Black American Pioneers on Ice and Snow

1st U.S. black American winter Olympians
Willie Davenport & Jeff Gadley, 1st African-Americans on a Winter Olympics team, courtesy of ESPN

The achievement was a historical footnote at Lake Placid, an asterisk among the ALL CAP raves for the “big” notables like Team USA’s hockey upset of the Soviets and Eric Heiden’s five gold medals. Willie Davenport and Jeff Gadley, push men for the four-man bobsled, were the first black Americans included on a U.S. winter Olympic team. As the 2018 Winter Olympics kick off in two days, the intersection with Black History month provides a perfect opportunity to discuss diversity and to celebrate notable achievements by athletes in the Games.

I was somewhat bewildered immediately in seeking information. First, while data on medal winners came easily, detail about the first Olympic participants was harder to find. Boxer George Poage was cited as the first black medal winner at the summer Olympics in 1904, only the third time the Games had been staged. Whether he was also the first participant is hard to determine. It took quite a bit of digging to ferret out the ESPN analysis that showed Davenport and Gadley as the first winter participants.  Secondly, it was a bit shocking to realize that while only eight years passed before African-Americans were added to the summer U.S. teams, a full 56 years occurred before blacks were included on TeamUSA in the winter. Continue reading “Black American Pioneers on Ice and Snow”

Calling Out for Light in the Darkness

Source: Newyorksighting.com, fridays

A few weeks ago, I highlighted a recent sentiment that Christmas lights make everything better. This is no accident. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Our body clocks can’t wait for that turning of the tide and, over centuries, our cultures have created one tradition after another to add lights which stave off that darkness. That desire for more light is built into us at the core, even at the cellular levels, within our circadian rhythms.

Fascinatin’ Rhythm

Hall, Rosbash, and Young won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for studying the phenomenon of circadian rhythms. The basic notion of a circadian cycle is one tied to a 24-hour biological clock, a circuit fundamentally tied to the length of a day, split between sun and darkness. Life cycles, for everything from plants to fruit flies to human beings, have adapted to that 24-hour pattern. Scientists have known for years that key processes that regulate sleep, hormone production, metabolism, and behavior are linked to these patterns. The Nobel scientists figured out why.

20171220 circadian1
Source:www.nobelprize.org, Nobel Laureates 2017

Continue reading “Calling Out for Light in the Darkness”

King Arthur and the Stock Market

O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
egestatem,
potestatem
dissolvit ut glaciem.

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
or waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
poverty
and power
it melts them like ice.
–Carl Orff,
Carmina Burana,
O Fortuna (Stanza 1)

I was listening to an economist discuss projections of the market for 2018, and it struck me how much this reminded me of King Arthur. The connection? The medieval idea of the Wheel of Fortune, a prism which could help us view the world in proper context and settle our turbulent emotions just as it did centuries ago.

Now, this is not the game show with Pat and Vanna that has filled the after-dinner TV slot for decades. Although those who know about the enduring notion of Fortune surely find it amusing that this show has displayed such enduring popularity.

Illustration from John Lydgate’s Troy Book, f.30v

The basic idea of the Wheel of Fortune, if you recall from your world history days, is that those on top of the wheel — kings, rich men, landowners — enjoy the bounty of the earth, while the poor and the peasants struggle at the bottom. But the wheel always turns and even kings and emperors now high will eventually be struck low. We’ve seen this played out in history and can understand the dynamic. Dictators who overstep their power are brought down. Wealthy playboys waste the inheritance that their thrifty parents worked years to create. Meanwhile, others rise out of poverty to amass their own financial empire or to create their own new political followings. Continue reading “King Arthur and the Stock Market”

National Parks & America’s Pioneer Identity

I read biographies voraciously in the second grade; our school library had a whole series of them. Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross, George Washington – I distinctly remember Thomas Jefferson hating to have his hair cut with a bowl on his head. The biography of Kit Carson said he was a pioneer and explorer who helped clear the west for the settlers. Isn’t that what we all learned? In 1993 (and two weeks ago), I was reading a National Park Service plaque about Kit Carson at Canyon de Chelly which explained that the site was the last stand for a group of Navajos before Carson put them on the Long Walk. The Long Walk? I didn’t remember reading about that part of his biography.

Fortress Rock, Canyon de Chelly, Site of Kit Carson’s campaign of genocide

Kit Carson, American Mass Murderer
Carson, according to modern bio excerpts, was a tireless explorer, traveled 20,000 miles on the back of a mule, spoke nine Native American languages, and married two native women. He fought off the Mexicans and Spanish in the acquisition of California for the United States. In the 1860s, the U.S. army put him in charge of clearing out the west, focusing on the Navajo, who refused to be relocated to a reservation. In 1864, he came into Canyon de Chelly, where hundreds of Navajos had lived for decades, just as the Anasazi had lived in the cliffs for centuries before. Carson attacked them as Spanish soldiers had done before him, and the Navajos climbed up into their hill fortresses for protection. Carson’s response was the euphemistic “scorched earth policy,” meaning he drove their livestock into blind canyons and slaughtered them. He burned all their crops, every last cornfield and melon patch. Then, he waited out the people until they came down, starving. He gathered them together – and other Navajos who had been captured – and drove these thousands of men, women, elders, and children 300 miles across Arizona into New Mexico to the Pecos River. That is the Long Walk. Continue reading “National Parks & America’s Pioneer Identity”

Battle of the Sexes: The Political is Personal

I remember September 20, 1973 when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in three straight sets at the Houston Astrodome in the Battle of the Sexes.  I remember when Ms. magazine debuted and when Virginia Slims was a sponsor of the magazine and women’s tennis, when people debated about the merits of letting cigarettes bankroll feminism, but feminism needed the money. I recall when it was fashionable for men to call you “little lady” and drape their arms around your shoulders in casual conversation. I remember when tennis rackets were made of wood.

When Rackets Were Made of Wood

The movie, Battle of the Sexes, brings the story of the King/Riggs match to life.  The film gets the tennis right; the film gets a lot of things right. Wooden rackets weighed 25-30% more the aluminum ones, and the racket face was much smaller, which means players couldn’t hit the ball anywhere as hard. Tennis then was much more a game of strategy — ball placement, serve and volley, and the strategic use of the lob. The tennis match choreography shows this to great effect. To the modern viewers, the play may seem oddly lethargic, almost as if it was in slow-motion. That was the reason Riggs beat Margaret Court, known at the time as The Arm because her height advantage gave her more power and a longer reach. Riggs wasn’t faster; he played more strategically and was wilier about placing the ball. After all, if you can play wearing scuba flippers or wearing a hoop skirt, then your play is about wrist movement, not power.

The trailers for the movie and many of the reviews don’t mention Margaret Court, but she’s a core part of the film, which I appreciated. King would never have played Riggs if he hadn’t already beaten the #1 women’s tennis player. The movie even hints at Court’s rampant homophobia which has made recent headlines, a topic that would have not been included in any biopic of this subject made before the 1990s.  Emma Stone is a credible King, but Steve Carrell is a drop-dead perfect Riggs, a showman playing tennis in a dress or with a drink in his hand to win a bet, a game of slow but deceptively accurate shots. Continue reading “Battle of the Sexes: The Political is Personal”