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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 pm

David Foster Wallace Would Have Loved This

From The Onion:

Shock, grief, and the overwhelming sense of loss that has swept the stock car racing community following the death by apparent suicide of writer David Foster Wallace has moved NASCAR to cancel the remainder of its 2008 season. . . .

“I’m flooded with feelings of—for lack of a better concept—incongruity,” said Jimmie Johnson, the driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet who is known throughout racing for his habit of handing out copies of Wallace’s novels to his fans. “David Foster Wallace could comprehend and articulate the sadness in a luxury cruise, a state fair, a presidential campaign, anything. But empathy, humanity, and compassion so strong as to be almost incoherent ran through that same sadness like connective tissue through muscle, affirming the value of the everyday, championing the banal yet true, acknowledging the ironic as it refused to give in to irony.” “And now he’s gone,” Johnson added. “He’s taken himself away. We can’t possibly race now.” . . .

“David himself said that what he knew about racing you could write with a dry Sharpie marker on the lip of a Coke bottle,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton, who announced the season cancellation late Monday after prompting from drivers and team owners in a statement that also tentatively suggested naming the 2009 Sprint series the Racing Season Of The Depends Adult Undergarment. . . .

A wonderfully hilarious and pitch-perfect tribute.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:45 pm

Paralympics: Helping NBC Do the Right Thing

The Paralympics ended yesterday and will return in 2012 in London.

International Paralympic Committee chief Philip Craven hailed Beijing 2008 as “the greatest Games ever” during a moving, colourful closing ceremony. . . .Craven paid tribute to “the best ever Paralympic villages, a never-ending and self-generating supply of passion and emotion, superb organisation and wonderful volunteers” in his speech.  He hailed “millions of new Paralympic sports aficionados both here in China and around the world.”

Of course, thanks to NBC, none of those “new aficionados” live in the United States.

I have a suggestion.  Let’s spend the next four years urging NBC to get their act together and broadcast this event live on one of what, by that time will be the 117 channels they own.

Mr. David Zucker
President and Chief Executive Officer
100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608

Dear Mr. Zucker,

We the undersigned were dismayed to discover that the NBC-Universal family chose not to televise the Paralympics in real time (live and tape-delayed rather than as a special taking place long after the event was over) in the same way that it chose to feature the Olympics.

We write you today, however, not to object to your current actions, but rather to urge you to make a different decision in 2012, when the Paralympics come to London.  he athletes competing in the Paralympics are as extraordinary as any in the world, and deserve our attention and respect.

We also think you would find them to be a tremendous ratings success.  Covering them therefore would be not only the right thing to do, it also would be the best business decision for your company.

We hope you will reconsider your decision and give Paralympics fans in this country the opportunity to support our athletes and share in their achievements.


If you’re willing to sign such a petition, please add your name and city/state to the coments section below.  And feel free to share it with others.  If we have enough interest, I’ll pass it on to NBC.  I will not share any contact information — only your name and city.

Photo:  Jonas in China via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license

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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.

| posted in globalization, media | 3 Comments

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.

| posted in globalization, pop culture | 1 Comment

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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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.

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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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21 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Controlympics: Live Blogging the Women’s 20K Racewalk

So last night I was so bored, I watched NBC Universal’s coverage of the women’s 20 kilometer racewalking event, which took place in a torrential downpour.  And let me tell you — if you haven’t seen racewalking in high definition, you haven’t seen racewalking.

I was tempting to live blog the event.  But that would have required paying attention to something that actually causes brain damage.  No offense to the fine athletes, but come on.  A race with judges throwing the racewalking equivalent of yellow and red cards at contestants whenever they violate the sport’s rules about making sure you walk and not run?  This makes gymnastics look like a real sport.

And I’m not kidding about the mental impairment.  It’s already produced at least one casualty.  Carol Lewis, NBC’s racewalking analyst, said something along the following at one point:  “[I]f you’re just joining our coverage for the first time, you should know that we’ve had wonderful weather all week.”

Because you know, a lot of people skipped Michael Phelps and gymnastics last week, but nobody is going to miss the 20 K racewalk. It’s too exciting for words.  Or at least intelligible sentences.

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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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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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16 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:53 am

Where’s My Cane, Sonny?

I watched the Mark Spitz-Michael Phelps interview last night.  My reaction?

Mark Spitz is old.

Not Senator Grouchy McGrouchypants old, but he’s up there.

Spitz actually said to Phelps at one point, “you weren’t born when I did what I did.”  That’s officially old.

But it also means that Phelps wasn’t born when I watched Spitz do what he did.

Which means I’m old.

And judging by this post, self-absorbed as well.


| posted in none of the above | 0 Comments

15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:09 pm

When did NBC. . .

. . .decide that Beach Volleyball should be the fourth most televised sport?  Yech.

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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

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

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!):


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.

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

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

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

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