The Morning Report
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I love the Olympics. Deeply.
I still remember bursting breathlessly into my parents’ room in the summer of 1996 as they were reading quietly in bed. “KERRI STRUG … AND SHE HURT HER LEG … BUT SHE WENT ANYWAY … WE WON THE GOLD!!!!!!!!” I screamed incoherently. They nodded politely.
I refer to the athletes on a first-name basis like we’re old friends. I worry Simone can’t live up to all the expectations. I just hope Allyson’s ankle holds up. Claressa. Carli. Serena. Katie. Galen. Bernard. Ashton.
But on top of hoping my favorite stars are prepared for their various matches/games/races, there’s the perennial worry that the host city might not be prepared for what’s ahead. This year, those worries have been voiced loudly, and often. Stories about athlete kidnappings and body parts washing up on shore aren’t really helping.
I reached out to our old pal Will Carless, who’s now a reporter living in Rio, about what he’s observed so far, and why he doubts some of the hysteria over the Zika virus, another concern leading up to the Games.
Are there any concerns or issues about Rio’s preparedness to host the Olympics that you don’t think have gotten enough attention?
No, not really, if anything I think too much attention has been placed on this. People seem to forget that once the crowds go home, millions of people will continue to live with the new infrastructure projects/stadiums etc., and with the taxpayer debt that built them. Rio state is broke and has had to take a bailout from the federal government to pay for extra security to keep tourists safe during the games. The Olympics has gone something like 15 times over-budget, and many of the promises, such as cleaning up the disgusting Guanabara Bay, just simply weren’t kept. I’d like to see more focus on the longstanding issues for the people that live here, rather than the party.
Do you think there are concerns or issues that have been overblown?
I remember during Sochi, when there were all the reports about terrible accommodation, social media and especially Twitter was full of these ridiculous and awful photos of how bad the accommodation was. With Rio, we’ve seen a lot of whining, but very little substantive proof of how bad things are. I would have thought if the (luxury) accommodation for athletes was that bad, we’d be seeing more photos of it. I think that’s a storm in a teacup.
One of the big concerns that has come up over the last year or so has been the Zika virus. You’ve been pretty outspoken on Twitter about questioning some of the popular understanding of Zika and what it does. Can you explain what it is you’re wary of?
I’m basically wary of the numbers. A lot of things don’t add up. It makes little sense that there has ONLY been a spike in microcephaly in the northeast of Brazil. What’s that about? There are hundreds of thousands of cases of Zika across multiple countries, so why aren’t we seeing spikes in microcephaly in places like Colombia, or even in different parts of Brazil? It doesn’t make sense. Plus, the government data on microcephaly in Brazil has been woeful from the start. Nobody involved in this believes it. We don’t even know if microcephaly truly spiked in Northeast Brazil. If you think about that for a moment, it’s crazy! People are freaking out across the planet, but the very thing that is at the source of all that freaking out may not even be a problem. I believe there was an increase in microcephaly in Northeast Brazil. I’ve traveled there and spoken to doctors who saw a big increase in cases. But I’m not convinced that’s due solely to Zika. If you subtract the microcephaly thing from this, then Zika is a very, very benign virus. It’s really not a very scary illness at all. I’m pretty sure I had Zika earlier this year. Friends of mine have had it. It’s far less harmful than diseases like Dengue Fever (which nobody is talking about), which kills thousands of people every year. In sum, I think Zika is way overblown — a perfect storm of scary name, scary (possibly) linked symptoms and the storyline of the Olympics. I’m planning to stick on this story.
What’s your approach as a journalist to covering the games?
I don’t really attend press conferences. I prefer to sit back and analyze stuff and look for the stories behind the stories — what’s the real story here that I can do on day two once everybody’s moved on? I think Voice of San Diego taught me that — that it’s much better to chase the important backstory and come with it a little later than it is to break the news. Having said that, I’ll be getting out into the streets and going to protests and seeing whether Brazil’s “sleeping giant” reawakens, as it did in 2013, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets. I won’t be covering sports. I don’t know anything about the actual sports, and there will be hundreds of people here who do!
What VOSD Learned This Week
The national press has been quite glowing about San Diego’s landmark Climate Action Plan. Here at home, though, it’s clear that implementing the plan and reaching its goals will be quite a challenge.
The latest evidence: One of the key architects of the plan is threatening to sue over it. Nicole Capretz argues that environmental studies for four new community plan updates must be redone to prove they’re consistent with the plan.
The Navy’s new multimillion-dollar campus project on Coronado is bringing some big tensions with local residents to the surface.
Even laid-back beer bros need attorneys. Candace Moon has built her legal career by becoming “the craft beer attorney” – the person brewers in San Diego turn to for help with trademarks and other legal needs. But her own quest to trademark “craft beer attorney” has been an uphill climb.
The Padres don’t want the Chargers to leave, but they’ve got big problems with the team’s proposal to move in next door. The Padres are worried about parking, traffic and the Chargers’ desire to put large digital billboards on the outside of their new home that would be on until 2 a.m. every night.
The price tag on a plan to build a bypass bridge and parking garage in Balboa Park is going up. It could now cost as much as $75 million, up from $45 million when it was first approved four years ago.
The drought is easing up, and some water agencies are responding by lower their customers’ water rates. But that can lead to some confusing and contradictory incentives for residents.
What I’m Reading
• Speaking of the Olympics, why not hold events in multiple cities at once? (Wired)
• The life of a paramedic working on the border: Help everyone, and don’t ask questions. (California Sunday)
• This piece on the gender wage gap strikes a perfect balance – it’s full of statistics and deeply researched, but written and illustrated in a way that’s engaging and approachable. (Vox)
• I SOOOOOO prefer the Richard Shermans of the world to the Russell Wilsons – give me an athlete who will say something interesting, provocative and unexpected over someone who will speak in tightly controlled clichés. On that front, the Bennett brothers are a glorious gift from the heavens. (ESPN)
• This collection of tweets from a Republican national security expert is must-read and downright terrifying.
Line of the Week
“Relationships around the country are being tested by cargo shorts, loosely cut shorts with large pockets sewn onto the sides.” – From a story on the hero wives who try to save their husbands from themselves.