Wednesday, January 05, 2005

THREE minutes silence?

I work for a Company old-fashioned enough to have a Tannoy system in the main building. Whilst it is only lightly used (as it is mostly an office environment) it does come in handy for evacuations, tracking down wanderers with visitors waiting and for announcing remembrance on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Last year the silence was also observed on the 11th September. I don't recall whether it was for one or two minutes but it struck me as slightly odd as I don't recall it happening the year before.

Today, the media declared we were to give three minutes to contemplating the Tsunami disaster. What wasn't entirely clear was who had decided that it should happen and why it should be three minutes. Was it just someones bright idea that caught on in the collective hysteria after the death of Lady Di? Or was it an EU proclamation? (The BBC reports it happened all over Europe at 11:00 GMT). Why was it held today, on a Wednesday, 10 days after the tragedy? Why at noon when the event happened just before 1am & the the damage occured in different countries over the next 7 hours?

Some of us had a chat about it at work, one person with robust opinions suggested that "it was all b*ll*cks" and that the best way to help was simply to give money to plausible causes rather than token gestures.

As it happened, we were all so engrossed in reading tenders that it was 12:30 before anyone twigged the time had been and gone- the tannoy isn't wired up in our floor!

These far-away events need some sort of tangible context to become real. The twin towers first gelled for me a year or so after the event when someone I knew told me he lost a fried who had a shop in the underground Plaza. Another friend spent a long time working out there restoring Comms to lower manhattan. I went and stood on the viewing gallery at the cleared site like the thousands of others and the tears streamed down my face but there again I cry at Les Miserables when Cosette sings Castle in a Cloud so I'm a bit of an old weepie anyway.

The tsunami is now more real for me as I read today in the local comic that a Sri Lankan priest in Morley who I have seen before (but not actually spoken to) has lost 30 of his family. He is further devastated by the news that an orphanage he helped set up was also destroyed with all 60 children and the staff dead.

An American blog I follow has the author worrying about his neighbours who were away in Thailand for Christmas. He feels particularly impotent as he didn't know them well enough to have any contact details, all he can do is keep an eye out for lights in the house each evening when he gets home. I'm sure that there will be other threads, several old friends of mine enjoy R&R in Thailand (the confimed batchelors, anyway, so they'd probably be in the sin bins of Bangkok).

I'm not certain what I'm supposed to contemplate on mammoth disasters like this. After all, the death toll and human suffering on this scale has been attributed to Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and other despots like Robert Mugabe. What lessons do we draw from it? Are we going to blameglobal warming for tectonic plate shift? It it a vengeful God? If so, whose God, and who is he really pissed off with? Do we have disaster recovery ships circling the earth in a sort of health & safety nirvana of rapid response teams mobilised in minutes? If we do, will they need to have passports full of current Visas to get round the red tape? Surely we should be told.

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