IOC cancels worldwide torch relay

March 28, 2009

In 2004, with the Olympics back in Athens, the Greek Olympic Committee had a wonderful idea:  rather than the usual Olympic torch relay (starting at Mt. Olympus, and then around Athens, and then off to the host country (which in 2004 would have been a really short torch relay), the Greeks decided to put the torch on a global relay … sending it to cool places that have never hosted the games (like South America and Africa) and to old haunts (like Los Angeles and London).  It was a swell idea.

 

So swell in fact that the Chinese decided to make it a part of their Olympics ….. how great to send the flame to the top of Mt. Everest (which is part of China), and through cities like Paris and San Francisco.

Of course the Olympic torch relay turned into a lightning rod for everyone with a beef against China (which is basically everyone except for South Africa, Cuba, Vietnam, and Venezuela these days).  What the Chinese envisioned as a global trek to unify the world as a prelude to showing off the massive presentation of China to the world spiraled down into a P.R. nightmare.  In hindsight the United States, already dealing with its own quasi pariah status in the world was one of the better behaved countries on the tour.  Other stops were far from friendly.  chinese soldiers (in plain clothes) shoving at protesters, cuts to live feeds to China as protesters on human rights and Tibet outnumbered ordinary onlookers on the routes.  The Chinese were probably kicking themselves for doing this.

The IOC agreed, and yesterday decreed that there will be no more global torch relays.  The torch relay will revert back to its original pre-2004 plan:  run the torch around Athens, get it on a plane to the host nation, run it around there and end it at  the host city for the games to open.

I certainly can’t disagree with the protesters, and I at least credit the IIOC for consistency that will undoubtedly only help future Olympic host cities.

The IOC has made a perpetual point of staying apolitical, even when it really should have used some bullying power to step up.  There was no problem putting the games in Germany TWICE in 1936 and allowing Hitler to co-opt the games for a Nazi agenda.  There was little problem putting them in Moscow in 1980 (human rights abuses and an invasion of Afghanistan).  Lest I be considered hypocritical, yes, the U.S. hosted the Olympics in 1904 and 1932 (and a couple of Winter Games in there) when Jim Crow laws  were still the law of the land in parts of the nation.  Here is another example of the IOC making sure that anyone with a political agenda (except the host nation of course) gets squelched.  It is what it is, but they have a century of consistency on this issue.

Of course, this benefits a few nations down the road:  London gets the games in 2012, and there are still a number of nations with an axe to grind against the Brits.  If Chicago gets the games in 2016, there will almost certainly be people lining up to stage protests.  Ironically, while Chicago has a history of protests that descended into riots (from Haymarket Square to the 1968 Democratic Convention), I’m not so sure that there are many people who would support such shenanigans now a days. Even if Tokyo gets the 2016 games, the anti-whaling crowd would see a golden opportunity to get some free publicity.

Is it a good thing that the IOC moved this way?  Difficult to say.


In tribute to the South Side Irish Parade….

March 25, 2009

In honor of the passing of the great South Side Institution, here is “The Ballad of the South Side Irish”.  I raise a green river soda to yeh.

 


South Side Irish cancelled!?!?

March 25, 2009

http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/1495189,south-side-irish-parade-cancelled-032509.article

 

The South Side Irish Parade has been cancelled for 2010.  Let THAT sink in a minute my brothers and sisters from the greatest side of Chicago.

 

Rumor has it, that with about 300,000 people, it is among the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world, with only Dublin, N’York, and Bastin being its rivals.  They might as well cancel Santa coming around on Christmas next.

 

In the grand tradition of all things South Side, this tradition began very small with two families staging a little parade to celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick.  30 years later, it has become an institution on the South Side … I mean, the White Sox and the South Side Irish Parade may be the only two positive things we have going for us in Chicago right now (the Olympics are maybe a distant third).  I myself marched four times.  It was always one of the liveliest parades there was.  As a matter of fact, some of my very non-Irish students made a point of going to see the parade every year, as it was the largest in the Chicago area.

I kenna fault the organizers.  This must have been a daunting task and a huge logistics nightmare.  But it will be sad to see another piece of culture pass into history.


Movie Review: Watchmen

March 23, 2009

Spoilers:  I’m not sure there will be spoilers, but there might be.  Just go see the movie first, then read this.

Watchmen is an intricate adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, perhaps most notable for being listed on Time magazine’s top 100 works of English fiction from the 1920s to the year 2000.  It should not be confused with a comic book, but rather is a novel that happens to be illuminated.

The setting is 1985 in an alternative universe.  The U.S. and Soviets are on the verge of nuclear war as the USSR prepares to invade Afghanistan.  Richard Nixon is serving his fifth terms as president (term limits having been abolished).  The United States won the Vietnam War.

Oh, yeah, since 1940, there have been costumed or “masked” heroes.  They started out as a way to help the police against criminals who themselves hid.  By 1977, the last group, “the Watchmen” had been banned by federal law as vigilantes.  Two of them (The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan) went to work for the government.  Ozymandias revealed his real identity as the world’s smartest man, and became a billionaire.  The Night Owl has quietly entered retirement (maintaining his secret identity), and meets often with the “original” Night Owl over beer.  The Silk Spectre (daughter of the original Silk Specter) works at a government lab with Dr. Manhattan.  Rorschach, with his black and white mask of ever changing patterns, refused to retire, and is wanted as a vigilante as he continues to hunt down criminals.  His daily journal entries serve as something of a frame to the story.

These masked heroes have no super powers.  They are strong, fast, highly athletic, and have a variety of gadgets and street smarts, making them all like Batman to some extent.  That is, all except for Dr. Manhattan who (thanks to a nuclear accident) has godlike powers of matter rearrangement, teleportation, and the ability to see his future and past simultaneously.  He can kill with a thought, if he chooses to.  A major point in the story is that he has become unable to interact with humans properly, and despite being able to see the future, he also does not see the point in becoming involved in stopping anything bad from happening.  He can be thought of as suffering from a form of Asperger’s Syndrome in that he has great intelligence, buthas great difficulty in handling human relationships anymore.  Human existence has become inconsequential.  Dr. Manhattan was asked to help out in Vietnam, and a week after his arrival, the Vietcong surrendered.

The film is not so much about plot, (so I will not get too much into that), as it is about philosophy and character development.  Each character has a different approach to the world and its problems based on their personal history (each of which is to a varying degree shown in the film), and these approaches can be in conflict with one another.  It begs the question:  is the world worth saving?  If it is, at what price is the world worth saving?  Are there philosophical absolutes that must never be crossed, or are there times when the end does justify the means?  Can heroes disagree, and still be right?  What is greater for our species and the world:  peace or justice, and can they ever coexist?

The overall plot begins with the murder of “The Comedian”.  While the police look at it as a either a political killing (The Comedian had worked for the government helping to destabilize third world governments in the 1970s and 80s) or a random act of violence.  Rorschach thinks otherwise, and being a bit paranoid, thinks this is the start of some move to kill the former masked heroes.  His paranoia seems more real when many of Dr. Manhattan’s former associates are found to have cancer or  have already died from it, causing him to exile himself to Mars.  This leads the remaining heroes to begin linking the plot to get rid of the heroes with the current political situation, since Dr. Manhattan had been a key bargaining chip in maintaining peace between the USSR and US (since he could simply disintegrate every Soviet inbound missile; he is essentially an American defense shield).  The plot quickly widens to find that Rorshach wasn’t entirely wrong …. but that the plot to end the world may be more than they thought.

There are some small changes to the film from the novel, but very few.  Many shots on screen are taken directly from frames of animation in the novel.  Visually, it is a great film.  Philosophically, it is a challenging film.  This may be billed as a “superhero” film, but if you are expecting “The Dark Knight” or “Iron Man”, you will be supremely disappointed.

This is a caution to parents.  Yes, there are costumed heroes, however this is absolutely not a comic book movie.  There is a particularly brutal attempted rape scene that was hard to watch.  There are a couple of scenes where characters are killed, and there is no pulling away of the camera at the last moment.  There is plenty of nudity, and a sex scene that, short of showing genital contact, left absolutely nothing to the imagination.  I repeat, this is not a comic book movie.  Children under 18 shouldn’t even be in the same building when this film is showing.  Actually, I’m not sure children under 30 should be seeing this.

 

Having said that, if you are looking for something that is a little challenging, this is a good film.  If you are looking for something with cheap thrills, then you need to steer clear.


Using an atomic device to kill an insect

March 15, 2009

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123680870885500701.html

 

This is a link to a Wall Street Journal article.  My friend Tom and his wife have some sort of connection to some rather intriguing new inventions coming down the pipeline.  One part mad scientist, one part venture capital, and one part legal team to protect the patent rights.  It is all very interesting.

It seems that one of the new things coming down the pipe is a laser that kills mosquitoes.  The article does not go into the intricacies of what sounds like an awesome idea (even more awesome when you consider that the main goal is to reduce infected mosquito populations where malaria is still a killer).

The article also highlights some other ideas out there regarding mosquito control.


Uncle x2

March 12, 2009

I have been informed that sometime in September, I will be an uncle again ….. My brother and sister-in-law have timed it so that their first daughter and new child will be have very close birthdays.  The due date is within two days of their daughter’s birthday.


Star Trek and the essence of myth

March 8, 2009

In 1977, George Lucas created what he hoped would be a modern culmination of human myth systems.  Most fans of Star Wars are aware that the films George Lucas made (at least the original trilogy) have far more in common with the folklore of ancient Greece and medieval Japan then they do with any other work of science fiction.  I would argue that Star Wars is even more closely related to films like Clash of the Titans, Excalibur, or The Lord of the Rings, or even The Seven Samurai than it would have with films like The Day the Earth Stood Still or 2001: A Space Odyssey.  These mythic stories of heroes and wizards, damsels in distress and villains, are the foundations for a large percentage of our shared art, culture, and literature.  In creating Star Wars, George Lucas was telling a pastiche of the oldest stories in the world in a way that had never been attempted before.

These stories have passed from generation to generation, and like any story, the plots have slight alterations, the characters names can be changed, and details here and there also change.  It used to frustrate me as a kid when I would devour these stories and see it never told the same way twice.  It helped me later to realize that stories change with time, but the essence of the stories are never different.  Check out the legends of Camelot.  How many knights sat at the Round Table?  Was it Mordred or a fight with Lancelot that brought Camelot down?  Depending on the source, there are vastly different answers to these and other questions.  Time changes stories.

On the other hand, there is Star Trek.  Trek and Wars have always been at diametric opposite ends of some contrived scale for hard core scifi fans.  Perhaps this is most memorably shown in this excerpt from “The Late Show With Conan O’Brien” where he sends Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to the opening of Star Wars Episode II, and has an uninvited guest show up.

 

This of course is comparing apples and oranges.  Trek started as a TV western (with starships doubling for covered wagons, and Klingons for the local natives).  While parts of it undoubtedly borrow liberally from myth and legend, there is plenty of it that is wholly modern (Jason’s argonauts weren’t really multi-racial;  the Seven Against Thebes didn’t include women; and I’m not sure that Tribbles have an equivalent in any myth system).  The problems in Star Wars are mythic in nature (rescue the damsel, save the world).  Trek’s problems were those of racism and ageism;  ethical dilemmas for heroes that were more complex than those generally presented in mythic stories; and the incorporation of modern physics into science fiction.  One isn’t necessarily better than the other but it is important to note that while Luke Skywalker is a descendant of Jason and Hercules, Captian Kirk is more closely a descendant of Matt Dillon, The Virginian, or Bret Maverick.

However, in a few months, Star Wars fans will definitely have something to get genuinely geared up about, because Trek is going to soundly and unapologetically go stomping all over Star Wars‘ turff …. not that this is a bad thing.

I figure that centuries ago, there were probably a lot more mythic stories that were told than have existed through to the modern day.  The ones that “made it” were the ones which endured because they were good stories and because they were popular.  Over that time, as I noted above, the characters underwent alterations, and the plots got changed.  Storytellers embellish.  Generations emphasize different parts of the story.

In May there is going to be a new Star Trek movie.  The character names will be the same.  The starship name will be the same.  A few other names will be the same.  Everything else will be vastly different.  The very history that has been long established and cherished by the legions of fans will be greatly changed.

and I say:  good!

Star Trek is now shifting into the realm of myth.  If Trek is truly worthy of surviving as something more than a cultural artifact, then it must also survive the test that all mythic stories have been subjected to:  will the essence of what it represents survive in the popular and cultural memory as time goes on?  If it does, then new actors and new changes to the plot and history will be non-factors.  It is not a question of a new Trek being better or worse than the original, but rather a question of: can these stories and characters remain relevant to the future generations.  If the answer is to be yes, then change is not only inevitable, but a necessity.

The world we live in is grim.  So was the world of the late 1960s.  Perhaps Trek’s greatest contribution to society was that it was one of the few works of culture (artistic or otherwise), that spoke to almost anyone and said that there will be a future, and it will be better to live in than it is now …. and not only should you live for that day, but that you should work to make that future a reality sooner vs. later.  For those who have seen the landmark episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”, this is the basic philosophy of Trek in a nutshell:

Then as now, we need an occasional kick in the butt to get moving forward, and that also means letting go of parts of the past and embracing changes in the future.

Even for Star Trek fans.