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July 6th 2012
The Summer is here (honestly, it is. Check your calendars if you don't believe me: all the rain out there is summertime rain) and the Olympics are just weeks away, and I for one am excited. I've got my tickets booked for athletics, football, table tennis, handball and possibly volleyball - not a bad haul - so I am a happy bunny, needing only to learn the rules of handball to make my joy complete. Well, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon would be the cherry on top. However, in the midst of all this happiness, there are a couple of Olympic-related things that are currently getting my goat. The first is the attitude of the sponsors towards spectators, which is pathetically despotic: we will not be allowed to bring any food or drink whatsoever into the games (I'm going to, though. They'll just have to take it off me) and, even more pathetically, cash-points in the area will be disabled so that only Visa cards can be used. It was bad enough that only Visa cards could be used to buy tickets - indeed, it was dreadful - but this is going a step further and is surely counter-productive for a sponsor. The whole point of sponsorship is to get good PR for your company, and this works in entirely the opposite direction: I was previously fairly agnostic about Visa, and now I am agin them.
My other, bigger, Olympian complaint is about Oscar Pistorious, otherwise known as Blade Runner, the South African runner who was recently selected to run for them in the 400m and 4x400m.He's still better than the Ridley Scott version Pistorius had both his legs amputated between the knee and ankle when he was less than one year old, and for some years has run in prosthetic legs, currently holding the disability sports world record for both 100m and 200m. He is, whichever way you look at it, a fairly incredible human being and a true inspiration to anyone who has to deal with their own personal limitations - which is to say, to all of us. But there is no way that he should be allowed to compete in the 2012 Olympics.
The reason is obvious: Pistorius uses artificial assistance in order to run, and this assistance has been scientifically proven to give an advantage in terms of the amount of energy he must use during a race (it should be noted that it is a disadvantage when building up speed at the beginning of the race, explaining why Pistorius doesn't compete against able-bodied sprinters in the 100m, say). Athletes cannot - or rather, should not - be allowed to use anything other than their own bodies when competing, and just as a basketball player would not be allowed to wear springs or a goalkeeper hold dustbin lids (or anyone take performance-enhancing drugs), a sprinter should compete under his own steam without carbon-fibre to help him. There's even been a relatively recent example of this requirement for fairness, when the rules on what swimmers can wear were tightened up to exclude "hi-tech swimsuits" (here I quote the BBC website) that had previously been popular.
I understand that this would mean that Pistorius couldn't compete at the Olympics, because if he had to use only his own body he would evidently not be able to run at all. But so what? Firstly, he has competed admirably at the Paralympics in the past and I would like any of his fans to explain to me why that doesn't count. Secondly, Olympic rules are not in place to make sure that everyone can have a go, they are in place to make sure that only the best can compete (here I exclude boxing and football, which have restrictions concerning amateurism and age respectively). That doesn't include me, that doesn't include you and that doesn't include Pistorius: in his case it is due to misfortune rather than (as in my case) laziness, lack of talent and predilection for white choc chip cookies, and that's why - returning to my first point - we have the Paralympics at all.
Apologists make the point that Pistorius will almost certainly not be able to win an Olympic medal even with prosthetic assistance, but this misses the point. The point is: what if he could? What if there comes a better sprinter - or, more likely, better carbon-fibre - that can outpace those athletes who are using nothing but their own bodies? We could reach a point where it is impossible to win a title unless you use artificial assistance.
This is an emotive issue, I understand, and those of us who don't think Pistorius should compete are often condemned for being anti-disabled (as in this ridiculous and poorly-argued article in today's Times) or for denying a man the fruits of his undoubted labour. Well, allow me to be equally emotive. If Pistorius does compete with his blades on in this year's Olympics, he will be cheating; and while he will not be as morally reprehensible as drug-takers like Dwain Chambers, his cheating will still be cheating even if it is officially sanctioned cheating. Any sensible and objective analysis demonstrates this clearly: it is only when emotions get in the way that any other conclusion is reached.

On this day in 2009... What's a guy to do? Buy more milk?

July 24th 2012
There are plenty of things that the USA does better than we do. Films, for example, or sandwiches. With the exception of those ones they make with a combination of peanut butter and 'jelly', which is madness. They're generally better at computer stuff (although it should be noted that the world wide web was invented by a Brit), their dentistry is superior by some distance and their road trips knock the socks off ours. Route 66 or M6: the choice is yours.
However, there are some areas where we get it right and they get it, indisputably, wrong. Their politics system is - even without a monarchy in the way - much more of a mess than ours is, their crosswords are feeble affairs, their healthcare system is in desperate need of the shake-up Obama's giving it, they play sports that no one else cares about and they still have the death penalty. This week saw the return to prominence of another area where the USA is lagging behind the UK by some distance: gun control.
The sad events in Aurora this week, in which 12 people were killed and many more injured by a gunman at a Batman film, don't really change the bigger picture in terms of gun laws. Although it's sparked some discussion over here, in America it - apparently - hasn't done much to reawaken a debate that has rumbled on for a very, very long time, and which doesn't show any signs of being resolved (at least, not in favour of the anti-gun lobby). Like a lot of things, the USA seems to be split more or less down party lines, with the majority of pro-gun folk being Republicans and the majority of anti-gun folk being Democrats (I acknowledge that that is a gross over-simplification, but it will have to suffice). Party loyalties run deep over there, so perhaps that's got something to do with it, but facts are facts and they make for stark reading: 51 people were killed by guns in the UK last year, compared to 31,347 in the USA. Given that the USA has slightly less than five times the population of the UK, that puts their gun death rate at over 123 times as high as ours. It should be noted that this figure includes accidents and suicides as well as homicides, but that's hardly a counter-argument: we should aim to reduce accidental deaths, obviously, and we should also aim to reduce suicides; and not just in an "Everlasting fixing His canon 'gainst self-slaughter" kind of way. The old argument that gun laws protect people because bad guys will always find a way to get a gun anyway is clearly bunk.
Speaking of bunk, the whole argument about second amendment rights is also a bit rum. Speaking as a chap from a country that doesn't have a written constitution, I've never really been on board with the idea that laws should be based on what a few people thought was a good idea a few hundred years ago: sure, Thomas Jefferson might have liked a gun or two, but that's no basis for a decision made today. Tony Blair didn't spend too much time worrying what Pitt the Younger might think about the smoking ban, and thank the light (as it were) he didn't.
The only reason I can think of that the USA shouldn't impose gun laws similar to those we have is that there are a hell of a lot of guns in their country already, and it would be tricky to get them legally signed for or handed in, meaning there'd be a very real possibility that only the most law-abiding folk would end up without guns. But with some decent policing and an amnesty or two, such as we had here in 2003, would go a long way to solving that problem.
Realistically it's not going to happen any time soon - if the good people of the USA get so cut up about having a half-decent healthcare system imposed, I can only imagine how they'd feel about half-decent gun laws. But eventually they'll come and join us in the 21st century... and, who knows, one day we might get dental care worth having.

On this day in 2006... Sadly, this is the view of forgiveness today; that somehow forgiveness condones the sin (naturally it does the opposite) and that loads of actions are 'unforgivable'.

what was I listening to?
Hot Fuss - The Killers
what was I reading?
Foundation - Isaac Asimov
what was I watching?
Young Adult
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