeys had been illegally added to the building. After the disaster, Mr Rana tried to flee to India. (For more details, see my blog of 3 May 2013.)