Ron has his say on sport and American politics
I have always been a keen supporter of the idea of school sports and amateur sports and athletics, but I have never been a really enthusiastic spectator of professional sports and have never been able to understand the fanatical support given to football teams or any other professional sports teams. The emotional involvement that leads to tears, tantrums and even violence is beyond my comprehension. The justification for an individual to take pride in the performance of his club on the football field is difficult to find when his contribution has been no more than to stand (or sit) and watch. This is especially true when the team has been bought and may well include members bought from other clubs or bought from other countries. Needless to say I am appalled at the money paid to football stars, many of whom are far from ideal role models, but I have to accept that this money is drawn from the many millions who do not feel as I do and have the enthusiasm that I lack.
I also have deep reservations about the sporting spectacle that has been presented to us in recent past, I refer, of course, to the Olympics. Despite all the prophets of doom it does seem as though the Greeks put on a fine show and deserve much credit, it certainly was a spectacle and provided some exciting viewing, but is it the fine institution that it purports to be? The devious and manipulative behaviour of the IOC leaves a lot to be desired. The bill for the Greeks is put in excess of £6bn, a debt that it will take a generation to discharge. There is a constant battle against the use of performance enhancing drugs, which has yet to be won and the 'Olympic Spirit' must be called into question when the crowd booed and hissed at the American finalists in the 200 metres. Hasn't the whole thing got too big with too much hype? Are the Olympics more about power, money and nationalism? I find it quite impossible to accept the argument put by Keith MacLeod in last's month's Pump that the Olympics will lead to better understanding between nations and hence world peace. The Olympics in Germany before the second world war, and those preceding them, did nothing to help avert the worst conflict the world has ever seen in which an estimated 64,000,000 people perished. He suggests that the Olympics are an investment in seed corn that will provide the benefits in the long term. If we are going to spend money on 'seed corn' it would be far better spent on education, improved water supplies, family planning etc. I rather think Keith's own judgement is being clouded by his own confessed love of sport, so he looks for arguments to justify spending these vast sums on these 'games' whilst millions are starving. Nevertheless it is good to know he will "pray for the African disaster", I am sure that will be a great help.
Not only did the Athenians have to suffer their share of the cost but they also had to suffer considerable inconvenience during the construction work and during the actual period when some lanes in the roads around the stadium and the village etc were made exclusive to the Olympic athletes and officials so that the Athenians had to sit and sweat in traffic jams in the intense heat whilst Olympic officials sped past. Do we really want the 2012 Olympics here? Do we want to disrupt the life of the nation and finish up with a huge debt? Do we really need the Olympics at all? Aren't the usual international athletic meetings enough?
I am full of admiration for our gold medal winners, especially Kelly Holmes and it is good to see British athletes achieving such success but, once again, I am surprised at the extent of the ballyhoo. I am told by the press that I should be proud of these athletes but I am not quite sure what my role has been in their success that I should feel any pride. Although there are some deeds committed by the British in the past of which I am ashamed, I am proud of our nation, I am proud that it was the birthplace of modern democracy, I am proud of its achievements that have gone to help the lot of mankind, I am proud that it has made strides towards a just society and that it is a relatively generous provider of overseas aid. I would be even more proud if it did more to look after the elderly and weak within society, did more in the way of overseas aid and did not have the elements within it that exhibit yobbish and anti-social behaviour. The fact that Kelly Holmes can run faster than competitors from other countries is no real reflection on our nation.
There was another TV spectacular, but it was one that I found deeply worrying. It was somewhat reminiscent of a Nuremberg Rally of the 30s. George Bush was cheered to the roof tops for his fight against terrorism, but nobody seemed to question exactly where that fight was. He (and we) invaded Iraq but there were no terrorists there before we invaded, although there are some there now, and there was no evidence that the attack on the Twin Towers by Al-Qaida was in any way connected with Iraq or Saddam Hussein's regime. Despite this, the majority of Americans are convinced that the fighting in Iraq is part of their war on terrorism. There seems to be a distortion of the truth and a mass deception through propaganda that is comparable with that achieved by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. The population of the US appears to have adopted an irrational attitude towards the disaster of the Twin Towers so that they can use it to justify anything.
Today no one can say anything to criticise US policy, viz George Bush's maxim "You are either with us or against us". It is reminiscent of the McCarthyism of the 1940s and 50s. The Americans do not want friends they want acolytes. They are no longer prepared to listen to the views of the UN, in truth the Convention was openly hostile to the UN. The Republican campaign talked much of giving people freedom but it is freedom to be as the Americans would want people to be, not freedom to do as they like. There is not much freedom for the Palestinians within their own lands, for example. There was not much freedom for the South Americans in Chile, Ecuador et al, even when they had democratically elected governments, if those elected governments did not have the right shade of political colour for the Americans. It is significant that the US has a military presence in 130 of the 191 countries recognised by the UN.
Once again we have had a remarkable success rate by pupils taking their GCSEs and the arguments rage again about the validity of these results and whether or not they mean that our children are getting brighter and better educated year on year. No doubt these results do reflect a great deal of work by both pupils and staff and it may be that the present methods of assessment by means of in-course assessments, multiple choice tests etc do encourage more steady work throughout the year and probably do help in achieving a better education for the majority. There is little doubt in my mind, however, that the best way to determine whether or not the pupil has learnt and understands the work, and is able to apply it, is by means of an end of year unseen examination. This really does separate out the most academically able. As in the past, a pass in coursework should be a qualifying requirement that does not contribute to the final assessment. Much is said about 'exam nerves' preventing pupils from demonstrating their true ability, but, in my view, if the pupil is on top of his/her subject they are unlikely to suffer problems of this type. Of course there are other objections to this type of assessment, the pupil may not be very well on the day and a whole year's work is lost. I do accept also, that if a pupil finds they are unable to attempt a number of questions on an exam paper they are likely to panic and present a paper which is below the standard that they are potentially capable of achieving. Nevertheless I remain convinced that greater weighting should be placed on an end of year unseen examination.