Olympic Performance & the Four Year Interval

“They’re designed to copy human beings in every way except their emotions. The designers reckoned that after a few years, they might develop their own emotional responses: hate, love, fear, anger, envy. So they built in a fail-safe device.” (Police chief)
“Which is what?” (Deckard)
“Four year life span.” (Police chief)
Blade Runner

Four years is a long time. In Blade Runner, it was the entire lifetime for Replicants. Four years is an entire high school experience. Think about the different person you became between freshman and senior years; between entering and exiting college. What about how different you felt physically four years ago? How about the differences between when you were 20 and 24? 28? 32? The difference in physical ability and experience can feel like nearly a lifetime, and the difference between when you were clueless and when you knew better can make you a different person.

That interval drives competitive tension in the Olympics, continuously pitting rookies against the veterans, the ones who have had to wait that four year lifetime to return. The phenoms may not yet have a target on their backs  and may not have the pressure of a Sports Illustrated cover to live up to or the hopes of a nation, but they also may not know how to handle the normal butterflies of competition on this biggest world stage. Rookie nerves play into the misjudgment and errors can occur in that closing killer minute when the veteran zooms past in the bike race, leans forward to touch the wall first, or feints right and goes left to score.

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Journey through History, Filtered

Outside the car windows it’s dark, but hundreds of red lights glow on the road ahead. The smell of exhaust from idling cars seeps in over the chemical tang of the air conditioner. I can’t hear the engine because my mom has turned up the radio so high. The droning voices are interrupted periodically with cheering, but, from the back seat, I can’t quite hear them. When I can, I have no idea what they’re talking about. Suddenly my mother shouts, waking my brother snoozing next to me, “Agnew! Who the hell is Spiro Agnew?”

It was August 8, 1968. I was seven years old and we were stuck in traffic, late on a Thursday night driving from our summer cabin back to Detroit, my mother listening to the Republican convention. Continue reading “Journey through History, Filtered”

Madison, Our Best President

This weekend, flags will be a-flyin’, firecrackers a-poppin’, politicians a-pontificatin’, and barbecues a-grillin’ as our nation celebrates its 240th birthday amid the usual pomp and turmoil. Our national patriotic selves are in particularly high dudgeon this election year, when we all play the game of Why Do We Have an Electoral College, Again? Some you will be tourists, traveling to national parks, or perhaps to our nation’s capital (I hear there’s some GCLS thing coming up soon?)  ‘Tis also a fine time to play another fun game of history, Who’s Your Favorite President?

20160629 flag-fireworks

Was Lincoln your favorite because he believed in the equality of all individuals and the strength that can come from a united people under a good central government? How about FDR shepherding the country through the miseries of the Depression and anxieties of world war? Jefferson, articulating the freedoms that prompted us to start our grand experiment of independence? Or is it some prez that you lived through more recently? (Though I’d argue anybody after 1976 doesn’t give us enough perspective to evaluate fairly.) Or do you think picking the best president is Uncool, too Nerdy for you?

Nerdy or not, I submit for discussion, Mr. James Madison. He deserves his own carving on Rushmore. He should have his own obelisk on the National Mall, his own memorial next to the Potomac. And it should be the biggest.

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The Idea of Waterloo

I don’t know why I find Waterloo so fascinating; the Belgians don’t really seem to. It was the last of the planned highlights of our trip for me, and I had read about it and thought about it for months.  Yet compared with other tourist sites we visited, it had minimal infrastructure and sparse attendance. It left a lot to the imagination.

Typically Belgian
T4Lions Mound
Granted, they have a nifty little museum underneath the site, as well as a “4D” movie experience that really makes you feel the smoke of the soldiers’ campfires and the charge of the horses over the ridge. But apparently this museum was built only last year for the bicentennial, and prior to that there was only this high, oddly designed “Lion’s Mound” that had a small observation deck, with an old map and a couple pay telescopes. You have to climb up and down 225 steps to get there, which would be difficult for a lot of people and downright awful in any weather that had the slightest wind, rain or worse.  When we were there, there were a handful of Germans and maybe a few locals at the top, even though it was a beautiful day and a holiday to boot. The signs on where to enter the museum and observation deck itself were confusing, causing you to walk around a long fence, only to be redirected back and down these other steps that turned out to be right off the parking lot. (Why not have a sign when you come out of the lot, “MUSEUM THIS WAY”?)  Margot, a friend who agreed to guide us, told us that was typically Belgian. She said that often while she was driving.

Lest you think I am just throwing shade on Belgium, I will say Margot took us to one of the best lunch places (Stoemp and Sausage) of the trip, and we spent several hours enjoying the sunny Grand Place at a cafe. But, to be fair, the day before we also had one of the worst dinners I’ve ever eaten, found the museums and gardens we wanted to visit were closed, and couldn’t find a single market to buy a soda after 8 pm. This was all after Karin lost her phone right between the metro station and the two blocks to the hotel. And there are no T Mobile stores in Brussels.  I’m not throwing shade, this is just what happened. We got off to a rocky start.

Still, we were in a good mood embarking out to the Waterloo site the following day. I was particularly happy that Margot had agreed to take us because frankly the directions to get there were fairly obscure. The website for tourism for Waterloo and the little town, Braine l’Alleud is not particularly robust. There are buses that go out there, but they stop at various places that are miles apart, and most of the logistical explanations were in French. There are no guided tours other than private ones you could plan in advance for several hundred dollars. This was in marked contrast to the other sites, like Keukenhof, which had dedicated buses packed full of sightseers, or the museum with multiple exhibits at the Nobel Peace Center, or even the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, which was mobbed by cameras. In contrast, Waterloo didn’t seem to have the same draw. Continue reading “The Idea of Waterloo”

A History of Fools

The origin of April Fools’ Day is kind of like April Fools’ pranks themselves. If you read through the history, it’s hard to tell truth from fiction. The celebrated tradition of pranking might have started as part of a festival to praise the humble OR it might have been a way to ridicule a captured enemy before his execution or – no, wait – it was because some people got confused about when to celebrate the new year.

It might have started in France. Or maybe England. Or Rome. For certain. Maybe. It’s kind of hard to say…

12mrtAccording to Infoplease, one convincing explanation was provided by Joseph Boskin, a Professor of History at Boston University. He linked the practice to the Roman emperor Constantine, when a group of court jesters told Constantine that they didn’t get enough respect and could do a better job ruling the land. The emperor decided to appoint a jester named Kugel as king for the day, and Kugel took the opportunity to pass an edict created an annual absurdity day. When Boskin’s story was widely reported in 1983, it sounded convincing. But, as it turned out, he was just being feisty with an Associated Press reporter who wouldn’t take “I dunno” for an answer to “Where’d the tradition start, professor smartypants?” So as a joke he’d made up the story and used the reference to “kugel” because the reporter was in New York and he thought, well, everyone in New York eats kugel, don’t they?… When the AP fellow asked him to spell “kugel,” he wondered if the joke would be taken seriously. It was.

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