Friday, August 17, 2012 4:42 PM
Our weekly guide to what you may have missed.
“A science fiction fantasy from
the sixties with a view to the sea.” We tend to forget about the Olympics once
they’re over, but the games often leave behind quite a lot. In a series of
vignettes in Granta, writers living
in Beijing, Athens, and elsewhere recall the changes the
Olympics brought to their
communities, and what remains of the spectacle. “I happen to live in the
Olympic neighborhood, built twenty years ago for the games,” says Santiago
Roncagliolo, from Barcelona.
“This is the point where past meets present, and you wonder which is the real
one. I still have no answer.”
And check out this Sociological
Images post on “the
life of Olympic infrastructure once all the spectators pack up and go home,”
from John Pack and Gary Hustwit’s Olympic City Project.
One thing that’s clear about post-Olympic London, however: “the gloves come
off,” says Dave Zirin in Edge of
Sports (thanks, ZNet). International
spectacle could hardly distract many Londoners from a crumbling economy, harsh
austerity, and a blossoming national security state, and London politics are
about to get messy. What will the city remember 20 years from now?
Video: The Center for Investigative
Journalism takes on industrial ag in The
Hidden Cost of Hamburgers, a new animated short (reposted by Civil Eats). Bottom line: beef
is a big rip-off. For every ounce of beef that’s made, a pound of
greenhouse gases are also produced. And that says nothing for other
externalized costs, like health risks, water pollution, and mistreatment of
workers, to name a few. Oh, and we’re addicted to it.
From Colossal: Recreating Van
Gogh masterpieces with colored newsprint and pieces of wood.
Climate change has been the forefront of a lot of people’s minds this
summer, along with a lot of very difficult questions about our role in
confronting crisis and adapting to change. But for Sarah Gilman, one of the
biggest questions is how to deal with a loss of this magnitude. Writing in High Country News, she wonders how we
“grasp the obliteration of so much we have
known and loved,” as we move very quickly from world to another entirely
different one. Reflecting on creative responses like Maya Lin’s “What
is missing” project, Gilman’s own answer points toward the future. “Looking forward, grieving for
what has been,” she says, “we must remember that loss is not new to the world,
and that loss is also possibility.”
President Obama may have put the kibosh on Keystone XL, but that didn’t
stop TransCanada from trying to make it happen in smaller pieces, especially in
the southern plains. But activists in Texas
have no intention of letting that happen, says Forrest Wilder in The Texas Observer. Construction on the
pipeline could begin very soon, which is why Tar
Sands Blockade got into gear on Thursday with “a sustained campaign of
civil disobedience” to block the project in East Texas.
Dozens of people have signed on, marking a new chapter in what Wilder calls “one of the biggest environmental fights of
The blockade in Texas makes a powerful
statement, says Bill McKibben in Think
Progress (via Grist), and
invokes the civil disobedience last year that eventually spurred action from Washington. What’s more,
the actions come at an appropriate time, as similar protests have erupted in
places like West Virginia, Montana,
and the Pacific Northwest over coal exports
and mining. The fight over Keystone XL united a lot of disparate groups of
people last year, says McKibben, and that can happen again.
Image by Kiko Alario Salom,
licensed under Creative
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 9:21 AM
Psychologists have figured out why Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin looked so frustrated last night after she won a silver medal. Her reaction was typical of silver medalists, who are often more disappointed than the athletes who win bronze medals. According to the Boston Globe, “close-call counterfactuals” explain the disappointment of second place: Silver medal winners, like Liukin, focused on how close they came to the gold, while bronze winners focused on how close they came to not winning a medal. Studies have also found that media expectations and performance in qualifying rounds, were determining factors in the athletes’ emotions.
Thursday, August 14, 2008 3:24 PM
As much as people try to avoid it, religion and politics have taken center stage in the 2008 Olympic games. The Israeli coach of the Russian basketball team made headlines recently by shaking hands with the captain of the Iranian team, the Jerusalem Post reports, in a show of interfaith support. The gesture occurred the day after an Iranian swimmer refused to race against an Israeli. President Bush then added his own dose of religious politics to the games in a speech saying, “No state, man, or woman should fear the influence of a loving religion.”
For many competitors in the Olympics, athletics and religion are inexorably linked. Josh McAdams, a Mormon American steeplechase competitor, told the Washington Post, “athletics is not only physical and mental but spiritual.” Unfortunately for McAdams, practicing that spirituality is difficult inside the Olympic Village, as China has banned many foreign chaplains from living with the athletes. China promised to provide their own religious leaders, but the Washington Post reports that religious facilities on the Olympic grounds are remote, often don’t have enough space for worshipers, and participants are getting frustrated by the inadequate language skills of the service leaders.
Private worship aside, athletes are also under threat from the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee, should they express their religion openly during the games. In another article for the Washington Post, Wang Baodong, a Chinese Government spokesperson said, “There are very specific provisions on how an athlete should practice his religion or beliefs during the games.”
Many have pointed out that hampering religious practice violates the Olympic commitment to freedom of expression. It also goes against the explicit religious traditions of the Olympic Games, Louis A. Ruprecht writes for Religion Dispatches. Ruprecht points out that the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, once referred to the event as religio athletae, explicitly positioning the competition as religious. Even today, when the event is being held in an expressly non-religious country, Ruprecht writes that “the Modern Olympics are choreographed to give the athletes, and to a lesser degree, the spectators, a spiritual experience of enormous and lasting power.”
Monday, August 04, 2008 1:00 PM
While the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing have the Western media focusing on China’s human rights violations, we should not lose sight of the discord surrounding the 2010 Winter Games slated for Vancouver.
An in-depth article in Briarpatch magazine describes the numerous ways in which the poor and homeless populations of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have been shoved aside during the seven-year ramp-up to the Games, focusing on a series of missed opportunities by the city to prepare for 2010 while honoring its low-income inhabitants. Instead, Briarpatch reports, Mayor Sam Sullivan, the city’s Non-Partisan Association, various real estate developers, and the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation made a number of empty promises, pledging to build low-income housing (only to delay construction) and to eliminate homelessness (without specifying quite how that would be achieved).
Sullivan also enacted the euphemistically named Project Civil City, which is cracking down on Vancouver’s homeless population by removing Dumpsters from alleys, conducting anti-panhandling public awareness campaigns, increasing tickets and fines targeting the homeless, and installing more public security cameras. Already, low-income hotels have been shut down to make way for the construction of upsclae hotels, convention centers, and condominiums, casting thousands of evictees out onto the streets.
By the time the Vancouver Games commence, Briarpatch suggests they will represent a raft of broken promises disguised as progress and burnished with forced goodwill. While the Games’ planners hope to emulate Vancouver’s legendary Expo ’86, the Games will more closely resemble the 2000 Sydney Olympics, another contentious undertaking that drowned out an embittered citizenry with overhyped Olympic spirit.
(It's a long shot, but there may still be an opportunity for Vancouver to redeem itself. After the 2004 Summer Games, Athens took an unusual step by converting the apartments in its Olympic Village into low-income housing.)
Image courtesy of sillygwailo, licensed by Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008 12:46 PM
Treehugger reports that London is taking material efficiency into consideration in designing its stadium for the 2012 Olympic Games. The facility will be built from with as many recyclable materials as possible, including a hemp roof. The stadium will also be demountable, meaning it can be disassembled, moved, and rebuilt in a new city. It will be largely bolted together, rather than welded, and break down into pieces that can fit on cargo ships. This new philosophy of “low impact” games and reusable stadia might afford poorer countries the opportunity to host future Games. Chicago, a possible 2016 host, is also considering more reusable and versatile construction materials.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008 2:56 PM
To ensure good weather for the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese national Weather Modification Office (yes, it does exist) is preparing for war with the weather. An immense military array is being deployed to fire silver iodide at the atmosphere, MIT’s Technology Review reports, to prevent rain from falling on Beijing during the Olympic games. According to the article, China’s national weather modification program has some “1,500 weather modification professionals directing 30 aircraft and their crews, as well as 37,000 part-time workers—mostly peasant farmers—who are on call to blast away at clouds with 7,113 anti-aircraft guns and 4,991 rocket launchers.”
For more on cloud seeding and weather modification, read “Climate Changers” from the September/October issue of Utne Reader.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008 10:34 AM
As the Olympics approach, all eyes are on Beijing—and they’re noticing that the view is pretty smoggy. Despite China’s promise of cleaner air for the Summer Games, which begin on August 8, many observers are speculating that the world’s top athletes will probably be breathing some of the world’s most noxious air.
The New York Times recently reported that many Olympic teams are “preparing for the worst” in terms of air quality. For the U.S. athletes, that means training elsewhere, delaying their arrival as long as possible, and maybe even donning filter masks until competition time, at the risk of offending their Chinese hosts.
There’s more at stake than feelings. Kathryn Minnick takes a deeper look at the environmental backdrop to the games in the Winter 2008 issue of Earth Island Journal (article not available online), noting that “the big question is whether short-term ‘face’ or long-term change will win out.”
The games “have morphed into a pageant of environmental correctness,” Minnick writes, with China making a host of green promises in order to land the coveted games. Beijing has been making real progress in some areas, for instance, changing its power generation mix, tightening car emission standards, and cleaning up some of its most polluting factories. And the Chinese have included lots of flashy, high-tech green features in high-profile Olympic venues like the “Bird’s Nest” main stadium and the “Water Cube” swimming stadium.
However, other goals appear to be overblown or perhaps unattainable, environmental observers tell Minnick, and that pesky smog problem looms. Air quality figures for the final day of a four-day August trial test went “mysteriously missing,” Minnick writes.
“China’s attempt to stage a green Olympics is a good sign,” she concludes, “even if being sustainable was a requirement for holding the Games more than it was a free choice.”
Photo by Peng Bo, licensed under Creative Commons.
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