North to Iqaluit

February 4, 2010

One day last year I started working on a blog post about Canada, having just learned the answers to a couple of questions about Canada’s history that had always puzzled me. But then something else came up that I wanted to blog about, and again the next day, and that blog post never got written. I told myself that I’d work on it when Canada came up in the news.

I’m sure Canada has been in the news a number of times since then, but it was an article I read in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that got my attention. Why are the G-7 finance ministers meeting in a city so small (population of 7000) that it doesn’t have a single traffic light? (The traffic does pile up three times a day at the four-way stop sign, but with only 700 taxpayers, Iqaluit would have trouble paying for a traffic light.)

The article doesn’t mention why this remote capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut was chosen for the event, but I quickly thought of a reason. For years I have read about the protests – ranging from merely disruptive to openly violent – that meetings of the G-7 (or is it G-8?) attract. (One novel I read last year had the U.S. host its foreign dignitaries on a cruise ship to avoid those problems.) Situating the event in the far north, where access is only by airplane (except in the summer and early fall when the ocean thaws and boats can approach), will keep most if not all protesters away.

A column in Tuesday’s WSJ confirms my guess – and also points out that “The benefits of keeping these officials far from their normal levers of power even for just a couple of days would be well worth the effort.” I hadn’t thought there was anyplace that global telecommunications could not keep one in touch these days, but apparently a phone-rental system has to be set up for the meeting because “the area lacks coverage for popular GSM cellphones.”

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Extreme sports: yo-yoing?

July 17, 2009

I remember having a yellow yo-yo as a child. It was a decent quality yo-yo, probably a Duncan, but not as expensive or flashy as some of the more expensive Duncan models. I practiced a long time to be able to get the yo-yo to go up and down the way it was supposed to.

It was one of those important childhood skills, along with whistling and blowing bubbles in Bazooka bubble gum. I also tried to learn to do a cartwheel but never succeeded. I admit I didn’t try quite as hard at that one, because I hated being upside down.

I never tried to learn any yo-yo tricks, though. I had heard of terms like “walk the dog” but I had no idea what it would look like (I still don’t). Like cat’s cradle, it seemed a skill that required a level of concentration and practice that I had no inclination to give it.

Today’s yo-yo tricks require a lot more than just concentration and practice. My old yellow yo-yo, even if I still had it, would be totally inadequate today. New materials and new designs have produced high tech yo-yos that do tricks never imagined a generation ago, or even a decade ago.

They also require a higher level of physical involvement, including a tolerance for physical pain. I may have occasionally gotten a bruise from hitting myself with my yo-yo – I get bruises from hitting myself on furniture, doorways, cars, etc. – why not yo-yos? But no scars from string marks, no cuts on my face, certainly no ruined veins or chipped teeth.

If your last experience with a yo-yo was as long ago as mine, you may be wondering how playing with a yo-yo could produce those kinds of injuries. Take a look at this article from the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal, and find out how this old-time hobby has turned into an extreme sport in the new century.

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All eyes on China

August 8, 2008

For at least two decades I’ve read conflicting arguments over the best approach to foreign relations with China. Will increased trade help bring about increased freedom for Chinese people, as they are exposed to Western ideas more and experience a taste of free choice at least in the area of buying and selling? Or is that just rewarding the authoritarian regime, allowing them improved status and power without their having to improve their record much if at all?

These questions have come up for a lot of discussion as the preparations for the Beijing Olympics have progressed. And they’re not any easier to answer. I know some people think it was a terrible mistake for the IOC to award the 2008 Summer games to Beijing. They think President Bush should boycott the games. Some of them will practice their own private boycott by not watching the games on TV.

I have little interest in watching the games themselves, but I’ve many times thought about whether or not it’s good to buy products made in China. Some products are made by slave labor, and others by people working in such awful conditions that it might as well be slave labor. Yet other companies in China provide decent working conditions, and offer new opportunities for prosperity, personal advancement, and contact with Western people and ideas, which bring many benefits to their workers and their families. Reducing trade with China would reduce both.

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Fuwa or wuwa?

July 24, 2008

It would probably be an understatement to say I’m not much of a sports fan. Even the quadrennial Olympic games (now biennial, if you count count both Winter and Summer Olympics) have rarely captured my interest. (I do sometimes watch the Super Bowl, partly to do something with my husband that he enjoys, and partly to watch the commercials.)

I do remember watching an Olympic gymnastics competition on TV once when I was a girl, and trying to spin gracefully around the living room. I remember being at a friend’s house during the 1988 Winter Olympics, and watching some skiing and skating because that’s what my friend decided to do for the evening. I think I caught a few minutes of some swimming events at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that until tonight I didn’t even know that the Olympics had mascots. I do remember being in Spain in 1981 and seeing tons of merchandise featuring Naranjito, the smiling orange mascot for the upcoming 1982 World Cup tournament, and thinking of buying one as a souvenir even though I had no interest in soccer. But the closest I’ve ever lived to an Olympics site was when I was a student at Word of Life Bible Institute during the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid. I do not remember ever seeing any depictions of Roni the Raccoon or any Roni merchandise – though as TV’s were not allowed on campus and shopping in the nearby town was extremely limited, that’s hardly surprising. 

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Spotlight on Beijing

May 7, 2008

To say I’m not interested in sports news is an understatement – my worst category in Trivial Pursuit is Sports & Leisure (though followed closely by Arts & Entertainment). But even I know what country is hosting the Olympics this summer. Of course, most of the news on that topic, for now, is more political than sports-related, as people argue over whether it was right to allow China to host the Olympics, and whether we should boycott the Games.

William McGurn had an interesting column about that question in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. “By agreeing to stage the Olympics, the [Chinese] government has also given a world stage to anyone with a grievance.” How much attention would people be giving the protesters if not for the backdrop of the Olympic Torch relay?  How many people who regularly buy items marked “made in China” without a second thought will reconsider, their awareness heightened by the frequent news stories – generally negative – about China?

Unfortunately the people of China, lacking the free flow of information we enjoy, may not know how much attention the fault of their leaders are getting.