By Emily Senger - Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 0 Comments
Air rated at ‘Beyond Index’
A covering of smog and grit so thick that it couldn’t even be measured on a traditional air quality index descended over Beijing Thursday, prompting heath concerns.
By 6 a.m. local time Thursday, the Twitter account @BeijingAir, which is operated by the U.S. Embassy, listed the air quality at “Beyond Index,” meaning it is off the charts.
02-28-2013 06:00; PM2.5; 525.0; 516; Beyond Index
— BeijingAir (@BeijingAir) February 27, 2013
The air quality remained at “Beyond Index” or “Very Unhealthy” or “Hazardous” for much of the rest of the day.
Here’s what it looked like in Tiananmen Square: Continue…
By Alex Ballingall - Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 8:05 AM - 0 Comments
Pretoria, South Africa, could soon become Tshwane
Many cities have changed names over the years. St. Petersburg was once Leningrad, Beijing was Peking. But in South Africa, with its long history of racially charged politics, such changes are all the more controversial, and tricky. Since the end of apartheid, many of its cities and buildings have been renamed, some more than once. The Johannesburg Airport, once Jan Smuts International, has been renamed a third time, to honour Oliver Tambo, a leading anti-apartheid crusader.
Its administrative capital, Pretoria, named for a white Afrikaner pioneer who helped crush the Zulus and establish a settler state, is now at the centre of considerable debate. The ruling African National Congress says it will decide by the end of the year whether to rename it “Tshwane,” after a monarch who ruled the area before colonization.
The pro-Afrikaner Freedom Front is vowing to fight the change. Pretoria is an appropriate historical nod, they contend, dismissing renaming efforts as an attempt by the ANC to shore up the black vote.
On top of racial tensions aggravated by the debate, there’s also confusion, since the metropolitan area that includes the city is already called Tshwane. Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, for one, has said he doesn’t even know what to call the capital.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 1:24 AM - 0 Comments
Thursday in Beijing. The Prime Minister had pooled events for the first half of the day, so most reporters had a break from work. A few of us took a suggestion from Canadian embassy staff and made our way to 798 Art District, a maze of contemporary art galleries, cafés and design stores in a mid-20th-century industrial neighbourhood on the way out to Beijing Airport. In the way it’s repurposed factory space to creative ends, it’s a little like the Distillery District in Toronto or the Exchange District in Winnipeg, except far larger and more elaborate.
We only had an hour and a half to poke around. I could have spent a week. I’ve posted a few photos below. Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
Officials have even been accused of trying to open a private club
China’s Forbidden City may be under siege for the first time since 1860, when Anglo-French soldiers occupied it during the Second Opium War. This time, though, the culprits aren’t foreign invaders, but local ones, and even employees of the attraction itself. Recent troubles began for the ancient Beijing palace turned tourist attraction (its 980 palatial structures lure in 80,000 tourists a day) in May, when a 28-year-old migrant worker broke into one of its exhibit halls and carried away “gold and jewel encrusted boxes” valued at $1.5 million. According to reports, the thief escaped in true Indiana Jones fashion, “breaching a vaunted fortress designed to protect the long-ago emperors of China from barbarian invaders.” However, he forgot to wipe his fingerprints off one of the display cases and chose to frequent a nearby Internet café immediately after the heist, where he logged on to a computer under his real name. Suffice it to say, both loot and looter were quickly recovered.
But not all Forbidden City swindlers are so inept. Amid a string of ill-conceived burglaries and embarrassing accidents (in July, a palace researcher broke a 1,000-year-old porcelain dish), it seems the most serious finger-pointing has been aimed at Forbidden City employees themselves. Or as Chen Bingcai, a former state administration official, told the Guardian, “The [Forbidden City] museum is openly taking money from visitors without putting it through the books.” And Chen’s allegation—first made on one of many microblogs credited with publicizing palace scandals—isn’t exactly unfounded. Palace staff members have since been caught on camera pocketing nine-dollar admission fares.
Still, that’s an arguably small offence, in contrast to a slew of others. Of late, palace employees have confessed to misplacing over 100 ancient books, not to mention submerging an antique wooden screen in water during a botched restoration attempt. Most egregious though, especially to the Communist sensibility, was the online accusation made by television host Rui Chenggang that Forbidden City officials were in the process of opening an exclusive palace club for the upper crust of Chinese society—with membership fees beginning at $150,000.
By Jane Switzer - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Anger is mounting over the antics of the upper class’s privileged offspring
The latest report of drag racing and violence between two Beijing playboys has angered residents who criticize the sense of entitlement among China’s nouveaux riches. On Sept. 2, Beijing real estate developer Wang Shuo, 29, was charged with illegal possession of weapons and destruction of personal property, stemming from a Dec. 17, 2010, showdown with Wang Ke, 30. According to China Daily, Wang Shuo and Wang Ke were drag racing through the popular Wangfujing shopping district when they both crashed near an intersection. Wang Shuo allegedly pointed a “gun-shaped object” at Wang Ke, reversed his car into Wang Ke’s Audi and fled the scene, leaving the luxury car burning in the busy street. The men are known as two of Beijing’s so-called “capital playboys” or fu er dai, the second-generation rich: offspring of China’s wealthy and political elite—who capitalized on Communist party leader Deng Xiaoping’s reform toward a market economy—with reputations of being above the law. Released on bail, Wang Ke defended himself on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo against the damning “capital playboy” label: “I’m not what people think I am,” he wrote. “Don’t put a feudal hat on my head.”
By Jen Cutts - Friday, April 8, 2011 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
China has detained its best-known artist, Ai Weiwei
China has detained its best-known artist, Ai Weiwei, the latest in a hardline crackdown on expression that human rights groups are warning is the most severe in more than a decade. Ai, an outspoken critic of the government, has not been heard from since Sunday, when he was seized at the Beijing airport. And last week, three pro-democracy activists were charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)—which is punishable by life imprisonment. At least 23 other dissidents are being held, and another dozen are missing and at risk of harm, says CHRD.
The show of force, according to the Hong Kong-based group, is in response to online chatter that began in mid-February calling for weekly “Jasmine revolution”-style protests, inspired by the uprising in Tunisia. The initial posts appeared on a website run by exiled Chinese activists; they encouraged citizens to gather in public spaces like Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s busiest shopping streets, for “strolling” demonstrations. Unlike in Tunisia, however, there has been limited participation by the Chinese, though police have been on hand in great numbers, ready to quash any act of dissent—including that of one man who tried to leave a white jasmine flower outside a McDonald’s.
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 9:39 AM - 10 Comments
As relations with the U.S. erode, Islamabad finds a friend in Beijing
Pakistan’s ambassador to China used a recent celebration of his country’s Republic Day to give a rhetoric-filled talk about Beijing-Islamabad relations. If March 23, 1940, was the day the Muslim League decided to establish Pakistan, then the anniversary would be a time to declare that relations with China will define the way forward. “We shall take our bilateral relations to new heights,” Masood Khan proclaimed. “China and Pakistan are the best friends in the world.” The warm words echoed those of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who said during a December visit to Pakistan that the neighbours would “remain brothers forever.” Such events, of course, can be mere exercises in diplomacy. But in Wen’s case, the sentiment seemed sincere; it was backed by $35 billion in economic deals, and he rolled out a proposal to help Pakistan’s rebuilding after last summer’s flooding, even suggesting that 2011 be the “Year of China-Pakistan Friendship.”
If China appears to be paying special attention to Pakistan lately, it may be because it senses a real opportunity. Pakistan’s relations with its most powerful ally, the United States, have been souring for some time, possibly leaving Islamabad open to other overtures. Most recently, in March, Pakistanis protested and burned American flags over the release of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who confessed to killing two men in Lahore. Though he was freed after families of the victims were paid “blood money,” the case further bruised the Washington-Islamabad alliance. Even in the art galleries of Karachi, exhibitions featured critiques of the “fair-weather” friendship. As Michael Krepon wrote on the Arms Control Wonk blog, “U.S.-Pakistan ties are the worst I can recall in almost two decades of visits, and are likely to deteriorate further.”
Fraying ties with one global superpower, however, do not fully explain the vigour of the China friendship. Pakistan has been moving into China’s sphere of influence for decades, and the countries routinely refer to each other as “all-weather” partners. This year will mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. “Even when I was there in 1981, ’82, I could see Chinese military factories going up,” says Stephen Cohen, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution. Now, Pakistan represents a major market for China’s nuclear and military technology. According to SIPRI, a Swedish think tank, over 40 per cent of Chinese arms exports go to Pakistan—the largest share of any country China sells to. New U.S. intelligence assessments concluded that Pakistan has been steadily growing its nuclear arsenal since President Barack Obama came to power in 2008, and it is poised to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth-largest nuclear weapons power. This is largely thanks to the People’s Republic. Cohen says, “No one did not believe that the Chinese role was not critical and remains important.”
China also recently announced that it would forge ahead with plans to build two more nuclear power reactors in Pakistan—despite the crisis in Japan and global concerns over atomic safety. So it helps, of course, that the China-Pakistan union is a relationship devoid of criticism. Like most countries that benefit from China’s deep pockets, says South Asia analyst Teresita C. Schaffer, “the Pakistanis don’t do things we do that embarrass our friends, like hassle visitors about human rights.”
Meanwhile, relations between the two Asian nations balance ever-warmer ties between the U.S. and Pakistan’s arch-rival, India. Since the Sino-Indian war in 1962, Pakistan has viewed China as a regional counterweight to rising India, whose presence has been a source of security concerns following partition in 1947, and three subsequent major wars. “India is bigger and more successful economically,” says Schaffer. “[Pakistan] has always sought to make friends with powerful outsiders, in order to compensate for India’s larger size.”
But the syrupy rhetoric regarding Pakistan’s friendship with China can be deceiving. “China did not help Pakistan in the 1965 war, and did nothing in the 1971 war,” says Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University. “It took the side of India in the 1999 Kargil war.” China’s trade with India outstrips trade with Pakistan. Fair adds, “Yes, China has been a consistent military provider, but the logic there is to keep Pakistan in the position to distract India.” Other analysts point out that investing in Pakistan’s ports and infrastructure gives China an alternative route for energy sources. Fair concludes, “The Pakistan-China marriage looks like a love marriage but it’s also a marriage of convenience. The only difference is, China doesn’t complain about Pakistan, but we do.”
Still, at a time when it seems everything is going wrong for Islamabad—rising food prices and inflation paired with a weak currency, a middle class that has virtually disappeared, and a society that is increasingly fragmented—it feels it has a friend in Beijing. Though, as Cohen points out, “Pakistan may not be such a great prize for China. Between ethnic violence and religious quarrels, it’s coming apart at the seams.”
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 15 Comments
China is flexing its trade and military muscles. What does it mean for the West?
In the world of prized metals, dysprosium lacked a certain star power. It lies deep in the so-called f-block of the periodic table—that free-floating part near the bottom you never used in high school chemistry—along with the other so-called rare-earth elements with tongue-twisting names like neodymium and lutetium. No one ever set out with mule and pick-axe to find dysprosium. It occurs only as a constituent part of other mineral compounds, which explains why its name derives from the Greek for “hard to get at.”
But in recent months, dysprosium has shed its obscurity to prove that, like oil or diamonds, it can serve as leverage in an international dispute. Its debut took place shortly after Sept. 7, when Japan seized the crew of a Chinese fishing boat that had rammed two Japanese coast guard vessels near the Senkaku Islands, a string of barren rocks jutting from the East China Sea that has been a source of tension between the two countries for centuries. Infuriated by Tokyo’s refusal to turn over the skipper of the trawler, Beijing retaliated in a way no one expected: it cut off Japan’s supply of dysprosium, along with 16 other rare earth metals. Dysprosium and its chemical cousins are the lifeblood of Japan’s vaunted high-tech industries, used in everything from iPhone screens to the electric motor of the Toyota Prius. China, it turns out, produces 93 per cent of the world’s supply of them, having gotten into the market 25 years ago, then flooded the globe with cheaply mined product during the late 1990s. Today, if you want a shipment of dysprosium, you buy it from China.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Massive Chinese investment raises a host of thorny issues. But is it also Africa’s best chance to get ahead?
The general manager of the Chinese-owned Collum Coal Mining Industries in Sinazeze, the hottest, most remote corner of Zambia, is all of 24. Six months ago, he was busing tables at a Lusaka Chinese restaurant owned by his friend’s mom. Six months before that, he was in university in China. On the side, Alfred Huang is starting an electronics business importing second-hand laptops, DVD players and cellphones to the desperately underserved African market. His moustache is little more than peach fuzz, and his perfect English rolls out so softly it’s hard to make out what he’s saying, but here, the Sichuan native commands respect. He’s a king in the making, with his feet in two markets, and interests stretching from minerals to electronics. Already, he’s told all his friends to come to Africa, the Promised Land for China’s young and nimbly entrepreneurial.
Huang first landed in Zambia in the thick of the global recession, a dark time for the copper-bottomed economy. At the peak of the downturn, the mineral’s price dropped by more than two-thirds. Panicked Western investors fled or dramatically scaled back operations. One in five Zambian miners lost their jobs as the economy ground to a halt. Copper accounts for some 70 per cent of government revenues, and dwindling foreign exchange reserves sunk the local currency.
By Jane Switzer - Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
The light-rail “straddling bus,” will allow cars to travel beneath an upper level carrying as many as 1,400 passengers.
Drivers on the congested roads in Beijing’s Mentougou district may soon have to get used to sharing the road with a rather futuristic-looking bus. The light-rail “straddling bus,” developed by the Shenzhen Hashi Future Parking Equipment Co., will allow cars less than two metres tall to travel beneath an upper level carrying as many as 1,400 passengers. The bus, which is about six metres tall and two street lanes wide, aims to reduce pollution (it will run partially on solar power) and up to 30 per cent of traffic.
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 11:30 AM - 5 Comments
Beijing has halted land sales in a bid to cool the housing market
In the incestuous world of Chinese state-owned enterprises, there’s clearly not much stock put in clever brand marketing. Hence names like China Aerospace Industry Corp. and China Ocean Shipping—monikers that dryly convey what they do. Or used to do. Those government-owned companies and others have plunged into the red hot Chinese real estate development market. Now a bubble of epic proportions seems to be forming, and Beijing is desperately trying to rein it in.
Earlier this month ofﬁcials ordered 78 state-owned enterprises to get out of the real estate game by April. Beijing has also put new rules in place requiring hefty down payments of 50 per cent for land developers. Last week the central government went so far as to temporarily halt all sales of residential land. The moves come as speculators continue to drive property values up at double digit rates in many big cities, even as tens of thousands of homes and whole apartment buildings sit empty. Houses in Shanghai now cost 90 times more than average incomes.
The $586 billion in stimulus spending Beijing injected into the domestic economy is one reason for the bubble. But the situation has been made worse since local governments, and by extension many state-run companies, now rely heavily on property sales for revenues. In fact, many local politicians are desperate to keep the boom going.
“[Beijing] has tried using standard policies like increasing taxes on land transfers to cool down the real estate markets and it didn’t work,” says Terry Sicular, an economist at the University of Western Ontario who studies China. “Now they’re trying to restrict the amount of development. It may be effective for a short time, but it doesn’t fix the underlying problems.” And that could make an already dangerous bubble even worse. M
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 10:50 AM - 3 Comments
China wants a high-speed train connection to the West
It sounds like the stuff of an Agatha Christie novel, or Edwardian travelogues that unfold over weeks rather than days. But if high-level negotiations between China and 17 countries throughout Asia and Europe bear fruit, passengers could one day traverse the 8,100 km between London and Beijing in just 48 hours, travelling at a blinding 400 km/h.
The idea is part of a proposed high-speed rail expansion that would connect China with the West and see all roads leading to the Middle Kingdom. One would link Singapore to Beijing; another would run through Russia to Germany. Still another would link China to Thailand, Vietnam and Burma. Another prospective partner is India, which appears willing to overlook tensions with Beijing to tap expertise China has gained during construction of its domestic high-speed network. While the projects could take a decade to complete, all parties appear to be in a hurry. “We’ve already carried out the survey work for the European network,” says Wang Menshu, a senior consultant on China’s railways. “The central and eastern European countries are eager for us to start.” China is even offering to build lines in exchange for natural resources rather than capital investment, says Wang.
The network’s completion would help cement China’s position as the world’s economic centre of gravity—a prospect that doesn’t thrill skeptics worried by the country’s growing might. But others are encouraged by Beijing’s leadership on the railway initiative. “If they’re putting their own resources into it, and if they’re acting collaboratively—taking these other governments into their confidence—these are good signs,” says Amitav Acharya, a professor at the American University in Washington. “China has to be at centre stage in Asia, and something like this is a big symbolic step for them.”
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 7:52 AM - 112 Comments
British journalists are not the only ones raising awkward questions about the multitudinous stumbles that have characterized the beginning of the Winter Olympics. They merely attract the most attention, for reasons that have nothing much to do with the truth or falsehood of their criticisms. These reasons include:
1. Cultural cringe: the inherent Canadian awareness of inferiority, and suspicion of condescension, provoked by anything British-accented. No beast is feebler than the Canadian journalist who wraps himself in the flag and rushes tearfully to his typewriter or microphone upon the first hint of perceived sneering at the colonials. Don’t get me wrong: it’s good copy. I saw the technique, used cynically, work like a charm at the ’01 Athletics Worlds here in Edmonton when a couple of old Fleet Street soaks spoke unlacquered truth about the city’s broad streak of Soviet shabbiness. But to engage on that level is to perpetuate the cringe, and besides, there’s reason 2:
2. Criticisms naturally hit harder when they’re written with great force. British writers are vigorous, direct, unflinching, entertainment-minded, and, in general, better at their trade than ours. (Rest assured—they’ll be, if anything, much harder on their own 2012 Summer Games.) Their newspapers are more fun than ours, pay good writers much more, and are doing better as businesses. They are also rank with ethical failings and obnoxious practices, to be sure, but almost all of those arise from trying too hard to get the story, intruding too far into private matters, competing too viciously, overreacting to perceived injustice. The failings of Canada’s press are all, as a rule, on the other side—the side of compromise, laziness, and political correctness. For instance, look no further than reason 3:
3. Canadian journalists covering the Games have, virtually to a man, accepted the premise that the Games provide an accurate moral, artistic, and technical reflection on Canada as a whole. I don’t remember signing that contract, and if I were going to sign one with a city and its business and volunteer communities, I wouldn’t have chosen Vancouver. Are you kidding? Place is screwy! As it happens, Alberta already staked its international reputation on a Winter Olympics, thanks, and did fine. The rest of you are quite welcome to let yourselves be judged on the basis of this fiasco, but as far as I can see, you haven’t been asked.
I hasten to add that the relative success of the 1988 Games—painfully emphasized by the Great Calgary Zamboni Airlift—is not entirely to Alberta’s credit. After all, Beijing put on a heck of an Olympics, but I wouldn’t want to live there. It put on an outstanding show partly for the reasons I wouldn’t want to live there: crushing social homogeneity, one-party government, lack of civil liberties, central economic planning. If the Games needed a row of shacks in Beijing knocked down, they got knocked down, without a lot of paperwork or argument. If industrial pollution was a problem, mills and factories could be shut down arbitrarily for as long as needed to render the air breathable by gweilo weaklings. Protesters delaying VIP access to the Opening Ceremonies? In China? Forget about it. (Literally: forget about it or you’ll be sent to the laogai for re-education.)
I don’t mean to equate Calgary to Beijing, but the factors that allowed Calgary to succeed as an Olympic host probably did include weak political opposition on the municipal and provincial levels; a small, dominant social-financial elite; a certain degree of cultural homogeneity; and a borderline-inappropriate degree of coziness between legislators, regulators, and judges. What you want in an ideal Olympic city is that it be quite rich, very conformist, and a teensy bit crooked. Calgary wouldn’t be as good a host in 2010 as it was in 1988; it’s a more interesting place now.
And Vancouver may have bitten off slightly more than it can chew, precisely because it’s about the most interesting place in the country, in good respects and bad. It’s not a well-oiled machine, it’s a self-sufficient permanent riot. I have always understood its disorder to be part of its glory. I would have put an Olympics on the moon before I’d have put one there.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:33 PM - 9 Comments
Video gamers are waging a long, blistering battle to compete in future Games
Snowboarding made it into the Olympics just over a decade ago. Golf, which is far less physically demanding, will be in the next Summer Games. And it’s a running joke that seniors can win medals now that curling, or “chess on ice” is a medal sport. So why can’t eye-strained video gamers have shot at the gold?
“Gaming has its place in the world stage,” says Ted Owen, CEO of the Global Gaming League, an organization that ranks and provides a social network for players. “Gaming deserves to be an Olympic sport.” In 2008, Owen signed a deal with the Chinese Olympic Committee to include a gaming tournament as an official welcome event in Beijing, and says the International Olympic Committee has expressed interest in making it a permanent part of the Games.
“It’s the same skills as if you were a hockey player or a baseball player, anything like that,” says Matt Wood, a former pro gamer. “Mostly it’s mental. You don’t have a good mental game, you could be the best player, and all of a sudden you’re on stage, on live TV or with cameras in your face, and if you get nervous, you’re going to lose.” Wood used to compete for the first-ever salaried and televised video game league, the Championship Gaming Series (CGS). “They made a league kind of like the NHL or MLB, they tried to make a professional sport. They had a draft, they had general managers and franchises.”
The league seemed to come along at the perfect time. In the U.S. alone the video game industry brought in over $22 billion in 2008—an almost 25 per cent growth over the previous year. That’s more than triple the $6.5 billion made by the NFL over the same period, which was $50 million less than the league’s projected revenue. Plus gaming’s athletic stature got a huge boost last year—it’s now China’s 99th official sport.
Garrett Bambrough used to play for CGS. He’s a pro gamer who specializes in Counterstrike, a military themed shoot ‘em up. He’s also a six-foot-three personal trainer—and has the build of a pro hockey player. “People see me, they don’t know me as a gamer,” he says. “Everyone has this idea that if you play games your some 30-year-old overweight guy who doesn’t go outside.” He says eSports—as gaming is sometimes called—aren’t physical in a traditional sense, but that they require all the strategy, mental toughness and hand-eye coordination needed to race bobsled or throw a curling stone. “When you’re watching the game you just see a guy shooting the gun. But you are thinking 24/7,” he says. “You do individual practices, you work on your aim, you watch demos of other teams to try to get new moves and to try and get smarter.” Both Wood and Bambrough would love to see gaming in the Olympics, either as a medal or demonstration sport, but acknowledge the resistance.
Ross Rebagliati is the first person to win an Olympic medal for snowboarding, taking home the gold in the 1998 winter games—plus, he was brought up on video games. Yet, he says gaming shouldn’t be considered a sport for anyone capable of normal physical activity. “It would be like, in the Paralympics, having athletes running in the wheelchair endurance races who don’t need to be in a wheelchair.” Rebagliati started carving the hills before snowboards were even allowed on ski runs, so he knows what it’s like to fight for Olympic recognition. But, he says, the line has to be drawn somewhere. “Sport has to have some kind of physical act.”
Owen’s got plenty of hurdles ahead in gaming’s road to Olympic status. CGS folded when sponsors pulled out as the recession hit. The protests and controversy surrounding the games in Beijing led the Chinese government to cancel non-essential Olympic events, including GGLs tournament. Owen tried to pique the IOC’s interest again for the 2010 games in Vancouver—they wouldn’t bite. But he won’t give up. He says pro gamers are treated like celebrities in Asian countries such as China and Korea, and that the popularity of eSports is growing quickly in Europe. Pro gaming is still in its infancy in the rest of the world, but he says he’ll keep lobbying and that it’s only a matter of time until gamers are up on the podium.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 10:57 AM - 18 Comments
“The government of Canada has taken all necessary actions in all instances where there is proof of abuse of Afghan prisoners,” Harper said. “I think the opposition has nothing to do when it is talking about something that happened three years ago.”
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 3:43 PM - 1 Comment
Police and quiet protests mark the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown in Beijing
As activists and international leaders spoke out around the world on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, white-gloved police officers were defending the site of the crackdown with umbrellas, blocking the view of prying news cameras lest they capture some brave soul honouring the fallen.
When trying to be serious, Chinese authorities can look awfully absurd.
But as ever, it was a mistake on this day to test Beijing’s resolve. At least one man found himself being frog-marched to a paddy wagon after appearing in the square clad entirely in white, the colour many dissidents have chosen to symbolize their solidarity with the ill-fated pro-democracy demonstrators of 1989. The man claimed it was all a ‘misunderstanding,’ and pleaded with the officers to hear him out. Yet a Toronto Star reporter who witnessed the arrest noted that the man’s outfit included a giant white cowboy hat—a rare enough sight in Beijing to suggest the man was hoping for YouTube exposure. Continue…
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 7:29 AM - 0 Comments
Ran into Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan in Beijing today. He’s here for some meet-and-greet,…
Ran into Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan in Beijing today. He’s here for some meet-and-greet, followed by some sightseeing and then his participation in the upcoming torch relay for the Paralympics. You might think it would be a challenge for Sullivan, a quadriplegic, to hoist the torch, but the gritty mayor has it figured out. He tells me he’s reusing the device he’d had attached to his motorized wheelchair to wave the Olympic flag during the closing ceremonies of the Winter Games in Turin. It was his role, of course, to wave the giant flag as the mayor of the host city for the 2010 Winter Games—now just 18 months away.
Sullivan’s jubilant flag waving in Turin was far and away the best part of Vancouver’s lame contribution to those ceremonies.
The flag-holder was an inspiring bit of ingenuity, and now, with a bit of a retrofit, Sullivan’s wheelchair will hoist the torch. He hopes his participation will send a message in advance of those Games that all things are possible with a bit of determination. Well, all things except winning reelection. Sullivan lost his civic party’s nomination for the next mayoral election, which means any flag waving he does in Vancouver in February 2010, will be from the sidelines. Politics is as cruel as sport.
Speaking of determination, what’s that I see on the mayor’s lap? Continue…
By Ken MacQueen - Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 11:39 PM - 514 Comments
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was quick out of the blocks in claiming a share…
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was quick out of the blocks in claiming a share of the Olympic glory in Canada’s belated start to the Beijing medal race. “All British Columbians and people across the nation are incredibly proud of [wrestler] Carol Huynh of Hazelton, and [rowing pair] Dave Calder of Victoria and Scott Frandsen of Kelowna for bringing home some of our country’s first Olympic medals from Beijing.”
Campbell also proudly noted that Calder “is a member of B.C.’s talented public service in the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.” In fact, Calder had quit rowing to join the public service after his boat was disqualified in Athens for straying from its lane. He only returned to rowing this year, taking a partial leave from his job while balancing the brutal demands of training with the responsibilities of a husband and father. “His work ethic is incredible,” says wife Rachel. Who says public servants don’t break a sweat? Continue…
By selley - Friday, August 15, 2008 at 1:47 PM - 0 Comments
Must-reads: Rosie DiManno and Colby Cosh on Olympic politics; …Janet Bagnall on PromArt; Marcus
In the wake of day seven of the Olympics, the commentary has gone all serious-like again.
“Who on Earth thinks that children aren’t treated like interchangeable parts all the time on Western TV programs” Colby Cosh asks, apparently unmoved (as are we, quite frankly) by the plight of seven-year-old Yang Peiyi. And who among us believes “that vocal performers singing anthems and other tricky numbers in open-air stadia don’t lip-sync as a matter of course?” Cosh detects the same whiff of hysteria that consumes Canadians whenever our athletes perform below expectations, noting that exactly none of the 15 potential medal-winners the National “We’re getting beaten by Togo” Post identified have yet had their chances to medal. “If we were as self-confident as we fancy ourselves,” he concludes, “we might at least consider making a collective decision to stop worrying quite so much about the Summer Games.”
We were on the fence for much of Rosie DiManno‘s argument that Saudi Arabia should either allow female athletes to compete in the Olympics or be banned, in view of the IOC’s core principle of gender equality, until she reminded us that “South Africa was rendered an Olympic pariah for three decades because of apartheid.” Not to say the two phenomenon are equal, but one IOC member recently rejected the comparison on highly suspect grounds, arguing apartheid can’t “be considered parallel to the effort to bring women into absolutely equal gender balance.” “Balancing the sexes is not even the issue, you hypocritical git,” DiManno quite rightly responds in the Toronto Star. “But spoken like a true moral midget.”
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, August 15, 2008 at 6:53 AM - 0 Comments
My digital tape recorder was made in China. Apparently it came home to Beijing…
My digital tape recorder was made in China. Apparently it came home to Beijing to die. This was most inconvenient, for there is much spit collecting to do at an Olympic Games. Spit collecting is the collection of quotes—or more accurately clichés and excuses—in a scrum situation. I first heard this term, not surprisingly, while reporting from Parliament Hill in Ottawa. It is not an uplifting exercise for either reporters, or the reported, but it is part of the game.
My theory is that a tape recorder can only take so much spit before it craps out. And here, being a Canadian reporter, there have been a painful number of excuses. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 12:36 AM - 0 Comments
The only thing more predictable than Canada’s slow start at the Summer Games, is…
The only thing more predictable than Canada’s slow start at the Summer Games, is the hand-wringing reaction back home. Once every four years, Canadians sit down in front of their TVs with a beer and a bag of chips, and wonder why their athletes aren’t topping the podium. The “Why do We Suck?” stories start popping up in the papers, and so do the tables comparing our medal showing to say, the Marshall Islands, or maybe just Michael Phelps.
So, let’s inject a little dose of perspective. Canada will win medals—soon. And by this weekend, when the rowing golds get handed out, the tenor of the coverage will change 180 degrees, to an Olympic love in. ‘Twas ever thus.
This morning in Beijing, Mike Brown missed the podium by 9/100ths of a second. If he had swam his time from the semis on Wed night, he would have won silver. The difference between his two swims? Two tenths of a second. Less than the blink of an eye. The complaining coach potatoes back home, can’t even change the channel that fast.
Expectations for Beijing are modest, and probably realistic. In Athens, Canada won just 12 medals, including three golds, from Kyle Shewfelt in gymnastics, Lori-Ann Muenzer in track cycling, and Adam van Koeverden in kayak. The Canadian Olympic Committee won’t say exactly how many they are shooting for this time, but their stated goal of a 16th overall finish, should put them around the 14 or 15 medal mark.
And the bigger point, is that you get what you pay for. Want to start competing with the US, China, or even Great Britain or Australia. Then we better start funding like them. The new “Road to Excellence” funding, announced in the last federal budget—$24 million over the next two years, then $24 million annually after that—arrived too late for these Games, despite years of lobbying by athletes and the COC. The similar “Own the Podium” money targeted at Winter sports in the lead up to the Vancouver 2010 Games, is already paying dividends. But if Canadians really are demanding a breakthrough at London 2012, it will take even more money. Continue…
By selley - Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 1:02 PM - 0 Comments
Must-reads: Marcus Gee and George Jonas on the Georgia situation.
We should have seen it coming, and it’s unlikely to end well.
Nobody should be surprised by recent developments in Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia, Marcus Gee argues in The Globe and Mail. Russian leaders have been complaining about “being encircled, encroached upon and disrespected by an arrogant West drunk on the taste of its Cold War victory” since the days of Yeltsin, he notes, and more recently, Vladimir Putin served notice that he considered the West’s recognition of Kosovo sufficient precedent for Russia to recognize South Ossetia, Abkhazia and heaven knows how many other Caucasian backwaters. The main difference, Gee contends, is that Moscow now has the financial and military resources to redress its many perceived humiliations.
George Jonas, writing in the National Post, is unimpressed with George W. Bush’s condemnation of Russia’s incursion into Georgia given how recently the United States “has bombed and invaded sovereign countries, not only potential threats like Iraq or Afghanistan, but countries that couldn’t threaten America or its allies by any stretch of the imagination—such, for instance, as Serbia.” And speaking of Serbia, Jonas argues that while Mikheil Saakashvili is a pro-western democrat and Slobodan Milosevic was “a communist-turned-chauvinist, a thug and no friend of the West,” this does not explain the binary distinction many observers seem to draw between the Georgia/South Ossetia and Serbia/Kosovo situations—which are, he contends, conceptually identical. “Putin seems ready to pull a Sudetenland in Georgia,” Jonas concludes. “I’m afraid NATO may have empowered him by pulling one in 1999 in Kosovo.”
By Ken MacQueen - Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 12:49 AM - 0 Comments
Women’s soccer, or football as it’s called in the Olympics, is providing some of…
Women’s soccer, or football as it’s called in the Olympics, is providing some of the best team excitement at these Games. The Canadian women, all grit and muscle, have a win, a draw, and a loss. They’ve been in every game they’ve played, tying the dominant Chinese women in their pool, and losing 2-1 to a strong Swedish team. Next up, the powerhouse Americans.
Naturally, China’s women are crowd favorites here, but the Chinese men, yikes, not so much. They’ve had their, ah, butts handed to them in their two games so far. And they’re certain to get booted from the Games later today when they play Brazil. Just as well, the home country fans are fed up. Posted on the Internet are the lyrics of one of the feel-good Olympic songs that are replayed here to the point of distraction. It’s undergone a sarcastic rewrite at the hands of an ex-fan of China. Sing along if you wish:
Our gate is open now.
Welcome all the ball
One, two, three or even more
We don’t care at all.
If you think that’s unsporting, look at what Agence France-Presse is reporting. Toronto Raptors guard Jose Calderon, a star member of Spain’s Olympic basketball team, is defending a photo where the national team posed with slit eyes before heading off to China. Said Calderon: “it seemed to us to be something appropriate and that it would always be interpreted as an affectionate gesture.” Some of his best friends in Toronto, he adds, “are of Chinese origin.”
In another gesture of affection, Tuesday, the Spanish team beat China 85-75.
By selley - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 1:35 PM - 0 Comments
Must-reads: …Henry Aubin on the Montreal North riots; Andrew Cohen on Russia vs. China;
Live from Beijing
Stop watching the Olympics! They’re eeeeeeeevil!
The National Post‘s Jonathan Kay dismisses the Olympics as “a giant exercise in petty nationalism” predicated on the delusion, in George Orwell’s words, “that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.” Dictatorships use the Games “to stir up nationalistic blood lust without actually going through the bother of military combat,” spending gazillions of dollars to “frog-march … athletes into sports that are unpopular and obscure at home, but which seem a safe bet for a massive medal tally” and pumping them full of “every drug that can possibly be slipped by the urine collectors.” And we, poor deluded Westerners, cheer on anyone who “happen[s] to be wearing a Maple Leaf-emblazoned unitard” against those drugged-up totalitarian robots in sports we don’t actually give a damn about.
We, on the other hand, think the Olympics are fun.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham reports on a brand new Olympic phenomenon—cheerleaders, who will be entertaining the crowds at everything from beach volleyball to race walking (the latter a sport clearly in need of scantily clad women, or cute puppies, or something). “You’ve got to wonder, what would Mao say?” Bramham quips, but frankly, we were more interested in what Bramham might think. Her mention of the bikini-clad female volleyballers and the all-male officials dressed “in below-the-knee boarder shorts, T-shirts and hats” seems to promise some quite justifiable snark, but none ever materializes. Rip-off!
By selley - Monday, August 11, 2008 at 2:30 PM - 0 Comments
Must-reads: David Olive on U.S. election coverage; …Lawrence Martin on the tyranny
In Beijing, in Edmonton and, uh, in jail, all pundits’ eyes are turned to the Games.
The Globe and Mail‘s Christie Blatchford was, predictably, “moved to tears” at various stages of the Olympic opening ceremonies, but was able to snap herself out of it by thinking how many of the participants were “voluntold” to show up by their oppressive Communist overlords. “It cannot be considered unmannerly,” she writes, “to note that as good as the show was, as smashing as the facilities are and as super-successful as the Games themselves probably will be, it all happened like this not only because of Chinese ingenuity, but also because the government could bulldoze homes when it needed land, … spend like a drunken sailor, … [and] detain or ‘re-educate’ anyone who dared whisper the mildest complaint.” It’s a weird column, not least because she quotes anonymous friends back home as if they were informed sources—one of whom suggests, bizarrely, that the Roman Empire was “built on freedom.”
The modern, outward-looking, friendly China “is not a false front,” Lorne Gunter writes in the National Post. “It’s more a sort of parallel China to the old, bellicose, goose-stepping one.” But goose-stepping China still exists, he says, and it’s desperate to keep the “New China bubble” from bursting while the world is watching. By focusing only on that new China, Gunter alleges, the IOC—and the CBC, naturally; can’t forget them!—are propping up the old, crueller version.