Category ►►► Sporting Gents
August 14, 2012
A specter is haunting the Olympics, the specter of -- PC police?
Ever since I can remember, the Olympics has always included controversy. During the cold war, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was notorious for favoriing the Eastern bloc of Communists and other totalitarians. The basketball game between the United States and the Soviet Union at the 1972 Olympics is a classic example: Wth the U.S. ahead by one point at the end of the game, Olympic officials allowed the Soviets to play the final three seconds over and over, until they finally got a basket and won the game on the third attempt.
The idea that the Olympics have ever transcended politics was always a joke -- think of the East European "female" shot-putters, the figure-skating scoring scandas, and synchronized swimming shenanigans; but in the XXXth Olympiad, some attacks against athletes were not due to national rivalries but from the athlete's own country. These individuals were targeted for their political and religious beliefs, and in one case, guilt by association: the German Olympics Committee didn't like the boyfriend of one of their female rowers.
John Fund lists a few examples of outrageous political discrimination against athletes by their own countries' Olympic commitees this Olympiad:
Greek triple-jump champion Voula Papachristou was expelled from her country’s Olympic team last week after she tweeted a tasteless joke. In a reference to a recent outbreak of West Nile virus in Greece, she said that with so many Africans living in Greece, the mosquitoes carrying the virus would be eating “homemade food.” She was promptly booted for making racist comments “contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympics movement.”
At first, this was reported as an overreaction to a dumb joke; we later learned that Papachristou was a supporter of Golden Dawn, a right-wing, anti-immigrant, Greek political party. It's clear the real reason she was kicked off her team and out of the Olympics was her political opinion; the tweet was just an excuse. Fund points out that whatever what one feels about Golden Dawn, "it is a legal party...[it] has 18 members seated in the Greek parliament."
Then there is the case of Nadja Drygalla, a rower who was pressured to leave the German Olympic team last Friday after a TV station reported that her boyfriend was Michael Fischer, who had been a candidate for the far-right National Democratic party in a regional election last year. Some also claimed Fischer had been involved in disruptive protests against immigrants.
Drygalla insists that she dose not share the political opinion of her boyfriend. Even Fischer himself has left the party. None of that mattered to the German Olympic Committee, and Drygalla was forced off the team.
Lessons learned: If you are on friendly terms with anybody connected to a right-wing European party, you yourself are guilty by association. (You may recall similar tactics used by a previous political party in Germany's past.)
But, even if Drygalla herself was a party member, so what? What is she guilty of? Where does the Olympic rule book state that you cannot represent your country if your politics disagrees with the ruling elite's?
Clearly, neither Greece nor Germany believes in freedom of speech ("Free speech for me but not for thee"); but the United States does -- allegedly. Yet even in Barack Obama's America, a disgustingly similar injustice has occurred.
Track and field US Olympian Lolo Jones has been harrassed via a vicious Twitter hate parade regarding her sex life, or rather the lack thereof: Before the games, Lolo Jones "outed" herself... as a Christian who doesn't believe in sex outside of marriage.
That prompted a barrage, possibly orchestrated, of savage attacks. One of the lesser tweets, from a twit called JayAbe2, reads, "Lolo lost? Good. Go have sex now girl, STFU and then you’ll win". Another reads "Poor lolo, just have sex and done."
But it's not just twits on Twitter. Despite finishing fourth in the 100m hardle race -- a respectable acheivement one would think -- her critics have attacked her relentlessly for not getting a medal. (Really, try running yourself, you bunch of couch potatoes!)
But even before the race, the New York Times printed a hit piece on Jones, accusing her of seeking popularity due to her looks rather than her atheletic ability.
After sneering that Jones has "only a slim chance of winning an Olympic medal," the Times tears into her:
Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be -- vixen, virgin, victim -- to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses.
Women have struggled for decades to be appreciated as athletes. For the first time at these Games, every competing nation has sent a female participant. But Jones is not assured enough with her hurdling or her compelling story of perseverance. So she has played into the persistent, demeaning notion that women are worthy as athletes only if they have sex appeal. And, too often, the news media have played right along with her.
Had Jones not confessed to being a Christian, and worse, a virgin, would the newspaper have tried so hard to rip her to pieces and possibly adversely affect her performance? We can all be the judge of that. But note that the Times completely ignored Jones' undeniable acheivements:
She was the first woman ever to claim back-to-back World Indoor titles in the 60m hurdles while setting an American record in the process. Jones finished her career at LSU as a three-time national champion and 11-time All-American, where she ranks among the top-three all-time at LSU in both the 60m and 100m hurdles. Jones was named Gatorade Midwest Athlete of the year and holds the 100mH record for the state of Iowa.
So Rush Limbaugh gets condemned by the entire liberal establishment for joking that a woman who wants to sleep around and make the "government" (us, that is) pay for her contraceptives is a hooker (and we're her pimps); but "America's newspaper of record" can mock a woman for being a Christian and a virgin, essentially accusing her of being a coquettish sex kitten for looking sexy, but refusing to hook up... and nobody on the Left sees anything wrong with that. So much for radical feminists being "pro choice!"
Notice overall point: In each of these instances, a female athlete paid the price for virture, or for speaking her mind, or for her boyfriend's past political stances. Somehow, the men seem to be given a greater flexibility by liberals and feminists for politically incorrect opinions.
In the bad old days, the IOC allowed Communists, Fascists, and other tyrants to participate on an equal footing with the free countries, though the Left was generally "more equal" than the Right. But now, in the bad new days, Olympics officials, commentators, reporters, and fans don't even want to allow the Right to participate at all, even if that eliminates some of the best competitors. For when it comes to a choice between harassing a "right-wing" team member off the team, and winning Olympic medals, the joy of hate wins hands down.
November 5, 2010
Change Up - My All-Time Favorite Skating Video
Scott Hamilton and Kurt Browning really know how to break the ice at parties...
(Probably from one of Hamilton's Stars on Ice shows, but I don't recall which one!)
June 18, 2010
Shouldn't Slovenia Have Been Cautioned...
...for having 12 players on the field?
I refer of course to the eleven Slovenian members -- plus the Malian referee, Koman Coulibaly, who called back America's third (and winning) goal on an imaginary foul.
May 8, 2008
Oppressed by China Red
Today, the Chinese government lugged the Olympic torch (one of the "side torches," not the main one) up to the summit of Mount Everest at 29,029 feet (8,848 meters). Provacatively enough, they ascended the Tibetan (north) face of the mountain (which it pleases the world to call the "Chinese face") rather than the Nepalese (south) face.
All foreign climbing teams were told that Everest was closed for the event; China was very afraid some mountaineer from the United States or some European country would unfurl a "free Tibet" banner and "mar" the celebration. The other climbers who had planned to summit during that period all had to go home or stick around at Base Camp and climb some other time. Even Nepal, under pressure from the 800-lb gorilla of the Chinese occupation force in next-door Tibet, went along with China's seizure of the tallest mountain in the world for a narcissistic celebration of itself.
Most of the climbers were Tibetans climbing in Tibet, but the only national flag they unfurled was Chinese. Instead of being good propaganda for Red China, the climb became mired in controversy, like everything else: To many, it symbolized China's continuing dominance of Tibet and its adamant claim that the invasion and long occupation makes Tibet a province of China now.
But ham-fisted diplomacy and PR has become a hallmark of the not-ready-for-prime-time People's Republic of China, seen most clearly by the catastophic public-relations disaster of the torch tour...
After leaving San Francisco, the Olympic torch traveled down south to Australia and around several Southeast Asian countries before arriving in Nagano, Japan on April 27th. As I wrote before, the Nagano authorities refused to allow the blue-clad Chinese paramilitary guards to run with a torch runner; but that did not deter China: Using internet bulletin-board systems, China solicited a very large number of Chinese exchange students in Japan to "volunteer" for "torch-guarding duty." China even provided them with Chinese flags.
But if Communist China meant to demonstrate that it's civilized enough to host an Olympics, it failed miserably.
The Chinese volunteers in Japan surrounded the torch runner so tightly that they prevented any of the locals from seeing the Japanese celebrity athletes recruited to carry the torch. There were very few Olympics or Japanese flags in view, mostly just a tsunami of red and yellow Communist flags flooding down the parade route. My father, watching the event on TV, told me that it didn't even look like Japan: “If the Chinese wanted to enjoy the torch alone and not let others see it, why didn't they just run it around inside China?”
Two things shocked the Japanese:
- The sheer number of Chinese who showed up; hundreds of "torch guards" materialized seemingly out of nowhere to participate, and many Japanese wondered where they had all been a month earlier.
- How swiftly Japan rushed to appease China; probably because of point 1 above, the Japanese police looked the other way as the pro-Chinese protesters suppressed the pro-Tibet side by force.
It's no secret that there is racial prejudice against Chinese in Japan (and against Japanese in China). But unlike Korean nationals, who are often vocal about their civil rights, the Chinese in Japan have kept a low profile. They by and large assimilate into Japanese society; Chinese immigrants and Japanese citizens had been on relatively good terms for decades.
However, in recent years -- starting with the orchestrated anti-Japanese riot in China over WWII compensation in 2005 -- mounting crime by Chinese gangsters in Japan and the recent frozen-food contamination have severely strained the two countries’ relationship. In this climate, the "in your face" behavior by Chinese students is "unhelpful" (as Donald Rumsfeld would put it) to the image of Red China.
The Japanese people were also angered by the Nagano police's pro-Chinese policy. Determined to avoid trouble, the cops kow-towed to the Chinese, preventing many pro-Tibet and anti-Chinese residents (including Japanese citizens) from protesting.
In this YouTube, a lone pro-Tibetan protester (his sign reads "Shame on China" in English) is surrounded by pro-Chinese agitators. Two of them converge on the man with the anti-Chinese sign, and they rip it to shreds. During all this, several Japanese policemen stand by and do nothing to stop the aggression or protect the Tibet supporter's freedom of speech:
Next, a pro-Tibet protester on a motor-bike is told that his Tibetan flag is offensive and might "create trouble" -- yet just up the block, hundreds of pro-China demonstrators wave hundreds of Chinese flags, and the police allow them to march on:
Policeman: "If you wave such a flag, it looks like a challenge."
Protester: "What about their flags? Why don't you stop them?"
The Nagano police are only taking their cue from the government of Japan; yesterday, pro-China Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda welcomed the Chinese president, Hu Jintao; Hu's main claim to fame -- what likely propelled him into the presidency -- was the crackdown he initiated in 1989 when he ran the "Tibet Autonomous Region"... and the possibility that he may even have had a hand in the unexpected death of the Panchen Lama of Tibet. The Central Committee of the Communist Part of China tends to sit up and take notice of efficient suppression of dissent.
But at least in Japan, the pro-Tibet demonstrators for the most part escaped violence from overzealous Chinese students. South Korea was not so lucky.
At the torch’s next stop in Seoul, over 10,000 Chinese students showed up. Korean police were pathetically unequipped to deal with a mob that size. They could not stop the Chinese from beating a number of anti-Chinese demonstrators (hat tip Agam’s Gecko):
Before the event, the police's main concern was that rallies by human rights activists to protest China's crackdown in Tibet might disrupt the relay. However, tens of thousands of nationalistic Chinese supporters flocked to streets in Seoul, resulting in an outbreak of violence against anti-Beijing Olympic protesters.
Some, including one Korean journalist, sustained light injuries from the clash in which Chinese expatriates and students hurled rocks, sidewalk blocks and rubbish. Police say they will apprehend those who resorted to violence….
The Chinese supporters pushed through police lines, with some of them hurling rocks, bottled water and plastic and steel pipes at the protesters.
It soon turned into a violent clash that left citizens, riot police officers and anti-China protesters injured. A news photographer was hit over the head and another Korean activist was hurt after being hit by a pipe wrench in the chest.
The pro-Chinese later surrounded, kicked and punched Tibetans and South Korean supporters who waved pro-Tibet banners and called for the protection of human rights of North Korean defectors. They also clashed with riot police, witnesses said.
Pro-Chinese violence in Seoul, South Korea
At least there was no People's Liberation Army to gun down the Korean demonstrators.
Choson Online goes into detail about the violence:
The clips show some 100 Chinese crowding in on several Koreans protesting against China’s repression in Tibet in the lobby of the Seoul Plaza Hotel in the heart of the capital, beating them with flagpoles and fists, and kicking them. Riot police were sandwiched in the middle, and some of them were also beaten.
The Chinese students kept shouting, "Beat him to death!" and "Apologize!" Those who were beaten up by the Chinese mob were later revealed to have been three members of civil rights groups who had protested against China’s handling of the Tibet issue in front of the Deoksu Palace on Sunday afternoon. They escaped into the hotel after being chased by over 400 China supporters. One riot police officer had to have six stitches in the head after being beaten by the mob.
There was also footage of a reporter bleeding from the head after being hit by a piece of wood thrown by the Chinese, and a leading member of a civil rights group hurt by a metal cutter hurled by the Chinese demonstrator. One clip shows four American high school students wearing "Free Tibet" T-shirts surrounded by 300 Chinese people. They were later rescued by the police.
(As an aside, this should serve as a strong counterargument to those pro-Chinese and anti-Tibet commenters who have insisted that the pictures in this post are "easily explained" by the suggestion that Tibetan demonstrators and Chinese loyalists happily walk side by side without friction to the demonstrations.)
As you might imagine, Koreans are up in arms about the Chinese mob’s behavior.
According to Japanese language Choson Online, before the riots against freedom of speech began, South Koreans were somewhat sympathetic to China for all the troubles they were having with protest spanning the globe. However, their feelings toward China have changed overnight: Oppressing dissenters within their own country is one thing; it's ugly, but other Asian countries are reluctant to interfere in China's internal business. But assaulting and suppressing anti-Chinese sentiment in foreign countries is unforgivable. Who are the Chinese to dictate to the rest of the world what protesters can say about Red China?
This scandal demonstrates two points:
- How diplomatically immature China still is, still making the sort of blunders more often assciated with third-world countries like Myanmar;
- And how feckless it was for the International Olympic Committee to award the 2008 Olympics to Beijing in the first place, in the misguided and thoughtless belief that merely giving China everything it wants will raise the self esteem of the Chinese Communist Party so much that they will spontaneously reform themselves.
The first point is easily argued: Whether or not China helped orchestrate the violent Tibetan demonstrations in and out of the country earlier, why didn't they just keep playin the victim card? Why not continue to hawk the line that it is the demonstrators, not the put-upon Chinese, who are the unreasonable ones?
A couple of weeks of China complaining that France and Japan and South Korea were not living up to their obligation to protect the torch, coupled with pictures of vicious anti-Chinese thugs rioting in the streets, would have been worth years of pro-Chinese propaganda.
Instead, with visions of Tiananmen Square dancing like sugarplums in their heads, the Communists deployed paramilitary troops to aggressively "guard the torch;" and when other countries prevented such invasions by the PLA, China pressed its foreign-exchange students into duty as urban-assault irregulars -- just like the Nazi and Stalinist fighters who battled in the German streets before the NSDAP finally took over.
Neville Chamberlain had a catchy phrase for the second point above; when applied to Nazi Germany in 1938, he called it "peace in our time." (World War II began the next year, and Chamberlain lived just long enough to see the collapse of his peace plan.)
China is the most populous country in the world (but not for long) and one of the most troublous, having deep ties to both North Korea and Iran. It certainly is not the most powerful, yet it is one of the most belligerent.
Which accounts for the kow-towing by countries such as Japan and South Korea: People usually show great deference to the town madman, even if he's armed only with a nuclear pocket knife.
April 11, 2008
Special (Forces) Olympics
The Olympic torch came to San Francisco yesterday -- and quickly departed, leaving nary a trace.
The City of Brother Love wanted to avoid the violent disturbances experienced in Paris and London, as pro-Tibet protesters used the occasion to draw attention to China's nearly six-decade occupation of that country. So San Francisco changed the torch-bearers' route,
bypassing protesters and potential spectators alike:
The nation’s only chance to see the Olympic flame up close became an elaborate game of hide-and-seek here on Wednesday, as city officials secretly rerouted the planned torch relay, swarmed its runners with blankets of security and then whisked the torch to the airport in a heavily guarded motorcade....
Just before the flame’s planned debut, the police along the announced route put on riot gear, seemingly in expectation of the flame’s arrival.
Mayor Gavin Newsom said the decision to change the route was made shortly after the torch was lighted outside AT&T Park, when it was briefly held aloft by Chinese Olympic officials and then promptly taken into a waterfront warehouse....
"It was a simple decision," Mr. Newsom said. "Do we cancel the event or do we change the event to assure the safety and security of the torchbearers?"
The whole point of Olympic torch is to celebrate the upcoming Olympics; if the people are intentionally prevented from seeing it, then what is the point of having a torch-bearing ceremony in the first place? They should have simply cancelled the event, rather than waste taxpayer's money for an elaborately secured farce.
But there is a more significant issue here than liberal obtuseness. Notice, in the photos below, several Chinese-looking men in blue track suits running alongside of the torch bearer: Although the New York Times says nothing about it -- and are probably not even aware of the controversy -- I believe these runners are members of Chinese paramilitary police unit, sent by the Chinese government to protect the torch flame.
According to the London Times, these paramilitaries have been traveling with the torch all over the world; their presence was witnessed in Paris and London this past week, for example:
China's blue-clad flame attendants, whose aggressive methods of safeguarding the Olympic torch have provoked international outcry, are paramilitary police from a force spun off from the country’s army.
The squad of 30 young men from the police academy that turns out the cream of the paramilitary security force has the job at home of ensuring riot control, domestic stability and the protection of diplomats.
Compare these two photos, the one on the left from San Francisco, the one on the right from either London or Paris:
Chinese paramilitary police in San Francisco (L) and London (R)
The problem is that unlike the civilized European and American police, these Chinese paramilitaries act as if they are at war; they have no regard for freedom of speech no tolerance of dissent, no matter where they happen to be. They have strongarmed protesters and bystanders alike and have even peremptorily ordered the torch bearers around, as if they were already in Beijing (an ominious sign of things to come when the athletes are actually in Beijing):
The Olympic medallist and organiser of the 2012 Games [Lord Sebastian Coe] was overheard saying that the officials had pushed him around as the torch made its way through the capital on Sunday. He added that other countries on the route should "get rid of those guys".
"They tried to punch me out of the way three times. They are horrible. They did not speak English . . . I think they were thugs."
His comments came after Konnie Huq, the former Blue Peter presenter, who was one of the torchbearers on Sunday, described how she had seen the officials in "skirmishes" with the police.
Ms Huq, who was carrying the torch when a pro-Tibet activist tried to snatch the flame, said of the guards: "They were very robotic, full-on . . . They were barking orders like 'run' and 'stop' and I was like, 'Who are these people?'."
The obvious question is, Who authorized their activity? The UK government must have known about them, but evidently, they didn't tell Parliament; and the Tories are demanding clarification from the Government:
David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, wrote yesterday to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, seeking clarification of the role of the Chinese officials. Mr Davis asked: "Who in the British Government authorised their presence and what checks were made as to their background?"
The London Times says that 30 of these paramilitaries were sent overseas to follow the torch from city to city, while other graduates of the same academy had a slightly different assignment:
Less than a year ago these mysterious “men in blue” were elite students from China’s Armed Police Academy and were selected amid great fanfare to form the grandly titled Sacred Flame Protection Unit.
In China, tens of thousands of their paramilitary colleagues have been deployed across Tibetan areas to restore order during riots, even opening fire when the antiChinese demonstrations have threatened to run out of control again.
Although these "guardians of the flame" appear to have been in San Francisco as well, the city’s decision to reroute the relay avoided any confrontation between protesters and the Chinese security force. But in Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that these Chinese torch guardians were not welcome in the torch parade at all:
Chinese paramilitary police will not be allowed to run alongside the Olympic torch in Australia, the country's prime minister said Thursday, after their heavy-handed tactics drew criticism in earlier legs of the relay.
The men in bright blue tracksuits were dispatched by Beijing to guard the Olympic flame on its journey around the world. They sparked concern in London and Paris, with the top official for the 2012 London Olympics calling them "thugs."
The torch is scheduled to pass through the Australian capital of Canberra on April 24, but the Chinese security agents escorting it will have to travel in a bus during the relay, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.
The torch is now headed to South America. It will eventualy go to Nagano, Japan, where the city has also announced that they will not let the Chinese guards run alongside the Olympic torch (I believe Japan Probe is a blogsite):
National Public Safety Commission Chairman Shinya Izumi indicated on Friday that Japan will not welcome "security runners" from China to accompany the Olympic torch when it arrives in Nagano if their role is to serve as guards.
Of course, Nagano is not keen on the protesters, either:
The National Police Agency announced today that it is planning to use the "hooligan provision" of immigration law to prevent radical anti-China activists from entering Japan and holding protests in Nagano. It has also been announced that the initial security force plan of about 500 Nagano police officers and 1,000 private security guards will be boosted to an unspecified number.
The Olympic torch is a very important symbol with a very specific meaning -- that nations can transcend politics to allow the people of the world to come together in a celebration of individual achievement in sport. It's telling that the Red Chinese government chose to protect that symbol with thuggish paramilitary troops. But by doing so, they have only revealed how oppressive and totalitarian is their own government, and how cowed is their culture and population.
For China, the Olympics were supposed to validate their status as a "modern country." Instead, the runup to the games has focused the world's attention on the barbarity of Chinese Communism. The neo-Maoists can no longer hide behind their inscrutable expressions or pretend that the Tiananmen Square massacre was an out-of-character, one-time fluke.
The world has belatedly realized that China is not up to the civilized standard. But why didn't the International Olympic Committee figure this out seven years ago, when they decided to award the Olympics to Beijing... instead of Toronto, Paris, or Istanbul; or if the IOC was determined that the Olympics should be in the Far East, then why did they so quickly eliminate Osaka, the second largest city in Japan, which had successfully held a World's Fair nearly four decades ago in 1970?
I believe the answer to Sachi's question is one word: appeasement. Appeasement occurs when you reward a dangerous person or country in advance, hoping it will be satisfied and will refrain from causing trouble... rather than waiting to see what it does, then either rewarding or punishing it accordingly.
The People's Republic of China has coveted two things for a number of years: an Olympic games, which they have tried to get since the 1980s, and membership in the World Trade Organization, which they've demanded since it was founded in 1995.
Despite the fact that China really had not demonstrated that they were ready for either "plum," the typically liberal mindset of both the IOC and the WTO (echoed by the Bush administration, alas) held that the best way to move them towards civilized behavior would be to give them the rewards first -- to appease them. I suppose the idea is that the only reason China strictly controls its markets, oppresses and brutalizes Tibet, bullies its neighbors, threatens our allies like Japan, and terrorizes its own citizens is that they're upset at not being treated better by the rest of the world.
They bid for the 2000 Olympics, leading through most rounds of the 1993 voting. When Sydney, Australia ended up winning instead, the Chinese pitched a terrible fit. I'm sure that played a big part in the decision by the IOC in July 2001 to give them the 2008 Olympics. I'm sure they wanted to mollify China for the "snub" of 1993, and they thought giving in would make the PRC less aggressive. Instead, they're rampaging across Tibet and sending paramilitaries to bully citizens of other countries.
Then in December of that same year, 2001, the WTO voted China membership -- despite China not meeting the minimial WTO requirements of openness, transparency, and connectivity -- presumably on the theory that being in the organization would all by itself reform China's socialist and protectionist policies. Yet as recently as the administration's report to Congress in December 2007, the best the president could say is:
In 2007, U.S. industry began to focus less on the implementation of specific commitments that China made upon entering the WTO and more on China’s shortcomings in observing basic obligations of WTO membership as well as Chinese policies and practices that undermine previously implemented commitments....
At the root of many of these problems is China’s continued pursuit of problematic industrial policies that rely on excessive Chinese government intervention in the market through an array of trade-distorting measures. This government intervention, evident in many areas of China’s economy, is a reflection of China’s historic yet unfinished transition from a centrally planned economy to a free-market economy governed by rule of law. As another major trade association explained in its written comments, "[t]he legacies of China’s command economy continue to be a drag on China’s complete integration into the global economy and, as a result, cause a variety of problems for China’s trading partners."
For that matter, six years after China became a WTO member, I think it has not even allowed the value of its currency to be set by the international currency-exchange markets -- which was supposed to be an absolute requirement for WTO membership that all other countries had to accept before they could become members. As usual, China is granted exceptional dispensation.
It still may be on balance more good than bad that the PRC is a member of the WTO; but the idea that membership alone would improve their behavior was utopian, in my opinion -- the same kind of utopianism that says the root cause of violent behavior of some public-school students is that they don't have a high enough opinion of themselves (!), so they need "self-esteem" programs.
Once again, the most fundamental aspects of human nature elude liberals (and evidently even "compassionate conservatives," at least occasionally):
Let's hope that someday we actually learn that lesson. It has a number of applications, which are left as an exercise to the discerning reader.
February 29, 2008
Chinese Takeout - UPDATED
We have discussed dangerous chinese products on this blog before, and unsafe food from China has been in the news over and over. But the bad news from China just keeps on coming, with no end in sight:
- Just a few weeks ago, frozen potstickers riddled with pesticide seriously sickened dozens of Japanese consumers, including children. Some of the children would have died, were it not for the excellent medical emergency personnel.
- Yesterday, it was poison salt, of all things: A restaurant in south China was found to be using industrial sodium nitrate, which killed several customers and sent dozens to the hospital.
- A seven year old boy was killed last year after eating food he purchased from a street vender; the vender ran out of regular salt... so he borrowed sodium nitrate from a nearby construction site and used it in his noodles.
- And here in the United States, tainted Chinese-made blood thinner caused a severe allergic reaction in patients, killing four people and sickening many more.
Update March 2, 2008: The blood thinner product resulted in more deaths than previously thought:
The Food and Drug Administration said the number of deaths possibly associated with the drug, made from pig intestines, had risen to 21 from 4. But it cautioned that many of those patients were already seriously ill and that the drug might not have caused their deaths.
Pollution in China is now such a problem that entire rivers are sinking into the ground and disappearing, leaving a toxic-waste riverbed; and clearly, Chinese health and safety regulation is woefully inadequate to protect the food supply and other products. So can anybody blame the U.S. Olympic team if they decide to bring their own food to the Beijing Olympics?
The United States Olympic Committee, which will have more than 600 people in its delegation, is planning to transport its own produce because of fears about public health and food standards in China.
The athletes will eat their three daily meals at their training camp at a local university, which is outside the official confines of the Olympic Park....
Other countries are understood to be considering plans to cater their own food after a series of public health scares in China [and other countries that import Chinese food]. Chinese-made dumplings contaminated by pesticides made thousands of Japanese ill last month.
The Chinese government is said to be very "offended" by this US decision; outraged, even. Regulations by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) forbid teams bringing their own food to the Olympic village (which is why the American team is staying off-site, to avoid that regulation). This is to prevent teams sneaking in illegal performance-enhancing substances, and also to protect the profits of contracted caterers -- a very big deal in China.
However, local Chinese food itself often contains illegal performance-enhancing substances:
When a caterer working for the United States Olympic Committee went to a supermarket in China last year, he encountered a piece of chicken -- half of a breast -- that measured 14 inches. “Enough to feed a family of eight,” said Frank Puleo, a caterer from Staten Island who has traveled to China to handle food-related issues.
“We had it tested and it was so full of steroids that we never could have given it to athletes. They all would have tested positive.”
Many Japanese are afraid for their athletes' and fans' safety, and some openly say the Chinese purposely poisoned the dumplings to kill Japanese. (The factory workers knew the products were going to Japan, since the packages were all in Japanese.) Some Japanese call for boycotting the Beijing Olympic altogether.
Aside from accidental food poisoning, I cannot help but wonder about the insistance that all athletes eat food supplied by China. Might the Chinese deliberately give them tainted food to sicken them, or even purposely dope the foreign athletes, in order to make them test positive and eliminate them from the competition?
Given China's past actions at sports events (particularly against Japan), and how much irrational anti-Japanese hatred the Chinese public has demonstrated -- mobs attacking visiting Japanese businessmen, for example -- such speculation cannot be dismissed out of hand. Just the other day, during the Asia Cup soccer match between China and Japan, Chinese players kicked, tackled, and choked the Japanese players (this clip is in Japanese, but the video tells the story):
(Here's the YouTube link, if you cannot see the video here.)
The North Korean referee ignored many of these violations, issuing only a couple of yellow cards and not a single red card against China. The Chinese fans cheered and threw bottles and garbage at the Japanese team.
I cannot confirm this, but I heard on Japanese radio that the Chinese government is planning on stopping the U.S. team from bringing food into China at all; the food will be confiscated by Customs at the border.
If that happens, I honestly believe the U.S. team should turn around and go home. If China cannot (or will not) guarantee our athletes' safety, we should not participate in the event.
January 28, 2008
Ready for Superbowl Sunday
I’m getting ready for Superbowl Sunday.
I’ve programmed my TIVO. I’ve collected my coupons. I’ve got my shopping list. I’m getting my tires rotated today so that I’ll be in good shape to hit the road.
What? I’m not watching TV on that day?
Quite the contrary. Superbowl Sunday is my day to visit the malls, go the the bookstore and maybe even take in a movie, knowing that I’ll have the theater to myself and probably won’t have to deal with curtain crawlers or teenagers wearing their ballcaps backwards. Or many adults for that matter.
The Superbowl. That’s football, right? I know it’s not baseball. Or soccer. Isn’t there someone from the east coast playing someone else from the east coast? Do I have that right?
So, you ask, why am I programming my TV to record this event about which I have no interest? Simple. For the commercials. The Superbowl traditionally has some of the best commercials you’ll see all year. And, until the advent of the TIVO, I had to miss them because I would have had to watch the game.
Somebody asked me if I have any empathy, or sympathy for those who have to work on Superbowl Sunday in order to keep the stores open so that I will be able to browse to my heart’s content because other people won’t be clogging up the aisles or the freeways.
In a word, no. Oh, well, yes I can identify with them. I remember the days when I used to work at a convenience store that will remain nameless, although its rhyming numbers might give you a clue. I used to be assigned to work all night beginning on Christmas Eve.
The owner of the store would come in to wish me a Merry Christmas and I would grumble a merry "Bah Humbug!"
To which he would give me some trite wisdom about how I should celebrate Christmas.
To which I thought: "Well, if you weren’t so greedy, I’d be celebrating Christmas right now!"
I have since then come to realize that it’s the height of good capitalism to make people work on holidays. Even Superbowl.
I told a friend of mine about what I do each year and he said my strategy might backfire on me.
"Once me and the wife and kids went to Disneyland on Superbowl Sunday. It was packed! Full of other ‘whipped husbands and their wives," he said.
Well, no plan is perfect. But I think that mine will work out just fine. His experience does remind me that another advantage to this approach is that most of the people out and about on Sunday will be women -- who are not sports fans!
So, on Sunday, on what, if history is any judge, will be another boring football game, think of me, having fun and totally ignoring you and the national pastime.
Or is that baseball?
July 30, 2007
Miracle On Sand
I recently rewatched the movie Miracle for the first time since I saw it in the theater. I remain convinced that without that "miracle" win against the Soviet Union hockey team in the 1980 Olympics -- the so-called "miracle on ice" -- Amercans might never have elected Ronald Reagan president.
My reasoning is subtle but not, I hope, specious: What Reagan sold more than anything else was hope -- hope that the evil empire could be not just contained but destroyed, hope that the economy could be not just suspended above the brink but driven forward full-throttle. Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford before him, and Richard Nixon before that, and every president back to Harry Truman, offered nothing better than limbo... the vague promise that things wouldn't get worse, or at least not much worse. But Reagan offered realistic hope that they would improve and improve tremendously.
But what you cannot believe you will not buy. If Americans did not first believe in hope, they would not have invested in a presidential candidate who peddled it. (Today's Democrats believe in nothing, nihil, as in nihilism; to "Pinky" Reid, hope is a four-letter word.)
What made us believe in hope in November 1980? What broke the charm of the inevitability of American decline? Remember where we were in that year and the preceding eight (in case you forgot, the movie helpfully reminds viewers in the opening collage): the loss in Vietnam, Watergate, the resignation of a president, oil embargos, the fall of Saigon, inflation, stagflation, soaring interest rates that killed business, strikes, the perception that Japanese automobile imports would destroy the American automobile industry, just as Soviet sports teams destroyed American Olympic hopes, serial killers, the Iranian hostage crisis (in which we appeared so helpless)... the dirge sounded relentlessly.
I remember being politically adrift (I was at UCLA at the time), certain I was an American but unsure whether that meant anything anymore. I don't think I was unique.
I was no hockey fan; I'm still not. But I watched that game out of stubborn hatred of Communists; and I was so stunned when we won it that I just sat still and quiet before of the TV screen for perhaps a half an hour, just absorbing and digesting what that meant.
It meant we interrupted our march into the dustbin of history; suddenly we felt brash, strong, American again. Many have remarked that the US-USSR game was the first time they ever heard the chant "USA! USA!" I watched the Olympic gold-medal game that followed (the first and last such I have ever watched), and I felt an elation that another part of me thought was absurd: I didn't even like hockey!
Later that year, when I moved up to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC, I took a new outlook with me. I became profoundly disliked by the leftie students there; but my persona prior to that match would not have aroused any political enmity, because I was politically a tabula rasa. I was never a liberal; I have never considered myself a conservative; but in 1980, I went from being "an American" to being American.
It didn't extend to voting for Reagan, alas; my greatest political regret is that I decided he was the greatest president of the 20th century -- only after my last chance to vote for him in 1984. But I knew I despised Carter in a way I had not before (I had merely been apathetic about him). I did not vote for him either; I wrote in candidates in both elections.
I believe this change to be true of others: That victory introduced many cynical Americans to the audacity of hope, to swipe a book title from a far lesser man than either Ronald Reagan or Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team. Without it, would we have elected the "hope-filled man" as president? I don't think we would have. The "what's the use" drug would have suppressed our traditional American response to travail.
Why am I telling you this? It should be obvious: I desperately hope for a "miracle on ice" effect in Iraq because of yesterday's win in the Asian Cup, beating Saudi Arabia, of all countries. I don't anticipate a Kumbaya moment, where Shia, Sunni, Kurds, and Turkomen come together in a cluster-hug. But I expect, at the very least, an embrace with the final inadvertent gift of Pandora, after all the evils had escaped her box... Hope remained, and she kept it tight and safe.
I want Hope to begin to creep across Mesopotamia; not the wicked hope of empire or caliphate, not the vile hope of slaughtering those whose God is a different shade of doctrine from one's own, but the deep hope that Iraq can pass through this dark night of the soul to emerge reborn on the flip side. The hope that it can shake off the dead, skeletal hands of enmity, resentment, vengeance, and fourteen centuries of arrested moral development and burst forth, fully formed, from Bush' brow as a modern country in at least the periphery of the Functioning Core.
I believe in miracles -- the kind that human beings make for themselves, with perhaps a touch of the divine, God or Muse, behind them. Talking oneself into hope and courage is 90% of the trick; I hope the Iraqis will allow themselves to believe in a miracle on sand.
August 1, 2006
Travelblogging: The Blood Is the Key
Here's an intriguing claim.
You all remember that American Floyd Landis won this year's Tour de France in a tour de force run on the second to last day of the race, making up several minutes of time and sealing his victory. Within moments, it seemed, someone lodged the inevitable charge: that Landis had been "doping."
As proof, "the French national antidoping laboratory in Châtenay-Malabry" said that the results from a testosterone test on one of Landis' two blood samples (sample A) that day found an elevated ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone:
Landis’s personal doctor... did, however, acknowledge that the initial test found a ratio of 11 to 1 in Landis’s system. He and Landis are seeking an explanation for that high level.
“I’ve seen bodybuilders with numbers 100 to 1,” Kay said. “Although Floyd’s was elevated, it’s not off the chart or anything.”
The New York Times notes that a normal ratio is 1:1 or 2:1, and the cycling rules allow a 4:1 ratio.
However, Landis has denied all charges and called for his B sample from that same day to be tested. The lab will use a much more sophisticated test on sample B than was used in the preliminary test on sample A; the tests take several days and should be ready this coming weekend.
Now right away, there is something fishy about this. There is another drug commonly used by athletes called EPO; the big scandal that kept so many of the top cyclists out of this year's Tour (on the basis of newspaper clippings about a list found that had some names on it) was about EPO doping, not testosterone, as we discussed in our previous post on this topic.
EPO, or Erythropoietin, acts by increasing the production of red blood cells: more red corpuscles means more oxygen to the muscles, and the athlete doesn't tire as much and recovers much more quickly. EPO works its magic nearly instantaneously, boosting the rider the same day he takes it.
But with testosterone, you need a long period of use to gain any benefit at all out of it. You cannot simply pop some "Vitamin T" and feel instantly stronger.
So "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" was that none of Floyd Landis' other blood tests, from before or after that one day, came up with anything positive at all. If he were going to risk using testosterone, why wouldn't he have used it for weeks before the race, when it might actually have done some good?
Therefore, not only are we to believe that he doped -- we're being asked to believe that he did so in a dopey manner, injecting himself with but a single, large dose of testosterone on a single day... knowing not only that it was sure to be discovered the moment the bloood test was performed but also that it wouldn't even help him in the race.
So why would he do it? It doesn't make sense on any level at all.
But along comes a spider now. A certain anonymous Dr. X , who says he works in the antidoping department of the International Cycling Union (UCI), has leaked what he terms results in a second test -- of the original sample A. This test determined:
...that some of the testosterone in [Landis'] body had come from an external source and was not produced by his system, according to a person at the International Cycling Union with knowledge of the results.
Perhaps there was testosterone added "from an external source"... but was it added to Floyd Landis -- or to Floyd Landis' blood sample?
What fascinates me is the growing insistance from the anti-American faction that there's really no need for a second set of tests to be performed on sample B at all; the sample A results are so clear and convincing (to those who don't like Landis in the first place), why bother testing any others?
Dr. Gary I. Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency and an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine, said that the result of the carbon isotope ratio test already proved that there was synthetic testosterone in Landis’s system. He said that the test needs to be done only once, on either an A or on a B sample, particularly if the athlete’s testosterone to epitestosterone ratio is found to be high or if that elevated level is inconsistent with previous test results.
Well, no: the carbon isotope ratio test proved that there was synthetic testosterone in Landis' blood sample; it's quite a leap from there to conclude that it must have been present in Landis' system as well -- especially when it's nonsensical that any athlete would futilely inject testosterone on a single day.
More and more, I wonder what that B test will show... would someone trying to frame Landis go so far as to contaminate both of his samples from that day? And is the "sophisticated" test precise enough to be able to determine whether synthetic testosterone came from the original blood, or whether it was added later? I don't know... but I think we may find out very soon.
What are the possibilities?
- Landis is lying and he really did inject himself with testosterone. But why, knowing it would do nothing to help him?
- Landis is telling the truth: either the testosterone arose naturally within his system, or else someone somehow induced him to eat something that contained it. But how? Wasn't Landis suspicious?
- Landis is telling the truth: the testosterone was injected into the sample , not the rider. But injected by whom? Who had access to Landis' blood samples -- except those working at "the French national antidoping laboratory in Châtenay-Malabry?" Including, of course, the anonymous Dr. X., who leaked to the New York Times the supposed results of the carbon isotope test.
That's why it's so important that we get the results of the testing on sample B before leaping to the conclusion that Landis is not only crooked but also thick-headed. First let's see whether there is anything here to shoot down the "null hypothesis," that there is nothing to explain, other than skill at cycling and the refusal of race officials to consider innocence a defense.
July 22, 2006
If You're French, This Has Really Got to Hurt
So after all that work the French did to taint Lance Armstrong's world-record seven Tour de France wins (consecutively!) by accusing him of doping, and after the bravura job they did keeping the best non-French riders out of the race this year by a phony-baloney "investigation," Operación Puerto, that consisted of collecting clippings from Madrid newspaper El País... now they suddenly have another renegade non-Frenchman (in fact, non-European) on the loose.
Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, and Francisco Mancebo, plus the entire Astana-Wurth team, including leader and 2005 fifth-placer Alexander Vinokourov -- who was not formally implicated but had to withdraw anyway -- were excised from the race, which the French expected would surely lead to a French winner. It is, after all, the Tour de France, n'est-ce pas?
Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc said: "I hope we can clean up everything now. All the cheats should be kicked out.
"Then maybe we will get an open Tour with clean riders, with space for ethics, sport and entertainment."
"Entertainment" meaning "somebody with a name like Bernard Hinault," the last Frenchman to win the Tour.
See, France used to win the Tour de France all the time. The Tour began in 1903, was suspended from 1915-1918 (the war), and from 1940-1946 (the other war), and has been run every year since then. Of the first 72 races, a Frenchman won 36 times, for exactly 50%. The Belgians won an additional 18 times: people from French-speaking countries dominated the race.
(There were a few from Luxembourg, too, but I don't know if we should count those. I mean, it's not really even a country, is it? More like a county.)
But all that came to an abrupt halt after 1985, when Bernard Hinault -- the last Frenchman -- won. Since then, nobody from a French-speaking country has won the Tour de France. The closest they came was Greg LeMond; but despite his name, LeMond is American, of course. Since 1986, Americans have won the Tour ten out of twenty times (again, 50%) -- but that's just two riders, LeMond and of course Lance Armstrong.
There have been several European winners, so the French must have thought they had a great shot here -- after Armstrong retired and they booted the top non-French Europeans.
But today, they woke up to this kick in the head:
American Floyd Landis regained the overall lead in the Tour de France on Saturday, likely assuring him the title Sunday in Paris....
The Phonak team leader reclaimed the yellow jersey from Spain's Oscar Pereiro, who started the individual time trial with a thin 30-second lead over Landis. Saturday, Landis moved up from third to first, gaining 59 seconds on the now second-place Pereiro.
Now France faces the national humiliation of having yet another American steal their own race from them.
I'm certain the 82nd Republic (or is it the 101st?) will not take this slap in the rear lying down. Look for a frantic scramble to retroactively disqualify Landis on the grounds that (a) he's an American, like Lance Armstrong, so is clearly implicated in the insinuation that Armstrong used EPO (Erythropoietin); (b) he makes really wretched movies, like ¡Three Amigos!; and (c) he's another "gimp," like Armstrong, so it must be a huge fake.
Landis has an advanced case of aseptic bone necrosis, in which "bone and marrow die in the absence of an infective agent." He is scheduled for a hip replacement after this year's Tour ends tomorrow. So not only were the French beaten, they were beaten by a guy with a bum leg.
(Lance Armstrong suffered from testicular cancer, which eventually spread to his brain and lungs; he was treated by surgery, including removal of one testicle and lesions in his brain, followed by aggressive chemotherapy; two and a half years later, he won his first Tour de France. So the French were also beaten by a guy with a bum... well, you get the picture.)
It must be tough to be a Frenchman these days. First the riots, and now this.
July 18, 2006
Death at the Top of the World - UPDATED
UPDATE: death-rate statistics corrected; see below.
On Sunday, AP carried a puzzling article about David Sharp, who died this climbing season near the summit of Mount Everest. The title asks an odd question: Did Everest Climber Sharp Have to Die?
I think the real answer is that David Sharp was dead before he ever left Camp 4.
Before explaining that provocative comment, let me talk a little about climbing. I've done some myself a while back, but only minor rock climbing, never anything at significant altitude. Even simple rock climbing is dangerous, however.
I've read quite a bit in the literature of climbing and mountaineering, since I find it fascinating. I've never wondered why people risk their lives climbing... but I'm very interested in what they do to survive and summit; or contrariwise, what mistakes they make that lead to failure, injury, or even death.
In the sad and perplexing case of David Sharp, it's quite clear that he was simply not prepared to ascend up the world's tallest mountain -- despite having made two previous near-miss attempts.
Jon Krakauer is my favorite writer about climbing. He's a freelancer who writes for Outside (the premier "outdoorsman" magazine) and has also published several books.
His first bestseller was Into the Wild, about a dreamy, liberal 20-something, Christopher McCandless, who decided to go "walkabout" in the American West -- and ended up dying of starvation in an Alaskan hunter's preserve. But Krakauer's second bestseller, Into Thin Air, will tell you more about climbing Everest than books by most professional climbers, because Krakauer's writing is so illuminating to the layman.
In 1996, Krakauer was sent on assignment by Outside to join one of the ubiquitous commercial expeditions climbing Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world (in the sense of rising the highest above mean sea level). Unlike many of the people on the trip, Krakauer actually had extensive climbing experience -- though nothing in the Himalayas or the Karakorams, which are the only ranges that boast 8,000-meter peaks (a little over 26,000 feet).
In a ghastly tragedy that year, a number of climbers were trapped high up Everest by a terrible blizzard, and nine people died on a single day -- including two very experienced guides. Into Thin Air is Krakauer's account of that ill-fated climb; he summited and made it back, but most people on his expedition died (one other survivor, Beck Weathers, was left for dead but managed to stagger to his feet and make it back alive).
Some of the other surviving guides and climbers dispute some of the things Krakauer says about them, so take the book as one survivor's account rather than as history; but when Krakauer writes about what it's like climbing to such altitudes, there is no dispute.
All the various techniques for getting up a sheer rock face are collectively called "technical climbing." But Everest is not primarily a technical mountain, not like K2. The real killers (literally) on Everest are the cold, which can freeze you solid, and especially the thinness of the air: the latter leads to hypoxia (lack of oxygen), which seriously impairs the climber's mental faculties.
That is what kills more people than anything else on Everest: above 8,000 meters, or lower if they come down with High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), their brains shut down, and they do stupid things. They forget to rope in, they forget to turn on the trickle of oxygen from their bottles, they neglect to put on their crampons (spikes on your boots to keep you from slipping), or they step off a cliff because they didn't notice it was there.
From Into Thin Air:
A baffling ailment, HACE occurs when fluid leaks from oxygen-starved cerebral blood vessels, causing severe swelling of the brain, and it can strike with little or no warning. As pressure builds inside the skull, motor and mental skills deteriorate with alarming speed -- typically within a few hours or less -- and often without the victim even noticing the change. The next step is coma, and then, unless the afflicted party is quickly evacuated to lower altitude, death....
[Dale] Kruse [who came down with a serious case of HACE on this expedition] was having an incredibly difficult time simply trying to dress himself. He put his climbing harness on inside out, threaded it through the fly of his wind suit, and failed to fasten the buckle; fortunately, [Scott] Fischer and Neal Beidleman noticed the screwup before Kruse started to descent. "If he'd tried to rappel down the ropes like that," says Beidleman, "he would have immediately popped out of his harness and fallen to the bottom of the Lhotse Face."
"It was like I was very drunk," Kruse recollects. "I couldn't walk without stumbling, and completely lost the ability to think or speak. It was a really strange feeling. I'd have some work in my mind, but I couldn't figure out how to bring it to my lips. So Scott and Neil had to get me dressed and make sure my harness was on correctly, then Scott lowered me down the fixed ropes." By the time Kruse arrived in Base Camp, he says, "it was still another three or four days before I could walk from my tent to the mess tent without stumbling all over the place."
And now, at long last, with that colossal introduction out of the way, let's take a look at the AP article about David Sharp that inspired this lugubrious post. Here are the facts on a nutshell:
Down from Everest's summit in the advance base camp, exhausted climbers returned to congratulations, drinks and blessed rest after the day's conquests.
But David Sharp, last spotted hours earlier near the mountain's pinnacle, was not among them that evening, May 14. Still, the experienced climbers who were his friends were not overly concerned.
Dave Watson assumed his friend had crawled into an unoccupied tent at one of the high camps to rest. Sharp had turned around just shy of the summit twice before, so Watson knew the Briton was a smart climber. But he also knew Sharp thought of this as his last trip to Everest and was determined not to leave in defeat.
During the next two days, several climbers tried to help Sharp, but there was little they could do. And finally, on May 16th, Sharp died at 27,760 feet, in a cave known as the last resting place of a climber from India, dubbed "Green Boots," who had died on Everest a decade ago.
I don't know exactly how the AP writers, Allen G. Breed and Nepalese correspondent Binaj Gurubacharya, mean the next question they ask: "Did David Sharp have to die?"
If they mean the existential question -- as in, was it really necessary to his life to summit Everest? -- the answer would pretty obviously have to be "Yes," since this was his third attempt. But if they mean the more pedestrian (and flippant) "why were the other climbers so cruel and inhuman as not to drop everything to save him," as context indicates, then the answer lies in what I described earlier: the surreal and alien world above 25,000 feet, called "the death zone." (Gurubacharya is from Nepal, but we have no evidence he has ever been a Sherpa or has climbed that high.)
By the time any climber is in the death zone, even with supplementary oxygen, he is himself on the knife-edge of survival. His brain has mostly shut down, and his body is well along that same road. It's said that strength won't power you up Everest, because your strength is guaranteed to fail; and it's not your knowledge of climbing, because your brain will fail. What gets you to the summit is sheer stubborn will power.
I mentioned the oxygen bottles that climbers wear, but it's not what you probably think. They're not breathing air like a scuba diver would. Climbers only supplement their breathing with a thin trickle of oxygen, just enough to keep conscious; otherwise they would quickly burn their supply (in half an hour or less) and be left with nothing.
If you've never been at that altitude -- or equivalently, in a hypobaric pressure chamber, or in a jet at 30,000 feet that loses cabin pressurization or mask air supply -- you may not realize what hypoxia does to your mind. Climbers are only dimly aware of their surroundings. One of the guides on the 1996 expedition that Krakauer was on repeatedly reported that all the spare oxygen bottles the team had brought along were empty; in fact several were full. The guide didn't notice, because his brain was only running on one cylinder.
Thus, most of the climbers who passed Sharp, either headed up or down (more climbers die descending than ascending), were themselves in extreme survival mode and also running on insufficient oxygen. They probably could not really grasp Sharp's situation. Even so, they could tell he was in distress, and many tried to help him. On the 14th:
In the glare of his headlamp, Woodward could see a man, still clipped onto the red-and-blue guide rope, sitting to the right of the dead Indian ["Green Boots"], his arms wrapped around his knees. He had no oxygen mask on, and ice crystals had formed on his closed eyelashes.
Cameraman Mark Whetu yelled at him to get moving, but there was no response.
"The poor guy's stuffed," Woodward thought, believing the man was in a hypothermic coma and beyond help.
No one radioed down to expedition leader Russell Brice about a rescue. After pausing just long enough to unclip from the rope, pass Sharp and clip back in, the group trudged on.
Would Woodward have tried to do more if his brain was functioning like it would at, say, the advanced base camp (ABC) at 21,300 feet? It's hard to say. But the additional 6,400 feet of elevation meant that everyone was mentally impaired.
About 20 minutes later, a group of Turkish climbers from Middle East Technical University's mountaineering club reached the alcove and also saw Sharp. The group's Sherpa, Lapka, urged the climber to get up and keep moving.
Sharp did not speak, but waved them off.
So Sharp was actually responsive at that point. It's unlikely that anyone in the Turkish group had any idea that Sharp was in any worse shape than many people are at that stage of the climb.
Maxime Chaya had been first up the mountain that day and had passed the notch before the others, but had noticed no one. The beam from his headlamp was weak, and Chaya was focused on his goal of becoming the first Lebanese citizen to summit Everest....
It was a joyous descent until they reached the rock cave around 9:30 a.m. The sun was shining brilliantly, and this time they could not miss Sharp and his red - not green - boots.
Chaya radioed Brice....
Chaya told Brice that Sharp's legs appeared to be frozen to the knees, his arms to the elbows. Dorjee had attempted to give the man oxygen, but there was no response.
"There's nothing you can do, Max," Brice said.
Brice reminded Chaya that he had only about 90 minutes' worth of oxygen left. All of his Sherpas were helping clients down the mountain, and there weren't enough people to carry an unconscious man down tricky passes of ice and loose scree.
Even exhausted beyond the imagination of anyone who has not climbed such a peak, with a fried brain and a body that barely can be moved, several climbers nevertheless tried to rouse Sharp, talk to him, and radio down to the base camp about his condition. But if the AP believes they could have carried him down the mountain themselves, in the condition they were in, they're being completely unreasonable.
When the Turkish team, descending now, encountered Sharp again, it was already in rescue mode: a team member stricken with acute altitude sickness was being evacuated.
Another climber, Eylem Elif Mavis, also descending from the summit, found Sharp in what appeared to be a hypothermic coma. She and her Sherpa, Nima, tried to hook one of their own precious oxygen bottles to Sharp's regulator, but the device did not work....
Phurba Tashi, Brice's chief Sherpa, was descending with some others at 11:45 a.m. and was wearing a video camera on his helmet. Bending toward the shivering man, he asked his name. Whether because of the rising temperature or the oxygen Dorjee had given him, Sharp was somehow able to respond.
"My name is David Sharp," he said, according to some accounts. "I'm with Asian Trekking, and I just want to sleep."
The Sherpas administered oxygen and tried to get Sharp to his feet, but he kept collapsing.
They shifted Sharp a few feet into the sun, then headed down the mountain.
What in heaven's name does anybody think should have been done? It's impossible to send a helicopter that high; at 27,000 feet, there's no air for the rotors to bite. Nobody had the forethought to bring along a sled, even if anyone had the human capabilty to pack such baggage (high-altitude climbers routinely strip their weight to the bare minimum, even cutting their toothbrushes in half to save an ounce or two). And at that altitude, you can't just flip a comatose body across your shoulders and toddle off.
There is a reason for the term "death zone;" everybody who sets out already knows how fatally dangerous such climbs can be. Unless we ban all such ascents -- and somehow get Nepal, China, Tibet, India, and Pakistan to go along with the idea -- there are going to be deaths at the top of the world.
David Sharp made too many foolish mistakes, several before leaving Camp 4:
- He carried only a single bottle of oxygen;
- He carried no radio;
- He set out too late in the day for the ascent;
- And he was climbing alone, on a "no frills" expedition package from Asian Trekking.
That is the sense in which I said earlier that he was dead before he even left Camp 4 (27,231 feet), the camp from which climbers start the final assault on the summit (on the Northeast Ridge route).
"It almost looks like he had a death wish," said Maxime Chaya.
The reporters ask a series of questions which, if they're not rhetorical, seem to have oddly obvious answers:
Why did no one try to administer high-altitude drugs - which most climbing teams carry with them - to stimulate Sharp's breathing and relieve possible brain swelling?
Probably because the teams that found him either didn't have those drugs, or had already used them up, or thought he was beyond hope; their primary responsibility is to their own team members.
Could a couple of hours of high-flow oxygen have revived Sharp enough to get him moving?
Doubtless. But that would require more bottles of oxygen than any climber could possibly carry.
Why do people who passed Sharp within minutes of each other have significantly different recollections of his condition?
Because his condition probably changed from minute to minute, even from second to second!
UPDATE: The death-rate statistics below have been corrected.
That is the nature of such altitudes: everyone suffers, to some degree, what Sharp suffered; most survive the ordeal, but about one out of 29 of those who summit do not return to base camp alive. (That number for K2 is 1 out of 7 dying during descent, and for Denali it's 1 out of 590; all of these numbers are for climbers in the spring, the peak climbing season, and cover climbs from 1980 through 2002.)
(The overall death rate on Everest is significantly lower, 1 out of 54, because the baseline includes many climbers who get only part way up, realize they are not in good enough shape or out of their skill league, and turn back while it's still relatively easy to return. Nearly 72% of Everest climbers give it up before summiting.)
High-altitude mountaineering is a deadly, deadly sport... and the deadliest mountain in the world to climb is probably K2 -- almost as high as Everest, but highly technical climbing.
Here is what I think is the primary misunderstanding of the AP article:
Nearly two weeks after Sharp's death, Australian climber Lincoln Hall was rescued from even higher on the mountain after being left for dead and spending a night exposed to the elements. It took more than a dozen Sherpas and 50 cylinders of oxygen, but Hall - like [Beck] Weathers [in 1996] - walked down under his own steam.
This is presented, it seems to me, as a condemnation of the rescuers, who are thus indirectly accused of not doing enough to rescue poor David Sharp. They managed to get Lincoln Hall down, the reporters seem to accuse, why didn't they do as much for Sharp?
But this is the key: nobody is ever "rescued" from that high on a mountain; you only survive if you can rescue yourself. The "rescuers" are just there to help; you have to do the heavy lifting on your own.
Lincoln Hall walked down; David Sharp did not have the will. Hall lived; Sharp, in his red boots, died alongside "Green Boots," making a macabre, Christmas-y display. But that is the nature of the mountain; that is the realm you enter at the top of the world.
"Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." But hold tight to your will, because the human will, not hope, is what may -- may -- get you downslope more or less intact.
April 3, 2006
Wounded Vets Hit the Slopes
Because of advanced medical technology and superb evacuation techniques, many soldiers who would have died of their wounds in earlier eras now survive. That is one reason we have so few deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan: we're sending more wounded solders home alive.
The downside is that there are now many more veterans with serious, life-changing injuries, soldiers who face a difficult adjustment back to society. I've been wondering how we're taking care of these brave souls who sacrificed so much for our freedom.
It's wonderful to learn about a program like this:
Amputees being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center wrapped up the third annual Vail Veterans Program here yesterday, having taken another step ahead in their rehabilitation and more convinced than ever that they have the support of the American people.
The 24 veterans, who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, spent three days here at this world-class ski resort, courtesy of Vail Mountain and the Vail community. While enjoying the red-carpet treatment with free lodging, meals, ski gear, lift tickets and lessons, they skied and snowboarded their way to new emotional and physical milestones.
Such training not only helps the veteran’s physical recovery, it helps his psychological recovery and improves his morale:
Army Lt. Col. Barbara Springer, chief of Walter Reed's physical therapy service, said it's exciting to watch the transformation that takes place on the slopes. "I've seen a lot of people turn the corner," she said. "By the end of the first day, you could see the big smiles... [and] the sense of accomplishment on their faces."
That accomplishment will have a long-term effect on the wounded servicemembers' recovery, she said. "Once they build up their confidence to the point where they can face a challenge and meet that challenge, then they feel like they can do anything after that," Springer said.
Lets give a round of applause to the program organizers, and to the ski-resort employees of Vail, who went out of their way to make wounded vets feel welcome.
February 21, 2006
During the Olympics, Google has modied their logo to several different versions that incorporate winter-Olympics sport themes. As huge curling fans, we loved the one today:
Cute enough to curl your hair
You can see the rest of their "Google doodles" at this page. They're all pretty fun! After the sturm und drang of our last post, we thought something light would go down nicely.
February 18, 2006
Our stringer, Friend Lee, who is literally a rabid tennis fan (we're getting him the series of injections next week), found a real jaw-dropper on YNet News. I'll let him tell it, with some nudzhing from the Big Lizards editorial ballboys.
India has had several excellent male tennis players, but Sania Mirza is its first female tennis star. She's front page news in India; in most of the rest of the world, she's only known to tennis fans.
Mirza is Muslim; and unfortunately, the Muslims in India are pressuring her very hard on several issues, interfering with her career in some respects, and certainly interfering with her peace of mind.
But now the Muslims have pressured her not to play doubles with an Israeli girl, and Mirza has given in.
According to the article that Friend Lee links, he is, if anything, understating what has happened to Mirza:
Indian female tennis player Sania Mirza, 19, who is ranked 39th in the world, announced that she would not play with Israeli up and coming tennis star Shahar Pe’er in the doubles tournament of the Bangalore Open for fear of violent protests by India’s Islamic community.
The two friends were prevented from cooperating in last month’s Australian Open for the same reason.
Mirza initially agreed to play with Pe’er in Bangalore, but later retracted, telling Pe’er “It’s best that we don’t play together this time to prevent protests against my cooperation with an Israeli. There is no reason to arouse their ire (Muslims).”
Mirza, a sports hero in her country, was recently chastised by Muslim groups in India for wearing a sleeveless top and a mini-skirt during her matches. Local Muslim groups claimed that her attire degrades Islam, and some even threatened to kill her.
What do they expect Mizra to play tennis in... a white burqa?
Let's sit back and let this one sink in. The Moslems in India are outraged that Mirza, a Moslem, would play doubles tennis with an "Israeli." But of course, India lies nowhere near Israel; they have never had a war with Israel; they have no conflict with Israel. Even during the Cold War, when India was allied with the Soviet Union, they did not have any specific conflict with Israel... and India, of course, is not even in the Middle East: it's in Southwest Asia.
So what possible reason could Indian Moslems have to demand an Indian Moslem tennis star not play doubles with an Israeli? The only one I can think of is that to Moslems, even in India, "Israeli" is just a code word for "Jew." When they say 'how dare you play doubles with an Israeli,' they are really saying 'how dare you play doubles with a Jew.'
The conflict between Israel, the Arab states, and the Palestinian non-state can be chalked up to propinquity and an evil history. But the reaction of Indian Moslems makes it brutally clear that the real, underlying problem is that Islam includes Jew-hatred as a core value... probably because the Jews were the first organized group of "People of the Book" to reject Mohammed's claim to be a prophet: seventh-century rabbis scoffed at the idea that Mohammed could be as ignorant of the Jewish Bible as he was if God were truly speaking through him.
By the way, I think we also must alert NOW and NARAL:
Last November Mirza stirred controversy when during a New Delhi conference she spoke of the importance of safe sex; Muslim groups in New Delhi and three other cities held rallies, with protesters carrying signs reading “Mirza is detached from Islam,” claiming she is “corrupting the youth in the country, especially the girls.”
Mirza, in an attempt to ease tensions, said in response “I want to make it clear that I am opposed to pre-marital sex. It is a major sin in Islam, and I believe God would not forgive for such an act.”
Got it? Not only is safe sex right out, but if a Moslem teenager slips and has premarital sex even one time, she is condemned to Hell forever with no hope of forgiveness or redemption.
How sad that so many people would believe in a religion that is more forgiving of mass murder than it is of a single, pre-marital quickie.
All else is commentary.
February 5, 2006
Hugh Holds His Breath -- For Three Quarters
I was bored, so I turned on that football thingie for a few minutes. I noticed that the Steelers were ahead of the Seahawks by, what, 14 to 3?
The Steelers appeared to move the ball towards the goal; but then they threw that peculiar, little pointed object awry, and one of the Seahawk fellows intercepted it, running it back quite a ways. A moment or two later, the Seahawk team took the ball over the goal line and got a touchdown, I think it's called. So now it's 14 to 10.
And all I could picture was Hugh Hewitt, literally perched on the back of his chair, like an anxiety-ridden budgie with snow-white plumage, gnawing his talons right down to the quick. Oh, what I would give for a photo!
Sigh. I can hardly wait until the 13th, when curling finally starts at the Olympic games in Torino... now that's a real sport!
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