The unconvincing smoke and mirrors of Julian Assange

Short, but to the point, letter published in today’s Independent:

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Why do ordinary Americans vote Republican?

As far as I can tell, it’s because of a few things:

Firstly, that popular myth, the American Dream. That’s where a little, humdrum, barely-educated Ordinary Republican Person can suddenly find themselves wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Having achieved this hypothetical wealth, they will want to keep it, and make sure nobody else gets any. The republicans are, of course, the only party that has policies like this. However, being as thick as shit, the Ordinary Republican Person doesn’t spot that those very wealthy people already enjoying the American Dream are working tirelessly to make sure nobody else does, and that includes all Ordinary People, including them. The search for the American Dream is bound to fail because it is not based on compassion, or fairness, or any acceptable moral code, but on selfish greed. It is a moral ponzi scheme.

Secondly, it’s about religion. The American evangelical preachers have conned their flocks of dumb sheep into fearing for their eternal soul unless they conform to their interpretation of the bible’s teachings (which, in a neat piece of circular reasoning, includes donating massive sums to the preachers thereby fulfilling *their* American Dream). The Republicans are the party that pushes this message the strongest, plays the God card at the drop of the hat and however falsly, takes the moral high ground on every issue there is. That it is always Republicans who get caught in multi-million dollar frauds or photographed in whorehouses or enjoying secret gay fuckfests doesn’t seem to make any difference to the Ordinary Republican Person. Like I said: Dumb.

Finally, their PR machine is very, very good. Abortion is child murder; guns don’t kill people, other people do; the preacher didn’t *mean* to shag half the choirboys in his church, it was the Devil leading him into temptation and now God has saved him all is well. And he’s not really gay either… And so on. Democrats are evil and want to give your money away to lazy good for nothing illegal immigrants, they want to kill your unborn children and, God forbid, even think that niggers and womenfolk are equal to good, God-fearing white men. You must never vote Democrat because they will wreck our great and glorious Unydded Staytes Arv ‘Merica. (at which point the Dumb Ordinary Republican Person bursts into uncontrolled jingoistic tears and unfathomably grasps their right nipple, some considerable distance from their heart) …

If they only realised how stupid this all made them look to the rest of the world (you know, that bit outside the Texas/Alabama border) they might actually pause and think…

[Paul breathes…] … Or maybe there’s another reason? 🙂

Diary of an Olympic Games Maker

Introduction

What follows below is a very personal, highly subjective account of working as a Games Maker volunteer during the London 2012 Olympic Games. There’s no guarantee of accuracy! The individual entries are gathered from my Facebook status updates written, usually, while resting my back in the bath after a shift…

Schedule of Shifts

Monday 23rd July 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

My first ever shift as a Games Maker, and it’s for the technical rehearsal for the opening ceremony. So we’ve got to get 60,000 or so people into the park, into their seats and safely back out again. Very *very* nervous! I was not sure at all about these ticket-checking scanners, as the training was a long time ago and didn’t seem to go into a huge amount of detail about them. Also didn’t want to go anywhere near a radio, as I hate mobile phones, so a radio would freak me out.

Just my luck, I get allocated to the VIP check-in lane using ticket scanners. There are a lot of us there and nobody’s done this before and we’re all a bit scared, but everyone seems very friendly and there’s a good atmosphere here. We’ll sink or swim together!

It being a rehearsal, with volunteer customers, when we get a ticket issue it’s not as if they’ve paid for the seats, and there are spare tickets to hand to give to them, which there obviously won’t be when we do this “live”. So when we got a lot of errors, it was useful to get to know how the scanners work, and what the various errors mean. We managed to get everyone on site in a fairly timely manner, and it only seemed to take a few minutes to get through the whole process. All in all, this bit was very encouraging and put to rest a lot of our fears about what we should be doing.

Very quiet during the event itself, as everyone was in the stadium, so we all went for a bit of a wander and listened to the music coming from there. At closing time, we were all tasked at getting the people safely out again, and I was positioned at the branch between the main Stratford Gate exit and the exit towards Stratford International. This turned out to be a good place to be, because being a local, I know the local transport system fairly well and felt useful directing people in (what I hope was) the right direction.

And then it was all over! Huge relief all ‘round that this might actually work well, and we’ll have fun doing it. Judging by the way my back feels, that is going to be an issue for the next few weeks! But bring it on…

Sunday 29th July 2012 – Green Zone, Greenway Gate (West Ham)

My first “real” shift, and still nervous, but nothing like as bad as before the rehearsal. Allocated Green Zone this time, which is the West Ham gate on the Greenway – the Easternmost entrance/exit to the park.

We have to turn up between 5:45 and 6:20 in the morning, check in, collect whatever we need for the day like dayglo vests to put on if there’s an emergency, plastic ponchos if it’s raining and so on. Then we gather under the lip of the Aquatic Centre until our team leaders come to collect us, after which group leaders come to gather their teams and off we go to our areas.

Greenway Gate team leader was already stressed by 6:45 and running around panicking about very little that I could see, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the day. We’re all marched to the gate, a few of us are given ticket scanners and the rest tasked to guide people to where they need to be. Doors open at 7:00 and there’s a brief rush of people who’ve been queuing outside, then by 7:15 it all goes quiet again. And stays that way. All day. Clearly, people are not using this entrance much at all. Ah well.

Lunch breaks are taken between 11am and 2pm in groups as work demands allow, and in a huge 1,500-person temporary dining area behind the big McDonalds on the site. From Greenway this is a good 15 minute walk in each direction, and we’re only allocated an hour, which doesn’t give much time to sit and rest and eat. But it’s hot food, tasty and paid for, so no worries.

Mum, Cathy, Charlotte, Kate and Pippa are on the site today, so as it is so quiet, I went to join them at about 2:45 and walked them around the park for a while before heading home via Stratford Gate.

Monday 30th July 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 2 and allocated to blue zone today, with a different, non-panicking group leader. A big, squat bulldog of a guy called Ian who looks as though he’s been in a few fights in his time! However, he got us all organised in very short order, and we’re all in position well before the 7am door opening. Very effective leadership there – impressed, not least of all because we’re still nervous about doing well and he’s taking that into account when dealing with us.

At doors open, there was a rush of early birds and we were scanning tickets solidly for about an hour, checking them, saying “good morning” and “thank you” and smiling our little socks off. We’re slowly getting hold of the layout of the park, so when asked for directions don’t have to look at our maps so much now. Even if our replies aren’t always 100% accurate, they’re getting more certain, which is almost as good! There are plenty of Games Makers on the park for the customers to ask nearer their venues.

A good day, and a real sense of team spirit is rapidly building. Despite my back killing me, I think I will enjoy this experience.

Tuesday 31st July – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 3 – As I enjoyed yesterday so much, and during training they said that if anyone wanted to stay at Stratford Gate and do the ticketing to just ask, I did. So I’m back on there again. I made sure I’m working in one of Ian’s teams again – I’m getting to like row “G”!

Another busy day today with just a few issues – there are park day tickets which give access to the park, but not inside any particular venue. There are two time slots – 10am ‘til 3pm and 4pm ‘til 10pm, and lots of people are turning up in the morning with afternoon tickets. These are being picked up by our scanners an rejected, but only after they’ve queued and been through the x-ray machine and bag search. Only at that point were these being picked up, meaning we have to get these people back out again and tell them to come back at 4. Quite a few unhappy people, but “computer says no” and the ticket’s quite explicit about the timing. It’s all good practice at smiling, I suppose.

Other than that, a hassle-free and enjoyable day.

Wednesday 1st August – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 4 and settling into a routine now, and requested blue again. Yesterday’s day ticket issue continues, and gets worse. At one point I got someone to cover me, went to the “dirty”, pre-admission insecure area just outside the park to talk to a team leader who is soft-checking tickets and supposedly rejecting early day tickets. He said that he was letting them all through per instructions of his group leader, who happened to be standing about 20 feet away.

Having spent 34 years working for ICI, I recognise a stupid system when I see one, so I marched up to the group leader and explained that there was no point his teams letting early day tickets through as our teams scanners ere rejecting them and all that achieved was to piss off customers because their time has been wasted. I think he saw the logic in that and we got a lot fewer errors for the rest of the day. Yay! I achieved something!

Thursday 2nd August 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 5 – Enjoyable, but on-off sort of shift today. On sunshine, off sunshine (rain); on busy, off deserted…

A few interesting things: a really confused French lady who turned up at Stratford… With two tickets for Earls Court. A group of US tourists who asked me about Gloriana (which is moored in the middle of the park) and who nearly believed me when I explained that the boat was all part of the legacy of renewal and recycling that these games had, being, as she was, constructed out of 148million used matchsticks…

Friday 3rd August 2012– Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 6 and instead of having a scheduled day off, they asked that as it was the first day of stadium use, if anyone could work an extra shift. I’m enjoying this a lot, so why not!

Another interesting day. Ejected around a dozen people from the park for having invalid tickets (included two Germans who didn’t understand the word “no” as an answer to their request for entry when their tickets were for a different venue AND on a different date!). “120,000 people on site, sir, we need to manage that”, “120,002 is too many?”, “Yes. Have a good day.” … Enjoyed that!

Big smiles, also, at the hordes of over-excited, bouncy, smiley kids as they see the stadium in front of them for the first time, and for the handful of people who took the time to thank us and ask if we were enjoying it. I’m enjoying this experience, knackered, back killing me, but enjoying it. 🙂

Saturday 4th August 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 7 – A quiet day today, just a few attempts at re-entry (not allowed, printed on tickets, spoken over loudhailers but *still* people try it on) and one guy who came up to me and said “I’ve lost my girlfriend” which got back “Not sure you’re my type but thanks anyway” from me… And, of course, getting spotted by hubby while surrounded by gorgeous Royal Marine Paratroops! 🙂

That’ll keep him on his toes…

My first day doing the egress counts at the exit of the park. This involved standing with a radio (yes, they gave me, who hates mobile phones, a radio! God help them!) and a clicker in the middle of everyone exiting the park counting heads as they leave and calling-in the numbers every hour or so when the radio control room asked for them. That bit’s rather tedious, but what I enjoyed is being there directing people who need to get elsewhere but who don’t know the travel network. A nice feeling of being useful and needed. Just saying “goodbye” to very tired, but very happy customers is satisfying too, for some reason. I’m getting to be an old softie in this job!!

Sunday 5th August 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 8 in a row, and another good day. Moved around a bit, taking lots of photos for people on the aquatics centre bridge, which was quite fun. Got soaked several times, which wasn’t quite so much fun, but got “high-five”d by several excited kids!

120,000 people on site, 119,900 of whom know you can’t come back into the park once you leave unless you have another ticket. Some gobby Yank decided this was unacceptable, that we were going to go bust running these games and that Mitt Romney would have done a better job. My response that “he should have been shot years ago” didn’t go down well, so he carried on arguing. “We can stay here and argue all day, sir, and all that will happen is that we’ll kill time because it’s not going to change anything. Have a nice day…”. Pompous twat! Shame I didn’t remember Cameron’s quip about it being easy to run an Olympics in the middle of nowhere. That would have been a better response from me! But still – not going to let one ignorant prick spoil my day, I enjoyed it again and am looking forward to tomorrow.

Monday 6th August 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 9 done, and totally shattered now, with a very sore back to boot.

No hassle at all today, but with a full morning stadium session, the early ticket checking and afternoon park egress were very busy with me counting 39,000 people out. I’m getting “clicker’s thumb” now… Lots and lots of “how do I get to….” queries which is where being a local resident comes in very useful.

No arseholes, no drunks, no hassle, just a very smooth-running day. Helped lots of people inside the park get tickets to friends and family outside the park – no small logistics issue given the huge security. We’re getting this thing sussed now! Lovely to see Miguel on the way out afterwards as well. If they ask me to work Wednesday, I will, but I must admit that a day off to catch up on sleep and rest my back would be most welcomed. Still very much enjoying it, though, and so pleased I signed up for it. 🙂

Tuesday 7th August 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 10 finished successfully, but thank goodness it’s a rest day tomorrow! Need to rest my back and catch up with sleep.

In terms of ticket holders in the park, today was the busiest of the entire games. 140,000 at any one time and over 260,000 throughout the whole day. No hassle at all today, but a couple of amusing incidents:

There are two types of people helping in the park, us volunteers and salaried security staff (from either G4S [spit!] or Shield [much better]). Group managers in our area are Shield and the guy (Ian) that manages me is excellent to work with. One of his junior salaried people took an hour and a half to have a tea break, so got put on with me counting egressing people as a punishment. She decided after an hour that she needed a loo break and handed me back a clicker with 0000 on it. I shrugged my shoulders and handed it back to her boss. She’s looking for a new job right now…

The other one was some rather well-spoken guy on the “dirty” side of the security gate with a ticket for an afternoon event that had already been used, and could not be re-used as the system rejects used tickets. “I’ve been really silly”, he said, “I was talking on the phone and didn’t notice I had left the park. What can you do?”. “Nothing sir, your ticket has been used, you have left the park and cannot get back in”. “That’s not acceptable. Is there someone senior who can help me?”. “There are thousands of people senior to me sir and they will all tell you the same thing because they told me. I am not making this up, you know”. “I am asking again, what can you do to help?”. “My answer hasn’t changed sir”. “So I have wasted my money?” “Yes sir. Goodbye”. … Sorry, hon., but nobody walks through a half mile long, thirty foot wide exit containing thousands of people all leaving BY ACCIDENT! You got your ticket from a tout outside and you’re trying it on. It amused the military who by now had gathered around, though…

In other news, I got lots of “thank you”s from smiling kids on their way out, which was great. Finally, got a lovely hug from some ladies on my team who said “we’ll miss you tomorrow”. Awwww!

Wednesday 8th August 2012 – Bed

On the Wednesday, this Games Maker did sleep. All day. Because he was knackered and his back was killing him and it was his day off!

Thursday 9th August 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 11 completed without significant drama. A very busy morning due to several venues, including the stadium, having early sessions. But we managed to get 110,000 people on site by 10am without issues, which is no mean feat.

Some prat came in with a pepper spray (illegal to carry) and those Neanderthals from G4S, instead of getting the police involved, just took it off him, threw it into the box with the confiscated water bottles and let him through. Thank God the military are doing most of that job!

Also, we were very short-handed and running 3 or 4 x-ray lines into a single ticket scanning station. So while scanning one ticket, we’re keeping an eye out for people trying to shove past and holding our spare arm out to stop them. Some self-important middle-aged twat took umbrage that I didn’t move my arm before he crashed into it. Sorry love, you’re 5’6 and ten stone, I’m six foot two and 17 stone. You’re *going* to lose this discussion. I made him wait until I had cleared everyone else before scanning his ticket and letting him through. He made a point of staring at my name on my accreditation card. “So, that’s your name, then Pat?” he asked in his most ineffective threatening voice. “No” I said and turned my back on him to get on with my job… 🙂

Finally, Mo, one of the Shield security guys – he’s young but, erm, a big chap. Probably nudging 30 stone. He doesn’t like being on his feet on the gate with us if he can avoid it, so he hoists himself into the only available chair, one on stilts about six feet in the air. It’s a tight squeeze, but he insists he’s okay. He waits until he thinks we’re out of sight after our PM shift comes on and replaces us, and with much huffing and puffing and a hilarious variety of facial expressions, painfully extracts himself and lowers himself gently to the ground. Sadly for him, we *were* watching from about 20 yards away, pissing ourselves laughing! A total of 35,000 people counted out today in a steady stream that never got overloaded, so all in all, a busy and enjoyable day. Just three left, now.

Friday 10th August 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 12, and a baking hot, sunny one it is! Very quiet start to the day, as the Velodrome has finished, the Copperbox has finished and there’s no morning session in the stadium. We only had 12,000 people to get on site by 9:00 and we can do that with our eyes shut – we did 100,000 more than that yesterday! So, it’s time to have a little fun with some fellow volunteers of dubious character.

One particular young lady (let’s call her Hannah, for no better reason than that’s her name) seems determined to bed a different member of the armed forces every night. Much like the Shield girl the other day, she got put on the exit with me in the afternoon to stop her spending all her time fawning over the soldiers. There was a little confusion over whether she had counted (or “clicked”) a particular individual leaving the park. I said “It’s okay, Hannah will click anyone”. Everyone laughed except her. Don’t think Hannah likes me very much now!

Only just got to 10,000 counted out by 3pm today, some 25,000 fewer than yesterday. Several super people came up to those of us working on the exit gate to say how much they’d enjoyed it and thanked us, which is lovely of them and makes a hell of a difference when you’re standing in baking sunshine with a back that’s killing you. I managed to pick up another couple of opening ceremony programmes for hubby, and spent a little time at Park Live with my mum and sister before showing them Gloriana. Just two shifts left to do now – got my “gold medal” Games Maker badge today. 4 in the collection now. Yay!

Saturday 11th August 2012 – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift 13 done, and another fairly quiet day. Had the “Modern Pentagon” as volunteer manager Mary called it today. For us Games Makers, this means, basically, roping several thousand people together and getting them on site, then to the Copperbox for the fencing, then out of there and into the Aquatic Centre, then off site and over to Greenwich – presumably not all on the same 3-car DLR train, though! It all very went well, no major issues at our end. No idea how Greenwich coped – SEP. (Someone Else’s Problem)…

As a result, a bit busier on the exit gate today – 18,000 counted out by 3pm. Had the pleasure of ejecting a Metropolitan Police Staff Manager who tried to get in through the exit. “You of all people should know the system and why it’s in place. You shouldn’t be trying to circumvent it.” Exit defeated stout party off to the proper entrance. Not sure what made him back down. It might have been the RAF and Navy guys watching and smiling, but I like to think it was me using the word “circumvent”…

Other than that, a quiet shift. Lots of volunteers on their final shift today, so quite a few “farewell”s. the general consensus is that we’ve had a stunningly brilliant time, but we’re all glad it’s not going on much longer. We’re all very very tired and sore and sunburned! Last shift tomorrow. Expecting some hassle from folk getting on the park early and expecting to watch the closing ceremony on the big screens. Not gonna happen – the park is going to be swept clear of people starting at 2:30 and closing ceremony admissions won’t start until 5. They won’t be happy that Hyde Park is ticketed and sold out either. Ah well… Hubby’s currently out on the lash with his mini-me, Tony, and he’d better not wake me up as it my usual 04:45 start tomorrow…

Sunday 12th August 2012 – Closing Ceremony Day – Blue Zone, Stratford Gate

Shift the 14th and last, done… And that was the Olympics that was.

A day that started so quietly that they shut all our lanes in row “G” and told us to go up the Orbit (free, of course) and enjoy the view for an hour! As hubby and I have tickets for during the Paralympics, I went for a McBreakfast instead.

Earlier, just as dawn was breaking, I went for a stroll around the park while it was empty to take a load of photos of bits I have not had the time to see yet. It’s the best way to appreciate the scale of the thing. Directly underneath the main bridge is a superb art installation. Rows of spotlights pointing down towards the river with pipes connected to water droplet nozzles. In unison, they spray drops of water down that the lights pick up and show that the drops form words and phrases as they fall and spread out. Brilliantly done! The last time a piece or art hit me like that was the giant sun installation at the Tate Modern.

The day’s only hassle was a guy who argued repeatedly about not being allowed into the exit gate. Unfortunately this coincided with the radio control room asking for my current egress count, so the first thing the control room heard as my reply to their request was “The answer’s still no, now go away”, before my call sign. All I got back was a fit of giggles from the girl at the other end!

The end of the shift was very emotional. Several park visitors came up and shook my hand saying how much they’d enjoyed themselves, which was lovely, and a new record in “high-fiving” must have been set. As the park was cleared section by section ready for the closing ceremony, all the games makers in those sections were released and came through my position on the exit. I must have got fifty shout-outs, byes and hugs from various others. Really lovely!

But the thing that set me off (and it’s doing it again now as I type!) was when I said goodbye to Mary, the lady who was manager of all of us several hundred common domain volunteers. She came running over, gave me a great big hug and said thank you, “You kept that gate running, you did, Paul” 🙂 she burst into tears, so did I, much to the amusement of several hundred lookers-on!

And that was it. An experience never to be repeated, never to be forgotten and always to be treasured. Meeting – literally – hundreds of lovely, friendly people: from volunteers, to armed forces, management, security, gardeners, cleaners – all sorts! A smattering of arseholes, but a far *far* lower proportion than I’ve ever come across elsewhere. What an utterly exhilarating, exhausting and inspiring experience. I am very lucky indeed to have had it.

Afterthoughts

So it’s over. When it all started I was very very nervous, and close to cancelling the whole thing.

Various elements of the training added to this wariness as they seemed to be heavy on the touchy-feely HR stuff that I hate so much and rather light on actual detail and process. Lots of strategy, not enough tactics. I felt very unprepared for something this major.

But I am so glad I didn’t pull out of it. The rehearsal day, where things went wrong and where issues got ironed out in a safe, non-public environment was absolutely essential, and reassured me that everything would go well and that I hadn’t made a mistake signing up for it.

What helped is that we were all in the same position. No Common Domain Games Maker had done this before and we were all learning “on the hoof” and afraid of making a mistake. So we all supported each other.

And it worked brilliantly.

What a lovely group of people. From Mary, the boss, and all her support people; through Ian, the group leader I attached myself to like a limpet; to my fellow Games Makers – superb people all. Far too many names to mention individually, and I am bound to miss out some if I try (but a special hug to Tracey and Janet!).

They will all, always, hold a very special place in my heart, and I thank them.

It has been an honour and a privilege to share this experience with them and to get to know them. They have immeasurably enriched my life and I thank them for it.

Gallery of Photos

The Independent: Better late than never for the Olympics

Dear Independent,

Your relentlessly negative approach to the Olympics several months ago was a major reason I stopped reading your paper. Having just read today’s edition, I start to believe in the ability of the games to transform things for the better. Perhaps this is one of the regeneration benefits we were promised?

As a volunteer for the games, reading your constant sniping was depressing to say the least. Your almost biblical conversion (which cynics might dismiss as a belated attempt at following the public mood) to a pro-games stance is gratifying to witness for those of us who had more faith in this country’s ability to deliver.

Please be more positive next time.

Paul Harper