Friday, December 31, 2004

Are Newcastle Fans That Dangerous ?

I heard on the news that Premiership clubs are each giving £50,000 to victims of the Toon Army.

Season's Greetings

AL Kennedy's Christmas message, in which the old and much-loved themes of the traditional Guardian Christmas (Iraq, depleted uranium, Christians, TV, excessive consumption) are recycled in true sustainable style.

As much a part of Christmas as the Queen's traditional appeal to the evil Native Brits to abandon their childish fears of our multicultural Nirvana, although I notice her speech to the troops was singularly short on appeals to reach out to unfamiliar cultures.

It's All Our Fault (Again)

I wondered how long it would be. A few days ago I heard the first letter from a Radio Four listener suggesting that the UK was dragging its feet over aid 'despite spending billions on an illegal war'. Then a Radio Five news report in which unnamed persons were 'criticising George Bush' for sidelining the UN, and suggesting that he cared not for the poor and afflicted.

The Indian Ocean disaster is a heaven sent opportunity for liberal breast-beating into which can be shoehorned the correct views on globalisation, George Bush, Iraq, whatever. Try Jeremy Seabrook in (where else) the Guardian, who manages to cover imperialism (holidays to you), Iraq, globalisation and asylum seekers in a few short paragraphs.

"when we distinguish between "locals" who have died and westerners, "locals" all too easily becomes a euphemism for what were once referred to as natives. Whatever tourism's merits, it risks reinforcing the imperial sensibility."

"while the tsunami death toll rises in anonymous thousands, in Iraq disdainful American authorities don't do body counts."

Of course the Guardian has a different, non-imperialist view of dead Asians. If white people kill them the Guardian will give max publicity. Otherwise forget it. Congo is the locus classicus - maybe five million deaths, but an absulute sod to blame on Whitey.

Which is why I've read little about Aceh in the last few years, where tens of thousands died in the wave but the news was slow to emerge - as journalists, diplomats and NGOs have been barred from the area for years due to a separatist revolt which got minimal coverage. I wonder how many have died in the revolt ?

The script has an interesting subtext, too - that these poor people are completely incapable of helping themselves and are utterly dependent on the Great White Gods coming across the sea - a kind of latterday Cargo Cult mentality projected onto the inhabitants of Indonesia and Sri Lanka by BBC correspondents who on a conscious level would reject racist stereotyping as something that only the Evil Right do. The victims are interviewed as if they're chavs complaining that the windowframes have needed painting for six years but the council haven't done it yet.

I'd recommend the reports of a Radio 5 reporter called (I think) Julie Ashmole.

"The promised aid hasn't arrived yet - how do you feel about that ?"

The interviewee failed to rise to the bait. He seemed to have other things on his mind.

I'm trying to find a source for the BBC story of a few days ago that the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) summit a year or two back rejected a proposed early warning system, such as exists for the Atlantic and Pacific, on grounds of cost and the low risk of such an event. I'm presuming it's true, in which case this can perhaps be seen with hindsight as a mistake.

Watch for more breast-beating in the days ahead.

None of the above, of course, absolves us of the obligation to stump up. Hilary Benn has shown the way, announcing that of the Government's annual £400 billion tax take, no less than £15 million, or 0.00375% of Government revenue, has been earmarked for the disaster. An example to us all. For a take-home pay of £20,000 pa it works out pro-rata'd at 75p.

The Government needs the other £399.985 billion for vital health initiatives like this one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

125 Years Ago

One of the pleasures of a holiday away is the time to read, and despite a return trip to Old Trafford I found time to get through most of Denis Healey's 'The Time Of My Life' and all of John Prebble's 'The High Girders'.

I'd read Prebble's Scots history primer The Lion In The North, and The Highland Clearances, but had no idea he'd been writing so long - The High Girders was published in 1956, and it's about the collapse of this bridge. Which inspired the Bard of Dundee to pen this - started the day after the disaster, when the news became public in Dundee, and finished the following day.

The bridge collapsed at about 7.20 pm, one hundred and twenty five years ago today.

"On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time."

Prebble's book describes the storm that night, when people could not stand up out of doors, the retired admiral in his house overlooking the bridge, fearful for it, reading his storm books and watching the barometer, the young people sitting in the dark with the curtains open to watch the train cross the bridge and the dawning realisation that it has disappeared half way across.

For me the hero of that night is the locomotive superintendent, Roberts, at the Dundee end of the bridge. The train has not arrived, although he knows it went onto the bridge. Contact has been lost with the box at the far end of the bridge. Realising that something is very wrong, he and the stationmaster set out on their hands and knees, in darkness and a force 10 gale, across a two mile bridge to find out what has happened. One turns back, but Roberts crawls on alone in the dark, feeling his way, until his arms touch space and he finds the thousand yard gap where the bridge had been.

The bridge's designer, Thomas Bouch, was blamed for the collapse by the public enquiry, and died of a broken heart within a year, although there is still debate as to the exact cause of the disaster. Bouch had been due to design the proposed Forth Bridge but was hastily replaced.

The remaining girders were reused when the new Tay Bridge was constructed. The remains of the old bridge can be seen today alongside the new one. The railway engine was also salvaged and worked on land for another thirty years, much loved by her crews and affectionately knon as 'The Diver'.

If you're in the land o'cakes, there's currently a commemorative exhibition in Dundee.