Category Archives: Drugs

Welcoming home a hero: my tribute to Kurt Angle

I couldn’t contain my excitement yesterday evening when ESPN broke the news that Kurt Angle will headline WWE’s Hall of Fame class for 2017. One of my childhood heroes, and a man who in his day made anybody’s top five, is to take his rightful place on wrestling’s most prestigious platform. Given that Angle has been absent from WWE for well over a decade now (yes, it has been that long), the induction feels long overdue.

For WWE, this year’s Amway Center ceremony will mark the first time since 2012 that an Attitude Era star will feature as the Hall of Fame’s primary attraction, and for Kurt’s fans it will be an opportunity to honour one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. Of course, in the time that Angle has been away, an entirely new, younger generation of fans has immersed itself in the product, so many viewers will (unless they are avid WWE Network enthusiasts) not be particularly familiar with his body of work. So I wanted to spend a little bit of time outlining why I think Kurt Angle isn’t just worthy of a Hall of Fame ring, but that an argument can be made that he should have his own wing come WrestleMania 33.

In-ring work

I would go as far as to say that Kurt Angle is the single greatest *wrestler* I have seen in my lifetime. I use the word ‘wrestler’ deliberately, as it can easily be confused with ‘biggest star’ or ‘best performer’. Since Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels quite easily claim those two respective titles, the burden of best wrestler falls to Kurt. This does not, of course, mean that there is a lack of competition. AJ Styles has emerged as one of the finest talents in the world, Randy Orton is exceptional between the ropes and Brock Lesnar has conquered different styles better than anyone. I consider Angle to be the best, though, for three reasons.

Firstly, he could adapt and have great matches with opponents of all sizes. Secondly, fans always seemed far more emotionally invested in his matches than with the likes of Lesnar and Orton, who on many occasions were showered with ‘boring’ chants. Thirdly, nobody matched Kurt Angle’s intensity in the ring. Classics that anybody unfamiliar with should check out include his matches with Shawn Michaels and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, his match with Chris Benoit at the Royal Rumble (2003) and his match at SummerSlam (2001) with Steve Austin. And while you’re scouring through old content, try to find me a bad Kurt Angle match, because I’m yet to find one. It is no wonder that Wrestling Observer Newsletter awarded him ‘Most outstanding wrestler’ for three years straight, between 2001 and 2003. .

Charisma

What is less appreciated about Kurt Angle, and indeed what set him apart from other amateur wrestlers who tried to make it at professional level, was his superb comedic timing and promo ability. To just be able to wrestle clearly is not enough to make it at the top level. When Kurt Angle’s promos and comedic timing caught up with his wrestling ability just after the turn of the millennium, there wasn’t a better performer on the card. See, for instance, his backstage segments with Edge, Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar or his back-and-forths with Stephanie McMahon and The Rock, for evidence of just how funny Angle could be. Amateur wrestlers seldom excel at this aspect of professional wrestling, likely due to how completely unfamiliar they are with it. But Kurt could entertain, and he was damn good at it. I mean, the milk truck segment, anybody?

Supremely decorated 

Some months back, I wrote a blog in which I credited Kurt Angle for the greatest achievement in modern Olympic history. Winning a gold medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta with a broken neck will forever stand the test of time, and it is symbolic of the lack of respect shown to the sport of wrestling that Angle’s win is almost never recognised by mainstream sporting commentators. I think his gold medal win showcased both mental and physical toughness, as well as his passion in doing what he loves, even at the very real risk of paralysis.

Fast a forward a few years, and just months inside his WWE run, Angle had already captured the WWE Championship. After beating The Rock at No Mercy (2000), Angle became the first Olympic gold medallist to win a world championship in professional wrestling. His list of accomplishments continued to grow, winning another five world titles, every singles championship available to him during his seven-year stint in WWE and the King of the Ring tournament. As accolades go, most do not hold a candle to Kurt Angle.

The final stop on the road to recovery

It is no secret that Kurt Angle has fought his fair share of demons. His problems with alcohol and drugs, fascinatingly recounted during his appearance on Steve Austin’s podcast, are well known. An arrest in Texas back in 2013 was the point at which I became especially worried for his life. It was his fourth alcohol-related arrest in just a couple of years, and when you look at the fate of many wrestlers who have dabbled with drugs and succumbed to the seduction of alcohol and other addictive substances, Angle only really had two options: spiral into legacy-destroying turmoil and personal hell…or fight, recover and once again stand proudly on a WWE stage, honoured and placed firmly into the annals of history. I am so proud that he chose the latter, and when he stands glossy-eyed in his tuxedo at the Amway Center podium later this year, he’ll know he deserved it. His Hall of Fame induction is symbolic, not just for the fact that it brings his career full circle, but also because it stands as a measure of his resilience and fighting spirit. He battled with a broken neck, entertaining millions, and he turned his life around after struggling with addiction.

It shall be interesting to see who inducts him in on March 31st. When I heard the news, my gut feeling was Brock Lesnar. That would seem to me the most appropriate choice, given their historic rivalry in 2003 and eerily similar career paths. But there is one thing we all know for sure: very few men are synonymous with the WWE. Even fewer are synonymous with wrestling. Kurt Angle sits in both of those elite categories. The hearts and minds of fans the world over will be grateful for him, the bar for amateur wrestlers was raised by him and the Hall of Fame wouldn’t be complete without him.

Welcome home, Kurt.


How not to respond to a terror attack

How sad it was to see the people of France once again fall victim to Islamic terrorism late last night. As innocent bystanders celebrated Bastille Day in the beautiful city of Nice, one drug-fueled fundamentalist decided he would use a lorry to massacre almost 100 unsuspecting citizens. I want to send my sympathies and well-wishes to the families and friends of those affected, however meaningless and insignificant they may be.

What a shame also that westerners are beginning to feel desensitised to increasingly common, though equally-horrendous attacks. It has been a truly testing eighteen months for France; a country which (along with Belgium) really seems to be struggling in the fight against radical Islam. The heartbreaking fact is that this doesn’t look like a war that will end any time soon. My fear is that we will see a lot more bloodshed and violence in the months and years to come.

Vigils, candles and hashtags are pleasant gestures, but nothing more than this. They do not constitute progression in terms of public or foreign policy, they do not tackle the core of Islamic fundamentalism, and they do not bring back those killed in acts of vile, merciless terrorism. I suspect some will be comforted by kind displays of solidarity, but most are now left wondering why they are having to occur so frequently.

We can pray for the French if we wish to, but realistically, how helpful has praying proven to be? We can express publicly our love or hatred of Islam, but how useful is this in achieving anything other than divide and intolerance? We can suggest solutions to aiding the war on terror, but Twitter doesn’t seem an appropriate platform for these solutions to be adhered to. In effect, social media has become a tool by which outrage is magnified, tensions are exploited and disunity is encouraged in the wake of despicable incidents of violence and terrorism. For this reason, I try my best to avoid being sucked into emotional cyber spasms.

In the good old days (alas, a time I was not around to see), we used to get on with life immediately after terrorism. Perhaps this was because the war generation found themselves used to bombings and devastation, or perhaps it was down to that famous British stiff upper lip (which seems to have disappeared, I might add). Nowadays, we rant and rave and sign emotionally-charged petitions calling for bans, border closures and infringements to be placed upon cherished freedoms. We need to calm down.

Only those unfortunate enough to have lost a loved one in an act of hatred have a mandate to be emotional. Since social media has brought us all closer together and made life much more interactive, we seem to take the burden of mourning upon ourselves as a means of enhancing our own social desirability. Bizarrely, it is often those closest to an attack that remain the most rational and objective in the wake of its effects, and those furthest away who resort to the kind of bigotry and fear-mongering that terrorists have come to reap the rewards of.

This does not mean Islam, or indeed sects of the Islamic community cannot be held responsible. Islamism continues to thrive in a range of European, African and Asian societies. Intensifying anti-Muslim sentiment hasn’t worked, using terror attacks to justify bombing raids hasn’t worked and simply ignoring the ongoing presence of Islamic fundamentalism clearly isn’t working either. The question is whether or not western societies can respond by upholding the values they champion; of liberty and the rule of law. The question is whether the peoples of Europe can muster the tolerance and encourage the diversity that has brought great benefits to the continent.

Preserving liberty in the face of adversity can be extraordinarily difficult, but wholly worthwhile. It is for this reason that I cannot support the deportation of domestic Muslims in France or indeed my own country, and it is for this reason that I cannot support thoughtless bans on Islamic immigration. Liberty is too precious to be discarded in such a manner. Benjamin Franklin was absolutely right when he said that those who will sacrifice liberty for security will in the end enjoy neither.

An interesting article has cropped up in the Daily Mail, for anybody interested, that has described the attacker as an ISIS fanatic who ‘took drugs and flouted every rule of Islam’. This doesn’t surprise me. Most attacks of this nature, both Muslim and non-Muslim tend to be perpetrated by deranged, drug-obsessed lunatics. I am pleased that a major publication has highlighted the link between drug taking and violence. You can read the article for yourself here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3691019/Several-people-injured-truck-crashes-crowd-Bastille-Day-celebrations-Nice.html

Motives aside, though, I don’t claim to have the silver bullet on this. It is obvious to me that French Muslims are not as integrated as they are in other parts of the world, like Britain. It is also obvious to me that continuing to allow the influence of Saudi Arabia and fundamentalist-supporting regimes to creep into French society is dangerous. France’s ‘state of emergency’ seems set to continue for the foreseeable future. But there is an interesting prospect on the horizon.

French presidential elections take place late next year, and I’m now almost certain that Marine Le Pen is set to take office, swinging France vigorously to the Right. I don’t like Le Pen, but if such attacks are to continue in her country, then support for her presidential bid is likely only to strengthen. I’m not particularly well versed when it comes to French politics, so forgive me, but it seems to me to be plausible to suggest that Francois Hollande’s legacy will be stained by France’s apparent buckling to Islamic extremism.

We will see how the French people respond to the fight against Islamic terror as the months and years progress, and I wish the country well in its battle, but it is time for a different approach. Those of us unaffected by last night’s events in Nice may also want to consider the way we behave in light of horrendous acts of violence. After all, sickening terrorists aren’t worthy of dictating public policy. Keep the healing French in your minds, folks. It is they who matter today.


Good news for cannabis smokers as police incompetence spreads to Durham

Yesterday’s BBC Breakfast report on cannabis decriminalisation and policing should have received much more attention than it did. Alas, I am frequently puzzled by the lack of attention paid towards the backdoor legalisation of cannabis possession in England. It’s a topic that most have an opinion on, but so very few bother to look at what is really going on up and down the country.

In the feature (to which I have linked at the bottom of this post), Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable Mike Barton explains why his colleagues have given up arresting for possession of cannabis in their jurisdiction, explaining that it is ‘a logical move towards tackling the issues which are most harmful to the public’. Mr Barton, apparently, hasn’t been adequately informed about the potential consequences of mind-altering drug taking, nor about the concept of deterrence .

The danger here, is that if police forces actively withdraw and deterrent is quashed, young people will be sent the message that smoking narcotics like cannabis (which, in many cases, can lead to experimentation of more drugs, or to irreparable damage to the individual’s mental health) is a risk-free and actively encouraged endeavour. It isn’t, and shouldn’t be.

Barton then goes on to refer to dealing, reminding viewers that “We’ve always made it clear: we have zero tolerance when it comes to drug dealing”. Well, why, exactly? If no effort is made to suppress demand, then a battle against the dealers is going to be one which is made yet harder to win. The Chief Constable’s comments act as yet more evidence that there is no war against drugs in Britain, or that if there is, it’s being fought with such incompetence that authorities may as well lie down and surrender.

This, as well as some intriguing statistics provided by the BBC’s damning report, will come as welcome news for Britain’s cannabis brigade, which as the Home Office notes, is now around 7% of the population including 15% of 15-24 year olds. Since 2010, arrests are down by 46%, cautions are down by 48% and charges have also decreased by a third.

There are, however, two other things which I found most interesting about this video package. The first is the Chief Constable’s excuse that avoiding arrests is a good way to “free up” police officers so that they can deal with more important issues, like (I presume) offensive comments on Twitter or sitting ten to a van in the middle of city centres. Why do these people constantly use the phrase ‘free up’? A battle against drug use is no small feat, and nor is it a problem of small significance, and shouldn’t be treated as such by leading figures within police forces.

The second, equally noteworthy point about all of this is a more philosophical one. I am personally very disturbed by the fact that police councils and chiefs have the power to overturn national law and implement their own artificial penal codes. The job of a police officer is to uphold the law, not to make up unique rules or punishment quotas. If we allow police this much freedom with cannabis, it’s hard not to imagine a situation where police-invented punishments are used right across the board.

How long before we see burglary warnings, or assault warnings, perhaps? The journalist in the report asked one very clear question in the middle of the report, asking viewers rhetorically: “If, as these figures would suggest, other police forces are also choosing not to target those who are carrying out an illegal act, then what is the point in that act being illegal?”

He’s right. We are stuck in no mans land on drugs, and a clear choice needs to be made. Do we get hard on drugs and strive to deter those thinking about taking a potentially harmful drug, or do we turn the state into a drug dealer and permit recreational use…for good?

The report can be watched in full, below: