Today was Olympic Countdown day in China, with the opening ceremonies in Beijing scheduled for one year from tonight. Eight -- ba -- is the luckiest Chinese number, so the games will begin on 08/08/08, at 8 pm. Auspicious enough for me!

Two items of media interest from the festivities:

* CNN International began its report talking about what is obviously the main deal-breaking threat to the Olympics: the air. The correspondent had gotten far enough into the story to say, "Some foreign athletes fear..." and then the screen went blank for the next two minutes or so. The same PR wizards who were at the satellite cut-off switch yesterday were apparently at work again today.

* As part of its extensive coverage today, the (state-controlled, English-language, China's-face-to-the-world) China Daily had a lead editorial that mentioned every possible threat to the game -- except the one that matters:


The editorial talked about the challenge of ensuring good manners from Beijing's people, and the worrisome prospect that storm drains might again overflow in a downpour, as they did this week -- but contained not one word about the likelihood of marathoners, bicyclers, or soccer players clutching their sides and falling to the ground, starved of air.

(Other stories in today's China Daily did mention official claims that the Games' "greening targets" had been met, and compared them with international concerns about air pollution. An article on its website, about a statement from an official of the Beijing organizing committee, contained this relatively daring passage: "With the Chinese capital shrouded in thick smog on Monday, [the offiicial] said that air quality in the city has improved a lot." The Chinese-language site of the People's Daily was restrained about the pollution problem.)

Possible explanations for the official "Pollution? What pollution?" stance:

1) The outside world has long assumed that the Beijing authorities take the environmental challenges seriously and have a last-minute, draconian plan for dealing with them. Maybe that's still the case, but officials see no point in making noise about it ahead of time.

2) Maybe the officials don't have a plan, or realize that no plan will work -- and, applying the same suave PR touch described yesterday, have decided that if they ignore the issue, everyone else will too.

3) Maybe they actually don't notice? Or think the athletes will just have to tough it out?

We'll see.

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