August 26 2008


It's only a game

With the possible exception of a weekend around February/March time, and anything that involves beating the Australians, I always feel uncomfortable when sport becomes tainted by nationalism.
So, having lost count of the number of times I have heard that this is the UK's most successful Olympics since 1908, I decided to do some research into events 100 years ago.
Sure enough, we were easily top of the medal table; winning 56 gold, 51 silver and 38 bronze with the USA in second place with a paltry 23-12-12 return.
Even more impressive was that this haul was from just 120 events compared to more than 240 at the recent sporting extravaganza.
On the downside, it would appear from the medals table that, apart from the white empire (Canada, South Africa and Australasia), the only participants were from Europe and the USA.
The other devaluing factor is that the games were held in London and it may well be that the difficulties of travel had as much to do with our success as athletic talent.
Indeed, on checking other results I find that France (25-41-34) topped the table ahead of the USA (19-14-14) in the 1900 games held in Paris and Sweden 25-19-19) were only just pipped by the USA (25-19-19) when the event was held in Stockholm in 1912.
But the most dramatic example of the way travel affected the results was from the St Louis games of 1904 when the USA (77-81-78) was chased home by Germany (4-4-5).
I suppose my distaste for the sort of show of nationalism, such as we have witnessed in China, stems from what I have read about the Berlin games of 1936 where Hitler used the event to promote the greater glory of Germany and the Aryan race.
One particularly remembers his rather tetchy reaction when Jesse Owens blew a hole in his notions of racial superiority by leaving Berlin with four gold medals tucked away in his suitcase.
Something similar, though not nearly as overtly unpleasant, has been on show in Beijing.
The other similarity is that, in both Berlin and Beijing, the host nation topped the medals' table.
In Berlin the Germans (33-26-34) beat the USA (24-20-12) into second place.
I haven't checked all the results, but, so far as I can see, the USA has never been out of the top two.
A word of warning for those who think home advantage in 2012 will help us accumulate even more bullion than in Beijing.
I notice that in 1936 we came tenth in the medal table with four golds, while in London 1948 we were twelfth with three.
A poll in the Daily Telegraph's business section shows that 79% of respondents believe that the London Olympics will not offer value for money.
But, as John Dryden said:

Nor is the people's judgement always true:
The most may err as grossly as the few.

But not in this instance, I'm afraid.

Caught off balance

The upcoming by-election in St Dogmaels - called as a result of Liz Campion's resignation on health grounds - raises some interesting prospects regarding the political balance rules.
Liz was one of the three Lib Dems on the council and if, as is widely predicted, the party fails to hold the seat, they will be down to two.
Regular readers may recall that we have passed this way before: when Cllr Pearl Llewellyn defected to the the Independent Political Group and the resulting change in the political balance meant the Lib Dems were in danger of losing their seat on the National Park until I came up with the wheeze that we should form a new group called LD+1 - me being the one (see Ugly rumours).
I shall not be treading that path this time.
However, following His Leadership's manoeuvrings at the AGM (Outmanoeuvred), Old Grumpy has been studying these rules (S 15 Local Government and Housing Act 1989) and it occurs to me that, should Grumpette and I form ourselves into a political group, we would be entitled to a seat on the planning committee without Cllr John Davies having any say in the matter.
The snag is that the legislation requires all political groups to appoint a Leader, so you can see the scope for marital disharmony if we were to follow that path.
However, the fact that the four independent independents are entitled to two seats on the planning committee is interesting in itself.
The way this is calculated is that the number of seats on the body is divided by the total number of seats on the council and the result is multiplied by the number of seats on the committee ( 24 in the case of planning).
So, in respect of the IPG (38 members), the calculation is 38/60 x 24 = 7.6 which rounds up to 8.
For the Tories, Labour and Plaid each with five members it is 5/60 x 24 which comes to exactly 2.
The Lib Dems, with their present three members, qualify for a seat because 3/60 x 24 equates to 1.2 which rounds down to 1 and the four independent independents members (4/60 x 24 = 1.6) rounded up to 2.
So far, so good, but when it comes to scrutiny committees different considerations seem to apply.
Scrutiny committees have 12 members which, as the more numerate among you will already have spotted, is exactly half of 24.
That being the case, you might conclude that the simple way to allocate seats on these committees would be to divide the planning committee allocation by two.
But you would be wrong because the Lib Dems have a seat on three of these committees, while the dictionary independents have none.
Now, as someone who once did hard sums at university, I am rather puzzled as to why the application of the same statutory rule should lead to an apparently contrary result.
From what I can gather it is something to do with the rules giving preferential treatment to those who belong to political groups.
Which would lead to the rather strange situation that those who set out to mislead the electorate are better placed than those who don't (Party animals).
My researches continue and I hope to bring more clarity next week.
In the meantime all I can say is that these political balance rules remind me of Lord Palmerston's remarks about the Schleswig-Holstein question: "Only three men in Europe had ever understood it: and of these the Prince Consort is dead; a Danish statesmen [who he did not name] is in an asylum; I, myself, have forgotten".

Soap opera

Last week's piece about the uses of shower gel (It gels) has brought several suggestions as to how to overcome the problem of dropping the soap in the shower.
These include having a set of those tongs used for flipping burgers on the barbecue close to hand.
Or, in similar vein, and much cheaper, a piece of 2x1 with a nail sticking out of the end.
Another reader recommended drilling a hole in the soap and hanging it in the shower on a suitable length of string.
And one exasperated reader observed: "If we can put a man on the moon, it surely can't be beyond us to invent a non-slip soap."

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