FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday: April 2, 2014 

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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TRUCE BEGINS: 157 DAYS

PETITION SIGNATORIES: 521

man MILES WALKED: 2698.3      

LORD MICHAEL BATES is walking from Olympia, Greece to London to highlight the UN Resolution declaring the London 2012 Olympic Truce.

PHOTOS ALONG THE WALK FOR TRUCE 

LORD MICHAEL BATES: I have decided to walk over 3000 miles in the hope that we can persuade all signatories to the Truce to do just one thing to implement it. Not only would this bring the flame of hope into conflict zones around the world it would mean that we would rediscover the central purpose of the Ancient Games which was to provide for a pause in the endless cycle of violence through the observance of the Sacred Truce. If they could do it 3000 years ago, then surely we can do it now. If you agree then please join us in this campaign….

(Video produced and edited by Sam Farmar)

Thursday
Feb092012

DAY 280 - MECHELEN, BELGIUM

 

Friday 27 January, 2012

2698.3 miles/ 6,061,601 steps

After lunch on the Thursday I went with Katrina Johnson, Deputy Head of Mission, to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day service in Mechelen, Belgium. The Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the day that Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland was liberated and the full scale of the genocide gradually became known. The site of Mechelen was chosen by the Nazis as a transit camp because of its rail links, which went straight to the camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Jews were rounded up and brought to the camp primarily from Antwerp. Once the capacity of the camp reached 1000, individuals were placed on a train and sent off to the extermination camps.

I have walked through the bloody fields of Verdun and northern France, but yet nothing is as chilling as the Holocaust. It is one thing when the horrors of war are unleashed in artillery barrages against military combatants on both sides. Although there are still screams, chaos, blood, mud, and terror the Holocaust was perpetrated against young and old, male and female with an objective not to win territory or treasure, but to extinguish an entire ethnic group. It was done in quiet efficiency, in almost a routine way judging by the procedures at the transit camp and railway timetables. Moreover, we might want to believe that the camp was solely operated by evil German SS soldiers, but they were assisted by Belgian auxiliaries in the Flanders SS, and overseen by a puppet Belgian political regime and a murky role for Kind Leopold III which was to lead, after civil disturbances and a referendum, to his abdication in 1951.

This is not comfortable because we want to believe that this was the action of an insane brainwashed minority of one political and ethnic group. But the answer is not that easy and it instead reveals a capacity within the human being for acts of unspeakable evil when the circumstances are configured in such a way as to let it loose. In Britain we must not be smug and think that had the Nazi invasion plans succeeded we would have all been members of the resistance living in the hills and fighting them on the beaches rather than staying in the public square and turning a convenient blind eye to the round up of Jews and their dispatch from Dover to extermination camps. My advice on the evidence I have seen in Italy, Croatia, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland is: thank God every day that we weren’t tested in this way.

So, from Mechelen between July 1942 and August 1944 there were 28 train departures carrying 24,951 Jews and 351 Roma to the extermination camps. It would have been more but for the heroic work of individuals who rescued some from certain death. One of the people present was Andre Guelin, who rescued babies and small children and placed them in the homes of other families where they were raised as their own. Whilst she was rescuing children from certain death, she was also risking her own life if her work had been discovered. I had the opportunity of meeting Andre Guelin after the service (see picture) and express my thanks to her not as a Briton, or a Jew, but rather as a distinguished member of the human race. For this was a crime perpetrated not against the Jews by the Nazis, but against humanity by humans.

Andre Guelin embodied the spirit of that other great humanitarian, Edith Cavlell, who was a British nurse executed in German occupied Belgium during WWI. Her ‘crime’ was treating German and Allied soldiers in the same way on the basis of their need and their humanity; she famously pronounced ‘patriotism is not enough’ and while awaiting sentence concluded “I can’t stop whilst there are lives to be saved”. There may not be many Guelins and Cavells compared to SS guards and co-conspirators with evil, but their existence is proof of an extraordinary capacity within the human soul to rise above prejudice and hatred to instead display empathy and love of their fellow human beings. ‘And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’ John 1:15

Wednesday
Feb082012

DAY 279 - BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

Thursday 26 January, 2012

2698.3 miles/ 6,061,601 steps

One statistic tells you all you need to know about Brussels: it is home to 286 lobbying consultancies. I do not mean in any way to be disparaging to lobbying organisations, but more just state the obvious that this is a political power capital of the world – in many ways superseding Washington DC in terms of its international reach and economic influence, though not I suspect in terms of the number of lobbyists.

I ponder whether we might describe Brussels as the political capital of the world, Geneva as the diplomatic capital of the world, London as the global financial capital, Washington as the military capital, Jerusalem as the religious capital, and New York as the honorary capital of the world. This is no arrogance on the part of Western civilisation; it is just a statement of the present facts, which are changing. As we all know, Power is shifting east at a rapid rate with economic power in the vanguard as always.

My visits in Brussels showcased the city’s influence with a timetable put together at very short notice by the excellent team at the British Embassy in Belgium: HMA Jonathan Brenton, Maeve Patterson, and Amanda Moss. My first stop was at the European Parliament to listen to Wilfried Lemke, the legendary German football coach and current adviser to the UN Secretary General, deliver an excellent address on the role of sport in promoting peace and development.

From there I went off to do an interview for De Laatste Show, a hugely successful and well organised programme. I was on between a Moroccan cook from Antwerp and an author who wanted to write a book on French history that Belgians might read and therefore decided to split it into three sections – the first on French cooking, the second on French history, and the third of French sexual practices: Nice try I thought, although I suspected that only one third of the book would be read and it wouldn’t be history.

The very fact that I could conduct a 10 minute interview on prime time Belgian TV in English convicts me about our/my own weakness in foreign languages. Belgium has three official languages – Flemish, Dutch and French in addition to one unofficial language, English. I suspect that when you learn a language you also learn more about your own language and something much deeper of the culture from which the language has been formed. I have had every opportunity to learn French on this walk; I have spent almost three months in the country and have listened to seventy episodes of ‘Coffee Break French’ on my iPod. The problem is that I haven’t had to ask people much what time it is, or tell them what town I come from, whilst when it comes to ordering food, ‘Six Chicken McNuggets’ seems to be a pretty universal language. That said, language can also be used to mark out difference and nowhere is this more so than in Belgium, which is rigidly divided along linguistic boundaries. A bumbling British backpacker speaking traveller’s English – slow, loud, and apologetic will receive a pleasant welcome in any bar or cafe, but woe betide the unsuspecting French speaker Walloon who seeks to address his Flemish fellow countryman in French. I ponder whether we can ever have a single European market without a single language. Discuss.

I was invited to stay at the Residence of the British Ambassador in Rue Ducale, which is a splendid building, albeit showing its age (aren’t we all). The Residence is managed by the ultra efficient Isabelle van Stratum, who seems to effortlessly manage the demands of receptions, conferences, guests, and meetings in a way that would require a staff of twenty in a similar sized hotel. I arrive back from the television programme to find a reception in full swing for the new UK Permanent Representative to the EU – Sir Jon Cunliffe. The post of the UK Permanent Representative is second only to Washington DC in the UK diplomatic hierarchy (see earlier point on power) and as such normally goes to a very senior figure within the Foreign Office. They don’t come much more senior that Sir Jon Cunliffe; as someone who served as Gordon Brown’s adviser on European and GlobalIssues, as well as Managing Director of Macroeconomic police and International Finance, he had a ring-side seat to what went wrong and hopefully this will be helpful in getting it right.

Another formidable civil servant was to greet me the next morning on arrival at NATO HQ as I was met by Mariot Leslie, the UK Permanent Representative. Given the scale of the international crisis, it is amazing that diplomats are able to spare any time to meet with me; I am not sure if it is because they are taking seriously a UK sponsored UN Resolution on the Olympic Truce, or are simply mystified as to how such a ‘small matter’ could lead a British parliamentarian on such a long journey. One of the attributes that senior civil servants have is the ability to arrive at instant judgements on people and then hold authoritatively to those first impressions, even when they are wrong. In the time it took to climb the stairs to the UK Mission, she gave me one of those earnest smiles which in diplomatic speak are code for ‘barking mad – get rid of him’. As I wandered down the corridor I couldn’t help but be reminded of the exchange in the ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ when Wally is in the pub with Foggy and Compo as he reflects on life with his domineering wife, Norah Batty: “She’s hard but she’s fair. [Pause] No she’s not fair, but she’s good to have around when there is trouble.” There is lots of ‘trouble’ around at NATO and in the EU and we are very fortunate to have the permanent representative we have.

At NATO Kiersten Sparke, the Media and Communications Officer for the Joint UK Delegation to NATO (pictured) organised a fantastic round of meetings with political and military officers during which we brainstormed on ideas for implementing the truce. Some may suggest that the military would be hard to convince of the ideal of the truce, but on the contrary they know all too well the consequences of war and welcome any initiative which may make that less likely. I had a particularly productive session with Chris Riley, who is in charge of the Media Operations for NATO in Afghanistan. As I frantically scribbled down the names and suggestions, I realised that a structural weakness of my campaign was that I was running it largely on my own and that with this type of intelligence on what to ask and who to speak to, the impact of the truce would be enormous. Well at least I won’t struggle for follow-up actions when I arrive back in the UK.

From NATO, it was back to the Residence where HMA Jonathan Brenton had invited a fascinating cross-section of academics, politicians, NGOs, and media for lunch on the truce. Again the interest in the concept of the truce was very strong and conversations primarily revolved around how to raise awareness of the truce. There was agreement that the Olympics and Paralympics were the only events around which a truce could be built because over 205 countries have been invited to send teams. The FIFA World Cup is often comprised of only forty finalists. The question remains how the truce can be more effectively promoted in partnership with the UN and IOC. Therein lies a long but very interesting conversation – to be continued.

Saturday
Feb042012

DAY 276 - VIDEO UPDATE - ARRAS

Old James Ryan: [addressing Capt. Miller's grave] My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.
Ryan’s Wife: James?…
[looking at headstone]
Ryan’s Wife: Captain John H Miller.
Old James Ryan: Tell me I have led a good life.
Ryan’s Wife: What?
Old James Ryan: Tell me I’m a good man.
Ryan’s Wife: You are.
[walks away]
Old James Ryan: [stands back and salutes]

‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)