This week's newsletter from the market research firm Access Asia -- whose client list includes heavy hitters like Citigroup, Pfizer, and Nike -- contains an interesting description of the living conditions athletes can expect at the Beijing Olympic Village, likening the facility to a prisoner of war camp:
If you’re an athlete coming to compete in Beijing, don’t bother to bring a guidebook unless you’re tenacious. The chances of you actually getting out of the Olympic Village to see any of the city (apart from the venue you’re competing in) are minimal....How serious will the Chinese authorities be in trying to keep athletes within the Village at all times? Well, consider that a major European sports brand and sponsor of the Games thought it a good idea to take over a major international school in Beijing for the duration of the Games. Using the school’s facilities, the brand’s management and marketing people, advertising firm and PR hypers had all planned to mingle with their star athletes’ endorsers and get the most out of the event. But now the authorities, worried about athletes leaving the Village unnecessarily, have overruled the deal, and won’t let it happen (which means the brand loses the alleged US$1.5 million they coughed up to rent the school for a month). We are told that security at the Village will be high – not just to get in, but also to get out.So why turn the village into Stalag Beijing? Well, it seems there are a number of reasons. Worries that athletes may leave the Village to do impromptu reporting on human rights or other issues is one; keeping them all close to the people who are sponsoring the Village is another; but the major reason is that if they leave the Village they may be tempted to eat like the rest of us – i.e. not the specially prepared, reared and grown foods that are being made available in the Village (and in the Village only) – and that could mean plenty of athletes failing dope tests due to high levels of residual antibiotics and steroids commonly found in meat on sale in China. "
Ah, but many U.S. athletes already had this figured out and are planning to bring their own food. This is much to the chagrin of Beijing organizers, who are planning to ban outside food within the Olympic Village. As for speaking ill of China's human rights record, the gag orders -- which some athletes will be forced to sign as a precondition of competing -- should pretty much take care of that. Sounds like a lovely time indeed.
[Hat tip: Tim Johnson]
The folks at Rock the Vote just sent over the results of their latest poll, conducted by using jukebox-like machines to "survey" more than 72,000 bar and nightclub patrons. Here's the results, as provided by their PR flack:
I guess we can conclude:
1) A fair number of beer guzzling bar rats think all three of the candidates are pretty lame as drinking buddies.
2) Old beer guzzling bar rats in Florida would really like to sit down with McCain and commiserate about how the Maginot Line totally sucked.
3) Three in 10 bar rats have no clue what either the Republican or Democratic party is -- and probably don't care to.
4) Most bar rats could really use some extra cash to pay for beer.
FP readers already know the story of "How Sushi Went Global." And it's generally no secret that you can get a spicy tuna roll everywhere from Bangalore to Belize. But barbecue? Yes, apparently slow-cooked pig's butt is starting to go global, too.
The word out of the 2008 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the world's largest pork BBQ contest held last weekend in Memphis, is that the globalization of barbecue is in the "embryonic" stages.
The trend can apparently lead to some awkward interactions:
At one point this year, a member of the Deominox team [from Belgium] was trying to talk his way in past the gate. The 'good old boy' working the entrance [had to ask for] help.... The language barrier almost got the Deominox team disqualified when it turned in its blind box in the whole-hog contest. Two of the non-English-speakers handled the delivery, but they missed the deadline after walking past signs they didn't understand. A sympathetic official interceded and successfully made the case for giving the team a break and letting their samples be judged...."
Now, before getting carried away about diluting of an American icon, it's important to remember that around two-thirds of this year's contestants still hailed from Tennessee. Perusing the list of winners, I don't see any foreign teams. Nor did I see baby backs on the menu the last time I was in Beijing. Of course, that was two years ago....
Looks like Sen. Dick Durbin may be taking up the flag of the late Rep. Tom Lantos when it comes to bashing the operations of tech companies in China. Ars Technica's Nate Anderson reports on today's hearing before Durbin's Judiciary subcommittee:
Yahoo, Google, and Cisco all trekked over to the Senate today to sit for an hour under the grandfatherly, but strangely stern eye of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). The subject was 'Internet freedom,' but this turned out to be code for 'censorship in China....' Durbin [was not] convinced, though, that multinational corporations were truly doing as much as they legally could to avoid censoring information.... After Google's Nicole Wong claimed that engagement with China was better than isolation, Durbin said that the answer reminded him of corporate arguments regarding apartheid in South Africa.
Durbin told tech executives to expect some legislation in the Senate similar to the Global Online Freedom Act, which would hold U.S. companies liable for helping foreign governments censor the Net. A recently unearthed PowerPoint presentation in which Cisco Systems executives appeared to be keen to help Chinese officials in censoring the Web (one phrase referred to "combating Falun Gong evil cult and other hostile elements") could give the bill legs.
Over at China Rises, Tim Johnson reports that most Chinese "seem content" with their government's rescue efforts after the Sichuan quake on Monday. But Johnson also notes that, politically speaking, it's a "fluid situation" for China's ruling Communists.
Among the developments to watch in coming days is growing public anger over the shoddy construction of schools in rural China. Among the dead are a massive number of children. Many parents are already asking: Why did the schools collapse when other government buildings remained standing?
Answering that question could pose a potentially destabilizing challenge for the Beijing regime. The NYT's Jim Yardley has more in a must-read today:
[E]nraged parents interviewed at the morgue on Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday morning say local officials lied to the prime minister to hide the true toll at Xinjian, which they estimate at more than 400 dead children. Several parents blamed local officials for a slow initial rescue response and questioned the structural safety of the school building. They were also furious that officials forbade them to search for their children for two days and then allowed access to the bodies only after the parents formed an ad hoc committee to complain.... Several parents wanted an investigation into the construction quality of school buildings in Dujiangyan. They say six schoolhouses collapsed in the city, even as other government buildings remain standing. One man said officials built two additional stories on the Xinjian school even though it had failed a safety inspection two years ago — allegations that could not be verified.
Much of the questionable engineering and construction can probably be tied to local level corruption, and it will be interesting to see if anti-official sentiments continue to grow in this regard. At the Far Eastern Economic Review, Michael Zhao reports that they already are: "we are hearing increasing reports of discontent, even outrage, with officialdom’s response.... There is a powerful linkage in Chinese political culture, including at the populist level, between natural disasters and state failure...." Seems "Grandpa Wen" and his cohorts are hardly out of the woods just yet.
In today's Washington Post, Mike Gerson quite rightly lambasts the "Coburn Seven" -- seven Senate Republicans who are all but blocking expanded funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Unfortunately, what Gerson ignores is the GOP's long history of failure and ignorance on the HIV/AIDS front. This sad history dates to the very founding of the contemporary conservative movement. It was Ronald Reagan, the revered Godfather, who remained silent as tens of thousands of Americans died and a pandemic was spread to more than 100 countries around the globe. Even as Reagan did nothing to combat AIDS, his surrogates in the extreme right opined that the disease was a divinely-inspired retaliation on liberalism. It was Pat Buchanan, Reagan's White House communications director, who called AIDS "nature's revenge on gay men." Such sentiments proliferated as the power of the GOP's religious right-wing coalesced in the 1990s. Former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, for instance, famously called for those infected with HIV/AIDS to be "isolated from the general population" in 1992. He stood by the statement in his 2008 presidential campaign.
When historians sit down to assess the modern conservative movement a generation or two from now, among the most severe tarnishes on the GOP's legacy will be Guantanamo and record deficits. There also will be the string of painfully ignorant policies the party has held on HIV/AIDS. To his credit, George W. Bush has probably done more than any conservative politician of his generation to reverse this tragic legacy -- more, perhaps, than any liberal politician, too. PEPFAR has provided life-sustaining anti-AIDS drugs to 1.4 million patients in the countries hardest hit by the disease. It may be the most favorably remembered foreign policy initiative of Bush's entire tenure. And in his January State of the Union address, the President proposed a long-overdue doubling of the effort.
It looked as though the GOP had finally found its moorings on combating a disease that, in a number of African countries, now affects more than 1 in 5 adults. But a small GOP minority once again appears poised to force the United States to take a backseat in the fight. As Gerson says, it will come at a price paid in lives. Unfortunately, it won't be the first time.
It seems hard to imagine a scenario in which the massive earthquake that rocked China's western Sichuan Province at 2:28pm local time today has not killed tens of thousands -- possibly more. Beijing originally put the death toll at 61. Hours later, the figure was increased to "up to 8,500." With rescuers, including thousands of Chinese soldiers, still unable to reach the epicenter of the quake, one can only assume this figure is tragically optimistic.
Officials at the U.S. Geological Survey have said that the magnitude 7.9 quake was relatively shallow. Shallow earthquakes do more damage near their epicenters than ones which occur deeper in the Earth. Just over 30 years ago, in 1976, a similarly shallow quake, measuring magnitude 7.5, hit the northern Chinese city of Tangshan. It killed more than 250,000 people.
It's worth watching Beijing's response to the crisis, for a couple of reasons (in addition to any worst-case Olympic scenarios).The first will be to see how real recent transformations in Beijing's disaster response policies are, including a new network of emergency management offices and provisions which give local leaders more autonomy in times of crisis. So far, the speed with which Beijing has responded has been impressive. Can it be sustained and intensified?
The second will be to gauge Beijing's commitment to transparency with regard to the scale and scope of the quake's impact. So far, information seems to have flowed relatively freely to the Western media. As the scale of the disaster increases, and with it the death toll, in all likelihood revealing deficiencies in engineering and infrastructure, it will be interesting to see if these channels of communication remain as open.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said today that the Russian military is "gaining in strength and power like all of Russia."
To prove it, he marched troops, tanks, and Topol-M nuclear missiles around Red Square today. The event was reportedly planned as early as January, and Medvedev was so intent on making the Soviet-style show of prowess a success that he ordered Russia's air force to make sure no clouds rained on the festivities. So they carried out a cloud seeding operation in advance of the parade. Meant to mark the 63rd anniversary of the victory of Nazi Germany, it was the first parade of its kind in Red Square since 1990.
It is right to consider the images coming out of the parade as a bit disconcerting. But press reports from the scene seem a bit over the top, with stories of "glamorous" troops and "mixed messages." This ignores the realities of today's Russian military. Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Falgenhauer provides a good reality check:
Russia still has large stocks of Soviet-made military hardware; most of it fully or partially out of order. Only a handful of ships, tanks, and jets are truly operational at any given time.... The task of reviving defense hardware parades on Red Square will face grave technical and logistical problems and in any event will most likely produce only a pathetic imitation of Soviet military grandeur.... One can only hope that ... no ancient building will collapse as tanks and ICBMs roll into central Moscow to serve the vanity of Russia’s leaders."
Let's not get carried away with the Cold War nostalgia just yet.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.