Megapundit: Countdown to the 'Olympics of Shame'

Must-reads: Colby Cosh on the tyranny of statistics; Marcus Gee on human rights in China; Graham Thomson in Afghanistan; Vaughn Palmer on B.C. healthcare spending; Dan Gardner on prognostication.

Badmouthing China—the newest Olympic sport
As the pundits’ eyes turn to Beijing, their keyboards turn to human rights abuses and the appalling International Olympic Committee.

The Globe and Mail‘s Marcus Gee argues that the aftermath of the May 12 Sichuan earthquake put the lie to the idea that if Chinese citizens “don’t challenge the government head on or make other conspicuous trouble, they can go about living their lives with a degree of personal freedom unheard of in earlier times”—a common argument, he says, against making too much of “a fuss” about human rights in China. People have been sent to labour camps for the simple act of reporting demands by bereaved parents for an investigation into school collapses, Gee notes, and families have been effectively blackmailed into absolving the government of any responsibility. “Most of these people are not dissidents,” Gee writes. “They just want the truth about why their innocent children died.”

In the Ottawa Citizen, John Robson compares modern China to the world of Soylent Green, and celebrates that the western world has moved on from the drab 1970s ethos that produced the film into “a hedonism that, while shallow, possesses at least a veneer of cheerfulness.” If that doesn’t make any sense to you, please direct your inquiries to Mr. Robson and not to us. We’ve done our best.

The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington brands the IOC as a bunch of “petty tyrants with inflated egos,” who “turn a blind eye to propriety and decency and appear to have a totalitarian streak.” The upcoming Beijing Games, meanwhile, will forevermore be known in the Worthington household as the “Olympics of Shame.”

The Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno says it’s naïve to assume the “eyes-everywhere Chinese security apparatus” makes these Games immune to the threat of terrorism, and attends a press conference at which various officials outline their plans to prevent and respond to avian flu, terrorist-imported Ebola, earthquakes and other potential cataclysms. This is DiManno’s first column from Beijing, but it reads as if she’s been there for six months and can’t wait to leave. Perhaps she’ll perk up when the jet lag wears off.

Federal matters
L. Ian MacDonald
heads east to St-Agapit to hear Stephen Harper deliver “the first speech of the next campaign” in the heart of the 418 area code, which—as MacDonald has explained at least a dozen times before—is so crucial to the Tories’ majority hopes. “These rural voters are just as receptive to Harper’s core message on crime, taxes and agriculture as the voters are in the small towns of Ontario and Alberta,” he argues in the Montreal Gazette—and his appeal to those voters “as autonomists, not sovereignists,” who “don’t want to destroy” but “to build,” has similar traction.

The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe almost makes several points about Elections Canada’s various beefs with the Conservatives, and whether Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand showed a pro-Liberal bias in extending deadlines for repaying leadership campaign debts, but she shies away from all but the most painfully self-evident: that it’s “not good” for “the organization charged with administering Canada’s election laws” to be under such suspicion. Quite frankly, at this point in history, any column that presents the veiled voting fiasco as a he-said/she-said affair is worthy of a yellow card.

The Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson sheds some light on the deaths of two Afghan children shot by a Canadian soldier when their car—a taxi, as it turns out—didn’t heed warning signals to stop. For the father, Rozi Muhammed, Thomson says the incident has a “terrible irony”—”he and his wife were taking their two children away from their home in Panjwaii district … to a new life in Kandahar City,” in hopes of escaping the violence. Muhammed says the driver first pulled over, but then veered ill-advisedly back into the road before the Canadian convoy had passed. He says he wants to “kill Canadians,” but also suggests he be compensated for his loss. (Thomson’s Afghanistan blog is well worth checking out, incidentally—lots of great photos.)

Provincial matters
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson accuses Newfoundland Danny Williams of wholly inappropriate—though not statutorily prohibited—interference in the matter of choosing the next president of Memorial University, and suggests those who believe he “can leap tall icebergs in a single bound” consider how they’d feel about it if a premier they disliked was making the decisions.

The Vancouver Sun‘s Vaughn Palmer says the B.C. Liberal government’s usual protocol with out-of-control healthcare costs is to “allow spending pressures to build throughout the year, warn the health authorities about the need to stay within budget, then bring in a supplementary spending approval when the legislature sits in February.” But yesterday, he reports, “just four months into the budget year that began with a record funding increase,” a $120-million bailout package was announced. Part of it, Palmer suggests, may be to avoid “system-in-crisis headlines” closer to the 2009 election date. “That’s quite brilliant on your part to have thought of that,” Abbott sarcastically replies.

US past, US future
Lorne Gunter, writing in the Journal, identifies “four phases” of the Iraq war: “the justification (thin), the invasion (a roaring victory), the peace (a tragic mess) and the surge (a practical success).” And he says the success of the fourth phase proves how disastrous Donald Rumsfeld’s insistence on a minimal troop commitment during the third phase was. “If 30,000 extra troops have made such a difference over the past 18 months,” he concludes, “imagine what a difference an extra 400,000 or 300,000 or even just 200,000 might have made in the days and weeks after the fall of Baghdad.”

The Globe‘s John Ibbitson believes there’s something to the John McCain camp’s accusation that Barack Obama is—finally or again, depending on your point of view—”playing the race card.” Obama had long talked of the Republicans insinuating that he doesn’t “look like” a president, Ibbitson notes, but only recently did he ascribe it directly to McCain. As one would expect, both sides claim to be scandalously aggrieved by this development.

Duly noted
In an absolutely terrific piece in the National Post, Colby Cosh recounts the history of the baseball save. Its inventor, baseball writer Jerome Holtzman, is revered by relief pitchers for quantifying their contributions to the game, but the irony, Cosh notes, is that a mere statistic has profoundly changed the game itself. The Yankees use Mariano Rivera “to protect relatively safe two-or three-run leads, but lets ties be decided by guys who can’t hoist Rivera’s jock,” he writes. “Why? Because the ‘save’ has come to define what it was originally meant only to describe: Since we measure relievers by saves, saves must be what they do.” There are myriad analogous examples of statistical tyranny in non-sporting life, he argues: from the “corporate obsession with quarterly accounting performance” to governments’ “addiction to tax credits as a means of fighting ‘child poverty,’ a term that suggests there might somehow be poor kids living Dickensian lives in rich households.”

The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner notes research by University of California psychologist Philip Tetlock that shows “esteemed political scientists, economists [and] journalists” are all absolutely terrible at predicting the future. “A flipped coin would have done better” than Tetlock’s test subjects, he says, and yet we cannot seem to get enough of pessimistic prognosticators no matter how hard they continually fall on their own faces. Gardner advises us to accept the future is “unpredictable” and “roll the dice”—within reason, of course. Looking both ways before crossing the street is still a good idea.

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