Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Siesta Time

Spaniards work more hours per week than the average European, but are rumoured to achieve less in the time. A partial explanation for this apparent productivity gap is suggested by a factoid which reveals that they also sleep on average 40 minutes less per day than those average Europeans.

The traditional siesta used to be the time when they caught some Zs. (I say traditional because those that would align the pattern of the Spanish working day with the EU standard are loudly insisting that the long midday break was actually only introduced after the Civil War.) These days few can be bothered to go home for a nap, so lunchtime has been stretched instead. With both partners more likely to be working, it also means that many children don't see their parents for several hours after they come home from school.

Spanish PM Zapatero has recently pointed out that "the work schedule is what distinguishes Spaniards, but it is also what defines us". That and poking swords into domesticated ungulates, but he has a point, and it's one I sympathise with. Whenever I'm over there I soon get with the late nights and the intermittent snacking, whilst recognising that it must be debilitating for conscientious Protestants in the long run.

Just time to sneak in a few last comments on the tsunami aftermath (promise...)

An article in yesterday's New York Times picked up on fears that aid to wave-stricken communities might last only as long as the media attention, citing the experience of Honduras post-Mitch. (Three years after the hurricane 20,000 people were still homeless and living in temporary shelters. ) Perhaps in the case of the current disaster response the apparently endless duration of the media attention is itself possibly worth some analysis by itself?

Jennie Bristow of Spiked! takes the bah humbug approach to the current mood: "It is presumed that we cannot be expected to relate to any world event unless it can be given direct relevance to our lives" and "What started as a sentiment of compassion is in danger of becoming another exercise in self-flattery, as we are encouraged to give, not to do good, but to feel good."

Yet her colleague Frank Furedi is more circumspect. He suggests that the meanings we assign to catastrophes go deeper than their magnitude.

Maybe the key thing is that neither God(s) nor Men can be imediately blamed in this instance. The unequivocable senselessness of the tsunami might actually be a cause for celebration. This disaster affected many places and many peoples and for those that are used to recent (and less arbitrary) human tragedies being followed by an epidemic of more divisive moods, there might actually be reason for thinking that this could be one of those global events with lasting historical significance of the positive sort.

The only trouble with the spirit of unity is that it is nearly always accompanied by tunnel vision - for example, I was a little surprised to find that Time magazine's tsunami post-edition carried almost no news or comments about the situation in Iraq.

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