Saturday, June 21, 2008

Torch in Tibet

Earlier this year, I became very interested in the issue of Tibetan freedom, thrown into the spotlight by the 2008 Olympics being held in Beijing.

There were protests in London (which in my own small way I was involved in), Paris, San Francisco and elsewhere to varying but generally lesser extents.

What I did learn from following this story closely was that many Chinese appeared strongly behind their government on the issue of Tibet and in a way the external criticism, valid though it was, may have served to strengthen the Chinese government rather than weaken it.

Bombastic internet posts and comments proclaimed "Tibet was and is and always will be part of China" as if this was an almost religious doctrine.

Then the earthquake hit China killing tens of thousands and creating millions in need of a home. Floods have in turn ravaged parts of China making this a pretty bad year for that country.

Due to the earthquake, the floods and many more significant events in the world, the torch has ceased to mean too much to anyone apart from possibly those sinister guards that have travelled with it round the world.

Nonetheless, this weekend the thing that all the protestors didn't want to happen, did happen- the torch went through Tibet.

I don't suppose this changes much for ordinary Tibetans but when the Olympics start in about 6 weeks time, I will be thinking of the rather dismal journey that the torch has taken before it arrived in Beijing.

This BBC blog includes an account of the short torch ceremony in Lhasa this weekend.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Running on Empty

Maybe it is not representative but our local petrol station has no fuel today. Yesterday it struggled down to one pump (out of twelve) of unleaded while having diesel fully available.

Today it put up a notice proclaiming "no fuel". Apparently this is not the only garage having such problems. The cause of this is the Shell tanker drivers dispute resulting in a four day drivers' strike (for more pay) but somehow, presumably through people topping up "just in case", it is resulting in shortages at other garages.

It highlights how precarious fuel supplies are in this country and a reminder that in a few days in 2000 a blockade of fuel depots emptied the roads of the whole country.

Things should be back to normal on Tuesday (for a few days at least) but it goes to show that "normal life" hangs by a thread when fuel supplies are disrupted on our crowded island.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hurray for Ireland !

At last, out of the seemingly endless desert of dispiriting news stories, we arrive in a rare oasis where something in the wider world brings us cheer.

The people of Ireland, the only country in the EU to offer its people a free vote on the Lisbon Treaty have clearly rejected it in the referendum result that was announced today.

Where Denmark, France and Holland have gone before (to name just three) Ireland has followed today and shown that the ordinary people in European countries stand against their leaders who seem broadly wedded to the concept of "ever closer Union" in the EU.

This vote is not about leaving the EU which has offered Ireland especially many benefits. It is however about calling a halt to the march towards an ever more united Europe. Free trade, ease of travel and greater understanding have brought Europe much. However endless interference in national issues, continued corruption in Brussels and Strasbourg and a incredibly conceited attitude amongst most European leaders have united the people of Europe against many aspects of the EU.

The people of Ireland were given what the people of Britain should have been given: a chance to express their views. The way the people of Ireland have voted puts them in the debt of all those who have concerns about the ever growing power of the EU.

Thank you Ireland ! Now all that needs to happen if for Gordon Brown to recognise that the Treaty of Lisbon is dead.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Petrol use falls 20 %

Apparently people like me really are driving less and using less petrol. Either that or they are very successfully hypermiling ! Basic economics is correct I suppose....

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"I love the world"

A bit cheesy but rather well done (it's only a minute long). At least a break from the current "doom and gloom" :-) Thanks to Three Beautiful Things for sharing this.

Towards $150 a barrel- should Brits learn to "hypermile" ?

I am sure many are aware that the oil price hit two new records on Friday.

First it exceeded $139 a barrel for the first time and second it recorded its biggest ever one day increase (around $11 or a 9% rise in one day).(FT story here ).

There seems no end in sight to the increases. Aside from the underlying factors of growing demand and the threat of dwindling supplies, a steady stream of alarming geo-political stories keep it bubbling ever higher. The latest was the suggestion from an Israeli minister that an attack on Iran is now "inevitable" due to the fact that it's nuclear programme is apparently continuing unabated*.

The effect at the petrol pump is seen each day. Today I paid £1.17 a litre. I am slightly afraid to convert that in into gallons but it is definitely well above the £5 a gallon level.

The result for me has been to largely stop using the car. In fact I drove today for the first time in 3 weeks since I drove back from Heathrow airport.

This has been relatively easy for me for two reasons:

1) I live in outer London, commute to work by train and most other facilities are in walking distance.

2) My wife and son have been visiting family in Ukraine so there has only been me to think about. I wanted to see if I could manage without a car and found I could. This would be much more difficult with a baby and I probably won't try when he returns !

The only times I would have definitely used a car and haven't were in visiting my Mother in Kent. I took the train instead and found quite a civilised group of weekend train users. From my experience this wasn't the case 10 years ago when weekend trains always felt slightly dodgy and full of those too poor to own a car. That is a gross generalisation and certainly unfair to some. However now the weekend trains are full of those too poor (or stingy !) to buy fuel but possibly having a car sitting outside their house.

Anyway today I returned to the car as I needed to take some rubbish to our local tip. As I was using the car I carried on to visit my family and then had my painful price experience at the petrol station.

I recently heard a story on the BBC about the US phenomenon of "hypermiling". Despite the name, it is actually a very simple concept of driving your car in a way that maximises fuel efficiency. Like anything a minority become rather obsessive about it but the basics are very straight forward and include:

a) Stop as little as posssible as stopping and starting uses the most fuel. So when you see a red light ahead slow down and aim to reach the red light when it changes to green. This is much more efficient than racing to the red light, stopping and then starting again when it changes to green.

b) Inflate your tyres to the maximum recommended level. Soft tyres are severely fuel inefficient.

c) Avoid excessive speed. The most fuel efficient speed is supposed to be about 55 mph. Car manufacturers always quote the maximum fuel efficiency of the vehicles at a constant 56 mph.

d) Avoid carrying around unnecessary junk in the car. Anything that makes the car heavier will reduce fuel efficiency.

See this site if you are interested in more.

If fuel keeps rising further I can see hypermiling gaining more followers, out of necessity rather than fun. Today I tried driving at a constant 55 mph on the motorway and was surprised that rather than being honked at to go faster, I looked in my mirror to see a top of the range BMW and a Porsche Cayenne happily following me at the same speed ! The oil price rise is really causing some changes ! My only doubt is that I am not sure if I can convince my wife on her return that it is best to drive at 55 mph on the motorway !

*(It is probably a question for a much a bigger article but doesn't the fact that the US, the UK and others now appear to have lost their appetite for any further military action of a "policing" kind now free middle ranking powers to take "the law" into their own hands ? The world policeman has had enough so prepare for some local vigilates? As history shows the world is much less stable without a globally recognised superpower. There was no globally recognised superpower in 1939, 1914 or 1870 to name just three years that heralded major wars.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

When they banned alcohol on the London Underground

It may not have been the wisest decision of the new London mayor Boris Johnson to choose to ban alcohol on all London transport starting from midnight on a Saturday night. However that is what he did do which lead to a "rebellious" party on the London underground on Saturday night.

I wasn't there (much too old and respectable !) but I understand from those that were that it is was mainly a good natured event, albeit with some sprinkling of trouble. The irony is that not many people drunk alcohol on the underground anyway but lots of people drunk alcohol when told they couldn't.

Overall not having alcohol on buses and trains sounds a good idea, particularly underground. However Saturday's party is a reminder that the flip side to that is that not many Londoners like being told what not to do.