London 2012 Olympics Preview

The Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London

The week that London was announced as the hosts of the 30th Olympics, back in July of 2005, was without doubt the strangest of my eight years living in the city.  It started with a huge concert in support of a political movement, reached a height when London won the bid to host these Games, then ended in tragedy and senseless destruction.  Here is the time line of events from that week:

Saturday, July 2nd – Live8 Concert in Hyde Park

As part of the “Make Poverty History” movement, there was a series of concerts held across the world to encourage the leaders of the G8 countries to work towards fairer trade practices, forgive the debt of the poorest nations, and provide more and better aid.  At Hyde Park in London – a concert I was fortunate enough to attend as my sister won tickets in the text lottery – artists such as U2, Paul McCartney, The Who, Coldplay, Madonna, Elton John and, for the first time in 24 years, the four original members of Pink Floyd, all performed in a show that lasted for more than ten hours.

Sunday, July 3rd – The British 10K Run in Central London

Less than twelve hours after it had hosted a huge concert, the middle of London then shut down between Trafalgar Square and Tower Bridge to host one of the largest road races run in the UK each year.  Side note – it is hard to run 10km after standing at a concert for a long time the day before, with little water or nutrition readily available.

Wednesday, July 6th – London Wins Olympic Bids

Trafalgar Square was once again the focal point of the capital, as people gathered to watch the International Olympic Committee announce its decision for the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics.  Beating off strong competition from New York and Paris, London was selected to host the games for the first time since 1948.

Thursday, July 7th – The London Bombings

Four British terrorists carried out a series of orchestrated attacks against the London transportation network on the morning of 7/7.  Three home-made bombs were detonated their homemade weapons on Underground trains, while the fourth explosion was on the top of a bus in Tavistock Square.  In all, 52 people were killed – plus the four suicide bombers – and more than 700 people were injured.

Seven years later, many are still living with that tragedy and nothing has gotten better for the poorest nations on earth, but London has been preparing and rebuilt the East End ready for these Olympics.  The next two weeks are all about celebrating sport, as well as the history and multiculturalism or London and Great Britain.  Brand new stadia and infrastructure have been constructed around Stratford, existing venues have been transformed to host events, and football grounds across the country are being utilised for the men’s and women’s tournaments that are already under way.

When a host nation enjoys success at a major sporting event – be it the Olympics or the World Cup – it increases the enthusiasm of the locals and adds to the narrative of the games.  In 2008, Great Britain secured 19 golds; 13 silver and 15 bronze medals – the second biggest haul they had ever enjoyed and the most in a century.  Eight of the golds were gained in cycling, four in sailing and two apiece in swimming and rowing.  This time, there is a hope for even more success, particularly in track and field where the 2008 Games saw Team GB on the podium on just four occasions.

Here is a breakdown of the sports that are to be contested at the 2012 Olympics and what prospects there are for the host nations to win medals in each of them.

Athletics

Men: The men’s 100m final is considered the biggest ticket of the whole Olympics and the big question is whether the Jamaican, UsainBolt – World Record holder and reigning Olympic Champion – can overcome troublesome hamstrings to retain his title.  Bolt’s

The incredible Mo Farah

main challenge in both the 100m and 200m will come from his compatriot, Yohan Blake, while US hopes of a sprinting gold lie with LaShawn Merritt in the 400m.  The Kenyans are likely to continue their domination of the middle distance events – in particular the 3000m steeplechase, in which they may take a clean sweep of the medals through Kipruto, Mutai and Kemboi.  The 5,000m and 10,000m promise the most excitement, with Britain’s Mo Farah expected to finish in the top 2 in both races and is favourite for gold over the longer distance.  Puerto Rico will be hoping for their first ever Olympic gold – and first of any colour since 1996 – through Javier Coulson in the 400m hurdles; Russian athletes Valeriy Borchin and Sergey Bakulin are the men to beat in the 20km and 50km walks respectively; Britain has medal hopes in the long jump (Greg Rutherford) and triple jump (Phillip Idowu – if he overcomes injury); and American, Ashton Eaton, will be looking to repeat his World Record Decathlon performance from the US trials.  In the relays, Jamaica has a strong advantage in the 4x100m – with Bolt and Blake on their team – while the USA will aim for gold in the 4x400m.

Women: Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown (both of whom’s names sound like law-firms) should contend in both the 100m and 200m, while the USA’s Carmelita Jeter (in the 100m) and Allyson Felix (200m) will be the main challengers to break up the Caribbean nation’s dominance in the sprinting events.  Over 400m, Amantle Montsho has a chance to win Botswana’s first Olympic medal, but Sanya Richards-Ross is favourite to win the gold for America.  For the middle and long distance events, African athletes are expected to win most of the medals, though Hannah England could pick up a bronze at least for Great Britain in the 1500m.  Mary Keitany and Edna Kiplagat will both be competing to gain Kenya’s first women’s marathon gold, though Paula Radcliffe can not be ruled out from overcoming injury – and the memory of failures in 2004 and 2008 – to finally win an Olympic medal to go with all of her other successes over 26.2 miles.  The relays mirror the men’s – Jamaica being the team to beat in the 4x100m, USA in the 4x400m – while Britain’s Jessica Ennis will be going for gold in the heptathlon. Continue reading

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It’s Time to Talk About the Second Amendment

The cinema in Aurora, Colorado, where the latest deadly shooting spree in the US took place.

After the tragedy in Denver on Thursday night, when a lone gunman – James Holmes – took the lives of 12 people in a movie theatre and injured a further 59, there will be many on the right who will claim that pushing the issue of gun control back onto the agenda would be politicizing this terrible event.  But how many more massacres do there need to be, how many more people killed senselessly, before America’s obsession with guns is addressed?

An attempt to list all of the mass shootings that have occurred in recent history in the United States would take too long – there have been two other such events within 60 miles of this latest tragedy: at Columbine High School in 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 of their fellow students and injured a further 21; and in 2007, Matthew Murray shot dead 4 people at a Youth With A Mission center in Arvada, and at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs.  The events at Columbine, the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007 – when Seung-Hui Cho murdered 32 of his fellow students – and the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona – which saw 6 people die and a further 13 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords –  are the ones that stand out, but the problem is more widespread than these sprees.  In 2009, the Center for Disease Control (CDC – who compile such statistics) reported that there were 11,493 homicides by firearm.  That same year in the United Kingdom – where gun ownership laws are a lot stricter and weapons are less readily available – the number of such fatalities was 42.  Only one British Prime Minister (a post that has existed since 1721) has been assassinated, Spencer Perceval in 1812, who was shot with a pistol.  In comparison, 4 of the 43 men who have held the office of President have been killed by a gunman – Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy.

So why does the United States have this love of guns – and why is there no longer any real debate over controlling people’s access to firearms?  The National Rife Association and other proponents of the right to bear arms insist that if more people own guns, then there is less crime as potential attackers and robbers know that their would-be victims were armed.  Yet countless studies show that this is simply not true. The solution to this epidemic of gun violence is not more guns.  However, opponents of the proliferation of firearms come up against a huge stumbling block – the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

That pretty much ends any arguments for gun control, right?  I mean, the Founding Fathers put it right there in the Constitution and thus would want everyone to have access to semi-automatic weapons, doubtlessly without such an inconvenience as having a five-day waiting period as well.  Perhaps, but in the historical context in which this amendment was added to the Bill of Rights, the reason they had for securing the people’s right to bear arms is not in line with a view of widespread gun ownership in modern America.  Consider the third amendment – never mentioned with the same regularity as the second, nor are people able to quote it quite so readily:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner prescribed by law.

If scholars were writing a Constitution for the United States today, would this even be considered worth codifying?  At the time, it was a big problem for the colonies, who had quartering enforced on them by the British, and they wanted to prevent their own government being able to take the same action as the tyrannical European monarchs.  The Sixth Amendment enshrined into law that criminal prosecutions should take place in the State and district in which the crime was committed – a response to Britain’s assertion that any proceedings against their own soldiers should take place back on their own soil, despite the men involved in the Boston Massacre of 1770 having received a fair trial and been acquitted by a jury of Massachusetts men.

In the same way, the Second Amendment, when taken in historical context, does not translate to the modern-day interpretation of gun ownership.  Standing armies had been used by Britain, France and other European monarchies as a way of controlling colonies for centuries, thus people had a strong mistrust of them. Because of this, the Founding Fathers believed it was necessary for the States to be able to defend themselves and, as they were not able to provide arms to their citizens to create such militia, it was necessary to allow the people themselves the right to own guns.  This was the purpose of the Second Amendment and nowadays, with the National Guard having replaced such militias in all of the States – and those volunteers receive their firearms from the government – that need has been vanquished.

The NRA and Fox News claim that President Obama wants to outlaw gun ownership, but this administration has done nothing to suggest such motives.  What those outlets will not tell you is that widespread gun ownership is now a tool of oppression, rather a means of preventing such tyranny. Those who are already vulnerable – to poverty, abuse, or mental health issues – have increased risks because of the proliferation of guns.  The number one cause of death of black teens is homicide by firearm.  Two-thirds of women who suffer domestic violence in homes in which there are firearms, are threatened with those weapons.  If an abuser has access to a gun, the risk of homicide increases 8 fold.  Homes in which a firearm is present have an increased incidence of suicide attempts and those who try to kill themselves with a gun have a 90% success rate. (Source: http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/gunviolence )

In a commercial for Denny’s – the fast-food restaurant – that is currently running, there is a debate about what makes America great.  One of the diners suggests it is the “right to bear arms” – but this could not be more mis-timed, nor misguided.  What does make the USA great is its ability to correct mistakes and recognize when the Constitution needs to be amended.  This has happened before – counting African-Americans as a whole person and giving them the right to vote; women finally being enfranchised; the error of prohibition reversed.

People should be able to go to a movie theatre without risking their lives, or attend a town hall meeting, or go to their school.  For too long, fans of guns have hidden behind the Second Amendment – but the Constitution also originally only counted African-Americans as three-fifths of a person.  It is a living document that has been amended twenty-seven times – including the introduction and abolition of prohibition.  It is time for the historical context and consequences of the Second Amendment to be re-examined and debated, the cost of not doing so will continue to be senseless deaths.

This week in: Television – Breaking Bad Returns

King Walt of ABQ

The wait between seasons might not have been as long as the one fans of Mad Men were forced to endure, but it has been a long nine months since Breaking Bad was last on our screens. For those unfamiliar with the show, it is the story of the transformation of a high school chemistry teacher into a meth cook – creator Vince Gilligan pitched it as taking Mr. Chips and turning him into Scarface. The series has reached the beginning of its final season; 8 episodes of which will be shown this summer, with the remaining half to air in 2013. If you have not watched the show or are not up to date with it, do not read on as there will be spoilers up to the end of season four – but go and catch up! Breaking Bad is the best show that is still on television and second only to The Wire in terms of all time greats. Great acting, fantastic writing, beautiful cinematography (helped by the stunning New Mexico landscape) and a willingness from Gilligan to be unyielding in the destructive path the show’s protagonist takes, all create a mesmerising series that has to be watched.

Continue reading

2012 Presidential Election – How the Map is Looking

With just under four months until the Presidential election on November 6th, the race for the White House is starting to heat up. President Obama’s campaign for a second term received a boost last month when the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of his healthcare reform bill that was the signature piece of legislation from his first two years in office. However, with Governor Romney promising to repeal that law on his first day as President, opponents of “Obamacare” may be more motivated to get out and vote to prevent this government takeover of healthcare.*

*It is not really a government takeover of healthcare…unfortunately.

While plenty can happen between now and election day to reshape the race, the likelihood is that the identity of the man being sworn in as President on January 20th, 2013 will be decided by a few key swing states. Here is my first (of probably several) breakdowns of how the Electoral College map is shaping up and which states could end up playing the crucial role that landed on Ohio in 2004 and, infamously, on Florida in 2000.

States Listed with number of Electoral College Votes afterwards – candidates need 270 to win.

Virtually Safe Romney States:

West Virginia (5); Alabama (9); Mississippi (6); Arkansas (6); Louisiana (8); Oklahoma (7); Utah (6); Wyoming (3); Idaho (4); Texas (38); Georgia (16); North Dakota (3); Kentucky (8); Nebraska (5**); Arizona (11); Alaska (3).

Although you can never be sure how an election will play out until all the votes are cast – and hopefully all of them counted too – these states are very unlikely to go to President Obama in this election. If he were to win these 16 states in November, Governor Romney would gain 138 Electoral College Votes, leaving him needing a further 132 to win the Presidency.

** Nebraska can split its ECVs using the Congressional District Method and one vote did go to President Obama in 2008. Nevertheless, that was the only time a vote had been split in either Nebraska or Maine – which is the only other state that uses this method – and the chances are that Romney will win all five Electoral College Votes from Nebraska.

Virtually Safe Obama States:

California (55); New York (29); Vermont (3); Rhode Island (4); Massachusetts (11); Delaware (3); Maryland (10); Washington (12); Minnesota (10); District of Columbia (3); Connecticut (7); Maine (4); Hawaii (4); New Mexico (5); New Jersey (14);

President Obama currently enjoys a double-digit lead in all of these states and, if he were to win all 14 of them, plus the District of Columbia, then he would stand at 174 Electoral College Votes.

Leaning Romney:

Montana (3); South Dakota (3); Kansas (6); Indiana (11); Tennessee (11); Missouri (10).

Romney has a 9 point lead in the latest polls in Montana and South Dakota; 7 in Tennessee and Missouri; and is 6 ahead in both Indiana and South Dakota. If we add these 6 states and 44 Electoral College Votes to the Republican candidate’s total, he would have 182 ECVs and would require 88 more from swing states to be elected president. Of the 20 states that are either leaning towards, or considered safe for, Romney, only Indiana voted for President Obama in 2008 – and that was the first time it had gone to a Democrat since 1964 when President Johnson garnered their (then) 13 electoral college votes.

Leaning Obama:

Pennsylvania (20); Illinois (20); Nevada (6); Oregon (7); Wisconsin (10);

With these five states, President Obama would gain another 63 Electoral College Votes, putting his total at 237 and reducing the success he would require in the battleground states. He won in all of these places in 2008 and is currently polling six points ahead of Romney in Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania; 7 in Illinois; and 8 in Oregon.

Battleground States

If all of the above states go the way the polling is suggesting they will, that leaves 9 in which neither candidate currently has a lead of over 5%, or which have historically fluctuated between electing Democrats and Republicans (like Ohio). This is the breakdown of where the election will be won and lost – and destinations in which you are most likely to encounter the campaigns of both the President and Mitt Romney in the next four months.

Colorado (9) – Current Poll – Obama +4%

Iowa (6) – Obama +1%

Michigan (16) – Obama +4%

Ohio (18) – Obama +9%

Florida (29) – Obama +4%

Virginia (13) – Romney + 5%

North Carolina (15) – Romney +5%

South Carolina (9) – Obama +3%

New Hampshire (4) – Even

So if the election were held today – and the polls were accurate in reflecting how voters cast their ballot in each states, then the President would obtain another 87 Electoral College Votes – against Romney’s 32 (generously giving him New Hampshire, which is currently tied) – making the final tally: Obama 324; Romney 214

What Romney Needs for Victory

Governor Romney’s most likely path to success appears to be winning all of the states that he is currently leading in and also taking: South Carolina (which has not voted for a Democrat since President Carter in 1976); Ohio and Florida. These three combined, plus Romney coming out on top in New Hampshire, would put him right on the mark of 270 Electoral College Votes, leaving him no margin for error. Unless he can overturn the deficits in Wisconsin – a state in which the Republicans won the recall of Governor Walker this year – or Michigan, Governor Romney’s path to the Presidency appears to be very narrow.

What President Obama needs for Victory

If polling data accurately reflects voter action, then the current position favours a second term for President Obama. However, two consecutive months of disappointing job growth numbers has put the economy at the forefront of the campaign once again and no President since FDR has won re-election when the national unemployment figure has been above 7.2% – the current figure is 8.2%. The situation is not completely in the President’s hands: he is unable to pass legislation through Congress because of an obstructive, GOP led House of Representatives; and the problems in the Eurozone could hinder the recovery on this side of the Atlantic.

Who is going to win?

Right now the biggest issue for both candidates might be motivating people to get out and vote. President Obama ran a positive campaign in 2008 that fired up young people – a group notoriously apathetic about politics – and encouraged them to get to the polling booth. During his first term, many have become disenchanted with the reality of Obama’s Presidency and its inability to deliver the promises that had been made. While the economy and congressional obstructionism has been a large part of the problem for this administration, it remains to be seen if people will still have the audacity to hope that President Obama will be able to do more in his second term.

On the other side, the Republicans tried as hard as they could to find anyone other than Mitt Romney to be their candidate: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum all were front-runners at one point – and that list does not include others who were encouraged to run for the GOP ticket – notably Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The main reason people will turn out to vote for Mitt Romney in November is to try to remove President Obama from office, rather than a desire to see the former Governor of Massachusetts win the White House. In 2004, John Kerry had a similar standing in his race with former President Bush – that time, “not being the other guy” was not enough to unseat the incumbent, whether it will this year will be discovered on November 6th.

Euro 2012 – Spain Champions and Predictions Competition Results

Spain became the first nation to win three consecutive major international tournaments by beating Italy 4-0 in Ukraine today, adding the 2012 European Championship trophy to their 2010 World Cup and 2008 Euros triumphs.  Unfortunately – for neutral spectators at least – their success was built on a brand of football that was less than entertaining to watch.  Barcelona and Spain have risen to the top of the club and international game over the last five years by dominating possession and breaking down their opponents with incisive passing.  In this tournament, Spain controlled the ball for the majority of all of their matches, but did not pair that with a cutting edge up front.  Part of the problem was the absence of their all time record goalscorer, David Villa, who missed out due to a long-term injury sustained at the World Club Championship last December, but Vicente del Bosque still had other strikers at his disposal, but chose to play without any at all for more than half of Spain’s games.

Only in their demolitions of Ireland, in the group stage, and Italy, in the final, were Spain’s performances anywhere near entertaining, but for the Spanish fans who spent so many years seeing their county underperform in major championships, the style with which the trophy is won will not be of too much concern. By the World Cup in 2014, it will be 8 years since Spain have conceded a goal in a knock-out match – their 3-1 loss to France in the Second Round in Germany – and in this year’s Euros they conceded just once, despite playing Sergio Ramos out of position in the centre of defence.  This strength at the back has been the basis for their success, even though the plaudits tend to go to attacking players like Xavi and Iniesta.

While Spain winning a tournament in which they have not played entertaining football is, in a microcosm, not too much to worry about, it reflects a concerning trend in the modern game.  Too many games at this championship – and all season long – were wars of attrition: one side dominating possession and trying to find a breakthrough; with the opposition holding two deep lines around their own penalty areas to spoil any attacks that are thrown their way.  Spain’s success as the team controlling the ball couples with Chelsea’s victory in the Champions League to encourage more sides to play either one way or the other in the future.

As as a whole, Euro 2012 was not one of the better tournaments I have watched and only a handful of games were particularly entertaining: Russia vs Czech Republic; England vs Sweden; Denmark vs Portugal (all group stages); Germany’s 4-2 thrashing of Greece in the quarter-finals; and the 2-1 semi-final win for Italy over Germany.  That’s only 5 matches out of 31, hardly a good average for a championship that is often considered to be of a higher overall standard than the World Cup, because of the smaller number of teams.  This was the final chance for that theory to be proven too – 24 teams will contest Euro 2016 in an expanded tournament to be played in France.

Predictions Competition

Heading into the final, my wife had built up an almost unassailable lead at the top of the table, as she predicted all of the quarter-final and semi-final winners.  However, it was only an almost unassailable lead and Spain’s success over Italy meant she was pipped at the post by Will Godfrey of Brooklyn, NY, who won by 5 points (his entry is listed below the table).  Thanks to everyone for playing and look out for a Premiership Prediction Competition coming before the start of the new season.

 

Name Entry Name POINTS
Will Godfrey PIIGS Ear 175
Pamela McVeagh-Lally Imogen’s picks 170
Gregory Wedner Podemos 159
Laurence Weinstein Larry’s Legends 157
Iain Bagnall Mrs. Coletate’s Comics 151

 

Winning entry
Name: Will Godfrey
City/Country: Brooklyn, NY, US
Entry Name:  PIIGS Ear

Group A Winner: Russia
Group A Runner up: Poland
Group B Winner: Netherlands 
Group B Runner up: Germany 5 pts
Group C Winner: Spain 8 pts
Group C Runner up: Italy 8pts
Group D Winner: France 5 pts
Group D Runner up: England 5 pts
QF 1 Winner: Germany 16pts
QF 2 Winner: Netherlands
QF 3 Winner: Spain 16 pts
QF 4 Winner: Italy 16 pts
SF 1 Winner: Spain 32 pts
SF 2 Winner: Netherlands
Euro 2012 Winner: Spain 64 pts
Total Points = 175