Building Good Beliefs

I may be remembering this somewhat incorrectly, but let’s not spoil a good message.

There’s scene at the end of the film The Life Of Pi where the narrator has recounted all the adventures that a certain young man has had. At the end of recounting all the adventures, the listener dismisses the story. He says that he heard it differently, that the man in the story was a thief and had made up his adventures.

The storyteller replies – ‘In the absence of knowing which is true, which would you rather believe?’

And this is a great truth – the power we have to choose our beliefs springs from what motivates us, and from that we can build good beliefs.

Rusting to catastrophe

In 1987, the ship Esso Japan was converted into a storage vessel and renamed ‘Safer’. She was moored off the coast of Yemen in 1988, owned by the Yemeni government through its national oil company, and used to store oil.

Against that background, do you remember the Exxon Valdez that ruptured when it hit a reef off the coast of Alaska?

The oil tanker owned by the Exxon Shipping Company, spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989, and it caused the world’s biggest maritime environmental disaster.

In terms of volume of oil released it is second to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but in terms of damage it is the worst by far. Despite a clean-up that went on for years, less than 10% of the oil was recovered.

Now fast forward to today, and just so we are sure we are comparing apples with apples, that was 11 million gallons of crude oil that leaked out of the Exxon Valdez.

In the oil industry, a barrel is defined as 42 US gallons, or 35 imperial gallons.

Well, the Floating Storage And Offloading Vessel Safer has 1.2 million barrels of crude oil in its tanks, and it is rusting away. That’s 50.4 million US gallons of oil, or more than four times the amount on the Exxon Valdez.

Since 2015 the vessel has been a pawn in a game of chicken between Iranian-back Houthi rebels and just about everyone else.

The Houthis want payment for the oil. The UN wants to avoid an ecological disaster.

Apart from the ecological damage at stake, to the south is the narrow Bab-El-Mandeb Strait (‘The Gate of Lamentations’ in Arabic) that gives out into the Gulf of Aden. Via the Suez Canal it is the shortest trade route between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the rest of East Asia – and one of the world’s major trade routes. 

The Houthis agreed to let UN inspectors in, and then changed their minds. And meanwhile the hulk continued to rust. Then the parties did a deal, but it costs money to pay for the oil and to offload it. So the UN asked for the money to do the job. That was two years ago.

Update June 2022

And now in June 2022, with the FSO Safer becoming unsafer by the day, the United Nations is passing around the begging bowl, asking the public to join in an make up the five million dollar shortfall because the national governments of the world’s countries have not been able to dig deep enough into their pockets. The five million will mean the UN can make a start, but the actual shortfall is twenty million dollars. So somewhere down the line they are going to need more money. And meanwhile, the vessel edges nearer to breaking up.

What a sad mess.

Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton was an English children’s author whose books have been translated into 90 languages and have sold more than 600 million copies. Making an assumption that each of those copies has been read by, let’s say, three people – that means we are going on for two billion people who have read her books. As a slice of the total human population on the planet from the 1930s when she began writing up until today – it’s a staggering number.

Enid Blyton continued to write up until her death in 1968, and somewhere along the way, I read her books. All this is interesting, but here’s the thing. She was due to be commemorated on a new 50p coin but it isn’t going to happen. In their recommendation, the advisory committee to the Royal Mint are said to have described her as “a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer”.
If quantity is a measure of how ‘well-regarded’ a write she was, then she was well regarded. 600 million copies is a lot of copies, no?

In response to the advisory committee’s recommendation, a TV talk-show host commented that ““It seems to me that if you were to draw a line in the year say 1955 and go backwards from there you could pretty much pick up anybody based on our modern values.”

I agree. When Enid Blyton wrote, she was speaking conventional truths through her characters – white is better than black, boy is better than girl, etc.
On her being homophobic, well it would be right and proper for her to be so in her time. Homosexual acts were a criminal offence in the UK until the The Sexual Offences Act was made law in 1967, and that only decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men over the age of 21.

So to accuse Enid Blyton of being a homophobe is strange. In her lifetime she would be better described as an upstanding citizen decrying criminal behaviour. Of course, she could have been more sympathetic to homosexuality, but then she could have been more sympathetic to rapists, and what would the upstanding citizens of today say about that?

As I said, I read several of her books as a child. And perhaps my attitudes have been formed because of what I read. I haven’t trawled through her books to write this piece, so maybe I would be ‘absolutely appalled’ if I were to read her stuff now.

Assuming I would not be appalled, then I have sympathy for the opinion that we are living in a world of dangerously virtuous moral finger pointing at people who lived in another era.