China, cool, video


I haven’t been watching the Olympics, mainly because the rabbit-ears on our television don’t pick up NBC. But if I were, I’m sure I’d be just as disappointed with NBC as everyone else seems to be–the tape delays, the incessant commentary. Since NBC is blocking international video feeds online, I can’t see any that way, either (the software NBC streams is created by Microsoft and requires a PC or an Intel Mac). So I’ve missed out on the counterfeit fireworks, the counterfeit singer, the allegedly counterfeit 16-year-old gymnasts, [update 8/15: counterfeit ethnic children, too!] and all the other hijinks.

One thing I don’t regret missing, though, is the promotional marketing that NBC must be constantly playing. Boring, I’d guess, but designed to appeal to everybody. Boring. So points to BBC SPORT for choosing something inventive, and specific. That’s Monkey. Fans of Damon Albarn and the Gorillaz will be pleased.

A high-res version with more info is available at the BBC.

While we’re at it, here’s an old favorite:

China, success

Li Ning’s Reward

photo of gymnast Li Ning at the torch ceremony in beijing. photo by xinhua

I was surprised to hear that Li Ning was the final torch bearer at Beijing’s opening ceremonies. That’s him flying through the air, photographed by Xinhua. That Li should be the choice makes sense: after staying away from the Olympics for decades, China returned in 1984; then-19-year-old Li Ning left L.A. with six medals in gymnastics, three of them gold. So there is some national significance to Li’s selection.

Li is now an incredibly successful businessman, owner of a sports apparel and accessory company that does a brisk business in China. His company is called Li Ning.

li ning brand bagI own a Li Ning shoulder bag, bought almost exactly one year ago at one of the company’s stores on the third floor of a mall in Benxi City, Liaoning. The store’s columns were wrapped with life-sized posters of Shaquille O’Neal, appropriately branded. It’s a durable bag. I didn’t realize that it was such a recognizable brand until, one day in San Francisco, a Chinese emigre lifted up my bag and announced, “Li Ning.”

Li Ning. If you visit the company’s English-language web site, there is no mention of the Olympics. If you visit the company’s other English-language web site, there is some mention of the Olympics. Oh, Mr. Li and his executives must have desperately wanted their company to be an official sponsor of the Beijing Olympics, but lost out to Adidas. But Li Ning is no slouch, and the company is outfitting a number of teams, starting with the Swedish, and including the American ping pong team. He’s also got CCTV-5’s sportscasters. Li Ning’s continued presence, corporal and corporate, will, presumably, be noted.

So the more cynical side of me registered some surprise at Li Ning’s moment in the spotlight. Offend the advertisers and sponsors? But the takeaway seems to be that there are still some things money can’t buy, and Beijing’s organizers put national pride before commercial imperatives. Classic. And reassuring, so long as national pride does not transform into a nationalist imperative. This is China.

China, environment, irony

Olympics Preview in Bay Area

Here’s my backyard on Thursday morning.

my backyard june 26, 2008

The roses are blooming. There’s a nice, warm light here. But what is it about this air that’s so familiar?

Take a look at the government’s air forecast map for this weekend:
air quality prediction for united states on june 28, 2008

California doesn’t look too good. All those little fire icons are making the air here “moderate,” at best, “very unhealthy,” at worst.

There are more than a thousand wildfires burning in California, and they are filling the place up with smoke. The smoke makes the light flattering, in its way, diffusing sunlight during the high contrast afternoon hours and making the magic hour light at sunset and sunrise even more attractive. The roses look better than ever.

There is a trade-off, I suppose. The regional air quality management agency is warning us not to do anything outside (here’s a PDF of its latest health advisory). People have irritated eyes and throats. That’s familiar, too.

The air these days seems as bad as Beijing’s. That’s what I’m reminded of. I hope to get back to China, soon. Until then, I guess we’ve got a taste of China here.

Our athletes should consider training out here in California, just to see how they might perform in Beijing. We’ve got an atmospheric preview of what many expect in August, and you don’t even have to cross the Pacific.

If the air quality board is still concerned for our health, they might consider contacting Beijing’s Weather Modification Office for advice.

A couple of blogs help to put Chinese air pollution in context relative to the U.S. and other countries. The Beijing Air Blog notes that air quality indices in China and the U.S. are roughly the same, numerically, but are not categorized similarly on a qualitative level (I’m looking for the SEPA standards to confirm). For example, unhealthy air in the U.S. is “lightly polluted” in China. Another site,, with the charming tagline “living in China despite the pollution,” displays Beijing’s air quality in the header, and you can click a menu to see how that would rate in other cities. A Good air day in Beijing still counts as a Very Bad day in Paris.

I’ve seen a lot of blue skies in China. Maybe I simply noticed them more since my expectations were so grim. During my last couple of days in Beijing in August, everyone noted that we were enjoying unusually clear weather. Driving through Shanxi, full of coal mines and power plants, the gray-blue skies could be oppressive, but one of the locals told us that air quality had improved a great deal over the last five years. The sky, he said, used to be black.

I remember my first few moments in Beijing: the acrid smell and the view, composed mainly of my plane and the soupy gray-brown air that blocked out everything else. It looked like this:

view of air pollution at Beijing airport

China, geography, history, international, irony, really?

A little torch history.

I’ve been throwing ideas around lately to all kinds of people. They haven’t stuck, which is too bad. But one of them was to look at the history of the torch relay after reports that the IOC and Britain may forgo the tradition in the runup to the 2012 games. I kind of knew the answer to the question about how the modern torch relay started, but the LA Times editorial page beat me to it:

The Olympic torch relay was invented by the Nazis. According to historians, Adolf Hitler wanted to promote his belief in an Aryan master race by symbolically linking the 1936 Berlin Games to the ancient Greek gods and rituals, hence the carrying of the flame from Olympia to Germany. The first relay was chronicled on film by Hitler’s propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl.

We bring you this brief history lesson because, as the Olympic torch makes its only North American appearance today in San Francisco, it will be met by thousands of protesters decrying China’s human rights record. In response to similar demonstrations Monday in Paris, the Chinese government complained that a “small group” of Tibetan activists was seeking to politicize an event that should have been a tribute to the love of sport.

Nonsense. From its very beginning, the torch relay has been deeply political, a promotional extravaganza for the Games’ host country. Chinese officials are well aware of this, having designed the longest relay in Olympic history — an 85,000-mile, six-continent tour, meant to highlight China’s vast economic and political might. The protests are a welcome reminder to Beijing that it can’t tailor public opinion in the rest of the world the way it can at home.

journalism, multimedia, photography

Laforet Does the Tilt-Shift Thing

If you thought tilting and shifting a lens was only for fancy architecture and design magazines, well, my friend, you would be wrong. At the end of May, the Times put together an audio slideshow featuring sporting events shot by Vincent Laforet using a tilt-shift lens.

The presentation has been making the rounds, but it doesn’t seem to have generated the online buzz that it might have a year ago, when everyone was blogging about the technique. The effect, still, is pretty cool–an example below.

journalism, politics, San Francisco

Even If You Aren’t Interested In Sports

Who said that even if you aren’t interested in sports, you should still read Ray Ratto’s sports column for the San Francisco Chronicle? Because that person is probably right. Ratto’s columns are articulate, sharply observed, and appropriately sarcastic. Today’s column, for example:

Newsom indulges stadium delusion” stands as evidence that when we talk about sports, it’s all politics (see also: World Cup). Yesterday, the Chronicle‘s Matier & Ross reported that Mayor Newsom wants San Francisco to be the site of the 2016 Olympics. The big promise in the current iteration of this plan–the Bay Area always seems to be angling for the US Olympic Committee’s choice as candidate site–is a new stadium that would eventually host the 49ers at Candlestick Point. (I think one reason our last Olympics bid failed was because almost all the events would be held at the Stanford Stadium, which has since been torn down. Didn’t a previous Olympic bid promise a BART system encompassing the entire Bay Area?)

“Remember, children,” writes Ratto, “this is San Francisco, where the best politicians do nothing more strenuous than talk the walk.” He points out that by 2016, Denise and John York will likely have transferred ownership of the 49ers (who would probably prefer a new stadium in less than ten years, anyway). And by 2016, Newsom will either have moved on to higher office as most suspect, or to greener pastures–what Ratto calls the “life of the mildly indolent rich.” Ratto writes:

Thus, [Newsom] is mostly gasbagging this issue, because it doesn’t cost him anything, whereas actually trying to make it happen would cost him plenty. There is no political will for such an audacious (read: expensive) plan, and there is even less for helping out the Yorks, whose work on the 49ers’ brand name makes slumlords everywhere whistle in admiration.Of course, Newsom is framing this little make-work plan through the prism of Anne Cribbs, head of the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee, known mostly by its acronym, CLEARLY NUTS. . . .

But that, according to Ratto, is not even the real take-away message. Read the rest here. Maybe you’ll like it.