Monday, February 27, 2006

The Unidentified

Last year, I was sitting on a train, reading a newspaper when I read that National Missing Persons Helpline was in severe financial trouble. I guess the reasons for this is that NMPH works with a lot of people who are on the margins of society such as the homeless, substance abusers and the mentally ill. Also, the whole concept of having a loved one go missing is something that most people think will never happen to them and therefore they don't get many donations.

So when I get home I decide to go online to donate money to them. When the homepage comes up, a small heading marked "Unidentified" caught my attention. I clicked on it. A page comes up stating that this section contains details of people who have been found dead and they have not been able to identify the body. Then you are warned that this material may be disturbing to some viewers. An internal debate ensues: morbid curiosity versus not wanting to upset myself. Morbid curiosity won.

I'm not sure what I expected to see. Maybe just a few recent cases, but in fact there are many listed. People of all ages. Some found over ten years ago. The causes of death are varied too. There are suspicious circumstances and suspected suicides along with those who have died of natural causes. The clothes the people were found in are described and it's clear that a lot of these people were well dressed, took good care of themselves.
What stuck in my mind were the images. The NMPH have people trained in recontructions and visual impressions in order to show what the person looked like. These images were stuck in my head for a long time afterwards.

It seems almost unimaginable, that someone can die without anyone knowing who they are. We all come from families, have friends, colleagues, neighbours. How in a "modern" society can people die and not be unidentified? What does that say about our society and how little we care for the people in it? You imagine that if you died, you would have a funeral, be laid to rest by those who care for you, who would be able to mourn for you. For reasons unknown to me, these people haven't had that. I'm not sure which is worse, that you can be born into a world where no one cares that you've died, or that someone you care about can go missing and you spend your life waiting for them to return, wondering where they are , when in fact they are dead, lying in a mortuary somewhere.

That was the the first and last time I visited that area of the website. I can't bring myself to go back there. It makes me think too much of the things we take as a given in our lives and too angry that this can happen in a supposedly civilised nation.

Most of all, I feel so sad for those people. They have been denied in death something we all take for granted in life: an identity and the dignity that comes with it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Winner Takes it All

So the result was:

Gold: Shizuka Arakawa
Silver: Sasha Cohen
Bronze: Irina Slutskaya

The exact reverse of what I predicted, so I know nothing. In fact I said that Slutskaya would do something special, it turned out that something special was to skate really averagely.

I'm so pleased Arakawa skated so beautifully. She is clever too. I'm sure she watched Sasha fall and thought "I'll do less complicated jumps but make sure I skate clean", which was a fantastic tactic.
What makes the women's event so special to me is those moments when it looks so graceful, so spellbinding and yet so effortless, you catch your breath. In past years the Women's event became dominated by teenagers, but the way Arakawa skated is something that comes with maturity, she skated like a woman and won.

In a youth obsessed world, it's good to see at least one instance where teenage doesn't equal better.

Just the Gala to look forward to on Friday, I can't wait!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I could be wrong...

My predictions for the Women's Figure Skating are:

Gold: Irina Slutskaya
Silver: Sasha Cohen
Bronze: Shizuka Arakawa

Sasha Cohen is in fabulous form, but I think Irina will really go for it as this is her last chance of an Olympic title. Plus, she has the chance of being the first Russian woman to win gold in this discipline.

I love watching the Japanese skaters though. They have this ethereal quality to their skating which is just beautiful to watch. Also, they do not punch their fists in the air after completing their programme (I'm looking at you, Cohen), which is horribly unladylike behaviour.

One to watch for the future is Elene Gedevanishvili from Georgia. To get the correct spelling of her name, I had to go here. If you click on the names, you get a profile of the competitor. Most skaters look like they've escaped from a Young Offender's Institution/Orphanage, expect for Sasha Cohen, who in her picture, looks like the sort of girl you hated in school.

Monday, February 13, 2006

More than a Woman

Tonight saw the final of the Figure Skating Pairs competition in the Olympics. It was a good final, the artistry of the skaters, particularly the Chinese couples were beautiful to watch.

Pairs more than any of the other figure skating disciplines manages to combine grace and fluidity with a speed and althleticism which makes you gasp out loud. Forget the pretty outfits, this is not a safe sport.

The Russian pair Totmianina and Marinin were the favourites to win gold and they nailed a performance which was pretty much flawless. I'll admit, I don't really understand the new scoring system but so far, it seems to have prevented any erratic decisions.

So there was one more couple to skate, Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao. Early in their routine they tried to do a throw quad salchow, which had never been done before in competition. Zhang Dan landed horribly in an awkward splits postition. She stopped skating, obviously in a great deal of pain. The couple went to speak to their coach and then decided to carry on skating, picking up the routine from where they left off. It was a wonderful performance, something that you couldn't quite believe you were seeing. She had clearly been injured and yet was skating as if she was in no pain at all. As soon as they finished Zhang Dan started crying. They won silver, Zhang Dan's knee heavily bandaged while they waited for their results.

It reminded me a lot of Kerri Strug in the 1996 Olympics. I find it awe-inspiring that someone can overcome that much physical pain because they have to compete, they have to. This is their chance and they will not let anything ruin it. It's interesting that both those occasions involved the "weaker sex". I think that woman have a higher pain threshold then man, because of the physical processes we have to go through, therefore women have a better ability to overcome pain then men.

Anyway, I hope that tonight, Zhang Dan is happy with her silver medal and her knee has no long term damage. Insha Allah I'll be cheering them on to win gold in Vancouver.

Friday, February 10, 2006

We are the World, We are the children

Ok, I know the title of this post is a really awful charity song but I've been watching the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, so it ties in with the Olympian "let's all get along" sentiment. The usual opening ceremony elements of contempory dance, moving sculptures and fireworks were all present. Also involved was a Ferrari, lots of blue capes, Susan Sarandon and Yoko Ono! Now, Susan Sarandon is a U.N Goodwill ambassador as well as a very talented actress but Yoko....

Another thing that annoys me about opening ceremonies is seeing the athletes entering the stadium Talking On Their Mobile Phones. Look, everyone you care about should either be in the stadium or watching it on t.v, so why not just fully enjoy the moment?

Anyway, I love the Winter Olympics. It's a fabulous excuse to watch sports that you never normally would, like Moguls and then there is all the drama and prettiness of the figure skating.
I just wish it happened more often then every four years.



Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dt-Dt-Dt On your mobile phone

One of the television channels had a debate asking if the "Danish cartoons" should have been published, so everyone has been texting everyone else, asking them to make sure they vote No.

I hate the way this is being defended as a freedom of speech issue. The orginal matter of the debate was if it was acceptable for a children's book written by non-Muslims to feature an illustration of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). This is an interesting topic of debate and one which could have surely been handled in a more constructive manner, especially in a country where Islam is the second religion.

Sadly it seems the chance to attack Islam is too irresistible to some. To them it's a win-win situation. They get to publicly denigrate our religion, use any reaction made by Muslims to portray as us uncivilised and then claim that Muslims are against freedom of speech. The icing on the cake is then to claim that Muslims want to destroy Western society.

I had already seen the most offensive cartoon when I stumbled across a blog which has the sole purpose of attacking Islam. I can't imagine how someone can spend so much time talking about something they hate so much. However judging by the number of anti-Islamic sites and books, that is an increasingly popular hobby.

I feel pity for these people. It's easy to hate them but maybe it's better to pray for them instead. I don't want my heart to be blackened like theirs.

If I am right it is from Allah, if I am wrong it is from me.