Monday, December 26, 2011

On the birthday of Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong (12/26/1893-9/9/1976) is one of the few, most capable persons that ever lived.  Few people could be ranked among the most prominent thinkers, doers, or writers ever in the world, let alone in all three. 

One of the founding members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  MZD didn’t play a key role in the founding of the party, but he did attend the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1921.  Most of 13 delegates and the other, most eminent members dropped out or died early, so MZD turned out to be among the few left standing by 1949.  In MZD’s case, as in all others in the human history, credits and blame must be shared, and luck plays an important yet hard-to-quantify role. 

The most decisive founder of the PRC in 1949.  By leading the Autumn Harvest Uprising in 1927, MZD established one of the first armed forces controlled by CCP.  Even more importantly, he established a base(s) for the army and local government, which served as an example for others and later revolutionary efforts.  As an underdog he fought the warlords and Chinese Nationalists (KMT, 1927-1936), the Japanese (1937-1945), and KMT (1946-1949).  He took part in the legendary Long March (1934-1935) and gradually assumed the leadership of the party and army during that time.  In 1945, KMT outnumbered CCP by about 4:1, yet lost a civil war in less than four years. 

In addition to planning many of the fierce campaigns, MZD was also a theorist, philosopher, and strategist that guided the Revolution.  He was among the first to realize the importance of peasants and countryside in late 1920s, when most communists were looking at only cities.  He initiated reforms and mass organization in rural areas that strengthened the party and army.  He advocated the guerrilla warfare strategies to fight the better-equipped KMT forces and, in 1938, wrote the assay On Protracted War on how to fight and win the war against the Japanese aggression.  He wrote many other books and assays that dealt with the practical strategies of the revolution, the building of the party, army, and PRC.  Only through his deeds and words did MZD become the undisputed leader of CCP by late 1930s. 

One of the most influential literary figures.  MZD’s writing, even ignoring the political messages, is well versed, gripping to read, and easy to understand.  He coined many of phrases still commonly used in China and around the world nowadays.  Also likely the last traditional Chinese poet and one of the best ever.  It is not a stretch to say that he could rank among top 10 or top 5 in over 2000 years of Chinese history.

It is hard to find a comparable figure in China and outside.  In China, a close example is Cao Cao (~ 200 A.D.), who established a kingdom and was a great poet.  But he faced fewer challengers, was less successful, and was never a theorist.  For the rest of the world, George Washington’s men didn’t win any major battles by themselves, Thomas Jefferson was no general, Churchill, even with a Nobel??

MZD’s life is a subject of many studies.  Every single sentence above and below could be expanded into a one-million-word book and more.  Obviously, he has many political opponents and enemies.  Here are some of the most common criticisms, e.g., found in Wiki.

One is that during the anti-Japanese War (1937-1945), MZD advocated a strategy of avoiding open confrontations with the Japanese army and concentrate on guerrilla warfare, while leaving the KMT to take on the brunt of the fighting and suffered tremendous casualties.  This is pure red herring.  CCP forces at the time were few and poorly equipped, even near the end of the War.  Fighting the Japanese head on would have been suicidal and served no good purpose.  In 1937 KMT controlled most of China, most of the manpower and economies, of course they had to assume a bigger role.  Thus, MZD advocated the correct strategy, and there was no “leaving”.  In fact, KMT should have adopted a similar strategy early on, used the still mostly intact armies to attack the advanced Japanese in the countryside, instead of fighting them at the cities.  This would avoid many of the unnecessary casualties, and Japanese would have a hard time defending many cities as well.  Unfortunately, KMT fought hard, lost big, but had little to show for in 1937.  More than one million KMT armies and government officials also surrendered to the Japanese.  There was no major surrender from the CCP side throughout the war, as CCP expanded into many areas lost by KMT.  According to On Protracted War, this was exactly what CCP should be doing and surviving in formerly hostile territories, whose success was by no means guaranteed.  KMT fought many major campaigns and lost most of them and much of the country, right until the very end of the War.  CCP fought and sacrificed in many more, smaller battles and greatly expanded its influence by 1945.  Not discounting KMT’s contributions, anyone would prefer the second outcome.

Another is Great Leap Forward (1958-1961).  Since 1980s, once in a while someone would make a startling discovery, inevitably picked up by the  major news networks, that GLF caused a famine that 20, 30,  to 80 million Chinese starved to death.  This is based on flimsy evidence and politically slaned.  GLF was implemented to quickly industrialize China, and it did achieve some of the goals in many areas but cause food shortage in the countryside in several provinces.  There were many reasons for food shortage, but the headline has always been how many people starved to death or died unnaturally during the period most people look at, 1959-1961.  Most studies used the raw data from中国统计年鉴, published in 1983.  It gives the numbers of "registered" population, births, deaths, and other statistics from the 50s to 70s in China.  A few other studies considered the census results by 1982.  Unfortunately, the statistics did not exactly add up, not only within the same lines, also with later census.  For example, later statistics indicated that people born during 1959-1961 were under-counted.  Some of the startling discoverers then claimed that the 中国统计年鉴authors must have fabricated the numbers to minimize the deaths, so the actual deaths must be corrected further upwards.  The inconsistency, however, is most probably because there was simply no better statistics, and the available data were imprecise in 1983.  China was a vast, poor country with incomplete record or documentation and little experience in census in the 1950-60s, and there were 670 million Chinese, so even a 5% uncertainty could lead to a fluctuation of 33 million in statistics.  In a cold analysis, what likely happened is that GLF caused severe food shortage in some rural areas, which led to migration, reduced births, and unnatural deaths.  But the number of 20, 30, or 80 million, has never been supported by real facts.  One also needs to remember that famine had always been a norm from, e.g., 1900-1949, and the Chinese population and life expectancy increased significantly since 1949.  After GLF and industrialization, there hasn’t been any major famine in China.  And we are not even talking about MZD’s intentions or responsibilities yet.

The last one is Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  MZD bore more, though not all, responsibility for CR than for GLF, but by all accounts many fewer people died unnaturally than during GLF.  Much of what happened during CR was negative, although CR is a complex issue that defies any simple characterization.  Again, major changes occurred inside China and in its relationship to other countries, and the Chinese population and life expectancy continued to improve, as did most people's life. 

MZD had a lot of power and did a lot of things in his life.  Depending on how one was affected or ideology, it is natural to have very different, even polarizing opinions.  An objective analysis must take into account of what he knew, what he had, what he did, what happened before and after he acted, and what other people did.  There is no denying of his ability, his being a towering figure.  In this sense, one is left agonizing over what might have happened had he not had initiated GLF or CR, especially regarding the negative aspects or consequences?  Here lies a lesson everybody understands but few practice: no matter the system constrains, a person with great ability or authority must always remember to use his power judiciously. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Which is better, World Championship, Olympics, or World Cup?

For sports that are not the most professionalized (tennis, etc), you can be viewed the best of the profession if you win the World Championship, Olympics, or World Cup.  Which title is the most prestigious?  Perhaps "difficult" is the more objective and appropriate word than "prestigious". 

About the difficulty in winning a title in one's finite career, one needs to consider the competition and format in an event and how often the event is held.  Olympics is once every four years.  World Championship is variable, usually once every one or two years.  World Cup (not the FIFA variety) is typically once a year, and some sports don't have it.  As anyone will compete in fewer Olympics than Worlds or Cups, the gold medal is more desirable personally.  Not to mention that your gold medal will count towards your country's totals, whose significance is dubious.

Obviously, if you want to win it badly, you will try hard.  On the other hand, how stiff the competition is also impacts whether you win it or not.  This is where Olympics is not technically the hardest.  Both Olympics and World Cup severely limits participants, so sometimes the top players (e.g., from the top 8) are left out.  It is debatable that the pre-selection process should be considered as part of the events as well, but it disregards the non-trivial timing of players' peaks.  Also, because upsets happen all the times in sports, winning an Olympic involves a higher degree of luck.  The World Championship typically has 128 players in the main draw, like GS in tennis.  Essentially all the top players are present, so this is the most difficult event to win.   In sports like table tennis, many players enter multiple events like singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, which take place at the same time.  This is serious stuff, as in the final, you are probably far from your best physically.  In Olympics and World Cup you are less affected by that, playing higher ranked opponents from the beginning notwithstanding.

So I think winning a World qualifies one on top of the profession better than the other two titles, even though its honor might not be as high as that for a gold medal for casual viewers. 

The purpose of this blog is to slightly knock down Olympics and to set a standard to compare players. 

For example, Wang Liqin, Ma Lin, and Zhang Yining were not selected to play in 2000 Olympics, even though they were already quite good then, with Ma and Zhang coming second in 1999 World.  Wang and Ma were the best male table tennis players from 2001-2008, while Zhang is one of the best female players of all-time.  Xie Xingfang played in only 2008 Olympics, while in 2004 she was already one of the best badminton players.  There were legitimate reasons that they didn't qualify, but the real issue is the Olympic quota.  If some of the very best players can't compete, how representative and strong can the field be?

As a result, a gold medal has to be taken with caution, not to say that the winner is not worthy.  Take Ji Xinpeng, the winner of 2000 Olympic Badminton.  He played the best tournament of his career, beating the three other best players in the world at the time.  So he absolutely deserved it.  But he hardly won anything else.  If you are the best in only one event, no matter how prestigious the event is, you may be the luckiest, but not the best of your profession.  Yoo Nam-Kyu, the 1998 table tennis gold medalist, is in the same category.  And he didn't beat any apparent top players at the time, and he didn't have any major, good results before or after.  Ryu Seung-Min, a better player than Yoo.  He beat an old Waldner and a nervous Wang Hao in 2004.  He got better results in the Worlds and Cups than Yoo, although never winning.  The accomplishment of Ryu is probably slightly ahead of that of Werner Schlager, winner of 2003 World but nothing else, both below Timo Boll, the two time World Cup winner.

A problem with the overemphasis on Olympics is that players who barely miss out qualifying or winning it lose motivation fast.  Wang Hao lost in two finals, and after winning the 2009 World, he has no other goals except the 2012 Olympics, but he will be "old" by then.  Xie Xingfeng lost interest completely after 2008 Olympics, as she had won everything else, often multiple times, and by 2012 she will be too old.  They should be considered better players than some of the gold medalists, despite not winning the most prestigious honor in many people's views.

An interesting issue is how to compare Wang Liqin and Ma Lin.  In terms of teams and doubles competitions, both are excellent to similar extents.  In singles, their head-to-head is about equal, and Wang won three Worlds, Ma four Cups and one Gold, all records since 1980.  Winning three Worlds is definitely more difficult, but is Wang better?  Well, Ma is probably the most unlucky player ever.  He lost in three World finals, all in close contests, all having good chances of winning.  In addition to luck not coming his way, Ma was likely affected by playing too many matches in Worlds (doubles, mixed doubles, etc), as his style is more demanding, and Wang is naturally a physically stronger player.  This can explain why Ma performed better in World Cups and the 2008 Olympics.     

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Simplify the Olympic medal ceremonies

The Summer Olympics alone has about 300 events that result in a gold medal followed by a gold, silver, and bronze medal presentation ceremony.  For the drill, which has been repeated so many times on TV and other media, after the medals are presented, the organizer will raise the national flags of the three medalists and play the national anthem of the gold medalist's country. 

It would be fresher if flag and anthem things could be scraped from the medal ceremony.  I suspect the ancient Greeks didn't do it, and how many of us actually watch them anyway?  I don't remember I ever watch any in full in the past 20 years.  They are getting too old, and the audience are getting tired, mentally if not verbally.  Who the medalists are will still be well known, since TV will still show all the information, including the national flags of the medalists, on the screen, and newspapers and internet will give you the same information and more.  If you want to see the flags and hear the anthems, the opening ceremony will do.  If you want to see more of the flags, the sports arena will display them, and the announcer can play the anthems randomly, just not every time somebody wins.

In addition to saving everybody time, this simplification will reduce the self-importance of sports and jingoism.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Overhyped Nobel Prizes

The announcements of Nobel Prizes every October are probably the most famous, regular news events in the world, comparable to the results of presidential elections and FIFA World Cup final.  The latter are actually often predictable beforehand, hence, with less drama, while the public has no idea who are being seriously considered for the Prizes.   

Winning a Nobel Prize guarantees such mentioning in every introduction and all the media-promoted glory that is accepted without critical thinking.   But a Nobel Prize is just an exercise of a handful of people in the Nobel committee, and a winner should not be received like a gold standard.  

The Nobel Prizes are in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace, and Economics.  The first three categories are the most credible but least appreciated by the public.  I work in the science field, so I can evaluate some of the winners directly and rank their relative contributions.  I believe some winners are more qualified than others, while some are not qualified at all.  Ruling by judges is always subjective, unlike in many sports.  For example, by comparing the winning times of a particular race in recent World Championships or Olympics, one can clearly tell which winner (competition) is better than others, even if he does not win all the time.  Competent people can make the same comparison in science as well, although with less precision.  I would say most winning is probably deservedly so.  A bigger problem is often some scientists should have been included but were left out.   

If we could stop with only those three prizes , the world would be a better place.  But people are much more exposed to the other, less credible prizes.  Of the remaining Prizes, the Economics Prize is not an original Nobel.  Economics is not as a serious science as, e.g., chemistry or physics anyway.  I’d accept that most economists try to be serious, but how more often are they right about the status of the economies than by chance? 

The Literature Prize has been irrelevant for a long time, its main effect being selling a few more books for the largely obscure author-winners.  Even the more famous writers do not sell many books these days, and we all know Harry Potter is not going to win it.  It is like print newspapers.  Who cares?

That leaves the Peace Prize, which most lay people can understand, but has also been abused in any way imaginable. 

According to Alfred Nobel, the winners “have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  The winner selection these days indicates that this criterion has been greatly expanded, such that anything a person can possibly do is in.  But it still begs the question: is he qualified?

I would argue that many winners are not.  For example, many politicians are better suited in war crime courts than in the shrines.  What many politicians and organizations do or did is often more anti-peace than for peace.  If, say, a doctor stops hand bleeding for 10 people, but kills two people who shouldn’t have died, is he still a good doctor deserving the Nobel Peace Prize?  Like the literature prize, some obscure winners got to justify their existence, but it does not mean they were that important.  Mother Teresa basically had little true, positive influence on the ground. 

Dalai Lama is another case in point.  He won supposedly because he “consistently has opposed the use of violence.”  This is patently false, because he was the head of a government-in-exile, which has used and supported violence openly as well as secretly since 1950s.  Dalai can claim all day whether he knew or did not know it, but many books have been written about this subject, using various sources including from the supporting CIA and people in his government-in-exile, some even Dalai’s own siblings.  No dispute here.

The real effect from the Prize is that regular folks tend to think Dalai is such a godlike figure that whatever he says must be true, original, and unquestionable.  He is traveling all over the world preaching, not unlike the American evangelicals on TV or in big churches.  Like the evangelicals, what he really wants is the money, too.  So he has to meet those world leaders to keep a high profile and reminding people of his importance, and then ask the common folks to give money to his government, whose survival depends solely on donations.  This is what his whole meaning of life is.  Dealing with the Chinese government is useless, and he knows what he is doing now is not going to change anything, but it is the only thing he knows how to do.  In a sense, the Peace Prize has the opposite, anti-peace consequence.

It is even funnier about what Dalai preaches.  For an audience not familiar with Buddhism’s teaching, it may sound novel, although I suspect people are driven more to stardom than to the messages, which will get boring once hearing it a few times.  Dalai also hedges his words carefully not to offend the governments that feed him, so his answers to current-event questions, e.g., how he views certain wars, are quite banal.  And for people familiar with Buddhism, what he says is just cliché. 

The other example is Xiaobo Liu.  Did he deserve the Prize?  

I doubt the Nobel committee really understood who Liu is or what he thinks.  Or, perhaps they truly believe in what he believes?  Below is a tidbit of what Liu said or wrote in interviews or articles over the years.  They are not necessarily the exact words, but there is no distortion of his meaning, and all evidence indicates that he still holds these views.  His only ever defense was that he was too emotional.  All can be found or verified online, e.g., in wiki.

1. I think problems with the Chinese culture have something to do with the Chinese race, so it is very difficult to solve.
2.  I have a problem that I can’t get rid of, that is, language.  I can’t use English to express myself well.  If I were good in language, I would have nothing to do with China.  My ultimate sadness is that I am limited to Chinese, so I have to talk to something very stupid, which makes me sink lower and lower.   

3.  China needs 300 years of colonialism.  Whether 300 years is enough, I have my doubts. 

4.  Liu supports Bush’s Iraq War, perhaps more so than most Americans.  In fact, he absolutely supports every war by the West, including the Israelis’ oppression and occupation in the Palestine

5.  The Iraq and Afghanistan prisoner abuse by the US and UK is no big deal, nor even a deal.

To any rational person, 1 and 2 are racist.  3 is colonialism, so I don’t even know where to start.  4 and 5 are pro-wars.  Liu is not a casual, but a fervent advocator of all of them.  (He didn’t go to jail for it.)  No distortion, the above and similar writings by Liu can be found over and over.  So if anyone thinks he is worthy of the Peace Prize, let peace burn in hell. 

It is very easy and precise to summarize all his views in a short sentence: the West is absolutely good, everything else is evil, including China, Islam, and whatever.  This was actually a common thinking in the 1980s among some Chinese, although most people have outgrown it.  Few people, even the anti-government Chinese, can stomach such views now.  Yet Liu is trapped in the 1980s, his golden days when he was one of the few people who had had contact with the world outside of China.  He “complained” that people use the “300 years” against him, but really?  Is it justified or not?  

I suspect if Hitler had won, Liu would be singing praises for Hitler, too.  After all, Hitler was a racist, waged wars and invaded other countries for colonization. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On "911十周年系列访谈之对话方舟子"

In this Q &A 方舟子made a few assertions.  Most are mundane.  In many situations people see the same thing but arrive at different conclusions; that is normal, and analogous to whether you want the Lakers or Celtics to win, it says little to nothing about one’s character.  But, if you make the wrong choice about war and peace, no matter how much you love your daughter, you deserve no respect as a human being.

So the major issue is how 方舟子 views 阿富汗争和伊拉克. 


方舟子:发动伊拉克争和阿富汗争就是推翻独裁治,美国的初衷和争初期是受到阿富汗人和伊拉克人迎的。从电视上就可以看到他呼的,美国 打伊拉克的候,大家都放下武器。但是,争拖久之后可能就变质,那是另外一回事。   我得推翻达姆和塔利班,于当地人民来,是一件好事。我们应该站在他本国人民的角度来看问题是不是有好,不管美国打伊拉克到底 出于什么动机,了石油也好,了国的政治也好,或者了本国的利益。   

There are many fundamental, verifiable fallacies with his answers. 

1.  发动伊拉克争和阿富汗争就是推翻独裁.”  These words are deliberately misleading, more likely complete nonsense.  There are indisputable, documented records of history here.  Justification of 阿富汗 was that Taliban refused to turn over Al-Qaeda.  The primary justification of 伊拉克 was WMD.  The secondary was that Iraq was collaborating with Al-Qaeda.  The third, purely an afterthought, was democracy.   Without the first and second, most important justifications which are utterly bogus, the third had no legs.  

If he meant 发动伊拉克争和阿富汗争就是推翻独裁” regardless of the justifications, then the consequences of the wars are much than 推翻独裁治.

2.  美国的初衷和争初期是受到阿富汗人和伊拉克人迎的。从电视上就可以看到他呼的,美国 打伊拉克的候,大家都放下武器。”As the old saying goes, don’t believe everything you see on TV.  It has been abundantly documented that many celebrations were staged or shown from an overtly optimistic angle, like the infamous toppling of Saddam’s statue. I don’t even know how方舟子could claim “美国的初衷和争初期是受到阿富汗人和伊拉克人迎的”.  Were  there any real polls that said most 阿富汗人和伊拉克人 welcoming the impending wars?  In 阿富汗 there was a weak Northern alliance against Taliban, and伊拉克 was even worse.

How does one, with a common sense, view the reactions of 阿富汗人和伊拉克人 to the wars?  At least most shouldn’t like being bombed and invaded beforehand.  But as all hell broke loose, and they had no chance in the battlefield, it was simply natural to feel relief once the fighting stopped.  Hence, you will find some“阿富汗人和伊拉克人”the winning forces.  But that was mostly about resigning to the fact on the ground than rejoicing about the wars.  Sure, you will always find some 阿富汗人和伊拉克人 truly happy about the wars, and the media would duly show their faces, as in any other wars in the human history, but the majority? 

3. “争拖久之后可能就变质,那是另外一回事。” They are still the same wars!  Nothing 变质!  And akin to asking:  Mrs Lincoln, how do you like the night at the theater, except the part the President was shot?

4. “得推翻达姆和塔利班,于当地人民来,是一件好事。我们应该站在他本国人民的角度来看问题是不是有好.”  Well, if one says that overthrowing the American government/empire is good for the Americans and the whole world, is it OK to do it?  达姆和塔利班 were bad, but one always has to consider the costs and benefits of every action.  Are the wars worthy?  Hard question but also irrelevant.  Tell that to > one million of dead or injured people, and millions more living under constant fear of bombs and raids till today.   

These same views have been reported in other places and earlier, so it is something 方舟子believes in for a long time.  This is even worse, as we know a lot more about the wars now than 8-9 years ago.  This just shows that how hard it is to change an adult’s mind.  We all use our own frames to view and rationalize the world.  刘三百 believed in 300 years’ colonization in 1980s and still do.

There is no secret why 方舟子 feels this way.  Although in the same Q&A he denied he亲美, he actually has a long-standing, romanticized view of US: 美国人插手其他国家的事情,并不纯粹出于国家利益,而是出于人道主义,很天真地去管。But the excuse of naiveness rings hollow: exactly the same could have been said about the masses in Nazi Germany or Japanese empire in the 1930s.

Moreover, the fatal problem with this view: it is not “美国人插手其他国家的事情, it is always “美国政府插手其他国家的事情.  Did Bush invade Iraq because enough of the average Joes wrote him letters urging him to do so?  No, it never works that way. 

“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” -- Hermann Goering.

Like John McCain, 方舟子 may never have an American war that he doesn’t like.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why Steffi Graf?

It is close, but I think Steffi Graf is the best female singles tennis player ever.

Steffi Graf's career is well known to any tennis fan.  She won 22 Grand Slam (GS) singles titles and an Olympics gold, and was No.1 for the longest time.  She successfully challenged legends of the past (Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert), dominated her generation (Gabriela Sabatini, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario), and played well against the younger generation (Martina Hingis , Lindsay Davenport, the Williams sisters).  She was good on all courts.

The argument basically comes down to two issues.

First is that Margaret Court won 24 GS singles.  But Court spent only half of her career in the open era.  So it is not a stretch to say Graf did at least as well as Court.

The second, the Seles factor.  Some people feel strongly that without Seles's stabbing in 1993, Graf would not have won that many GS.  However, no one can predict what might have happened, and this notion might well be a wishful thinking.

Conventional wisdom is that Seles dominated against Graf.  This is simply not true.  Graf had a winning record against Seles before and after the stabbing.   People got the idea from 1990-1992.  It should be noted that Seles is younger than Graf, and Graf was also going through a hard time due to injuries, diseases, and legal/family problems then, so the result was not a surprise, but one should never take it for granted that it would continue forever.  Seles was new and rising, so people thought she would be the next big one.  Did she have it to be it, though?  Not likely.  Remember, many "next big ones" failed to materialize. 

For one, people with the power game like Seles usually do not age well and will have more injuries later in their career.  Seles also never moved that well, which would be exploited as opponents adjusted to her play.  Seles missed 10 GS during her timeout, Graf won only 6 of those, not a huge advantage as one would think.  The most telling part is Seles herself.  Her timeout was much more than needed for the wound to heal, suggesting mostly a mental hesitation.  But to be great, one needs to be tough mentally and overcomes adversities.  Everybody including Graf went through that.  Seles could have come back strong in a few months, but she clearly didn't do well to overcome the incident, no matter how terrible it was, especially since steps had long been taken to prevent it from happening again.  Seles might look tough on the courts and was still a great champion, but she was not as tough as other legends of the game.

Seles was certainly not napping during her timeout.  She was still training, and one would think that she would be fresh and ready to revive her career, minus more than two years' grinding on the tour.  When she came back in 1995, she was indeed still a top player, easily got to the final of US Open.  There, Graf beat her.  She won the next Australian Open (Graf was missing).  When they met in the 1996 US Open, Graf beat her again.  Thus, while Seles could still beat most people, there was just no real evidence that she could have dominated Graf had she not been out.  Especially when Seles was fresh, and Graf was another two years older on the WTA tour age scale.  The rust factor can be largely discounted because Seles had little problem with anybody else in 1995 and 1996.

Seles faded after 1996.  Graf is older, played much longer, and was still a top player in 2000.  So, what might have happened?  Assuming Seles maintained her intensity of play, not a given, she could take away a couple of Graf's GS titles during 1993-1995, but Graf might also simply trade her losses to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario to losses to Seles and got a similar number of GS.  If Graf suffered a few more defeats by Seles, perhaps Graf would be fresher for more tennis, or she would be more motivated.  Seles could have faded in 1994 instead of 1997.  We will never know, but based on their characters, Graf was the stronger person.  Their head-to-head record says the same thing.

Graf didn't win every GS she entered.  With challengers like Seles, Graf could still have won 22 GS, perhaps just in slightly different years and different events. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Is Jan-Ove Waldner is the best male table tennis player ever?

Waldner is a Swedish table tennis player who has a remarkable career.  He won the World Championship twice in singles and four times in teams, one World Cup, and one Olympics Gold.  He appeared in a few other major finals as well, and won numerous other titles.  Nobody can argue he is not one of the greatest ever, but is he the GOAT, as many people believe?  Objectively, does he pass the litmus test with the three criteria?

First, the achievements.  Waldner has an impressive collection of major titles (team and singles only).  But keep in mind that World Cup didn’t exist until 1980, and Olympics 1988.   Guo Yuehua, who played from mid-1970s to 1983, won the World Championship twice in singles and three times in teams, and two World Cups.  In more recent times, Wang Liqin won three World Championship singles and four team titles, and one Olympics team gold.  Ma Lin won five team World Championships, four World Cups, and Olympics team and singles gold medals.  Waldner stood up well against anyone else, but did not go far and beyond. 

Second, head-to-head records against rivals.  This is one area Waldner did not exactly excel as GOATs would.  Waldner competed with a long list of players, in terms of generations of Chinese, Jiang Jialiang (most of the 1980s)-Ma Wenge (1989-early 1990s)-Kong Linghui/Liu Guoliang (mid-1990s to early 2000s)-Ma Lin/Wang Liqin (Waldner played longer, but those were his chief rivals).  Waldner dominated only against Ma Wenge.  Jiang Jialiang always gave Waldner a headache.  Liu Guoliang was tough on Waldner until 2000, while Waldner beat Kong until 2000.  Waldner’s records against Ma Lin or Wang Liqin are not good, although then Waldner was already past his prime.  His teammate Jörgen Persson also played about 50:50 against Waldner. 

So come to criterion #3, it is safe to leave GOAT open, because nobody has been THAT dominant.  This certainly does not diminish Waldner’s immense influence on the sport. 

Now the more technical:  how about the intangibles, and will or should they affect the consideration of GOAT?

The most impressive aspect about Waldner’s career is definitively its longevity, beginning from his first world championship team final appearance in 1983 till his run in 2004 Olympics.  Only Jörgen Persson could match it in duration but not in brilliance.  But as great as Jimmy Connors was, few consider him as GOAT. 

The playing style, will or should it add a few points?  This is too subjective.  Waldner had a great table tennis instinct, excellent and deceptive serves followed by devastating attacks, and his rallies were steady, innovative, but not overpowering.  Many “new tricks” attributed to Waldner were actually not his inventions, although his high profile enhanced their acceptance.  The fact that Waldner was a finesse player who relied more on instinct and experience than on athleticism explains his longevity but also why players like Jiang Jialiang and Liu Guoliang whose styles of play caused a natural trouble for Waldner. 

Should Waldner get extra credits for challenging the Chinese all by himself?  This argument is in reality not valid because it ignores the fact that Sweden was one of the best table tennis countries for a long time and has a rich history and tradition.  Waldner is the most outstanding, yet he was aided by great coaches, mentors, and teammates along the way.  Stellan Bengtsson was the first Swedish world singles champion in 1971 and a huge influence, and two of the most successful teammates of Waldner were Mikael Appelgren and Jörgen Persson.  From 1980s till mid-1990s Europe also had many other elite players like Andrzej Grubba, Zoran Primorac, Jörg Roßkopf, Jean-Philippe Gatien, Jean-Michel Saive, and Vladimir Samsonov.   

In sum, Waldner has a strong case but weaker than Federer in tennis.  By the way, I think Steffi Graf is, but Federer is not GOAT. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

中国短道速滑队 is a mess

According to 新浪体育北京时间815日消息,国家体育局冬季运管理中心15日夜宣布,整短道速滑队领队王春露的工作位,离国家短道

The direct cause is obviously the brawl.  It is probably the worst ever PR disaster in Chinese sports and might be an extension from the earlier brawl.  There has never been an incident of a similar scale from any other national teams with better or worse achievements.  It reveals problems with how the short track team was run and characteristics of certain coach/skaters/manager.  

There are many unanswered questions.  What we have learned is what 王濛 said, what 李琰 said, and what some other people said.  We never heard what 王春露 said directly about the episode, although there is speculation that 王春露 was the source of some media reports.  Nobody appeared 100% innocent, but in short, we don’t know both sides of the stories.

But based on what we do know from , 王濛drank, cursed, threatened people, beat people, and damaged properties, which should have earned her a jail time, not simply a dismissal from the national team. She showed a total disrespect to the laws and other people and no brain whatsoever during the incident.  王濛 was like running a mafia and the real boss of the team.  She has perhaps 5 core supporters, and all the other, younger skaters must obey her or else.  Even the coaches and manager were afraid of her some times.  Right after the dismissal, 王濛 threatened to expose some sponsorship and drug scandals, although she didn’t follow up.  I am all for the disclosures: she or anyone with real evidence should come forward to say whatever is wrong with the team.  In fact, one would have earned more respect if saying it while still with the team. The relevant government agencies should look into the accusations, although it would be hard to get deeper without cooperation.

Another troubling aspect is the division between 李琰 and 王春露, mostly from what 李琰 said.  李琰 complained about王春露’s involvement in the training and how王春露 dealt with the skaters and money.  These problems between 李琰 and 王春露 aren't even directly related to the brawl.  We don’t know the real story because王春露 has been silent.  It seems, however, a lot of complaints李琰 could have raised directly with 王春露 before.  If she did, I am curious of what 王春露 responded.  Did 王春露 give a good explanation?  If so, why did 李琰 keep talking?  If not, why didn’t 李琰 complain to a higher up?   She has had plenty of time.  李琰 apparently complained to王濛 a lot, but did 李琰 try to solve the problem with 王春露 or not? 

王春露 should answer many of the accusations directly, although it seems unlikely, as she remains with the sport agency, just no longer a manager.  There is a clear problem with the way she works with 李琰 and some skaters, although not everybody.  Still, the public has the right to know how the national team operates and uses its money.

As it stands, the apparent real winner is李琰, loser is 王春露.  王濛 might receive only token punishment and return sooner rather than later, but only time will tell.  But unless王濛 emerges truly a better person, I don’t like the future of the team.  The public deserves a better representation, gold medals be damned.  

While 李琰 is the biggest winner, she is the one I am the most disappointed with here.  I knew her name since the late 1980s.   She was a great skater, and the Olympics didn’t incorporate short track soon enough.  She also worked in the North America for a long time, so I expect that she would be able to deal with people and the media in a more straightforward manner.  Largely speculative at this point, yet from the media reports, she seems to talk behind people’s back instead of working out the differences openly, and like to talk about people instead of what really happened.  For example, if what 王濛 complained about王春露’s public explanations about the brawl was valid, why didn’t 李琰 work with王濛 and 王春露 earlier?  李琰’s husband was with 王濛 out drinking, and 李琰 was present during the drawl, but what did she do at the time, and why didn’t she say anything earlier and specifically about what really happened that night or morning?

Purely speculative, 李琰 may be afraid of 王濛, and to a lesser extent, her core supporters in the team.  She absolutely depends on them to perform well in 2014, and this further emboldens 王濛’s gangs. Now that王春露 is gone, 李琰 has no more excuse.  Can 李琰 deliver?  I am not optimistic.  Regardless of 王濛’s status, 李琰 needs to develop younger skaters.  Perhaps two years has been or will be wasted before anything good will happen. 

Why 铁道部新闻发言人王勇平被免职 is wrong

According to 人民网北京816 据新网英文(微博)消息,中国道部816日表示,道部新闻发言人王勇平被免

I think 王勇平 got a bad deal.  The moral of the story is that the Chinese society (the public and officials), as a whole, needs to get more sophisticated dealing with the flow of information.

What王勇平 did is clear, as he gave the first press conference one day after the “7.23”甬温线动车事故.  At the time, understandably, the public was anxious to learn more about the accident, like the cause and casualties.  Understandably, much of the information was incomplete or not available at the time, there was a lot of confusion, and the situation was still evolving.  This is the background we need to remember.   On behalf of 道部, 王勇平apologized, promised to help the victims, and promised to investigate and to do a better job later.  He said whatever he knew at the time and more (below).  Most importantly, looking back three weeks later, what he said turned out to be the closest to the truth, compared to the so many rumors and confusion at the time.

The controversy stemmed from the fact he said “至于你信不信,我反正信了” and “只能是生命的奇迹”.  Let’s analyze the contexts. 
至于你信不信,我反正信了” was in a response to a question about 体被地掩埋, 是不是了掩盖.   当听到这样, 王勇平生如此愚蠢的问题? 这么举世都知道的事故淹没的了?”  (someone more knowledgeable) 我,不是想掩埋,事个事情是无法掩埋的,王勇平要掩埋,他们给出了这样的解现场抢险的情况, 境非常复杂,下面是一个泥塘,施展来很不方便,其他的理,所以他车头埋在下面,盖上土,主要是便于抢险。他们给出的解这样,至于你信不信,我反正是信的。

From what is accepted now and supported by real evidence, there was no such thing as “or车头被掩埋, 掩盖”.  The problem started with the question, which is akin to asking “why did you beat your wife”.  王勇平 made a mistake by agreeing to or assuming “车头埋在下面,盖上土”.  While it is true that 车头 and 其他的 were moved at the time, they were never 掩埋 by a common sense.   The underlying meaning of his answer, which was about why they moved the车头, is certainly more believable than掩盖.  In short, 王勇平信的是.

只能是生命的奇迹”was in response to the question何救援宣告束后仍发现一名生儿童.  Again, the problem started with the question, like asking “why did you beat your wife”.  There was some confusion about 救援宣告in the morning of 7/24.  There was never any official declaration of 救援.  Some people appeared to believe that they had done all they would, with their overnight search and the equipment they had, which was understandable but did not by itself mean the whole rescue effort was over.  All reports indicated that the rescue of the girl on the bridge was possible only after better equipment was brought in later.  王勇平 was not familiar with the details and unprepared for this question, especially since the child was rescued only a few hours earlier, so he seemed to simply borrow a common phrase like “生命的奇迹”.  People used it a lot when they found any survivor 5 days after an earthquake.  With a clear mind, one can say every survival is a miracle, more so if you are in a terrible accident, are squeezed in a tiny space in a hot summer day, and everyone around you is dead.

I have watched many press conferences and seen many evasive or patently wrong answers from high and low level officials.  What王勇平 did was actually passable under a difficult situation (honest and eventually correct most of the time), although imperfect.  The main problem is that he tried to befriend everybody by bowing and using folk languages like “至于你信不信,我反正信了” and “只能是生命的奇迹”, to the point that it almost seemed insincere. On one hand the common people could see an official trying to be like just one of them.  On the other hand, they could view this as a sign that the government was not in control or was hiding something; with the emotion running high then, this would be a more probable outcome.  

So what could have been done better?  The reporters first should do their homework better by asking questions that were more precise and supported by real evidence.  王勇平 should also do his homework better, think about the questions before answering, and say what he needed to say, nothing more or less.  Like “至于你信不信,我反正信了” is not helpful.