Tuesday, 6 November 2012

#US2012 - let's let them decide, eh?

I'll admit that I haven't been following the 2012 US Presidential Elections as closely I would normally have liked.  I've been very busy, an' all that...

What's really irritated me, though, is the rather pious nature of the interest by almost all the other British politicos I know, or know of.  Throughout the past few days, as the campaigning in America has reached fever pitch, I've seen countless posts on Facebook and Twitter from British people, saying things like "good luck, America - remember to do the right thing!"

What the hell does that even mean - "do the right thing"?!  This is an election, not a math(s) exam - there's no right or wrong answer.

In general, people urging Americans to "do the right thing" mean "make sure you vote for Obama, not Romney."  The consensual populist view seems to be that Barack Obama is the "good guy" while Mitt Romney is the "baddie".

In my opinion, it is wrong, and indeed rather dangerous, to distil an election such as this down to a simply questions of "good vs bad".  Politics is so incredibly subjective, and there are so many different factors which can influence a person's political view, that this overly simplistic take on the proceedings just does not work.

I think that for political commentators (especially non-American commentators) to characterise voting for Obama as the "right choice" and voting for Romney as the "wrong choice" is actually quite insulting.  I respect the right of these people to prefer Obama to Romney, but to say that those who prefer Romney, and vote according to that preference, are wrong to do so is ridiculous.

If an American citizen genuinely feels that they identify more with the policies of Mitt Romney than those of Barack Obama, and that citizen accordingly goes out and votes for Romney, they have not done anything "wrong".  Quite the opposite, in fact - they have voted according to their principles, in a democratic election, which is exactly what you're meant to do.

As I said right at the start of this post, I know embarrassingly little about the policies, or indeed the politicians themselves, involved in this campaign.  I am not saying that I prefer either candidate to the other, and I'm certainly not giving my official endorsement to either (I know how influential this Blog can be in the world of American politics).  All I am saying is that if somebody has voted according to their conscience in a free and fair election, you cannot lambast them for having done anything wrong; their only crime is to have a political view which differs from yours, and to have voted according to their own beliefs.  I don't see how you can complain about that.

Monday, 5 November 2012

#F1 - Red Bull in Abu Dhabi

Yesterday's Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi was a very exciting race indeed - one of the classics, in my opinion.  It was a race which had everything - and it was a race in which we learnt a lot too, I felt.

I was impressed with Kimi Räikkönen and the Lotus team, of course, getting the win which they fully deserved (indeed, I believe that they have actually deserved more wins and podium finishes than they've achieved this year) and I was impressed with Lewis Hamilton, who was supreme on-track, and mature and gracious off-track.

I was unimpressed with almost everything about Red Bull's race weekend, however; I felt they really showed their true colours over this weekend, and they looked like a team who are desperate.  Over the course of the race, as more and more things went wrong for them, they became more and more desperate, and more and more determined to win, at any cost.

The arrogance of Red Bull Racing is something I should've expected - but which somehow still managed to shock me.  Everything that could go wrong for them, did, and they rushed around plugging leaks and pulling strings, refusing to accept that, maybe, this just wasn't their day.

Let's start with Mark Webber.  Webber has gone down in my estimations already this year, following interviews in which he smeared other drivers (particularly Romain Grosjean) and tried to shift blame for poor performances and incidents in races.  This trend continued in Abu Dhabi.

Webber started from the front row, but after his customary poor start, he ended up fifth by the end of the first lap, and spent the rest of the race trying to make up ground.  On Lap 23, Webber was trying to take third place away from Williams' Pastor Maldonado, but in trying to pass him around the outside of the corner, touched his wheels and spun his car onto the run-off area.  I've been pretty critical of Maldonado's driving, in the past, but it's easy to see that it is Webber who's to blame here - as BBC commentator (and former F1 race winner) David Coulthard said at the time:
"You can't just go 'round the outside, and expect the car on the inside to disappear!"
Webber turned in on Maldonado's car, even though he knew he was there.  He later radioed back to his team, saying something like "all the fault of Maldonado" - which is a bit rich, quite frankly, coming on the back of his comments about other drivers.  As the BBC's technical expert, Gary Anderson pointed out:
"If that were Romain Grosjean, we'd be shouting about what a big mistake he's just made.  Mark Webber did that all himself!"
Anderson is right - some drivers (Grosjean, yes, and indeed Maldonado himself - I would also throw Michael Schumacher into that mix) would have taken a lot of stick for doing what Webber did there, and would probably also have received a penalty from the Stewards.  And yet, Webber expects that, just because he's a Red Bull driver, he can shift the blame, and not take responsibility for his own on-track mistakes, born out of desperation and a desire to impress his team, whatever the cost.

Following that incident, Webber ended up down in seventh place, behind Ferrari's Felipe Massa.  Trying, again, to rush past and gain back his lost positions, Webber tried the same move, at the same place, to get past Massa - and made the same mistake again!

Only three laps later, on Lap 26, Webber again tries to overtake around the outside, and again touches wheels with the car on the inside (this time, that's Massa's Ferrari).  Webber runs off the track, and rejoins ahead of Massa, but knows he will have to give the place back after passing Massa outside of the confines of the circuit - however, on rejoining the track so close in front of Massa, he forces the Ferrari driver to take avoiding action, which in turn causes him to spin on the track!

Webber then doesn't give the place back to Massa, who has lost several more positions following his spin, and continues to race in sixth place.  However, it was pretty clear to me that Massa's spin was as a direct result of Webber rejoining the circuit after having hit the Ferrari in trying to overtake, and Red Bull should have been handed a penalty for that incident - or, if not for that incident, or the one before with Maldonado, then certainly for the two of them combined, as Webber had done the same thing to two different drivers, and, in my opinion, needed to be taught a lesson.  The fact that no penalties were given for any of these incidents was poor, in my opinion, and will only serve to strengthen Red Bull's view of themselves as being above the law in Formula 1.

On the topic of "passing outside the confines of the track", let's now turn our attention to Sebastian Vettel.  Having been disqualified from Saturday's Qualifying for a fuel irregularity (a nice example of consistency from the Stewards, who gave Lewis Hamilton the same penalty for the same problem earlier in the year), Vettel started from the Pit Lane on Sunday, and had to work his way up through the field from the very back.  Aided and abetted by fresh tyres, a change of gear ratios, a generous helping of Safety Car, and the fact that the first eight car (or so) he'd have to pass were positively gastropodian in comparison with his Red Bull, Vettel made good progress, and quickly climbed towards the front of the pack.

As early as Lap 16, however, Vettel found himself with a serious challenge, in the form of Romain Grosjean.  Having had an early puncture (from purely a racing incident, I am at pains to point out), Grosjean also found himself out of position, towards the back of the pack, with a lot of overtaking work to do.  Driving the a car identical to the one which would eventually go on to win this race, Grosjean (like Vettel) was considerably faster than those around him, down in 17th place.

Vettel launched down the inside at Turn 8, and thought he had completed the pass, but Grosjean came back at him, and was still ahead on the next straight.  Then, as Grosjean and Vettel drove down the straight together, with barely a hair's breadth between the back of the Lotus and the front of the Red Bull, Vettel deliberately pulls to one side, off the track, accelerates, and passes Grosjean's car, with all four of his wheels outside the painted white lines which define the track area to be used to be racing.

This was not a racing incident, or a mistake, or anything like that - Vettel knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew it was outside the rules.  He deliberately cheated - he gained an advantage by going off the track, and perhaps hoped that, because he drives for Red Bull, he would be allowed to get away with it.  However, the Lotus team radioed to their driver immediately, telling Grosjean that they would "be talking to Charlie [Whiting, Race Director] about that" and Vettel then gave the position back to Grosjean without any prompting from the Stewards, before re-passing him in a more legal manner, which is as clear an admission of guilt from Red Bull as any.

Sticking with Vettel, let's jump back to Lap 12, which was during the first period under the Safety Car. Vettel, at this point, was in 12th place, behind Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso.  Ricciardo was trying to keep his tyres warm, while running comparatively slowing behind the Safety Car, and Vettel was caught out by him.  Vettel failed to break to avoid the weaving Toro Rosso, and ended up ploughing straight through a marker put by the side of the track, causing further hurt to his already damaged front wing.  Vettel radioed to his team:
"What is he doing?!  He keeps stopping all the time!"
On the radio, Vettel sounded petulant and childish, angry with Ricciardo for something which wasn't really the Toro Rosso driver's fault.  Again, he seemed to feel that, as a Red Bull driver, these things were meant to happen to someone else, not to him, and he couldn't take the fact that, for once, things weren't all going his way.

As David Coulthard pointed in his commentary (actually when referring to an earlier incident with Bruno Senna, which was where the initial damage to Vettel's win occurred):
"I don't think you can apportion blame here, but it's really the responsibility of the car behind to keep his nose clean."
Ricciardo didn't actually do anything wrong - he was weaving a lot, and was driving slower than normal, yes, but that is to be expected when the Safety Car is out, leading a long line of cars around the circuit at considerably slower speeds than when they're racing for real, and he didn't contravene the rules about following the Safety Car at all.

We've seen Vettel have issues with the re-start when behind the Safety Car before, even when he's been at the front.  Perhaps he should just accept that this is actually something at which he's not the very best?

Of course, we can hope, but I don't think we will.  All of the examples which I have laid out here demonstrate how Red Bull, and their drivers, see themselves as invincible, and untouchable.  And when things don't go their way, they either cheat and bend the rules to suit themselves, or they become stroppy and angry, and throw a hissy fit until they get what they want.

When Red Bull win, it's entirely down to their brilliance - but when they don't, it's always somebody else's fault.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sandwich review: Taouk Chicken Salad from Waitrose' World Flavours range

The official description for this sandwich is:
Marinated chicken breast, tomato, apollo lettuce and cucumber with spiced mayonnaise in sliced herb bread.  Chicken from carefully selected British farms.
I was unsure, when I bought this sandwich, what "taouk" actually meant.  After reading the description and ingredients, I was no wiser.  The illustration on the packet was similarly unhelpful - a man in a hat appears to be offering me an ornate lantern and an urn containing his ancestors' ashes, on a tray.

Having eaten it, I thought it might be something Moroccan - but was still, basically, ignorant as to the nature of a "taouk".

In spite of this, I enjoyed this sandwich.  As we so often see, it was down to the mayonnaise to make, or break, the success of the sandwich as a whole - and, in the case, it was definitely "make"...

The "spiced mayonnaise" was a triumph, with the herbs in the bread adding a nice touch too, and the sandwich overall was piquant enough to be interesting, and to bring to mind the flavours of exotic places, without being off-putting for those who may dislike hot or spicy foods.  The chicken was tender, and clearly of good quality.  The salad was salad.

I later Googled the meaning of "taouk", only to find out that it is simply a Turkish word for "chicken" - essentially, this sandwich is named Chicken Chicken Salad.  Waitrose may make a good sandwich, but there appear to be serious deficiencies when it comes to naming them!

In spite of this tautology, I would buy this sandwich again.