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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Brilliant news, this!

The Linz family has won in The Amazing Race: Family Edition!

Well, in itself, that's not all of the good news. To top that off, the Bransen family came in second, which means they beat the Weavers into a distant third place. Now that's the good part.

The bad part? Oh, the Weavers actually managed to lead at around half-time, which was over in Montreal's Olympic Stadium, after getting the incredibly excellent services of a cab driver who happened to be Christian and didn't know better. But it was the stadium that did the Weavers in, with what I thought was a sweet little task in terms of design. In short, it reads: Comb the stadium for one of three little clue boxes among the seats for an airplane flight. There are three different times. The toughness of the task lay in the fact that it was, I think, around a 60,000-seater. Which means lots of seats to comb.

From that point on, it all went downhill for the Weavers. Was I worried that they'd run away with it before that? A little, but I knew that a couple of nice twists had to be in store before we had anything like a runaway winner. The rueful experience with Rob and Amber (yes, I picked those guys first) was a clear enough precedent of that. But it did leave a little bit of nerve in me, until all three tickets were pulled - and the Weavers had the worst one.

After that, it was just watching the race play out and wondering who'd finish in which spot. The Linz family was stocking up on advantages, so they had to do something really bad to goof it up. Thankfully for them, they didn't. So they managed a relatively tight one-two finish with the Bransens, leaving the Weavers bottom.

But the best part of the episode? The commercials right at the end, touting the next edition. Japan! Greece! Teams of two! February, here we come!

gambitch [ 11:10 PM]

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I've not written on world affairs for a little while, and I figured now wouldn't be a bad time to do an entry on that topic. There's never a bad time, really, but the motivation wasn't quite there. But now that I've been back on a mini-roll where blogging is concerned, I suppose now's not a bad time to slip something in.

So let's talk about the environment. If you've been watching the news, you might know that a meeting of some sort was held recently under the auspices of the UN at Montreal, Canada. If I remember it right, this happened last week. The meeting basically discussed climate change, with nations concerned about whether greenhouse gases were going to be a problem, and whether the Kyoto Protocol would die because not enough people were following it right.

The result of the meeting? Countries committed to Kyoto agreed to set new standards following what I understand vaguely as the expiration of current ones in 2012. Some others will be on board for some kind of educational workshops, and while that doesn't guarantee they'll sign on fully to Kyoto, it at least ensures they won't quit the minimal lip service commitment they want to be seen giving.

The big question: Is what's good for Montreal good for the planet?

On the surface of it, there are two very significant victories for the environmentalists as a result of the Montreal meeting. Okay, two and a half. The first, of course, is that countries who had already signed on fully to Kyoto, namely most of the developed world, have shown that they clearly don't mean for the death of whatever achievements that have emerged for Kyoto. 2012 may be six years away - it'd be seven but for the fact that we're already into December - but the willingness to already look forward beyond that date needs to be applauded, not least because many of us would have forgotten about, or even simply overlooked, the fact that the standards set earlier were meant only to be temporary and needed to be reviewed. Even if we don't know about the details - and most of us don't - this piece of news indicates some kind of responsible leadership by the developed West.

The second significant victory is that at least the nations that have not signed or ratified the Kyoto Protocol have remained engaged as a result of that second set of agreements. It should be noted that many of the non-signatories, as well as those that haven't ratified Kyoto despite signing, are developing nations, some of them very large. Between them, India and China hold more than 40% of the global population, and represent immense labour markets with high industrial potential. As more and more factories spring up, and more and more Indians and Chinese begin to get into a position to afford cars, there is real fear about their contribution to the global carbon dioxide supply, among other things. To plan anything to save the planet in a big way without including them would therefore be stupid. That's why it's good they haven't been allowed to drift away - not that, one suspects, they were trying in the first place.

Which brings us to the half-hooray. Altogether unsurprisingly, the US came unnervingly close to wrecking the whole operation by walking out of the talks. Mind you, they tried. But they saw that the rest of the world was committed enough to dare them to carry out the threat. The show would go on with or without them, and the Bush Administration would be totally alone if they did pull their stunt. The US looked, saw and blinked. This would make bad international politics, they probably thought. So they had no choice but to back down. But there's only half a hooray in this, because they did manage to extract from Montreal the explicit statement that members signing on to the educational workshops, or symposiums, or whatever, were not bound by duty to proceed to sign on to anything amounting to concrete targets.

And that lack of an explicit commitment to actually do something is the start of all the problems that have been left unresolved. The US is currently the world's biggest polluter. No surprise there - it's the world's mightiest nation in terms of industrialization. You'd expect any "save the planet" plan to take out the US as target number one. Bush and American business leaders know it too. The question is whether they have the moral fibre to therefore act by taking care of the problem themselves so that the world can be impressed.

The answer, unfortunately, is no. Industries may have moved to replace government regulation with voluntary industrial standards in a bid to show that they were responsible people who could govern themselves. But critics have refused to buy the dummy. Voluntary standards have mostly been slacker than the old rules, and under the Bush Administration, industry has gained much help with such ironically-named policies as the Clear Skies Act.

There's a reason why the US didn't want to sign on to Kyoto. It's called "international scrutiny", something business leaders of the land didn't want to subject themselves to. They're hardly alone in that, of course. The US has also not signed on formally to the Rome Statute, guaranteeing that their guys can never be tried in the International Criminal Court. The reason is obvious - if they signed on, they'd have hell to pay. It's a bad deal when it works in your disfavour, and it's the same whether it's the ICC or Kyoto. So in both cases, the US didn't want to have anything to do with it. Which is sad, because it seems that Bill Clinton did quite a bit to move the US down the more environmentally-friendly path.

The other unsatisfactory thing about the Montreal gig is that China and India still have not actually signed on. One's sure they want to do something for the planet, because they are not as vicious as the American business leaders. The problem is that they're concerned about their own right to growth and development. They can't possibly sign on to something that will be used to limit their power to exercise that right. Their fear is that the West will use all these international agreements to stifle them so that they'll stay behind. India and China have historically been ambitious. Both are old civilizations, and while India may not be very expansionist in nature, China's Chinese name is literally "the Middle Kingdom", and they were once the most civilized people in the neighbourhood. So there's plenty of pride riding on their every action on the international scene.

What these point to is that the two big leaders of the developing bloc will need to be handled very carefully by the industrialized nations. But this is not at all easy, especially given the antagonistic relationship between China and much of the West. To be fair, the fact that the US is itself not a full Kyoto member means that China doesn't have to worry too much about American carping. There's that hypocrisy thing. But the rest of the West can be swayed to work the American agenda on their behalf, so that's still a problem.

I'm not sure what's going to happen next, but we'll have to remember that Montreal has in fact achieved quite a bit less than jubilant reporters and environmentalist spokesmen would have us believe. They're probably carried away by the hysteria derived from making the US blink. It's kind of like holding Chelsea to a draw. But you've to remember that Chelsea are still able to get the win most of the time, so the draw does little to change the big picture. Similarly, there's not that much change in the big picture where the environment is concerned. Much, much more has to be done.

And it'll be interesting to see what will come in the second act. Granted, the WTO conference in Hong Kong is a different meeting for a different bunch of people, but there is a link between trade and the environment, because right in the middle is industrial production. Given that the US has dropped points on one stage, it will be interesting to see whether they'll try to claw something back on the other.

Hong Kong will be interesting too because of stories surfacing about protests. WTO protesters are becoming a must-have sideshow during every WTO meeting, except when it was held in Singapore - apparently it's illegal to protest there. The protesters are pleading their regular case, but will anyone up there listen? I doubt it, but I'd like to be pleasantly surprised.

gambitch [ 7:04 AM]

Monday, December 12, 2005

The football yesterday? Wasn't great by any means. Well, it started okay, we were made to work, and gradually put on something of a determined defensive display. A couple of decent saves helped, but the defence worked out good.

But after a few rounds of changing teammates, I ended up seriously frustrated because, well, the new bunch of guys wasn't holding it together, much. Yeah, I know. It kinda irritates when we've got enough decent shooters but can't get our defensive act together, and then they give me work to do with some horrible defending. Because I'm no Buffon, of course I end up conceding a bunch when under this much exposure.

Was I happy? Not one bit, come the end of the session. I got sick and tired with putting up with the trash, and for a change I decided to let the guys know it.

Bad idea? I wouldn't know. I just knew I needed to get the thing out of my system.

But the Sunday football couldn't compare with my utter disgust at the fact that the Godlewskis have been eliminated from The Amazing Race last week. Ultimately, internal bickering made them really unpalatable options for a Final Three finish. But that does nothing to change the fact that their elimination means we actually have to put up with another couple of hours watching the Weaver family. Now that's a team that really disgusted me, way much. Even the Paolos have been redeemed by their honest, self-aware dysfunctionality, which on close inspection isn't really in such bad shape.

The Weavers are on another planet. That's to put it short.

Frankly, I'm seeing a win by either the Linz family or the Bransen family as a decent outcome, although neither has been particularly compelling. Certainly the Linz family were not on my early radar because they looked too strong to last. Don't get me wrong, strong teams are good, but Rob and Amber looked like they had the smarts to win it, as did Colin and Christie, for example. Even David and Jeff looked winner material. But with the Linz family I had an initial suspicion that something stupid and we'll see them finished off. That's not quite the case, yet.

As for the Bransen family, they might be able to just amble along to the finish line and win it all. But if they do, it's one of the blandest victories in the history of reality television. Not to say it can't happen - it can. Just that, well, it's not one that was obviously punctuated by too many emotional extremes either way.

A Weaver win... I don't even want to think about it.

gambitch [ 11:16 PM]

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I was listening to BBC World Service on radio when I heard this really ridiculous-sounding song that, I think, was titled Start Wearing Purple. It sounded really insane for the most part, actually, but it's a good, fun song. Not the slick commercial fare we're used to hearing, like that perpetually-repeated new thing by Madonna. I'm talking the kind you might on occasion hear down in the streets.

According to the BBC report, the guy who sang the song as part of a band also showed up in a movie that stars Elijah Wood. The guy says he didn't really know Elijah Wood, so during the filming, he just treated him like any regular guy. Which is cool, actually. Seems like Wood doesn't have a problem with that either.

I guess I like these indie stuff.

gambitch [ 1:07 AM]


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