Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Shooting yourself in the foot with a starter's gun

The disqualification of Usain Bolt from the final of the Men's 100 metres at the World Championships over the weekend was notable as much for the self-inflicted wounds suffered by television as for the event itself.

The false start rule has been tinkered with aggressively over the last few years, getting steadily stricter in an effort to get sprinters away first time. This is partly about stopping sprinters deliberately false starting as a way of unsettling opponents, but it's also partly about the demands of television companies who, having paid to cover live sporting events, don't want those pesky events interfering with their schedules, and therefore want races to go off on time, first time.

So what we now have is automatic disqualification for the first false start offence. Now, quite obviously, no sprinter is deliberately going to false start now. Any false start is going to be a genuine mistake. No matter, though - the rule makers have had their say. So we had, in Daegu, the ludicrous position of the best known athlete in the world, Olympic champion, world record holder and massive favourite, and the reason people scramble for tickets for the 100 metres, not starting a race which went off late anyway because of one false start.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. If this has been done to satisfy TV companies, then they got what they deserved. As usual, the poor souls in the stadium, who'd paid good money to see the best athletes contest the final, did not. Even if you watched the race, can you name the winner without looking it up? If you can, you're better informed than I am. Media coverage of the race has, and will, focus exclusively on a man who didn't even run it, rather than the winner. Such is the sacrifice that the athletes, and spectators, must offer up to the great televisual gods.

Seb Coe, in a fashion entirely in keeping with the head in the sand, 'nothing wrong here' attitude of athletics governing bodies and nicely resonant of his response to the Olympic ticketing cock-up, has said he sees no reason to tinker with the rules for the Olympics next year. In which case, they'd better just hope that there are no false starts involving major names in any of the heats or semis of this competition, or we could end up with an Olympic 100 metres gold won in well over 10 seconds. Hardly blue-riband quality for the highest profile event anywhere in athletics. They really, really need to think about where their priorities lie.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Paralympics may suffer because of the Olympic ticketing farce

This is the last time I'll complain about the ticketing arrangements for the Olympics because I desperately want to write positive stuff about the Games on here in future. But this needs to be said.

Having, as you may have read, secured the grand total of one pair of tickets for an as yet undisclosed first round fixture in the handball, I'm now getting a string of e-mails from the Games organisers about various other stuff (travel, Olympic news etc).

The latest was the announcement of the ticket sales for the Paralympic Games, which almost immediately follow the Olympics. I haven't even bothered to read it. I'm not going to bother applying for tickets for the Paralympics. This is not because I have no interest in Paralympic sport - quite the opposite. It's because I've been so badly put off by the Olympic ticketing arrangements that I have absolutely no intention of repeating the experience.

Once bitten, twice shy, as they say. Given the total shambles which has preceded this, I wonder how many other potential spectators at the Paralympics will be deterred in similar fashion. I'm simply not prepared to apply for loads of tickets, get my hopes up, have money taken for I-don't-know-what, months in advance, only to then be disappointed again.

I still sincerely hope that the Paralympics are as well supported by spectators as the Olympics. Given the passion and love for sport in this country it certainly would be under normal circumstances, I'm sure. But the arrogant dismissal of any dissent about the way things have been handled may just stick in people's throats enough to screw things up, leaving empty seats at venues where athletes who deserve better are doing their thing.

This would be a great shame, but the fact is, the Paralympics could end up paying the price for the Olympic ticketing organisers' hubris, money-grabbing and deafness to legitimate complaints.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Hopefully Big Brother will be considerably smaller this time round

With depressing inevitability, and exactly as predicted on this very blog, Big Brother makes its reappearance tonight, this time within the tawdry confines of the Channel 5 schedule, with a 'celebrity' version launching this evening.

God help us. With a recent bout of societal self-examination following the rioting, I would have hoped that this is the very last sort of thing that people would get behind. My first ever entry on this blog, back in June 2010, bemoaned the cultural bankruptcy and vacuity of this vehicle, but predicted it would be picked up by one of the other channels when C4 were done with it. Channel 5's output is not exactly overflowing with high quality original content as it is, and this will do nothing to raise the bar generally. It seems they're quite happy to recycle Channel 4's rubbish for them.

I sincerely hope that, particularly in the light of the recent trouble, this will bomb completely and disappear from view once and for all. If it does, I know, of course, it will not be as a direct result of what's gone on in our cities lately. But I do believe that such trite celebrity bollocks is one very small reason among the myriad causes that sparked the trouble. Not Big Brother specifically, you understand, but the celebration and elevation of celebrity regardless of the talent or achievements of the people enjoying it, which in turn leads to a sense of entitlement to wealth and fame without any discernible reason for gaining it. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a negative reaction BB in the post-riot television landscape, and it will suffer from its own emptiness.

I'm not holding my breath, though - the fascination some people have for these Z-listers seems endless, and there is talk that Charlie Sheen will be one of the 'guests', which will doubtless draw in those who regard car-crash television and live personal breakdowns as entertainment, just in case he goes nuts. Frankly, I don't care if he starts sawing his housemates' heads off with a butter knife, though I suspect the producers would be secretly delighted if he did. I won't be breaking what's now a years-long habit and watching so much as a minute of it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London rioters should not be excused by anybody

Anybody who knows me will know that I'm of the pinko-liberal, bleeding heart lefty persuasion. Well in what follows, I make no apologies for sounding like a Daily Mail reader of the worst order.

I of course will not need to inform or remind anybody of the violence going on in cities all over England last night. What I'd like to react to is the bollocks being spouted by some people in reaction to it. Let's be very, very clear first of all. What started as a legitimate and peaceful protest, with a genuine reason for the gathering, in Tottenham has been followed by entirely deliberate, entirely ignoble and entirely inexcusable theft, violence and destruction from kids.

Not disaffected, disengaged, disenfranchised kids, though doubtless there were some with legitimate claim to any or all of those feelings among the number. But what passes for normal kids in large cities these days. Kids who think they're it. Kids who value 'respect', or their own bizarre version of it, and material stuff like the right trainers, the right iPod, the right phone, above pretty much anything else. Just kids - the generation we appear to be bringing up at the moment.

They simply enjoy smashing stuff up, and simply have no conscience or qualms about theft because they live in a society where it has been, for some time in schools for example, unacceptable to individualise punishment. They get away with misbehaving all the time, so why should the last few nights' escalation of that to outright crime be any different in their eyes?

Yet still people seek to excuse them. To pick just one example, Gavin Knight, writing on the Guardian website here, largely gets it spot on with regard to the nature of the 'gangs' that have allegedly perpetrated these acts, but his assertion at the end we are distancing ourselves from the problems of young people who 'desperately need a voice' is frankly laughable. We distance ourselves from them because we are nothing like them. I too am angry - angry at the fear I feel in my own city for the safety of my friends, angry at the destruction, but I don't react in such a manner. Nor do millions of other Londoners just like me, many of whom are fearful and suffering. I don't care if the mindless hoolie dickhead who robbed the injured kid as he was helped to his feet (I'm sure you've seen the footage) has a voice or not - I don't want to fucking hear what fuckwits like him have to say. All he'd do if we listened to him, assuming he could string a fucking sentence together, is seek to excuse himself. Seek to make it somebody else's fault in the way typical of the solipsist arrogance which affects so many of his peers.

If these kids are so deprived, how is it they all have access to Twitter, access to the Blackberry devices by which this mayhem was spread? Did the only gangsta with a mobile go knocking on the door of all the poor kids in the estates to get them together? And what? They all quickly welded pushbikes together like the fucking A-Team in a lock-up, to better expedite their 'insurrection'? I don't bloody think so. Many of them already have the material trappings that are seen as valuable now, but it's not enough. They want more, and they also see a chance to smash some shit up while they get it.

So, on this occasion, I'll hear none of the apologist bollocks. These kids must be made to realise that there are consequences, that there is punishment, for this sort of shit, or it'll go on and on and on.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

What happened to the old journalistic habits?

A story which doubtless plenty of people found amusing in the last couple of days I instead found pretty bloody irritating. Picked up by pretty much everybody, including major and respected news organisations like the Beeb, the Telegraph and others, it was the suggestion that users of Internet Explorer have been shown to have a lower IQ than those of Google Chrome, Firefox etc.

Not a greatly vital story, nor one that too many people will take seriously, but it wasn't that I had a problem with. As I said, pretty much everybody picked this up and printed it, with the research coming from a company called AptiQuant, who claimed to have studied almost 100,000 people to glean the results. It seems it was readers of the item who noticed that this company had only seemed to exist for around a month and used photos of employees of another company entirely. It was clearly a hoax, which pretty much all the media outlets had swallowed.

"Nobody at AptiQuant was available to comment," was a resigned line I read on one of the sites who'd originally run the piece. No, no they weren't, were they? Of course, if anybody had thought to try to elicit a comment, or even check the validity of the tale, with this company before they just ran the thing, they may have rumbled it for what it was and actually been the only one to do so. Instead, in the rush, as usual, for instant news, everybody just pumped it out. An old fashioned journalistic habit of checking the facts before publication could have made a major difference, but those habits seem to have been ditched and the recycling of PR releases and spoon-fed, bite-sized 'news' has taken their place. What an indictment of the modern news media that is.

I've heard it all now

I'm used to smokers' denials of health problems being related to their habit but what I heard today marked a new standard in self delusion, albeit I assume done jokingly. A workmate was grumbling about pain in his wrist. Arthritis, he said. In weather such as today's, humid and wet, it was particularly troubling.

Now I pretty much automatically link any health issue (coughing, shortness of breath, severed head etc) to smoking, just to wind up my colleagues, but the link between smoking and arthritis is genuinely pretty well established. This page, for example, lists a number of studies and evidence. So naturally I said his smoking was exacerbating, and could have even caused, his problem.

Not so, though. My colleague is clearly some kind of arthrological authority, and knew exactly what had caused his condition. Too much table football during his youth. Yep, too much table football. Clearly a far stronger candidate than smoking. What do those doctors know, eh?