Well, it sounds like the Russians aren't exactly backing down. On Wednesday President Bush made statements demanding that "the sovereign and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," but today the Russians fired back with defiant statements, declaring that they are dedicated to supporting the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetian in their quest for independence. So it sounds to me like the Russians might be camped out in South Ossetia for awhile, despite demands for their withdrawal.
This whole thing is so confusing that it's honestly hard to tell who's in the right.
I have some sympathy for the Russians in wanting to lend protection to these separatists, whom the Russians seem to sort of relate to as some sort of subset of the Russian people. There's part of me that thinks that people ought to be just cut free and allowed to follow their own destiny if the people of that region have, as a whole, expressed a desire for independence.
On the other hand, the Russians weren't nearly as quick to support liberty and the desire for independence when Chechnya tried to break away from Russia as a separatist state back in 1999 (i.e., this turned into the Second Chechen War, as Russian troops successfully fought to suppress the Chechen separatist movement and put a stop to the Chechen drive for independence). This move to sternly suppress the separatist movement in Chechnya (without much apparent concern for the will of the people living within Chechnya) sort of lends itself to a serious questioning of the Russians' motives in their dealings with the separatists in Georgia. It seems a bit hypocritical for the Russians to profess so much concern at this point for the independence seeking people of South Ossetia when Russia recently demonstrated how little concern it had for the wishes of the independence-seeking people of Chechnya. It also seems a little crazy that the Russians are taking such a strong stand in demanding that Georgia give up these separatist regions when Russia was so resolutely unwilling to give up any territory of its own while dealing with Chechnya.
So I think that in actuality the whole thing is really just a border/territory dispute and a sort of power grab by the Russians. But who knows? They seem to really feel some sort of affinity for those South Ossetians. But I'm very skeptical.
What else? Well, in terms of the Olympics, at the moment the U.S. is only one medal behind China in the medal count, but China has about 22 gold medals to our 10. I guess it's pretty hard to compete with a country that has state-funded training programs for athletes who single-mindedly train to achieve national sports glory from the time that they're like 3 or 4 years old (I even heard someone on a radio talk show last night saying that the Chinese engage in state-planned marriage and breeding programs to produce better athletes, but this radio guy sounded like he a touch of the conspiracy nut about him. Still, having seen photos of China's monstrous, government-run athletic training facilities, the idea of China breeding people to be athletes doesn't seem absolutely impossible).
Anyway, our country may not have government-sponsored Olympian farms, but we have small armies of half crazy athlete parents who can get pretty fanatical in their own right (I remember this little girl who lived behind us in Houston when I was a kid who trained at Bela Karolyi's gym. She woould miss school to go to meets all the time, trained all day and all night, 7 days a week, and she was never allowed to eat a cheeseburger. She was in about second grade). There's a certain tendency to want to get caught up in the madness of competition, but at some point we've just got to let it go and do the best with the system we've got. I just don't think we should try to compete with a government athletics system like China has. It creates athletes who are sort of warped as people, and a nation which somehow equates winning medals with domination and national self-esteem.
It's fun to see American athletes do well at the games, of course, but we need to keep the whole thing in perspective, and the images of the endless scores of fungible Chinese athletes whiling away countless practice hours in their state-sponsored practice facilities (engaged in what's probably state-mandated practice) sort of makes me realize exactly what it means to have too much of a good thing. When the desire to win kills the joy of competition, one can't help but begin to ask, "Why compete in the first place?"
Anyhoo, I'm still rooting for our athletes, but now, more than ever, I'm rooting for them to enjoy their moment in the spotlight, to cherish their Beijing experiences, to set a world class example in terms of sportsmanship and grace, and most of all, to have some fun.