Chinese Checkers

Beijing Winter Olympics 2002 Logo

In two weeks the Winter Olympic Games ™ will begin in China.

I won’t be watching.

I will be boycotting these games. My physical attendance was never going to happen, so my boycott will be of the television kind. And I strongly urge you to join with me on this boycott journey.

First of all let’s face it, nobody really cares about winter sports unless they or a family member are playing them. Strapping boards on your feet and sliding down a mountain trying to be one tenth of a second faster than the other guy is not compelling sports viewing. Really, it is like auto racing, we’re just waiting for the crash. Don’t get me started on ice skating, a “sport” tailored to be a cesspool of corruption. Ice hockey? I have the NHL for that, if I really need it. Luge, bobsled, cross country skiing? Fine things to do, but a bore to watch. Now curling, that’s something I could get into, but until they let the curlers (don’t call them athletes) play it in their natural habitats, ie, with a beer can in their hands, I’ll pass.

But all that’s just my distaste for winter sports. That’s not the real reason I’ll be boycotting.

Did I mention these games are taking place in China? You remember China. The land that censorship loves so much it bought a timeshare there. The land of suppression and repression. Where surveilling leads to jailing. Where human rights are thrown into the back seat of a police car never to be heard from again. Yeah, that China.

China, or to be more correct the city of Beijing, was selected to host these Olympics through some pretty dubious means. Back in 2014 when the selection election was held, Oslo Norway was the leading candidate. That made perfect sense since, well, Oslo is well known for it’s winters, i.e., they have plenty of naturally occurring snow and ice. But at the last minute the International Olympic Committee (IOC) threw in demands such as:

“Diva-like demands for luxury treatment” for the IOC members themselves, such as special lanes on all roads only to be used by IOC members and cocktail reception at the Royal Palace with drinks paid for by the royal family. IOC also “demanded control over all advertising space throughout Oslo” to be used exclusively by IOC’s sponsors, something that is not possible in Norway because Norway is a liberal democracy where the government doesn’t own or control “all advertising space throughout Oslo” much of which is privately owned and has no authority to give a foreign private organization exclusive use of an entire city and private property within it.

Now the IOC is pretty well known for being a little footloose and fancy free when it comes to demanding things from potential host cities, but that was ridiculous. It actually sounds to me like the IOC made these requirements with the idea of gaming the election so that ONLY Beijing would be able to win. As it stands the only competitor for these games after Oslo pulled out was Almaty Kazakhstan, another Asian country with dubious credentials when it comes to human rights (but notably better than the Chinese).

So Beijing becomes the first city to ever host both a summer and a winter Olympics and they will have done both in the span of 14 years, far quicker than any other two time host city ever has. Then again, while once upon a time cities fought tooth and nail to get an Olympics now they mostly have an ambivalence about them, especially the winter games. Let’s face it, as a ski destination you only have a few months to make money and if those months have to be given over to preparing for and then hosting an event you don’t make money on, well thanks but no thanks.

But having the IOC game the system for them is the least of my problems with China hosting these games. Let’s talk about what they are requiring of those attending the games, both participants and partisans.

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Wanna Bet On It?

Online Sports Betting

If you’ve been watching the baseball playoffs you’ve been inundated with ads for gambling websites. Oh, sorry, I mean gaming websites that allow casual fans to compete for pots of money based on correctly predicting who would win, by how much, how many total points would be scored, and many other aspects of the game.

But according to them that’s not gambling.

I’m not going to name the sites since I prefer they at least spend some of their profits on paying for advertising and they ain’t giving me any of it. And they do pay a lot. Watch an hour of a playoff game and you will likely see three ads for one particular site, plus there will be some banter (no doubt paid for) between the announcers about said site or the bets you the viewer can place. And make no mistake, you can place bets on just about anything that happens in a game; whether the next pitch is a curve ball or the next batter will hit a line drive or the batter after him will hit a fly ball to the right side that is caught by the shortstop who is playing over by second base because of a shift and will the team in the field continue to employ a shift for the next batter.

All from the comfort and ease of your living room through the miracle of cell phone technology.  What hath Steve Jobs wrought?

And if you thought “wait a minute, I thought sports betting was illegal everywhere but Nevada” you haven’t been paying attention to the Supreme Court. Three years ago the court in a pretty near unanimous ruling said the federal government had no place in preventing states from allowing sports betting. If Iowa wants to let their farmers bet on Hawkeye football who are the feds to tell them no? Interstate commerce and all that.

Once that ruling was announced the floodgates opened. All parties wanted their piece of what everyone knew would be a huge pie. The sports leagues, the statistics companies, the cell phone companies, the television networks, and of course the gambling sites. Sports leagues, which for years ran away from anything that even suggested there was gambling going on involving their games, suddenly were partnering with betting sites to make sure they got their cut. ESPN, having already purchased Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website a few years earlier, poised themselves to be the premier statistician for the new age of gambling. And of course all the networks became even more invested in sports programming. After all, having a money interest in the outcome of every play is a powerful incentive for the viewer to continue watching even during the commercials.

But it is the leagues, and through them the players, who have the greatest interest in fans putting a few bucks down on The Bucks. The cut from the gambling sites will more than offset any drop off in attendance or even, heaven forbid, a drop in their rights fees from television or radio. And the players see revenue from gambling as a piece of the pie they have a right to. This coming winter’s negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players over The Basic Agreement (the rules all clubs and players must have in their contracts) might very well come down to how much of a cut the players get from the gambling sites. After all, it’s their actual performances that are being bet on. Which brings up the issue of whether those performances or even the statistics that accrue from those performances are the intellectual property of the individual players or of the teams they play for or of the league as a whole.

So everyone is gonna make money, what’s the downside?

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Better Science Instead of Moral Panics, Please

Author posts hectoring piece on how your precious children should never be near a single screen in operation until they are 40, because while yeah, thousands of children are going hungry every day, the iPad is our country’s greatest parenting challenge.  Trouble is, a lot of the science relied upon in that piece is, to use a technical term, total crap:  5. False premises lead inevitably to false conclusions. Rowan says, “technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development.” The studies that have shown that restricted movement leads to developmental delays are animal experiments employing conditions of extremely restricted movement (i.e., … Continue reading Better Science Instead of Moral Panics, Please

Shorter Andrew Sullivan: Ladies Need To Stop Overreacting to Rape and Murder

It’s about ethics in journalism:  A group called Women, Action, and the Media, which advocates for better representation of women, is testing a new reporting process for gender-based harassment. The group developed a tool for reporting harassment and will forward confirmed reports to Twitter. “If it checks out, we’ll escalate it to Twitter right away (24 hours max, hopefully much less than that) and work to get you a speedy resolution,” says the group, which abbreviates itself as WAM. “But please note: we’re not Twitter, and we can’t make decisions for them.” I wondered what exactly this small non-profit believes … Continue reading Shorter Andrew Sullivan: Ladies Need To Stop Overreacting to Rape and Murder

On Losing Your Identity and #Gamergate

GamerGate and its bullshit makes the NYT:  These players are so concerned about the fragility of big-budget video games in the face of cultural analysis and criticism that they circulated an online petition last year calling for the website GameSpot to fire a critic, Carolyn Petit, for daring to complain that Grand Theft Auto V “has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists that we’re meant to laugh at.” (There were no such demands for the heads of male critics — including me, writing in The New York Times — who said … Continue reading On Losing Your Identity and #Gamergate

It’s Always Time to Talk About Shit That Doesn’t Matter

I keep going back to this, from the brilliant Cleolinda: (Here’s my thought on that in a nutshell: Violent movies and videogames do not make people violent. Violent people are attracted to violent media. Of course, so are many of the rest of us, just for different reasons. I ended up watching The Matrix about 46,000 times–at one point on a three-day loop–for the book, and I shot nobody. If you want to talk about warning signs, don’t look at the kid’s taste in movies or his literary output–look at those two things in the context of his real-life behavior, … Continue reading It’s Always Time to Talk About Shit That Doesn’t Matter

It’s Always Time to Talk About Shit That Doesn’t Matter

I keep going back to this, from the brilliant Cleolinda: (Here’s my thought on that in a nutshell: Violent movies and videogames do not make people violent. Violentpeople are attracted to violent media. Of course, so are many of the rest of us, just for different reasons. I ended up watchingThe Matrix about 46,000 times–at one point on a three-day loop–for the book, and I shotnobody. If you want to talk about warning signs, don’t look at the kid’s taste in movies or his literary output–look at those two thingsin the context of his real-life behavior, which was already disturbing … Continue reading It’s Always Time to Talk About Shit That Doesn’t Matter

Winning the internet, all of it

It’s not often, lately anyway, that we read a story that makes us want to fistbump the whole interwebs and shout, “Fuck yeah humans!” Butthis is one of those stories. Video-game players have solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years, and those scientists say the accomplishment could point the way to crowdsourced cures for AIDS and other diseases. “This is one small piece of the puzzle in being able to help with AIDS,” Firas Khatib, a biochemist at the University of Washington, told me. Khatib is the lead author of a research paper on the project, published today … Continue reading Winning the internet, all of it

Elder-Wii

This is awesome: Youngster giving Wiis to seniors A Christmas trip to visit his great-grandmother in a nursing home sparked an ongoing service project for 10-year-old Lorenzo Little. His trip to Heartsong Nursing Home in Belleville left an impression. “(Residents) always look so bored,” the Janesville boy said. “So I thought that at home, if I enjoyed my Wii, why wouldn’t they enjoy a Wii?” he said. He talked with his parents, Greg and April, about his idea during the car ride home. With their help, Lorenzo’s goal is to raise money to put Nintendo Wii gaming systems in as … Continue reading Elder-Wii

Resenting the Youth

Amanda comes close to articulating the thing that always trips my wires about Those Kids Today stories: As much as it defeats the desires of curmudgeons to believe that kids these days are somehow losing their way, the truth is that IQ scores have been rising steadily over the generations, a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect. Science writer Steven Johnson wrote an entire book, Everything Bad Is Good For You, where he effectively argues that the very “overstimulation” that people like Farndale resent is probably why people keep getting smarter. Having spent the past two days deeply immersed in … Continue reading Resenting the Youth

Pimpin’

My little brother’s fine establishment. If any of you are in the Racine-Milwaukee area, stop by and check it out. The owner personally kicked my ass at air hockey last week. Tell him you’re a friend of his sister’s and he may or may not go easy on you. A. Continue reading Pimpin’

The Value of Madness

Don’t give me a pill or send me to a shrink. It’s just the Madness. I’m fine. Each year about this time, I nestle into the couch with an over-sized box of Wheat Thins and 923 cans of Diet Coke. I’ve got the TV, laptop and computer all humming as I scour the monitors for the sign of the next greatest game. Eventually, The Missus will come downstairs and say something like, “For God sakes! Open a window and let some of this radiation out of here!The Midget’s pet rabbit is starting to mutate!“ March Madness cuts a wide path … Continue reading The Value of Madness