Monday, August 25, 2008

August 27, 2008 - Who can top that!

The critics are saying "the best closing ceremonies ever". I didn't love them. There were highlights but the images of all the people going up and down the tower was a little disturbing to me, although I can't tell you exactly why. There was something very robotic about it all. And that singing by the reigning rock stars of China was grating at best. It felt like each of them was trying to outdo the other with vocal gymnastics. 

The Olympics are a fascinating spectacle. It's not supposed to be political but it is so very political—which country got the most metals; US criticizes China for not allowing more protests; Bush visits and games and takes care of international business; Russia invades Georgia on the first day of the Olympics (coincidence? They've done this before). It's interesting that China wants to be a world leader and yet they aren't too hot on playing by anyone's rules but their own. Control is everything to them. Rather than focus on the money spent and the human toll, they want us only to see the spectacle, the glitter. But how can we not take notice of the mechanizations that went into it all and frown.

But I loved watching the athletes and the challenges they faced. That ultimately was what it was all about and it didn't feel political when you're rooting for an underdog or watching a simply amazing talent. I enjoyed it and looked forward to watching everyday.

So now we move on to local politics. The DNC is well under way and the RNC is soon to follow. It should be interesting.

Friday, August 22, 2008

August 24, 2008 - It looks blue, but it's green.

What's the Greenest building at the Beijing Olympics? It's the Water Cube. The cube is covered with 100,000 square meters of Teflon-like translucent plastic ETFE bubble cladding which allows in more solar heat than glass, making it easier to heat the building, and resulting in a 30 percent reduction in energy costs. This energy savings is equivalent to covering the roof in solar panels. The bubbles are air-tight, and LED-lit. They're only .008 of an inch thick and can hold up to 300 times it's weight and span greater distances than glass. It also costs 70 percent less to install.

A rainwater collection system gathers 10,000 cubic meters each year, while a recycling system reuses 80% of the building's water, crucial in Beijing's drought-plagued landscape. And the building will have a good afterlife. The building will be converted into a recreation facility for residents who not only can swim, but can take advantage of tennis, a waterslide and a cafe. Unlike the nearby "Bird's Nest" stadium which some see as a "white elephant" once the games are done. And no one was killed during construction, unlike the stadium which claimed at least 10 lives.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

August 22, 2008 - Anything for a Great Show

By any standard the opening ceremony for the China Olympics were brilliant, amazing, and unprecedented. But at what real cost. The Chinese government has long been known to use it's massive population as a seemingly expendable natural resource. As much as we were dazzled, what reaction should we have to find out about the harsh conditions the performers endured. An article at gives a hint of what the performers went through. 

The performers stayed in army barracks outside the city and were not allowed to leave. Performers were injured, fainted from heatstroke and some were forced to use adult diapers so breaks weren't necessary. The ceremony's director wanted the world to know of the suffering and sacrifice of the nearly 15,000 members of the cast and crew. He said "Only the North Koreans could have done better." I'm not sure how he meant this statement.

The participants of the synchronized tai-chi routine rehearsed an average of 16 hours a day, every day, for three months. A young 26-year-old dancer fell from a 10-foot stage and may be permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

Despite the sacrifices, the student performers were grateful for the opportunity to participate in the historic event and view it as an honor.

As a comparison, the director pointed out that in the West frequent coffee breaks were necessary and they could only work 4 and a half days per week, with no overtime. I don't think he was happy with that situation either.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

August 21, 2008 - The Mysterious Cauldron Appearance

Perhaps you're as curious as I am, but how could a 10-story, 45-ton structure get to the top of the Bird's Nest during the opening ceremonies without a hint of where it came from. Here's what I've learned.

The secrecy of the cauldron became a top priority. Look at the photo above and you'll see a 30-meter, air-cushioned tunnel set on top of the roof that kept the cauldron under wraps for almost two months. A rail system was created to move the giant cauldron to the edge of the stadium and down into position. So while you and I and everyone else were watching the parade of athletes, a button was pushed and it took about 16 minutes for the cauldron to move into position surprising everyone. The inflatable tunnel disappeared and no one was the wiser. The whole system and Cauldron weighed about 405 tons and cost about $1.5 million dollars.

This photos shows the day when the cauldron was inserted into the inflatable tunnel. Now you know. :-)

August 20, 2008 - The China Syndrome

How can I help but be impressed by the China Olympics. So, while they're still going you're going to see a series of posts centered on the spectacle, the architecture, the tricks and even some of the controversy.

First a few spectacular photos of the opening ceremony from the Big Picture.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

August 17, 2008 - A weekend away

Last weekend I felt the need to get away. The creative brain needs new input every once in awhile. I headed west to the big river then up to Viroqua, Wisconsin. Viroqua is a typical Wisconsin town with a progressive bent and it seemed like a good home base for the weekend. A friend had recommended Lanesboro, MN as a great place for biking and escape. Lanesboro is about an hour west of La Crosse and the photo above shows the hilltop with the old school and church that look out over downtown Lanesboro. The school is currently being converted into coop condos and I envy the amazing views of the Root River Valley. 

Lanesboro is a mecca for family and group biking, canoeing, kayaking, and tubing. This is the center of the 60 mile long Root River Bike Trail that follows the Root River through the valley. The trails  are converted railroad tracks and features many bridges and great views. And if you're in the mood there's a great pie shop about 5 miles east of Lanesboro where just about everyone stops for a treat. You can't help but notice the mass of bikes parked outside the shop.
The photo above was taken on the deck of a restaurant where I had a Cajun Catfish sandwich. I had a great view of bikers on the bridge and tubers on the river below. Below is a typical bridge crossing along the Root trail. The trail is very gradual so you can take your time and not worry about big hills. And did I mention the weather was perfect. I highly recommend Lanesboro. Their web site boasts many awards like "Best small town in America" if that gives you a hint. I also noticed many restaurants and even a theater company. "Harvey" was the latest production but I had to get back home. Next time.
On my way home I took a trip to a little town called Ontario and the home of Wildcat Mountain State Park. At the top of a steep ridge the park offers an unprecedented view of the Kickapoo River Valley where many a canoe enthusiast has enjoyed a leisurely ride on the winding river. Sorry to sound so much like a travel agent but what can I say. It was a great little trip. Ciao.