mojo-photo-olympics.jpgSorry, the incredibly awkward shots of President Bush getting to his seat were all too real. However, it turns out that a climactic moment of the elaborate, 15,000-person-employing Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing on Friday was a clever bit of CGI. The jaw-dropping shot of sequentially-launched fireworks in the shape of footsteps heading towards the "bird's nest" stadium was "a 3-D graphics sequence that took almost a year to produce," conceived as an antidote to the smoggy skies which would have obscured actual footage. Not to act all smart or anything, but while watching the ceremony I noticed that not only did that segment have the slightly-hyperreal look of a Pixar film, but also, who could be filming it? Apparently that was also a concern: the Olympic committee was worried about the safety of a helicopter pilot who would have been forced to follow the route of the fireworks.

Various news organizations are reporting the footage was "faked," although that seems a little harsh, since the committee came clean rather quickly. The segment in question was just so well done (and perfectly timed) that most people were taken in, and from what I can tell, they actually did launch those foot-shaped fireworks, so the CGI bit was more like a diagram of something really happening, which seems less sinful, somehow.

After the jump: but I thought I was immune to Olympics Fever!!

lzr-in-water-200-140.jpgBy now, nearly everyone's heard about Michael Phelps's Olympic medal quest. But for those of us who have watched the swimming competitions thus far, there's one competitor you just can't ignore: those black and gray, space-age looking suits that nearly every athlete is wearing.

The wetsuit-style Speedo LZR Racer (here's a pic) is one reason world records continue to be broken in swimming. The science behind the suit includes "ultrasonically welded" seams and panels of drag-reducing fabric tested by NASA. But the main benefit of the suit is how it fits: tightly. So tightly that it acts as a sort of corset, helping swimmers maintain an aqua-dynamic form and supporting abdominal muscles when they tire at the end of the race. Since the suit was introduced in February of 2008, more than 50 world records have been broken by athletes wearing it. American swimmer Ryan Lochte, who won a bronze this week in the individual medley, said wearing the suit makes it feel like you're "swimming downhill." Even Chinese athletes cannot resist the American-made suit, though they covered the Speedo logo with duct tape.

russ_feingold.jpg I lament the fact that YouTube, cable news, and the blogs have put the fear of god in politicians and keep them from saying anything interesting. And I respect Russ Feingold's right to say his piece about a man he clearly respects.

But jeez...

"I think [McCain] calls 'em as he sees 'em, and as president would call 'em as he sees 'em, and would make people mad all over the place because it wouldn't fit anybody's playbook," said Feingold, who teamed up with McCain to rewrite federal campaign laws....
"They both have the intellectual ability and the maturity to form judgments about important policy issues. I'd feel comfortable with both of them in there as president," Feingold said. "They are not people who are just preening for the cameras. They're both celebrities. (But) they're the rare breed: celebrities who are actually interested in getting things done."

I'll be the first admit I don't know how much of a threat this is to Obama.

Frustrated supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) are planning multiple rallies at the Democratic convention in Denver, coupled with television and print advertisements....
The Denver Group, formed a couple of months ago by two Clinton backers, says it has filmed a television commercial and is looking to air it soon....Meanwhile, another pro-Clinton group called "18 Million Voices" is organizing a march on Aug. 26 in Denver "and nationwide to support Sen. Clinton and advocate for women's rights worldwide."

I'm intrigued but unconvinced.

Late update: Overheard this observation about Wolfson. The poor guy carries the burden of knowing exactly what would have happened if things had been different, without having the commensurate ability to have predicted what actually did happen.

Consider me nonplussed about this new Obama ad. I'm on the record as (1) a believer in the power of positive messages in a "change" environment (i.e. Americans want to see a candidate articulate a new vision); and (2) a nonbeliever in the "celebrity" attack/taunt being used by John McCain.

It's probably no surprise then that I'm not convinced this new Obama ad — which goes negative on McCain and argues that McCain is the bigger celebrity — is going to work.

This is called being on the defensive. No, I'm not the bigger celebrity. You're the bigger celebrity! Really, folks? The candidates are each trying to argue that the other is liked by more Americans? I'm obviously not impressed. At least the Obama folks had the good sense to throw in a half dozen shots of McCain embracing Bush — from Obama's perspective, those images are the spot's saving grace.

Update: Jonathan Martin of Politico suggests that the celebrity retort is only included to generate media attention, and that the McCain-Bush images are the ad's real purpose.

Plausible. Interesting.

With both leading presidential candidates now in the midst of accusing each other of being the bigger celebrity, perhaps this is one endorsement that is better arriving late. Variety's Wilshire & Washington reports:

It may seem as if most entertainment industry figures are aligning with Barack Obama and just a few with John McCain, but there are still a handful of famous names who are still on the fence. And both campaigns are well aware of one star who stands out among the undecideds: Angelina Jolie.
Both campaigns have reached out to her, apparently to court her support. But in a statement to Variety provided by political adviser Trevor Neilson, Jolie says that she is waiting to make up her mind.
"I have not decided on a candidate," Jolie says, "I am waiting to see the commitments they will make on issues like international justice, refugees and how to address the needs of children in crisis around the world."

Jolie tells Variety she is registered as an independent.

Jolie's estranged father, actor Jon Voight, has endorsed McCain, attacking Obama in a Washington Times oped last week.

(UNHCR photo).

Watch this video. Bonnie Erbe of PBS says on three different occasions, the American people are starved for substance, give them some! And each time the Fox anchor interviewing her responds, that John Edwards sure is stoopid, huh?

Bonnie Erbe, for your crafty subterfuge and your ability to hold a mirror up to the worst of the American media, I salute you.

As Russia stepped up attacks against Georgian moves to reassert control over the breakaway pro-Russian province of South Ossetia, and many civilians were reported killed and thousands displaced, I asked former deputy director of the CIA's Soviet and East Europe division Milt Bearden why Russia and Georgia had chosen to escalate their long simmering dispute over South Ossetia now.

"As far as Russia goes, it's easy: They're baaack!" Bearden said. "And the Russians are doing what comes naturally to them in their new mood. They know the Europeans don't want a face-off with Russia/Gazprom. They know the U.S. is so preoccupied with its own self inflicted disasters that it can do nothing but wring it hands. So why not now? It also would seem to stop NATO enlargement in its tracks. Just imagine Georgia inside NATO, and protected under Article 5!!"

"The US is helpless and Europe won't touch this," Bearden added. "Russia is feeling its oats. And yes, Georgia is George Bush's beacon for liberty in the Caucasus. What's he going to do? The Russians know one thing: how to count the cards. They know that not one of these chickens" will do anything.

I asked Bearden why pro-Western Georgia would have moved now to reassert control over South Ossetia, which at least in part seemed to provoke the Russian invasion. Was Georgia led to believe that the West would come to its aid in a military dispute with Moscow?

Bearden said it was pure miscalculation on Georgia's part. "Almost every conflict in the region begins with a huge miscalculation by one or more parties. The Georgians are fully capable of this miscalculation. They believed they were going to hear the bugles coming over the hill. They are not going to hear anything."

Update: Check out this Washington Post account of a UN emergency meeting on the Georgian crisis the US called yesterday. The US accused Russia of demanding in a confidential conversation with US Secretary of State Rice the removal of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. And the Russians? Russian envoy Vitaly "Churkin accused the United States of aiding and abetting Saakashvili, saying more than 100 U.S. advisers were providing training to Georgian forces on the eve of their military offensive against South Ossetia, and suggested that U.S. officials may have given Georgia the 'green light' to strike." Did the US give Georgia the green light to strike?

Meantime, Georgians on the run question the Bush administration's lofty rhetoric. "Where are our friends?" one retreating Georgian soldier told the Times. Former Clinton foreign policy hands Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus weigh in here.

(Map of Georgia and the surrounding region linked from

Both Jon McCain and Barack Obama commented yesterday on Russia's invasion of Georgia, an event in some ways overshadowed by John Edwards' shenanigans, and the opening of the Olympic games. McCain is taking an aggressive stance saying Russia should "unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces." Obama offered that "now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war."

Menwhile, George Bush had a busy Saturday in Beijing, biking the Olympic mountain bike course, volleying with beach volleyball players, and posing with the US softball team. Of the course, Bush called it "really, really difficult." In general, Bush seemed to be in his element, that is, among people who see it as their jobs to work out all day. He did take time out at one point to tell reporters that he's "deeply concerned" about "a dangerous escalation in the crisis" in Georgia.

A senior US official has called Russia's attack on Georgia "far disproportionate" to Georgia's alleged attack on Russian peacekeepers. Russia, meanwhile, is likely motivated by Georgia's bid to join NATO, which would bring the alliance to a 475-mile shared border with Russia. Already five of Russia's 14 neighbors are NATO member countries.