A (Not Very) Brief History of 2013, Before Everyone Else Attempts One…

After the dizzy heights of national pride experienced in 2012, you would be forgiven for thinking that 2013 would be a bit of a let down. Like a hangover, if you will. If we’re honest, things didn’t start too well as it was discovered that Iceland had been feeding us horse instead of beef in their lasagne dishes and the like. Easy mistake to make, obviously, both cows and horses have four legs, and are relatively large, so why not? By that logic, don’t be surprised if you see a Rhino Moussaka pop up as a ready meal some time soon…

The state of affairs didn’t improve when the goings on of some of Britain’s most famous TV faces from the 1970s were found to have involved a large quantity of utterly deplorable child sex offences. I’m sure the world has heard enough of Jimmy Savile’s name over the course of this year, but nothing ruins a reputation more than being a serial sex offender. It’s all well and good when you’re dead, it’s almost like you think you got away with it… but the world will always know now.

While I’m on the subject of certain dodgy individuals in positions of power, the Catholic Church was forced into choosing a new Pope after the bizarre resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February. Unless I misread somewhere, the job of the Pope is held until you’re dead. A bit like paying taxes or sitting in front of the television waiting for a weather report to be wrong, just so you can write in and complain. (If there’s anyone out there that actually does that, PLEASE don’t bother…)

It seemed that the only good news in Britain came from sport. The British and Irish Lions rugby team actually beat Australia over the course of three matches, and a (currently) British man ACTUALLY won Wimbledon. Even the English cricket team won the Ashes, but then lost it again. We can gloss over that for now…

In other news, a baby that is more powerful than any single one of us (despite the fact that he is barely six months old as I write) was born. It’s not as if you couldn’t have heard about little baby George, because his name was all over the place. The media took it upon themselves to speculate about every last detail, and the sheer boredom that can come with six hours of broadcasting with no real news took its toll on journalists, as well as anyone that would’ve bothered to have sat through the running commentary of poor old Kate’s labour. To any women reading this, imagine if you were going through childbirth and there were copious amounts of cameras outside the hospital trying to predict what was happening at every given moment. Madness.

In the rest of the world, Robert Mugabe “won” the Zimbabwean election, while Kim Jong-Un got his uncle executed in an attempt to prove his worth on the world stage. Vladimir Putin was caught on camera topless for no apparent reason yet again, Barack Obama has been pretty quiet, and Boris Johnson continues to live in his own little world. As per usual, then. 

Somehow, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) made such strong gains in local elections this year that they were the third largest political party existing at that point. Until they were uncovered as racists, sexists, homophobes etc… but they still remain more popular than Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. Which isn’t all that hard, but still.

In other news, Miley Cyrus thought it would be a good idea to use a foam finger in the complete wrong way and appear naked in a music video in order to get attention. A song raising an important issue in nature became very popular, making people think about what a fox might say. To this day, no one knows. A woman threw eggs at Simon Cowell and the X Factor song got to Christmas Number 1. Shock, horror etc…

One of the greatest figures in world history to have ever lived died in December as well. Even the great Nelson Mandela couldn’t have everything his own way at his own memorial service when a fake sign language interpreter managed to get through every bit of security going to pretend to know how to sign.

In short, then, 2013 hasn’t been all that great for the world. But the one solace that we can take from this is that Justin Bieber has said he’s retiring. If that isn’t something to be joyous about, I don’t know what is. Happy 2014, everyone.

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What will it take to open the eyes of the world to this madness?

The killing of 12 civilians, and the injuring of around 60 others in a movie theatre watching the new Batman film in Colorado today have reignited the long-running debate as to whether civilians in America are able to purchase guns legally. The so-called “Twitterverse” has erupted with celebrities in support of the ideology of a larger scale of gun control in the United States. Said celebs include Piers Morgan in particular, who has remained typically outspoken on the matter: “More Americans will buy guns after this, to defend themselves, and so the dangerous spiral descends. When/how does it stop?” A fair point, if ever there was one.

As I write, even as a Brit I think I speak for many of us in our tiny island nation when we would like to extend our wholehearted condolences to those injured, and to the families of those that have sadly passed as a result of an act of pure lunacy and blunt insanity. The killer, James Holmes, had dyed his hair red and told local police that he was “The Joker”, an everpresent Batman villain. He first entered the cinema and started shooting at random bystanders, before he managed to break in to the theatre that Batman: The Dark Knight Rises was being shown and opened fire, managing to hit 71 people in total, 12 of which dying as a result of their wounds. Holmes was swiftly arrested at the scene. At the time, he was armed with a rifle, a shotgun and two pistols, all four of which he bought LEGALLY in the months prior to the attack.

It says in the American Bill of Rights that “Every American shall have the right to bear Arms”. In truth, the simple fact that the right for any civilian to own a gun being knitted into the fabric of national law is immediately going to cause a problem in that some will see (rather delusionally) that owning a weapon is a basic human right because their ancestors said they could have one.

I just want to say now that Holmes himself was clearly mentally deranged in his thought processes and his use of the weapons at his disposal were barbaric and is a once-in-blue-moon occurrence. But the fact of the matter is that the laws in individual States vary, and some are more lenient towards weaponry than others. Colorado state law states that there is no limit to the number of guns you can purchase, as well as the sale of automatic weapons being permitted. Citizens can keep unlimited numbers of guns at their homes, in their offices and in their vehicles, but have to have a permit to have guns in public. Because apparently that makes all the difference.

This may just be my British-ness talking, but I truly don’t understand the necessity for State Law in the US. Surely if there were “blanket” laws that covered the whole nation, like in most countries, there would be a much better understanding of what’s right and wrong across the whole nation. I understand, however, that the severe far-right and/or far-left nature of some states may make Congress completely counter-productive and would mean that laws would constantly be changing with whoever was in the White House. But please, for the sake of the World, America, just use your common sense before something so sickening happens again.

All the while Barack and David are watching basketball, there is still a country to clean up!

Presidents of old have described Britain and the USA to share a “Special Relationship”, a relationship built on trust between two former economic powers of the world to better the welfare of those in the world. But I’m not quite sure that they meant the sort of relationship that involved having a barbecue in the back garden of 10 Downing Street; or President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron indulging their appetite for watching sports as the “pals” that they evidently are.

In terms of Diplomacy, this is all very well and good seeing two countries’ premiers getting along so well, but there is a kind of ignorance that only politicians could share in that they are completely oblivious to what’s going on in Afghanistan at this point. American and British Service Personnel are putting their lives on the line day in, day out to support the supposed greater good of trying to create a world without the threat of the Taliban and other paramilitary organisations. Meanwhile, the people charged with the clean-up job that Bush and Blair left behind are simply ignoring the job at hand to create a PR Stunt that will appease the electorate for about a week.

While I realise that the main reason for Mr Cameron’s visit to the USA is to set a potential “end-game” that would mean troops would be brought back from Afghanistan much earlier than planned, ergo control being handed over to Afghan forces earlier than planned; put very simply: If you’re there for a job, just get on with it. It is perfectly acceptable for businessmen who are trying to forge trade links with another company to want to soak up a bit of culture. But if you’re trying to save lives, and improve quality of life for millions, there’s no time to waste. If you were in your second home claimed on expenses and something had caught on fire, you wouldn’t suddenly decide to go birdwatching! You’d put the fire out. Take mind, Parliament.

So far, there have been around 2,769 coalition deaths (1,783 of which American, 404 British) with multiples of that number wounded in action, it’s bad enough seeing news that ONE person has been killed in action, let alone that many. The importance of the decision that will be forwarded by Obama and Cameron will be one of the defining moments of the campaign in Afghanistan, so there needs to be as much careful consideration as possible on the matter. It sounds cheesy but the future of Afghanistan really may depend on it.

I acknowledge that talks are now (rather belatedly) taking place, but I have this to say to you two: Next time you exchange pointless pleasantries with each other, think about the extortionate costs accumulating in war that you could be placing into healthcare or schooling. Think about the poor souls that have to endure day after day fighting for their respective country. They don’t know whether each day will be their last, they may trip an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), they may get attacked by snipers, or ambushed in the street. That’s why they are heroes to so many. But most of all, think of all the civilians that have to live their day-to-day lives in fear of radical terrorists. It’s another world out there, gentlemen, and it’s up to you and your respective Political Parties to sort it out. So get your heads out of your behinds, don’t think about the press, don’t think about whether you’ll get re-elected, just use your well-educated minds to achieve something meaningful before any more sh*t happens out there.

 

London 2012: Help or Hindrance?

Back in 2005, Lord Coe and co. were given the opportunity to host the Athletic Extravaganza that is the Olympics. Now that the big curtain-raiser on July 27th is within reach and billions of public pounds have been sunk into the project, I’m going to take a look at how the games may have helped the country already and how the legacy they leave might impact on the UK in years to come.

Sebastian Coe himself has already outlined the importance on making London the “Green Games”, in an attempt to try and make the 2012 Olympics the most environmentally friendly in the history of the games since the modern era began in 1896. So the fact that many venues that already exist are being used to their potential in London, for example Wembley Stadium, the O2 Arena, the Wimbledon All England Club and Earls Court is a good start towards that, saving the inevitable costs that would have arisen from the building of bespoke arenas for certain events.

The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) have had a whole seven years to prepare for the arrival of 10,000s of athletes, backroom staff, volunteers and millions of lucky ticket holders over the course of the 17-day event. This as well as thousands upon thousands of journalists and the world’s separate television coverages. So the legendary London Public Transport system is going to be tested to its full, but the clever people at LOCOG have already got this covered. Over the duration of the games, there are going to be specialised shuttle trains, named “Javelins” running continuously and frequently to and from the Olympic Park. There’s also going to be a special bus service and individual “Olympic Bus Lanes” across the city to ensure efficiency across the city. So in this gargantuan logistical task, it seems that many bases have been covered.

Now for the main attraction of the games itself: The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford. Including an 80,000 seat (temporary) Olympic Stadium with 55,000 seats being removed after the games, and is the centre of a hotly contested bidding war among London based football clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United to be used as their new home. Among others, there is also a 17,500 capacity Aquatics Centre for many of the watersports like Swimming, Diving, Synchronised Swimming etc. Also, there’s the recently tested Velodrome (used for the Track Cycling World Championships 2012).

The big bone of contention over the running of the games so far can be summed up into one word: tickets. The system used by LOCOG has been widely criticised as almost 70% of people that applied for tickets in the first round of balloting weren’t lucky enough to get any. This furore was intensified when it emerged that the standard “first come, first served” ticketing method was being employed across the world for tickets, so tickets for events were immediately accessible rather than in a month-long balloting period and a non-biased automated ballot system. This was a system that inevitably led to some being allocated tickets for more than one event and the majority being left with none.

The fact that the Olympics has been paid for with mostly public funds (with around £1billion extra coming from the private sector through advertising, supplying etc) in these times of austerity has also put an interesting twist on whether the government, along with LOCOG, can spend taxpayers’ money efficiently and not spending more than a penny over budget. The situation is seemingly so rosy, that the Coalition Government actually cut the budget by £27million as part of their action on reducing the deficit. Speaking of the government, enter lovably mad Mayor of London Boris Johnson. His endorsement of the games would be frankly admirable, if anyone could understand what on earth the man was talking about. But the advertisement across the world of the games in London has given it a lot of hype, and the question would be if the games can deliver. The Government Minister for Sport and the Olympics Hugh Robertson has even suggested the games can turn a profit through the revenue that the games will bring (ticket sales, merchandise, refreshments, memorabilia etc.) which in everyone’s mind, can only be a good thing.

Doubts have been expressed with the Olympic Park in Stratford destroying animal habitats and the demolition of homes and the relocation of families living in the area, all for the sake of the games. The BBC have even rented an apartment building directly adjacent to the Olympic Park to present their coverage from, forcing all the tenants in that building to move for the duration of the games, thus infuriating the locals.

The eyes of the world will be watching The Opening Ceremony on July 27th, be it for the thrill of the Danny Boyle-directed show orto see if the usual Olympic terror plot rumours actually exist, and with an estimated global audience of 1 billion people, it would be easy to forget those few poor souls that have to move their lives around for the sake of sport. The situation should have been handled much better, with at least alternative accommodation being available rather than leaving tenants in the cold.

While having to move is a complete hindrance to those that have to, the Olympics can be seen as a chance to help build a better image of the UK in the international community. Putting it lightly, other countries don’t exactly like us very much. First, Sarkozy and Merkel don’t exactly want our help in trying to sort out the Eurozone and then we nearly always get “nul points” at Eurovision every year! So aside from the terrible organisation with the tickets and the poor souls that have to make their lives make way for the games, as a country we should try and get behind the XXX Olympiad, because it’s OUR Olympics to do with what we will. Thousands of people are volunteering their time and effort and it’s only fair that we do our bit to try and make it as successful as possible.