Iranian Protests

Andrew Sullivan is the one-man, citizen journalism aggregator of the protests in Iran today. His collection of Tweets and YouTube videos convey the impression of a large-scale uprising that the government is trying to control with riot police, chemical weapons, and propaganda. It certainly appears that the uprising is gathering steam and that the government is out-matched. Given that the Supreme Leader relies on his moral authority to govern, and that authority is now shot full of holes, it seems unlikely that he can hang on to power.

Twitter and YouTube are certainly playing a role in getting the news out of the blackout the Iranian government has sought to impose.

Summing-up the Beijing Games

The LA Times boils China’s Olympics down to their real essence:

Yet what planners in Beijing miscalculated is that no matter how well you teach performers to smile, the strain behind the lips is still detectable. The near-hysterical drive by Chinese leaders to put on the biggest, most spectacular sporting event ever, and to engineer a generation of Chinese medalists regardless of the financial or human costs, is rather more disconcerting to the outside world than convincing. If it was Beijing’s intention to prove China’s greatness via the Games, what it has demonstrated instead is the fragility of its ego.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. So what does this say for the London Games?

British officials are no doubt wondering how they can possibly top the spectacle of Beijing when London hosts the Summer Games in 2012. They shouldn’t even try. The British have nothing to prove, and it will be refreshing to watch an event in which athleticism matters more than image. The London Olympics will probably be messier and less awe-inspiring than the Chinese Games, but it’s a good bet they’ll be more fun

Sports is supposed to be fun, you know.

That being said, an opening ceremony featuring Daleks and Cybermen would be welcome.

Like I said

I hate to say “I told you so” (actually, I love it, but play along), but the director of the Beijing games’ opening and closing ceremonies touts the obedience of his countrymen in boosting his own work:

China’s most famous film director, Zhang Yimou, who directed both ceremonies, said only Chinese performers were skilled, disciplined and obedient enough to lay on the sort of song and dance display seen on Sunday night and admired around the world…

He also showed little concern for the few critical voices who found the mass organisation of thousands of performers reminiscent of the Soviet era.

“I often joke with (foreign interviewers) and say that our level of human performance is second in the world,” he said. “Number one is North Korea. Their performances are totally uniform, and uniformity in this way brings beauty. We Chinese can do it too. After hard training and strict discipline, Chinese achieve that as well.”

It takes a peculiar aesthetic taste to find thousands of people acting in perfect unison beautiful, and there’s no accounting for it. Either you do or you don’t, and I’m among those who would rather see individual talent than such displays. The Brit segment during the closing stressed individualism and was therefore much more enjoyable.

The Beijing Games were certainly well organized, with a minimum of cheating outside of boxing and women’s gymnastics, and flowed well except for problems caused by the climate in Beijing and Hong Kong. Of course it rains in London as well, but it won’t be so hot and muggy, and the equestrian events won’t be shortened. It’s kinda sad that baseball and softball won’t be played, but all the events outside the core track and field competitions should be regarded as optional fluff anyhow; the Greeks didn’t tumble and play ping-pong, because Britain didn’t invent ping-pong until the 19th century.

Mao’s Little Helper

John Schwartz generally works the tech beat at the New York Times, but he’s written a fine review of “Snow Falling in Spring”, a children’s book about Mao’s China. We join the narrative in the middle of the account of the Great Leap Forward:

…Neighbors contribute their cooking pots and cutlery for the cause. When Li’s grandmother asks if anyone has seen her cleaver, the little girl proudly responds, “Yes, I helped our country with it.” The family retrieves the big kettle and some spoons from the pile, but the cleaver, as she recalls, “had joined its comrades in the burning fire, doing its share for China.” Everyone has a good laugh over that one.

Then there is the war on the sparrows, a crusade to eliminate the accused scourge of crops. Li and her brother, Di Di, cheer lustily as her father’s pellet gun fells one feathered threat after another.

But things do not go as hoped. Making good steel, it turns out, is more difficult than it looks, and the government rejects the lot, leaving the neighbors downhearted and decidedly less well equipped in their kitchens.

As for the sparrows, well, the government had not considered the fact that sparrows eat insects. Crops are ravaged. In coming years, as a result of natural and man-made disasters, millions die.

And then things really begin to get bad.

I don’t suppose China’s youngsters are reading this book.

And speaking of the Times’ tech beat, Ashlee Vance has jumped to the Grey Lady from The Register. My condolences on the demotion.