The Corner

On Not Watching the Olympics

Hey Mike:  I too have been practicing the ancient Taoist discipline of wu-wei (“actionlessness”) in regard to the Olympics — I have not watched, not really from any strong ideological conviction, just because I haven’t any interest. My wife urged me to watch the totalitarian kitsch-o-rama opening ceremony, and I did, domestic harmony being high on my scale of values. Our silent agreement, though — we’ve been married 22 years this month, our agreements are now almost entirely silent, as indeed are our disagreements — was that I had then done my duty and was absolved from further watching.

All I have seen since then has been glimpses caught while passing through the living room on my way to the kitchen. From these utterly unrepresentative fragments, it seems to me that all my complaints about previous Olympics still apply, e.g.

•  If you are real good at running, jumping, throwing, basketball, etc, you may get a gold medal. If you are real good at swimming, however, you can get a dozen or so. How is this fair?•  Shooting sports are too disgracefully barbaric to be shown on TV.•  Gymnastics, though very nice to watch, is not a sport.•  Etc., etc.

Among new complaints:

•  The Chinese need to get a new system of romanization for their language. Pinyin is a total bust. Nobody knows what to do with those x’s, c’s, and q’s. Before pinyin came up, Yale University had a transcription they used for teaching Chinese that made much more sense. The pinyin “ci,” for example, was written “tsz” in the Yale system, which is what it sounds like, and “xue” was written “sywe,” which is still an eye-stopper, but at least gives you a clue to the sound. And why is everyone saying “Bay-zhing” with a Frenchified “j” sound? That sound does not occur in any Chinese dialect I know. A plain English “j” is closer.  (Parker Po-fei Huang worked up a transcription for Cantonese based on the Yale system for Mandarin. It’s the only sane system I have ever seen for Cantonese.)

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