Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,
The Olympic torch relay should be a celebration. Now it turns into this chaos. Definitely I respect their different point of view, but to use this event to blackmail China, this is not right.
–John Hu

Dear Creative user of the term "blackmail,"

I've seen a lot of debating tactics over the years: the bait and switch, the blame the messenger, the tickle the hippo. But if you really want to signal that you're completely out of rhetorical ammo and have nothing left to say in defense of your cause, then pull out the old "moving the sidelines." When you're getting slaughtered in an argument, it's always tempting to claim you're actually engaged in a completely different debate than the one your opponent is winning.

So it was in San Francisco last week when the Olympic torch passed through town like a gallstone. Supporters of the Chinese government tried to claim that the protestors lined up along the route were missing the point. The Olympics aren't about China's occupation of Tibet, they claimed. They have absolutely nothing to do with a human rights record that would make Darth Vader blush, they said. It was all about the Olympic spirit, the thrill of competition, nations around the world coming together in friendship and honor and fair play and all sorts of extremely vague but definitely positive concepts to feel good about in a sort of amorphous and generalized way. Sort of like Barack Obama, but with swimming.

Now I'll go ahead and admit a bias-I rarely think anything should have the privilege of being free of politics. Sure, maybe fourth grade class plays. But when the world's biggest sporting event is awarded to an air polluting, melamine pet food making, obstinate totalitarian government that has the rare distinction of being one of the few places to execute more people than we do, you're not asking for trouble. You're basically demanding it.

And a quick aside, the decision to run through Frisco was either insane or brilliant, depending on what they were trying to accomplish. Yeah, they've never had a protest there. Was Plan B to tar and feather the runners and have them pogo-stick the torch across a minefield?

China has said this whole Tibet thing is an internal issue that foreigners should stay out of. Basically, that "Tibet is part of China." Oh really? How about we hold a referendum of ethnic Tibetians next week and see what they think? Yeah, that's what I thought. And about those political prisoners, it's nice you're letting some of them leave the country. So I hate to nitpick, but when they're leaving as part of a travelling anatomy exhibit, that doesn't really count.

Now if I seem like I'm being a kind of hard of poor little defenseless China, I'll grant you one thing: I'm also a citizen of a brutal, expansionist, hypocritical power. That bit where my countrymen actually had to debate whether nearly drowning someone constituted torture, not one of my proudest moments as an American. But the past seven years aside, we're making progress. It wasn't all that long ago that the government of "The Land of the Free" paid a bounty for Indian scalps. These days when we hunt people down because of their ethnicity, it's to deport them, not to execute them. Kumbaya.

So yes, I'll admit it, our whole country is kind of a like a great big Tibet, stolen from people who didn't have a worldwide mass media to turn to in order to make one of their leaders a cuddly international superstar. If we were better people, we'd give it back. But guess what-in fits and starts, we are giving back some of it, one casino and tax-free Internet tobacco shop at a time. It's not like we've done right by the Indians, but we have created a little legal gray area where some of them can do well for themselves.

Now China, I know you like to think long term. You're the folks who signed Hong Kong over to the British on a 99-year lease and giggled at what bad negotiators they were. So let's talk long term. First of all, I'm not really sure why you want Tibet in the first place. It's gonna take a lot of global warming before most of it stops being frigid and barren (though your energy policy does make a bit more sense in that context). Is it really worth having an angry, unwilling minority within your country, one you either have to subjugate or appease? I wish I could check back in another 99 years and see if the phrase "Loosest slots in the Himalayas" means anything to you.

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