Sunday, 10 August 2008

A flying post

This is where I break down the unattractive reader-author barrier and get personal. Call it unprofessional; call it a desperate cry for help. I call it both.

I'm flying to Madeira tomorrow, and in the hubbub of planning I may have to resort to an abridged post next week. But I'll still be reading the news, and it's fair to say some of it caught my eye this week.

Rest assured that if you read all the news stories in the Beijing piece (I got a bit link-happy), you'll have enough of other people's writing, at least, to tide you over for a bit.

Beijing: King of the Bling but reputation suffering
Prophet Muhammad novel postponed
Women on the warpath (supposedly)
Ronaldo plays the waiting game

Beijing: King of the Bling but reputation suffering

The lights, the noise, the spectacle – and yet what I’ve been drawn to most about the Beijing Olympics is the politics.

China has made it fantastically clear that it doesn’t want any trouble. At all. That means no complaints, please, be they about human rights, pollution or just good old fur. You have to wonder what would have happened if Tommie Smith and John Carlos had made their famous Black Power salute in these Olympics. Presumably they’d have been shot by a sniper from the Chinese government.

Protests about China’s…interesting past, present and probably future history with human rights abuses have come from everywhere, and it is fascinating to see how they are handled. Treatment from Chinese police (or Nepalese allies) towards people protesting about human rights issues seems to depend on where you come from, and reports abound about violence towards protestors.

The Chinese authorities saw this coming (guilty conscience any?) and made the ‘necessary’ precautions, but it’s fair to say they’ve raised a few eyebrows. My particular favourite is the protest pens, which have to be one the most inspired inventions in the history of the Olympics or some sort of ironic joke. Want to protest against our government’s practices? Apply for permission first, and if you’re lucky enough to get it, you can do it in an area cordoned off for troublemakers such as yourself. You can’t protest anywhere else. Human rights issues? What human rights issues?

These political problems, and the tragic death of an American tourist to the Games, have cast a dark cloud over the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Look, there it is. You can see it. Smog has been an issue for China ever since it realised its pollution problems were at serious odds with blue-sky thinking, and even its most drastic measures to reduce it – including the destruction or relocation of cars, factories and people – don’t seem to have worked (though the gaffer tape has). Of particular interest to me were the American cyclists who wore masks to combat the pollution, and then had to apologise for insulting the Chinese. If they find that insulting, they should really avoid watching The Dark Knight. China doesn’t come out of it all that well.

All in all, it’s going to be a memorable Olympics, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Prophet Muhammad novel postponed

Probably for the best.

Women on the warpath (supposedly)

On Saturday BBC Online reported that, according to the Police Federation of England and Wales, “increasing numbers of violent women are stretching police resources”. They were backed up by police in Scotland and Northern Ireland – for balance purposes, you see – saying, “anecdotally”, that they have also seen an increase in female violence.

“Anecdotally”? You have to be careful of using that kind of evidence in a news story. In fact, is it even a news story? Or just some drunken pub talk from officers off the beat?

Chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, said, “Clearly there is an increase in the number of women who use violence in their everyday life and when they are out drinking on the streets around the country”.

Clearly. And clearly that’s not a generalisation at all. To be fair, statistics do partly back him up: there has been a 25% rise in crimes committed by girls between the ages of 10 and 17 in the last three years. The next sentence in the report: “Men and boys are still more likely to be involved in violent crime, however.”

Men and boys are still more likely to be involved in violent crime, however. That’s an important sentence. And when your only evidence for “increasing numbers of violent women” is for one particular age group, almost certainly matched by an increase in crimes committed by their male counterparts, and backed up by anecdotes, you’re on shaky ground.

But maybe I’m being na├»ve. Maybe my non-prediction last week of an increase in female violence has come true and they’ve exploited newly lax laws to attack everything and everyone in sight. Dear God, soon they will overwhelm we poor men, beguiling us with their feminine wiles, charming us into a dark alley and then stabbing us fatally with a five-inch stiletto heel (sorry, I’ve been in Essex too long).

Or, alternatively, this is a poorly-researched non-story that borders on sexism, for which the police and the BBC are equally culpable for a) bringing it up and b) reporting it.

Ronaldo plays the waiting game

It will be interesting to see the reaction Cristiano Ronaldo gets from the Manchester United fans at the start of this season. Having flirted with a high-money, high-profile move to Real Madrid, he has now committed his future to Manchester United.

Well, I say future. A year, at least. He insists he will “play for United with all [his] heart and soul”, but he’s openly admitted it’s still his dream to move to Madrid, and the smart odds are on the Madeiran w(h)inger sunning himself in Madrid this time next year (William Hill’s offering 5-6).

His 42 goals last season will probably ensure he gets a better reception that Emmanuel Adebayor did at the Emirates a week ago, but it will be hard for United fans to shake off a sense of mistrust towards Ronaldo, especially after some ill-chosen words this week. Alex Ferguson might not have helped matters by saying, “The boy has been through some troubled times in terms of the approaches from the people in Spain” – is choosing between two offers to do what you love for insane amounts of money really “troubled times”? – and then Ronaldo himself put his foot in it attempting to defend himself against claims he’s a money-grabber. “If it was just a question of money,” he said, “I would never leave Manchester United.” That both leaves the door open for a move in the near future and implies he’s been motivated by money this time round – after all, he wants to play for Real and he’s demanding £140,000 a week at United. Not a fantastic defence, all told.

He knows he’s got time yet to play for Real – he’s only 23 – and it’s good, I suppose, that he’s being quite so honest about it, but I’m not sure United fans will see it that way.