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Patriotism on parade in advance of Vancouver's Olympic anniversary

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"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," as Samuel Johnson aptly noted over two hundred years ago. American writer Ambrose Bierce later added, "... I beg to submit that it is the first." H. L. Mencken had the final word: "But there is something even worse: it is the first, last, and middle range of fools."

Indeed. The patriotism on parade is that allegedly of Canadians, particularly Vancouverites, in regard to last year's Olympic Games, in which the impulse for flag waving came before, during, and now after the Games have departed.

The spectrum of Olympics jingoism was poignantly made clear in this week's run up to the first anniversary of the 2010 Olympics. The orchestrated release of John Furlong's book, Patriot Hearts, about his years at the helm of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (VANOC), was intended to drive home the point in case it had been lost on the masses more concerned with the HST or their shrinking share of the economy.

Of course, Furlong didn't exactly write the book, Gary Mason, columnist for the Globe and Mail did. Nothing wrong with ghost writers per se, particularly if one's command of the Queen's English is limited to clichés. In this case, besides Furlong's limited scope, one might be tempted to scroll back through Mason's numerous musings on the Vancouver Games, particularly those columns where, try as he might, he just couldn't find the slightest thing amiss with VANOC or Furlong. A jaded observer might wonder if Mason's years of glad tidings and the book were somehow related, much like the similarly cynical view that would question the Globe's objectivity on issues Olympic while serving as an official sponsor of the Games.

Authorship, however, is not the key issue. Faux patriotism is. Furlong, like many of us, immigrated to Canada, in his case from Ireland. Ah, Ireland, a lovely green land whose own dark trajectory through the mists of blind patriotism should have taught him something about the nasty undercurrents of the phenomenon. Alas, clearly, it did not. I'd have thought anyone immersed in such a brutal history would be cautious, indeed timid, about turning loose patriotism in a newly adopted country.

It's been abundantly clear to those of us on the other side of the barricades, and to those who can do math, that Furlong has never had a particularly astute grasp of economics or even business. Nor, for that matter, does he grasp much about environmentalism or civil liberties. But it hardly occurred to me that the man could utterly fail to understand the underpinning of the enterprise that occupied more than eight years of his life, specifically, the Olympic ideals as spelled out ad nauseum in the doctrine of Olympism.

De Coubertin's vision (and let's remember that it was always "theory," rather than reality) was not that of blind patriotism, but rather the notion that bringing the world together in sports would foster the betterment of us all. It was not supposed to be about flag waving or "patriot hearts," but about the unity of mankind.

Nothing wrong with this as an ideal, not even for one as cynical as me, so how could Furlong (and Mason) so utterly fail to understand history -- or what patriotism is and isn't -- and then commit the cardinal sin of not even grasping the fundamentals of the very event that they seek to celebrate?

How? Well, it's easy: Furlong was, and remains, a front for the special interests that brought the Games to Vancouver. And, as a front, he didn't have to know squat about anything, he merely had to show up and cut the ribbons that needed cutting. The "thinking," such as it was, was left to the late Jack Poole.

Where are we a year later? The Vancouver Sun recently trumpeted that an entity called the Metro Vancouver Commerce, made up of eight local municipal governments, had concluded that $306.1 million in economic benefits flowed into the area. Of this amount, only $168.8 million was direct investment employing 400 people. The rest of the moola was supposed to come as an eventual "spinoff," including 2,100 more jobs. In essence, like so much else of the shell game of the Olympics, just more happy "everyone's a winner" carnie talk for the rubes.

Let's for a moment, however, assume that it's true. If so, we spent (and the Auditor General is not quite clear about this) something to the tune of $7 billion. It could actually have been a lot more, but we'll never know. And "we" made $168 million and change? This passes for business acumen? Of course the "we" doesn't extend to those in the rest of the province who merely got to pay for the Games. It doesn't for example, equate to jobs in the lumber mills or fishery or to any other aspect of the economy outside Vancouver's immediate environs. Four hundred new jobs? Maybe. And how many would we have if we'd built a new hospital, maybe more than one, both for Vancouver and the rest of the province?

Well we didn't...and won't, but it's good to know that Metro Vancouver Commerce is on top of the situation.

Or how about this: All social services costs for one homeless person come out to about $50,000/year. With some 3,000 homeless in and around Vancouver, we have $150 million/year, year after year. What if instead of hosting a party for the rich and spurring flag waving drunken patriotism downtown, we'd dealt with the problem of poverty and homelessness at the source? How many jobs could we have had, how much revenue for the economy, how much savings for the rest of us? How much is lost from the one in four children living in poverty in British Columbia? Does your patriotism, John, extend to them?

Helping those left off the gravy train just wasn't patriotic enough, I guess.

Eagleridge Bluffs and the Callaghan: You can't put the pieces back together again, but given that the intention was to break them apart and sell them off, saving them for future generations of patriots was not in the cards either.

Regarding civil liberties: Great job, John. The Integrated Security unit spent a billion dollars chasing protesters, largely defiling the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the process. All the while they were happy supported by the City of Vancouver and the province anxious to ensure that the ultimate Olympic ideal of profit was not tarnished. Their patriotism was also on display a few months later in the over-the-top civil liberties violations on the streets of Toronto.

It's been a year. Thank the gods the Games are gone. We couldn't take much more patriotism... at least not any more of John Furlong's kind.

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