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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Paralympics: Shame on NBC

You may not know it, but the Paralympics are going on in Beijing right now.  Not that any network is covering it.   That’s a shame, because it looks just amazing.

For more of these photos, go to The Big Picture, The Boston Globe’s fantastic photo blog.  Time has more photos here.

When the regular Olympics were on, NBC had six networks covering them — NBC, MSNBC, USA, CNBC, Univision, and Universal (their HD channel).  For the Paralympics, they couldn’t be bothered to show it on even one.

Do they think the Paralympics are less dramatic?  Do they think that people wouldn’t want to watch these amazing athletes?  I would bet good money that this would draw more than whatever crap USA or Universal is showing every day.

This is just part of what makes NBC so blinkered.  If you watched NBC’s primetime coverage of the “regular” Olympics, you might have thought that there were only four sports:  swimming, gymnastics, track and field and freaking beach volleyball.  The only time other sports got coverage was if the United States won a gold medal.

What is so infuriating about this is that people don’t remember, but gymnastics never was popular until Olga Korbut came along in 1972.  First Korbut and then Nadia Comaneci made gymnastics into the hugely popular Olympic sport it is today.  And they weren’t even Americans, for crying out loud.  That couldn’t happen today.  NBC would never give it a chance.  For all we know, there is another sport that has the potential to break through now the way gymnastics did then.  Perhaps the Paralympics have that potential.  But thanks to the soul-sucking money-grubbing pinheads at NBC, we’ll never know.

Guess what?  The ChiComs are broadcasting them.  According to Time, it’s making a huge difference in China in terms of how people there see the disabled:

The disabled have traditionally been marginalized in China. Ahead of the Olympics, organizers issued an official apology for a manual cautioning volunteers that the disabled can have “unusual personalities” and can be “stubborn and controlling.” Beijing alone is home to nearly 1 million disabled, but they’re a largely invisible part of the population. Those that can work are funneled into the few jobs that are open to the disabled, like paraplegics who can drive three-wheeled motor taxis or those who are sight-impaired and work in massage parlors. The Paralympics offers the hope that watching disabled athletes compete will change old attitudes and improve opportunities for the nation’s 83 million handicapped.

It is possible that the Paralympics will have an impact in China similar to the passage in the United States of the Americans with Disabilities Act, helping to mainstream the disabled into society.  But, as Time notes, that is going to take more than installing a few ramps in Beijing.  But at least the whole country is getting to see these talented athletes in action.

Unlike those of us in the United States.

Shame on NBC.  Shame on them for putting a misguided sense of profits ahead of an incredibly compelling and exciting story.  Shame on them for treating these talented athletes as somehow second class.

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28 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Controlympics: Not Exactly the Best Case for Rio 2016

Oh jeez.  To paraphrase Michael Corleone, every time I try to get away from the Olympics, I get sucked back in.

I don’t know what’s up with the usually reliable Passport blog over at Foreign Policy magazine, but all of a sudden they seem to have lost their bearings.  First came Blake Hounshell’s argument that Michelle Obama should have thanked the Condi for being “assertive” over the past seven years, and now we have this gem from Patrick Fitzgerald:

We’re still a year away from learning who will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. But, while Beijing is fresh in our minds, I thought it’d be high time to consider the lessons and legacies of the 2008 games with an eye on the future.

If we learned one thing from Beijing 2008, it’s that the Olympics are a perfect pretext for a massive security crackdown. So why not award the 2016 games to a city that could actually use a massive security crackdown?

The murder rate in the state of Rio de Janiero is down to 39 per 100,000, from a high of 64 per 100,000 people in the mid-1990s. That’s still high, and one still encounters machine guns while browsing shopping stalls. Some think meditation may do the trick, but an Olympic effort to crack down on petty crime (not political opposition, mind you) could do wonders.

Now here’s what Human Rights Watch said last year about the Police in Rio — make sure you note what it says in the last graph:

According to government figures quoted in press reports, 44 people were killed during a two-month police operation aimed at dismantling drug trafficking gangs in Complexo do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhood. Violence reached a peak on Wednesday, when 19 people were killed during confrontations with the police. According to allegations widely reported in the Brazilian media, the police carried out many of the killings through summary executions.

“A thorough investigation of these killings is absolutely critical for establishing the truth and improving public confidence in local law enforcement,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The state must ensure independent inquiries that will lead to successful prosecutions, no matter who the perpetrators are.”

According to the state’s Secretary of Security, José Mariano Beltrame, all of the deaths occurred in confrontations with the police. However, in media reports, residents said that police killed and wounded unarmed bystanders. Three teenagers, ages 13, 14 and 16, were identified among the dead yesterday. Residents also claimed that police had killed a 10-year-old boy.

Last year, 1,603 people were killed in alleged confrontations with police in the state of Rio, according to the Institute of Public Security (ISP), the official statistics bureau for public security information. In the first four months of 2007, their bureau registered some 449 deaths, an increase of 36.5 percent in relation to the same period last year.

The operation in the Complexo do Alemão occur[ed] just two weeks before the beginning of the Pan-American Games in the city.

Like Fitzgerald, I think there are plenty of compelling reasons to give the games to Rio.  As he notes, a South American city has never hosted the Games, and it’s about damn time that someone do so.  But let’s not openly encourage a police department that operates like a death squad to undertake a “massive security crackdown,” because last time they did it in advance of a major sporting event, forty-four people died.

And let’s not give Brazil ideas about imitating China.  Brazil is now a stable democracy (albeit, as the HRW report shows, one with significant problems), but it is not that far removed from a series of dictatorships that trampled human rights and silenced dissent.

I don’t know who’s running things over at Passport, but this is now two really ignorant posts in two days.

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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
06:55 pm

Controlympics: Oh No You Dint Fidel!

Yesterday, I blogged on the decline of the Cuban Olympic team’s performance, and speculated that Castro wouldn’t talk about it.

Silly me.

Here is some of what he said in Granma today.  His doctors might want to think about increasing his oxygen ration.  Translation via (and hat tip to) Cuban Colada:

Regarding Angel Matos, the Cuban tae kwon do guy who kicked a referee in the face, Fidel says that Matos did the right thing:

The referee suspended the fight when [Matos] was winning, 3 to 2. . . . Amazed by a decision that seemed to him totally unfair, he protested and aimed a kick at the referee.  His own coach had been the object of a bribe attempt. He was predisposed and indignant. He could not contain himself. . . .To our taekwondo athlete and his coach go our total solidarity.

So maybe I was wrong — maybe Matos can run for vice president.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a man who can rationalize human rights abuses will find a kick to the face wholly unpersuasive.

Regarding Cuba’s dismal performance in boxing, which is usually a strength, Fidel had this to say:

I saw when the judges shamelessly robbed two Cuban boxers in the semifinals. Our boys [...] hoped to win despite the judges, but it was futile: they were condemned in advance. I did not see [Emilio] Correa’s fight; he was also robbed. I am not obliged to keep silent about the Mafia. It managed to evade the rules of the Olympic Committee. What they did to the young men in our boxing team, to complement the job of those who engage in stealing Third-World athletes, was criminal. In their viciousness, they left Cuba without a single Olympic gold medal in that discipline.

I decided to give Fidel the benefit of the doubt on this one, so I checked who were the winners of boxing gold medals.  Here are the countries whence the gold medal-winners came:

Capitalist Running Dogs and Their Lackeys:

  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom
  • Ukraine

Friends, Comrades and “Third World Athletes

  • Kazakhstan
  • Russia (2 medals)
  • Mongolia
  • China
  • Thailand

So your final score, ladies and gentlemen: Comrades 6, Running Dogs 4.

Gee Fidel, the “Mafia” sorta screwed themselves, didn’t they?  Especially when you consider the fact that three of the four Cuban losses were to “Third World Athletes.”  And for the record, the Cubans did win eight medals in boxing, just not any golds.

Regarding baseball, Fidel said that Cuba’s performance was “exemplary” and that the South Korean team, which beat Cuba in the final, was “an excellent team.”  But he blamed the decision to drop baseball from the Olympics on “the interests of the big commercial corporations” [sic].

As opposed to, say, the big corporations (and the IOC) dropping baseball because that commercial corporation, Major League Baseball, is refusing to release its players in the middle of the season.  If MLB actually ever did that, it would hurt the chances of the Cuban team, which no longer would find it significantly better than the rest of the amateur world.  That’s exactly what happened during the World Baseball Cup last year.

Fidel closes with a preemptive strike on London 2012:

There will be European chauvinism, referee corruption, the purchase of muscles and brains, an unaffordable cost, and a strong dose of racism.

That’s not exactly a ringing vote of confidence in your national sports programs:  we’re going to suck and it will be the capitalists’ fault.  Except for the tourists who pay all those Euros to visit our lovely prostitutes beaches.

Fidel also should go back and watch the U.K. section of the closing ceremonies.  The British are doing way too much ecstasy to try any of these things.

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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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24 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:13 pm

Controlympics: The Tae Kwon Do Guy’s Mistake

Pity poor Angel Matos, the Cuban tae kwon do athlete who was expelled for life for kicking a referee in the face:

If he had just shot the guy instead, he could have run for Vice President of the United States.

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24 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: What Happened to Cuba?

Has anyone noticed the decline of Cuba as an Olympic power?

Communist countries have long used a factory system to create large numbers of successful Olympic athletes: identify young people who are athletically gifted, force them to learn a particular sport, and ruthlessly cull until you identify as many Olympic champions as possible.  Cuba was perhaps the best example of a small country using the system to its advantage.

This is what Fidel Castro once said about the Cuban Olympic program:

What has Cuba’s role been in the Olympic Games? What has it achieved? What has been the fruit of our efforts to promote healthy clean sports? At the 1972 Olympics, we finished 14th among 122 countries. At the Montreal Olympics in 1976. . . we finished 8th among 88 participating countries. In 1980, in Moscow we finished 4th among 81 countries; in 1992, in Spain we finished 5th among 169 countries; and in Atlanta, in 1996 we finished 8th among 197 countries. Could anyone refuse these figures?

The Cubans boycotted the 1984 and 1988 games, which is why Castro does not mention those years.  So given their history, I wondered what they’ve been doing this time around:

Cuba’s Angel Matos deliberately kicked a referee square in the face after he was disqualified in a bronze-medal match, prompting the World Taekwondo Federation to recommend Matos be banned for life. Matos was winning 3-2, with 1:02 left in the second round, when he fell to the mat after being hit by his opponent, Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov. Matos was sitting there, awaiting medical attention, when he was disqualified for taking too much injury time. . . . Matos angrily questioned the call, pushed a judge, then pushed and kicked referee Chakir Chelbat of Sweden, who required stitches in his lip. Matos spat on the floor and was escorted out.

You can find the photo of Matos kicking the referee’s face here.

In fairness to Cuba, this could have been an athlete from any country.  But it’s clear that we’ve not seen Cuban athletes play a prominent role this time around.  Certainly no superstars like Alberto Juantorena or Teofilo Stevenson.  So I wanted to see where they were in the medal count compared to past years:

The 2008 figures are through last night (Saturday).  If you use the Chinese (gold medals count) system, the Cubans are tied for 27th out of 79 countries that have won medals.  If you use the American (total medals) system, they are ranked 12th.

What strikes me here is that while the total number of medals is not that far off their previous average, the number of golds is down significantly.  Their only two champions are Mijain Lopez in the 120 kg men’s Greco-Roman wrestling and Dayron Robles in the men’s 110m hurdles.

Cuba has suffered from a large number of defections over the past sixteen years, so that may be part of the what’s happened.  But I think it’s something deeper than that.  With Fidel’s decline, has sports become less important?  What are the official government organs making of this?

Something tells me that Fidel isn’t going to be bragging about these numbers.

| posted in globalization, pop culture | 0 Comments

23 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

Controlympics: Mugabe Wins Gold in the Deceitathon

Via Reuters:

President Robert Mugabe may have decided to abandon power-sharing talks aimed at ending Zimbabwe’s deep crisis, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Thursday.  Tsvangirai said Mugabe’s intention to open parliament next Tuesday was a “repudiation” of a Memorandum of Understanding on the basis for talks to end a political deadlock that followed disputed June elections.

Hmm.  Tuesday, August 26.  That would be. . .exactly two days after the Olympics end.

From a July 28 story in The Telegraph (UK):

A demand by China that the Zimbabwean government “behave” in the run-up to the Olympics lies behind Robert Mugabe’s surprise decision to open negotiations with the opposition.  Beijing put pressure on Mr Mugabe to begin talks because of fears that the continuing crisis in Zimbabwe risked overshadowing the Olympics, according to government and diplomatic sources.

China’s leaders, who have have long enjoyed a close relationship with Zimbabwe’s beleagured president, feared growing protests in the run-up to the Games and so leaned on Mr Mugabe to agree to the historic talks.

At the time, I wrote the following:

Turns out that China, fearing bad publicity due to its close relationship with Zimbabwe, has told Robert Mugabe and his gang of thugs to cool it for a while. . . .

And does this mean that Mugabe will renege on the power-sharing agreement as soon as the Olympics are over?

Looks like we have our answer.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

23 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

Controlympics: Orwell Runs Rings around the Olympics

George Orwell, writing in 1945, explains what the Olympics are (and what they aren’t):

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles. . . .

Instead of blah-blahing about the clean, healthy rivalry of the. . .field and the great part played by the Olympic Games in bringing the nations together, it is more useful to inquire how and why this modern cult of sport arose. . . .There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism–that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.

I do not, of course, suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry; big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes that have produced nationalism. Still, you do make things worse by sending forth a team. . .to do battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides that whichever nation is defeated will “lose face”.

Sounds pretty accurate to me.

Hat tip:  DFL

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, media, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

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.

| posted in globalization, media, pop culture | 0 Comments

22 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:13 pm

Controlympics: The Day the Music Didn’t Die

China has unblocked iTunes. But you have to take the step of picking which country’s store you’re going to use, which makes it a little more difficult to grab that Tibet album that started the whole kerfuffle.  But if you really want to, you still can get it.

So the music hasn’t died in China.  iTunes is alive.  Or to paraphrase Pepsi’s first ad campaign in China, iTunes now can bring your dead ancestors back to life.

Thank goodness.  I’d hate for my Chinese friends to have to buy pirated versions of “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

| posted in globalization, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

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.

| posted in globalization, politics, pop culture, world at home | 0 Comments

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.

| posted in globalization, media, pop culture | 0 Comments

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.

| posted in globalization, politics | 0 Comments

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.

| posted in globalization, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

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