Saturday, August 9, 2008


I watched in amazement at the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics also known as the Games of the XXIX Olympiad of the Modern Era.

During the initial broadcast I was at another far more important function, the 30th birthday party of the daughter of a great Friend. I found myself in a sea of incredibly talented, erudite young adults who I am proud to say will hopefully be the inheritors of our planet. They appear that they will have the motivation and ability to clean up our mess. Well, I ended up waking up around 4:00 am and turned the TV on to NBC where, not to my commercial surprise, was a repeat of the Olympic opening ceremony.

It seems appropriate to use the US marketing phrase, we have been supersized! The pomp and circumstance punctuated by the colorful pageantry and costuming, fireworks, music (that included one of my favorites: Sarah Brightman), special effects and the spectacular lighting of the Olympic Torch by Chinese gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Li Ning, who appeared to run through air around the top ring of the stadium before touching off the torch (WOW!), seemed well beyond our most outrageous expectations.

The venue of this highly choreographed event is also the centerpiece of the 2008 Summer Olympics, the Beijing National Stadium, which has been nicknamed the "Bird’s Nest" given its inventive and magnificent nest-like skeletal structure
. There was a lot of concern about the ability of the structure to endure any of the not uncommon earthquakes that plague China. Well, it did and doubly so and not far in advance of the 8-8-08 opening. In short, the venue and the program were extraordinary.

When you have a totalitarian Communist government and millions (one-fifth of the worlds population) of compliant though apparently very proud citizens, you can pull off such a spectacle and especially one that had to endure many last minute changes in personnel and costume. There has never been a more lavish and exciting opening ceremony in the history of The Olympic Games, period. I noted that they apparently are in love with the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes which were piped in with some regularity as the countries entered the stadium.

Amidst all this breathtaking (more later) celebration of our Humanity we have seen the pall of the continuing suppression and crackdown by the Chinese Government of those who would protest (among many other issues) the incredible human rights violations against Tibet and her Citizens. I witnessed the removal of three US Citizens and journalists from Tianammen Square who were protesting restrictions on religious freedom in China and apparently forcibly sent back home. Others who from a Chinese perspective might cause unrest just didn’t have their visas approved and were denied entrance to China. It would certainly appear that China has reneged on its pledge to the International Olympic Committee to allow the media to freely report the news.

Whether self fulfilling prophesies, all sorts of groups are now pledging to take this opportunity to express their perspectives about Tibet and a variety of other issues relating to China’s totalitarian regime. A Chinese Al Qaida group as well as Tibetan nationals have pledged in their own special way to disrupt the Olympics to include violence of the first order. With this new Muslim extremist threat it would appear to allow the justification of a more intense crackdown by the Chinese.

While much of this has been heartbreaking and, understandably, very real issues, I suspect that we can pick and choose better ways to try and deflect and eventually stop the slings and arrows of this repressive society. One of the tenets of the ancient Olympic movement was the suspension of war and controversy to even include the guarantee of safe passage of athletes and citizens bound for the Olympics. Though our world has changed, we need to embrace those ideals as best we can. Yes, it takes two cooperating sides…

For fear of coming off as another form of Dixie Chick dissidence, my first reaction is that President Bush’s comments while in Thailand on the eve of the Olympics and his visit to China while absolutely right on, were ill timed. True, while he admonished the Chinese he also praised them for their market reforms further tempering his remarks by saying that China had the right to choose its own course. That immediately brought about a Chinese response that bluntly told Bush to mind his own business and stop meddling in Chinese internal affairs.

We need to let China host the Olympics and then work closely with them to facilitate the change and freedoms that their people and the rest of the world embrace. Methinks that by goading this giant with an electric prod is not as effective as attempting a more covert diplomacy.

That said, what about the pollution in Beijing? The answer is under the careful watch of the Chinese Bureau of Weather Modification? They have even created a forest preserve on a 1,750 site just north of the Olympic Village ostensibly to raise oxygen levels in the area?

Even after pulling half of the city’s 3.3 million automobiles off the road and shutting down scores of factories, pollution levels remain high as witnessed by yesterday’s gray shroud that hung over the city.

Athletes have expressed concerns about their health and their ability to perform at a high level under these conditions. Some have already worn dust masks and respirators even though the Chinese have expressed their offense at this practice. Too bad.

Through all of this a sense of humor especially in the United States seems to prevail. If you haven’t already done so surf on over to YouTube and view the following video - The Onion: The Beijing Olympics - Are They A Trap?

Bottom Line: As messy as this is, these Games are all about sport not politics. The Olympic Games are intended to be competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries though we have all gotten caught up in the overall team medal standings. We must respect the rights and sovereignty of all nations and the Olympic charter.

"Citius, Altius, Fortius" - "Faster, Higher, Stronger"


Ned Buxton

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