Sunday 10 July 2005

Heroes and villains

For the second time in a week I am writing about London. The bombs that brought havoc to the capital last Thursday have claimed, at the time of writing, 38 lives. 700 more were injured, some seriously. The lives of all those affected will never be the same again.

Whilst watching the news last night, a friend kept voicing her disbelief. How could they (the presumed terrorist perpetrators) do this? Why do they feel entitled to strike at innocent civilians? What do they hope to achieve? She couldn't understand why, in her own head, she couldn't rationalise the bombers' actions. But, as I pointed out, you cannot rationalise the irrational, explain the inexplicable or justify the unjustifiable. The presumed terrorist culprits must have such a distorted world view - only in their own deluded minds is such action justified.

In my younger days, I naïvely believed that there was some good in everyone. Sadly, the last fifteen years has scoured that optimism out of me. I'm pretty sure nobody reads this 'blog, which gives me the confidence to assert that there are people out there in the world today who are scum, plain and simple. People who blithely presume they have the right to make other's lives miserable, without recognising that they have moral and social responsibilities too. When, exactly, did human rights start to outweigh human responsibilities? This is why so many town centres are no-go areas on a drunken Friday night. This is why so many children today believe they can do exactly what they want, whilst their parents (incredibly) blame their schools for not raising them properly. This is why violence is a way of life on our streets, and people like you and me are too scared to intervene when it flares up for fear of an assailant pulling a knife (or worse). And this is why a crazed, brain-washed fundamentalist has no qualms about getting on a train and blowing up scores of innocent commuters.

But I'm sick of writing about the villains. I want, instead, to heap praise on the emergency services. Police, Fire, Ambulance... like our armed forces, they give a feeling that, despite being under-resourced, they are the best in the world. The professionalism they showed in dealing with terrible situations, in a manner that conveyed calm to the public, was immense. Hospitals staggered under the load they were suddenly asked to bear, but bear it they did. And what of the famed British stiff upper lip? Much has been made of how Hitler couldn't bring London down, despite a continuous aerial bombardment during the Second World War, and that Osama Bin Laden and his buddies wouldn't succeed either. Times move on, cultures change and people change; the time of the stiff upper lip has probably passed. However, there was a tangible atmosphere of "let's just get on with it" last week, as people walked miles home from central London, or jumped on a bus as they began to come back into service, or made plans for getting to work today. Doctors and nurses, firemen, commuters... there were lots of heroes on the streets of London last Thursday. As long as they continue to outnumber the villains, there is hope for us all.

Thursday 7 July 2005

Higher, faster, stronger

So London has won the right to stage the 2012 Olympics. This is stupendous news, and I am already looking forward to getting (or trying to get) tickets for anything and everything.

Of course, if you're a regular reader of this 'blog, you'll know I have a tendency to be a bit pessimistic sometimes. So as not to disappoint then, what worries me about the Olympic bid? Well, this is the country that built the London Eye (well worth a trip) but couldn't have it ready to take passengers by the somewhat immoveable due date of 31st December 1999. We're the country whose plans for a new national stadium at Wembley are stuttering forward, fantastically over budget. We're the country who built the Millennium Bridge over the Thames, then had to close it again because it wobbled. We're the country that designed and built a fancy Diana Memorial Fountain, then had to close, redesign and finally restrict its use because no-one foresaw that water running over smooth concrete might be a tiny bit slippery...

So do you see what I'm getting at? It was all very well last year pouring scorn on the Greeks as they desperately tried to get everything ready in time for the Athens Olympics. It may well be a very different story in seven years time when the microscopic scrutiny of the world is upon us instead. Maybe I'm conveniently forgetting a whole host of national project management successes, but it just seems to me that we don't have a very good track record of delivering big projects on time, to budget and completely to specification.

Still, you have to admire the way Seb Coe and his team have turned the London bid around. When he first got involved, we were third or even fourth favourite to land the Games, yet look how things turned out. Maybe there is hope then, that just this once we Brits we be able to organise the proverbial excessive-consumption-of-alcohol in a brewery. If I'm still 'blogging in seven years, I'll let you know.

And finally, let's hope that the London 2012 team have a detailed post-Olympics plan in place too. Many of the Athens facilities have not been used at all since the closing ceremony there, which is especially depressing since the Greeks are saddled with huge debts from staging the Games in the first place. Maybe we should take a look at Sydney to see how this should be done: what was the Olympic village in 2000 is now a residential suburb rather than the husk that the Athens site threatens to become. Fingers crossed for Stratford in London's East End then - it could certainly use the regeneration. You can't help but feel that if the Olympic Commission parked their chariot of fire there at the moment, when they returned to it they'd find a couple of the wheels missing.

Wednesday 6 July 2005

Live8, G8, desper8...

Last weekend, the great and the good rallied around to raise awareness of third world poverty by staging a series of rock concerts around the world. The BBC kindly broadcast the day's proceedings to an eager viewing public. Certainly it was an amazing spectacle: Paul McCartney, U2, Dido, REM, Keane, Travis, Razorlight, Robbie Williams and The Who were all excellent entertainment. Pink Floyd made men of a certain age get moist-eyed just by all turning up together. Other acts, including the much-lauded Coldplay, were below par in my book. Ms Dynamite spoiled the token appearance bestowed on her by squealing between two otherwise decent songs. Snoop Dogg's "mother-loving" exhortations provoked much hilarity with yours truly, and apparently many (300+) complaints to the Beeb. And everyone proclaimed their adoration for Sir Bob Geldof, some to the extent that you wondered whether they wanted to have his children. So everything's okay then, right?

Well I'm not so sure, to be honest. There's certainly no doubting Geldof's good intentions, and those of us who have supported the cause will at least be able to look back in years to come and say they tried to make a difference. I just wish I felt more confident that we can make that difference. Africa's problems stem far beyond simple poverty: corruption in government is rife in many countries; the healthcare burden of AIDS and HIV is tremendous; the infrastructure and supporting industry necessary to support the proposed increased in fair trade is patchy; civil unrest within and between territories is common. Then there's the question of whether the West has the right to impose its view of trade, healthcare, infrastructure and all the rest on such a different culture... or rather, such a huge collection of different cultures.

There's also an issue on which I feel sure I must be over-simplifying. The figure of 30,000 people dying needlessly every day makes my head spin. Clearly this is appalling. But let's just suppose, for one second, that G8 acquiesce to all of the Live8 campaign's demands, and that those 30,000 people don't die every day. In a week, 210,000 will have been saved. In five weeks, over a million will not have perished. In a year, that figure ramps up to over 10 million. This is clearly a good thing; no-one should die for simple lack of the money or means to support themselves. What worries me is that these impoverished areas don't have the means or infrastructure to support their current populations; how are they going to support 10 million more? And 10 million more the year after that? Are we just pushing back today's problems to a time in a few years when the basic survival needs of a larger population can no longer be met, in the same way that those basic needs cannot be met for today's poor? I don't know, maybe I am over-simplifying.

Finally, why isn't the G8 the G9? China is booming in every way: population, trade, industry... and carbon emissions. Okay, so the derisory figure of George W. Bush has attracted much criticism (though not enough from within his own country) for taking the US out of the Kyoto Agreement on climate change, especially since the States contributes a staggering 22% of the world's carbon emissions. By contrast, the whole of Europe contributes 12%, so we're clearly right to deride Bush for such lunacy. But China contributes 13%, a figure that looks certain to rise given the need for the immense Chinese population to play catch-up, racing through the same industrial and cultural follies that the West stumbled through in the latter half of the 20th Century. So why isn't China taking a seat at the G8 table and discussing these weighty issues? Why aren't there nine men in a room?

But I digress. Live8 is a noble cause and we have to try to make poverty history, even if you're as sceptical about our chances of success as me. I urge you to register your support for Sir Bob and his merry men at now.

And if you're as concerned as I am that ours is the generation that will be remembered for polluting our planet irretrievably, please take a look at the CRed carbon reduction campaign.