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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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22 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:46 pm

Controlympics: Jacques Rogge is Still A Dillweed

But you knew that.  Nonetheless, I love Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports’ latest column:

Jacques Rogge is so bought, so compromised, the president of the IOC doesn’t have the courage to criticize China for telling a decade of lies to land itself these Olympic Games.  All the promises made to get these Games — on Tibet, Darfur, pollution, worker safety, freedom of expression, dissident rights — turned out to be phony, perhaps as phony as the Chinese gymnasts’ birthdates Rogge was way too slow to investigate.  One of the most powerful men in sports turned the world away from his complicity.

Instead, he has flexed his muscles by unloading on [Usain Bolt], a powerless sprinter from a small island nation. . . .

[T]his is richer than those bribes and kickbacks the IOC got caught taking.  All the powerful nations — including the United States — have carte blanche at the Games. . . .They can take turns slapping Rogge and his cronies around like rag dolls as long as the dinner with a good wine list gets paid. . . .

Bolt is everything the Olympics are supposed to be about. He isn’t the product of some rich country, some elaborate training program that churns out gold medals by any means necessary.  He’s a breath of fresh air, a guy who came out of nowhere to enrapture the world with his athletic performance and colorful personality. This is no dead-eye product of some massive machine.  He was himself, and the world loved him for it. . . .

Apparently, Rogge would prefer 12-year-old gymnasts too frightened to crack a smile.

It got better when, in the same press conference, he pretended to forget all the lies China told him to get this bid, all the troubles, all the challenges, and praised the host nation. Yes, these have been an exceptionally well-run Games from a tactical standpoint, and the Chinese people have displayed otherworldly kindness.  None of which denies the promises broken, the innocent jailed, the freedoms denied — the kind of issues someone with Jacques Rogge’s standing should be talking about.

He has no spine for that. Not for China.

Perfect.  I only regret that I cannot award Rogge the prestigious Dillweed of the Day.  Again.  For the third time. Or is it fourth?  He’s becoming the Usain Bolt of Dillweeds.  But as I’ve noted before, he and the International Olympic Committee (and the U.S. Olympic Committee) were the first inductees into the Dillweed Hall of Shame.

Oh what the hell. Rules (and promises) are to made to be broken.  Just ask the ChiComs.

Congratulations, Jacques.  You’ve won it again.  Try not to put on a show.  Make sure you show respect for your competitors, shake hands, all that Olympic horse manure.

Not that you’ll get any respect in return.

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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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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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8 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:38 am

Reindeer Games: Bush, Human Rights, and China

I know I’m a little behind on this, but I just read in the papertubes that Dubya gave a speech about human rights in China .  And that the ChiComs are not happy about it.

My first instinct was to applaud him for speaking out.  After his appearance before the foreign press last week, during which he set a new personal record for inanity, obsequiousness, and malapropisms,  I was sure that he would be so busy begging Hu “Is Lying Now” Jintao not to liquidate China’s dollar holdings that he wouldn’t dare talk about human rights or democracy.  So reports that he did, and that the Chinese got mad as a result, came as a pleasant surprise.

Then I read the speech.

The first thing I noticed was that he gave it in Thailand.  Not at the Embassy dedication in Beijing, not during his visit to the Olympics, but in Bangkok.  He might as well have given it in Timbuktu.

The second I noticed was that he does not mention human rights in China until the twenty-sixth paragraph — out of twenty-nine total.  It comes only after he’s praised the Chinese for their economic achievements, highlighted their role in the six-party talks on North Korea, begged them not to foreclose on our economy, and reiterated America’s belief in a “one China” policy.

It also comes after he wishes the Queen of Thailand a happy birthday, praises the economic achievments of Thailand and other countries in the region, invokes the threat of terrorism, discusses North Korea, and gives a shout out to his wife for her work on Burma.  (That’s right, of all the people working on Burma in this world, he chose to praise Laura.)

The actual criticism takes up two paragraphs of twenty-nine.  They look almost like an afterthought.  And they include the following sentence:

Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions.

I just ran that little gem through the Diplospeak Translator, and this is what came out:

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: We’re not really serious about this, but Congress and those whiny human rights organizations back home will kick my butt for the rest of my term if I don’t pretend to care. Please please please please don’t be mad at me.

What nonsense.  And the ChiComs got in a lather over this? Here’s what the Foreign Ministry said in response:

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang admonished Bush, saying “We firmly oppose any words or acts that interfere in other countries internal affairs, using human rights and religion and other issues.” He also said the Chinese government is dedicated to promoting basic rights, and that “Chinese citizens have freedom of religion.These are indisputable facts.”

This isn’t foreign policy.  It’s Chinese Opera.  I don’t know which I find more distressing.

  • The fact that the White House is spinning this as courage;
  • The fact that the Chinese have gotten their collective Communist capitalist noses out of joint for such innocuous language; or
  • That the Western media bought the whole thing as a real controversy.

The games have started, Bush will forget about his admonition, the Chinese will welcome him, and everyone will enjoy the spectacle and the athleticism.  Nothing else will happen.

There’s a term my summer camp friends used to have for such hypocrisy:  Reindeer Games, which we defined as pretending to care about something when you really didn’t give a damn what happened.  I think that pretty much summarizes the situation here.  All posturing, no content.

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7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:55 pm

Controlympics: A Perfect Choice

Big news today, via The Los Angeles Times and the Telegraph (UK).  Let’s start with the LAT:

Lopez Lomong: US Olympic team appoint Darfur refugee to carry flag

Another stunning chapter was added to the incredible story of Lopez Lomong when his U.S. Olympic teammates chose the Sudanese refugee as the flag bearer in Friday’s opening ceremony at the 2008 Olympics.

Lomong, who made the Olympic track team by finishing second in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. track trials, spent a decade in a refugee camp in Kenya as one of the “Lost Boys of the Sudan.” He resettled in the United States as a teenager with a family in Syracuse, N.Y.

“This is the most exciting day ever in my life,” Lomong said. “It’s a great honor for me that my teammates chose to vote for me. I’m here as an ambassador of my country, and I will do everything I can to represent my country well.”

Lomong, 23, was 6 when he was abducted from a Sudanese church by militiamen trying to turn children into boy soldiers. He and three other boys escaped and walked several days until they were arrested by Kenyan police because they had unknowingly crossed the border into Kenya.

And now the Telegraph:

His first taste of the Olympics was when he paid five Kenyan shillings to watch Michael Johnson winning gold at Sydney 2000 on a fuzzy black and white TV set, an experience which he says ignited his own Olympic dream.  “The American flag means everything in my life - everything that describes me, coming from another country and going through all of the stages that I have to become a US citizen,” Lomong added.

What an amazing story:  a Sudanese Lost Boy** becomes an Olympic athlete and is chosen over thousands of his new countrymen and -women to carry their country’s flag into the Olympic Opening Ceremonies — which is hosted by a government notorious for its disregard for human rights and its sponsorship of the government of Sudan.

It’s nothing less than a Jesse Owens moment.  In the face of tremendous pressure by everyone from the ChiComs themselves to their craven corporate toadies to IOC Chairman Jacque Rogge and other obsequious IOC pond scum, Americans have stood up to to an odious dictatorship.

I guess I don’t have to worry anymore about our flagbearer dipping the flag when he passes ChiCom-in-Chief Hu “Is Lying Now” Juntao.

And it happens the day after the ChiComs denied a visa to Joey Cheek, the Olympic athlete and head of Team Darfur.  I don’t think that that was a coincidence.  The Times of London gets the contrast about right:

There are two pictures here. One comes slightly distorted and airbrushed and will be squeezed into a frame by the IOC and its Chinese hosts in Beijing. The other is a portrait of Lomong. Which would you rather have on the wall?

This is why I continue to be proud of this country, no matter what the Bush Administration does or who gets elected this fall.  It’s further proof that average Americans (take my word for it, even in this day and age, that’s what the vast majority of our athletes in Beijing are) care deeply about basic human rights and fundamental principles of justice.

And isn’t it nice to feel good about this country again?  And have it be not because we won an athletic competition, but because we stood up for what is right and decent?

Hooray for us.

Photo:  Associated Press via the Telegraph (UK).

**If you don’t know the remarkable story of the Lost Boys, do yourself a favor and go out and buy Dave Eggers most recent novel, What is the What, which is a fictionalized account of one of the Boys’ experiences.

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28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:55 am

Dillweed of the Day: Jacques Rogge

News flash:  IOC Chief Jacques Rogge lacks a spine, among other things.  I’m tempted to use the Diplospeak Translator on this one, but it’s just too vomit-inducing to subject you to that.

Read the rest of this entry »

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27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:00 pm

The Olympics’ Real Legacy: Greater Repression

From Geoffrey York’s fine piece in today’s Toronto Globe and Mail:

In the small Beijing suburb of Hongxialu, there’s a new force in town. The government has recruited a special unit of 288 residents, mostly middle-aged or elderly, to work as “security volunteers” in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Wearing red armbands with Olympic badges, the volunteers loiter near the entrance gates of their neighbourhood. They scrutinize every visitor and report to the police if they see anyone unfamiliar or suspicious.

The volunteers of Hongxialu are just one cog in a vast machinery of surveillance in Beijing these days. Across the city, a network of 400,000 informants and volunteers has been mobilized to keep an eye out in their communities. The old Maoist system of neighbourhood committees, which had largely fallen into irrelevance in the past decade, is being revived again as a tool of social control.

When the last gold medal has been awarded and the athletes have left, this network of informers – along with an estimated 300,000 surveillance cameras and a strengthened security apparatus – will remain as perhaps the biggest legacy of the historic Beijing Olympics….

So far, it seems clear that the Beijing Olympics have led to a deterioration of human rights and freedom in China. “It has reversed the clock,” says Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Over all, the Games are having a negative impact on human rights. It has stunted the growth of civil society and civil organizations.”

Congratulations, International Olympic Committee.  Boy, the idea that the Olympics would force the ChiComs to open things up has worked brilliantly, hasn’t it?  Instead of Seoul 1988, what we’ve gotten is Berlin 1936 without the racial ideology:  fascism with a smiley face.

More from York:

“This government is bent on recentralizing policy and authority generally, so this tightening will not be temporary,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a political analyst in Beijing.

“I think that we will look back upon these Games as representing not a move towards political reform or rethinking power but bolstering the confidence of officials that they can indeed micromanage events.”

Some of the new restrictions – including the tighter controls on visitors and foreigners – will not only remain in Beijing but will probably be extended to other cities, Mr. Moses said.

“For all too many officials, these Games are not about international co-operation but about Chinese power,” he said.

In place of the greater freedom you promised, the Chinese people are instead getting greater surveillance, greater repression, more centralization of control, and a return to long-discredited tactics once abandoned as an outdated remnant of Maoism.

People are going to have to wear gas masks in Beijing — not because of the pollution, but from the stench of your sycophancy and denial.

Hat tip:  Beijing Wide Open

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