Agam's Gecko
Friday, August 22, 2008
China's pride
A girls stands with a poster of China's "torch summit" of Tibet's Chomolangma (Mount Everest) on May 8, 2008.

erious questions are being asked about yet more of China's Olympic accomplishments. Citizen journalism is involved. Answers have not been forthcoming. But citizen journalism has that partly covered too.

On August 1, Nepali blogger "Blogdai" published the results of 2 months of research into the question, "Did China really carry Her Most Harmonious Flaming Majesty to the tip-top of Chomolangma (Mount Everest) on May 8, 2008?" (Alright, so I embellished the question a bit.)

It was unknown to me until yesterday that the mountaineering community has been raising many inconsistencies in the official account and photo/video evidence for a successful ascent on that occasion. It was not unknown to Blogdai. He's still looking for any proof, the absence of which points to "It was faked."

It's long been an Everest custom that the first activity of whomsoever attains the summit, is to take photographic proof of that accomplishment. Without it, claims are routinely questioned (including the 1960 Chinese expedition, which was said to have reached the peak "at night," and which many Everest veterans doubt). For the torch summit there is no photo or video which shows the team actually on the peak, nor any view of identifiable surrounding peaks or features. There's no "money shot." The scenes could have been filmed almost anywhere.

In the video footage, women climbers are heard chattering away "in long, single-breath sentences." In fact the oxygen is so scarce up there that speaking more than a few words at a time is very difficult. No oxygen bottles are ever seen, and some climbers are wearing simple cloth masks (which trap carbon dioxide and make it even more difficult to get oxygen). Copious amounts of visible fog from the climbers' breaths are evident, but it's actually far too dry on the summit for that. And if it were so freakishly humid that day at 29,035 feet, their faces would be encrusted with what climbers call "rime ice." They aren't.

The mountain was completely closed well before the ascent -- both the Tibetan side and the Nepali side (where the military was instructed to "shoot intruders if necessary," and where Chinese soldiers also patrolled). When the mountain re-opened on May 10, the first group to reach the top found no new flags, mementos or any other evidence of the just-departed torch team. In one video scene:
Torch bearer in orange parka takes slow, measured, almost theatrical steps up the hill as a support climber sprints up behind him and appears to be trying to run past. Was this guy in the orange trying to simulate high altitude walking?
There are many more incongruities at the link, much of it in comments and submissions from people familiar with the mountain.

The story was picked up on August 5 by Australia's News.com.au blogger Jack Marx. It will be recalled that media was invited to cover the ascent, but the BBC was expelled from the Nepali side in April. The BBC guy on the Tibetan side reported restrictions on phones and video cameras, and threats that any mountaineers caught talking to the media would be expelled. "Having invited us here to cover the ascent of the flame, the Chinese appear to have taken fright," Jonah Fisher wrote.

Some have claimed the footage may have actually been shot in 2007. A German journalist says that he witnessed "a huge military camp on the side of Mount Everest that year. But maybe they were just looking for Tibetan refugees to shoot (the original German article has now gone missing).

That's not all that has gone missing lately from this interweb thing. If anyone is wondering why the IOC yesterday decided to open an investigation into the ages of China's lady gymnasts after having said that they'd take State Passport Bureau's word for it, this is why. And be sure not to miss Part II - Let's go for the Gold.

Blogger Stryde decided not to be "too CNN" and actually do some investigation using only publicly available, primary, and linkable information. Gymnasts must turn at least 16 years old during 2008, meaning they must be born in 1992 or earlier. Performing a Google search on the .cn domain for Exel spreadsheets containing He Kexin's name (Chinese characters), Stryde got a hit, located on the official government website for the "General Administration of Sport of China."

Google found it, but the file has now been removed from the server. In the Google cache of the file, He Kexin's name no longer appears. So Stryde tries Baidu (a Chinese language search engine) and gets two hits on the same government website. One of these has also been deleted since it was indexed. But the Baidu cache function still works on both (meaning they were accessible until quite recently). Both files give the "lady" gymnast's birthdate as 01-01-1994. She turned 14 years old this year.

I'm very interested in the fact that the Google cache contained no entry for the girl's name (even though it was indexed as containing it), while the Baidu cached files both contained it. Did Google allow its own files to be rewritten? I'm shocked that anyone could think such a thing about the "don't be evil" people! (joking....)

The issue here is not the girl(s) but the Chinese government. Everyone should have sympathy for what these girls go through -- all that hardship in the centralised Chinese athletic production facilities, and then being forced to lie to the world about their ages. All for the big faces of the leaders with no shame. Is failure actually worse than being caught cheating? For the Party, apparently it is.

The following day the blogger tried the search using google.cn, and found more hits -- including a new spreadsheet. Upon refreshing the search a few hours later, the original find was "down the memory hole." The newer find was still there in results, but it too had since been removed from its server. Following up on that file name with a Baidu search, Stryde once again found the cached record. That file also gives He Kexin's birthdate as 01-01-1994.

Evidence presented in the blog's comments section shows that another of the gymnastic girls was born in 1993. A press release was found from the official website of Guangzhou Municipality dated June 25, 2007, stating that Yang Yilin began her training at the age of five, in 1999. She'll turn 15 next Tuesday.

There is but one reason for the age limitation on gymnastics -- safety of the children. That the big faces of Party leaders is considered more important than this, is despicable. That winning at that price is considered more important than playing by the rules, is despicable. That these girls have had to be trained to protect the lie, is despicable. Stryde writes that his investigation was not really about the age limit per se, nor even whether fraud occurred. It's quite clear now that the records have been forged.
This story now is really about Internet censorship, the act of removing evidence while at the same time claiming that the evidence is wrong. For the first time I watched search records shift under my feet like sand, facts draining down a hole in the Internet. Will this stand?
The sleuths at the IOC are on the case, so I guess we'll see. Quite a pickle you've gotten them into, Stryde. Great work.

I read recently of a saying in Chinese sport circles which speaks volumes, along the lines that "One gold medal is worth a thousand silvers." Some excitable people are apparently so "gold-hungry" that they'll even call second place finishers "losers." Well, who would have expected the Beijing Organising Committee (BOCOG) to admit this week that the gold medals awarded at these games are mostly made of silver.
Each medal contains only 6 per cent pure gold, BOCOG secretary-general Wang Wei said. The bulk is silver, he added.
Maybe this is normal practice, I have no idea. But given the "gold-mania" over there, and all the pirate-like talk in media about "medal hauls" and how much "loot" the athletes are going home with, it's hilarious.

Journalist detained
AP photographer Ng Han Guan (centre, crouching) is roughed up and detained by plainclothes security forces on Thursday. Ng and another AP photographer were forced into cars and taken for interrogation before being released. Their camera memory cards were confiscated.
Photo: AP / Greg Baker
The latest six foreign demonstrators to be arrested by security forces at the Olympics have been handed ten day detention terms under China's "administrative detention" laws. These are the laws that enable the authorities to detain anyone up to four years, for any (or no) reason at all. The five Americans (said to be bloggers) were detained on Tuesday while another American (artist James Powderly) was arrested for just thinking about broadcasting a laser message. A Tibetan-German man, a Briton and two Americans have been missing since Thursday.

It's well to remember that if they'd been Chinese citizens, it would be straight to the laogai (re-education through labour camp) with them. Two elderly women who applied for a permit to demonstrate at one of those ridiculous "protest zones" will each serve a year at one of these camps, getting "re-educated." Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, were interrogated for 10 hours before their sentencing without trial, Wu's son Li Xuehui told AFP. In a telephone interview with AP, Li said "Wang Xiuying is almost blind and disabled. What sort of re-education through labor can she serve?"

Have the security forces been handling the press according to the orders of Party officials? Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of orders sent to police stations last month, indicating they were told not to obstruct the international press (but to harass people who talk to the international press).
Dated 25 July and entitled "Four directives for handling foreign journalists," the first document asks the police not to block their camera lenses (1), not to damage their equipment (2), not to confiscate their memory cards (3) and not to investigate when they are involved in minor offences (4).
Clearly these directives have been violated numerous times, the latest being two AP photographers who were roughed up, forced into cars and taken away for interrogation yesterday. Memory cards from their cameras were confiscated.

A second document obtained by RSF is titled "Eight directives for not intervening when a foreign journalist is interviewing a Chinese." Two of the permitted scenarios are:
(6) if the journalist is asking about sensitive matters but the interviewee is not causing people to gather and disrupt public order

(7) if the interviewee talks about subjects such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan and Falun Gong or criticises the Party or government but is not behaving outrageously
In either of these cases, the journalist is not to be interfered with. But in regard of point 7, the orders tell police to "speak to the interviewee in accordance with Chinese legislation and to follow and monitor the journalist."

Radio Free Asia has video of a woman speaking with a reporter in one of the "protest parks" (she's not conducting a protest, but an interview). See how she is treated.

In light of all this falsification, double-talk and fakery, and stipulating that none of this is in the least bit funny, I feel like ending with a joke (courtesy of ET).

Jiang Zemin dies (it's an old joke), and in the afterlife he meets the gatekeepers of heaven and hell. They ask him in which place he wants to spend his eternity. Jiang thinks for a while and asks if he can see what each place is like before he makes up his mind.

The gatekeeper of hell shows him a video of that place. He sees people drinking, dancing and laughing. But Jiang wants to see what heaven is like before deciding.

The other gatekeeper shows a video of heaven, where everyone is working hard -- mopping floors and cleaning windows. His decision is easy. "I'll go to hell!" The gates are opened.

But Jiang looks upon a horrible scene as masses of people burn and writhe in the fires, their agonized screams piercing his ears. He turns back to the gatekeeper. "What about that video you showed me?"

"Oh. That video was produced by CCTV."

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