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Opinion Column
For the week of October 4 through 10, 2000

A curmudgeon’s view of the Olympics and potential assassins

Commentary by PAT MURPHY


Now and then has-beens of the world are asked for their opinion, although the world often seems to have passed them by.

On the phone the other day was Felicity Barringer, media reporter/columnist for The New York Times. Her purpose? She’s interviewing "curmudgeons" in journalism on the state of the profession today and some of its new standards and wanted my opinions on a couple issues.

"Curmudgeon"—defined by Webster’s dictionary as "a crusty, ill-tempered and usually old man." Hmm. I’m not sure whether I’m insulted or complimented by Felicity’s call.

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This sort of double standard and hypocrisy is what frosts folks about the Olympics:

Tiny gymnast Andreea Raducan of Romania is stripped of her Olympics gold medal for consuming an off-the-shelf cold medication. Meanwhile, aging, powerful members of the International Olympic Committee turned a blind eye to years of corrupt behavior by colleagues whose acceptance of gifts and favors influenced which cities were awarded the Olympic games.

Bribery goes unpunished, but a hapless gymnast is robbed of her medal to protect the "honor" of the Games.

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John and Diane Peavey, the sheep ranchers whose passion for their industry led to the "Trailing of the Sheep" festival each October, have licked one problem of the annual running of the sheep through downtown Ketchum.

Spectators lining Main Street complained the sheep went too fast—that the highlight of the weekend’s festivities was over in a matter of a few minutes.

So, the Peaveys this year will add something—a bagpipe band and Basque dancers will perform before a band of some 2,000 sheep head south down Main Street from their high country summer grazing grounds.

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Among all the western world’s industrialized nations, only the United States, as far as I know, provides armed security protection for its principal former political leaders and their spouses.

Periodically, that becomes a budget issue as a few members of Congress ask why the Secret Service assigns details to guard ex-presidents—are has-been political leaders still in jeopardy of harm?

Years ago while in Montreal, writing a series of stories about Rene Levesque’s Parti Quebecois separationist movement, I was stunned to see former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau striding through the air terminal—alone!—to catch a flight. Trudeau had been out of office only a matter of weeks and seemed fully at ease and unthreatened while chatting with passersby who rushed to his aside to say hello.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, known as the hard-as-nails "Iron Lady," hopscotches the world making speeches without the benefit of armed security, and seems to have avoided being a target.

The question, then, is whether Americans place a higher value on their former leaders’ safety and/or whether the United States harbors more potential assassins than other supposedly civilized nations.


Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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