Friday, 28 March 2008

Forgotten Chernobyl? I haven't

It is as if the entire Government has forgotten the Chernobyl disaster - because it is too inconvenient to tell the public to contemplate a reduction in "living standards". Well, here is a reminder.

From The Guardian:

"When a routine test went catastrophically wrong, a chain reaction went out of control in No 4 reactor of Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine, creating a fireball that blew off the reactor's 1,000-tonne steel-and-concrete lid. Burning graphite and hot reactor-core material ejected by the explosions started numerous other fires, including some on the combustible tar roof of the adjacent reactor unit. There were 31 fatalities as an immediate result of the explosion and acute radiation exposure in fighting the fires, and more than 200 cases of severe radiation sickness in the days that followed.
Evacuation of residents under the plume was delayed by the Soviet authorities' unwillingness to admit the gravity of the incident. Eventually, more than 100,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding area in Ukraine and Belarus.

"In the week after the accident the Soviets poured thousands of untrained, inadequately protected men into the breach. Bags of sand were dropped on to the reactor fire from the open doors of helicopters (analysts now think this did more harm than good). When the fire finally stopped, men climbed on to the roof to clear the radioactive debris. The machines brought in broke down because of the radiation. The men barely lasted more than a few weeks, suffering lingering, painful deaths.

"But had this effort not been made, the disaster might have been much worse. The sarcophagus, designed by engineers from Leningrad, was manufactured in absentia - the plates assembled with the aid of robots and helicopters - and as a result there are fissures. Now known as the Cover, reactor No 4 still holds approximately 20 tonnes of nuclear fuel in its lead-and-metal core. No one knows what is happening with it.

"For neighbouring Belarus, with a population of just 10 million, the nuclear explosion was a national disaster: 70% of the radionucleides released in the accident fell on Belarus. During the second world war, the Nazis destroyed 619 Belarussian villages, along with their inhabitants. As a result of fallout from Chernobyl, the country lost 485 villages and settlements. Of these, 70 have been buried underground by clean-up teams known as "liquidators".

"Today, one out of every five Belarussians lives on contaminated land. That is 2.1 million people, of whom 700,000 are children. Because of the virtually permanent presence of small doses of radiation around the "Zone", the number of people with cancer, neurological disorders and genetic mutations increases with each year."

Harrowing eyewitness accounts are collected in Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich, published by Dalkey Archive Press at £13.99
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2005/apr/25/energy.ukraine

Thursday, 27 March 2008

I am worried

I don't know about you, dear reader, but I am worried sick about Labour Industry Minister John Hutton's plans to build a vast number of nuclear power stations thus diverting resources from renewables; about collective and individual political failure to do anything about the destruction of natural habitats and wildlife both here and everywhere on our planet; and about the fact that the world population has more than quadrupled since 1900, more than doubled since 1960 and is increasing at a rate of 80 million a year. This cannot go on - that is what the scientists warn, but the political class of all nations has its head in the sand.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Tibetans have a just claim to self-determination

The Chinese premier's talk is of smashing and crushing the Tibetan rebels. It is as if the UN's principle of self-determination of peoples had never been heard of. The Chinese regime is doubly illegitimate - without any democratic legitimacy in its own country, and an invader in Tibet. Why are Western leaders and diplomats so keen to humour the Chinese leadership's obsession with saving face? To call a spade a spade, it seems to me the Chinese Government's stupid and oppressive policies are entirely to blame for the current crisis in Tibet. The Tibetans are desperate and their demands for self-determination are just. If you jam a lid on a boiling kettle, you will get an explosion. I have no ill will against the Chinese people but in order to make my protest against their Government I am going to avoid buying goods from China until there are free and fair elections in both Tibet and China. I think I will write to the major UK retailers to inform them of my decision.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

My new pets (the sequel)

The wormery is a success: teabags, vegetable peelings, bits of newspaper etc have been converted into dark, crumbly compost that will be great for my plants, and it's free. The worms are plump and thriving. They don't like onion, though.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Zhang Qingli's pitiable ignorance: Vaclav Havel's wisdom

A Western tourist in Lhasa, Tibet, has told the BBC: “The violence may have begun on Friday at 2pm but it felt like it had been brewing for 50 years. It was frustration that had spilled over. People had taken too much. That was the impression we got.“
Meanwhile Tibet's Communist party chief, Zhang Qingli, has reportedly told officials: "The Dalai is a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast." Such ignorance is pitiable. Anyone who has read any of the Dalai Lama's publications knows that he advocates non-violence and compassion towards all sentient beings - even those who are trapped in a mentality of aggressive militarism and materialism.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel writes: “Even as we write, it is clear that China's rulers are trying to reassure the world that peace, quiet, and "harmony" have again prevailed in Tibet. We all know this kind of peace from what has happened in the past in Burma, Cuba, Belarus and a few other countries - it is called the peace of the graveyard.
"Merely urging the Chinese government to exercise the "utmost restraint" in dealing with the Tibetan people, as governments around the world are doing, is far too weak a response. The international community, beginning with the United Nations and followed by the European Union, Asean, and other international organisations, as well as individual countries, should use every means possible to step up pressure on the Chinese government to allow foreign media, as well as international fact-finding missions, into Tibet and adjoining provinces in order to enable objective investigations of what has been happening; release all those who only peacefully exercised their internationally guaranteed human rights, and guarantee that no one is subjected to torture and unfair trials; enter into a meaningful dialogue with the representatives of the Tibetan people.
"Unless these conditions are fulfilled, the International Olympic Committee should seriously reconsider whether holding this summer's Olympic games in a country that includes a peaceful graveyard remains a good idea.”

I agree.
See http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/vclav_havel/2008/03/tibets_peace_of_the_grave.html

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Chinese Government's disinformation fails to deceive

So the Premier of China is still trying to blame the Dalai Lama for the Tibetan people protesting against Mao Tse Tung's "liberation" of Tibet in 1950 and China's continuing repression of Tibetans? Come off it, we are not deceived. This is the era of the Internet. We share information! Dear reader, do tell your friends to log on to the BBC and "listen again" to first hand evidence about torture and murder of Tibetan women in prison, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/
And do read the Chang/Halliday biography of Mao, which will give you a shrewd idea what Mao meant by "liberation". It is high time the Chinese Government admitted that Mao was a remorseless tyrant, not a hero.
I believe Tibetan people are entitled to real freedom - to speak their opinions, live in their villages and practise their peaceful way of life. Instead they are forcibly moved into horrible Communist-style housing, arrested for speaking their minds, given enormous prison sentences just for peaceably demonstrating and tortured or even murdered while in prison. This is imperialism not liberation.

Monday, 17 March 2008

China cracks down on Tibet news coverage

The Chinese authorities' deadline has passed for Tibetan protesters to give themselves up. Instead of asking why the protests are happening and questioning whether just maybe their policies need to change, the authorities are blocking websites that report what is going on. To help spread the word, tell your friends to visit http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/video/2008/mar/17/china.media

Glacier melt rate has more than doubled

I read on the Beeb that data from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) shows glaciers are melting more than twice as fast as they were between 1980 and 1999. This is a key climate change indicator. Average glacial shrinkage has risen from 30 centimetres per year between 1980 and 1999, to 1.5 metres in 2006 with some of the biggest losses in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Experts have called for "immediate action" to reverse the trend, the Executive Director of UNEP saying that the glaciers are the canaries that are making the most noise in the climate change coal mine "and it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice... The litmus test will come in late 2009 at the climate convention meeting in Copenhagen.

"Here governments must agree on a decisive new emissions reduction and adaptation-focused regime. Otherwise, and like the glaciers, our room for manoeuvre and the opportunity to act may simply melt away."

It is scarcely reassuring then to be told that the vast majority of voters still don't put a high priority on this.

Where is Tibet's second spiritual leader?

Some years ago Tibet's second most important spiritual leader, the Panchen Lama, was chosen by the traditional Tibetan process, supervised by the Dalai Lama, The chosen boy, whose name was Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has not been seen since his detention by the Chinese authorities in 1995. He must now be over 18. Where is he? Can the BBC talk to him? If not, why not?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Colchester is spared another nightclub - phew

Today I was delivering Bob Russell MP's Annual Report in Colchester's historic Dutch Quarter, on the northern side of the hill where the town centre is. The Dutch Quarter is laid out as I guess towns used to be before they invented Urban Sprawl. It has narrow streets and alleys and everything you need within walking distance. When most of us can't afford to run a car any more we will appreciate places like this properly. Colchester is Bob's home town, and mine too. I learn good news - an appeal against refusal of planning permission for another town centre nightclub has been dismissed by the Inspector. Congratulations to our local Lib Dem councillors for their successful campaign on that one. Maybe residents are starting to get their town back.

Listen to the Dalai Lama - a great man

The Dalai Lama is the wisest, most admirable human being I know of: truly a great man. I have read several of his works for lay readers. He teaches of the futility of greed and aggression, and of how to attain happiness through kindness and compassion for all sentient creatures. In one book he remembers the Tibet of his youth, its forested mountains inhabited by almost tame creatures, because they were not hunted. Then the Chinese invaded, bringing with them their creed of Communist materialism - as if mastery of the whole of mainland China were not enough. In 1959 a brutal Chinese repression of the Tibetan people forced the Dalai Lama to flee his homeland. He has watched from exile his people's gentle culture being stamped upon, the forests destroyed and the wildlife killed. How ironic to hear a witness tell the BBC's The World This Weekend how the present leader of China, formerly governor of Chinese-occupied Tibet, admitted to feeling dislike of Tibet and contempt for Tibetan people. If that is so, why not just withdraw from Tibet and let the Tibetan people get on with their lives? The Chinese people have a great and ancient culture but the Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung who caused suffering and death to untold millions was a monster, and the current Chinese Government has no democratic, or any other, legitimacy in Tibet nor, for that matter, in mainland China. What right has the Chinese Government to profess superiority, to claim legitimacy, to kill over 80 Tibetan protesters? None. Its current actions are contemptible. It should withdraw its troops, call elections and let peaceful transition take place to democratic government.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Liverpool gets to me

Liverpool is a building site, much of the building being at sea level. Pity it will be submerged in 50 years, at the rate we are going in melting the polar ice with our not-so-clever, climate-wrecking inventions. The city is also the home of the International Slavery Museum which I visited last Sunday. I particularly remember an engraving of a scene in which a man is branding a woman captive with a hot iron. She twists to look up at him in terror and bewilderment, as animals also do, when people are cruel to them. There was also movie footage of a man being hanged by a lynch mob in the American South in order to maintain a reign of terror. I learned, too, that in at least one State of the American South a law was passed making it a crime to teach any negro to read and write. Later the US Supreme Court ruled that black people could not be citizens of the United States.
In retrospect all this solemn jurisprudence looks barmy. I muse upon the shamefulness of the legal system. How did the common law ever entertain the notion that a human being could be property that could be bought and sold? All too easily. All you need is a system of rules in which someone stretches the concept of a "chattel" a little. From that flows the idea that one man can have the right to buy, sell, punish or destroy another. Slavery itself had been around since ancient times, well entrenched in other cultures (Roman and Islamic for instance) but not in the common law. In the common law it started with indentured labour, where individuals would buy their passage to the New World by promising to work for a specified number of years when they got there. But it could not have developed into the elaborate system of rules that sustained the trade in human captives without the fiction of racial superiority. That, the fiction went, made it okay for people to brand, torture and kill people. Laws arrived by rigorous reasoning at outrageous conclusions because they were based on assumptions that no decent society should ever have entertained.
No amount of elegant reasoning will stop some ideas from being an abomination. We pass laws banning the causing of unnecessary suffering, but I think in time future generations will look in amazement at the disgusting intensive farming methods that inflict misery on our sentient fellow creatures, which we can see are a moral outrage if we exercise our critical faculties for five seconds, and wonder how this could ever have been condoned.

Monday, 10 March 2008

I make a little progress

I am back from the Lib Dem Conference in Liverpool, pleased that on Friday the Federal Policy Committee approved my draft resolution on the global population crisis for submission by the UK Liberal Democrats to the Liberal International Congress in May. Lindsay Northover, who speaks on international development in the Lords, has been an enormous help in drafting it. Did you know the world's human population has more than doubled since 1960 and is increasing at a rate of 1.5 million per week? More on the resolution anon.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Memoirs of a busy February

I've been a bit quiet recently, and when wondering why this was, drift into musing over how busy February was, quite apart from the day job. Another opportunity missed to get my allotment into shape before the spring, though I have planted a quince tree, some blackcurrant bushes, a few broad beans and mangetout peas (in makeshift cold-frames, though they are okay in cool temperatures). It's the dratted leafletting that gobbles up time - Sunday 3 Feb (and much time beforehand): spent much time dashing about preparing newspaper deliveries in my patch for Brian Paddick. My day was ruined by pickpockets who nicked my purse in Starbucks. Don't anyone tell me crime is not a problem...
Cannot remember weekend of 9-10 Feb specifically, but suspect it was spent on domestic projects. Weekend of 16-17 Feb: very frosty; on 16th I tended my allotment wearing 2 fleeces and an overcoat and was only just warm enough, then as fog descended I went home for tea, then out again to Colchester Lib Dems' annual dinner with my good friends Liz and Chris Hall, fellow blogger Nick Barlow and many other local friends and colleagues. Baroness Ros Scott gave a speech that included a most entertaining account of how she came to be a working peer. It cost quite a lot (joke). No, seriously, she won it in a raffle (joke). More seriously, apparently Charles Kennedy phoned her one Sunday morning when she was cooking lunch for her mother. As she had to keep the contents of the conversation confidential, on putting the phone down she gasped, "I think I'll have a sherry!" Always a good move at such moments. A sombre note, though, when Bob Russell MP reminded the gathering of the thousands of lads from the Colchester area who were going out to serve in the grim conflict in Afghanistan, not all of whom would return.
The following morning, 17th Feb: I took an early train to join the ongoing deliveries for Brian Paddick in south Westminster. Sunny, excellent leafletting weather. 21st Feb: I announced to a startled International Relations Committee my proposal for a policy resolution on the global population crisis - a subject I have been brooding over for many years, and the situation's getting worse. Did you, dear reader, know that the planet's human population has more than doubled since 1960, when (at 3 bn) it was, according to some respected scientific opinion, at a feasible level for sustainability? Cause for deep pessimism. I try to keep my carbon footprint down, but with a net population increase of 1.5 million people per week, obviously there is a serious question what is the point, what difference can we make, unless the absolute number of humans using resources is reduced to a manageable level.
Rest of February blurs together rather, but the 25th stands out - the evening of the Chinese Lib Dems' New Year feast, near Russell Square. The feast was excellent, and many political friends were there in what is undeniably an upbeat mood among activists.
Oh yes, and I spent most of the last Saturday of February travelling to and from, and delivering leaflets in, Highgate where our by-election candidate is, I learn, a fellow-allotmenter. A good sign, I feel.
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