Iranian Protests

Andrew Sullivan is the one-man, citizen journalism aggregator of the protests in Iran today. His collection of Tweets and YouTube videos convey the impression of a large-scale uprising that the government is trying to control with riot police, chemical weapons, and propaganda. It certainly appears that the uprising is gathering steam and that the government is out-matched. Given that the Supreme Leader relies on his moral authority to govern, and that authority is now shot full of holes, it seems unlikely that he can hang on to power.

Twitter and YouTube are certainly playing a role in getting the news out of the blackout the Iranian government has sought to impose.

Summing-up the Beijing Games

The LA Times boils China’s Olympics down to their real essence:

Yet what planners in Beijing miscalculated is that no matter how well you teach performers to smile, the strain behind the lips is still detectable. The near-hysterical drive by Chinese leaders to put on the biggest, most spectacular sporting event ever, and to engineer a generation of Chinese medalists regardless of the financial or human costs, is rather more disconcerting to the outside world than convincing. If it was Beijing’s intention to prove China’s greatness via the Games, what it has demonstrated instead is the fragility of its ego.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. So what does this say for the London Games?

British officials are no doubt wondering how they can possibly top the spectacle of Beijing when London hosts the Summer Games in 2012. They shouldn’t even try. The British have nothing to prove, and it will be refreshing to watch an event in which athleticism matters more than image. The London Olympics will probably be messier and less awe-inspiring than the Chinese Games, but it’s a good bet they’ll be more fun

Sports is supposed to be fun, you know.

That being said, an opening ceremony featuring Daleks and Cybermen would be welcome.

Like I said

I hate to say “I told you so” (actually, I love it, but play along), but the director of the Beijing games’ opening and closing ceremonies touts the obedience of his countrymen in boosting his own work:

China’s most famous film director, Zhang Yimou, who directed both ceremonies, said only Chinese performers were skilled, disciplined and obedient enough to lay on the sort of song and dance display seen on Sunday night and admired around the world…

He also showed little concern for the few critical voices who found the mass organisation of thousands of performers reminiscent of the Soviet era.

“I often joke with (foreign interviewers) and say that our level of human performance is second in the world,” he said. “Number one is North Korea. Their performances are totally uniform, and uniformity in this way brings beauty. We Chinese can do it too. After hard training and strict discipline, Chinese achieve that as well.”

It takes a peculiar aesthetic taste to find thousands of people acting in perfect unison beautiful, and there’s no accounting for it. Either you do or you don’t, and I’m among those who would rather see individual talent than such displays. The Brit segment during the closing stressed individualism and was therefore much more enjoyable.

The Beijing Games were certainly well organized, with a minimum of cheating outside of boxing and women’s gymnastics, and flowed well except for problems caused by the climate in Beijing and Hong Kong. Of course it rains in London as well, but it won’t be so hot and muggy, and the equestrian events won’t be shortened. It’s kinda sad that baseball and softball won’t be played, but all the events outside the core track and field competitions should be regarded as optional fluff anyhow; the Greeks didn’t tumble and play ping-pong, because Britain didn’t invent ping-pong until the 19th century.

Mao’s Little Helper

John Schwartz generally works the tech beat at the New York Times, but he’s written a fine review of “Snow Falling in Spring”, a children’s book about Mao’s China. We join the narrative in the middle of the account of the Great Leap Forward:

…Neighbors contribute their cooking pots and cutlery for the cause. When Li’s grandmother asks if anyone has seen her cleaver, the little girl proudly responds, “Yes, I helped our country with it.” The family retrieves the big kettle and some spoons from the pile, but the cleaver, as she recalls, “had joined its comrades in the burning fire, doing its share for China.” Everyone has a good laugh over that one.

Then there is the war on the sparrows, a crusade to eliminate the accused scourge of crops. Li and her brother, Di Di, cheer lustily as her father’s pellet gun fells one feathered threat after another.

But things do not go as hoped. Making good steel, it turns out, is more difficult than it looks, and the government rejects the lot, leaving the neighbors downhearted and decidedly less well equipped in their kitchens.

As for the sparrows, well, the government had not considered the fact that sparrows eat insects. Crops are ravaged. In coming years, as a result of natural and man-made disasters, millions die.

And then things really begin to get bad.

I don’t suppose China’s youngsters are reading this book.

And speaking of the Times’ tech beat, Ashlee Vance has jumped to the Grey Lady from The Register. My condolences on the demotion.

Hail the new China, just like the old China

Another day, another deception from the People’s Republic of China’s Olympics. Remember the cute assemblage of children in colorful ethnic dress carrying the flag in the Opening Ceremony? They weren’t what they appeared to be:

Media reports said the children were from the Galaxy Children’s Art Troupe, which involves young actors and actresses mainly from the dominant Han ethnic group which makes up about 92 per cent of China’s 1.3 billion population.

But the programme for the four-hour ceremony had said the children were from different ethnic groups.

“56 children from 56 Chinese ethnic groups cluster around the Chinese national flag, representing the 56 ethnic groups,” read the media guide for the opening ceremony.

The fill-ins came as China struggles to keep conflicts with its ethnic groups out of the spotlight during the Olympics.

So we had fake singing, fake fireworks, fake ethnic harmony, fake passports, fake fans bussed in to fill empty seats, fake promises of free speech violated by visa denials and arrested journalists.

The Olympics were supposed to be the coming-out party for The New China. Indeed they are, and we’ve learned that the New China is just like the Old China, only shinier.

Don’t take my word for it. ask any of the 900 soldiers working the controls under the stadium who had to wear diapers because they weren’t allowed to leave their posts for 7 hours.

And for more perspective. see Ruth Coniff of The Progressive on The Totalitarian Olympics:

I would be a lot more excited about the summer Olympics if the host country weren’t fielding teams of athletes who are essentially forced laborers. Talk about taking the fun out of sports.

Yang Wenjun, a gold medalist in flatwater canoeing, told The New York Times recently that he longs to quit, but can’t. The Chinese government refused to let him retire after he won his gold medal in 2004, threatening to cut off the income he and his poor, rice-farming parents live on. Yang’s situation is typical.

The system of government-run Chinese sports schools takes children as young as 6 years old from their parents and trains them in their chosen sports, forgoing regular education. Stars are pushed to compete through injury, denied rest and medical care, and put through a grueling training regimen.

In the case of gymnastics, children are taken from their families at age three.

More Olympic fakery

Not content to slip under-aged girls onto their gymnastic team, Chinese officials also engaged in some sleight of hand in the Opening Ceremony. We’re not talking about the Clone Army that performed all the synchronized drumming, but the little girl who sang the cute song. It was lip-synched fakery:

One little girl had the looks. The other had the voice.

So in a last-minute move demanded by one of China’s highest officials, the two were put together for the Olympic opening ceremony, with one lip-synching “Ode to the Motherland” over the other’s singing.

The real singer, 7-year-old Yang Peiyi, with her chubby face and crooked baby teeth, wasn’t good looking enough for the ceremony, its chief music director told state-owned Beijing Radio.

So the pigtailed Lin Miaoke, a veteran of television ads, mouthed the words with a pixie smile for a stadium of 91,000 and a worldwide TV audience. “I felt so beautiful in my red dress,” the tiny 9-year-old told the China Daily newspaper.

The Guardian has this justification::

“This is in the national interest. It is the image of our national music, national culture. Especially the entrance of our national flag; this is an extremely important, extremely serious matter,” Chen Qigang, the event’s general music designer, explained to a Beijing radio station.

As if that wasn’t enough, the TV feed included CGI-enhanced fireworks:

Officials have already admitted that the pictures of giant firework footprints which marched across Beijing towards the stadium on Friday night were prerecorded, digitally enhanced and inserted into footage beamed across the world.

This is life in an authoritarian country, where the sky is whatever color the Central Committee says it is. But when that country is part of a world that doesn’t embrace its conformist values, these desperate attempts to make itself appear more perfect than it really is simply backfire.

The People’s Republic of Conformity

The first thing to annoy me about the Beijing Olympics is China’s evident cheating in girls’ gymnasitcs, where they’ve flouted the minimum age standard by making false passports for a couple of children. If Chinese gymnasts He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan are 15 1/2 years old, I’ll buy them each a Cadillac. Seeing them in Hi-Def makes me doubt these little tykes are a day over 14, actually. But nobody can make any sort of official protest until the games are over and they’re safely out of the country, for fear of judging reprisals or worse.

One thing that’s not in doubt is China’s history of cheating by lying about the ages of their female gymnasts:

Yang Yun of China won individual and team bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and later said in an interview on state-run television that she had been 14 at the time of those Games. A Hunan Province sports administration report also said later that she had been 14 when she competed in Sydney.

Bela Karolyi, who coached Retton of the United States and Nadia Comaneci of Romania to their Olympic gold-medal triumphs, said the problem of under-age gymnasts had been around for years. Age is an easy thing to alter in an authoritarian country, he said, because the government has such strict control of official paperwork.

It’s sad that the government of China abuses these poor children. And desperate, because they’re not fooling anybody.

These Olympics were supposed to be China’s bid to show itself to the world in a favorable light, but so far we have an all-robot opening ceremony, a murdered tourist, a bizarre recruitment program that pumps professional athletes into junk sports like air rifle, girls’ weight-lifting and synchronized diving, and blatant cheating in the marquee events. China comes of as a deranged lunatic, obsessed with winning and lacking in both grace and the capacity for self-analysis; a Bridezilla.

In short, China is looking at a public relations nightmare. But that might be good in the long run, if it prompts some serious self-analysis.