THE Beijing Olympics have triggered an impressive amount of outrage among human-rights activists and everyone else who has a bone to pick with China.

Critics have taken advantage of this golden opportunity to prick the conscience of the West, invoking the ghosts of Tianamen Square and Mao's Cultural Revolution. They've urged President Bush to engage in a diplomatic boycott reminiscent of Jimmy Carter's Moscow mistake, and have even gone so far as to demand that athletes who've spent their entire lives training for this irreplaceable moment stay home.

As an immigration lawyer who's has handled numerous asylum claims over the last 10 years, I applaud any attempt to stare down tyrants. It's distasteful to play a role in enabling this repressive regime to take its place on the international stage.

And yet, how can we realistically demand that our presidents and prime ministers, our champions and their coaches boycott the games when we ration our righteous indignation over persecution in such a hypocritically inconsistent manner?

Sure, China houses fields of horror. But so does Cuba. The Castros have imprisoned anyone who's had the courage to raise a voice against a regime that, with the shameful acquiescence of the American far left, has condemned two generations to hell.

And, in this case, we have many of the same "human-rights" activists criticizing the U.S. embargo, despite it's loopholes that let students and journalists and propagandists like Michael Moore visit the floating prison on "humanitarian missions." For consistency's sake, why don't we just label our Olympic athletes "humanitarian ambassadors" and hope they have the same effect as the portly documentarian?

But you know the answer: We can't expect the activists who embrace Cuba to get all warm and fuzzy about its totalitarian cousin to the East. That would be far too logical.

After all, international outrage defies logic. Thirty years ago, the cause was apartheid. No self-respecting college student made it through his academic career without hitting at least one protest, one sit-in, one divestment conference.

Bishop Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize. Nelson Mandela became a rallying point from Toronto to Tasmania. And the international human-rights community formed a consensus that purged apartheid from South Africa.

WHERE, I wonder, is that same consensus today when Robert Mugabe has other black Africans tortured and killed and the U.N. barely blinks an eye? Other than self-righteous speeches and diplomatic hand-wringing, the campaign to save the citizens of Zimbabwe has been anemic. Where is the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki? As Thomas Friedman wrote in a recent New York Times column: "When whites persecute blacks, no amount of U.N. sanctions is too much. And when blacks persecute blacks, any amount . . . is too much."

Where is the consistency?

And bravo to those who've spoken out on behalf of the Buddhist monks in Myanmar and Tibet, but where are the saviors of the Christian priests murdered in India and Iraq? We mourn the dead in Darfur, and rightly so, but what did we do to stop the rivers of blood from flowing in Rwanda?

Where is the consistency?

Boycotting China might make us feel good about ourselves, help us look in the mirror and say, "we stood for something." It might let us think that we've sent a message to an evil empire, one that is built upon the misery of nameless, faceless victims.

It might even manage to embarrass the red giant for a few high-profile moments, reminding it that we in the West are savvy enough to see beyond the shining-but-temporary facade they've erected for our delight.

But the embarrassment will last only as long as it takes for the Chinese to start tallying up the revenues from its concessions and the commercials and license grants and all the other golden profits generated by the games.

The Chinese might lose face if President Bush stays home and our athletes are forced to boycott the stadiums and the track fields and the pools. But they know how fickle we are in the West. When it comes to human rights, our ourage is variable, like the weather.

Until we stop playing favorites with global tyrants, picking and choosing who we'll condemn, we have no right to point a finger at the ones in Beijing. *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.