Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just us

Cyclones, earthquakes, virus outbreaks, and acts of terrorism: these are the things we have had to contend with of late. If we all lived within the garish world of a 1960s spy movie, an immaculately groomed madman on our TV screens ought to come next. With a disdainful sneer he will demand that we turn over all world governments to him. Otherwise, he will unleash his weather machine until we submit.

If only, if only....then the suave secret agent and his sexy sidekick could smash into the picture and save us all.

But the hard truth is: there are no suave secret agents and no sexy sidekicks. Immaculately groomed men and women fill our television screens but it turns out they're only news anchors reporting on our miseries. There are no supertechnological mad scientists to blame, only the random viciousness of nature and the banal pettiness of men.

Wasn't it just a few months ago in Burma that the military junta crushed the protests led by the saffron-robed monks? And now, a cyclone hits the southern coast of the country. Death toll: 1,400.

Or was it? Soon, the number climbed up to 4,000; then to 10,000; then to 25,000; and then to 200,000. Two weeks into the tragedy with no relief in sight, the number could rise up to as much as 1.5 million. For what reason? In part because the transport infrastructure to the Irawaddy Delta was badly damaged; in part because of poor weather; but for the most part, because the paranoid military junta continues to fudge around foreign aid.

Surreptitious video from Burma shows what is happening: bloated corpses littered on the banks of the receding waters and dead bodies being disposed of in the rivers. Nothing the rest of the international community says or does can change any of this, it seems.

Just when we thought we had seen enough carnage, the scene shifts to Chengdu province in China. Earthquake, magnitude 7.5, the strongest to hit the country in 30 years. As of the last estimate, over 10,000 dead, most of them buried beneath rubble. The number could hit as high as 26,000.

Wasn't this supposed to be China's breakout year with the Olympics and all? Isn't China already the industrial manufacturing capital of the world? And yet for all its machinery, we ultimately see nothing more than desperate parents digging through rubble with broken and bloodied fingers to find a sign, any sign, of their children.

Out here, we can only watch and pray.

There are no superheroes. There is only us.

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