China steps up efforts on Ecology

Not a Plastic BagChina bans free bags! In a second post (“Getting rid of Plastic Bags” May 2007) on the topic, I read in the Herald Tribune with a mixture of satisfaction and curiosity about China’s intended policy to ban the giving out of free plastic bags in shops (effective June 1 2008). What caught my eye in a Figaro article (Jan 10, 2008 Economie section) on the same subject, was that China evaluates its plastic bag consumption at (“at least”) 1.75 billion per year. With some rough maths, that means that each Chinese person uses less than 1 1/2 plastic bags per year. Either the Chinese are adept at reusing those flimsy bags China Going Green?(because they buy so little?), or that is a somewhat understated consumption number. Judging by this photo (from AFP) in Beijing, there may be room on the upside.

Per the site, Clean Green Bag, the USA uses 100 billion plastic bags in a year. For frame of reference via Inhabitat, “Australians currently use about 6 billion plastic bags a year, with an average use of about 16 bags per person per week.”

From another Inhabitat post, I garnered these facts: there are 4 to 5 trillion
non-degradable plastic bags used worldwide annually. 430,000 gallons of oil are needed to produce 100 million non-degradable plastic bags. And, from an MSNBC article, I quote the following “The Sierra Club estimated that if every one of New York City’s 8 million people used one less grocery bag per year, it would reduce waste by about 5 million pounds.”

It should be noted that the plastic bag ban in China goes into effect just before the Olympic Games in Beijing… Good timing!

If you want to do an “ecology” tour in China, that is also available… But don’t expect to visit their landfills or meet with the Ecology Minister… It’s more about a pleasant visit of the China wildlife and fauna.

Yet, for having banned plastic bags, there remains the question of the paper (as in from trees) bags. Action is needed on that front too. For the best solution, bring your own canvas bag (see here for Yahoo answer from NZ). And for more informative solution, read here via Clean Green Bag Alternatives.

The China ban is following in the footsteps of many countries or cities around the world, including Melbourne, Israel, Bangladesh, South Africa, Ireland and even 30 towns in Alaska. Last year, San Francisco went one step better than the levying of a fee for plastic bags by banning them altogether. In so doing, SF is setting the trend for the US. Read more here via TreeHugger.

For more viewing on the topic, check out the Plastic Bag exhibit that was staged in London. See here courtesy of Inhabitat. And here I found a great Green Glossary, from Green is Universal blog, courtesy of NBC.

Springboks’ De Villiers as Coach

Springboks LogoPeter de Villiers Springboks CoachAnother move for equality

Peter de Villiers has been named as the first black coach of the rugby union world champions South African Spingboks. Coming on the heels of the World Cup victory (in October 2007), this is quite a move. And, after just having posted about Norway’s historic move to increase the presence of women on corporate boards, this news from South Africa represents another very strong statement in creating an equitable world. I add a prior post about Cheeky Watson for some background context for RSA rugby.

A controversial decision

Currently the successful coach of the Springboks’ under-21, Peter de Villiers (right courtesy of Getty Images) takes over from Jake White, who led the Springboks to victory in the World Cup. Jack White, whose contract expired at the end of 2007, goes out with the highest distinction, although on an acrimonious ending (dispute with the SARU). That de Villiers led the under-21s to the IRB world title in 2005 is certainly a worthy achievement. He also produced a third place finish in 2004, a second-place finish to the hosts in France in 2006 and, last year, coached the Emerging Springbok side to the IRB Nations Cup title in Romania. All very good results. Nonetheless, the decision to select de Villiers trumped a vote of 77% by the South African Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) in favor of the acclaimed Pretoria Bulls Super 14 coach, Heyneke Meyer, raised eyebrows. It is worth noting that of the two other candidates, there was also Chester Williams, a black Springboks’ winger who participated in the Boks’ 1995 RWC victory.

Rugby Reasons

Being upfront about the political nature of the appointment, South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins said in a press conference, “I want to be honest with South Africa and say that the appointment was not entirely made for rugby reasons.” As the UK Times says, de Villiers’ request to fans to look beyond the colour of his skin was undermined by Hoskins, when he said that race had been a determining factor. We’ll have to see how the governing organizations get behind him.

Certainly, given the lopsided presence of white players in the national rugby team, it is time that RSA rugby reflected and took advantage of the great pool of athletes from their entire population. De Villiers has created history by becoming the first black person in the role. I hope that he is able to produce good results — it is hard yet to imagine that RSA will replicate in 2011 its IRB World Cup. That said, de Villiers’ contract is only for two years! I will be curious to see if/how he includes Cheeky Watson’s son, Luke Watson, in the Springboks team.

In any event, I salute the decision and wish the Springboks success with this landmark decision.

Others blogging on the topic, although I notice a dearth of personal commentary outside of the RSA blogs:

KEO.CO.ZA – the official online partner to SA Rugby (and Cricket) – tons of threads including:
De Villiers wants Meyer in the mix
The Return of Quotas
Ou Grote (South African Rugby News)
Rugby Heaven (NZ rugby blog)
22 Drop-Out
Bruin Developement Forum

News articles on the appointment:
BBC report
ABC from Australia
Scrum
UK Times on Line

Rugby World Cup 2011 – Still 20 Teams

Rugby World Cup RWCI wrote right after the Rugby World Cup that there were likely to be many changes needed to the rules and regulations for the 2011 RWC in New Zealand. Among the proposals was the notion that the field should be reduced from 20 to 16. Personally, I was in favor of this idea. It would have meant that the competitivity of the matches, on balance, would have risen. It would have meant that certain teams would not “waste” themselves in irrelevant pool games. This BBC report explains the decision to stay at 20 teams (see also IRB.com report). The article cites the following “performance” of the minnows:

“Fiji defeated Wales to reach the last eight and were level at 20-20 with South Africa after an hour of their quarter-final, while Georgia came within four points of defeating Ireland in their pool game.”

I believe that Fiji’s beating Wales or nearly beating Ireland is not exactly “giant killing” stuff. The 20-20 halfway score of Fiji against South Africa, like many other half-time scores was not representative of the match nor the final score. BTW, the final score for RSA v Fiji was 37-20. And I’d rather point to Japan’s performance against Fiji (losing 31-35). Fiji has a stronger tradition of playing rugby than many of the other minnows… How about the twelve matches where more than 50 points were scored on an opponent, or the sixteen (out of 40 total pool) matches with a 30 point difference?

And, not to belittle the Puma performance in the 2007 RWC by any means, the other quote from the BBC article, below, is borderline tautology:

“The forum also agreed that Argentina’s future lies in the southern hemisphere, ruling out the possibility of the Pumas, who finished third at the World Cup, joining the Six Nations.”

Clearly, politics and money are as much involved as any rational justifications. Perhaps there were some unknown binding promises and some people who needed to justify the large investments made to upgrade the international level of rugby. In any event, I have to hope that the changes in the regulations are more soundly reviewed. (Plan 2011 here!)

Rugby values multi-cultural – RWC 2007 commentary

rugby's mission valuesmulticultural valuesRugby values are truly multi-cultural if they can cross the Channel. I was enthralled by a couple of articles written in the “Coupe du Monde — Plantète Rugby” magazine by Le Nouvel Observateur (the article is no longer available on line). Even though it was published in early September, it is still worth a read. Unfortunately, the articles are written in French and I’m afraid that Google Translator just does not do them justice. But it’s a great chance to practice your French if you’re up for the task.

The first is by Jacques Julliard, Editorial Writer at Nouvel Obs: La Balle Au Coeur

Mr Julliard starts off by refering to the ceremony after someone scores in football (mad adulation) as compared to rugby (tap on the back). He writes about rugby’s down-to-earth humour (after steamrolling a team with 77 points, the remarkable Ricahrd Astre, the Béziers captain said: “they just didn’t have the same strong points as us.” He writes about the true nature of teamwork whereby, because of the rule no forward passing, every team member knows that he must get behind the man with the ball…in every sense of the word. And that the ball is always carried close to the heart.

I include the comment I deposited on Mr Julliard’s article translated into English:

“As a rugby player brought up in England, I found your article a real pleasure. Indeed, I entirely share your views with two qualifications. The first is that rugby is not in fact the only game to carry the ball close to the heart. One should not forget the cousin games (American Football, Aussie Rules Football …). Secondly, what captivate me in rugby are the lessons for life. Your first paragraph grabbed my attention. The role of the three quarters is to score a try. Thus, he is only fulfilling his role to do so, just as when the hooker heels the ball back. To that end, everyone should know their role and respect the role of others. This is a game where we find a real esprit de corps—however much the body (‘corps’) is thrown around, the spirit remains. A good leader on a rugby field is much like a great leader in times on the battlefield. The truth is transmitted by the eyes, by example and by humility. Insofar as rugby is a ‘sport’ still amateur in terms of pay (unlike football), the players generally are more educated and are able to exercise a profession after (or even during) their careers (I pay tribute for example to the magnificent Dr. JPR Williams from Wales).

Fabien GalthiéThe second article from the Nouvel Obs magazine is by Fabien Galthié, former captain of the French national team: Le jeu des Sept Contraires. In his piece, Galthié refers to the game of rugby as a game of contrasts, between going forward and passing backwards (many not familiar with the game find the way the backs line up so far behind the scrum bizarre), the effort of the team and the specific roles of the individual (different from American football where everyone plays in both offense and defense). But it is the seventh point that I enjoyed the most: the aggressivity on the field, and the passivity of the spectators. At the Argentina versus South Africa RWC semi-final to which I went last Sunday (hearty thanks to Lloyd in Seattle), I heard at numerous occasions the Springbok fans behind me compliment a Puma player or an Argentine action. Attractive spectatorship.

For my last point on Galthié’s article, I will give you the link to the automatic (read dumb) translation of the article which you are offered in the links under it and which merely has comic value… I note that the French national team, commonly referred to in French as “Les Bleus” is reduced to “overalls” in the translation. And essence of the game is translated as gasoline… (yes, it means that too).

As for a third link of interest on the good values of rugby, I would also like to note Denis Charvet’s blog Denis Charvet(and specifically guide those of you francophones to the post Seven Minutes) where Denis valiantly stands up for the game of Rugby after the French defeat and I noted the sad reduction in the comments that follow. In those comments, sometimes you can detect the true rugby players and those that like to sit on the couch. What I liked was Denis’ comments about how both teams (England and France) came together after the emotional battle in a show of classy sportsmanship.

And, one final fun twist of fate : rugby as fashion statement. As I began the article, rugby’s values are able to cross the Channel. They also enter into the value-added Chanel. Yes, it’s hard to conceive, but Chanel has come out with a rugby ball for 130 euros (blogged by Chic Shopping; but you can only order the ball from the parent company). Several other brands (other than Ralph Lauren and Eden Park) have also inspired themselves from rugby collateral and uniforms. I cite: Santoni’s special RWC shoes for 1500 euros with crocodile skin and suede [couldn’t find a photo for you, but you’ll have to imagine it].

RWC 2007 Pools Starting to Dry Up

The Tongan “close call” against the Springboks was another exciting game up to the half, with South Africa leading 7-3 in a parsimonious affair. Then, a breakthrough from Tonga that saw them leading 10-7. The South Africans brought in some first stringers to bring the game back toward a more normalized outcome and, after charging up a 25-10 lead, the Tongans battled back and the nail biter was finally settled at 30-25 in favour of the Springboks with a flurry of scoring and sin bins in the last twenty minutes (see BBC report or RWC official report on the RSA v Tonga match).Meanwhile, England, guided by Wilkinson’s 24 point performance, saw off the Samoans 44-22 (BBC report), gaining a bonus point in the nick of time to offset the Tongan bonus point. The net of these two outcomes will be a fabulous showdown between Tonga and England on the 28th in Paris. I suspect this one to be a thriller. The other match of interest will be between Scotland and Italy.

Others blogging on the matches:
The Rugby World Cup : Tonga v RSA, arguably the best game thus far…
Scrumbag writeup
The Roar (from down under): one of the great rugby games…
Rugby World Cup blog (short in content)

Cheeky Watson – Politically Correct Rugby

RSA Rugby - Without Cheeky Watson?Thought I’d share with you, in brief, the story of Cheeky Watson, 53, a South African rugby star who turned down playing in the (senior) Springboks as part of an anti-apartheid protest. It was 1976, the year of the Soweto uprising and the beginning of the anti-apartheid movement. Rather than join the Springboks, Cheeky Watson, along with his brother Valence, opted to play for Kwa-ru, a rugby team in the township of Kwazakhele. He affiliated himself with the ANC and South Africa’s Communist Party. Threatened with arrest by the Minister of Sports and death threats from others, Cheeky played on despite the huge impact to him and his family. Their house was burned down in 1986. Cheeky retired from rugby in 1991 without ever playing for the Springboks.

As recently as May 2007, Cheeky’s legacy and controversy continues in the form of his Stormer Super 14 star son, Luke, who was “pushed” into the Springbok’s roster by the SARU President, against the coach’s wishes. Story from the Independent Online. After this incident, Luke was finally given his first cap for the Springboks in June, playing against Samoa, but was injured in the contest and, nursing nagging injuries, was excluded from the RWC roster. Cheeky has chosen not to support the Boks in RWC 2007.

Blogs refering to Cheeky’s ongoing presence…in sports and South African politics
This is a religion… Survey says 70% of blacks in RSA now support the Boks
Cheeky snubs Boks
S*** and Other Unpleasant Stuff
South Africa Foreign Policy Blog

England Rose wilts vs RSA, Rugby World Cup 2007

Last night’s 36-0 lambasting of England versus South Africa, in part, confirms England’s diminished performance against the US. It also reconfirmed the Southern Hemisphere’s general primacy. Even if it is early days in the tournament, one gets the suspicion that NZ, Australia and RSA are destined to get to the semi-finals. What minnow will join them? RWC Report and a good writeup from ruggerblogger.

Nothing like rubbing one’s nose in it, but I found this unfortunate quote from Brian Ashton, Britain’s coach, right after the outing against the US (anemic 28-10 victory) last week: “It’s a win after all…. Next Friday [against the Springboks] will be different… I suspect mentally there’s a bit of work to do, but playing against the Green and Gold of the Springboks sharpens the senses.” Plant Rugby. And, to be sure, it was different. It was a loss.

A few comments come to mind:

– England: Welcome to The Wallabies (in the quarter finals).

– Kicking can be fatal. The Springboks found touch on the fly or by the bounce (outside the 22) with remarkable finesse. The emblematic, off the outside of the left foot by the dapper #15, Percy Montgomery (no relation I’m afraid*), was a point in case. The Argentine up-and-unders, another part of the kicking game, were equally disarming against the French. And, of course, we haven’t seen the full importance of the drop kick or penalty kicks — the games have, by and large, been very lopsided.

– It is not enough to do “well.” Winning the ball from a set play doesn’t suffice; it is how clean and quickly it is won. Tackling isn’t enough; stripping the ball on the tackle is the ambition [feels like the influence of American Football]. Giving a booming up-and-under and not being all over the opposing player catching the ball is totally insufficient.

– Despite scoring 36 points, RSA only notched 3 tries, thereby missing a bonus point. This would seem to demonstrate how hard it is to score 4 tries in a match (between legitimate rivals).

There are fortunately a few other interesting pool ties ahead, notably France v Ireland (Sep 21), Ireland v Argentina (Sep 30) and NZ v Scotland (Sep 23). And, given the way Georgia gave Ireland a run for its money, Georgia v France (also Sep 30) could also be fun to watch in the dangerous D pool.

* Montgomery is my uncle’s name, and my son’s middle name.

Will Live Earth encourage the sports world to go green?

The greening of sports

In the aftermath of Live Earth 7.7.07, it struck me that the sporting world could also take up the green cause in a more formal fashion. Live Earth apparently attracted an audience of 2 billion people. [As an aside, I would like to see some of the performers be greater role models in their personal lives.] The World Cup of Rugby 2007 in France, the Super Bowl (every year in the US) and the Football (aka Soccer) World Cup 2010 in South Africa would be great platforms to showcase that they care more than just the turf on which they play. Considering all the money involved in sports and the status symbols and opinion leaders that sports heroes represent, they certainly would have their fans’ ears. And they have the merit of a worldwide scope. I shudder to think of the impact on golf courses and the amount of water needed to sprinkle the greens. What about Formula One getting a dose of diesel?

Green Olympics

In an effort to find a down-to-earth incentive — beyond common sense — for the sports world to take up the mantle, it seems that, if the trends continue, the number of rained out games, parched grounds, melted ice rinks and so on will on increase, causing havoc to the schedulers not to mention ticket sales. In the anticipated climate changes, sports equipment will have to be adapted. Conditioning will be dramatically impacted as players will need to contend with enormous swings in temperatures. Stadiums will need to be adjusted to include air conditioning in the summer. This will all mean less dollars and cents for the owners. Not good business. So, should we not be seeing an Earth Fit 8.8.08 or a Green Dream Team as part of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing? It would be a great message if China, which along with the US are the two countries most responsible for carbon dioxide emissions, were to take up the cause more publicly. Politics and sports have a natural cause in this regard. I would like to showcase this site that seems to have taken the (China, speaking of the Olympics) bull by the horns: www.ecologysports.com.

The Green Dream Team

A potential Green Dream Team of sports figureheads could ally themselves across a number of sports. On the one hand, the sponsors of individuals could find the marriage of performance and the eco-cause of value. If Roger Federer chose to take on the campaign, Nike, Wilson (racket) and Rolex might all benefit. Among tennis’ former stars, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova have already joined in the cause for clean water by being ambassadors for the (one of its originators is Johan Kriek). Maybe a quorum of past & present already in the making?

Another sport that needs to look the effects of the climate change directly in the face is skiing where, in the past season alone, there were seven World Cup events were entirely canceled for a lack of snow. In an icy cool show of support, there is news (from the BBC) of the 1km swim by the courageous Lewis Pugh in the Arctic, a sad statement that such a swim is even possible. And then there is my US hometown, Philadelphia, whose sports teams I all support (especially the bottom of the barrel in ’07 Flyers). The Philadelphia Eagles have made a happy marriage with the firey slogan “Go Green.” They are certainly setting a very good example as they have also officially joined the Stop Global Warming March.

In short, there are many people beginning to get on the bandwagon, but let’s push it up another notch and reach for the visibility that Live Earth achieved, but with another audience.

Getting rid of plastic shopping bags


When in Nice on holidays, I gladly paid 5 cents at the Monaco Carrefour for a plastic shopping bag. Upon researching the topic, there are apparently between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags used every year by consumers worldwide. I am glad to see that San Francisco has recently actually outlawed plastic bags. They claim that this move will reduce oil consumption by 800,000 gallons a year. Wow. Imagine if the entire US followed suit. Aside from the fouling of cityscapes (trees) and clogging up landfills, plastic bags are an expense for companies (“price of doing business) without providing much good(will) advertising. However, swapping plastic for paper bags is not the answer. People should be encouraged/forced to bring their own reusable bags. Plastic bags are basically bad for economics, much less ecology. When we bring home a plastic bag, we systematically re-use the plastic bags in our kitchen poubelle (garbage). But that is truly not enough. Paying for plastic bags is a minimum. If a country such as Taiwan is doing so (also Ireland), then surely this should be more commonplace in the US and Europe. Plastic bags are banned in South Africa, Rwanda, Bhutan and Bangladesh (because of blocking drains during flooding). Paris is banning plastic bags by the end of 2007 with the rest of France in 2010. The US should follow the French example.