Friday, October 02, 2009

Ali: Visiting the U.S. can be a harrowing experience

A news agency, reporting on the Olympic bid, included the following:

An uncomfortable moment for Chicago came when an IOC member from Pakistan, Syed Shahid Ali, noted that going through U.S. customs can be harrowing for foreigners.

The remark has been taken down before I could track its origin, but it is, I think, the explanation for Chicago's embarrassment.

I just blogged a few hours ago about this moment (here), I thought Obama clinched the nomination with his words of reassurance. But the fact remained that visiting the U.S., with the hurdles of going through and ever more byzantine and medieval process to get a visa, obnoxious and intrusive security checks at customs, measures such as not carrying liquids that are obviously mere security theater, and in general dealing with the ugliest arrogance which which this (otherwise) great country sometimes treats the rest of the world, turned into such a repulsive experience that the IOC Committee members would rather have the tourists be robbed at Rio de Janeiro.

Overkill -- "America at its best"

"America at its best": Those where the capital words by President Obama at Copenhagen.

The circumstances where one of the last questions from the members of the selective committee, just after a question about what would be the legacy of the Olympic Games in Chicago, that question was answered, and then Mr. Ali asked something along the lines that it is notorious that sometimes the United States treats harshly some visitors [ I understood that to encompass everything from visa paperwork months before a visit to the intrusive searches by customs and TSA officials, among others ] and that how are the authorities going to cope with an influx of millions of visitors. To that, there was an answer by one of the presenters to reassure Mr. Ali that the organizing committee already has the full cooperation of the agencies of the federal government involved, but Mr. Obama wanted to add something. Obama said that one of the things that he wants to make sure about the legacy of the Olympic Games in Chicago is for the world to see America at its best. He followed with a few remarks on the sense that Chicago looks like the world, that we have people from all over, and that will help them feel welcome; and that they will work to make sure the world gets to know that America at its best is open to the world and will make feel people welcome.

Then, an odd moment of silence ensued, the silence of people thinking right after great words have been said. And a round of applause for the President followed. Then the announcer said that there were no more questions.

I think the President "clinched" the deal right then and there, not just decisively, but overkill. The few minutes I watched made me thought that the people there had proved the proposition that the Olympic Games at Chicago will be more than great, they will be memorable.

At this point (3:15 am Chicago's time) I fail to even imagine how Rio de Janeiro would top that.