The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The dangers of mobile phones

Mobile phones are dangerous things. Some of the dangers are obvious. Studies suggest that their use can induce brain cancer. That is not a surprise to most people. Yet, mobile phones can be dangerous in other ways, too. They can distract a driver, on the road, and cause accidents. That, too, is a common phenomenon. However, there is another danger rather more unique. Indonesians, from my observation, seem to specialize in finding new ways to make old things dangerous - and the mobile phone is no exception. A recent example proves the point.

On Thursday night, the ferry Acita 03, was making its way past the town of Bau Bau, in south-eastern Sulawesi (where the Bugis are from - but more of that in another post). Many of the passengers, being of the impatient variety, and not willing to wait until they got to shore, decided to clamber to the ferry's roof, to make a mobile phone call, since there the reception was better. So many of the passengers did this, at the same time, that the 22 m long ferry became unbalanced and capsized. In Hollywood, such an event would have seemed comic - but in the real world it is not so funny: as of today, 31 people are known to have died, 125 have been rescued and an estimated 32 are still missing (probably dead). All because people just couldn't wait to make a mobile phone call.

I have been living in South-East Asia for some years and the sinking of an Indonesian ferry is really no surprise to me. Indeed, Indonesian ferry disasters are a bit like buses: common and readily available. The archipelago nation is becoming famous for the inadequate safety of its ferry system.

Famous Indonesian ferry disasters include the sinking of a ferry off Sumatra in February 1996, killing at least 338 on board. I say, "at least", for a very good reason. You see Indonesian ferries often understate the true number of passengers on board. They don't just do this by a little, but by a lot. The Acita 03, for instance, had a stated 60 passengers on its ship's manifest. Yet, 188 people were actually on board. It is not unusual for Indonesian ferries to be packed to the brim with people, every nook and cranny overflowing with them. It is no wonder then, that the death toll is so high, when disaster occurs - as it does with awful frequency. Who can escape when there are so many crowded around you?

My favourite example of this tendency to understate the passenger load is of the MV Kanada II. This ship was caught off Bengkalis, Riau, carrying a hugely excessive 441 passengers. The ship's manifest, however, said that the ship was...wait for it...empty.

Ferry sinkings occur with mind-numbing regularity in Indonesia. In December last year, an estimated 400 people died when a ferry sank off Java. In February this year, scores of people (again the actual numbers are unknown) were killed when a ferry caught fire off Jakarta. Imagine that: being burnt alive while out on open water: unbelievable.

From a regulation perspective, it is interesting to note that in February, after the burning ferry episode, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for improved safety on ships, from passenger boat operators. It appears that they weren't listening to him.

Personally, I find it mystifying that any nation can continue to allow this to happen. A ferry should be among the safest ways to travel: it is low speed, low energy travel. There should be little possibility of death in such a mode of transport. Yet, Indonesia has found a way to make it hazardous indeed, to travel by ferry around its archipelago nation. That is a worry when, in an archipelago nation, you really have no choice but to use a ferry for many of the trips - unless airstrips are available on the particular island in question. But then, Indonesia's aviation industry is not exactly a model of safety either. It is a pity, actually, because parts of Indonesia are truly beautiful - despite the problems the nation faces.

I hope that they get serious about transport safety - before hundreds more die while on holiday, or going to visit relatives: such a simple act should never lead to death.

The lost vessel was travelling from Tomea Island to Bau Bau on Buton Island, about 1,500 km north-east of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital. Notably, Tomea belongs to the Wakatobi group of islands - which are famed internationally as being top dive sites and attract many international tourists.

Not before time, the Indonesian government is now deliberating over new regulations for old ships. That is good. What is not is that, in Indonesia, many people ignore regulations, whatever they might be. That is something else which has to change then: if a regulation is there for the greater good, it really should be obeyed.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and ten months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and three months, and Tiarnan, twenty months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:51 AM 


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