The Good The Bad & The Ugly

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Yes, it saw disasters, mismanagement, betrayals, gaffes… But, it had several rare sparkles of hope too. As we stumble onto 2011, Colin Todhunter relives the defining moments of 2010.

So, that was 2010. From earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and a mega oil spill, to sporting events and the ongoing impact of the economic crisis, the year had the lot. Laden with tragedy and sorrow, jubilation and joy, it also had more than a few embarrassing gaffes thrown in for good measure.

For the ultimate story of hope and celebration, we had to look no further than Chile where 33 miners captured the world’s imagination. In October, the men were finally brought to the surface after having been trapped together for 69 days, some 700 meters below ground. Media frenzy greeted each miner as one by one they surfaced into the daylight. If Chileans themselves were swelled by a sense of national pride, the world at large was galvanized by the human spirit and its ability to overcome adversity. This drawn out tale of collective endurance and survival was one of the highlights of the year.

Meanwhile, a global audience was also watching a somewhat different drama unfold elsewhere. Evoking bewilderment, amazement and disbelief in equal measures, the lead up to the Commonwealth Games had many wondering would it or wouldn’t it take place and even should it or shouldn’t it. The international media wasted little time in homing in on the chaos. Talk of widespread corruption, mismanagement and shoddy workmanship was in danger of turning the games into a laughing stock.

Instead of gleaming buildings and infrastructure, TV images treated everyone to a less than impressive display of leaking pipes, a four-legged friend taking a nap on a bed in the athletes’ village, a newly constructed collapsing bridge and wiry women carrying bricks on heads on an assortment of building sites at various stages of completion.

Just being sportive

We do things differently in India, the Delhi politicians said. Those whining foreigners just don’t understand. Perhaps they didn’t. Most of the world has never been to India. Those of us who had merely shrugged our shoulders because we knew that, at the last minute, some semblance of order would be plucked from the jaws of catastrophe. And it was. India managed to turn a potential crisis into a memorable event that went off relatively smoothly.

Other sporting events also occurred. During February in Canada, the less glamorous Olympic twin, the Winter Games, took pride of place against the beautiful frozen backdrop of Whistler and Vancouver. Then there was the “big sleep” — sorry, I mean the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa – remembered less for the often coma-inducing football on show and more for the monotonous drone of vuvuzelas.

For genuine entertainment, however, Europe was the place to look. A merry-go-round of the nonsensical, laced with calamity, was played out across the continent. Greece almost went into meltdown as its sovereign credit rating was downgraded after a massive bailout. The euro plummeted, and a debt crisis followed. The public lost track of who owed what to whom as debt was shuffled around the countries of Europe.

Greece owed a wad of cash, mostly to other European economies. Ireland owed an even bigger wad of cash. Spain and Italy were in debt to each other and both owed the most cash of all ($1 trillion each), mainly to France, Britain and Germany. In turn, those nations were struggling because of the vast amounts of money they had lent to countries that couldn’t possibly pay back what had been borrowed. As things slid from disaster to fiasco, the large economies that had lent the money were faced with having to bail out those who had borrowed from them.

How can a broke economy lend to another broke economy that hasn’t got any money because it can’t get back what it lent to another broke economy? I’m getting a migraine here, but you get the picture (I think). How can anyone pay back anyone else if no one has any money? Speculators were ditching the euro for the stronger dollar because the US economy was being kept afloat by… China. Confused? I certainly was.

Staying in Europe, the award for the biggest gaffe of 2010 goes to the then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for referring to a lifelong party supporter he had encountered on a pre-election walkabout as “some bigoted woman.” Unfortunately for Brown, his comments were broadcast live on national TV. “Bigotgate” played no small part in getting Brown voted out of office.

Close on the heels of Brown were Tony Hayward’s howlers concerning the Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion. The world watched in disbelief as for months the oil kept on spewing from the well, killing sea-life and damaging the US coastline. People in the US looked on in even greater disbelief as Hayward, the top man at BP, attempted to play down the spill with gems of wisdom like, “Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean” and the environmental impact of the spill will be “very, very modest.” As the devastation continued and coastal livelihoods were wrecked, his comment, “I would love my life back,” took indifference to new heights.

Natural disasters were never far from the news in 2010. When an erupting Icelandic volcano decided to growl and spew its ash across northern and western Europe, air traffic caught a cold and ground to a halt. Then there was Haiti. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck, and the impact on the country reverberated throughout the year and will continue to do so for some time to come. In February, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake tore into Chile, causing a tsunami over the Pacific, and almost 500 people lost their lives. Another earthquake struck in April, leaving 20,000 dead, this time in China.

Disasters galore

Throughout the latter half of the year, the effects of heavy monsoon rains caused widespread flooding in Pakistan. Over 1,600 were killed and more than one million displaced. Other disasters left at least 400 dead in Indonesia, and volcanic eruptions in central Java led to the deaths of at least 240 people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

As if natural disasters weren’t enough to be getting on with, the year also had the usual helping of manmade misery. The ongoing betrayal of the people of Bhopal by the Indian government made the headlines yet again, and tensions in Korea were cranked up between North and South Korea. Nine activists were killed in a clash with soldiers when Israel raided a flotilla of ships attempting to break the Gaza blockade, and ethnic upheaval occurred in Kyrgyzstan, resulting in the deaths of hundreds.

Events conspired to suck Pakistan into further turmoil, bloodshed continued in Nigeria, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq and in many other places, and the latest WikiLeaks had to offer was kicked from pillar to post by the media in an attempt to make sense of it all.

In 2010, India lost veteran politician Jyoti Basu. Karaganahalli Subbaraya Ashwath also passed away, as did writer Howard Zinn and Hollywood legend Tony Curtis. There were somber scenes in Poland as the nation mourned the death of its president and 96 others after their plane crashed in Russia. Other air crashes also occurred, including the one that took the lives of 158 people at Mangalore.

T
o round things off on a brighter note, there was a beacon of hope in Myanmar with Opposi-tion politician Aung San Suu Kyi being released from house arrest.

Of course, lots of other things happened in 2010. This has been just a brief selection of stories that the mainstream media got its teeth into. Many major events often went unreported or were simply quickly brushed aside by more headline grabbing stories. Tales about conflict and colonialist-type land grabs in Africa and the Amazon affecting millions, for instance, were always going to lose out to more ratings-friendly stories, such as those about the fate of 33 Chileans, Twenty20 cricket, or events surrounding the Delhi Games.

Lessons learnt

The failings of the mainstream media aside, what did we learn this year? We could say that deep-sea oil drilling and mines should have in place necessary safety technology to prevent spills or collapses. We could even argue that the planning of sporting events shouldn’t be left to the last minute. One thing that we did actually learn though is that, with ongoing conflicts and crises continuing around the planet, humanity’s propensity for creating havoc remains undiminished. However, I guess we could have predicted that too before the year began.

What we may not have anticipated though is the virtues that managed to shine through during 2010. The dignity of Aung San Suu Kyi, the sense of fellowship generated by 33 mine workers and the fortitude of those who helped pick up the pieces after devastating events across the planet, all served to restore our faith in the human condition. If we can take anything from this, it may well be that such fine examples of decency could serve to inspire us in our own day-to-day dealings with one another in 2011. Who knows, perhaps they will.

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