Life is short, part 2

The Olympics got off to a bang with pomp, pageantry and fireworks, and then a Minnesota man was stabbed to death while visiting tourist sites in Beijing. In the face of supposedly “massive security”.  And it was not just any Minnesota man, but the CEO of a beloved Minnesota company, Bachmans Floral. I have to admit, I have been ambivalent about these Olympics, of course there are interesting stories, athletes with amazing abilities, but the thing itself seems to have gotten bigger than it should be. Montreal only finished paying off their Olympic debt in 2006, after holding the games in 1976. This year’s games were due to be a mess of protests over China’s human rights record. Now there is this black mark on the latest event. Isn’t it time to stop, to rethink the expense and to consider the many ways that this massive amount of money could be put to better global use?

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6 responses to “Life is short, part 2

  1. OMG, he was *that* Bachman? That wasn’t mentioned in any of the wire reports I picked up this morning. That’s just awful. Augh, words completely fail.

  2. Security is never guaranteed, unfortunately. Just ask the families of the the two people killed in the bombing at the Atlanta Games in 1996. The security is massive, and such attacks are incredibly rare in China. Tragedies, however, are sadly common to the human experience.

  3. Merry–
    I agree but I think you miss what I meant to be my main point, which is “Are the Olympics worth it?” Providing a venue for grand attacks (let’s think Munich 1972 and not either Atlanta or Beijing!) and spending literally billions of dollars that could be spent on other things like healthcare and disease prevention, clean drinking water, education, anything that addresses poverty more generally–is the “cultural exchange” and “sporting contest” aspects of this worth what is being put into it? Even more pointily, is it ethical, in the sense of promoting the greatest good for all? I think not. Random killings are a sad side-effect, and I’d say there were real failures in both Atlanta and Beijing not to mention Munich, but isn’t the bigger problem the money being spent on 100,00 or 150,000 security personnel who are there to prevent free-speech type protests about human rights and still fail to stop this random violence (as you point out, even more odd given the repeated statements in the press that violence against foreigners is rare in China)? And the money spent on everything else, from the obvious (Birds nest stadium) to the less obvious (massive new airport) when China is suffering from a ruinous general infrastructure (schools that fall down in earthquakes) and massive poverty already? (Note that the same criticism has been put on their space programme…)

  4. Mich – I was not disputing this point, which is why I didn’t comment on it. I was merely commenting on the so-called “massive security.” I suspect that there will never be enough security anywhere to guard against every conceivable wacko.

    Politicians and government leaders like pomp, circumstance, and big glorified ceremonies that star them at the center. That, sadly, is also fundamental to human nature, and why these sorts of events will continue on in spite of the burdens of paying for them.

  5. NFAH writes
    >“Are the Olympics worth it?” Providing a venue for grand attacks (let’s think Munich
    > 1972 and not either Atlanta or Beijing!)

    Tall buildings, railway stations, shopping centres and war memorials also provide venues for grand attacks. You aren’t seriously suggesting we don’t build those either are you?

    > and spending literally billions of dollars that
    > could be spent on other things like healthcare

    And how many lives will be saved by people inspired to take excersise by the games?

    > and disease prevention, clean drinking
    > water, education, anything that addresses poverty more generally–is the “cultural
    > exchange” and “sporting contest” aspects of this worth what is being put into it?
    > And the money spent on everything else, from the obvious (Birds nest stadium)
    > to the less obvious (massive new airport)

    The money is only wasted if the legacy is useless. If the games have acted as a catalyst to build infrastructure that would have been needed anyway (such as a new airport perhaps), then surely that is a good thing. Certainly much was made of this regeneration in London’s sucessful bid for the 2012 olympics.

    > when China is suffering from a ruinous
    > general infrastructure (schools that fall down in earthquakes)
    > and massive poverty already?

    Would you have described Japan’s infrastructure as ruinous in 1995 – lots of things fell down in the Kobe earthquake?

    Good value for money? I don’t know – but if they have got it right, it will leave a lasting legacy of infrastructure and goodwill which has got to be a good thing.

  6. The difference between Kobe and Wenchuan is that in the latter, the officials claimed to have spent money to build structures that could withstand earthquakes of that magnitude (if not completely, at least better than they did), but instead lined their pockets. How many of the schools that collapsed did not contain the steel reinforcements the parents of the students thought they had? Some of that death and destruction was inevitable due to the size of the quake; some of it was a function of earlier corruption. Of course, even without the Olympics I doubt the money would have redirected there.

    The new airport terminal was in fact badly, badly needed, and I doubt anyone who has flown in or out of Beijing in the years before it opened would dispute that. Same for the new/improved subway and rail lines and other city improvements. If it is a question of whether China should have gotten the games, then I say yes. I think the good will outweigh the bad here, and opening that country, engaging it is the right course.

    If it is the larger question of whether the Olympics in general have grown too massive, at times to corrupt, too far from the original ideal… then I think there’s a real argument to be made, and I tend to agree with NFAH. The whole things needs a rethink, lest each year it become bigger and more burdomsome, until nobody can afford to host it anymore. How many stadiums seating 70,000-90,000 does the world actually need? Maybe it is time to find the games a permanent home (like Greece) for a few decades while we all reevaluate the system.

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