Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Spring Festival, or China's Lunar New Year - Sunday this year, is China's most important annual event -

Reading - Spring Festival, or China's Lunar New Year - Sunday this year, is China's most important annual event -

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday sent a message to the Chinese people to wish them happy and a prosperous new year as the traditional Chinese Spring Festival draws near.

"On the occasion of the Lunar New Year -- the Year of Tiger, I would like to extend my warmest wishes to the Chinese people," the secretary-general said in the message.

"I wish the Chinese people greater prosperity, happiness and well-being in the New Year," he said, "I look forward to greater contributions by the Chinese people toward world peace and development in the New Year."

In the message, Ban also writes the Chinese characters "Hu Nian Da Ji," meaning in English "Good luck in the Year of the Tiger."

The secretary-general signed the message in Chinese.

The Spring Festival, or China's Lunar New Year which falls on Sunday this year, is China's most important annual event for family reunions.

Canada's Bilodeau wins gold in men's moguls - Canada's 1st-ever Olympic win at home - 34-year gold drought ends -

Reading - Canada's Bilodeau wins gold in men's moguls - Canada's 1st-ever Olympic win at home - 34-year gold drought ends -

Alexandre Bilodeau soars to moguls gold medal on Sunday.

Alexandre Bilodeau of Rosemère, Que., has won the gold medal in the men's moguls at the Vancouver Olympics - Canada's first-ever first-place finish on home soil.

Canadian expatriate Dale Begg-Smith, the reigning Olympic champion, took the silver for Australia, where he moved when he was a teenager. American Bryon Wilson claimed the bronze on Sunday.

Bilodeau tore through his final run, nailing a back double full flip and finishing in 23.17 seconds.

The crowd at Cypress Mountain erupted as the judges gave him a 26.76 score, catapulting the 22-year-old freestyle skiing star into first place.

Only Guilbault Colas of France stood a chance of dethroning him, skiing last after finishing first in the qualifying round.

Bilodeau jumped from his seat and the crowd roared after the Colas score of 25.74 was revealed.

34-year gold drought ends

His gold comes 33 years and seven months since the Summer Olympic cauldron was lit in Montreal, the first time Canada has hosted an Olympics. Calgary was the site of the Winter Games in 1988, but Canada failed to win gold then as well.

On Sunday, Bilodeau led a strong showing by Canadians.

Vincent Marquis, 25, of Quebec City scored 25.88, while Drummondville's Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau, 30, in his first Olympics after 13 years with the national team, scored 25.83, briefly moving into second place.

In the end, Marquis and Rousseau finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Maxime Gingras, 24, of St-Hippolyte, Que., rounded out an incredible Canadian performance, finishing 11th.

The event had been billed as a battle between Bilodeau and Vancouver native Begg-Smith.

Read more - http://www.cbc.ca/olympics/freestyleskiing/story/2010/02/14/spo-mensmoguls.html

Why Is a German Prince Skiing For Mexico? - skier Hubertus von Hohenlohe - doesn't sound very Mexican -

Reading - Why Is a German Prince Skiing For Mexico? - skier Hubertus von Hohenlohe - doesn't sound very Mexican -

Last Thursday afternoon, during the ceremonial raising of the national flags at the Vancouver Olympic village, the Mexican national anthem blared over the loudspeaker. Mexico's lone Winter Olympian, alpine skier Hubertus von Hohenlohe, stood at attention, right arm crossing his chest. That's right — Hubertus von Hohenlohe. If you're thinking that name doesn't sound very Mexican, you'd be absolutely correct. In fact, he's a descendant of German royalty, the son of Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe and Princess Ira Fürstenberg. Can't get more Mexican than that.

After Olympic officials raised the flags for Mexico, Azerbaijan, Denmark and Great Britain, actress Sandra Oh — a Canadian and star of Grey's Anatomy who was emceeing the event — invited the athletes onto the stage for a festive dance. "We are celebrating you, the youth of the world!" screamed the overcaffeinated star. One problem, Sandra, von Hohenlohe of Mexico is no youth — he turned 51 two weeks ago.(Watch a video of Olympic athletes training.)

With every Winter Olympics, fans eat up the weird stories about the athletes from warm-weather countries that would seem to have no business participating in their chosen sports. And although the Jamaican bobsledders failed to qualify for the Olympics this time, the Vancouver Games offer plenty of intriguing tales. In addition to the middle-aged German skier prince representing Mexico, there's a speedskater from the Cayman Islands, cross-country skiers from Bermuda, Ethiopia and Ghana, and a few other oddballs who marched in Friday's opening ceremony. Even Jamaica still got to raise its flag: a freestyle skier from the country earned a spot at the Olympics.

Sure, these stories are charming. Too often, however, the connection between the athletes and the countries they represent is tenuous at best. Though athletes are required to be citizens of the countries they're competing for, that definition of "citizen" varies widely from one country to the next. It's a problem that has spread across a spectrum of sports. A Pittsburgh-bred point guard, who speaks little Russian, suited up for Russia's basketball team during the Beijing Olympics. African distance runners have competed for Bahrain, and American baseball players for Italy. But the tie between country and competitor is especially loose in the Winter Games, since warm-weather places like Mexico and Jamaica can't even claim a speck of snow or ice. Errol Kerr, the Jamaican ski cross athlete, grew up in the Lake Tahoe area. Ruben Gonzalez, a luger with Argentina's team, lives in Katy, Texas; he moved to the U.S. when he was six.(See 25 Winter Olympic athletes to watch.)

Still, no one's Olympic uniform is more confounding than Hubertus von Hohenlohe's. "It sounds strange," von Hohenlohe admits while relaxing in an Olympic Village coffee shop before the Mexican flag-raising event. "But it's not all that bad." The skier's grandmother is half-Mexican, and von Hohenlohe, who is a Vienna-based singer and photographer when he's not speeding down the slopes, was born in Mexico City while his father was running a Volkswagen plant there. "We always wanted to have one member of the family [who was] Mexican," he says. "So they chose that I was going to be born in Mexico. That was the idea."

When he was four, however, the prince left Mexico for Spain. He went to schools in Austria, where he took up skiing. Since he was born in Mexico, von Hohenlohe could still compete for that country; he made his Olympic debut in 1984, finishing 38th in the downhill. This will be his fifth Olympics for Mexico, but only the first since 1994. Although he qualified for the Torino Olympics in 2006, the Mexican Olympic Committee refused to send a one-man team. More eager for exposure this year, Mexico decided to support his next-to-nothing shot at a medal in the slalom and giant slalom races.

Von Hohenlohe's family has a house in Cabo San Lucas, but he estimates that over the last five years, he has spent just two to three weeks a year in Mexico. Still, he insists he bleeds the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag. "I feel very Latin in a way, and Spanish," says von Hohenlohe, who does speak fluent Spanish (as well as French, German, Italian and English). "The Spanish were the ones who came to Mexico in the end, so I do feel Mexican. Naturally I have more ties to Spain, but I'm more of a Latin person. Although our name is very German, and we're a German aristocratic family, we really grew up in more of a Mediterranean way. My look is not very German. People think I'm from Argentina, or, I don't know, Italy. But they don't think I'm from Germany and Austria."

The fact is, von Hohenlohe is a talented skier who has somehow met the Olympic qualifying standards at 51 — and it was infinitely easier for him to do that as an athlete from Mexico where no one skis, than from Austria, where the sport is a national obsession and the competition is cutthroat. Is von Hohenlohe simply a rich heir toying around the Alps, and using a poor country to reach the Olympics? "In life you have a couple of opportunities and openings," the prince argues. "And one of them was that I was born in Mexico. Sure, I used it to my favor. But not in an abusive way. You try to find that little thing that makes a difference, and take advantage of them. I took advantage of it."

Von Hohenlohe also points out that additional athletic exposure can only help Mexico. "I've also created a lot of publicity in European countries for Mexico," he says. "When people are sitting in their houses in Sweden, thinking how cold it is, they think, 'Wow, this guy is from Mexico. Maybe I should go to Cancun or Acapulco to visit it.' I've done a lot for the country too. It's give and take."

Still, Mexicans are unlikely to tear up with pride while watching him race. Perhaps he should follow in the snowshoes of Robel Zeimichael Teklemariam, the 36-year-old cross-country skier from Ethiopia. Teklemariam, who was born in Ethiopia but moved to the U.S. when he was nine, competed for his native country at the Torino Olympics despite the fact he hadn't set foot there in 23 years. Yet after those Olympics, a three-week vacation in Ethiopia turned into permanent residence, and he has no plans to leave. Now he trains in Europe, but in the off-season, he roller-skis around the suburbs of Addis Ababa.

"This time around, it's a lot sweeter," Teklemariam, who'll be competing for Ethiopia again in Vancouver. "There are so many Ethiopians who supported me to get my funding, to do everything. There's a lot more knowledge of the sport. They even know what snow is."

Teklemariam might not win a medal in Vancouver. But when he looked at that Ethiopian flag during the opening ceremonies, at least he knew it was his.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1963932,00.html#ixzz0fZOKnWRS

Biden's Motorcade Involved in Vancouver Accident Injuring Two - Is that #3 or #4? - I've lost count -

Reading - Biden's Motorcade Involved in Vancouver Accident Injuring Two - Is that #3 or #4? - I've lost count -

The motorcade was carrying members of the of the official U.S. Olympic Games Delegation.

The White House says that former Olympians Peggy Fleming and Vonetta Flowers were injured and briefly hospitalized after a minor traffic accident while riding in U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's motorcade at the Vancouver Games.

Biden spokesman Jay Carney says in a statement that the motorcade was carrying members of the U.S. delegation to an event on Sunday when the accident occurred. Fleming and Flowers had minor injures and were taken to a hospital, where they were treated and released.

Biden was not involved in the accident.

Fleming won the gold medal in figure skating at the 1968 Olympics, while Flowers won gold in the bobsled with partner Jill Bakken at the Salt Lake City Games.

Read more - http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/02/14/bidens-motorcade-involved-vancouver-accident-injuring/

Two huge waves swept away spectators at a Northern California surfing contest Saturday morning, injuring 13 people

Reading - Two huge waves swept away spectators at a Northern California surfing contest Saturday morning, injuring 13 people

Collapse of the euro is 'inevitable': Bailing out the Greek economy futile, says FRENCH banking chief -

Reading - Collapse of the euro is 'inevitable': Bailing out the Greek economy futile, says FRENCH banking chief -

The European single currency is facing an 'inevitable break-up' a leading French bank claimed yesterday.

Strategists at Paris-based Société Générale said that any bailout of the stricken Greek economy would only provide 'sticking plasters' to cover the deep- seated flaws in the eurozone bloc.

The stark warning came as the euro slipped further on the currency markets and dire growth figures raised the prospect of a 'double-dip' recession in the embattled zone.

Claims that the euro could be headed for total collapse are particularly striking when they come from one of the oldest and largest banks in France - a core founder-member.

In a note to investors, SocGen strategist Albert Edwards said: 'My own view is that there is little "help" that can be offered by the other eurozone nations other than temporary, confidence-giving "sticking plasters" before the ultimate denouement: the break-up of the eurozone.

He added: 'Any "help" given to Greece merely delays the inevitable break-up of the eurozone.'

The alarming claim came a day after European Union leaders promised 'determined and co-ordinated' action to shore up Greece's tattered public finances, but disappointed traders by failing to provide specifics.

Further details are expected early next week, but markets were in high anxiety yesterday amid fears political divisions among rich eurozone members could derail any rescue.

The euro slid almost 1 per cent to $1.357 yesterday, meaning it has lost 10 per cent of its value since November. The pound rose to 1.14 euros.

Earlier this week Business Secretary Lord Mandelson's claimed that the single currency had been a 'remarkable success' and that it remained in Britain's interests to join.

David Cameron ridiculed that claim yesterday.

He told the Tories' Scottish conference: 'Are this Government the only people in the country who still think that would be a good idea? Our deficit and debt are bad enough without the straightjacket of the euro.

'If I am elected for as long as I am prime minister the United Kingdom will never join the euro.'

The French bank's warning was echoed by Mats Persson, Director of the Open Europe think-tank, which campaigns for reforms in Brussels.

He said: 'The eurozone is facing a fully-fledged crisis. The Greece episode has made it painfully clear how flawed the euro project was from the very beginning.

'Even if Greece receives a one-off bailout it would not solve the real problem, which is the huge differences in competitiveness between the eurozone's richest and poorest members.

'If these differences are to be evened out, the EU would need a single budget and common taxes so it can redistribute resources.

'One thing is clear, Britain made the right choice in staying out.'

Mr Edwards argued that Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain are too economically weak to withstand the rigours of eurozone membership.

Countries that are highly uncompetitive are normally able to slash interest rates and devalue their currencies to prop up their economies.

But this is not possible within the euro, given its one-size-fits-all economic governance.

The implication is that weak, peripheral eurozone members will have to suffer years of painful deflation and tumbling living standards, as well as draconian budget cuts, in order to adjust.

Harvard University Professor Martin Feldstein, a long-standing sceptic on the euro, yesterday said the single currency 'isn't working' because member governments have no incentive to keep their public debts under control.

'There's too much incentive for countries to run up big deficits as there's no feedback until a crisis,' he said.

Germany drags EU back towards recession

The eurozone faces the danger of a 'doubledip' recession after Germany's economy retreated into stagnation.

Figures published yesterday revealed that the countries who have joined the euro collectively grew a mere 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year - equal to Britain's own faltering performance.

Germany was the biggest drag, recording zero growth in the final three months of 2009 after emerging from recession earlier in the year.

Axel Weber, President of Germany's Bundesbank, warned this week there is a chance his nation's economy will contract in the first quarter of 2010, in part because of the severe winter, in a major blow to recovery hopes.

The figures from the European Commission are a blow to Britain's embattled manufacturers, which count the eurozone as their biggest export market.

France provided a bright spot in the report, expanding by 0.6 per cent in the fourth quarter-But Italy, Spain and Greece all registered contractions in their gross domestic product.

Economist Martin van Vliet of ING Bank said: 'The paltry pace of fourth quarter growth makes crystal clear that the eurozone economy cannot yet stand on its own feet.

'The disappointing eurozone growth data are a sobering reminder that recovery from financial crisis led recessions tends to be slow and protracted, and might not prove very supportive in calming markets' fears about the region.'

Read more -http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1250433/Greece-debt-bailout-EU-leaders-split-euro-crisis.html#