I saw the torch in Boston in 1996. A guy ran beside the Boston Public Garden followed by a Georgia State Police BMW, which was bizarre (BMW must have been an official sponsor). The BMW was driven by a obese man in a Georgia State Police uniform, which was, well, not so bizarre.
Today was different. Lots of shouting, Chinese Flags, Tibetan flags, people chanting, etc. I got a free Save Darfur shirt and I was all set. There was a fair amount of people yelling at each other nose to nose, and occasional shoving, but thankfully no violence.
I couldn't help but notice the rather limited repertoire of debate skills by the pro-Chinese government crowd. Waving their brand new Chinese flags, they would generally chant "Liar Liar Liar" when a large contingent of people with Tibetan flags walked past. Often they would should "How much are you being paid to be here?" Which raises the question of how much *they* were being paid to be there.
A few of them tried to shout in my face, which I countered by talking back to them. Their first line was to ask why I would oppose China in Darfur when the US was in Iraq. They seemed surprised and puzzled that I opposed the Iraq war. Then they tried to point out that China never attacked other countries. After I mentioned Korea and Vietnam (where China was clobbered), this tack was swiftly modified to 'China never occupies other countries'.
There was some irony to all of the pro-China marchers. They were participating in public debate, where different viewpoints can be aired and people can disagree. It's the sort of event that couldn't happen in China itself.
In the end, I think changing the route was the correct decision. There was a risk of violence if the city had insisted on running the torch along the Embarcadero. The Chinese Government had hoped to have a