Sunday, April 27, 2008

Approaching Journey's end for the "flame of shame"

The Olympic flame is nearing the end of its world tour. It will shortly be in Hong Kong and start a tour of China that will no doubt be tightly controlled and presumably incident free.

Since the large protests in London, Paris and San Francisco, it has attracted much less attention mainly due to the fact that the authorities in each country it visited have imposed maximum security on the relays. In some cases this meant running it round a stadium in front of invited guests. In others cases, most notably India, it meant shutting down the host city with massive security and running it along a significantly shortened route.

The other feature has been that in countries with significant Chinese communities, many of Chinese descent have turned out to "defend" the flame out of national pride. Quite why all those living in Australia and elsewhere feel so strongly about Chinese pride but choose to remain living outside China is perhaps an issue for another day.

Nonetheless it should not go unsaid that many Chinese appear to feel strongly in favour of the Olympics and whatever the recent history do not take kindly to foreign criticism of their country. This is not unnatural and should be taken into account by all those who hope for greater freedom in China.

Criticism of China should not unwittingly serve to bolster nationalist sentiment and support for the Chinese government.

However this may be unavoidable as some things still need saying. There is something quite disturbing about the more zealous pro-China protestors. As the flame toured Seoul, South Korea, today some chaotic street scenes not really seen since the start of the journey occurred. However the difference was that pro-Chinese demonstrators were out in massive force. Anyone who shouted "Free Tibet" in Seoul was probably therefore being a thousand times braver than someone who shouted the same in London and Paris.

Here is a rather unsettling clip of a group of pro-China protestors descending on someone who dared speak out against the "orthodoxy" that the Chinese government is absolutely wonderful. I am not sure if they are Tibetan or otherwise opposed to the Chinese government. Their bravery is certainly great. It shows that China is not a dictatorship on the verge of collapse. It is is one supported by many with apparent nationalist fervour as seen by the flag wielding olympic supporters who corner someone with a different view in a Seoul hotel lobby:

I hope the meeting between a representative of China and a representative of the Dalai Lama can achieve something but one would have to be pretty sceptical at this stage. Many of the pro-China protestors really seem to believe the Beijing line that the Dalai Lama is a "wolf in monk's clothing" and while the Chinese economy continues to boom seem quite happy with the status quo. This is a disappointment for the cause of freedom in China. Nonetheless the struggle will continue. Maybe when the economy ceases to grow at 10 % per annum and the Olympic roadshow has passed on, a few more in China will start to question the lack of freedom to speak even if there is freedom to make money.

For now, I honour all those with the courage to speak out especially when they face serious intimidation or worse for doing so.

The age after peak oil

There was a noticeable rush at our local petrol station yesterday. This is strange really as the Grangemouth oil refinery strike, if it does have an effect will be in Scotland and northern England.

It is also strange as petrol is now around £1.10 a litre (perilously close to the long predicted £5 a gallon). Therefore a fill up of the tank feels like a serious investment !

However as the fuel blockade of 2000 shows petrol supply is similar to the banking system. There is not enough to supply everyone if they all demand petrol/money at once and if they do the system fails. For this see the fuel blockade of 2000 and Northern Rock's collapse last year.

Therefore a few extra people probably filled up yesterday to be on the safe side. However it doesn't seem to have (yet) developed into a major crisis. While the Grangemouth refinery supplies around half of the UK's fuel, importing from Europe is relatively easy particularly with a bit of notice provided over this strike.

Additionally pictures of queuing motorists outside petrol stations have been noticeably absent from the BBC and other news providers although a few tabloids have shown the photos reminiscent of 2000. There is no real sense of panic so far.

What this episode does do, is serve as a reminder that we really seem to be entering an age of "peak oil" (the theory that oil production will hit a peak after which it will enter a terminal decline). The FT recently carried a story that even Russia may be entering an age of peak oil,
although maybe due to poor infrastructure than oil actually running out just yet.

There is certainly no sign that oil will fall in price to any great extent. One of the differences between many western countries and new economic powers such as China and India is that while trendy westerners may be quite happy to use bikes more, no self-respecting Chinese entrepeneur wants to be seen in anything other than an expensive car. Therefore in the areas of real economic growth demand for oil will only continue to rise on present trends. .

One assumes that this can only push the price higher and then eventually oil may start to run out altogether.

There probably should be a lot more thought given to what happens when the commodity that is supporting 7 billion people in their current lifestyle runs out. Of course some would rightly point out that the world managed without oil production little more than 100 years ago. The only difference was that there were far fewer people and most of those were a lot poorer than the average today.

The end of oil, could be a far bigger issue than terrorism or the arguments over global warming. Without visiting the latter issue in this post, it is fair to say that the planet is probably quite capable of "saving" itself over the long term. Whether humanity could save itself in the age after peak oil remains to be seen.

Below is a rather artistic interpretation of that age from a major car maker. At present I don't think there are grounds to see it would be this simple or this pleasant. The age after peak oil could all get rather messy and difficult, to say the least.

I would be happy to be proved wrong on this but I am starting to be concerned about the age after peak oil.

RIP Humphrey Littleton

Worse things happen in life than the death of an 86 year old man, but I know I am not alone in finding the passing of Humprhey Littleton genuinely sad.

The fact he had kept broadcasting right up to the end is to be celebrated. For my whole life he was a broadcasting instituion and brought genuine joy and laughter to millions as chairman of Radio 4's "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue". Somehow this was that rarity, the show that never grew stale and was funny right to the end. Genuine sillyness but so cleverly done that brought half an hour of diversion to all who listened.

I must admit to ignorance about most of "Humph's" jazz career but that only adds to the depth of a much loved broadcaster and musician.

Rest in peace. You will be missed.

Below is a brief flavour but it is difficult to find a clip that truly does justice to all his talents.....

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Potatoes Tomorrow

I got up unusually early at the start of the week, as I needed to prepare for a busy day at work.

This caused me to listen to a programme on the radio that I never normally hear, Farming Today which is broadcast at 5.45 am and as the title suggests is aimed at those with an interest in farming !

An item that really caught my attention was about potatoes. Apparently the humble potato is the highest yielding crop around (in terms of energy) and beats rice and wheat in this.

While people in this country may get rather hung up about whether their house is falling in value, there are many people around the world who have more pressing concerns like where is their next meal coming from. With food prices surging in the face of an ever growing population, demand for biofuel and various bouts of unfavourable weather, it seems unlikely that the fall the Haitian Prime Minister due to food riots will be the last casualty of this situation.

With this in mind, it was interesting to hear that the potato has fallen in popularity in recent years as people favour more wheat based foods.

However in a time of austerity and potential hunger it seems we would be wise to think more about potatoes. They yield more, require no real processing other than cooking before eating and apparently come in over 80 varieties or different tastes and qualities.

I for one plan to start planting some potatoes. For us it may be a hobby that yield some pesticide free food and saves a little on the food bill. For others the potato with its ability to grow in many environments may be a real life line.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring has Sprung ?

Just a break from recent themes to note today as turning into a nice spring day. This is noteworthy for the year so far as it has mainly either been cold, or wet, or both.

However today felt like spring. A day for walking in the park or just going into the garden. The coming week seems to be set fair so here's welcoming the arrival of spring (at least for now !).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Das Stink

I smelt the smell in the outer reaches of South East London today. It was not particularly strong but was not pleasant.

Apparently it is all the fault of the Germans ! Here's hoping we return to westerly winds sooner rather than later.....

"Emergency plan for sudden events of mentally ill people during the Olympics"

I have been reluctant to make any serious analogy between the Berlin 1936 Olympics and the games to be held in Beijing this year. It is true that both are controversial events and it is also true that the modern torch relay does have its origins in the Berlin games.

Aside from that however, the passing of 72 years, the difference between two continents and the difference between Nazism and Communism seem to make it a rather limited comparison that needlessly creates offence without sheding much light on the contemporary issues.

However, when I see articles such as this, I begin to wonder. Maybe all totalitarian regimes have more similarities than differences. Certainly the desire to hide and manage groups that might cause embarrasment to the image of a smiling, cheering games is something that would have happened in 1936.

Am I right in finding this article very disturbing ?

The following text is from the official site of the Public Health Bureau of Changshu city (China) government :

"On February 26, Director Ding Yihua of the Mental Illness Prevention Leadership Group of Suzhou city and his team came to our town for research and investigation with a special theme: How to monitor and manage mentally ill people during the Olympics.

With the 2008 Olympics approaching, it is critical to strengthen the monitoring and management of mentally ill people, to prevent and reduce accidents and incidents by them, in order to protect social stability and people’s lives and the wealth of Changshu city. It is a challenging task to monitor and manage the mentally ill. In order to better construct a “harmonious society” and lay down a solid foundation for the security and protection work during the 2008 Olympics, the City Center for Mental Illness has prepared an “emergency plan for sudden events of mentally ill people during the Olympics,” to match the “Security Protection Requirements During the Olympics” and “Constructing harmonious society”

During the investigation and research meeting, Director Zhang Xiangxin of the Number 3 City Hospital gave a report on the daily work of monitoring and managing mental patients of Changshu city and how to handle sudden events. The meeting prepared a list of serious mental patients who will possibly make trouble during the Olympics, especially those patients or former patients who have a record of extreme violence, damaging the city’s image, inflicting pain on themselves or others,
repetitively petitioning, seriously disturbing the work of Party and Government agencies, damaging public property and interfering with traffic safety. They must be under intensified monitoring and management, in order to ensure security during the Olympics."

Maybe something is lost in translation but it seems sinister enough to me.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Money Talks

Today comes news that the three main sponsors of the Olympic torch relay have decided to pull out, at least in the case of the Japanese leg of the tour.

The tortured history between Japan and China is well known and one hopes that nationalist sentiment on both sides will not obscure the real human rights concerns in modern China. That is certainly how the Chinese government seem to prefer to deal with things and it is alarming to see extreme Chinese nationalist sentiment expressed on blogs and websites in growing quantity.

It should be clear that those who express worries about human rights in China are not anti-Chinese. In fact this is completely the opposite as the biggest enemy of the Chinese people (in terms of citizens killed and locked up) remains the Chinese government.

Anyway it is pleasing to see commercial realities start to turn against the Beijing Olympics. The main sponsors of the relay, Coca Cola, Samsung and Lenovo have all pulled out of the Japanese leg of the trip.

As the only thing that seems to prevent serious critcism of the Chinese regime is economic fear and dependency it is encouraging that the worldwide protests are at least in some cases starting to create economic negatives for those who are seen to be too closely supporting the Chinese Government.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

1 torch, 1 and a half miles, 30 minutes, 15,000 policemen

The world journey of the Beijing Olympic torch has reached India.

Their 1 and a half mile relay compares to 31 miles in London but the Indians needed 7 and a half times more police than London to protect the route.

Such is the appeal of this torch that it must be protected from any member of the public. In Pakistan they went the whole way and just ran it round a stadium.

"Farce", hardly does this process justice in describing its sheer madness.

Here is a chilling reminder of why many feel it is wrong to hold the Olympics in Beijing. This video has been banned and removed from several more pro-China websites but remains in circulation.

What it shows is the moment when a group of Tibetans trying to leave Chinese territory and enter Nepal are spotted by members of the People's Liberation Army. It all takes place high in the snow-capped Himilayas.

What was unique about this situation was that it was all seen and captured on film by European mountain climbers. It is a grim event but shows the brutality of the People's Republic of China towards those who dissent. In this case all they wanted to do was leave the country:

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Crisis ? What Crisis ?

It all gets rather dispiriting.

With a life expectancy of 37, inflation of 100,000 %, many people surviving on less than $1 a day and a mass exodus to neighbouring countries it would seem to me that Zimbabwe is in crisis.

Add to that the fact that the Presidential election results from a couple of weeks ago seem to have been "shelved" and it doesn't look very good. It seems the people of Zimbabwe voted for change but the current president, Robert Mugabe, doesn't want that to happen.

Zimbabwe's powerful neighbour is South Africa. It seems that South Africa is very reluctant to criticise Mr. Mugabe. South African President, Thabo Mbeki visited Robert Mugabe today and effectively said "Crisis ? What crisis ?".

This is all rather disappointing. It underlines a lack of serious political leadership in Africa and means that the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans just goes on.

Jokers. Presidents Mbeki and Mugabe enjoy a laugh but life is far from funny for most Zimbabweans.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Technical Update

The "Running Free in Fleet Street 2" post on Tuesday 8th April which includes 2 videos experienced some technical problems so the videos could not be seen.

For anyone who wanted to see these videos they should be working now so you just need to scroll down.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Human Rights in China- after "Olympic Comic Relief"

Just when you thought the Olympic torch relay couldn't get any more farcical than the "police marathons" seen in London and Paris, the mayor of San Francisco, one Gavin Newsom, manages to achieve something remarkable.

In one move he managed to (briefly) unite Tibetan protestors, a host of others campaigning on various issues where China leaves something to be desired and a significant number of pro-China supporters from amongst San Francisco's sizeable Chinese community. The outbreak of unity was caused by incredulity at Mayor Newsom's extraordinary handling of the relay in his City.

Faced with a potential rerun of London and Paris, he thought it would be a good idea to hide the torch from everyone, whether friend or foe. For nearly an hour it lay cowering in a warehouse before emerging after a bus ride on the other side of the city, miles from where it was supposed to have been. There then followed an astonishing spectacle of the torch being carried by two runners at a time, for reasons of efficiency so they could get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible.

The runners were protected first by a couple of the thuggish "Flame Attendants" seen in London and Paris. Some credit must go to San Francisco for not allowing the full contingent to attend this time. There then followed a circle of baton waving police who in turn were covered by Police on large Harley Davidson motorcycles who in turn were surrounded by a looser ring of police on pedal bikes.

As the convoy edged through the less well known San Francisco streets the whole thing took on an air of one of President Bush's visits to the Green Zone in Baghdad rather than the lead up to a a sporting event. You wonder why they bothered at all and didn't just run round a military airfield a few times. If the security continues to get tighter each time, you can imagine that by the time the Torch reaches Australia it will be surrounded by tanks and troops with automatic weapons.

In the end everyone was left disappointed and the torch was whisked away for a "ceremony" at San Francisco International Airport before heading away on a flight to Argentina.

Any attempt to pretend this is business as usual has now been given up with even the head of the IOC acknowledging they are in crisis.

In a sense this has been a human rights equivalent of "Comic Relief" or "Children in Need" i.e. an essentially comic event that is intended to raise awareness of a serious cause or issue amongst a wider public who would not otherwise take an interest in the issue.

Now the torch has left America, the number of cities where people can be expected to turn out and demonstrate in numbers is relatively low. The likely candidates being New Dehli (subject to how far the Indian Government wants to appease the Chinese) and Canberra. Australian PM Kevin Rudd has the unique distinction of having told the Chinese that only Australians will provide security on Australian soil.

Even America suffered indignities from the Flame Attendants including the Torch bearer Majora Carter being forced out of the procession by the Attendants due to the fact she was holding a Tibetan flag.

All this has proved a wonderfully effective way of raising the issue of Tibet and wider human rights in China.

However it is obvious that the travelling circus will come to an end soon. While the Olympic brand has taken a real knocking it is doubtful if this will have any real effect on the collusus that is China.

In actual fact the one danger for those who favour greater human rights in China face is that this should never turn into an "anti-Chinese" campaign. To do so might actually strengthen the Chinese government by creating external enemies who can be used as part of a Chinese nationalistic campaign. We who campaign for Chinese freedom must emphasise that this is for all Chinese and not just Tibetans. After all far more Chinese have died at the hands of the PRC over the years than have Tibetans.

One area I do take heart in is the number of Chinese contributing on international blogs and discussion pages. While they often seem "vetted" Chinese and appear loyal to their government it is a start to begin creating more openess in China.

The great Firewall of China remains but the more communication of whatever form that occurs the greater the chance of progress being made.

The other area that can make a real difference is if we all express a few more reservations about the current Chinese regime, learn a bit more about Chinese history and become better informed.

Maybe if we can all not buy that very cheap Chinese T-shirt some impact will collectively be felt. There is no need to buy an expensive one ! Cheap ones also come from Vietnam, Mexico, Turkey and a host of countries other than China.

This last week has been a great boost to the awareness of Tibetan oppression. However the "Comic Relief" phase will come to an end. Then it will be a question of whether once the Olympics have been and gone, we all return to "normal" or whether we continue to campaign for human rights and raise awareness of abuses in the world's most populous country. It will certainly be a long campaign (maybe decades) but the cause of bringing so many people freedom seems a cause more worthy than most.

Jolly decent of the Chinese

A light hearted look at recent events surrounding the Olympic torch relay from today's FT:

Still want Tibet on the torch relay?
By Robert Shrimsley
Published: April 10 2008 03:00 Last updated: April 10 2008 03:00

Oh, the horror. Our own Lord Coe, thrice shoved aside by those beastly Chinese as if they didn't even know who he was. Shocked and shaken, he pronounced them "horrible".

Worse was to come. The rotters even roughly manhandled a Blue Peter presenter carrying the flaming Olympic torch aloft. A Blue Peter presenter; frankly that's only one notch above spitting on Vera Lynn.

And there on the streets of London and Paris an unsmiling phalanx of Chinese security men, a troop of jogging cybermen, dealt with anyone in their way, be they protesters, ermined Olympians or inanely grinning premiers. It makes you think, doesn't it. I mean, crikey, if they can treat Seb Coe like that, you just wonder what they could do in Tibet.

One can imagine the hand-wringing on the International Olympic Committee as the torch relay - a tradition dating all the way back to the noble Nazis - is tainted, nay besmirched, by the stain of political protest. The great Goebbels - inventor of the modern torch relay - must be turning in his grave. Mournful are the wails of the Hellenic maidens who attend the ceremonial kindling of the torch. Now the relay may be cut short for future games lest the Olympic spirit be dented - and future sponsorship deals endangered. It's not that the IOC regrets its gift of the Olympics to Beijing in the first place, you understand, just all this fuss now.

Meanwhile, in the UK and France, the gorge is rising against the "horrible" Chinese paramilitaries who inflicted such indignities on the Blessed Seb. Not even Steve Ovett did that. Questions will be asked in the House.

Well, what did people expect when control of the Olympics was handed to China? China is not a country that mucks around with such things. If a torch needs protecting, it doesn't entrust the task to a troupe from the National Ballet, pirouetting along the Embankment. It goes out and gets a team that would give Madonna's bodyguards a run for their money. If it is worried about protests, it locks up every potential troublemaker. This is what China does.

On the other hand, it was jolly decent of the Chinese to launch a global, rolling roadshow to help draw attention to the plight of Tibet. Richard Gere could never have done it all on his own.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Peace and Harmony: Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler ?

An interesting article from today's Independent on the Nazi origins of the current Olympic flame rituals. This undermines the current nonsensical view that the Olympic flame is somehow "sacred"and a symbol of peace and harmony (sponsored by Coca Cola and Samsung !).

Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler ?

Contary to the lies peddled by the IOC and others the current ceremony did not originate in Ancient Greece or even in the nineteenth century but courtesy of Nazi Germany in the 1936 Munich Games.

The bit I enjoyed most in the article was the bit about the worker relighting the torch in Montreal 1976 with a cigarette lighter- much to the horror of Olympic fantatics !

I don't mean to offend but we should be aware of the origins of this flame that is causing such a lot of fuss and the Chinese Government are fighting so hard to keep burning and parade through various world cities.

Will the Flame Attendants attack San Francisco protestors ?

In London and Paris, a sinister all male group of "Flame Attendants" accompanied the torch at every stage of its journey.

These "thugs" as described by Lord Coe, head of the London 2012 Olympics, pushed and jostled anyone who came close including the Police and people in Downing Street.

That they got away with it and were not arrested themselves is a disgrace.

The Times uncovered more about them today

Telegraph has more

It will be interesting to see if they get away with pushing around Americans in their own country too or if the San Francisco Police Department will step in.....

San Francisco

The next Olympic torch protest is scheduled for tomorrow (April 9) in San Francisco.

This may be the biggest protest yet despite attempts to hide the route of the relay from those who want to protest (or indeed watch!)

Whatever happens tomorrow or in subsequent cities it is clear a point has been made.

China's record on human rights is known the world over. It cannot be a full part of the international community until it reforms. This is an issue far wider than Tibet and includes rights for all Chinese citizens, the absence of any recognition of wrongs committed in Tiananmen Square, the absence of any serious recognition of the deaths of 70 million people under Mao and the ongoing daily abuses such as the man recently sentenced to 5 years in prison for organising a petition in favour of human rights.

Many people's eyes have been opened or reopened by recent events. While China's power is enormous the genie is out of the bottle, at least outside China. Even China's cheap goods may find things a little harder. After all China is not the only asian country producing cheap goods. Countries such as Vietnam do this and India is an emerging great power that seems to manage economic growth while without feeling the need to carry out state sponsored murder and forced sterilisation of its minority populations.

Here's hoping San Francisco can remind the world a bit more tomorrow........

Running Free in Fleet Street 2

The Olympic convoy degenerates at the start of Fleet Street. Even the bells of St. Clement Danes church seem to be protesting.

Confusion further down Fleet Street as the torch is withdrawn and disappears onto a bus as protestors outnumber police and Chinese guards.

Further along the route on London Bridge, there were very few people either protestors or spectators. I snapped this London school boy awaiting the flame to light his torch. The policeman on the bike advised him to stand still when this happened as he would be "enveloped by police". When I called out "free Tibet" at the flame handover on London Bridge, a Metropolitan Police film unit lunged at me with a video camera. It seemed rather over-zealous. Someone had better tell them we have free speech in this country.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Running Free in Fleet Street

This was the scene when the Olympic flame procession seemed to break up as it left Aldwich and entered Fleet Street, the historic home of the British press. The bells of St. Clement Danes church can be heard ringing out as police and protestors run after the Olympic torch some way ahead. Then the buses carrying the Chinese Olympic delegation can be seen passing. The Chinese siting quietly on their buses in contrast to their rather brutal "Flame attendendant" cousins outside are almost from another world when confronted by Londoners running along the street in protest.

It was a surreal moment and not something I have ever seen in London before. What is also noteworthy is everyone is completely good natured and friendly.

The video is a little jumpy as I was running to keep up some of the time but I think it gives a real feeling of what the London Olympic torch relay was really like on Sunday.

A tale of two cities- united in purpose

The peaceful scene as pro-Tibetan protestors and some spectators gather ahead of the Olympic torch's arrival on Waterloo Bridge.

For the two hours or so yesterday that I followed the Olympic torch and protested at its symbolism, my impression was of a largely peaceful and well educated group of protestors. This was not a rent-a-mob but a group of people who really believed in the issue of Tibetan freedom and human rights for all Chinese. There is no doubt that many felt passionately about the abuses in Tibet and elsewhere and did not want London used as a PR opportunity by the Chinese Government. In preventing this there is no doubt that the protest succeeded.

In looking at this morning's papers the protest bought Tibet and its issues more coverage than any amount of advertising could offer.

The one surpising and disappointing aspect of the day was the heavy handed approach from some of the Metropolitan Police. This mainly seemed to consist of those who followed the flame rather than the ordinary police officers around the city.

The protestors ranged from families, to students all the way to pensioners. Whenever the torch approached the police officers bellowed "GET BACK" at anyone who expressed so much as a glimmer of interest in the torch. At one point a group of ladies, probably all in their seventies were bellowed at in this way.

Stories were heard, and repeated in today's papers of police telling people to remove "Free Tibet" t-shirts.

Aggressive filming of protestors occurred. At one point, I myself had a police video camera thrust towards me to record my face while I was walking along the pavement. The Metropolitan police seemed to want to give us a little taste of China.

All in all the policing aspect left a nasty taste in most people's mouths. There is no doubt the Metropolitan Police do a difficult job and there is no doubt that in the event of a major crisis such as the 7/7 bombs everyone would rally together. However in terms of routine events, the Police did themselves no favours in alienating and treating harshly largely peaceful protestors.

They showed no such bravado when dealing with Islamic protestors who paraded with slogans such as "Kill the unbelievers" last year. With a million pounds spent on overtime it would be nice to think that such a budget was also available to help local policiing rather than just protect the Chinese government's ego.

Also visible were the sinister "Flame Attendants" an entirely male group of minders dressed in blue and white track suits who followed the flame everywhere. These were like a Chinese private army who jostled protestors with free will and even shoved a person in Downing Street who could have only been there with police approval.

All in all my two hours on the protest were an amazing experience. There was a great sense of unity of purpose and a common belief that the charade of the torch relay was completely wrong given the circumstances of the Olympic host nation.

The fact that it had to protected by police and Chinese guards at every stage gave the lie to this being a popular event.

As I walked back through the "City of London" I passed entirely empty streets that the Torch was supposed to travel down in minutes. Very few ordinary spectators had turned out. On London Bridge the relay runners' bus dropped a school boy in position to pick up the flame. A police officer advised him that when the flame arrived he was to stand still as he was to be "enveloped by Police". That was the day - one enveloped by Police.

Only briefly in Fleet Street was there a real sense of joy when demonstrators seemed to briefly out number and out manouvre the police and Torch procession. At this point the Flame was retired onto a bus much to the cheers and the boos of the crowd. People in coffee shops looked on at the spectacle unfolding.

Today in Paris the Torch ceremony was cancelled and the flame had to be extinguished several times due to protestors. In San Francisco, the next City to see the Torch a protest on the Golden Gate Bridge has already started.

All over the world the message is clear. Despite China's economic power and long and often distinguished history people have serious reservations and concerns about its treatment of Tibet and human rights in general. People in London, Paris, San Francisco and beyond do not want their cities used as a stage to promote a nasty regime that cares little for human rights.

While we may not be able to change what happens in China we can at least show our feelings when the Beijing PR machine visits our home cities. That is a cause that even unites London and Paris !

Paris goes one better

Paris shows why it will always be the world's top city at demonstrations. A position it has held since at least 1789 ! ( although not always for causes us Brits would all agree with !)

From today's Timesonline:

Tibet protests force organisers to snuff out Olympic flame in Paris

Back later with tales from the London protests yesterday including some very aggressive policemen shouting at old ladies and the moment freedom broke out in Fleet Street..........

Congratulations Parisians. San Francisco- it's over to you !

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Olympic Torch arrives in Downing Street

While Gordon Brown was "welcoming" the Torch in Downing Street today this was the scene outside in Whitehall as the Torch and Olympic delegation were universally "booed" by a large crowd of protestors holding Tibetan flags.

Further photos and clips to follow....

Olympic Torch moving in London

Live update: The torch is moving through the cold, snowy London streets.

Protestors met it from the beginning.

A man got hold of the torch from Konnie Huq while passing near Ladbroke Grove. This blog previously advised Miss. Huq not to take part and she did make some encouraging public statements on her reservations.

Off now to see what happens in Whitehall.......

Springtime welcome from London

It is 8am in London. I have my very active little son sitting with me. He doesn't want to play on his own but keeps making a grab for the mouse while he is with me so this will be a short post !

Despite being April and officially spring, the suburbs of London are looking as alpine as they are going to do (i.e. not very alpine but snow covered at least). Above is the scene from a nearby car park. In the last hour a covering of snow has arrived and it is still snowing quite hard.

Snow in London is quite a rare event. The chances of snow on April 6th are even less.

I bet the Olympic flame tour organisers never counted on snow in London in April. Rain maybe, but not snow. So it seems the British weather has organised the most effective protest as athletes will need to run through the snow with the flame.

A chilly welcome from the skies above London seems most appropriate given the circumstances of these Olympics.....

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tibet comes to Westminster

Last post for a little bit.

Just saw that there has this morning been a protest under Westminster Bridge.

This clip shows what happened when protestors unfurled a "Free Tibet" banner next to the Houses of Parliament. A reminder of what a relatively free city we live in:

Dispatches- Undercover in Tibet

For all those interested to learn more about Tibet, I would say this programme is a "must see".

It is Channel 4's Dispatches with an episode entitled "Tibet Undercover".

The film was made with extraordinary bravery by Tibetan exile, Tash Despa.

"To make this film, Tash Despa returns to the homeland he risked his life to escape 11years ago, to carry out secret filming with award-winning, Bafta-nominated director Jezza Neumann (Dispatches Special: China's Stolen Children). Risking imprisonment and deportation, he uncovers evidence of the "cultural genocide" described by the Dalai Lama."

It is 48 minutes long but if you have the time or can find the time I would recommend it as an education on the subject of Tibet. It does not hide the recent violence by some in Lhasa but does give the terrible background to life in Tibet and shows the brutality of the Chinese regime towards Tibetans and their way of life.

This is the link if you want to see on a bigger picture.

Tibet Undercover Link


Blog visitor tracking sometimes makes interesting reading. It is clear this blog has been largely focused on one issue of late. Of the last 100 visitors, those arriving via search engines had searched for the following subjects:

  • london april 6th 2008
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    olympic torch relaytrevor macdonald

In Praise of Gordon Ramsay !

Gordon Ramsay, the "celebrity TV chef" is not someone who I normally take too much interest in. All that bluster and swearing in his cookery programmes or when he is berating a provincial restaurant owner as to why they don't do things like he does all seem a bit unnecessary.

However it is clear he has got his audience and he does have a life story of note and has faced an element of struggle that has ended in success.

The word that could also be used about him is "integrity". He is what he is, whether you like that or not. It is therefore pleasing that he has shown this integrity by refusing to carry the Olympic torch, according to the Evening Standard. He is not the only one who is leaving the herd of celebrities and making a stand. Others are shown here.

I will look at Mr. Ramsay in a new light now !

London set to welcome "Flame of Shame" and China works on clearing the route further along its journey

The headline from today's "Times" should give anyone considering cheering the flame along the streets of London tomorrow, pause for thought:

From The Times
April 5, 2008
"Exclusive: Chinese police kill eight after opening fire on monks and Tibet protesters
'They cried long live the Dalai Lama – then the firing started"

It is certain some people will turn out to cheer. The friends and families of those selected to carry the torch accross London are obvious "supporters". Shoppers and tourists passing by will take photographs. However there seems no mass urge to welcome this torch. It is certainly not in the popular imagination here.

Then of course there will be the protestors, rallying from around Britain and beyond. The Police have promised a robust approach to anyone who disrupts the flame's journey. They even have Chinese interpreters working with them to identify posters or banners that are insulting in Mandarin. One wonders if people will get arrested for holding an "insulting" anti-Chinese Government poster written in Mandarin when last year it seemed more or less fine for extreme islamists to walk through London with posters saying "Behead those who insult Islam", "Massacre the Unbelievers" etc. No hint of double standards by the Metropolitan Police here !

One imagines a few Tibetan student groups (largely peaceful Buddhists), intellectuals and others concerned about human rights in China will be an easy crowd for 2,000 police to deal with compared to Islamists who are quite prepared to cheer those who attempt to blow up passenger planes.

However overall the hope has to be that in London town, free speech is still allowed to some extent so the protestors will get their opportunity to be heard. If protestors can be seen and heard in Istanbul, Turkey surely this should be permitted in London ?

Samsung, the Korean electronics giant, put out several full page adverts in London papers yesterday promoting their sponsorship of the flame and encouraging people to watch "history in the making" in London. No sign of them backing down but then I read about a corruption probe at the highest levels of the company so I imagine worrying about sponsoring a tainted flame is lower down their list of priorities at the moment.

It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow in London. For anyone looking at this page for information on the London protests, you are best looking at the Free Tibet page.

Will I be protesting ? I am not really the street protest type ! (although I did recently make it to the Chinese Embassy one Monday evening). However I guess I will either be "boycotting" or if I can make it away from home commitments (a trip to Heathow Terminal 5 (!) with my Mother-in-Law and looking after our ever more mobile 9 month old son being the main ones this weekend) for a little bit, I will go to "boo" it at Canary Wharf or the Dome on its final leg.

On the one hand I realise this is rather futile but on the other this is all about symbolism. The flame really doesn't matter a hoot with its pseudo pagan lighting in Greece. All it does say is this flame has travelled around the world before reaching the Olympics in China. In some way this can be interpretted as the world giving support to the Beijing Olympics and by association the Chinese Government. The fact it will be travelling through suppressed Tibet is more significant. If protestors in London and elsewhere open a few more eyes to the dreadful abuses in Tibet and indeed across China for those who want to speak their mind, then not all will have been in vain.

I hope London proves it is still a City of free speech and gives the flame a rowdy but peaceful arrival. Part of me would like to see someone pour a bucket of water over it from an upper storey of a building as it passes by. However that probably won't happen. I think London will probably settle for a mixture of cheers, boos, slogans and apathy !

Never mind, it is off to Paris next- a City that really knows how to protest !

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No Torch in Tibet

Please click on this link (No Torch in Tibet) and pass it on to spread the word against the Olympic torch going through Tibet- an area so oppressed by the Chinese Government.

This was highlighted to me in the Beijing Wide Open blog which is maintained by a Canadian Tibetan who has travelled to the Chinese Capital ahead of the Olympics. It is well worth a read.

Lastly on this subject, Channel 4 Dispatches last night broadcast a fascinating and disturbing programme about life in Tibet for ordinary Tibetans under Chinese rule. If online video emerges I will post here. In the meantime the description will be of interest to all those who follow this subject.