52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

dirty old river must you keep rolling

I was chatting to a friend over email earlier today. We were talking about how there seemed to a growing optimism in Britain over the last 12 months. We were both at the Olympics in Athens last summer, and were part of the enourmous number of flag-waving Brits who roared the coxless four onto victory in the rowing and had screamed ourselves hoarse as Kelly Holmes came from the back of the pack to win an unforgettable 800m in the Olympic Stadium. We have some brilliant photos from that night; we had all gathered outside the stadium and spent a good half an hour having a spontaneous cheering session with anyone else holding a union jack. As I mentioned below, scenes like these seemed to make an impression on the IOC and had at least some small influence on the decision to award the 2012 Olympics to London. That decision itself, the moment when Jacques Rogge pulled a piece of paper marked "London" out of an envelope, sparked scenes of jubilation from the nation. In my office, I found out that we had been awarded the games when a cheer arose around the office. These scenes were of course reflected across the nation as people gathered together to celebrate the news that we would be hosting the biggest sporting event in the world... in 7 years time. Imagine how excited we were going to get as the big day got nearer.

What's happening to the British? Where is the stiff upper lip for which we are famed throughout the world?

It's not just about the Olympics either. At the turn of the year, the British public were quick to put their hands in their pockets for the victims of the Asian Tsunami and were astonishingly generous. This generosity seemed to inspire Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to give ever larger amounts of government money to the fund, with Great Britain's contributions putting the rather more meagre contributions of the US administration to shame. Blair and Brown continued this work into the new year, when they announced that they were determined to take the opportunity presented by the UK presidency of both the G8 and the European Union to try to make a real difference to those affected by poverty across the world. Hand in hand with this, there has been some real momentum gathering behind the "Make Poverty History" campaign, culminating in the Live 8 concert the other week and the apparently very real determination to try to make our voices heard at the G8 summit at Gleneagles. To quote Nelson Mandela:

"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom".

I know there has been a lot of cynicism about this, but I really felt that some of the cynicism and apathy that seem to be the curse of society seemed to be being swept away, and there was a growing will to try and make a difference.

And then this happens:

and this
I have lots of thoughts whirling around my head around how we have at least in part brought this on ourselves for a myriad of reasons but primarily for our prominent role in the war against Iraq. I'm thinking how this will be used by the G8 as an excuse to deflect their attention away from talking about climate change and dropping Third World debt. I'm thinking about how this makes it inevitable that our civil liberties will now be further eroded to further the "War on Terror".

I have lots of cynical thoughts, but now is not the time for cynicism.

I am appalled and shocked by the indiscriminate nature of these attacks, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families.


  • At 11:58 pm, Blogger adem said…

    I can't believe it. I thought we had started to make a change. I was wrong.

  • At 12:05 am, Blogger HistoryGeek said…

    Don't stop believing! The greatest blow would be a return of cynicism and apathy.

    But first grieve...it's important.

  • At 8:44 am, Blogger Ali said…

    I can only talk in swearwords and cliches at the moment.

    So "Keep on keeping on."

  • At 9:25 am, Blogger Teresa Bowman said…

    I was discussing this with my mother last night. We both agreed that we could see why certain people are discontented with "the West", but when it comes down to it, there is no excuse - nothing even approaching an excuse - for taking the lives of innocent people going about their daily business.

    (I hope you don't think I'm automatically assuming that when you say "we have at least in part brought this on ourselves", you're saying the actions of these people are excusable. Far from it; I know what you mean. I'm just trying to say, in my usual inarticulate manner, that cynicism doesn't really have a part in any of this. You didn't start the war in Iraq; neither did any of the people on those tube trains or on that bus. I don't think you can really be cynical and say "to a certain extent we brought it on ourselves" when the "we" in question is just a very small number of people with a lot of power.)

    I'll tell you something else, though. London (and the rest of Britain) has been through a heck of a lot worse and coped with it admirably. And that which we call the Dunkirk spirit isn't dead yet.

  • At 9:26 am, Blogger LB said…


    all I hope is that we don't kiss all our civil liberties goodbye in a knee-jerk reaction to this mindless lunacy.

    had an email from a friend of mine in London who summed up the whole thing in one word : "harrowing".

  • At 9:48 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    I know what you mean Bee: the indiscriminate killing of ordinary people going about the business of their ordinary lives can have no possible justification.

    Same thing applies in Iraq.


  • At 10:24 am, Blogger John McClure said…

    I don't think saying we brought this on ourselves is a cynical thing to say - it's an honest thing to say. We did bring it upon ourselves - unequivocally.

    There is no justification for taking innocent lives, so I'm sure the amount of innocent blood shed in the Middle East and Afghanistan over the years (if not directly by UK and US troops, then by weapons sold by the UK or the US) was, at least in part, a motivating factor for whoever organised yesterday's attrocities.

    For now though, the facts remain regardless of the reasons. Sympathies and condolences to all and sundry.

  • At 11:07 am, Blogger Teresa Bowman said…

    I'm sorry, Swiss; only just realised how dim and badly-worded my comment was. Think I'll stick to posting song lyrics and cake recipes.

    Apolitically yours,


    PS. Dammit, someone in one of the buildings across the way from me here is playing "Dancing in the Moonlight" by Toploader. Now that is an act of terrorism for which there really is no excuse.

  • At 11:16 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    Bee - don't be daft. You worded your comment fine and made an excellent point and you are a valued contributer here....

    Much though I love your recipes, I want to keep on hearing about what you think on things like this.


  • At 12:03 pm, Blogger red one said…

    I think you said what I was going to say at 9.48, Swiss.


  • At 12:27 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    red - you've already said that and more very eloquently over at your own blog....


  • At 2:29 pm, Blogger LB said…

    there is a scene in the film "The American President" with Michael Douglas.

    In a cabinet meeting, the President has to authorise the dropping of a bomb on an installation in Libya in response to a terrorist attack or similar.

    The decision is made to deploy the bomb in the middle of the night so as to minimise the number of casualties. Later, after the decision is taken, one of the President's aides turns to him and congratulates him on his presidential abilities.

    The President responds:

    "Leon, somewhere in Libya right now, a janitor's working the night shift at Libyan Intelligence headquarters. He's going about doing his job... because he has no idea, in about an hour he's going to die in a massive explosion. He's just going about his job, because he has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You've just seen me do the least presidential thing I do. "

    if only the current incumbents of these positions of power thought in even slightly the same way...

  • At 3:43 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    george w bush doesn't know what a janitor is or does, never mind where Libya is, or what a day's work is, or what the word "incumbent" means.

    I think he knows what a massive explosion is, but only because he thinks they are "cool".

    The free world is in safe hands.

  • At 4:00 pm, Blogger John McClure said…

    Douglas' Andrew Shepherd has nothing on Sheen's Josiah Bartlet.

    Although, Pullman's Whitmore knocks them both into a cocked hat.

    There have certainly been a few:

  • At 4:07 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    President Cliff Barnes? Jesus, the mind boggles!

    Might be an improvement though, eh?

  • At 4:55 pm, Blogger HistoryGeek said…

    This whole idea of bringing things on ourselves is a tricky one that I don't know the answer to, but here's something this American thinks about pretty regularily:

    Despite the fact that I voted for someone else, this system of government that exists in this country is one that I participate in, even if just tacitly, and the principles on which it is based say that it is "by the people, for the people and of the people." Somewhere in there lies my responsibility - I just don't alwyas know what that means or what to do about it mostly.

  • At 5:41 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…

    I'm not entirely sure about the universality of the growing British optimism over the last 12 months thing. I think that feeling must depend on who you are and what your circumstances are.

    You are quite right about the civil liberties issue; I can see the London terrorism being used as an excuse for everything from ID cards to police brutality. We must make sure our objections are loud and clear.

  • At 6:11 pm, Blogger John McClure said…

    To be fair to Charles Clarke (and there's something I'm not likely to say too often) I did hear him quoted today as saying that ID cards would have done nothing to protect a single man jack of us yesterday.

    Perhaps hasty on his part in terms of the fact that he doesn't know yet who carried out the attacks, but still, at least he's resisting the urge to spin the situation thus far.

  • At 7:03 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    point well-made Fox, but I did think I saw a tiny glimmer of optimism about the place.


  • At 7:53 pm, Blogger Aravis said…

    LB, that remains one of my favorite movie scenes. Thanks for reminding me.

  • At 9:23 pm, Blogger Erika said…

    I think I am most shocked by the fact I am not shocked at all.

    I wish, like Adem, I had thought we had started to make a change.


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