Must-reads: Henry Aubin on the Montreal North riots; Andrew Cohen on Russia vs. China; Jonathan Kay on the Olympics.
Live from Beijing
Stop watching the Olympics! They’re eeeeeeeevil!
The National Post‘s Jonathan Kay dismisses the Olympics as “a giant exercise in petty nationalism” predicated on the delusion, in George Orwell’s words, “that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.” Dictatorships use the Games “to stir up nationalistic blood lust without actually going through the bother of military combat,” spending gazillions of dollars to “frog-march … athletes into sports that are unpopular and obscure at home, but which seem a safe bet for a massive medal tally” and pumping them full of “every drug that can possibly be slipped by the urine collectors.” And we, poor deluded Westerners, cheer on anyone who “happen[s] to be wearing a Maple Leaf-emblazoned unitard” against those drugged-up totalitarian robots in sports we don’t actually give a damn about.
We, on the other hand, think the Olympics are fun.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham reports on a brand new Olympic phenomenon—cheerleaders, who will be entertaining the crowds at everything from beach volleyball to race walking (the latter a sport clearly in need of scantily clad women, or cute puppies, or something). “You’ve got to wonder, what would Mao say?” Bramham quips, but frankly, we were more interested in what Bramham might think. Her mention of the bikini-clad female volleyballers and the all-male officials dressed “in below-the-knee boarder shorts, T-shirts and hats” seems to promise some quite justifiable snark, but none ever materializes. Rip-off!
The Globe and Mail‘s Christie Blatchford profiles 57-year-old Canadian trap-shooter Susan Nattrass, arguing the women’s sports pioneer “need never apologize to anyone for anything, let alone a bad round on the range” such as the one that knocked her out of the Olympic competition yesterday. Nattrass refuses to rule out competing in 2012, saying she’d love to have “competed for Canada at the world level for 40 years.”
The Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno profiles Canadian diver Emilie Heymans, who finished a disappointing fourth in Athens in the 10-metre platform after a disastrous final dive. She has since switched coaches and narrowed her focus—she claims she was spread too thin in Athens, competing in the three-metre springboard as well—and is sticking with the platform in Beijing. (She would also have been competing in the 10-metre synchronized diving, but she and her partner were beaten out at the last minute by another Canadian duo. Luckily, says DiManno, “nobody takes [synchro] that seriously.”)
Andrew Cohen, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, thinks it deeply ironic that Russia, which the West has long considered a more beneficent emerging power than China, should start “behaving like a bully again” during the Olympics that were designed to be “a watershed in a new long march to [Chinese] democracy.” Moscow has been “intimidating neighbours and former satellites” for years, Russians “have become increasingly nationalist, anti-western and even anti-Semitic” and the murders of journalists are rarely solved, and yet “we thought it was all about China.” This “little adventure in Georgia” is a reminder, Cohen concludes, “of the dangers of Russia Redux.”
Meanwhile, back in boring old Canada
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe argues that a fall election is certain to produce another minority government, because the Bloc Québécois “has established itself as a permanent fixture in Ottawa—taking a lot of votes right out of the mix for Liberals and Conservatives.” (Clearly she needs to read more L. Ian MacDonald!) Other than Yaffe managing to confuse Maxime Bernier with his father, Gilles, there’s very little memorable content here.
The Globe‘s Gary Mason expresses optimism that “we in North America are going to find ways to beat our dependency on foreign oil once and for all,” and that it will start at the local level—public transit, solar panels, recovering heat from landfills, etc.—where such achievements are “more satisfying, and ultimately more practical” to achieve. He thinks this, in large part, because Denmark has already done it, and it’s a cold country just like Canada is. Canada is 232 times larger than Denmark, mind you, but that’s apparently not relevant here.
Ride the Métro to your next riot!
The Montreal Gazette‘s Henry Aubin dismisses the prospect of the public security ministry inquiring into the Montreal North riot, and in fairly blistering fashion too. “The ministry… presides over a police culture that all but winks at police shootings of unarmed civilians,” he writes, noting that 53 (!) civilians have perished in “police actions” since 2005 and that the ministry refuses to say how many of those cases involved police misconduct—its penchant for “systemic coverups” being the second reason it’s ill-qualified to handle an inquiry, and its narrow scope being the third. Unemployment and woeful minority representation in the civil service (including police) lie at the root of both Fredy Villanueva’s death and the weekend of violence that ensued, Aubin insists, and only a body with the gravitas of Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission would be able to expose the truth.
The Gazette‘s Don MacPherson advises transit riders to forget the new “à la carte” tickets and drop $3.50 for the new stored-value Opus card. Torontonians, prepare yourselves for a fit of jealousy: you can reload the card or report it stolen (thus eliminating any value for thieves) online, it works in either Montreal or Quebec City, and it eliminates the need for a transfer. The only downside, MacPherson notes, is that the MTC “has had trouble keeping up with the demand.”
The Globe‘s Margaret Wente believes the media’s coverage of John Edwards’ undoing, as first reported by the National Enquirer and haughtily dismissed by the New York Times as “classically not a Times-like story,” shows just what dire straits traditional news outlets are in these days. For one thing, she alleges, they’re rank hypocrites—the Times “recently ran an innuendo-laden story on John McCain and his friendship with an attractive lobbyist a decade or so ago,” she writes. And increasingly, she believes they’re losing stories to the “gutter press” and gagging when they’re finally forced to run with them. “The barbarians have been at the gates ever since the O. J. Simpson trial,” Wente argues, which was when the mainstream media “began to lose their grip on deciding what is news. With the explosion of the blogosphere, their power is gone for good.”
Still on the animal welfare beat, the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington believes tactics employed by the Ontario SPCA “are more mindful of a secret police than a body serving the public”—which is “not to disparage individuals who are inspectors,” naturally! And yet Dalton McGuinty’s government seems intent on giving them more power, he complains, by proposing legislation that would give the SPCA “police powers to prosecute,” while being “accountable to no one, … immune to the ombudsman, and … protected from access to information legislation.”