Shut Up
January 5, 2005 3:27 AM   Subscribe

Shut Up! "The EU has requested that member states come to a standstill at noon today to observe a three-minute silence for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Is this just a shallow, belated gesture - or the best way to show our solidarity?" Blake Morrison of the Guardian asks. There's also an interesting "History of Silences" at the end of the article.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian (39 comments total)
I can't help but think of this when I read that.
posted by aerify at 3:53 AM on January 5, 2005

I can't help but think Americans will be watching their soaps or listening to Howard Stern while Europe remembers the dead.
posted by fleener at 4:09 AM on January 5, 2005

Heh. What, you think Europeans are inherently more compassionate? I doubt it. If Europe is more "sensitive" toward the tragedy that would be because more of their own have died in it.
posted by aerify at 4:31 AM on January 5, 2005

Three minutes? What happened to a minute silence to remember the dead?

Is there a new sliding scale where deathtoll * political worth / time since event gives you the duration?

Semi OT : When the queen mum died, a colleague of mine decided that he was against the monarchy and sang through the silence. I never really follow these silences (empty gestures are exactly that) but deliberately destroying them is childish.
posted by twine42 at 4:42 AM on January 5, 2005

Isn't it as meaningful of gesture as lowering the flags in the US to half staff?
posted by birdherder at 4:49 AM on January 5, 2005

Three minutes? What happened to a minute silence to remember the dead?

Who knows, this is just a whim of the Netherlands Presidency of the EU.
posted by ninebelow at 4:55 AM on January 5, 2005

Denmark did not observe the three minutes as they had two minutes of silence on noon last Sunday.
posted by dabitch at 4:57 AM on January 5, 2005

This is one of two comments in the Guardian today confronting the mooted hypocrisy of the Western grief response. The other one is more specifically concerned with the stingy response of the British corporations and the wealthy compared with other countries.

Linking them together it's telling that employees here in Britain may be "forced" to observe three minutes' silence by a company that itself refuses to make any more than a token gesture of sympathy for the same disaster.
posted by LondonYank at 4:57 AM on January 5, 2005

I missed it. I think I was silent at the time, though.

But the part at the end about the history of silences is interesting. Something I didn't know: when John Cage died, was there 4 minutes and 33 seconds of noisemakers and firecrackers.

Does anyone know the history of triple-dotting? You know, that ... stuff you see when, say, a guitarist kicks the bucket and fans online want you to know that they're quietly standing there in a concert t-shirt holding a candle?
posted by pracowity at 4:57 AM on January 5, 2005

If Europe is more "sensitive" toward the tragedy that would be because more of their own have died in it.

There was an interesting piece from yesterday ("Delivery us from faraway evil") that discusses just this:

"I was in a remote hotel last week and tripped across a news report from Deutsche Welle, Germany's government-supported international network. With tens of thousands of Asians already confirmed dead, DW headlined the disappearance of four Germans in the tsunami. My immediate reaction was: Who cares about four Germans? Answer: The Germans care about the Germans. The Americans care about the Americans. And so on."

The locality of tragedy...
posted by tpl1212 at 5:00 AM on January 5, 2005

Just did it. I think Morrison hits the nail on the head. Now's not the time to cavil about these things. Go through the gesture but make sure that there's substance behind it.

I had misgivings that while the 326k Brits and 61m globally who died in WWII only merit 2 minutes this disaster merits 3 because our political leaders were tardy off the mark.

Digby Jones wrote recently about England's descent into mawkish sentimentalism (among other, mostly misguided things.) While I don't agree with much that he writes, when it comes to trite, redundant gestures Britain is indeed a world leader.

Also, what LondonYank wrote but bearing in mind the corporation's legal duty to its shareholders and a realist perspective on corporate philanthropy generally.
posted by dmt at 5:22 AM on January 5, 2005

I always thought the point of a contemplative silence was remembrance... "lest we forget" and all that... so why the hell do we need a silence now? The major noise in the world at the moment is the squealing of the journalists about the horror of it all - anyone in need of reminding about what has happened must have been living in a cave.

Now is the time for noisily rushing to people's aid, not silently comiserating with their terrible fate. I imagine many people are like me - this tragedy has inspired plenty of open-mouthed silence as it has unfolded already.

A sponsored silence I could have got behind, but otherwise, it's a waste of bloody time.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 5:35 AM on January 5, 2005

As a side note, Michael Schumacher, a Ferrari driver in Formula 1 is donating $10 million, which is definitely something when it's from a personal fortune and people like Bill Gates and Michael Dell are giving $3 - $3.5 million.
posted by riffola at 5:39 AM on January 5, 2005

This reduction of compassion to publicized dollars given is nauseating and vulgar. Just remember: every dollar given by a wealthy person is also a tax deduction, as well as positive public relations. I'm glad people are giving money, but charity is best when it's anonymous.

Also, keep in mind that, it's quite possible that too much money has already been given, at least for immediate help. Longer-term rebuilding and support is where much of the money needs to go.

Also, I would strongly recommend bypassing the UN whenever possible: surely an organization that can't handle relief in Iraq can't handle it further to the east.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:03 AM on January 5, 2005

(similarly, aid from a country is largely a government investment/subsidy in the country, so...
posted by ParisParamus at 6:14 AM on January 5, 2005

I *almost* agreed with PP (whew was scared for a bit). Except I don't care whether donations are trumpeted with fanfare or quietly anonymous. A (portion) of that dollar will go to someone in need, that's the bottom line.
Any critic of someone not giving enough should first state how much they gave in context with what they have.

As for the moment of silence ... why is it an issue? is there some controversy about showing respect? A moment of silence is only as empty and hollow as one's own heart would attempt to make it. This is not a zero sum game ... a moment of silence doesn't take away dollars from charitable or government donations, it's just a sign of respect.
posted by forforf at 6:17 AM on January 5, 2005

Perhaps the U.S. will be considered stingy if it doesn't observe at least FIVE minutes of silence. After all, we talk a lot more than everyone else.
posted by coelecanth at 6:22 AM on January 5, 2005

Actually, I would put blame on crass media people for this. I was listing to the BBC World Service last night, and they were treating the whole "who's giving the most" thing like it was an Olympic event (with a strong US bias, but that's another story).

Well, what do you expect? The entire planet is now engulfed in a sea of crass media broadcasts. It's why I don't own a television anymore.

Let's just hope some needed help gets to the people who need it.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:27 AM on January 5, 2005

surely an organization that can't handle relief in Iraq can't handle it further to the east.

The US was the chief enforcer of those "oil for food" programs, along with GB.
As members of the UN the US and GB were the ONLY enforcers of the programs.
If we did a poor job, just exactly how does that reflect poorly on the rest of the UN?
You gotta quit eating those right wing nuts PP, they're affecting your ability to think clearly.
posted by nofundy at 6:28 AM on January 5, 2005

Nofundy. You are beyond hope. The UN ran the program autonomously. The UN allowed a corrupt tyrant to siphon-off $21,000,000,000 for his own corrupt and dangerous purposes. The UN is, at best, an inefficient org.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:38 AM on January 5, 2005

posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:40 AM on January 5, 2005

Sorry to burst your bubble PP but what I said is true.

And which of us is beyond hope may surprise you too.

The program was run under the auspices of the UN but was actually enforced by the US and GB exclusively.
We knew what was happening.
This is how we kept Jordan and Turkey happy.
You absolutely must quit swallowing that right wing BS without first smelling it if yo do not wish to be beyond hope.
posted by nofundy at 6:48 AM on January 5, 2005

I find it very strange to make comparisons a la Europe vs America here. Every nation and every person has his/her own way to deal with this terrible thing. People give money everywhere - as much as they want and as much as they can give. I can spot no real difference here - there are many great aid projects/collections going on.
posted by homodigitalis at 7:01 AM on January 5, 2005

Ok ok it's "blame somebody so we have something emotional to say" trite I'll add one minute silence
posted by elpapacito at 7:07 AM on January 5, 2005

elpapacito, the single minute's silence isn't a slight to the US over 9/11. Rather in the UK it's customary to have a 1 minute silence for remembrance except in the case of the victims of wars past when two minutes silence is annually observed on Armistice Day, 11/11.

The Guardian article linked in the post is criticising the contrived inflation of publicly observed grief.
posted by dmt at 7:23 AM on January 5, 2005

Yeah, I think these kinds of things are pretty useless too, especially when it's not about something done by a conscious agent. The presidency of the EU has moved on to Luxembourg by the way.
posted by fvw at 7:36 AM on January 5, 2005

That's interesting NF. So, I suppose the kickbacks were actually funneled back to the US. And, I suppose "W" actually pocketed some of the $21 billion--right?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:42 AM on January 5, 2005

No, PP, those suppositions would be incorrect.

What would be correct is that the US and GB knew about and allowed these practices.
Many US corporations profited from these transactions too, such as Halliburton, under Cheney's leadership. So that's pretty close to "W", isn't it?
Shall we condemn Cheney too?
These are not brand new findings, just another stupid argument in a long line of stupid (and discredited) arguments to try and justify invading Iraq.
But then, you already knew that, didn't you?
posted by nofundy at 9:51 AM on January 5, 2005

Perhaps the U.S. will be considered stingy if it doesn't observe at least FIVE minutes of silence.

Hey, all someone has to do is challenge Bush's alleged "manhood" and we'll go for EIGHT!

An empty gesture will always be pointless and staged, and a meaningful gesture significant to those who deem it so. Everyone must decide for himself which category he falls into.
posted by rushmc at 9:59 AM on January 5, 2005

ParisParamus, the UN disaster relief agencies may be the only choice soon for some who want to donate. A number of NGOs have closed their books to further donations, MSF being amongst them - you know the reason if you remember your hideous Chancery law regarding charities and use of money donated for specific purposes.

You are also misguided. I've said before and I'll say it again. While the UN is an institutionally flawed organisation it does have a unique moral mandate in world affairs. You may be better informed in special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance matters than Paolo Bruni but, let's be honest, you're not. He's right when he says, "the EU would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the central and unique role of the UN through OCHA in providing leadership and coordinating international humanitarian action" and you're wrong.

If you can't see the benefit of multilateralism for its own sake then conceptualise the UN OCHR as a body which removes wastage, redundancy and overlap from resources provided by donor nations. If the OCHR needs some of its fat stripped, so be it. Likewise institutional reform, perhaps greater accountability (although it's more so than much of the EU) but conceptually it remains the single most effective manner in which to co-ordinate the distribution of aid. Also at $85m p.a. it represents startling good value for money. To take just one example the humanitarian aid requirements data produced by OCHR would on its own justify this sum in my view. Given that only 11% of OCHR's budget comes from the regular UN budget just sweetens this pill.

Going off half-cocked creating steering groups which may or may not lack necessary experience, skills, resources and assets sideling UN OCHR (after initially having pledged to support UN efforts) is contrary international relations in the extreme and looks like grandstanding rather than expediency. Where are the skilled disaster relief professionals going to come from to staff this steering group? Are they to be poached from NGOs, UN relief agencies or from cold storage beneath the White House where they're kept in case of, well, disaster.

Where the necessary skills and attributes do exist within the 'steering group' as an institution a very great many of these individuals will have acquired these skills at a UN disaster relief arm. Humanitarian aid is very different from military logistics despite the ostensive similarities. Simply cluster bombing the affected areas with bags of rice instead of cluster bombs will not be an efficious strategy. See the 10 Myths of Disaster Relief posted elsewhere by fenriq as to why sending warships won't address a cholera epidemic.

Yet still you rail at the UN as a monolithic entity. Is it not possibly in your mind to disengage the work of the Oil for Food programme from that of Unicef.

So politics aside what about pragmatism? Well, the University of Wisconsin Disaster Response Centre says that the UN relief agencies "mobilize large-scale assistance from a multiplicity of sources, [reduce] the need for bilateral assistance (where there may be strings attached to assistance or such assistance is politically impractical), [ [perform] a unique coordinating role that no other agency or government can undertake alone [have] access to international expertise."

Indeed the point has been argued that the UN's role is so fundamental, so pivotal that the explosion of NGOs perhaps compromises their legitimacy. I don't agree with Coleman's perspective from the link but you can see his point about "from whence you speak".

From personal experience I can assure that those making a career of NGO work tend to do at least one stint with a UN agency and most people's experiences are immensely positive. While not as fleet of foot as IRC and the like the UNHCR and the like are where the best practice is drafted and the lessons learned pondered. This the informs the action on the ground with the massive resources than UW talks about.

I don't expect you to agree with me but I thought that I'd chip in with something a bit more considered from someone who's worked for an NGO. For your delectation, I read this a couple of days ago and thought of you. I don't agree with Hames one whit but he writes well. Who says the left isn't fair and balanced!

Finally, bringing Iraq into this discussion is simply nonsensical putting aside the logical disjunction in equating the needs of a war zone with the consequence of a natural disaster. For you to be whinging about the UN's inability to function in Iraq is a classic case of chicken and egg confusion. Humanitarian relief in Iraq is neigh on impossible as a direct and causal consequence of American policy in the region.
posted by dmt at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2005

I can't help but think Americans will be watching their soaps or listening to Howard Stern while Europe remembers the dead.
posted by fleener

...My immediate reaction was: Who cares about four Germans? Answer: The Germans care about the Germans. The Americans care about the Americans. And so on.

The locality of tragedy...
posted by tpl1212

Well, we did observe a couple of minutes of silence for 9/11 in Sweden, just like today. I don't like this discussion turning into yet another US vs Europe mudslinging party.
posted by Termite at 10:33 AM on January 5, 2005

dmt: wonderful answer
PP: Regarding OFF, I have to point out that, no, Saddam did not siphon off 21 billion USD from that program. The 21bn estimate was given by the US Senate (hardly an unbiased judge in this matter) as the total amount Saddam made from illicit oil transactions during the sanctions, but almost two-thirds of that (13.6B) came from smuggled oil, not from the Oil-For-Food programme. And even the part allegedly lost through OFF was at least as much due to flaws and loopholes in the programme's procedures, as established by the Security Council, with the vote of the US, as it was to corruption.
Moreover, the 21bn figure is also remarkable in that it doubles the previous CIA estimate. Could it be that the senators may have been trying to deflect attention from their own turpitude in administering, as it happens, 20 bn dollars worth of Iraq's oil?
In any case, it doesn't matter: in both cases, the main beneficiaries seem to have been the same oil companies.
everybody: Regarding the 3 minutes of silence, it may appear to be an empty gesture, but as a Spaniard staying abroad I surely appreciated when the same took place after the Madrid bombings. Good old-fashioned respect is a much undervalued virtue these days. As for it being "government-imposed" I don't have any news of anybody being brought to court for breaking it. It remains a voluntary gesture, but one that carries much more force when carried out by such a mass of people simultaneously than when done individually.
posted by Skeptic at 11:24 AM on January 5, 2005

I had to stand for two minutes of silence in school. The principal invariably ended it after a minute 20
posted by pantsrobot at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2005

" The 21bn estimate was given by the US Senate (hardly an unbiased judge in this matter)"

Sorry, but I'll take the Dulfer Report and Senate findings any days over what you style as more objective sources. The UN is a sewer of corruption--and I don't even trust it to build a sewer system. I'd prefer to give my money to Haliburton to get things done.

I don't doubt the UN facilitates the delivery of aid, but I also don't doubt that it has lost its credibility as a world organization that can do ANYTHING efficiently and effectively. Sorry, shut it down and start over. The good people who work for the UN can work for the new organization, which will be run in a moral manner; which will differentiate between Libya and the Sudan; and civilized, decent governments.

Sorry. We, supposed rich fucks in the US can, and feel compelled to give to relief efforts. We're not hooked on the socialist state teat.

Lets just stop this stupid relief contest.

And, by the way, if someone wants minutes of silence, so being it. Personally, it doesn't have too much meaning for me (as does not singing the national anthem, etc).
posted by ParisParamus at 2:08 PM on January 5, 2005

posted by ParisParamus at 2:09 PM on January 5, 2005

I also don't doubt that it has lost its credibility as a world organization that can do ANYTHING efficiently and effectively.

coming from an american, thats fucking hilarious.
posted by quonsar at 2:25 PM on January 5, 2005

How this discussion devolved into a "UN SUX" "NO UN ROX HALLIBRUT0N SUX" fight is beyond my simple mind.

All I know is that we're talking about wholesale devastation of a size not seen in that region in a very long time. The healing process will take some time, and will require help from as many sources as possible. To carp about where it's coming from, or whether one gesture or another is empty is simply disgusting.

Europeans want three minutes of silence? Groovy. Americans want to donate millions through Splendid. Australian tourists want to go back to Phuket already? Great, that's what the locals in Phuket want - commerce.

Let's get our priorities a little bit straighter here, huh?

Who can do more good isn't a prick waving dick fight. An initial outlay of aid to feed, clothe, and shelter those devastated by the storm, followed by assistance rebuilding and getting economies back on track is key. Be it by Americans in warships or EU-UNers in Range Rovers.

Have you donated? Have you considered buying goods from the affected areas in order to bolster their economies to help them help themselves?

Coming in here after a month away is spooky. Still the same people making the same arguments over the same garbage.
posted by swerdloff at 4:57 PM on January 5, 2005

How about instead of empty gestures, everyone in Europe with a job works an extra 3 minutes and donates the extra income to the homeless. Europe's GDP at about 8 trillion per year is enough to provide $20 to all 5 million homeless people. The living can use their $20 much more than the dead can use 3 minutes of silence.
posted by cameldrv at 6:44 PM on January 5, 2005

Paris: - "I'd prefer to give my money to Haliburton to get things done." - giving his employers a slurpee
posted by nofundy at 4:53 AM on January 6, 2005

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