Propagating Knowledge of the Middle Kingdom
The Olympic March Past is in its final stages as I type. La délegation française marches by and the show has been on for over two hours. It has been a breathtaking experience, well worth the millions spent on the occasion. The greatest impression is of course related to size and numbers. In case you had not noticed yet, The People’s Republic is humungous. The dance routines at the beginning involved 2008 performers each time round – not a randomly chosen number it’s true – but the scenes that were produced with the choreography were absolutely breathtaking.
I am not one who tends to look favourably upon the ideas of strictness and discipline but I can appreciate the disciplined movement of a choreographed group when I see one. Last year I watched Michael Flatley’s Riverdance in Metz and it was a goosebump inducing experience. It pales to insignificance compared to the synchronised movement of 2008 Chinese performers beating on huge brass drums. Moving. Really moving.
Numbers. That is what China strikes you with first. The sheer size of it all – the aerial views of Peking and the 15 km of the Olympic Way lit up with their ancient art of firework manufacture. Numbers like the 24 million chinese who signed up to work as volunteers in the Olympic festival. Did you see that number? 24,000,000. As volunteers. That’s more than 60 times the population of the Island in the Middle of the Middle Sea. The mind boggles.
In May 2008 a tremendous earthquake hit Mianzhu City in Sichuan. For the first time the Chinese media relayed information about a natural disaster nationwide. This prompted a rush of citizens towards the quake zone in order to assist – as the FT called it “an outpouring of civic involvement”. Any idea how many people moved to Sichuan to provide assistance? 1.3 million. Sorry but I cannot resist reproducing the full number: 1,300,000. This in a country where public policy limits each family to just one offspring.
Paper, Compass, Firework and Print
One of the most popular computer games of all times is Sid Meier’s Civilisation. In it a player can take control of a particular civilisation from the start and guide it through the millenia making discovery after discovery and conquest after conquest. Starting the game with the Chinese you have great advantages insofar as the discovery of paper (education and faster technological discovery), the compass (exploration), fireworks (and gunpowder – paradoxically since the Chinese were never really adept at mastering the powder for bellicose reasons).
The Chinese economic giant has fast shifted out of the dark reputation of “Made in China” products. Many will recall the imports from our Chinese brothers at the time of The Great Republic of the Symbol of the Luzzu and the Cactus. How many feet were covered with the chinese plimsol during lunch break? How many pencil boxes were adorned with undeciphrable symbols and weird ducks, dragons and pandas? The giant strides in development since then are a direct result of the Great Opening of China and its gradual move from communist principles to the socialist participation in the free market.
The roots are there. This is the country that built the Silk Road and subsequently built the Great Wall of 6,400 km to keep potential jealous invaders out. Silk, paper and tea are no longer the main exports of China.The Great Opening announced by Deng Xiaoping is bearing its fruits – if you want to see it that way. Now every Chinese person can aspire for a better living – Xiaoping had issued a weird invitation: “Enrich yourself…it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or if it is white… so long as it gets the mouse then it is a good cat”. The American Dream, sweet and sour style I guess.” Let’s just hope we don’t end up being the mice! I’m safe… I was born in the Year of the Rabbit.
That Cable Under Our Sea
Far from the dazzling lights in Beijing and far from the polluted air around the city the biggest news this week from Malta was the damage to the Go cable. The rapidity with which a large part of the island became incommunicado was a stark warning for a nation that aspires to become the Smart Island that Floats on the Power of Technology. Far be it from me to criticise the technological aspects of this event – I am sure that there are sufficient justifications and that all necessary action was taken to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.
Learning from the error will be a huge step towards ensuring that it will not happen again. We cannot – I repeat – cannot have this happen again. We either purport to attract IT centred businesses to the island or we do not. Contingency plans must be put in place. Alternative sources that ensure backup connections must be tapped. There is no other tense than the imperative that fits well in these circumstances.
J’accuse has long sponsored the idea of a smart island with smart people. Improving our human resources and selling the capabilities of these resources can only benefit us in the long run. The internet is at the heart of most revolutions in today’s world. The IT world and the adaptation of the traditional desktop element to more mobile peripherals and connectivity are knocking at our doorstep. There is no dearth of efforts from government as well as from service oriented enterprise. Investing in big sunk costs now (try sinking another cable for starters) can bear the proper fruits in the future.
The same goes for the continuing education of the citizens in general. Communications, interaction and accessibility to knowledge mean empowerment. While efforts to revolutionise our more traditional media sources will proceed at the MLPN induced snail’s pace, the internet and other technology are our window to the big breakthrough. The power of the internet and empowerment was recognised in China some time back – and they have unfortunately built what is known as The Great FireWall in order to be able to control accessibility to certain sites that are a “challenge” to the mainstream ideas in a country that is still struggling to conform to international standards of Human Rights. And that “struggling” is a euphemism for “finding it bloody hard”.
The Standard of Human Rights and Men at Sea
I read on Daphne’s blog that the Gaddafi Human Rights Prize will be awarded to 92 year old Dom Mintoff this year. One can understand the Libyan Leader’s fondness of The Great Leader of the Socialist Makeover but one struggles to come to terms with what human rights Mintoff defended so staunchly. Mintoff represents my early childhood and I do not exactly recall a serene nation basking in a human right paradise at the time. I remember being stunned by the indifference of Labourites who took all kinds of restrictions in their stride – so long as the Great Leader pursued his Great Plans for the Nation mimicking his Chinese, Korean and Libyan brothers.
One also struggles to understand what exactly is wrong with this world when 120 humans are stranded in the Mediterranean and three sovereign nations play “pass the hot potato” instead of scrambling to avoid a potential tragedy. True, the mind games begin with the Donor of Human Rights Prizes who refused to pick up the boatpeople even if they were bang in the middle of his waters. Still, human is human as far as I know and no person should ever become a puppet in the power games of the nations. Finding a solution of what to do with the boat people is another matter altogether – and I am not going to be the one to deny that maintaining large numbers of immigrants can be a burden for any country – no matter how good willing. Still… the human side of matters must never be set aside. Let’s leave the fake hypocrisy of Human Rights Prizes to those who seem not to bother much about one life more or one life less.
The Battle of Nations (and Genes)
What with all its principles of participation, the Olympic Games medals table is divided in accordance to different nations. In his latest book (The Return of History and the End of Dreams), Robert Kagan argues that all that talk of the End of History is ultimately balderdash. Kagan sees the nineties as a period of instability and reassessment which gave birth to a renewed nationalism. The US is still there and still faces two authoritarian units: Russia and China. So much for the end of ideology and thank you very much Francis Fukuyama. If you agree with the neocon author that is. Kagan believes that nationalism and history have not been eradicated but amplified by events such as 9/11. Much food for thought there but in the meantime we will watch the nations clash in the form of individuals aiming faster, higher and stronger.
National pride cannot but be touched in moments like these. I was pleased and surprised to see the Maltese delegation marching among the first contingents (they marched in Chinese alphabetical order it seems). I must admit to even feeling happy for the Luxembourg group and its promising cyclists. The romantic idea of the athlete is all but vanished however. Multimillionaires grace the fields in many categories – Ronaldinho and Messi kick the olympic ball around, the US Dream Team will try to dethrone Argentina in basketball and Nadal and Federer will battle it out on the olympic pitch.
The biggest worry however is not the lack of amateurism (relegated to the history books) but the menace of drugs for glory. Ever since Ben Johnson’s shocking victory in Rome drugs have surfaced to become the ugly side of sport. Science is breaking new frontiers and now there is the worrying prospect of genetically modified athletes. A new technique allows scientists to insert extra copies of particular genes in the body. These extra “transgenes” may cover for broken genes or regulate gene activity. The question is what if an athlete’s body could be stimulated to produce more of a certain gene for erythropoietin – better known as EPO?
It is as yet unclear whether this technique is already in place. What is sure is that when this will happen it will be much more difficult to detect ‘naturally’ produced EPO. Even more astounding is the fact that certain athletes are born with such a “special gene” that produces more EPO than normal. This is not illegal of itself but surely it gives an advantage to that particular athlete. The debate is now open as to what constitutes fair in such circumstances.
One World One Dream
All we can do is sit back and watch these games under the slogan “One World One Dream”. Because going faster, higher and stronger is the stuff that dreams are made of. I for one will be crossing my fingers for my adopted sporting nation (Brasil) because someone like me has to take sides – at least in sport. So it’s Volleyball, Football and Basketball for J’accuse this time round. And did I mention that I’d be backing Nadal (I know he’s not Brasilian but where is Guga when you need him?) for tennis? I just hope that I am still not as soft as usual and burst into tears every time someone is being awarded a medal. Now where did I put those tissues?
Jacques blogs at a summertime rate on https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. Feel free to drop by and leave comments.
This article appeared today on the Malta Independent on Sunday – and thanks to Guzi we now know that Ben Johnson was caught doping in Seoul not in Rome (cheers! and enjoy the holiday)