The Sochi Olympics are boring for myriad reasons

Sochi OlympicsWhile I’m usually not a fan of news shows that sell neatly packaged stories (which is why I prefer the open format of talk radio to the closed format of NPR), there is one quadrennial event that I think benefits from the package approach, and that’s the Olympics.  Back in the day, CBS would present a nightly three-hour package that managed to create an entertaining combination of human interest mixed in with sport’s thrilling highs and sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic lows. In that way, the Olympics were reduced to digestible narratives packed with excitement, drama, humor, and joy.

It helped too that the Olympics weren’t quite so sprawling then.  With fewer events and fewer athletes, it was easier to get a handle on the thing.

The modern Olympic telecast, however, is like the party that never ends.  You can’t find your friends, the people in the room are looking pretty ratty, and you’re desperate to leave but you’re a little worried that, the moment you leave, something interesting will finally happen.  Ultimately, there’s no there there.  Instead, there’s just an endless stream of people who during the winter are often faceless because of masks and helmets, zipping down hills, racing across ice, or flying through the air in patterns that become repetitive and, therefore, boring.

That’s been my complaint for years about the Olympics and explains why I’ve pretty much stopped watching them.  This year, however, I’ve had a new complaint about the absence of drama.  I think I’ll call it the Tom Friedman problem.  Some time ago, Friedman wrote a book called The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.

In his all too imitable, hackneyed style, Friedman’s book points out the obvious, which is that we increasingly live in a world in which people and ideas can easily get around. There are still borders, but affordable travel, mass immigration, the end of the Cold War, and the internet have meant that people in the West, Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe enjoy a freedom of movement never before imagined. For the most part, I think this is a good thing . . . but it makes for bad Olympics.

In the old days, the athletes at the Olympics were tied closely to the country that they represented. Americans athletes trained in America, Japanese athletes trained in Japan, Eastern Bloc athletes trained in the Eastern Bloc, etc. That’s all gone now.

For example, take 18-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu, who won gold for Japan in men’s figure skating. He is simply phenomenal, someone who manages to make all those jumps and turns look simultaneously effortless and powerful. While he began his training in Japan, for the last two years, he’s been training in Canada. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does make his victory less about his native land and more about his innate ability combined with the best international coaching.  In the same way, America’s premier ice dancers, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, train with their competitors, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.  That’s flat earth stuff.

If you track through the list of Olympic athletes, you’ll see that many others train far away from their home countries.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with their doing that but, to the extent that the Olympics used to be about nations competing against each other through their home-grown athletes, that tension is increasingly vanishing and, with it, some of the fun tension behind the games is vanishing too.

It’s not just the Tom Friedman-ized internationalized athletes that make the Olympics a bit dull.  As Ben Shapiro notes, the end of the Cold War has also reduced the games’ excitement:

In the past, classic Olympic Games have acted as a sort of cathartic battle of nations, in which geopolitical foes duke it out on the playing fields, ice, or slopes. The Lake Placid Olympic Games, for example, married great hockey with high political drama: coming in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and at the low ebb of American power, the Miracle on Ice inspired a nation as a group of college boys took on the mighty Soviet hockey machine. Geopolitical drama lessened but did not die after the Cold War; in 2008, the specter of thousands of seeming automatons banging drums at the opening of the Beijing Games frightened and enthralled the world, reminding us that China was a nation on the rise, a competitor for global dominance.

Considering that Putin eyes world domination and is not friendly to America, you’d think that we’d have some enjoyable competitive tension between nations.  We don’t, though.  According to Shapiro, the problem is that the focus isn’t on major world issues, such as Syria, the Ukraine, and other areas in which freedom and totalitarianism clash.  Instead, says Shapiro, the media has reduced the entire Olympics to a gay rights campaign.  And while gays should be accorded civil rights wherever they live, turning them into a major geopolitical flashpoint isn’t flashy at all.  Instead, it’s somehow very drab and is a convenient way of avoiding more pressing issues about freedom in Russia and beyond:

The media have centered the Sochi Olympics drama entirely on the question of whether gays and lesbians in Russia can kiss in public – even as Russia continues to fund nuclear development for a country that hangs gays. The truth is that while Russian treatment of gays and lesbians is abysmal, it ranks somewhere near the middle of the pack in terms of global treatment: homosexuality is fully legal in Russia, and less than a dozen people have been arrested under the infamous anti-gay propaganda law. This isn’t quite Kristallnacht.

[snip]

But anti-homosexual laws are part of a broader problem in Russia: a problem of oppression and corruption, of lost power and attempts to reclaim it. So why not focus on the real problem of Russia? Why not draw a moral narrative pitting American freedom against Russian repression and expansionism?

There’s a rationale for that failure of narrative: were the press to point out Russia is a threat to US interests, the press would have to acknowledge that President Obama is weak. The press would have to openly recognize that Obama has been bested by a two-bit KGB bully. Obama, in other words, would have to lose.

(Please read Ben Shapiro’s whole article here.  It’s worth your time.)

Put another way, Thomas Friedman’s entire flat earth theory has been reduced to the flat surface known as a bed, as Western reporters anxiously peer into Russian beds and try to divine who is sleeping in them free from or burdened by prejudice.  In our new Flat Earth world, we are no longer riven by nationalities or ideologies.  Instead, we’re trying to decide through athletics which country treats its gays best.

Gays, like Jews, are the canaries in the coal mine.  They thrive in free societies and suffer under tyrannies.  The remedy isn’t to focus narrowly on their suffering but, instead, to attack the tyrannies root and branch.  Our media, however, is so busy with the petty stuff that it’s incapable of realizing that doing so gives a free pass to the very circumstances that subject Russian gays to everything from insults to deadly persecution.

Having now complained about the boring, draggy Olympic production, I nevertheless applaud the individual athletes who have given over their entire lives to this moment.  As a well-seasoned adult, I think it’s a rather foolish way to spend ones time, but I nevertheless think it’s wonderful that, in free societies, people have the absolute right to engage in activities that require innumerable surgeries or that can see all their efforts thrown away in hundredths of seconds.

My favorite moment was U.S. figure skater Jeremy Abbott’s amazing will power.  Having hit the ice with appalling force across his hip and ribs, he nevertheless gathered himself up and completed a near perfect program, succumbing to the pain only when he left the ice.  I also really enjoyed the cool pleasure with which T.J. Oshie scored the winning shoot-off goals.  Most people would have been sweating bullets were they in his shoes.  He just looked relaxed and happy.

 

 

Jennifer Rubin on a roll

I just love Jennifer Rubin in the morning.  Let me just cherry-pick some paragraphs from her morning writing.

On Obama’s governing style:

James Capretta notices two developments in the health-care debate. First, the president is telling us to shut up again. (”President Obama said today that the debate on health care has gone on long enough, and now is the time to pass something.”) Here’s the deal: setting the war strategy in Afghanistan is much more important than the made-up health-care “crisis,” and he’s had years on the campaign trail and nine months to think about it, so maybe he should get to that first. (And let’s recall that it was Obama who dumped this all in the lap of Congress,  so therefore complaining about the pace of sausage-making at this late date seems to be poor form.)  [You'll want to read Capretta's second point, too, the one about taxes.]

On the supremely narcissistic speeches Michelle and Barry gave the IOC:

Obama’s entire presidential campaign was constructed on nonsensical rhetoric and an inflated sense of his own fabulousness. From “We are the change we have been waiting for” to the embarrassing Berlin rally to the knee-jerk “I am not George W. Bush” approach to nearly every issue of national security — it’s all been about him. And he has a remarkable lack of ideas and facts to impart. He lectures us on racial profiling because he knows best (but not the facts). He blankets the airwaves but with nothing much to say. He champions health care but lacks a plan with his name on it. And then he goes to the Olympics to tell us how swell it was when everyone came out to celebrate his election. He is the quintessential celebrity — famous for being famous but for not much else, and lacking enough material for anything beyond late-night talk-show interviews.

What was a vaguely creepy cult-of-personality approach to campaigning has become the stuff of parody. And what’s worse, we now get the narcissism in stereo — from both Obamas.  [And you'll want to read the George Will column that triggered Rubin's ranting.]

On health care change only a moron would believe in:

The monstrously complicated Democratic health-care bills costing upward of a trillion dollars are churning through Congress. They are too complicated for the average voter to fully comprehend and too voluminous for the average lawmaker to read. They spend money we don’t have and create enormous new bureaucracies to regulate, limit, control, and, yes, ration care. The actual cost of health care (as opposed to what the government will pay for it) isn’t addressed in any meaningful way. Medicare Advantage, a popular program, will be slashed. And millions will have huge new tax liabilities. There is something for everyone to hate, and a lot of people do.

On the conflict between Obama and McChrystal:

McChrystal’s forthrightness and the defensive reaction of the White House tell us several things. First, the White House doesn’t have a good response on the merits. “Shut up” is not a policy analysis. Second, whatever processes exist within the White House for decision-making have stalled and malfunctioned, causing the debate to go public. Had a decision been promptly made, none of this would have occurred. And third, now the entire country knows the unified position of the military and understands that the opposition comes from the likes of Joe Biden. The public-relations problem for the White House has gotten much worse.

Just a thought about Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s push for the Olympics

I think the world has sized Obama up and concluded that he’s weak, very weak.  The Olympics are a good example of this.  One theory has it that Chicago is in, and that the price for that is Obama’s appearance before the Olympic Committee.  In other words, Obama got bossed around both by Chicago and by the Olympic Committee.  He’s sort of weak in that scenario, but he still gets what he wants.

But another theory (mine, to be precise) is that the matter is still up in the air, that Obama is going to the Olympic Committee as a true supplicant, and that the OC still has the power to turn him down.  With a strong president, this situation would never have arisen.  First off, a strong president wouldn’t have gone begging for an Olympic game.  Second, of course, the OC would never dream of sayin no.  But here, how tempting to have the President of the United States on his knees before you, and have the power to say “no.”

I guess time will tell, but either scenario paints a depressing picture of what it takes for the Left and the world at large to “like” a US President.

The Chicago Olympics *UPDATED*

There’s a certain inevitability to the fact that a President who continuously surrounds himself by Grecian columns, and who takes in stride the fact that his followers attibute to him God-like powers, would want to be closely associated with the Olympics.  You and I think sports.  He thinks of his true home, Mt. Olympus.

But still, the thought of a Chicago Olympics is a bit, well, hard to swallow.  As you may recall, the Salt Lake City Olympics were profoundly damaged by corruption problems.  That would be small potatoes, though, compared to what will inevitably emerge from any such event held in Chicago.

I wonder how many people still remember that Al Capone’s home in Cicero, Illinois, was (a) a suburb of Chicago and (b) home to most of the big-time Chicago mobsters.  The old mob may be gone, but the corruption lingers on.  Bring into Chicago a multi-billion dollar operation like the Olympics and the mind boggles at the opportunities for organized crime.  Given how much Obama owes his friends back home, though, it’s entirely possible that this is precisely what he wants.

UPDATE:  Charles Martel’s contribution is too good to leave hiding in the comments:

Chicago, August 12, 2016. Star Jamaican sprinter Alonzo Swift is stretching before the finals of the 100 meter dash, which he holds the world record for at 9.54 seconds. He is approached by a track official, Vinny Shakisha Lumumba Costello.

Alonzo: “What’s up, mon?”

Vinny: “I wuz wondering if I could aks you a small favor.”

Alonzo: “Sure, mon. What is it?”

Vinny: “Well, you know dat Mayor Daley’s son, Bobby, is running against you. How do you think he’ll do?”

Alonzo: “Not too well, mon. Bobby’s clocked an 11.68, so I’d say he’s going to have a bit of trouble.”

Vinny: “Well, Mayor Daley was hoping you might be able to help out.”

Alonzo: “How?”

Vinny: “Well, da mayor called me a few minutes ago and said that several members of your family—your mom, three sisters, two brothers, a coupla uncles, a niece, a nephew and your grandmothers are all missing.”

Alonzo: “What are you talkin’, mon?? They’re all at home in Ocho Rios watchin’ me on the big screen. Missing, heh.”

Vinny: “No, I’m telling you that somebody has kidnaped all of dem. Of course, us being 2,000 miles away, dere’s nuttin’ the Chicago P.D. can do.”

Alonzo (looking shook): “Well, mon, what could you do anyway?”

Vinny: “Well, it turns out that the perp is aksing that you let little Bobby win the race and he’ll release your 42 relatives.”

Alonzo (disgustedly): “I can’t throw no race, mon.”

Vinny (lets out long sigh): “I understand, you have scruples, man. I admire that. But, say, how much are mass funerals going for in Jamaica these days?”

Headline in next day’s Chicago Tribune:

Bobby Is Da Man, Flies by Swift to Take the 100 Meters!
Though slowest time in 100 years, 12.4 is enough to garner the win

Photo caption: U.S. President for Life Barack “Daddy” Obama places a laurel wreath on Bobby Daley’s head after his stirring surprise victory in the 100 meters.

Quick picks for Monday

I’m still happil figuring out all the bells and whistles on my new iPhone, so I’ll start off this Monday with a few quick picks:

No wonder Putin still dreams of the old Empire:  it turns out that, if the Soviet Union still existed, it would have left all the other countries int he dust when it came to medals.  (H/t:  SJ)

Looking at the two candidates purely as marketable products, consumer testing is not going too well for Obama.

Daniel Pipes explains that, no matter how often Obama (honestly) protests that he is not now a Muslim, Muslims worldwide nevertheless view him as one.  This fact is a wash, though.  While it may make some feel fonder of the US, it may make others even more hostile as an apostate leads Islam’s greatest enemy.

Speaking of Islam, yet another country turns into a Sharia experiment — which was immediately bad news for the 3,000 formerly upstanding non-Muslim citizens who became non-citizens at the stroke of a pen.  Dhimmitude is never a good thing for those in Dhimmi position.

Turns out that, all his protestations of “new politics” and “change” to the contrary, Obama is just another Chicago pol, handing out loose change — lots of it — to his friends.  In other words, his style of politics is as old as the hills.

Who knew that I’d find myself agreeing with Stanley Fish?  He’s right this time, noting that, as a technical matter, Random House’s decision to withdraw from publishing a book about Mohammed’s nine year old wife is not technically censorship.  Censorship comes from government.  However, Fish is wrong to strike such a strident tone on the point, since it allows him to avoid the obvious fact, which is that, while free speech around the Western world isn’t being governmentally censored into oblivion, it is nevertheless being terrorized into oblivion.  Perhaps it’s time to come up with a new phrase, that doesn’t allow people to hide behind legalisms to excuse what’s obviously happening at the hands of radical Islam worldwide:  “Terror Induced Silence?”  “The Sharia Shut-up?”  I don’t know.  Maybe you can think of something.

The National Review editors give a neat, one-paragraph rundown explaining why the Democratic party is one that either Truman or Kennedy would be unlikely to recognize.

Potemkin villages in China

Catherine the Great’s beloved Grigori Potemkin used to be her advance man as she toured Russia.  He become famous in history for building entirely false villages in the recently conquered Crimea to elevate the status of her new conquest:

Potemkin villages were purportedly fake settlements erected at the direction of Russian minister Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787. According to this story, Potemkin, who led the Crimean military campaign, had hollow facades of villages constructed along the desolate banks of the Dnieper River in order to impress the monarch and her travel party with the value of her new conquests, thus enhancing his standing in the empress’s eyes.

(Read more here to learn how these villages might not have been as duplicitous as they sound.)

The Chinese have gone Potemkin one better.  Rather than building something out of nothing, they’ve used elaborate false fronts to hide the squalor in which so many of their citizens live.  The QandO Blog has more, along with a little dig at Obama’s naive belief that Beijing has created a fully functional infrastructure, just for the Olympics.

Hat tip:  suek

The real medal counts at the Olympics

There are basically two types of events at the Olympics:  those that are timed and those that are judged.  The problem with the latter events, of course, is that they are subject to human fallability, national loyalty, grudges, and out-and-out dishonesty.  I was therefore quite interested when my sister sent me to a sports blog written a few days ago that looked at the huge difference in US outcomes, depending on whether the winners were being calculated by an objective clock or a subjective judge.  Turns out that the Chinese lead, while still there, is diminished significantly.  Does any of this mean anything in the long run or the grand scheme of things?  No.  But it’s still interesting.

The pain behind the perfection

As you may recall, I was both impressed and dismayed by the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics.  I’ll quote the point I made that comes back again in this post:

They were gorgeous.  They also reminded me very strongly of the public spectacles that socialist countries have always loved:  vast numbers of people moving in tightly choregraphed formations.  It’s certainly impressive, but it’s also a vivid, visual reminder of the socialist state’s ability to subordinate peoples’ individuality to almost robotic perfection.

It turns out that the impressions I picked up were dead on.  First, the Chinese impresario who created the entire spectacle was trying to outdo North Korea — the most rigidly socialist state in the world — when it comes to mass people movement:

Filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the ceremony’s director, insisted in an interview with local media that suffering and sacrifice were required to pull off the Aug. 8 opening, which involved wrangling nearly 15,000 cast and crew. Only North Korea could have done it better, he said.

[snip]

He told the popular Guangzhou weekly newspaper Southern Weekend that only communist North Korea could have done a better job getting thousands of performers to move in perfect unison.

“North Korea is No. 1 in the world when it comes to uniformity. They are uniform beyond belief! These kind of traditional synchronized movements result in a sense of beauty. We Chinese are able to achieve this as well. Though hard training and strict discipline,” he said. Pyongyang’s annual mass games feature 100,000 people moving in lockstep.

In other words, there was definitely a political element to the mass movement of synchronized people.  And the only way to create that mass movement of synchronized people is to rehearse at an almost inhuman rate (emphasis mine):

Some students of the Shaolin Tagou Traditional Chinese Martial Arts School in Henan province who began training for the event last May were injured in falls on the LED screen that forms the floor on which they performed and was made slippery by rain, said Liu Haike, one of the school’s lead instructors.

[snip]

While in Beijing, the constant exposure to the dizzyingly hot summer resulted in heatstroke for some students, particularly during one rain-drenched rehearsal that stretched on for two days and two nights.

The students were kept on their feet for most of the 51-hour rehearsal with little food and rest and no shelter from the night’s downpour, as the show’s directors attempted to coordinate the 2,008-member performance with multimedia effects, students and their head coach told the AP.

“We had only two meals for the entire time. There was almost no time to sleep, even less time for toilet breaks,” Cheng said. “But we didn’t feel so angry because the director was also there with us the whole time.”

Beware the socialist state, even when it looks pretty.

Hat tip:  B.S.

Michael Phelps

While I’m processing news, I just had to take a minute to discuss Michael Phelps — or, more accurately, Michael Phelps and how I’m watching the Olympics.

I first tuned into the Olympics in 1972, when I was 11.  In those days, and for many Olympics thereafter, the Olympics was a tight package of fair traditional events (no beach volleyball in those days).  The network recorded the events during the day, and then presented Americans with a beautifully constructed three hour show every evening that had human interest stories mixed in with a good balance of each event:  the highs, the lows, the emotional moments, the humor, etc.  There was, as always, too much talk, but you always felt that you were seeing everything that was important — even if that wasn’t really true.

Of late, I find the Olympics way too big.  There are so many sports that I simply feel overwhelmed.  I was charmed for a few minutes by this new (to me) sport of synchronized diving, and then got bogged down in thoughts of “what a waste of time,” and “this is kind of dull.”  Beach volleyball, too, leaves me cold.  I truly admire the player’s skill, but it just doesn’t strike me as an Olympic sport — it’s still, after all, beach volleyball.  In my mind, too many sports simply seem to dilute the Olympic brand.

I’m also completely overwhelmed by the massive coverage.  Even with the help of TiVo, there’s way too much.  Instead of a nice, tidy 3 hour package, it seems as if there are dozens of hours daily trying to take over the TiVo hard drive — and since so much of it is volleyball and synchronized diving and other stuff that just doesn’t float my boat, I end up fast forwarding frantically.

In the old days, I used to watch the Olympics for the gymnastics.  That, too, is leaving me cold.  The tension amongst the young men and women is so enormous, I can’t sit back and relax.

I also find the Chinese team creepy — it’s a repeat of the old Soviet bloc teams, only with an even more abusive feel, and more cheating.  The thought of a state trolling the countryside for three year old boys and girls, removing those children from their families, and raising them to be gymnastic machines so that their minutes in the sun can redound to the permanent glory of the state just horrifies me.  I look at these children — and it was so obvious that the Chinese were lying about their ages — and I don’t see young people who are living out their passions.  Instead, I see frightened little automatons who are very worried about what will happen to them or their families if they fail.  I’m glad for these children’s sake that they’ve been delivering the Gold, but it certainly makes even cheaper an event that’s always been exceptionally prey to the worst of Cold War politics.

All of which gets me to Michael Phelps.  Thanks to the beauty of TiVo, I’ve managed to reduce my hours and hours of Olympic recordings to just a few events:  the Michael Phelps races.  The United States did not force Michael Phelps to become a swimmer, but its enormous freedoms (and capitalist-grown wealth) created the environment in which a naturally talented and highly motivated young man could flourish.  He’s at these Olympics, not because he was kidnapped from his home and forced to do so, but because swimming is his passion.

I find watching him swim incredibly satisfying.  He has the most beautiful stroke I’ve ever seen, despite that crazy 1-2 pause 1-2 pause 1-2 rhythm.  He has extraordinary discipline when he swims, which I admire greatly.  And he is doing what he does with very real and apparent pleasure.  Watching him move through the water is to watch something very, very special.

It’s also clear that he inspires those around him.  My favorite event to date has been the 800 meter freestyle relay.  Rather unusually, Phelps led off the relay.  It’s more normal in the relay to save the strongest swimmer for the anchor, to clean up after the others have gotten a bit bogged down.  But this time, there was Phelps, diving in first, and creating about a 20 foot lead.  I expected that, as the next three Americans swam their four laps, that lead would shrink and shrink, until it was a very tight race indeed.  Instead, the lead grew.  The race’s excitement didn’t come because of a photo finish; it came because each of the young men in the relay was inspired, and was swimming beyond ordinary boundaries.  I felt touched by that strength and magic just watching it.  Michael Phelps is a reminder that, behind the spectacle and the money and the statism and the cheating, there is still some very real magic at the Olympics.

Ah, the joys of a new computer — plus some Olympics talkl

I got my filing finished today, which ate up the morning, but I have a little — a very little — time now to doodle around before I have 15 kids swarm my backyard for a party.  The problem is that, as always, one seems to lose as much as one gains when switching to a new computer.  Right now, I’ve lost Adobe (not the reader, but actual Adobe); I’ve lost access to my Outlook, because I can’t get the Vista Outlook to read my old WP personal folders data; and (which is the killer for blogging) I’ve lost all my beloved bookmarks.  Even though I copied my Firefox profile off my old computer and replaced it on this new one — no bookmarks.  It’s going to take me a little while to reassemble all of my regular reads, so please bear with me on this.

As it is, I don’t know if I actually have anything to say anyway.  When I last looked at a newspaper before bedtime, nothing struck me particularly.

I do have an interesting observation from home, though.  Ours is not a house in which patriotism is stressed on a day to day basis, although my kids do get talks about the difference between Communist/Socialist societies and free societies.  And I do mention the rights we have in this country.  And basically, without any “stand in front of the classroom” lectures, I do try to get across to them that we are uniquely blessed here.  But I don’t think that has anything to do with what I’m seeing what we watch the Olympics.  They instantly morphed into rabidly pro-American fans.  The other teams don’t rate.  It’s “America this” and “America that” and, most often, “I want the Americans to win.”  Tribalism lives.

On the subject of Communism, though, I did use the women’s gymnastics as the opportunity to give my daughter a little lesson on the difference between living in a state-focused society, such as China, versus an individual-focused society, such as the US.  NBC has been doing a good job of showing the way in which the Chinese scour the country for talented 3 year olds, remove them from their families, and then proceed to abuse those little bodies for 13 years so that they can do incredible feats at the Olympics.  My daughter now understands that, if the State is the central focus, there is nothing to stop a government from systematically abusing thousands of children in the hope of creating one gold medalist.  In American, people do gymnastics because they want to.  The State has no coercive power here, and wouldn’t dream of dragging children from their homes simply to keep face at the Olympics.

Quick thought on the opening ceremonies

I watched most of the opening ceremonies last night.  They were gorgeous.  They also reminded me very strongly of the public spectacles that socialist countries have always loved:  vast numbers of people moving in tightly choregraphed formations.  It’s certainly impressive, but it’s also a vivid, visual reminder of the socialist state’s ability to subordinate peoples’ individuality to almost robotic perfection.

In this regard, the Tai Chi display was both the most impressive and the creepiest part of the ceremonies.  Seeing 2008 men do complex Tai Chi movements, all the while maintaining perfect concentric circles, was beautiful and awe-inspiring.  it was also a potent reminder that China has the strength to drill thousands of people with military precision — and that it can do the same for military purposes.

Still, subliminal messages aside, it really was (as I said) gorgeous.  Watching the men in green light up and create beautiful moving pictures on the floor of the stadium was delightful.  The only thing that irked me was the network’s obsession with doing close-up camera work on something that obviously was meant to be viewed from a distance.  It’s always irritating when the producers don’t pick up on the artist’s intent.

I also enjoyed the parade of nations, although it did get tiring after a while.  I start fulminating at seeing Palestinians march in as a “country,” but thought that a little exposure in that area might make them more inclined to have their summer camps produce athletes, rather than killers.  I thought the French and the Hungarians had the weirdest outfits, while the Americans made a strong showing for most boring.  As always, the African nations had the most beautiful clothes.

I discovered that there are an enormous number of teeny-tiny nations that I’ve never heard of — mostly in Africa.  There are also more nations than there were when I was growing up, because of the breakdown of Empires.

I was pleased by how enthusiastically the Chinese crowd greeted Americans.  I don’t ascribe any great political meaning to that greeting, but it still made me feel good.

As someone who has always loved martial arts, and is enjoying doing it, I noticed that a disproportionate number of flag bearers were competing in Tae Kwon Do or Judo.  I don’t know why these guys and gals were more likely to carry the flag but I was pleased to see it nevertheless.

The talking heads from NBC were unbelievably irritating.  I don’t mind getting useful facts, but the ceaseless bibble babble drove me up the wall.