Olympic disaster

The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing are shaping up to be the kind of disaster that will leave us all shaking our heads in wonder, thinking: How could this have happened? It began seven years ago, with intense debate among the interna tional Olympic Committee and comparisons drawn to the 1936 games, hosted in Germany under Nazi rule. You’re not supposed to compare things to the Nazis, though, accord ing to Godwin’s Law, so let’s not place this debacle side by side with any thing, and let the facts stand alone.

Citizens of the world are upset with China for many reasons, chief among them its abuses of its citizens’ human rights of but also, more subtly, because they are competing on the international stage for jobs and oil and they are kicking everybody’s asses, largely because of quali ties afforded from the suppression of basic civil liberties — cheap la bor, wanton exploitation of resources, subsidized oil prices and the like. There’s also this thing with Tibet…. In the lead-up to the games, which begin Friday, the Chinese govern ment has reneged on several promises made back in 2001, notably a tightening of media restrictions that dictates, among other things, setting and some content of network broadcasts. Last week journalists at the press center in Olympic Village learned firsthand the power of the People’s Republic when they found their internet access censored and monitored through a government firewall with 30,000 watchers. They also promised clean air for these athletes, most of whom have been training for these mo ments their whole lives, but the

smog over the city is still thick enough to register on Google Earth, and even after “enlisting” thousands to hand-pick the seaweed from Qingdao Bay, it’s still choking the regatta grounds as if a very strange tea party went down there. The Chinese agreed to loosen up their act on human rights a bit back in 2001, as well. But they’re building brick walls in front of unattractive parts of the city — in front of people’s homes and businesses — and hustling undesirables out of town. Protests are relegated to three small parks, well away from the action. Even the athletes are not immune from the whitewash: Twenty-two of them, previous gold-medal winners all, have been purged from the Chinese National Team, some of them for political reasons. This, even as questions arise about possibly underage athletes that will be represent ing China this year in its capital. What else? Ticket sales are causing riots and arrests. They’ve set up a “gender testing lab” in the city. The mascot is lame, even for the Olym pics. And the games have lost the support of Ai Weiwei, designer of what is arguably the coolest piece of architecture to come of all this, Beijing National Stadium. He says he wants “nothing to do with them anymore.” The bird’s nest was built, by the way, by urban planner Albert Speer Jr., son of the man nicknamed “the first architect of the Third Reich” way back when…. Whoa — sorry to slip that in there. Also, the entire country is on bird-flu alert. Protestors on six continents have attacked the torch on its traditional journey from Athens to Beijing, and it was actually extinguished several times. This is not unprecedented; it’s happened before. But the first time in the modern Olympic era was when the Czechs physically prevented the torch from leaving Prague in time for the handoff. That, too, was back in 1936.

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You’re not supposed to compare things to the Nazis, though, accordingto Godwin’s Law, so let’s not place this debacle side by side withanything, and let the facts stand alone.