Olympic London

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Citious, Altius, Fortius…faster, higher, stronger is the Olympic motto. At the Olympiad beginning this week the nations of the world will again display the physical prowess that freed us from trees and theme parks and allowed us to make the most of our world; transmit knowledge and experience across millennia, oceans and continents, and now, here in London celebrate, as athletes and poets, the future of an ancient and civilised species.

I like to believe that in Usain Bolt’s spring there still lurks a connection – a DNA molecule that learned quite swiftly that to outrun life was not an option. Market reality, presumptuously amoral, makes sentiment about evolution, surplus value, survival and progress distinctly old fashioned; they’re all well-worn Prada rhetoric from better days, the end of history and civilisation.

The importance of a belief in progress has now to be adjudicated by courts lest they expose vacuous corporate mission statements, undermine advertising or challenge intellectual property rights. More pertinently on the eve of the games the issue is again, like moral hazard and banking, the extent to which the taxpayer should be responsible for private, profit-driven calamities.

Top of the charts is the failure of GS4, a private “deliver everything” company, to provide security staff for the games. It’s meant that thousands of military personnel have had to be deployed to make up the numbers at short notice. Much of the drama in public is about the military drawing the short stick in terms of compensation for what amounts to a tour of duty at the shortest notice. Beyond the immediate embarrassment there’s much more to worry about.

For a start, it would seem no other Olympics has had the misfortune to be hosted in circumstances of such open insecurity. The tone is hardly apologetic. We are told that thousands of troops, many just back from Afghanistan, have had their leave cancelled and there will be more military personnel on duty than currently fighting in Afghanistan.

Surface-to-air rockets will be deployed from six sites including two residential buildings and public parks. The Royal Navy’s biggest warship, HMS Ocean, will be stationed in the Thames with Typhoon fighter jets on standby, and Lynx, Puma and Sea King helicopters ready to respond. The message to terrorists is unambiguous. As they say, “London is ready”. Not everyone is so sure.

The costs of the Games has escalated from £2.4bn originally to £9,3bn and is now in the region of £24bn. More importantly, London’s poor and taxpayers in general will pay most of these costs. It was clear by 2009 there would be no private money. Still the state gets the chance to turn the city into a militarised zone to protect private investment. It is the stuff of science fiction.

Naomi Klein in “The Shock Doctrine” persuasively argued that private corporations must increasingly source profitable contracts from a world of tragedy and despair like Hurricane Katrina or the tsunami that ravaged South Asia. Jules Boykoff, associate professor of political science at Pacific University in Oregon, records the obscenity that has now visited London. “The 2012 Olympics glimmer on London’s horizon, but the Games are more than a smiley-faced sportstopia. The cost of hosting the Olympics has skyrocketed while private funders have evaporated, leaving the government holding the fiscal bag.”

Meanwhile, security officials have the green light to militarise the public sphere. The Games have become the pure-grade expression of celebration capitalism, the feelgood complement to Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism”.

London’s security alarms need perspective. It’s a cramped, tedious and tired city away from its overrated civilised foci – the National Gallery, the British Museum and Westminster. It is unfair and unjust to put common folk through a miserable security prism surrounding the stadia without calibrating the risks intelligently. Much of the evidence of the threat that Islamists pose to Londoners has not been critically evaluated by experts. And so it is understandable when “Henrytapper” writes, “I feel like a stranger in my own City. This is not my London that I live in; it is a town that has been handed over to the security forces. We are a town under threat of a ‘known unknown’ though all evidence that there is a threat is of course a security threat in itself.”

Meanwhile there’s much publicity about the future use of American technology; “a new laser based molecular scanner fired from 50 metres away will instantly reveal an astonishing level of detail not only about your body, clothes and luggage but also about the contents of your wallet and even of your intestines”.

It’s claimed that the technology can identify traces of drugs on banknotes, gunpowder on your clothes and even what you had for breakfast, the adrenaline level in your body and substances in your urine.

Meanwhile it’s business as usual. A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said larger shops would be “free to choose their opening hours on a Sunday” with “no restrictions on these hours” until the Olympics and Paralympics were over on 9 September. The message is simple and crude. “Shop till you shit.”

Finian Cunningham sums up the dismal scene. “The London Olympics are fast taking on the appearance and tone of a full-scale land, sea and air military operation rather than an international sporting event. With surface-to-air missiles stationed on top of residential apartment blocks, Royal Navy battleships on alert and Royal Air Force fighter jets and helicopters patrolling the skies over Britain’s capital there is a foreboding sense of a nation at war instead of an occasion of internationalist fraternity that the ancient Games are supposed to embody.”

For the more astute, the militarisation of London 2012 is simply advance preparation for the continuation of a fictitious war on Britons – not because of their faith or enthusiasm for cricket – but because of their rising hopelessness and seething discontent. Hopefully they will be right and those who warn London faces an imminent attack similar to 7/7, the day after it secured the Olympic deal, will be quite wrong. Either way, idealism is traduced


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