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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:00 pm

Controlympics: Winners Who Lost (#3 of 4)


We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners and the losers.  Now let’s take a look at winners who in fact lost.

1.  Chinese women’s gymnastics team — nobody believes they were all sixteen years old.  Not even the Chinese.  They may have won gold, and the Chinese may have avoided a scandal as a result of forged documents, but the reality is that sooner or later, someone will talk.

2.  Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh — the American bikini-clad, gold medal-winning women’s beach volleyball team may have been the ugliest winners in the entire Olympics.  And May-Treanor’s “slap my butt” antics with President Bush set back both the sport and America’s image.

3. Russia — Russian athletes came in third in terms of total number of medals won.  After the invasion of Georgia, however, nobody wanted them to win anything.  And at one point in the Games, Georgia had as many gold medals as Russia.  In addition, Russia’s hosting of the winter games at Sochi in 2014 may be at risk, given their location only fifteen miles from the Russia-Georgia border.

4.  Zhang Yimou — the director of the the Opening and Closing ceremonies actually praised the “precision” of North Korean performers and dissed the New York Metropolitan Opera as whiners.  He also ignored his own history — as a victim of the Cultural Revolution — to suck up to the Chinese leadership and produce massive extravaganzas without any consideration of the resultant human cost.

5.  London 2012 — they may have the next games, but they have to follow what was (setting aside, for the moment, human rights abuses and other problems) the best-organized Games ever.  And the London contribution to the Closing Ceremonies was beyond bad.

Next up:  the medal winners in the Schadenfreude competition.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: Winners (#1 of 4)


Most of you already have forgotten all about the Olympics, but here at Undip, we already have London 2012 fever!  After all, who doesn’t want to see Jimmy Page balance his guitar on top of his walker while some eighteen-year-old in go-go boots mangles Whole Lotta Love?

Oh wait — that already happened.

All kidding aside, I’d like to share a few final thoughts on what arguably were the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. First, let’s take a look at the winners.

1.  The Chinese government. Like it or not, the ChiComs pulled it off.  It was, in many ways, a spectacular show.  Despite some problems, embarrassments, and even a few unscripted moments, the Olympics that Hu Jintao and company wanted were the Olympics they got.  And most of the world bought their message hook, line, and sinker.

2.  Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter not only captured three golds, but he managed to make Jacques Rogge cranky.  That alone made it a good Olympics.  Bolt looked particularly good when, a day after Rogge whined about his “antics,” a Cuban taekwondo athlete kicked an athlete in the face — and Bolt donated $50,000 of his prize money to earthquake relief as a “thank you to the Chinese people.”

3.  Michael Phelps (and his mom). Put it this way:  the Intertubes are still buzzing about the 100m fly.  Debbie Phelps will be the unexpected breakout star of the Olympics.

4.  Clean air. Does it matter whether the Chinese got lucky (rain at just the right moments) or actually knew what they were doing?  In the end, the pollution became a non-story.  And athletes who acted like it mattered — the American cyclists showing up in masks, the Ethiopian marathoner who passed on competing — looked foolish.

5.  Lopez Lomong. The Sudanese lost boy turned American flag bearer may not have won his race, but he had a gold medal moment.  Kudos as well to the American athletes who chose him for the job.

| posted in globalization, pop culture | 1 Comment

14 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Auditioning for PM?


My colleague Pin Collacott had a post a few days ago about British foreign minister David Miliband auditioning for the PM job.  Now we have this:

I have to admit that the man is impressive. But he looks like he’s twelve years old.  It reminds me of “Dish and Dishonesty,” that great BlackAdder the Third episode where Edmund takes on Pitt the Younger:

Pitt the Younger: I intend to put up my own brother as a candidate against you!

Blackadder: Oh, and which Pitt would this be? Pitt the Toddler? Pitt the Embryo? Pitt the Glint in the Milkman’s Eye?

Pitt the Younger: Pah! Gentlemen, as I said to Chancellor Metternich at the Congress of Strasbourg; “Poooo to you with knobs on!” We shall meet sirs, on the hustings!

Perhaps Gordon Brown could ask Rowan Atkinson to be his campaign manager.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, pop culture, war & rumors of war | 1 Comment

1 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:08 pm

Parochial Headline of the Week


From Telegraph (UK):

US officials given power to seize British visitors’ laptops

Along with everyone else’s, you solipsistic blinkered twits.

| posted in war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

31 July 2008 Harpinder A. Collacott
08:47 pm

Posturing for Change


While John McCain and Barack Obama continue to battle for the Presidency of the United States, the contenders for leadership in the UK also have begun posturing — but this time, it’s within the Labour-majority Government’s own ranks.

Yesterday, David Milliband, the current Foreign Secretary, took advantage of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s summer break to publish his own platform for change:

In the aftermath of Labour’s third successive defeat at the 1959 election, a famous pamphlet asked the question: “Must Labour lose?” Today, the temptation is similar fatalism. We must not yield to it. We need to remember that there is little real sense among the public — or even among Tory MPs — of what the Conservatives stand for, or what they would do in power.

The odds are against us, no question. But I still believe we can win the next election…. The starting point is not debating personalities but winning the argument about our record, our vision for the future and how we achieve it.

When quizzed at a press conference (that just happened to follow publication of the article) about whether he was challenging Brown for leadership of the Labour Party, Milliband’s body language was the opposite of his weak words. Watch the video for yourselves here.

Autumn 2008 promises to be an interesting time politically.  Watch out world — we may see a whole different kind of “coalition of the willing” emerge!

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27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:30 pm

Department of Unfortunate Metaphors


From Justin Webb, a blogger at the BBC:

Incidentally CNN described Gordon Brown as a “Head of State.” This mistake - a common one - is part of the reason why Americans often think Brits are uncomfortably nasty to their prime ministers. To American eyes attacking them can sometimes seem unpatriotic - they do not realise that these figures represent a party not the state. Conversely we Brits forget sometimes that Obama and McCain are competing to become America’s Queen.

Oh no you din’t!   Sometimes it’s better not to go there.

| posted in foreign policy, politics | 0 Comments

14 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:02 pm

Ich bin ein Käse Auslieferungaffen essend


I’ve had been planning to blog on the whole Obama at Brandenburg gate issue, but Marbury managed to sum up the my concerns pretty well:

First post:

Audacious, heavily symbolic gestures like this make me queasy (Gordon Brown did something similar, on a smaller scale, and look how that worked out). It’s the kind of thing that can seem brilliant when cooked up at a strategy meeting, and genius when it’s actually executed. But if things start to go wrong afterwards, for whatever reason, it’s the first thing critics will point to and shout “hubris“!

Second post:

Here he is, not even president yet, and he wants us to think of him as Ronald Reagan demanding that Gorbachev tear down the wall. Why does he even have to make a speech whilst in Europe? What’s wrong with a few handshakes and an eight-course dinner?

Let me put it another way: it is an unfortunate fact of life that many Americans are convinced that all Europeans a) are secretly French; b) hate us; c) want us to fail; and d) to use The Simpsons’ classic phrase, are “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

So let’s just say I have my doubts about how the Obama speech is going to play back home.

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, media, none of the above, politics, world at home | 1 Comment

6 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:30 am

Incredibly Bad Idea of the Day


Jim Hoagland wants to “blow up” the G-8 and replace it with a G-3:

Predictable suggestions that this body be expanded to a G-13 or a G-20 go in the absolute wrong direction. More expansion will destroy any opportunity for informal, effective consultation by world leaders. They will be talking for the press releases, not for each other. Such proposals should be put forward only as cover for a more sensible proposition: The United States, the European Union and Japan should quietly form a G-3 that would operate in the shadows of the much larger talk shop.

Oh boy would that be a good idea incredibly stupid thing to do:  alienate everybody except Japan, the one country without the capacity to help us militarily.

The French, Brits, and Germans would be angry because their three votes would be reduced to one, not to mention the fact that the EU would be represented by whichever country happens to hold the Presidency  (right now, that would be France, but come January it would be the Czech Republic, whose economy currently ranks somewhere between 31st and 40th largest, depending on your source).

The Russians, who already disdain us (as we do them), would get even madder.

The Chinese, Spanish, Brazilians, Indians, and Koreans would have brand new reasons to be annoyed with the arrogance of our foreign policy.

The Canadians and Italians would be upset at being kicked out of the one club where they are somewhat relevant.  And of course, we would look like the big bully once again.

I’m no fan of the G-8.  I think it’s the wrong grouping for the wrong reasons.  I agree with Hoagland that it’s not a very useful construct.  Every two years these (mostly) guys get together and set out an ambitious agenda on a given problem or set of problems, which they then trumpet as a breakthrough.  Two years ago, it was Africa, debt, and development (thanks largely to Bono and Blair).  This time, it’s (again) climate change and the rapid rise in commodity prices.  But if the past is prologue, they’ll negotiate until the last minute, issue a communique, and then… go home.  Little else ever comes of these “breakthroughs.”  And that doesn’t even get to the fact that the host country has to establish a miniature police state to make the event happen.

Part of the problem, as Hoagland notes, is that the G-8 really doesn’t have a clear definition of membership.  That is in part a consequence of the dumb decision to admit Russia in the post-Cold-War-end-of-history euphoria of the 1990s (I would not be the first to call this one of Clinton’s dumber ideas).  But it also is a product of the fact that the G-8 (with that one exception) has remained a static body while the world has changed.

So what is the G-8?  To put it in Jim Collins’ Good to Great terms, what is its hedgehog concept?  Is it a gathering of the world’s largest economies?  If so, what’s Russia doing there?  Is it the world’s largest democratic economies?  Again, Russia disproves that.  Furthermore, Spain (which by some (but not all) accounts has surpassed Canada in terms of nominal GDP), India, and Korea have just as much right to a place at the table as the Canadians.

I also have a hard time understanding why China is excluded when Russia remains at the table.  It’s either the world’s biggest economies or it’s the world’s biggest democratic economies.  Right now it’s a ridiculous hybrid.

Instead of maintaining the status quo or arbitrarily growing the club to include/exclude certain countries, why not draw a line that gives countries aspiring to membership a clearly delineated criteria for membership?  From now on, The G-xx will include

  1. only those economies whose annual GDP is equal to US$1 million or greater;
  2. only those democratic economies whose annual GDP is equal to US$1 million or greater; or
  3. some other equally arbitrary criteria that is clear to outsiders.

Doing this might create incentives for economic growth and perhaps even democratic governance.

Of course, the problem is deciding whose standard to use.  If we were to use the first criteria listed above, would the membership be ten (using World Bank numbers) or twelve (using those of the IMF)?  That explains one of the real reasons the group hasn’t changed:  everyone is terrified of making somebody else angry.

I recognize none of what I’m proposing is new:  as Hoagland notes, there are numerous proposals to expand the group to a G-13 and even a G-20.  But instead of coming up with a bad idea to fill a column, let’s acknowledge the truth of the matter:  the time has come to revise G-8’s mission statement or abolish it altogether.

Of course, the chances of this happening are almost infinitesimal — if it takes these guys months to negotiate a statement on debt relief, imagine how long this project would take?

| posted in foreign policy, globalization | 0 Comments

4 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:06 pm

Good News for My Diet


Turns out Pringles are not potato chips after all.  On behalf of my diet, I would like to thank the British tax courts for this momentous decision.

| posted in pop culture | 0 Comments

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