austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

One minute up and one minute down

Singapore's been running more public service warnings about the dangers of terrorism, the need for public alertness, and how important social unity is. One of them is a TV commercial with local celebrities like Gurmit Singh talking about the need for social strength. Another -- running before movies and on the MRT display panels -- talks about how to spot suspicious items (they're large black gym bags left by nervous-looking young men who refuse to admit leaving them behind), and how to respond when an alert is sounded. I'm a bit surprised they're going to this trouble; I'd think that the experiences of New York City, Washington, Tokyo, and London recently indicates city-dwellers handle terrorist attacks with reasonable calm, and Singapore's experience with SARS seems to suggest the population would handle even an ongoing threat pretty well. Frankly, it's hard not to wonder if the authorities know something we should be more nervous about.

A fairly new example of this is a series called Without Warning, which is a set of dramatic presentations of how Singapore might respond to various terrorist incidents. The first, two-parter, was about multiple attacks on the transportation system -- a sarin gas release at Dhoby Ghaut (at the North-East Line station), a bomb blast at Toh Payoh MRT (on the North-South Line), and a bomb on a bus. The first half, with the crisis developing, was the stronger, I suppose probably because you really don't need to do much to be dramatically compelling: you can show people more or less at the moment of the attack and stumbling around in sudden shock, and cut in with the simulated news reports, without a clear idea what's happening or what might happen next. (One of the characters even mentioned how much this sounded like the civil defence exercise run a few months back.) In an interesting style choice, since they obviously didn't want the show's news reports to look like the actual news, they built replacement sets and graphics for these reports. They're considerably more ``Is Your Favorite Restaurant's Owner's Choice Of Fabric Softener Killing Your Children Online? Tune In To Our Special Report at 11:00 To Find Out More!'' compared to Channel 5's normal BBC Light tones.

The second half showed cleanup and response efforts, including fine traditions like the responder at Dhoby Ghaut wandering away from the rest of his team -- against warnings -- and finding a couple of near-dead passengers in a room that had been overlooked, but also ripping his environment suit so that he's collapsing from the poison gas too. And there was -- at the bus bomb site -- the search for someone with AB positive blood for an emergency transfusion, and the little girl who has to shame her mother into donating blood. In a surprisingly cynical little quip on media coverage, the reporter at the bus bombing mentioned that incident as a fine example of Singaporeans stepping forward to give blood in time of need. It's curious, though I like it better than Ultimate Perfect Catastrophe or whatever it is on the Discovery Channel.

Trivia: Venice in 1400 had around 3,300 ships with 36,000 seamen total. Source: A History of Venice, John Julius Norwich.

Currently Reading: The Calendar, David Ewing Duncan.


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