Vancouver Olympics knit themselves a controversy

The 2010 winter Olympics, which begin about four months from now, will be held in Vancouver, B.C.

The local Olympic organizers have been working very hard to obtain the support of B.C.’s First Nation communities. The potential exists for international controversy because nearly the entire province is subject to unresolved First Nation land claims. (There are 203 First Nations in B.C., mostly quite small; fewer than 20 of them have treaties.)

Oops! The organizers have managed to offend the Cowichan nations by producing an Olympic sweater for Canada’s athletes to wear. According to the Cowichan, the sweater is a knock-off:

Authentic Cowichan Sweaters are produced by Canada’s West Coast Salish Natives in the Cowichan Valley. […]

No two sweaters are alike. The fleeces come in natural colors and shades of brown, black and white. As the black sheep matures, the wool changes from brown to gray with aging, like human hair. All of the dark shades in ‘Genuine Cowichan’ sweaters come from this unique black sheep and are not dyed. For over one hundred years Salish women have been knitting clothes and blankets for their families. The wool is carefully carded to prevent damage to the fibers and is still hand spun. The sweaters are hand-knitted with this pure, un-dyed, virgin wool. The natural oils are left in the wool of the authentic Cowichan Sweater to retain the water-resistant qualities of wool. […]

This is a gift that has been presented to royalty and heads of state.

2010 winter Olympics sweaterHere’s a photo of the offending sweater, modelled by one of Canada’s athletes. The geometric designs and the moose are typical of a Cowichan sweater. The Cowichan say that the colours are also typical of their designs (although the red is surely an exception).

Also relevant:  in 2005, Premier Gordon Campbell presented an authentic Cowichan sweater, adorned with the Olympic rings, to IOC president Jacques Rogge. It’s relevant because it establishes a pre-existing relationship between the Cowichan sweater and the 2010 winter games.

I don’t know whether the Olympic organizers, or The Bay, intended that anyone would mistake their sweater for a Cowichan. But it’s certainly true that corporations are not above the exploitation of traditional handiwork in pursuit of profit. (The sweaters may be worn by the athletes, but you can bet they’ll also be for sale at The Bay.)

This instance of transformation of a traditional practice offends me. In western terminology, we might label it “appropriation of culture”. It’s colonialism in a contemporary form.

“What would happen if Cowichan started marketing an Olympic lookalike sweater in response?” Hinkley wondered. “I imagine they would be all over us, spouting ‘trademark’ and ‘patent’ and all of this.” She asks anyone who feels snubbed by the Bay’s choice of sweater to wear their Cowichan sweater to Olympic events.


The “End” of Journalism?

It’s a regular discussion of mine, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted about it on this blog. On my hockey blog, I posted the other day about sports journalism, however, and a Globe and Mail article brought forth many thoughts as I read it today. The article, entitled “I’m not blogging this, mark my words”, is a journalist’s version of the apocalypse:

The unofficial end to journalism as I know it may have come earlier this week, when my Globe and Mail sporty colleague Matt Sekeres and I were at the triathlon venue in the north end of the city, waiting for the event to start.


The race was about an hour away when young Mr. Sekeres said the five words I have most come to dread: “I’m going to blog this.”


Mr. Sekeres wrote three paragraphs about the excellent weather, the setting and that soon he and I would be heading down to the race course. The headline read, “Under Thatch with Blatch.”

I’m not sure if my hair burst into flames, but I wanted to burn something down.

Mr. Sekeres is a fine writer and engaging company. This isn’t about him. He was merely doing what everyone – from paid professional writer to Olympian to the average guy in the stands – does now. He was committing his most idle thoughts and mundane observations if not to paper, then to its modern equivalent, a blog.

The author of the article, Christie Blatchford, is one of the few journalists who actually wrote out these thoughts. But I’m certain that a number of old-style journalists have these same thoughts regarding blogs.

Let’s face it. Although we can fault some people for being too close-minded to the idea of blogging, something really has been lost. I’ve grown up in an era where rapid-fire internet journalism has become the norm. I’m really too young to understand the world of investigative journalism that was once flourishing in North America. But when I watch documentaries on Nixon’s fall, or read about Alan Eagleson’s demise (the subject about which I posted on my blog), I can’t help but feel a pang of non-existent nostalgia.

I particularly liked one of the later paragraphs in the Globe and Mail article:

It is not true that anyone can write. It is not true that anyone can write on deadline. It is not true that anyone can do an interview. It is not true that anyone can edit themselves and sort wheat from chaff. It is not true that even great productive writers like The Globe’s Jim Christie or Ms. DiManno or Mr. Farber can hit a home run every time they sit before the laptop. But the odds of them doing it are greatly increased if they haven’t already filed 1,200 words to the Web, shot a video, done a podcast and blogged ferociously all day long. [emphasis added]

There is no way that we are getting the same quality of news when everyone thinks they’re a journalist. Nor are we getting the same quality of writing from those who are journalists, when they have to post so many thoughts in a day that they inevitably run dry. The 24-hour deadline on stories is detrimental to any sort of news depth, and I think that people generally distrust the media as a result.

I’m not fighting blogging. I really don’t think that Cristie is, either. There are definitely good blogs — and good bloggers — out there. But the fact that everyone has to be a blogger — that investigative journalism in and of itself is a lost art — is a pity. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve been turned off of the idea of being a political journalist, myself. Because I’ve faced facts long ago and realized I’m not a great blogger. It’s one of the reasons I appreciate my dad’s offer to let me join him on this blog. He’s a far better — and more consistent — blogger than I am. I don’t come up with thoughts worth writing every day, and when I don’t have anything worth writing, I don’t write.

Apparently journalists are expected to do otherwise.

In that, I think both Christie and I agree in our hope that blogging as the sole mode of writing is a fad, and nothing more!

Phelps’s photo finish [updated]

The story of the Olympics thus far is swimmer Michael Phelps, of the U.S.A., winning eight gold medals. Wow!

The closest of the eight races was the 100 metre butterfly. The official margin of victory was 1/100th of a second.

Sports Illustrated has a terrific series of photographs showing how unlikely Phelps’s victory was. I’ve edited together the three crucial frames.


In the first frame (top left), it seems impossible for Phelps (the swimmer on the left) to win. In the second frame (top right), Phelps has closed the gap considerably — but Serbia’s Milorad Cavic is so close to touching the wall!

And yet, in the final frame (bottom), it is Phelps whose fingers are bent back against the wall. It’s clearer in the full sized photo in Sports Illustrated, but Phelps has indeed pulled out another victory.

btw, the first photo in the series is worth checking out just to marvel at Phelps’s muscles.

Update:  here’s another photo, via the LA Times, which shows off Phelps’s physique. The Times comments on how low Phelps’s swim suit is riding, but it’s the chiselled torso that caught my attention. A little beefcake for female viewers …

Michael Phelps chiselled torso

Canada’s Winter Olympics champion

The Canadian team won 24 medals at the 2006 Winter Olympic games. This positioned them in third place (as decided by the most total medals, not by the most gold medals) behind Germany (29) and the USA (25).

Coming in only one medal behind the USA is pretty impressive, since the USA has ten times our population. Of course, we have ten times as much winter!

Cindy Klassen was the big story for Canada.

She brought home five speed skating medals: one gold (1,500 metre long-track speed skating); two silver (1,000 metres and women’s team pursuit); and two bronze (3,000 metres and 5,000 metres).

Five races, five medals. Klassen is the first woman ever to win five long-track medals at one Olympic games. It is also the most medals ever won by a Canadian at a single Olympic games.

Klassen had a bronze in the games at Salt Lake city, so her lifetime total is six medals.

It was fitting that one of our female athletes should dominate. Canada sent fewer women than men to the games, but the women won 16 medals to the men’s 8.

Many countries provide less funding for their female athletes than for their male athletes. Canada doesn’t take sex into account in determining levels of funding, and it seems to have paid off in Turin.

24 is the most medals Canada has ever won at an Olympic games, far more than our previous record of 17 at Salt Lake City.

Olympic-calibre sportsmanship

From Wednesday’s Ottawa Citizen:

In an act of pure sportsmanship, the head of the top cross-country ski team in the world sacrificed an Olympic medal for his own country by handing Canadian skier Sara Renner a pole after hers broke during a race yesterday.
hakensmoen.jpgThe move by Bjornar Hakensmoen, the chief of the Norwegian cross-country ski federation, meant that Ms. Renner and Beckie Scott were able to keep up in the women’s team sprint and capture the silver, while the Norwegians came in fourth.

The Canadian team was in second place when Ms. Renner’s pole broke. The race was a relay where one skier does a 1.1-kilometre loop, then tags their partner, who races the same loop. They repeat the process three times.

Ms. Renner was skiing her third lap. When the pole broke, two other skiers quickly passed her:

“I don’t even know what happened,” a grinning Renner of Canmore, Alta., said after earning Canada’s third medal of the Games.
“I just knew that all of a sudden I was kind of paddling with one arm. I didn’t panic. I think a Norwegian gave me a new pole. It was a man’s pole and it was really long. I was able to make it without losing too much time. It’s not the best thing to happen, but at the same time, you can’t give up.”

Returning to the first article:

scottrenner.jpgOver the remaining 400 metres of the lap, Ms. Renner managed to almost catch up to her Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian peers. By the time she tagged Ms. Scott, 31, of Vermilion, Alta., the Canadians were only two seconds behind third-place Norway with two exchanges remaining.

Without receiving the pole from Mr. Hakensmoen, Ms. Renner would have laboured into the exchange area, and Ms. Scott would have had a Herculean task to catch the top three skiers.

Mr. Hakensmoen made light of his decision:

“This is a small, small thing,” he said, humbly. “Hopefully, she’s happy.”…
“It’s for the good of the sport. We need to help each other. … We have a policy in the Norwegian cross-country ski program that, if a skier from another country needs equipment, we have to help. … It doesn’t matter (that Norway finished fourth). We need to compete on a fair course. The skiers need two skis and two poles and that must be the right way.”

Good for him, being modest about it. But it was an olympic-calibre act of sportsmanship.

Munich: Spielberg goes wishy-washy

The 1972 Olympic games were held in Munich, in what was then West Germany. One night, eight Palestinian terrorists gained entry into the Olympic Village. They killed two members of the Israeli team, held nine other Israelis hostage, and subsequently killed them when the German government carried out a failed rescue attempt.

The new Steven Spielberg movie takes its title from those shocking events. Spielberg reenacts the events, very effectively, in the film’s opening scenes. But this is just a prelude to the story Spielberg really wants to tell.

The movie is actually about Munich’s aftermath:  the decision of the Israeli government to locate and assassinate the leaders of the massacre, the Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri of that era. According to

Following the Munich massacre, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir gave instructions for Israeli agents to hunt down and kill those behind it. She told the Knesset on September 12, 1972:

We have no choice but to strike at the terrorist organizations wherever we can reach them. That is our obligation to ourselves and to peace. We shall fullfil that obligation undauntedly.

To carry out the Prime Minister’s directive, the Israeli Mossad [secret service agency] initiated one of the most ambitious covert counterterrorist campaigns in history. …

One [assassination team] operated through normal Mossad channels while a second unit recruited staff officers and highly trained specialists anonymously and external to the government, supported financially through covert mechanisms.

The movie purports to tell the story of the second, irregular team. That team assassinated five of the leaders who were responsible for the Munich massacre and participated in killing three more. They also eliminated four other terrorists not involved in Munich, but associated with other crimes against Israel.

Rating the movie merely as entertainment, I would give it only 3 stars out of 5. Spielberg is a great storyteller, and he has the raw material of a great story here. But the movie is flawed:  for example, there are two contrived conversations between Avner, the leader of the Israeli team, and his Palestinian counterparts.

More seriously, there is a scene toward the end of the movie that intermingles sex and violence in a way that is simply bizarre. (The violence in the movie is graphic by my standards, but then I have a low tolerance for blood and gore.) I might say the scene is exploitative except it isn’t the least bit sexy. Presumably it’s supposed to contribute something to character or plot development, but I have no idea what the scene’s message is.

But those are my comments on the movie as a movie. Munich has another, philosophical level to it — and it is flawed at that level, too.

Spielberg doesn’t want just to entertain you; he wants to change the world. In an interview with Time magazine, he described Munich as a “prayer for peace”.

Munich sets out to convince you that killing people is immoral, and that one violent act leads to another. There are two problems with that objective. First, I expect you already know that one killing leads to another in a vicious circle. Second, Spielberg couldn’t risk offending anybody, so he fails to take a moral stand of his own.

Spielberg hoped that both the Palestinians and the Jews would enthusiastically embrace this movie. Instead, he has offended both groups. That is always the result when you try to please everyone:  instead, you get dismissed as “wishy-washy”.

But perhaps “wishy-washy” isn’t strong enough language. Spielberg has been accused of glossing over the evils of terrorism:  of trying to establish moral equivalence between the Jews and the Palestinians.

The movie is based on a book, Vengeance, written twenty years ago by George Jonas. In Macleans, a Canadian periodical, Jonas comments:

Spielberg’s Munich follows the letter of my book closely enough. The spirit is almost the opposite. Vengeance holds there is a difference between terrorism and counter-terrorism; Munich suggests there isn’t. The book has no trouble telling an act of war from a war crime; the film finds it difficult. Spielberg’s movie worries about the moral trap of resisting terror; my book worries about the moral trap of not resisting it.

I think this issue — this striving to establish moral equivalence — is very important. It’s the main reason I decided to write this post. The perspective is commonplace not only in Hollywood, but also among Western journalists.

I tend to agree with Jonas. There is a valid moral distinction to be made here. The Palestinian terrorists set out to kill civilians, guilty of nothing (unless it is a crime to be Jewish). The Israeli assassins, on the other hand, set out to kill enemy combatants:  men with innocent blood on their hands.

Philosophically, that’s where the movie goes awry:  Spielberg fails to make that valid moral distinction.

That said, Spielberg does take a stand of a different sort. Munich tries to persuade us that Israel’s strategy of targetted assassinations is futile. In fact, Spielberg is appealing to both sides, the Palestinians and the Jews. His message is, you can’t end violent acts by committing other violent acts. Violence is futile; opt for peace instead.

I agree with Spielberg, and I bet you do, too. Peace is better than war, love is better than hate, we’re all human regardless of ethnicity and culture:  why can’t we all just learn to get along?

Let’s hope the terrorists and assassins turn out to this movie in droves, and world peace breaks out.

Call me cynical, but I doubt it will happen. I’m going to give the last word to Jonas:

With due respect to pop culture and its undisputed master [i.e., Spielberg], one doesn’t reach the moral high ground by being neutral between good and evil. Spielberg is a fabulous entertainer, a magician of a director, a very astute businessman — maybe, just maybe, it’s too much to ask that he should be a significant moral philosopher as well.

He brings to the screen an adolescent’s fresh eye:  that’s his strength. He also brings an adolescent’s naïve confusion:  that’s his weakness.