The Olympic Games may have closed more than two weeks ago, but that doesn't mean the Water Cube and other venues are standing dormant. The Paralympics opened this weekend!
On Sunday, China competed against Britain in five-a-side soccer. For those not familiar with the game, each team has five players on the field -- all of whom are blind or visually impaired, with the exception of the goalkeeper, who may be sighted. All except the goalkeepers wear eyeshades to ensure fairness. The ball makes a noise when it moves, and each team has a guide behind the opponent's goal to direct players. The field is surrounded by walls, so there are no throw-ins.
Boris Johnson may have ruffled some feathers in Beijing by declaring London the "sporting capital of the world" and boasting about Britain inventing ping pong. But the London mayor still had some kind words for China after his Olympic visit.
Chinese bloggers and members of the Chinese media, on the other hand, did not take kindly to the performance of Britain -- and Johnson in particular -- during the Olympic changeover ceremony. One blogger blasted Johnson for not buttoning his suit jacket, while another said the mayor appeared "rude and arrogant" while interacting with his counterpart from Beijing.
Some of the harshest words, however, were reserved for Jimmy Page and David Beckham:
Unfortunately, the singer and Jimmy Page are absolutely not famous enough to be known or recognised by millions of the Chinese audiences. As for David Beckham, he was supposed to kick the football towards the red circle in the centre of the Bird's Nest, in the end, just like any of his penalties at a football match, he totally missed it.
Ouch. The Brits may not be rallying for Chinese press freedom anytime soon.
Madonna, lover of all types of attention, kicked off her world tour on Saturday. Guess we know how she'll be voting in November:
The BBC reported that the two-hour show took a political turn when, in a lead-in to a remixed version of "Like a Prayer," a video sequence showed flashing images of destruction followed by pictures of Hitler, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and then Senator John McCain. Senator Barack Obama popped up in another video interlude, but his montage included Gandhi, John Lennon and Al Gore. The tour arrives in North America on Oct. 4.
This is a couple of days old but I'm really surprised that British Conservative Party leader David Cameron hasn't gotten more flack for this idea:
Russia’s elite value their ties to Europe - their shopping and their luxury weekends. We should look at the visa regime for Russian citizens. Russian armies can’t march into other countries while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges.
First of all, I'd like to hear aspiring prime minister Cameron explain to the owners of Selfridges -- not to mention London club owners looking for someone willing to buy cocktails flecked with flakes of 24-carat edible gold -- why they're being punished for Vladimir Putin's foreign policy. Also, wouldn't it actually help Russia's economy to make jet-setting noviy russkiy spend their hard-earned petrorubles in St. Petersburg instead of Soho?
A new BBC series called Britain From Above looks absolutely stunning. Using satellite technology, the producers have created interactive, dynamic maps of the country's modern migrations -- everything from watching a sped-up version of the hundreds of ships that pass through the English Channel each day to tracking the routes of London taxis through GPS signals. The resulting dance -- around one another, off crowded thoroughfares -- is fascinating to watch. Check out the teaser below.
With the Olympic torch making the final rounds in Beijing, the era of the global torch relay may be coming to a close. According to reports, both the Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 torch relays will be confined within Canada and Great Britain, respectively.
The London Olympic Organizing Committee apparently wants to "bring the torch relay back to basics" and showcase the torch within 30 minutes of every British citizen. But the real reasoning is likely to avoid the headaches that marred the Beijing torch route:
Dick Pound, a former IOC vice-president and a representative for Canada, said that the anti-Chinese protests that pursued the torch through major cities on its global tour had brought the Games “close to disaster”. He added that only goodwill generated after a devastating earthquake hit Sichuan province in May, claiming at least 70,000 lives, averted a boycott.
Sure, Vancouver and London are less controversial than Beijing. But maybe they're worried that some bitter Parisians, having been snubbed in their bid for the 2012 games, will try to grab the torch again.
Reeling in the polls and mindful of the criticism generated by his predecessor's trips abroad, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown isn't venturing too far for his summer vacation. But Boris Johnson, London's candid Conservative mayor, thinks this is a bad idea.
In Daily Telegraph column last week, Johnson proclaimed he will eschew the lead of many of his colleagues in British politics and is heading overseas:
Some time before the end of August, I will grab a week's leave, like a half-starved sealion snatching an airborne mackerel, and whatever happens that leave will not be taken in some boarding-house in Eastbourne. It will not take place in Cornwall or Scotland or the Norfolk Broads. I say stuff Skegness. I say bugger Bognor.
I am going to take a holiday abroad, and in my view it would be absurd, hypocritical and frankly inhumane to do anything else...
Johnson has some words of wisdom for Brown, too, encouraging the embattled prime minister to take a real vacation and "get away somewhere hot." Above all else, however, Johnson considers his overseas holiday to be for the good of Britain:
As I prepare for my last-minute booking, I consider it my patriotic duty to find a destination as sunny and foreign as possible, so that I can push some cash towards hard-pressed UK travel agents, and so that we minimise, on compassionate grounds, the number of British citizens exposed to the sight of my swimming trunks.
Barack Obama, at the very least, must be feeling along the same lines. He'll be heading for his native Hawaii sometime in mid-August.
Today's map is a source of a bit of controversy in the UK. Recent news reports have described plans to provide folks with interactive maps that display incidents of crime in any neighborhood. The maps would detail, on a street-by-street basis, where different crimes took place. It would also allow users to select different types of crime -- "serious violence," "other violence," and "youth nuisance" among others -- and highlight only those infractions in each neighborhood.
The map below shows "anti-social behaviour" in Leeds, West Yorkshire:
In case you're wondering what constitutes "anti-social behaviour," here's a quick sampling:
Street drinking, presence of drug dealers or users, soliciting, abandoned cars, illegal parking, off-road motorcycling, skateboarding, noisy neighbours, persistent alarms, shouting & swearing, fireworks, climbing on buildings, false emergency calls, uncontrolled animals, groups or individuals causing nuisance, graffiti, damage to bus-stops or buildings, dropping litter and fly-tipping."
Not everyone is happy about the map. Aside from privacy concerns, there are fears that publishing that sort of information in a rough housing market could devalue properties overnight.
It would sure make life easier for a British Bruce Wayne, though.
Some folks have all the luck:
The Harrods owner Mohamed Fayed has tapped a new source of wealth after winning a stake in a tiny oilfield under his Surrey estate despite not knowing it was there for several years.
If choosing a U.S. president were up to the French, the Germans, and the British, Barack Obama would have a lock on the presidency. As Gallup reports today, large majorities in three countries the Illinois senator plans to visit this week would rather see Obama elected than John McCain. They also say that which candidate wins "makes a difference" to their country.
This poll fits well our intuitions about Europe's big three: They tend to favor Democrats, and they don't like George W. Bush. In 2007, Gallup found that approval of U.S. leadership in those countries had sunk to disturbing depths: -- reaching just 8 percent in Germany, 9 percent in France, and 20 percent in Britain. Gallup attributes the low numbers to the Iraq war, the U.S. stance on climate change, and anger over Guantánamo.
The differences between Obama and McCain on these issues, at least on a superficial level, appear to be narrowing. Both Obama and McCain have pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq -- they are now arguing over whether to set an explicit timetable for doing so or whether to allow "conditions on the ground" to be the determining factor. Both Obama and McCain want to join international efforts to combat global warming, though Obama would push for greater emissions cuts. And both senators would like to see Guantánamo shut down. From a European perspective, either senator would be a step up from Bush (or at least the Bush of 2004).
If Obama does win in November, the great expectations he is setting in Europe could come back to haunt him. As Anne-Marie Slaughter, quoting a German friend, wrote last year, "Underneath every America-hater is a disappointed America-lover." Last week, one European diplomat shared with me his fear that the real Obama can't possibly live up to the hype. (Try, for instance, counting the votes in the Senate for a climate-change bill with real teeth.) This is the moment, then, for Obama to tell Europeans that he is going to let them down. Better they hear it from his own lips now than figure it out on their own, two years down the road.
Nazi Germany's bombing raids on London and other English cities in late 1940 and early 1941 destroyed millions of homes and left thousands of civilians dead. However, an estimated 1 in 10 bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz failed to detonate, and have remained hidden in gardens, fields and building sites.
Using Royal Air Force photographs from the time of the Blitz, as well as maps produced by insurance companies after the war, the Landmark Information Group has developed charts that label the most likely places where unexploded bombs may still be located.
Some 21,000 sites have been labeled as likely to contain unexploded bombs. The makers of this map hope to help builders, contractors and private citizens become more aware of their surroundings. Discoveries of these bombs are fairly common. Just last month, construction on an Olympic site outside of London had to be halted after a 2000-pound bomb was unearthed.
If you plan on being in London any time soon, you might end up disappointed if you try ordering Peking duck at a restaurant. Inspectors have been going around with tape and sealing shut the special ovens used to prepare the Chinese delicacy.
The ovens, which—surprise—are made in China, lack a Conformité Européenne (CE) mark indicating that they comply with safety regulations on carbon monoxide emissions as established by Eurocrats in Brussels. For the record, there have been no reports of injuries, accidents, or other health problems caused by the 6-foot-tall ovens.
It's another example of Brits being pushed around by EU diktat. Last year, the contentious issue was whether Britain would have to sell beer by the liter, rather than the beloved pint.
In other questionable food regulation news, Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League party has proposed a law in the Lombardy region that would ban Chinese restaurants and Middle Eastern kebab vendors from historic city centers, on the grounds that such eateries would mar their unique character. (Ironically, that logic is also what got Starbucks to withdraw from Beijing's 600-year-old Forbidden City last year.)
Back in London, it may be a month until restaurants can get CE-marked ovens installed and put Peking duck back on the menu.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has a remarkable knack for planning big international trips precisely when the world is least likely to pay attention to him. In April, he made his big U.S. debut the same week that Pope Benedict was in town. This week, he's visiting Iraq and Israel at the same time that a certain American presidential candidate you may have heard about is in the region. Haaretz even quipped that "visiting Israel on the same week that Obama is expected to arrive is like being the opening act for the Beatles."
Attention charismatic world leaders: if you're planning a big trip abroad, try to send Gordon Brown a text or a Facebook message or something. It's only polite.
Here's a photograph from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's recent trip to Iraq. What do you think was on his mind? Who do you think he wants to see on the receiving end?
UPDATE: And the winner is... nycbrian, with "do you think i can mow my backbenchers into submission w/ this?"
Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and new Russian President Dimitry Medvedev met for the first time today at the G-8 Summit in Japan, on the heels of a report that British security forces consider Russia the third most serious threat facing the country.
According to The Times of London, only al Qaeda's terrorist threat and Iran's nuclear program are seen to be more dangerous:
The services are understood to fear that Russia's three main intelligence agencies have flooded the country with agents, The Times understands. There is reported to be deep irritation within the services that vital resources are having to be diverted to deal with industrial and military espionage by the Russians
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since the 2006 poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London, allegedly at the hands of an ex-KGB agent whom Russia refuses to extradite. The issue apparently caused a row between Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin at last year's G-8 summit, and was a topic of disucussion at today's talks.
No word so far as to whether Brown and Medvedev have hit it off better than their predecessors, only that there were some "sharp exchanges" between the two.
Police in West Yorkshire, England, have taken interest in a blond-haired, blue-eyed 12-year-old boy who has been sending around al Qaeda beheading videos. He's not a religious extremist, they say. He just seems to like guns and violence:
[Local constable] Sir Norman described him as an "angelic looking boy" whose police mugshot showed a fair-haired child so short that his head was barely in the frame of the camera.
"He is at risk of being a violent young man and a threat to society," the chief constable said.
"He is not a Muslim. He is not driven by ideology – he is too young to spell the word.
"But he is being influenced and intoxicated by the imagery and appeal of Jihadist and other internet violence."
It's hard to tell from the Telegraph's story just how serious a threat this little boy poses. At age 12, I was probably doing some stupid stuff, too. Nonetheless, it seems the bobbies in West Yorkshire have taken Malcom Nance's warning to heart, which is good news:
So what will the next wave of terrorists look like? In short, a lot like you and me. Al Qaeda in Iraq has already pioneered the use of Caucasians and Africans. European passport holders, mostly immigrants and the children of immigrants, are a fast-growing part of the terrorist rank and file. From Baghdad to Glasgow, Madrid, and Mumbai, trend lines indicate that "clean-skin" operatives—both men and women with no history of trouble or violence—will serve as the new terrorist foot soldiers. And, most frighteningly, many will probably be Americans.
Not that it will accomplish anything, but it's still good news that the British Foreign Office has stripped Robert Mugabe of the honorary knighthood he received in 1996. Zimbabwe's president has now joined Benito Mussolini, Emperor Hirohito, and Nicolae Ceausescu on the distinguished list of national leaders who received knighthood and subsequently lost it. Appropriate company for him.
Stuart Hill, the owner of a small island off the coast of Scotland, declares he is no longer under British rule:
I have recently become the owner of a tiny island off Papa Stour, which itself (for the benefit of non-Shetlanders) is a small island off the west coast of Shetland. I am returning to the Nordic tradition by re-naming it Forvik Island – Island of the Bay of Sheep. On 21st June 2008, Forvik, by my Declaration of Dependence, reverted to Shetland’s true constitutional position – that of a Crown Dependency. Other Crown Dependencies include The Isle of Man and The Channel Islands.
Forvik Island, or Forvik for short, recognises neither the British Government, nor the European Union as its superior. Because of Shetland’s unique history, there can have been no legal basis for Shetland to have been involved with either. It recognises Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland and II of the United Kingdom as head of state.
Hill is also inviting others to apply for citizenship. If you are not a resident of the Shetland Islands, you can become an "honorary citizen of Forvik" by forking over one Forvik gulde, a currency tied to the daily market price of gold at a rate of 13 percent. Honorary citizens get a share of the profits from land sales (the island is 2.5 acres in size) as well as "duty-free activities, company registrations, vehicle registrations and other activities."
I wonder if was inspired by our primer on "How to Start Your Own Country in Four Easy Steps."
(Hat tip: Reason)
On top of Gordon Brown and George W. Bush's joint warning to Iran, there's a bit of other news on the Anglo-American cooperation front. The Times of London reports that Bush has asked Britain's elite special forces to aid in a final, reinvigorated effort to capture Osama bin Laden, who is presumed to be hiding in northern Pakistan:
The Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have been taking part in the US-led operations to capture Bin Laden in the wild frontier region of northern Pakistan. It is the first time they have operated across the Afghan border on a regular basis.
Now, besides the obvious question (if the Brits can't trust themselves with sensitive al Qaeda information, why should the United States?) what is perhaps most interesting about this story is the effect Bin Laden's capture would have on the 2008 presidential campaign. Who benefits most: John McCain or Barack Obama?
Nailing the world's most wanted man might help to save Bush's legacy, but I'm not so sure that either candidate would score a clear victory. After all, are the differences here, at least in rhetoric, all that different? In a speech this past weekend John McCain vowed to capture al Qaeda's leader. Barack Obama has advocated a beefed-up military force along the lawless Afghanistan-Pakistan border and criticized Bush for failing to nab Osama.
And would putting Bin Laden behind bars really alter the fundamentals of this race? At the end of the day, McCain will still support a war that 64 percent of Americans don't agree with and Obama will still be the candidate of a political party that can't shake its reputation as being weak on security.
Readers, what do you think?
John Bolton got a rude surprise today when George Monbiot, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper, tried to arrest the former Bush administration official after he finished a talk at a literary festival in Wales. Monbiot, who was stopped by security guards as he tried to make a citizen's arrest, defended his action:
This was a serious attempt to bring one of the perpetrators of the Iraq war to justice, for what is described under the Nuremberg Principles as an international crime," he said.
Apparently, festival organizers had investigated the matter beforehand and determined that the arrest would be unlawful. That makes sense to me, since Bolton isn't a British citizen and it's not at all clear that citizens arrests apply to matters of international law. Nor, in any case, has any relevant international body declared the war illegal. And why would Bolton specifically be culpable when he was never responsible for setting policy? It's also worth noting that both the British and U.S. governments consider the war legal.
But if any Passport readers out there have expertise on this question, please weigh in below or by e-mail. Was Monbiot's stunt as stupid as it seems?
UPDATE: Gideon Rachman comments.
BROCKWORTH, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 26: Contestants in the men's race chase a Double Gloucester Cheese down the steep gradient of Cooper's Hill in pouring rain during the annual Bank Holiday tradition of cheese-rolling on May 26, 2008 in Brockworth in Gloucestershire, England. Thousands of spectators gather to watch contestants from around the world tumbling down the 200m slope - which has a 1:1 gradient in parts - in a series of races, said to date back hundreds of years, with the winner of each receiving a cheese. Injuries are commonplace, even forcing cancellation of the event in the past.
Newly minted London Mayor Boris Johnson's first brilliant policy decision? Banning the consumption of alcohol on London's Tube system. Trouble is, just about everyone besides Boris seems to understand that getting between an Englishman and his beloved pint is a pretty bad idea. A spokesman for the Tube employees' union said transport staff will have no way to enforce such a ban, nor much interest in risking their personal safety to do so:
Perhaps the mayor will come out with his underpants on over his trousers like Superman one Saturday to show us how it should be done, and maybe tell a crowd of Liverpool supporters that they can’t drink on the train.”
After Boris The Blonde made the announcement, British Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy rushed to assure passengers that the ban would only apply to London proper and those traveling longer distances wouldn't be subject to the measure. “We have no plans to introduce these measures on the national network," he said.
Johnson has himself been known to enjoy a pint -- occasionally more than one. He gave up booze in the final weeks of his mayoral campaign in what appeared to be a strategy to avoid embarrassing gaffes (others suggested it was a sign that he has a drinking problem). Of course, consuming large volumes of alcohol have never precluded British politicians from being good leaders. Winston Churchill was a notorious drinker, and 19th century prime minister William Pitt, the Younger was known to take down two or three bottles of port a day. If he enjoys his job, Boris might do better by heeding their example.
In what his spokesman swears is not a jab at Beijing but a way of saving taxpayer money, Gordon Brown announced today that he'll skip the August 8 Olympics opening ceremony, opting to attend the closing ceremony instead. Perhaps those loud protests in London had some effect? And I'd put money on a similar announcement from Sarkozy any day now.
People are literally stealing the roofs off of churches in Britain, the New York Times reports today. Some call it "the most concerted assault on churches since the Reformation." But it's not religious zealotry that's driving the vandals, it's simple economics.
Rising resource demand from China and India coupled with supply disruptions from Australia (the holy trinity of skyrocketing prices) have caused lead prices to jump sevenfold in the past six years. Before 2005, instances of roof theft were few and far between. But last year, one church insurance company reported $18 million in claims, mostly from cases of disappearing lead. Historical preservation laws mandate the use of original building materials, hence the metal installation and replacement in the event of theft. John Deave, a retired churchwarden, is feeling the pressure:
Whenever I get an early morning phone call these days, I think, 'Oh no, they’ve taken the roof again.'"
Institutions are mulling tough love tactics to prevent further vandalism including barbed wire, roof lights, and slippery drain pipe paint, but mere fences can't stop the forces of supply and demand. This highlights a broader trend in which the West feels a pinch from inflation and commodity price hikes in the developing world. The free ride is ending, folks.
Screens display flight information at Terminal 5 on March 28, 2008, at Heathrow International Airport in London. Further delays are expected today on the second day of the new terminal opening. Thirty departures have been cancelled so far as problems still remain with baggage handling.
The British press has been flooding the zone in covering French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to London this week. But of course, it's not Sarko's promises to beef up the French troop presence in Afghanistan or his calls for Britain to be more active in the European Union that have dominated the headlines. Nope. It's the every move of Sarkozy's Italian-born wife, Carla Bruni, whose supermodel looks have brought the latent prurient impulses of British journalists to the fore.
The tone for the coverage was set early when, the day before France's first couple's visit, Christie's announced it was putting nude photos of Ms. Bruni up for auction. The tabloid Daily Mail and even the ostensibly more respectable Telegraph wasted no time in serving the public interest by publishing one of the photos (find them yourself, folks). The Daily Mail even published closeups of Bruni's legs, hands, and feet and dubbed Bruni a "fully fledged sex siren."
But to really get a sense of how the British have gone ga-ga for Carla, get a load of this sentence in the Telegraph about the Sarkozys' dinner at Windsor Castle:
By that stage, the newlywed presidential couple had already disappeared, according to Mr Roche, no doubt to make the most of their bedroom with a "matchless view over the park".
Or this secondhand report about Mme Sarkozy's appearance at a charity luncheon:
We have it on good authority Miss Bruni has an "incredibly sexy" voice..."
Of course, the occasion would not be complete without indulging in one of the Telegraph's favorite pastimes -- mocking Prime Minister Gordon Brown:
The Prime Minister, not known for public displays of affection, lunged at the glamorous former supermodel as she and husband Nicolas Sarkozy visited Downing Street on the second day of their state visit to Britain.
The Sun adds helpfully, "Mr Brown planted TWO enthusiastic smackers on her."
Maybe it's just me. But doesn't this gesture by French President Nicolas Sarkozy seem a bit gauche, given that he was at a ceremony for laying a wreath in honor of Charles DeGaulle?
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
To a driving instructor in Scotland: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?"
To a Nigerian diplomat in traditional Nigerian garb: "You look as if you’re ready for bed."
On seeing a fuse box filled with wires, during a visit to an electronics company: "This looks like it was put in by an Indian."
To members of the British Deaf Association, while pointing to a loudspeaker playing Caribbean music: "No wonder you are deaf."
To a tourist, during a state visit to Hungary: "You can't have been here long, you've not potbelly."
Speaking to British students studying in China: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed."
On the "key problem" facing Brazil: "Brazilians live there."
The Australian magazine that was the first to publish the news that Britain's Prince Harry was fighting in Afghanistan has issued this oddly late apology:
We regret this serious lapse of judgment. We sincerely apologise to all our readers, to the servicemen whose lives are at constant risk while serving at home and abroad, and to their families and loved ones."
Here's a better idea: How about the British "royal" family abandon its ludicrous, anachronistic position and stop living off the largesse of British taxpayers? Then the press wouldn't have such dilemmas to worry about, and Harry would be free to fight wherever and whomever he wants. And his father, Prince Charles, wouldn't have to pretend that his Caribbean vacation is really a humanitarian mission.
Former British prime minister wait-listed, encouraged to reapply next year:
Yale University is pleased to announce the appointment of Prime Minister Tony Blair as the Howland Distinguished Fellow for the next academic year. Mr. Blair will lead a seminar at Yale and participate in a number of events around the campus. The course in which he will participate with Yale faculty will examine issues of faith and globalization."
UPDATE: On a serious note, check out Passport contributor James Forsyth's comments on why giving Blair a sinecure at a U.S. university would be bad for America.
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