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Am I the only one watching this and thinking of the Scouring of the Shire?  I mean, you start with happy, dancing, working, English, Scottish, Irish peasantry… and then the tree lifts up at the order of the fat cats in top hats and all the dirty, tired, unhappy factory workers come pouring out and tear up all the fields of crops and green grass, accompanied by an increasingly loud and overpowering drum beat.  Smoke stacks rise, everyone works the machines and pounds the drums, and they even poured “real sulfur smell” into the stadium.

Oh.  Goody.

And then the Beatles march in, wearing neon pseudo-military uniforms and save everything!

This is how Britain wanted to portray itself?  Seriously?

(and did they miss the line in the unofficial national anthem by Blake about “and was Jerusalem builded here, among those dark, satanic mills”?  I mean, they chose to sing it; doesn’t anybody read lyrics anymore?  It isn’t about the glories of the Industrial Revolution.)

They chose to feature J.K. Rowling, James Bond, the Beatles, the National Health Service, Queen (not Elizabeth II), one tiny and relatively obscure reading from Shakespeare, and children’s literature.

But no J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, or, um, Christianity.

Except we’re playing “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” to chase out the evil things in the shadows as the kids are going to bed, but only as a light jig, not with words.

And the theme to “Chariots of Fire,” but as a humor piece (ok, it was very funny) with Mr. Bean, but no mention of Eric Liddel dying as a missionary in China.

All centered around an ersatz Glastonbury Tor, the long-acknowledged spiritual heart of England and home of the legendary Glastonbury Thorn… well, at least until Henry VIII declared himself the head of the church in England, hung the abbot of Glastonbury Abbey on the tor itself, and had most of the church complex torn down to build a 16th century McMansion for some newly declared lord who would support Henry’s usurpation of spiritual power and pretend it was ok.  Well, upon consideration, I would say it’s an appropriate symbol of modern Britain, but not likely for the same reasons the opening ceremony’s designers chose it.

No pipe band, no Irish dancers, no real acknowledgement of the colonial era (they could’ve done something nice with immigrants from the different countries in the Empire and what they contributed to British culture), maybe even a reminder of how many British went emigrated and what they built and contributed where they settled would have been good.

The commentary in my living room is running towards the, “Oh, I hope Prof. Pearce has a good beer, and I wonder what he thinks of this mess his homeland came up with.”

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So, after seventeen days, the Beijing Olympics are over.

Records have been broken, memories made, stories told.

The opening ceremonies were beautiful and overwhelming.  The closing ceremonies were an incredible sensory overload.

The games were fantastic.  It looked like no detail was overlooked.  Volunteers were everywhere.  The venues were polished and beautiful.  Almost every venue had some sort of Chinese cultural touch.  Everything seemed to go smoothly.

The Chinese people have every right to be proud.  God willing, they will also have something to hope for in the form of increased freedoms within China, encouraged by increased international focus on China.

The coverage had its moments.  As predicted, China’s human rights record was comfortably avoided.  The only mention of it in the NBC coverage was during the interview with President Bush, and, let’s face it, more than half of the country probably fastforwarded on Tivo through that.

Sadly, an opportunity to give the American public a better idea of who China is and what it is becoming was completely squandered.  China is becoming a dangerous major player on the world stage, encouraging pariah regimes in Sudan and Iran.  China wanted to present itself as a country ready to join the community of nations as a fully respected member.  The coverage more presented China as a sort of cute, harmless, somewhat old-fashioned country with weird food and big building projects.  China has done a lot to modernize, but there is a tremendous gap between the life of a successful businessman in modern, glamorous Shanghai and a farmer ekking out an existence in poor, remote Sichuan province with the closest drinking water coming from a muddy stream an hour’s hike away. 

There is also a tremendous gap between China’s modernizing economy and its recalcitrantly autocratic government with egregious and continuing human rights abuses that haunt every Chinese citizen.

In spite of China’s promises to the IOC to allow protesters, nobody was actually granted a permit to protest.  Several people disappeared after going to the protest permit office, presumably arrested by the police.  Two 70-something year old women were sentenced to a re-education camp for showing up at the protest permit office five times to try to get permission to protest the demolition of their homes for the new construction in Beijing, and the government’s complete abandonment of its promise to provide compensation for the loss of their homes.  Critics of China’s one-child policy and other human rights abuses reported that their friends and contacts in China had either been arrested or were under even closer than normal surveillance.  Protesters were deported.

Tomorrow is the first day after the Beijing Games.

Will China really be on the path to becoming a more open and free society, as the IOC said when it chose to award the games to China in spite of its human rights record, its tyrranical government, its awful pollution, and other factors that should’ve disqualified Beijing?  (I would have to note that that was Clinton’s excuse for granting China “most favored nation” status, that it would encourage China to be more like the rest of the free world.  Hmmm… doesn’t seem to have worked yet…)

Or have we just encouraged a renewed sense of the triumph of the Chinese Communist Party?  Have we stoked the nationalism that encouraged most Chinese to frown at Tibet’s efforts to break away from China and shrug that the Tibetans got what they deserved from the heavy-handed military response?  Have we just given the Beijing government an excuse for anything they decide to do next to squash the spreading discontent in China, especially in the rural areas?

In China, tomorrow’s dawn has already come.  What is it illuminating?

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On the second-to-last day of coverage of the Olympics, I can finally say I liked one of NBC’s human interest spots.  After the silly kung fu spot, the offensive Chinese-food-is-weird spot, etc. I wasn’t expecting much.  (Actually, either I’ve been missing them somehow or NBC just hasn’t been airing any more of the Mary Carillo spots, because they seem to have become less regular as the coverage has gone on.)

This human interest spot was on Eric Liddell.  He was born in China in 1902 to Scottish missionary parents.  He would die in China in 1945.  In between, however, he became one of Scotland’s most famous athletes of all time.  In the 1924 Olympics, Liddell refused to run in the 100m heats because they were held on a Sunday, violating the Sabbath.  By this choice, he disqualified himself from his best race.  He chose, instead, to run the 400m, where he was not considered a major contender.

That 400m race has become something of a legend.  Liddell took off at a sprinter’s pace (in a non-sprint race) and everyone expected that he would run out of steam half way through.  Instead, he threw his head back the last 100m and not only did not run out of steam, he accelerated.  Liddell won the gold.  People said that kind of run could only be a gift from God.

If this story line sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen “Chariots of Fire.”

After finishing his studies, Liddell followed his parents’ footsteps and returned to China to serve as a missionary.  As Japanese invasion loomed, Liddell sent his pregnant wife and his two daughters to Canada, to stay with his wife’s family.  Liddell was eventually imprisioned with other foreign missionaries in a Japanese internment camp, where he died of a brain tumor.  To the end, however, he maintained his focus.  The NBC spot included interviews with people who had, as children, been in that internment camp with Liddell.  “Uncle” Eric had encouraged them to maintain their faith, had done his best to maintain some kind of normalcy and childhood for the missionaries’ children in the worst of circumstances, and had taught them by his example to pray for their enemies.  Only five months after his death, the camp was liberated by American troops.

Eric Liddell has been honored by a memorial in China, a truly rare thing in a country not fond of foreigners, to put it mildly.  Having been born in China, he is sometimes listed as the first Chinese Olympian.  For his incredible moral courage, he is still remembered in Scotland and was memorialized in the movie “Chariots of Fire” (with some Hollywood-induced inaccuracies, but mostly correct).  (go see the Wikipedia article for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Liddell )

At the Academy, on days when we were too stressed by classes or had thoroughly nitpicked the professional topic of the week, the discussion at lunch usually became a little lighter.  One week, someone asked the plebes (aka freshman at normal universities) what their favorite movies were.  I forget what the other two plebes said (something relatively forgettable and recent), but the last one told us that “Chariots of Fire” was his favorite movie.  Mind you, this plebe was an atheist. 

“Why is that your favorite?” we asked, confused. 

The atheist plebe talked about Liddell’s sticking to his convictions in spite of personal losses, his moral courage, etc. 

“Um… you did read the postscript at the end of the movie?  About how he died in China as a Christian missionary?  As an atheist, how do you reconcile admiration for Liddell with the fact that his faith is what fueled those attributes you admire?  Or that his faith led him to his death?”

He didn’t really have an answer for that, but, obviously, Liddell’s story had really impressed him.

Even Mary Carillo, after NBC had so NOT impressed with its human interest stories so far, came up with a good summary in the live part after the recorded spot: “We’ve met tons of Olympians over the years who wanted to do great and be great.  Liddell wanted to be good and do good.”

I have to admit: NBC did a good job on this spot.  I just wish they had done a better job on the spots that were actually about China directly. 

But they reminded us that truly great Olympians aren’t just great on the field or in the pool… they are great in life.  It’s a good note to go out on for the Olympics.

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My Olympic Top Ten

The kids didn’t cooperate.  They were rather whiny and annoying tonight, so I don’t have any cute stories to tell.  So, contrary to the earlier post, this won’t be about the kids. 

I’m going back to the Olympics.  🙂

Now, remember, I am NOT an athlete.  I pick sports that nobody else does so hardly anyone will know whether or not I look right doing it.  If anyone saw me trying to play volleyball, they’d know right off that sports just aren’t my strong point.  However, tapping someone in the chest suddenly from six feet away with a fencing lunge tends to impress people.  So, keeping my non-athlete status in mind (to explain the almost complete absence of actual sports performance comments), here’s my list of what I’ve loved about the Olympics so far.

10.  The sepia-tone Visa commercials narrated by Morgan Freeman.  Yeah, “If the light is just right and you squint a bit…” Michael Phelps does look like a dolphin.  And I remember watching Kerri Strug hurt her ankle, turn around, and do the second vault that put the U.S. team over the top for the team gymnastics gold.  Wow.  The Olympic history ones are neat, too.  And Freeman just has one of those really great voices that you could listen to for hours.

9.  The scenery around the commercial breaks.  This would rank higher on the list if it weren’t for the fact that the sponsors’ logos keep blocking the scenery!  Honestly, people, couldn’t you have put the box with the logo (“The Olympics on NBC are brought to you by Visa….”) in the corner?  I’m trying to admire the Great Wall, the mountains, the pagoda on the island, etc.

8.  The GE medical commercial with the street vendor flirting with the pretty girl who just arrived in his small town.  It opens with a young woman getting out of one of those van-taxis.  A guy working a little street kiosk looks up, and it’s love at first sight.  She glances at him.  He works his way down the other side of the street, trying to get her attention.  He pops out from behind some baskets, holding some blooming bok choi or something.  She finally smiles, and he’s ecstatic… until he almost gets hit by a bike, stumbles backwards and causes a chain reaction that wrecks the marketplace.  Long distance shot of peaceful, picturesque village among steep green hills… with a cloud of dust billowing up from the market.  (Ha ha!  Love it!)  Last shot: guy in village medical clinic, with the new x-ray equipment and… ta da! the new doctor who is, of course, the pretty new girl.  Both smile shyly and romance blooms.  Voice over starts talking about getting medical equipment, even to remote rural China, as the shot pans back through the crowd of villagers with slings and scrapes piled up in the waiting room.

7.  The scenery around the marathon, bike races, and triathalon.  The bike race went up to the Great Wall at Badaling, after circling around Tiannamen Square and the Forbidden City.  The marathon went through the park around the Temple of Heaven and around the other major sites in Beijing again.  The triathalon had a beautiful padoga complex perched on an island in the middle of a lake, which the swimming leg went right past.  Very cool.

6.  The seal script games and event symbols.  I liked the running guy on the main symbol from the start.  The seal script is the oldest type of Chinese writing, back when things were closer to pictograms.  For a long time now, that script has been used almost exclusively to carve seals, while the written language has evolved.  (Seals are the red stamps you see as part of the artist’s signature on brush paintings.)  I also learned during the olympics coverage that the running guy is a twist on the character for “jing” which is “capital”.  (Beijing is “North Capital”, just as “Nanjing” is “South Capital” and Hubei (the province my youngest daughter is from) is “North of the Lake”)  I thought it was a neat way to incorporate more Chinese culture into the Games.

5.  The experts getting proved wrong.  “Shawn Johnson is going to get the gold.  Nastia Liukin just doesn’t have the start scores.”  Oops.  Yeah, they went one-two in the all-around… but not in the order the experts so confidently predicted.

4.  The details on the steeplechase event.  Usually, the horse jumping events have these cute little very English details.  Of course, that was how the steeplechase started: fox hunts through the English countryside.  So, normally, the jumps are pretty predictable: white and red poles, brick walls, bushes trimmed into boxes, etc.  Not this time!  The topiaries were trimmed into long, sinuous dragons.  The gazebo wasn’t white and gingerbready… it was a bright red pagoda with the curved eaves.  The pilings holding up the bars for the “fence” jumps had brush calligraphy.  One jump was a dragon boat, with the front and back ends in little pools, with the bars in between.  I spent more time trying to get a good look at the jumps instead of the horses.

3.  Watching the outfits in the parade of nations.  Grass skirts and bark cloth from various Pacific island nations.  Graphic prints and big headwraps from Africa.  Europe is usually boring (or trying too hard to be haute couture), but I liked Sweden’s outfit: it was in the pale blue and yellow of the Swedish flag, but it was a traditional Chinese tunic and pants outfit.

2.  The history packed into the opening ceremonies.  Good grief, where to start?  The drummers.  Zheng He with the compass.  The movable type that made patterns and characters by raising and lowering… with pure people power, not hydraulics.  The dancers who, while doing a very modern looking dance, also created a pretty traditional brush painting.  The hundreds of women in Tang dynasty dresses.  Tai chi.  It sure beat the bungee-cord dancers and walking snow globes the last time France had the Games.

1.  Happy silver and bronze medalists.  Yes, of course, the gold medalist is the one who had the best performance, and they deserve to be proud and elated and everybody else wanted to be on that top tier, too.  But I’m sick and tired of pouty skaters or whoever grumping as they stand on the silver podium.  Yes, it isn’t gold.  Someone else was better today; live with being second in the world.  The U.S. men’s gymnastics team looked like they were on Cloud 9 just to get bronze, and it was great to see.  Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson have looked genuinely excited for each other getting gold, even though that meant the other one of them got silver.

And isn’t that ultimately what it’s about?  “I did my best.  I can be proud of that, even if I wasn’t THE best.”  Especially, as was pointed out during the opening ceremonies, for the thousands of athletes who will never make it past their first elimination round.  They come anyways, knowing they have absolutely no chance at a medal, just to be part of the Olympics, to cheer on those who will shine in their respective sports.

We could use more sportsmanship like that.

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Like I’ve said previously, I enjoy watching Olympians do things I couldn’t even dream of doing.  Right now I’m watching the women’s marathon (on fast forward).  I might be able to keep up… on a bike.  Mostly, I’m watching to see views of Beijing.  “Hey, we saw that!  That looks like the gate we went out at the Temple of Heaven… wonder how they got rid of all the taxis?”

When I was a midshipman, it was very popular to go run the Marine Corps Marathon in DC every year.  Remarkably, knowing something about how bad a runner I was, people still asked me, “Aren’t you running this year?”  I finally scared people off with, “Any race tradition that starts with someone running 26.2 miles, gasping, ‘We won!’ and falling over dead just isn’t my idea of a good time.”

Mostly, though, I’m wondering why the women wear such skimpy outfits.

The marathoner women are mostly wearing bikinis.  The paper with their competitor numbers on it completely cover most of their tops, so it isn’t always clear that they are wearing tops.  The marathoner men wear shorts.

The beach volleyball women wear bikinis, sometimes with less-than-opaque panels.  The men wear shorts and tank tops.

The male gymnasts wear a leotard thing, then switch between long pants and shorts, depending on the event.  The women wear just the leotard.

What, exactly are we watching?  The sports or the women?  And why do they put up with this?

(I won’t even get started on the ice dancing and ice skaters’ costumes, with the flesh-toned fabric to make them look even less covered than they already are.)

*sigh*

And then there’s the commentators.

Bob Costas is ok.  I actually like him.  On the other hand, the football guy gushing that, “Hey, I’m a football guy!  I’m out of words for this!” on the second day as he exhausted his store of superlatives made me wish the network had given him a thesaurus… unfortunately, his lack of words didn’t stop him from talking.  Many of the other commentators have been fine, but the dumb slips tend to stand out.  “She was adopted by her parents.”  (I assume he was trying to say something nice, but it came out as, “Wow, an adoptee came out ok… how strange and noteworthy.”)  A lot of the comments during the opening ceremonies were, shall we say, somewhat lacking in intelligence.

Mary Carillo, especially, annoys me.  Somebody chose to put her in the position of doing these “day in the life” stories about China… which she obviously knows nothing about.  The bit with the tallest man on earth made me cringe; it came across like a sideshow freak act at a circus.  Singing loudly in the teahouse could only be described as the height of cultural insensitivity.  The entire piece on Chinese food reminded me of the people in my adoption group who were scared to eat out of the hotel, but wanted snake on their last night in China, apparently to give them a “Wow, Chinese are weird!” story to tell at home.  Mary Carillo apparently missed the fabulous poached pepper beef, the various spicy chicken dishes, wonderful vegetables, etc. … and focused mostly on the scorpion-on-a-stick.  She also gleefully pointed out that, of course, she had hardly actually eaten anything. 

Generally, if you’re going to report on a country for the Olympics, you should talk about their culture with respect.  Of course, with China, you could talk about the roaring economy, the drastic changes in the country, the fabulous history, the importance of food (I would guess the Chinese would not appreciate the picture NBC chose to paint), or any number of other things. 

What makes me nervous is that Mary Carillo is rumored to have a piece on Americans in China to adopt coming up in the next few days. 

The coverage of the Seoul Olympics in 1988 included a scathing report on the huge number of Korean children being sent overseas for adoption.  The report exposed the awful state of the orphanages and discussed the problems that were driving the abandonment of so many children.  The Korean government was humiliated.  South Korea had lost face, held up before the world as a country that couldn’t even take care of its own children.  “Fine,” the Korean government said, “We can too take care of our own children.  So, to prove it, we will decrease the number of children adopted overseas by 10% each year.  In ten years, we will send no more Korean children overseas to be adopted.”

The number of Korean children abandonned probably didn’t decrease, but the number of children sent overseas to find new families decreased drastically.  South Korea never reached its goal of zero overseas adoptions (conditions in Korea are just too difficult, apparently), but it is no longer one of the major international adoption countries. 

In the end, thousands of children grew up in orphanages so that a government could save face because the TV network needed a human interest story to fill some airtime in their Olympic coverage.

One of the glossy news magazines already tried to do it again with their cover story about orphans being China’s big, new export.  (I looked, but can’t find it, but I distinctly remember the cover with the cute Chinese baby within the last year, and I thought I remembered it being Newsweek.)

Will they do it again?  China’s overseas adoption processing has slowed to a trickle over the last few years.  There aren’t fewer orphans… just fewer being sent to the families waiting for them.  Is this the beginning of the end for Chinese adoptions, or just another bureaucratic glitch?

In either case, I wish I didn’t have to rely on the ditzy reporting in NBC’s “daily life” coverage to not make a horrible misstep if they do, in fact, talk about overseas adoptions from China… because I’m pretty sure they’ll jump in with both feet, completely oblivious to the ramifications of their choice of subject and wording.

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The Poopy Baby Game

I was busy last night watching people fly (aka men’s team gymnastics).  I don’t fly.  I don’t dash.  Any sport involving a ball is right out.  And nobody is ever going to confuse my swimming with a dolphin (referencing the Visa commercial about Phelps).  I did fencing for a few years but was never good at it.  The only Olympic event I might vaguely be qualified for is curling, which is sliding a large rock with a handle on it down the ice at a target while yelling at your teammates with the brooms to help direct the rock the right way by smoothing or roughing the ice.  I’m good at yelling at things after I throw them (“No!  NO!  Not that way!”); it just doesn’t work with any sport besides curling.

My kids, meanwhile, are preparing to medal in the Poopy Baby Game.

It starts when I announce, “I’m going to go get the mail/check e-mail/put away laundry/go to the bathroom/etc.; I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

This phrase announces to the toddler that it is time to load her diaper with the nastiest, smelliest goop she can produce on short notice.  If she’s noisy about loading the diaper, she gets caught right away.  Normally, however, everyone is having an hysterically good time because Mommy is out of the room, so nobody really notices what the baby has done.

After a few times of the baby sitting down hard and squishing around the contents of her diaper, the older two notice that she has… um… an *odor*.  Commence stage two of the event.

“EEEWWWWW!  She’s poopy!” cries child number one.

“Let me see!  EEEEWWWW!  She is poopy!” agrees child number two, upping the volume.

The baby giggles.

Repeat several times with slight variations, louder with each repetition.  By now, the baby is laughing so hard that she is absolutely slap-happy.  Commence stage three: same thing, with running.

“EEEWWW!  STINKY BABY!” the older two yell, while running away.  Thump thump thump thump thump all the way across the house.

Toddler shreiks and gigggles so hard that she falls over and bonks her head.  Fortunately, no bump is hard enough to hurt if she’s having a really good time.  The Poopy Baby Game is always a really good time, apparently.  She promptly wobbles back to her feet and heads off to chase the big brother and sister (patter patter patter patter… sort of a cuter, slightly quieter thumping), shreiking at pitches that make dogs cringe in pain a mile away.  When she catches the older siblings and throws herself on top of them, they repeat the screaming about the poopiness and/or stinkiness of the baby.  “RUN AWAY!  RUN AWAY!  POOPY BABY!  AAAAGGHHHHH!”  THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP! goes the herd of elephants the other way across the house.

The toddler laughs until she can hardly breathe and her eyes are starting to water, then scoots off to find the older siblings again.  Giggle!  Shriek!  Patter patter patter patter…  They can do this for quite some time.

Mama, on the other hand, can only handle so much of the herd thumping back and forth around the house while shreiking and giggling.  It sort of depends on how bad the smell is and how the day is going… sometimes, the game is stopped quickly.  Usually, they’re just having too much fun to stop them.  Unless, of course, the smell is too intense. 

Eventually, though, there’s just too much eau d’enfant poopy around the house, and it has to end.

The result is a bunch of sweaty, slap-happy, giggling kids and momma in the bathroom trying to pin the writhing baby down on the changing table while removing a thoroughly mashed poopy diaper while keeping the hilarious baby’s feet out of it… but I haven’t told them to stop, either.  🙂

 

Oops, gotta go watch the women fly…

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We keep hearing from the commentators that the Olympics are this great uniting thing internationally.  I don’t know about that.  The athletes, generally, seem to shake hands across any barrier, but are there enough of them (or are they respected enough) to make a difference back home? 

The major political incursions into the arena so far:

1.  An Iranian swimmer withdrew/was ordered to withdraw because he was in a preliminary heat with an Israeli swimmer.  It seems that Iranian athletes have not faced Israeli athletes since Iran’s 1979 revolution.  There was an incident at the 2004 Olympics where an Iranian judo competitor pulled out at the last minute; Iranian newspapers claimed he did it because of “the Zionist occupiers’ ” dealings with the Palestinians.  The IOC determined it was just because the Iranian was overweight; something about a digestive problem that prevented him from making weight in Athens.  Of course, Iran also had a history by that point of refusing to compete against Israelis in the world judo championships (and previous Olympics), so it looks suspiciously like plausible deniability.  Yeah, that’s the Olympic Spirit, right there… and the IOC has put up with it so far.

2.  Georgian and Russian athletes embraced, in spite of the nasty war that has sprung up (or continued) between their countries.  Georgia is trying to reclaim South Ossetia, which attempted to secede in 1991.  The peace has apparently not been a good one, with Russia encouraging the separatists in various ways, including by offering Russian passports to occupants of South Ossetia, which is still, technically, part of the country of Georgia.  Russia says it’s protecting Russian speakers in South Ossetia from ethnic cleansing by Georgia, and that, since (by Russia’s count) 90% of South Ossetians have Russian passports, Russia is obliged to take revenge for deaths in the region, apparently by widening the conflict into undisputed Georgian territory.  So, after all that mess, the athletes managed to embrace.  Also, President Bush pulled Vladimir Putin (aka the real power behind the throne) aside during the opening ceremonies and, basically told him to cut that crap out.  Frankly, it doesn’t look like either gesture will have much effect, but I’d lay odds on Bush’s disapproval forcing more of a response than a couple of hugging athletes.  (Sorry, y’all; nice gesture, though.)

3.  The commentators on the men’s cycling event grouchily commented as the race passed Tiannamen Square that, now that those pesky demonstrators have been arrested (several “free Tibet” groups and some pro-lifers, who don’t seem to have been mentioned at all in the major media), the athletes can just get down to sports.  Never mind that widespread reports indicate that human rights abuses in China have actually gotten worse in the lead-up to the Olympics, not better, as China had promised the IOC, and that there is plenty to protest.  Some commentators’ anti-politicism aside, President Bush has been doing exactly what he said he’d be doing in China: talking about human rights.  In an inverview on EWTN (Mother Angelica’s international Catholic channel, based in Birmingham, Alabama) several months ago, President Bush pointed out that he didn’t need the Olympics to talk human rights with the Chinese: he’d been doing it consistently for years.  He also said that he would not boycott the Games, on the premise that you can’t talk to someone if you aren’t there.  Again, tonight, on NBC, President Bush emphasized that point and confirmed that he’d again pushed human rights, particularly religious freedom, with Chinese president Hu Jintao.

Any international event is going to have some political overshadowing.  It is unavoidable, especially for events as high-profile as the Olympics.  Athletes, in general, seem to be pretty accomodating across political, ethnic, and language barriers.  But they are a tiny minority in their home countries, and usually not nearly as influential as entertainment celebrities (who too often seem to think we care what they think about the environment, the war, or anything else) or politicians.

Occasionally, an athlete finds a way to make a significant difference with what they know best: sports.  Olympic champion speed skater Joey Cheek saw his Chinese visa suddenly revoked over his support of Team Darfur, a coalition of athletes looking to keep the spotlight on the atrocities being perpetrated in Darfur by the Sudanese government.  (China took this as an affront, since China has supported the Sudanese government against international sanctions.)  Cheek also donated several of his medal bonuses to Right to Play, an organization that was mentioned several times in the opening ceremonies for its work in underprivileged (and often wartorn) countries to give children an opportunity to play and learn from sports.  (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joey_Cheek with links to both organizations)

Athletes can be somewhat effective influencing people through sports, but that only goes so far.  We all need to learn when to cooperate… and when to step on a few toes and tell people (and countries) that their unjust actions will not be tolerated, not even in the service of apparent international harmony. 

 

P.S.  Thanks to the French men’s swimming relay team for *encouraging* the U.S. team to blow away the world record.  I have a French minor, but I forget how to say, “Eat crow!” in French…. 🙂

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