Frances Cerra Whittelsey blogs at The Equalizer. An author and former consumer reporter for the New York Times, she teaches journalism at Hofstra University.
So the Chinese turned Beijing into a stage set for the Olympics, and the mass media went along with the deceptive reality show. NBC's camera operators kept their lenses so carefully away from the horizon that even during the marathon run through the city I could only occasionally get a glimpse of the grey soup obscuring nearby buildings.
The front-page Olympics wind-up story in The New York Times sounded as if the writer had suddenly become a psychoanalyst, hoping that the Games had provided renewed confidence and self-esteem to the Chinese so they could loosen up their police state. Times sports columnist George Vecsey that reporters had tried to get Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, to comment during his last press conference about China's refusal to allow any public protests during these games; police even arrested two elderly women whose Catch 22 crime was applying for a permit to protest. Vecsey side-stepped making any criticism himself, instead asking readers to wonder how we would feel if Rogge had been asked to comment on our unprovoked war with Iraq.
Let me answer. I'd feel proud. I'm proud that we still can criticize our government any time, and almost any place (not the Great Lawn in Central Park, of course, or outside the actual venue of an event, as police-state thinking chips away at our liberties). Our freedom to assemble and dissent and to use the legal system against our government at all levels has saved us from the environmental destruction now suffered by the Chinese. I'm thankful for the Green Peace volunteers who put their bodies in the way of polluters and hunters of endangered species. I'm grateful to the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the many other organizations of their kind who've worked so hard to keep us all from being poisoned by pollution.
When Olympic sailing competitors complete their races this week, they won't be slipping over the sides of their boats to celebrate with a refreshing swim.
That's because Fushan Bay, on whose shore sits the Olympic sailing center at Qingdao, is home to a persistent growth of algae as green and dense as a golf course fairway.
The algae were so thick that 20,000 Chinese went out in a thousand small boats in July to clear the water of hundreds of thousands of pounds of the stuff. Otherwise the boats would have been stuck in the scum unable to sail, their keels and center- or dagger-boards snared in it. And because algae is such a champion grower, the cleaning is
Read more commentary by Frances Cerra Whittelsey on her blog, The Equalizer.
They've closed the factories, stopped construction, taken half the cars off the road, told workers to stay home and migrants to leave the city, and still Beijing's air looks like grey soup, according to American reporters in the city to cover the Olympics.
As the games go on, the athletes probably won't suffer long-term health consequences from the city's chronic air pollution, although no one really knows that for sure despite the confident statements of the Olympic organizers.