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Archive for January, 2013

Quite a performance by Lance Armstrong;  in a situation that would have destroyed most human beings he sits for two hours or so and calmly, coldly admits on the  biggest stage he could find (the Oprah Winfrey Show), what the world already new, he is a doper, and a lying, cheating bully.

It was stomach churning stuff if you love sport and know about the countless cyclists who have given up that sport or have been hounded out of him by him.  It sounded as if in his own mind the only real regret was that he got caught and that he could  never win in court.  If  USADA had not done such a thorough job he would have his lawyers in court right now.

It took a massive investigation and 1000+ page report by USADA, with sworn statements by 26 people, including 15 who had close knowledge of the US Postal Team he led (11 of its actual team) to convince most people of his guilt but he still continued with the lie, and saying all  those who gave evidence of the doping had lied for their own personal reasons.

In October last year USADA said “The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”.

Armstrong would take no part in that investigation and chose not to contest the evidence in court; he knowingly accepted the imposition of a ban from recognized competition for life and disqualification of his competitive results from 1998 onwards.

There is a theory that coming forward now is part of a coldly considered plan to resurrect his career in some way, as if he has finally given something to the sport, (confessing) but it won’t work, unless he achieves what many do in modern times i.e. “Make A Living By Just Being Famous”, yes society is fickle and stupid enough for that to work, and many will point to his Cancer work as being a strong case for redemption.  Ben Johnson managed it and still says it wasn’t his fault and that he did it to create a level playing field etc etc. and/or the drugs where just to recover from the training hardships etc etc etc.

 Armstrong still has to answer a lot more detailed questions than Oprah Winfrey and her staff could conjure up, he still has to tell us things we don’t know (not things we know!). Those questions are about how he got away with it for so long, who helped him organise the brazen scam and who tipped him off in the early years. It needs a debate so he can be cross-examined and not a gentle interview.

The world wants names, times and places because it has waited too long for it and too many people have had their lives destroyed by his selfish pursuit of winning at all costs. After that Lance Armstrong you can go away and hide and we can all try to forget the nightmare of the Armstrong Cycling Years.

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It is said that 60,000 Syrians have died in the conflict between the protesters who turned rebels and the Assad regime.

This horrifying statistic is set to get worse in the aftermath of Assad’s speech. Its tone and content was reminiscent of past Dictators outpourings who fell from power because they wouldn’t budge. Advisors not listened to can see the signs and defect; others who say unhelpful things get disposed of. Soon the leader is surrounded by those who say only what the big man wants to hear and slowly a world view is realised which flies in the face of logic and reality. It happened to Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and many more throughout history.

It is usual to blame an outside meddler and dark forces. They do often exist but would not have had a chance to take sides without a catalogue of internal reasons for protest. Severe violations of human rights, secret police, torture, mass murder, rape, deportations, forced disappearances, assassinations, the use of the state for personal reasons and the acquisition of wealth.

Medieval Kingship states all kept power over their people with repression and created dynasty after dynasty of powerful families who believed they owned the land, its resources, means of production and the people themselves. In many parts of the world democracy based administrations make this sort of government stand out starkly. The fact that the modern world is not hidden any more has created the cult of street protesting, blogging and criticism in every possible way as people struggle for the basic human rights they deserve. If you are a Dictator this is a horrifying prospect, your world is likely to be shattered, bit by bit. Give a little, and it just fuels the protesters appetite they argue. But there is always an early point in time when negotiation can reap dividends for both sides, and it all depends on the degree of oppression in the first place.

Most people who saw the Syrian civil war coming expected at some early stage Assad negotiating and stepping down. Tyranny had had a good run; a very wealthy family had become even wealthier. But no, Assad sees Syria as his, sees protesters as an enemy of the state, and sees anyone who supports them as enemies of his country. All this was laid bare again in his recent speech. He has leaned absolutely nothing from the Arab spring, it wouldn’t happen to him, and 60,000 dead has changed nothing.

So what will happen now? A lot more killing for one thing, a lot more refugees etc., until he runs out of money, resources and friends. When will it happen…no one knows? When it does happen the mess will be terrifying; there are armed gangs now from all sorts of factions and places, Islamists and others who defy being controlled and will want a piece of power. Any Western assistance will be distrusted and the ordinary civilian will have no one to turn to who they can trust.

It seems we can only weep for the Syrian people and that is not enough is it?

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The following article is cut and pasted from the New York Times Web-Site, (intended for the Sunday Review 6th Jan 2013).

Most balanced people had already instinctively come to a similar conclusion. It is however still a sobering piece of journalism to add to this debate. It seems that a lot of Americans have rushed to the stores to make sure they have weapons to hand after the scare-mongering NRA blitzkrieg

In the wake of the tragic shooting deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month, the National Rifle Association proposed that the best way to protect schoolchildren was to place a guard — a “good guy with a gun” — in every school, part of a so-called National School Shield Emergency Response Program.

Indeed, the N.R.A.’s solution to the expansion of gun violence in America has been generally to advocate for the more widespread deployment and carrying of guns.

I recently visited some Latin American countries that mesh with the N.R.A.’s vision of the promised land, where guards with guns grace every office lobby, storefront, A.T.M., restaurant and gas station. It has not made those countries safer or saner.

Despite the ubiquitous presence of “good guys” with guns, countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

“A society that is relying on guys with guns to stop violence is a sign of a society where institutions have broken down,” said Rebecca Peters, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms. “It’s shocking to hear anyone in the United States considering a solution that would make it seem more like Colombia.”

As guns proliferate, legally and illegally, innocent people often seem more terrorized than protected.

In Guatemala, riding a public bus is a risky business. More than 500 bus drivers have been killed in robberies since 2007, leading InSight Crime, which tracks organized crime in the Americas, to call it “the most dangerous profession on the planet.” And when bullets start flying, everyone is vulnerable: in 2010 the onboard tally included 155 drivers, 54 bus assistants, 71 passengers and 14 presumed criminals. Some were killed by the robbers’ bullets and some by gun-carrying passengers.

Scientific studies have consistently found that places with more guns have more violent deaths, both homicides and suicides. Women and children are more likely to die if there’s a gun in the house. The more guns in an area, the higher the local suicide rates. “Generally, if you live in a civilized society, more guns mean more death,” said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. “There is no evidence that having more guns reduces crime. None at all.”

After a gruesome mass murder in 1996 provoked public outrage, Australia enacted stricter gun laws, including a 28-day waiting period before purchase and a ban on semiautomatic weapons. Before then, Australia had averaged one mass shooting a year. Since, rates of both homicide and suicide have dropped 50 percent, and there have been no mass killings, said Ms. Peters, who lobbied for the legislation.

Distinctive factors contribute to the high rates of violent crime in Latin America. Many countries in the region had recent civil wars, resulting in a large number of weapons in circulation. Drug- and gang-related violence is widespread. “It’s dangerous to make too tight a link between the availability of weapons and homicide rates,” said Jeremy McDermott, a co-director of InSight Crime who is based in Medellín, Colombia. “There are lots of other variables.”

Still, he said that the recent sharp increase in homicides in Venezuela could be in part explained by the abundance of arms there. Although the government last spring imposed a one-year ban on importing weapons, there had previously been a plentiful influx from Russia. There is a Kalashnikov plant in the country.

In 2011, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Honduras led the world in homicides, with 91.6 per 100,000 people. But rates were also alarmingly high in El Salvador (69.1), Jamaica (40.9), Colombia (31.4) and Guatemala (38.5). Venezuela’s was 45.1 in 2010 but is expected to be close to to 80 this year. The United States’ rate is about 5.

THOUGH many of these countries have restrictions on gun ownership, enforcement is lax. According to research by Flasco, the Guatemalan Social Science Academy, illegal guns far outnumber legal weapons in Central America.

All that has spawned a thriving security industry — the good guys with guns that grace every street corner — though experts say it is often unclear if their presence is making crime better or worse. In many countries, the armed guards have only six weeks of training.

Guatemala, with approximately 20,000 police officers, has 41,000 registered private security guards and an estimated 80,000 who are working without authorization. “To put people with guns who are not accountable or trained in places where there are lots of innocent people is just dangerous,” Ms. Peters said, noting that lethal force is used to deter minor crimes like shoplifting.

Indeed, even as some Americans propose expanding our gun culture into elementary schools, some Latin American cities are trying to rein in theirs. Bogotá’s new mayor, Gustavo Petro, has forbidden residents to carry weapons on streets, in cars or in any public space since last February, and the murder rate has dropped 50 percent to a 27-year low. He said, “Guns are not a defense, they are a risk.”

William Godnick, coordinator of the Public Security Program at the United Nations Regional Center for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, said that United Nations studies in Central America showed that people who used a gun to defend against an armed assault were far more likely to be injured or killed than if they had no weapon.

Post-Sandy Hook, gun groups in the United States are now offering teachers firearms training. But do I really want my kid’s teachers packing a weapon?

“If you’re living in a ‘Mad Max’ world, where criminals have free rein and there’s no government to stop them, then I’d want to be armed,” said Dr. Hemenway of Harvard. “But we’re not in that circumstance. We’re a developed, stable country.”

Elisabeth Rosenthal is a physician and a science reporter for The New York Times.
A version of this news analysis appeared in print on January 6, 2013, on page SR5 of the New York edition with the headline: More Guns = More Killing.

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