Friday, October 15, 2010

Trapped, or Held Hostage?

Greetings Friends,

I was cheering along with the rest of the world on Wednesday as those 33 Chilean miners were lifted to safety after being trapped underground for 69 days. I applauded the efforts of the international team of rescue workers and drilling experts who devised the mission and brought a happy ending to an all too familiar scenario that often ends tragically. Mining is a dangerous career, and an activity that leaves environmental devastation in its wake. The mining industry has a dubious reputation in that it often takes the safety of its workers for granted in the interest of lining its own pockets. I can't help but think the saga of the rescued Chilean miners will be perverted for the good of the mining industry, in the same way the corn growers of America are trying to convince everyone that high fructose corn syrup isn't about as bad for you as arsenic.

Unfortunately, mining is a necessary evil. Like gasoline, we use coal to power the things that get us through our days, without a thought of what it takes to get it out of the ground, or a thought for the people who extract this abundant resource from planet Earth. I'm not saying I want to put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, but the danger to the planet, and the danger to the people doing this particular job, just doesn't seem worth the risk anymore. We're not doing ourselves any favours by continuing this process of raping, rather than reaping what we sow. These miners were extracting copper and gold. We all know about the premium placed on goal by society, and copper is nothing to sneeze at, either. Regardless, let's add to the list my wish to see the end of mining in my lifetime.

OK, I'm getting down off my environmental soapbox now to address what's really got me cheesed about this whole miner rescue scenario: it's not the fact that one lucky miner had his girlfriend and his wife rooting for his safe return. Although, I hope they plug up that rescue shaft right quick before the guy's wife tosses him back in; what a way to find out your husband was stepping out on you...

Anyway, the revelation I had while watching the epic rescue on Wednesday has to do with the worldwide media attention it is getting. As I sat watching the CBC News coverage of the event, the one thing I kept thinking about over and over again was the Iranian hostage crisis of 30 years ago. America was in a pretty big funk about it, and I'm sure the 52 Americans held captive for 444 days in the former US embassy in Tehran weren't too thrilled either. News coverage being what it was back then, you didn't have the abundance of rhetoric or the 24/7 news cycle to contend with. Nor did the technology exist that allowed us to experience captivity along with the hostages, the way we got to experience being trapped 600 metres below the earth's surface with those 33 miners. I say, thank goodness.

Some of my most vivid memories of the Iranian hostage crisis include Walter Cronkite's nightly sign-off from the CBS Evening News, at which time he would state the number of days the hostages had been held in captivity. That poignant memory has stayed with me all these years, even if, at 12, I didn't quite understand why these people were being held captive. All I knew was, the mood of the country was decidedly dark, and there wasn't much to be happy about. Embattled President Jimmy Carter rarely smiled that big toothy smile of his, the name, "Ayatollah Khomeini", was uttered with the same distaste as "Adolf Hitler", and people wore "Fuck Iran" buttons on their clothing. All in all, not a very bright period in American history.

When the hostages finally arrived safely on American soil, nothing was too good for them. Promises of not having to pay taxes, and free tickets to baseball games for the rest of their lives were some of the gifts they received. Soon after, they all disappeared into everyday life, most never to be heard from again; as it should have been, in my opinion. They didn't disembark from their flight clutching book deals or personal appearance contracts.

The Chilean miners, however, emerged wearing Oakely sunglasses, to shield their eyes from the bright sunshine they hadn't seen in over 2 months. I jokingly snickered that they would be holding a bottle of Coke in one hand, and a foot long Subway sandwich in the other. Their rescue was heralded as an inspiration, which it was, but ultimately, it did very little to cloak the stench of commercialism and the carnival-like atmosphere that tainted their return to their friends and families. As inspiring as it was to see them reunited with their loved ones, I yearned for the days of Walter Cronkite, his dignity and credibility, not the dog-and-pony show of today's media.

I sincerely hope the 33 Chilean miners go on to live healthy and productive lives (with the exception of maybe the one with the wife and mistress). I hope the surviving Iranian hostages are enjoying their tax-free existences and their baseball games. I hope some in the world's mining community will use this event as a cautionary tale to embark on a career that is safer and more rewarding. If anything, the focus on this event taught us that literally anything is possible.

Have a great weekend.


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