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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:00 pm

Controlympics: Schadenfreude Medals (#4 of 4)


We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners, the losers, and winners who in fact lost.

Now it’s time for the medal winners in the schadenfreude competition.  These are the top three moments where an individual or country did something bad that made people feel good.

Bronze:  The French 4×100 men’s freestyle relay team. Before the race, the French team trash-talked, suggesting they would crush an American team that included Michael Phelps.  After 350m, the French had nearly a body length lead and Alain Bernard, the world-record holder in the 100m freestyle, in the pool.  And Jason Lezak somehow caught him.  After the race, the French looked like they had been hit by a truck.

Silver:  American swimmer Amanda Beard. After posing nude for a PETA protest against the Chinese export of fur, Beard failed to make the finals in any of her races.  And along the way, 41-year-old Dara Torres took away her title as America’s hottest swimmer.

Gold:  former Cuban President Fidel Castro. When the Cuban Olympic team did not meet expectations — and a Cuban taekwondo athlete kicked a refugee referee in the face after being disqualified from a bronze medal match — Castro managed to blame corporate interests, the mafia, European chavinism, dirty referees (including the one who got kicked in the face), the United States — basically everyone already on his enemies list.  He also preemptively attacked officials at the 2012 games, in the apparent assumption that Cuba would not perform well there either.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:00 pm

Controlympics: Winners Who Lost (#3 of 4)


We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners and the losers.  Now let’s take a look at winners who in fact lost.

1.  Chinese women’s gymnastics team — nobody believes they were all sixteen years old.  Not even the Chinese.  They may have won gold, and the Chinese may have avoided a scandal as a result of forged documents, but the reality is that sooner or later, someone will talk.

2.  Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh — the American bikini-clad, gold medal-winning women’s beach volleyball team may have been the ugliest winners in the entire Olympics.  And May-Treanor’s “slap my butt” antics with President Bush set back both the sport and America’s image.

3. Russia — Russian athletes came in third in terms of total number of medals won.  After the invasion of Georgia, however, nobody wanted them to win anything.  And at one point in the Games, Georgia had as many gold medals as Russia.  In addition, Russia’s hosting of the winter games at Sochi in 2014 may be at risk, given their location only fifteen miles from the Russia-Georgia border.

4.  Zhang Yimou — the director of the the Opening and Closing ceremonies actually praised the “precision” of North Korean performers and dissed the New York Metropolitan Opera as whiners.  He also ignored his own history — as a victim of the Cultural Revolution — to suck up to the Chinese leadership and produce massive extravaganzas without any consideration of the resultant human cost.

5.  London 2012 — they may have the next games, but they have to follow what was (setting aside, for the moment, human rights abuses and other problems) the best-organized Games ever.  And the London contribution to the Closing Ceremonies was beyond bad.

Next up:  the medal winners in the Schadenfreude competition.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:00 pm

Controlympics: Losers (#2 of 4)


We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners.  Now let’s take a look at the losers.

1.  Human rights — the Chinese did everything they could to stifle dissent, and with the exception of a few brave Chinese and Westerners, they succeeded — so much so that they even managed to prevent any protests in the officially managed protest zones.  In the process, they also silenced and/or arrested hundreds if not thousands of dissidents; shipped tens of thousands of migrants and homeless out of Beijing; and perhaps most depressingly, created new electronic surveillance systems that give them the ability to shut down dissent before it starts.

2. Western media — with a few exceptions, the Western media mindlessly bought what the Chinese were selling.  And there was no bigger culprit than NBC, whose commentators (with the notable exception of Bob Costas) often sounded like apologists.  Worst of the worst:  Joshua Cooper-Ramo at the opening and closing ceremonies and Mary Carillo’s insipid travelogues.

3.  Chinese athletes — for all their victories, Chinese athletes didn’t look like they were having much fun.  The pressure to win was so great that it seemed to suck all the joy out of their participation.  There were exceptions, of course, but all too often we saw images of Chinese athletes looking like their lives had ended after failing to win gold.  Best example of this:  Chinese diver Zhou Luxin, who lost to Australian Matthew Mitcham on the last dive of the 10m platform competition.

4.  International Olympic Committee — for seven years, we’ve heard how the Olympics were going to open up China.  When it became clear that wasn’t the case, the IOC fell back on the old trope of the Olympics being above politics.  And when that didn’t work, they tried to change the subject.  From his blather before the games that he couldn’t talk about human rights to his criticism of Usain Bolt to his complicity in the cover-up of the Chinese gymnastic team age scandal, Jacques Rogge looked even worse.

5.  George W. Bush — while Russia invaded Georgia, he was playing hide the volleyball with Misty May-Traenor and Kerri Walsh.  Given his subsequent rhetoric about the conflict, he sure took his sweet time getting back to the States.

Next up:  winners who lost.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: Winners (#1 of 4)


Most of you already have forgotten all about the Olympics, but here at Undip, we already have London 2012 fever!  After all, who doesn’t want to see Jimmy Page balance his guitar on top of his walker while some eighteen-year-old in go-go boots mangles Whole Lotta Love?

Oh wait — that already happened.

All kidding aside, I’d like to share a few final thoughts on what arguably were the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. First, let’s take a look at the winners.

1.  The Chinese government. Like it or not, the ChiComs pulled it off.  It was, in many ways, a spectacular show.  Despite some problems, embarrassments, and even a few unscripted moments, the Olympics that Hu Jintao and company wanted were the Olympics they got.  And most of the world bought their message hook, line, and sinker.

2.  Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter not only captured three golds, but he managed to make Jacques Rogge cranky.  That alone made it a good Olympics.  Bolt looked particularly good when, a day after Rogge whined about his “antics,” a Cuban taekwondo athlete kicked an athlete in the face — and Bolt donated $50,000 of his prize money to earthquake relief as a “thank you to the Chinese people.”

3.  Michael Phelps (and his mom). Put it this way:  the Intertubes are still buzzing about the 100m fly.  Debbie Phelps will be the unexpected breakout star of the Olympics.

4.  Clean air. Does it matter whether the Chinese got lucky (rain at just the right moments) or actually knew what they were doing?  In the end, the pollution became a non-story.  And athletes who acted like it mattered — the American cyclists showing up in masks, the Ethiopian marathoner who passed on competing — looked foolish.

5.  Lopez Lomong. The Sudanese lost boy turned American flag bearer may not have won his race, but he had a gold medal moment.  Kudos as well to the American athletes who chose him for the job.

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26 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Controlympics: All Those Other Sports


I know the Olympics ended two days ago, but with the DNC going on, and constant McCain’s annoyances, I still haven’t had a chance to put together a few wrap up observations.  Let me start with two links.

If you aren’t familiar with The Boston Globe’s The Big Picture, do yourself a favor and check it out.  They have a great photo essay up right now on the Olympics, highlighting all those sports that NBC pretended didn’t exist.

Second, check out Thomas Boswell’s column yesterday in The Washington Post-dated.  It may be the best summary of why the Olympics left a bad taste in my mouth (and in many others’):  Here’s a sample, but make sure to read the whole thing.

All day long, every 20 minutes (to the split second), hundreds of buses run back and forth from media hotels to the Olympic venues. There’s even a special “Olympic lane” for all official traffic to the Games. Because the Chinese are obsessed with appearing efficient, the number, size and frequency of buses comically exceed the need. I often had a bus to myself.

However, I can barely believe what I saw Saturday when, by accident, I had to return to my hotel at 1 p.m., when almost no reporter has reason to leave the Olympics. Several football fields full of buses all pulled out simultaneously, headed to hotels all over Beijing, theoretically transporting media.

But I was the only rider on any bus I saw. Dozens were empty.

They still made their runs. They still wasted fuel. They still clogged traffic. But nobody, in an activity as state-controlled and Communist Party-scrutinized as these Olympics, would deviate from the original plan, no matter how stupid it might be.

In decades at The Post, this is the first event I’ve covered at which I was certain that the main point of the exercise was to co-opt the Western media, including NBC, with a splendidly pretty, sparsely attended, completely controlled sports event inside a quasi-military compound. We had little alternative but to be a conduit for happy-Olympics, progressive-China propaganda. I suspect it worked.

Everything that met my eye at every venue was perfect. Everybody smiled. Everybody pretended to speak English. Until you got past “hello.” Everyone was helpful until you went one inch past where you were supposed to go. Then, arms sprang out to stop you. . . . As sports spectacles go, I’ve never seen one more efficiently or soullessly executed than this one. I have no idea where they put the real people for 17 days, but I felt like Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show.”

More later on the winners, losers, winners who actually were losers, and what I like to call the schadenfreude awards.

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25 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Controlympics: China Deports Westerners


The BBC is reporting that China has released the Westerners detained for protesting during the Olympics:

China has deported eight Americans detained in Beijing last week for demonstrating about Tibet during the Olympic Games. The eight left China on Sunday while the closing ceremony was taking place after American officials pressed for them to be released.

The eight should be thankful:  they were spared the horror of actually having to watch the closing ceremony.

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24 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:47 pm

Controlympics: Tape-Delayed Blogging the Closing Ceremonies


Hey boys and girls, it’s time for the Closing Ceremonies!  You know, the ones that actually took place 12 hours ago!  The ones that NBC wouldn’t let you see until now!  And I’m here to give you tape-delayed play by play.

Let me admit up front that this is going to be pretty snarky.  If you’re looking serious analysis, go elsewhere.

Oh goody.  Comrade Joshua (Joshua Cooper-Ramo) is back.  NBC hasn’t even started showing the damn thing and I already want to hurl.  (For those who missed my tape-delayed blogging of the opening ceremonies, Comrade Joshua is a paid shill of the ChiComs er, I mean, a partner in the Beijing office of Kissinger Associates.  Oh wait — there’s no difference between the two, is there?)

Another massive fireworks display.  This one looks less like Triumph of the Will and more like CNN’s coverage of the first night of the Persian Gulf War.  I’m pretty sure that’s not what the ChiComs were going for.

The three stooges were just introduced:  Hu “Is Lying Now” Juntao, Juan Antonio “More of the” Samarach, and Gordon “I Will Have Trouble Getting Tickets to the London Games” Brown.

They’ve got Chinese in ethnic costumes again.  This time, it’s adults.  I wonder if they’re all Han Chinese again?

Something tells me that NBC is milking this for all they’ve got.  I think the first commercial break ran for something like 45 minutes.

Is it my imagination or do the drummers look like Iron Man wearing bike helmets?  Were they afraid they’d get conked by the guys bin the row behind them? Wait, they’re not just bike helmets — they’re bike helmets painted with gold glitter paint!

Molly just said that they guys hovering over the stadium look like they’re playing giant Gouda cheeses.  And why are the women dressed like Aztecs covered with glow brights?

I’m sorry, but that first piece looked like the North Korean version of cell mitosis.  At least the opening ceremonies made sense.  I mean this is so weird that even Comrade Joshua doesn’t have anything clever and butt-kissing to say.

Whoopsie — spoke too soon.  Apparently Comrade Joshua thinks that this is a representation of what Chinese philosophy will have to say in the future.  Uh, okaaay.

Have to say the guys on the giant unicycles are pretty cool.

Okay something looking like a giant white sperm just plunged into the big cell in the middle.  I’m telling you, it’s like a cross between Cirque de Soleil and your 8th grade sex ed class.

Terminator 6:  Arnold battles the cyborg pogo stick clones

I would not want to be the guys hanging off the underside of the gouda cheeses.

Time for another 206 minute commercial break.

Here come the athletes.  I wonder if NBC will show anyone other than the Americans, Europeans, Chinese, and Australians?  Maybe the Jamaicans.

Comrade Joshua is blathering again about harmony.  It’s like the reverse of It’s a Wonderful Life:  every time Comrade Joshua talks about harmony, another human rights activist gets thrown in jail.

Now he’s moanaing about how great the Chinese sports system is.  Now he’s calling the athletes an engineering project.  Nice analogy you twit.

I didn’t know they had found a way to miniaturize Shawn Johnson.

The third biggest star of the Games, behind Michel Phelps and Usain Bolt?  Michael Phelps’s mom.  I liked her new commercial, even though it’s sappy.

Once again, all happy and sappy commercials — until John McCain shows up, sounding like the grumpy uncle who can never enjoy the family picnic.

I wonder if they’re showing all of this on the big screens at the three protest zones. Heh.

Best parts of this are the replays of the best moments of the Games:  4×100 freestyle relay, Phelps’s amazing win in the 100 butterfly, Usain Bolt in the 100.  Still waiting for the Cuban guy kicking the ref in the face and the two little old Chinese women being sentenced to one year each in a reeducation through labor camp for attempting to organize a protest.

You want to know just how tape delayed this is?  Last night, NBC showed the tape delayed results of the men’s marathon.  Tonight, they’re showing that event’s medal ceremony, as it’s part of the closing ceremonies.  That’s not tape delayed, that’s the History Channel.

Sorry, but the kids escorting the athletes are really, really creepy looking.  I think they welded the smiles on their faces.

Comrade Joshua is talking about how all the volunteers spent a year getting ready.  Not to make light of the contributions of the volunteers, but reports of children spending twelve hour days after school each day practicing doesn’t sound to me like volunteerism.  As Zhang Yimou, who directed both the opening and closing ceremonies noted, “uniformity can bring beauty.”  Of course it also brings pain, nervous breakdowns, and a range of other maladies.

Now Joshua is talking about how great everything went.

Here comes Jacques “the slime-sucking, lying dillweed” Rogge.  He thanks the people of China and says these were sixteen days we will cherish forever.  Except the people thrown in jail, of course.

A choir is singing “God Save the Queen.”  In China.  So much for communism.

They’re lowering the Olympic flag, and you can see empty seats in the background.

What’s up with this double-decker bus?  First of all, it’s incredibly ugly.  Second, didn’t they discontinue those?  And the pantomime Londoners are worse than the Chinese.  Oh man, the British presentation is just freaking awful.  I take back everything bad I ever said about the Chinese portion of the ceremonies.

I think Leona Lewis is lip-syncing Enya.   Oh. My. God.  Now she’s lip-syncing Whole Lotta Love.  With a 200-year old Jimmy Page guitar-syncing.

The London section is so freaking bizarre.  What were they thinking?  What is Jimmy Page thinking?  This is worse than a really bad high school production of Hair.  All the athletes are standing around not quite sure how to react.

And now David Beckham?  Did someone slip me a tab of really good acid?  Am I high?  WTF?

Mary Carillo just said, “nice taste of London.”  Really?  Have you ever freaking been to London Mary?  Go back to the Three Gorges Dam and jump off.  Now.  Please.

Okay, there are ten thousand athletes here and they’re using actors to play the athletes leaving.  Maybe they can take Mary Carillo with them.

Comrade Joshua just said all 91,000 spectators were “trained” ahead of time to wave red lanterns.  Apparently the training didn’t work, because most of them are taking pictures instead.

The Chinese are now trying to win back the gold medal for bizarre ceremonies from the British.  Two guys covered head-to-to in white chalk are dancing on top of a giant five story tower.

The flame just went out.  I can’t help thinking of the flame held by the goddess of democracy in Tiananmen Square back in 1989.  Maybe someday a Chinese government will finally recognize which flame was more important.

The five-story tower is now writhing, covered with humans in silver and red jumpsuits.  I know I should be impressed by these feats, but all I can think of are swarming bugs.  Part of the problem is I keep hearing Zhang talking about how much he admires the North Koreans.

Mary Carillo just called it the “holy flame” of the Olympics.  I’m about to start calling her Comrade Mary.

The red strips of cloth on the five-story tower make it look like that scene from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert where Guy Pearce is strapped onto the top of the bus.

Why do all male pop singers in China look like the Back Street Boys channeling Elvis in Memphis circa 1968?

OMG it’s the Chinese version of the video for Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love.  Except the girls are smiling.  And wearing yellow tops and white pants.  And playing an electrified version of a traditional Chinese instrument.  But other than that, it’s almost identical.

I think they’ve cloned Daft Funk.  There are something like 200 guys in track suits, glow-brights, and  motorcycle helmets bouncing up and down like yo-yos.

It’s official: Bollywood music seriously kicks Chinese pop music’s butt.  This song that Wei Wei is singing is just bloody dreadful.

Jackie Chan can’t sing.

Molly just said that the goal of the closing ceremony should not be to make you want to shut off your tee vee.  Can’t say I disagree with her.  Chinese pop music is a crime against humanity.  It’s so bad that they’ve managed to silence Comrade Joshua.  Even he can’t rationalize this away.

They just don’t know how to end this, do they?  Please tell me that the confetti cannons and fireworks are the end.

Now they’re in London, via the BBC.  Has the BBC not gotten around to upgrading to High Definition yet?  And who is this moron interviewing Michael Phelps?  He sounds like the host of Top of the Pops.

It. Is. Over.

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23 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Controlympics: Hiding Chaos to Save Face


Freelance reporter Jocelyn Ford has a feature on why the ChiComs went to such efforts to Disney-fy Beijing, in the process shutting down street vendors and forcing migrant workers to return to their home villages.  For Ford, it’s all about saving face.

It’s an interesting perspective, but I think it misses a much bigger issue:  control.  That, not face, is the driving force behind the clearing out of Beijing.

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22 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:15 pm

Controlympics: Chinese Are Nervous about. . .Something


Something is making the ChiComs nervous.  Danwei is reporting that a search of “China” on Google News from within China produces the following screenshot:

I just checked, and it works from here.  The number two story is about the little old ladies who were sentenced to a year’s reeducation through labor after they applied for a permit to protest, and the number three story is about six Americans being detained for pro-Tibet activities.

But since those would have been caught by the Great Firewall anyway, I’m not sure what’s going on (Danwei isn’t sure either).  I thought at first it might be the underage gymnasts story, but that’s only at number sixteen.

So, readers in China, what’s the deal?  That’s presuming you can still read this.

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22 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: The Potemkin Metropolis


A first-person account of how the ChiComs are keeping Beijing safe for Olympocracy:

So we were returning to Beijing from Datan and had to take a coach bus from Fengning County seat. . . . Although the Olympics had put a tense atmosphere over the whole country, we didn’t think about it too seriously. Even with the Games, people still have to eat, sleep, go to the toilet and travel around. We were returning to Beijing, not to make trouble there.

But we were still asked for our ID and got our card numbers recorded. Although Fu Guoli lost his ID card, he is a gentleman-faced guy and works for a Global 500 company and we couldn’t imagine he would have a problem. . . .

When the bus pulled out of town, I was sitting next to Fu Guoli and while we were chatting the bus pulled over. When we walked off the bus we first saw cops, who set up two checkpoints along the highway and two policemen in bullet-proof vests with light machine guns were minding the booths. We were submitting our ID cards one after another along a rail line. For those who have the second generation of IDs, a scan can tell whether it’s real or fake; but for those first generation ones, your information needs to be entered into a computer and then a matching program will confirm its authenticity.

I passed without any problem. But Fu Guoli showed his work badge and reported his ID number, seemingly not much a hassle, but was taken aside by the cops. From 1:00 to 1:20 am, I saw through the bus window that he was constantly talking to the cops and was not allowed to board, and we realized something was wrong. . . . [W]hen Fu gave them his ID number, the computer couldn’t find his record, and neither could the system find his name. Which is to say, the police concluded that Fu has no valid ID record, which means he couldn’t be allowed back to Beijing.  He was, finally, left behind with police at Fengning, not able to return to Beijing.

The police were not sympathetic to Fu’s plight.  One told him, “Even [if] the problem [is] the database, it is still your problem. We still cannot let you go.”

So the Chinese not only kicked people out for the Olympics, they also set up a network of security checkpoints that enable them to allow back in only those with correct identity card.  It’s the rebirth of the old internal passport system, which had largely broken down as a result of the big labor migrations of the capitalist era.  And judging by this account, the new system will be far more efficient than the old one, with the Chinese now issuing “second generation” smart cards (I’m guessing with scannable RFID chips) to all Beijing residents.

What will be interesting is who they let back in — and when they allow them to return.  Over time, corruption and labor shortages will in all likelihood cause the system to break down again, but for now, the government has complete control over access to the city.

Given that, things will never not go back to the way they were.  The old messy, wonderful, interesting Beijing is probably gone forever.  The new, controlled, antiseptic Beijing, which has become the world’s largest  Potemkin Village, is here to stay.

Translation by and big tip of the hat to China Digital Times.

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22 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:14 am

Controlympics: Barely Not Legal


An American blogger-hacker who goes by the name Stryde has tracked down and posted Chinese government documents that allegedly show Chinese gymnastic superstar He Kexin, who won gold medals both as a member of the victorious Chinese team and as an individual on the uneven bars, is definitely 14 and not 16 as the Chinese team claims:

The report is serious enough that even NBC is reporting it.  And even the IOC has concluded it has to investigate:

We have asked the gymnastics federation to look into it further with the national Chinese federation. If there is a question mark, and we have a concern - which we do - we ask the governing body of any sport to look into… as to why there is a discrepancy.

In other words, they’ve just asked the very people complicit in the cover-up to look into whether they were complicit in a cover-up.  Now that’s the IOC I know and love!

If He is found to be underage (gymnasts now have to be 16 to compete), I presume she will lose her medal.  But will the Chinese team lose as well?  In both cases, Americans will become gold medalists.  And it will have happened after Stryde outs them.  That is going to drive the bambooroots absolutely up the wall.  And it’s going to embarrass the ChiComs.

Stryde better make sure he’s got nuclear anti-viral/anti-spam/anti-worm/anti-denial-of-service protection.  Because the wrath of the dragon is about to come roaring down on his head.

He probably has nothing to worry about, though.  I’m guessing that none of that will happen.  It will be far easier for the whole thing just to go away.

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20 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:45 pm

Controlympics: Another Reason to Like Apple


So it turns out that, two days before the Olympics started, Apple’s iTunes store started selling “Songs for Tibet:  The Art of Peace,” a new album featuring twenty cuts by everyone from Imogen Heap to Jackson Browne — and a twenty-first cut from the king of the Far East Coast DJs, the Grand Master with the mad skillz, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Here’s a screenshot of the album page:

For a few days, it was on the iTunes front page.  It’s currently #4 on the Billboard downloads chart, just below Conner Oberst and just above M.I.A.

So no big deal, right?  Just another compliation album.  Except for one thing:  the Tibetans are public relations geniuses:

More than 40 Olympic athletes have downloaded a Tibet album called “Songs for Tibet” to show solidarity with the Himalayan people’s struggle for more freedom, according to a Tibetan rights group.  The athletes downloaded the songs as part of a project to highlight the plight of Tibetans, who are subjected to religious restrictions from the government and an encroachment by Han Chinese in their Himalayan homeland.

International organizations including the International Campaign for Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet, and Team Darfur helped contact the athletes, who were assured anonymity, the group said.

China’s official media, however, recently reported that Chinese internet users denounced the top-selling Tibet album.

Report on the semi-official news portals china.org.cn said some Chinese people have called for a boycott of products by companies that make the album available for sale on the web, and a ban on people involved in making the album from entering China.

Apparently a few of the athletes downloaded it from Beijing.

So guess what the Chinese did in response?  Block access to iTunes.  Here’s a screen shot via Students for a Free Tibet:

Now I know what you’re thinking:  so what?  The Chinese block access to sites all the time.  Yes, it’s a big deal right now, but it will go away soon, and then folks in China will have access again.

Except for Apple, it’s bigger than that:

Apple is in the early stages of a much belated (and arguably long-overdue) push into China. After nearly two decades of near-invisibility, the company opened its first Apple store in China just three weeks before the Olympics. A second Beijing store is under construction, and Ron Johnson, Apple’s senior vice-president of retail, said there are many more China stores to come.

At the same time, Apple is apparently deep into negotiations with at least one Chinese carrier to start selling a (fully-enabled) iPhone here in China.  And of course, Apple has finally begun making headway in the market against its rival computer, phone, and music player rivals.

By selling “Songs for Tibet,” Apple has placed these efforts in jeopardy.  Apple has given the government all the excuse it needs, not only to block the iTunes Music Store, but to raise extra barriers on permits for further Apple retail stores, to throw barriers in the path of Apple’s iPhone deals with state-controlled carriers, and to make the creation of a Chinese iTunes Music Store and App Store a distant dream (unless the[y] let the carriers run it.)

Apparently the folks over at China Media Blog are upset.  Because “the situation in Tibet is a far more nuanced than the media, activists, and general public outside of China understand”?  Perhaps.  But I think there’s a more likely reason:

[Apple has made] the lives of thousands of dedicated Apple customers here in China just a little more miserable - especially those of us who count on iTMS as our sole source of legitimate (non-pirated) music.

It’s a valid point — in a market where it’s easier to buy pirated music than the real thing, setting up roadblocks to the latter is going to encourage many people to take advantage of the former.  But is access to music really a valid reason to oppose a company’s decision to permit peaceful opposition voices to express themselves during the Olympics?

So kudos to Apple for having the temerity (or perhaps the cluelessness) to feature the album.  But it may cost them in the long run — China is likely to make them pay and pay and pay.

I think there are four questions to which we don’t yet know the answers.

  1. Did Steve Jobs know what was going on?
  2. If not, will he will pull a Rupert Murdoch — back down, drop the album, and apologize to China — in order to maintain access to the market?
  3. If he doesn’t, will Apple shareholders revolt and demand that he do so?
  4. If he does, what will be the impact in other markets?  Will we see efforts to organize counter-boycotts?

Right now, however, Apple is on the side of the angels (at least on this one issue).  I think I’m going to give them some download love.

But not the Tibet album.  Sorry guys, but the artist selection here blows.  Suzanne Vega, Sting, and Rush?  What is this, 1985?

Hat tip:  China Media Blog

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19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:30 pm

Controlympics: Liu Xiang and Censorship


Unless you’re living in a cave, you know that the great Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang had to pull out of the 110m hurdles due to injury.  No matter how I may feel about the Chinese government, this is a true disappointment — Liu was one of the more compelling stories in the Olympics, and I was looking forward to seeing him in the finals.

Now ChinaSmack has this interesting little tidbit:

[T]housands of BBS forum topics were created about Liu Xiang and about what happened. Chinese people throughout China talked about how they felt. There were a lot of upset people criticizing Liu Xiang but there were also a lot of people defending him and supporting him. Almost every topic was about Liu Xiang. . . .

This morning, all posts criticizing Liu Xiang were removed from the Chinese internet.

Apparently nothing is left to chance in Beijing, not even failure.

I have no sympathy for those who harshly criticize Liu because he got hurt.  But they certainly have the right to express their opinion, no matter how wrong-headed it may be.

Except in China, where even disappointment is unpatriotic.

Hat tip:  ChinaSmack

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17 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:45 pm

Controlympics: More Fakes Than a NYC Street Vendor


Yes, it was the Opening Ceremony, so our standards should start out pretty low.  The Chinese, of course, were not content with that.  So they put together a show to end all shows.  And almost everyone was blown away.

Except now, all those journalists running around Beijing keep discovering problems.  First it was the lip-syncing 8-year-old.  Then it was the computer-generated fireworks.  Then it was forcing the hostesses to audition naked; the go-go girls forced to rehearse until their faces almost froze in a smile; and the soldiers moving the giant scroll forced to wear diapers.  Now, it turns out all those annoyingly happy children in ethnic costumes — the ones I complained about during my blogging of NBC’s tape-delayed coverage, the ones who handed the Chinese flag off to goosestepping soldiers — also were fake:

[During the] opening ceremony. . .the children supposedly representing the country’s 56 ethnic groups were in fact all from the same one, the majority Han Chinese Race.

The children carried the national flag into the Bird’s Nest National Stadium, before handing it over to soldiers to raise at the most solemn moment of the ceremony.

They were dressed in costumes associated with the country’s ethnic minorities, including those from troubled areas such as Tibet and the muslim province of Xinjiang. Such displays of “national unity” are a compulsory part of any major state occasion.

But the children were all from the Han Chinese majority, which makes up more than 90 per cent of the population and is culturally and politically dominant, according to an official with the cultural troupe from which they were selected. . . .

This point was put to Wang Wei, executive vice-president of the Beijing organizing committee at a press conference today.  “I think you are being very meticulous,” he said. He said it was “traditional” to use dancers from other ethnic groups in this way.  “I would argue it is normal for dancers, performers, to be dressed in other races’ clothes,” he said. “I don’t know exactly where these performers are from.”

. . .The mother of one of the children involved. . .said [the children's performance] involved grueling days of rehearsal, from 3 pm sometimes until 2 am the next morning.

Meticulous?  As opposed to forcing children to rehearse for twelve hours after school?  I think the word you’re looking for is exploitative.  In most of the rest of the world, forcing kids to spend twelve hours doing anything would be called child labor.

Photo:  Andy in Beijing via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.

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17 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Controlympics: Too Much for Even the IOC?


From The Los Angeles Times:

China came under criticism from the International Olympic Committee on Thursday after a British reporter was dragged away by police and detained for 20 minutes while covering a protest. . . .  “The IOC does disapprove of any attempts to hinder a journalist who is going about doing his job seemingly within the rules and regulations,” Giselle Davies, a spokeswoman for the committee, said at a news conference Thursday. “This, we hope, has been addressed. We don’t want to see this happening again.”

Emphasis added.  Nothing like one little weasel word to ruin what otherwise appeared to be the first signs of the IOC growing a backbone.

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16 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:30 pm

Controlympics: Hu’s Unhappy Now?


From Time’s China blog

Traditionally, women’s volleyball has been one of the country’s strengths, and part of the reason for that strong tradition is a woman name Lang Ping, one of the best women volleyball players ever. Known as the “Iron Hammer” during her playing days, she led China to the gold medal in the LA Olympics 24 years ago, where they defeated the United States in the finals.

Now, Lang Ping (known in the US as “Jenny” Lang Ping) is the coach of the US women, and last night, in an extraordinarily dramatic match, she led them to a five set victory over….China. This was a huge upset. The US women’s team hasn’t been in the top tier internationally in the last few years. And for the home team, the stakes were huge. China was one of the favorites, and they in particular did not want to lose to a US team coached by their former super star. How big was this match for China? Hu Jintao was there to watch. The US came from two sets to one down, on China’s home court, to win.

I have to admit that my initial emotion upon hearing this is not pride but rather schaedenfreude.  I wouldn’t want to be in the Chinese coach’s shoes right now.

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15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:55 pm

Controlympics: Swifter, Higher, Stronger. . .Wetter?


Turns out that there was a higher human cost to the opening ceremonies than the Chinese would have us believe.  From The Bangkok Post:

Thousands of young Chinese women applicants for the 200 jobs to lead each country’s athletes into the National Stadium for last week’s opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games had to be at least 1.66 metres tall, have a pretty face - and strip naked for the job recruiters.

The Beijing News, in a story detailing the latest opening-ceremony outrage, said stripping naked for measurements was a requirement merely to apply for the position.

Thousands of young women from colleges and dance academies in Beijing competed for the chance to appear before a huge worldwide audience.

During the selection process, the women were required to strip so teachers judging whether they were qualified could measure their body proportions, The Beijing News said.

But that’s not all.  Remember the girls in the go-go boots?  Those were the rejects from the placard holder gig.  And they got the privilege of standing, jumping up and down, smiling, and waving for four freaking hours:

Zhang did not qualify [as a placard holder] but she was later selected to be one of the 400 cheerleaders on the stadium who were the longest performers during the three-and-a-half-hour long extravaganza on August 8.  Dressed in short white dresses, boots and caps, the women had to constantly dance and cheer, to create a good atmosphere and rouse the audience of 91,000 people at the stadium.

The 400 women also performed the smiling programme - in which they danced and opened umbrellas each with a smiling face on them.  For that three-minute performance, the women had to undergo half a year of training, rising every day at 5 am to get to the practice site by 6 am and returning to their school dormitory as late as 8 or 9 pm, Zhang said. Sometimes when the training starts at noon, the women would practice till 1 am or 2 am.

They practiced standing in a row at different positions on the stadium, and also rehearsed dance movements and the opening and closing of umbrellas - a simple task which each women had to practise doing for more than 1,000 times, the report said.  Zhang said she smiled so much during practice that her facial muscles stiffened, but she was glad to have been selected.

But it’s not just the women who were subject to abuse:

[O]n Friday, state media said the nearly 900 soldiers operating the huge scroll that formed the centrepiece of last week’s show had to stay hidden under the structure for up to seven hours, wearing nappies because they were not allowed toilet breaks.

I think the Chinese missed a marketing opportunity here:

Depends:  the Official Adult Diaper of the 2008 Olympics!

To be serious for the moment, where the hell was the IOC?  How does any of this garbage fit into the so-called Olympic spirit?   Oh, that’s right, I’m sorry.  The IOC can’t speak to human rights abuses.  Even when they were done in the name of the Olympic Spirit.

Hat tip:  China Digital Times

Photos:  AndyinBeijing via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license

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15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:06 pm

Controlympics: The Photoshop Games


Watch out, Iran:  your Photoshop Dream Team has a new challenger:  the Chinese, who are determined to wrest the gold medal from your angry jihadist hands.

First came the government’s use of digitally created fireworks during the opening ceremony:

While the dramatic display actually happened as portrayed on television, members of the Beijing Olympic Committee said it was necessary to replace live video with computer-generated imagery because the city’s hazy, smoggy skies made it too difficult to see, according to The Beijing Times, which first reported the story.

Now the netroots (bambooroots?) are getting into the act.  But unlike the government, the current obsession is not fireworks, but fake movie posters.  The site Mop has a number of examples, headlining its post (as translated by Chinasmack) “China Olympic Team posters, extreme lightning, extremely charred, If it does not knock you down, it is not lightning!!!!”

Designers have borrowed from both American and Chinese films, and clearly there are favorite athletes and themes.  The most popular is Yao Ming and the Chinese team beating the American “Redeem Team” (whoopsie!):

Hancock

Saving Private Ryan

Kung Fu Dunk (a 2008 Chinese film in the tradition of Shaolin Soccer)

If I were Yao Ming, I’m not sure I’d be happy about this one:

Shrek 2 or Shrek 3

The same applies to two other members of the team, Yi Jian Lian and Cheng Jia Hua:

Dumb and Dumber

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Another popular theme is the ineptitude of the Chinese Olympic soccer team:

Death Sentence (a 2007 Kevin Bacon film)

According to China Smack, the poster’s translation reads

You killed the football fan’s heart.
Death Sentence

10 years ago when I saw China’s team lose, I wanted to die.
5 years ago when I saw China’s team lose, I lost hope.
Now, even if the China team dies, I will pretend I did not see.
I no longer have a dream.

A second poster mocks perhaps the most infamous moment for China so far in these games, when a member of the Chinese team, Tan Wangsong, kicked a Belgian player in the crotch, receiving a red card for his efforts:

I have no idea what movie, if any this is copying, but the tagline on Mop reads, according to Yahoo’s Babel Fish translator, “The foot becomes famous; the ball becomes famous.”  Heh.

A third popular subject is Liu Xiang, China’s star 110m hurdler:

Spiderman 2

Last but not least, my favorite, which is about an American, not Chinese star:

The inclusion of the Water Cube is an especially nice touch.

Big hat tip to Chinasmack for pointing me to the Mop site and providing some of the translations.

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15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: A Journalist Demands An Honest Answer


From an exchange between a determined British reporter and a craven IOC official:

Question: Hi, I’m Alex Thompson from Channel Four News. My question’s mercifully short, and it’s for Giselle. Given that China got these games largely on making promises on human rights and press freedom, and given that the Chinese government has lied through its teeth about keeping those promises, is the IOC in any way embarrassed?

Giselle Davies, spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee: Good morning, Alex.

Thompson: Good morning.

Davies: There were certainly some hopes and aspirations outlayed in 2001 as to how the games could have a positive impact on the wider social framework. And I think we have to note that there have been enormous steps forward in a number of areas. You’re here reporting on the games. The world is watching. And there will be commentaries made appraising how the games have had an impact, wider through bringing sports, athletes and the world’s attention.

Interestingly, I saw that the Associated Press did a survey whereby their readers say that 55 percent of the respondents of the United States believe the choice was the right choice to come to Beijing, China …

Thompson: Yes, but I’m not asking that. I’m asking the IOC if they are in any way embarrassed about the manifest failure on behalf of the Chinese government to keep their promises. It’s a very straightforward question: Are you embarrassed?

Davies: We are very proud of the fact that these games are progressing with spectacular sports, spectacular sports venues, operationally running very smoothly, and that’s what we’re here focusing on.

Thompson: I’m asking whether you’re embarrassed. I’m not asking about how well the games have been run or how wonderful the venues are. Are you embarrassed?

Davies: I think I’ve answered your question by explaining…

Thompson: I don’t think anyone in this room, if I may speak, I may be stepping out of line, but I don’t think anybody thinks you’ve answered the question. Is the IOC embarrassed about the Chinese government not keeping those promises?

Davies: We’re very pleased with how the organizers are putting on a good sporting event. That’s what this is. The IOC’s role and remit is to bring sport and the Olympic values to this country. That is what is happening, and the organizers have put on an operationally sound games for the athletes. This is an event, first and foremost, for the athletes, and the athletes are giving us extremely positive feedback about how they see these games being held for them.

Thompson: Well, Giselle, we’re certainly not getting anywhere are we? Let’s try it once more time. Is the IOC embarrassed about the Chinese government’s not keeping promises on both press freedom and human rights? One more chance.

Davies: Well, I think probably your colleagues in the room would like to have a chance at questions as well. I think I’ve answered your question.

I’m tempted to award Davies Dillweed of the Day, but since the IOC and the USOC both already have won the thing in the past two weeks, perhaps it’s time to elect Olympics officials to the Dillweed Hall of Shame.

Congratulations to Alex Thompson for demanding an answer and refusing to tolerate spin.

Hat tip:  China Media Blog

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14 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:50 pm

Controlympics: China’s 21 Rules


Via The Sydney Morning Herald, twenty-one rules for dating Hu Jintao’s daughter on Olympic coverage, issued by the CCP Propaganda Department:

1.  The telecast of sports events will be live [but] in case of emergencies, no print is allowed to report on it.

2.  From August 1, most of the previously accessible overseas websites will be unblocked. No coverage is allowed on this development. There’s also no need to use stories published overseas on this matter and [website] operators should not provide any superlinks on their pages.

3.  Be careful with religious and ethnic subjects.

4.  Don’t make fuss about foreign leaders at the opening ceremony, especially in relation to seat arrangements or their private lives.

5.  We have to put special emphasis on ethnic equality. Any perceived racist terms as “black athlete” or “white athlete” is not allowed. During the official telecast, we can refer to Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei”. In ordinary times, refer to Taiwanese athletes as “those from the precious island Taiwan…..” In case of any pro Taiwan-independence related incident inside the venue, you shall follow restrictions listed in item 1.

6.  For those ethnic Chinese coaches and athletes who come back to Beijing to compete on behalf of other countries, don’t play up their “patriotism” since that could backfire with their adopted countries.

7.  As for the Pro-Tibetan independence and East Turkistan movements, no coverage is allowed. There’s also no need to make fuss about our anti-terrorism efforts.

8.  All food saftey issues, such as cancer-causing mineral water, is off-limits.

9.  In regard to the three protest parks, no interviews and coverage is allowed.

10.  No fuss about the rehearsals on August 2,5. No negative comments about the opening ceremony.

11.  No mention of the Lai Changxing case.

12.  No mention of those who illegally enter China.

13.  On international matters, follow the official line. For instance, follow the official propaganda line on the North Korean nuclear issue; be objective when it comes to the Middle East issue and play it down as much as possible; no fuss about the Darfur question; No fuss about UN reform; be careful with Cuba. If any emergency occurs, please report to the foreign ministry.

14. If anything related to territorial dispute happens, make no fuss about it. Play down the Myanmar issue; play down the Takeshima island dispute.

15.  Regarding diplomatic ties between China and certain nations, don’t do interviews on your own and don’t use online stories. Instead, adopt Xinhua stories only. Particularly on the Doha round negotiation, US elections, China-Iran co-operation, China-Aussie co-operation, China-Zimbabwe co-operation, China-Paraguay co-operation.

16.  Be very careful with TV ratings, only use domestic body’s figures. Play it down when  rating goes down.

17.  In case of an emergency involving foreign tourists, please follow the official line. If there’s no official line, stay away from it.

18. Re possible subway accidents in the capital, please follow the official line.

19.  Be positive on security measures.

20. Be very careful with stock market coverage during the Games.

21.  Properly handle coverage of the Chinese sports delegation:

A.  Don’t criticise the selection process.

B.  Don’t overhype gold medals; don’t issue predictions on gold medal numbers; don’t make fuss about  cash rewards for athletes.

C.  Don’t make a fuss about isolated misconducts by athletes.

D.  Enforce the publicity of our anti-doping measures.

E.   Put emphasis on  government efforts to secure the retirement life of athletes.

F.   Keep a cool head on the Chinese performance. Be prepared for possible fluctuations in the medal race.

G.   Refrain from publishing opinion pieces at odds with the official propaganda line of the Chinese delegation.

I thought about putting this through the Diplospeak Translator, but it was just too much. The Chinese clearly haven’t learned the most important rule when it comes to propaganda:  don’t get caught issuing rules on propaganda.

A few observations:

  • They’re clearly most nervous about protests related to Tibet and Xinjiang.
  • They think that public interest, even in China, will wane as the Olympics progress.
  • China-Paraguay cooperation?  Apparently this is a reference to the fact that incoming Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has expressed a willingness to switch its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China.  Who knew?
  • I also hadn’t heard of the “cancer-causing mineral water” question.  I did a quick check of The Googles, and the only stories about it are the few that picked up The Herald’s publication of these rules. And we thought pollution was a problem.
  • Speaking of which, it’s interesting that there’s no rule saying “don’t speak about the pollution,” unless the general prohibition against discussion of health issues applies.
  • We now know why China’s media didn’t cover the controversy over the little girl lipsynching or the computer generated fireworks: “No negative comments about the opening ceremony.”
  • The only specific case mentioned is Lai Changxing, a businessman now on the run after being charged with corruption.
  • There’s no specific prohibition against talking about political dissidents, but of course the journalists aren’t stupid — they can read between the lines.
  • Perhaps the most important sentence is “If there is no offical line, stay away from it.”  That encourages self-censorship to such a degree that it should cover all the issues not addressed by these rules.
  • The one rule they forgot?  Don’t leak the rules.

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